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.

Movies I Wanna See Most: 2015

I can't help but feel I don't know enough to be making such a list as this anymore. Every year I go through the upcoming years slate of planned movie releases and come up, pretty easily, with ten or so films I'm genuinely excited to see and again, this year, that has been no problem. My issue with a list such as this is there is no way to go through each possible release or even know about every release in the way that a movie might come to light during the course of the year and becomes something you wish you might have highlighted way back when, that you knew about and held expectations for simply because it's nice to be "in the know". That sounds a little crazy and a little ridiculous, I realize, but it is easy to go through and say what blockbusters you are most excited to see in any given year, but you only wish you knew that there might be a Birdman or a Whiplash sneak up on you and blow you away. Then again, I'll just convince myself I actually enjoy the element of surprise and wait to see what gems 2015 currently has tucked away. To both points, I've attempted to go through and double check with some of my favorite directors and actors to see what, if anything, they might have on their slate for this year so as to hopefully surprise a few people with this list and not just satisfy/underwhelm folks who see another list where The Avengers and Star Wars take the cake. From my most anticipated list of 2014 three films made my year-end top ten. From my most anticipated list of 2013 one film made it, so I guess that could be taken as a good sign if there is any correlation to be found at all. Furthermore, 2014 seemed like a really solid year when looking back despite it feeling easier than ever to craft a top ten. There were a few exceptional films, but there seemed an abundance of more than solid features that are just as worthy for someone else's favorite films of the year. If 2015 is anything like it, we'll be in for a great crop of flicks (the best of which I likely don't even know about yet).

THE INTERVIEW Review

At the very least, Seth Rogen and writing/directing partner Evan Goldberg have kept their premises interesting and a cut above by not settling for anything conventional. With their directorial debut last year in This is the End they created a satire from their own and their friends personas while combing their genre of choice with something completely out of their comfort zone. This made for one of the better comedies of the year and some nice box office returns in the process (opening against Man of Steel no less) and so Rogen and Goldberg were given free reign to administer their next project which of course became the now unavoidable The Interview. Despite the fact the film has now become more a point of controversy than an actual conversation piece there seems no reason to sit back and not take the film for what it actually is. Given the circumstances of how it has eventually been distributed and the feelings of indifference toward it now that the storm has finally seemed to calm I think we can all agree it wasn't worth it. All of this is to say that the movie isn't terribly funny in any kind of innovative way, but if you like the stylings of Rogen and James Franco you certainly won't be let down. There isn't even close to as much satire existing here as in the directing duo's first effort (which is kind of shocking) while it's clear Rogen and Goldberg, the writers, would like to make a few points not only about North Korea and the state of American journalism, but the state of America in general. There is a heavy commentary about the way we conduct ourselves just waiting to break free from the confines of the dick and fart jokes that run rampant the majority of the time, but in the execution of their script the guys behind Superbad can't help but fall back on what they know they do well. It is understandable, but if you're going to go through with such a ballsy premise relying on what you know only seems to make the final product feel that much safer and while no one necessarily wanted this movie (I can't believe it was greenlit in the first place) what they expected once it was actually made is likely a far cry from the mockery that ensues once the title hits the screen.

BIG EYES Review

Margaret Keane was made a prisoner and forced to live a lie. She was a timid, creative type not confident in her own skill and she was taken advantage of to the point she became trapped in this lie she felt she helped create. What was worse was that the cover-up of the initial lie became more punishing than the lie itself and only continued to grow and eat away at Margaret for the better part of a decade. With this type of story, this kind of inherently dramatic and interesting material there is plenty to dissect and examine and in the hands of a director like Tim Burton you might imagine that to be pretty promising. As of late though, Burton has resorted to a safety zone of reliable tricks and familiar stylings in order to keep his output regular and as a result his overall clout has somewhat diminished with those who adored his earlier work. Burton has always had a singular style, but the issue as of late has been finding material inspiring enough to match his peculiar visions. With Big Eyes he has the opportunity to present something of an introspective look at the dynamics of a marriage where one partner is essentially a slave and the other is delusional to the point of being a maniac. There are surely several statements to be made here, but Burton simply allows the material to speak for itself; intending to do little with his approach other than ensuring it looks like a Tim Burton film. As far as the depths of the souls in question here though, the material is only skin deep. For example, David Fincher took what could have easily become little more than a Lifetime-channel drama about a dysfunctional marriage earlier this year and by infusing it with his distinct voice, his precise style and countless undertones all while keeping the focus on one major theme crafted the most engaging crime thriller of the year if not the last decade. There is no such resonance to Big Eyes, but instead it is simply fine for what it is with two talented actors doing what they do best. It is a modest effort that I can't say I didn't enjoy as the story is interesting and perplexing, but I wasn't taken in by it and I wasn't thinking about it hours after leaving the theater. Instead, because it asked so little of me as an active viewer I suspected it had no intentions of lingering and so it's hard to fault it for being something it's not, but it's disappointing knowing it could have been something more.

THE GAMBLER Review

The Gambler is one of those movies that is effortlessly cool. It doesn't ever feel like it's trying, but instead that it naturally comes by the virtues that make it appealing. Despite this fact, it is without a doubt the precise intention of director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) that his film, a remake of the 1974 James Toback film starring James Caan, resemble something of a nuanced edge of humanity describing a state of mind more than something of this physical world. It is easy to see why The Gambler is one of those movies you expect to be of little significance as it is a remake of a film that seems well respected and not necessarily in any need of retelling (I haven't seen the original, but the DVD is sitting on my shelf and I'll definitely be giving it a look soon) as well as starring Mark Wahlberg who, as of late, has become a certifiable movie star and so we expect a certain amount of mainstream mentality to seep into each of his projects. Since the dawn of the second decade of the new millennium though, Wahlberg has found and continues to improve upon the path he is taking. With The Gambler he has accepted a challenge in seemingly taking on a more complex role, a lead role where it is not just the actions of his character that drive the plot, but the whole psychology of the character that has to be divulged in order for the narrative to feel even slightly cohesive. The overall goal of our main character, the events that drive this narrative are simple enough (pay off those you owe money to in a weeks time or pay the price), but it is the psychology of getting to that resolution that is the real issue because if it were as simple as getting the money to pay back his debts this movie would be about twenty minutes long. No, this isn't a race against time where Wahlberg's Jim Bennett has to scrounge up enough cash to free himself of his loan sharks thumb, but rather this is about Bennett being able to get to a state of being that lets him be okay with continuing to live, with continuing to win rather than constantly riding the thrill of the loss and hoping for the seeming peace of death.

The Ones You May Have Missed

I typically put together a list of my least favorite films of the year rather than a "worst" list because I honestly try to avoid anything I think is going to be outright terrible. It is hard to consider anything the worst of the year when there could be plenty of reasons others might have found something to find interesting. For example, I found both Under the Skin and Obvious Child to be well, obvious in their intentions that were in some variation or another supposed to push boundaries. Many of the arguments in Jenny Slate's rom com centered around abortion felt moronic while Jonathan Glazer's extreme indie lacked in any type of compelling material offering me nothing interesting to decipher. That said, there are plenty of people who find both of these films completely fascinating and even among their favorites of the year. I, of course, have no problem with that and can respect their opinion, but instead of damning a couple of obvious choices as the "worst" films of the year I figured I'd put that effort into a list of a few films that I thoroughly enjoyed and thought went unappreciated throughout the year. As I still haven't seen what I'd consider a few promising titles from 2014 (Trip to Italy, Skeleton Twins, I Origins, The Disappearance of Eleanor Ribgy, Belle, Palo Alto, Listen Up Philip, Pride, Love is Strange, Starred Up) this list only comprises of five flicks that I hope aren't overly obvious. Sure, there are films like the Tilda Swinton featuring Snowpiercer and Only Lovers Left Alive that are fine, but not all they've been made out to be I think. You also have quirky excursions like Frank (which I didn't much care for) and They Came Together which I would highly suggest if you liked Wet Hot American Summer at all. There are plenty of other smaller flicks that are more than solid entertainment you can find to rent or buy at this moment including Joe, Cold in July, Stretch or even Dom Hemingway, but the next five films left something of an impression on me while largely seeming to allude others.

THE IMITATION GAME Review

There is a line that is repeated several times in director Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game that reassures our lead character that, "Sometimes it is the people we imagine nothing of, who do the things we can not imagine." This applies to our protagonist because our protagonist is Alan Turing as played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Turing has now come to be renowned as the brilliant mathematician and cryptanalyst who broke the German Enigma code in World War II that won the war quicker and as a result saved millions of lives. This man who seemingly would need to have everything going for him to come to such a prosperous title is given the aforementioned advice though because he is challenged every step of the way. It is clear from the moment we meet Cumberbatch's Turing that he suffers from some high level of asperger's syndrome in that his demeanor is not simply an irrational genius routine, but a degree of social awkwardness that conveys an inability to truly relate with those around him because he likely feels no one truly understands him. In coming at the world from his unique perspective, Turing sees human beings as simply being too selfish to make the sacrifices necessary to stave off the mental and physical threat posed by the enemies of his country. This leads to the creation of what is essentially the first computer that, while saving large parts of humanity that would have otherwise been lost, requires an equal amount of restraint that will knowingly allow people to die. It is only the ability to both create and be disconnected that the best definition of a perspective success can be claimed and Turing had the mentality and genius to see both through. Yes, in war there are countless deceptions and non-democratic decisions being made which, as long as they are for the seeming good of humanity, remain completely acceptable. It is on this fine line that the most interesting ideals are born from the film as Turing learns not only how to gauge his intelligence, but how best to use it. There is much to be admired in Tyldum's rather straightforward biopic that despite being as by the numbers as one can imagine, is consistently enhanced by its exceedingly fascinating story.

AMERICAN SNIPER Review

There is an immediate sense of dread from the moment the black fades into the overwhelming tank crawling towards us in Clint Eastwood's American Sniper. Combined with the bombarding sound design that insists your heart start beating faster it's apparent the veteran director intends to put you right in the middle of the action. It's not that the life of Chris Kyle was filled with nothing but dread or other related emotions, but it was certainly filled with a fair amount. Based on the memoir penned primarily by Kyle of the same name, Eastwood and lead actor Bradley Cooper have acquired a no frills way of telling a straightforward story about what seemed to be a very direct man. I have not read Kyle's memoir from which this film was adapted, but if you take away anything from the film version it is the state of mind of which Cooper's Kyle was always in. There is a consistent sense of complete confidence in himself that infiltrates the viewers perception of how events will play out, but where things become gray are in the contemplations of how what he is doing might fit into his overall role in life. From the teachings passed down by his father, he was bred to look at the world as a very black and white place, as a place where only a limited number of personalities existed and where the rule of absolutes made him something of a protector to those who couldn't or didn't know how to defend themselves. When it comes to portraying this type of mentality on screen though one could encounter a few issues given our protagonist isn't the most articulate with his emotions and much of the drama surrounding his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), deals with his long absences during tours that's unfortunately become so common at this point it's hard not to convey without a hackneyed stench hanging over it. Attempting to make something more out of this or dig deeper into the material so as to come up with a kind of insight or original angle would only serve to seemingly overdo what is right in front of their faces though. And so, there are no storytelling flourishes or flowery filmmaking language incorporated, but just like the man himself, this is a very basic and to the point account that speaks volumes after the film ends by not saying much while you're in the midst.

INTO THE WOODS Review

Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) returns to the musical with a film adaptation of Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim's 1986 concoction that intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Given this was produced by Disney though, many will surely think of it as another way for the mouse house to repackage their most classic of animated tales and turn them into a new holiday hit. Those same people will likely be somewhat surprised when some of the more violent twists of the Grimm tales come to light in the film. All of that said, Marshall's version of Into the Woods feels like a missed opportunity more than anything. I haven't seen the Sondheim play that serves as the source material, but I imagine there is much more to it than what has been put to the screen here. This film version never delves too deep into the familiar tales the main characters are taken from (which is fine) but it also doesn't have enough material in its original aspects to fill out the running time of a feature and so the last almost hour ends up feeling completely tacked on. This is a shame, really, because as far as musicals are concerned I was really digging what they were doing story-wise and Marshall has a keen eye for how to shoot people singing dialogue while making it exhilirating. What I don't understand is why they weren't able to somehow extend the story into one cohesive narrative rather than seeming to wrap up all the storylines nicely only to unravel them over the next fifty minutes so we end up with a less than satisfying conclusion that, more than anything, undermines all they'd worked so hard to set-up in the first place. And while this certainly takes a fair amount of enjoyment out of an experience you expect to be filled with familiar character tropes and choreographed numbers there is still plenty to feast your eyes and ears upon. Into the Woods may not be everyone's cup of tea and it may not even prove to be appealing to those who compare it to the stage show, but what it offers and what detracts just about even each other out to the point we care about what's happening while we're watching it, but won't remember a thing the next day.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 23, 2014

UNBROKEN Review

Unbroken is perfectly positioned and has every credential imaginable to become a classic Hollywood drama like those of years gone by. It is the kind of film that wins awards and pleases crowds as it not only serves as a testament to the will and strength of the human spirit, but chronicles a difficult road to overcoming impossibilities that should redeem our faith in ourselves and our race. Based on a New York Times best seller by Laura Hillenbrand, adapted for the screen by Joel and Ethan Coen, shot by Roger Deakins and directed by Angelina Jolie this film truly has everything going for it and while it may be intentionally old school in its structure and execution in this day and age it ends up feeling a little too calculated and at times way too amateurish for the talent it has behind it. That said, this is only Jolie's second directorial effort and her first of this scale and so it is to be understood if some of the choices here feel safer than necessary. Where Jolie the director and Jolie the storyteller differ though are in their passion for the story and their ability to strongly convey all that it holds. It is obvious this is an inherently amazing story, one any filmmaker would be happy to try their hand at. What Jolie has brought to the project is the aforementioned classical approach that beautifully captures the scope and horror of the situations our hero fell into, but what it lacks is any real insight into the mind of this man who was pushed to his limits. Technically, everything looks great and is cohesive to the point that those watching will understand what is going on and even gather a deeper meaning from it to a certain extent, but only if you're looking for it. Otherwise, Unbroken is unfortunately little more than surface deep. Again, it's understandable given this undertaking comes from someone accustomed to solely focusing on one aspect of a production transitioning to a role where they are looked at to be something of an expert in all areas so if there is good news to take away it is that the film ends better than it starts. Almost as if it were shot chronologically and Jolie became a better director as the film went on. That may be something of faint praise, but despite the content of the film not being nearly as engrossing as it has the potential to be it is the good intentions and admirable effort that allow forgiveness for the moderate results of an extraordinary story.

TOP 10 OF 2014

For me, 2014 has been something of a transitional year. A year where my tastes have shifted and my ideas of what makes a lasting film have changed. I wouldn't say I'm necessarily more cynical, but obviously the fact I continue to see more and more films and build a larger pool of knowledge makes it tougher for each individual film to impress me more. That being said, I actually found it easier to craft a top ten list this year than ever before. I've pretty much seen everything I imagine might have a shot at making my list except for maybe Selma (which I won't see until January 7th), but at this point the only year-end awards bait films I'd even consider including in a top fifteen are the likes of Foxcatcher and American Sniper. After repeat viewings one of them might even crack the top ten, but as of right now I feel strongly about the films I've selected. What I've done differently this year is to begin to leverage expectations; I thought this might help the films be more impressive if I didn't go in expecting too much, but even with that state of mind many of them simply met expectations or felt more insignificant than substantial. I don't believe this has made me a snob or prude in any sense as I would still boldly place The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in my top fifteen of the year when it is clearly nothing more than a pure popcorn flick and on top of that, one most critics absolutely hated. For me, Marc Webb's super hero sequel was one of the most entertaining experiences I had at the movies this past year and one I can watch at any time without fearing boredom. My final top ten will likely come off a little more pedigreed given that introduction, but while me liking something such as Spider-Man may make you question my taste just know that I went into every film this year really wanting to like it and the ones that follow are the ones that surprised me with their quality or surpassed every expectation I held for it. Enjoy!

First Trailer for GET HARD

If you caught Chris Rock's Top Five last weekend you probably saw the first trailer for the new Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell team-up. It's a nice strategic move for everyone involved as Ferrell has been absent from a solid original comedy hit since 2012's The Campaign while Kevin Hart is bubbling right below the surface of super stardom. Pulling these two together will do nothing but bolster each of their careers. I've been a Ferrell fan for as long as I can remember so I am genuinely excited anytime the guy has something new coming out and while his other 2015 feature, Daddy's Home, reunites him with his The Other Guys co-star Mark Wahlberg and will likely be of a better overall quality than Get Hard I genuinely enjoy Hart as well and am eager to see what their chemistry can bring to the table. In the film Ferrell plays a Bernie Madoff-type character who is sentenced to ten years in a maximum security prison for fraud and enlists the help of the man who washes his car (Hart) to help him prepare him for that sentence. You can imagine how this premise might unspool over an hour and a half comedy featuring these two and I am anxious to see the results of letting these guys just go at one another. Get Hard also marks the directorial debut of Etan Cohen who penned or helped pen the scripts for Tropic Thunder, Men in Black 3 and Idiocracy. Get Hard also stars Tip “T.I.” Harris, Alison Brie Craig T. Nelson and opens on March 27, 2015.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB Review

I'm a big Frat Pack fan and always have been. The juice has long since run out on their heyday and I can admit that, but even still it is nice to see a few of them get back together every now and then even if it's for another installment of Ben Stiller's big family franchise. These films are harmless and if they're good for anything it's the excuse to see Stiller and Owen Wilson on screen together again. As much as I'd love for the likes of fellow Frat Packers to show up in this kind of movie, playing different historical figures that might place Paul Rudd as Lancelot, Will Ferrell as one of the ancient Greek statues, Jack Black as one of Attila's huns, Steve Carell and Vince Vaughn as a few of the neanderthal's while Luke Wilson would be the easiest of the bunch by adding in another cowboy to help Jedediah and Octavius (Steve Coogan), I know it will never happen, not at this point. No, at this point it would only feel like a last resort of types as even Stiller returning to this franchise five years after Battle of the Smithsonian feels a little desperate in the sense he needed something guaranteed. I can remember walking into the original (at the age of nineteen) with a sense of excitement still, not only for why Stiller might have chosen this obvious family entertainment as his next project, but for the inherently interesting premise that came along with it. It was a film fine for what it was with a fair amount to offer in return. It was obvious from the beginning what it was positioned to be and it achieved those goals, clearly, as now eight years later we are talking about the third film. Still, with this third and presumably final chapter in the story you can feel the sense of obligation to it all. There isn't a natural energy to it, but more a forced sense of fun in that it was a rush job to capitalize on the holiday season and the fact if another year went by it really would be too late to make another one. You can feel the strain of time on Stiller in particular as he can't seem to commit enough again for us to not see through his trying facade. It's not so much that it feels like movies such as this have lost there wonder, but of course the fact I have lost my wonder for movies such as this. My only hope when I see a film such as Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is that it reinstills the wonder I found as a child in these make-believe adventures, but that wonder was in limited supply here.

ANNIE Review

To set the stage: I've never seen any version of Annie other than the one I'm about to discuss here. I don't know that I would consider it essential viewing and by some off chance I never saw or read the stage play going through the public school system. Sure, I know a few of the famous songs that were spawned from the original production and I know the basic premise of what is going on, but anything more than that consider me in the dark. Having said that, I feel I can safely assume this latest version is a far cry from what the original had to offer, but that isn't the reason this modern day take on the story doesn't work. I was always somewhat hesitant to even be interested in the film as I am clearly not the target audience, but when the first trailer premiered I admit I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of careless fun that seemed to be brightly packaged with the pure pop confection giving the impression it would likely be a big holiday hit with the kiddos. These positive vibes were only reinforced when, upon doing a little further reading, I found out that Will Gluck would be at the helm of the project. Gluck, who has made three solid comedies since 2009 seems to direct what most have so much trouble doing with ease. There is a simplicity to his comedy that oozes naturally out of the characters he has at play and his pacing always compliments the rapid dialogue at which it is exchanged and thus at which the plot is advanced. Easy A is easily one of my favorite comedies of the last ten years as I've watched it more times than I can count and maybe one of the great high school comedies of all time. Needless to say, despite not being familiar with the material and despite knowing this wasn't going to be for me I was still excited to see Gluck work in a slightly different genre as well as what he might have to offer in terms of crafting a children's film that was both highly entertaining and insightful given the obvious emotion at the core of the given story. Unfortunately, this new Annie is anything but fun as it loses its energy and momentum soon after the opening number and is never able to regain that feeling for the remainder of the nearly two hour run time.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES Review

I have become less and less enchanted with Peter Jackson's prequel trilogy the more and more we get of it. Thankfully, The Battle of the Five Armies will be our last trip to Middle Earth (if at least for some time) for the more Jackson and company string out their financially successful series the more he seems to discredit the genuinely engaging and handsomely made films that started it all. There was always great hope for an adaptation of The Hobbit given it would return Jackson to a place he clearly has a passion for, but a lack of care also seems to be the source of trouble with each new chapter in this prequel trilogy. It feels as if each movie hinges on one or two major set pieces allowing it to deliver what audiences expect while the remaining hour and a half is left to be filled with subplots that are either unnecessary to the main narrative or feel forced in so as to simply extend the running time. Is it required a film must be two and a half hours for it to feel epic? Peter Jackson seems to think so, but as Battle of the Five Armies comes in at two hours and twenty-four minutes it is by far the shortest installment and at the very least, feels like much of a relief because of it. I didn't like a lot about this final chapter. I wasn't impressed with the structure of the story or the organization of the titular five armies (if you haven't read the book you'll be left wondering who exactly the fifth army even is) and more than anything it was frustrating to see a maguffin as obvious as "Dragon Sickness" pit Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) against seemingly everyone else in the entire movie, even his fellow dwarves. Certainly, some of the blame for this can be placed on all of the rules, worlds and ridiculous names that author J.R.R. Tolkien originally came up with, but with as much of a beast as Jackson has turned this small, three hundred page introductory novel into I'm willing to place most of the blame on he and the studio for compromising much of the stories merit for greed. I understand the reasoning, I realize there is a business aspect to it all and that by splitting the planned two films into three allows this third films box office to generate pure profit, but that doesn't mean I sympathize with the decision because while they get extra cash on their Christmas bonus, audiences everywhere are short-changed by this insufficiently justified chapter.

FOXCATCHER Review

It is difficult to fathom exactly what is going on in director Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher. The characters here are hesitant to let you into their worlds let alone their heads. As an audience member, we feel as if we're watching from the outside in on the situation at hand, never knowing the motivation of anyone as each seem to live in this world of fear. Whether it be John du Pont (Steve Carell), Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) or even Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) each possess a fear of either coming to terms with logic and the abnormalities of their situation or the fear of losing control. While the Schultz brothers are vastly different from one another they both come to understand the oddities of their circumstances at Du Pont's Foxcatcher farms. Du Pont, on the other hand, is little more than a mystery to everyone around him. Mark comes to the heir of the Du Pont family fortune early and allows the stranger things about his mentor to slip through the cracks because he shows a belief in him that no one else has ever extended. Still, despite the relationships that evolve and the dynamics that come to the surface never do we feel as if we can see why these characters are the way they are. Every line of dialogue though is used to peel back a layer of the characters and reveal something more about the backstory that has made this person who they are today. It is a technique that Miller uses most effectively allowing us to constantly crave more from the film while only giving away what it wants you to know so as to not poison the ambition of the project with unsatisfying conclusions. Whether you know what is coming or not you are riveted by the procedural nature of the film as it methodically chronicles the rise and fall of a friendship never believed to be genuine and the repercussions of the falling out of that paid for affection. Foxcatcher is a strange film filled with strange people, but it is all the more fascinating for it. It is a film I feel I could go on writing about for days and discussing at even greater length as I know each time I re-visit it I will only find new things that only highlight what I might have barely took note of before. It is a cold film, one that will at first seem off-putting for it, but the more you think about it the more the inhumanity produced by the circumstances it chronicles eats away at you.

First Trailer for Terrence Malick's KNIGHT OF CUPS

It was announced yesterday that one of the two Terrnece Malick films shot in 2012 would finally be making its debut at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival. Malick is such a reclusive director that any such news is good news and things only became more real when we also received a trailer for the film. I've been a fan of Malick before I realized who Malick was, salivating over the visuals and restrained approaches in The Thin Red Line and The New World before allowing The Tree of Life to blow my mind and subsequently forcing me to dig back deeper into his filmography. Lately, Malick has been producing at a much faster rate than he ever has before and while reviews were something of a mixed bag for 2013's To The Wonder I enjoyed what the director was doing and couldn't be more excited to see what he does next. It seems next he has chosen to tackle the Hollywood lifestyle and the easy corruption and distraction that such a path can create in taking us away from what may be the more valuable things in life. It certainly feels like something of a departure for Malick especially considering his last two features have been chock full of the countryside and the encapsulation of what could be called "the simple life." It is ultimately thrilling to see the director we may now think of as not necessarily limited, but more focused on one area of life to break out and try something vastly different. Titled Knight of Cups and starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Brian Dennehy, Isabel Lucas, Imogen Poots, Wes Bentley, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer and Armin Mueller-Stahl the film will make its premiere in February and presumably show up in theaters some time next year.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 16, 2014

MR. TURNER Review

I don't think anyone would be surprised to find I had little to no knowledge of British painter J.M.W. Turner's life before seeing this film. I approached the latest from director Mike Leigh with something of a curiosity given both Leigh's ability to craft a gorgeous film and more importantly an involving one through his characters personalities. I wondered what might have drawn the director as well as character actor Timothy Spall to the life of this painter more than their frequent collaborations and the opportunity to give Spall a leading role. It seems both the director and his star had little interest or motivation for making the film outside of the fact they simply found the man fascinating and his story worth telling. That said, the fascination doesn't always translate so well to the screen despite the fact it is easy to see why they thought this way. Leigh's film decidedly covers the last quarter century of the great painters life and is more an exploration of the character than anything resembling a plot-driven narrative. For not knowing the man or what to expect from him it was something of a surprise to find the titular character a bit of an asshole. What has earned Turner a place in the history books speaks for themselves and are in no need of a feature film so why bother documenting an unpleasant man? Admittedly, the mad artist is endlessly interesting and so, again, it is easy to see why this was seemingly worth exploring. At nearly two and a half hours, Mr. Turner can be indulgent to the point it somewhat takes on the characteristics of its subject yet it consistently feels as if it's trying to prove why the man and his stories are truly worth your time. This understanding didn't come until after finishing the film because while you're in it you have to believe there is a bigger goal to what you're seeing. As the credits began to roll though it became clear Leigh had no interest in keeping his audience strictly entertained, but moreso offering them an insight they may not otherwise receive and thus the subversive sense a case is being made for Turner's relevance. Maybe this is just my singular view given I had no frame of reference going in, but I can't help but feel in making this case for Turner I took away less than I might have had the film narrowed in and given me a specific story from the subjects life that could make a greater impression for who the overall man actually was.

TOP FIVE Review

Never have I been a huge fan of Chris Rock. I don't mind the guy, but his rise to fame as an edgy stand-up comedian was during a time in my life when I would never have been allowed to watch his specials. The Rock I know is the guy who did a voice for Eddie Murphy in Doctor Dolittle and who made Pootie Tang, Down to Earth and a handful of other forgettable comedies in the early part of the new millennium. Of course, as I've grown I've been able to gain a better perspective on the history of this spectacularly famous comic who, despite starring in such drab as What To Expect When You're Expecting and two Grown Ups films, maintains a most credible reputation as a top comic performer and a stand-up comedian with real intelligence and raw bite. While Rock's acting talent has clearly always been limited it is the intellect that provides his introspect that sets him apart. He knows how to tell a story, even if he isn't the most suitable to convey it and he understands that. So, what does he do? He goes ahead and writes a film about himself, perfect for him to lead and why not? You write what you know and as a comedian you speak the truth, you talk about everything and pull off the band aids and with that mentality Rock has put it all on the line. As a comedian maybe wanting, trying even to make a transition himself, what better way for him to plead his case? Like in Birdman Rock purposefully casts himself in the lead role of a man who mirrors his own real life experiences, but also like the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film this isn't just about a jaded actor trying to make a hit play or movie, but more about the legacy they want to leave. In talking specifically about Top Five, Rock is interested in discussing the kind of ego that comes along with being a personality that people become a fan of and keeping that personality in check so that the ego doesn't balloon that personality to something that's no longer valuable while still feeding the surrogate what they need from it. Ego is a disease, something you can become addicted to and as much as Rock lets out his frustrations on everything from reality TV to Tyler Perry movies this is ultimately about satisfying his own ego in hopes of doing more of what he wants while keeping fans of his personality interested by relying on what he's best known for.

Full Trailer for THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT

The problem with The Divergent Series (as it has been dubbed by its studio) is a question of quality. The first film didn't receive great reviews and a lot of that honestly had to do with the complicated world building that was necessary. This will not only cause trouble in initiating new viewers as the series goes on, but the books seem to get progressively worse as well. I made it quite briskly through the first book in the series, but it took me forever to get through Insurgent and I've yet to even crack open Allegiant which I honestly have no desire to read. That said, this more in-depth trailer for the second film looks visually promising if not all over the place with its narrative. It has been a couple of months since I finished the book on which this film is based and as I watched the trailer I couldn't remember any of the context for what I was seeing. Taking over for Neil Burger from the first film is director Robert Schwentke who could really send this series in either direction. He has produced fun, action filled adventures before with the likes of RED and even the subliminally enjoyable Flightplan while also being at the helm of junk such as The Time Traveler's Wife and R.I.P.D.  I'll of course give this second film a shot as I'm eager to see if Schwentke's visual stylings make for a more interesting film than read, but don't know how to gauge my expectations which inherently causes a fair amount of hesitation. The Divergent Series: Insurgent stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Maggie Q, Zoe Kravitz, Daniel Dae Kim, Suki Waterhouse and opens on March 20, 2015.

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS Review

What can you say about a film that is fine for what it is and nothing more? Exodus: Gods and Kings is a movie, it has entertaining moments, looks fantastic and while I obviously didn't love it there is certainly no reason to hate it either. The real problem is the fact there's no vision or passion behind the project. Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) is nearing eighty and in his aging state seems intent on pumping out films at a quicker rate than ever before. Since the massive success of Gladiator at the dawn of the millennium the director has not gone more than two years without making a film and more times than not he delivers one on an annual basis. With a project on the scale of Exodus though, one might imagine he'd have to take more time for prep and the development of visual effects at the least, but moreso for the necessity of trying to really make something substantial. Scott hardly seems interested in making anything of note these days though and instead is a misguided storyteller somewhat fascinated by history, more interested in spectacle and with no sense of impassioned faith, not even in his own work. I can only imagine what might come of an elder Scott picture were he to really take the process step by step and first develop the script he is given, this one patched together by four different screenwriters, then move on to planning a visual representation of that story that might actually allow the audience to become invested or feel a part of the action that is unfolding in front of them. Scott clearly has no problem getting budgets to secure the epic scope of his films nor is there an issue with attracting top talent to headline his movies, but instead of using these advantages to his advantage they are wasted on mediocre products that have consistently ended up feeling more like cogs in the machine than any type of exception to the rule. One might expect a Biblical epic in the vein of Cecil B. DeMille with a more contemporary approach to serve as fascinating for the generations that find Charlton Heston's version dated, but instead we receive more of what we are conditioned to. Exodus: Gods and Kings is less an inspired retelling of a story we all know and more another attempt by Hollywood to cash in on a pre-established brand.

INHERENT VICE Review

They say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If you agree with that line of thinking than you will likely be disappointed in the latest from director Paul Thomas Anderson. At nearly two and a half hours, it is a mess of a masterpiece that begs for you to dissect every scene and every line of dialogue as well as how the actor speaking a said line conveys the meaning of their dialogue. Do we place this kind of importance on the film because it does indeed come from a filmmaker with the unique status of Anderson? If it came from a lesser known director would the awaiting audience be as accepting? It's hard to say and it hardly matters because no one else would ever make films like the ones Anderson crafts. Like his other six features, Inherent Vice is wholly a concoction of the directors singular voice and style. From Boogie Nights to There Will Be Blood and Magnolia to The Master Anderson has demonstrated an eclectic range that gives each new film a dynamic all its own. It has always been clear his sentiment is slightly off-kilter, but he has never made anything as loopy or goofy as what we have here and somehow it seems as if this is the truest representation of the person Anderson actually is. As much as Inherent Vice fits perfectly into Anderson's diverse filmography it is the way he has approached the project that stands out more than anything, maybe even more than the finished product itself. Set in Gordita Beach, California in the summer of 1970 as Vietnam rages on and the sixties come to a screeching halt the director infuses his film with this aesthetic by consistently relying on the style of limited camera movement and the framing of shots to capture specific angles that immediately conjure up references to films of the time period in which his film is set. From the attention to detail to the technicolor texture of the images and more forward to the seemingly blind, but no doubt highly calculated preciseness of not seeming to give two shits Anderson delivers a film that, on the surface, seems to make little sense at all. And yet, as one begins to dig deeper and break down the whole of the film into single scenes, individual moments and certain pieces of dialogue it somehow makes more sense even if that bigger picture is all but lost. While Inherent Vice isn't and won't be hailed as Anderson's greatest work, it is easy to see it becoming the one his loyal fans end up returning to most often.

Full Trailer for Pixar's INSIDE OUT

It has been an off year for animation as nothing other than The LEGO Movie really became a hit and while that film was immensely fun, I'd still pick How To Train Your Dragon 2 as the best of the bunch this year. Besides the disappointing box office returns though a big hole was also left open by the absence of a new Disney/Pixar film. For the first time in nearly a decade we received no new movie from the once illustrious studio. It has been quite a while since we've seen an original film from Pixar as well (only one of the last four has not been a sequel), but next year we are headed for change as not only do we get one new Pixar film, but two; both of which will feature original stories. First up is director Pete Doctor's (Up) Inside Out. Telling the story of 11-year-old Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) the film goes inside her mind to explore the inner workings of her personality by creating personifications for her emotions including fear, sadness, anger, disgust and joy. As seen in this first full trailer for the film these emotions essentially run our brains in terms of reactions and how we function in response to the situations and circumstances around us. Not only do we get a peak inside Riley's mind, but her parents voiced by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan as well. As exciting as it is that Pixar is delivering an original film rather than another sequel, it should be noted that this extremely inventive concept and entertaining and funny execution truly feels like it could be a return to form for the studio that has lost a bit of its steam over the years. I certainly hope this proves to be as good as the trailer promises as it is one of my most anticipated for 2015. The voice cast also includes Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler and opens in 3D on June 19, 2015.

First Trailer for SAN ANDERAS



Folks complain that super heroes and sequels have completely dominated the studio system to the point we rarely get anything else of value outside of awards season. Can't say that I disagree, but at least many of those super hero films we receive have some kind of ambition to them (even if that ambition is more in the world building than the individual films). Today, we have received the first trailer for the next would-be hit action movie from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson were super hero movies not the general rule for action movies these days. Outside of these guaranteed financial wins the action genre feels extremely flat and unfortunately San Andreas doesn't look like it's here to rescue anything other than the fictional victims of its own earthquake. At the beginning of last year The Rock rolled out four movies in the span of four months with Snitch, G.I. Joe, Pain & Gain and Fast & Furious 6 and while that may not again be the case in 2015 with only Furious 7 in April and this film in May I can't help but feel San Andreas will be more akin to the success levels of Snitch rather than any of his other efforts. The film does see him re-teaming with Journey 2 director Brad Peyton (who he will again work with on Journey 3: From the Earth to the Moon) though this looks more like something from Roland Emmerich than the guy who made Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. I can only hope this film contains the self-awareness and flat-out fun nature Emmerich usually includes in his action extravaganzas. Unfortunately, the first trailer makes it look as if this thing may take itself way too seriously. Decide for yourself after the jump. The film also stars Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Archie Panjabi, Ioan Gruffudd, Will Yun Lee, Colton Haynes, Kylie Minogue and opens in 3D on May 29, 2015.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 9, 2014



WILD Review

The thought of Reese Witherspoon, the sweet and petite blonde from New Orleans made famous by broad comedies like Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama, playing a down on her luck hitchhiker dealing with a past that includes drug problems and excessive fornication with the dealers of those drugs isn't one that immediately meshes well. Despite "Academy Award Winner" being inscribed above her name every time she takes on an Oscar-bait role such as this there still seems a very confined set of types we expect the actress to play. For some reason, I don't expect Witherspoon to be a very versatile performer and though her actual person is no doubt much more interesting due, if not for nothing else, to everything she's accomplished there is still such such a specific on-screen persona I expect from her. As many actors before her looking to fulfill something more in their careers by challenging themselves or just to simply add depth to their filmogrpahy, Witherspoon breaks away from what is expected of her and completely embraces this necessary journey her character goes on, warts and all. In many ways it is refreshing. Witherspoon has been stuck trying to figure out where to go with her career after winning her Oscar for Walk the Line, semi-afraid of doing romantic comedies again, but finding comfort in them while love stories never stray far from her grasp. Frozen and Maleficent have both been huge hits for Disney, but more importantly they have raised the idea over the past year that not all love stories have to be about the romantic relationship, but more the love of what else enriches our lives. While Wild is nothing like either of those films, it keeps this kind of love story in mind and is executed in such a way that we come to appreciate the journey of the character realizing this factoid. Wild is a character study, but it is not a film that rests solely on the performance of its lead. Witherspoon is more than capable and fully immerses herself in the ever changing state of mind Strayed must have experienced as we go on this journey with her, but more than that director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) has crafted a fully realized film around her.

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 Review

What do you get when you take an outlandish premise that every middle class American can relate to, mix it with a cast chock full of more diverse talent than any other comedy in recent memory and let them both free to wander where the wind takes them? That would be the original Horrible Bosses which, back in 2011, stuck out to me as one of my favorite comedies so far that year. It was just effortless. And that is saying a lot in a summer that also counted Bridesmaids among its hits. The film was immediately funny and fast paced with a cleverly written script that gave the summer season a feeling the raunchy R-rated comedy was here to stay. Naturally, after this type of high came the downslide with the less broad, but not as bad as everyone says Bad Teacher and the truly terrible Change-Up in which Jason Bateman also starred. Every year we get this slew of raunchy summer comedies intended for the masses that studios have thought we craved since Wedding Crashers truly revitalized their appeal, but only a couple, if any, ever break out to become genuinely funny over time or command real staying power. I liked Horrible Bosses the first time I saw it and probably watched it two or three more times once I bought it on blu-ray, but did it have the staying power of such recent classics that have also commanded sequels such as 21 Jump Street or Ted? Maybe not, but much like with the fellas from the Hangover series I simply like having the opportunity to hang out with these characters so a sequel seeing Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), Nick (Bateman) and Dale (Charlie Day) get into more mischief was completely acceptable and more than justified if not really necessary. At all.

First Trailer for TERMINATOR: GENYSIS


I remember sitting in my first non-IMAX show of The Dark Knight in 2008 and seeing the trailer for Terminator: Salvation for the first time. There was a clear excitement in the air for it and not only because Christian Bale had a role, but because it had been a solid six years since the T-800 had hit the screen. Even better, director McG seemed genuinely invested in the story and continuing the saga of John Connor rather than simply capitalizing on the success of the earlier films. Well, believe it or not, but the same amount of time between Rise of the Machines and Salvation has again passed and next summer we will receive the fifth feature length film in the James Cameron spawned series. Unlike Salvation though, Terminator Genesys seems to exist solely to make Arnold Schwarzenegger a box office star again. The first trailer that dropped today gives us a look at the other side of the coin from the original 1984 film as we see the deliberations that went into future John Connor sending his fellow soldier, Kyle Reese, back in time to save his mother, Sarah. This time though screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have essentially scrapped the events of the original film in order to incorporate Schwarzenegger's character back into this world. Who knows, this could turn out to be better than this first look gives it credit for, but even the extravagant effects feel hollow. Directed by Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) Terminator Genesys has a lot to prove on its opening day as I was excited for Salvation and it proved little more than a distraction. If this is indeed as bad as it looks it may in fact be time for the Governor to call it quits. The film also stars Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, Matt Smith, Byung-hun Lee, Dayo Okeniyi, Courtney B. Vance, J.K. Simmons and opens on July 1, 2015.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 2, 2014

THE BABADOOK Review

The Babadook begins with a a woman falling through what feels like endless black space until she hits her bed to realize it was all a dream. As it turns out though, these moments of seeming fear may be the most peaceful moments of Amelia's (Essie Davis) day. She wakes to a barren house, haunted by the past and frozen in time by the future that never came. She has a five year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who is nothing short of a terror that drains her of her energy and will to live on what feels like a daily basis. In fact, Samuel is made so grating and infuriating that we understand the extreme lengths the film pushes Amelia to. It is clear in this simple set-up of a relationship and the disdain surrounding Samuel from the only family we're privy to seeing that this is intended to be subtle horror. That there is more to the story than the intent to elicit jump scares, but rather to elicit full on emotional exhaustion by the time things come to a head. These qualities allow The Babadook to stand apart from the handful of other small, independent horror releases. Granted, I haven't made it around to watching such films as The Sacrament or As Above, So Below, but this seems to be on another level completely, engrossing the audience as much through its filmmaking techniques as its story. Writer and director Jennifer Kent combines the two to create a truly effective film, or at least half a film, before it spins out of what feels like even her control in the last half hour. That said, the elements that make up the building tension of the first hour are so expertly crafted and handled in such a refreshing manner that we can't help but give into the thought that it's the heightened expectations set after our experience with the film so far that allow the conclusion to not live up to them. This is mainly true because we care more about the two central characters than the titular villain of the piece and the third act relies too heavily on the actions of this mysterious creature.