The Grinch Review

Illumination Delivers Another Perfectly Acceptable if not Necessarily Exceptional Animated Diversion in this Re-Telling of the Dr. Suess Classic.

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

This Queen biopic Fails to Transcend the Genre the Way its Subjects Transcended the Music Scene, but at Least the Music is Good.

Overlord Review

Overlord Combines the Terror of War with the Terror of a Zombie Apocalypse and Accomplishes Exactly what it Means To.

The Nutcraker and the Four Realms Review

An All-Star Cast Attempts to Usher The Nutcracker Story to a New Generation Via Disney Blockbuster, but Unfortunately the Results Fall Short of the Ambition.

A Star is Born Review

Bradley Cooper Writes, Directs, Sings, and Stars in this Fourth Incarnation of this Story Alongside Lady Gaga to Rapturous Results.

Worst Films of 2013

I usually include my least favorite films of the year at the bottom of my top 10 list but seeing as I will not be able to compile my top ten list this year until after January 10th (due to not having the opportunity to screen Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, August: Osage County or Lone Survivor until then) I am going ahead with publishing them separately this year. I feel out of the loop slightly as most critics have already put forth their top 10 lists but these are the drawbacks of living in a small market where you don’t get Nebraska until December 20th. In clearing that up, I don’t like to seek out movies that I think will be horrible, or even bad. I try to look for redeeming qualities in each and every film I see and these are the few this year I just couldn’t really get over or found them to be more disappointing than rewarding. Many of them were downright irritating given the potential they carried whether in cast or in filmmakers/writers. I didn’t get around to seeing many of the obvious choices such as Texas Chainsaw 3D, A Haunted House or Safe Haven and have included an alternate list of five films that are more easy targets for a list such as this rather than being as horrible as they have been made out to be by critical and box office reception. I won't get ridiculous and make a list of movies that weren't everything I wanted them to be, most falling into that category were still decent films even if they didn't meet my personal expectations. Still, while I even hesitate to make a list of what I consider some of the worse films this year as many of you who bother to look at these kinds of lists know what wasn't good and it seems pointless to single them out again, thus there were a few I took issue with and thought were given more praise than they deserved while not impressing me in the least. With that in mind, here are my top ten least favorite movies I saw this year...

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 31, 2013

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET Review

Just because a film depicts the excess of its main character doesn't necessarily mean the film itself falls under those qualities, right? Sure, many movies make it easy to relate much of a films overall tone and attributes in a way where one can speak unanimously about the main character and the film itself, but the big question with Martin Scorsese's latest is does he allow his film to fall into the trappings of the same temptations and indulgences his protagonist does? For the most part I would say the answer is a solid no. There is no way to look at the film and really get the sense that what the director and his now five time collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio are doing here is glorifying a man who doesn't deserve to ever have his name spoken in good regard again, not to mention in such a high profile film that numerous people will see and wonder how we'd even allow a dirtbag like this to seep into our competent consciousness. The reason why we don't mind watching this despite the unjust attention it will draw to the main character, why we find the tragic tale of someone like Jordan Belfort so intriguing is because he seemingly had everything anybody could want in order to experience a satisfying existence on this earth, but couldn't step back and appreciate how far he'd come, no, he always kept his eye on the future and how far he still felt he had to go. The Wolf of Wall Street can be an excessive film, it had a strong stopping point just after the two hour mark that would have made for a more than satisfying experience and would have allowed it the convenience of wrapping up the story with a few cue cards, but instead it continues on for almost another full hour hitting the narrative beats we've already seen before again only to result in conclusions we could have called the first time we got a real taste of just how far Belfort's greed, drug use and consistently unsatisfied carnal desires really went. Yet, at the same time it is very aware of itself and the point it intends to make. There are moments throughout the film where Scorsese hints at greatness, entire scenes even where you wish you could stay tucked in that little moment for a little bit longer while others go on for far too long and rather than re-enforce the throughline plot or contributing to character development, stand as evidence that more time was needed to fine tune the film. This is by no means a disappointment, as it is a strong film with easily the best performance of DiCaprio's illustrious career, but it is not the coherent masterpiece individual aspects of the ensemble piece hint it very well could have been.

Movies I Wanna See Most: 2014

2013 was a great year for film. When looking back on the list of my top ten films I wanted to see for the year there were a few that ended up being some of my favorite films of the year which speaks to anticipation vs. expectation in many ways. I was indeed more excited to see some of the films I put on my most anticipated list last year despite the fact I knew their eventual quality would not measure up to what would be necessary to make them one of my favorite pictures of the year. Even that type of list is ridiculous in many ways, but it is easier to make when you have ten solid films that year (and most of the time a few more than that) that you wouldn't mind watching over and over. That is the main ingredient I look for when I narrow down every movie I've seen in the previous year to what I would consider the ten best and that is which ones would I like to watch again? Which ones am I eager to experience one more time? I hope that many of the films I've placed on this list will end up making me feel this way and of course the main reason they are on here is because I can't wait to see them the first time, but the true test is if they deliver on that anticipation and live up to the expectations myself and plenty others will be holding for them. This year, as Marvel Studios and others who own Marvel properties (Sony & Fox) have decided to release a combined four films and I've placed them all in a single slot as I'm excited to see each (some more than others) but more than anything I'm excited to see how they continue to allow the genre to thrive. Other than that I have three other sequels on the list while the remaining six have a particular director or assembled cast that cannot be ignored which means their films will no doubt demand our attention. Here we go...

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM Review

Prior to seeing this film I knew little about Nelson Mandela past the major facts that he spent twenty-seven years in prison only to become the President of South Africa. He was a revolutionary, a philanthropist and a beacon of hope to people that, in my distant learnings, would never be associated with the word politician. Turns out there was much more to his story than I could have imagined as this wasn't simply a man who went through the ups and downs of immaturity to be re-born in prison and make a difference once he was set free, but this was a man dedicated from birth to leaving an impression, to doing something that would make the ones he loved, proud. This was not a leader bent on gaining power for personal gain or to feed his ego, but a man determined to make a difference in the lives of his people and to allow his family and friends to walk free in their own land. Naturally, there has no doubt been some type of flattery given to the man as this is playing up the acts he initiated and was willing to die for, but none of it comes off as such in the film and despite the fact I would need to do immeasurable research to fact check every event the film chronicles never do the actions our titular subject takes part in feel lacking in genuine reason or motivation. They are simply part of what makes this man who he was and while much of that is conveyed successfully through the obstacles encountered and overcome by Mandela there is also no lack of that raw human element that the character would feel forced and inaccurate without. Idris Elba, in a career defining performance, delivers on every level a man who is, despite his consistent talks of peace, not afraid to walk the walk and that is what makes him so appealing to his people, so trustworthy to his peers and so impressionable to those with power. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a solid two hours and twenty minutes of biography that is unable to follow the typical story structure of these films due simply to the unique consequences of Mandela's story, but despite a few hang ups here and there in only skimming over certain details and opening subplots without any further exploration or eventual resolution this is still every bit the engaging experience you might expect it to be and a film that implies a sweeping and powerful scope such a life should be represented by.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY Review

A sense of anticipation and excitement fills me whenever Ben Stiller decides to direct a film and to know that his latest, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, was as much a passion project as it was an option for the producing studio to re-make a classic title that starred Danny Kaye from the late 40's only upped my anticipation for what would hopefully turn out to be an insightful and life affirming tale of a man equally forced and scared out of the direction he once believed his life was going to take. Many people take issue with Stiller for reasons I can understand, but that mostly pertains to his acting ability, comic schtick and lack of range rather than the creative choices he makes when he is in full control. The guy can make however many Focker and Night at the Museum movies he'd like and I will still attend them because there is simply something about him and his ability to play the everyman with the right touch of comedy that appeals to me, but seems to have worn thin with many audiences. The good news here is that Stiller keeps his persona in check and the outright moments that are played for laughs to a minimum simply allowing the story to breathe. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is truly something to take on and though I have not seen the original Kaye version nor have I read the short story from James Thurber that inspired both films, it seems best to take Stiller's version on its own terms as it has modernized the themes that were likely the spirit of the original source material. I was floored by the initial trailer for this film as I had the rare experience of seeing it for the first time on a theater screen rather than on my phone or computer and with no pre-conception of what to expect. The tone, the shot selection, the music and everything else about it were sprawling yet exquisitely calculated and seemed primed to hint at a complete film that not only allowed for a bit of fantastical elements amidst the doldrums of a nine to five routine, but looked to say something akin to what we find on the inside of greeting cards without all the cheese and ingenuity. Instead, with a sense of real merit and heart; something that would speak across all kinds of racial and generational boundaries to the simple fact that life is worth living, so go out and make something of it. Stiller's film is indeed beautifully captured and delicately precise, but it never reaches the emotional heights it seemed so intent on achieving and in that regard it never truly captures the audience, but gives us more an interesting perspective than an engulfing experience.

SAVING MR. BANKS Review

There is just that something that comes with movies about making movies and how the behind the scenes dynamics somehow connect more and serve as dramatic material in their own right that gives, at least certain audience members, a rush of fascination especially when paired with a film or some other piece of pop culture that has become a mainstay over time. There is no doubt that the 1964 Mary Poppins film has become a soft spot for generations of children that have fallen in love with the songs and the characters that are now iconic, but what many people even fail to realize is that Mary Poppins herself was not the creation of the Disney studios and it's figurehead Walt Disney, but instead of a small English woman by the name of P. L. Travers who took the nanny very seriously as she was more than a fictional character to her creator but the heart and soul of her childhood that would shape the woman she became and the code she would live by. This is made apparent in Saving Mr. Banks until the terribly particular author comes in contact with Mr. Disney and is able to find common ground with a man who'd made his fortune from portraying himself and pumping out products that conveyed the happiest man the world could offer. There is a complex relationship at the heart of this film that gives us not only a look at the shaping of one of Walt Disney's productions in the latter half of his career, but it also chronicles the creative process in a way that you realize the depths to which some people hold onto moments past in their life and how it inspires what is the centerpiece of their existence to the point they find it hard to let go, to let it become something new and how that can both be a weight lifted and a new burden all at once. I began the film, excited to see what was in store for the audience as, obviously, I love movies and so I love movies that detail the industry and how other movies are made, but as we are introduced to Miss. Travers and her constant scrutiny I was at first repulsed by the way in which she not only treated the people involved in the production, but everyone around her to which she is then somehow able to become a more respectable figure whose complexities don't excuse her attitude, but endear her more to the audience which is credit fully due to the performance of Emma Thompson.

First Trailer for MILLION DOLLAR ARM



I saw the first trailer for Disney's Million Dollar Arm in front of American Hustle the other day and while I was surprised by the fact the trailer was for a film I'd not previously heard of it became clear fairly quickly exactly what type of film this was. There is nothing wrong with making the inspirational sports story into a film and sometimes they turn out rather well. I enjoyed both previous films in the same vein quoted on the poster (Miracle and Invicible) but have yet to re-visit either of them since their initial release. Like those films Million Dollar Arm puts a strong leading actor in the midst of extraordinary circumstances within the sports world and plays out in predictably inspirational fashion that has our protagonist revolutionizing the way people look at the conventions of major league competition. While I won't be highly anticipating Million Dollar Arm I will be more than pleased to sit down in a theater and experience what the film has to offer. Jon Hamm plays a sports agent who, after hitting rock bottom, travels to India and set up a televised game show to scout the top cricket players in the country and see if any of them have what it takes to make it in the major leagues. The script was written by Tom McCarthy (Win Win) and directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl). Million Dollar Arm has a strong supporting cast as well that includes Lake Bell, Bill Paxton, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi), Madhurt Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire) and opens May 16, 2014.

NEBRASKA Review

Naturally, the most involving stories are those we usually relate to best. I personally love a good comedy but the consequences most characters face in those films are unrealistic. I can enjoy a horror flick without actually becoming wrapped up in the mythology of what the film justifies its actions with or convincing myself it is real and an actual possibility in this world. The same goes with science fiction and over-the-top action movies. Sure, I love Star Wars and have become enamored with the barrage of comic book films we’re hit with every year, but I like to think of myself as a diverse viewer in the fact that while I can enjoy even the mainstream genre films that big studios deem worthy of their big budgets it is perfectly acceptable to understand why the smaller, indie movies that typically end up on critics end of year best-lists are just as enticing and deserve to be taken on their own terms for the point in which they were made and what ideas they were looking to explore and fulfill (just as those bigger budget ones). All of that to say that when something like Nebraska comes along it is easy to take it for granted, but in reality this is a film that captures all of the complexities of life in as simple a package as our day to day lives make it seem most of the time. As told by director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) it was clear that this very human story would have a very personal tone to its proceedings, but Nebraska is surprisingly insightful not only for the dynamics between the family members and the core relationship between the father and son that examines big questions in small ways, but because it is, like its main character, so matter of fact about these big ideas. There is nothing overly exceptional about the film, but that too is due to the fact it dials down its philosophical and nostalgic questions that delve into the choices we make and how they effect our happiness, how we don't always think them through in the moment and how they may, in the long run, determine more than just the quality of life but our satisfaction with it. Payne has always had a knack for exploring human pain and contemporary American life with a touch of dark humor and he almost provides that in excess here as the crux of the plot is a senior citizen buying into one of those million dollar marketing ploys, but this silly gimmick only serves as the entrance point to a family many will feel all too familiar with and be happy to be re-assured we are not alone in each of our hectic/tiring/uplifting/pathetic/routine lives.

AMERICAN HUSTLE Review

From its inception a lot was expected of American Hustle, or "American Bullshit" as it was once called, director David O. Russell’s follow up to his Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook that put an actor in every major category and was even able to take one of those home. The key element of Russell’s films since re-certifying himself as a force to be reckoned with was the frenetic energy with which they carried themselves and while his latest is no different this time around it feels like there was nowhere specific to focus this energy and so it gets sprawled across a multitude of characters and a convoluted plot that concerns itself with con artists, IRS agents, mobsters and politicians. It seems unfair that with the good will Russell garnered not only with Silver Linings, but also with The Fighter that he immediately be expected to deliver more great cinema simply because he is working in the same time period and has recruited the same group of actors from each film to make up a stellar cast because it almost seems it would be impossible to deliver. The problem is, expectations were set so high that critics and cinephiles automatically assumed it was going to be quality movie-going and so they have seemingly lapped up this picture to be what they wanted it to be rather than taking it for what it actually is: a solid piece of Scorsese tribute with a cast that transcends the messy script. It is hard to say whether this would have come off as a better film without the expectation or if the expectation indeed helps it appear more impressive considering that is what we expected. Either way, I was never particularly excited about the film as I wasn’t familiar with the events that inspired it, but more I was excited to see what Russell would do with his impressive cast and his old school setting. I really enjoyed Silver Linings and I absolutely adored The Fighter for being able to take a stock story and make it more than that, with performances that never failed and lifted the material above the standard and maybe I, too, was hoping for that to happen here. I simply found it hard to really dig into the film as it never pulled me in and kept me there the way those last two efforts have. And that may be a problem as well, both that we expected American Hustle to be of the same quality and to do many of the same things to our senses that those two films elicited, but this is a different film altogether and to take it on those terms alone would be to realize by no means is this a bad film, it also isn’t one of the best things I’ve seen this year.

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND CONTINUES Review

I understand that when compared to other genres that those falling into the comedy classification don't really compare no matter how funny or enjoyable they are, but because they are more exercises in pure entertainment than trying to convey raw emotion or serve a bigger purpose. They don't look to teach us anything or expand our minds necessarily and they rarely offer anything innovative when it comes to the world of filmmaking, no, all a comedy really wants to do is make us laugh and while it may seem more admirable to adapt a historical figures life for the screen or create real substance for a man with a cape I'd argue it is probably tougher to make people consistently laugh at the jokes you're spewing. Unfortunately, much of the time the end result proves that and so we don't often get comedies that we feel really connect with a majority of us because 1) humor is extremely subjective and 2) jokes aren't easy to write when you sit down and have to think about them. When looking at the Anchorman films and the group of people collaborating to put these together it becomes clear why they may have more of a pulse on the eclectic tastes of audiences and that is simply due to the spontaneity of it all. There is a freshness to it that doesn't feel forced, no pre-determined jokes that fall flat in execution, but instead just a few master improv artists hanging out, gathering around a central idea and then growing off of it until it reaches ridiculous and often hilarious heights. So, I understand that while most don't consider comedy one of the higher art forms and that films like Anchorman, much less its sequel, don't make critics top ten lists or are hailed as great films for how funny the absurdity of it all is, but the fact of the matter is that I laughed more at Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues than any other film this year and while that still may not be enough in many peoples eyes to verify it as a "film" rather than just your typical mainstream comedy, this is one of the few times in recent memory when upon going into a film with such high expectations that I came out and without any inhibition was able to say that it more than lived up to what I hoped it would be and in many instances, even surpassed it.Yes, in many ways this is better than The Legend of Ron Burgundy, but that is only because it is the continuation of a legend and as I'm sure Mr. Burgundy would attest, "How could it not be MORE legendary?"

Teaser Trailer for DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

I think everyone, including 20th Century Fox, was surprised in 2011 when the attempt to re-boot the Planet of the Apes franchise worked as well as it did. I was certainly taken aback by the quality of the film and was even tempted to place it in my top ten for that year, but while that film proved to be an interesting take on where the whole Charlton Heston/1968 drama began I never imagined it would have established a large enough following to amass as much excitement as there seems to be surrounding its follow-up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. While this is inherently a dream franchise for any studio as they don't have to depend on the name of a certain star being attached, but that the draw is more Andy Serkis in motion capture action as Caesar doesn't necessarily seem to mean they are skimping in terms of story substance. The new film, as directed by Matt Reeves (Let Me In) taking over for Rupert Wyatt, takes place fifteen years after the previous film and will seemingly chronicle the natural progression of how the apes came to be in power and how that Statue of Liberty ended up being buried in the sand. Granted, they are likely leaving plenty of space to get to that point so as to make a few more films in this series, but it will be nice to see the continued and natural arc of how these animals come to be the domineering race on earth. It all sounds a bit silly when you talk about it like that, but the Planet of the Apes series has always had serious social commentary going along with it and that seems to be present in the slim bit of footage and tone this teaser offers. It is a rather haunting first look and while they don't necessarily have to keep an actor on contract that doesn't mean they don't go for quality as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes stars Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Toby Kebbell, Enrique Murciano, Judy Greer and opens in 3D on July 18, 2014.

THE BOOK THIEF Review

Not being familiar with the Markus Zusak novel from which this film was adapted I had no real knowledge of what I was getting into with The Book Thief. I'd avoided the trailer for the most part after hearing it was a horrible representation of the actual film and that it contained more than cheesy voiceover that made it feel like a trailer put together in the early 90's, but walking out of the film I still wasn't sure what to make of what I'd just witnessed. There is nothing that struck me in a way where I knew I would be thinking about the film for days afterward, but it became extremely clear over the course of the film that lead actress Sophie Nélisse was a true talent to watch and that if there was anything about this little film that might prove to be its mainstay it would be that it introduced the world to a great young actress that could very well go on to become exceptional. That isn't to say there is nothing else about the film that isn't interesting or worth talking about because in all actuality The Book Thief is a very solid picture, a kind of movie we don't get to see all that often these days because lines have been drawn in the sand that have categorized audiences to a point that telling the story of war, and specifically World War II Germany, from the perspective of a child would no doubt be looked at as something that doesn't fit squarely into any pre-determined demographic. Director Brian Percival (Downton Abbey) is lucky to have Zusak's 2006 book as a point of interest though as it has garnered interest in his vision of bringing the story of Liesel to the big screen and though it may not leave a huge cultural impact it is with ease that I say we are more fortunate than not having been given the opportunity to meet her. Nélisse's Liesel is our surrogate into late 1930's Germany up through to the end of the war and while the film doesn't tend to go with any of the typical trappings you might usually see coming from a film concerning Hitler and his minions what it does instead is give us pure insight into the day to day of what it was like to live during that time. In a constant state of fear, in worry of smiling too often or even stimulating ones mind by reading. While this all may sound like familiar ground and in some sense it is, The Book Thief is also a film that delivers a wonderful set of performances wrapped in a historical context that will do you no harm in coming to understand it a little better. That, and my wife absolutely loved it so take my words with a grain of salt as she's typically more in tune with what is genuine quality, if I do say so myself.

First Red-Band Trailer for 22 JUMP STREET

With the original making my top 10 of 2012 list and this sequel easily making my most anticipated for 2014 it is with great joy that we get our first glimpse at directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller's follow-up to 21 Jump Street which has been appropriately titled 22 Jump Street with ridiculously meta reasoning and all. If you loved the first film you may as well go ahead and sign yourself up for this one because it looks to be more of the same, but instead of latching onto the ever-evolving culture of high school our protagonists Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) have entered the world of college and it seems they each get more on track with the social status and dynamic they actually lived through in high school. The plot seems to consist of many of the same ups and downs as the first (they come together to have their friendship challenged only to re-kindle it and overcome the opponent), but the jokes seemed to be on point and the mocking of the college culture paired with the ever funny satire of the action, buddy cop films are no doubt in full effect. It is nice to see Ice cube returning as Captain Dickson as he was one of the shining contributions of the first film while the trailer also gives away what seem to be cameo appearances from Rob Riggle and Dave Franco. We can only hope that they have kept a large portion of the surprises and laughs under wrap though and haven't given their best bits away here. If this were under the care of anyone other than Lord and Miller I might be worried, but that they were able to defy all expectations with the first film and decided to come back to this over what I assume were plenty of other offers, I trust that they had good reason and we will see that on full display when 22 Jump Street hits theaters on June 13, 2014.

OLDBOY Review

Spike Lee's remake of Oldboy will go down as one of the bigger disappointments of 2013, that is, if it is remembered at all. This is unfortunate though as it feels to me that this is one of those films that was locked out and given up on before it even had a chance. Initial reaction to that previous statement goes to the fact this was originally planned as a wide release, but was quickly cut back to a limited roll-out which typically accompanies smaller films where the studios expect positive buzz and strong word of mouth to build anticipation for it once they expand to more cities. This obviously didn't happen in the case of Oldboy as it was pretty much dead in the water from the time the earlier decision was made to push it back a month from October 25th to November 27th. Back to the initial reaction statement though, while it may go to the aforementioned unfortunate scenario it seems the truth is that this project was probably dead from the moment it was greenlit by whatever studio head thought it a good idea to remake the 2003 Korean film that has amassed an extremely loyal following and is considered a masterpiece by many. Though I always thought the purpose of re-making something was to bring it to the attention of those who might not otherwise discover the original there are those more cynical who believe the sole purpose of piggy-backing off the name of a successful foreign film and Americanizing it is purely for profit while hopefully guaranteeing a win financially; they are probably right. Still, that clearly all but backfired here as no one thought through how you might market a film where much of its story and the suspense that goes along with it are dealt in the twists and surprises the film holds close to its chest. No one seems to have thought through that this brutally dark picture isn't what most moviegoers are looking for at Thanksgiving and that it would have likely been better facing off against Bad Grandpa than Frozen. This piece is not meant to question why the film failed financially or in its marketing though, but instead if the film itself was even necessary. I haven't seen the original Chan-wook Park film and so I was no less than intrigued by the trailers and anxious to see what a director like Lee might do with this perplexing material.

Teaser Trailer for Christopher Nolan's INTERSTELLAR

There is something so ambitious and so grand about the way Christopher Nolan thinks of his films and like the theme of the trailer re-iterates it seems that is something often forgotten in the world of Hollywood. Things have become such a machine, such a factory with a product line spitting out the same thing over and over that the majority of the time even big, tentpole movies feel like just another cog in the machine rather than something truly special or exceptional. It seems Mr. Nolan is keen on getting this point across and hopefully changing that perception, but on his own terms of course and in this case it concerns a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations of human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage. That is all we've heard in terms of plot synopsis and the trailer does little to give us any further indication of story, but instead relies on the philosophical narration of our assumed protagonist Matthew McConaughey. As with anything Nolan does, I'm more than intrigued and this trailer is specifically designed to elicit the interest of those who don't know anything about the film or that it even existed. This is easily the film I'm most anticipating in the new year and if the reason put forward in any of my previous comments doesn't explain why maybe the cast roster will. Besides McConaughey the film also stars Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine, David Oyelowo, Wes Bentley, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace, David Gyasi, Mackenzie Foy, Bill Irwin, Timothée Chalamet, and Matt Damon. Interstellar opens November 7, 2014.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG Review

Usually, I'm rather fond of middle chapters in these serialized movies that seem to come in more than threes these days, but there is something distinctly offensive about this second installment of Peter Jackson's return to middle earth. First off, and I stated this in my review of last years An Unexpected Journey, we knew at some point that the fact a trilogy of movies, at three hours a piece no less and drawn from a 300-page book and its appendices as well as further Tolkien notes was going to begin to feel a bit drawn out and if anything re-enforces that fact better it is the last half hour of this film. It literally felt like the first two hours flew by; it had my attention, my appreciation and even my interest (for the most part), but when our heroes finally reach the mountain and encounter the dragon whose name plagues the subtitle it goes on, and then it goes on a little more, and then it continues. It is over-indulgence at it's finest and seems to exist solely for the fact that Jackson and his team of writers might feel they've placed a large enough action sequence near the end of the film to serve as the big climactic set piece when in reality all it does is feel like they're really trying to make you feel that two hour and forty minute runtime. If they'd only just teased the entrance into the kingdom under the mountain and been fine with a just over two hour movie all would have been better off, though the cliffhanger even more ridiculous, I admit. Which brings us back around to the point that there was no need for more than two films based off this book in question. It is what it is and we can't change the greedy minds in Hollywood now that they will have plagued the credibility and artistic achievements of Jackson's Lord of the Rings films with these sub-par prequels. It is simply spreading the butter too thin and though I assume many of the fans of Tolkien's work might find it enthralling to be wrapped up in not only what was on the original page in The Hobbit novel, but to see that world fleshed out with his later writings that built a further and more dense mythology for middle earth might be ecstatic and find these to be on the same level as Jackson's previous trilogy, but as pieces of individual cinema this second installment fails on the most basic of levels.

2014 Golden Globe Nominations

The 2014 Golden Globe nominations were announced this morning and 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle both lead the pack with seven nominations each. Despite not having yet seen American Hustle I am excited to see it receiving a fair amount of love, at least in the recognition the Hollywood Foreign Press has given it. The new David O. Russell film is currently sitting at a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes which is somewhat surprising given I've read a few unflattering reviews, but am still very anxious to see it for myself in a week. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence all received acting nominations for their work as did Russel for his directing and writing work. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o both received nominations for their incredible performances in 12 Years a Slave and both Steve McQueen and John Ridley scored nominationss for their directing and writing duties.

First Trailer for EDGE OF TOMORROW

Have you ever seen the trailer for a film and found it completely acceptable without being particularly motivated to really want to see the movie it's promoting? As happened earlier this year with the other Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle, Oblivion, his latest, Edge of Tomorrow, looks to be completely acceptable and competent in its execution, but will ultimately serve as a forgettable piece of popcorn entertainment. I hate to make that assumption from a mere two and a half minutes of footage, but while director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) seems to have created a visually gripping science fiction epic the story seems to hinge on the same premise that made Groundhog Day and even Source Code interesting. Can it be repeated? I don't know if it's simply the generic name or the lack of any real moment that defined why I need to see this film being present in the trailer, but I hope this feeling of some aspect being absent is completely shattered when I see the final film. I did like the tone of the trailer and much of that has to do with the choice of song and how it plays up the grounded and gritty aspects of the art direction while implying the weight of the circumstances these characters are placed in. There is potential here, I can easily admit that as Cruise seems to have turned his movie-star skills up to an eleven for this role and has hopefully turned in both a physically and emotionally invested performance (I think if the trailer makes one thing clear it is the physical investment is covered). He is also joined by a tough-looking Emily Blunt who is playing anything but the damsel in distress and instead seems to have the upper hand on Cruise's character in helping him figure out the rules of his situation and how to make it all worth the effort. Based on the Japanese light novel All You Need Is Kill the film also stars Bill Paxton, Laura Pulver, Jeremy Piven and opens on June 6, 2014.

First Trailer for GODZILLA

I've never been a big fan of the monster movies or the character that was spawned in the 1954 original Japanese-language film, but that doesn't mean Hollywood will stop trying to convince me and everyone else who was introduced to Godzilla through the 1998 Roland Emmerich disaster that there really is something awesome to see here. That's really an exaggeration as at 11 years-old I was fine with the monster movie starring Matthew Broderick just as I accepted Batman & Robin without any real qualms, but now that we are in a phase of remakes and reboots with grittier, more reality-based substance it is no surprise that the time has finally come for Godzilla to receive the same treatment. It isn't as much a surprise as much as it is refreshing to see that the trailer looks interesting and that director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) has acquired a certain style with which he wants to tell this familiar story. The opening sequence looks like it could be potentially breathtaking while setting up a creative way of revealing our titular monster. If this type of energy and creativity spans the entire length of the feature there is no doubt it could turn out to be a rather invigorating re-imagining. I wasn't the biggest fan of Edwards previous, small budget film that was more a character study under extreme circumstances than the loud action flick the title might imply, but he clearly has a budget behind him here and will have been able to play out his directorial ambition on a much larger scale. Here's hoping he is able to even it out rather than over-indulging in either one as he has a pretty great human cast in at work here as well. Godzilla stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and opens in 3D on May 16, 2014.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 10, 2013

THE HUNT Home Video Review

There is an interesting psychology surrounding films where we are either repulsed or made angry while watching them yet still resonate as a fine cinematic experience or something we admire for its craft and importance. This is nothing new in a world where disturbing true stories are brought to the screen every winter in hopes of Awards contention, but when they are done extremely well it brings up how striking the line is between how this can be classified as entertainment yet we feel nothing but irritated and somewhat put off by the content of the tale we just witnessed. Such is the case with The Hunt, a Danish film from director Thomas Vinterberg that focuses on the perception of one man by people who thought they knew and trusted him, but are inclined to think differently based on things that come to light under a misguided investigation. It is a gut wrenching set of circumstances that set-up the fateful lie in which the story revolves around and if re-told as anything more than pure fact would indeed sound like it was being made up. The crutch that the film leans on though is that this man, our protagonist and who the film wisely sets up as trustworthy and completely innocent from the beginning in our all-knowing perspective is that he is by all accounts a well-respected and well-liked piece of this small communal fabric. The small town in which the tale takes place is itself a picturesque village with large houses and scenery to rest your eyes on for days with a strong, core companionship between the citizens that relays to each of them depending on one another to continue going about their daily lives in such peace. So, when an unexpected scandal hits the quiet town and it comes from within what was presumed a tightly woven fabric things begin to unravel quicker and uglier than any of these people would have likely ever imagined. It is easy for us to see the truth of the situation, but almost just as easy is to see how things become so misconstrued and even further, just how easy it would be to assume what the majority believes as those outside the situation no doubt do. The way in which it resonates throughout and loses more of the critical detail as it does so; we likely see it happen everyday, especially in our gossip-fueled society, but The Hunt brings to the forefront the reality of just how far misplaced power can be taken when perception is mistaken for unquestionable emotions.

First Trailer for JUPITER ASCENDING

I'm a huge fan of last year's Cloud Atlas, an adaptation of David Mitchell's novel, by the Wachowski siblings and so to see they are going back to the sci-fi genre again is exciting in itself and that this time they have penned the script as well as taken up directing duties is all the more reason to be excited. As they did with the Matrix trilogy the siblings seem to have created a full universe all their own here and have based a story around Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) who dwells in the doldrums of a dead end job scrubbing toilets. That is, until Channing Tatum shows up as Caine, a genetically engineered super soldier who must track her down and return her to her rightful position as the Queen of the Universe. That seemingly only scratches the surface of everything that is going on here as there is still plenty of philosophical talk and out of this world imagery which is the stand out element of this quick teaser trailer. While I enjoyed the odyssey-like tone and scope of Atlas this project seems to be of a more adventurous theme and I assume many of the detractors of Atlas are hoping it has the same spirit in terms of pacing. The problem they might have in bringing in a wide audience to the film is clearly the "weirdness" of it all in that you have Channing Tatum wearing elf ears and if you've seen the set photos, a number of other odd costumes. Still, I hope it will be easy to get past all of this (likely the reason they cast such popular and notable names in the lead roles) and through to the pure science fiction elements that will provide an interesting adventure and imagery that, in a crowd of special effects bonanzas, will stay with us and prove to be more than just entertainment, but a true cinematic experience. Jupiter Ascending also stars Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, James D’Arcy, Tim Pigott-Smith, Doona Bae and opens in 3D on July 25, 2014.

OUT OF THE FURNACE Review

There is something both numbing and strangely profound about the second directorial effort from Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart). There is a menacing grim to the overall proceedings, yet it is almost impossible to not feel enlightened by what we see unfold on screen and by the development (or lack) of character and the insight that we gain as to why these people that Out of the Furnace zeroes in on are so compelling without being considered extraordinary. Where director Cooper and his cast excel are in how they don't decide to focus or rely as heavily on the events in which the story documents because in all honesty it feels that after about fifty or so minutes the narrative comes to somewhat of a halt and the momentum slows incredibly despite the fact what we see unfolding has yet to come to fruition and it remains unclear if things will turn out in the best interest of our lead character Russell Blaze (Christian Bale). Still, what keeps the ship from sinking is the fact that Cooper and his gritty eye keep the focus on the actors and the characters they are portraying and allow those performances to carry what might have otherwise been a sometimes silly, most of the time studied account of the backwood folks that apparently live in the hills outside of New Jersey. The site of an old steel town that allows the town resting below it to feel like it's stuck in the mid-70's, Cooper is clearly paying homage to the films of that era (namely Deer Hunter), this is where the story is set circa 2008, right around the time Obama was elected President and this little statement is used (as Killing Them Softly not-so subtly stated last year) to re-enforce the state of the economy at that time. All of this is effective in building the atmosphere and setting the tone for a film that knows who its characters are, where they've come from, but more importantly what little they likely have to look forward to and Cooper lets the weight of the narrative rest on their shoulders rather than the twists and turns we might expect from the more plot-driven revenge film that this has been made out to be in the marketing. Out of the Furnace isn't necessarily an exceptional film, but it provided a substantial amount of thought-provoking ideas in terms of the mentality of man in a remote region and the reasoning for a life that seems more simple than most would like to even consider. No, there is nothing exceptional here, but it is a solid film nonetheless with both Bale and Casey Affleck giving audiences something to remember it by.

First Trailer for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

I have to say, I'm pretty excited for the second installment of director Marc Webb's Spider-Man franchise. Though the first film gets somewhat of a bad rap (I know the plot of turning everyone into lizards wasn't exactly real and gritty), but I think or maybe I hope that much of the reason that film flew more under the radar than most successful series-launchers is that it came out in a crowded year. Having to compete in a summer season already defined by The Avengers and the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy couldn't have been easy, yet The Amazing Spider-Man still managed $750 million worldwide. With a relatively quiet 2014 (the only other major super hero film slated for summer as of now is X-Men: Days of Future Past while Guardians of the Galaxy takes a later August slot) it could be the time to shine for Andrew Garfield's new Spidey. While I was hoping the trailer didn't give too much away it certainly hints at where this series is going. There have been reports that Sony has this franchise planned all the way through a fourth film and that includes building to The Sinister Six. The idea of going the opposite route in which Marvel Studios has gone and instead creating the legendary team of super villains rather than heroes is rather genius and definitely a way to make up for the fact we still can't see Spider-Man join The Avengers on screen. Spidey has always been the Marvel hero with the most notable roster of bad guys so this makes sense in terms of building excitement as well. The trailer, while emphasizing a plethora of villains, doesn't give them much screen time but more teases them than anything else. The bulk of the two and half minute clip is dedicated to Peter Parker coming to terms with his reality and his new relationship with Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). I sincerely hope the marketing for this film doesn't give too much away over the next four months as it seems Sony/Columbia have something that could make for a potentially fantastic theater-going experience here. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also stars Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti, Felicity Jones, Chris Cooper, Sally Field and kicks off the summer on May 2, 2014.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 3, 2013

FROZEN Review

Frozen is all about defying expectation and convention. Looking at the marketing campaign for the film you really don't get much of a sense of what the story is (very similar to Pixar's usual tactics in fact) and what we do gather from the commercials we've seen and the pictures plastered all over Wal*Mart and Target is that this is more than likely a new Princess tale from Disney looking to capitalize on the good will of both Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph as those two films have come to be revered with much more excitement than anything Pixar has produced in the past few years. Going into the film, I wasn't overly sure of what I was getting myself into, but the early word of mouth that praised it as being the best Disney animated film since Beauty & the Beast or the The Lion King was certainly something that caught my attention. If nothing else, I was now curious to see how the film would measure up against these other films that shaped my childhood and are nothing short of classics in my mind. Frozen does indeed fit nicely into the library of what Disney has brought us before in terms of beautifully realized castles and princesses with funny supporting characters to lean on and charming princes or underdogs that rise to the occasion, but as I said earlier it is also all about defying those expectations and it is those variations on the structure, those added moments where the characters within the film look at each other as if to say what every grown-up in the audience is thinking, that make this all the more delightful and all the more fulfilling than simply being another knock-off of the early princess stories that made Disney the brand that it is.  Disney animated films have always been able to transcend age groups and trends, but what makes this film work along with its past couple of efforts that differentiate it from something like Treasure Planet is that it is no longer trying to be cool or stay with the times, but is instead playing by its own rules and letting the magic flow without any caution as to what might be widely accepted and in return is being rewarded handsomely.

PHILOMENA Review

Sometimes, in life, there are subjects and themes that float in and out of our existence and can define certain time periods of our life. Whether it is for the fact that many of the ideals and themes represented in Philomena are also present at this time of my life made this film hit closer to home than I ever expected or if it is simply because the story in which the film tells is so interesting and captivating that I was completely swept up in it, I can't tell. Either way, there is something about the latest from director Stephen Frear's (The Queen, High Fidelity) in which I can't immediately put my finger on, but am unable to shake. While I went into the film unsuspecting of its charms or its narrative I'd heard nothing but pleasant things about it and that it was something of a delight given the chemistry between leads Steve Coogan and Judi Dench. The last thing I expected was the kind of mystery adventure I was taken on that allows faith, religion and the way we look at God and who he is, if he is, and how he manages to effect out happiness and outlook on life while bringing more meaning to the relationship between a mother and her estranged son. There are moments when this could have easily become a light, road trip comedy with the old lady getting on the younger, sophisticated mans nerves while eventually coming to realize they have a true affection for one another that will allow this relationship to become a cherished friendship, but that isn't the route the film decides to take and thank God for that. Sure, there are moments, entire scenes even,where the content may suggest that is exactly where Philomena is headed, but another of the surprising things about the film is that it never goes exactly where you think it will. There are familiar situations and set-ups that could have easily gone a more predictable way, but ultimately the fact this is based on a true story allows it a stronger sense of truth and the way in which things unfold I can only imagine will be more satisfactory for most than if it ended with a convoluted twist that named Coogan's character as the son (of course that doesn't actually happen, but if you thought you had it figured out beforehand, you don't). While Philomena will fly under the radar for most, it is a film the whole family can enjoy while also stirring up interesting conversation afterwards.

HOMEFRONT Review

It is always with a certain set of expectation that we approach the latest from Jason Statham. Usually, his name alone gives us a good indication as to what we're in for, but with his new film, Homefront, he breaks free of the slickly dressed, high-stakes city life many of his characters fit squarely into and decides to settle down into something akin to the quiet country life in small town Louisiana. Make no mistake, he still carries the badass history of a DEA agent that would frequently go undercover (we get a peak at this lifestyle in the opening scene of the film), but he is attempting to escape this world and thus is how we come to know his character, Phil Broker, which allows a different facade to the trope that Statham has inadvertently created for himself. This coupled with the fact he's not acting alone this time adds a level of intrigue and substance not seen in many of his recent, non-Expendable ventures. Not only do we have the chrome-domed action star heading things up, but a strong supporting cast including a hilariously ferocious James Franco, an impressive Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder being utilized in just the right amount (with Omar Benson Miller thrown in for a dash of comedic relief) give more than enough reason for us to sit up and pay attention where we might normally feel we've seen this scenario one too many times before. It may simply be that the standard set of expectations were surpassed that allowed Homefront to leave a better impression, but there is that something special about this fun, throwback of an action flick that encapsulates pure, B-movie thrills with such expertise that it connects and delivers exactly what it promises while packing a little something extra in its punch.

DALLAS BUYER'S CLUB Review

I never thought myself smart enough to be a doctor and never had any ambition as a child to reach for those stars, but as I got older it became more and more clear why the rewards of such a job might not justify the many negatives that come along with the business of saving lives. There always seem to be these rules in place to dictate how we live and how our society operates and we always seem to come across scenarios where those rules seem completely out of sync with the reality of what is going on in the world. While the latest film in Matthew McConaughey's career turn-around isn't fueled by these issues, but more so by the strength of the human condition, it takes them into a large account due to the fact that in this case our protagonist must deal with humanity as a business and push back against those attempting to somehow make the case that the aforementioned rules outweigh actual humanity. How it all boils down to being a business rather than abiding by the no doubt patient-centric ideals of their mission statement, the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA are the baddies here; one paying the other to push their product no matter the health of their "customers" or the opposing team McConaughey's Ron Woodroof brings to the game that might be better, but doesn't carry the backing which means little extra profit for anyone involved. Why someone chose to tell the story of Woodroof though is because he decided to take up arms against the corporation that began as a gratifying profession and has evolved in many aspects to a business much like any other that deals with products that bring comfort and luxury to our lives but are not providing the luxury of sustaining life as hospitals do (a point many of the doctors represented in the film seem to be missing). Woodroof wasn't the most ideal of people to head this kind of revolution up, he had more faults than he did kind qualities, but it sometimes takes that kind of attitude to say, "screw it, I'll do it my own way if the only option you're offering is to die comfortably." There is just the right amount of rebel cowboy and logical thinking in our main character for him to stand by those words and provide the incredibly gratifying character arc in which director Jean-Marc Vallée's film delivers while opening our eyes to the harsh realities of our systems flawed philosophies.  

ALL IS LOST Review

In one of my scriptwriting classes in college we were asked to write an opening scene for a film that included zero dialogue. At first thought this may not seem like too large a task (just write a bombastic action sequence that hooks the audience, right?), but to set that up, to provide context would be something more difficult. It would have to be all about the visual clues, the details included that would be vital in pushing the story forward. That is why what director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) has done with All is Lost is both extremely difficult and at the same time extremely impressive. That the writer/director has accomplished this stylistic choice with such naturalism that the audience never feels as if it is forcing a "no dialogue" rule on itself is all the more reason to be surprised it succeeds as well as it does. With a running time of an hour and forty-six minutes the film can sometimes be a bit of an endurance test as to just how much more our unnamed protagonist can take and though it rises and falls from high-pressure situations to mild boredom in spots, we never want to leave our surrogate character until we at least know the conclusion of his journey. That is what this film is about after all, for it is not a movie we go to the theaters to buy popcorn and entertain ourselves with, but instead is nothing short of a captivating experience that places us right in the middle of the isolation with the silence forcing us to question how far we might go before we give up; before we decide that putting up a fight might not be worth it any longer. It isn't your typical cinematic experience, but it is one that demands to be seen on the big screen and that in its own right makes this an experience worth having even as it tests everything that you find comfortable about your life.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: November 26, 2013


JOBS Home Video Review

It was a well-known fact from the time we first heard mention of battling Steve Jobs biopics that the one starring Ashton Kutcher and a creative team of newbies wasn't going to be the one that broke any new ground or would even get anyone too excited. While Kutcher's turn as the founder of Apple Inc. and innovative mind that brought us the Macintosh, iPod and iPhone wasn't cause for much alarm it isn't for a lack of effort on the actors part. It is clear that Kutcher studied the mannerisms and vocal tones and inflections of Jobs with a considerable amount of obsession and in some ways the performance feels like a tribute as Kutcher is more a fan giving the most flattering of interpretations than a man attempting to bring another mans story to light in the truest form. That said, the script is not particularly kind to Jobs as it highlights his ego and his consistent inability to get along with others unless they are strictly abiding by his ideals, but Kutcher's performance has a consistent aura that he ultimately knows what's best floating around him. No matter if that is actually how Jobs was or not, that is how we'd like to think of him. He held the secrets of what we really wanted and was able to package them in ultra-portable containers so is there any other option than to believe he was onto something we weren't? The film likes to think this way and so for two plus hours we are treated to what adds up to little more than a cliff notes version of the rise, fall and unavoidable return to the spotlight of Steve Jobs that all biopics tend to follow. This wouldn't be so bad if the film did more than barely scratch the surface, but we are given little more than the facts that are already well known to anyone who was a fan of his or knew anything about his philosophy or his products. There is no real substance or justification as to why he strives so hard to diverge from the beaten path or prove others wrong. There is one line concerning his real parents abandoning him only to never be mentioned again to which he responds by doing the same exact thing to his child while nothing close to a parallel is drawn. Director Joshua Michael Stern and writer Matt Whiteley have taken what could have been an exceptional subject and a beyond incredible journey of a man not necessarily likable, but who demanded to be listened to and molded him to fit the outline of every redemption story. The world loves a comeback kid, this is true, but the accomplishments of Jobs the man deserve more than jOBS the movie, delivers.

DELIVERY MAN Review

To evaluate a film like Delivery Man it seems one must be in tune with the career trajectory of Vince Vaughn and much like Matthew McConaughey it seems the guy has fallen into the trap of knowing what his speciality is and sticking to that comfort zone for the reason that it has worked in the past, why wouldn't it continue? Of course, if you've been paying attention to the projects McConaughey has been choosing as of late it is clear he has made some kind of decision to not only play characters who aren't the most charming or admirable guy on screen, but instead he can sometimes be the most downright despicable. Vaughn is in a slump, that is clear, but the problem is that he has been and that Delivery Man is the kind of film he thought might begin to turn that around. Hell, he probably secretly hoped that was what The Internship would do this past summer, but in a landscape of comedies where they push the envelope to the end of the world, a buddy comedy with his old friend can't even drum up enough excitement or laughs to be remembered past opening weekend. Both actors burst onto the scene in hip, independent comedies that would help them get into more mainstream projects, each of which chose more serious material and supporting roles in major blockbusters while attempting to reach that one project that would seemingly put them in the place they were destined to be. They were on a similar trajectory in any sense of the word as McConaughey finally found leading man success in 2001 and Vaughn was front and center in the now classic Old School in 2003. They were able to ride those waves of stability for the better part of the first decade of the new millenium until the well began to run dry. No one expected much from McConaughey after 2009's Ghosts of Girlfriends Past seemed to be the nail in the rom-com coffin, but a mere two years later he began to re-build. The problem with Vaughn is that he's had a number of nails, but somehow he manages to keep finding open space. There hasn't been that huge disastrous story (not counting The Watch of course, but the blame didn't fall directly on him). In any case, not since the fast-talking funnyman decided to do a pair of Christmas movies has he been able to re-claim the kind of comic credibility he had in his Dodgeball//Wedding Crasher prime. With Delivery Man he seems to at least be accepting this truth and trying to find new ground to cover while still incorporating what he is best known for. While he succeeds in proving he has the chops and charm to pull this kind of dramedy off, the film itself feels so middle of the road and inconsequential it is hard to take it as any kind of statement.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE Review

There are plenty of perks to being the middle installment of a giant trilogy. Whether you've read the books or not I think it goes without saying that Catching Fire, the film, is a much bigger and more impressive exercise than what the first film was able to deliver after it finished setting up the world all of this would be taking place in. This, coming from the benefit of being that middle child. It has always been the case though (Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 2) that without having to deal in exposition and not having to worry itself with how to wrap everything up nicely, that the second chapter of a larger story is the one where we get to dig in, where we are able to see the meat of the conflict, and get to really know the characters and what drives them, what makes them different and why we remain interested in their plight past the unbelievable circumstances they were thrown into the first time around. All of this remains true in director Francis Lawrence's follow-up to Gary Ross's faithful and fervent opening chapter. Yes, it is important to note that I am a fan of the books, all three of them, but that Catching Fire was by far my favorite and for all the reasons I've listed above I desperately hoped the film turned out the same way. As we reach the final shot of this film it became all the more clear that we'd just witnessed something rather special. It may not have been a game-changer like The Dark Knight or as exceptional as X2, but it has some clear moments and techniques that are more than impressive and more than intriguing that lead us to becoming intensely wrapped up in the world of Panem and the brewing revolution. The scope and scale, the performances all-around, the more confident hand behind the execution; it all adds up to a film that knows what it is, what its message and main themes are, and where it is going because there is a driving force behind the narrative that makes the briskly paced film (not a bad thing with a run time of two and a half hours) feel like a consistently mounting piece of music that perfectly staggers its force and intensity until hitting that crescendo. This is only one passage though, and that perfectly timed climax of this specific progression only leaves us wanting more which can only mean part two has done its job and done it well.

First Trailer for SABOTAGE


We're less than a week away from the opening of the latest Jason Statham actioner which also happens to be written by his Expendables co-star Sylbester Stallone and thus we now have our first look at their other co-stars latest project that will no doubt play in front of Homefront this Thanksgiving. I've been hearing some pretty positive things concerning Statham's latest outing though and despite the recent box office misfires this crew of action stars has faced ole Arnie looks as if he may have something a little "different" on his hands as well that may just do the trick for his non-Expendable movie career. Sabotage is billed as a loose adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery Ten Little Indians and sees Schwarzenegger heading up a DEA task force that makes a major arrest of a cartel leader only to see its members begin to be picked off one by one after a fair amount of the money seized in the capture goes missing. I'm actually pretty excited for this one as David Ayer is handling directing duties and produced one of my favorite films of last year (End of Watch) and is heading up one of my most anticipated for 2014 (Fury). While he didn't write the script for this film as well he seems to have captured the camaraderie and intense tone of the content with fun and important precision. The trailer gives just enough of the plot points without getting too heavily into much of the second or third acts it seems and exploits the charisma between its large ensemble cast which will no doubt be a selling point as, besides the Governor, the film also features Joe Manganiello, Sam Worthington, Harold Perrineau, Terrence Howard, Max Martini, Josh Holloway, Olivia Williams, and Mireille Enos. Sabotage is set to get us all ready for Summer 2014 when it opens on April 11th.

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY Review

Walking into The Best Man Holiday I was willing, but had no prior knowledge of what these characters had been through and what this feature might contain. I knew in the back of my mind I'd seen bits and pieces of director Malcom D. Lee's 1999 debut feature over the past fourteen years, but never had I sat down to take it all in. That being said, the first few minutes of this belated sequel gives a slight catch up on the main characteristics of the ensemble cast before setting us back down into their day to day lives to play a little catch up with each before reuniting the gang for a holiday celebration. Having not seen the original I'll admit I was hesitant to jump into the sequel, but was anxious to see if expectation would be trounced and if the film would deliver a distracting two-hour experience that would get me ready for the Christmas season. Much to my surprise I was rather taken with the film and wrapped up in the going-ons of each individual character or couple and the problems they were facing given I hadn't been waiting to see how things turned out for them for nearly fifteen years. I knew going into the film that the true test of whether the film moved me would be if I immediately wanted to go home and watch The Best Man. It would be rather pretentious of me to hold out and not say what the outcome of this desire was, so I'll tell you now I've already searched through a few local places and online to see if I can locate the film on DVD. There is a distinct welcoming tone that pulls you in and holds your interest while setting up all the oncoming conflicts that weigh down the second half of the film and deliver blow after blow to your emotional sensory. Still, when all is said and done this is a film meant to serve the purpose of reminding its audience how important family members and memories are and the seasonal backdrop only re-enforces a certain sense of nostalgia that makes the effect of the film all the more powerful, especially for those that identified with and have felt close to the characters they were originally introduced to over a decade ago. As someone who had no particular expectation or anticipation for the film, The Best Man Holiday is one of those films that would easily escape a Caucasian male when walking into a movie theater, but there is plenty to relate to here because despite me not being in the target demographic, many of the situations and family dynamics are elements that are universal and are executed in a way where everyone feels welcome.

CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN Review

The original title of this film added a slightly indulgent "The Unnecessary Death of" before stating its titular protagonists name. I still thought that the title until I realized it had been cut short to simply introduce us to Shia LaBeouf's character and the man in which we would be following on this journey that's described simply as him finding love in a Romanian beauty only to become entangled in the drama her intimidating and very violent ex-husband brings to her life. The film is being modest though in this description as Charlie Countryman has much more to it than a simple love story and both visually and dramatically it is consistently striving for something more, something important and more substantial than what it appears to be on its surface. I can see how it would be easy to take this film as first time feature director Fredrik Bond finding his footing and infusing writer Matt Drake's screenplay with a strong sense of style and visual flair that would allow it to appear as nothing more than an exercise in artistic freedom, but as I took the film in I couldn't help but to feel they were really trying to accomplish something here. Drake has only penned a few screenplays in the past, his only feature being what couldn't have been more than a sketch outline for 2012's Project X, but once that forgettable paycheck project was out of the way it seems he was ready to really invest in something he was creating and thus we have the plight of Mr. Countryman. I've always had a soft spot for LaBeouf simply because I enjoyed Even Stevens so much as I was growing up and was happy to see him go on and find success in big-budget blockbusters, but as he's grown up too it is clear he wants to challenge himself and feels a want to find material that is more satisfying for him to look back on, something he might actually be able to be proud of when he hits fifty; at least moreso than watching himself run from CGI robots. With this film he has at least proved he has the capability of accomplishing such a feat even if the overall project may seem somewhat lacking. Despite the name change there are still plenty of over-indulgences in the film as it's never sure of what it wants to be and its tone skips around so much that we sometimes don't know with what context we're supposed to accept a scene, but more times than not Charlie Countryman is an entertaining if not introspective look at how the soul compensates for loss and continues to love.

First Trailers for Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH

There has been much talk concerning director Darren Aronofsky's desire to adapt the tale of Noah and his ark for the big screen ever since that desire was made public. Aronofsky is a director who likes to push the limit and is always willing to look for an interesting perspective on subjects and a style to go along with that perspective that will influence how he captures the story on film. I have always been a big supporter of his 2006 passion project, The Fountain, and have enjoyed his work since as well as prior. With the ability to secure a massive budget and backing of a studio like Paramount Aronofsky is now operating on his biggest scale yet and if there is a story that might justify this excursion into big budget studio films for a more arthouse director, it would be a Bible story in which everyone will have plenty to say. Paramount is no doubt hoping this mentality means it will put up Passion of the Christ-like numbers though we've already heard reports that the director and Paramount are at odds over the final cut of the film after a few test screenings didn't come away with the most shining of results. All I care about though is that the final cut we see on-screen is the one Aronofsky originally had in mind when he began this project. The director knows what he is doing and the trailer implies he has a very specific way of channeling the aspects of God and how he communicated with Noah in a way that make this event feel all the more plausible. The visuals here are absolutely stunning and there is a grand scale to the film that a story like this justifies but going even further, Aronofsky has gathered a cast that will more than do their part to elevate the human aspects of this story we've all heard many times before and in doing so will no doubt deliver a complete film that packs plenty of its own surprises. Russel Crowe plays the titular Noah and is joined by the likes of Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman, Ray Winstone, Douglas Booth, Kevin Durand, Martin Csokas, Mark Margolis, and Anthony Hopkins. Noah opens on March 28, 2014.

HOW I LIVE NOW Review

If Twilight is the bubblegum pop of young adult literary adaptations and Hunger Games is the more alternative rock that still gets played on Top 40 radio, then How I Live Now must be labeled as the punk rock version of these popular archetypes that continue to be re-imagined and place young, female heroine's at the center of their conflict. I had not heard of Meg Rosoff's novel that was first published in 2004 (a full year before Twilight and four before The Hunger Games) prior to discussions of director Kevin Macdonald's adaptation out of the Toronto International film Festival. I was intrigued not only because Macdonald has directed a slew of acclaimed documentaries and feature films, but because it starred an aggressive-looking Saoirse Ronan and the last time she looked to be in this form was 2011's Hanna in which she turned contributed a great performance to one of my favorite films of the year. Though Ronan attempted to headline her own young-adult female-centric fantasy adaptation earlier this year with The Host, that effort bombed both with critics and general movie-goers, but How I Live Now is a different beast entirely. The mega-hits like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games fall into that category because they are the first out of the gate in concept and execution, while the ones that trail behind will not find near the success for that same reason. The good news concerning How I Live Now is that it doesn't strive to be anything it's not and while it will seem all too familiar with today's Hunger Games-fueled audiences this is not a likable protagonist at the center of the story, it doesn't offer the typical love triangle nor does it strive to extend its saga over multiple chapters, but instead Rosoff created an isolated incident of how the greater affects of war and isolation effect a single soul as we see a large event through a small window. Much like Steven Spielberg's version of War of the Worlds, Macdonald uses the personal perspective to differentiate his film from those that we have seen before where a more global look is taken as society comes to an end. Here, we are as confused and lost as the characters we are following. This doesn't always work in terms of successful storytelling, but it certainly keeps us intrigued and ready to stick with wherever that story decides to go.