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.

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.

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.

Ben-Hur Review

This Latest Take on Lew Wallace's Classic Epic Offers a More Streamlined and Modern Take on the Christ Story and Isn't Nearly as Bad as that Makes it Sound.

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.

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS Review

Sometimes things just click. We've all seen instances where they don't. In fact, most movies seem like they could be examples of experiments that don't always pay off in the way the writers/directors/creative people hope they might, but this feels especially true when it comes to Laika productions. Coraline was a solid venture and a full on experience in the style of animation and kind of twisted tone of story that the production company would come to specialize in. With ParaNorman the studio would essentially excel at achieving what they set out to do. Complimenting the twisted and frightening elements of their storytelling with humorous characters and eccentric production design that was just quirky enough so as to not be legitimately scary. It was only with 2014's The Boxtrolls that the pieces felt as if they were all present and yet the final product didn't come together as those in charge of story and execution aspired it might. There were still elements that were visually stunning about the picture, but the script found trouble communicating its larger ideas with a premise that didn't hook audiences as well as the infinitely comforting ParaNorman did. This brings us to Kubo and the Two Strings and how Laika has more or less again found a balance of all these ambitions it desires to display both visually and story wise. It may not be a perfectly balanced package of all these ingredients, but as a whole Kubo is endlessly charming and to go one step further, wholly enchanting. Whether it be in the outstanding visuals that are abundantly creative at conveying the necessary story points of this folktale like narrative or the fully realized cast of characters that make stop motion animation feel more life-like than ever Kubo is a genuine treat. Why it is so hard to define or provide concrete reasoning as to why something works so well when all the pieces fall into place is simply by virtue of the fact it is more about the emotional reaction it stirs up in the viewer rather than anything analytical. Though Kubo has a few shortcomings in trying to clearly relay exactly what its story is trying to say as well as in the fact it didn't hit me with as much emotional heft as I expected given the first act of the film packs a tough punch it is still too beautiful and very much an achievement in visual storytelling that it would be a shame to hold too much against it.

WAR DOGS Review

As the wise one, The Notorious B.I.G., prophesied long ago, "the more money we come across the more problems we see." Though Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) lived his life by the codes taught to him in 1983's Scarface it was this piece of knowledge spit in the 1997 hit of the same name by B.I.G. himself that ended up resonating most in Diveroli's life. Diveroli comes to learn this wasn't just a catchy phrase spurned by a rags to riches hip hop artist, but that those words carried real weight in the fact that the more wealth one begins to attain that jealousy and envy are things that simply come with the territory. In War Dogs, director Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover) along with co-writers Jason Smilovic (Lucky Number Slevin) and Stephen Chin have taken the incredibly outrageous true story of Diveroli and his childhood best friend David Packouz (Miles Teller) and turned it into something of a strange hybrid of a war drama and comedy where the drama and comedy is inherent to the situation when one has two stoners who become big-time weapons traders. As troublesome as it may be, it is indeed a true story lifted from the article originally published in Rolling Stone by Guy Lawson. It is at one point a case study in all that is wrong with government procurement systems done in satirical fashion as it also criticizes government procurement systems by exploiting how easily two twenty-somethings from Miami secured millions of dollars' worth of weapons contracts from not only the Pentagon, but to arm America's allies in Afghanistan. While Phillips and his co-writers are certainly quick to ridicule and expose this process for how asinine it would seem to give such power to any such individual who wants to sell guns and ammo the writer/director is also quick to supply a throughline of the benefits provided these two young men and the lessons and knowledge they no doubt retained even if much of their time was spent snorting cocaine and hanging out in clubs when they should have been in the office conducting business given it was midday in most of the countries where their clients were located. Phillips simultaneously wants to celebrate that such individuals were able to pull off something as massive as they did, no matter how circumstantial it ultimately was, while at the same time exposing the government for how loosely and even thoughtlessly it spends the tax payer's money. Still, War Dogs isn't a highly political film and it certainly doesn't have its head in the clouds about ideas or themes it could potentially relay from the insane situation it chronicles, but by more or less delivering a straightforward account of the story and allowing the characters and situations to speak for themselves the larger implications are automatically present.

CAFÉ SOCIETY Review

Café Society is a movie I wanted to like more and more as the film played on, but as it did so I actually liked it less and less. Beginning with the standard narration from writer/director Woody Allen that drops us into this tale of a young man looking for a place where the grass might be greener things are promising enough. We are introduced to a cadre of family members around our protagonist, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), who will inevitably inform where this current inclination to leave his father's failing jewelry business and move across the country to Los Angeles will actually take him. It is 1930's Los Angeles no less and so Bobby is struck by the great seduction of movie stars, movie star parties, and the most beautiful of people to allure him to the city. It is a place considered mythic to the otherwise unrefined Bobby who has been stuck in Manhattan his entire life. The promise of new beginnings, though somewhat stalled by the disregard of his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), and the downright gorgeous cinematography of Vittorio Storaro that bathes all of golden age Hollywood in gold lends Café Society this vibrant and crisp feeling that resonates strongly with the modern audience hoping to catch a glimpse of the glitz and glamour of 1930's Hollywood that is well-documented, but too rarely brought to life. This fascination can only last so long though, when it becomes clear Allen's latest isn't necessarily about the introspection of this period in history or even a story that compliments the time period in lending insight to the names and faces we all know, but would like to know better. Instead, Café Society becomes a story solely about the romantic plight of Bobby, an Allen surrogate that Eisenberg again plays tremendously without the burden of having the actual Allen co-star alongside him as he did in 2012's To Rome With Love, but as with that film Café Society ends up offering little more than Allen's insecure yet intellectual quips on love, life, and religion among other things. Unfortunately, at this point such musings without an exceptional story on which to convey them simply feel like little more than standard meditations. It is unfortunate there isn't more imagination and wonder behind this latest excursion of Allen's for Café Society's potential initially feels as fresh and crisp as Bobby's outlook upon arriving in Los Angeles.

ANTHROPOID Review

It is mind boggling how many stories continue to be mined from the time period in which World War II took place whether they directly have to deal with certain events of battle or just repercussions of the German invasion that so many countries suffered from. While it is even more impossible to imagine the amount of stories that have yet to be told around interesting, fascinating, and downright terrible acts that came out of this period in history what makes this new film from writer/director Sean Ellis even more telling than its compelling story is the fact it delivers such a small and contained piece of that larger puzzle while at the same time still conveying how grandly devastating so many of the actions that occurred during WWII were. Anthropoid operates in this realm well, slowly initiating the viewer into its world and set of circumstances before we realize the full extent of what our two protagonists have really volunteered for. The movie takes a risk in not attempting to largely develop or humanize these characters until the second act of the film, but rather Ellis and co-screenwriter Anthony Frewin (who was an assistant to Stanley Kubrick on a number of films) use this first act to delve into the history of the situation and present it to the audience in a way that at first feels labored in that it's all work, no play. As we come to feel something for these people and as we come to know a more expanded cast of characters the sympathy builds as does the understanding for the purpose of the colder, but vital scenes that bring us into this mission. The history lesson is important, but more it is understanding the type of thinking that crafted these situations and as a result, our history as we know it, that is key to understanding the character choices and actions that come to take place in the third act of the film. We all know war is hell-even if we've never actively participated the history books and movies have told and showed us this countless times before-it is that Anthropoid is able to give a sense of the scope of that saying in its single, largely unknown account of these actions that makes it not only a story worth telling, but one that is executed in an entertaining and incisive enough fashion that it deserves to be seen as well.