The Magnificent Seven Review

Director Antoine Fuqua Re-teams with Star Denzel Washington for a Re-make of the Classic 1960 Western that is as Thrilling and Entertaining as One Might Hope.

Storks Review

Andy Samberg Stars in Director Nicolas Stoller's Attempt at an Amimated Family Film with Mixed Results.

Sully Review

Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood have Teamed to Bring Their Vision of the "Miracle on the Hudson" to the Big Screen in Effective IMAX Glory.

Snowden Review

Director Oliver Stone and Jospeh Gordon-Levitt Team to Re-tell The Edward Snowden Story in Unnecessary Dramatic Form.

Blair Witch Review

Director Adam Wingard Picks up the Blair Witch Franchsie Sixteen Years After the Disappointing Sequel and Returns it to Familiar Ground.

THE HOLLARS Review

John is Jim and Jim is John and in his new movie, The Hollars, John is simply John. We're talking about John Krasinksi of course who parlayed his likable everyman gig on The Office for nine seasons into a brand all its own with which he will now try to both break (13 Hours) and embrace (The Hollars). In Krasinski's second directorial effort what we have is your standard tale of a white man who's been given little if nothing to overcome in this society other than his own emotions and how he deals with such emotional conflicts when his mother falls ill in the small town he ran away from long ago. It is in returning to this not only small town, but the man's hometown that we know our protagonist will learn lessons that might help him deal with his mental constipation. Naturally, there is a cast of quirky family members who are designed to be specific in certain ways, but just broad enough in others so that we may all find someone to relate them to in our own families. In venturing back to his homestead John with the titular last name rather than Krasinski comes to learn things about his parents and his other family members that he'd never been privy to before; intimate and mostly ugly details he doesn't necessarily want to know or see, but as something of the family savior he finds it his responsibility to try and put them back together. It is in this idea, this story arc that The Hollars attempts to differentiate itself from this genre of defeated middle aged men returning to their roots to remember who they really are by reminding themselves of where they came from. It is in this idea that the one who fled to search for more is the one who fled not wholly out of ambition, but also from the pressures imbued upon them by their clan. In The Hollars, John is the only character whose life is fairly average-he really has little to complain about aside from the fact he may not be where he imagined himself professionally at this point, but otherwise he lives in New York City and has a rich/hip girlfriend in Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) who is expecting their first child. The guy more or less has his stuff together sans a few emotional shortcomings, but it is in these emotional shortcomings that the crisis drives him to some interesting and introspective places that are hinted at through his re-connections with his hometown, but that Krasinski brushes over too broadly for them to really resonate instead resorting to genre cliché's to round out his movie.

First Trailer for FENCES Starring Denzel Washington

I can remember reading Fences in my senior English class and being taken with the August Wilson play. It was a work that certainly made an impression, but given I'd been exposed to the mastery of Flannery O'Conner's "A Good Man is Hard to Find," earlier that semester I don't remember as much of it as I do that O'Connor short story. The original Broadway production that opened in 1987 earned the Tony award for Best Play as well as a Best Actor win for James Earl Jones, but it was the revival that opened in 2010 and gave Denzel Washington and Violas Davis wins for Best Actor and Best Actress that has given way to the first film adaptation of Wilson's sixth installment in his ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle" series. With Washington also at the helm of the project and given his familiarity with the material after performing it night after night six years ago (not to mention what new shades of perspective coming back to such material even later in life might have provided) it would seem this might be the first time the iconic actor might also be praised for his filmmaking skills. Washington's previous directorial efforts, Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters, were fine if not exceptional pieces of inspirational entertainment, but as Washington is taking such a coveted piece of American literature that explores the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes, it would seem Washington certainly might have felt a need for this film version more than ever considering the state of race relations in the world right now. And thus, such aspirations and intentions might produce something truly great. August Wilson insisted that a film adaption of the play be directed by an African American and despite his death in 2005 I can't imagine Mr. Wilson could have imagined a better, more prominent fit for his material than Mr. Washington. Here's to hoping this turns out to be the Oscar contender most are predicting it will be as this first trailer looks rather fantastic. Fences also stars Davis reprising her role as Rose, as well as Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby, Saniyya Sidney, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, and opens on Christmas Day.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 27, 2016

Initial Reaction: Video Review - THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

While we are coming to the end of September it couldn't have felt more like the summer movie season at the theater this weekend as we had both a gigantic studio movie with big movie stars as well as a colorful, star-studded, animated film looking to capitalize on its target audience. Unfortunately, the box office returns for both of these films felt eerily similar to those of the 2016 summer movie season as well. While the re-make of The Magnificent Seven starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt seemed poised to do big business this weekend (I was thinking somewhere in the $40-$50 million range) it ended the Friday to Sunday frame with $35 million which is about what Sully ended at just a couple of weeks back. While this may bode well for the likes of the remaining movie star status' of Washington and Tom Hanks The Magnificent Seven cost $30 million more to make than that Clint Eastwood film. The Magnificent Seven also cost a hefty $35 million more than the last team-up between director Antoine Fuqua and star Washington in 2014's The Equalizer which also had an opening weekend just a few thousand short of $35 million. How this might play out for Sony and MGM who released this re-make of the classic 1960 film is uncertain. As far as westerns play in this day and age there really isn't much to compare it to other than recent Quentin Tarantino efforts, but even those were both winter prestige pictures that somewhat operate on their own terms. The good new is that The Magnificent Seven delivered an "A-" CinemaScore from opening day audiences and currently sits at a 63% "fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes. These positive reviews coupled with its PG-13 rating should easily get the film past the $100 million mark, but how far it goes over that is anyone's guess. It doesn't help that next weekend the film will lose many of its IMAX screens to the Mark Wahlberg thriller Deepwater Horizon while facing competition in Tim Burton's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculair Children, the PG-13 rated comedy Masterminds as well as the expansion of Disney's Queen of Katwe. As for Storks, the Nicolas Stoller directed/Andy Samberg starring animated film finished the weekend with an estimated $21.8 million on a $70 million budget. In short, it will largely be up to international audiences to save this one. That's it for now, but as always be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as we have a new review (or reviews) up each week!

STORKS Review

I see what Warner Brothers Animation is attempting to do here and I can dig it. After finding great success with The LEGO Movie and the fact they acquired the likes of Phil Lord and Chris Miller who directed 21 and 22 Jump Street (as well as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, to their credit) to helm that hit animated movie the thought of continuing to try their hand at bringing in R-rated comedy directors and seeing how they operate within the world of children’s entertainment is a ballsy, but interesting move. Much like with the case of The LEGO Movie Warner Bros. was likely hoping this formula might produce something both mature and goofy with the plus of remaining consistently funny throughout the majority of its runtime. It makes sense and what better way to test said formula than with the likes of Nicolas Stoller, director of such films as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the two Neighbors movies, thus the reason we now have Storks. Because of this inclination to take someone known for one thing and put them just far enough outside of their element, their comfort zone if you will, I was inclined to be more interested in this seemingly agreeable animated family movie than I might have been otherwise. I love it when directors or studios cast an actor known for one type or style of work, especially comedians, and place them in a different setting where we see them challenged in new/different ways that usually result in a more fascinating piece of work by virtue of the outside influences and persona that performer brings with them. That is kind of what is happening here though maybe not to the extreme of, say, Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Rather, Stoller is being challenged by the limits of a PG-rating and how far he can go with his comedy inadvertently forcing him to be more creative with how he comes up with the laughs needed for a 90-minute children's film. And so, how does all of this hype and build-up effect the final product? Well, in many ways this is a disappointment when considering the potential the film had considering the interesting premise, its insanely talented and funny voice cast, and of course the presence of Stoller in the director's chair. Instead of producing anything unique or of distinguishable value Storks more or less plays by the rules of Pixar and DreamWorks movies where the narrative sees a couple of characters going on a quest to achieve a goal that will allow them to discover new things about themselves along the way. There's nothing especially wrong with this structure especially when executed in fun and interesting ways and Storks certainly has its quirks, but more than anything the film feels far too routine to be a product of someone who should have really been challenging themselves.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN Review

The Magnificent Seven, the re-make of the 1960 John Sturges film starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) accomplishes exactly what it intends to be. This is pure popcorn entertainment meant to capitalize on the combination of brand awareness and the popularity of the actors it has on its roster. That said, it takes full advantage of those aspects while delivering a wholly satisfying blockbuster western. It is difficult even, to take away from what is being accomplished within this pure Hollywood product as its only ambition is clearly to deliver something of an updated mythos on the story of seven exceptionally skilled sharpshooters and little more. Given the Sturges film itself was a re-make of director Akira Kurosawa's 1954 film, Seven Samurai, that supplanted the story of a poor village under attack by bandits who recruited seven samurai warriors to help defend their village with an oppressed Mexican village that assembles seven gunfighters to help defend their homes from outlaws relays the idea this particular story is one that can easily be adapted for new ages, new circumstances, and with new relevance. And so, why re-make The Magnificent Seven once again? It seems as though Fuqua, while not having a complete answer, mostly intends to use MGM's idea to raid their classics catalog by allowing him to lend more context to and highlight more of the race relations that were taking place in the late 19th century than might have been approved of in 1960. In light of such a re-framing of history as people see it through pop culture (which is never a good place to rely on for your history, not in 1960 and not now) Fuqua has cast frequent collaborator Denzel Washington in the lead role or the equivalent of what Brynner played in the original. Filling out the titular seven we also have a Mexican in Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Ruflo), a Korean in Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and a Native American in Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) with the remainder of the crew filling out the tall white man quota with the likes of Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D'Onforio. Whether Fuqua's version of these events takes advantage of such changes and actually pulls insight or interesting dynamics from these updates is another thing as the 2016 The Magnificent Seven doesn't stand to get too weighty or theoretical, but instead it simply puts these ideas out there for audiences to recognize while at the same time making these characters so bluntly badass that boxes such as ethnicity hardly seem to matter. Whether this works in favor or against the reasoning for this movie to exist is a conversation to be had, but as far as I'm concerned Fuqua's film is so relentlessly entertaining and such a fun experience there need be no greater reason for its existence.

Red-Band Trailer for BAD SANTA 2 Starring Billy Bob Thornton

Is anyone out there really excited or even good at remembering that there is a Bad Santa 2 being released this holiday season? I keep trying to remember, but with all of the annual Oscar season contenders beginning to make their presence known as well as a large amount of tentpoles by way of a Star Wars movie, a Harry Potter movie, a new Marvel movie, and even something as epically original as Passengers on the horizon it seems to be getting more and more difficult to recall the fact we're also getting a sequel to a thirteen year-old R-rated Christmas comedy that probably should have come out a decade ago if it really cared about being anticipated by anyone. Instead, Broad Green Pictures and Miramax are counting on the age of social-media made nostalgia awareness we're all currently existing in at the moment to give them a solid return on their investment in the Billy Bob Thornton/innocent icons talking dirty franchise. Of course, we all saw how this line of thinking worked out earlier this year when Paramount tried the same thing with the fifteen year-later sequel to Ben Stiller's Zoolander. That property was arguably more "viral" than Bad Santa and had developed more of a cult following in the time since its somewhat disappointing initial release. Add to that the fact Zoolander was rated PG-13 as opposed to the very R-rated Bad Santa and we could have a recipe for disaster here. Granted, the original Bad Santa made $60 million domestically on a $23 million budget, but with the lag between sequels I have to doubt the staying power of that original is as strong as some of the other reboots and sequels we've seen trying to ride this wave of nostalgia. In short, whereas something like Anchorman 2 was able to still succeed based on the fact it had defined part of the zeitgeist of the time in which it came out and parlayed that into a new movie that moved past the original Bad Santa 2 looks to be a redux of the original with cuss words taking the place of actual punch lines. I hope I'm wrong, but we'll find out how good of an idea Bad Santa 2 was when it opens on November 23rd, 2016. The film also stars Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, Ryan Hansen, Cristina Rosato, and features the return of Tony Cox and Brett Kelly as Marcus and Thurman Merman.

THE DRESSMAKER Review

Note: This is a reprint of my review for The Dressmaker, which originally ran on September 21, 2015 after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am publishing it again today as it hits select theaters this weekend.

I watched what could be considered some very strange films at 2015's Toronto International Film Festival, but I don't think any of them were as weird or out there as Jocelyn Moorhouse's The Dressmaker. This movie, you guys, is completely bonkers. You wouldn't think so given the look of the poster and the fact it stars such credible and well-respected talent such as Kate Winslet, Hugo Weaving and Judy Davis, but once this thing gets rolling it is both surprising and distracting as to how ridiculous things become. As I watched the events of the film unfold I couldn't help but to keep writing down again and again how I couldn't believe they were going where they were going and yet, the film kept going...one step further. Now, to be clear, this isn't strange or ridiculous in the sense of bombastic violence or discussing things typically considered far too taboo for everyday discussion, but more in the sense of general absurdities. Having not directed a film in nearly twenty years and operating strictly in Australia this would seem to be a fine opportunity to return for Moorhouse and there is plenty of stuff to have fun with here despite the fact I wasn't able to get on board with all of it. With Winslet leading the charge (though she seems miscast) Moorhouse and her ensemble of misfits that make up this small town in Australia endeavor to deliver a perfectly cheeky little screwball comedy that is able to hold a slight amount of substance rather than being completely flippant.

First Trailer for PASSENGERS Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt

With The Magnificent Seven arriving in theaters this weekend and given that film also stars Chris Pratt and is also financed and distributed by Sony/Columbia Pictures it is no surprise we are finally getting our first look at Passengers today. As the film with the best chance for an out and out original property to break out this year the Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence vehicle has become something of a poster child for whether or not the original property still has any weight attached to it when the closest thing to what are current "name on the poster" movie stars are starring in it. Lawrence is indisputably the biggest star on the planet and Pratt is on a roll with his back to back to back successes of The LEGO Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Jurassic World. If Magnificent Seven ends up doing well in terms of box office (as it seems to be getting favorable if not unremarkable reviews from critics) this will only point to more promise on the potential returns for Passengers. Coming from an original screenplay by Jon Spaihts (who famously wrote the first draft of Prometheus) and telling the story of a spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet that is transporting thousands of people and has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers leaving a single passenger awake for the ninety year journey things are immediately engaging. As this unlucky passenger, Jim Preston (Pratt), contemplates the idea of growing old and dying alone he eventually decides to wake up a second passenger named Aurora (Lawrence). It's funny Lawrence's character shares her name with Sleeping Beauty given the circumstances of the situation and would seem to hint not so subtly at where the film will eventually end, but that is also the beautiful thing about such a story: outside of the obvious there are so many places such a premise could take us. Directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) this first look trailer allows the film to at least seem as if it will make good on the promise of attempting to explore more ideological headspaces than those of standard adventure/sci-fi conventions. I was a fan of Tyldum's Oscar contender a few years back and still need to get around to his highly praised 2011 film Headhunters, but all in all I'm pumped for even the idea of a big-budget original sci-fi flick. Passengers also stars Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Jamie Soricelli, Aurora Perrineau, Kristin Brock, and opens on December 21st, 2016.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 20, 2016