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.

THE WAY, WAY BACK Review

Writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who penned The Descendants together in 2011 have teamed up once again to both write and direct their first feature which has come to be known as The Way, Way Back. I was slightly disappointed it's taken this long for the film to reach my neck of the woods as I've heard nothing but great things and completely adored their aforementioned collaboration (The Descendants was my second favorite film of 2011). It isn't easy to tell early on what the appeal of the film might be. It is slow to start and almost irritating the way in which each character is so adherent to the dominating characteristics given to them by the script. Whether it be Steve Carell's prickly dirtbag Trent or our protagonist Duncan (Liam James) who not only doesn't stand up to his moms new boyfriend, but doesn't seem willing to try and talk or develop relationships with those who have no ulterior motives. He somehow manages to come across several people willing to open up to him and start a conversation, but it's clear he is simply an awkward kid in his early teenage years reeling from the realization of what a divorce brings with it and is finding it hard to fit in with people who seem to be anything but other objects who will do nothing but eventually let him down as his parents have done. The key to understanding what The Way, Way Back is hoping to achieve is to feel some kind of empathy with Duncan. Like George Clooney's Matt King in The Descendants Duncan is coming to terms with a kind of tragedy and trying to learn from it, eventually discovering that he's been missing out on a lot in life and that it's now time to make up for lost time and go on from this point with a different perspective with hopes of being who he wants to be and not what others necessarily expect from him. It is a classic coming-of-age story we've seen countless times before, but seeing as each and every single person goes through this process (to some degree) it is a story we can all latch onto. How well the story is executed is what makes trying to capture nostalgia on screen successful or not and The Way, Way Back just happens to be very well executed.

First Trailer for THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

It is not customary anymore to see a trailer for the first time when your sitting in a theater seat as much as it is in front of your computer screen. Given the power of YouTube and the ease of access it is no wonder things have wound up this way, but I still remember the rush of excitement that came with seeing new trailers in front of movies and having no idea what they might turn out to be. In many ways I'd thought this was something lost with the internet, but I was able to experience those feelings of surprise again last weekend when I sat down for a Thursday night screening of The Wolverine. The opening trailer began and I didn't immediately recognize it, yet as soon as we saw Ben Stiller I realized what we were getting. I've always been a big fan of Stiller's and especially of his directorial works. Both Zoolander and Tropic Thunder are high caliber comedies that last and offer big laughs every time I watch them. Having had his hand in the re-make of Danny Kaye's 1947 film for some time now, it is nice to see he has really taken the time and care to perfect what looks like his most ambitious project to date. Taking a very simplistic approach the trailer lets the images do the talking as we only get a few words from Stiller and not much from anyone else. We see glimpses of both Adam Scott and Kristen Wiig and how their roles in Walter's life influence what he becomes when he drifts into the fantasy-land that creates the hook for this tale about a seemingly boring proofreader at TIME magazine. The trailer has an air of profound understanding to it, a tone that tells the audience it is a piece of art that truly hopes to move you, to make you feel something. I'm truly excited for this film and will certainly include it on my top 10 most anticipated films for the fall of 2013. It is unclear of the Award chances the film stands, but if the film delivers on what the trailer promises I wouldn't be surprised to see Stiller in the running come February. Also, bonus points for the great use of Of Monsters and Men's "Dirty Paws". The film also stars Sean Penn, Patton Oswalt, and Shirley MacLaine. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opens on Christmas day.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: July 30, 2013

THE WOLVERINE Review

In the four years it's been since Wolverine last graced the screen much has changed. While the conflicted mutant is still as relevant as he always was the attempt to capitalize on his popularity with the "X-Men Origins" series that tripped out of the gate and followed up the underwhelming X3: The Last Stand in the live action series of films gave everyone a strong sense of caution when it came to future X-Men projects. Granted, 2011's First Class was a well-received hit, but was in somewhat of a different vein though clearly still taking place in the universe set up by Bryan Singer in 2000. There has always been an attraction to Wolverine that clearly stood above the rest of his mutant team and it is understandable that Fox and Marvel would want to give the adamantium-clawed anti-hero another chance so it was nice to see they at least seemed to be giving the film some real thought this time around at first hiring director Darren Aronofsky, a pure critical darling, and even when that fell through bringing in someone like James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) to take over and flush out the film that would adapt one of the more popular comic book storylines in the Wolverine canon. The studios knew how the last solo Wolverine effort went over and they were intent on doing serious fan service this time around while at the same time attempting something different with the super hero genre. It is easy to forget that the original X-Men started this new wave of comic book movies that is still going strong today and whether you feel that is a good or bad thing it doesn't really matter because it is clear they are here to stay. That Hugh Jackman has now incarnated the character six times on screen (more than any other person has played any other superhero on screen) and completely owns the role says a lot about how much that first movie went in the right direction. I, personally, am a fan of comic book films. They are intriguing, most straddling the line between a real world setting with other-worldly elements while the current trend is to keep things as grounded as possible. The Wolverine does this with expert precision while not lettings its roots get away from it. This at once a thrilling character study while also delivering an interesting new story that truly stands on its own.

R.I.P.D. Review

R.I.P.D. desperately wanted to be a franchise. It will never happen, but man did it want to be. What's been done here is director Robert Schwentke (RED) decided that instead of sticking with the last obscure comic book adaptation he made and successfully turned into a hit (which coincidentally opened against this film) he would go on and make another one with the hopes that he could push another three or four films out of it and be set for the rest of his career. It makes sense and they obtained all the right parts to make R.I.P.D. a flashy summer bonanza. We have the two big name leading men, we have a large enough budget to pull off some serious action scenes and CGI and they have source material that in some corner of the globe has a fan base that might appreciate it while also riffing on plenty of other, very successful, summer blockbusters before it. Why this didn't work at all though seems to be from a lack of any kind of faith in the project. Though, the studio shouldn't have been surprised by its final product as this comes to us courtesy of the guys who wrote such things as The Tuxedo, Aeon Flux and Clash of the Titans. What exactly were they expecting? They wanted a mindless actioner that told the familiar story of a buddy cop film where the older, experienced cop gets a rookie partner and they fight at first and can't stand one another only to have that relationship blossom into something special by the end of their first adventure together. That, with Men in Black-level genre elements thrown in. It is an easy comparison to make, but that is essentially what R.I.P.D. is. Take out the aliens and replace them with dead people, take out the government and replace it with God. Simple as that. Hire a few studio writers and a director who was able to make a profitable enough hit with his previous potential franchise-starter and you have all the ingredients, right? The failure of this film presents solid proof that the system doesn't always work and the calculated way in which these studios try to push new franchises down our throats doesn't pay off when you're trying too hard and R.I.P.D. is trying way too hard to be something it didn't have to be.

GIRL MOST LIKELY Review

What happens when a movie doesn't center around its most interesting character? That is only one of the issues facing the latest Kristen Wiig film, Girl Most Likely. I'm not sure what I expected from Wiig after she officially "made it" with Bridesmaids a few years ago, but she certainly hasn't attempted to capitalize on her heightened status as much as co-star Melissa McCarthy. No, I'm not sure what I expected of her, but I know it was more than this. Before that leading role in Bridesmaids it seemed Wiig was everywhere in small, supporting parts (Extract, Adventureland, Whip It, MacGruber, Date Night, Paul) but since she has done nothing in the way of mainstream films besides lending her voice to animated work (most notably Despicable Me 2) while her only major film roles have been the one under review here and the favor that was Friends with Kids. All of this is to say that while Girl Most Likely is a passable film with a cast too good for its material there was a level of expectation for Wiig's career and in many ways this is the kind of film that begins to deflate those expectations. There is still time as plenty of people won't discover this little film until it makes its way quietly onto home video in a few months and Wiig has several projects lined up including the Anchorman sequel and the Ben Stiller-directed re-make of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty both of which come out in December and will do nothing but boost her star, but these will again be supporting roles and people are anxious to see her take the lead again, just not like this. We want to see her head up a mainstream comedy with mass appeal that still allows her brand of humor to seep in and we want to see her play a different kind of character. The Imogene of Girl Most Likely is so much like the Annie of Bridesmaids we begin to wonder if this is what might have happened in an alternate universe. Wiig is known for being able to play a variety of characters, I just hope she shows that on the big screen soon.

First Trailer for 47 RONIN

It is hard for me to get excited over fantasy films that look to rely heavily on special effects and have a hard rock soundtrack. It is even tougher to get excited when those kinds of films star Keanu Reeves. Yet, that is what we have here as the trailer for 47 Ronin has finally made its way online after having its initial release date pushed back over a year from last November to this Christmas. I don't know if that is a good or bad sign, but it could certainly show Universal has some kind of faith in the project as it could have been extra time to perfect those countless CGI shots and decided to go with a prime Christmas Day slot instead of the early February release it was going to get when last November didn't work out. Of course, it could also be due to the fact the studio sunk an estimated $170 million into the project and hired first time feature director Carl Rinsch to helm the project that they are only placing it in the company of more prestigious projects with hopes of better recouping the films budget at the box office. I can't help but feel this is on a one way street to join the likes of Jack the Giant Slayer and The Lone Ranger as some of this years biggest bombs though. Their is nothing that stands out in this trailer and the always laughable delivery of Reeves makes the whole thing seem more a parody of what it is actually trying to be. On the bright side it does seem to have a rather epic scale and the story of the real-life group of samurai in 18th-century Japan who avenge the murder of their master could be intriguing with the added supernatural elements. I'll definitely reserve judgement and hope for the best, but after hearing of all the issues plaguing the project I was hoping for a little something more than what this generic trailer offers. The film also stars Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kô Shibasaki, and Rinko Kikuchi. 47 Ronin opens in 3D on December 25th. Hit the jump to check out the trailer.

THE TO DO LIST Review

Walking into something like The To Do List it is hard to decide whether or not you are going to get a film along the lines of Adventureland or something more akin to an Adam Sandler comedy, but the cast would certainly suggest the former. That was my optimistic hope going into the film and while I never expected this to be the comedy of the summer (the film was originally scheduled to come out this past February) or even a kind of cult hit I did expect to find a rather low key dirty comedy with enough good bits to sustain its brisk running time. What we actually get is a great cast littered throughout a flimsy film that knows what it wants to be and has a clear agenda, but doesn't necessarily have the intelligence or originality to achieve its own aspirations. As this fact became clear within the first fifteen minutes of the film I was at least relieved to see so many funny people and even rather credible actors popping up in roles of all shapes and sizes whether it was cameos, supporting players, or main cast. As films such as this usually go there isn't enough substance or depth to the characters to justify the emotional journey the makers would like us to go on, but as far as staging crude and vulgar sex acts in awkward places between awkward people this movie hits the nail on the head. The title of "sex comedy" is a term tossed around loosely these days and used to describe pretty much any R-rated comedy that includes at least one boob joke, but The To Do List earns this branding with its head held high. I don't know if it was the fact I wasn't sure what to expect from the film or that it was so unabashedly blunt about its sexual awareness but the film is ultimately a mixed bag ranging from amusing sight gags to jokes as old as the time period in which it's set (sadly, this means 1993 was twenty years ago). While Aubrey Plaza has become known for playing the witty and extremely deadpan chick in films like last years Safety Not Guaranteed and TV's Parks & Recreation the actress takes small steps here to separate herself from that persona which should count for something, but ends up meaning very little when the project surrounding you really isn't that good.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: July 23, 2013

BEFORE MIDNIGHT Review

I can remember in 2004 when there seemed to be an unsettling amount of nervousness and excitement leading up to the premiere of Before Sunset. I was seventeen at the time and had not become as well acquainted with indie films or smaller, art house projects that were gaining recognition which in turn meant I had not seen the original film, 1995's Before Sunrise, that spawned this follow-up nine years later. Even though I'd heard much about Before Sunset that year and recognized Ethan Hawke from countless other movies I never made it around to seeing what all the fuss was about. I still had not at the beginning of this year and then I began to hear that same level of unique excitement that started to build when it was rumored that director Richard Linklater and both Hawke and co-star Julie Delpy were hard at work scouting locations for a third installment in their relationship evaluation trilogy. As it turned out the stars and director weren't simply looking for locations, but had indeed shot the third installment and as I now try to expose myself to as many facets of film as possible I felt a responsibility to catch up on what I was missing and what everyone else was talking about. This has led to an experience where I've come to know Hawke's Jesse and Delpy's Celine over a matter of two decades in less than a few weeks. It is at some level unnerving as you can literally see the way in which people age and relationships change, while it isn't until this latest installment, Before Midnight, that we get to see the effects of these characters having been in a relationship for some time now. The fact this film would exist might confirm what eventually happened after the cliffhanger at the end of Before Sunset as I assume Linklater and his crew would realize they couldn't repeat themselves by simply having Jesse and Celine meet up for a few hours and catch up with one another again. Lucky for us, this is true in that Jesse never caught that plane and instead stayed and started a family with Celine which has now evolved into a much more recognizable relationship than the type of fantasy, star-crossed lovers ordeal the first two films presented. I understand the appeal of these films and have truly come to feel as if I know these people, which is good considering the content of the conversations they have this time around.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES Review

Only God Forgives is something of an unexpected twist on the artistic yet undeniably entertaining quality of the previous collaboration between director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling. That the twist is more on the artistic aspect while almost completely dismissing the entertainment value is more of the unexpected turn. I have yet to dig further into Refn's filmography than Drive and his 2008 feature Bronson, but am interested to see how Valhalla Rising ties into the clear influence his previous work has played in the development of this latest picture. I wasn't sure what exactly to expect from Only God Forgives given it was booed at its Cannes premiere yet won top prize at the Sydney Film Festival just over a month ago. Clearly these reactions are just as subjective as anything I'm writing here, but the divisive nature of the reception the film is receiving does stand to say something for the effect it is having on people. With that question in mind, that loaded curiosity of what made this film so appealing to some and completely pointless to others I walked into the theater with an open mind and willingness to accept whatever Refn might be trying to say, even if it was trying too hard or putting all of its effort in unexpected areas. Walking out of the film though if anything was clear it was that Refn had done exactly what he wanted to do and had been completely uncompromising in meeting his vision for this product. Through all of the technical aspects that are so expertly fashioned though, is there anything to see? Are there any characters here that we are made to care about? What is it about this film that should make us like it? The answer is nothing and Refn doesn't care because he is doing things how he wants them done. He is completely in your face with the violence while being reserved when it comes to emotional weight. There isn't an ounce of humanity in the majority of the characters yet surprisingly, as the credits began to roll, I was more satisfied than I ever expected. This is a mixed bag that doesn't reach the heights its aspirations were clearly aiming for, but it is a very distinct film and like its director, isn't apologizing for what it wants to be.

THE CONJURING Review

There is a difference between a film that meets the rules of its genre and one that is able to transcend them. What director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) does in The Conjuring is not to approach the film as if it were a horror film, but more a serious drama about a family in crisis. That he doesn't necessarily forget, but in a way uses the archetypes that make up the average horror movie in smaller ways, at least for the first act of the film, to imply what may or may not happen later. In setting up the expository information Wan is all the while creating his mood, but he is also giving us the tools to develop relationships with these people. He isn't simply going about setting up scares here and there that ultimately add up to nothing, but he is luring us in and making it unavoidable that we become invested in these characters that will ultimately undergo a life altering experience in the latter part of the film. What The Conjuring also does is to not look at itself as some kind of joke or take its material too lightly. It firmly believes everything it has to offer and doesn't intend to be anything but sincere about the subject matter. If it were to take on a nature of laughing at the Perron family or a sense of doubt in the main cast that is firmly planted in the conflict from the beginning it would lose all credibility immediately. A deal where if they don't take it seriously, why should we? The film does take itself seriously though and that is meant in the best of ways as it consistently keeps the tone and intensity any good scary movie needs to help convince the audience that what is going on on screen is as real and threatening as the mysterious sounds they might hear in the middle of the night and dismiss as nothing more than the wind knocking something against the window. It is all about atmosphere and mystery with today's horror audiences as most have grown accustomed to what kind of scares most horror films will throw at you. Wan uses those same kind of scares, but he executes them in a manner that is much more effective, much more chilling, and on the most important of levels, much more emotional.

RED 2 Review

In what may be the second least anticipated sequel of the summer Bruce Willis and his gang of retired master class agents return for another round. I actually really enjoyed the first film as it presented something fresh, a new spin on a genre that by 2010 had seen Willis trying tirelessly to breathe life into a new possible franchise (Surrogates) while attempting to lampoon what made him the action star he is in the first place (Cop Out). Both attempts turned in horrible to average films, but nothing stuck. That was, until he managed to find the right film that balanced the comedy and action while at the same time being able to poke fun at the fact Willis was indeed a lot older now than when he made his first Die Hard film. That the first film also managed to make Willis seem like he was invested in the material was a definite plus. An air of indifference has plagued Willis in the majority of his actioners lately (this has remained true since RED as well with The Cold Light of Day, Expendables 2, and the disaster that was A Good Day to Die Hard) and is still somewhat apparent in this ultimately unnecessary sequel, but lucky for us Willis is not the only star the makers have recruited to keep us entertained and upping the chances crowds will buy tickets to this farcical action film in a summer season so crowded it would be difficult to stand out otherwise. While some of the big names are welcome returns and the others welcome additions their true value is measured by the mass appeal they bring and how this worked to the first films advantage, making it a sleeper hit. I remember being surprised by how many older people were in the audience to watch the first film at an early show and the same remained true this time around. That the older generations show up for the roster of prestigious actors and the younger for the guaranteed mindless action that has no doubt come to be associated with Willis' face, the producers can almost guarantee a hit. The good news is that, despite these films following formula to a T, there is more going on with the characters than in most generic action films and a surprising amount of laughs per minute that, if nothing else, guarantee a pleasant time.

TURBO Review

Turbo is a completely complacent piece of entertainment. There isn't anything particularly intriguing about the film and there is absolutely nothing that might offend or cause someone not to enjoy it. In fact, the viewing experience I had was one of initially low expectations that were met with a sense of pure ease and joy that radiated off the screen and into the creative juices the film had flowing allowing for it all to be very colorful, very fun, but most importantly, entertaining. It held the children's attention, it never slowed for too long and it didn't take any detours in getting where it wanted to go. There is a very basic, straightforward plot, a message that is easy to understand and characters that are completely endearing while being both supporters and detractors to our titular heroes dreams. It is tough to come up with much to say about a film so middle of the road that you find neither anything spectacular to love about it or insulting enough to hate. I guess there could be some magic in that, in the fact that parents can take their kids to the movies and have a fun enough time themselves while not having to worry about whether or not the kids will actually stay in their seats and remain entertained, but as far as quality of the overall film goes, whether it has anything profound to say or not, or whether it will stand as a classic of the genre it fits so comfortably into, that is where the film fails to meet any real standards. Still, the fact of the matter is the makers of Turbo likely weren't shooting for any such standards, but instead had the humble aspirations of making a fun, entertaining ride with a positive message that informed kids no matter how small they are that their big dreams were worth going after and could indeed be accomplished. I applauded Monsters University earlier this summer for taking the road less traveled in preaching life lessons to its young audiences, but while Turbo chooses to go the road most traveled in pretty much every aspect it likely won't stand a chance of rising above other animated films in a summer so saturated with minions and monsters. I liked Turbo well enough and I'm sure plenty of kiddos will see it and feel the same way, but I doubt any of them will take much away from it.

First Trailer for 12 YEARS A SLAVE

The first trailer for director Steve McQueen's follow-up to Shame has been released. Based on Solomon Northup’s autobiography of the same name, 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Northup as played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who was a free slave in 1853 before he was tricked into slavery for over a decade. The film looks to chronicle that time Northup spent as a slave under owner Edwin Epps who is played by a ferociously menacing Michael Fassbender. The trailer gives off a clear style and tone with hints of great performances from both of the aforementioned lead actors, but it also highlights many of the supporting characters and the impressive people that fill those roles. Beyond the bigger names that include the likes of Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard we are also given bits of Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, and Benedict Cumberbatch. The trailer chooses not to mention Quvenzhane Wallis who it seems will have a very small role in the film while it does highlight Lupita Nyong'o who doesn't have any feature references before this point, but looks to have a prominent role in acclimating Northup with his new environment and the ways in which he must operate under his new owners laws. Naturally, that Northup can't bring himself to do this will cause the main conflict of the story, but with McQueen's directorial touch and the performances this roster of great actors will no doubt bring with the material there is no surprise a good amount of Oscar talk already surrounds this picture. I have seen Shame, but have yet to look at the director and Fassbender's first collaboration, Hunger, but will hopefully get around to it before checking this film out when it hits theaters on December 27th. There was at first concern about comparisons to Django given the subject matter, but this trailer presents such a different take on the time period and a seemingly far more complex story that I don't feel the two films coming out so close to one another will present an issue. 12 Years a Slave also stars Sarah Paulson, Scoot McNairy, Garrett Dillahunt, Dwight Henry, and Michael K. Williams. Hit the jump to check out the trailer.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: July 16, 2013

PACIFIC RIM Review

As I sat watching the latest from director Guillermo del Toro I couldn't help but wonder how much I would have loved this had I seen this movie when I was seven or eight. It likely would have been an earth shattering event, a childhood defining piece of entertainment that would influence countless Halloween costumes and inspire me to want to make my own monster movies. Unfortunately, I'm not seven or eight but was still able to sit in awe as these giant, man-made robots did battle with these monsters from the deep that have come to be known as Kaiju. If you are going to see Pacific Rim it is likely due in large to this aspect and on that basis the film delivers in spades. It was admittedly nice to walk into a big summer action film in the vein of something that is usually part of a franchise (and if this does well enough financially, it soon enough will be) and being able to know you can expect something new and fresh that requires no prior knowledge or research. With so many of these comic book adaptations and reboots being produced with hopes of cashing in on name recognition it feels somewhat of a rarity to have a studio lend this type of film the budget it needs to be and look credible enough that we become so invested in these people and the world they live in that we want to go on another adventure with them. Pacific Rim is a sometimes cheesy, but mostly raucous good time that is aided by the fact it has a very straightforward story, characters we can root for and no intentions of being anything other than flat-out, B-movie entertainment. I wasn't overly looking forward to the project and have never really understood the fascination that has come to surround del Toro as I enjoyed the Hellboy films as well as Pan's Labyrinth, but besides a signature style didn't see much in the way of why his name was being singled out so heavily as being so creative. With this film, the director has given me reason to know that he really understands the audience he is making his films for. I still wasn't as enthralled or as wowed by the film as I'd hoped, but was at least entertained enough to say that Pacific Rim is the kind of summer action movie we don't get enough of these days.  

THE EAST Review

Brit Marling is officially three for three in my book. After first seeing the actress and writer in director Mike Cahill's 2011 film Another Earth it was not necessarily her acting skill that was intriguing, but the way in which she gravitated towards projects. Yes, she was good at playing guarded and mysterious, but she was also able to invoke a sense of real intensity that continues to carry through not only the characters she plays, but the films she has a hand in making. Last years Sound of My Voice paired her with friend and director Zal Batmanglij to produce one of my favorite films of 2012 while reassuring me and everyone else that science fiction didn't have to necessarily be big, bold new worlds and fantastic technology to be engaging, but it simply had to have a precise goal and Sound of My Voice was a film very specific in what it wanted to accomplish and did so with a perfect balance of mystery and intrigue. while I completely adore that film and was happy to see Marling re-team with Batmanglij again this year I was thankful they weren't treading the same ground, but were instead moving on to different subject matter completely while still looking to strike up a conversation. With The East these two young, but equally wise artists bring our attention to moral dilemmas. Though the film will grab you in advertisements by purporting to be a slick espionage thriller that follows a rookie agent on her first assignment there is so much more to the film than this generic sounding synopsis. The film is ultimately about deciding what is worth doing that many see as wrong for the greater good of what you believe is right. That is the purpose of the titular-named group that Marling's protagonist Sarah is pulled into and while we certainly expect her to make some type of connection with these people who genuinely feel they have to do these wrong things for the right reasons it comes as a surprise where Sarah ends up going on the arc this movie gives her. There is a balance here that doesn't lean too far in one direction so as to present a slanted view, but in all earnestness wants to create a big picture while getting the small details right in order to make it feel as honest as possible.

First Trailer for OUT OF THE FURNACE

Out of the Furnace wasn't really on my radar until just recently when production stills began to be released, followed by the poster and today we have the first trailer for the film which comes from director Scott Cooper. I am a big fan of Cooper's directorial debut Crazy Heart and while this sophomore effort looks to tackle the same type of people geographically it also seems to come with a completely different tone and a story that has several layers of topics it intends on tackling. This on top of a stellar cast that features Christian Bale in the lead lends serious expectations to the film. Bale looks to be the perfect balance of brooding and genuine as Russell Baze, a steel worker, who is forced into a vengeance mission when his brother (Casey Affleck) goes missing after getting involved with the likes of Woody Harrelson who runs a crime ring that deals with some intense hand to hand combat. Harrelson may very well steal the show in what looks to be a downright evil role while supporting players at the caliber of Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard and Zoe Saldana only lend to what looks like an intense drama filled with thrilling moments. Though I wasn't aware of the film (and its potential for greatness) until just recently it has quickly jumped to one of my most anticipated films this fall and as it looks to have more atmosphere, raw style, and several great performances in a single film as any other upcoming Oscar-bait (here's looking to you The Monuments Men). Out of the Furnace opens in limited release on November 27th and expands wide on December 6th. Hit the jump to check out the trailer and be sure to let me know what you think.

FRANCES HA Review

Frances Ha is all about growing up and in every sense of that phrase I feel like I can relate to what is taking place in this film. Given, I don’t live in New York and am not currently struggling to pay rent I can still understand coming to the point where the present is being forced to become more like the past and the aspirations you’ve had since childhood are approaching do or die time. It is a scary period in life where you truly believe you are determining what the rest of your life will be like and sometimes the prospects of that aren’t exactly on the positive side of things. Whether or not this turns out to be true or not is both unknowable to myself and Frances and the film does a fine job of conveying her anxiousness in not knowing where she will end up. She is yearning to know that her reality will meet her goals, but the constant fear of that not happening looms over her day to day life. It is something that is only escalated by the apparent ease with which all of her friends are dealing with this process. This also leads to the film unearthing something more than these typical issues of trying to find one’s self and carve out a place in the world, but also a layer of having to deal with relationships and the growth of friendship even if that means you are growing apart. The film deals specifically with that kind of relationship between girlfriends who view one another as family and that point in time where they have to essentially break up from constantly hanging out with one another and find themselves in relationships with guys that might eventually produce their own families. When one friend begins to make this transition and the other doesn’t it creates an awkward situation for the latter friend to fall into. That is where we find Greta Gerwig’s Frances as the film eases us into her life and gives us a lovely and quirky little slice of life that is just as charming and authentic as the titular character.

First Red Band Trailer for Spike Lee's OLDBOY

I’ve heard a lot about the re-make of Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy from director Spike Lee, but I’ve never seen the original and wasn’t sure what the big deal concerning the film was. I just caught Park’s first English-language film Stoker and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Today, the first trailer (and a red band, no less) for Lee’s re-make has debuted and it is easy to see the intrigue surrounding the plot and why there has been such reaction to the brutal violence that is on full display here. Josh Brolin stars as a man who is kidnapped and locked away for twenty years before being released with little to no explanation why he was there in the first place or for what reasons he’s been set free. This looks like a nice vehicle for Brolin to display the kind of stone-faced, rough persona character he plays so well while being part of a bigger story that serves that type of attitude correctly. Hopefully, this will lift the actor out of the funk he’s been feeling lately from flops like Jonah Hex and Gangster Squad. The tone for the film seems pretty grimacing and Brolin is doing his best to match it. The only problem with the trailer is the fact that the story is supposed to be cloaked in mystery yet the trailer feels as if it gives too much away. I came away from it, not having seen the original may I remind you, and felt as if I knew the beats of the story and how all of this was probably going to play out. Still, I have hopes for the film as I’ve always enjoyed the work I’ve seen of Lee’s and there is a great supporting cast at work here that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Lance Reddick, Michael Imperioli, and James Ransone. Oldboy opens on October 25th. Hit the jump to check out the trailer and let me know what you think.

DESPICABLE ME 2 Review

When a movie only happens because the first was a surprise hit it more times than not has a sense it exists because the iron was hot rather than there being any ideas of value proposed to continue the story. Thus is the dilemma the makers of Despicable Me 2 likely encountered when the small Illumination Entertainment company scored a $540 million worldwide hit with the original film. Naturally, the studio was quick to get to work on a follow-up and now that the minions have become a cultural mainstay with a feature of their own on the way the anticipation for the second installment in what will no doubt become a more extensive series was sky high. The influence of the charming first installment looms over this uneven sequel though and unfortunately that doesn't always bode well as their is plenty going on here, but nothing really feels like it happens. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense if I'm being completely honest because the voice cast is on point, the story is a surprisingly natural extension of where the first one left off and though the animation itself is nowhere up to the standards of titan studios like Pixar, enough care is taken in the execution of the film to include countless side jokes, little details that add real personality to the characters and even a story arc for the minions, but in the end that doesn't make a complete film that is as satisfying as it should be. It is tough to explain and is really disappointing because I genuinely loved the first film and was very much looking forward to this sequel despite the fact I have no small children as excuses to go and see this, but was more than willing to walk up and buy a ticket with my head held high. Maybe it is indeed the fact I had such high expectations going in that I was somewhat let down by what was delivered, but either way it should be understood that Despicable Me 2 is not a bad film by any means, but it is purely an average film that takes advantage of the minion popularity and eager parents willing to shell out money on premium 3D tickets and countless other merchandise opportunities while the film itself feels rushed in all the human aspects it tackled so originally, or at least more interestingly, in the first film.

THE LONE RANGER Review

It's hard to complain about a movie when you know so much hard work and care went into the production of it. The movie adaptation of The Lone Ranger has traveled a long and rugged road in order to reach the big screen and along the way I'm sure has seen many more tribulations than the common cinephile has been exposed to. As the whispers of production issues didn't come into play with World War Z's box office success a few weeks ago I was hoping the highly-publicized budgetary problems with Gore Verbinski's latest might play out the same way, but where the reviews were surprisingly glowing for the Max Brooks adaptation it almost seems critics were ready to jump on this latest Johnny Depp adventure before it was even out of the gate. Quite the opposite happened last summer when hopes were high for the Depp/Tim Burton collaboration Dark Shadows, but released only a week after The Avengers the film was lost in the shuffle and word of mouth was not kind. Still, I found myself enjoying the film rather immensely and have since re-watched it more than once on blu-ray trying to find what was so repulsive about it. I can't help but feel the same way about The Lone Ranger. I can certainly see where some of the criticism is coming from. The biggest issue the film faces is that of a tone and pacing crisis. There is never anything that jump starts the film and allows the audience to settle into their seats and enjoy the adventure about to take place and while there are fits and starts of rather harsh violence the film predominantly tries to take a comedic if not mostly slapstick approach to things. These kind of blunt tonal shifts can sometimes take us out of the experience we are trying to become a part of, but in the end it would be a disservice to this film and the people who might count on your opinion to decide if they'll see it or not to call this a bad movie. It is not a bad movie, it is a beautifully shot film with a layered story and some fine performances. It took a while to get going and though it doesn't really find its stride until the last half hour, one has to at least ask themselves what did they expect? It certainly couldn't have been much better than what we've been given.

WHITE HOUSE DOWN Review

At this point I can't even recall much from the White House under attack movie that appeared in theaters earlier this year, Olympus Has Fallen. I remember it being a rather care free, brainless piece of fun with a surprisingly brutal aspect to it while more than anything being a tribute to those 90's action flicks of yesteryear that had now been replaced by superheroes and sequels. While I always expected Roland Emmerich's version of this similar story, White House Down, to be the clear victor in terms of quality it turns out they are neck and neck as far as pure entertainment value goes, but with the more pedigreed cast, the bigger budget and a director more adept at handling large scale action sequences Emmerich's version of Die Hard in the White House seems as if it will have the repeatability factor moreso than the Gerard Butler redux that will no doubt still go down as the lesser of the two. Though I'll have to wait and see if anything about White House Down remains ingrained in my mind come September as of now it is certainly the film I enjoyed more. The comparison between these two films is inevitable as it has been lurking over both releases since word came out two movies with the same premise were being released within months of one another. This didn't seem to hurt the second one out of the gate last year in the same situation (Snow White & the Huntsmen easily trounced Mirror, Mirror) but these two movies are much more similar in tone and it's clear that despite Channing Tatum's mass appeal to the ladies they don't necessarily care to see him in a straight up action flick. It is his charisma and the chemistry that exists between he and co-star Jamie Foxx that makes the film so endearing and in turn makes this film the experience I took more fun away from. That could be a good or bad thing depending on what you're expecting or what you were looking for, but Emmerich has always had a way about making his films self-aware while still executing action set pieces with seamless transitions between the tones. He does the same here balancing the ridiculous with the tongue-in-cheek that allows the audience to realize the majority of whats happening on screen is in fact ridiculous, but brushing it off as nothing more than exhilarating, B-movie fun which is exactly what this is supposed to be.