Monday, May 2, 2016

Alicia Vikander to star in 'Tomb Raider' reboot

Even though the first of four major video game adaptations (Focus' Ratchet and Clank) fell flat this weekend, the major studios are still moving full steam ahead with a variety of other films based on beloved properties. Sony's The Angry Birds Movie, Universal's Warcraft, and Fox's Assassin's Creed will all hit theaters this year, and the stakes couldn't be higher. On top of the films that are already in the can, there are many other video game adaptations currently in development. Warner Bros. and MGM's Tomb Raider reboot is one of those films, and so far, it has generated quite a bit of discussion, mostly due to the fact that Daisy Ridley was rumored for the lead role of Lara Croft. The Star Wars actress was looking to add another franchise to her already impressive portfolio, and the general fan reaction was enthusiastic. However, it looks like another talented young actress has swooped in and taken the role from Ridley.

On Thursday, it was announced that Alicia Vikander, Oscar-winning star of The Danish Girl, will play Lara Croft in the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. Norwegian director Roar Uthaug will be at the helm for the film, which doesn't currently have a set release date. According to the sources at Variety, despite the rumors that Ridley was set to join the cast, Vikander was always the studio's first choice for the role. After a hugely successful 2015, in which she appeared in films like Ex Machina and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (in addition to her Oscar win), Vikander will have an equally busy 2016. She'll next appear in Justin Chadwick's Tulip Fever, Paul Greengrass' Jason Bourne and Derek Cianfrance's The Light Between Oceans. Vikander is a terrific actress, and while I'm not entirely sold on the idea of a Tomb Raider reboot, I'm confident that she will be phenomenal in the role. This is a good start for a franchise that could prove to be very successful for Warner Bros. and MGM. 

Image Credits: Guardian, Joblo

Sunday, May 1, 2016

'Elvis & Nixon' review

In the trailer for Elvis & Nixon, the booming voiceover tells us that of all the photographs in the national archives, the 1970 image of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon is the most requested. I'll be honest, I don't think I'd ever even seen the picture before watching that trailer. Nor did I know that a meeting between Elvis and Nixon was actually a big deal. Essentially, director Liza Johnson's film has the advantage of working with obscurity and the unknown. This little-known slice of history is pretty much undocumented beyond the picture, and I would bargain that most Americans born after 1970 have very little knowledge of the subject. After all, the history curriculums have changed a little bit in recent years. With no tapes or recordings of the meeting, Johnson, screenwriters Cary Elwes and Joey and Hannah Segal, and stars Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey have the advantage of taking this movie absolutely anywhere. And with that freedom, Elvis & Nixon heads into some insightful, funny, and terrifically bizarre directions.

The setup is relatively simple. It's late in 1970, and Elvis Presley (played with an oddball energy by Michael Shannon) is watching the downfall of the country from the comfort of his home in Graceland. Violence, protests, drugs- all of these things conflict with Elvis' ideal view of the country that he knows and loves. With that in mind, he decides that he'll head to Washington to meet with Preisdent Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) in the hopes of becoming a Federal Agent-at large. Elvis is helped by Jerry (Alex Pettyfer), a longtime friend and colleague of the King, and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville), a somewhat sleazy associate. Jerry and Elvis are having their own relationship issues and their respective internal battles play a huge part in the narrative. 

On the flip side of things, Richard Nixon is stuck with some pretty unfavorable ratings, mostly due to the fact that the country is in a somewhat messy state. Top advisors Bud Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) are looking for a famous ally, and when Elvis shows up at the gate of the White House, they see it as a golden PR opportunity. Despite some initial hesitance from the President, Krogh and Chapin are able to set up the interview, which ends up taking all kinds of weird and wacky turns. In the end, it turns out that Elvis and Nixon might not be so different after all.

Elvis & Nixon, in the grand scheme of the modern movie climate, is a strange little flick. Coming from Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street, the film barely even received a marketing push, with only one trailer ever hitting the web. In addition, the studios dumped it into 381 theaters on opening weekend, coming off a lowkey premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and with very little buzz (although critics did enjoy the film, which boasts a 76% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes). The box office receipts have shown, as the film was essentially DOA last weekend. Which is unfortunate, because this is actually a fun little movie. Short, sweet, and tremendously funky, Elvis & Nixon has fun with its subject, putting an absurdist spin on what could have played as an oddly serious drama.

Much of the credit should go to Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey, who dominate the screen as Elvis and Nixon, respectively. Spacey has less to work with in terms of the characterization of Nixon in this film, and yet, he's able to effectively and accurately channel the iconic President's mannerisms. Everything from the hunched shoulders to the gruff voice feels like Nixon, and this whole performance is a testament to Spacey's unique skills as one of our greatest actors. Shannon is equally terrific as Elvis, bringing a sense of unpredictability to the production and giving you a true sense of who Presley was as a person. Shannon is both flashy and pensive as the icon, displaying the charisma and the conscious of one of the most famous stars in history. He never quite digs deep enough to find the man behind the Elvis mask, but there are plenty of glimpses of it that prove fascinating.

Shannon and Spacey are backed up by some impressive supporting performances, led by funny and ironic turns from Colin Hanks and Evan Peters as the President's advisors. Big stars like Johnny Knoxville and Ashley Benson basically have brief cameos in the film, but in the end, it's Alex Pettyfer who shines brightest. Drawn by the screenwriters as the movie's human core, Pettyfer's Jerry has the most depth of any character in the film. Reliable and loyal, Jerry is stuck between the stability of his family life in Los Angeles and the toxic insanity of a life as Elvis Presley's best friend. Pettyfer has had bright spots before, but his turn here shows off skills as an actor that I hadn't seen before. It's a really well-done performance.

Director Liza Johnson utilizes the cast greatly, and they certainly form the backbone of this movie. But in addition to that, Johnson injects Elvis & Nixon with an irresistible and goofy '70s charm that flows through every scene of the movie. The opening credits kick things off with a funky, multi-colored explosion, and from there, it only gets crazier. The costumes are gaudy and outlandish, intertwining classic 70's fashion with the flamboyance of Elvis. And of course, the sets are pitch-perfect, a unique blend of grit and energy that could only be found in the 1970s. Everything about this movie has a very bright, fun vibe, with rarely a dark moment coming into play.

Elvis & Nixon isn't a movie that features compelling character development or a deep plot. It's just a really enjoyable movie, where two of our greatest actors have a blast playing two of our most iconic historical figures. There aren't even any pronounced flaws with this movie, beyond the fact that it's an inherent slight film. Elvis & Nixon has a good time for 86 minutes and then it just kinda wraps up. It won't give you much revelatory new insight into Elvis or Nixon, but it's not really meant to do that. The point of this movie is to take two icons and put them in a situation where weird and wacky things happen with the goal of making the audience laugh. And in that way, Elvis & Nixon succeeds.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                                 (7/10)

Image Credits: Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, Joblo

'Everybody Wants Some!!' review

"You're gonna give me one of the best days of my life......until tomorrow."

If there's ever a more accurate high school movie than Dazed and Confused, I'll be shocked. Richard Linklater's nuanced and realistic look at a 1976 Texas high school is so dead-on about the sheer aimlessness of the high school experience. Although it's no long 1976, and while I don't live in Texas, so many things about Linklater's film ring true today. He has an eye for capturing how people interact, communicate, and socialize, and I would dare any high school kid to watch that film and not find a little bit of themselves in it. When I first saw Dazed, I was thrown aback by how much I loved it. Not only did it feel like a representation of the high school universe, it was a film with such rich, funny characters who felt like people I knew by the end of the movie. It's endlessly quotable, infinitely watchable, and constantly fun. It's the greatest high school movie of all time, without a doubt. When I heard that Linklater was making a spiritual sequel to his 1993 classic, I was immediately excited. But could the director even come close to recapturing the magic of Dazed and Confused?

I'm not in college. I haven't been through that experience yet. I'm still a junior in high school. And yet, I was able to connect with so many scenes in Everybody Wants Some!!, a film that is every bit as good as Dazed and Confused. It's probably the best movie about the college experience ever made, a film that moves in bold, relaxing, and beautiful strokes. Some may see what Linklater has put together with Everybody Wants Some!! as minor, unambitious or shallow. In reality, it's the opposite of that. Linklater is among the most human filmmakers on the planet, and this time out, he has created another vivid portrait of a specific time and place, with characters that you'll want to spend countless hours with. He has created something hopeful and dazzling, something that knows about the endless possibilities of life in college. A euphoric blend of music, dialogue, and partying, Everybody Wants Some!! is one of those rare perfect films that comes along every once in a while from a very special filmmaker.

The best part is that Everybody Wants Some!!, like its classic predecessor, has virtually no plot. At the start of the movie, Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), shows up at the baseball house of his southern Texas college. After that, he goes and parties for the next few days with his teammates. They do a lot of drinking, meet some girls, smoke some weed, participate in stupid competitions, play a little bit of baseball, talk about life, and go to the local hang-out spots. They go to class at the end of the movie. Then it's over. That's it. That's the movie. And in every single way, it's absolutely perfect. Every scene, every character interaction, every wildly raucous party- it's all wonderful.

Many have noted that Everybody Wants Some!! starts with the beginning of a journey (the first weekend before classes start), as opposed to Dazed and Confused, which begins with an ending (the last day of school). This may seem like a small change, but it provides the fundamental shift in the movie's tone and style. When we meet Pink, Slater, Benny, and all of the other characters in Dazed (with the exception of Mitch and the other freshman), they know each other already. They're witnessing the end of their junior year of high school, wondering what the future holds for them. They have become disillusioned with the experience of high school and have instead embraced the free spirit of the 1970s.

It's a very fun movie and a celebration of high school partying, but in the context of the time period and the setting, there's the recognition that the American high school experience isn't a blast. High school isn't always the most fun, I can tell you that from first-hand experience. There are a lot of times where the sheer pressure of the whole thing gets to you. I've had more existential conversations with people in the last year than I have throughout the rest of my life. Dazed and Confused features a lot of driving around, hanging out, talking, and discussions about the future and the state of America. So yeah, not much has changed- that's pretty much what we do today. We all enjoy it, and we have a good time, but there's the hope of something more- some sense of direction (all of these are reasons that Dazed is a masterpiece). Basically, it's a movie about partying that is literally leading you nowhere. A movie summed up by the quote from Don, who says towards the end of the movie: "All I'm saying is that I want to look bad and say that I did the best I could when I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place." The movie celebrates it, but Linklater knows that it's aimless fun.

Everybody Wants Some!! kinda does this at various times throughout the narrative, but in every way, this is a much more optimistic and fun film. There's no lurking existentialist dread or emptiness. Sure, there's a bit of acknowledgment that some people can't let the college spirit go, especially with one character. And of course, some of the older players on the baseball team are beginning to have identity crises over their future with the sport. But for the most part, Everybody Wants Some!! is a celebration. It's a joyous exploration of new friendships, parties, and the college experience at large. It's the story of a freshman coming to realize the true potential of this new college world, a world that will allow him to "embrace his inner strange."

When you leave the theater at the end of Everybody Wants Some!!, a smile will be planted firmly on your face. After witnessing three days of this team of baseball players having fun, you'll be excited for what the future holds for these guys. I could have literally watched hours of this movie, and I would not have blinked. Linklater knows characters so well, and he crafts such expert dialogue, that everything works into his easy-going flow. There's an atmosphere of relaxation to his films that feels so real and so warm. I could pop in Dazed and Confused or Everybody Wants Some!! at any moment of my life and be entertained. His movies feel like an extension of real life in the form of a vivid journey into a lost world. That's Linklater's strength.

His strength is also casting. Everyone knows that Dazed and Confused is famous for kick-starting the careers of Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, and even character actors like Adam Goldberg and Rory Cochrane. There is no justice in the world if some of the stars of Everybody Wants Some!! don't become major Hollywood superstars. Granted, Linklater's script is great, but these guys are phenomenal young actors. Blake Jenner is the center of the movie, and he creates a universally likable character that I related to in nearly every way. The freshmen crew is rounded out by the lovable meathead Plum, played terrifically by Temple Baker, Zoey Deutch's smart and beautiful Beverly (Jake's sweetheart), Tanner Kalina's clueless Brumley, and Beuter Perkins, the clueless Southern dope played by Will Brittain.

Watching the friendship between Jake and Plummer grow is pretty fun, but to be honest, the freshmen don't spend much time together. However, the freshmen are paired off with the wise and knowledgeable upperclassmen, who are played with a swagger and energy that is irresistible. McReynolds, the pitcher-hating, baseball-splitting star of the team, dominates much of the spotlight, with Tyler Hoechlin giving a terrific performance. Glen Powell is equally magnetic as Finnegan, the philosophical, womanizing mentor who many of the freshmen gravitate towards. Wyatt Russell is phenomenal as Willoughby, basically playing out as a variation on Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed. Finally, Juston Street is hysterical as Jay Niles, J. Quinton Johnson is hilarious and charismatic as Dale, and Ryan Guzman is delightfully charming as Roper, McReynolds' best friend and fellow team leader.

The cast is wonderful, but like all great films, it flows back to the filmmaker with the vision. And while many wouldn't apply the word visionary to Linklater, I absolutely believe that he deserves the title. In Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater combines every one of his strengths for a perfect creation. Linklater isn't a filmmaker devoted to flash or wild directorial tricks. He keeps the camera steady and lets us watch, but he fills the screen with such well-crafted, explosive detail that you get sucked in. His dialogue feels like it could actually be spoken by real people in a real universe. His characters aren't caricatures. They feel like old friends that you've know forever. I know people like Jay Niles. I know people like Roper. I see a lot of myself in Jake. I'm not sure that any other filmmaker could do that.

And man, we have to talk about the period detail in Everybody Wants Some!!. From the very first note of The Knack's "My Sharona" to the final sounds of The Cars' "Good Times Roll," this film has a phenomenal soundtrack, which is no surprise if you know Linklater's films. But unlike Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! encompasses a broader range of music- there's some punk rock, a lot of disco, and plenty of Van Halen to go around. It's a soundtrack that will be on repeat on my iPhone for a long time. On top of that, the atmosphere is elevated by the spectacular costume and set designs, creating the feel and look of the early 1980s. Imitating the time and place without fail, this movie is a vision.

Everybody Wants Some!! is a movie that will be on repeat for the rest of my life. In its essence, it's a party movie, but it's like a party movie set in paradise. The college world of Everybody Wants Some!! is idealized, diverse, and beautiful, a nirvana where anything and everything can happen. If college is anything like this, I'm excited. But most importantly, Everybody Wants Some is a movie that celebrates the spirit of youth and friendship. The characters are so terrific, the actors have such great chemistry, the mood is so easy-going, and the conversations are so thought-provoking and funny. After spending a weekend with these guys, you'll never want to leave. For 116 minutes, Everybody Wants Some!! is relaxing cinematic heaven. It's sweet, thoughtful, and absolutely brilliant. Another Linklater masterpiece.

Let the good times roll.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A+                                             (10/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Guardian, NY Times, MTV, Yahoo, Joblo

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Official trailer for 'Jason Bourne' promises another stunning adventure

Few modern franchises have received as much widespread critical acclaim and audience admiration as the Bourne series. After Doug Liman started things off with The Bourne Identity in 2002, director Paul Greengrass elevated the series to new heights with The Bourne Supremacy, bringing a gritty sense of energy and intensity to the film. By the time The Bourne Ultimatum debuted in 2007, the franchise was clearly one of the most bankable and popular in Hollywood. The trilogy capper grossed $442.8 million worldwide and was certified fresh at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Any reasonable studio executive would have wanted to keep the franchise going, but after three films, star Matt Damon decided it was time to step away. To compensate for the loss of one of their biggest franchises, Universal swapped Damon for Jeremy Renner and created The Bourne Legacy, which debuted to an incredibly muted reaction in 2012. At that point, the studio knew that the only way to continue was to bring back Damon and Greengrass. Four years later, that's what they've done. Check out the trailer for Jason Bourne below!

Yup, this looks phenomenal. No question about it. This trailer doesn't give you much, but it tells you two important things.

A. Jason Bourne is back.
B. He's still awesome.

Even in the modern sphere of action movies, the Greengrass Bourne movies stand out as terrific pieces of action filmmaking. He's such a dynamic director, and he creates movies where each scene has an immediacy that is hard to imitate. Jason Bourne looks to have a similar style, but with a slicker look and a modern conscious. After three films of having Bourne search for his identity, I must say, it's going to be refreshing to see him embracing the action hero role. The new cast, led by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones, is terrific, and the tone seems pitch-perfect. Plus, the Las Vegas strip set-piece looks just as astounding as promised. All in all, this is one of the summer's biggest action movies and one that I simply can't wait for. I would hesitate to guarantee quality from many upcoming summer movies, but with Jason Bourne, it's pretty much a sure thing. I'm ready for Greengrass and Damon to knock this one out of the park.

Jason Bourne stars Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepard, and Tommy Lee Jones, and hits theaters on July 29.

Image Credits: Joblo

Sunday, April 24, 2016

'Midnight Special' review

Going into Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols' enigmatic and mysterious sci-fi thriller, there's a good chance that you'll be wondering about the meaning behind the title. Is there some kind of significance to the phrase? Does it hint at a reveal in the movie? Is there a big plot twist? The answer is- none of the above. In the context of the movie, "Midnight Special" means absolutely nothing. But that doesn't mean that it's a meaningless title. Instead, it hints at the experience of the film. Midnight Special plays like a vision, a hallucination, a fantasy. It's the stuff of astounding science fiction stories- no true explanation is ever given for the events of the film. It thrusts you into the middle of the action with very little context only to leave you with an ending that will give you very little closure. It feels like a thought that pops into your head at night, one of those weird, wild concoctions that can only happen when the rest of the world is asleep. Like one of those dreams where you wake up suddenly, wondering what the hell happened. Midnight Special is the equivalent of watching one of those dreams come to life on the big screen for two hours.

In terms of the experience of the film, I think that the less you know, the better. So I'll give you this brief, Hemingway-style summary. Roy (Michael Shannon) is on the run with a boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). Lucas (Joel Edgerton), his friend, is helping him. Alton happens to be Roy's son. Alton has special powers. Those special powers are compelling to both the U.S. government, and a religious group known as The Ranch. The government believes that Alton is a weapon, while The Ranch believes that he's the savior of all mankind. Under the pursuit of Ranch leader Calvin (Sam Shepard), and U.S. agent Sevier (Adam Driver), Roy and Alton will have to find their way to his destiny.

This is all that you need to know about this movie, and going in, it's all that you should know. Nichols' film thrives on intrigue and mystery, not complicated plot mechanics. While it works as a high-concept sci-fi film, it feels so bare-bones and white-knuckle. The special effects are used sparingly, and in general, the color palette and style of the film is incredibly clean and minimalist. Sets are simple and plain, the chases and setpieces are incredibly basic, and the big surprises and reveals are never convoluted or mind-boggling. And in terms of tone, as many have noted, the influence of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg bleeds through every frame.

But despite those grandiose ambitions and inspirations, Midnight Special feels like its own unique thing. It almost works as a rebuttal to Close Encounters of the Third Kind in a certain way- it takes the decisions of that film, the regrets that Spielberg still holds in regards to character choices, and completely flips it. Nichols wrote the film in response to his new life as a father, which is the polar opposite of Spielberg's state of mind when he wrote Close Encounters. And in their respective films, it shows. Instead of making a movie about one man consumed by a fate that alienates him, Nichols has taken the tonal inspiration and created a film where a man is consumed by love for his child. Love, and the knowledge that maybe his child holds a greater destiny. Roy Neary walks away from his children at the end of Close Encounters. In Midnight Special, Roy Tomlin will do anything to ensure that his child reaches his potential.

The success of the movie hinges on this relationship working, and thankfully, Nichols has Michael Shannon to back him up. The ever-terrific Man of Steel star plays Roy as the emotional core of the movie, and even during the film's numerous slower moments, Shannon's determination and melancholy power shine through. It's a bittersweet performance in a bittersweet film. Shannon is complemented well by Kirsten Dunst's performance as Sarah, Alton's estranged mother. Dunst is equally subdued and calm, but she commands your attention in an interesting way. There's a clear history between Roy and Sarah that we've missed out on, which makes their scenes all the more compelling. Of course, the center of this is Alton, played with a noble steeliness by young actor Jaeden Lieberher. He does a lot with a tricky role, creating a character that works as the heart of the film.

Midnight Special also has a terrific supporting cast, highlighted by Joel Edgerton's quiet and pensive turn as Lucas, the complexity of Adam Driver's performance as Sevier, and the ominous presence of Sam Shepard's Calvin and the other members of the Ranch. However, there's no doubt that Jeff Nichols is the movie's superstar. The Arkansas-born director broke onto the scene with Take Shelter and Mud, but Midnight Special shows that he's a filmmaker with a diverse range of stories to tell. If Mud was his attempt at a modern Huck Finn, Midnight Special is his stab at the modern mythology of science fiction, with a story that feels ethereal and other-worldly in a strange, fascinating way.

Nichols injects that exquisite clarity into every scene of the film. Although he is also credited with writing the screenplay, I can't imagine there was much of one. In Midnight Special, the characters don't communicate by spelling everything out for each other. This is a movie that has virtually no exposition. And yet, there's never a moment where the audience is unaware of what is happening. There's no need to go too deep into the backstory of Roy and Alton, because just through a few quick phrases and glances, we have a complex understanding of their relationship. This is the magic of Nichols' storytelling. He eschews something complex in favor of celestial spirituality and basic narrative momentum, both of which carry the movie to the finish line.

That's not to say that Nichols' style doesn't have its failings. There's a reason why Warner Bros. didn't give this film a wide release- it certainly won't play to everyone's taste. The lack of introduction will likely be jarring for many audiences, and I even found myself bored at times during the middle section of the movie. Nichols' film always has momentum, but there are some moments where it lacks vigor and energy. Things slow down quite frequently, with certain scenes feeling out of place. Thankfully, Nichols is able to alleviate this by keeping the atmosphere steady. From the terrific cinematography by Adam Stone to David Wingo's eerie score, Midnight Special is always consistently phantasmal and dreamlike in its own way.

It ends quickly, and you'll probably be thrown back a little bit. You'll stumble out of the theater, maybe talking about some of the great elements that the movie has to offer. You'll wake up from the dream. And the dream might float away from your mind for a few days. But don't worry, it'll find its way back in. Like an illusive, hallucinatory experience that you just can't shake, Midnight Special will come back and stay in your head for a while. And this time, it'll stick. With a stunning eye for genre details, phenomenal performances, and a unique mood unmatched in most modern sci-fi films, Midnight Special becomes a memorable, haunting creation. You might not understand what you've seen, but you'll know that you saw something.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                               (8/10)

Image Credits: Telegraph, Variety, Guardian, THR, Joblo

Mark Rylance and Steven Spielberg to re-team for 'Ready Player One' and 'The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara'

Scorsese and DiCaprio. Wayne and Ford. Hitchcock and Stewart. Wright and Pegg. Shannon and Nichols. De Niro and Scorsese.

Rylance and Spielberg?

Although it came as a moment of triumph for acclaimed theatre star Mark Rylance, his win at the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor was one of the most crushing shocks of the night. Defeating heavyweight favorite Sylvester Stallone for the crown, the Academy rewarded the understated, soft-spoken charm of the actor's performance in Bridge of Spies over the nostalgia of Stallone's seventh round as Rocky Balboa. However, even with unfortunate circumstances, Rylance was gracious and humble in victory. And from the awards circuit and from his performance, he emerged as a low-key Hollywood hero, someone who just about everyone came to love. Which is good. Because we're going to be seeing a lot of him.

In addition to starring as the titular giant in Spielberg's The BFG, Rylance has now signed on for Ready Player One and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, two more upcoming Spielberg films. To clarify, after his adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic story, Spielberg has three projects on the horizon- Ready Player One, The Kidnapping Edgardo Mortara, and Indiana Jones 5. Player One debuts in early 2018, Indy 5 hits theaters in July 2019, and Edgardo Mortara will be debuting in late fall 2017. The latter film, a Tony Kushner-penned adaptation of David Kertzer's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, was just announced a mere two weeks ago, with Deadline breaking the news. Rylance will be playing Pope Pius IX, in the film that details the mid-19th Century struggle of the Vatican against democratic values. According to the report, filming will begin in early 2017, intertwining with post-production on Ready Player One.

Speaking of Spielberg's adaptation of Ernest Cline's best-selling novel, it was only a few short days later that Rylance signed on for that film. According to the breaking report from The Hollywood Reporter, he'll be playing James Halliday, the complex and secretive founder of virtual reality system OASIS, in the film. With a cast that already includes Tye Sheridan, Ben Mendelsohn, and Olivia Cooke, Rylance only ups the pedigree of an already highly-anticipated film.

After three years without a Spielberg flick, it's safe to say that there will be no dearth of material from the iconic director in the next few years. It's going to get pretty crazy, and it's looking like Rylance will be there for the ride. It's only a matter of time before he signs on for Indiana Jones 5.

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara will hit theaters in late 2017, while Ready Player One will be unleashed on March 30, 2018.

Image Credits: Variety, Nerdist

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Movie Guru's Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of Summer 2016

April has arrived, and while the real world is still stuck in spring, the cinematic world is gearing up for the arrival of the 2016 Summer Movie Season. With major blockbusters like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Jungle Book already raking in millions of dollars, some would argue that the season has already begun. But technically, the summer movie season begins on May 6, with the release of Marvel's hotly anticipated Captain America: Civil War. After that, it's off to the races with four months full of a wide range of cinematic offerings. My preview of what the indie distributors and smaller films have to offer is coming later this week, but for now, here are the movies that I'm most excited for this summer.

Before I get to my top ten, here are five honorable mentions.

MONEY MONSTER- I've been on board with this one ever since I first heard the concept and my excitement has yet to dim. George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O'Connell headline a great cast, with a topical concept that could prove to be really interesting. If director Jodie Foster does this right, we could end up with a movie that feels very similar to classics like Dog Day Afternoon and Network. MAY 13

NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING- The original Neighbors is one of the funniest comedies in recent years and one of my personal favorites, so of course I'm going to be intrigued by the idea of a sequel. This seemed like a shoo-in for my top ten, but unfortunately, the marketing materials have promised....well, basically more of the same. While it does look hilarious, I'm still worried about the possibility of a Hangover Part II situation. MAY 20

POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING- As I said in my post about the trailer for Popstar, The Lonely Island, for better or worse, was a part of my younger childhood (I'm still 17, so it feels weird to say this). And when I saw the first teaser for Never Stop Never Stopping, my eyes immediately lit up. It feels like a perfect blend of their musical talent and their satirical eye, which could possibly produce the best musical mockumentary since This is Spinal Tap. All around, this looks fabulous. JUNE 3

GHOSTBUSTERS- Let's not skirt around the issue here- the first trailer for this movie absolutely sucked. I love Paul Feig, I love McCarthy and Wiig, and I love the Ghostbusters franchise, but there was nothing good about that trailer. However, after the success of Spy last year, I'm willing to give this team the benefit of the doubt. Those trailers were rough too, and Spy ended up being the comedy of the year. So who knows what could happen with this one. It's a total toss-up. JULY 15

PETE'S DRAGON- With Pete's Dragon, it's actually the opposite of my situation with Ghostbusters- I had no interest in this film until I saw the trailer. When I saw the first tease for David Lowery's live-action adaptation of the Disney classic, I was struck by how mysterious, heartfelt and Spielbergian the film looked. I was immediately intrigued and after The Jungle Book, it's safe to say that I'm pretty excited to see what they do with Pete's Dragon. AUGUST 12

Now, here are my Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of Summer 2016.

10. WAR DOGS- August 19

Todd Phillips hasn't made a movie since the disastrous final entry in the Hangover franchise back in 2013, but with War Dogs, the talented director looks to roar back to life. While the late August release date does give me some hesitation, everything about War Dogs just feels right. The trailer was dynamite, and the young cast, led by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill, is pretty spectacular. In many ways, I think that this has the possibility to be Phillips' own version of Pain & Gain or The Big Short- a smaller, more serious chance of pace for a notoriously bombastic director. It could fall flat, but my hopes are high.

9. JASON BOURNE- July 29

If I'm being honest, I really see no reason for the Bourne franchise to continue. But hey, if they're gonna do it, might as well do it right. And with Jason Bourne, that's what they're doing. Matt Damon is returning to the titular role for the fourth time, Paul Greengrass is writing and directing once again, and the supporting cast is terrific, led by Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones. The word out of CinemaCon was very strong, amplified by the apparently jaw-dropping footage of a chase through the Las Vegas strip. Everything about this sounds great and I'm hoping for another spectacular film from a consistently strong franchise.


Like Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond suffers from "Awful Trailer Syndrome," which is a fictional cinematic disease that I just made up. The first trailer, which premiered in front of Star Wars: The Force Awakens back in December, emphasized the film's major action beats and was set to "Sabotage" by The Beastie Boys. This really rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way, especially those who hated Star Trek Into Darkness. I didn't think it was a great trailer, but for me, there was something else about it that just felt off. Justin Lin took over for J.J. Abrams this time out, and in that first glimpse, I could tell. Screenwriter Simon Pegg insists that the movie features much more of the heart and brains that the Star Trek series is know for, but as of right now, Paramount has a huge uphill battle to climb.

7. THE BFG- July 1

The BFG has so much going for it. Directed by Steven Spielberg, music by John Williams, a cast that includes Oscar winner Mark Rylance, a screenplay by the late E.T. scribe Melissa Mathison- there is so much to be excited about in regards to this film. On top of that, Spielberg's latest is set for a Cannes premiere, and when it comes to a big blockbuster like this, that is an enormous sign of confidence. The giant CGI looks a little shoddy so far, but beyond that, I'm filled with anticipation for what could be another Spielberg classic.


Independence Day isn't one of my favorite films, but in many ways, it is the quintessential summer blockbuster. Destruction on a massive scale, epic runtime, jingoistic themes, Will Smith- that movie bleeds popcorn butter. And when it comes down to a hot summer day at the multiplex, there's nothing quite like watching an entire country be demolished. Independence Day: Resurgence brings back many of the original cast members, including Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, while also introducing us to characters played by rising stars like Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher. Everything about it looks fun and even if it isn't good, I'm fairly certain that I'll have a blast.


In the high stakes world of superhero filmmaking, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC's budding extended universe often get the bulk of the attention. Somehow, Fox's X-Men series gets lost in the shuffle. I've been a huge fan of what Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg have done over the last few years, bringing the franchise back to its roots with First Class before reuniting everyone for the show-stopping X-Men: Days of Future Past. Singer's latest X-Men film, Apocalypse, kinda feels like an extended victory lap for the success of DoFP, but at the same time, there's a lot to like. It's set in the 1980s, features larger roles for Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and stars Oscar Isaac as the titular villain. The trailers have been middle-of-the-road for me, but my faith in Singer has not been shaken.

4. SAUSAGE PARTY- August 12

When the trailer for this movie came out, it was like the entire internet had burned down. Everybody lost their collective minds over the idea of an R-rated animated comedy from Seth Rogen about food. I'm proud to say that I've been following this movie for years, and I'm quite pumped to see it finally come to life on the big screen. The work-in-progress showing at South by Southwest went great, with many critics noting that the film's blend of existentialism and raunchy humor worked terrifically. Everything about Sausage Party screams brilliance to me, and if that says a lot about me as a person, so be it.

3. THE NICE GUYS- May 20

The Nice Guys was my most anticipated movie of 2016 at the start of the year, and while I'm still very much looking forward to it, some of the other big blockbusters have found a way to jump over it in the rankings. Nonetheless, the L.A.-set buddy cop comedy is still high on my list, with a terrific marketing campaign and two incredibly funny, charismatic stars. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have fantastic chemistry, and Warner Bros. has decided to emphasize that over and over. But most of all, this just looks like plain fun. A cross between L.A. Confidential, Inherent Vice and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Nice Guys could be a new L.A. classic. Count me in already.


What more can be said about this one? People have already seen it, with practically everyone going ballistic because of how great it is. Captain America: Civil War currently stands at 88 on Metacritic and 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is utterly spectacular. Critics have highlighted the film's maturity and the way that it puts Batman v Superman to shame (which is kinda unfortunate, as I still have found some things to like about BvS), with many calling it the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Civil War is the Marvel movie that I've been waiting years for, and the fact that it's finally here makes me so happy.

1. SUICIDE SQUAD- August 5

Suicide Squad looks absolutely phenomenal. There is simply no other way to put it. It's no secret that DC has had a really rough run so far. Man of Steel was a grim and boring mess and Batman v Superman did little to improve on the concerns of fans- in fact, it probably made things worse. Suicide Squad is their chance to change that. This is the first movie with a clear directorial visionary at the helm (sorry, Zack Snyder) and the first true expansion of the universe into different corners. Warner Bros. has the chance to alter the public perception of the DC Universe with this film. This is a very important moment for them. Thankfully, the film looks great- the trailers have highlighted the fun factor, with a unique blend of stylish comic book action and 70s music. Each time I see the trailer for this film, I feel energized. That's gotta count for something, and that's why Suicide Squad is my most anticipated movie of the summer.

Here's hoping for a terrific summer!

Image Credits: Variety, EW, Variety, Screen Rant, The Guardian, Hollywood Reporter, YouTube, EW, Vulture,