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.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR Review

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

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN Review

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

First Trailer for CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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

New Trailer for Disney's ZOOTOPIA

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

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 2 Review

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

First Trailer for THE BOSS Starring Melissa McCarthy

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

SECRET IN THEIR EYES Review

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

Teaser Trailer for CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE Starring Dwayne Johnson

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

THE NIGHT BEFORE Review

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

First Trailer for Jeff Nichols MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

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

Teaser Trailer for NOW YOU SEE ME 2

When Now You See Me opened a little over two years ago no one expected the small-ish Lionsgate heist thriller with a rather credible cast and cool premise to outgross the Will Smith sci-fi flick it was opening against, but Now You See Me then went on to gross over $350 million worldwide on a budget of $75m. Cue the need for a sequel and almost three years to the date after the premiere of the Louis Leterrier-helmed original property we will receive the Jon M. Chu directed sequel. Now, Chu is coming off one of the worst box office performances for a movie ever with Jem and the Holograms and so this will be a perfect opportunity to rectify whatever damage Jem might have done to his career. I haven't seen Jem and the Holograms so I can't speak to the quality of that film, but the reputation it has garnered alone for it's poor box office performance and the fan backlash it received for seemingly straying so far from it's source material (again, I've never seen the 80's cartoon that inspired it) has been nothing short of pure vitriol. Chu has also made several of the Step Up films as well as the G.I. Joe sequel that was, if nothing else, better than it's predecessor speaking to the fact the guy is more than capable. From this initial teaser it looks as if Chu has at least kept Leterrier's kinetic energy intact and has enlisted the likes of Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Radcliffe to fill fill the hole left by Isla Fischer as well as carrying on the ongoing struggle between the Four Horsemen and Michael Caine's Arthur Tressler as Tressler's son, Walter, intends to mix things up. Now You See Me 2 also features the return of Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Morgan Freeman and opens on June 10, 2016.

First Trailer for THE HUNTSMAN WINTER'S WAR

2012's Snow White and the Huntsman was a fairly modest hit, but didn't even recuperate it's budget stateside as it relied on the international box office to reach it's $400 million worldwide total that has seemingly justified the existence of this prequel/spin-off that will center on the second tier character of the Kristen Stewart starrer. A mouthful, I realize, but it has taken much to get to this would-be sequel to the screen. While I initially found it strange that Universal would take this opportunity to turn a Snow White film into anything but a Snow White franchise (especially given the success Disney is having with their live action fairy tales) the studio has essentially cut Stewart from the mix and added two of the more popular female actors working today. While Charlize Theron will return, making the story that Winter's War tells an obvious prequel or coinciding with the previous films events-type continuation, first time feature director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (who served as second unit director on Snow White and the Huntsman) has also added Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt to the mix. Having both starred in action-heavy films in the recent past both Chastain and Blunt are more than capable of hanging with the likes of Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth, who is nicely shaping his resume outside of his Thor roles, looks as if he will bring more of the same here if not his typical balance of charm and intimidation. I enjoyed the aesthetic of the first film more than anything and if nothing else it seems Nicolas-Troyan has been able to keep that visual style intact. While I'm not necessarily excited for the film, I'm intrigued as to where this could possibly take us. The Huntsman Winter's War also stars Nick Frost, Sam Claflin, Rob Brydon and opens on April 22, 2016.

SPOTLIGHT Review

Note: This is a reprint of my review for Spotlight, which originally ran on September 23, 2015 after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am publishing it again today as it hits theaters this weekend.

Spotlight is a fine example of what perfect execution looks like. From the outset we are given the broad scope of the issue the film looks to tackle and from there we dive right into Boston, 2001 to meet the key players in the game the film will be playing. There are no hiccups, no time for second guesses and nothing narratively to take away from the main objective. Spotlight is a prime piece of meat with all of the fat trimmed and only the juiciest parts left so as to make the whole experience one of pure, concentrated excellence. That said, it is certainly an interesting case in a couple of areas. The first being that director Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, Win Win), who is generally regarded as both a solid writer and filmmaker, was coming off the worst reviewed film of his career a year ago with The Cobbler and so to bounce back so ferociously with this effortlessly intelligent thriller makes it clear there is something more to be said for the process of filmmaking. The other, is that this reviewer in particular is a Catholic. This is an influential piece of information considering Spotlight is about the Boston Globe's investigation into the Church's sexual abuse scandal that gave cause for people everywhere (Catholic or not) to take a second look at one of our most respected and trusted institutions. Because the film plays it straight down the middle, with no time for subplots or unnecessary qualms, no one party is ever viewed unfairly, but rather the irrefutable facts presented allow the audience to make up their own minds.

New Trailer for ZOOLANDER 2

I will never forget reading my local newspaper's movie section the weekend after the September 11th attacks and the writer 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 feels 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 friends birthday party where we all decided to see a movie at the local dollar theater. Long story short, I loved it and only came to love it more over the fifteen years since it's release. As the once budding stars of Zoolander have each gone on to have successful comedic careers this sequel is something of a fitting conclusion to the The Frat Pack era while also being something of a re-energization. For example, the new trailer is packed with great cameos and awesome gags that make me more hopeful than I ever imagined I'd be for a sequel to a fifteen year-old cult classic. It's also interesting to note Ben Stiller is listed as the director here rather than Justin Theroux (who was originally hired to direct after writing the screenplay). Zoolander 2 opens on February 12, 2016 and also stars Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor and Will Ferrell.

Full Trailer for GODS OF EGYPT

While I was never excited for Alex Proyas' big popcorn flick that would take Geroge Lucas' approach to the Star Wars prequels and extend them to ancient Egypt, I didn't think it would look as bad as this trailer indicates. I've always enjoyed Proyas' films, no matter how goofy they've seemed to get over the years. Granted, I was too young to really appreciate either The Crow or Dark City on my first, but culturally late viewings and was more a fan of Will Smith than anything else which gave I. Robot a pass (I need to re-visit that flick). It was in 2009 with Knowing that I could see the potential for what Proyas was going for, but the casting of Nicolas Cage in the lead role seemed to stunt it's potential and need to be taken seriously. Almost seven years after the release of that film though, Proyas has returned to the big screen with an epic Hollywood production that will certainly encounter (if it's not already) many of the same issues that faced Ridley Scott's Exodus film in that he's cast mostly white actors in a film set in Africa. Whatever that might bring, the biggest fight the film will have to face is that of being an original blockbuster with no brand recognition or previous films to lend it any hype. The star power is minimal (unless you were really aching to see some form of Gerard Butler's Leonidas again), but the visuals seem to be the main selling point. I can't pretend I was impressed by the trailer as it looks like more of a video game than that Warcraft trailer, but also like that film the director intrigues me and so I'll stay tuned in to see how things turn out. Gods of Egypt stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Chadwick Boseman, Gerard Butler, Elodie Yung, Brenton Thwaites, Courtney Eaton, Abbey Lee, Rufus Sewell, Geoffrey Rush and opens on February 26, 2016.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: November 17, 2015

New Trailer for THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT

As the Hunger Games franchise comes to a close next week it also feels, culturally, like the age of the YA literary adaptation is coming to an end as well. So, where does that leave the lesser adaptations of such young adult fare like Divergent and the Maze Runner films? With only steady to dwindling box office returns on both second installments it's hard to know if there is really any excitement left for these franchises. The produces of the Divergent films, however, seem to think so as not only do they have another chapter for audiences this year, but they're extending Veronica Roth's final book in the series into the two-parter that will be categorized under Allegiant and Ascendant. Why they're doing this, I have no idea. Insurgent, the second film in the series, made almost $300 million worldwide on a budget of $110m, while Divergent, the initial chapter, did about $9m less, but was also $25m cheaper. While they may not be losing money, they certainly don't seem to be making much on these things. Why not finish off the trilogy with one more film and cut your losses (I can't imagine Allegiant doing any better given the horrible word of mouth around Insurgent)? I guess we'll find out what the master plan is when the film arrives and expands the world of Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) past it's Chicago borders this spring. The Divergent Series: Allegiant also stars Ansel Elgort, Jeff Daniels, Octavia Spencer, Miles Teller, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Daniel Dae Kim, Naomi Watts and opens March 18, 2016.

SUFFRAGETTE Review

Suffragette is a movie that survives solely on the strength of it's true story. Beyond the compelling and often times unfathomable way that men treat women in this film, there isn't much to grab a hold of or really sink your teeth into. It's disheartening given all the film clearly has going for it, but thus is the way things seem to go when a writer makes interesting and even somewhat daring if not completely agreeable choices in their screenplay. For instance, our lead character is a fictional invention in order to convey a certain perspective on these historical events, but given the way the film comes to a swift and unexpected conclusion based on the actions of a different character whose actor didn't even make the poster the film as a whole can't help but feel slightly impromptu whereas the obvious, in my opinion, choice for the narrative direction would have been more straightforward. We are talking about an incident that concerned militant suffragette Emily Davison (played in the film by Natalie Press) that effectively serves as the climax of the film, but given we've seen Davison in less than a handful of scenes prior the impact of her actions is not nearly as gut-wrenching as they could've been. I realize that writer Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Shame) is giving audiences more of a relatable character arc by delivering the typically passive Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) who is more or less pulled into her life of activism, but given that Davison was jailed on nine different occasions and had to be force fed no less than forty-nine times I'd say that not only does Davison deserve a movie about her life, but that it generally sounds more complimentary to the cinematic landscape than that of the everywoman Morgan has made with Maud. That isn't to say Mulligan or her character are ineffective as they work up to a certain point, but unfortunately that is as much as can be said about the film as well. With this subject matter and these events that clearly deserve to be recognized not to mention the talent on hand it's strange how uninspiring the film can sometimes feel. It has it's moments, sure, but for a fight that's unforgettable I likely won't remember much about the movie past next week.

CREED Review

I feel like I can make a fair assessment of the movie I'm about to watch simply by the quality and inventiveness of it's title card. There is just something about the way this opportunity can be executed that seems to somehow connect with how far the director was willing to go to make every ounce of his film thrive. This is all to say that Creed has a pretty great one and from the moment the title and namesake of our lead character rises on to the screen with an epic and bombastic score behind it the movie just rolls. What I truly appreciate about the suggested epicness that director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) implies with this title sequence-that is set up perfectly by giving us an epilogue of sorts that shows a young Adonis Johnson on the fast track to nowhere in 1998 as just another kid in juvy who likes to fight-is that it recognizes the legacy of what the film is taking on and in this moment sets a tone that encapsulates everything the rest of the movie will attempt to demonstrate through it's actions. In essence, Coogler sets the stage in such a manner that let's us know this movie means business and that, while it will operate in the world of Rocky, is a fresh perspective on an age old tale for a new generation of underdogs. The script by Coogler and Aaron Covington hits all of the expected beats of a film such as this, but they are executed with such authenticity and weight that finds real credence in the source material that it's genuinely effective. That's what makes a Rocky movie a Rocky movie, right? The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment, of overcoming insurmountable odds. As we've more or less seen Rocky grow from an ambitious thirty year-old with nothing to lose to a nearly seventy year-old man who's come down on the other side of life battered and broken, but never beaten there is little left to say. This isn't a movie about Rocky though, and so the real question moving forward was going to be if Adonis Johnson could resonate in a way that we'd feel the need to stand up and cheer. In summation, round one goes to Creed.

First Trailer for MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2

It's been thirteen years since writer/producer Nia Vardalos burst onto the scene with one of the biggest independent films of all time. Despite never holding the number one spot at the American box office, My Big Fat Greek Wedding went on to earn almost $369 million, a return of over sixty-one times it's $5 million budget. For that reason, it is the second most profitable film of all time after the first Paranormal Activity film. I can remember going to our local theater at the age of fifteen with a group of family members who were eager to get in on what the fuss was all about. I don't remember much of the first film other than it being my introduction to John Corbett and it including Joey Fatone from *Nsync in a random supporting role, but here we are thirteen years later and Vardalos' career has never again reached the heights of her 2002 break-out. In some ways, simply based on the box office success, a sequel to the film was inevitable, but given it has been so long since the first film this sequel is not only for the purposes of cashing in on a known brand, but likely one of the few viable options left for Vardalos. Granted, the sequel could be more interesting given the amount of time that has passed between the two films and the fact it seems they were able to get most of the original cast to reprise their roles, but the shoehorning in of another wedding just for the sake of the title feels as forced as this entire movie seems to be. There is no need for this movie and yet I understand why Vardalos would risk tainting the image and memories of the first one for another shot at relevance and a pay day that might last her another thirteen years until she has to write My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 also stars Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Gia Carides, Louis Mandylor, Alex Wolff, John Stamos and opens on March 25, 2016.

THE PEANUTS MOVIE Review

The thing about Peanuts is that it's meant to be a comforting, nurturing type of experience while at the same time providing something of a profound simplicity to the themes it desires to tackle. It's kind of like the Pixar movies, but flat instead of three dimensional and computer generated. With The Peanuts Movie though, director Steve Martino (the last Ice Age movie) looks to bring Charlie Brown and his gang into the twenty-first century as they are presented in computer animated 3D. Fortunately, this doesn't seem to have changed the sweet and simple mentality the comic strip by Charles Schulz always took on. The characters and their world have been updated in no apparent way-they all still play outside by trying to fly kites or ice skating, there is no modern technology and even many of the same story beats we've seen before in the holiday specials that air every year are present here. I largely only have those specials to refer to as I'm of the odd generation that was too young to get hip to the comic strip when it was in it's newspaper prime (despite still running in syndication today) and am too old to have any genuine interest in this new movie. Still, it seems a childhood in America wouldn't be complete without having seen It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving or the original A Charlie Brown Chistmas at least once. Given this was my only frame of reference walking into the 2015 version though, it seemed like little more than a cash grab given it was being presented in 3D and released just as the Holiday season was upon us. Of course, capitalizing on nostalgia has become big business since the social media age took hold of our culture and everything is suddenly worth a second look, but given the age and importance that the Peanuts brand carries with it this somehow felt more risky, more greedy, more capable of destroying real childhoods. Given it's mostly more of the same I doubt this will offend anyone, but in fact it will likely do the exact opposite and resurrect all the feels these characters originally inspired regardless of generation-heck, it may even inspire a few children of our newest ones.

Teaser Trailer for FINDING DORY

The team of Disney and Pixar have had some massive hits, but their biggest in terms of initial box office and adjusted for inflation grosses outside of Toy Story 3 is that of Finding Nemo. It was kind of an odd pick as the story is simple: father searches for lost son. And the appeal was simply the branding of what the studio had delivered previously. Nemo was Pixar at the height of it's critical and commercial power-a kind of culmination if you will. It didn't hurt that the quality of the movie was nothing short of excellent. Twelve years down the road and Pixar has experienced something of a rough patch with originals like Brave not stroking the critical fire as highly as expected and sequels like Cars 2 (why? WHY?!?!) and Monsters University (I really enjoy this one, regardless) doing more or less what people expect if nothing more. And so, while Pixar is certainly on something of an upswing after this summer's smash Inside Out and looks to have another hit on their hands with The Good Dinosaur this Thanksgiving there is nothing better than a safe bet and thus why we are now getting a peak at a sequel that was apparently warranted after thirteen years. We'll be getting another Toy Story feature, a sequel to The Incredibles and another Cars film (why? WHY?!?!) as well as some original sprinkled in there somewhere over the next few years, but today is about Finding Dory and, if nothing else, the trailer plays off the charms of the original's three leading characters in hopes audiences will remember how much they loved Marlin, Nemo and of course Dory to the point they're willing to spend a whole lot of money on them next summer. Ellen DeGeneres returns as the voice of Dory with Albert Brooks, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Ed O’Neill, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Kaitlin Olsen, Willem Dafoe, and Ty Burrell also starring. Finding Dory opens on June 17, 2016.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: November 10, 2015

First Trailer & Images for Duncan Jones' WARCRAFT

I don't play video games. I haven't been interested in one since NBA Jam for the Super Nintendo came out in 1993 and so, when it comes to World of Warcraft, I have no idea what is going on. That said, I do like the work of director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and that he has both co-written and taken the helm of this adaptation gives me a slight interest. Still, the full trailer that has premiered today offers little in the way of trying to convert those that aren't already fans as the visuals represent little more than a Lord of the Rings-esque epic with orcs and humans battling one another. I will say the conflict between each species and how they want to handle the situation of their differences for the greater good is appealing and is heavier than what I expected from a movie adapted from a video game, but that just illustrates what low standards we have for our big budget Hollywood spectacles. I can't say that I'm excited for this feature at all as I have no vested interest in the material and the trailer does nothing to excite or intrigue me further, but I am interested in how this will play with the general movie-going audience. Will anyone see this beyond the gamers who already enjoy these characters or will Universal Pictures come to regret this $100 million investment if things go the way of Hitman, Doom or Need for Speed. Starring Travis Fimmel as the Alliance’s Anduin Lothar, Toby Kebbell as Durotan the hero of the Horde, with Paula Patton, Rob Kazinsky,Ben Foster, Daniel Wu, and Clancy Brown also starring Warcraft opens June 10, 2016.

SPECTRE Review

I saw my first James Bond film at fifteen. What I saw, some say, is the worst Bond picture of all time. 2002's Die Another Day featuring the last go-around for Pierce Brosnan as the famous British super spy was goofy fun at the time, especially for someone keenly unaware of any of the traditional elements and archetypes included in a Bond film, but four years later and one year after the revolutionary origin story that was Batman Begins made it okay to make something campy into something more grounded and serious we received a new kind of Bond, a more grounded in reality Bond with a seriously serious streak about him. That isn't to say that producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli overcompensated as Casino Royale still sits as my favorite of the Daniel Craig Bond films. For what it's worth, I don't necessarily have a great affinity for the Bond movies. They have never done much to excite me, but I look forward to them because I more or less know what I'm getting, but on a grand scale. And I like epic. Moreover, Craig is the Bond of my generation and if I were to have any type of fondness for any of these films it would be his rough and rugged incarnation of the typically suave MI6 agent. All of this is to say that while I appreciate what the producers and director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) have done for the series in being bold and essentially wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch it can't help but feel as if they ran out of tricks with the latest installment, Spectre. While there is much to like in this new film-the set pieces are consistent, the familiar elements more present than ever since Craig took over as well as the gorgeous cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema (her, Interstellar) capturing it all-and yet there is something missing from the story. There is a lack of substance while still holding an unbelievable amount of aspiration. Spectre feels like a film that wants and has the intention to do so many things and fulfill so much fan service that it actually ends up doing very little. To say Spectre is a waste of time or even a bad movie is too harsh as there is clear craft that has been put into the final product, but what the film is and what it wanted to be are clearly two very different entities.

Full Trailer for LONDON HAS FALLEN Starring Gerard Butler

Olympus Has Fallen was a numbingly entertaining action movie, but it feels like it was light years ago at this point. Has Gerard Butler even done anything else in the three year interim between these films you might ask? No, unless you count his voice work in How To Train Your Dragon 2 which was substantial, but otherwise we haven't seen the Scotsman's mug on the big screen since saving the President in March of 2013. We will see him in Gods of Egypt come February, but the month after will see his delayed return to Mike Banning, Secret Service man extraordinaire, who this time around will discover a plot to assassinate all the world leaders attending the Prime Minister's funeral in London. While original director Antoine Fuqua used his resurgence in popularity after Olympus to go on to bigger and better things this second round of mayhem was helmed by something of a novice feature director in Iran-born Babak Najafi (only two features to his credit over a sixteen year career). Still, I'm sure his instructions were clear in that Focus Features (yes, focus Features is distributing this) wanted more of the same in order to get butts back in the seat during the doldrums of March with hopes everyone might need a bit of escapism after the typical depression and drama involved with awards season fodder. Also starring Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Sean O’Bryan, Charlotte Riley and Waleed Zuaiter, London Has Fallen opens on March 4, 2016.

First Trailer for ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Disney has been releasing short clips of Alice Through the Looking Glass footage all week via their Twitter account, but today we get the first full trailer for the sequel to Tim Burton's 2010 billion dollar earner. While Burton did not return to direct the sequel, his replacement is the only thing giving me hope this new film might even be the slightest bit better than the previous Alice film. Everything was in place for Burton's interpretation of the Lewis Carroll classic to be a rewarding experience at the movies, if not mainly for the involvement of Burton alone, given the director's visual style lined up well with what most imagine Wonderland might look like were it actually brought to life. Instead, that film turned out to be a mess of CGI and convoluted storytelling that to this day I'm still not sure makes complete sense. And yet, the film earned more than a billion dollars worldwide so here we are. With director James Bobin (The Muppets) taking over we find Mia Wasikowska's Alice being recruited back to Wonderland after Johnny Depp's The Mad Hatter mysteriously goes bad. In order to figure out what happened to him, Alice must step back in time through a literal clock. That said, the imagery of this first look is quite striking and there at least seems to be some driving force to the narrative which is more than I can say for it's predecessor. Alice Through the Looking Glass opens on May 27, 2016 and also stars Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter reprising their roles from Alice in Wonderland.

BROOKLYN Review

Note: This is a reprint of my review for Brooklyn, which originally ran on September 11, 2015 after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am publishing it again today as it hits theaters this weekend.

Brooklyn is gorgeous and moving and all things warm and fuzzy without ever devolving into a Hallmark channel original. From the moment the film opens on a doe-eyed and innocent Saoirse Ronan working feverishly in a convenience shop in the early 1950's I was hooked by the effortless quality of the inviting atmosphere director John Crowley (Boy A, Closed Circuit) establishes. Even when a character as horrible as Ronan's prickly boss is present she can't dampen the mood of the eternally vibrant tone that radiates off this thing like a campfire in early fall. This immediate sense of safe familiarity allows for the rather objective-less story adapted from Colm Toibin's novel by Nick Hornby (About A Boy) to feel all the more profound and affecting as it unravels. While nothing that happens in Brooklyn will make you think too critically or give you a sense of accomplishment it is more a relaxing and comforting experience of a movie. It exists simply to make you feel something. Whether that something is overly sentimental or not will depend on your own mentality, but for the sake of my gullible and rather naive mind it was a perfectly cooked and plated dessert that made me feel cozy to the point of almost feeling gluttonous. Brooklyn gives and gives and never fails to keep you in line with it's simple narrative and somewhat complex emotional roller coaster that is complimented by it's ability to paint it's scenarios as simply as it can. Cheers to simplicity, to pleasantries and to being sappy; sometimes, it's all you need.

First Trailer for Charlie Kaufman's ANOMALISA

The first trailer for the latest directorial effort from the unique Charlie Kaufman has arrived and makes the film look to be something more optimistically aspirational than what it actually delivers. The spot also stands to make the movie seem a bit more all-encompassing than what is presented. I understand the approach Paramount has taken with the film after acquiring the rights, but I will be interested to see if general audiences pick up on this pitch. The trailer certainly enlists the many quotes that have lauded the film since it made it's debut on the festival circuit earlier this fall, but I wasn't as high on the film after seeing it at the Toronto International Film Festival as most (you can read my full review here). While I understand what Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson are going for in their stop-motion film I simply didn't think it achieved these goals as effectively as most have given it credit for. In dealing with many of the same themes as most Kaufman films (Adaptation, Synecdoche, New York) this latest experiment scales things back to a simpler state where the complexities of such existential ponderings aren't all-consuming. What I enjoyed most about the film were the keen observations that perfectly summarize the vapidness of the majority of our interactions on a daily basis. This, paired with the chosen visual style is rather inspired as not only does it allow Kaufman and Johnson the chance to visually illustrate what might have otherwise been conveyed through dialogue, but it also allows a rather uninteresting story to be told in an interesting enough fashion. Anomalisa features the voice talents of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan and opens in limited release on December 30th before expanding wide in January.