Monday, July 31, 2017

The Best Performances in Christopher Nolan Films

Like a writer pushing his deadline, guest-writer Greg Rouleau has stepped in to deliver the first of a two-part Movie List of the Month featuring the magnificent Christopher Nolan just before the calendar changed to August (June's list). To begin the upcoming movie list series Greg begins by highlighting the Top 10 performances featured in Nolan's film catalog. Here's a look at the selections:

#10. Matthew McConaughey - Interstellar (2014)

The apex of the “McConaissance” came when McConaughey, fresh off an Academy Award win for Best Actor, signed on to star in Nolan’s big-budget sci-fi epic, with an ensemble that included its fair share of Oscar winners and nominees.  Heading this cast in impressive fashion, McConaughey’s Cooper perfectly embodies the rural American family man who can’t deny his dormant thrill for exploration when he’s chosen to lead a team through a wormhole in hopes of discovering a new home for Earth’s inhabitants.  Coop’s great balance of heart, heroism and exuberance captain us through the equally emotional and thrilling time-bending odyssey as he faces the possibility of never seeing his family again, in a mission that – while however bleak - he deems as completely necessary.  

#9. Al Pacino - Insomnia (2002)

Al Pacino (Will Dormer) has never had an issue with playing it big -- chewing up the scenery was almost his shtick around the time he won an Oscar in 1992 -- but what Nolan pulls out of Pacino in Insomnia is a tremendously subtle, nuanced performance.  He never allows his performance to overshadow the story.  The movie is a masterclass in atmosphere and much of that is aided by the veteran Pacino as a guilt-stricken detective suffering from major sleep deprivation as he tracks down the suspected killer.

#8. Guy Pearce - Memento (2000)

Memento is the movie that made Christopher Nolan a name on the indie scene, and much of that can be attributed to the strong performance by Guy Pearce as the short-term memory deficient Leonard Shelby.  Pearce brings Nolan’s screenplay to life with his ability to have us empathize with Leonard as he struggles to deal with his condition.  If it weren’t bad enough that he spends half the movie tattooing notes on his body that serve as reminders of mundane tasks, we also come to understand his desire for vengeance that motivates him as he tracks down his wife’s killer. 

#7. Marion Cotillard - Inception (2010)

Much of Nolan’s films are male dominated with the actresses relegated to background roles and love interests.  With Inception, the French Oscar winner was tasked with arguably the most well rounded role for a woman in a Nolan movie to date.  As Mal, she is both the ambiguous villain whose projection haunts Cobb and creates a barrier between him and his team’s goal.  And through flashbacks, she is the loving wife that our protagonist left behind and stands as a symbol of what he once had.  Cotillard conveys both sides of her character flawlessly and delivers one of the finest performances in a Nolan movie, regardless of gender.  

#6. Robin Williams - Insomnia (2002)

What makes Al Pacino’s role in Insomnia work incredibly well is that he’s playing opposite of another major star at the top of his game, in Robin Williams as the obsessed author, Walter Finch.  In a year that saw Williams shed his typical funnyman reputation in favor of darker, edgier roles -- also seen in the underrated One Hour Photo -- it was truly remarkable to see how easily he could make the transition.  Williams had always shown a knack for the dramatic, but it was eerie to see just how well he could play sadistic.  

#5. Gary Oldman - The Dark Knight (2008)

In The Dark Knight, Gary Oldman turns in one of the best performances in the entire Dark Knight trilogy.  Ironically -- in a film with an all-time classic villain portrayal -- Oldman, usually known for being cast as the antagonist, slips further into the straight-edged Gordon with grace and ease.  It was evident from Batman Begins that Oldman had a strong grasp on the character and here he’s given much more to do including facing off against both the Joker and Two-Face and delivering the rousing final monologue that hammers home why Batman truly is the “Dark Knight”.

#4. Christian Bale - Batman Begins (2006)

Christian Bale was a relative unknown when he was cast as Bruce Wayne in the summer of 2003.  In his audition, Christopher Nolan mentioned he could see in Bale’s eyes the determination of someone who would go to such great lengths to create something as extraordinary as the Batman.  Thankfully, the movie works because of what Nolan saw in that audition.  It’s difficult to remember now after a successful trilogy, but the Batman franchise was on life support after the critically panned Batman & Robin.  Batman Begins success rested on the shoulders of Bale who not only revived the franchise but sent it to new heights with his impeccable portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader.   

#3. Mark Rylance - Dunkirk (2016)

In a movie where dialogue is kept to a minimum, it takes a true artist to give the kind of performance that Mark Rylance pulls off in Dunkirk.  As the stiff upper-lipped Mr. Dawson, Rylance portrays him with such poise as he heads into a situation where the odds of survival are grim.  One standout moment is late in the film when Dawson must acknowledge that his son made the right move to pacify a shell-shocked soldier, as he nods approvingly at his son’s coming to terms with the gravity of the situation.  It’s the work of a master craftsman who for most of the movie conveys so much while saying so little.  

#2. Christian Bale - The Prestige (2006)

Following their successful venture into Gotham City, Nolan and Christian Bale teamed up again for what would be their second of four collaborations, in The Prestige.  As Alfred Borden, a working-class magician obsessed with pushing the boundaries and maintaining the illusion of his artform, even if the consequences are deadly, Bale adeptly depicts the con-man side of magic.  What makes the performance even more impressive is on subsequent viewings -- after you’ve learned the twist -- you see how Bale adds subtle differences to both characters he portrays but maintains enough similarities to keep the illusion alive.  

#1. Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight (2008)

It’s somewhat remarkable to think about how the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker was met with such criticism.  Despite showcasing a broad range of talent in a diverse filmography, the late actor had some naysayers to prove wrong.  As it turned out, Ledger’s take on the Clown Prince of Gotham was seemingly the role he was born to play.  Inspired by A Clockwork Orange, his anarchic Joker seamlessly fit into the dark, twisted Gotham that Nolan created and will go down as one of the greatest villains ever put to screen.  As the film opened to a record setting box-office debut (at the time) and heaps of critical and fan adulation, Heath removed all doubt of what was once a suspicious casting decision and enforced Nolan’s keen eye for talent.  No amount of hyperbolic praise can do justice to what Heath created with this character. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Atomic Blonde and Wind River

Another raved-about entry from this year's SXSW lineup finds its way into theaters nationwide this weekend. David Leitch makes his directorial debut (well, sort of ... he was an uncredited but otherwise acknowledged co-director of 2014's John Wick) with Atomic Blonde, a Cold War spy-thriller headlined by the shape-shifting talents of Academy Award Winner Charlize Theron. And what's next on tap for the budding filmmaker who possesses a knack for intensely-choreographed hand-to-hand combat sequences? Leitch has been handed the keys to the Deadpool franchise with June 2018's highly anticipated sequel.

A remarkably skilled and insanely attractive M-16 Agent from England (Theron) is thrust into the heart of Berlin during the Cold War. Her mission is to coordinate with another implanted spy (James McAvoy) in order to investigate the death of a fellow agent, and to recover a widely valuable list of double-agents. But as her plans quickly become foiled, one after another, she realizes that no one can be trusted.

Action gets a whole lot sexier with Atomic Blonde. But for as eye-popping as the film is, on many accounts, Leitch's effort stands as a classic example of style over substance. Atomic Blonde captures its Cold War setting perfectly thanks to an infusion of 80s retro in every inch of every scene. Yet, the film's desperate desire to outsmart the smartest person in the room with a twisty third-act feels forcibly unnatural and dissatisfying. Atomic Blonde opens with an explosive bang but the excitement and effect dissipates as the story further unravels. Theron's rangy skill-set is on full display as she both looks and feels the part in a role that requires rigorous amounts of physicality. Leitch does show why he's a strong choice to take over the reins of the Deadpool franchise, with impressively stylish and uptempo direction. But as Atomic Blonde presses on to its slightly disappointing final moments, the movie closes in a noticeably weaker fashion than it opens.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water and Sicario) knows a thing or two about crafting a well-oiled story. But nowadays, the hot commodity has his sights set on a larger role as he directs his first feature film since 2011, the Wyoming-set crime thriller Wind River. Sheridan's Cannes and Sundance selected feature takes a little time to get going, but it ultimately plays quite well by the time the credits roll.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy) works as a hunter and tracker for the Department of Game and Fish in the snowy mountains of Wyoming. And when Cory stumbles upon the body of a dead girl on a Native American reservation, he teams with a rookie FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and the reservation's head of police (Graham Greene) to investigate the murder. Together they battle jurisdiction complications and harsh wintry conditions while trying to solve the local crime.

Taylor Sheridan's Wind River struggles through a moping first act that reaches boldly for distractingly ineffective dramatics. Leading pair Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen also stumble out of the gate, never feeling right for their roles at first glance. But as Sheridan's cohesive story begins to take shape so do their characters, which allows the film to build momentum en route to its sleekly delivered "big reveal". Wind River's mystery comes together through an original and remarkably fluid explanation that reminds us just how talented of a writer Sheridan truly is. And although his direction clearly plays second fiddle to a riveting murder mystery, Wind River improves with every passing minute and closes with an absolute bang, once again solidifying the writer/director's standing in contemporary Hollywood.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League (NEW) Trailers

Comic-Com is always a hot bed for debuting new footage, and one of the hot trailers to drop at this year's event belongs to Thor: Ragnarok. In the latest Thor (Chris Hemsworth) saga, the God of Thunder is forced to assemble a team of fighters including The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and others to fend off the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett) who plans to destroy Asgard and reconstruct it in her own dubious image. Thor: Ragnarok arrives in theaters early this November and you can catch the film's first-look trailer below.

Another Comic-Com release includes DC's upcoming major title, Justice League. With rumors of re-shoots and Zach Snyder's unfortunate family matter that resulted in him stepping away from the film late in the process, DC's once "gem" is beginning to look like a cursed effort. Batman (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to recruit a team of metahumans to combat a world-destroying threat before it's too late. Justice League will introduce Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to DC's ever-expanding universe. While some may argue this as a make-or-break effort for the Marvel counterpart, as long as the box office results stay strong, there's no reason to expect an ending in sight. Check out the latest footage for Justice League below.

Friday, July 21, 2017


Christopher Nolan, a name that needs no introduction. As one of the most notable filmmakers in the world today, Nolan has earned the right to not be questioned. "Unconventional" is his calling card. So when it was reported that his new WWII epic, Dunkirk, boasts a running time of only 106 minutes, a far cry from the two and half and three hour staples we've come to expect from iconic war films, the only thought running through my head was "in Nolan we trust".

In the early stages of World War II, the Germans have cornered Allied forces onto the beaches of Dunkirk, France. And rather than wasting valuable tanks to finish them off, the Germans bombard these helpless soldiers with an aerial attack of gunfire and bombs. But as word spreads to the common folk of Great Britain that their young fighters are stranded on the beachfront, they take matters into their own hands and embark on a heroic rescue mission across the channel to retrieve their soldiers.

Look no further than works such as The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento, Interstellar and many others to understand that Christopher Nolan has made a career off of unforgettable filmmaking. His latest entry is yet another spellbinding experience that refuses to waver in intensity. Nolan's direction is sharp and on point while Dunkirk's cinematography is nothing short of majestic. But when all is said and done, the true all-star behind this film is Nolan's regular collaborating partner, composer Hans Zimmer. His relentless score keeps your heart pounding as the bullets fly and the bombs explode throughout the entire duration of the film.

Although Dunkirk represents an exceptionally-made piece of cinematic art, it doesn't come without its blemishes. Dialogue is rare to come by, not that it necessarily matters, but it leads to a lack of character development and any real semblance of a story that ultimately plagues the film and keeps it from being an absolute masterpiece. Instead, Dunkirk simply unravels as a sequence of events which capture a truly amazing real-life occurrence. And the film's underlying dichotomy of both bravery and cowardice in the face of danger is delivered eloquently. Dunkirk is another strong piece of filmmaking from Nolan, something we've come to expect with each new release of his, but its complete disregard for character building and failure to offer a true narrative structure absolutely destroy the film's re-watchability. Oscar chatter is already being thrown around for this July release and I really wouldn't be surprised one way or the other. But if you're in search of a gut-wrenching and high octane throwback to World War II, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk will certainly take you on a ride unlike any other.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Snowman and The Disaster Artist Trailers

From the acclaimed Best Selling Novel comes Tomas Alfredson's (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Let the Right One In) October murder-mystery, The Snowman. Michael Fassbender stars as Harry Hole, a detective determined to find a killer who taunts the police with snowmen at his crime scenes. Readers were enthralled by the novel and if the film can be anywhere near as good, then we may have the year's most gripping crime-thriller on our hands. Check out the debut trailer for The Snowman which just dropped this morning.

Tommy Wiseau's 2003 indie film, The Room, has been labeled as one of the worst films ever made, but that hasn't stopped it from earning an impressive cult following. And after debuting a "work in progress" screening at this year's SXSW Film Festival, James Franco's behind-the-scenes darkly comic, albeit respectful, dramatization, The Disaster Artist, became the talk of the town. Franco's brother, Dave, and regular partner in crime, Seth Rogen, co-star in this underdog December release. Catch the first-look teaser trailer for The Disaster Artist below.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves closes out his third (and perhaps final?) installment of the rejuvenated Planet of the Apes franchise with this weekend's release. And while lofty praises continue to pour in for this latest effort, the film doesn't quite justify its combative title. Instead, Reeves bridges his story arc with the 1968 original film through an ambitious effort that reaches for a more emotional angle than battle-infused centerpiece.

While Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the rest of his advanced ape society reside deep in the wilderness, they suffer a severe number of casualties during ambush attacks from a human army led by "The Colonel" (Woody Harrelson). But as the majority of the ape population wishes to trek beyond the mountains in search of a new land to call home, Caesar and a select few turn their backs on the tribe and seek vengeance on The Colonel. The feuding leaders meet in the midst of a deadly showdown that could determine the fate of humanity.

Matt Reeves' aspiring epic prides itself on themes of family, revenge, sacrifice and morality. And one of the most profound aspects of the film is how Reeves and co-writer Matt Bomback circumvent any sense of repetition with the franchise's last film and continually drive heady, new ideas into this 140-minute tour de force. In doing so, War for the planet of the Apes always provides a clever turning of the page in its story and never falls victim to what could have been a long-winded endeavor. But despite these well-crafted shifts throughout the film, its screenplay does miss the mark with some puzzling new developments, especially those transforming Koba-loyalist apes into traitors who now pledge their allegiances to the humans. Koba was so anti-human and the backbone of the second film's brutal battle between the two ape factions, that it seems completely implausible.

Another interesting development is the lack of full fledged combat in a film that carries a title such as this one. Rather than funneling his attention to a string of action-packed fight scenes, Reeves and company pivot their tale to a more emotional side of Caesar. In some regards this element of the film becomes very preachy, often reminding the viewer via dialogue all along the way as to why Caesar and his small pack are on their mission. Yet, this lofty attempt at the dramatics also serves as a refreshing and much-needed twist to the saga that Reeves captures pretty well. War for the Planet of the Apes isn't exactly the masterpiece some have labeled it to be, but the latest and possibly final chapter in this set of prequels is without a doubt a satisfying one.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, July 17, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (NEW) and A Wrinkle in Time (Teaser) Trailers

This October Denis Villeneuve (Arrival and Sicario) will re-brand Ridley Scott's beloved sci-fi universe with the sequel Blade Runner 2049. Set three decades after Scott's effort, a new Blade Runner named Officer K (Ryan Gosling) enlists the assistance of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in order to combat a dark secret with the potential to destroy society. Villeneuve is one of the hottest filmmakers in the industry and fresh off an Oscar nod, Ryan Gosling in the lead role has to excite everyone. Catch the just-released newest trailer for Blade Runner 2049 below.

Ava DuVernay tackles the classic Madeleine L'Engle novel, A Wrinkle in Time, slated for a March 2018 release. Following the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine), Meg Murry (Storm Reid) travels into space with her brother and friend in order to find him. This debut trailer for DuVernay's effort looks spectacular and feels authentic. With Reese Witherspoon, Michael Pena, Zach Galifianakis, Oprah Winfrey and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in supporting roles, A Wrinkle in Time could be a surprisingly worthwhile early-year release in 2018. Catch the film's first-look footage below.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Despicable Me 3 and The House

If there's one current animated franchise I always look forward to, it's the Despicable Me films. Credited directors Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillon (co-director) bring to theaters the third installment of this series. Yet, with each subsequent journey into the hilarious and complicated life of former-super-villain Gru (voice of Steve Carell), the Despicable Me franchise seems to take a step backwards.

After foiling an attempt at capturing the disgruntled former child star and 80s retro villain, Balthazar Bratt (voiced by South Park creator Trey Parker), Gru and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from the Anti-Villain League (AVL). And just as Gru breaks the unfortunate news to his trio of adopted daughters, he's visited by a man who reveals that Gru has a twin brother named Dru (also Steve Carell) who happens to possess a taste for villainy himself. The estranged siblings engage in some mischievous behavior behind Lucy's back and it leads on a path back to Balthazar Bratt once again.

Despicable Me 3 misses a grand opportunity with the franchise's over-arching story to develop a deep and impactful character conflict with Gru, all while continuing to keep its running time under the 100-minute threshold. Rather, the team involved takes a simpler and thoughtless approach that keeps the effort from ever really standing out. Sure, the film delivers familiar laughs with its quirky main characters and boundless minions, who always find clever ways of bringing the humor, but devoting all of its attention to a contrived twin-brother creation fails to take the Despicable Me franchise any further. If you aren't already an invested fan of the series, then there isn't nearly enough to warrant a watch.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Over the last two decades Will Ferrell's career trajectory has been trending in the wrong direction. Its path falling steeper and steeper with each passing movie decision. But it's the latest co-called "comedy" from first-time director and established screenwriter, Andrew Jay Cohen (Neighbors 1 & 2 and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), that marks an absolute low for the one-time king of comedy.

Timid suburban parents Scott and Kate (Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are banking on a local town scholarship to help pay for their daughter's expensive college tuition. But when a crooked councilman (Nick Kroll) votes to terminate the scholarship fund in favor of building a fancy new community pool, they must do whatever it takes to afford the first fall payment, even if it means opening an underground casino in their emotionally unstable friend's (The League's Jason Mantzoukas) house. The couple quickly learns that they have to toughen up in order to run a successful and respectable illegal gambling operation.

The story borderlines on lunacy, the laughs are almost non-existent and, in fact, there's almost nothing redeeming in Cohen's The House. I apply to the school where comedies are supposed to be clever and make you laugh. The "clever" tag has faded a bit over the years, but at least most modern comedies can still generate a response with some type of identifiable humor. Oddly, The House doubles down on incoherently improvised gibberish that's neither funny or effective in any way, shape or form. Known for his outlandishly over-the-top personae in tv shows and on the big screen, Jason Mantzoukas stands as the only lifeline in the film and, honestly, he isn't all that great either. Roll the dice with something, even anything, else and take a long walk away from The House.

Stars: 1 star out of 4

Grade: D

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Dark Tower (NEW) and Geostorm Trailers

It took a while for Stephen King's series-origin novel, The Dark Tower, to finally get transferred onto the big-screen, but with each new trailer the excitement builds for Nikolaj Arcel's adaptation. Idri Elba stars as The Gunslinger, a man who protects the Dark Tower from The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who wishes to reign terror on both their world and planet Earth. A new international trailer has just landed for The Dark Tower and gives an even deeper glimpse into the upcoming August release. Check out the new footage below.

If you're itching for a cheesy end of the world action flick with some insane visual effects, then Dean Devlin and Danny Cannon's have just what you're looking floor with their October release, Geostorm. Set in a future where severe storms have threatened human survival on Earth, humanity comes together to build a satellite system that can control the weather. But when those satellites begin to malfunction just as Earth faces a catastrophic storm, a pair of brothers (Gerard Butler and Jim Sturgess) are on a race against time to fix the issue and save humanity from annihilation. You can catch the debut trailer for Geostorm below.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Beguiled

While many critics and outlets constantly insist that audiences are starving for the Spider-Man film that they deserve, it feels too much like revisionist history. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man starring Tobey McGuire in 2002 (89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 73 Meta-Critic score) and Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield in 2012 (72%, 66) both opened to strong critical approval. Yet, this rapid return to the Peter Parker character is a whole new ballgame with a completely different feel and trajectory. Marvel's Cinematic Universe (MCU) enters the heart of its third "Phase" with a mountain of steam, but can Spider-Man: Homecoming deliver?

Set a few months after the events of Captain America:Civil War, a 15 year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is operating under the watchful eye of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his loyal assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). But as Peter tries harder and harder to impress Stark with his superhero alter ego Spider-Man, he uncovers an underground arms creator and dealer (Michael Keaton) whose powerful weaponry bridges alien technology with human machinery. Instructed by Stark to stop his pursuit of the arms dealer, Peter disobeys the orders and finds himself face to face with a nefarious foe.

Homecoming fits seamlessly into the MCU with a familiar foundation of humor and action. Built on the shoulders of an ingratiating and clumsy teenage geek, played wonderfully by rising star Tom Holland, Marvel's latest release places the universe's macro storyline back on course. Insane visual effects form a web-like cohesion with witty one-line zingers to help keep the action-train churning. These over-extended sequences occur frequently and dwindle in effectiveness with each recurring appearance in the film, yet they're easily overshadowed by some clever maneuvering with the screenplay and Tom Holland's alluring performance. And as I usually criticize the MCU for its lack of attention to its film's central villains, Michael Keaton's Vulture is birthed from a truly intriguing concept. Although Homecoming fails to adequately venture down that creative path, instead delving too deep into Peter's buffoonish teenage quandaries, there's enough meat on the bones to entertain in exactly the way a summer blockbuster should.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Having grown up under the tutelage of her father and directing great, Francis Ford Coppola, it's no surprise that filmmaking and storytelling stream through the bloodlines of Sophia Coppola. Her natural talents earned Sophia capture an Oscar nomination for Directing before her 33rd birthday with the widely-adored Best Picture nominee, Lost in Translation. But since then, Coppola has struggled to return to the same heights she once scaled early in her career. And not much changes with Coppola's new dark and Southern Gothic tale, The Beguiled.

During the Civil War in Virginia, a few remaining women at an All-Girl's school shelter and care for a severely injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) they find just off their property. And as he slowly progresses in health, sexual tensions begin to overtake the house and lead to a competition for his affection. Yet, all of this attention from the woman turns out to be a curse in the making.

As expected Sophia Coppola continues to shine as a filmmaker, flashing riveting camera work and spectacular vision. She has an attraction to period pieces, where she brings together spectacular set design and exquisite costume design to create a genuine mood to the feature. But despite this strong foundation that supports The Beguiled. the slow-burning drama's somber story fails to deliver a bold-enough conclusion. Coppola's latest is an adapted work, which means this disappointment can't rest squarely on her shoulders. However, a compelling and well-acted build-up, courtesy of noteworthy turns from Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, ends up squandered by a timid finale that doesn't do any justice to The Beguiled.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Monday, July 3, 2017

DVD Outlook: July 2017

If I'm being honest, July doesn't have much to offer in terms of its upcoming DVD and streaming releases. You'd be better served catching up on other movies from previous months (June's suggestions), heading to the theaters for a new release, or binge watching a show or two. Either way, here's a look at the new titles available this month.

Free Fire - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

I haven't been too kind to directly Ben Wheatley in the past, but the unique filmmaker puts his stylish eye to good use in the shoot em up action comedy, Free Fire. Set during the late 70s in Boston, two parties meet inside of an abandoned warehouse to take part in a massive arms deal. Yet, when tensions begin to rise for a multitude of reasons, the weapons get put to good use in an epic shoot out. Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson and Sharlto Copley lead a strong cast that produce stellar performances in a script that's heavy on both action and humor. And just as the non-stop gunfire begins to grow tiresome, Wheatley wraps up his film in an unexpected fashion. There's nothing groundbreaking at work in Free Fire, but it's a sure-fire good time. (July 18th)

Kong: Skull Island - 2 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

The latest Kong reboot offers a ludicrous script with phenomenal visual effects. Unlike the recent return to the Godzilla saga, Jordan Vogt-Roberts delivers plenty of the title monster and a whole lot more. As a team of scientists are escorted by the military towards an uncharted island in the Pacific following the close of the Vietnam war, they discover that monsters exist all over the mysterious island. Samuel L. Jackson does what he does best, providing genuine comic relief at the hands of an absurd storyline, but the military presence in the film does stand as an intriguing element. But beyond all of the muck and playful craziness that lurks throughout Kong, the films manages to entertain adequately enough. (July 18th)

Gifted - 2 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Chris Evans trades his Captain America outfit and shield for a more sentimental flavor in Marc Webb's Gifted. Evans stars as the primary caretaker of his brilliant and spirited 7 year-old niece. He hopes to raise the girl in a simple and sociable atmosphere, but things get complicated when his mother (and her grandmother) arrives and a custody battle ensues. Youngster McKenna Grace delivers an exceptional performance, and co-star Octavia Spencer continues her string of exceptional work in this moving film. Yet, as you engage in this custody battle throughout Gifted, the resolution feels cheaply written and nonsensical, forcing the movie to end on a bit of a sour note. (July 25th)

Honorable Mention: Two lesser known films I haven't seen but are on my radar include the based on a true-story adventure, The Lost City of Z (7/11), and the British dramedy, Their Finest (7/11). Franchise blockbuster The Fate of the Furious (7/11) also arrives this month, and so does the WWII true drama, The Zookeeper's Wife (7/4), starring Jessica Chastain. A pair of options for the whole family include The Boss Baby (7/25) and Smurfs: The Lost Village (7/11), while Terrence Malick's SXSW Opening Night film, Song to Song (7/4), and ScarJo's sci-fi entry, Ghost in the Shell (7/25), round out July's new options.