Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ranking the last 10 Best Picture Oscar Winners

The Oscars made headlines after this Sunday's broadcast culminated in the biggest gaffe in the history of the Academy Awards. After La La Land was mistakenly announced as the year's Best Picture, and its producers went on to offer their acceptance speeches, Moonlight was finally crowned as the true honorary of the prestigious award. Therefore, I've decided to devote February's Movie List of the Month to looking back and ranking the last decade's Best Picture winners (January's list).

#10. Birdman (2014)

The 2015 Academy Awards offered a heated battle in the Best Picture race between Richard Linklater's iconic coming-of-age story, Boyhood, and the eventual winner, Birdman. Alejandro G. Inarritu's superbly directed film delivered hard-hitting performances from Michael, Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton, but Birdman falls short of the other phenomenal Best Picture winners of the past decade.

#9. The Hurt Locker (2009)

James Cameron's Avatar was a visual spectacle and box office smash. And much like this past awards season, most believed it was going to win the Best Picture race as well. Yet, Kathryn Bigelow's suspenseful war-drama, The Hurt Locker pulled off a major upset. It's a flawed film whose strongest aspect is its insanely intense story of an Army bomb squad who could experience a freak explosion at any moment.

#8. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Steve McQueen's historical drama recounts the amazing true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from New York who's kidnapped and sold into slavery. 12 Years a Slave withstood the likes of the sci-fi drama Gravity and earned a Best Picture honor. There are some over-done elements to McQueen's direction, but a remarkable real-life journey transforms before your eyes.

#7. Spotlight (2015)

Last year's Academy Award winner for Best Picture staved off a repeat from the aforementioned Alejandro G. Inarritu, for the bloody revenge tale The Revenant. Spotlight endured the difficult job of cementing its early "frontrunner" status and fighting off the pack until the final ceremony. Tom McCarthy's dramatized depiction of the journalism team that uncovered the Catholic Church's decades long sexual abuse scandal is hard-hitting and completely engaging, making it a worthy Best Picture winner.

#6. Moonlight (2016)

Although I personally had La La Land rated higher, Moonlight is by no means a step down in terms of filmmaking and dramatic effect. Director Barry Jenkins is magnificent and his trio of actors that bring to life the character of Chiron, an inner city youth raised by a drug addicted mother as he struggles to come to grips with his sexuality, are all brilliant in their own right. Moonlight will always be remembered for this recent Oscar slip-up, but it's a small indie film that deserves a much wider audience and far more respect from the general public.

#5. The King's Speech (2010)

In a year flooded with top-flight film options, it was Tom Hooper's charming biographical drama, The King's Speech, that walked away from the Oscars victorious. Somehow eclipsing a field containing The Social Network, Inception, Black Swan and 127 Hours (just to name a few), this recount of Britain's King George VI (Colin Firth) who enlists the help of a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to overcome his impediment during the rise of Nazi Germany is a wonderfully blend of comedy and drama that stands the test of time.

#4. The Artist (2011)

If you would have told me that a black and white silent film was going to win the 2012 Best Picture, I wouldn't have believed you. But not only did Michel Hazanavicius' film earn the distinguished honor, The Artist proved to be an iconic and reinvigorating effort. The film uses delightful performances, a fantastic score and a pet dog to win over audiences with a natural ease. The Artist provides a unique viewing experience that caters to all the senses and reminds us of Hollywood's humble beginnings.

#3. Argo (2012)

If you ask me, the voting body of the Academy rebelled against its own omission of Ben Affleck from the Best Director race and awarded his film with the year's biggest honor. Argo ousted impressive competition such as Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings PlaybookDjango Unchained and many more, thanks to a suspenseful and engaging screenplay sprinkled with more than enough comedy to keep things interesting. Argo is an exceptional piece of entertainment that continues to stand strong after multiple viewings.

#2. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

The final two films on this list are not only the oldest two Best Picture winners of the past decade, but they're also in a class of their own. Danny Boyle's hypnotic story of a Mumbai teen (Dev Patel) who goes on his country's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in order to reconnect with the lost love of his life. Slumdog Millionaire takes the audience on an epic journey filled with romance, drama and redemption. It's basically a flawless film almost impossible to differentiate with the list's top selection. If you haven't seen this one, you don't know what you're missing!

#1. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Finally, the Coen brothers unveiled a true masterpiece with the 2007 hit, No Country for Old Men. Javier Bardem's Oscar-wining performance stands as one of the greatest movie villains of all-time in this slow-burning cat & mouse tale of a southern hunter who goes on the run from a mad-man after finding millions of dollars stashed in a satchel. The cinematography is second to none as the Coen's craft an unforgettable story that will forever stand as a classic piece of cinema.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

2017 Oscar Predictions

Hollywood's biggest night of the year is less than 36 hours away (join our FREE Oscar Contest). And although many of the major Oscar races feel cemented in (dare I say, Emma) "Stone", there are always a few categories destined to shake-up the evening. Guest-writer, Greg Rouleau and I offer up our predictions on how the Academy Awards will unravel, here's what we envision:

Smaller Categories

Best Animated Film: Zootopia - Dave & Greg

Best Documentary: O.J.: Made in America - Dave & Greg

Best Foreign Film: Toni Erdmann - Dave & A Man Called Ove - Greg

Best Score: La La Land - Dave & Greg

Best Adapted Screenplay

Moonlight - Dave & Greg

Despite all of its enormous fanfare, Barry Jenkins' adored indie drama Moonlight has been completely overshadowed by La La Land. Consequently, the film is most likely going to miss out in some of the bigger races, but Adapted Screenplay should be one of two Oscars earned by this deserving film.

Best Original Screenplay

Manchester by the Sea - Dave & Greg

The neck-and-neck race between Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea and La La Land in the Original Screenplay category should be one of the more interesting ones of the evening. They've split prizes throughout the lead-up to the Oscars so it could legitimately go either way. Yet, Greg and I envision plenty of love for La La Land in countless other races, so this may be the Academy's way of recognizing Lonergan's film as well.

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis (Fences) - Dave & Greg

This category is pretty much in the bag for Fences co-lead, Viola Davis. None of her competitors can match her sizable role, although I would argue that Michelle Williams delivers comparable quality in a performance that's very limited in terms of screen time. And for that reason it's impossible to go against Davis, who's "owed" one for her unforgivable loss to Meryl Streep a handful of years ago.

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) - Dave & Greg

Although Greg and I are also in agreement in the Supporting Actor race, the category has a history of going against the grain. And to keep things in perspective, Ali hasn't been a "sure-thing" throughout the awards season in many other big precursors. Therefore, don't be surprised if voters go for someone like Dev Patel (Lion) or even a dark horse like Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals). I personally feel that the Academy recognizes limited opportunities to reward Moonlight, so they will make sure it happens here.

Best Actress

Emma Stone (La La Land) - Dave & Greg

As the heart and soul in the year's biggest movie, it would be a shock if Emma Stone's name wasn't called. Admittedly, though, this has been an exceptional year for female talent in Hollywood, so her competition is impressive. However, La La Land is due for a big evening and Stone should benefit from the outpouring of love.

Best Actor

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) - Dave & Greg

The heart wants what the heart wants, and my heart wants nothing more that for Casey Affleck to walk away victorious in the Best Actor race. The stars were aligning perfectly for the veteran actor who's seeking his first Oscar statue, but then SAG threw a wrench in destiny's plans by awarding their honor to rival Denzel Washington (Fences). This category could go either way, but here's to hoping that Affleck claims the win.

Best Director

Damien Chazelle (La La Land) - Dave & Greg

Damien Chazelle's original musical is a spectacle for the eyes, ears and soul, making it a viable Best Picture winner (spoiler alert). And it appears that the Academy will get back on track by honoring both the film itself and its director. Splitting those two categories was once frowned upon, but recent history changed all that with Argo/Ang Lee (Life of Pi), then 12 Years a Slave/Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) and even last year's Spotlight/Alejandro G. Inarritu (The Revenant) shared honors. 

Best Picture

La La Land - Dave & Greg

This year's Best Picture race is as cemented as its been in recent memory. La La Land burst onto the scene as a presumed Oscar frontrunner and never looked back, staving off competition throughout the entire end of the year. It's a worthy Best Picture title with its magical blend of classic Hollywood and a new age vibe. Even if you aren't necessarily a fan of musicals, La La Land offers so much more with a fantastic story, exceptional choreography and picturesque cinematography. It's the complete package!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Fist Fight and The LEGO Batman Movie

When It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia was renewed for another two seasons back in April of 2016, it marked a milestone by ensuring that the comedy series would become the longest running live-action sitcom in television history. And while Charlie Day has successfully transitioned from sitcom star to big-screen actor in films such as Pacific Rim and the Horrible Bosses franchise, he hadn't been handed the lead role in a major motion picture. Finally, Day serves as the main protagonist in Richie Keen's new comedy, Fist Fight.

When one teacher's volatile actions land him and fellow instructor, Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), in the principal's office on the last day of the school year, Andy must choose between ratting out his colleague or losing his job. And with baby number two set to arrive any day now, Andy responds to this tenuous situation by telling the truth. Consequently, Strickland (Ice Cube) is fired for his actions and it prompts him to challenge Andy to a fist fight in the school parking lot after the school day ends.

There are laughs-a-plenty scattered all throughout Fist Fight, because hilarity is inevitable at the hands of comedic figures such as Tracy Morgan, Workaholics' Jillian Bell and Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani. But despite all of the film's riotous R-Rated humor, a flimsy screenplay and weakly constructed characters make for a soulless centerpiece. Leading man Charlie Day delivers many of the same mannerisms as his iconic character on the hit show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Consequently, it begs to question his range as a performer. He stays within his comfort zone and it makes for a rather uninteresting onscreen persona. Fist Fight offers a few sporadic moments of legitimate laugh-out-loud comedy, yet Keen's intentional jab at the education system is too glossed over to make a profound statement. The rest is mediocrity.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

If I'm being honest, I wasn't the least bit amused by 2014's The LEGO Movie. I fully acknowledge the outpouring of love for the Oscar-Nominated film, both critically and in box office ticket sales, and it became apparent that many sequels would be sure to follow. Fast forward a few years and the LEGO universe returns with the Batman-centered spin-off that gives Gotham City a LEGO makeover.

Will Arnett once again lends his voice as Bruce Wayne, a Gotham tycoon by day and a caped-vigilante by night. And after foiling another plot by The Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis), Batman's ego gets the better of him as Gotham's newest Commissioner (voice of Rosario Dawson) requests he work in tandem with the police. But when The Joker masterminds a new plan to unleash other-worldly evil on the city, Batman learns he can't win every battle on his own.

Clearly a step above its predecessor, The LEGO Batman Movie channels its inner Deadpool (minus the vulgarity), with a sarcastic and self-aware style that caters well to the adult crowd. The film's plot is all over the place, however well-crafted and timely humor overshadows its deep-rooted flaws. Moreover, the latest LEGO movie incorporates a meaningful message of teamwork and strength in numbers that's shoe-horned into the Batman universe we all know and love. The film recognizes its source material and even pokes fun at the history of Batman on the big-screen, making for a comical joyride that's well worth the occasional bumps and bruises.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Sunday, February 19, 2017

2017 Movie Preview - Part III

This past week guest-writer Greg Rouleau and I discussed countless upcoming movie releases spanning various genres with our 2017 Movie Preview Part I and Part II. Today we finally complete the trilogy by breaking down some of 2017's most notable drama releases and potential awards season contenders. Unlike the previous previews, these titles won't be sorted by release dates (since many haven't formally been announced). So here they are, the films that could potentially dominate next year's Academy Awards ceremony:

Dramas/Awards Season Hopefuls

Downsizing - December 22nd

Director Alexander Payne is no stranger to awards season as his last three feature films have been nominated for Best Picture, all of which had at least one acting nominee, too.   His latest, Downsizing, is the story of a man who decides to shrink himself after deciding his life will be more fulfilling after doing so.  Matt Damon stars along with Kristen Wiig, Alec Baldwin and Christoph Waltz.  Downsizing also marks the reunion of Payne with fellow Sideways scribe, Jim Taylor.

Molly's Game - ???

Aaron Sorkin is undoubtedly one of the best screenwriters working today.  Later this year, we’ll see how adept he is behind the camera as he brings us his directorial debut, Molly’s Game, which he also adapted from the titular character’s memoir.  Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom who organizes a very high-stakes poker game that eventually becomes the subject of an investigation by the FBI.

Battle of the Sexes - ???

Coming off of La La Land and a potential Best Actress Oscar win, Emma Stone has cemented herself as the Hollywood “it girl” right now, so expectations will be high for her next project where she plays Billie Jean King alongside Steve Carell’s Bobby Riggs where the two go head to head in the infamous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match.  Little Miss Sunshine directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris share helming duties here once again with a script by Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy.

Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project - ???

Little information is available for the latest movie from PTA other than a brief synopsis that implies it’s the story of a London fashion designer in the 1950s.  Admittedly, that doesn’t exactly amplify any intrigue for the period piece, but in the hands of the auteur Anderson, we can always expect the best.  Another reason to get excited is it marks the reunion of PTA with Daniel Day-Lewis who hasn’t been seen since his Oscar winning portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in 2012.

Kathryn Bigelow Detroit Riot Project - ???

Another movie that could be a major awards season player is the untitled project from director Kathryn Bigelow.  Bigelow has proven – especially with her last two movies – she is a master of tone, tension and skillfully crafted action sequences.  The next subject she will tackle is the infamous riots from 1967 Detroit that will once again allow the Oscar winning director to display her talent for creating some gut-wrenching thrills on screen.  Bigelow has tasked Mark Boal – who also wrote Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty­ – with the screenwriting duties again, and the movie will also be the first major distribution effort from Annapurna Pictures who had previously just handled production costs.

The Snowman - October 13th

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy helmer, Tomas Alfredson, returns in 2017 with the crime thriller, The Snowman. Based on the novel by Norwegian author, Jo Nesbo, Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole, a detective investigating the disappearance of a missing woman whose pink scarf was found draped over a snowman. An impressive supporting cast including J.K. Simmons, Chloe Sevigny, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rebecca Ferguson, Val Kilmer and Toby Jones, The Snowman makes for an intriguing fall prospect.

Suburbicon - ???

The screenplay for Suburbicon, written by the Coen Brothers has been around since the mid-80s and now, in 2017, finally looks like it’ll see the big screen.  With George Clooney directing a star-studded cast that includes Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Josh Brolin and Oscar Isaac, this small-town noir/crime/comedy, which centers around a home invasion that turns deadly and forces the hand of a picture-perfect 1950s suburban family, has all the makings of one of the year’s bests.   

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara - ???

Any time legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg delivers a new film, it has to be considered a contender for the big dance. Spielberg's latest effort, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, marks a return to the period piece where a young Jewish boy in Bologna, Italy who is taken from him family and raised as a Christian in 1858. Oscar Isaac and Mark Rylance, who won an Academy Award for his performance in Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, headline the cast.

Darkest Hour - November 24th

Gary Oldman is a well-regarded veteran actor who's failed to secure an Oscar win, well he just may get his chance in this year's World War II drama, Darkest Hour. Director Joe Wright (Atonement & Pride & Prejudice) examines the valiant work of Winston Churchill (played by Oldman, pictured below), as he leads a charge against Adolph Hitler in the early stages of WWII. The late John Hurt co-stars alongside Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn and Lily James in this potential-filled drama that hits all the check marks for the Academy.

Mary Magdalene - ???

Garth Davis has enjoyed a wildly successful awards season run this year with his Weinstein Company title, Lion. The filmmaker plans to return in 2017 with an examination of biblical figure, Mary Magdalene. Rooney Mara re-teams with Davis in the title role, and she'll be joined by co-stars Joaquin Phoenix (as Jesus) and Chiwetel Ejiofor in what hopes to be another Best Picture contender for industry tycoon, Harvey Weinstein.

Hostiles - ???

The Western genre has made quite a resurgence of late and director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace & Black Mass) plans to capitalize on the upswing in 2017. His adventure/drama transports the audience back to 1892 where an Army captain (Christian Bale) reluctantly agrees to guide an Indian chief and his family through a dangerous territory. Ben Foster and Rosamund Pike co-star in Hostiles, an intriguing new title from Scott Cooper.

Stronger - ???

Finally, David Gordon Green built a career off of stoner comedies like Pineapple Express and Your Highness, but he's finally branching out in a big way with the upcoming drama, Stronger. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, a victim of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing who aided police officials in tracking down the perpetrators, all while battling to overcome his own traumatic injuries. The premise certainly suggests an emotional ride as Stronger could be the work that finally transforms the director's career.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 Movie Preview - Part II

Recently guest-writer, Greg Rouleau, and I broke down 2017's most notable early-year releases, as well as some of the year's biggest upcoming blockbusters (Part I). Now we'll dive deep into 2017's most anticipated comedy and horror/thriller titles. Here's a look at some other films you can expect to see this upcoming year:


Get Out - February 24th

The hilarious sketch comedy show Key & Peele may not be around anymore, but at least we still have the writing and acting talents of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key floating around the industry. Later this month, Jordan Peele delivers his directorial debut with the horror entry Get Out. The movie follows an African American man () who visits his Caucasian girlfriend's parents in their small town estate, only to discover bizarre circumstances surrounding their behavior. And while the film's debut trailer (below) feels massively over the top - as if we'd expect anything different from  a mind such as Peele's - early reviews have been strong enough to pique my interest.

Raw - March 10th (limited release)

Plenty of buzz surrounds this French horror film that's captured headlines with its insanely gory tale of a young vegetarian girl who experiences a hazing ritual at veterinary school, and it unleashes an inescapable hunger for human meat. Raw's cannibalistic story is sure to excite some and detract others. Just make sure you can stomach the scenes as the urban legend rumors of fainting audience members circulate this grisly horror entry. You'll most likely have to seek out the film as Raw is merely slated for a limited release this March.

The Belko Experiment - March 17th (limited release)

Another horror title destined for a limited release next month is the Toronto Film Festival selection, The Belko Experiment. Greg McLean teams with writer James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) to deliver a twisted examination of human survival. Set in Bogota, Colombia, 80 employees of a U.S. company are locked in their high-rise building where a voice over the building's intercom instructs them all to participate in a murderous game of kill-or-be-killed. This wild premise catches my interest as I plan to keep an eye out for The Belko Experiment sometime next month.

Alien: Covenant - May 19th

Director Ridley Scott returned to the Alien universe with the prequel, Prometheus. His sci-fi horror follow-up, Covenant, arrives to big screens everywhere this May. Michael Fassbender reprises his role of the robot David and James Franco co-stars in this space exploration film that boldly re-introduces the creature from Alien and its origins. How can this next chapter not give you goosebumps? Catch Ridley Scott's first-look trailer for the film below.

It (2017) - September 9th

Remakes have become a staple within the industry, especially for the horror genre, and one classic reboot arrives later this year. Stephen King's classic tale, It, terrorized my youth with the creepy clown, Pennywise. In September a whole new generation gets to experience the small town madness in Andres Muschietti's re-imagination of the adapted horror classic. All that's been leaked from the film is a disturbing image of the new Pennywise, see for yourself (below) and prepare to re-experience the horror of Stephen King's It.

Other releases include: A reboot of the 1990 film Flatliners arrives on September 28th, and sequels such as Insidious: Chapter 4 (October 20th) and Saw: Legacy (October 27th) will premiere in 2017 as well.


Chips - March 24th

Dax Shepard is trying his had at the comedy reboot with the March title, Chips. Based (very) loosely on the television show that aired between 1977 and 1983, this re-imagined endeavor features writer, director and leading man, Dax Shepard, alongside Michael Pena. They star as a pair of California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers who find themselves hunting down a dirty cop within their own ranks. The trailer for Chips doesn't appear to be anything special, but hopefully for their saving the biggest laughs for the movie theater experience.

Snatched - May 12th

Amy Schumer continues to push her hot streak as the latest big-thing in Hollywood comedy alongside veteran actress, Goldie Hawn, in Snatched. While vacationing with her mother on an exotic getaway to Ecuador, the pair of ladies end up kidnapped and forced to work together and fight back if they hope to make it out alive. This action-comedy comes from the producing team behind The Heat and Spy, but I'm doubtful that Snatched will even come close to them. We'll find out soon enough as Snatched is an early entry in the summer blockbuster season.

Rock That Body - June 16th

Another female-centric comedy premieres this summer with Rock That Body. Scarlett Johansson and SNL's Kate McKinnon star as members of a wild weekend bachelorette party who discover a dead male stripper during the festivities. Little else is known about the film, but its director, Lucia Aniello, lands an impressive cast in her debut feature after earning her stripes with the Comedy Central show Broad City.

The House - June 30th

Will Ferrell is back and teaming up with funny lady Amy Poehler in the summer comedy The House. After the mother and father spend all of their daughter's college fund, they decide to open up an illegal casino in their basement to try and recoup the money. Director Andrew Jay Cohen unveils his motion picture debut and we can only hope that the film delivers with its riotous premise. Keep an eye out for the first official trailer soon as The House will arrive in theaters this June.

Bastards - (No official release date)

After dropping a trailer nearly 5 months ago, little has developed for Lawrence Sher's indie comedy, Bastards. Ed Helms and Owen Wilson co-star as a pair of fraternal twin brothers who hit the road in search of their biological father, after learning that their mother had been lying about him being dead for all these years. The first look at Bastards has some well-earned laughs and I'm a big fan of the road trip comedy. Bastards is still lined up for a 2017 release but, whenever it happens, you can count me in.

Tully - (No official release date)

The effective collaborative trio of director Jason Reitman, writer Diablo Cody and lead actress Charlize Theron are slated to return in 2017 with Tully. Having previously worked together on the underrated comedy, Young Adult, they are back to deliver another emotional comedy. Charlize Theron stars as Marlo, a mother of three children who welcomes a nanny named Tully into their home. Together, the women form a unique bond with one another. While details of the film are tight-lipped and the premise doesn't sound all that funny, Cody and Reitman have a proven track record of stirring up legitimate laughs within a dramatic piece. Keep an eye out for Tully at some point in 2017.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

2017 Movie Preview - Part I

As the calm before the Academy Awards sets in (join our free Oscar contest), now seems like the perfect time to look ahead to what the 2017 cinematic year has to offer. Reel True owner, Greg Rouleau and I categorize the most intriguing titles set for theaters in the upcoming months.

Coming Soon (Now through April)

John Wick 2 - February 10th

Keanu Reeves struck gold as the title character in Chad Stahelski's critically adored 2014 action-thriller, John Wick. The saga continues thanks to the overwhelming success of the original as John Wick 2 finds a theatrical release this weekend and early word is the film delivers another strong showing (according to critics and audiences alike),

Logan - March 3rd

Hugh Jackman returns as The Wolverine one final time in James Mangold's Logan early next month. The superhero has enjoyed a slew of franchise installments, Jackman has confirmed that this will be his last go-around as the iconic comic book figure. And seriously, could we ever envision anyone else in the role? So it may be worth enjoying one last ride this March.

Kong: Skull Island - March 10th

Following the massive success of Godzilla's return to Hollywood, it only seems fitting for the industry to milk it for all its worth with a King Kong spin-off. And we all see where this is headed, right? An epic blockbuster show-down between the two creatures in a re-boot that has studio-execs drooling already. The cast of Kong: Skull Island is impressive, with recent Academy Award Winner Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston and John C. Reilly all attached, which certainly has me in full sheep mode ready to buy a ticket next month.

Beauty and the Beast - March 17th

I must admit, the live action remake of Disney's Beauty and the Beast gives me a reaffirming bit of nostalgia. As a fan of the animated version and someone who enjoys the story enough to pay and see it on Broadway years ago, my reserved skepticism of Emma Watson portraying the lead role of Belle isn't enough to keep me from the theaters. Beauty and the Beast also arrives this March.

Life (2017) - March 24th

2017 offers a few intriguing sci-fi titles early in the year. One such film is Daniel Espinosa's outer-space thriller, Life. Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson star in the story of an international space crew who intercept a search vessel from Mars and discover an ever-growing alien life-form that wreaks havoc on the crew. The footage looks impressive and the cast has enough fire-power to catch my interest. Life arrives in about a month and a half in late March (trailer here).

Fate of the Furious - April 14th

While I'm admittedly the furthest thing from a fan of The Fast and the Furious franchise, I'm forced to recognize that a large percent of the population can't wait for this upcoming 8th installment. F. Gary Gray helms the latest feature which reprises the role of figurehead Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), and also includes appearances by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell and Michelle Rodriguez. I hope you're ready for some high-octane thrills this April.

The Circle - April 28th (limited release)

I couldn't avoid a plug for one of my favorite evolving filmmakers, James Ponsoldt. He's already mastered the indie drama, and now the director tackles the sci-fi genre with a phenomenal cast and a gripping story from Dave Eggers. Emma Watson stars as a new employee to a powerful tech company that plans to revolutionize the world with a groundbreaking idea that's also quite nefarious. Tom Hanks, John Boyega and Patton Oswalt co-star in what could be a very strong early year release that comes to select theaters in late April.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - May 5th

Marvel's most lovable cast of misfit superheroes return for another hilarious and action-filled adventure with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. As the unofficial kick-off to 2017's blockbuster season, James Gunn's latest sets Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) on a mission to discover the true identity of his father all while him and the rest of the crew just ... well, you know ,.. save the galaxy from annihilation.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - July 7th

This summer, Tom Holland will be the third actor to star in a feature film about the popular web-slinger in the last 10 years.  The difference with Spider-Man: Homecoming is that this venture, under the direction of Jon Watts, will now be a joint Marvel/Sony production.  The latest installment will also tie into the larger MCU with Tony Stark playing a role in the movie which picks up after the events of Captain America: Civil War.  The trailer also gave us a glimpse of Michael Keaton’s take on the villainous Vulture -- who can now say he’s starred in two major superhero franchises.  

War for the Planet of the Apes - July 14th

Word has just dropped that director Matt Reeves will be taking over for Ben Affleck as the visionary behind DC Comics' stand alone film, Batman. But before he does, Reeves is back this summer with another installment of the continuously impressive Planet of the Apes film universe. Embroiled in yet another battle between man and apes, Woody Harrelson and his band of human followers try once again to take down Caesar and the rest of the genetically modified primates.

Dunkirk - July 21st

With the summer movie season dominated by superheroes, comedies and animated offerings, Christopher Nolan’s latest will allow us the opportunity for a respite from the typical blockbuster fare.  Dunkirk tells the story of Allied troops who were surrounded by German forces and evacuated through heroic efforts in what proved to be a pivotal moment of World War II.  As usual, Nolan will be utilizing IMAX technology to promise the most immersive experience possible.  Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh star, as well as recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance and One Direction’s Harry Styles -- who, if anything, could guarantee some large box office returns.

Blade Runner 2049 - October 6th

Recently there’s been a surge of sequels whose original dates back -- in some cases -- decades.  Unfortunately, many have failed to recapture the magic of their respective original, but this fall, one movie has a lot going for it that could prove to be worth the wait.  Blade Runner 2049 will see Harrison Ford step back into yet another iconic role of his -- Rick Deckard.  Set 30 years after the original,  Ford stars alongside Jared Leto and Ryan Gosling who plays a LAPD officer on the hunt for Deckard.  In the director’s chair will be Denis Villeneuve -- proven to be a master of tone and atmosphere with his recent efforts Arrival and Sicario -- making him the perfect fit for this project.   And if Villeneuve needed any more assistance recreating the iconic visual style of Ridley Scott’s original, he’s enlisted the help of one of the best cinematographers working today, Roger Deakins.

Justice League - November 17th

Despite some harsh critical response and tepid fan reaction, the DC cinematic universe keeps chugging along and this year will finally see the major team-up movie The Justice League brought to the big screen.  Zack Snyder is once again tasked with shepherding the beloved comic book heroes to the screen.  Although the build up to this movie has been less than stellar -- especially when compared to how well Marvel executed their strategy leading up to the first Avengers film -- interest should still be sky high.  The big question is whether or not Snyder and company can finally deliver a movie that satiates both fans and critics.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - December 15th

It was recently revealed that the subtitle for Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga would be The Last Jedi which caused fans to speculate -- is this the end of the Jedi? Others were quick to point out Jedi is both singular and plural -- so who knows!?!  Further details of the next installment have been kept under wraps, but if one can venture a guess as to what’s in store for this one after the events of the Force Awakens, we know Rey has found the reclusive Luke Skywalker who may or may not be a guide for the heroine in the journey, and The First Order will look to gain an upper-hand in the battle with the Resistance.  Sound familiar? Despite glowing reviews, the main criticism of The Force Awakens was its similar trajectory to Episode 4, A New Hope, so you have to believe director Rian Johnson and his creative team are aware of not following the same path as the original trilogy.  Benicio Del Toro joins the cast and we’ll sadly get to see the conclusion of Princess Leia’s story in The Last Jedi, too.  

*** Check back this week as we'll break down the most notable films from the Comedy, Horror and Thriller genres, as well as 2017's potential awards season contenders ***

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Rapid Reviews: A Cure for Wellness and Gold

The marketing campaign for Gore Verbinski's long-awaited return to the horror(ish) genre has been relentless. And after 20th Century Fox dished out the big bucks for a pricey advertising spot during this past Super Bowl, A Cure for Wellness clearly hopes to attract a wide-ranging audience with its mystery and intrigue. Verbinski, who broke out in 2002 with the instant horror classic, The Ring, is best known for his work over the last decade and a half continually teaming up with Johnny Depp in the long-running action franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean. Yet, could this return to the horror-thriller genre be his true calling? A Cure for Wellness would suggest otherwise.

Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, an ambitious business executive who ventures to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to find the company's CEO and return him to the states for a transaction that requires his appearance. But when Lockhart arrives at an eerie treatment center which houses his boss, he begins to suspect that a deeper and stranger plan is at work in the facility. As he sneaks around looking for evidence to support his suspicions, Lockhart begins to toe-the-line between the truth and madness.

A Cure for Wellness deserves to be lauded for its stark originality and gripping mystique. However, there's very little else to help ease the audience through the film's painfully harsh 2 hour and 26 minute running time. This muddled marathon lures the viewer with a creepy introduction to its spa-like setting, but struggles to complete the entire story in an appropriate manner. Verbinski drags the plot through twists and turns that force you to believe a bigger reveal is right around the corner, but nothing grand ever develops. Instead, A Cure for Wellness is exactly what it seems to be, a frustratingly unpleasant spiral into psychological madness for both its lead character and the viewer.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Matthew McConaughey's career turnaround has been well documented. He smoothly transitioned from a rom-com heartthrob into a bona fide Oscar-Winning dramatic actor following an unforgettable turn in 2013's Dallas Buyers Club. McConaughey is known for portraying exuberant and sometimes over-the-top characters, and he takes us on one of his wildest journeys yet in Stephen Gaghan's Gold.

Struggling prospector Kenny Wells (McConaughey) needs a big score to keep his business afloat. And after a late-night premonition sends him on a journey to the uncharted jungles of Indonesia, Wells and geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) strike it rich by discovering the largest gold mine in recent history. As news breaks of their lucrative score, all of Wall Street wants in on the business venture and Wells goes from a financial pariah to an uncontrollable big wig.

Gold serves as an interesting character study centering around themes of envy, greed and obsession. Matthew McConaughey continues his recent string of acting dominance and almost single handedly keeps the film from utter disaster. His commitment to the role is evident with a physical transformation that includes a pot belly and comb-over. Despite McConaughey's fine lead performance, as well as the strong supporting work of both Edgar Ramirez and Wells' love interest played by Bryce Dallas Howard, Gold's screenplay is as unhinged as its lead character. And although the film almost redeems itself with an unforeseen ending, Gold struggles too mightily to construct a worthwhile viewing experience.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grace: C+

Monday, February 6, 2017

Life (2017) and T2 Trainspotting Trailers

This March we travel back into outer space with Daniel Espinosa's sci-fi thriller, Life. When a space station crew of 6 astronauts intercepts a research vessel returning from Mars, they discover the first proof of life beyond Earth. But as this intelligent organism continues growing in strength and size, the astronauts are forced to fend for their lives against this unknown foe. The footage looks impressive and the cast has enough big names to catch my attention (Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds), hopefully Life ends up being a surprisingly strong effort in the early months of 2017.

My love and appreciation of filmmaker Danny Boyle cannot be overstated. His stylish approach and creative storytelling always turn his films into a unique experience. Boyle follows up an old classic from over two decades ago with T2 Trainspitting. Ewan McGregor reprises the role of Mark Renton, a former junkie who returns home to reconnect with old friends, but finds his past mistakes can't be escaped. As a fan of the original, you better believe I'm excited for this sequel. T2 Trainspotting will receive a modest theatrical release this April, so keep an eye out for it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

DVD Outlook: February 2017

After a few middling months of new DVD and Blu-Ray options, February unloads with a wide assortment of top tier selections (January's suggestions). A whopping four films from my Top 10 of the Year as well Oscar and Golden Globe recognized titles are all at your disposal this month. Generally I recommend a trio of new films, yet February is so stacked with quality options that there are five films you definitely need to see.

Moonlight - 3 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

What can I say that hasn't already been said about Barry Jenkins' masterful indie drama, Moonlight. A compelling arrangement brought to life through a powerful story, stellar direction and a brilliant cast, Moonlight stands as one of 2016's greatest achievements. The life of an impoverished Miami youth forced to come to terms with his sexuality is told in three gripping chapters. Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, Moonlight stands an exemplary illustration of independent filmmaking. (February 28th)

Manchester by the Sea - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Full disclosure: Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is a lazily paced and somber film. If I haven't lost you already, it's also a sadly poetic journey into the human grieving process that deservedly captured 6 Oscar Nominations in total. Casey Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, a handy man who's forced to return to his former hometown of Manchester to car for his teenage nephew (Academy Award Nominee Lucas Hedges) after his brother passes away. Manchester by the Sea isn't the most enticing watch, but the film is a wonderful example of top-flight acting and character development. (February 21st)

Nocturnal Animals - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Despite its rather weak Oscar showing, in comparison to some of the other big-named titles from the awards season, Tom Ford's stylish vision and clever story structure intertwine to create one of the year's most fascinating and cerebral entries. Nocturnal Animals follows an Art Gallery owner (Amy Adams) who receives the manuscript of her ex-husband's (Jake Gyllenhaal) upcoming novel, which he's also dedicated to her by name. And as she dives into the book's grisly and violent story, she recalls the bitter ending of their previous marriage. Nocturnal Animals is made in the vein of David Lynch and the thriller certainly stands out amongst this year's other offerings. (February 21st)

Arrival - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Amy Adams appears again in Denis Villeneuve's Best Picture Nominee, Arrival. This sci-fi drama trades in regular genre staples like gaudy special effects and action-pack thrills for a cleverly crafted and original story. Villeneuve's artist direction paints the fascinating portrait of a linguistics expert (Adams) who's summoned by the U.S. Military to form a method of communication with an alien species that just arrived to Earth. There's definitely an early lull in the film, but Arrival comes together in a powerful and cerebral finale that will keep your brain churning long after the credits roll. (February 14th)

The Edge of Seventeen - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

I've always been a sucker for the teen comedy genre, and Kelly Fremon Craig's The Edge of Seventeen is one of the finest in recent memory. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a peculiar teenage girl who gets by with the help of her lifelong sidekick and best friend, Krista. But when she discovers that Krista is having a fling with her older brother, Nadine's social life is turned completely upside down. With a ton of R-rated laughs and a superb supporting role from the always excellent Woody Harrelson, The Edge of Seventeen provides all of the necessary ingredients for a wildly fun ride. (February 14th)

Honorable Mention: Oscar Nominated films Hacksaw Ridge (2/21), Loving (2/7) and Doctor Strange (2/28) are also available in February. Acclaimed filmmakers Ang Lee, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2/14), and Robert Zemeckis, Allied (2/28), have new material arriving this month as well. Finally, one of the year's most underrated films, the indie drama Christine (2/14), joins animated film Trolls (2/7) and boxing biopic Bleed for This (2/14) as new titles available in February too.