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 HOLLARS Review

John is Jim and Jim is John and in his new movie, The Hollars, John is simply John. We're talking about John Krasinksi of course who parlayed his likable everyman gig on The Office for nine seasons into a brand all its own with which he will now try to both break (13 Hours) and embrace (The Hollars). In Krasinski's second directorial effort what we have is your standard tale of a white man who's been given little if nothing to overcome in this society other than his own emotions and how he deals with such emotional conflicts when his mother falls ill in the small town he ran away from long ago. It is in returning to this not only small town, but the man's hometown that we know our protagonist will learn lessons that might help him deal with his mental constipation. Naturally, there is a cast of quirky family members who are designed to be specific in certain ways, but just broad enough in others so that we may all find someone to relate them to in our own families. In venturing back to his homestead John with the titular last name rather than Krasinski comes to learn things about his parents and his other family members that he'd never been privy to before; intimate and mostly ugly details he doesn't necessarily want to know or see, but as something of the family savior he finds it his responsibility to try and put them back together. It is in this idea, this story arc that The Hollars attempts to differentiate itself from this genre of defeated middle aged men returning to their roots to remember who they really are by reminding themselves of where they came from. It is in this idea that the one who fled to search for more is the one who fled not wholly out of ambition, but also from the pressures imbued upon them by their clan. In The Hollars, John is the only character whose life is fairly average-he really has little to complain about aside from the fact he may not be where he imagined himself professionally at this point, but otherwise he lives in New York City and has a rich/hip girlfriend in Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) who is expecting their first child. The guy more or less has his stuff together sans a few emotional shortcomings, but it is in these emotional shortcomings that the crisis drives him to some interesting and introspective places that are hinted at through his re-connections with his hometown, but that Krasinski brushes over too broadly for them to really resonate instead resorting to genre cliché's to round out his movie.

First Trailer for FENCES Starring Denzel Washington

I can remember reading Fences in my senior English class and being taken with the August Wilson play. It was a work that certainly made an impression, but given I'd been exposed to the mastery of Flannery O'Conner's "A Good Man is Hard to Find," earlier that semester I don't remember as much of it as I do that O'Connor short story. The original Broadway production that opened in 1987 earned the Tony award for Best Play as well as a Best Actor win for James Earl Jones, but it was the revival that opened in 2010 and gave Denzel Washington and Violas Davis wins for Best Actor and Best Actress that has given way to the first film adaptation of Wilson's sixth installment in his ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle" series. With Washington also at the helm of the project and given his familiarity with the material after performing it night after night six years ago (not to mention what new shades of perspective coming back to such material even later in life might have provided) it would seem this might be the first time the iconic actor might also be praised for his filmmaking skills. Washington's previous directorial efforts, Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters, were fine if not exceptional pieces of inspirational entertainment, but as Washington is taking such a coveted piece of American literature that explores the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes, it would seem Washington certainly might have felt a need for this film version more than ever considering the state of race relations in the world right now. And thus, such aspirations and intentions might produce something truly great. August Wilson insisted that a film adaption of the play be directed by an African American and despite his death in 2005 I can't imagine Mr. Wilson could have imagined a better, more prominent fit for his material than Mr. Washington. Here's to hoping this turns out to be the Oscar contender most are predicting it will be as this first trailer looks rather fantastic. Fences also stars Davis reprising her role as Rose, as well as Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby, Saniyya Sidney, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, and opens on Christmas Day.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 27, 2016

Initial Reaction: Video Review - THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

While we are coming to the end of September it couldn't have felt more like the summer movie season at the theater this weekend as we had both a gigantic studio movie with big movie stars as well as a colorful, star-studded, animated film looking to capitalize on its target audience. Unfortunately, the box office returns for both of these films felt eerily similar to those of the 2016 summer movie season as well. While the re-make of The Magnificent Seven starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt seemed poised to do big business this weekend (I was thinking somewhere in the $40-$50 million range) it ended the Friday to Sunday frame with $35 million which is about what Sully ended at just a couple of weeks back. While this may bode well for the likes of the remaining movie star status' of Washington and Tom Hanks The Magnificent Seven cost $30 million more to make than that Clint Eastwood film. The Magnificent Seven also cost a hefty $35 million more than the last team-up between director Antoine Fuqua and star Washington in 2014's The Equalizer which also had an opening weekend just a few thousand short of $35 million. How this might play out for Sony and MGM who released this re-make of the classic 1960 film is uncertain. As far as westerns play in this day and age there really isn't much to compare it to other than recent Quentin Tarantino efforts, but even those were both winter prestige pictures that somewhat operate on their own terms. The good new is that The Magnificent Seven delivered an "A-" CinemaScore from opening day audiences and currently sits at a 63% "fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes. These positive reviews coupled with its PG-13 rating should easily get the film past the $100 million mark, but how far it goes over that is anyone's guess. It doesn't help that next weekend the film will lose many of its IMAX screens to the Mark Wahlberg thriller Deepwater Horizon while facing competition in Tim Burton's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculair Children, the PG-13 rated comedy Masterminds as well as the expansion of Disney's Queen of Katwe. As for Storks, the Nicolas Stoller directed/Andy Samberg starring animated film finished the weekend with an estimated $21.8 million on a $70 million budget. In short, it will largely be up to international audiences to save this one. That's it for now, but as always be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as we have a new review (or reviews) up each week!

STORKS Review

I see what Warner Brothers Animation is attempting to do here and I can dig it. After finding great success with The LEGO Movie and the fact they acquired the likes of Phil Lord and Chris Miller who directed 21 and 22 Jump Street (as well as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, to their credit) to helm that hit animated movie the thought of continuing to try their hand at bringing in R-rated comedy directors and seeing how they operate within the world of children’s entertainment is a ballsy, but interesting move. Much like with the case of The LEGO Movie Warner Bros. was likely hoping this formula might produce something both mature and goofy with the plus of remaining consistently funny throughout the majority of its runtime. It makes sense and what better way to test said formula than with the likes of Nicolas Stoller, director of such films as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the two Neighbors movies, thus the reason we now have Storks. Because of this inclination to take someone known for one thing and put them just far enough outside of their element, their comfort zone if you will, I was inclined to be more interested in this seemingly agreeable animated family movie than I might have been otherwise. I love it when directors or studios cast an actor known for one type or style of work, especially comedians, and place them in a different setting where we see them challenged in new/different ways that usually result in a more fascinating piece of work by virtue of the outside influences and persona that performer brings with them. That is kind of what is happening here though maybe not to the extreme of, say, Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Rather, Stoller is being challenged by the limits of a PG-rating and how far he can go with his comedy inadvertently forcing him to be more creative with how he comes up with the laughs needed for a 90-minute children's film. And so, how does all of this hype and build-up effect the final product? Well, in many ways this is a disappointment when considering the potential the film had considering the interesting premise, its insanely talented and funny voice cast, and of course the presence of Stoller in the director's chair. Instead of producing anything unique or of distinguishable value Storks more or less plays by the rules of Pixar and DreamWorks movies where the narrative sees a couple of characters going on a quest to achieve a goal that will allow them to discover new things about themselves along the way. There's nothing especially wrong with this structure especially when executed in fun and interesting ways and Storks certainly has its quirks, but more than anything the film feels far too routine to be a product of someone who should have really been challenging themselves.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN Review

The Magnificent Seven, the re-make of the 1960 John Sturges film starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) accomplishes exactly what it intends to be. This is pure popcorn entertainment meant to capitalize on the combination of brand awareness and the popularity of the actors it has on its roster. That said, it takes full advantage of those aspects while delivering a wholly satisfying blockbuster western. It is difficult even, to take away from what is being accomplished within this pure Hollywood product as its only ambition is clearly to deliver something of an updated mythos on the story of seven exceptionally skilled sharpshooters and little more. Given the Sturges film itself was a re-make of director Akira Kurosawa's 1954 film, Seven Samurai, that supplanted the story of a poor village under attack by bandits who recruited seven samurai warriors to help defend their village with an oppressed Mexican village that assembles seven gunfighters to help defend their homes from outlaws relays the idea this particular story is one that can easily be adapted for new ages, new circumstances, and with new relevance. And so, why re-make The Magnificent Seven once again? It seems as though Fuqua, while not having a complete answer, mostly intends to use MGM's idea to raid their classics catalog by allowing him to lend more context to and highlight more of the race relations that were taking place in the late 19th century than might have been approved of in 1960. In light of such a re-framing of history as people see it through pop culture (which is never a good place to rely on for your history, not in 1960 and not now) Fuqua has cast frequent collaborator Denzel Washington in the lead role or the equivalent of what Brynner played in the original. Filling out the titular seven we also have a Mexican in Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Ruflo), a Korean in Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), and a Native American in Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) with the remainder of the crew filling out the tall white man quota with the likes of Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D'Onforio. Whether Fuqua's version of these events takes advantage of such changes and actually pulls insight or interesting dynamics from these updates is another thing as the 2016 The Magnificent Seven doesn't stand to get too weighty or theoretical, but instead it simply puts these ideas out there for audiences to recognize while at the same time making these characters so bluntly badass that boxes such as ethnicity hardly seem to matter. Whether this works in favor or against the reasoning for this movie to exist is a conversation to be had, but as far as I'm concerned Fuqua's film is so relentlessly entertaining and such a fun experience there need be no greater reason for its existence.

Red-Band Trailer for BAD SANTA 2 Starring Billy Bob Thornton

Is anyone out there really excited or even good at remembering that there is a Bad Santa 2 being released this holiday season? I keep trying to remember, but with all of the annual Oscar season contenders beginning to make their presence known as well as a large amount of tentpoles by way of a Star Wars movie, a Harry Potter movie, a new Marvel movie, and even something as epically original as Passengers on the horizon it seems to be getting more and more difficult to recall the fact we're also getting a sequel to a thirteen year-old R-rated Christmas comedy that probably should have come out a decade ago if it really cared about being anticipated by anyone. Instead, Broad Green Pictures and Miramax are counting on the age of social-media made nostalgia awareness we're all currently existing in at the moment to give them a solid return on their investment in the Billy Bob Thornton/innocent icons talking dirty franchise. Of course, we all saw how this line of thinking worked out earlier this year when Paramount tried the same thing with the fifteen year-later sequel to Ben Stiller's Zoolander. That property was arguably more "viral" than Bad Santa and had developed more of a cult following in the time since its somewhat disappointing initial release. Add to that the fact Zoolander was rated PG-13 as opposed to the very R-rated Bad Santa and we could have a recipe for disaster here. Granted, the original Bad Santa made $60 million domestically on a $23 million budget, but with the lag between sequels I have to doubt the staying power of that original is as strong as some of the other reboots and sequels we've seen trying to ride this wave of nostalgia. In short, whereas something like Anchorman 2 was able to still succeed based on the fact it had defined part of the zeitgeist of the time in which it came out and parlayed that into a new movie that moved past the original Bad Santa 2 looks to be a redux of the original with cuss words taking the place of actual punch lines. I hope I'm wrong, but we'll find out how good of an idea Bad Santa 2 was when it opens on November 23rd, 2016. The film also stars Kathy Bates, Christina Hendricks, Ryan Hansen, Cristina Rosato, and features the return of Tony Cox and Brett Kelly as Marcus and Thurman Merman.

THE DRESSMAKER Review

Note: This is a reprint of my review for The Dressmaker, which originally ran on September 21, 2015 after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am publishing it again today as it hits select theaters this weekend.

I watched what could be considered some very strange films at 2015's Toronto International Film Festival, but I don't think any of them were as weird or out there as Jocelyn Moorhouse's The Dressmaker. This movie, you guys, is completely bonkers. You wouldn't think so given the look of the poster and the fact it stars such credible and well-respected talent such as Kate Winslet, Hugo Weaving and Judy Davis, but once this thing gets rolling it is both surprising and distracting as to how ridiculous things become. As I watched the events of the film unfold I couldn't help but to keep writing down again and again how I couldn't believe they were going where they were going and yet, the film kept going...one step further. Now, to be clear, this isn't strange or ridiculous in the sense of bombastic violence or discussing things typically considered far too taboo for everyday discussion, but more in the sense of general absurdities. Having not directed a film in nearly twenty years and operating strictly in Australia this would seem to be a fine opportunity to return for Moorhouse and there is plenty of stuff to have fun with here despite the fact I wasn't able to get on board with all of it. With Winslet leading the charge (though she seems miscast) Moorhouse and her ensemble of misfits that make up this small town in Australia endeavor to deliver a perfectly cheeky little screwball comedy that is able to hold a slight amount of substance rather than being completely flippant.

First Trailer for PASSENGERS Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt

With The Magnificent Seven arriving in theaters this weekend and given that film also stars Chris Pratt and is also financed and distributed by Sony/Columbia Pictures it is no surprise we are finally getting our first look at Passengers today. As the film with the best chance for an out and out original property to break out this year the Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence vehicle has become something of a poster child for whether or not the original property still has any weight attached to it when the closest thing to what are current "name on the poster" movie stars are starring in it. Lawrence is indisputably the biggest star on the planet and Pratt is on a roll with his back to back to back successes of The LEGO Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Jurassic World. If Magnificent Seven ends up doing well in terms of box office (as it seems to be getting favorable if not unremarkable reviews from critics) this will only point to more promise on the potential returns for Passengers. Coming from an original screenplay by Jon Spaihts (who famously wrote the first draft of Prometheus) and telling the story of a spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet that is transporting thousands of people and has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers leaving a single passenger awake for the ninety year journey things are immediately engaging. As this unlucky passenger, Jim Preston (Pratt), contemplates the idea of growing old and dying alone he eventually decides to wake up a second passenger named Aurora (Lawrence). It's funny Lawrence's character shares her name with Sleeping Beauty given the circumstances of the situation and would seem to hint not so subtly at where the film will eventually end, but that is also the beautiful thing about such a story: outside of the obvious there are so many places such a premise could take us. Directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) this first look trailer allows the film to at least seem as if it will make good on the promise of attempting to explore more ideological headspaces than those of standard adventure/sci-fi conventions. I was a fan of Tyldum's Oscar contender a few years back and still need to get around to his highly praised 2011 film Headhunters, but all in all I'm pumped for even the idea of a big-budget original sci-fi flick. Passengers also stars Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Jamie Soricelli, Aurora Perrineau, Kristin Brock, and opens on December 21st, 2016.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 20, 2016

Initial Reaction: Video Review - BLAIR WITCH & SNOWDEN

Adding to the somewhat lackluster feeling given off by the new releases at the movies this weekend is the fact we also had a delay in posting both our reviews this weekend. Both are finally up, but given the lack of business for not only Blair Witch and Snowden, but also for the third Bridget Jones movie, Bridget Jones' Baby, it would seem most of you are better off just watching (or re-watching) our review for Sully which once again came in at No. 1 at the box office only dropping 37% from its debut weekend for a $22 million second week. This brings the $60 million dollar film to a $70.5 million current domestic total and a $94 million worldwide total. Needless to say, Warner Bros. will be more than happy to let Clint Eastwood do whatever he wants next after the performances of American Sniper and now Sully (not that Eastwood didn't do just what he wanted before). In terms of new releases though, Blair Witch was expected to be the big money-maker of the weekend as the $5 million Adam Wingard (You're Next, The Guest) film had a marketing campaign as enticing, but just different enough from the original to pull viewers in. Unfortunately, the film itself didn't adhere to those same qualifiers and in light of the mostly negative reviews it didn't seem movie-goers were as excited for this seventeen year-later sequel as Lionsgate was hoping. I knew Blair Witch was in trouble when I spoke to my twenty-one year-old brother who saw the film on Friday night at a nine o'clock show that was empty save for him and his girlfriend. The audience breakdown for the film told us 61% of the opening weekend audience was over the age of 25 and so the generational gap seems to have really played a factor here proving the brand recognition game studios have enjoyed playing lately doesn't always pay off. Snowden, on the other hand, more or less did what most expected coming in fourth behind Bridge Jones with an estimated $8 million. On the plus side the film received an "A" CinemaScore from opening night audiences giving it the best score of the weekend's new wide releases. As always, be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as we have a new review (or reviews) up each week!

First Trailer for BASTARDS Starring Owen Wilson & Ed Helms

With the long-delayed release of Masterminds next week it seems Warner Bros. thought now might be the best time to debut the first trailer for their R-rated January offering in Bastards. While it couldn't feel more like Owen Wilson has slipped into complete comfort roles after passes with more challenging material in Midnight in Paris and Inherent Vice I always enjoy a nice piece of comfort comedy and hopefully if Jared Hess' Masterminds doesn't fill that quota in a few weeks maybe Bastards can come January when we (arguably) need it more anyway. What is interesting about Bastards is the pairing of Wilson with Ed Helms (who I totally thought was Jason Sudeikis in the above still). It's always interesting to mix and match and see what comedic stars charisma's work best together and so the prospect of Helms' more frantic gonzo mentality mixed with Wilson's more laid back persona should make for an interesting dynamic. It doesn't hurt the film has strong supporting credentials either as Glenn Close plays Wilson and Helms' characters mother with the premise being that she lied to her sons about their fathers death. Originally telling them he died of cancer the boys come to learn their mother actually doesn't know who their father is at all and so they set off across the country to track down potential dads. With J.K. Simmons and Terry Bradshaw delivering some of the bigger laughs here it seems first time director Lawrence Sher has taken advantage of every caveat screenwriter Justin Malen (the upcoming Baywatch movie) has thrown at him with it being especially endearing to see Katt Williams in a major studio comedy like this alongside more mainstream names. While the comedy probably won't be breaking any new ground and by all accounts might be pretty bad I'm always hopeful when Wilson is involved and so I can only hope he proves the release date stigma wrong. Bastards also stars Ving Rhames, Katie Aselton, Bill Irwin, Ryan Cartwright, Harry Shearer, and opens on January 27, 2017.

SNOWDEN Review

For the second year in a row now we have a fictionalized account of real-life events that were already well-documented in award-winning documentaries starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing weird accents. And, much like The Walk, the biggest obstacle Snowden was going to need to overcome was that of the one for its own relevancy. Not only did most of the American public see the splattering of media coverage when the Snowden story broke in the summer of 2013, but many also watched Laura Poitras' Oscar-winning documentary, Citizenfour, that was released in 2014 and chronicled how Poitras along with Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill traveled to Hong Kong to meet with Edward Snowden and discuss how to break the news of the information the whistleblower was willing to leak. That rather riveting documentary was more than enough to give us a portrait of who this man was and why he did what he did without going into overly dramatized flashbacks or even divulging all of his professional history with the CIA and the military. Solely through how he presented himself in the current circumstances he was facing at the time of Citizenfour viewers glimpsed what type of man Edward Joseph Snowden is and what he might have done were he presented with the dilemma of going along with a CIA field operatives dirty plan or standing up to that more seasoned field agent and doing what he felt was right no matter if it meant him resigning from the agency or not. While we could have likely guessed what path Snowden would have taken given the virtues and sentiments he doles out in his Citizenfour interviews for some reason director Oliver Stone has found it necessary to go back and fill in those gaps just in case you didn't get it. While the idea of a feature film around Snowden isn't inherently a bad one what Stone has chosen to do with the material in telling a straightforward account on the life and times of Snowden in the twelve years leading up to the incident that would make him the, "World's Most Wanted Man" make the idea seem downright unnecessary. Given this is exactly the type of territory Stone has always enjoyed covering, especially when he has a particular point of view on the subject and wants nothing more than to convince you he's right, I expected Snowden to offer a compelling and thoughtful argument and examination for and of the actions Snowden took and why they should be celebrated rather than slammed, but while Stone's position is evident there is nothing here to compel an indifferent viewer one way or the other.

BLAIR WITCH Review

Full disclosure: I've never seen The Blair Witch Project. I haven't seen its rushed sequel, Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, either though I hear that's not a bad thing. Being the oldest of my siblings only meant the rules were enforced hardest on me and despite being a solid twelve years-old when the original film debuted in the summer of 1999 I wasn't allowed to see it. What it became within the landscape of pop culture is now unavoidable as it more or less spurned the idea of what became a genre all its own. When The Blair Witch Project premiered over fifteen years ago though, there was no such thing as "found footage" movies and so it was an experience moviegoers had never had before (or so I'm told). It wasn't a gimmick as much as Paranormal Activity would relay itself to be a decade later, but rather that original Blair Witch carried itself with the air of a documentary-something authentic that audiences shouldn't necessarily be seeing. The fact I'd never seen the original dawned on me more heavily when it was announced at Comic-Con this past summer that the new film from director Adam Wingard (You're Next, The Guest) previously titled The Woods was actually a third entry in the long-stagnant Blair Witch franchise. Given the aforementioned effect it had on pop culture and that the film itself had become more a reference point than a talking point for the actual content it provided I wondered if it would be better to finally see what all the fuss was about or simply go in cold; hoping for an experience that might capture the same feeling of terror the original conjured up in so many. Of course, given the circumstances that latter hope could never actually be realized considering the ways cinema has transformed in the last seventeen years. It seems that with The Blair Witch films time is simply not on my side. Too young for the original and too seasoned to now be deceived by the found footage-style of filmmaking it's as if I was destined to never realize the full potential of this series. I can acknowledge that and it is discouraging I can never view the original the way the filmmakers intended, but on its own terms the new Blair Witch does nothing new for the genre of "scary movies" and that would be true even if it wasn't based on a seventeen year old original idea. This film could have come out today with no previous films in its canon with no variance of opinion in that Blair Witch is a middle of the road horror flick with some nice ideas and even a couple of genuinely frightening moments that don't parlay into enough of a sucker punch to send us running from the theater.

New Trailer for Disney's MOANA

It can't help but feel like there is an onslaught of animated movies coming out this fall. We have Storks next week from Warner Bros. followed by DreamWorks' Trolls in early November and the now giant animation house of Illumination following up The Secret Life of Pets in December with (the kind of terrible looking) SING. Still, despite the more saturated than usual state of the market one of the most exciting films this holiday season is that of Disney Animation's latest film, Moana. Following up the billion dollar success of Zootopia the non-Pixar division of Disney looks to continue its hot streak with this strikingly beautiful film that is proud to tout it will indeed feature original songs as well as the pairing of mega-star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as demi-god Maui with the unknown Auli’i Cravalho voicing the titular character. Add to this the fact that Disney recruited well-renowned directing duo Ron Clements and John Musker who were behind the likes of both The Little Mermaid and Aladdin as well as Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda to compose the original songs for the movie and it's hard to imagine how this won't be incredible. Like four out of their last five hits Moana will open on or around Thanksgiving making the likelihood of the film reaching the epic-like proportions of Frozen even greater. As for the full trailer, this looks pretty fantastic. The colors are bursting and The Rock seems to be having an especially good time as his Maui looks to not simply be the comic relief but a genuine scene-stealer. The Pairing of these two characters feels inspired with their destined quest to find a fabled island and destroy evil demigods serving as a jumping off point to what is hopefully a cool exploration of a different culture. Moana also features the voice talents of Alan Tudyk, Phillipa Soo, Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger, and opens on November 23rd, 2016.

First Trailer for NOCTURNAL ANIMALS Starring Jake Gyllenhaal

The second directorial effort from fashion designer Tom Ford (A Single Man) was undoubtedly one of my most anticipated of the year and after the largely glowing reviews it received out of both the Venice and Toronto film festivals I am only all the more excited to finally see the follow-up to Ford's striking 2009 debut. With the likes of such top tier talent as Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams in your film it is hard to imagine how one could go completely the wrong way, but given the short teaser for today's full trailer that I saw yesterday and the fact it immediately called to mind Ridley Scott's curiously questionable The Counselor (which had a beyond amazing line-up of stars) I can only be reassured by the positive reviews in that Nocturnal Animals will not share the same fate as that 2013 misfire. With this film, Ford has adapted the Austin Wright novel Tony and Susan with the film actually taking its name from a story within that story. In the film, Adams plays Los Angeles-based art dealer, Susan Morrow, who receives a novel called "Nocturnal Animals" that was written by her ex (Gyllenhaal) after her husband (Armie Hammer) leaves on a business trip. From here, the narrative is described as, "weaving in and out of this book that can be interpreted as a veiled threat." The idea of seeking revenge or vindication from an ex-lover is nothing new, but doing it through such symbolic ways as mailing her a copy of your book that intentionally elicits many an interpretations is certainly an intriguing way to go about framing such a tale. The full trailer certainly makes such intrigue all the more inviting as its clear Ford has again brought his impeccable sense of style to the medium of film and each of the high profile performers seem to be giving invested performances. Here's to hoping the positive reviews can be trusted on this one. Nocturnal Animals also stars Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Laura Linney, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Karl Glusman, Andrew Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Imogen Waterhouse, and opens on December 9th, 2016.

Teaser Trailer for MISS SLOANE Starring Jessica Chastain

With Telluride just finishing and Toronto in full swing at the moment the film community has begun to receive a better glimpse at what the major contenders might be come this awards season, but surprisingly there has been no mention of recent awards mainstay Jessica Chastain or her film that would seemingly be in contention, Miss Sloane. That is, of course, until now as Europa has released the first teaser for the John Madden (The Debt) directed film that tackles the United States gun debate. Get ready to hear plenty of opinions fly! In this particular evaluation of the debate Chastain plays ruthless and highly successful political strategist, Elizabeth Sloane, who exposes the cutthroat world of D.C lobbyists on both sides of the gun control debate. More specifically, the film follows a new legislation that would require more stringent background checks for gun ownership that is gaining traction in Congress. Sloane is approached to spearhead the campaign, pitting her against the formidable power of her political opponents. Deploying her notorious skills Sloane jeopardizes those closest to her while putting her career at risk-essentially doing whatever it takes to win. The short clip we've received certainly relays the intensity of what that synopsis suggests and what the final product will hopefully hold in store for audiences. Interestingly, the script (solely written by Jonathan Perera) was ranked in the Top five of Hollywood's Black List, an annual tally of the industry's favorite scripts of the year, just last year meaning it has been acquired, found a director, attracted the talent of someone like Chastain and was made in less than a year. In short, the excitement and promise around this one seems to be strong and I can't wait to see what that yields. Miss Sloane also stars Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, and opens on December 9th, 2016.

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM Review

You may not recognize the name D.J. Caruso, but if you're under the age of thirty-five you've probably seen a few of his movies. Whether it be the 2004 Angelina Jolie mystery/thriller Taking Lives, the double feature he directed with Shia LaBeouf in 2007 and 2008 with Disturbia and Eagle Eye or even the sign his career wasn't headed in as promising a direction as we'd hoped with 2011's I Am Number Four adaptation. The thing is, I want to like Mr. Caruso as I hold a special place in my heart for Disturbia which was more or less a modernization of Hitchcock's Rear Window (which itself was based on Cornell Woolrich's short story 'It Had to Be Murder'), but done with the added elements of humor and teen drama to make it more appealing to a broader audience. That Caruso was able to take the tense and rather static story from which Rear Window came and infuse it with a sly charm while keeping the inherent tensions intact was a feat worth acknowledging, but in the near decade since Disturbia it seems the filmmaker has become more a director for hire rather than the auteur he seemed to show the promise of becoming. What happened to the director? Why is his next project a fifteen year later sequel to a Vin Diesel movie that was only greenlit in the first place because of the success of The Fast & the Furious? We may never know, but while The Disappointments Room might have been a much hyped spring/pre-summer release rather than a slight horror film hoping to be disposed of in the dumping grounds of September ten years ago (given both Caruso's clout as well as Kate Beckinsale's at that time were much higher) that is unfortunately exactly what we have today. Worse, The Disappointments Room suffers at the fate of being the first film to be released since Relativity Studios filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection on July 30, 2015. And so, with a reported budget of $15 million Relativity and its Rogue label are simply hoping to make some kind of profit by releasing this as quick as they can before its sits too long on the shelf. Despite all of what it has going against it though, it is easier than one might expect to understand why Caruso, who penned the screenplay with Wentworth Miller (Prison Break), had a desire to tell this story; the real issue being they chose to tell this story within the confines of a stale genre template.

Teaser Trailer for FIFTY SHADES DARKER

I didn't see Fifty Shades of Grey. I don't have much of a desire to. My wife didn't read the books and I didn't read the books. My wife had no interest in seeing the movie and I certainly wasn't going into this one by myself and so whatever it is about this series that seems to capture supposedly off-limits sexual subjects and entice so many females will likely forever remain a mystery to me. All of this is to say the sequel to the 2015 franchise starter finally received a trailer today as the promotional campaign officially kicked off yesterday with a glimpse at the poster and clip from the teaser trailer. Fifty Shades Darker chronicles the continuing and presumed developing relationship between Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) as Christian wrestles with his inner demons and Anastasia confronts the anger and envy of the women who came before her. While I admittedly don't know much about the story contained in the pages of E.L. James's best-selling series this first look at the sequel certainly seems to keep in step tonally with Sam-Taylor Johnson's first film who won't be returning for the remainder of the series. Rather, both Darker and Fifty Shades Freed will be helmed by James Foley, the now sixty-three year old man who made Glengarry Glen Ross and At Close Range, but whose last feature film was the out and out 2007 bomb Perfect Stranger that starred Bruce Willis and Halle Berry. How this might effect not just the tone of the movie overall, but the way the series handles the extremely sexual subject matter could be interesting and is what I would look for if I were to ever make it around to seeing these things. Add to this the fact writer Niall Leonard, who has done strictly serialized television work, is taking over for the more inexperienced Kelly Marcel and adapting both the second and third novels for film and there might be some interesting layers to look for as the series progresses. Still, it is somewhat alarming that in light of Taylor-Johnson walking away from the franchise that Universal would immediately hand it over to men to take control of. Fifty Shades Darker also stars Kim Basinger, Tyler Hoechlin, Bella Heathcote, Hugh Dancy, Max Martini, Marcia Gay Harden, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, and opens on February 10th, 2017.

On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 13, 2016

Initial Reaction: Video Review - SULLY

After a week off last week (thanks a lot, DreamWorks/Disney and 20th Century Fox) we were able to return with a new Initial Reaction review this weekend as the fall movie season officially kicked off with Sully. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, Sully tells of the titular man who became a hero after landing his plane along the water in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, saving all of the airplane's 155 crew members and passengers. The film marks the release of the second of three films that will star Hanks this year (the first being that of A Hologram for the King which you can and should rent now as well as his third outing as Robert Langdon in next month's Inferno), but likely what will turn out to be his most high-profile. After something of a return to the form in which all of America loves Hanks with 2013's Captain Phillips the actor has been on something of role turning in another solid performance in last year's respectable Steven Spielberg drama, Bridge of Spies, and now we have Hanks playing another real life character in a "based on a true story" movie that has delivered the fifth largest September opening of all-time with an estimated $35.5 million. This marks the largest September opening for Warner Bros. by nearly $12 million and the largest post-Labor Day opening of all-time. To put in perspective just how much Sully will mean to the third act of Hanks' career this is the first time since 2009's Angels & Demons that a live-action film starring Hanks has opened number one. Also of note is the fact Sully was the first Hollywood feature to be shot with 100% IMAX cameras and as a result pulled in an estimated $4 million from 375 IMAX locations. We here at Initial Reaction saw the film at our local Chenal 9 Plus IMAX theater and can attest to seeing it in this format if possible. The only other major release of the weekend was the thriller When the Bough Breaks which you can read my written review for, but otherwise be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as we have a new review (or reviews) up each week!

WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS Review

It is evident from the word go that When the Bough Breaks is campy trash, but the most critical question campy trash always has to answer is whether or not it's fun campy trash. Director Jon Cassar has worked on many a television series which makes sense because When the Bough Breaks is very much along the lines of what the Lifetime network routinely produces. Everything feels rather staged and mostly inauthentic save for a single character who seems to be the only one in this universe within which such movies as this take place who understands real struggle while everyone else walks around-money being no object-without a care in the world. One might think, given these circumstances, that When the Bough Breaks might be a bit of a relief to the onslaught of tentpoles and big-budget/high concept offerings the summer movie season has just delivered in that it is (technically) an original story that remains just familiar enough to attract the necessary audience to justify its existence-not to mention it's a movie mostly made to cater to adults. And yet, this familiar story of seduction offers nothing new by way of cheap thrills or even openly ridiculous tension. Rather, Cassar's film takes itself so seriously and genuinely yearns to be a somber drama that it turns into a plodding and rather boring affair instead of pure trashy fun. That the film doesn't bother to have any fun with its otherwise farcical tone is a shame as trying as hard as the film does to come up with credibility when all they have is camp only makes the final product that much worse. To those points, When the Bough Breaks is a movie that will take more heat for what it stands for and represents rather than the actual content in produces. This meaning that the pieces are in place-Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall are seasoned veterans of this type of melodrama (unfortunately) and audiences can go through the motions of the film knowing the story beats that will clearly be hit and yet despite all of this being somewhat blatant rip-offs of other movies we've seen over the years both Chestnut and Hall as well as newcomer Jaz Sinclair are each more than capable of pulling anxiety and tension out of the situations their characters find themselves in. Still, When the Bough Breaks is overall a lazy if not competent thriller that could have just as effectively been directed by a board room as it has been a man for hire like Cassar.

SULLY Review

Sully is a slim 95-minutes. It swoops in with a harrowing opening sequence and then only lets its foot off the throttle just long enough to place viewers back at the beginning of 2009 and familiar with Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger once again before thrusting them into the throws of the reasons this movie exists. The toughest challenge a movie about the "Miracle on the Hudson" was always going to face was going to be finding a new angle in which to present the story to audiences who were witness to an onslaught of media coverage around the actual event; what was there to the story we didn't already know? Turns out director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (who has only written three feature screenplays the last of which was the 2007 thriller Perfect Stranger starring Bruce Willis and Halle Berry) had plenty of material as the not so well documented aspect of the aforementioned "Miracle on the Hudson" was the fact the NTSB conducted an investigation as to whether or not Captain Sully could have in fact made it back to a runway instead of landing a pricey plane in the middle of a river. And so, what Eastwood has is a David and Goliath story of sorts where the line between good and bad is drawn early and distinctly with the script simultaneously evaluating the psyche of a man who happened to be in the right place during a bad situation that would result in him having to separate reality from the strange swirl of whatever kind of life was happening immediately following his unprecedented landing. And on many different levels, no less. This not so well publicized aspect of Sully's story combined with the revelatory state of mind Tom Hanks brings to his performance, some critical editing by Blu Murray (a frequent collaborator of Eastwood's, but someone who's never taken lead on one of his films) that lends these familiar events a whole new level of tension all packed into that slim running time make Sully a consistently perceptive interpretation of the events of January 15, 2009 that stands to be largely effective and appropriately affecting.

First Trailer for Ben Affleck's LIVE BY NIGHT

In the wake of the fall movie season kicking off this week with the release of the Warner Bros. Sully it seems the production company has gone into full media blitz mode with the remainder of their fall slate that contains many of their likely awards contenders. We already caught a glimpse of the WB's Christmas week release on Wednesday with Collateral Beauty and now we have our first look at Ben Affleck's directorial follow-up to his Best Picture-winning Argo. It's been four years since Affleck directed a film and in the interim has worked with Terrence Malick, David Fincher, and Zack Snyder who likely have contributed to what growth we might see in Affleck's fourth feature. Given the actor, writer, director, and producer has been enamored with the DC extended cinematic universe as of late with more being made about the pre-production of his solo Batman film (which will be his fifth directorial venture) than that of his upcoming turn in Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant which drops in theaters in just over a month it's nice to finally see a glimpse of what Affleck has been up to behind the camera as I'm in the middle of reading the Dennis Lehane novel on which Live By Night is based. Set in the prohibition era Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of a prominent Boston police captain who has long since turned his back on his strict and proper upbringing for a career in the pay of the city's most fearsome mobsters. Honestly, I love the look and the tone this trailer conveys and even the soundtrack featuring Hozier's "Arsonist's Lullabye," works. Affleck enlisted legendary director of photography Robert Richardson (The Aviator, The Hateful Eight) and the particular aesthetic shines through here as visually the film looks as thrilling as the story should be. While I was worried that the film would for some reason end up getting dumped amidst the early spring crowd WB seems to have confidence in the film as they've scheduled it in the same slot as The Revenant last year with a limited qualifying run in December. Here's hoping they're right. Live By Night also stars Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Scott Eastwood, Chris Cooper, Titus Welliver, Anthony Michael Hall, Chris Messina, and opens on January 13, 2017.

SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU Review

Any movie that decides to play Janet Jackson over its opening credits is off to a good start. Especially when it's "Miss You Much," coupled with eighties inspired pink text flashing across the screen. From the opening scene Southside With You sets the tone of a late summer day on the streets of Chicago at the tail end of that decade we've all suddenly become enamored with nostalgia for. It is 1989 and Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) is getting set to accompany the summer associate she is advising at the law firm she works for to a town meeting to address local community issues. As the lone African-American woman working at this law firm Robinson has had to work doubly hard in order to gain the respect she desires and she's not about to let the first charismatic, smooth-talking black guy convince her to undo all that hard work by going on a date with him. Or is she? It just so happens this young, summer associate is a hotshot from Harvard named Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers). And so, yes, Southside With You is the story of the first date between the now President and First Lady of these United States of America via the lens of something akin to director Richard Linklater's Before trilogy. It's a clichéd comparison at this point, but an apt one as the majority of Southside With You is filled by our two main characters walking and talking. If you haven't seen Linklater's trilogy that chronicles a couple meeting and spending a single night together that was little more than that in 1995 it is the epitome of characters walking and talking. Chronicling that magic of how perfect strangers can connect so intimately over a short period of time and analyzing that indescribable feeling that creates a strong, trusting bond between two people-a bond that will inevitably turn to love-Linklater's films provide a nice template for how to both simply and intricately weave together the innocence of falling for someone and the complex emotions that will inevitably come with circumstance. Linklater has returned to his characters in ten year intervals with sequels in 2004 and 2013, but with Southside With You writer/director Richard Tanne takes notes largely from that initial meeting treating his characters not as the future Mr. and Mrs. President, but simply as two people in that awkward phase between true adolescence and true adulthood who are just trying to figure themselves and the world they live in out.

First Trailer for GOLD Starring Matthew McConaughey

Fool's Gold this is not though Matthew McConaughey once again stars and the point of the story is to seek out a lost treasure. Gold really shouldn't be thought of as any type of relation to that 2008 rom-com though, as it marks the first film from writer/director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) in over a decade. Having no idea what the film was about before seeing this initial trailer and only having McConaughey's choice to go bald atop his head as the main identifier I wasn't sure what to expect, but having now caught a glimpse of what Gaghan has in store for us I am certainly more intrigued. Telling the true story of the Bre-X Mineral Corporation mining scandal the film follows a struggling businessman who teams up with a hapless geologist to find gold in the Indonesian jungle. McConaughey looks to be in full Oscar-mode here as not only has he gone bald, but he's added a bit of a belly and just looks downright sweaty and smarmy throughout this entire clip. After seeing Hands of Stone last week and given he's part of the ensemble in the sure to be hit adaptation of The Girl on the Train later this fall I'm more interested in the career of Edgar Ramirez and what he might do in the future so it's good to see him alongside McConaughey and in a prestigious picture such as this. That said, Gaghan didn't have a hand in penning this screenplay as he did for his Oscar-winning Syriana and Traffic. Still, given this is only the director's third major motion picture one has to assume many of his tendencies and instincts to tell a story will align with what has provided a solid track record thus far. Hopefully, the script was so good already Gaghan didn't feel it needed polishing before taking it on. We can hope. Regardless, this trailer certainly sells the film well with the influence of Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone evident. Gold also stars Bryce Dallas Howard, Toby Kebbell, Rachael Taylor, Corey Stoll, Bill Camp, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, Adam LeFevre, Timothy Simons, Macon Blair, and opens wide on Christmas day.

MORGAN Review

It's beginning to feel like a trend. This thing where the first hour or so of a film is really promising before deciding to devolve into a predictable and ultimately disappointing piece of genre filmmaking. Directed by Luke Scott (son of Ridley Scott) Morgan is familiar and yet for at least the first forty minutes or so is a nicely paced and well-executed look at a premise we've seen many times before, especially in the last few years with the likes of Ex Machina, Lucy, and even this past summer's Stranger Things to a degree. Each of those pieces of entertainment analyze cautionary situations of man attempting to play God and in Morgan we find another group of scientists hoping to craft a certain genetic code in order to build a specific type of life form that will fit their specific needs. There are numerous amounts of ideological and ethical questions that can spring from such situations and thus what made the aforementioned Ex Machina so engaging last year, but while Morgan seems intent on following a similar pattern if not setting its titular experiment in a different set of circumstances it quickly dissolves into little more than a ridiculous action romp that would rather spill blood than explore ideas. It is always easier to revert to a formula rather than continue on a prompt into territory where ideas might become revealing or genuinely insightful. Naturally, this requires more thought and investment on the part of the writer and though Morgan is the product of a singular screenwriter in Seth W. Owen it feels, especially in the hurried second half, as if the film was put together by a committee who found the first half to be too boring and trying for modern audiences and thus forced Owen and Scott to infuse their contemplations on artificial intelligence and the difference in demonstrating and actually feeling real emotions with a high body count. This isn't even necessarily an issue were the film to still give due diligence to the larger ideas it clearly has on its mind, but at a slight ninety minutes it feels as if Morgan is forced to choose between being a thinking person's film and a strict action movie and by splitting those categorizations right down the middle it isn't enough of either to excel as one or the other.

First Trailer for COLLATERAL BEAUTY Starring Will Smith

Like I said in my article Saturday counting down my most anticipated films of this fall/winter a trailer could drop any time for the Will Smith-starrer Collateral Beauty, but for some reason I felt the film, directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me), would be delayed given it was supposed to arrive this Christmas and we'd yet to even see a production still from the picture. My train of thought went in this direction because it is what happened to Frankel's 2011 film, The Big Year, that carried the weight of names like Jack Black, Owen Wilson, and Steve Martin in the same movie together. That movie came and went without so much as a peep. I was hopeful Frankel's latest venture wouldn't be of the same variety given, aside from Smith, it has a cast to die for despite coming from prolific if not exceptional screenwriter Alan Loeb (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Just Go With It). That all changed today as the teaser for Collateral Beauty has arrived and the film looks to pull at the heart strings as it it tells the story of a man (Smith) who experiences a tragic event that sends him into a downwards spiral-causing him to examine life and the things that connect each of us-our longing for love, our constant wish for more time, and our fear of death. The debut trailer tells us Smith's Howard Inlet begins writing letters to these things-to the universe-as a therapeutic way of dealing with this tragedy. What he doesn't expect is a response and yet he gets some in the form of Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore, and Keira Knightley. Though the music hits you a bit over the head this certainly looks as if it will hit the strong emotional beats that Frankel was able to do in his "Why People Love Dogs" story that had every theater it was shown in in tears. I don't know that we'll necessarily see the film in contention come awards season, but this looks like a genuinely great movie to see with the family during the holidays and hopefully Frankel and his A-list cast can convey all the ideas and emotions this trailer sets up in interesting and powerful fashions in the final product. Collateral Beauty also stars Edward Norton, Michael Pena, Naomie Harris, Kate Winslet and opens on December 16, 2016.

Movies I Wanna See Most: Fall 2016

So far, 2016 has felt like something of a lackluster year for film when compared to what felt like a rather stellar 2015. Maybe it is the hurt of summer '16 and the many disappointments it carried that is still making me feel worse about the year than it actually has been, but if the summer of '16 was a let down the latter half of the year certainly seems like it has a shot of righting the ship and offering plenty of interesting films that could fill the majority of my year end list that I'm beginning to get concerned about. In fact, the rest of the year is so jam-packed with highly anticipated stuff I think I could make a top twenty and be legitimately excited for each and every one of the movies on that list. As I did last year, I'm basically including a top fifteen with more of a focus on why my top ten are indeed my top ten, but hard choices had to be made.

I'm interested to see what Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks have to offer with Sully and the fact it was shot 100% on IMAX cameras. I'm equally as intrigued by what Oliver Stone and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have up their sleeves in Snowden, but while interested I can't say I'm necessarily excited for the possibilities these features hold. I kind of feel I know what to expect and if they fulfill those expectations, great-if they surpass them-even better. This could very much describe the way I feel about the likes of The Girl on the Train and The Accountant as well. I'm very much interested to see if either of these can rise above their genre trappings to be more than what their trailers promise or if they'll simply be solid exercises in those genres-which isn't a bad thing either. I expect Birth of a Nation may be a great film, but am I excited to watch another harsh account concerning slavery? Not really. If I knew or had seen a little more about Denzel Washington's Fences adaptation or Miss Sloane starring Jessica Chastain I might be more inclined to include them on my list. Speaking of Washington, I'm certainly eager to see such mainstream films as Magnificent Seven, When a Monster Calls, Deepwater Horizon, Moana, and Assassins Creed, but not more than what is currently on my list. Monster and Moana would definitely make that top twenty though.

I've excluded Martin Scorsese's Silence from this list as I've put it on the last four or five lists I've made of this nature and it seems and it still doesn't have a firm release date. If we were to get some kind of confirmation it would certainly be near the top, but as of right now I'm treating this thing as if it won't come out until 2017. Same for the Will Smith/Kate Winslet/Keira Knightley/Helen Mirren/ Edward Norton/Naomie Harris/Michael Peña starrer Collateral Beauty. We could get a trailer any day now given the December 16th release date, but as we haven't seen so much as a still yet there is nothing to go on. The one landing just outside this top fifteen is Ewan McGregor's directorial debut in American Pastoral which I unfortunately feel will take a while to get to my neck of the woods. And so, without further adieu, let's dig in...

HANDS OF STONE Review

More than anything Hands of Stone is frustrating because there is clearly a large scale to the film and real ambition from both writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz and the entire cast, but as is true with many a biopics Hands of Stone tries to do and tell its audience too much in too short a time span inadvertently making the film more about a series of events than the characters participating in those events. In theory this is supposed to be a movie about the relationship between Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán (Edgar Ramírez) and legendary trainer Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro) and while this goal is communicated well enough and understood there are so many extraneous things going on around the two central characters the film becomes distracted by its own plot strands. The word I'm looking for is "scattershot." Hands of Stone is a broad strokes approach to the biopic, but in being so it communicates such key elements in haphazard ways thus forcing the audience to not invest as much as they should or even want to. Granted, the film does certain things right as this viewer in particular had no prior knowledge of Durán or his story yet I was immediately interested in the real life events the film was depicting. That is all to say the film is a little all over the place. This especially becomes true after the film effortlessly builds to Durán's first bout with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond) and completes that fight within the first hour of the film. While the film could have certainly told us all we needed to know about Durán through the lens of his Sugar Ray fights and all of the drama those entailed Hands of Stone instead feels the need to go further by not only telling us Durán's story as a boxer, but his story as a Panamanian activist, Arcel's story that deals with the New York City mob and a long-lost daughter even going as far to include Leonard's perspective on certain things. Add in the familial drama that Durán creates and deals in with wife Felicidad Iglesias (Ana de Armas) and their five children and there is enough material here for an HBO miniseries. Unfortunately, Hands of Stone is a feature film that clocks in under two hours and while it carries real momentum in the first hour leading up to that first showdown with Sugar Ray that energy is largely lost in the second half of the film leaving us with a movie that might have been something really special and unique did it not try so desperately to adhere to the worn-out sports drama template.

BLOOD FATHER Review

There is nothing particularly new or even original about Blood Father and yet there are still signs of life within what would appear to be a corpse of a movie. Every actor over the age of fifty that once counted on their name above the title to bring in box office returns has attempted an action/revenge picture that can be traced back to Liam Neeson's success with Taken. Of course, that film worked because Neeson was playing somewhat against type and in a caliber of film he often didn't appear in. Neeson himself has ridden that success through two terrible sequels, a number of entertaining Jaume Collet-Serra flicks, and other B-movie actioners that have given the esteemed actor a brand new phase in his career (though that phase does seem to be coming to a close). We had the inevitable Nicolas Cage attempt in Stolen, Kevin Costner tried his hand with 3 Days To Kill, Sean Penn had The Gunman, Pierce Brosnan even took up the action mantle again to get in on the game with The November Man, and Mel Gibson naturally tried his hand with 2010's Edge of Darkness. Remember that one? It wasn't bad, really, but it certainly didn't match Neeson's success (hardly making back its $80 million production budget in its late January release slot) and it certainly wasn't enough to overshadow the storm of controversy Gibson garnered himself that year or four years prior. In that film Gibson played a homicide detective investigating the death of his activist daughter, but in Blood Father Gibson's character, much like in real life, has ended up on the other side of the law. An ex-con who only comes to reunite with his estranged seventeen year old daughter after she kills her drug dealer boyfriend. Gibson strangely enough plays Mike Link who we find at a point of acceptance with his shortcomings. It obviously parallels where many imagine Gibson is at with his career and life in general-Link's opening scene leading him to comment that, "You can't be a prick your whole life and then say never mind." While Blood Father may utilize our idea of current Mel Gibson to emphasize both the desperation and hope in its protagonist's plight the film outside the presence of Gibson is very much a generic action thriller that sees a dad in need of redemption kicking ass, taking names, and risking it all for the sake of his misguided daughter.