Wednesday, February 3, 2016

'The Finest Hours' review

It's very interesting to look at Disney's release schedule. The mega-studio is responsible for some of the biggest blockbusters that come out in any given year- Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, animated movies, etc. The studio makes billions of dollars off of these huge movies, and yet, every year without fail, they still drop in these small releases that never make very much money. In the past few years, movies like McFarland, USA and Million Dollar Arm have been churned out of the Mouse House with middling grosses and low foreign returns. So why Disney spent an estimated $80 million dollars on The Finest Hours is beyond me. This might not explicitly be another Disney sports movie, but it follows the same template in a less effective way. Despite fine performances from Chris Pine and Casey Affleck, the rough seas of The Finest Hours feel like a metaphor for the way that the movie goes down. The film means well, but it feels haphazardly put together- the pacing is off and there are long stretches where the movie completely lost me. The classical filmmaking of The Finest Hours is admirable, and yet, this tale of a daring rescue fails to compel.

Bernie Webber (Pine) is a noble Coast Guard officer, a rule-following, polite guy who will obey his commands at all times. He's also a rather shy, subdued guy who is incredibly nervous in relationships. The Finest Hours' greatest strength is Bernie and Pine's performance. He's an infinitely likable character and he carries the movie. Pine, essentially playing the antithesis of Star Trek's Captain Kirk, is surprisingly soulful and calm. I was really surprised by how much I liked the character and the performance. Anyways, at the start of the film, he meets Miriam (Holliday Grainger), the woman who will later be his fiance. The two love each other very much, and she cares deeply about him and is always worrying that he won't come back alive. Her strength as the wife of a Coast Guard officer will be tested when an awful storm hits off the Boston harbor, cutting an oil tanker in half.

Half of the boat sinks, but the other half stays afloat and the crew survives. Led by the quiet Ray Sybert (Affleck), the crew must band together to stay alive during an epic series of waves and rain that threatens to capsize their entire boat. But the crew can only do so much. Eventually, Bernie and his crew will have to come to the rescue. Although the local fisherman advise otherwise, Coast Guard leader Daniel Cluff sends Bernie and his crew of men (Ben Foster, John Magaro, among others) on a near-suicide mission to save 32 men from a terrible fate.

The Finest Hours is a very endearing film. It means well, and it's hard to outright dislike it. The performances all-around are pretty spectacular. As previously noted, I was incredibly impressed by Pine. who stretches himself and works well as Bernie Webber. Casey Affleck has less to work with, but he manages to do a lot of subtle things with Ray and I thought he did a solid job. Holliday Grainger is great at being a very persistent and caring wife and the supporting cast is strong as well- Ben Foster, John Magaro, Eric Bana, John Magaro and Graham McTavish all add something to the movie that helps it build over the course of the runtime.

This is also a visually stunning film, filled with a descriptive sense of period and some special effects that will certainly amaze you. The constant rain and the never-ending flood of waves causes the film to become slightly visually busy, and yet, I have a hard time thinking that you'll notice when the sound and picture elements are as engrossing as they are in The Finest Hours. Some of the action scenes are epic and thrilling, with the final rescue serving as a terrifically staged sequence that offers up some truly edge-of-your-seat action. These represent the best moments of the film- the moments where it rises above formula to become something with true emotion and spectacle.

Unfortunately, the intermittent thrills of The Finest Hours coupled with the fine performances are only able to carry it so far. Because while I think that director Craig Gillespie certainly figured out the heart of this epic story, he didn't discover a good way to tell it. From scene one, The Finest Hours is a thoroughly choppy ride. There doesn't seem like much rhyme or reason to the way that the film progresses and it's not that it feels mechanized or artificial- it just feels wrong. The film kicks off with the origin of Bernie and Miriam's relationship and then suddenly, the storm rises and the movie moves forward in jolts to drag its way to the action. Long sequences go nowhere and the constant hopping between the stories of Bernie, Miriam and Ray drags the momentum out of the film.

The Finest Hours is also just a tiring film and a dull one. In some ways, it reminded me of The Revenant, except it doesn't feel as pompously over-the-top or gimmicky. And yet, the films still connect- they both pummel you with action to the point of sheer monotony. A good stretch of The Finest Hours is nothing more than just Bernie and his team driving the boat over a series of waves. The scene goes on for ages, as much more engaging and compelling action happens around the other characters. Sequences like that took me out of the movie and just wore me out, leaving me mostly uninterested in the characters and the story. The pacing in The Finest Hours is just truly awful, which is especially disappointing considering that Gillespie's Million Dollar Arm worked so naturally and effectively.

Disney's latest foray into sentimental family entertainment has a lot of promise, but a lack of dramatic momentum truly suffocates it. The Finest Hours is likely to embraced by certain audiences because of its wholesomeness, and yet, it will certainly fade from memory instantly. That's the most disappointing aspect of this film- it's completely disposable. Gillespie and the screenwriters took a famous and daring story and found a way to create a failed cross between procedural and character drama that falls flat. The Finest Hours is like a slowly deflating balloon- it starts out good, but with every single scene that arrives, the air just keeps getting sucked out of this flick.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                               (6/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Screen Rant

Saturday, January 30, 2016

SAG Awards Live Blog!

Tonight, the Screen Actors Guild hand out their awards for the best of 2015. Let's see how this shakes up the Oscar race. Here we go!

-I didn't do a predictions article for tonight, so let me run through them real quick.
              -Best Cast in a Motion Picture- The Big Short
              -Best Actor- Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
              -Best Actress- Brie Larson, Room
              -Best Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Big Short
              -Best Supporting Actress- Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

-I love how the Screen Actors Guild just gets right to it. There's very little fluff in this show. It's very efficiently run. First award of the night handed to Uzo Aduba for Orange is the New Black.

-Male Actor in a Comedy Series is up next. I honestly have no clue about the TV awards most of the time.

-If I had to have a guess, Jeffrey Tambor wins this one.

-"Get up here, Dad!"- Bateman with the nice Arrested Development reference as Tambor comes up to accept his award for Transparent.

-Christian Bale and Steve Carell are on stage to discuss The Big Short, one of my favorite movies of the year.

-Best Comedy series is up next, with our two supporting winners from last year on stage to present.

-Orange is the New Black wins Best Comedy Ensemble.

-Jeremy Renner is here to present the award for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role. This one is critical.

-Alicia Vikander wins Best Supporting Actress for The Danish Girl. One more step towards the Oscar. What a spectacular year for her.

-Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and O'Shea Jackson Jr. are here to talk about Straight Outta Compton. Huge applause as they walked on stage.

-Still absurd that it didn't get a Best Picture nomination. I'm angry about that one, and will be for a long time.

-Best Supporting Actor is up next. This one doesn't really matter because Sylvester Stallone isn't nominated. I've got Bale here, but it could go in any direction.

-I would love it if Elba won here. Snubbed by the Oscars, deserves so much praise for an incredible performance.

-Idris Elba wins for Beasts of No Nation! And deservedly so, great performance in a phenomenal film.

-Somebody is on stage. I don't know who it is. I'm guessing he's an actor. Just a shot in the dark.

-He's still talking. Oh.

-Solid montage, but kinda unnecessary.

-Queen Latifah wins Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV movie for Bessie.

-Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo talk about Spotlight. It's bad news if they don't win tonight.

-Tremblay and Larson take the stage to present the award for Best Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries. More TV categories!

-Idris Elba wins Best Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries for Luther. Second award of the night.

-The stars of Trumbo come on stage to discuss the film. Haven't seen this one yet.

-Carol Burnett is about to receive her lifetime achievement.

-Great speech and a standing ovation for Carol Burnett.

-Next up is Best Actress in a TV drama series. We're close to the major movie awards.

-Viola Davis wins Best Actress for How to Get Away with Murder.

-Idris Elba and Abraham Attah present the final Best Cast nominee of the night, Beasts of No Nation.

-Best Actor in a Drama TV Series is up next. This one is a toss-up.

-Kevin Spacey wins Best Actor for House of Cards! Somewhat shocking upset over Jon Hamm.

-Funny speech from Kevin Spacey, one of the definite highlights of the night.

-The In Memoriam section is up next. Susan Sarandon is here to present.

-Excellent, tremendously sad memorial for several great actors. Loved the Nimoy and Rickman sign-offs.

-Keegan-Michael Key and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss are here to present the award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series.

-Downton Abbey wins Best Cast. Shocked that it topped House of Cards and Mad Men.

-Eddie Redmayne to present the Best Actress award. Should be Larson. No question in my mind.

-Brie Larson wins for Room. On her way to an Oscar.

-DiCaprio will win the Best Actor award, but Best Cast is where things will get really interesting.

-Alright Leo. Let's get this over with.

-Leonardo DiCaprio continues his march to the Oscar with a win for The Revenant.

-I'm very excited to see what wins Best Cast. I can't wait. This is a pivotal moment in the Oscar season.

-Spotlight wins Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Great film and it really throws the whole awards season into total disarray.

-That's it for tonight! But look for more reaction soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fox Searchlight strikes record deal for Nate Parker's Sundance breakout 'The Birth of a Nation'

Although it maintains its stance as a haven for independent films and filmmakers, Sundance has become a major player in the Oscar race. Seemingly each year we get a new film from Sundance that ends up as a critical factor in the Oscar race and it has made the festival a hot target for the studios. Films like this year's Brooklyn, as well as films from previous years like Whiplash, Boyhood, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Little Miss Sunshine have broken out from the famed festival and made Park City a major destination for cinephiles. Going into the 2016 fest, everybody was wondering what the next big Oscar smash would be. A couple days later, I think I have a good idea of what film we'll be talking about for the next several months. Plenty of films have garnered a lot of attention, but no other film has captivated Sundance like Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation. The story of Nat Turner's famed slave rebellion in 1831, the historical epic (which plays off the title of D.W. Griffith's notoriously racist 1915 film) bowled over critics and audiences as the Sundance crowd was brought to their feet multiple times. Audiences and studios alike knew that this was going to be a big one- and it turned into the largest bidding war in the history of the festival.

Everybody wanted The Birth of a Nation. Netflix, Amazon, Sony, Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Company- every studio was willing to drop big money on what they seemed certain would be a box office and award hit. In the end, The Birth of a Nation went to Fox Searchlight in a $17.5 million deal that topped Me and Earl and the Dying Girl's $12 million record (also to Searchlight). Fox was able to carry Steve McQueen's hard-hitting slavery drama 12 Years a Slave to success in 2013, so I think that it was a good move for Parker to choose the indie distributor over Netflix and their $20 million offer. The Birth of a Nation comes at a very interesting time in the industry, as Hollywood is gripped by the #OscarsSoWhite debate that has been raging for weeks (I'm hoping to write an extended article on the debate in the coming weeks, so stay tuned). It's refreshing to see a film written and directed by an African-American man sparking such a strong reception, but will it be a hit at the Oscars? Or will they ignore it like they ignored Straight Outta Compton, Creed and Beasts of No Nation? I would like to think so. Searchlight knows how to market a film and this seems to be in the Academy's wheelhouse. I think that we definitely have our first Oscar favorite of 2016 in The Birth of a Nation. Look for more reports from Sundance in the coming days.

Image Credits: Variety, Sundance

'Dirty Grandpa' review

Robert De Niro is an enigma. He's undoubtedly one of the greatest actors in cinematic history. Goodfellas, The Godfather Part II, Casino, Once Upon a Time in America, The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Heat, Awakenings, The Untouchables, Silver Linings Playbook- the list of classic De Niro flicks goes on and on and on. But De Niro doesn't make the best career choices. He has a tendency to star in almost any movie that comes his way, and sometimes, I think that really hurts him and his legacy. A movie like Dirty Grandpa makes it difficult to take him seriously. You might call me an idiot or a liar, but believe it or not, I was actually mildly excited for Dirty Grandpa. The red band trailer was mildly amusing and the concept of De Niro playing a foul-mouthed geezer in a movie that would put Zac Efron back into the R-rated comedy genre definitely intrigued me. The reviews rolled in late on Thursday night and they were all atrocious. But I didn't quite buy into it. "It couldn't be that bad, right?" I asked myself.

It's that bad. It really is. Dirty Grandpa is truly, unquestionably awful. It's unhinged in its vulgarity, and in doing so, reaches new levels of stupidity in comedic filmmaking. Dirty Grandpa rides for a while off the pedigree of stars Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, but after a while, they're just hurting their reputation in this mess. It's a great concept for a movie- matching a classic Hollywood star with a rising talent in a filthy comedy- and yet, Dirty Grandpa feels like it was written by a 10-year old who only recently discovered the power of the "F"-word. It throws every single raunchy thing it can think of on the screen, but it never once manages to be funny. This film makes the fatal mistake of mistaking crudeness for comedy and because of that, Dirty Grandpa ends up as a poorly structured mess of the movie with forced character development, lackluster pacing and a series of offensive gags that never land. This is the definition of a January movie.

I'll be honest, I don't even know where to start on this one. I guess I should run through the semblance of a plot that this movie has. Jason (Zac Efron) is a soulless cog in the corporate machine. He's a lawyer at his dad (Dermot Mulroney)'s firm, and he is set to marry Meredith (Julianne Hough), who is portrayed as being a controlling crazy person for pretty much the whole movie. But after his grandma's passing, Jason is tasking with taking his grandfather, Dick Kelly (Robert De Niro), to his vacation home in Boca. Jason reluctantly agrees, even though Meredith is freaking out about their upcoming wedding. But from the moment that Jason walks in on his grandfather watching porn and "taking a #3" as Dick puts it, he knows that this won't be a typical trip.

Within moments, Jason realizes that Dick is basically a really horny dude. And he wants to take this road trip so that Jason can be his wingman and allow him to have sex with college girls. That's the basic gist of Dick's idea. Or is it? At some point, the movie tries to convince us that Dick is actually doing all of this to "free" Jason from his repressive relationships, and yet, there's never any development to that. His motivation seems focused on having sex with Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), a very flirty college girl. I think that Dirty Grandapa views itself as an incredibly filthy version of The Graduate, but all of those subplots are completely undercooked and frankly, don't make much sense. Anyways, they party in Daytona, as Jason reconnects with an old college classmate (Zoey Deutch) and realizes that maybe he needs to rethink his life. That's pretty much the whole movie.

Dirty Grandpa could probably get away with a lot more if it was funny. But I think if you described a lot of the gags to someone who hadn't seen this movie, they'd respond more with shock and surprise than with laughter. A movie like this really makes me appreciate someone like Seth Rogen- someone who can take a very dirty concept and come up with a clever and well-paced set of jokes to accompany the filthiness. Rogen's R-rated raunchfests may be filled with their share of drugs, sex and f-words, but there's a degree of ambition to it. Dirty Grandpa is sloppy and nasty just for the sake of being sloppy and nasty. The jokes in this film barely qualify as jokes. For instance, there's a scene where Efron is in prison and asks for a pair of pants. The cop responds: "Alright, the only pants we have are from an orgy gone wrong, so do you want the semen stained ones or the blood stained ones?"

That's something that classifies as a joke in the world of Dirty Grandpa. But the movie doesn't earn the joke. There's nothing funny about a man waking up on the beach with a bunch of swastikas on his head drawn in the shape of penises. Nothing is inherently amusing about an old guy describing 500 different permutations of the word "c--kblock." Hearing about the sexual adventures of Andre the Giant isn't funny. The writer and director of Dirty Grandpa don't understand humor. They have no concept of how a joke builds and pays off. The humor in this film doesn't help the characters, it doesn't come from the situations, it's just forced, cheap garbage. I will say this though- eventually, you'll probably laugh out of sheer disbelief.

But beyond the sheer clumsiness of the film's humor, there's a laziness to the way that the entire plot is set up. There's absolutely no structure to this movie. It flows all over the place. Scenes are repeated. Jokes play again and again. "Serious" character scenes are dropped in every once in a while to advance the dramatic effect of the story. Simply put, nothing works. The characters don't make any sense, the plot is practically non-existent and the fact that the movie is constantly unfunny only adds to the dogpile of junk that this movie has built.

People will easily blame this movie on De Niro or Efron or the surprisingly solid supporting cast. Please don't. There are two people to blame for this movie- John Phillips and Dan Mazer. Phillips' script is awful in every way and Mazer's direction adds nothing to the movie. They've created a movie that scrapes the bottom of the barrel and then keeps digging (this flick barely avoids the dreaded "F" grade). De Niro's legacy will be okay, and Efron will bounce back with Neighbors 2 in a couple of months. Zoey Deutch will break out as a star at some point and there are a few other funny people in this movie who will survive this fiasco. It's just a shame that they didn't get out early.

Leonardo DiCaprio recently said this when discussing his horrific experience making The Revenant: "Pain is temporary, film is forever." In DiCaprio's case, he meant that as a positive- the legacy of The Revenant will live on, no matter how cold he was while making the film. In the case of Dirty Grandpa, that quote backfires. De Niro might keep making great movies and Efron may eventually be a star, but for those of us who suffered through it, we'll always remember Dirty Grandpa.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D-                                            (2.5/10)

Image Credits: Telegraph, Guardian, Screen Rant, Joblo

Monday, January 25, 2016

Will James Cameron ever make 'Avatar 2'?

Last week, some film fans were surprised when Disney and Lucasfilm moved Rian Johnson's Star Wars: Episode VIII to December 2017. Not because they thought Episode VIII didn't belong in December, but because that was already set to be a pretty stacked month. Along with an array of smaller releases like The Croods 2 and The Six Billion Dollar Man, December was the home of two major heavy hitters- Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One and James Cameron's Avatar 2, which he had previously stated would be ready for a Christmas 2017 release date. With all of those new releases, it was set to be box office pandemonium. Pundits and fans were giddy with excitement over what was going to possibly be the most epic box office showdown in history. Unfortunately, that fervor didn't last for long- earlier this week, The Wrap confirmed that Cameron's sequel to the highest grossing worldwide hit of all time will not be ready in time for December 2017. Not shocking at all, considering Cameron's track record of delaying films, but it does beg the question- will Avatar 2 ever be made?

The short answer is yes. Not making Avatar 2 would leave far too much money on the table. Cameron has been teasing a return to Pandora for the past seven years, stating that he plans to make another three films to complete his quadrilogy. In addition to that, Disney's Avatar Land will be opening soon in their Animal Kingdom Park and the plan to connect the opening of the theme park with a sequel to the sci-fi hit has been in the cards the whole time. But on top of that, the question remains- if it ever gets made, would Avatar 2 be a hit? There's a great article by Scott Mendelson over at Forbes that you should definitely check out, as it describes a lot of the problems with the Avatar series (link here) and how the film's cultural impact is next to zero. Very few people care about that movie anymore. The world has moved on and the interest in a return to Pandora is low. The connection to the series and the characters is waning and there's good reason to believe that most people have forgotten about the film at this point.

However, I think that if Cameron can come up with something truly revolutionary (which he has discussed numerous times before), then there's a very good chance that the film matches the original at the box office. Because that's what made the original special in the first place- the technology. People went to see Avatar because they'd never seen an immersive 3-D experience like that, and I understand why Cameron is waiting to see if he can find a way to top himself. But if he doesn't get moving fast, this film could be stuck in development hell forever. The clock is ticking.

Image Credits: Variety, Joblo

'13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi' review

If it's January, you can bet that there's a military movie set to hit theaters. That has been the trend for the last couple years and it has worked wonders for the studios. To kick things off, Act of Valor and Zero Dark Thirty did modest business in 2012 and 2013, respectively. One year later, Lone Survivor seemed like an unlikely gamble, but with a bona fide movie star in Mark Wahlberg and a famous true story, it ended up with great reviews (75% on Rotten Tomatoes) and became a box office smash ($125 million). But that was only a warm-up act for Clint Eastwood's American Sniper. The Bradley Cooper-starred biopic broke out in January 2015, riding a wave of Oscar nominations to become the highest grossing film of 2014 with $350.1 million in the U.S. Now, January has rolled around once again and another military action flick has washed up on American shores- Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

The topic of Benghazi is sure to arouse controversy whenever it's brought up in a conversation. The terrorist assault on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks cost four American lives and plenty of questions remain over what could have been done. Did Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama do enough? Who's at fault for the attack? Could those lives have been saved? These questions still haunt America and its politics today, but thankfully, Michael Bay's film isn't overtly interested in these politics. Sure, there's a character that I'm pretty sure works as a representation of the Clinton/Obama inaction, but beyond that, the film is pretty straight-forward and surprisingly anti-war. A pulse-pounding and intense action thriller, Bay's film has plenty of flaws and yet, it still puts his considerable cinematic flair on display in an incredible effective flick. It may not have the prestige of the last few military flicks, but 13 Hours is a gritty, white-knuckle ride worth taking.

In 2012, Libya was one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Rocked by a revolution toppled the fascist dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the U.S. embassies in Tripoli and Benghazi were put in crisis mode in the early months of the year. Jack Silva (John Krasinski) takes the contract to head over to Benghazi with his old friend, Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), despite the fact that he has a wife and two young girls to care for. Along with five other members of an elite security team (Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini and Toby Stephens), Jack and Tyrone protect a secret U.S. compound from the constant dangers of the war-struck country.

Everything is relatively calm until disaster strikes in September. With Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) arriving in Benghazi soon, Tyrone and the security unit remain worried that the protection isn't quite up to speed. Stevens is welcomed at a local U.S. facility and gives a speech, but soon, a group of violent insurgents charge the mostly unprotected base. With very little security, Stevens and a group of U.S. citizens are put in grave danger. No backup, no friendly fire and no hope for a rescue plan- except from Jack and Tyrone's unit. Unfortunately, their chief of command (David Costabile) prevents them from intervening in the attack- he insists that there's more assistance coming from the government. But with the situation growing worse by the minute, the soldiers of Benghazi enter a living hell for 13 hours to save American lives from one of the worst terror attacks in recent history.

Subtlety isn't a word in Michael Bay's vocabulary. From his straight-forward action movies like Bad Boys II to the Transformers epics to his weird comedy/horror/drama Pain & Gain, Bay's movies exist more like blunt instruments- they pummel you and overwhelm the senses. And despite being a considerably more mature effort from the infamously wild director, Bay still hits you very hard with 13 Hours. This is a frenzied, explosive film and it is unrelentingly crazy for nearly 144 minutes. Bay is great at mayhem, but less so at emotion- despite the extraordinarily intense circumstances, I felt very little for these characters and some of the attempts at emotion felt a bit sentimental. But don't count that as too much of a discredit to the film- character depth isn't the goal of this flick.

If I'm being completely honest here- I don't know much about the real Benghazi attack or the details of how it went down. It's a talking point in American politics, but I still don't have much of a flashbulb memory of it like I do for Aurora or Sandy Hook. One of the strengths of Bay's film is that it immerses the viewer in the action. This is very much a minute-for-minute "you are there" account of the Benghazi attack and it does a terrific job at conveying the tragedy and insanity of what happened. You could walk into this film having no idea what the Benghazi attack was and walk out having a pretty solid understanding of the absolute pandemonium that occurred in September 2012.

And for that reason, Michael Bay was probably the right director to make this movie. Bay specializes in truly insane action and his latest outing features plenty of that. Over the course of its lengthy runtime, 13 Hours features enough blood, bullets and dirt to fill three other movies. There are moments where the film slows down, but for the most part, this is one long, roller-coaster of an action setpiece. The insanity primarily focuses on the violence, but Bay also does a phenomenal job of conveying the nuttiness of how many people were involved in this attack. There were random fighters on every side and it's terrifying to never quite know who's on what side. And while Bay's movies may be instruments of blunt force as described above, they're also experiences. It's almost a guarantee that you'll be tired by the end of a Michael Bay movie. 13 Hours is no different. It's an exhaustive trip to the movie theater and it fits with the theme of the movie.

Where Bay goes wrong with the action scenes is his tendency to make things feel like a video game. The Transformers films are infamous for being a non-stop barrage of action and they're often similar to watching a live-action video game. 13 Hours occasionally feels like a movie version of Call of Duty. The action is crazed and unhinged, but there's a video game sensibility to it that the movie just can't shake. The heroes tackle one problem and it's almost as if the movie pops a little "Next Level" sign up on the screen. The action becomes redundant at a point, and while I know that Bay is trying to create an authentic portrayal of real life events, there's something a bit mechanized about how he has structured this film.

There's also something rather phony and artificial about the film's emotional bend. A lot of the connections to the characters feel forced and inauthentic (quite often, the principle players are nearly interchangeable), with a bizarre flashback to Jack building a treehouse with his daughters that stands out as particularly bad. That said, 13 Hours features some surprisingly thoughtful meditations on the necessity of war and the futility of overseas interference. There's a terrific scene in the movie where, after several hours of fighting, Jack and Tyrone sit down and discuss what their children would think about them dying in a country that held no meaning to them and didn't want them there in the first place. It's a scene that is full of shocking depth and I was glad to see that sort of thematic message conveyed in what I was expecting to be a rather empty film.

13 Hours may not reach the heights of some of the other recent military movies, but it's a thrillingly hard-hitting action movie that gives a thorough and intense portrayal of one of the defining events of our time. A tad overlong, yet always captivating, this flick is led to success by Michael Bay's wonderful cinematic eye and a constant stream of action that will have you on the edge of your seat. In a January filled with some truly awful cinematic dreck, 13 Hours stands out as the first genuinely good movie of 2016.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.4/10)

Image Credits: Forbes, Variety, Guardian, Screen Rant, 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

'The Big Short' wins Best Picture at the Producers Guild Awards

This race is far from over. Very, very far.

What originally seemed like an incredibly uninteresting race for Best Picture has turned into one of the most compelling competitions in years. Spotlight was the favorite for most of the Oscar season after its premiere at Toronto, but the tides have turned in recent weeks. The Golden Globes awarded their Best Picture trophies to The Revenant and The Martian, while many critic groups handed out awards to Mad Max: Fury Road. Meanwhile, Adam McKay's The Big Short surged big-time in many races, receiving five Oscar nominations. Spotlight's lone victory was its win for Best Picture at the Critics' Choice Awards after a long night of wins for George Miller's Fury Road. So where does that leave us? Basically, every single major competitor for the Best Picture prize has won at least one pre-cursor award and no movie is the outright front-runner. But it's crunch-time now, and I have a feeling that we're going to get a much clearer picture of what will win Best Picture in the coming weeks. The first piece of the puzzle was last night's Producers Guild Awards, a traditionally strong prognosticator of the Academy Awards.

Going into the night, there was a general sense of mystery surrounding the award. The Revenant had been surging with great box office and a lot of momentum and Spotlight was still looked at as the safe pick, but as reported by numerous sites, most voters and insiders had no idea what would win. In the end, Adam McKay's financial comedy The Big Short came out on top. The energetic film about the 2008 housing crisis has been rising for a while, but it didn't have the wins to back it up quite yet. Many expected that it would be victorious on Golden Globes night and yet, it couldn't pull it together- The Big Short still had to wait for its big night. With a win at the Producers Guild and a prime nomination at the SAG Awards, this film could be on the fast track to a Best Picture win. For some perspective, the last time a film won the Producers Guild Award and didn't win Best Picture was 2006's Little Miss Sunshine (in 2013, Gravity tied for the award). As Variety noted yesterday, the PGA uses a preferential balloting system that allows for it to be incredibly similar to how the Oscars play out. There's still another month to go before the awards are handed out at the Dolby Theatre, but as of now, The Big Short is in truly terrific shape. Look for another Oscar update later this week.

Image Credits: Variety, Joblo