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.

NIGHTCRAWLER Review

Ladies and gentleman, Jake Gyllenhaal has more than arrived and he is here to stay. The actor, who first entered our field of vision at the age of nineteen in October Sky has been doing solid work for years now with only a few misguided aspirations derailing what is just now beginning to shape a truly credible reputation. While Bubble Boy and The Day After Tomorrow stick out as truly awful and something of a guilty pleasure, the diamonds in the rough that are Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac give us more proof than necessary that we are messing with a force to be reckoned with. After making one more misstep with the understandable but overly calculated Prince of Persia Gyllenhaal turned his career around and hasn't looked back. Taking roles based purely on how much they interest him and what he could possibly do with the character rather than for any bigger reasons having to do with career direction or popularity (he dropped out of the guaranteed holiday musical hit, Into the Woods, for this film) Gyllenhaal has made Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners and Enemy. Each of these films vary in genre and personality from both an acting perspective and what they bring to the table as far as entertainment value is concerned, but in Nightcrawler Gyllenhaal takes everything a little further, he amps everything up a notch higher and delivers a performance that makes every other performance seem like a prelude to this master class of ambition and insanity. Going through the actors filmography will allow you the realization that despite the fact we recognize Gyllenhaal as a reliable face, an old friend and an actor that typically delivers the goods-it is this film and this performance that will make him stand above the rest as exceptional. Gyllenhaal is clearly not just a one-off in the department of stirring performances with the nervous ticks and loner act that his Prisoners character clung to so strongly. Instead, he is an actor that knows how to disappear into a role by understanding not only the motivations that drive a character, but the importance of the art that composes them literally and figuratively. As Louis Bloom, a man with drive and passion to spare, Gyllenhaal is a beast of unforgiving endeavors that see him go from a driven young man to a man driven purely by the need to feel he belongs. Nightcrawler is a shocker of a ride, but in the scenes that make it all work it is Gyllenhaal doing the heavy lifting.

HORNS Review

In the opening moments of Horns, Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple lay in a green meadow fawning over one another and exchanging hip yet still cheesy dialogue about being horny and then loving one another for the rest of their lives. It is a short scene that quickly moves us forward to after the major incident that defines the narrative of the film, but is an exchange that makes you wonder. Wonder in the sense that these two intelligent and clearly ambitious actors who want to make art that is substantial and means something have this opening that works contrary to all of that. Radcliffe has been picking projects in hopes of distancing himself from his Harry Potter counterpart for a few years now, but as he and Temple exchange this obvious exposition dialogue clearly intended to tell us these two are in love and doomed because of it (while ironically forcing it to counter-intuitively feel effortless) I wondered what they saw in this script. What about these opening moments made them think this was a good idea? What spoke to them? From that point out the challenge was for the film to make me feel more weight to this exchange that I openly chuckled and slightly cringed at for its seeming contrivances. In short, mission accomplished. In only his fourth big screen appearance after retiring the scar and glasses Radcliffe has made a horror picture, a romantic comedy of sorts and a historical drama where he played poet Allen Ginsberg. I have yet to see that rom-com, now titiled What If with Zoe Kazan which I think might be the most radically different thing he's done to date. With Horns though Radcliffe has done more than I would have ever given him credit for based on the trailers in making strides to be an actor the public actually sees as an actor and not just representative of a single role. The supernatural is somewhat of a comfort zone for him and while I appreciated the aesthetic and throwback style that comprised The Woman in Black, Horns is a much deeper-minded film with more on its mind than giving audiences the creeps or gutting them with dark humor, but instead it is a rather insightful study of who we are as a race and who we desire to be as human beings and how tough it can be to discern the difference.  

Comic Book Blitz: Marvel vs. DC

Today, Marvel released an onslaught of announcements concerning the third phase of their Cinematic Universe as phase two will come to an end this summer with The Avengers: Age of Ultron. More than anything this feels like a response of sorts to the announcements made by Warner Brothers on October 15th that included a two-part Justice League film, but we all know Marvel has had their plans in place for a long time now. While, personally, I am rooting for a world where these two cinematic universes based on rival comic companies can co-exist peacefully and as two different types of endeavors it is clear that will never be the case. Marvel will always be the innovator, the one who gets credit for taking the leap and crafting something unique while DC, if successful, will still have the prejudice against them of getting things together too late. Still, DC has Batman and as much as Marvel is in the lead in terms of planning and profitability they don't have a single hero that is as universally loved and admired as Batman. If DC is going to compete at all they need their next film, the follow up to 2013's Man of Steel to be both something the fanboys approve of while matching or at least coming close to the $1 billion worldwide gross of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. What is interesting, and probably for the best, is that DC hasn't slated a stand alone Batman film in their line-up and will allow Ben Affleck's iteration of the character to be present only in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the subsequent Justice League films. Marvel, on the other hand, is more confident than ever in trying new properties and their phase three certainly shows that. Check out the line-up for both studios after the jump.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 28, 2014

JOHN WICK Review

John Wick is extremely straight forward. Both the man and the movie based around him. It could be said that there may not be a whole lot going on in the minds of the makers behind the film or the titular hero as they machine gun their way through a standard tale of revenge, but regardless of how intelligent or not the film comes off it never effects the amount of fun to be had here. It has probably been six years or so since I've seen Keanu Reeves on the big screen and so it is somewhat of a welcome return this film offers him both in the traditional sense of what he's come to be associated with and as a revival of sorts. What makes John Wick so accessible and fun though is that we can all agree it knows what it is. In knowing the kind of film it is and wants to be, it keeps its ambition in check and goes only for what it needs, never trying to over do it or over-complicate things. There is no means to elicit anything more here than what is presented to us and it revels in that. It is a matter-of-fact film more about the action and how it is conveyed than the story which you could catch onto walking in mid-way through the movie. It is a movie not above being surface-deep and it wears this self-awareness on its shoulder as a badge of honor. There is an almost visceral experience to be had with John Wick as it is the visuals and the bombast that connect with us rather than any intellectual property it brings to mind. Honestly, as I sat there watching the film and as it came to its inevitable conclusion the only think that I actually began to think about was if Wick had really thought about what all his trouble actually achieved. would it bring him real peace? Would he feel vindicated not for the initial death that caused him the most pain, but for the peace that was offered him in the wake of his loss that was stolen out from under him? It is likely Wick didn't think any of this through and simply reverted to his natural instincts of shoot first, ask questions later and over the course of the next hour and a half he puts on full display why that isn't necessarily a bad way of approaching things, especially for eager audiences.

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE Review

Dear White People is calling for an age old request heightened by the arrival of consistently new stereotypes and enlightened by articulate characters who know how to argue and persuade with passion, perspective and pointed examples. "Dear white people with Instagram..." Sam (Tessa Thompson) begins on her college radio show of the same name, "you have an iPhone and you go hiking. We get it." It would be too easy to argue that Sam uses racism to battle racism with snide remarks such as this on her radio show. Hell, one of the black (and I will use black instead of African American in this review because that is what Sam told me to do and I swear, I'm not a racist) characters even accuses her show of being racist to her face, but it's not really. What Sam is doing is throwing around stereotypes that she thinks will quantify all those that do the same to her by trying to break up a predominantly black house on campus into more mixed ethnicity's because the white leaders don't want a bunch of black kids hanging out and cavorting together. Whether there is any truth to this we don't really know because the film never makes it clear the real motivation behind the motivation that gets everyone so riled up. This is more than okay though, because writer/director Justin Simien has filled his film with a semester's worth of short stories with sharp racial politics and dialogue that is executed in a way only such dialogue can be while being as natural as possible and remaining extremely funny. The fact it is intended to be funny is an interesting choice though, because by the end credits it is clear this is a very serious subject in the eyes of Simien and one he intends to let people know is still relevant in our country even if most opposing views will see this as recycling the past to feel relevant. Simien is not blind to where others are coming from though as he slips in the voice of the opposing team in the form of the President of the University's son, Kurt Fletcher (Kyle Gallner). Granted, Kurt is a spoiled brat who does and takes what he wants, but even this example is intended to represent those who overcompensate just as Sam does on the other side of things. Leaving what is most impressive about this satire to be the way in which Simien doesn't fight for just one side, but all sides.

First Trailer for INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3

While I always hope for folks to stop while they're ahead, when you're making as much money as the folks behind Insidious are and spending so little to make them, it is hard to argue their point. I enjoyed much of the first Insidious back in 2011 though I thought it fell apart somewhat in the last act while last years sequel was surprisingly coherent throughout and superior in both execution and scares in my opinion. I actually enjoyed Chapter 2 more than I did director James Wan's other horror feature last year, The Conjuring. All of that said, the conclusion of Chapter 2 certainly left the story open for more investigations and so Leigh Whannell, who wrote the screenplay for both the original and its follow-up, has taken the reigns here from Wan who went on to make the seventh Fast & Furious film. Whannell both wrote and makes his directorial debut with this third chapter and has set it around the haunting of a family that predates the events of the first two films surrounding the Lambert family. It will be interesting to see where Whannell takes things as he will no longer have to restrict his narrative to one particular case, but will seemingly branch out and delve into more of Lin Shaye's characters adventures. Along with Shaye and Whannell, Angus Sampson also returns for this third outing while new cast members include Dermot Mulroney and Stefanie Scott. Insidious: Chapter 3 is set to open May 29, 2015.

MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN Review

I watched with my iPhone out, taking notes on it as I sat alone in the theater with the latest from director Jason Reitman unspooling in front of me. As the man behind Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air he will always have my attention, but as he somewhat pretentiously preached to what will no doubt be the choir about how technology has brought us together by pushing us apart I couldn't help but feel this was redundant and worst of all, boring. It makes sense as ultimately this is a film about people who are bored so it is a question of how to make boring people interesting and the conclusion seems to have been to cram as many boring people as possible into the story so there would be plenty of problems to fill out a 100-minute movie. That sounds harsh, but the problems don't stop there and the truth is this is such a dramatization of man-made, first world, too personal too understand when casting a wide net problems that it all comes off as trying and whiny. It isn't meant to be that way; Reitman clearly wants to elicit serious reflection, to inspire questions and probably even likes to think he reveals something to us about ourselves that we didn't already know, but as I sat tapping away at my screen I felt no remorse or reflection, but rather just appreciated the irony. Men, Women & Children ends up coming off, not as a meditative look at how much closer to meaningless our existence is as we create such issues as those under examination, but rather a film so perverse, dark and one-note for the sake of being all of those things that it ends up feeling insignificant. I use "insignificant" because we are asked multiple times to consider what really matters in our world, but more than trying to offer some existential philosophy on how the ramifications of our instantly gratifying society weave into these issues I was instead left wondering if this was truly representative of the high school experience these days or has Reitman actually turned into as one note a director as I suspect his portrayals of the human race are. I understand the characters function as a means to tell a specific story and relay a certain theme, but while the film wants to cut deep in that it tries to get on a level typically reserved for minimal interaction it comes off more as a collection of extreme examples with no depth or dimensions to give us reason to feel affected or involved.

First Trailer for AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

The first Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer has premiered after being leaked earlier today. The first peak at the follow-up to writer/director Joss Whedon’s record-breaking 2012 film was supposed to drop during next weeks episode of ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but given the circumstances Marvel has blamed Hydra and officially released the trailer online. There is no denying the anticipation for this one is sky high and our first glance at the sequel only adds to that hype in the most positive of ways. I can remember being slightly underwhelmed by the first trailer for The Avengers as the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack never met with what I imagined it to be, but ultimately we know everything turned out okay and if nothing else it was a treat to finally see all of these characters in one place together. This time around that isn't going to enough, but what Whedon has given us a glance at here is a very different, much darker tone than the original possessed. I love the color palette here, I enjoy the musical choice, I;m intrigued as to what exactly is at stake here and I appreciate the vibe comes off as dramatic while not taking itself too seriously (though some will surely criticize it for trying to be "dark and gritty" in the vein of Nolan). Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all return to battle Ultron (James Spader) this time around while new allies and enemies join them in the form of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and The Vision (Paul Bettany). Avengers: Age of Ultron also stars Don Cheadle, Andy Serkis, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders and opens on May 1, 2015.

ST. VINCENT Review

St. Vincent is formula, but it's damn affecting formula. As soon as we meet the titular curmudgeon followed by the set-up that requires him to watch over the new neighbor kid we know where things are going. This is a film though that epitomizes the saying, "it's not about where you're going, it's about how you get there." There is nothing new to find in the intentions of the story or even in the way it is executed. Everything you will take away from St. Vincent is because of the characters, their individual arcs and how it comes together to not necessarily paint a pretty picture, but a humbling one. We are in a day and age where this, in many ways, feels like the culmination of Bill Murray's master plan. He has so effortlessly (or it at least seems that way) become more of a figure, a myth than that of an actual being that we find real value in seeing him let loose as much as he does here. There have only been a few occasions over the last decade or so where the legendary actor and comic has allowed himself this much visibility and unlike 2012's odd Hyde Park on Hudson this sees him in a role that is able to be more widely appreciated. You will recognize the schtick Murray is playing because he's done it before, but that doesn't make it any less fun to watch or when his stage of life and career are taken into consideration, any less affecting. I say affecting again because despite the fact we know where the film is going and we know what it wants us to feel it is still able to achieve a genuine emotional reaction from the audience and for that alone, the film deserves credit. It is also to the films credit that it doesn't overstay its welcome and allows the actors to flourish in their roles bringing the intended ideas to the surface and moving the audience in just the right way to where we are fine with the manipulation it is pulling over on us. St. Vincent is a crowd-pleaser in the biggest and best sense of the word in that it is a film I realize could be taken as overly-sentimental or even hokey, but that I could watch over and over again and still find reasons to smile every time. Sometimes, you need a film like that and St. Vincent would make a wonderful default to turn to for, if nothing else, the showcase it allows Murray.

FURY Review

Ernest Hemingway said, "Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime." Hemingway means to inform us of the repercussions of getting carried away with violence as power, but director David Ayer asks us to contemplate not the repercussions but the mentality it takes to execute such acts of war. Is the ruthlessness with which these men approach their actions acceptable? Is their matter-of-fact attitude towards taking a life understandable within the confines of the circumstances? There is never a moment in Ayer's latest effort, Fury, where we let ourselves become distracted by the action sequences or the curiosity of where the story is going because we know exactly where it's taking us and that, in many ways, is the only let-up the film offers as it's otherwise a consistently tense and mentally exhausting experience. In order to deliver this disjointed, but outwardly insightful look Ayer has combined a typical plot-driven narrative with large elements of a pure character study. The director clearly wants to depict the type of men and personalities it took to win World War II, but further than this it is about how they became these beings free of any kind of moral compass yet trapped in a mindset that left nearly every other human an enemy. When we look at history we see what we are taught in textbooks and reference what we learn in lectures, but the little details escape us, the unimaginable is left at that and the countless lives sacrificed are best forgotten as their bodies are lost in a sea of limbs. Carnage is a disgusting act of man that seems to settle little more than who has more men fighting for them and Fury gets to the heart of this ugly method that sees men, people just like you and I, transformed into these conditioned warriors that see things in nothing but black and white, all or nothing, live or die. It is in these hands governments put as much power as they can muster which naturally translates to the indestructible mentality of soldiers thinking of themselves as an exception while the talkers, the leaders sit back and hope for the best possible outcome. Fury commentates on the ugliness of war by laying waste to the idea those we call heroes couldn't feel less like one.

THE BOOK OF LIFE Review

There are a lot of interesting things going on in director Jorge R. Gutierrez's feature film debut, The Book of Life. There are a lot of ideas, some very intriguing storytelling functions and a visual element all its own that will set the film apart from other animated fare for years to come. Still, there is both something distinctly unique to the work while never rising above mediocrity in terms of how affected or entertained I was by it. Surely, those in the Hispanic community that venture out to see this tale of their heritage come to life will get more out of it than I did, but taking it simply on the terms of being a movie it didn't entrance me like I'd hoped it would after seeing the gorgeous trailers. All of this could be due to my lack of knowledge around the history of this holiday, but however unfair it may seem the film should still reach beyond the borders of its intended audience and pull unfamiliar onlookers in. After walking out of the film, I thought to myself I didn't really have much to say about it other than it is a movie, it exists and it's fine for what it is. It says what it wants to say without getting caught up in having to conform to any typical standards that come along with being a movie for children, but that doesn't make it all the more interesting. With this seeming freedom Gutierrez takes the most liberties with the look of his film and adheres to the character design of what is clearly the dolls he grew up being familiar with. His three leads in Manolo (Diego Luna), Maria (Zoe Saldana) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) are each charismatic and charming, but despite this being a story straight out of their cultural background it is one that still feels familiar. I didn't dislike the movie, not at all, but I didn't ever come to care about the characters as I should have given their trajectory and likely serves as the reason I feel so disconnected with the material. There is clearly a lot going on here that will entrance the eyeballs and a fair amount of musical interludes that will perk up the sometimes sullen material, but all in all The Book of Life just feels too routine to amount to anything as great or groundbreaking as it seems to be reaching for.

First Trailer for Chris Rock's TOP FIVE

The biggest acquisition out of the Toronto International Film Festival this year was Chris Rock's Top Five which ended up going to Paramount for $12.5 million, so they're really hoping this pays off. From its premiere at TIFF came nothing but glowing reviews. I saw only a few stills released before the festival, but other than that knew little about the film. It is the buzz from its premiere that will carry this through the holiday season and possibly turn it into a surprise/sleeper hit because opening weekend won't count for as much when the quality is clearly there. Paramount has turned this thing around quickly though, acquiring it at the end of September and already setting up a promotional campaign and an early December release date though I suspect it will be a staged release and that I, personally, won't have the opportunity to see it until early January. Regardless, I am really looking forward to it as this first trailer gives us a great look at what the film has going for it and why it seemed to make such a splash at a festival full of industry people. It is a movie about showbiz, it is Chris Rock's Bowfinger, his Tropic Thunder, his Funny People and while this comes off as largely autobiographical that can only mean the overall piece is extremely insightful. I enjoy all of the aforementioned films as I've always had an interest in the psyche of a comic, a person always expected to be funny and how that role parlays into the pressure of everyday life; that self-imposed pressure, for the most part. Needless to say, this will, at the very least, be an interesting inside look. Top Five was written, directed by and stars Rock as well as Rosario Dawson, J.B. Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd, Jay Pharoah, Anders Holm, and Michael Che.

ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY Review

It's funny to think of the role that live action children's movies play in our current cinematic landscape because, for the most part, they seem to be easily dismissed. As a child of the 90's it is the kids sports flicks of the decade (The Sandlot, Little Giants, The Big Green, The Mighty Ducks) that immediately come to mind as nostalgic reminders of what a carefree stage in life that was which seems to be why new movies categorized as such don't register with a large audience due to the fact every generation already has their own adolescent picks. Those who are between eight and fifteen right now though will surely appreciate this adaptation of Judith Viorst's hit 1987 childrens book, but not necessarily because they love the source material but because Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a perfectly fun, perfectly suitable family movie that captures the ups and downs that middle class caucasians might typically encounter. These are first world problems we're dealing with, clearly, but they are relatable issues that the target audience will understand. The content operates on a level for those just below the cusp of when the Catcher in the Rye will blow their minds wide open. Alexander's Bad Day (as it will be referred to from here on out) is exactly the kind of remedy "tweens" these days need, but don't know it because not enough movies like this are being made anymore. That studios are seriously lacking in terms of pumping out quality entertainment for adolescents isn't something I necessarily have a right to complain about; I have all the nostalgia I need when the time calls for it (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Home Alone, Hook, Hocus Pocus, Blank Check, Homeward Bound, First Kid) but it would be nice to think that those in their current state of flux will have more than Alexander and his no good , very bad day to look back on when they get to college and reminisce about the movies they loved when they were "kids". All of that said, Alexander's Bad Day certainly isn't a bad place to start, but let's hope it is only the first step in a rejuvenated direction.

Teaser Trailer for IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

There was somewhat of a renewed sense of optimism in Ron Howard after last years Rush. After teaming with Tom Hanks on two Dan Brown adaptations with only the convienent Frost/Nixon separating them it felt as if the once ambitious director had become, well, comfortable. While another Brown adaptation is on the way, it will hopefully stand to be noted that his back to back Chris Hemsworth efforts were a return to the diversity that always made Howard an interesting if not consistently reliable filmmaker. That is, of course, all based on the assumption that his latest, In the Heart of the Sea, is as good as it promises to be based on this first teaser trailer. Based on the book by Nathaniel Philbrick that recounts the story that inspired Moby Dick, In the Heart of the Sea tells of an expedition that led one whaling ship to encounter a beast so mythical in size it destroyed everything around them and put the 25-man crew in the most dire of situations while pushing their humanity to its breaking point. Long-time Danny Boyle collaborator and Rush cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle returns to assist Howard on this outing as well and if there will be anything people take away from this first look it is just how beautiful the film is. While it is upended slightly by the CGI-reliable shots near the end, there is a presence to the color palette and composition that better elicits the mood and action that is being captured here. I typically enjoy Howard's films no matter what genre he's operating in and he looks as if he's put together a strong team both in front of and behind the camera that will hopefully deliver a truly compelling piece. In The Heart of the Sea stars Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, Jordi Molla and opens on March 13, 2015.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 14, 2014

THE JUDGE Review

A lot of people who write about movies become not what most refer to as out-of-touch with general audiences, but rather accustomed to the ways in which films operate. They become an authority not just on how to receive a film, but on what it should do in order to accomplish its intended goals. In terms of adult dramas most would not include a Bon Iver soundtrack and in-your-face metaphors on the list of must-haves. I won't sit here and be even more pretentious to the point of thinking I know what everyone else is thinking, but it's not hard to see why a movie like The Judge is heavily dismissed. It's viewed as hokey and manipulative because it deals with situations that have come to be recognized as trite. I get where those who feel this way are coming from in that the film has plenty of issues to work out. For starters, it is too long-clocking in at nearly two and a half hours and not having the restraint to cut itself off two or three scenes earlier or trimming a few subplots. Screenwriters Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque have stuffed their story with so many archetypes it isn't even funny and I realize that. We not only have the tortured protagonist who returns to his roots to discover who he really is or the tough, unforgiving father but we also have the brother whose ultimate life didn't match his early promise, the mentally challenged brother and the girl who never left her small town. You recognize these characters, maybe moreso from movies than real life, but the point is there is something or someone here for everyone to connect with. There are what have come to be considered hokey circumstances because they've become so heavily relied on for drama and heartbreak, but the truth is cancer is devastating and when played right, is effective. Like its parade of clichéd characters there are multiple issues that come into play that you expect to find when circumstances must be played for drama. There is not only the mentally ill brother, but the murder at the heart of the films plot, the aforementioned life-threatening illness, questions of paternity and to top it off, a tornado comes through just in time to symbolize what a storm of emotions and issues these people are dealing with. I get it. The Judge is not necessarily high art, but I am a sucker for these types of films and this one in particular hit home enough for me that I can easily forgive its shortcomings.

KILL THE MESSENGER Review

Kill the Messenger is a true tragedy. A discussion, a meditation on the human life and the countless directions it could go according to the mind that is guiding it. It is a story that takes on the model of what its main character goes through reinforcing the difficulty with which he experiences in trying to follow the guiding light he caught a glimpse of as a child. Despite what else might go on in his life Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) is an idealistic journalist who believes in the power of his profession. He is a man held to the virtues of his responsibilities to the American public and, as he should, takes that responsibility seriously. He is as ambitious as he needs to be in wanting to crack the one big story that might break his career wide open and send him from the bowels of the San Jose Mercury News to the big leagues of the The Los Angeles Times or Washington Post though these ambitions never feel as important as his need to produce quality. What the film tells of more than it does necessarily follow the plot of the story Webb is investigating is the role of man in our society when he plays with the powers that be. What is wrong with our government if we are not allowed to question them without repercussion? In this case the repercussion is that of Webb becoming the story, his credibility called into question, rather than what he'd actually investigated and reported on being the story or point of focus. It is as much a commentary on the integrity of investigative journalism and how it has devolved into what we have today (the 24-hour news cycle on roids) as it is an interesting take on the state of our country which promises and promotes freedom, but will devour you if you take those liberties to a certain extent. Kill the Messenger is an engaging film, one reminiscent of those 1970's Robert Redford films (namely All the President's Men) taking the paranoid political thriller and transcending even that genre classification because of the real life weight the story holds. It is a film that I was thoroughly engrossed in from the way in which it developed Renner's character, giving us more of who this man was than simply a hungry reporter, without allowing the film to become bogged down in details. It is as thoroughly engrossing as it is heartbreaking and as it comes to its conclusion it reveals itself to be truly that.

DRACULA UNTOLD Review

First time feature writers Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama have traced the root of the Dracula name back to the descendants of Vlad II of Wallachia or "Vlad the Impaler" and told his story as a point of origin for the Dracula myth that was popularized by Bram Stoker in his 1897 horror novel. While this may seem like an interesting take on an age old tale it speaks volumes that it arrives at a time in the cinematic landscape when Universal wants to create a universe akin to Marvel's with their classic monster line-up as well as being on the back end of the vampire craze. It was evident from the first trailers of Dracula Untold that everything this film had to offer was already being shown. Strangely enough though, the trailers implied a large-scale film; one with sweeping locations and handsome costume design that would span possible centuries while rooting this origin story in an environment we might want to come to better know given the chance. In actuality the final product feels very small, a film akin to that of January's I, Frankenstein which results in nothing more than an ugly step-sister to the summer blockbusters that have equally silly stories or premises, but real vision and money behind them. To come down even harder on Dracula Untold is to take into consideration this is director Gary Shore's feature directorial debut (working from a screenplay by two rookie writers) and every ounce of that inexperience shows on the screen. To keep it simple, this is as by the numbers as you could ask for which I'm sure Shore was happy about because he'd managed to make something that looks and feels like everything else does at the moment, but it does nothing to set itself apart as an introduction to a world where great things could possibly happen. It is even somewhat unfair Universal would strap that responsibility on Shore and his crew in the first place. From the first 300-inspired frames of the film one can see where this is going, one can tell the type of tone that will be used simply by the dim aesthetic and bland dialogue that comes from every other film set in the 1400's. Dracula Untold is a mess, a film with some clear ambition (which is actually saying something), but one that can't seem to summon that ambition either on the page or in its visuals resulting in a film that is little more than recycled rubbish.

First Trailer for FOCUS

What happened to Will Smith after 2008's Seven Pounds will likely always remain a mystery to me. The guy was on such a roll having more than made up for Men in Black II and Wild Wild West with Ali, I, Robot, Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness, I am Legend and hell, even Bad Boys II which I think everyone can agree is everyone's favorite guilty pleasure. Ever. Though that 2008 weeper put him in a bad standing with critics for the first time in some time he seemed to take it harder than necessary retreating to the safe haven of the Men In Black movies four years later only to follow it up with the truly laughable After Earth. Truth is, the guy could have gone on making movies like Hancock every summer and no one would have thought any worse of him, well, they would have at least thought better of him than what has become of his career at this point (we won't even bring up the odd cameo in Winter's Tale). All of that said, hopefully we are now settling in for what is the third phase of Mr. Smith's career in which he strays from the science fiction, plays up his charms and likely wins an Oscar in about fifteen years. These cycles seem to go in eight year counts, so if we begin next year we will have a presumably good run with Smith until 2022 when he is 54 years-old. He'll take a break for a while, come back big with a showy role in an Academy friendly drama and earn that place and validation among his peers he has always craved. All of that is to say I really want to have confidence in Focus as I'm counting on it to be the original property that gives Smith's career the jump start it severely requires. Focus is directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love) and also stars Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro and Gerald McRaney. The film opens on February 27, 2015.

STRETCH Review

Joe Carnahan has made six feature length films, four of which I have now seen. Some of them I remember, others I don't recall much of. I haven't seen his debut 1998 feature Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane (which looks and sounds horrendous) nor his sophomore follow-up in 2002's Narc though I hear that one is actually worth a look. I was introduced to Carnahan's tendency for manic action in his hyper-stylized 2006 effort which he both wrote and directed, Smokin' Aces.  I can remember Aces featuring an all-star ensemble, but a story that alludes me though that doesn't matter. It was a film with a visual flair all its own and from what I do remember it was that overt style that made me want to seek it out more than anything else. Going through the rest of Carnahan's filmography brings us to the highly underrated, intended to be franchise-starter that was 2010's The A-Team (an almost $80 million domestic gross against a $110 million budget) and then on to the next years The Grey which gave Liam Neeson what looked like another actioner in his new position as official movie badass, but was actually a thoughtful, meditative look at love, loss and the meaning of our existence among the threats of the wilderness and wolves. He is an eclectic kind of filmmaker as the aforementioned filmography proves, but he clearly has his tendencies when it comes to the types of films he likes to make and the very precise style he likes to infuse them with. There isn't necessarily one distinct style, though his pacing is key, but it is more about the melding of the style and material together in a way that produces something that feels totally organic. Organic in terms of a harmonious relationship between several different elements and Carnahan is now at a point in his career with his latest, Stretch, that he pulls off his manic tone with ease as his multifaceted screenplay dips in and out of different circumstances while never losing its energy.

Teaser Trailer for TOMORROWLAND

Director Brad Bird's next live action feature, Tomorrowland, has been brewing for some time and now, on the heels of a New York Comic Con panel, the first teaser trailer has premiered. The screenplay, from Lost co-creator and head scribe Damon Lindelof, has been kept under wraps for the better part of what feels like forever. I am eagerly anticipating the film not only for the reasons that Bird has done nothing but prove himself time and time again (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) but also because of Lindelof. While I know I'm in the minority I appreciate most of his work and his approach to mystery (seriously, check out his commentary on Prometheus). Lindelof certainly knows how to bring an audience into a world so let's just hope he has worked on nailing the landing this time. Bird and co-writer Jeff Jensen also helped with the script and cite Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a point of reference while also stating that the film is not heavily plot driven. In interviews Lindelof refers to it as a pure discovery movie. This is rather exciting as it clearly presents an interesting world to be discovered and that it will actually take the time to explore that world rather than allowing itself to become wrapped up in a standard plot is really refreshing. This first look is certainly a teaser in the most cryptic sense of the word but it perfectly sets up the intrigue we should all be left to wonder about until next summer. Tomorrowland stars George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Judy Greer, Keegan-Michael Key and opens on May 22, 2015.

THE BOXTROLLS Review

In some ways Laika studios is becoming the indie animation factory where alternative childrens films go to flourish and are received with almost guaranteed better reception than anything the likes of Dreamworks, Disney or even Pixar puts out at this point. Don't get me wrong, those studios still make more money and get more attention and of course don't put out bad products (How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Frozen were critical successes as much as they were commercially and the upcoming Inside Out looks insanely ambitious),but at this point critics turn to Laika for something a little off the beaten path, something not so conventional in the realm of animation and typically, they are handsomely rewarded by the stop-motion studio. This kind of elitist, pedigreed status may already be hurting the studio though as with only its third feature out I came away feeling rather indifferent about the whole experience. This may be due to the fact my expectations were rather high given I really enjoyed, dare I say loved, Paranorman and thought it to be an exercise in both nostalgia and expert craftsmanship that resulted in a thoroughly entertaining and weighted film. The techniques used to bring the characters and worlds to life typically serve only to enhance the tone and intended darkness of the stories being told while keeping the overall facade light as if all a masquerade for the children with deeper meaning behind the mask for their parents. This works to a certain extent with our titular characters in Laika's latest film, but never do we find the connection to our human surrogate that we did to Norman whilst on his quest to prove he could rid his town of its age old curse. This lack of connection is odd because both characters are essentially outcasts, people who don't integrate into society seamlessly and thus require and adventure for some type of initiation and acceptance to be felt. In The Boxtrolls our surrogate is a young boy adopted into a society believed to be monsters based on appearance alone (is it easy to see what the moral of the story will be yet?). Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), as he is so lovingly referred, is both charming and naturally intuitive given his strange predicament and his plight is at least endearing if not all that interesting while the biggest let down overall is that this is just what you expect it to be and little more.

COLD IN JULY Review

I've yet to see any of director Jim Mickle's previous work, but while Cold in July certainly presents an intriguing case it doesn't necessarily compel me to seek out with anticipation what the filmmaker does next. I was pulled into the world of 80's John Carpenter by the obvious aesthetic influences and soundtrack choices that give the film a certain edge of cool. There was also the fact I was just finishing Dexter when I first glimpsed the trailer and so I was immediately interested in anything else Michael C. Hall saw fit to dip his talents in. What is strange about the film though is that it so eagerly wants to be all of these different things that it ultimately fails to satisfy in any one goal. This incohesive palette is due both to the tone that is implied in certain moments, while the bigger issues are with the story that draws its influence from a novel by Joe R. Lansdale. The period details are on point, the first half of the narrative engages us completely offering an interesting perspective not often seen in movies labeled as action thrillers and its cast is more than up for the job as supporting players Sam Shepard, Don Johnson and Vinessa Shaw each contribute to positive attributes of the experience. Still, as it trudges through the middle section looking for a place to go and then only includes our intended hero in the finale out of a sense of obligation Cold in July feels more manufactured cool than effortlessly stylish. It is what could almost be called style over substance with the intention of that cliché being part of the fabric, but even that doesn't fairly sum up what the product as a whole delivers to its viewers, no matter where they fall in terms of love for cinema. To the untrained eye this is middle of the road action fare that suffices well enough in the blood and gun department that it works as a solid rental. To the more casual viewer this is something with ambition that clearly strikes a different chord than the more electronic, hard-boiled modern action thrillers we see in the cineplexes while to someone who is conditioned not only in the trends of studio and independent fare but to specific filmmaker style and the accomplishment of movies within their own intended goals this is a film that does indeed purchase a lot of ambition in the beginning, but doesn't evenly spend it throughout.

GONE GIRL Review

Having read the Gillian Flynn "airport novel" before heading into David Fincher's adaptation I knew what to expect. Having started reading Flynn's novel only a month ago and knowing who was playing who I knew what to picture in my head. There was never any debate in my mind how perfect for this role Ben Affleck was (or any of the casting for that matter). Having seen the trailers before opening the pages I knew what tone to imply and what aesthetic to place these characters in. As with any Fincher film, it is a world of precision and it couldn't have been more in tune with the demented psyches that populate the characters this world. What is fascinating is how easily this could have been something else, something that was picked up by Lifetime as a made for TV movie and is given a more prestigious, thought-provoking, heavier translation by Fincher because that is the point-the point being this isn't just another Lifetime original for us to latch on to as entertainment. These are lives, painfully honest explanations of how even exceptional individuals can become clichés. This is not only the story of a wife, a once high profile New York socialite who married a salt of the earth Missouri boy came to disappear on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, but of how the media reacts to these simple, concrete facts they can play with. How they can twist, manipulate and exploit any one detail they want turning the entire personality of a man or any subject it sets its eyes on into a one note killer. Further, it is the analysis of relationships gone wrong. When the person you thought you married grows up to be someone you didn't think they'd be and you don't necessarily like who that person is. It isn't so much a discussion of the white suburbanite household or marriages that slip into boredom because they become routine, but more it is the discussion of how well we know ourselves and the things we truly want, even if we know we'll never have the gall to take them. What would happen if we did though? What would happen if we were so self-consumed with not only ourselves but how other people perceive us that we did whatever it took to keep that image and ambition intact? That is what Fincher's adaptation of Gone Girl explores and despite the fact I knew what to expect going in, it surpassed every expectation.

First Trailer for AMERICAN SNIPER

In what will be director Clint Eastwood's second film this year he has teamed with Bradley Cooper who both stars as the titular sniper and serves as producer. Having read an interview in which Cooper discussed his one, brief conversation with Chris Kyle (the real life Sniper whose memoir this film is based on) before he was killed at a shooting range by a troubled Marine veteran, it is clear the actor understood he took on a great responsibility with this role. Eastwood hasn't necessarily been on fire with his films as of late, but this certainly carries a different tone. One can pick up on the precision with which this has been constructed and the care that has been taken by the tone of the trailer alone. Not only has Cooper transformed himself physically into the bulky, 6'2" Kyle but he has also seemed to inhabit the mind of a man who had to have what it takes to make a split second decision that determines the course of another human life. It is a responsibility that Cooper conveys with minimal resources here and frankly, seems to have given a performance already worthy of serious awards conversation. This may seem true because it is so clearly not his motivation yet if Cooper has proved anything over the past few years it's that he's full of surprises and I wouldn't be shocked if he walks away with a statue. The one cause for concern is screenwriter Jason Dean Hall who has previously penned Spread and Paranoia; not the best résumé builders. American Sniper also stars Sienna Miller, Jake McDorman, Luke Grimes, Navid Negahban, Keir O’Donnell and opens in limited release on December 25th before expanding wider on January 16.

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU Review

Director Shawn Levy's This is Where I Leave You is a film elevated wholly by the talent of the cast involved and the stock they decide to put in their characters. To that point it would seem that the material is the weak point here, but that isn't apparent until the last act of the film when the amount of drama and issues incorporated into one family becomes too much to the point of inauthentic. We can only buy into so much drama before it all seems to become a little too convenient to make certain points. That said, this is a film nowhere near as hokey (in both its sentimentality and contrivances) as it made itself out to be in the trailers. Levy is a more than capable filmmaker who has shown time and time again he has an aptitude for crafting features the entire family can easily enjoy (junk food movies to a certain extent) so why not turn the tables on himself and make an honest, R-rated movie about those he so often entertains? I don't know if that was the directors intent or if he just loved the Jonathan Tropper novel this is based on, but either way he has put together something that both older family members will likely enjoy and be able to relate to. This is Where I Leave You is a film that is at least willing to find the comedy in every situation, the laughs that would naturally be thought of as inappropriate are appreciated thus making the family at the center all the more endearing despite the mountain of baggage each member brings to the table. It is a film made more fun and more enjoyable by those you share in the experience with as I'm sure it is more affecting when seen with siblings or parents than it would be with a group of friends. There is little in the way of outside influence sans significant others as this is a story fully focused on the family unit and how the dynamics between different individuals of different status within that unit relate to one another and mean a certain extent to one another depending on the situation. It brings to the surface not just the comedy of "the friends you can't choose" scenario, but also the intricacies of how these relationships differ which is interesting. While not being a completely genuine or necessarily heartfelt piece, it is a melodrama of the more credible degree mostly because we like the people playing the people we're watching.