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.

GET HARD Review

The question I kept repeating to myself as Get Hard continued on and on was how could such a supposedly intelligent man be so stupid? There is a hint of something interesting in the beginning though so let's begin there. It is suggested in the opening credits sequence as the striking comparisons between the morning routines of the wealthy and the working class are displayed, much of the time in split screen, that the balance is more than off. It is imagery that much of who I imagine the audience to be will both recognize from both their real-life experiences and the dreams they have of one day hitting it rich. It demonstrates the reality of our routines and the fantasy that feels just out of reach. The most appealing thing about this choice though is not only that it establishes the worlds of our two leading characters, but also because it evokes a reaction. It is a moment of recognition, one that forces thinking audience members to contemplate not who each of these men are today, but the roads they traveled to arrive at their current destination. Even as the film continues through to after the title card it further demonstrates the reasons these two mean have landed in their current situations are due as much to opportunity and association as they are hard work. This begs the question of how much of a clean slate do we all start out with and if hard work is truly all it takes to get to where you want to be or does having the right people in the right places help significantly. The answer is, of course, pretty clear and it's obvious Get Hard knows that, but beyond this observation and the ability to display it provocatively one would think the film might delve into what it thinks of this predicament, an unavoidable one, really and use that fuel to create satire from the actual downfalls of our society. Instead, writer Etan Cohen's directorial debut, offers little more than a few inspired moments. There are some solid ideas that are glimpsed by the jokes that really land, but much of the time the film skates by on it's over-reliance on vulgarity and close-ups of Ferrell doing his schtick with nothing but the hope you'll laugh at anything Ferrell does supporting it.

Teaser Trailer for MASTERMINDS

It has been too long since director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) has made a feature with his last being 2009's underwhelming Gentlemen Broncos. Though he does have another film on the docket for release this year that also features a pretty stellar comic cast, our focus right now is on Masterminds which sees Hess moving from what seems to be his signature small-scale filmmaking methods to something of a larger production while keeping the aesthetic intact. I can only hope this is true as I strangely appreciate the approach Hess has with each of his films and while it may be more nostalgia than actual memory talking I only have the fondest of feelings for Nacho Libre. As for his latest, the director has teamed with screenwriting team Jody Hill and Danny McBride (The Foot Fist Way, Observe & Report, Eastbound & Down) to bring to life the true story of armored car driver and vault supervisor David Scott Ghantt who, in 1997, stole $17.3 million in cash from the Charlotte, North Carolina, regional office vault of Loomis Fargo & Company. At the time this was the largest cash robbery on U.S. soil. From the treatment both David and his story seem to be getting on screen though it seems as if he wasn't the brightest crayon in the box in the first place and thus it has been turned into a comedy. All of that said, the film will likely have a good portion of social commentary and hopefully some truly inspired character insights as Zach Galifianakis leads the film in what looks to be an outrageous performance that I can only hope is equally hilarious. Jason Sudeikis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Ken Marino, Kate McKinnon, Devin Retray and Leslie Jones join Galifianakis for the shenanigans as Masterminds opens on August 7th.

SERENA Review

When thinking about what to write about a film I typically latch onto a main idea that comes to mind as I watch the movie. With something like Serena though it is hard to pin down because there isn't really anything there for one to think about and so the main idea, by default, becomes the lack of investment in what is going on. Despite the countless attempts by the story to keep throwing curve balls in an exhaustive manner intended to make me care there was simply nothing to dig into here. In many ways, I'm still sitting here wondering what exactly I watched as I type this and try to formulate a response to a film I'm not quite sure I understood the purpose of. What was it trying to say? Was there something I missed or were its intentions to purely demonstrate melodrama for the sake of entertainment? I may never key into what exactly director Susanne Bier's long delayed project wanted to be because I likely won't ever sit down to take it in again, but if there is anything to be said for the effort it is that I can see how this felt like a good idea. A winning formula, if you will. Grab two of the biggest movie stars on the planet right now (though at the time this was made they could easily be labeled up and comers), stick them in a period piece where they can flaunt their dramatic acting chops and lift the story from a well-received 2008 novel by Ron Rash in hopes that something of an Awards contender emerges. Unfortunately, that is not what we have on our hands here, but instead Serena is simply a middle of the road movie that features solid performances from its two leads and an eclectic host of supporting players with some lush photography and naturally gorgeous locations, but never matches its aesthetic in theme or story as it devolves into one trite situation after the next. These situations are intended to up the shock factor and the audiences emotional response and investment, but rather feel forced into a film that was never really all that interesting in the first place.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 31, 2015

First Trailer for SOUTHPAW

One of my most anticipated films of the year is director Antoine Fuqua's Southpaw. Not necessarily for Fuqua's involvement (though I do generally enjoy his work and truly appreciate his passion), but for the involvement of one Jake Gyllenhaal. As of late, Gylenhaal has been on something of a hot streak re-defining his place in the public eye and universe of film as one of the most reliable actors working. Whether it be in small-scale pictures such as Source Code and Enemy or in sweeping dramas such as End of Watch and Prisoners, not to mention last years career-defining performance in Nightcrawler, the guy has consistently been hitting it out of the park for almost half a decade now. I can only imagine that way of thinking concerning his career will continue into the projects he's chosen next which are highlighted by Fuqua's latest as well as the Baltasar Kormákur-directed Everest due out in September. While Southpaw doesn't look to necessarily be an Oscar-contender with its late summer release date I still have nothing but high hopes for the project and the first look at the film via the trailer only amps up the anticipation. While I do hate that much of the broad strokes of the story are given away to the point any casual movie-goer can likely tell where things are headed I'm also hoping whoever cut this trailer as well as Fuqua himself (who I assume had some say over the final cut) know better than what they've seemingly done here and are giving us the main points to hook us while hiding much of what is in store for the actual experience. Regardless, I'm putting the trust in Gyllenhaal and Fuqua to hopefully deliver one of my favorite films of the year. Southpaw also stars Forest Whitaker, 50 Cent, Rachel McAdams and opens July 31st.

Teaser Trailer for SPECTRE

I've only just recently become something of a 007 fan with Daniel Craig taking over the role. I've of course seen most of the Pierce Brosnan films, but before that my knowledge is zilch and while I intend to rectify that at some point I'm kind of okay with Craig being the Bond I first grew accustomed to and his series of films being the ones that define my appreciation for the series. It is just what happens when series continue for as long as Bonds has and you have multiple generations coming to the table. While I still wouldn't count myself among the Bond faithful and am not what you would exactly peg as excited for the next installment, each of these films inherently feel like a big deal on their own so there is something to get interested in at the very least. As for the first teaser from the second Sam Mendes-helmed Bond picture things are getting pretty interesting as it is clear they are keen on connecting each of the Craig films to create a bigger world for the legendary character. While world-building has become something of a default in the wake of Marvel's success producers and general Bond overlords Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have seemed to want to keep a connective strand between these films since doing so for the first time in Bond's history with Quantum of Solace. There is much to speculate about with this teaser hinting at the repercussions of Skyfall and how a piece of Bond's past will put him on the trail of the titular organization, but beyond that most of this is mystery and I hope they keep it that way. Joining Daniel Craig for this go-around is Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz, Monica Bellucci, David Bautista, Léa Seydoux and Stephanie Sigman. Spectre opens on November 6th.

First Trailer for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION

I can see nothing but good things in the future for the Mission Impossible series as not only is the franchise coming off the high that was Ghost Protocol, but it also has a new and interesting director in the form of Christopher McQuarrie (who adapted and directed Jack Reacher) as well as coming out five months earlier than expected. It was announced less than two months ago that the fifth Mission Impossible film would be shifting from its planned Christmas release to the summer movie season in an attempt to clear the way for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be the only major release of the holiday season. It makes sense financially, but more importantly is the fact this was moved up rather than delayed. Paramount could have just as easily moved this back to summer 2016, but the fact they went with this summer would seemingly show real faith in what they'd seen from McQuarrie and Cruise thus far. That said, the trailer surely reinforces their decision as it looks spectacular. I really enjoyed the no-frills, hard-boiled action approach Cruise and McQuarrie took to Jack Reacher and they seem to be bringing that same mentality to the newly titled Rogue Nation. I will always have a fair amount of faith in McQuarrie if not for his limited directorial efforts, but for penning one of my favorite films of all time in The Usual Suspects. Unfortunately he didn't write the script for Rogue Nation, but instead that job went to Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3) which looks to deal with an anti-IMF and sounds like a lot for one film, but I digress. There are too many good factors here to discourage me from thinking this film won't match the positive evolution of this series since part three. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation also stars Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Alec Baldwin and opens on July 31st.

THE GUNMAN Review

The Gunman, which takes Sean Penn and does the only thing Hollywood now knows to do with aging male actors by turning them into would-be action stars, has some rather interesting elements to it. There is a clear issue to be addressed here that a news reporter even states while looking directly into the camera at one point which is that of large corporations seeking control of the development of resources in poor and impoverished countries. Where our titular gunman comes into the fold is when America's corporate and government contractors hire mercenaries to knock off Third World socialists in order to protect their profits. The issue here is that the film presenting these issues is neither as compelling nor as important feeling as it would like us to think it is. As directed by Pierre Morel (Taken) the film clearly knows it is a genre film, but even with this approach one would be hard pressed to find anything fun or interesting that it brings to the mix of this current crop of action flicks. As fun is clearly not the game this film wants to play one has to ask what unique or original element it brings to the table and in that regard there isn't much to discuss. Much like Get the Gringo, The November Man or even After the SunsetThe Gunman deals with the standard tale of an aged assassin somehow gone awry after his supposed last job who is looking for redemption as he comes to terms with mortality that also happens to feature exotic locations. Morel can always be counted on for highly-stylized and rather beautifully rendered action sequences especially considering his backdrops, but unfortunately here they end up being more riveting that the story or the characters they serve. As mentioned near the top, there are certainly some interesting elements at play including the overall mission statement of the film as well as the largely metaphorical, but extremely literal medical condition that Penn's character suffers from. It also cannot be argued that The Gunman features an impressive cast with a great mix of acting styles that fuse for some interesting moments, but there still remains a hollowness to the production that is inescapable and ultimately renders the film as unaffecting.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS Review

What is Vince Vaughn doing with his time? Was making Delivery Man such a great experience and one that ultimately garnered him the profits and adulation he so desires that he thought following it up with another collaboration with the director was the way to go? He might have had a good time making the movie, sure, and I liked it more than most probably because I still like Vaughn more than most, but if Delivery Man was anything to the public it was an insignificant comedy that has already been forgotten and it isn't hard to see the same fate happening to this second collaboration between the actor and Ken Scott. Unfinished Business is a comedy you'd hardly recognize as such because it feels so half-baked, but regardless I can't help but to feel Vaughn is giving it his all here despite having to know that the story is paper thin and his supporting characters (sans Dave Franco) are a far cry from those he once surrounded himself with in Swingers and Wedding Crashers. Much like Adam Sandler, Vaughn has become a comedian no one expects much from anymore, but continue to tolerate because he has a relatability factor and is inherently charming with his fast-talking comedic style endearing him to many who now try to resist. It would be easy to go the contrarian route with a movie like Unfinished Business due to the fact there is a semblance of something more at the core of this fluff, but it is all too half-assed and slight to actually be anything of note. Not only is this a movie that fails to be entertaining half of the time, but it offers nothing new or insightful in terms of corporate America, the working class or even the stiff that has been so spread thin he forgets to stop and appreciate the good things in life that Vaughn has now played a total number of I've lost count he's done it so much. I want to like what Vaughn does with his precious time and I want to trust (like I do with Sandler) that he wants to be better than this; that he craves to create something substantial in a comedy that truly brings a smile to peoples faces that they continue to quote for years after its release, but what he's doing lately with that precious time seems to be little more than wasting it on dreck like this.  

First Trailer for PAPER TOWNS

Just for the record, The Fault in Our Stars made over $300 million worldwide on a budget of $12 million which is, to put it calmly, completely BONKERS! You bet your ass the minute Fox saw those returns they were gearing up for another John Green adaptation if not as many of them as they could get their hands on. Honestly though, the next Green adaptation was already in motion by the time Stars hit theaters last summer and like Nicholas Sparks before him (though a much, much better writer in general) Green will seemingly pump out an adaptation annually at this point until the well runs dry. The second big adaptation being Paper Towns has once again been adapted by Scott Neustadter (Fault in Our Stars, The Spectacular Now, (500) Days of Summer) and will this time be directed by Jake Schreier of Robot & Frank fame which I really enjoyed back in 2012. Needless to say, the film has a lot going for it and as I read Fault in Our Stars within the few days before the movie premiered and enjoyed them both immensely I am looking forward to this next adaptation despite not having read the source material...yet. The good news is that tonally this looks to be a big difference from what we encountered last year and that seems to be the general rule for Green's work across the board as even standing in a Target aisle looking at his titles doesn't allow for any real sense of connection between them. Not only is this interesting from a writing perspective, but is good news for audiences if his work continues to get adapted and make money. The more diversity, the better! Nat Wolff is promoted from supporting character in Stars to leading man here and is joined by the likes of Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Halston Sage, and Justice Smith. Paper Towns opens on July 24th.

THE COBBLER Review AKA The Interesting Case of Adam Sandler's Career

The case of Adam Sandler is a continuing saga of fascination for me. It is hard to pinpoint what exactly his motivations are whether they be in the realm of making movies because he genuinely loves movies or simply in making money. Unfortunately, at this point in his career many wouldn't even consider his movies to be comedies anymore as it's apparent his domination over his little part of the box office has been slightly waning as he's continued to repeat himself as the same guy in Grown Ups (10%), Just Go With It (19%), Jack & Jill (a mere 3%, which only slightly better than the 0% Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star scored which Sandler helped write and produce), That's My Boy (his only deviation in character and highest ranking tomatometer score at 20%) Grown Ups 2 (7%) and last years Blended (14%). That, in his mainstream films, Sandler has had to resort to sequels and a third reunion with Drew Barrymore let us know he's running on fumes to preserve the lifestyle he and his family have grown accustomed to. Jack & Jill was the turning point that shifted the atmosphere around his movies from always being dismissed by critics yet typically having a strong enough following of fans who showed up to watch him do his thing to an all-around frustration. It became evident the ever-reliant audience was shrinking and might one day be no more and so Sandler has turned both to the ever-profitable family film market in the form of two Hotel Transylvania films and this summers Pixels as well as trying to return to more subtle, dramatic work that might not only reaffirm to all of his haters that he can actually do good work, but that he actually cares about the craft and art of making movies. The bad news is that in his effort to subvert public expectations he has delved into two independent, inherently more artistic pictures that have consequently been ravaged by critics. On paper both Men, Women & Children and The Cobbler should be home runs in terms of critical darlings: credible directors, one relevant to todays issues and one with a rather interesting premise, both with stellar supporting casts and yet it still seems the Sand Man can do no right.

First Trailer for PIXELS

While Men, Women & Children along with The Cobbler were expected to be something of beginning to an Adam Sandler renaissance they proved non-starters when both received less than flattering reviews at last years Toronto International Film Festival with The Cobbler showing up on Amazon Prime last weekend to almost no ones awareness. So, what exactly does Sandler have to do to rejuvenate his officially fading career. Sure, the Grown Ups films have made solid returns and actually pushed the Sand Man to do his first sequel ever after the likes of That's My Boy and Jack & Jill tanked, but where Sandler has really found success  as of late was with his voice work in Hotel Transylvania. While he has already finished work on the sequel to that 2012 smash he is returning to live-action films aimed at children in director Chris Columbus’ latest film. In what they seem to hope will capitalize on the appeal of Wreck-It Ralph this latest attempt to capitalize on nostalgia revolves around a group of 80's arcade game champions who are called upon to help defend Earth from alien invaders who misinterpreted those classic arcade games as a declaration of war. Regardless of what this film might be jumping on the bandwagon of I can't help but to be both excited and hopeful that this is the one that finally puts Sandler back in somewhat good graces. Pairing Sandler with the likes of Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) is an inspired choice and the two would seemingly have the right mix of mentalities to pull something like this off perfectly, plus the supporting cast that includes the likes of Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Brian Cox and Kevin James doesn't hurt either. Pixels opens in theaters on July 24, 2015.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 17, 2015

CINDERELLA Review

When I was a little kid and completely enamored with the world of Disney animated features I always wondered what it might be like to see those characters and those worlds come to life. Real life. I never thought it would happen after the live action versions of 101 Dalmatians and its money-grubbing sequel underwhelmed (at least they did in my adolescent mind), but then again I also desperately hoped that one day movie studios might wisen-up and begin building a shared universe where my favorite super heroes interacted on the big screen as well. I guess dreams really do come true (and that Disney will always be there to make them happen). And so, over the past few years, ever since the astounding success of Tim Burton's take on Alice in Wonderland, we have seen an uptrend in live-action films based on classic Disney properties. Whether they be from the respective studio that originated the tale in popular culture or not everyone has noticed this as a way to make some guaranteed money. Most of the attempts from outside the mouse house (Snow White & the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror) haven't exactly done gangbusters, while Disney, in its two previous efforts (the aforementioned Alice and last summers Maleficent), has seen nothing but green. Granted, neither one of these films were particularly good and neither were straight-up re-tellings of the original Disney classics either, but luckily things have begun to change on both fronts with the latest incrnation of this trend that is Cinderella. If you're expecting anything from this latest interpretation of a story that has been told so many times you could literally drown in a stack of DVD copies of all the different versions you're likely to be disappointed. There is no alternate perspective presented here and this isn't some strange kind of prequel/origin story that gives more background into the reasons why Fairy Godmothers exist, but instead this is simply a new interpretation, a live-action interpretation, based on Disney's 1950 animated film. While it might be obvious to then question the point, what is most fascinating is still that simple joy that comes with seeing your childhood memories brought to vivid life and that is what Kenneth Branagh's version does best: it elicits joy.

RUN ALL NIGHT Review

Run All Night is one of those fractured tales. The ones where each individual element is suspect to have greater implications than we might recognize upon introduction. The ones where we know how things must go and yet it is still able to somehow deviate from expectations allowing for the core proceedings of the familiar story to feel fresh. In essence, Run All Night feels much like a perfect storm of ideas and contributions from parties that have a similar goal in mind while each bringing something unique to the table. Obviously the biggest of these contributing factors is the presence of star Liam Neeson. Neeson has made a habit of annually presenting us with a run of the mill action flick that revels in B-movie territory and can be rather hit or miss, but most of the time are entertaining enough. I despise the Taken sequels yet have enjoyed his collaborations with Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop) as well as his excursions with Joe Carnahan (The Grey) and Scott Frank (A Walk Among the Tombstones), respectively. And while Neeson may still do his best work when he shows how eclectic he can be (The LEGO Movie) I always look forward to what his collaborations with Collet-Serra have to offer. Compared to their previous efforts Run All Night is much less mainstream and more in the vein of a different era. Whereas Unknown and Non-Stop were both polished and perfected to squarely fit into a genre Run All Night is dirty and grimy and while it fits into a certain type of film, it doesn't necessarily adhere to any one set of expectations. Expectations are key with this type of film though and I realize that. Call it what you will, whether it be that we have tapered expectations for these Liam Neeson actioners now or that this is a case of the film being so much better than the initial black sheep facade it was presented to us with that I'm over-compensating; either way, I really enjoyed myself as I sat and witnessed Neeson get more even than he's ever gotten before and might even call the film pretty great if it holds up under future viewings (which will definitely happen).

MAPS TO THE STARS Review

I don't understand the intent of satire if not to criticize and expose the stupidity of others with the inflicted idea of how to correct such stupidity. I'm not saying everyone who pokes fun of something has to have a solution for how it shouldn't be funny, but while director David Cronenberg's latest, Maps to the Stars, is most definitely intended to be satire it certainly has no intention of being funny and with that one would expect it to have something more to say than the comments it hands out. If you've been watching movies for any amount of time you will come to realize the one thing Hollywood loves more than money is itself and so the indie kings, the rebellious filmmakers and those who generally defy the system consistently mock it for never allowing them the artistic expression to do as they please. To this point, I'm not one who is overly-keen on Cronenberg's work (though I admittedly haven't seen much) and so before you read any further know there is a bit of a grudge present because despite hearing promising things from the time I really began investing critical thinking in films (A History of Violence) I have come to be slightly disappointed with the results of what has been praised. Again, his last couple efforts (Cosmopolis and A Dangerous Method) have admittedly not been his most well-received, but while I knew I was experiencing something different with both Violence and Eastern Promises I didn't necessarily dig what I was seeing either. Maybe I didn't "get" what Cronenberg was going for, it's easy to dismiss it as such, but in giving a valid effort to want to like every film I watch I typically come away with something whether I feel a movie is good or bad, but the majority of the time I walk away from a Cronenberg picture I simply feel frustrated. I know there is plenty more to see between what I've heard about Scanners and The Fly, but why should I feel intrigued when the other products this company has produced haven't been satisfactory? Maps to the Stars is no different in that it features a singular style and voice, but more disappointing here is the fact we've seen this kind of satire before and so this typically unique perspective doesn't even feel fresh.

First Trailer for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2

I rather enjoyed the first Hotel Transylvania when it premiered back in September of 2012 though I expected that was likely because I didn't expect much going in. Regardless, I still feel like one of the few who still roots for Adam Sandler to make the hard left turn into doing something interesting and not just barely scraping by on the reputation he's built over the years. At least with this animated series he will see the returns he is accustomed to as his live action outings continue to decrease. Joined by his regular gang of pals that includes Andy Samberg, Kevin James, David Spade and Steve Buscemi the sequel to Transylvania will follow Sandler's Dracula and his new grandson that is half-human and half-vampire courtesy of his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez, also returning) and Samberg's Jonathan. While the teaser hints how this dynamic might play out and is rather funny in terms of seeing Dracula and his friends attempting to convince themselves that their new addition will be more in line with their side of the family than the humans they once forbid in their presence. While the original was of course nothing groundbreaking it was solid family fun and one I actually wouldn't mind re-watching when my daughter gets a little older and in need of distracting Halloween fun. It seems Sony is intent on keeping this sequel very much in line with the original as Hotel Transylvania 2 hits theaters on September 25th and also features the voice talents of  Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, Keegan-Michael Key, and Mel Brooks.

WHAT ELSE I'M WATCHING #4

I've been meaning to write another entry in this series for some time now. I watched a few movies I missed throughout 2014 after getting them on Blu-Ray for Christmas and have been meaning to document them on the site for some time, but I will get around to those in a bit. More recently I've been re-watching many of my favorite films from last year that have been released on home video. Returns to Gone Girl, The Drop, Fury, Nightcrawler, Birdman and Whiplash have all proved to be rather rewarding and reaffirming in some of my choices for my favorites list of last year. Getting to see these films with new people, some experiencing them for the first time, was also refreshing and rather enlightening as some of the special features included on the Blu-Rays were more enlightening than others. The Gone Girl release was rather bare bones, but features a full commentary from director David Fincher which is always a treat. On the other hand, the Boyhood disc could definitely have included a better look at the making of the project as the making of it was one of the most fascinating aspects, but I will say I enjoyed the film even more on second viewing as I was more accustomed to the tone and knew better what to expect. Beyond re-watching many of this years Oscar contenders though I've been speeding through a few seasons of television on Netflix as well. Hit the jump to continue the conversation.

LISTEN UP PHILIP Review

Listen Up Philip is something of a rarity in the sense that it means to appear to have itself completely together yet be about a man who can't figure himself out despite his composed, external appearance. The titular character being a narcissistic albeit creative individual with a short fuse and a big mouth is about as pompous as you could imagine while having something of the credulity to act as such, but not enough notoriety to have earned it. This is to say that it presents its main character in an honest and brutal way with a sleekness that oozes through every piece of dialogue, but is so specifically calculated we realize from the beginning it is making up for so much that Philip is ultimately lacking. That the effort he puts into consistently sounding superior in intelligence and in life in general is so draining that it must serve as the most urgent of responsibilities if he's unable to let the actions of his life speak for themselves. That said, writer and director Alex Ross Perry (who I've not seen any of his previous work) does allow for a surprising amount of telegraphed emotions beyond his elegant dialogue that so exactly captures the spirit and mindset of those who believe they are entitled to more because they possess more talent than the common man. Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) is hopeless, desperate even at the point in life in which we meet him when he should instead be feeling unstoppable. He thought he should be feeling unstoppable as well and because this moment in his life he's been working towards has finally happened and that it is something of a disappointment leaves his personality that is typically so set on his own conceit that he doesn't know how to handle the loss of hope and pride he once held in such high esteem. Of course, Philip would never admit to this kind of defeat or despondency as the film refers to it, but if Listen Up Philip is actually about anything it is the defeat of the human spirit and how each individuals perspective on life combined with their egotism shapes how they come out on the other side.

CHAPPIE Review

Something rather odd occurred with Chappie as I attempted to take it in unphased by the haze of bad press it had swirling around it. For a good portion of the film, the parts before it essentially devolves into something of a mindless action film, I wasn't really gelling with what director Neill Blomkamp was going for. It's not that I didn't necessarily understand where he was coming from or what he was going for, but it just wasn't vibing with this particular audience member the way I feel he intended it to. As Chappie morphed into this one, big action sequence though I began to appreciate the way in which Blomkamp integrated all the elements he's been setting up even if some of those elements were rather frustrating. What I appreciated most though was the fact the film didn't go exactly where it could have and where I expected it to easily resort to, but in fact went a completely different direction and touched on a theme I didn't foresee the writer/director including in this script. As far as themes are concerned, Blomkamp is known for crafting large metaphors and for mirroring real-world issues with his science fiction stories, but as with Elysium my main problem here is that Blomkamp is touching on issues that are relevant now and not where those issues might push society in the future which is where Chappie is set and how science fiction typically works. Granted, it is only a few years, but after touching on South Africa's apartheid era in District 9 and the satire of Elysium commenting on the current state of separation between classes I somewhat expected Chappie to push things to a different level for Blomkamp and frequent writing partner Terri Tatchell. The issue with all of the elements Blomkamp introduces and that he and Tachell expertly integrate with one another is that instead of pushing things further, they just throw more plotlines with more themes at us to crowd our minds so that we might not focus on the fact the film doesn't have much to say about any single one of them, but more acknowledges that they exist and are rather interesting. In the end, what does this accomplish though? If no one line of thinking prevails, if no one idea is clarified, what is the point of the film? Herein lies the problem as I was entertained while watching Chappie, but took away my fair share of issues with it as well as not particularly liking large chunks of it.

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 Review

I've always been a fan of second chapters, but this new trend of first halves of last chapters is an unfortunate one that doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon given the extra dollars to be made from it. Not only does it completely contradict the reasons studios use to justify these splits, but they often times present glaring weaknesses in the story that otherwise wouldn't be present if the intention was the same as with the first two or however many predecessors there were. In the case of The Hunger Games, having read the books, I would have much more preferred they split Catching Fire into two parts than the rather lackluster and somewhat disappointing third book in the trilogy. Of course, as the finale, it is the one that gets the big to-do. There is a case to be made and an essay to be written for why studious should consider breaking the book that deserves it most into two parts rather than the concluding chapter (one that might ultimately agree with their story justifications in the press release that we all know are just covers for double the profit), but that is for another time and head space. While we may eventually get to a place where every book is broken into two movies right now we are here to discuss the beginning of the end for what has been the middle ground between the more credible Harry Potter series and the laughable, niche that was Twilight. The Hunger Games has served as a bridge between these series, uniting the tween and teen girls that flocked to the Bella Swan soap opera and the fans of varying degrees that grew up with J.K. Rowling's boy wizard in a way that melded the female heroine with the gritty realism of a fictional world. These films are, in a way, the ultimate composition of young adult literature combining every successful element that have come before and garnering the masses all the more for it while also sporting its own line of imitators. I wouldn't necessarily say I enjoyed The Hunger Games, either in the books or film series, but I am no doubt intrigued by them and fascinated not only by the role they play in pop culture and the brand they've etched out for themselves, but for the actual intentions of the story and how that has somehow been maintained in the feature adaptations. With that mindset I went into Mockingjay - Part 1 with a hopeful optimism that director Francis Lawrence and his unbelievably impressive cast might have crafted a game-changer.

First Trailer for SELF/LESS

I've always been on the fence when it comes to director Tarsem Singh. One thing that has always been clear though is that the guy has a keen eye for terrific visuals. If anything I've been waiting for him to pair his visuals with a story that might elevate each other instead of one standing so far above the other. With his latest, Self/less, there might be a shot at this happening as this looks to be an intense psychological science fiction thriller that deals not only with some big themes and questions, but even greater implications. My hope here is that Singh is able to overcome the typical pratfalls of such a premise that this trailer so boldly hits. Given the hook that deals with a wealthy, powerful man dying from cancer (Ben Kingsley) who decides to transfer his consciousness into the body of a younger, healthier man (Ryan Reynolds) we already know things will only remain as expected for so long before things go wrong. Where the film can really take off is the conspiracy elements that deal with where this younger, healthier body comes from as well as in the science of how two minds might cross paths with one another. The big idea here though seems to be in the idea of what immortality really means and its questions of actual worth as one of the stand-out lines here says that “immortality has some side effects.” Beyond my hopes that writers David and Àlex Pastor are able to match Singh's visuals with their story is the fact that Reynolds seem to be trying to configure something of a career rejuvenation as of late. Time will tell if this project helps or hinders that mission. Self/less also stars Matthew Goode, Michelle Dockery, Natalie Martinez, Victor Garber, Derek Luke and opens on July 31st.