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.

BURNT Review

Burnt will certainly make you hungry. Whether it is for food or the better movie this had the potential to be will have to be decided by you when you come around to the "too neatly wrapped" ending it doesn't really deserve. For my money, Burnt is a movie that is fine enough because it features another committed performance from Bradley Cooper doing what he does best and that is him digging into the psyche of his character. What makes Burnt a not so stellar vehicle for the guys talent is the fact it is a story we've seen numerous times before. As soon as the set-up is delivered and we're keen to the conditions of all the major players it is clear where this thing is heading. Still, the credentials the movie sports are more than solid: Steven Knight (Locke) penned the screenplay (he also wrote last years under-appreciated The Hundred-Foot Journey to which Burnt feels like a lesser version), John Wells (The Company Men, August: Osage County) is at the helm (though it was once supposed to be directed by David Fincher-which really makes me want to see a Fincher/Cooper collaboration) and besides Cooper we have a pedigreed cast that includes Sienna Miller (American Sniper), Daniel Brühl (Inglorious Basterds), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Omar Sy (The Intouchables) and Emma Thompson not to mention a quick cameo from Uma Thurman. So, with so much going for it why does Burnt feel so stale? It's actually somewhat difficult to pinpoint as it's not as simple as blaming it on any one aspect. The film, as shot by Adriano Goldman (Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre), is gorgeous to look at-numerous shiny surfaces contradicted by dark shades of facial hair and the bags under Cooper's eyes with the lovely London setting all adding something of a spice to the proceedings. The dialogue is direct, the intensity of Cooper's Jones when he gets worked up in the kitchen, while Gordon Ramsey-esque, is believable and yet it is the obligations the film feels it needs to make these characters hit that pull it into mediocrity. It's not the single downfall, but it becomes the most glaring the closer we get to the conclusion.

SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE Review

How do you make another zombie movie in a market saturated by the like truly stand out? Contemporary audiences are so accustomed to seeing people get their throats ripped out by the undead that they settle in for it every Sunday night. So, the questions remains: if you're set on making a movie featuring zombies, how do you make it feel fresh? Or necessary? Director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) answers that question by combining the zombie genre with that of a raunchy teen sex comedy and allowing this interesting hybrid of styles to both acknowledge their debt to where they came from while at the same time pushing the boundaries as far as they can go so as to appease that "contemporary" part of the audience. The result of such experimenting? A really fun time. More over, a better time than you'd likely expect after just hearing that pitch. That Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse goes in such the opposite direction of what expectations were, it immediately becomes something of a treasure trove of a movie-making audience members wonder with anticipation about what we might come across next. There is something to be said about the type of film that initially seems to be nothing more than a rejected, cheap satirical comedy that stars David Koechner, but is slowly accepted over time for being judged not purely on it's credentials or the circumstances of the time in which it was made, but rather for the singular type of experience it's viewing brings. I'm not saying the same with will happen with this film as say Hocus Pocus, but the film in and of itself is way too enjoyable and way too appealing (especially to teen audiences) to fall by the wayside forever. At an hour and a half the film breezes by with an effortless ease that sets up it's (mostly) likable characters, presents us with it's conflict and then utilizes it's quirky premise to round things out in a satisfying and largely hilarious manner.

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS Review

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

Our Brand Is Crisis is a Grant Heslov/George Clooney production, but it's not Argo in the sense that it's not a political thriller and it's not Monuments Men in the sense it's not a heroic story parading around as a nostalgia trip. As this is a David Gordon Green picture though, this is a film that ends up being something of a mashup between a political drama and slapstick comedy. Green is an eclectic director who has dipped his hand in heavy drama (George Washington, Snow Angels) as well as broad comedy (Pineapple Express, The Sitter) and his latest somewhat blends these two styles to create something uniquely edgy if not completely conventional in the beats it hits. From the outset, Our Brand Is Crisis feels like a straightforward documentation of the carousel of politics this world and it's countries become wrapped up in every four years. Given this is Green we're talking about it also means the characters involved in such circumstances have a unique set of sensibilities that give the otherwise unsurprising narrative a twist. Early on in the film Sandra Bullock's 'Calamity' Jane Bodine tells a room of campaign volunteers they need to help make the narrative fit their candidate rather than the other way around. Green seems to have heeded his films own advice as he clearly caters his story to the character of Jane and her off the wall methods that have made her one of the most well-regarded campaign strategists in the game. Were Green to have not done this we would have little more than a standard political drama, but given the characters are fun and engaging it's impossible to not see it as at least a little more than that.

BONE TOMAHAWK Review

Bone Tomahawk, the film, is everything it's gloriously seventies-inspired poster would have you believe it is. From the opening frame we are privy to just how violent this ordeal is prone to get. The slitting of a throat is an excruciating act that is made even moreso when the person holding the knife is unsure of what they're doing. In the opening moments of Bone Tomahawk though it is clear that there are only assured hands present. Buddy (Sid Haig) and Purvis (David Arquette) slice the throats of unsuspecting travellers for no other reason than to rob them blind and move on to the next town. The violence is swift and the visuals are exceedingly bloody which seems to be just the way first time feature director S. Craig Zahler likes it. That this is actually Zahler's directorial debut is somewhat extraordinary as this largely feels like a movie made by an old pro or someone who knows the ropes of pacing and organic character development like the back of their hand. Even more impressive, Zahler single-handedly wrote the screenplay that more or less takes every trope from any Western you've ever seen and somehow incorporates them into an always tense, never yielding story that mirrors The Searchers meets any number of those Italian cannibal exploitation films. The inspirations are clear, the characters more or less archetypes, and the story is not particularly revelatory but somehow-more by craft that innovation-Zahler is able to bring his elements together and form a sum that is greater than it's well-worn parts. Zahler is somehow able to make cinema's oldest genre feel fresh again and that is the film's biggest accomplishment. To this effect, the film is more self-referential than it would be had it been made at another time, but this endearing, self-deprecating quality paired with excellent dialogue throughout and Kurt Russell playing a sheriff is ironically what lends the film it's stylish facade. Bone Tomahawk is as much a film to be admired as it is to be devoured, but that the promise behind these ideas and this style actually deliver is strangely rewarding in a way I didn't see coming.

First Trailer for DIRTY GRANDPA Starring Zac Efron

The first trailer for Zac Efron's spiritual sequel to High School Musical that was apparently hijacked by Robert De Niro, Dirty Grandpa, has premiered. The VVS film looks to take what would have essentially become of Troy Bolton and thrown the veteran actor into the mix to wake Efron's character up from the sleepwalking state he's trapped in as Efron's character is a guy who's always done what people expected of him even if those choices went against his own desires. I already feel like this is getting deeper into the character than the movie will though as, for the most part, Dirty Grandpa looks to be more in line with the shenanigans of Neighbors than melodrama of the disaster that was We Are Your Friends. While Efron is actually making a sequel to that Seth Rogen co-starrer that will drop in May of next year it seems this road trip comedy with the hit or miss De Niro will prime us for the antics the actor will get into next summer. I frame the film this way as I doubt Dirty Grandpa (which I'll inexplicably get confused with Bad Grandpa a thousand times before it's release) will be anything more than a slight diversion, but that isn't to say it won't be a pleasant diversion. The cast is chock-full of solid comedic actors in supporting roles and the trailer in and of itself includes some pretty funny moments without feeling like it's giving away it's best bits. To boot, the first poster for the film is also pretty great. Check out both the trailer and first poster below after the jump. Dirty Grandpa also stars Julianne Hough, Aubrey Plaza, Dermot Mulroney, Jason Mantzoukas and opens on January 22, 2016.

TRUTH Review

Note: This is a reprint of my review for Truth, which originally ran on September 14, 2015 after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am publishing it again today as it hits theaters this weekend.

I don't typically watch the news anymore. If I do it's only because it's on in the background at a restaurant or friends house. I don't even have cable. I get my news updates and read the latest stories on the internet. Naturally, that means Truth makes me feel like a horrible individual. This is the case because the film deals in the purity of investigative journalism, the integrity it was once synonymous with and the standards that every great reporter would ideally hold themselves to. Of course, the truth is also relative and in his directorial debut James Vanderbilt (who has written screenplays such as Zodiac and White House Down) explores this idea by telling the behind-the-scenes story of the 2004 60 Minutes investigation of then-President George W. Bush's military service in the Texas Air National Guard. This investigation, led by producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), comes under heavy scrutiny after the legitimacy of a handful of documents that question the conduct and participation of Bush while in the National Guard are thought to be fake. Vanderbilt ultimately plays things safe and goes with a rather trusted formula and conventional approach a la any newsroom drama you've ever seen, but because the story in and of itself is so interesting (as is also typically the case with newsroom dramas) and given the way the film deals with the subsequent firestorm of criticisms and accusations that cost anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and Mapes their careers it more than sustains itself and delivers a solid if not exceptional venture.

First Trailer for THE RIDICULOUS 6 Starring Adam Sandler

After the success of Beasts of No Nation (it's been watched more than 3 million times in it's first ten days of release says Netflix) and on the same day that Pixels arrives on Blu-Ray and DVD the streaming service is ready to move on to it's next original film. The trailer for the first of four Adam Sandler films being made for Netflix, The Ridiculous 6, has debuted and couldn't be further from the tone of what Netflix's first original film offered. While Beasts was an intense thriller about child soldiers in Africa, this new Sandler comedy mainly concerns itself with spoofing The Magnificent Seven by featuring Sandler as Tommy “White Knife” Stockburn as a man who goes on an adventure-filled journey across the Old West with his five brothers when their long-lost outlaw father returns. Directed by Frank Coraci (Click, Here Comes the Boom) I have a bit more faith in the film because of his involvement rather than this simply being another Sandler collaboration with Dennis Dugan who tends to give Sandler his laziest results. The film generally looks like a big-budget summer Sandler flick which is exciting and the cast is beyond ridiculous. While we'll have to wait and see if the quality of the film is better than what the comedian has offered as of late on the big screen, this was without a doubt the smartest move Sandler could have made given his dwindling box office returns and that his films are largely comfort food anyway. The Ridiculous 6 also stars Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Harvey Keitel and will be available to stream on Netflix starting December 11th beating the 70mm release of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight by two of weeks.

ROCK THE KASBAH Review

Rock the Kasbah is a film that is neither here nor there. It is an odd case of feeling completely inconsequential while using relevant aspects of our current cultural climate to try and make a statement yet only proving itself irrelevant for it. It's a strange film-an experience that isn't exactly unpleasant while you're in the midst of it, but is ultimately more forgettable than anything I've seen at the movies in recent memory. It's is a shame, really, as the production has so much going for it and could have certainly been an interesting film were someone with any kind of motivation or vision in the director's chair. It's always fun to see Bill Murray's name above the title, leading a film and especially if that film is a broad comedy (something we don't get often anymore), but while Murray is seemingly giving this his all director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam) looks to be on autopilot. This isn't necessarily unexpected as Levinson hasn't produced anything that's been universally loved or appreciated for some time, but to have frequent Murray collaborator Mitch Glazer (Scrooged, the upcoming A Very Murray Christmas) behind the screenplay and Murray front and center with an off the wall premise one would think there'd be more to this tale of a washed up music manager who ends up stranded in Afghanistan. Instead, Murray and a rather outstanding supporting cast that includes Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Scott Caan and Danny McBride are wasted in this meandering mess that only stays afloat for the pure intrigue of seeing where the movie might go. Turns out, Rock the Kasbah isn't worth paying much attention to even if every facet it offers up is one you would normally give enough credit to do as much. It's not horrible by any means, but it's easy to see the amount of untapped potential here that inevitably makes the final product all the more disappointing.  

On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 27, 2015

GOOSEBUMPS Review

As a child of the nineties, as someone who was in fourth and fifth grade at the dead center of the decade I was completely immersed in the Goosebumps books. I can easily recall going to Wal-Mart with my mom every month and constantly checking to see if the new book was on the shelves yet. I would devour these books to the point of ridiculousness and their popularity was such that at this point in time even my fourth grade teacher decided to read one of author R.L. Stine's works of adolescent horror to the class so as to appeal to those who weren't on board with Tuck Everlasting. While the books meant a great deal to me and I was a big fan of the Fox Kids Saturday morning line-up at the time I was unfortunately never able to get into their live-action adaptations of Stine's stories in the TV series that ran from 1995 to 1998. There was all the excitement in the world for such a series, but once it premiered there was never enough to keep me coming back-unlike the books. And so, how would a live-action movie version of such stories be any different? Given I was also twenty years removed from the source material, would I even care if a Goosebumps movie did honorable service to the literature or was it time to move on and accept that whatever it was that made these books so captivating to so many kids on the brink of their teenage years in the mid-nineties was just an elusive quality never to be contained on celluloid? It turns out, all the material needed was a dash of meta-comedy that allowed the story to not only incorporate several of Stine's most popular characters, but Stine himself. With this opportunity to tell a brand new story rather than simply rehashing one of Stine's more popular titles the film is given a fresh idea that combines the likes of something akin to Jumanji or Zathura with the perfect balance of slightly off-kilter comedy and scary scenarios with over-the-top monsters that made the books so engaging. In short, this new Goosebumps film exceeded all expectations by delivering a fun and charming horror flick for kids that will undoubtedly be brought out every year around Halloween for a long time to come.

CRIMSON PEAK Review

To preface this review: I'm not the biggest Guillermo del Toro fan. I like his stuff well enough, but I don't understand the fuss around him that has essentially made him a brand. It's easy to go back and say how much you enjoyed Cronos as it was an introduction to the director for many or how great Pan's Labyrinth was because it is in fact that (I still can't see del Toro ever hitting that kind of high again), but beyond his somewhat spotty resume what is there? I thought Pacific Rim was fine, but nowhere near great or even worth the excitement many a fanboy have lauded it with since the films release two years ago that have garnered it a sequel campaign for the ages (will it be made or not?!?!? Ahh who knows!!). With Crimson Peak though, I was intrigued from the moment gothic horror and del Toro's name were thrown together in the same sentence. It made perfect sense, but more it would be magnificent to see something of this genre made in the modern Hollywood system. If there were ever a chance for del Toro to return to the heights of Labyrinth it would certainly have to be in this type of film, right? It's as if the horror genre is ingrained in the way the director thinks-each piece of writing attempting to elicit the horror of whatever circumstances his characters find themselves in with a flourish of the fantastical thrown in to boot. As penned by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins (The Sugarland Express, Mimic) Crimson Peak is an amalgamation of something Edgar Allen Poe might have thought up conveyed in the style of the horror films of the fifties and sixties. It is easy to say that the film could easily fall into the "all style and no substance" category, but it's also easy to see there is a lot going on under the surface here even if the film I saw isn't exactly the one I expected. Given the title seemed to be referring to the colossal gothic mansion that the trio of main characters inhabit I imagined this would be a tale of a haunted family heirloom that held plenty of secrets for the innocent Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) to discover, but while this element certainly plays into the film, Crimson Peak is more about desire and how the nature of such emotion can consume every inch of our being.

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER Review

The Last Witch Hunter is one of those movies that, were Vin Diesel not coming off a more prominent period in his career, would star Nicolas Cage in the titular role. What that says about the actual state of Diesel's career outside of the Fast & Furious franchise is up for debate, but what is undeniable is the guy at least has some modicum of charisma even if it only extends so far. With that charisma he has chosen to portray an eight hundred year old witch hunter that operates within a film that feels all too familiar and all too like it should be released in the doldrums of January when the weather outside matches the dark, wet and dreary aesthetic of the film. Instead, Summit has decided to release the film around Halloween is seeming hopes that the it may connect on a festive level, but folks who flock to Diesel's follow-up to the biggest entry in his Fast franchise won't find the actor giving us the knowingly cheesy tone of that over-the-top action spectacle or even any solid action as everything about The Last Witch Hunter is messy and incoherent. This isn't to say the film has no redeeming qualities as some of the character design (mainly that of the Witch Queen) is pretty interesting and the costume design is sleek even if the palette director Breck Eisner (The Crazies, Sahara) is painting on is a grainy one. This is more or less to say that Diesel shows little range in his performance, but his jackets are nice. It doesn't help that half an hour in one can fairly easily tell where things are going story-wise and while what is hinted at more or less turns out to be true it's as if screenwriters Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (yes, it took three writers to compose this slop) knew their script was too predictable and so they began throwing in random obstacles and twists that only end up making the film all the more confusing and all the more stupid. I hate to go into a movie doubting that it will provide anything of value, but if The Last Witch Hunter exceeded anything it was the expectation of just how generic and forgettable it would be.

STEVE JOBS Review

I know what you're thinking, "Hasn't there already been a movie about Steve Jobs?" and yes, there has, but nothing about this new film is comparable to the one starring Ashton Kutcher from 2013. Like the man himself, everything about this new Steve Jobs film is innovative in the way that it creates a product consumers will no doubt find engaging as well as hopefully being something most will feel the need to seek out the same way they feel the need to own an iPhone. Coming from an all-star roster of creative minds and performers Steve Jobs is an electric two hours in the theater that possesses an energy unlike anything I've seen in recent memory. There is so much going on in every scene, so many other things beyond the expected exceptional dialogue from writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network). It's clear this is a Sorkin script simply from the way people speak in perfect thoughts that are conveyed with precise wording, but more is the direction that Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) takes by highlighting this dialogue with a trained eye on the influencing factors that surround his actors and the words they're speaking to paint a fully-realized picture. While it is certainly necessary to have some pre-existing knowledge of Jobs and his reputation, this film is able to convey the major portions of what crafted the arc of this man's life in such an unconventional way that even if the film doesn't give you all you want in regards to story it will undoubtedly make you want to rush home and read more about the man and the myth that is Steve Jobs. One could criticize the film for not filling in these gaps or for feeling like an incomplete work by virtue of sticking to it's unique structure, but for me this only propelled the energy forward while keeping the intrigue at top notch. Beyond the craft of the writer, director and their respectful teams that put this work together it is the stellar cast that allow us to buy into these captivating monologue's. As Jobs, Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Prometheus) doesn't look much like the former Apple CEO, but he carries this film in every moment with a vicious performance that will no doubt keep him at the forefront of everyone's minds as we head into awards season.

New Trailer for JOY Starring Jennifer Lawrence

20th Century Fox has released a second trailer for David O. Russell's (Silving Linings Playbook, American Hustle) third pairing with actors Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper called Joy. The film tells the story of Lawrence's titular character who creates something of her own family dynasty after seemingly being smothered by generations of tradition and pressure to live a certain kind of complacent life. While I wasn't as high on American Hustle as most, Silver Linings Playbook was one of my favorite films of 2013 and one I can still return to without hesitation. While the effect of Hustle has somewhat made me less excited for this next Russell picture it's ignorant to think this won't at least be interesting and well put together. I'm always excited to see what this trio of collaborators (Robert De Niro is back as well) have come up with if nothing else and to that point Joy at least looks to have more of a focus than the rushed Hustle did. The directors signature style is still intact, but there is also a distinct look to this film with some glaringly beautiful shots with an interesting emphasis on the specific-seeming musical choices of both trailers. Joy will no doubt be seen as another Oscar contender with Lawrence already garnering talk of a Best Actress nomination and what I hope might be another nod for Cooper as he's been the true beacon of the previous two O. Russell features and I can't help but feel Burnt will be something of a misfire (I'll find out next week). For now though, Joy also stars Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Elisabeth Röhm, Dascha Polanco and opens on Christmas Day.

Final Trailer for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Yesterday marked two months until the arrival of the first new Star Wars film in over a decade. Disney marked the occasion by not only releasing the official poster for the film, but several teasers for the full trailer that has debuted tonight during Monday Night Football (you know, what most Star Wars fans tend to watch on Mondays). Every other movie in town has pretty much cleared out sans the fourth Alvin and the Chipmunks film (yes, fourth!) which just decided to go head to head with the mammoth J.J. Abrams sequel that will see the continuing adventures of Luke, Han and Leia and what are presumably plenty of new characters given the expansive cast. It's been six months since the last trailer dropped for the film in the midst of the Star Wars celebration that took place in Anaheim, California, but now we have what I assume to be the final trailer before the actual release of the film and the reality of there being a new Star Wars movie just over the horizon is finally becoming a reality. While I was going to try and resist paying attention to what this trailer might hold the anticipation is unbelievable and I couldn't help but to divulge every bit of this glorious clip several times already. Things of note are the surplus footage of antagonist Kylo Ren and our first glimpse at Princess Leia, but still no sign of Luke. The film stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendolyn Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Warwick Davis, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and Max Von Sydow. Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens December 18th.

BEASTS OF NO NATION Review

It's difficult to summon exactly how to feel about a film like Beasts of No Nation. It is somewhere in the realm of 12 Years a Slave in that it's impossible not to acknowledge the craft and effectiveness of what it achieves, but is without a doubt something I and I presume many others would not care to experience again. What I find to be most endearing about director Cary Fukunaga's (True Detective) third feature directorial effort is that of it's pacing. Having not read Uzodinma Iweala's novel on which the film is based it's hard to tell how much Fukunaga's adaptation stays true to the original narrative, but the story he has delivered feels so whole and so effortlessly consecutive that there is no need to harp on this detail. If you know what you're getting yourself into, you know that Beasts of No Nation is going to be a devastating watch. It is a film about child soldiers in Africa and is so distant from what those of us settling down on our couches to watch the film on Netflix are accustomed to that it can't help but be somewhat shocking. Nothing we see in the film though, no matter how gruesome, is done purely for shock value. Rather, Fukunaga's highly stylistic eye is trained to capture not the arc of violence, but that of a single young boy who comes from a rather innocent and somewhat naive background to that of someone robbed of their childhood only to have it replaced with the inner-conflict of having to kill, to commit sins against the God they worship and question continuously whether or not they are making the right choices for their particular set of circumstances. There is no doubt this tragic story is a tough watch, but by the time we are brought around to the conclusion of the character arc Fukunaga intends to expose it can't help but feel like a necessary one to experience.

BRIDGE OF SPIES Review

I'm not going to say anything new or anything you probably haven't already heard about the latest from Steven Spielberg, but hopefully it will still be somewhat insightful and interesting to you, the reader. Come to think of it, that's kind of what Spielberg himself has done with Bridge of Spies. There is nothing new or original about what he's put on display here, but it is still very much an engaging and insightful take on the topic he's decided to tackle. Everything about the film, from it's period setting of 1957 during the height of the Cold War to the fact it once again pairs the most famous director in the world with the most likable actor in the world, Tom Hanks, screams pedigree and pure Oscar bait. What's reassuring is that Bridge of Spies never comes off as such. It aspires to be little more than an intense study of the small details of human interaction and what crafts us to be the people we truly are as tested by extraordinary circumstances. This is a film purely for adult viewers, not because it contains anything too risque for younger viewers sans a few curse words, but because it is a film that moves slowly, builds it's character and tension assuredly and then delivers an overall message that comes at the story from a very distinct perspective only making us consider the many other perspectives one could see this story from (which is sorta the point). Bridge of Spies isn't anything to necessarily write home about in that regard, but while you're watching it, as you're sitting there experiencing it, you can do little more than appreciate the obvious care and dedication that has gone into producing this handsomely mounted picture. That it includes a solid performance from Hanks and something of a revelatory showing by character actor Mark Rylance only emphasizes further the type of respect a film such as this deserves; not only because it is indisputably a good movie that consists mainly of adults talking, but respect for it's backers and makers for being willing to create an old school drama during a time when it seems anything in the realm of adult-skewing entertainment is labeled as less than profitable.

Final Trailer for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION

It's been six long years since Paranormal Activity took movie theaters and audiences by storm. The mythology has since grown to almost incomprehensible levels, but the latest (and supposedly last) film from the series looks to put it all to rest. Oren Peli, who pioneered the whole franchise, is nowhere to be found with this installment though as four screenwriters were brought in to craft this sequel while first-time feature director Gregory Plotkin is at the helm. To be honest, I have little to no interest in the franchise anymore given there has simply been too much time in between the fourth installment and this one. Granted, there was The Marked Ones last January, but even that felt forced (despite connecting to the overall narrative) and I can only imagine The Ghost Dimension will suffer for being perceived as another off-shoot rather than the fifth film in the ongoing saga. As far as I can tell that is what this new film is, Paranormal Activity 5, but you wouldn't know that from this supposedly final trailer for the final Paranormal Activity film either. What we're given instead is a collection of hidden camera pranks that follow innocent people looking to buy a house who just so happen to be looking at the original Paranormal Activity house that has been rigged to scare the crap out of them. I don't really like this approach given it takes away from the "realness" that these films have worked so hard to keep intact, but again, I don't really care at this point so why even let it bother me? If you're interested though, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension "stars" Chris J. Murray, Brit Shaw, Ivy George, Dan Gill, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Chloe Csengery, Don McManus, Michael Krawic and opens on October 23rd. Hit the jump if you dare...

MISSISSIPPI GRIND Review

Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half NelsonIt's Kind of a Funny Story) Mississippi Grind is a story about an expert talker and a man who doesn't know when to stop. It's a film about the slums of gambling and the inescapable ditch you're constantly trying to crawl out of when you can't avoid the itch. In this regard, it's admirable in it's telling of certain personalities and it's perfectly in line stylistically with those it owes it's inspiration to. Whether it be The Gambler or California Split there is a distinctive 70's-inspired feel to these proceedings. Boden and Fleck have made a partnership of exploring human psyche's with crippling problems, but never have they seemed to commit to a genre so boldly. With this distinction in mind, Boden and Fleck take on this specific tone more than anything and more or less capture what they seem to be going for due mostly to two charismatic and emotionally compelling performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds. The story is rather generic as Mississippi Grind quickly becomes a road movie about redemption these characters know will never be earned, but it is within this standard storytelling that the small, interesting caveats of character are born and are what continue to make the film as entertaining as it consistently is. Throughout the film Reynolds' Curtis comments on how it's not the destination, but the journey that matters most and that mantra stands true of the film as well. While this is a nice sentiment thus permitting the film to fall into certain cliche's while hovering above average with it's character development as well as the unexpected but engaging dynamic between the two leads. And yet, this oft repeated motto still doesn't allow the film, as a whole, to be anything more than an impressive experiment in nostalgia that succeeds in some areas and is only content in others. Mississippi Grind is a solid film, a movie of rhythms and textures, but it's nothing so compelling that it will stick with you.

KNOCK KNOCK Review

Expectations are never high for anything from the notorious Eli Roth. Roth, whose most recent picture I was witness to only a few weeks ago in The Green Inferno, was a delayed bit of intrigue that turned out to be little more than a traditional gore-fest without any substance. And so, when his latest comes down the pipeline and features a rejuvenated Keanu Reeves (John Wick really helped that guys rep) you want to be interested. When you hear that the film was adapted from a 1977 film called Death Game that featured Colleen Camp (who makes a cameo appearance here) you also want to be hopeful. Still, the story is rather familiar and there isn't much of a reason to believe that Roth will necessarily bring anything new to the Fatal Attraction table. That said, there are plenty of interesting ideas at play here and by the end of the film I'd developed something of a respect for the filmmaker for at least attempting to say something about the generational differences in with which sex, sexuality and the sanctity of marriage are viewed. Like any film that touches on such subjects and has been made by someone with enough perspective to know that love can be the only genuine thing we have in this world and that sex as presented by popular culture is largely a world of fantasy there are hard facts to be dealt with and bold statements to be made. While the tide of who's side we're on is continually turning in this psychological thriller, the thing the film lacks that might make it all the more compelling is a certain slyness. It's all about the way something is said rather than what is necessarily being said and Roth has a way of being so blunt and on the nose that it undermines the poignancy of what he seems to want to say. Still, the movie plays out with such inherent intensity that it's hard to look away or not find many of the elements entertaining if not on a something of a disturbing level. The progression of the mind games that our two female leads endow Reeves character with are up to par with any seasoned antagonist, but Roth's inability to remain restrained makes for a finale that screams the movies ideas at our faces rather than chillingly delivering a question that individual audience members might be afraid to answer about themselves.

THE FINAL GIRLS Review

The Final Girls is one of those movies people who love movies could likely watch over and over again. I say this because I've watched it twice already and enjoyed it even more the second time around. Everything about the film is calculated to perfection when considering the genre it is both lampooning and writing a love letter to. Here, writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller use this self-aware technique not to make fun of the actions of their own movie, but more to examine the staples of nostalgia and how what eventually become these staples begin as innocent, unintentional marks of the decade from which a movie is born. We're unaware of the tropes being created by the countless super hero blockbusters of our current cinematic landscape, but in twenty years there is no doubt the twenty-somethings will find a strange comfort in movies that attempt to recreate the tone and energy of what we can't see in front of us right now. It's an interesting experiment and one that pays off in spades for a certain type of audience member. Lucky for me, I feel a part of the generation that will get the most out of this take on the slasher film that was born out of the 80's horror boom. There are two kinds of spoofs, ones where the characters and genre trappings are exaggerated for mere comical effect and then the ones that mean to point out the aspects that, while admittedly being horrible, also make the characters and genre so endearing. What The Final Girls clearly intends to do is show us why these 80's films about teens dying horribly gruesome deaths have become so endearing to the current generation. The answer is we find a kind of solace in the likes of Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Leatherface and Michael Myers that wasn't available in the elaborate mind of Jigsaw or the allusive Paranormal Activity villains. It's an atmosphere that feels foreign to the smart phone era and is a reminder of what the world was like when we were innocent while still appealing to our now adult nature with it's horror aspects. The Final Girls capitalizes on each of these components to play perfectly into everything a certain set of audience members need to feel fully enraptured not only in the events taking place in the film, but our own thought processes about such films.

Teaser Trailer for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES

While I read Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and enjoyed it I was of course less ecstatic about the 2012 feature film adaptation. What I haven't read is Grahame-Smith's 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the one that put him on the map and made his whole "thing" the mashing together of classic literature and historical fiction with staples of the horror genre. It's a pretty ingenious idea and it clearly worked as the books seemed to be well received, but having not read the new version of Jane Austen's novel (who Grahame-Smith credits as a co-author) I'm curious to see if this film turns out any better than that other Grahame-Smith adaptation. The story essentially follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but places the novel in an alternate universe version of Regency era England where zombies roam the English countryside. While the trailer is merely a teaser and more or less is a compilation of quick action shots it certainly gets it's tone across by opening as if little more than another Austen adaptation before switching things up. This is an expected twist if you know what's coming, but one I'd think many will find a fair amount of fun in if they're seeing it for the first time in a movie theater and are unaware of what trailer might play next. The look of the film seems to be top-notch and given I really enjoyed Lily James in this years live-action Cinderella film I'm anxious to see what she does with a role that's completely opposite the sweet and innocent Disney princess facade. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies also stars Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, Bella Heathcote, Suki Waterhouse, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Lena Headey, Charles Dance and opens on February 5th, 2016.

First Trailer for The Coen Brothers HAIL, CAESAR!

Just as the Oscars will be readying their 2016 broadcast, a place where the Coen Brothers have accepted their fair share of statues, the writer/directors will be releasing their latest upon the world with little to no interest in what the Academy seems to think of their film. In fact, given the films subject it might just be the Coen's are making something of a larger statement about the industry in general, but we'll have to wait for the final product to see what's really going on. As for now, we're left with a rather incredible looking trailer for the Brothers latest musings on the old Hollywood system. Per usual, the directors have lined up quite a roster of talent and per usual they look to have used them to great effect by zeroing in on what type of movie stars today's movie stars would be if they were movie stars of another era. Distributed by Universal and led by Josh Brolin (who is really picking up steam lately after a few lackluster years) the story tells of a Hollywood fixer in the 1950's who works to keep the studio's stars in line. The film is said to take place all within the span of a single day, a day where the fixer's biggest problem to solve is that of locating the missing star (George Clooney) of the studio's latest epic. The distinct comic touch of the Coen's seems to be in full force here as the film overall looks to be something of a combination of Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski. Again, we'll have to wait a few months to see what we've really got here, but consider me super excited. Hail, Caesar! also stars Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum and opens on February 5th, 2016.

PAN Review

Pan is utterly forgettable. There is no reason for this re-imagined and retooled version to exist beyond Warner Bros. attempting to get in on the current trend of turning classic fairy tales and more specifically, classic animated Disney films, into some kind of live-action confection. What doesn't work here though is the fact the Peter Pan story has been told so many times before and given we've all likely seen at least two iterations of J.M. Barrie's story (even the kids this movie is targeting will have seen Disney's 1953 adventure countless times) there is nowhere for this film to go that doesn't feel like it's either retreading familiar ground or desperately stretching. Unfortunately, the latter is what director Joe Wright's (Atonement, Hanna) new film does as it options to go back to the beginning and tell us the now obligatory origin story that basically covers all the stuff that happens before all the good stuff happens. The real issue here though is in the script from writer Jason Fuchs who contributed to the last Ice Age film and is the sole screenwriter on the upcoming Wonder Woman feature (not instilling a lot of faith there). There is a lot going on here which only creates more and more issues for the film as it goes on, but the source of each of these issues seems to stem from the main issue of the base story never truly recognizing itself. Each scene is strewn together with no connecting strands, no substance and thus nothing for the next scene to build upon. It's as if Fuchs was figuring out the story for himself as he went along and once he was done, never bothered to go back and write a second draft. Once upon a time I would have killed to see Wright take on huge, fantastical material such as this, but in his first big-budget studio effort the director has delivered what couldn't be a more underwhelming and, like I said in the beginning, forgettable experience.

First Trailer for TRIPLE 9 Starring Casey Affleck

When I was putting together my most anticipated list of 2015 it was hard for me to decide between including either Triple 9 or Black Mass. Based on their similarities of being crime dramas with directors known for capturing bleak material I felt I had to choose one of them. Both also featured rather solid ensemble casts that were hard to discount. I went with Black Mass which was fortunate for my list given that film actually opened this year while director John Hillcoat's latest was actually pushed to 2016. While Black Mass didn't exactly live up to all I'd hoped it might be based purely on it's aforementioned credentials there is still hope for Triple 9 as Open Road has released the first trailer for the film today and it looks as bleak and as fantastic as one could hope. From a screenplay by newcomer Matt Cook the film follows a group of corrupt police officers who are blackmailed into pulling off a seemingly impossible heist. I really enjoyed both Lawless and The Road even if both ended up somewhat underwhelming. While Hillcoat certainly has a knack for eliciting the specific tone and style necessary for this kind of dark crime/drama it's hard to know if the director has necessarily found his own persona as a filmmaker given what we're seeing here looks closer to something that David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury) would deliver. This isn't a bad thing per se, I like Ayer's films, but I'm interested to see what Hillcoat will be able to bring to the table that differentiates himself from his contemporaries. Triple 9 stars Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer, Clifton Collins Jr. and opens on February 19th.

First Trailer for BONE TOMAHAWK Starring Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell may be having a banner year thanks to playing a new part in Furious 7 that will reportedly expand in the next Fast trilogy as well as being set to lead Quentin Tarantino's latest film this Christmas, but in between those we'll see the legendary actor take on what looks to be a similar role to what he'll be playing in The Hateful Eight. As Sheriff Franklin Hunt, Russell and three other men set out in the Wild West to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers. Today, we have the first trailer for director S. Craig Zahler's film that premiered at Fantastic Fest this week. While the tone given from the poster and casting of Russell is one of a throwback to the Westerns of the 70's combined with horror films of the same period, the trailer doesn't give away too much in the way of self-awareness. In fact, the trailer doesn't even give an indication that it is cannibals that are involved in this peril. For all we know, the traditional threat of Native Americans is what could be lurking around the corners which only tends to make the film look all the more like a nostalgia-ridden take on the John Wayne starrer, The Searchers. Still, I like what Zahler and his team seem to at least be going for here and I'm anxious to see if it pans out to be something fresh and inventive as far as gore goes (I need it after seeing The Green Inferno) or if it sticks to it's guns by following the pattern of past genre exercises. Bone Tomahawk also stars Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Sean Young, David Arquette, Lili Simmons, Fred Melamed and opens in theaters and will be available on iTunes and VOD on October 23rd.

PAWN SACRIFICE Review

From the opening frames it is clear that Pawn Sacrifice looks to analyze and discuss the psychology of this young man who would become the worlds greatest chess player. From a screenplay written by Steven Knight (Locke) and directed by Ed Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) we are introduced first thing to an eight year-old Bobby Fischer (Aiden Lovecamp) in Brooklyn who is already being positioned by his Russian mother, Regina (Robin Weigert), to look out the windows for spies and people who might be on the trail of her cause. Apparently she is some type of activist as she's already had her son and daughter, Joan (Sophie Nélisse of The Book Thief), rehearse what they are to say if someone asks them about her. It is an initial state of fear and suspicion that Bobby seems to never be able to shake. The fact he is to become the most famous chess player in the world, used as something of a pawn himself in the political dealings between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, only intensifies this paranoia that causes his mental health to fall apart faster than a watermelon in the hands of Gallagher. Of course, what has to be considered is how much this nurturing state and how much Fischer's love for chess both influenced his eventual mental state. By the time Fischer was twelve years-old (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) in 1955 he was already something of a prodigy, the U.S. chess champion as well as already beginning to push his mother, and almost everyone else, out of his life. The basis for who he would become was already there, but this inability to separate the game of chess from his identity and thus the the inability to look at the world any different than he would a chess board somewhat forced Fischer to succumb to the tone of the game and live his life in that timbre. Needless to say, this constant state of delusion becomes taxing on both Fischer and those around him, but dammit if it isn't fascinating to see unfold through the glass door.