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.

DADDY'S HOME Review

The Other Guys is a brilliant piece of satire that really gave way for director Adam McKay to go in the direction of crafting something like The Big Short. The Other Guys was also helped by the oddball pairing of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg who proved to have almost as much chemistry as Ferrell and John C. Reilly. So, it was natural for the two to want to reunite given their past success, but The Other Guys Daddy's Home is not. This was clear from the beginning. Whereas The Other Guys felt like a film, an actual, real, weighted film with an objective and a structure that felt inspired without being standard, Daddy's Home feels like a rushed job of a couple of funny men getting together and seeing what they can hammer out. Daddy's Home is a movie and one that has seemingly been dropped off the Hollywood assembly line in hopes that it will appeal to enough people to make it's money back on the broad appeal of Ferrell and Wahlberg. There is nothing particularly insightful about the picture, there isn't even anything particularly funny to the point I'll remember it tomorrow, and the product placement is so abhorrently obvious the whole thing might as well be a commercial, but beyond these heavy complaints lies a movie that still stars the likes of Ferrell and Wahlberg. Both are very likable guys with a supporting cast that includes the always-pleasant Linda Cardellini, the outrageous Thomas Haden Church, a surprisingly funny extended piece enlivened by Hannibal Burress and, of course, a couple of cute kids saying inappropriate things. Given these factors, despite the sub par script and despite the fact the film has little to no visual flair, Daddy's Home comes out the other end being rather enjoyable for what it is. It is a movie one can put on in the background and still keep up with if the need to do other things arises while at the same time guaranteeing a couple of chuckles from friends or family that might also be in the vicinity. Daddy's Home goes a long way on the charm of it's cast making the product as a whole more endearing than it appears on first glance.  

TOP 10 OF 2015

For the second year in a row I've found it simpler to craft a top ten list than I have since starting this site. In the beginning I felt the pressure to somewhat succumb to the decision to compile my favorite films of the year from those that the majority of critics were choosing-I was making a consensus list if nothing else, but over the last few years the ability to feel confident in my own choices has only grown and thus made making my yearly top tens a much simpler task. There are always a lot of good films throughout the year and many more that I'd still like to see that came to us this year (Sleeping with Other People, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Chi-Raq, and Goodnight Mommy to name a few). I'm also keen to see as many of the foreign language contenders as I can before the Academy Awards in February as I have Son of Saul on deck and will likely have watched both it and Phoenix (now streaming on Netflix) before this article is posted. Still, I feel good about my choices this year and find it to be a solid list of ten films (plus five honorable mentions) that I would never mind going back to watch again and again (a major factor in my decision). While the re-watchability factor counts for a lot I certainly put a fair amount of weight into my initial reaction as well as I go back and look through the barrage of films I've seen and reviewed this year.

THE DANISH GIRL Review

Note: This is a reprint of my review for The Danish Girl, which originally ran on September 13, 2015 after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am publishing it again today as it hits theaters this weekend.

Despite The Danish Girl being one of the more anticipated premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival this year (it's technically just the North American premiere if you paying attention to those types of things) I couldn't have been more hesitant to embrace the film. This has nothing to do with the fact it consists of a story about the first man to undergo a sex reassignment surgery, but more it so blatantly felt like awards fodder. Everything about the film screams Oscar. It is directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables), is a period piece, deals in a very hot topic at the moment, and stars Eddie Redmayne who won the Best Actor award last year for playing Stephen Hawking. After playing a real-life person with a severe disability what is the second most obvious choice for an actor to play if they hope to be nominated or win an Oscar? Well, playing a woman of course. Beyond this, I haven't been a fan of Redmayne's up until this point either. I'd not seen him in anything prior to My Week With Marilyn and thought him fine in that, but he only irritated me as Marius in Les Mis, he was gloriously bad (not over the top, just irritatingly bombastic) in Jupiter Ascending (I know, what wasn't in that film?) and I personally didn't think he deserved the Best Actor statue over Michael Keaton last year. And yet, here we are with Redmayne having delivered a performance I would have no issue with him winning for because despite all its obvious pandering The Danish Girl is an affecting and beautifully captured story of bravery and inspiration that shouldn't be boiled down to or judged by it's perceived intentions. That said, the one shortcoming with the film is that it fails to really leave an impression. In the moment, it is very much a moving and undeniably powerful portrait of a disorder many don't care to understand, but further out the only lasting memory of the film is just how good Alicia Vikander is. Still, that moment counts for something and when in the throes of the experience it's admittedly difficult to avoid the word "exceptional" to describe much of what you're witnessing.

THE BIG SHORT Review

In the context of the film it makes perfect sense, but to audiences smothered in cinematic choices this holiday season The Big Short is unfortunately one of the more forgettable titles. It helps marginally that the faces on the poster are four of Hollywood's heaviest hitters with Brad Pitt bringing in the biggest pull (and ironically putting in the least amount of screen time), but even this won't be enough to distract moviegoers from what might be a saturated market made worse by a complicated story that has been relayed in sardonic terms by the director of Anchorman. Of course, if you've payed attention to any of Adam McKay's work you'd know the director of Anchorman and other such Will Ferrell comedies including Talladega Nights and The Other Guys is actually the perfect choice for a film that desires to tell of the housing market crash that occurred in America in 2008. It is a story in need of sharp social commentary, of a mind that might give the boring numbers game an insightful twist and McKay is able to deliver on all fronts by crafting a final product that is as funny and stinging as it is heartbreaking and tragic-a detriment, almost, to the American spirit. And yet, throughout the over two hour runtime the film never ceases to be breathlessly entertaining. There is so much going on, so many words being spoken, so many deals being made, and so many new characters being introduced at such rapid rates that we never have time to settle in, but rather stay perched on the edge of our seats. With its hands in so many different pots it would be easy for the The Big Short to go off the rails, but somewhat unexpectedly the film finds a certain groove in its latter half that, while not matching the frenetic speed of the first two acts, brings in the necessary levity that strikes the perfect balance between both the ridiculousness of the situation and the dire real world consequences. McKay, working from his and Charles Randolph's screenplay that is based on the book by Michael Lewis (The Blind Side, Moneyball), is able to remain so laser focused on what makes these characters so interesting in their own right that the fact they exist in this compelling real world situation is only icing on the cake.

JOY Review

Everyone has a story. Even the woman who invented the miracle mop. In Joy, Jennifer Lawrence is the 1995 version of Joy Mangano as we become privy to the beyond hectic journey it took for this now entrepreneur and titan of industry to become such. In these terms, this is a real rags to riches story and would probably be a very compelling one at that if it were simply left to these devices, but in the hands of director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) it has to be more than that-it has to be mythic almost. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with this approach as a unique or different take on any type of material is always appreciated, but Russell's style is especially effective with some stories while not always finding it's rhythm with others. Joy lands somewhere in the middle of this scale as certain aspects of our titular characters life service Russell's frantic style well while other times it seems to be fighting with the tranquility that the film so desperately craves. In a word, the film is relentless. And to a certain extent it should be in order to give audiences a real sense of what this character had to overcome to get to where she is today, but it is always key for journeys such as this to provide moments of calm reflection that, again, help to give audiences a sense of scope. Here, these moments are treated as flurries of flashbacks or mounting issues that are proclaimed one after another in sometimes painfully awkward dialogue. This technique works to a certain extent given there are moments when the relentless clawing and nagging of every supporting character in the movie ceases and something good is actually allowed to happen to Joy without them mingling and messing things up, but these are too few and far between. The real issues arise when it became clear we, as an audience, want to dig deeper into the psyche of our main character than the actual film does. Why does Joy continue to allow her family to pull her down? That Joy, unlike say Russell's The Fighter, never digs into the reasons as to why Joy can't leave these thwarted and painful relationships behind is ultimately what makes the project feel more barren than it wants to be.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 22, 2015

SISTERS Review

Sisters is a comedy of errors that works more because of its sisters than its errors. It's a movie that is amusing based solely on the appeal of its two lead stars rather than the thin premise that presents a situation made amusing by Amy Poehler's bungling and Tina Fey's incompetence. Of course, when one has stars as appealing and with as much chemistry between them as Fey and Poehler the premise doesn't have to be extravagant and even the execution doesn't necessarily have to be flawless-it just needs to give the two stars it's serving a solid jumping off point. In what seems like a move that should have been made a long time ago, Poehler and Fey finally find themselves playing sisters with their relationship being put to the test when their parents decide to sell their childhood home. Of course, given this is a light, rather breezy comedy things don't become too bogged down in the themes of material versus memories, but rather the polar opposites decide to throw one last party to commemorate all the good times they had on what they consider to be hallowed ground. What is great about Sisters is that it so clearly knows what it is and what it wants to be that it aspires to be nothing more than an excuse to watch Fey and Poehler rift for two hours while bringing in some of their closest Saturday Night Live friends to play along with them. Like that sketch comedy show, the material may not always be the strongest, but it can go a long way based on the ability of the players it is in the hands of and while longtime SNL writer Paula Pell is behind this script (and one can catch how in tune Pell is with her stars at certain points) it is in the players that this material really finds life. The dynamic between Fey and Poehler is ripe for comedic opportunity and by casting each of them against type rather than going with the assumed roles it makes for a more interesting film despite the somewhat indulgent running time that could have been trimmed by twenty minutes in the middle. It's not that Sisters is bad or out of touch, but it's not a transcendent comedy, either (not that it was expected to be); the movie simply fulfills one's basic expectations and little more. That said, I had a fun enough time with it.

CONCUSSION Review

Concussion is a really solid movie that wants to be as important as the topic it’s discussing. The problem with approaching a film in this manner though, is that it immediately sets a precedent for the film to be as weighty and influential in its cultural impact as the topic it's discussing and Concussion simply isn't that. It will start conversations, sure, and if it does its job well enough it may even convert a few football fans to the belief there are serious long-run repercussions to playing the game, but as a piece of art or simply infotainment, is it as effective as it sets out to be? Sometimes. Through writer/director Peter Landesman (Parkland) the film has some really inspiring moments as it attempts to not simply irritate those who are huge fans of the sport, but attempts to logically explain why we need to step back and take a serious look at if the type of lifestyle these men experience down the road is worth a few hours of entertainment on Sunday. Other times, in between the scenes of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) drawing some kind of scientific conclusion or making his case with an NFL board member, the film tends to have lull's that concern itself with a romantic subplot that doesn't connect or one too many time lapses that aren't clearly illustrated. Where the film does tend to stand out is in the scenes that feature Smith's protagonist pushing back against any force that comes between him and his research. If you've seen the trailer you've heard Omalu's speech about how America is the next best thing to heaven and that he was the wrong man to discover such a disease as his entire life he's dreamed of being an American. That, to have discovered a disease that more or less states human beings were never made to play football, makes him public enemy number one and it is in the face of this adversity that Smith and the film shine most.

STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS Review

It's difficult to delineate the difference in nostalgia-fueled adoration and a subjective acknowledgement of quality when it comes to judging a film such as The Force Awakens. There was never going to be any true way that a film such as this could separate itself from all that has come before it (and it doesn't want to), but the same is true for those of a certain age who will be seeing the film or are excited for the film in the first place. For most, unless you're under the age of ten or so and even then the majority are at least familiar with and likely enjoy Star Wars to some degree, the idea of Episode VII is something of a redemption story-a new hope if you will, that what was once so magical about Star Wars will return and enable you to forget the overly glossy sheen of the prequel trilogy that revealed George Lucas' green screen obsession and his true lack of skill in directing actors. Episode VII would mark the hope that we might, once again, venture to a galaxy far, far away and find both what we loved about the original films while being introduced to new and exciting characters and going on new and exciting adventures with the accompaniment of John Williams fantastic score (seriously, "Rey's Theme" is great). It is here that director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) is able to demonstrate his finely tuned skill for walking that line to great effect. In all of his feature directing work Abrams has been able to elicit the spirit of a past property or genre and most of the time bring a new energy to it even if the freshness of the story isn't always as ripe as it could be. The same can be said of The Force Awakens as it hues very close to the narrative beats of A New Hope, but has enough of a unique take on them and deviates enough from the narrative with the new character arcs, new revelations, and flat-out solid performances from the incredible cast that this is most clearly the best Star Wars film we've had since The Empire Strikes Back in 1980.

STAR WARS: A Retrospective

There is no greater an influence on my imagination than the Star Wars saga. Throughout jr. high, high school, and college I always looked to the stories for a place of inspiration. Watching the making-of documentaries of the original trilogy and the individual ones we were given on the prequel DVD's over and over led to nothing short of a yearning to create my own universe. Needless to say, the Star Wars saga means a lot to me and in light of Episode VII - The Force Awakens opening tonight I've been re-visiting both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy to get a sense of the universe I would be returning to once again. I was twelve years-old when I was introduced to the world of Jedi's, droids, and Darth Vader and now that J.J. Abrams is bringing most of them back to the big screen I thought a retrospective might be in order as I haven't talked as much about my love for the series on this site as I probably should have. Going into the The Phantom Menace in the summer of 1999 (yes, I watched the prequels first) I didn't know what I was in for and was transported to a world that very much spoke to everything I assumed the movies were supposed to be (yes, I enjoyed The Phantom Menace-don't act like you didn't). At that point in my development though, The Phantom Menace was mind blowing. I immediately went home and begged my parents to buy me the original trilogy. I officially became a Star Wars nerd at that point, but I didn't really care-it was beginning to become the cool thing anyway. I remained fascinated by the universe as I made my way through the original trilogy and though, by the time I was eighteen and able to finally see what Revenge of the Sith had to offer, I'd become slightly disappointed in where things had gone Sith was a good enough payoff to let things rest in peace. As that peace will now be disturbed though, I decided to take a look back at each of the six films that formed that galaxy far, far away.

ROOM Review

Note: This is a reprint of my review for Room, which originally ran on September 15, 2015 after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am publishing it again today as it hits theaters this weekend.

Alice in Wonderland has been used as inspiration for what are surely an innumerable number of stories. The idea of getting lost down a rabbit hole or your life not going the way you'd imagined it when you were a child is universal. The metaphors and analogies to be made are no doubt endless with any aspect of any single person's life, but Room is a certain kind of Alice story as you can feel the loss of our protagonist both physically and psychologically. Loss is a key word, a key theme if you will given the circumstances of the situation presented in the film, but if you don't know that situation going in you're all the better for it. All that is necessary to know is that Brie Larson plays Joy Newsome, a woman who has seemingly been trapped in a single room shack for an ungodly amount of time while having raised her five year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), in this confinement for the entirety of his life. There is only a single door in their room and it is protected by a locking system that only a mysterious visitor (Sean Bridgers) knows the code to. This stranger, referred to as "Old Nick", brings Joy and Jack food once a week, but like the majority of the supporting characters in any Alice story, he is cruel towards our heroine. Knowing little more than this myself before walking in, Room operates as a tense and unnerving thriller for it's first half before becoming an intense psychological trip in it's second. Both are equally engaging as is the film as a whole.

TRUMBO Review

Dalton Trumbo is no doubt an interesting figure and a perfect case of someone whom it would be worthwhile to make a Hollywood biopic about. Maybe it's simply that director Jay Roach, who has mostly worked in broad comedy while mixing in politics lately with the likes of Game Change and The Campaign, doesn't know what else to do as a director, but his latest effort that profiles the rogue screenwriter feels all too complacent to accurately depict the radical and rebel ways of Mr. Trumbo. In short, this is a by the numbers biopic that tells us what happened, why it happened, and how the titular character lived out the rest of his days with the obligatory pre-credit note cards. That isn't to say the history isn't interesting or that there aren't good or intriguing moments throughout, but more that Roach does nothing with these moments to make them feel as vital or illuminating as they likely were for these people in the context of their actual lives. More than that, the biggest downfall of the film for me personally is that of the same mistake many biopics about musicians make in that they never explore what makes the artist want or need to create. To this effect, Trumbo never delves into its protagonist's writing process. Now, I understand that this film is not exclusively about the life of Dalton Trumbo, but more specifically the decade long fight he put up that saw him blacklisted and sent to prison due to his political beliefs. Still, this man was largely known as the biggest and best screenwriter working at the time his political entanglements began and is a large factor in how he fought back-managing to win two Academy awards in a time when everyone in the industry shunned him. Writing was not just a part of who this man was, it was who he was and to essentially skim over this opportunity to explain not just that he was a good and prolific writer, but how he came to be this way and how he remained inspired is one that is missed in exchange for little more than hitting the cliff notes of who this man was and how he dealt with the biggest trial of his life. Trumbo is by no means a bad movie; it has a number of good to great performances and due simply to the nature of the story it is endlessly fascinating, but this particular representation is little more than average given all it had to work with.

BY THE SEA Review

It's clear there is a driving force of sorts behind Angelina Jolie Pitt's (who I'll simply refer to as Jolie throughout this review because I'm not typing Jolie Pitt three hundred times) writing and direction, it's just not clear what that force is. While I never saw her debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, last year's insanely promising but ultimately disappointing Unbroken more or less set the prospects for any future Jolie pictures to that of being hopeful, but not necessarily optimistic. While the less than enthusiastic response to Unbroken must have been a blow to not only the writer/directors ego, but to the faith she has in herself and her abilities it seems her reaction has been to return to the forum with a much lower-key project, inspired by the films of yesteryear and containing only a select number of characters. Jolie sets her film in the seventies and then isolates her characters to a French Riviera where this character study is almost forced into existence. Taking the idea of a strained marriage and somewhat bravely allowing such a dysfunctional portrait to be painted with herself and real life husband Brad Pitt in the roles Jolie goes for a restrained and bleakly artistic look at two people at the end of their ropes for reasons we're not exactly clear on. In fact, while I can appreciate a good slow burn, By the Sea is such a staggering epic of quietness and indulgence that the boredom overtakes the measured emotions by the time the twenty minute mark hits. The problem is the quiet characters and their inability to communicate make it difficult for the viewer to find anything interesting or worth investing in about them and thus the patience wears thin before the film ever glimpses it's portions that might seem interesting. There is a good movie in here somewhere, no doubt, a wholly engaging film about the natural dynamics of a seasoned couple and how the dealings of going through something unbelievably difficult while initially testing their bond might eventually lead to an even stronger one. Unfortunately, By the Sea is too generous with the amount of time we spend with this couple and too tedious in the events it depicts to be that film.

MACBETH Review

There is always the daunting feeling walking into a Shakespeare adaptation that you'll never be able to keep up with the story due to the language being fired off by actors rather than being able to personally read it and evaluate the dialogue in your own time. The same is true with director Justin Kurzel's (next year's Assassin's Creed) Macbeth for, while I was familiar with the story having read the play in high school, I couldn't remember every detail and I certainly wasn't familiar enough with the language to understand everything as would be necessary after only a single viewing. And so, the idea of watching the film, much less writing about it felt incredibly daunting. After attempting to strip my mind of everything but the cinematic experience I was about to embark on I immersed myself in the Scottish lore of the titular Thane as he was submerged into this hugely stylistic world that Kurzel would use to convey the complicated language of the play. It is in the imagery that Kurzel's interpretation excels and where it sets itself apart. Where it falters is in the changing of a few major aspects from the source material. Overall, this particular adaptation comes out a winner given it has the ability to connect with modern audiences through its expansive and dark visual prowess while briskly delivering the main ideas of Shakespeare's play. It doesn't hurt that Kurzel has recruited the talent of actors like Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard to convey such material to modern audiences as each contain enough gravitas in their stares alone to guarantee the audience pays attention. It is not in any of these individual facets that Kurzel's film fails to engage the audience, but simply in the amalgamation of so many experimental factors that they override the bare bones brutality of the story and all that it intends to say. I enjoy how much Kurzel uses his exceptional visual ability to convey the necessary story beats, but by more or less having screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso compact the narrative into a less than two hour experience some of what the imagery suggests is lost in the lack development.

Teaser Trailer for FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Director David Yates is a busy man. Not only is he in post production on his first post-Harry Potter feature, The Legend of Tarzan (which only just premiered it's trailer last week), but he is also in the midst of production on Warner Bros. return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter with the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling's 2001 novel Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. The book was published under the pseudonym Newt Scamander and purports to be Harry Potter's copy of the textbook that was on his list of necessary school supplies in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Given our protagonist here is Scamander himself I'm assuming this is an original story that will give audiences insight into how Mr. Scamander came to be experienced enough to pen an entire textbook on the magical creatures of the wizard universe. Given what we have here is merely a teaser with very little actual footage it seems clear Warner Bros. simply wanted to get something in front of Star Wars this weekend so that audiences will know they are going to be able to return to the world of Harry Potter next year. While this new film won't deal with "The Boy Who Lived" exclusively, the idea of being able to return to such a world, and in November no less, is something of pure bliss for my generation in particular. Without having much to go on I can't really tell whether I should necessarily be excited for the film, but with Yates, who helmed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix all the way through the finale in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, once again in charge of things I have a large amount of faith in the fact I will enjoy this new adventure. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Carmen Ejogo, Jenn Murray, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Colin Farrell, and opens on November 18, 2016.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 15, 2015

First Trailer for STAR TREK BEYOND

The Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer barrage wouldn't be complete without a look at the latest from J.J. Abrams previous franchise that also started with Star. And so naturally, we now have a quick minute and a half sizzle reel of footage from the latest adventure of the Enterprise crew this time around directed by Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 3-6). Co-written by Simon Pegg (who looks to have given himself a more substantial part) the film is said to follow Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew after they get stranded on a strange alien planet, but little more is known of the actual plot. What we can glean from this first look though is that director Lin will bring to this franchise what he seemingly excelled at in the Fast films and that is a ton of action. The majority of the audience for Star Trek Into Darkness was split on really enjoying the popcorn entertainment value of it all while the diehard fans essentially hated the re-writing it did of Wrath of Khan. While I'm not a diehard trekkie I was able to more or less enjoy Abrams second installment with zero qualms. With Lin at the helm and Pegg replacing original screenwriter Roberto Orci (who was originally hired to direct), John D. Payne, and Patrick McKay it seems as if Paramount is keen on changing the direction of where this franchise was headed by giving it a full makeover in the creative department. As much as I really loved Abrams 2009 film and enjoyed Into Darkness I'm really optimistic and hopeful for what new energy Lin might bring to this property and the idea that it will be fueled more by the tone set in this trailer. Star Trek Beyond also stars Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Joe Taslim, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba,and opens on July 22, 2016.

CAROL Review

There is something to the quietness of Carol. There is nothing especially profound about what the film has to say on the surface or what it does with a rather straightforward story, but more the suggestions below the surface that crawl into the way this straightforward story is conveyed. Director Todd Haynes (I'm Not There, Far From Heaven) is not one to deliver straightforward though, in fact he is more inclined to get to the heart of what makes something or someone tick than he is to simply adhere to what is expected. The same could be said of his latest. And so, while at the outset, Carol seems to be little more than a story of the forbidden love between two women in the 1950's there is clearly many more, larger implications of the type of world we lived and still live in as well as how things have or have not changed as much as most of us would like to think they have. Haynes is a deliberate filmmaker and one that gives us still moments and slight observations that culminate after being strolled out one by one into something immeasurably affecting. That is to say that while I watched the events of Carol unfold I couldn't necessarily connect with or understand exactly what the film was going for or why it seemed to be deliberately unfolding at a pace not intended to entertain, but to incite contemplation. It is a film that wants to move you to the edge of your seat not through the tactics of great tension or breathtaking stunts, but more through the unknown that is life and the uneasiness that comes with uncertainty. There is a steady truth to the film that it never wavers from. The film never feels the need to dip itself into more dramatic waters simply for the sake of something happening, but rather it is a film that holds steady to what it values most about its characters and the silent tragedies they must forever keep to themselves. Again, it is this quietness of both the film and its characters that is consistently emphasized to the point that once the film begins to draw to a close and the greater ramifications of the life these characters choose are realized that it becomes all the more clear we, the viewer, are truly rewarded for both ours and the films practice of patience.

Teaser Trailer for INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE

Out of nowhere 20th Century Fox has decided to release the first look at next summer's Independence Day sequel. Of course, this isn't really out of nowhere as everyone in their right mind is vying for a spot in front of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this Friday and Fox has simply thrown their hat in the ring with both the X-Men Apocalyspe trailer that debuted Friday and now the twenty years later sequel that will undoubtedly hope to cash in on some of that nostalgia money Jurassic World was able to make this past summer. Unlike World though, this property has many a returning factors. Director Roland Emmerich has directed what looks to be a real time second chapter to the story of the 1996 alien invasion where the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsh, and Vivica A. Fox are all back to once again defend the planet from incoming invaders, but sadly there is no Will Smith to be seen. The set-up has a neat little conceit to it as Goldblum's David Levinson has seemingly been leading the charge to ready the Earth for the inevitable by using the alien technology they acquired after the events of the first film to protect them if the aliens were ever to return. Well, guess what-they're back. While this first glimpse at the footage for the upcoming film looks to be in line with what today's audiences expect in terms of dark and gritty and taking things fairly serious, I wouldn't be surprised if the final film is much more in line with the tone of the original. Plus, Emmerich is always a reliable source for big, brainless summer spectacle and I expect nothing short of such entertainment here. Independence Day: Resurgence also stars Liam Hemsworth, Brent Spiner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jessie Usher, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, and opens on June 24, 2016.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA Review

Looking at director Ron Howard's latest, In the Heart of the Sea, from a broad perspective there is nothing seemingly wrong with it. It is a handsomely mounted film with charismatic actors playing dress up and tells an adventure story that, while it is said to be the inspiration for the tale that's come to be known as Moby-Dick, takes many of the same beats from this familiar story and applies them here. Unfortunately, if one is looking for anything more than a standard adventure/survival tale this is not the place to go. A director who has become more hit or miss as of late Howard only skims the surface of the conflicts and dynamics that could have been explored here. While I've never completed Herman Melville's crowning achievement and I'd not even heard of Nathaniel Philbrick's novel on which this is based prior to the film's first trailer, it is pretty easy to see where things are going the moment our two heroes step onto their boat. While this isn't always an issue given things have become more about the journey than the destination in this saturated movie market, Howard and his team simply don't bring enough insight or a fresh enough perspective to make this endeavor feel like it's worth joining. One wouldn't necessarily know or realize this as they watch the film unfold given it's just captivating enough, and just big enough to keep us entertained and wondering what choices certain characters will make, but as the film comes slogging to its conclusion it becomes more clear that's all the film is-just enough. Just enough isn't enough to warrant an emotional reaction though, and it's not enough to constitute a real investment in the characters or even their quest that seems so foreign at this point that it could have proved fascinating, but is more or less rendered irrelevant due to the fact the films only interest lies in the massive sea monsters rather than the men who come up against them. Seeing massive sea creatures on the big screen is never a bad thing-in fact, it's almost as inherently epic as one can get, but for it to mean anything more than just a moment of wonder there must be some depth to the waters surrounding them and In the Heart of the Sea is simply too shallow to come up with anything interesting to say.

First Trailer & Poster for X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

The first trailer for director Bryan Singer's (X-Men, X2) follow-up to X-Men: Days of Future Past has arrived and while I am sure the final product will be an interesting addition to the X-Men canon there aren't really any "wow" moments in this first look. The optimist in me says Singer has the clout to now hold any potential "wow" moments for the film itself and that the X-Men franchise has been around long enough that 20th Century Fox knows the people will show up, but there is also a lot of effects driven work here that looks as if it could have come from any summer blockbuster. That aside, I'm really happy to see Singer back at the helm of yet another mutant movie and that he seems to finally be embracing the origins of this material more. I said this yesterday in my thoughts on the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trailer, but the more fan service one is able to pull off while not trying to be overly discrete about it seems to make the overall experience more enjoyable. In the case of Apocalypse, Singer and writer Simon Kinberg have set the film during the 80's and with the inclusion of a young Jubilee (Lana Condor), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) it seems as if this could be an exact case of pure fun given the director essentially gave himself a new timeline to work with in the previous film. Oscar Isaac's titular antagonist (while still looking like Ivan Ooze) does seem to be rather intimidating and the mythology to go along with him is undoubtedly intriguing. Having Rose Byrne return to convey this exposition isn't a bad touch either. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, and Evan Peters all return while other new cast members include Olivia Munn, Alexandra Shipp, and Ben Hardy. X-Men: Apocalypse opens May 27, 2016.

THE REVENANT Review

The idea for The Revenant is more satisfying than its realization. It's a fact many of us who have been looking forward to the film likely realized before even watching it, but nonetheless the reaction to this realization is still one that feels it witnessed something unique, or special at the very least. Throughout the course of the film I couldn't help but to keep coming back to the thought that the huge amount of effort that was so clearly put into the making of this film deserved to be seen multiple times, countless times even, but in trying to come up with a time in which I might actually want to sit down and experience this again I came up with little desire. That this was also director Alejandro González Iñárritu's follow-up to his Oscar-winning Birdman factors into the mystique of the idea of how great this film might be, never mind the fact he was collaborating with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. And so, the "what if" thought came to mind in the form of, “what if this were made by a no-name director?" Would it be met with the same expectation? Would reactions be as critical to the leanness of the story or would the beauty of the cinematography allow that to be forgiven? Obviously, this is not the case and thus the film will be viewed and criticized for how it stacks up against Iñárritu's past works as well as the fellow awards fodder that is being released this year, but despite all of these factors that inform the here and now, the initial reactions to the film, The Revenant feels like a movie that will be around for a long time. It is a movie that will be discussed not for its large themes or the depth with which it conveys this rather simple and straight-forward story, but more for what it was able to accomplish in bringing beauty out through such brutality. That, in its own way, it was able to deliver as visceral an experience as one could have with a motion picture. This is a movie not meant to elicit a lot of intellectual pondering, but more an experience of the emotions that you drink in, let settle, and then decide if it's for you or not. My palate seems to have come to the decision it appreciates the taste more than it necessarily enjoys it.

First Trailer for TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS

2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot was something of a surprising box office success and a fine enough film in its own right for the audience it was made for. As a fan of the turtles since their heyday of the late 80’s/early 90’s I was cautiously optimistic about what we might get with this new live-action film. I was of the age when the original trilogy of live action films debuted that I found each of them more fun than the next (yes, even the one where they go to Japan) and so there was a special place in my heart for the turtles and seeing them on the big screen again. I ended up having a pretty good time with 2014’s TMNT and even enjoyed the new character designs, the sense of humor, Will Arnett’s dumb performance and the overall look of the product. In this Dave Green (Earth to Echo) directed sequel, we seem to be getting all of that again, but this time with as many homages to the original property as possible. Whether that be in Casey Jones, more Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady or simply the turtle’s mode of transportation-it's all here. This is a series unafraid to embrace its roots and in a day and age where the cool thing to do is ground as much of your fantastical world in reality one has to appreciate what this franchise is doing. This looks silly as all get out, but I can’t imagine it not being mostly enjoyable. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows stars Alan Ritchson, Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Laura Linney, William Fichtner, Brian Tee, Will Arnett, Noel Fisher, Tyler Perry, Johnny Knoxville, Jane Wu, Jeremy Howard, Tony Shalhoub, Gary Anthony Williams, Pete Ploszek, Stephen Farrelly, and opens on June 3, 2016.

Teaser Trailer for THE LEGEND OF TARZAN

It looks as if Warner Bros. will attempt to get back in on the game of adapting well-known Disney animated properties into live-action spectacles after the utter failure that was Pan this past October. And while, like Peter Pan, Tarzan's history is much richer than the 1999 Disney film that is the frame of reference from which much of the target audience for this film will have and recall. In our first look at director David Yates (Harry Potter's 5-7.2) new take on the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic we are introduced once again to the "Lord of the Apes" through what seems to be an origin story as there are glimpses of his parents deaths as well as his abandonment in the jungle where a gorilla takes him in and turns him into the legend the title is proclaiming him to be. It's undoubtedly a difficult task to turn this tale of a man in a tiny loin cloth who swings from trees and talks to apes into something credible, but at the very least Yates seems to have landed on a tone that will work for the story. Some of the shots in the film are really intriguing and distinctively beautiful, but some of the CGI looks a little questionable and hopefully they will polish much of this up in the remaining seven and half months they have before the film's release. It will be interesting to see how this Tarzan film does given many of the other live action versions of Disney classics have fared well and in all fairness this seems to hue closer to that material a la Cinderella than the daringly different approach that was taken with Pan. It will also be interesting to see if the live action Jungle Book that comes out in April will have a positive or negative effect on this film as they share a similar aesthetic. The Legend of Tarzan stars Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Christoph Waltz, and opens on July 1, 2016.

First Trailer for Steven Spielberg's THE BFG

While a fan of Roald Dahl and the many movie adaptations of his work, including 90's-staples James and the Giant Peach and Matilda, I never happened to read The BFG. While, given the synopsis, I can imagine how this might have been just as fascinating a stop-motion film as James or just as thrilling a live action family film starring Mara Wilson as Sophie it is somewhat refreshing the film hasn't had a big screen adaptation as of yet (not counting the 1989 animated film that I;m assuming was made for TV) and has now received the big blockbuster treatment while still being in lovable, capable hands. After another dip in the more serious waters that was Bridge of Spies, director Steven Spielberg has seemingly returned to the world of wholesome material where he is able to strike a chord with both children and adults alike. While this first look at the film is a teaser in the truest sense we do get something of a glimpse at the titular Big Friendly Giant who will be played by Spies stand-out Mark Rylance. Given his subtle, but highly nuanced performance in that film I am anxious to see what he does with this type of material. Otherwise, Ruby Barnhill looks to be a perfect leading young lady as her great sense of innocence and wonder can already be seen in this short clip with the overall tone playing up the fantastical elements of the story in every nook and cranny of it's frames. While the likes of J.J. Abrams have tried to capture this type of Amblin tone before in films like Super 8 and Jeff Nichols will do the same thing in this March's Midnight Special it will be fun to once again see the master try his hand at making a film that embodies the PG summer blockbuster extravaganza. The BFG also stars Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement, Penelope Wilton, Adam Godley and opens on July 1st, 2016. 

LIFE Review

By the time he was twenty-four years old James Dean had starred in three major films, would become a cultural icon symbolizing the tone of teenage America, but he would also be dead. While this public persona of the "rebel without a cause" pushed Dean to the forefront of pop culture we come to learn in director Anton Corbijn's (The American, A Most Wanted Man) new film that the real Dean was not as his persona suggested, but more the quiet kid in an acting class simply searching for something tangible, something that wasn't as arbitrary as the fame he was suddenly coming into. In Life, we pick up with Dean in 1955 shortly after wrapping East of Eden and just prior to landing the role in Rebel Without a Cause-only seven months or so before his untimely death. Surprisingly, Dean is not the main character of this story though, no, that would be photographer Dennis Stock (played here by Robert Pattinson). Stock was largely a set photographer employed by Magnum, a photo agency, who met Dean at a party thrown by director Nicholas Ray (writer/director of Rebel). At this point in time, prior to East of Eden coming out, Dean wasn't even a household name, but after the actor and Stock hit it off at the party and Dean invited his new friend to a screening of his new film it became clear to Stock that there was something unique about the young man who couldn't have seemed more estranged or disillusioned with the ideas Hollywood was throwing at him. It is in this attitude, this kind of presented exterior by Dean with which Corbijn is intent on exploiting and exploring through he and Stock's relationship. More than anything though, this is a film about the relationship that develops between two different types of artists: the one who creates and the one who pulls back the layers of that creation.

Full Trailer for JANE GOT A GUN Starring Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman's passion project, Jane Got A Gun, had a long and tumultuous road to the big screen after several pre-production delays that included director Lynne Ramsey exiting the project on the same day shooting was scheduled to begin. This was followed by the exit of star Jude Law and a roster of rotating actors coming in and out of the project including the likes of Bradley Cooper for a role that was finally filled by Ewan Mcgregor. Joel Edgerton also stars as his Warrior director, Gavin O'Connor, took over the reigns from Ramsey and has seemingly guided this project to something that looks to be more than serviceable given the many hiccups along the way. In this first full trailer for the film we are given an extensive look at both the story the film is telling and Portman's titular outlaw. Naturally, this film will stand out for being a western in and of itself given the genre isn't exactly thriving at the moment (unless you're Quentin Tarantino), but more is the fact it features a female in the lead role competing with every other skilled male gunslinger that populates the wild west. There is no doubt Jane Got A Gun will pass the Bechdel Test when it opens on January 29, 2016. Noah Emmerich, Rodrigo Santoro, and Boyd Holbrook also star.

Why MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Won't Win Any Oscars

Mad Max: Fury Road is an entertaining action film that is something of an insane accomplishment from a filmmaking standpoint. I've seen the film twice: once in a theater and the other time from the comfort of my home. Considering I enjoyed the film this number of viewings doesn't seem out of the ordinary, but that I merely enjoyed the film is likely not enough for those that adore it, saw it multiple times on the big screen, and no doubt fall asleep to it every night now that it's available on digital and Blu-Ray. There is a feverish following to the film. Many proclaimed it as their early front-runner for their favorite picture of the year back in May when it originally debuted. I bring all of this up because last week it was announced that the National Board of Review named Mad Max: Fury Road their best film of the year. And just this weekend the Los Angeles Film Critics group named George Miller best director with his film named runner-up for the Best Picture award. And so, now the question is does Mad Max: Fury Road stand a chance of winning an Oscar? The answer, despite this new momentum, is still no. 

First Red-Band Trailer for THE NICE GUYS

The anticipation for the the return of Shane Black must have been at fever pitch given the guy directed his first feature a decade ago and didn't return until eight years later and for a Marvel movie at that. I feel in the minority when it comes to Iron Man 3 given I rather enjoyed much of it, but the following Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has gathered since it's quiet release in 2005 is somewhat incomprehensible. I saw the film then, as an eighteen year-old and remember liking it, but don't remember too much about the actual film. I'll certainly need to go back and re-visit it soon given the fact anyone I tell that to will tell me the same thing, but if the trailer for Black's third feature directorial effort did anything it was remind me of the noir-sh/irreverent tone his debut featured in spades. I wasn't sure what to expect from the film given the standard sounding premise, but leads Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe look to be having a great time while the seventies setting paired with the outlandish brand of everything...the comedy, the violence, the dialogue, even the look of the film is somewhat over the top in it's homage to that decade...makes this feel like a lot of fun. After seeing The Big Short and the extent to which Gosling can stretch his comedic skills (there's no end in sight, by the way) he looks especially funny here as he seems to more or less be playing the relief while Crowe is the straight man. In short, I'm happy to see this getting a nice, big summer release date and will certainly make this one to see as soon as I can. The Nice Guys also stars Kim Basinger, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Ty Simpkins and opens on May 20, 2016.

YOUTH Review

Note: This is a reprint of my review for Youth, which originally ran on September 12, 2015 after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am publishing it again today as it hits theaters this weekend.

I may not have any right to review director Paolo Sorrentino's (The Great Beauty) new film given I'm what I'd consider a youthful twenty-eight and this is clearly a film meant to elicit the broad scope, the big picture or the authentic perspective of an experienced life. I recognize that I can't even attempt to understand all of what this film is trying to say or all of what Sorrentino hopes to accomplish with such a work, but I feel I can at least recognize what he is going for. In fact, one character even describes the seeming intent of Youth within the film when he describes the film he's set to direct himself as a, "sentimental and intellectual last statement." While Sorrentino himself seems far from this stage of his career it seems as if that's the kind of film he intended to produce here; a sentimental ode to aging and the wisdom that experience and perspective bring while simultaneously becoming too old to recall any of this knowledge as processed through the guise of an intellectual. There is no issue with the aspiration as I would love to bear witness to a film that does some kind of justice to the striking injustice that is finally reaching a point where you might find some true hint of understanding only to develop Alzheimer's or croak the next day, but Youth is more a film that serves as a discussion of such philosophies and ideas rather than one that tells a story that conveys such ideas.

New Trailer for BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

Back in April we caught our first glimpse of footage from Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and then in July we received the three and a half minute Comic-Con trailer that was absolutely bonkers. Offering an in-depth look at both how the film connects to MoS and why the caped crusader is so angry with the last son of krypton, that trailer seemingly sold everyone on the idea that this movie could be as epic as it sounded. Given there was still eight months to go until the actual release of the film at that time though, I knew it wouldn't be the last trailer we would see for the film. My hope, however naive it might have been, was that Warner Bros. might simply re-fashion the Comic-Con trailer into a two-minute version with maybe a few new shots included in the montage build-up that would undoubtedly come at the end of the trailer. There was no need to show us anything else, but after the release of the forty second teaser on Monday it was clear this wouldn't be the case. I'm as excited for this movie as anyone, but I still want to be mostly in the dark when walking into the movie this Spring. Fortunately, with this latest trailer, the new footage gives us a look at the humorous side of things in the all too "dark and serious" DC Universe while also offering a glimpse at the bigger plot and main antagonist outside of the titular showdown. Of course, as I've said before, all of this is said with a sense of optimistic reservation as director Zack Snyder is a master of the movie trailer, but the final product doesn't always live up to such promises. Can Snyder's ultimate super-hero smackdown live up to the greatness his trailers have promised thus far? We'll find out soon enough. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice stars Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Scoot McNairy, Jason Momoa, Holly Hunter and opens on March 25, 2016.

45 YEARS Review

45 Years is the type of film that likes to hold a single, static shot for longer than one might anticipate while simply asking you to bask in it-to soak every moment of it up. It's contradictory to my spastic American mind to take such calming nuances as intentional, but in reality this technique is enlisted to allow audience members to really drink in the subtle, but hugely devastating ideas the film meddles in. It should be noted, I guess, that the main ideas of the film are not inherently devastating, but that more the conditions that can sometimes come along with the institution of marriage are such that we don't consider them until they happen. For a bond that should be built on such trust and assured confidence it is often times shaken by the most delicate of details. In the case of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) it is little more than what was once an afterthought to Kate, but decides to come back with a vengeance and reveal it may have been much more to her husband all these years. There is no act that was performed on Geoff's part that violates the sanctity of their marriage, but more something completely out of both parties control that informed the way one half would feel forever and the powerlessness of the other to ever allow him to forget it. In a word-it's heartbreaking. One might even call it cruel, the way fate aligned to bring this couple into each other's lives at the time in which it did, forever setting them on this path where they were more or less destined to fail. This fracture is barely visible in the beginning, though. As we come to know the Mercer's as they prepare for a weekend party that will celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary (hence the title) they live a quiet life in the open countryside of England seemingly enjoying the latter years of their lives. It is the resurgence of old memories and "what might have been" possibilities that throws their relationship into a whirlwind of doubt and vulnerability that at least Kate never saw coming.

First Trailer for I SAW THE LIGHT Starring Tom Hiddleston

The Hank Williams biopic directed by Marc Abraham (Flash of Genius) was one of my most anticipated films of this fall, but that was before I saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and before Sony decided to push it's release to next March. I'm a big fan of films about the music industry and about people who create music, but unfortunately I Saw The Light tends to focus on the personal issues of the late country music singer and songwriter rather than the insight that gave him the ability to craft over thirty-five singles for himself and numerous others for many other artists. The ability to show how the two go hand in hand is the mark of an exceptional music biopic and examples of such can be seen in last year's underrated Get On Up or Walk the Line if you're looking for one that also operates within the country music genre. I Saw The Light plays more like a sequence of scenes that feature pedigreed players acting out scenes from Williams Wikipedia page that never allows the film a sense rhythm and if you're going to make a film about a music superstar the first thing your films needs to have is a little rhythm. All of that said, this first trailer for the film paints a pretty and rather epic picture of the life and times of Hank Williams Sr., but also makes evident the use of his personal demons as highlighted by wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) to drive the narrative rather than the music that the man was really about. You can check out my full review from TIFF here and watch the trailer for the film after the jump. I Saw The Light also stars Bradley Whitford, Caroline Hebert, Charlie Talbert, Cherry Jones, Cory Hart, David Krumholtz, Joe Chrest, Josh Pais, Wrenn Schmidt, Maddie Hasson, Wayne Pére and opens on March 25th, 2016.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 1, 2015

THE GOOD DINOSAUR Review

Like all Disney and Pixar films, The Good Dinosaur pulls at the heartstrings by chronicling the change of innocence into experience, of a child into an adult, and of those premature ideals into broader perceptions. Like most Disney and Pixar collaborations The Good Dinosaur also features a duo on a journey to both save/rescue someone or something while discovering things about themselves and the world they exist in along the way. Sure, there is more to each of these stories that have given the studio partnership a reputation of not just crafting animated movies for children, but for their parents and adults alike. These core ideas and themes are what Pixar tends to stick with, though. With their latest, the studio twists things around by essentially re-writing history and then pulling a role reversal meant to engage the mature minds while utilizing the popularity of dinosaurs to get the attention of young kids. This works for the most part as the premise is just as engaging as Pixar's previous release this year, Inside Out. While such a statement might make some wince given the personified emotions of that film allow it to go to some pretty heavy places for a "children's movie" the idea of mingling in what the world might be like today if a massive extinction hadn't taken place millions of years ago is just as tantalizing as being able to create some kind of organizational system within our own minds. Unfortunately, The Good Dinosaur doesn't do as much with it's promising premise as Inside Out did (though that one didn't do as much as I would have liked, either) it is does mix some interesting genre aspects and narratively creative ideas into it's proceedings often enough that it manages to be nothing short of an entertaining family film. While the film does indeed share many similarities to Pixar's previous offerings in terms of what makes them so effective what is more striking is the kinship it seems to share with the earlier, hand-drawn animated films of the Walt Disney company. Through this affinity for those that have come before it, The Good Dinosaur, while not being innovative or weighty on it's own terms, is a nice reminder of the power of a simple story told through beautiful imagery.

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN Review

The first thing that took me by surprise concerning Victor Frankenstein was it's soundtrack. Of course, it could have been any number of things-the artificial environments of the early 1800's or the horribly arrogant narration dialogue Daniel Radcliffe was given that makes his Igor more irritating than endearing. But of course, as opposed to those last two things the soundtrack made me optimistic we might actually be in for something of a treat here. Chris Morgan's score, while traditionally orchestral, has a distinctive flavor to it at least in the early scenes. There is something almost wholly fantastical to it that suggests it may bring the darkness of this story a new layer of marvel and fun that has always been interpreted more along the lines of dark and grimly serious. Even the arrival of James McAvoy's titular character elicits something of a magical moment and whether or not this is due purely to the recognition factor or not, Morgan's score elevates this instant to something that instinctively elicits actual excitement. These optimistic thoughts could only prevail for so long though as Victor Frankenstein quickly devolves into a by the numbers retelling of the Frankenstein story that we've seen numerous times before. There are hints here and there of the script wanting to pull out more caveats of our core characters origin stories as it does in the beginning, but given we all know how things end up it seems screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra) felt he had nowhere else to go and thus ultimately delivers exactly what we expect rather than subverting those expectations and giving us something new to chew on and ponder. We've heard it all before and despite a hugely credible cast as well as Landis spearheading the project there ultimately seems no need for it. With each incarnation of this story the question will always be what new or original aspect can be brought to the table and if there is nothing new to bring then why tell it again at all?

First Trailer for CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

The first trailer for the highly anticipated first film in Marvel's phase three has debuted and for all those (and there are a lot, including me) fans of Winter Soldier it looks like we have something very much in line with that previous Cap film. The question of whether or not this was still going to be a Captain America film after the expansive cast was announced is answered in the form of the Captain clearly being at the forefront of this trailer and presumably the film. The likeness to Winter Soldier isn't necessarily a negative comment either as I loved the look of that film and it looks to suit the very military/Avengers world in as suitable a manner as it did when S.H.I.E.L.D. was the main focus. That directors Joe and Anthony Russo are returning certainly explains a lot of the same aesthetic choices, but it also makes me excited to see what they'll be able to do with Infinity War Parts I and II. While, in the grand scheme of things, this may just prove to be a trial run compared to what they'll do in those films it looks as if the brothers, working from a script by Winter Soldier scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, have crafted something just as epic as fans of both the comics and the MCU could hope. The portions that give us our first glimpse at Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther are some of the most exciting among the nearly two and half minute clip while the capper of Chris Evans' Steve Rogers and Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barns wailing on Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man only serves to escalate the anticipation. Also, it looks like Disney will again be pulling a Luke Skywalker and (hopefully) hiding Spider-Man from any marketing materials. Captain America: Civil War also stars Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl, Tom Holland and opens on May 6, 2016.

New Trailer for Disney's ZOOTOPIA

As Pixar has been working to re-establish it's dominance on the world of computer animation Walt Disney's own animation house has been turning out both commercial and critical successes one after another since the 2010 resurgence of Tangled brought the Mouse House firmly into the twenty-first century. Followed up by the likes of Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and last year's Big Hero 6 the studio looks to continue their streak by going back to a formula that has always seemed to be a reliable staple of children's entertainment: talking animals. With Zootopia we have a world that is being called a "modern mammal metropolis" and features the likes of a fast-talking fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who's trying to make it big and goes on the run when he's framed for a crime he didn't commit. Zootopia's top cop, a rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), is quick to jump on the suspected criminal's tail trail, but when both become targets of a conspiracy they're forced to team up and eventually discover that even natural enemies can become friends. Like with Big Hero 6 Disney's marketing team have chosen to go the route of releasing what is more or less a clip from the film rather than a traditional trailer. The scene we are treated to has a hilarious spin on DMV's with the reassurance that no matter what world we're in it's always as terrible an experience as one can imagine. Zootopia also features the voice talents of Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, and opens on March 4, 2016.

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 2 Review

Ultimately, The Hunger Games films as well as the books are about sacrifice and that this final installment of the film franchise encapsulates this theme to it's fullest while still maintaining a clear narrative drive that is moved along by several exhilarating action sequences allows it to be nothing short of wholly fulfilling. In all honesty, as a reader of the books, I don't know that one could have asked for a better interpretation of the novels. Even in retrospect, the splitting of Mockingjay into two parts now seems a genuine decision rather than a financial one as it allowed more time to fully grasp the multiple changes and conflicts our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (the ever-steady Jennifer Lawrence), would experience while also allowing plenty of space to develop the idea that both sides of a war use the same kind of propaganda to strike fear into their followers hearts. This development as well as the fact both parts of the Mockingjay films were not shackled by the narrative constraints of the actual games make for a much more involving and complex set of moral decisions and real world repercussions that don't typically apply to young adult literary stories. Whether it be through the casting of the terrific Donald Sutherland as President Snow who makes the overriding threat seem all the more vile as he eloquently executes his intentions of power over the classes of Panem through his politics or the unexpectedly layered Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) that brings about not only an epiphany in Katniss concerning the vicious circle that human beings naturally put themselves in when systems inevitably become corrupted, but also in realizing the necessary differences in the two men in her life that will finally bring about a peaceful decision. As much as The Hunger Games series is about sacrifice it is also about holding true to ideals no matter the sacrifice it takes to keep such principles relevant. Some may counter Katniss with the argument that there is no need to fight for ideals if there will be no one left to carry them on and if that is to be the result it seems Katniss thinks we might not deserve to exist at all. It's a bold statement, one that the films could have easily smoothed over with a toothless and sentimental final act, but instead they embraced the complexities and let them play out in an honest sense only making it all the more interesting to watch come to an end.

First Trailer for THE BOSS Starring Melissa McCarthy

Apparently Melissa McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone, wanted to follow-up their multi-award winning Tammy with another outlandish character study that was also intended to be named after the main character, which would have been Michelle Darnell in this case, but given the less than glowing reception, but still bankable success of the film ($100 million worldwide on a $20m budget) it seems Universal took a note out of Warner Bros. misstep and allowed the husband/wife writing/directing team to have free reign over their material as long as they had final say on the title which has now been re-branded The Boss. After the fantastic work that McCarthy turns out with director Paul Fieg it is always somewhat disappointing to see her return to lesser material and even more disappointing that this lesser material comes from her own mind with what one would imagine would be her best collaborator. Instead, Tammy is by far her worst film as the headlining star and this first trailer for The Boss doesn't give me much hope that this follow-up will be much better. The premise is pretty solid and the supporting cast is nice (so was Tammy's), but the trailer essentially gives away the entire film only eliciting a few chuckles along the way. It's probably too optimistic to think McCarthy and Falcone crafted a script and character that provided some kind of social commentary on tyrannical leaders with too much money that would come out in a timely fashion, but hey! I guess we'll see. The Boss also stars Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Kathy Bates, Kristen Schaal, Timothy Simons, Margo Martindale, Cecily Strong and opens on April 8, 2016.

SECRET IN THEIR EYES Review

There was a time when something like Secret in Their Eyes would have reigned supreme at the box office and likely been heralded as something of a dramatic force of nature that was brought to it's emotional edge by three daring lead performances. There was a time when both Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman could have played these same roles in this same movie and it would have been a lot buzzier a film with bigger box office returns based off their names alone (more, of course, for Roberts as Kidman has never been much of a big money movie star). Unfortunately for Roberts this is not the world we live in anymore. Instead, we live in a world where the best hope you have of becoming something even resembling a cultural phenomenon is if you're based off a comic book, young adult literary series, or have any other type of brand recognition/nostalgia factor you can tap into. When it comes to purely adult dramas like Secret in Their Eyes though, chances are slim of anything greater coming of your efforts unless you have David Fincher behind the camera. All of that said, this is a movie that is just fine. There are moments of potential greatness, of truly riveting material and the three leading performances, including a heartbreaking psychological exploration of the struggle for atonement in Chiwetel Ejiofor's character, that more than deliver, but there is nothing about the film that feels exceptional by the time the credits begin to roll. Instead, writer/director Billy Ray (who's written The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips and the 2009 State of Play adaptation, but hasn't directed a film since 2007's Breach) has taken director Juan José Campanella's 2009 Argentinian film of the same title that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (which I have not seen) and has adapted it for American audiences in a way that makes it feel more procedural than it should be given the emotional resonance of the situation at hand while never feeling as urgent or compelling as the original must have been to garner such praise.

Teaser Trailer for CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE Starring Dwayne Johnson

While the Kevin Hart/Will Ferrell collaboration this year wasn't all it could have been there is good reason to believe the Kevin Hart/Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson one that comes out next year might be. Teaming up with director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We're The Millers) this is basically a slam dunk from the time you throw out the two headlining names and pair them with a premise that puts them in an action comedy. I can't imagine this thing not blowing up and being huge, especially if the movie's even halfway decent and with Thurber you're at least always guaranteed that. As for this first teaser, it looks promising and the tagline is golden. It is slightly reminiscent of the Dwayne Johnson/Sean William Scott action/comedy masterpiece that is The Rundown. If we're getting anything close to that pinnacle of a genre exercise this will be all good and as far as I can tell from the trailer there is no reason to not be optimistic. The running joke of Hart always saying no and Johnson taking it with a grain of salt and throwing the comedian into ridiculous action situations is played nicely and the gag at the end of the trailer, while Just Friends-esque, is classic as The Rock is selling the hell out of it. This is also exciting as this is something of an original property banking solely on the idea of stars plus concept and despite the fact it will be facing off against Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory this could prove the perfect alternative programming for the crowds without kids that will be looking for something to see that weekend. Central Intelligence also stars Aaron Paul, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicollet, Ryan Hansen, Slaine and opens on June 17, 2016.

THE NIGHT BEFORE Review

Sitting down for a Seth Rogen comedy now means one of two things in that 1) we're either going to get a stoner comedy extravaganza with over the top comedic bits or 2) we'll still get those things, but they will be balanced out by some type of life lesson that typically holds real dramatic weight. Which Seth Rogen movie we end up getting usually depends on who he's collaborating with and lucky for us, with The Night Before, Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have reunited with their 50/50 director Jonathan Levine. 50/50 was one of my favorite films from 2011, but I haven't felt the need to re-visit it as often as I'd initially imagined. While The Night Before isn't as impactful simply by virtue of not dealing with as serious a subject as cancer it is a film I could see myself returning to more often than not, especially during the holiday season, due to the fact it's solid, raunchy fun. While the gist of the film is just that, to be a dirty, filthy, drug-fueled and foul language-filled R-rated Christmas comedy, there is clearly something more at play here and we can sense that from the opening sequence in which Tracy Morgan narrates as if reading a classic Christmas storybook. The film is framed and presented as something of a spoof on the traditional Christmas movie where everything is softly lit as if every viewer is cuddled up next to a fireplace watching and finding solace in the thought that things will never change and traditions will hold up for decades upon decades, but that is the exact theme in which The Night Before hopes to tackle. One has to wonder how long Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (who is credited as a screenwriter here along with Levine and two other writers) were going to continue to harp on the themes of boys becoming men and growing up even if it's something you don't necessarily want to accept. They have more or less been harping on these ideas for ten years now as here Rogen is playing the opposite of his Knocked Up character and the movie overall is something of a Superbad eight years down the road. The catch is, it works, and it puts a kind of kibosh on the theme as each character either comes to realize these truths or is able to get over the hump of revealing them to the ones they care about most.

First Trailer for Jeff Nichols MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Jeff Nichols latest, Midnight Special, was easily one of my most anticipated of the year and then, unfortunately, this past summer it was delayed from it's original release of next week until March 2016. Typically, delaying a movie is a bad sign as far as the quality of the final product is concerned, but with Nichols there isn't the slightest hint of doubt in his skill. The move, while mainly fueled by rumors of reasons that additional work was needed after test screenings, was probably for the best financially as well given the film would have been facing off against Mockingjay-Part 2 and Creed (both franchise films) as well as a new Pixar film that would have certainly buried what could potentially be a great family film. In discussing the film before even beginning production Nichols was quoted as saying, "I want to make a 1960's biker film. I want to make a big, PG summer blockbuster family film, kind of like I want to revamp Tremors. I've got an idea for that. That kind of movie." Given that Midnight Special tells the story of a father and son who go on the run after learning the child possesses special powers it seems Nichols might have captured a story that could convey such a tone and with the release date change it takes Nichols idea of being a "big, PG summer blockbuster" one step closer to becoming a reality. Midnight Special stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Paul Sparks, Sam Shepard, Jaeden Lieberher and opens on March 18, 2015.