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.

First Trailer for CONCUSSION Starring Will Smith

With less than two weeks until the start of the official NFL season Will Smith's latest movie is making the gutsy move of going up against it. It seems a strange thing to state given Smith is typically a media-friendly star, but with his latest role as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born neuropathologist who discovered Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) or “post-concussion syndrome” and unwittingly took on the NFL who used their power to discredit him, it seems things could get a little messy. Head trauma football players sustain has been something of a hot button issue for a while now and while the National Football League is a multi-billion dollar industry that would hate nothing more than it's cash flow to be hindered there is serious issue to be taken with the real price this money is being made at. As for the trailer itself, it will no doubt be difficult for some to look past that aforementioned persona that Smith carries so well to see his actual performance as Omalu, but the trailer makes it seem as if Smith might be putting his hat in the ring for a Best Actor nomination. Personally, I couldn't be happier Smith was able to squeeze this film in between the somewhat lukewarm reception Focus received earlier this year and the almost guaranteed hit that is Suicide Squad next year. This is exactly what his struggling career needed at the moment and if the final product is as engaging and complex as the true story it's based on we could potentially have something great here. Concussion also stars Alec Baldwin, Luke Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser, David Morse, Albert Brooks and opens on Christmas Day.

WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS Review

We Are Your Friends is a movie accompanying a soundtrack rather than the other way around. It is a movie about a DJ and we all know how rough the plight of a DJ can be. The problem with the premise in general is that it does feel rather inconsequential in the wide range of stories to be told and it seems wasteful that a movie about a DJ gets such a wide release instead of something more substantial. And so, the question is: does this DJ tale use it's opportunity to say something more? Unfortunately the answer is no. While the trailer for the film did in fact hint at something more-is the cost and the grind of the collegiate system worth the job it grants you afterwards that is largely utilized to pay back those student loans? The film hints it might not be if you do something worthwhile with that time, but Cole Carter (Zac Efron) and his friends aren't doing much besides melting away in the San Fernando Valley. Despite it's rather hollow exteriors I was optimistic that the film might actually take the opportunity to explore a few existential themes that become prevalent for the first time in your early twenties, but it keeps in key with it's hollow exteriors by being a hollow portrait of the sunshine state lifestyle. To say that is to say there isn't much to the film and again, unfortunately that is true. Director Max Joseph (MTV's Catfish) makes his narrative feature debut here and while he is keen on tapping into that younger audience he knows so well, at thirty-three this drama of young angst feels more manufactured than authentic. We Are Your Friends is one of those movies about a group of friends who are in the midst of trying to accomplish their dreams and fulfill their aspirations, but feel stuck or even worse, know they don't have what it takes to make it out of their hometown. The thing about Cole though is that he's basically granted unprecedented access to a well-known DJ and all the resources he could ever need in order to flourish and yet there isn't enough drive there for him to take the obvious path.

NO ESCAPE Review

One would assume that with it's generic title, release date and desperate seeming casting that No Escape would probably be pretty terrible. The indicators all align and are partially right, no doubt, as the grungy look of the movie suggests it won't be a pretty picture figuratively or literally. The glaring reason the film stands up to a serious questioning of quality though is the fact director John Erick Dowdle and his co-writer brother, Drew, only have three prior credits to their name, all of which are considered rather sub-par horror flicks (though I rather enjoyed Devil and haven't seen As Above, So Below). The Dowdle's approached No Escape not with the eyes of their honed horror mentalities though, but with that of their teen action fantasies they no doubt devoured in the eighties. Granted, we're still talking about the rather generic action movies of that decade, but campy and somewhat solid action movies nonetheless. No Escape has plenty to offer when it comes to tension and thrills and even wants to bring itself to hint at something more in certain spots, but is instead swallowed up by the fact there is no context for the situations we see play out and no weight to the simple consequences put into effect. Run or die is the name of the game and the literal nameless Asian villains do little to make us feel as if there is any validity to the scenarios our protagonists find themselves in. Rather, we are dropped into the middle of this civil war where the strictly labeled bad guys march around and murder hundreds of people execution style. We aren't privy to the information of who is or isn't safe until about halfway through the film when a half-hearted attempt at exposition is laid out for us, but by that point we know what No Escape is heading towards no matter how tense it might make us at certain times. That said, this is a film that strangely enough had a strong affect on me as I was watching it, but is one I never have any desire to sit through again.

First Trailer for LOVE THE COOPERS

Christmas movies are almost as old as the medium itself. In my own, limited time on this earth I've come to love only a few that I can watch over and over again when that time of year comes around. While I enjoyed The Family Stone (which this trailer trades off of given it was produced by the same person) it isn't one I've returned to over the years. Maybe Love the Coopers will be a little different as this first trailer indicates a pretty solid family dramedy with a solid cast. Of course, you could describe The Family Stone that way as well...and I did like it...maybe I need to re-visit that this year instead of watching The Santa Clause for the billionth time (who am I kidding? I'll watch both). Anyway, in this new Christmas comedy that is once again led by Diane Keaton playing the matriarch of a somewhat large family (the Cooper's, duh) four generations come together for an annual Christmas Eve party. Naturally, things don't go as planned when a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday. Sounds about right, right? And yet, as I watched the trailer I chuckled enough times and was happy enough to see certain actors show up to make me think this might actually have some potential. I like that Jake Lacy (The Office) is getting more work and strangely enough it's good to see Olivia Wilde back in comedic territory after seeming absent from it for a couple of years. Love the Coopers also stars John Goodman, Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried, Marisa Tomei, Alan Arkin, Anthony Mackie with Steve Martin as the narrator and opens on November 13th.

Movies I Wanna See Most: Fall 2015

So far, 2015 has been a rather solid year for film. Of course there were the early month droughts that featured the likes of Blackhat and The Boy Next Door, but by February we received Kingsman and even McFarland, USA which (if you haven't seen it) is a really solid Disney sports drama. I'm not saying things have been exceptional, there have probably been just as many if not more bad movies than there have been good movies, but I had a really good time at the movies this summer and I'm pretty sad to see it come to an end. That said, I am genuinely looking forward to the fall release schedule especially considering I will be making my first trek to the Toronto International Film Festival this year and hopefully seeing as many of the movies on this list as soon as I can. Transitioning to the fall we approach films in different kinds of ways. While the summer is typically looked at for and judged more on pure entertainment value the fall is almost explicitly Awards season and looked to for more stimulating material. Given this kind of precedent there seems to always be one or two films that seem pre-destined for Oscar glory and while Eddie Redmayne seems to make it clear that The Danish Girl is this years film to beat (timely, his follow-up to winning Best Actor last year and Tom Hooper's follow-up to Les Mis) I still don't see a clear contender this year (though last years Best Director winner, Alejandro González Iñárritu, is certainly putting his hat in the ring). That said, this list is not about what I think will win the most awards (as you'll notice with much of this fall's franchise films getting some love) come February, but more what I'm most excited to experience at the cinema this fall. So, without further adieu, let's dig in...

Red-Band Trailer for KILL YOUR FRIENDS Starring Nicholas Hoult

Director Owen Harris' adaptation of John Niven's 2008 novel, Kill Your Friends, will have it's premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month and today we get the first, NSFW trailer for it. Set around protagonist Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult), who is unhappy about his current position as an A&R agent in 1997, he is uninterested in most music, is jealous of his coworkers' success in finding successful acts and, as a result, hatches a series of devious acts that leaves several dead on his road to self-fulfilled glory and recognition. The trailer as well as the description give off a very American Psycho vibe which apparently the book received comparisons to as well. That said, the fact this portrayal of such a character circles the music industry makes it all the more interesting from my perspective. Hoult has certainly been on something of a rise as well over the last few years, making this project all the more interesting, and with this being one of four upcoming projects he has releasing through summer of next year he will undoubtedly only be adding more clout to his name. While Friends may not be the one to breakthrough in some bigger way in the states (it currently has a UK release date of November 6th, but nothing in the U.S.) it certainly looks like a grand opportunity for the actor to stretch himself and deliver something that will live on past it's initial release. Kill Your Friends also stars Ed Skrein, James Corden, Rosanna Arquette, Tom Riley, and Georgia King.

AMERICAN ULTRA Review

American Ultra is fine. It is somewhat ambitious and somewhat derivative, but most of the time it plays things right down the middle and offers little more than we expect. It is subtly silly, not laugh out loud hilarious though it maintains it's ridiculousness throughout given it's honest with itself and well aware of what it is. In short, the film is a trivial exercise in triviality given it makes light of typically serious subjects such as secret agents and government operations, but will never be seen as more than a tiny blip on the pop culture radar. This is no crime against humanity as those who have even a modicum of interest in something akin to this will likely give it a shot while those who don't, won't and are not really missing out on much. Sure, American Ultra has it's redeemers, but none are strong enough to qualify it for a recommendation and while I sat watching the film, both amused and bemused for much of the time strangely enough, I couldn't help but to think how inconsequential it all felt. I didn't actively dislike the film, in fact I was more than happy to sit down and watch both Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart again as I've come to really enjoy Adventureland more and more over the years, but never throughout the course of experiencing this film did I find myself invested in any aspect of what was happening. It's almost as if the film is so trivial that it's not even worth saying much about it, but that would be to diminish the solid qualities and obvious heart that has gone into creating the product and I genuinely hate to minimize that effort to less than it is. Whether it be in the inherent chemistry between our two leads, the strong supporting cast that is selling the mess out of this outlandish material or the rather deft tone of the film as a whole there are certainly selling points and things to enjoy. The problem is, that deft quality seems to be one the film owes more to it's script than to it's director and some of that intended mentality was lost in translation.

Red-Band Trailer for SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

It's hard to figure out who exactly Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse was made for. While initially seeming like something aimed at the kiddes for the Halloween season it is now abundantly clear that is not the case as we have our first real look at the film (previously titled Scouts vs Zombies) via a very red-band trailer. While this is probably the more financially responsible choice (do live action kids movies make money anymore? Of course, if the budgets are small enough) I still don't know exactly who is going to see this beyond the crowd who enjoy horror/comedies, but how big could that fan base be? Otherwise, this thing is slated on a "holiday" weekend where the weekend before will see five new major releases including a Bradley Cooper movie, a Vin Diesel movie, a Bill Murray movie, another Paranormal Activity flick and Jem and the Holograms. In essence, the previous weekend will hit a wide array of demographics and I imagine most general movie goers will decide to opt out of the theater experience the next weekend given Halloween falls on a Saturday this year and Goosebumps and Crimson Peak will have opened two weeks prior satisfying anyone's urge for horror or horror/comedy. The only way Paramount will get something out of this seems to be through their new distribution plan or if it somehow becomes something of a cult favorite after hitting home video. All of that aside, the trailer has it's moments that at least feel inspired in terms of telling another zombie movie in a familiar way, but I can't say I'm really excited to see if it holds up against all it has going against it. Who knows, maybe it'll surprise. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse stars Halston Sage, Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, David Koechner, Patrick Schwarzegger and opens on October 30th.

THE END OF THE TOUR Review

In the first frame of The End of the Tour, the new film from director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), we glimpse Jesse Eisenberg's David Lipsky sitting on a couch with his laptop and his dog. It is a simple setting, one we don't think much of upon initially seeing. In fact, if you know anything about the film prior to seeing it you know Eisenberg's character is a writer and therefore this setting is somewhat expected. As we better acquaint ourselves with David Lipsky over the next hour and forty-five minutes though, we learn more about him, about his time with author David Foster Wallace (played here by Jason Segel) and that first frame becomes all the more telling. The End of the Tour is, on the surface, a road movie about one writer doing a profile on another writer, but more than that it is a film of conversation and constant introspection. It's almost exhausting to constantly think in the way our two main characters presented here do, throwing out ideas and immediately reassessing those ideas or deep-diving further to find the root of where such ideas come from. The talking. It can be a bit much, it can feel overbearing even, but it ultimately captures so much of the soul that it can't help but feel soothing at the same time. It's strange, to be sure, but it makes perfect sense, especially when it's so elegantly and perfectly phrased in Wallace speak. Wallace speaks a lot in this film iteration of Lipsky's book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, that was published two years after Wallace committed suicide. While much of the dialogue feels like a culmination of Wallace's philosophy or his verbal dissertation on the complex and mundane aspects of life and how they're one in the same it somehow manages to also be a genuine portrait of a conflicted mind. It should be noted up front that Wallace's trust has come out against Tour outright, but regardless of what is accurate and what is not (this is a movie, after all) The End of the Tour is still an insightful portrait not only of the male mind, but of the messiness of life and all the bullshit one has to sift through in order to even catch a glimpse of something real.

IRRATIONAL MAN Review

In Woody Allen's annual mid-year release we have a typical, late-era Woody Allen film that is more shrug-worthy than anything since the two forgettable cushions on either side of 2011's Midnight in Paris. Every few years the insanely consistent writer/director will deliver something more substantial, something truly affecting, but more times than not we get something akin to what we have this year in Irrational Man. Since becoming rather invested in the art of watching films I have returned to the essential Allen in order to be hip to my craft (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters), but I've probably been reading about Allen's films since Small Time Crooks (2000) and seeing them in theaters since Paris (2011). Since I've been catching them on a regular basis in their theatrical run though, I've only purchased two that I felt were worth revisiting those being Paris and 2013's Blue Jasmine. It's hard to find much motivation to return to Allen's films because they each more or less offer the same things. There is some philosophizing about a certain area of life under a certain set of character induced circumstances that typically ends up dealing with existentialism in one way or another. This type of conversation and discussion can certainly be interesting, but because of these tendencies Allen's films themselves are more interesting to talk about than they are to actually experience. It's hard to even call Allen's films an experience as they are more lectures than anything else, but every once in a while you actually take something away from them. With Irrational Man though, the only things I took away were that Emma Stone is in fact Allen's latest muse and that Joaquin Phoenix is trying really hard to let us know he put on a pot belly for this role (admittedly among other, deeper things). Whether the point of Phoenix's character being a philosophy professor signals Allen is getting one step closer to just sitting down and filming himself talk for an hour and half on a certain subject, we'll have to wait and see, but more than any time over the last four years I felt like time and age were beginning to catch up the auteur.

First Trailer for VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN Starring Daniel Radcliffe

There are a few things concerning this latest incarnation of the Frankenstein story that have me interested despite my better judgement telling me it doesn't have much chance of being good. The first two factors are that of leads James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe. Despite the fact actors have little influence over the final product, both of these guys tend to choose projects they're legitimately drawn to rather than simply for the sake of having a possible hit to their name. It doesn't hurt that screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle) is behind the script for this one either. There is of course the look of the film that paints it as another ugly cousin to the likes of I, Frankenstein or Dracula Untold, but I can only hope that director Paul McGuigan (Sherlock) is only employing this aesthetic for the sake of the time period while utilizing the rather above-par factors that are his actors to convey something new and fresh. As Hollywood is virtually unable to leave properties alone these days the least we can hope for is some kind of twist or interesting take on the material and that seems to be the basis for this production. The trailer focuses in on the relationship between Dr. Frankenstein (McAvoy) and his faithful assistant Igor (Radcliffe) which could turn out to be fun as it's clear the two actors have a nice rapport in the introduction for the International trailer. If nothing else, the film will at least clarify to a few generations that Frankenstein is the the name of the scientist who brought the monster to life rather than the monster himself. Victor Frankenstein opens on November 25th and also stars Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, and Freddie Fox.

COP CAR Review

Cop Car opens with a shot of newly constructed houses in a newly developed subdivision that all look like one another. There is a sense of freshness to the distant, static shot, but then it is followed by something more interesting and dynamic. Isolated trailers, convenient stores that don't bear corporate brand names and barren country roads where telephone poles still line the way. In short, we are quickly disconnected from any kind of familiarity and brought to the ground level that is the wonderment of being inside the mind of a prepubescent boy. Actually, there's probably a slight bit of puberty that has begun to alter Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison's (Hays Wellford) body and minds, but no doubt less than they'd own up to. The two boys are presumably running away from what we come to understand are rather unspectacular home lives, but of more importance is the fact they are competing in an exchange that consists purely of curse words, working it's way up from the likes of "penis" to the "f" word. Harrison refuses to say what society deems the worst of these words despite Travis employing multiple peer pressure tactics telling us all we need to know of the two boys. It is when Harrison and Travis stumble upon an abandoned cop car ten minutes into the film that things begin to come together. Director Jon Watts (who's done plenty of television work and will helm the Spider-Man reboot for Marvel Studios) works from a script by himself and co-writer Christopher D. Ford (Robot & Frank) and in establishing all we've already put together by the time the titular vehicle is introduced we have a strong sense of apprehension about where things might be going. Watts eases the audience into this strange, time-warped landscape of severe austerity while making the terms of our environment clear. In both the aesthetic and mentality of our lead characters we are transported to an age where one's outlook on life and subsequently the life they lead and the circumstances they find themselves in by the end of the film are of a certain simplistic nature, but simple doesn't always mean sunny.

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON Review

Just to give some perspective on where this particular review is coming from, I was born in 1987. By this time the likes of Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella were already beginning to make waves in their home town of Compton, CA. In just a little over a years time these five individuals, collectively known as N.W.A, would release their seminal record that shares it's title with the groups new biopic, Straight Outta Compton. Naturally, I wouldn't come to be familiar with either N.W.A or what impact they had on popular culture until much later despite my dad schooling me and my siblings on his favorite old school hip hop records in the early nineties. As I turned into a teenager at the turn of the millennium if I had any connection to Ice Cube it was more for his movie career than anything else while Dr. Dre was having his resurgence (at least from where I was sitting) with 2001 and the discovery that was Eminem. It wasn't until I matured a little further that it became more vital for me to understand a wider range of musical knowledge that would help me comprehend what informed the music I was currently enjoying. Attending a middle school and junior high at the time that contained as many black students as it did white kids like myself, there was an interesting mix of cultures to be observed. One could never hope to comprehend the full extent of other peoples lives due to the circumstances into which they were born at that age, but listening to the same type of music didn't hurt in attempting to at least glean a surface-level understanding of where others were coming from. As myself and my brothers would come to have an increased level of interest in music (especially the funk of the seventies that our mom would listen to) the world became a clearer place where it was easier to figure out where you might fit into the grand scheme of things. Going through what had come before my birth date one inevitably come across N.W.A and through their lyrics alone is able to gather not only where they were coming from at the time of their emergence, but what influence they've had since. And so, I come at Straight Outta Compton as an individual who wasn't able to experience the initial impact of this group, but who finally is able to bear witness to it through the magic of the movies.

First Trailer for RIDE ALONG 2 Starring Kevin Hart

In January of 2014 Kevin Hart continued his roll of starring in every comedy imaginable and out of all those attempts hit franchise gold in one of them. Cut to two years later and we will receive the sequel to Ride Along. Director Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four, Think Like A Man-the guy apparently knows sequels) has reunited Hart with Ice Cube and the first trailer just so happened to drop today, on the eve of the release of Straight Outta Compton. The original was average at best, but this time around Hart and Cube are taking their antics to Miami and some of the bits at play here have some strong potential (though I wish they wouldn't have given away as many). The Tyrese cameo, for instance, seems pointless to have in the trailer given he doesn't say a word, but would serve as a nice surprise when they infiltrate the Miami street racing scene (let's just hope Ludacris is on board too). Maybe with cinematic universes becoming such hip things Hart and Cube's characters could eventually team-up with Will Smith's Mike Lowrey and Martin Lawrence's Marcus Burnett, but given we're talking different studios that seems unlikely (I would love to see Lawrence and Hart in a comedy together, though). That said, it does feel like this unnecessary but warranted sequel is trying to emulate the Michael Bay production with the Miami police force aspect that introduces characters played by Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong. Regardless of if this turns out to be utter crap or not, I can't help but laugh at Ice Cube getting angry so I'll no doubt end up seeing it for that alone. Ride Along 2 also stars Benjamin Bratt, Glen Powell, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter Sherri Shepherd and opens on January 15, 2016.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Review

Though it doesn't indicate the quality of the film in the slightest, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. will always fall under the unfortunate circumstances of having to open two weeks after Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation. This is unfortunate due to the fact it will mean The Man From U.N.C.L.E. will have less of a cultural impact than the already slight one it was going to have without having to follow-up the last great action hurrah of the summer. This isn't really relative to the film itself, but while it seems there was never much expected of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., it's worth noting it is something of a shame due to the fact it now will definitely not come to mean much in the larger pop culture landscape. A shame because the film is actually quite fun and therefore rather satisfying when taken on the terms of what it is intended to be. Coming to us courtesy of director Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, the Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films) this film, based on the NBC show that ran from 1964-68 about two secret agents who work for a secret international counter espionage and law-enforcement agency called U.N.C.L.E. or the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, is everything you'd expect from the director and all you could want from the genre in general. Enlisting Superman (Henry Cavill) and The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) to star is another way of suggesting this could possibly be another sub-par take on an old television property, which is a trend in and of itself that feels dated now (how ya doin' 2000?), but Ritchie and his team (including first time feature writer Lionel Wigram) have somehow managed to cobble together a pile of standard spy movie cliches and make them into something astonishingly direct and abundantly stylish that completely owns what it is and, as a result, comes off as confident and self-assured as Cavill's Napoleon Solo.

First Trailer for BURNT Starring Bradley Cooper

The Weinstein Co. has finally decided to release the full trailer for the latest Bradley Cooper-starrer that initially premiered Monday morning on the Today show. The film, which was originally titled Chef and then changed for obvious reasons to Adam Jones is now going by Burnt, and follows the career of a rebel chef who is determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant in London that can gain him his third Michelin star. While I'm curious as to if this will be the vehicle Cooper gets his fourth consecutive Oscar nomination for, but at this stage the film seems a bit too much on the fluffy side to be considered awards material. That isn't to say the film won't be good or that Cooper won't deserve a nomination (he'll also appear in Joy which reunites him for a third time with David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence), but it inherently feels less like something the Academy won't find worthy of such recognition. Regardless, the fact remains that Cooper has become one of the industry's top leading men (I'm not holding Aloha against him) who does consistently strong work and puts in serious effort that makes it clear he truly loves the craft. While Burnt will revolve around Cooper's chef whose ability to create explosions of taste is undermined by his badboy rants and diva behavior director John Wells (The Company Men, August: Osage County) has also rounded up a rather stellar supporting cast that includes Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Brühl, Uma Thurman, Matthew Rhys, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander, Jamie Dornan and Lily James. Burnt opens on October 23rd against Jem and the Holograms, The Last Witch Hunter, the latest Paranormal Activity and Rock the Kasbah.

Teaser Trailer for Quentin Tarantino's THE HATEFUL EIGHT

The Weinstein Company has released the first teaser trailer for Quentin Tarantino's eight film, The Hateful Eight. The film features bounty hunger John Ruth aka “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell) escorting criminal Daisy Domergue aka “The Prisoner” (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to her death when they get holed up during a snowstorm in post-Civil War Wyoming. Relegated to the close quarters of Minnie’s Habberdashery the two come to find a fair amount of tension between themselves and the six other folks who've become trapped by mother nature. The other titular characters include Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) and Bob (Demian Bichir) who’s taken over innkeeper duties from Minnie while she is away visiting her mother. It has been three years since we caught our first glimpse of Tarantino's venture into Western territory, but it seems he has settled comfortably into the genre now with his latest. That isn't to say Django Unchained felt like the director was testing the waters (I loved the film), but the first impression I get from this trailer offers a distinctly more traditional vibe. Whether this is due to the intimate setting, the crisp dialogue or simply the fact the performances seem to be front and center, I can't really tell, but I do know the film looks gorgeous and I can't wait to unwrap this gift come Christmas day. The Hateful Eight also stars Channing Tatum and opens in 70mm on December 25th.

DARK PLACES Review

Oh what a difference an interpretation can make. One has to wonder if, after having seen both Gone Girl and Dark Places, which might have been the bigger success had the directors of each switched projects. One could argue the phenomenon of Gone Girl wasn't as much due in large to David Fincher's direction, but more the universal themes of relationships, cheating husbands and the acknowledgement of a very real presence in the exploitation of bad news for good ratings, but I wouldn't. I would argue these elements and the style with which they were presented heavily influenced what audiences took away from the film and that the story is wholly indebted to Fincher's direction. Don't get me wrong, Flynn's Gone novel is a well-written piece of noir that is highlighted by it's alternating narrators and cynical introspection, but it could just have easily been turned into a Lifetime movie and that is the difference between it and Dark Places. Written for the screen and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah's Key) Dark Places attempts to cover all of the seeming ideas and themes floating around in it's source material (I didn't read this Flynn novel prior to seeing the film) where with Gone Girl (I did read this one) Fincher chose to focus on one major theme and let whatever else came to the surface come out of that one focal area. This isn't to say Dark Places is necessarily a failure as a different approach could certainly work with similar material, but in Paquet-Brenner attempting to cram as much as he can into a two-hour movie the film eventually devolves into a standard procedural of uncovering the core mystery rather than being any kind of meditation on the factors that inform the mystery.

INSURGENT Review

It is odd to come to the realization that you are no longer within the target audience for a certain genre of film. Sure, I may not have enjoyed Insurgent, the second film in the Divergent series, but the makers of the film don't care if I like it or not. This is a film catered to the junior high audiences that eat up these young adult novels in spades and move on to the next one in order to satisfy their angst-ridden school days. This isn't a bad thing, especially with the recent wave of strong leading female characters no doubt making young women feel more able than ever and alleviating the need to conform. That may sound rather banal in terms of themes, but they are ideas every generation needs to learn and it just so happens the current generation is picking up on such ideas by way of brave heroine's in dystopian futures. While I rather enjoyed author Veronica Roth's initial trip into a futuristic Chicago where society has been divided into five factions according to individual personalities, I found it difficult to make it through the second book in her trilogy. Insurgent always felt more like a trudge than Divergent when it should have been an opportunity to go a step further than it's exposition-filled predecessor. Insurgent, the book and the film, want so bad to open up this world that Roth has created, but instead this middle chapter is hindered by not having the structure of a clear beginning or end. I had to force myself to begin reading the source material again after a previous false start. I made it through in my second attempt, but it was more of a chore than anything and I've yet to pick up Allegiant, the third and final book in the series that will of course be split into two movies, and honestly have no desire to do so. While Insurgent is certainly a competent film and has flashes of real creativity and strong performances, it stalls early in it's storytelling prowess and never recovers. By the end of the film I felt like almost nothing had happened and the ball had been pushed only a few yards down the field from where we started two hours before. It's hard to know who to blame-Roth's overly layered source material or the multiple screenwriters tasked with adapting the it that have streamlined it to the point it all feels pointless, but someone should be held accountable.

THE GIFT Review

In 2008 I was really beginning to dig into all kinds of films, exploring more of the independent material that was coming to light than ever before. I remember 2008 mainly for the remarkable summer at the theater that it was, but I also find it easy to recall a small film from a pair of brothers that was making waves. It was a little film called The Square that was co-written by a guy named Joel Edgerton and directed by his brother Nash. As far as I'd heard, it was a solid contemporary example of film noir and concerned itself with betrayal, revenge and cheating couples. It was a film that I felt somewhat more interesting for checking out simply because I was willing to go out on a limb and see what this buzzed about Australian production had to offer and indeed it was a well-executed thriller. I came to recognize Joel for his work over the next few years in Animal Kingdom and what could be considered his break-out American film in Warrior that led the way to him starring in more major Hollywood productions. It seems after building some solid ground beneath him in the industry though, Edgerton has returned to the thriller genre to write and direct for the first time. With The Gift, Edgerton has delivered a tense and slow-boiling psychological drama that stems from a thesis of how an idea can take hold of a person and tear them down. From the moment we meet Edgerton's Gordon Mosley we can sense that there is something slightly off about the guy, but having Edgerton play his own creation lends the perfect tone to what could have otherwise been an over-the-top showing that would lessen the effect of the final act in the film. That is all to say this product feels like the result of a singular vision, a focused and finely tuned story with specific characters and even more labored over depictions that come to show the audience how both credibly and expertly such genre pieces can be pulled off with the right amount of skill and vision. Edgerton feels at the top of his game here and with this technically being his feature directorial debut, I can't wait to see what he does next.

RICKI AND THE FLASH Review

Meryl Streep's latest is something of an oddity. It is difficult to see the sixty-six year-old, Academy Award-winning actress as a lover of 60's and 70's rock and roll who never gave up her dream of joining that world. It isn't that Streep can't pull it off (please, what can't she do?), it's just a strange sight to behold and watch unfold. Decked out in gaudy jewelry from her ears to every finger and even more excessively around her neck, she is a nightmare for airport security. She swoops her thinning air to one side with the rest braided so as to elicit a steaming punk persona. She wears lots of black and a lot of leather and hates to go anywhere without her guitar. While the typically regal persona we see from Streep certainly doesn't correspond with what we see in Ricki there is something to be said for this unorganized, irresponsible and blatantly selfish person that chose one dream over another. Written by Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) and directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) Ricki and the Flash is more a movie about the state of the American family than it is one about a failed singer. The trailers would have you believe this is something of a slight piece of melodrama that would be just as (if not more) suitable for the Lifetime network than your local multiplex, but it's clear from the moment things get a little more intense concerning Ricki's daughter (Streep's real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer) that this isn't simply a familial drama with fun interludes of Streep singing classic rock. No, Ricki and the Flash is indeed a more subtle and intricate commentary on topics largely relatable to the casual audience member. Sure, you may could see the conventions that the film works within from a mile away, but the seasoned cast sells it and the inspired moments of writing in certain scenes combined with Demme's assured direction make for an enjoyable and rather affecting experience.

Full Trailer for THE LAST WITCH HUNTER Starring Vin Diesel

Is Vin Diesel a movie star outside of the Fast & Furious franchise? I would argue no. He's tried to keep his brand alive outside of Dominic Toretto with the Riddick series, but the 2013l entry only earned $98 million worldwide, which isn't bad considering the $38m budget, but certainly doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in folks being interested. Diesel can also now claim being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but we all know his contributions are minor and so it is understandable Diesel wants to spread his wings. The guy at least seems to understand the type of movies his style and image are best suited for, but that doesn't mean The Last Witch Hunter looks like anything more than a generic piece of crap. Concerning itself with Kaulder (Diesel) who was once a member of an army of witch hunters before slaying the Queen Witch and being cursed with her immortality, this flick looks like something that should have been dropped in theaters in January or February. I won't jump to any conclusions as I rather enjoyed director Breck Eisner's last feature film, 2010's re-make of The Crazies, but I can't help but feel this will be of the generic action film variety. The inclusion of witches and priests and the yellow/black/silver color palette doesn't do much to inspire otherwise, but more signifies it wants to stick to a very obvious, predefined genre-a genre that doesn't tend to produce solid fantasy films. Who knows, Eisner could take a tip from Diesel's main franchise and embrace the ridiculous and turn this into something rather fun, but I don't have high hopes and I'm not even sure I care to see it. What do you guys think? The Last Witch Hunter also stars Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Michael Caine, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Julie Engelbrecht and opens October 23rd.

FANTASTIC FOUR Review

Origin stories have become something of such trite exercises that when we are given something slightly different we're not sure what to do with it. That isn't to say director Josh Trank's (Chronicle) approach to his Fantastic Four reboot is necessarily a strong or even distinct one, but it is something. It certainly isn't what people would necessarily want or expect (that will be saved for the sequel if they're granted the opportunity to make one) given this film is more of a prelude than anything else, but there is much to appreciate. At a brisk hour and forty minutes I like that Trank's Fantastic Four doesn't take itself too seriously while consistently trying to remain as logical as possible. There is a sense of experimentation to the proceedings, a sense that tells us even the makers of the movie don't necessarily place too much importance on the going-ons of the plot, but are instead more interested in putting a few players on a certain kind of board and seeing what works and what doesn't. In coming at Marvel's first family of superheroes in this fashion it is obvious that Trank and his uber-talented and charismatic cast aren't actively trying to make something bad or even obligatory, but rather it's fairly clear they want the opposite. Things may not have turned out as well as they'd hoped in this initial run, but I have a sincere hope they get another shot to work out the kinks and to test their experiment again given it will contain more of the elements audiences want/expect from their superhero movies. I'm not going to completely trash Fantastic Four for trying to do something different with a story we saw on screen ten years ago. This is a story the board at 20th Century Fox likely insisted on Trank and screenwriter Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past) telling purely for the sake of retaining their rights to the characters and no doubt interlocking with their X-Men franchise at some point down the road. And I'm not looking for anyone to blame for the shortcomings of the final product because while there certainly could have been a more clear, precise vision for the film I kind of dug what we have here in terms of tone and character dynamic and only hope they have a chance to develop each further.

VACATION Review

It was something of a surprise this new sequel in the Vacation series that also intends to serve as something of a reboot or re-make, but isn't really, included the line from the trailer about how this Vacation will indeed stand on it's own. It seemed a piece of dialogue specifically designed for the marketing campaign so as to let audiences know the movie itself was aware of what it represented and the pressures it might face in convincing audiences it was worthy of the challenge. This line, when given in the trailer, almost made the film more endearing (hey, it knows it has a lot of work to do), but the fact they included it in the final product gave an entirely different impression-one of desperation even. Maybe desperation is the wrong word, maybe a lack of confidence is a better way to put it. The statement itself wants to impose a sense of confidence though, a bold statement of this particular film being it's own thing and being successful on it's own terms whether there was an original or not. Of course, if this were a world where the original Vacation didn't exist we would have (a slightly altered) We're the Millers and that would be it. Instead, as brand recognition and nostalgia are at an all time high thanks to social media and our heightened sense of self-awareness it would be wrong to not try and capitalize on every big brand of generations past. And thus, we have what is essentially a remake (but it's a sequel!) of/to the original film where Stu from the Hangover movies plays a grown-up Rusty with call backs aplenty just in case you didn't get that this was in the same timeline as the 1983 film, but that it's still supposed to stand on it's own. These call-backs are of course intended to make audiences familiar with the 1983 version recognize the correlation and laugh while those who aren't will hopefully just laugh because...the comedy is timeless? All of these particulars don't really matter though as this is little more than a ninety-minute comedy intended to make audiences chuckle. When taken on such simple terms, it does it's job well enough. My qualm is why couldn't we do something with these actors/directors/writers that maybe didn't rely on tapping into nostalgia? If we keep re-making and re-visiting old properties what are future generations going to reboot or re-make? Or even worse, be able to call their own?

First Trailers for DEADPOOL Starring Ryan Reynolds

After premiering last month at San Diego's Comic-Con the rest of us are finally getting our first (high quality) look at Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool. If you're not up on the story here or what a "deadpool" even is, he is a Marvel antihero that first appeared as a villain in the X-Men series beginning in 1991. Known for his foul mouth and a tendency to break the fourth wall, Deadpool is intended as a humorous take on the super hero genre and it looks like we will have no shortage of humor if this trailer is any indication. As Deadpool himself stated in the teaser for this trailer that was released yesterday, 20th Century Fox initially avoided any chance of Deadpool running his foul mouth by sewing it shut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but Reynolds and crew have crafted what they are calling "the first R-rated Super Hero movie" to do right by the character and his fans. The story of Deadpool actually runs deeper than that initial description gives him credit for as Reynolds will play Wade Wilson, a former Special Forces operative turned mercenary who is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers. This leads Wilson to adapt the Deadpool alter ego which is the origin story this film seems to cover. Directed by Tim Miller (who has worked on several big projects, but never helmed a feature before) this first glimpse of the footage has both a unique look and tone to it, only setting it apart further from it's contemporaries. What is most refreshing is that Deadpool feels as if it is taking place wholly in it's own world and personally, I can't wait to take a trip there come 2016. Besides Reynolds, Deadpool also stars Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand, Gina Carano, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein and opens February 12, 2016.

TIG Review

I like to listen to stand-up, but haven't in a long time. I went through the typical college phase of listening not only to what was popular and current at the time (Dane Cook, Mitch Hedberg), but digging into my dads collection and getting to know the stuff he was into (mainly Eddie Murphy, but there was plenty of Steven Wright and Steve Martin in there as well). Over the last few years I've dabbled in some of the more popular stuff like Aziz Ansari, Louis C.K. and Bo Burnham, but haven't explored the current scene as much as I would like to. That is, until I started listening to the top comedy tracks inside the Spotify app on my phone. This led me to not only appreciate the variety of personalities and insight I was missing out on, but also served as an introduction to Tig Notaro. I didn't know much about Notaro or what her story was other than that I'd seen her in Lake Bell's 2013 directorial effort, In a World..., but I liked her stand-up almost immediately given the first thing I heard was her story concerning Taylor Dayne. This immediate affection wasn't necessarily because I'm also a fan of Dayne (though "Tell it to My Heart" really is just the best), but because it allowed Notaro to put herself in her place. She understands where she stands in relation to Dayne as far as the pop culture pantheon is concerned and in relaying this story of unironic fandom she became one of us by divulging a piece of information most might consider at least somewhat embarrassing and going even further by consistently being shameless in her approach to how much Dayne's music meant to her in her formative years. As I continued listening to more of Notaro's material it became evident from her two album discography that some major things had occurred in her life between the release of her first and second albums. And so, when I came scrolling across this documentary simply titled Tig on Netflix the other day, I was more than thrilled to have access not only to what was going through Notaro's mind at the time multiple crises were taking place in her life, but how she's been since and what she's been up to.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: August 4, 2015

MR. HOLMES Review

There have been countless iterations of Sherlock Holmes over the years, but prior to this films release I'd not heard of Mitch Cullins interpretation of the world's greatest detective. At first glance, Mr. Holmes seems like one of those ideas that is better left as an idea rather than the likely failure to meet expectations result that would come from trying to make it a reality. What might actually be so fascinating about an older detective who can hardly remember his glory days let alone how he made his reputation? The possibilities are certainly intriguing, but the execution could be questionable given what one takes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works to inform the state of an elderly Holmes. Having not read Cullins book on which this is based, I don't know how much credit to give director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), but by not simply telling another story revolving around a mystery the film starts off on the right foot. As the film plays out we see a mystery element incorporated in the form of flashbacks to Holmes' final case with which he is having trouble completely recalling. These flashbacks are more or less used to both create reason for why Holmes chose the course he did for his later years while also reminding him of a throughline theme by which he intended to live out the rest of his years. Solving the mystery of his forgotten case also incorporates the only way Holmes truly knows how to live and how to deal with getting older and facing death. By both incorporating these aspects, but keeping the film more focused on the man rather than the mystery the film seems to capture the only possibility that could make this type of story appealing without being completely depressing. There are themes of regret throughout that I can only imagine will be more resonant with a second viewing, but on a first pass still strike one as heartbreakingly honest. I say this because Mr. Holmes is as much about preserving the thoughts and correct legacy of one's life as it is making amends for the mistakes in one's life by passing on what they've learned to a younger generation so that they may not encounter the same regrets. The strong conveyance of these ideas are made largely possible through two wonderful lead performances in Ian McKellen and newcomer Milo Parker.

Teaser Trailer for ZOOLANDER II

It will be fifteen years since the original Zoolander debuted next year it's hard to believe Ben Stiller and his pals were able to get people interested in the male model once again let alone get a sequel made. I will never forget reading my local newspaper's movie section the weekend after September 11th and the writers pondering what would become of the movies that were left on the release schedule that year. The main picture on the article was one of Mike and Sully from Monsters Inc.-the family movie that would come out two months later and give us all a good dose of the warm, comforting experiences that we so desperately needed. The story also heavily discussed Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage and it's content that would cause it to be delayed an entire year. In the middle of all of this was Zoolander. Two weeks after the World Trade Centers were destroyed Paramount dumped Ben Stiller's third feature directorial effort into theaters and not much was thought of it. At the time, I was fourteen years old and didn't see the movie until early December while attending a couple of friends joint birthday party where we all decided to see a movie at the local dollar theater. We didn't know what Zoolander was about, but we knew it had the guy from Meet the Parents and the other guy from Shanghai Noon that was also in Meet the Parents, so we were game. It may not have been an instant classic, but over the years Zoolander has come to be the flagship film for the once dominating Frat Pack and a reliable quote factory for people of a certain generation. While what we have here is only a short teaser, the fact it even exists is something of a miracle and hopefully a clear indication that Stiller knows what he's doing in continuing this characters story. Zoolander II opens on February 12, 2016 and also stars Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor and Will Ferrell.