Don't Breathe Review

Director Fede Alvarez Crafts a Second Horror Feature that Utilizes a Single Location to Elicit Maximum Tension.

Suicide Squad Review

Director David Ayer's Entry in the DC Extended Universe is a Narrative Mess, but its Main Characters and their Sense of Fun Make-up for Much of the Shortcomings.

Kubo and the Two Strings Review

With Kubo, Laika has Established itself as a Force to be Reckoned with as their Latest is Full of Soul, Wisdom, and Kindness.

Sausage Party Review

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg Take on the Animated Genre in a Movie that is a Hilariously Demented and Dark Look at the Lives of Food.

War Dogs Review

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller Lead this Insane True Life Story that is as Much About Having Fun and Making Money as it is Opening our Eyes to the Realities of War.

MECHANIC: RESURRECTION Review

I saw the 2011 Simon West re-make of the seventies era Charles Bronson film, The Mechanic, starring Jason Statham as an elite assassin with a unique talent for eliminating targets and making it look like it was an accident. I'm pretty sure I saw that one. I did. I know I did because I generally enjoy these no-brainer action flicks Statham pops out randomly once or twice a year, but why this admittedly forgettable re-make from five years ago needed a sequel is unclear. Unclear really isn't the right word though, as this thing is totally unnecessary and that's obvious from the get-go. There is no ambition behind the product, there is no flair to the fight sequences, and the bigger action "spectacle" looks so cheap this may as well have run after Sharknado 7 on the Syfy network. Still, we have Mechanic: Resurrection because why not at this point? If one is interested in this sequel it will undoubtedly be due to the fact they either love seeing Jason Statham beat people up or they have a general affinity for bad movies. The thing with Mechanic: Resurrection though is that it's not even a good bad movie. Guilty pleasures, if you will, give audiences something to enjoy despite the obvious shortcomings of the overall product whereas with Mechanic: Resurrection there is very little to enjoy at all. So sure, I like to think of myself as a Statham fan especially when he's given the opportunity to take these archetypal action heroes and turn them into brooding bad asses that actually are action heroes with none of the nonsense that differentiates him from say, the James Bond franchise. Statham doesn't normally mess with the fancy gadgets or the outlandish cars, but more he goes in, takes care of business, and escapes before the cops show up. In short, he's no nonsense, but that's all Mechanic: Resurrection is. Still, I can feel that for people who only venture out to the movies once or twice a year and will for some reason pick this as one of those two movies to see will inevitably find it to hit all the right spots and send them home happy due to the fact it met their expectations for an action movie with an evil European villain, but to them I say, "please spend your money on anything else-Hell or High Water if it's playing near you or Star Trek Beyond if it hasn't disappeared from theaters yet." Both are prime examples of B-movies done right; utilizing their genre restrictions in fun and refreshing ways whereas the only B-word to describe this latest Statham movie is bad. Just plain bad.

DON'T BREATHE Review

Don't Breathe, the new horror/thriller from director Fede Alvarez (the Evil Dead re-make), opens with a distant shot of what looks to be a deserted street. Only later do we find out this is one of the more run down sections of Detroit where time and humanity have left everything behind that might have once thrived there. As the camera gets closer to the street we can see there is someone walking down the middle of it. The camera continues to zoom in slowly-we can tell that someone is dragging something down the road behind them. A little closer. They are dragging another person. A little closer. It's a girl who is either dead or unconscious-it's difficult to tell and we will remain unsure as the screen then cuts to black. It's a killer opening shot that clearly points to a moment that is to come later in the film, but with its placement at the beginning Alvarez has already enticed his audience to how we might get to this point and whether that shot indicates the end of the line or not. It's a trick that has been used before and will certainly be used again, but every now and then it feels especially inherent to the story being told and Don't Breathe feels like an instance where this isn't only a tool to lure the unsuspecting (or suspecting if you bought a ticket, I mean c'mon) audience member into the intrigue of what exactly is going on, but instead this is a choice that lets those audience members (suspecting or not) know up front that Alvarez means to make you question things, to make you pull your knees up to your chin and grit your teeth because you feel so tense. This isn't simply a hook, but an indication of the type of terror the characters we'll come to know are capable of and this is all accomplished in the first thirty or so seconds so one can only imagine what sitting through ninety minutes of such adept perception of what makes people uncomfortable and afraid might be like. In only his second feature film the Uruguay-born director delivers a horror film that, much like his previous movie, contains itself to an isolated location, but only continues to raise the stakes and use that space in inventive and chilling ways. Save for something of a lackluster middle section where, for a moment, the film feels as if it runs out of both steam and ideas for where exactly to take the story and its characters, the film is a tightly scripted and well-performed fright night that finds its footing well enough to redeem itself and pull the cautious viewers back to the side of rooting for whoever gains the most of their sympathy.

First Trailer for LION Starring Dev Patel

The first trailer for The Weinstein Company's big Oscar hopeful this year, Lion, has premiered and only reinforces the pain of the fact that I'll be missing out on the Toronto International Film Festival this year. As with many an Oscar hopefuls, the film will premiere at the festival and hope for glowing reviews from critics to garner momentum and a strong push come awards season. Of course, this isn't always necessary, but critical reception at TIFF largely influences the buzz your film has, especially smaller releases such as this, going into the holiday movie season. As for the film itself, like I said-this only makes the fact I won't be going to TIFF this year all the more heartbreaking because this trailer hits all the right notes for the true story it's telling, looks well-acted, and is gorgeous to look at. This will be director Garth Davis' feature film debut though he's working with cinematographer Greig Fraser who has crafted some unforgettable imagery for Foxcatcher, Zero Dark Thirty and the upcoming Rogue One. While Patel has been somewhat hit or miss since his breakout in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire eight years ago (yes, Slumdog Millionaire was eight years ago) he looks to return to that arena this year as a man who was separated from his family as a child and goes looking for them with the help of Google Earth. The trailer doesn't harp on this aspect of the plot too much, but it's certainly there and beyond this somewhat kitshy aspect of the story it seems screenwriter Luke Davies (last years underrated Life) who adapted the 2014 novel A Long Way Home from the real-life Saroo Brierley and Australian author Larry Buttrose has honed in on the more human aspects of the story as the trailer specifically focuses on the relationship between Patel's Brierley and Rooney Mara's Lucy. This Oscar season feels especially crowded so it will be interesting to see if this final product can stand out. Lion also stars Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Sunny Pawar and opens November 25th, 2016. 

MORRIS FROM AMERICA Review

Though Morris from America initially feels as if it will hit on something refreshingly cool that hint of uniqueness slowly wears off as it becomes apparent the film is little more than a fish out of water tale that serves only to make the more central coming-of-age story that much more awkward. What allows the film to maintain this somewhat refreshing momentum are the performances and chemistry between star Craig Robinson (The Office) and newcomer Markees Christmas who plays the titular Morris. This father/son dynamic rescues the film from what is otherwise an oddly constructed sequence of events that puts Morris in league with a young German girl named Katrin (Lina Keller) who plays with Morris' feelings at once seeming as if she'll be his gateway and his salvation in this foreign land while at another being largely indifferent and vague about her intentions. While the tertiary relationship that is established when the film begins works effortlessly it is in attempting to construct this central young love fable that isn't meant to be so that Morris learns life's lessons the hard way that never fully clicks. In light of this it is something of a shame the film ends up spending more time on the Morris/Katrin dynamic than it does either that of Morris' relationship with Robinson's Curtis or even his German tutor, Inka (Carla Juri), who Morris develops a trust with that he hasn't been able to find outside of his father. The film also seems to want to upend the conventions of typical coming-of-age tales, but isn't sure how to do so other than by making its protagonist less of an introvert than these characters usually are and combating that character trait by changing the standard high school environment to that of a German youth center that isn't keen on accepting the hip-hop loving Morris. In the end, the film still finds itself in the position of adhering to such genre conventions by having Morris overcome his fears and insecurities in a public display of his true talent that finally gives way to some type of acceptance. Morris from America, much like Morris himself, doesn't seem to really know what it is. It has numerous influences and ideas, but it's not sure how to meld these attributes into its own thing.    

HELL OR HIGH WATER Review

Hell or High Water opens with a 360° shot of a small, West Texas town that is more or less deserted. Panning what looks to be one of the main roads through town the audience is meant to note the several for sale signs, the others offering loans, and most prominently a piece of graffiti that states, "3 tours in Iraq, but no bailout for people like us." Hell or High Water immediately tells us its stance on the story it will be relaying in that it concludes this opening, single take with two masked men entering the small town's bank and requesting only loose bills, no stacks or, in other words, the banks money and not the peoples. In this expertly crafted opening sequence director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) displays a knack for visually highlighting exactly what he wants us to focus on. Beyond the visual style Mackenzie adopts for this story that captures the flatlands of West Texas and its expansive plains in gorgeous hues is his adeptness at capturing the necessary atmosphere to complement the specific kind of tone which naturally influences the overall mood of his film. In short, everything falls into place perfectly with the pacing of the picture which is as close to a perfectly paced film as anything I've seen this year. We are thrown into the action of a bank robbery that is quickly undermined by the inherent humor that comes from human interactions while noting specifically the mentality of these Texans in which the movie will very much hang its trust and pride. The setting is established, the framing of this setting's attitude and character is made apparent, and only then we are introduced to the men behind the ski masks-brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine). As with the setting we can see who these two brothers are from very early on. Foster's Tanner is the free-wheeling, living in the moment sort that will take whatever action makes him feel good whereas Pine's Toby lives more by a moral code with his eyes firmly planted on the end goal rather than what feels best in the moment. Toby doesn't like to deviate from the plan, but Tanner couldn't be more primed to be unreliably ecstatic as he's just been released from prison less than a year prior to the events we're seeing. It is in these two characters that Hell or High Water finds its most valuable assets; relaying its many ideas through the guise of two desperate men sticking it to the man.

Teaser Trailer for RINGS

In the fall of 2002 I was a very impressionable fifteen year-old who'd never really experienced a horror film in the darkness of a movie theater before. Hell, I'm not sure I'd ever really experienced a horror movie at all-my parents weren't exactly the movie watching types and as the oldest child I had no one to show me what was cool or hip at the time. This is all to bring us around to the fact that when I wandered into The Ring in October of that year I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was terrified after seeing it. I couldn't imagine a scarier experience than the one just shown to me. I was so morbidly fascinated by this ability of a film, something essentially intangible, to have as great an effect on me as it did. I went back to see it again and still director Gore Verbinski's film frightened me despite knowing when the jumps and scares were coming. To this day, The Ring is one of my favorite scary movies and I have since caught up with what many would regard as classics of the genre. And so, I was disappointed when the promise of original director Hideo Nakata (who made the 1998 Japanese horror film Ringu on which The Ring was based) returning to direct the American sequel in 2005 turned out to be little more than a cash grab with very few artistic aspirations. This brings us to 2016 where, fourteen years after the original hit theaters, we have a third film in the franchise that will look to bring Samara into the digital age and no doubt terrify a whole new crop of people who dare to watch the video that is said to kill them seven days after doing so. Despite what feels like countless production and release delays Paramount has finally released this teaser only two months before the films release date and while this first look at director F. Javier Gutiérrez's installment certainly seems to be more rehash than original take I can maybe see how this could be fun. Only time will tell, but expectations certainly aren't high. Rings stars Matilda Lutz, Vincent D’Onofrio, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, and opens on October 28, 2016.

IMPERIUM Review

There have been a number of different, interesting, and downright strange roles Daniel Radcliffe has taken in what publicly has felt like an attempt to distance himself from the role that will forever define him, but Radcliffe seems a smart enough fella to understand and realize that no matter what movies he makes in his post-Harry Potter years that it is "the boy who lived" that he will forever be most known for. Rather than necessarily distancing himself from that role, Radcliffe seems more intent on exploring territory he never was able to during his years at Hogwarts. Whether that be Allen Ginsberg, a guy with mysterious horns sprouting out of his head, or a farting corpse-Radcliffe has ventured into areas that even the fearless Mr. Potter might have had some trepidation towards. There is no exception with Radcliffe's latest film as the actor portrays Nate Foster in a story inspired by real-life FBI agent Michael German, who helped co-write the script with director Daniel Ragussis. How is Foster different than anything Radcliffe has played before if he's simply an FBI agent you ask? Well, after displaying the necessary skills in the eyes of higher-up Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) to go undercover Zamparo requests Foster infiltrate a radical white supremacy terrorist group. In short, Radcliffe is a skinhead in a role that asks him to play with the moral complexities of remaining true to the identity he has assumed while attempting to navigate this dangerous world without forgetting the principles that brought him to this line of work in the first place. It is a role worth salivating over for sure, but the question with such potential in a leading role is will the movie itself be able to keep up with what this intriguing character is doing on its own. With Imperium, the answer is 50/50. Though there are plenty of tense moments via Ragussis' script that come with the nature of the subject matter and a few sequences that test the resolve of Radcliffe's Foster it is largely Radcliffe's performance that brings the otherwise meandering narrative to possess real purpose. It isn't necessarily that the plot is bad as it follows a somewhat standard undercover storyline where the viewer can't help but feel our protagonist is under suspicion because we know the truth thus giving way to moments when that protagonist puts on display why they were chosen for such a mission. Beyond the routine story beats though, is there something the film is trying to say? It feels like there is and that there should be with Imperium, but what exactly those things are never come across.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: August 23, 2016

Initial Reaction: Video Review - WAR DOGS & KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

As the summer movie season winds down so typically does the quality of the movies being released, but this year on the last big weekend of the summer it seems the opposite has occurred. Throughout the summer there have been more than a handful of big disappointments both artistically and financially. Some of my most anticipated movies of the summer including Jason Bourne, X-Men: Apocalypse, and of course Suicide Squad have been able to turn a pretty penny while being rather generic whereas smaller fare I was eager to see including Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Free State of Jones (remember that one?), and The Nice Guys were unable to break out financially. Then there are those like Steven Spielberg's The BFG, the long-delayed sequels Alice through the Looking Glass and Independence Day: Resurgence as well as this past weekend's Ben-Hur re-make that failed both critically and commercially (though I acknowledge BFG has it's supporters). All of this is to say that in a generally terrible summer movie season this final weekend turned out to be better than expected as my partner in crime and I very much enjoyed both War Dogs and LAIKA studios latest offering, KUBO and the Two Strings. While Suicide Squad reigned supreme for a third straight weekend and Sausage Party again came in second at the box office there was never much expected in terms of big box office from any of the three new wide releases. That said, the Todd Phillips directed War Dogs starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as two twenty-somethings who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America's allies in Afghanistan debuted with an estimated $14.3 million on an estimated $40 million budget. Finishing fourth with an estimated $12.6 million was Kubo and his two strings. This is the lowest wide opening release for any of the LAIKA's five feature films, which now show a trend of declining multipliers over the course of their last three releases. The film will release internationally over the next few months and will need to do well to make up for its $60 million budget given it will likely end its U.S. run around the $37 million mark. As always, be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube channel as we have a new review (or reviews) up each week!

BEN-HUR Review

There have been many a film versions of Lew Wallace's classic epic Ben-Hur, but of course the most notable is William Wyler's 1959 adaptation starring Charlton Heston that garnered eleven Academy Awards. It is a behemoth at three and a half hours and a product of a different time in Hollywood's history. A time when the studio system still reigned and historical/biblical epics were as hot as comic book movies are today. It was the success of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments that also starred Heston that spurred MGM to invest $15 million (the most expensive film ever made at that point in time) in a new version of Ben-Hur. So, the question is: why re-make such a larger than life classic? Why even attempt to overcome the aura that surrounds a staple of popular culture as definitive as Wyler's Ben-Hur? While I questioned the reasoning for such a re-make it was easier to understand why an updated version of this story was necessary. The 1959 version is very much a product of its time and one that, through rose tinted glasses, can only be seen as this great epic that nothing and no one can touch or challenge. It has gorgeous practical sets and thousands upon thousands of extras shot on panorama that gives it the impression of being that much larger in its scope. It is also a movie someone of not only my generation, but those likely born in the decade prior to me and certainly those born after me, can't see without the already its status as one of the biggest, best movies ever made. Heston is this mythical type-figure of the golden age of Hollywood that can never be touched and so to even try and match such larger than life precedents would be an immediate way to automatically disqualify one's self from even being considered a valid piece of filmmaking. Still, with the 1959 version being as intimidating as it is an updated, shorter, and more current telling of the story might allow a way for modern audiences to find a way into the older version that they'd heard so much about though likely felt they'd already seen due simply to the lasting impression it's left. From the get-go director Timur Bekmambetov's (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) new version felt like it was going to be little more than a cheap knock-off (despite that $100 million production budget). Fortunately, while this 2016 take on Wallace's story is certainly the cliff notes version when compared to Wyler's it is surprisingly effective in accomplishing what it sets out to do and even has enough gumption to emphasize certain themes and actually develop characters rather than simply summarizing the previous versions with contemporary editing practices.