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.

Trailer Roundup: SUPER BOWL XLIX

As Sunday draws closer we have begun to see early releases of not only commercials, but some of the movie spots that will be making their way into your living room this Sunday. Yesterday we got a glimpse of a few big releases including new looks at The Avengers, Terminator and The Divergent Series: Insurgent. Each of these promising some serious bang for your buck when they hit theaters. Revealing your entire spot has become common over the last few years and is understandable when you're spending $4.5 million for thirty seconds. We were able to get a quick peak at Brad Bird's Tomorrowland earlier this week, but you can catch the full spot from the broadcast now as well as the festive spot for Minions and the banned Hot Tub Time Machine 2 commercial that didn't air due to its content poking fun at deflategate. The first official trailer for Ted 2 dropped Thursday and now you can get a look at the big game spot featuring Tom Brady. Furious 7 also made a grand appearance and upped the ante for what we expect from this franchise by putting on display some insane stunts that hopefully don't give away the best parts of the movie. No surprise spot for Mission: Impossible 5, but there was that glimpse at Heroes Reborn that will be airing soon on NBC that I had no idea was even happening. Other trailers that aired include an enticing look at Jurassic World, Pitch Perfect 2, a game-incorporated Inside Out tease, this weeks Seventh Son and the Vince Vaughn comedy Unfinished Business. Check out all of the Super Bowl trailers below.

First Trailer for TED 2

As Seth MacFarlane's 2012 surprise hit, Ted, made more than $200 million domestically on a $50 million budget it is no surprise that we are getting a sequel to continue the adventures of the foul mouthed teddy bear and his best friend John Bennet (Mark Wahlberg). I'm always skeptical when people try to stretch out stories that were never intended to be more than a one off flick where good fun was had, but some times it works. Most times it doesn't. On a good note, I was a pretty big fan of the original Ted despite not being a huge MacFarlane fan in the first place (not because I didn't like his work, but because I was generally unfamiliar with it). It was one of two strong comedies in a year where the comedy really suffered and was overtaken by more dramedy-type material that was inherently more reliable as far as quality goes, but doesn't give off the care-free time at the movies that a flat-out, broad comedy can deliver and Ted was able to elicit those kinds of feelings. The bad spot is that MacFarlane followed that up with last years rather terrible A Million Ways to Die in the West which was a nice try, a good idea and a rather ballsy move considering the conceit and the lack of audience for the western genre, but it just wasn't funny and MacFarlane wasn't great as the lead. With him being back behind the scenes and behind the titular character while having the seasoned Wahlberg to boune off of though this first trailer for the unnecessary sequel at least promises more of the same and an interesting new premise for which comedy may spring forth. Ted 2 also stars Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Patrick Warburton, Morgan Freeman and opens on June 26th.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR Review

As you allow A Most Violent Year to slowly sink in the first theme you recognize is truth. Complete honesty is the way Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) chooses to conduct himself and throughout the entire running time of the film it is difficult to decipher whether or not he is a corrupt man who wants to believe he is good or if he genuinely strives to be honorable. With this kind of reciprocal psychology constantly battling within Abel, Isaac's is able to dig in and deliver a performance that continues to prove his excellence while also anchoring the film with the bigger ideas that director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All is Lost) is intending to convey. Within Abel Morales Isaac finds a man who we don't get much insight on up to the point that we meet him. He is an oil distributor, he is attempting to acquire a piece of real estate that will do nothing but expand his business and his control on the market, but to reach this point of seeming solidarity within his business and personal lives he will have to make choices not akin to his way of thinking; choices influenced by the time period Chandor has chosen to place these characters in. In not really knowing the mentality of this character and only having it slowly revealed to us over the course of two hours we are kept in a constant state of suspense with Isaac at the steering wheel taking us only as far as Abel is willing to bend his morality. It is an interesting take on what could have easily been a more Goodfellas or Scarface-inspired film, but rather than make this about the mob or about being a gangster as we generally think of them we are given this idea on what it truly takes to get what you want, to earn real respect. There is plenty to like and admire about A Most Violent Year and its methodical sense of storytelling, but it can't help but feel somewhat scattered in getting the sum of its parts to come together and deliver a wholly satisfying conclusion. Chandor clearly knows what he is doing and is somewhat of a master at putting the pieces in place and building the tension, but it is the payoff where things don't necessarily feel as compelling as one might expect. Given the grace and precision with which he puts these pieces in play I expected more from the third act, but in a film as full of atmosphere and subtly great performances as this it is hard to complain at all.

First Trailer for CHILD 44

Between The Dark Knight Rises, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Lawless and now Child 44 Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman might as well star taking roles in all of each others films no matter the lead. Still, the reason to be interested in the latest from director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), for me at least, is that it features a seeming intense performance from Hardy. Hardy is not only one of the most exciting actors working today, but one of the most diverse and, in my opinion, the best. Between Locke and the (underrated) The Drop from last year Hardy has established himself alongside the likes of actors such as Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Fassbender who are young, still feel up and coming and yet have the power and credibility to make their own creative choices and do the projects they actually want to do. With that said, I can't help but be excited for what Child 44 holds and what kind of year it might kick off for Hardy who will follow it up with at least three more major projects by years end. As for the film itself, this first full trailer gives us plenty to chew on as it dives deep into the plot taking place in Moscow of 1952. A disgraced member of the military police (Hardy) investigates a series of nasty child murders after his fellow soldier and his wife lose their son. There is a distinct style to the piece and an atmosphere that is almost irrepressible. More than this, the premise is extremely dour and feels right in line with the kind of mood Hardy typically thrives best in. Child 44 also stars Paddy Considine, Joel Kinnaman, Jason Clarke, Noomi Rapace, Charles Dance, Vincent Cassel and opens on April 17th.

Teaser Trailer for FANTASTIC FOUR

There has been much naysaying when it comes to 20th Century Fox's re-boot of the Marvel Comic Universe's first family, but I have always maintained a sense of optimism. In holding back any kind of footage around director Josh Trank's (Chronicle) interpretation of the popular super hero property the studio has only upped anticipation in the film and thus, now that the teaser has finally arrived, seem to be getting a fair amount of good press simply for the film not looking like the disaster most expected. I'm super excited to see what Trank has done here as I placed the film on my most anticipated of the year, though admittedly out of a curiosity that had yet to be fed. The tone, as with any trailer, is key and Trank has definitely gone a completely different route than that of the Tim Story franchise. In fact, as the 2005 Fantastic Four had the unfortunate circumstance of following Christopher Nolan's introduction to his version of the super hero movie with Batman Begins Trank's version seems to be somewhat emulating that auteur's style and even certain themes of his latest, Interstellar. From the voice over to the shot selection of fields of green and space exploration there are certainly similarities. It is all about pushing the possibilities of humanity and while I love the look, the tone and the possibilities for the film itself this trailer paints I simply hope the serious tone can be carried over to a man who gains the ability to stretch his limbs. Fantastic Four stars Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelson and opens on August 7th.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 27, 2015

MORTDECAI Review

Remember that one time when Johnny Depp was going to star in Wes Anderson's (now Oscar nominated) The Grand Budapest Hotel? Can you guess what role Depp might have likely ended up playing? Given the headlines that went out shortly after Moonrise Kingdom became a bigger hit than expected in the summer of 2012 I would venture to assume it would have been the lead of M. Gustave. A role that, thankfully, ended up going to Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is brilliant in a way and to an extent we've never seen him before in that role, but if you're still upset that we haven't seen the fruition of an Anderson and Depp collaboration, or more specifically, what it might have been like had Depp taken on the lead role in The Grand Budapest you might now be in luck as Captain Jack himself has presented us with Mortdecai. With a screenplay from Eric Aronson whose only other credit includes 2001's On the Line (and if you're not of my generation and don't immediately recognize that title, it's the romantic comedy that starred Lance Bass from Nsync) and based on the first novel in the Mortdecai series by novelist Kyril Bonfiglioli titled Don't Point that Thing at Me, Depp has essentially brought what his interpretation of Gustave might have looked like in a film that feels like a Wes Anderson movie as it were directed by a more conventional filmmaker. This is nothing against Mortdecai director David Koepp who is known more for his screenwriting credits that include several Spielberg films and large property adaptations than his directing work. Still, Koepp has directed his fair share of features as well including the solid Stephen King adaptation and first, post-Pirates movie for Depp, Secret Window, as well as the likes of underrated little gems such as Ghost Town and Premium Rush that he also penned the scripts for. It's hard to tell if it's because Koepp doesn't seem to have had a hand in the development of the screenplay here that he isn't as passionate about the material, but there is definitely something lacking as far as the soul of this movie is concerned.

THE BOY NEXT DOOR Review

The Boy Next Door is ridiculous, outlandish and all-around pretty dumb. The good thing is, once we get to the third act of this ridiculousness we have a firm grip on whether or not the people behind the movie understand that as well. This is comforting on an intelligence level, but alarming in knowing this is what they'll make some serious profit off of. The Boy Next Door cost a minuscule $4 million to make and will easily recoup that with a ton of gravy on top in its first weekend because it is exactly the kind of movie its target audience wants to see on a cold January afternoon. Still, there is no way around the fact the movie is still pretty bad despite much of it seeming intentional and yet there is nothing from those first two acts to suggest its intentions. Instead, it initially seems director Rob Cohen and his cast were decidedly set on making a serious thriller. It is one of those films that should be a guilty pleasure, one that is fun to watch whenever you don't really feel like thinking, where you're envious of the world these people live in because it seems so picture perfect only to have it rocked by the drama and scandal you fed off of as a teenager. The Boy Next Door largely meets those qualifications, but isn't necessarily the one you would pick for the job when there are so many other, more competent satires of this type of film out there that will not only make you feel less stupid for wasting your time on them, but also have a little fun with their premise. It's almost as if Cohen tried not to have any fun or poke any jokes at the story for those first two acts before throwing his hands in the air and yelling, "to hell with it!" and putting all his eggs in the basket of his climax. By virtue of this being one of those movies we quickly label "so bad it's good" one feels inclined to forgive much of its shortcomings, but just because the finale inspires confidence that Cohen and his crew knew what we hoped they did all along doesn't make it a good movie. This is still a bad movie, one that almost doesn't feel fun enough to earn that aforementioned label, but it has its moments and I can't say I didn't laugh at all-because there is certainly some laughing to be had.

CAKE Review

Cake wants to be a lot more than it is, but it is nothing short of well-intentioned with something resembling ambition. What is even more fascinating about a film such as this is the alternate universe where Jennifer Aniston became a strictly dramatic actress and this film is given more weight than it's currently receiving. Given Aniston is largely known for her comedic work and as something of a lesser, more archetypal actress it is when she does something pointedly dramatic it's automatically assumed it's nothing more than an Oscar bid. This could be taken in a number of ways given Aniston not only stars as the face on the poster here, but executive produced the effort and so one might cynically see it as a power play to cast herself in a movie she wouldn't normally be picked for putting herself in better standing as a "real" actress. The thing is, Aniston has already proved she's a real actress if not with 2002's The Good Girl, but with her inherent ability to relate to almost anyone in the audience. Aniston, especially in her comedies, has always had the uncanny ability to serve as the common audience members way into the world of whatever movie she is starring in with the added bonus of being what every female viewer would like to envision themselves as physically and an ideal image of what every male viewer imagines himself being with. Aniston is one of us, or at least she is able to convey that sense of community, and while many may not consider her exceptionally talented it's difficult to find anyone who doesn't necessarily like her. While one may not consider that talent, it certainly takes a lot of skill. In Cake, Aniston uses this skill of relatabilty to gain access to the psychology of a lost cause. Aniston's character, Claire Bennett, is a mysterious figure to us, frustrated and consistently irritated by the people around her. We don't know why, but this is who we go on a journey with and in the end it's not so much about Aniston's performance as it is the disappointing fact she's still looking for the right vehicle with which she might spread her wings.

New Trailer for THE GUNMAN

When the first trailer for the new Pierre Morel (Taken) film premiered a few months back I didn't feel inclined to really highlight it given it seemed little more than an attempt by Sean Penn to copy the same success Liam Neeson found in Morel's 2009 thriller. That success only came about as it was different and unexpected, lightning in a bottle if you will that rarely strikes twice (just ask Kevin Costner and Guy Pearce). With the latest trailer for the film though this looks less and less like a generic action thriller and more along the lines of something akin to Penn's 2010 flick, Fair Game. Based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette this seems closer to a man on the run-type story where Penn is dealing with the dynamics of his role in the bigger scope of the organization he works for rather than a simple, catch the bad guys premise. In short, this seems to be a little more complex which is expected given Manchette was a French crime novelist who was credited with reinventing and reinvigorating the genre. It should also be noted that Morel didn't helm either of the horrible Taken sequels and that his keen sense of action and intimate character development could push this past the immediate generic vibe you take away from both the title and the trailer. It is also not just one well known, pedigreed actor in action here, but several. With a strong cast led by Penn who looks on point as a military contractor suffering from PTSD I'm optimistic this could turn out to be better than most are expecting. The Gunman also stars Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, Jasmine Trinca, Mark Rylance and opens March 20th.

BLACKHAT Review

The worst thing about Blackhat is simply how forgettable it is. The fact the title is something of a hacker term, unrecognizable to the common consumer and doesn't spark much interest makes it something of a task to even get people interested, but when the film itself turns out to be tedious and rather dull, the case is only worsened. It might have been better had the film gone out under the name, "The Untitled Michael Mann Project," but then again, audiences have been somewhat dissonant with the well-regarded filmmaker as this will mark his third film in a row where expectation likely don't meet reality. Since discovering the director for myself in 2001 with Ali and being riveted by his follow-up, 2004's underappreciated Collateral, I've always looked forward to what he has to say next. Most will know him for helming Heat, Last of the Mohicans or even Manhunter all of which were interesting to go back and watch after seeing Collateral and experiencing the evolution of his style all at once, but with Blackhat the director seems to be on autopilot. A black hat is essentially a fancy word for a hacker or someone who violates computer or internet security maliciously or for illegal personal gain. In the film, both our protagonist and our antagonist are classified under this title, but one is looking to redeem himself while the other is simply in it to see how creative he can be in order to get away with more than a few major crimes and terrorist acts. Mann clearly wants to bring his style and sense of storytelling to a topic that is both relevant and lightly documented. This is obviously a fine enough goal to have, but the final product is little more than a standard police procedural with a topical twist. With that, one walks away from the film feeling unmoved as none of the characters are completely endearing and while their plight can become interesting at points it in no way resonates, it in no way leaves an impression, but rather washed over me with an attitude of being unimpressed or indifferent to anything the villain was doing because they (the good guys) already knew they'd eventually outsmart him. This isn't exactly what you might call fun though and so we (the audience) end up feeling the same way as our intended heroes- unimpressed and indifferent because we've experienced and seen this movie so often before.

THE WEDDING RINGER Review

Writer/director Jimmy Garelick and star Kevin Hart know what they have on their hands with The Wedding Ringer. It is clear from the first moment Hart shows up on screen and they wear it on their sleeve with a badge of honor. In what is essentially a mash-up of Wedding Crashers and I Love You, Man as well as any other movie you've ever seen with "wedding" in the title there is nothing innovative or unconventional about this film, but it has its laughs and that's all that really matters. With that, the film breezes through its expected beats with a care-free tone and consistent laugh factor that kept the audience I saw it with rolling (granted, they did get to see it for free). Still, this is a film that not much was initially expected of and, if anything, solidified the fact that studios were definitely trying to mold Hart into the next Adam Sandler as here the comedian is blatantly ripping on the title of Sandler's 1998 hit. Sandler is currently experiencing something of a slight drought in bankability and so the studios have moved in on who else they might turn to and Hart has proven a winning candidate so far. The man will allow them to throw together slapdash efforts of films that will turn huge profits on minuscule budgets year after year while trusting that the on-set riffs and improvisations are enough to satisfy audiences need for laughter. Yes, The Wedding Ringer is no doubt a film put together by a committee to appeal to as many people as possible and yes, it is predictable, slightly sexist with a cast of male chauvinist pigs at the core and never aspires to be more than it has to be, but in initially setting its bar so low it doesn't have as hard a time surpassing that bar. I realize this isn't high art, but it's not intended to be and so, for what it's worth, I found the film to be highly entertaining, extremely funny at parts and a raunch aspect that serves to ease the fact this is little more than a rom-com from the perspective of the fellas. The Wedding Ringer is what it is and if you buy a ticket knowing that, you'll get what you want. I wanted a mindless comedy and that's what I was given so consider me a happy customer, Mr. Hart.

2015 Oscar Nominations

We are here once again with Oscar nominations and while I attempt to limit any coverage of awards season hoopla (simply because there are so many to cover and too little to care about) the Academy Awards are obviously the biggest show of the season and so it was with great anticipation I awaited this mornings announcements. My initial reactions are of a bigger shock than I anticipated. Mainly having to deal with what was one of my favorite films of the year, Selma. While the Academy decided to go ahead and give it a Best Picture nomination over Foxcatcher (which is surprising given the supporting nominations, but nonetheless Foxcatcher is completely worthy) it glaringly left David Oyelowo off its best actor list for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while his director Ava DuVernay was omitted from the Best Director category as well. One wants to blame this on Paramount for handling the awards campaign for the film poorly, but that just feels like more of an excuse at this point. Other notable snubs include The LEGO Movie being left off the Best Animated Feature list for Disney's Big Hero 6 and The Boxtrolls which would have served as a better nom than either of those. The other films I was largely disappointed to see left off were Nightcrawler and Gone Girl. Hit the jump to read more as well as for a full list of the nominees.

STILL ALICE Review

Honest to a fault, Still Alice feels as heartbreaking as you might expect any traumatic event in your own personal life to affect you. The story is basic, the people are familiar and the storytelling is uncomplicated. In some fashion you might peg the film as something of a Lifetime story in pedigreed actors clothing, but it is only because Alzheimer's has become such a hackneyed topic at this point. This is unfortunate as the disease is of course a very serious one as well as being close to soul-crushing for those who bear witness to their loved ones slowly drifting away from the person they once were. Thankfully, I've never had to deal with the disease in any form with any family members, but as it's been used in films before it is easy to see why storytellers not only position it to gain large amounts of sympathy for their characters, but depend on it to pull in the entire emotional investment of their film. When used correctly though, stories concerning Alzheimer's can not only be affecting and moving, but like Still Alice, they can be eye-opening. There are moments within the film that naturally ring familiar and tread the line of being somewhat overly-sentimental and manipulative but this is only due to the timing and use of lyrical songs as well as the inclusion of a big speech to clarify the emotional peak of our protagonist. These moments are few and far between the more personal, small highlights of what it's like to exist outside these moments though. This introspective look is what sets the film apart from something you might see on late night cable along with, of course, the lead performance of Julianne Moore that has all but guaranteed her an Academy Award this year. Still Alice is not a film that screams innovation and isn't even anything to necessarily write home about, but it does take you in completely as you give yourself over to its briskly paced hour and forty minute run time. Concerning itself with the basics of life and the unforgiving nature of the disease at the heart of its story Still Alice provides a no frills look at both deterioration and inadequacy in the human spirit that cannot be controlled and is all the more poignant for it.

TAKEN 3 Review

If only these Taken movies escalated themselves to an R-rating we might have something of more aspiration here. Instead, this series quickly dissolved into quick cash grabs that felt like little more than afterthoughts to everyone involved. The original film seemingly caught everyone off guard with its brilliant marketing campaign and the inherent rush of excitement it delivered to the point that when we were looking for more of the same from the sequel, none of those surprising feelings were readily available. It seemed the general consensus on the Olivier Megaton-directed sequel was that it was rather horrible and resorted to showing Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills smother folks to death rather than doing anything that was actually impressive. And yet, here we are with the third and presumably final film (again directed by Megaton no less) and it does little to redeem the legacy of what was originally the film responsible for bringing us the Neesploitation period, but may actually tarnish that legacy the more I continue to think and write about the film. If one wonders why such a pedigreed actor such as Neeson would continue to return to a series that has long since run its course you'd only have to look as far as his paycheck to find an answer. To be clear: Taken 3 has a reported budget of $48 million and almost half of that budget was consumed by the actors salary. For this third film Neeson was paid a handsome, and very exclusive, $20 million. So, if you thought the makers of this unnecessary sequel might take the road less traveled or that Mr. Neeson might use his pull and demand he only appear in the film if they came up with a story that truly justified another film you're sorely out of luck as he is laughing all the way to the bank. People clearly don't care though because despite the second film being little more than a cash grab with little effort to hide that intention and this third film being nothing except more of the same, folks still showed up in droves when they could have been seeing the best film of the year instead.

First Trailer for Paul Feig's SPY

Director Paul Feig may currently be casting an all-female version of Ghostbusters, but before he gets around to promoting women in film to a greater extent with that re-imagining of the classic eighties property he will be pairing with Melissa McCarthy again for a rift on the spy genre that looks like nothing short of another massive hit. I have always enjoyed McCarthy's comedy, even in lackluster films like Identity Thief and the truly awful Tammy. Despite the projects themselves being close to unwatchable at times there is always an empathy McCarthy is able to pull from her characters besides the fact she is exceedingly talented at physical comedy and finding the perfect inflection for the perfect moment. When she teams with Feig we get to meet the likes of Megan in Bridesmaids and see the duo of McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in Heat, both of which worked to their advantage and proved to be breakout hits in the vein of largely female casts in broad comedies. While McCarthy will have a little more support from some heavy-hitting male leads here in the form of Jude Law and Jason Statham it will also be nice to see her back on screen and going head to head with Rose Byrne who she didn't get to share enough screen time with on Bridesmaids. While the overall tone of this trailer implies something similar to that of the Steve Carell Get Smart it is nice to know Feig and McCarthy won't be shying away from their R-ratings as 20th Century Fox has released both a green and red band trailer that you can check out below. SPY also stars Bobby Cannavale, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Peter Serafinowicz, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Morena Baccarin and opens on May 22nd.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 13, 2015

LOVE IS STRANGE Review

Love is Strange isn't about the tragedy at hand, but more the tragedies that circumstance forces us into and the way life seems to backhand those circumstances into more dire consequences. What we see and what we are receiving are two different things as on the surface this could simply be taken as a movie about the current struggles of homosexual couples. In reality though, this is about little more than a single emotion, an emotion the title glorifies as odd and the film describes in several different scenarios and stages. Sure, the hook is that it deals with the homosexual relationship between Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) because it is their relationship that serves as the catalyst for the events that occur in the film, but they are rarely even seen together. This is, of course, intentional as them being apart tells the audience more of their relationship than it ever could if we saw them together constantly. And so, what Love is Strange has to offer is a melancholy tale cloaked in Saturday afternoon sunshine that makes it feel more light and frothy than it has any right to perpetrate. While there is  a certain amount of vitriol in the screenplay from writer/director Ira Sachs and writing partner Mauricio Zacharias it is a very measured amount to the extent that none of these characters play into archetypes, but instead deliver the most poignant moments in the film by portraying these characters as human beings most will seemingly be able to relate to. I would like to assume there is a certain amount of understanding in humanity where we can drop the facades of acting the way we think we're supposed to and just speak in truths of empathy, but I also realize how much wishful thinking that actually is. This is why Love is Strange is so powerful in its execution and its presentation of these characters that everyone might not agree though as it is still able to relay a part of the viewers life to the point of understanding even if their orientation differs. I came to the film not knowing much about it other than the fact its two lead performances were being highly praised, but as it slowly sneaked up on me I felt it was rather middle of the road until the final scene hit me with the subtlety it had been playing at all along.

First Trailer for Liam Neeson's RUN ALL NIGHT

With the release of Taken 3 this weekend it's no surprise we have a new trailer for Liam Neeson's next action affair. From what I've heard about the unnecessary third entry in the Taken franchise though, Neeson can only go up from here. Also upping the possibility of his next project being better than another round with Bryan Mills is the fact Neeson has re-teamed with director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown and Non-Stop). Sure, these aren't great movies, but I'd rather see Neeson do ten more original features with Collet-Serra than another Taken sequel that only tarnishes his pedigreed credibility all the more. At least the B-movie actioners Neeson has chosen to do outside the trilogy that gave birth to his new reputation know what they are and in some cases are fairly subversive of the genre we expect them to fall into (here's looking at you, The Grey and Walk Among the Tombstones). More than anything though, Neeson simply seems to be enjoying this time in his life by living up this opportunity he likely never thought he'd be afforded. It only helps that the guy is a great actor with as much presence as anyone on screen at the moment and seeing him step into these less serious roles is something of a treat even if the movies don't always fulfill their potential or aspire to much at all. In this latest collaboration with Collet-Serra Neeson plays a hitman who, in order to protect his son, must take on his former boss (Ed Harris) in a single night. The hook being the entire film takes place during the course of that single night. As for the trailer, I'm engaged and it looks fine though I can't imagine remembering much about it the day after I see it. Run All Night also stars Joel Kinnaman, Common, Vincent D’Onofrio, Holt McCallany, Beau Knapp and opens on April 17th.

SELMA Review

First things first: if you get your history from movies you get the history you deserve. Amid the controversy of historical inaccuracies that feel more like a play to dismantle Selma's award chances than anything else it must be remembered that director Ava DuVernay's is an interpretation of many historical narratives boiled down into a comprehensive two hours. Things must be compacted and slightly compromised, but never does it feel like any one character is given the shaft more than the others. The flurry of controversy here is dealing with the portrayal of the thirty-sixth President, Lyndon B. Johnson, who is historically regarded as completely behind not only Dr. King, but the civil rights movement in general and the passing of the voting-rights act in 1965. The movie doesn't portray a President resistant to the passing of this legislation, but more a man who has a set of priorities not in line with our protagonists. The extent to which this is true or not certainly matters, but more to the point of the films major goals is that this is not a movie about the relationship between Johnson and King (which a very interesting movie could be made from), but rather larger issues at hand to the point I'd say Selma isn't about Dr. King either. More, it is about a movement, a moment in time that is compelling and inspiring enough to make for a good story and serve as a nice reminder and a bit of perspective especially considering the relevancy of the message it's preaching. Despite all of this controversy swirling around it, the actual content of the film is what matters and that is where the dispute between telling history as accurately as possible and telling a good story comes into play. There is no one clearly defined version of history despite what we are taught to believe in grade school and so it is completely open and fair for DuVernay (working from a script by first-time screenwriter Paul Webb) to tell this story from her own perspective, influenced by her own ideologies. It may be slightly unfortunate that her interpretation isn't completely fair to Johnson, but I doubt this will tarnish his legacy in the grand scheme of things. The film itself and what is actually the subject of this review is a rousing, expertly paced film that truly has the ability to inspire despite its structural conventions. The film itself is a solid four-star historical drama that is elevated to perfection by David Oyelowo's exceptional performance.

PREDESTINATION Review

The music in the first scene sets the tone for what we should settle in to suspect from most movies. Predestination sets an immediately familiar tone that hooks us into a comfort zone of action/thrillers we've seen time and time again. I was completely game as it is more than you can hope for when it comes to the gloom that typically hangs over January releases. It quickly becomes evident though that this isn't anything we've necessarily come to experience before despite the abundance of time travel movies over the last few years. It becomes clear from the outset this will be a layered time travel story given the literal bang it opens with and then with how it travels back introducing to us the procedural nature of the story. We are immediately hooked and we are taken in, not by the cheap and cheesy special effects that you somewhat expect from a movie like this given the outside influences and circumstances of its genre, release time and even the presence of Ethan Hawke. Rather, Predestination is not really an action film or special effects bonanza in that much of what one might consider "special effects" seem to be done in camera and in very basic, practical ways that work with the overall style of the piece. This is very much a science fiction film concerning decisions and conversations around those decisions that create motivation, justification, explanation while most importantly developing characters we care about and a sympathy that goes a long way when things begin to really unravel. In essence, I guess you could say this is more of a character study than anything else with the hook being that this character can travel through time and, in many ways, dictate the outcome of their own life depending on what they feel they need in order to create meaning from this existence. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on here and plenty of questions to ponder as things move swiftly along, but I also began to ask myself if this was indeed as entrancing as it seemed or if it was just kind of farcical. I couldn't tell, I'm still not sure if I can, but while I was watching I was certainly fascinated and consistently intrigued, meaning the movie did its job and did it well.

First Trailer for ANT-MAN

The road to completion has been a rocky one for Marvel's Ant-Man as it was originally brought to the table by director Edgar Wright as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk were getting set to be unleashed upon the world. When those films became hits strong enough to spurn future origin stories so as to set-up The Avengers though, Ant-Man was sidelined despite being a founding member of the super-team in the comics. Wright worked with screenwriter Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) and even prepared a test reel, but as most of you know both Cornish and Wright were essentially wiped from the project when their minds didn't meet with Marvels vision. Actors had been cast and were no doubt caught in Marvel contract agreements, but most had been hired by Wright himself. In the wake of Wright's departure, would they stay? Would they even be able to leave? Much was up in the air until Marvel replaced Wright with director Peyton Reed (who ironically directed Yes Man) as well as bringing in Adam McKay to punch up the script with star Paul Rudd. Much of the cast remained in place (only Patrick Wilson, Matt Gerard and Kevin Weisman exited due to scheduling conflicts after filming was delayed) and production seemed to go smoothly starting in mid-August and wrapping earlier last month. While Wright certainly would have made a much different version of this film that I would've loved to see Reed has seemingly crafted something more in line with the universe the studio has created and, if nothing else, I look forward to seeing Rudd in a leading action role as well as how this will all tie in with the larger MCU. Ant-Man stars Rudd in the titular role along with Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Judy Greer, Tip “TI” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Wood Harris, Martin Donovan, Jordi Mollà, Michael Douglas and opens on July 17, 2015.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 6, 2015

Foreign Film Review Round-Up

With this post I will be catching up on some of the foreign films from 2014 that will likely be in contention at the 87th annual Academy Awards. I try to see as many films as I can each year and write reviews for the most relevant, but unfortunately foreign films often fall by the wayside due to their limited availability as well as the general amount of media available. And so, it is in the doldrums of January that I hope to play a little catch-up and deliver some quick thoughts on some of the more notable films from around the world.


Two Days, One Night

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne

Stars: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rogione, Catherine Salée

If Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's (The Kid with a Bike) latest film says anything it is in reinforcing the well-worn idea that everyone has a story. At a brisk hour and a half the Dardenne brothers have written and directed a film that not only gives Marion Cotillard a platform for a meek and quiet lead performance, but they've also opened the flood gates for empathy and examining how selfish or caring individuals can be. This is, of course, all based around what the individuals can lose or gain from the given circumstances and in the case of Sandra (Cotillard), a young Belgian mother, it is that of discovering her co-workers have opted for a significant pay bonus in exchange for her dismissal. In only one weekend she is forced to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she might keep her job. More than having lost her job though, Sandra suffers from something of a deeper depression. She is hesitant to even approach these people she apparently works alongside on a daily basis as there is a stilted nature to the interactions she knows she has to have despite genuinely not wanting to ask them for a favor putting them in as difficult a position as she's been placed. It is a burden that strains, but more it is the mentality of Sandra that is most important that we understand otherwise the film wouldn't work. I suspect this is why Cotillard is receiving such rave reviews because just as Sandra feels an insurmountable amount of empathy for her co-workers we need to feel the same amount of sympathy for our protagonist and Cotillard is able to command that with her performance. What Two Days, One Night does best is tap into the basic human element of what we, as a human race, will do-the lengths we'll got to- in order to make each others stories as pleasant as possible. It naturally touches on what we won't do depending on the extent of how it will effect our own lives and in the end if what is done is what we can manage while still keeping ourselves in mind or simply enough to feel good with ourselves. The premise the Dardenne's employ allows us to see a wide spectrum of humanity and while it is an interesting and fine enough film it is just that with little more to lend it an exceptional tone other than maybe Cotillard's performance, but even that feels minimally appropriate for the small story being told.