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 OTHER WOMAN Review

Given the bad rap that romantic comedies typically get it seems The Other Woman was bound and determined to make sure people didn't think of it as a film that fit squarely into that cardboard box and so instead first time screenwriter Melissa Stack took cues from 9 to 5 and The First Wives Club and smashed them together into modern day giving us a comedy of errors in which three women, all scorned by the same man of course, get together and plot their revenge on the sick schlub. Thus, this is the antithesis of the rom-com, the movie not where some hopelessly romantic woman falls for a man who seems to be the perfect fit only to find out he isn't and that she has been blind to the real man of her dreams who's resided three cubicles down for years now, no, The Other Woman is out for revenge on the fanciful relationship and instead wanting to make sure everyone knows how the wrong kind of infatuation can lead nowhere and that it's only the healthy kind that might offer more meaningful fulfillment in our little time on this earth. That said, you don't really go into a movie that looks like what The Other Woman is going to be and expect much and maybe that is exactly why I had a pretty good time at this one. The film sports a pair of hilarious leading ladies with chemistry to burn and a solid guiding force in director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, My Sister's Keeper) who seems to have a taste for the eclectic and in trying his hand at straight-up comedy for the first time in his career, for the most part, lands on his feet only to stumble a few times in the area of slapstick and poop jokes that feel too immature for the subject matter the film is inherently taking on. Everything about The Other Woman screams that it should be easily shoved into the chick flick doldrums (shiny New York City setting, jobs for all that make life a breeze, cheesy pop soundtrack, several montages) but in a slight turn of hand we find that the film ultimately is able to divert the clichés of this formula and show the growing and repairing of relationships between women rather than the more idiotic road of watching these sophisticated women fight over a man clearly below their standards only for one of them to fool themselves into thinking our central schlub here is still the one, still worth keeping around, while never nailing down the entire male species as one stereotype.

UNDER THE SKIN Review

Upon walking out of Jonathan Glazer's latest film I could only wonder if I'd just seen the same film as the one so many others had seen and laid praise upon. I try not to read, listen or watch other reviews before forming my own opinion of a film, but with the overwhelmingly good word of mouth on Under the Skin it was hard to ignore while I waited for the arthouse film to make it to the small market I live in. When it finally did open at the local indie cinema I was more than excited to finally see what all the fuss was about, but as the credits abruptly (yet not soon enough) rolled I stood up and exited the theater wondering what the hell I just watched. There is a fine line in being the kind of viewer and cinema lover that appreciates all different kinds of cinema and the cinephile that has become so accustomed to the styles and functions of mainstream movies that it is all dismissed as lesser than something that is more experimental or different. Being different for the sake of being different doesn't work and if, as a viewer, you've learned the tricks of the trade in big-budget Hollywood productions then you should also be aware of the fact it takes not only risks, but successful risks to come away with something both different and thought-provoking. The first thought that came to me as I tried to digest Under the Skin though was that simply because you pace your movie with an intentionally slow stride and make it extremely vague and/or purely metaphorical doesn't necessarily mean it will be of that thought-provoking nature. I like to consider myself an able interpreter of films meanings and messages, of their significance that is many times conveyed with larger scope in order to make a bigger impression than the sentiment itself might make were it given in a straight forward fashion, but even as Under the Skin will draw multiple meanings from its many infatuated viewers I couldn't help but see it as an ambitious film lacking a compelling narrative and devoid of any interesting drama to the point I could have cared less about what it really wanted to say or comment on. I'm sure that every single frame of the film is meant to be symbolic and intended to contribute to this overall poetic social criticism that Glazer wants to discuss, but I couldn't get into it, I couldn't see the point of it and more than anything, by the end, I was just irritated by it.

JOE Review

David Gordon Green is a director unafraid to explore the entire range of human emotion and while Hollywood sometimes requires that he segment these separate emotions into individual films Green has always been capable of dealing in the honesty of the human spirit. It would have been hard to find people who agreed with that assessment in 2011 when he released not one, but two critically panned straight-up comedies (Your Highness and The Sitter) one of which I understand the harsh reception, the other I think is sorely underrated. After taking a year or so off it seems Green re-evaluated what direction he was taking his career in and has since crafted two, lower-key character studies that have been able to access that full range of emotion he likes to explore rather than restricting him to the archetypes of slapstick, situational or conversation purely intended to make the audience laugh. While last years Prince Avalanche was a subdued little slice of life story that felt relaxed, improvised and more a quiet concentration on the point of it all, Joe is a character study as meticulously plotted and thought over as an extravagant poem meeting all the requirements of its goal scheme. Joe is not only about its title character but the place in the world in which he resides and the people around him that influence his decisions, those who he oversees and whose quality of their life he determines and the community that is both fed up and inebriated with him. As played by Nicolas Cage this outdoor, rugged, man among men character becomes a kind of Christ-figure to these small town people looking to be saved from their depressing, trash-riddled lives and it is only in Cage's furrowed brow and hardened soul that we see how Joe wants to try and live, but that he can't bring himself to be what the standards of society expect of him and so he rebels and he continues to rebel because that is the nature of his surroundings, no doubt of his upbringing and he can't help but to continue to think of himself as simultaneously better than those around him while never good enough to break free of this place he's found himself trapped in. I was riveted by Joe, moved by its performances and intrigued by its interest in these peoples lives. I think it is safe to say Mr. Green is back to doing what he does best.  

THE RAILWAY MAN Review

The Railway Man is a weight of a film. It is heavy with burden, heavy with guilt, heavy in theme and deeply entrenched in a story so stricken with all of these attributes that the resulting cinematic take on it could not help but to swim around in these deep, dark emotions. It is a disturbing tale, but it is one that is more of a straightforward nature than any film I've seen recently that exists outside the big-budget wheelhouse. We typically see these smaller films as opportunities for filmmakers to say something more than what you might find on a classroom poster or more than an excuse to simply make a bunch of noise and draw obvious conclusions from years of archetypes and cliches that still entertain the masses, but are not enough for people as immersed in film as the makers themselves or the strong army of cinephiles that populate the internet. Sometimes though, a story is strong enough on its own bearings that there is no need to come up with a fresh way to convey it or imply larger themes or ideas beyond that of the basic story and Jonathan Teplitzky's The Railway Man is one of those films. Not that the way in which Teplitzky has chosen to tell the story isn't effective in enhancing the already engaging story, but anyone who could provide solid-enough direction while armed with this narrative and these actors could have likely pulled off a win, it only helps that Teplitzky and his screenwriters, Frank Cottrell Boyce (Millions) and Andy Paterson who adapted Eric Lomax's autobiography, were able to get out of their own way and let the story speak for itself. I sometimes find it difficult to describe what makes a film of this straightforward yet compelling nature exactly that, but in doing so I've found I try to over-analyze and do the same thing I'm happy the filmmakers didn't do. That being said, The Railway Man is an engaging story featuring world-class actors and a high-brow look that keeps us entranced by its beauty, torn by its brutality and unwavering due to its strong resolution that you can't argue with because it's true, but is still somehow able to cover if not heal the scar tissue left behind by years of hate and a yearning for retribution that is tucked away by the harsh reality of how the world works.

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE Review

Jim Jarmusch is a filmmaker I admittedly know little about. The only one of his previous films I have seen is his 2005 effort Broken Flowers which I only rented once it hit video store shelves because it featured a Bill Murray performance that was receiving grand reviews. I'd like to see more, sometime at least, as Jarmusch seems a stubborn yet eclectic artist willing to try his hand not only in different kinds of stories, but films that share a kinship with his overwhelmingly high standard of influences. I don't know this for a fact and I can't tell you any visual clues I picked up on in the composition of certain shots in Only Lovers Left Alive, but what I can see through the writing of these characters alone is that our writer/director is not simply attempting to make a statement on his perception of what has become the quickly deteriorating society of our modern world, but also the way in which art progresses, innovation is scary yet necessary and how almost nothing besides ideas, creation, expression and any other words used to describe the essence of being artistic are really worth anything when the sun goes down on ones life. Jarmusch intends to teach his audience this lesson and re-assure his targeted hipster audience that there is nothing wrong with remaining spiteful of everything that is popular while he parades around one of the more popular actors in the world at the moment to somewhat hypocritically say that as long as they still have credibility, the fame doesn't count. The fame shouldn't count, I agree, but you can only feel fully vindicated in your plight of pursuing a life, not simply a career, in the arts if you become noticeable enough to make a living off of your talent. It is understandable and to be of the line of thinking in which our main character Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is here where he consistently downplays or demeans the merit of what one naturally wants under the construction of today's society is only saved by his rare, mythic condition. This suggestion one should rather not have their work recognized, but simply remain underground so it never loses that edge of credibility impossible to re-gain once deemed a sell-out. I doubt Jarmusch will ever "sell-out" in the way he likes to defend his independence by never taking a big-budget studio movie on, but his characters who simply trade pretentious dialogue to prove how credible he still is are nothing if not a bunch of jaded, cynical beings waiting for an end that will never come.

TRANSCENDENCE Review

The typical appeal of a Johnny Depp film is to see what strange, odd or just downright weird concoction of a character the actor has come up with next, but with Transcendence the appeal for me has always been to see what Depp does when asked to play a regular guy. He's done it before, this is nothing new, but he doesn't do it often and the fact his role (in a physical sense anyway) seemed limited to a short amount of the overall running time. Depp is still within his wheelhouse in terms of the type of person he enjoys playing even if the exterior is much more tame than the route he'd typically take, his role as Dr. Will Caster still sees him as a man of extreme intelligence and someone not looking to necessarily change the world as he likes to remind people, but instead always be discovering it, attempting to figure it all out. Despite this positioning Depp as the seemingly obvious star of the film, this is a movie that really belongs to Rebecca Hall. Depp is an influential presence and his character dictates the events in which Transcendence documents and even more he creates many of the questions the film intends to pose to the audience, but in terms of taking this as a piece of entertainment and in evaluating the performances of the actors involved this is Hall's film and it is her emotional investment in the plot of the film that makes this as compelling as it can be. The issue here though is that there isn't a clear line of thought in terms of emotional connection to the audience despite one of the major themes of the film being whether or not technology can develop feelings, affection, fear, etc. or if the thought of artificial intelligence will remain only that: a database of intelligence and nothing more, nothing trying to imitate the inherent nature of primitive life. Though this is somewhat ironic it is hard to fault the film for trying, for so deeply wanting to be something more, something thought-provoking. That is what I found to appreciate in Transcendence in that this wasn't simply a film that ordered itself into a certain set of rules or restrictions, but instead a piece of fiction that wanted to both discuss interesting ideas while at the same time providing an entertaining thriller/action film. This coming from Christopher Nolan's long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister I expected nothing less than that kind of melding of fantastical, large scope ideas and the architectures that match those in cinema, but while Pfister and screenwriter Jack Paglen have many interesting things to discuss here it seems they still need to practice funneling those ideas into a single coherent work.

DRAFT DAY Review

Since first catching a glimpse of the trailers for Draft Day a few months back I pretty much dismissed it as the least in a line of attempts by Kevin Costner this year to prove he still had the ability to anchor a film. While he's made a notable contribution in what many would agree were the best moments in last summers Man of Steel he has since not been able to really anchor a box office success where he was closer to the forefront of the action and the marketing. It is unlikely we will see another incarnation of Chris Pine's Jack Ryan where Costner served as a strong crutch and Three Days to Kill was more or less Costner trying to prove he could be Liam Neeson if people wanted him to be and while that flick likely turned a better profit than it will ever receive credit for (and has still yet to open overseas) audiences still seemed to be on shaky ground as to whether Costner is still that "face on the poster" kind of star that could usher a film into general audience favor and while the outcome of Draft Day's box office run will likely be mediocore at best it is at least reassuring to know that this is the better of Costner's two leading roles this year and that there is some real investment here not only because it serves to function as one big commercial for the NFL but because there is genuine drama to be had in the dynamics of a teams general manager and every other point of contact that is to be made throughout the course of what is no doubt the busiest day of these guys year. As its title would suggest, Draft Day takes place over the course of twenty-four hours and in that seemingly short time span writers Rajiv Joseph (a short list of TV credits) and Scott Rothman (no previous writing credits at all) are able to evoke a multitude of storylines and layers within those stories to give us a game of politics with a backdrop most of the movie-going public is at least vaguely familiar with. It mostly goes without saying I didn't expect much from Draft Day, but as the film nicely paces itself and builds up to its final scene I became increasingly intrigued in the outcome of these characters lives and couldn't help but to wonder how Costner's Sonny Weaver Jr. might find a way to please everyone and despite the fact the bow is tied a little too neatly in the end I would be lying if I said Sonny and his movie didn't satisfy me and instead actually exceeded any expectations I might have held for it.

OCULUS Review

The word oculus is defined as a round or eyelike opening or design, of which in the case of this new horror film is in reference to a mirror that acts as a curse to all those who own it. This is essentially The Amityville Horror or any number of possession tales where an object elicits evil qualities over those in its presence and makes them do horrible things. The fact that the object this scary movie decided to revolve around was a mirror, a simple household amenity where the most frightening thing that comes along with it is typically the superstition that if you break it you get seven years of bad luck, but hey, people are hard pressed for original ideas these days and so its hard to knock anyone for at least trying. This seems especially true when it comes to the horror genre as by this point in time we've pretty much seen every trick in the book played out time and time again. Oculus isn't necessarily about the specifics of the story it's telling nor is it even about the scares as I wouldn't say I found myself frightened at all throughout the entire film, but instead writer/director Mike Flanagan, along with co-writer Jeff Howard, have placed the emphasis on how the story is told and playing with the conventions of structure and pre-determined expectation to give the audience a strange disconnection to the material that allows us to continually be interested in what is happening, while never really knowing what to expect or what to brace ourselves for. While there was positive buzz around the film and despite the fact I'd heard little about it in regards to promotional campaigns the tone the posters displayed was one of pure mystery, pure creepiness. If there is one word to sum up Oculus it is indeed that, creepy. It never reaches the heights of being flat-out scary and it is far too precise to be chopped together for a few jump scares and little more substance than that, but while Oculus may not prove to be a great horror film it lends itself well to demonstrating what can be done with a pure genre film when even the slightest of envelopes is pushed. For that, Flanagan may not be showered with praise, but in the eyes of this movie fan and someone increasingly hard to please when it comes to this specific genre I found Oculus superbly intriguing and well-executed in a manner that allowed me to forgive its lack of real scares and not take for granted the genuine chills it delivered in its final moments.

First Trailer for Clint Eastwood's JERSEY BOYS

I really wanted to place Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the popular stage play Jersey Boys on my most anticipated movies of the summer list, but without ever having seen the play or even any kind of promotional materials for Eastwood's version I didn't have any idea what to be excited about other than the fact it was a story that concerned the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (which probably should have been enough anyway). With this first trailer coming the day after I published my most anticipated list though I am sorely regretting its exclusion because despite the fact I'm still more eager to see Tate Taylor's James Brown biopic as the other main music-themed film this season I would have certainly stuck this in the close calls section over the next Transformers flick. What is interesting about the Jersey Boys film though is the fact it does indeed come from a filmmaker such as Eastwood. It is clear the dry color palette and tough guy tone of the story fit his style, but it is nice to see him breaking out of the straight drama mold and entering into the unknown territory of a movie-musical. I'm attempting to convince myself that the aesthetic and pool of knowledge that Eastwood works in and can infuse into this genre of film will offer audiences something truly different when innovation feels stagnant. I'm a huge fan of all musical stylings and to be able to see not only this time in musical history come to life through not only the time period details, but the actual popular music of the time should be something Eastwood embraced and if not succeeded at least tried earnestly to bring to the screen. Jersey Boys stars John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken and opens in theaters on June 20th.

Movies I Wanna See Most: Summer 2014



We typically count the summer movie season as kicking off that first weekend in May which this year indicates The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has taken the spot alongside the obligatory alternative programming that looks to be Elizabeth Banks Walk of Shame though we've yet to see any real publicity for the film which only means Spidey will dominate all the more. Despite this seemingly natural kick-off and even the pre-emptive strike that was Captain America: The Winter Soldier the summer of 2014 seems to be one that will be filled with smaller, not yet publicized flicks that, as I looked through the calendar to put this list together, made me at the very least curious and hopeful that something might stand out among what isn't as crowded a summer as we've become accustomed to. Don't get me wrong, there are still super hero flicks aplenty (two of which are sequels) while others are sequels we're excited for (22 Jump Street, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) others that kind of tread the middle (Transformers, Sin City) and others we're just not sure about (Expendables 3). Needless to say, what is surprising in the line-up of big studio fare this year though are the number of "original" productions (especially comedies) that are going to have a go at it. Granted Godzilla, Malificent and Hercules are all based on popular brands, the new films themselves still have no built-in audiences and so it will be interesting to see what people respond to and what the quality of these films actually are. I want to see both Malificent and Hercules, but I'm not necessarily excited about either of them as their trailers did little to impress. On the other end of the spectrum though I have never been a fan of Godzilla yet the marketing and impressive roster of people working on the film have given me some extreme optimism that I hope is delivered upon. With a strong mix of genres, a fair amount of original material and what seems to be a promising year for comedy I look forward to the Summer movie season and give you fifteen films I can't wait to see after the jump...

On DVD & Blu-Ray: April 15, 2014

HEAVEN IS FOR REAL Review

I'm always hesitant to walk into a film that is willing to unabashedly push an obvious message on its viewers; one that is clearly being used to promote a specific or biased opinion, basically propaganda, and unfortunately that has been the case with many a "Christian-themed" films over the past few years. Message movies are a difficult thing to pull off in the first place because they can indeed seem obvious or come off as overly-hokey or sentimental that, when all rolled into one, are the kinds of movies you typically find on something like the Hallmark channel. When it comes to faith-based films specifically I have a tendency to shy away from them because I've always been of the mind that each person is entitled to believe what they want to believe and though I certainly support learning as much about religious culture and the numerous incarnations of faith that cover our world it has to be of that persons own accord. The individual has to want it otherwise forcing someone into a situation further than an introduction will always make a future decision to believe, get baptized, pray, put trust in a higher power, etc. to be nothing if not insincere. That probably seems a little harsh, but faith is such a personal thing that I have to believe someone has to come to really believe in a God on their own and not be coaxed into it by others. This isn't an essay about religion and faith though, but a review of the latest in a string of faith-based films that have opened in the early months of 2014 to strong reception from an audience that has not necessarily been ignored, but never addressed as outright as they have been lately. It is hard to consider myself part of a group because I like to stay open to different ideas and different interpretations from all points of view, but I do believe in God (even if that belief sways more toward metaphorical than literal interpretations when it comes to the Bible and could apply to the concept of heaven as well) and though I enjoy a good religious debate or interesting conversation about the reaches of space, other life and how it correlates to the existence of a God or creationism vs. evolution, I've still been rooting for a film that comes to the forefront of these faith-based pieces of entertainment and doesn't try to push an agenda on an audience, but simply tell them a story from the point of view of honest believers and I think Heaven is for Real is the closest we're likely get.

First Trailer for David Fincher's GONE GIRL

I've yet to read Gillian Flynn's supposedly extremely suspenseful novel from which David Fincher's latest film is based, but certainly intend to before the film premieres. Anytime Fincher is involved in a production I am game and with the buzz and intrigue surrounding Flynn's novel paired with the fact the author wrote the screenplay herself only make me all the more excited to see what Fincher has to offer next. It is a shame he will seemingly never finish his Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, but I am happy to see him back behind the camera as this first trailer sees him playing with a story that shares a few of the same genre elements of that previous feature as well as incorporating what seem to be themes of lies and deception that are similar to what pushes House of Cards for which Fincher directed the first two episodes last year. Gone Girl, on the surface at least, seems to be the story of the disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) an out of work writer who has moved from the big city of New York to the doldrums of Missouri and whose marriage to her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) has been floundering for years. This status of their marriage makes Nick look all the more guilty when Amy disappears on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. Though many have criticized the casting of Affleck in the lead role (I have no idea if this has anything to do with him simply not fitting the description of his counterpart in the novel) but with his current run of directing hits paired with the scrutiny he received for being hired as Batman I can only imagine the man feels like he can do no right. I think he can certainly be an interesting actor though and middle-class family man plays to Affleck's strengths, not to mention the strength of all the other pieces in play here. To say the least, I'm highly anticipating this one. Gone Girl also stars Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Scoot McNairy, Missi Pyle, Casey Wilson, Emily Ratajkowski, Neil Patrick Harris and opens October 3rd.

DOM HEMINGWAY Review

Sometimes, knowing someone and their aptitude for integrating themselves (no matter with good or bad results, as both can be equally entertaining) into society and the world around them is an exhilarating and interesting enough reason to hang out with them, to spend time with them. Despite the fact these tendencies may or may not become annoying or too much to look past when actually having to deal with the repercussions these actions provide they almost always give way to a few good stories to tell your actual set of friends when you sit down to share a drink and a meal with them where that time spent together is about the conversation and not about the presumed antics you'll encounter because of the domineering traits that make each encounter an adventure with the friend of another set. Some will classify this as simply being two different kinds of people: the thinkers and the doers. The thinkers sitting around watching, speculating while the actions of the doers provide content for those conversations. Much of watching film and critiquing or dissecting it makes the world feel like it squarely fits into these categories, but there are no absolutes and every person, no matter their domineering traits or tendencies will always have experiences in both of these types of situations and yet with Dom Hemingway we get as close as we probably ever will to both processing the antics of our titular character as we take them in while also feeling a part of the excursion because of how much was clearly put into the development of Hemingway, not only in the script and the way he was written, but of course and likely more critically in the way he was brought to life by Jude Law. Law, as the boozed out, drug-addled Englishman has seemingly subdued his classic good looks in every possible way to bring as much grit and grime to the presence of Hemingway to the point we don't doubt the man has dirt under his nails that's been there the entire time he kept his mouth shut in prison. It is a shame the actual film can't keep up with the character, because the energy that flows through Law's blood-shot eyes and out of his saliva-slinging mouth is pure electric.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER Review

The looming question after The Avengers was always going to be if movies only featuring one of the team members would suffice after this all-star team-up and while I enjoy Iron Man 3 more and more with each viewing and appreciate it for what it did for the character I have to say the opposite of The Dark World. The Thor sequel sacrificed going through with the clear demise of a character for the sake of fan affection and in no real way contributes to the larger arc of the story Marvel seems to be telling within its criss-crossed cinematic universe. I may come to regret that sentence when either Guardians of the Galaxy or Avengers: Age of Ultron takes some big notes from the introduction of the Aether that drives the plot in The Dark World, but for now it seems that the introduction of this new energy source could have served as a small subplot in the film rather than being the main reason for conflict while also providing Malekith's sole reason for existing in the film. With The Winter Soldier though, Marvel had its back to the wall in being forced to push the narrative forward as Captain America operates within the world most of our heroes also reside and more than that is affiliated with the organization that brought the super group together thus meaning if this sequel turned out to be a place holder then there was going to be a new wave of doubt in Marvel Studios and its master plan that would feel more off the cuff than meticulously planned. Lucky for audiences, Winter Soldier is both a solid film on its own terms and a solid entry in the Marvel canon that not only moves the story forward and reveals new, unexpected developments but also sets-up an interesting dynamic for how things will unfold in the upcoming films. Within all of these films the struggle is to make a sufficient stand-alone piece that works with what it is trying to accomplish on its own and without simply leaning on the fact there is another, inevitable chapter coming. As much as these Marvel films have become big, expensive episodes in an ever-evolving cinematic version of a television series, if they were going to survive as singular pieces of entertainment they were going to need to have a strong sense of individuality and The Winter Soldier, for the first time since The First Avenger, has that singular style and tone that separates it from its cohorts while understanding the necessities of contributing to things bigger than itself.

FRANKIE & ALICE Review

There was a time between the break of the new millennium and about three years in where it seemed as if Halle Berry would be an unstoppable force, destined for greatness as she became an X-Men (or woman), took the role of a Bond girl and mixed her big budget affairs in with smaller films that grabbed her Oscar nominations and the eventual first best actress trophy for an African American woman. Things seemed to be going better than perfect and audiences were willing to forgive interesting misfires like Swordfish and Gothika (at least she was trying to be versatile, right?) but then she made Catwoman and it seems ever since the actress has been trying to regain that credibility she possessed for only a brief amount of time. She has never seemed to simply accept her fate as Cuba Gooding Jr. so clearly has, but instead, continues to make films she seems to hope will make her that award winning actress again, serious dramas with heavy subject matter, but the problem has always been that these choices are obvious and not organic. They are pure bait it seems, even as a part of the bigger than her Cloud Atlas it sometimes seemed she was only present because she thought it might have a shot at garnering awards attention while the production at hand here, which has somehow managed to be delayed for four years, makes it clear the place Berry was in not too long ago and now. Maybe though, now, with another shot at the Storm role lined up this summer and a box office hit last year with The Call, she will try to find a middle ground that doesn't see her putting on an acting workshop to try and earn the praise of her peers, but simply allows the movies she finds herself in to take form around what she feels is suitable for the role and if Oscar comes a knocking, more power to her. Of course, I could be completely off and this fluctuation in her popularity, credibility and profitability could simply be based on her tendency of which scripts to choose, but if Frankie & Alice proves anything it is at least that Berry is ambitious and willing to keep on truckin' even when the tide is against her.

CESAR CHAVEZ Review

When Diego Luna's second directorial effort opened quietly this past weekend I was quick to associate it with another recent biopic of an important historical figure that floated under the radar last awards season and never picked up the steam to garner the recognition I felt it deserved. I, more than most, truly enjoyed Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and the fully invested performance of Idris Elba that turned the film into a powerful statement showing that while working with a bigger life than a single film could capture, one is still able to capture the intended scope and impression the subject leaves behind them. I knew little of Mandela before seeing the film besides his stint in prison and the same could be said about Cesar Chavez whose name I only associated with his hunger strike that I'd read and learned about so long ago I couldn't tell you who taught it to me. Luna's film attempts to do very much the same things as Justin Chadwick's take on the South African President and while the struggles they fight for are both radically different and virtually the same in terms of basic human rights, the films seem to follow the same rules in how they mean to convey all the information necessary to create a compelling narrative within the time span of two hours (give or take a few minutes on either). This similarity from a standpoint of storytelling makes Chavez's plight no less admirable in the context of the film and because Luna is still somewhat of a novice filmmaker in the sense that his material here, while no doubt a passion of his and a subject he is well educated on, can still be overwhelming and this becomes clear as the way in which this story is conveyed feels all to safe and well-constructed to be about a man who took the necessary risks and was an intelligent strategist allowing him to outwit his opponents in the game of pride he often found himself playing. There is of course the obvious fact that because the plight of Chavez is interesting and compelling on a basic level that the movie will inherently share some of these elements and while it is also clear the film comes from a place of good intentions with true heart behind it that unfortunately can't always make up for the simple lack of insight and freshness that feels sorely lacking here.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: April 1, 2014

SABOTAGE Review

First and foremost, I really wanted to love Sabotage. Like, I was totally up for it and was ready to have just a ridiculous amount of mind-numbing fun and by all accounts audiences had every right to expect the same things. Thinking about it in the light that director David Ayer was coming off one of his better written films with easily his best directing job to date and stacked with a cast as lumbering and raucous as that of Arnie's Expendables co-horts with names just slightly less major, but even more credible to the point where I really thought this had the shot to turn out to be something quietly major, a slight cultural mainstay that would fester on the minds of cinephiles over the years and become regarded as a well-loved box office flop that found its following long after it left the theaters. There were glimmers of hope on the horizon when the first action-packed trailer premiered and was followed by several others complete with red-band access as well. There is an interesting film somewhere in here and as I look through my notes I jotted down while watching the film, I keep coming across pieces where I remember wanting so much for this to become that something better, that kind of retrospective Arnold Schwarzenegger film that did as much to entertain us in the moment as it also gave us a look at how a man in his late 60's finds himself slipping in terms of esteem and credibility while having to come to terms with his physical limitations. In a sense, I wanted a large metaphorical action drama that mirrored the life of our star, but instead, Sabotage is as well thought out as the plan at the heart of the plot. It feels quickly shot, rushed through editing with a soundtrack that couldn't sound more generic and a group of supporting actors that almost make this feel like someones first student film. It is hard to take a film seriously when it tries so hard to be exactly that, but by the time the smoke from the opening sequence has dispersed and we begin to get to know the characters involved and are forced to listen to their incessant cussing to the point it actually begins to insult their own intelligence and we no longer buy that these people could do these jobs effectively, the curtain has been pulled back and we realize what we're actually in for is a mess of a flick in perfectly positioned B-movie clothing.

First Red-Band Trailer for SEX TAPE

http://www.reviewsfromabed.net/2014/04/first-red-band-trailer-for-sex-tape.html
I was more of a fan of Bad Teacher than anyone around me and so I was anxious to at least see what the new film from director Jake Kasdan that also happened to feature Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz again was all about. Titled Sex Tape it was clear this was going to be a very raunchy sex comedy and if you're going to make a sex comedy at least swing for the fences, but if anything seems clear from the first trailer that dropped yesterday (not coincidentally on the night of the How I Met Your Mother series finale) it is that this all seems to be way too familiar and safe, which might not be cause for too much alarm if it was essentially an extended version of a commercial they premiered, but no, they went the route of the red-band and it still seems like there is much to be desired here. The good news here is that Diaz and Segel have some seemingly great chemistry and could life the one-note plot from the doldrums of comedy failures that seem to be implied by the convoluted reasoning behind all of their friends getting a peak at their sex life. I'm all for ridiculous premises and in a world where everyone shares everything and technology has surpassed us to the point a good many of us don't even realize what we're doing when using some of the gadgets and social media platforms, but the fact the most convincing thing they could come up with entailed giving away iPads as gifts comes off as just, well, outlandish. Making fun of the all mysterious cloud is a nice enough joke as that seems the global consesnsus, but I really hope this turns out to be better than its looking; Still, I love Orange County and Walk Hard grows on me more every time I watch it, so there is indeed hope here. Sex Tape also stars Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe and opens on July 25th.