Friday, May 22, 2015

Paramount sets 'World War Z' sequel for June 2017

In summer 2013, Paramount's World War Z was one of the most surprising blockbusters. After riding a wave of negative buzz and suffering through endless re-shoots, World War Z emerged as both a good film and an impressive box office powerhouse, grossing $540 million worldwide. Star Brad Pitt put his heart and soul into making sure that World War Z was a hit, and it paid off big time. Paramount's original plan for World War Z was to turn the series into an epic trilogy, but when the bad buzz hit, that plan changed. However, after years of discussion, the studio is ready to move forward with World War Z 2 with Pitt back in the lead role and a new director on board. 

Yesterday, Paramount officially revealed that World War Z 2 (not an official title-I'll be surprised if they actually go for this) will hit theaters on June 9, 2017. The zombie sequel will be directed by JA Bayona, the director of 2012's harrowing disaster drama The Impossible. The film will face off against Fox's Fantastic Four 2, as well as the third weekend of Disney's Star Wars: Episode VIII. As a fan of Pitt and Bayona, I'm very excited to see where this film goes. The original film was a huge surprise to me, and I really enjoyed its distinct mix of horror and action. World War Z definitely set up an intriguing cinematic world and I'm hoping that the sequel lives up to the original. Before World War Z 2 hits theaters, Pitt will also star in By the Sea and The Big Short. The star has quite a bit on his plate before he's set to delve back into the post-apocalyptic world, so I'm guessing that this one goes into production next summer. 

Image Credits: Screen Rant, Schmoes Know

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Entourage review

Entourage begins with a party scene set on a multimillionaire's yacht. As Vincent Chase (Adrien Grenier) and his friends zoom over to the party on their speedboat, we see a bunch of rich movie stars walk around in fancy clothes, eating ridiculous foods and talking about their sex lives as they party around some of the hottest supermodels on the planet. All of this before the opening credits. If this scene doesn't perfectly describe this movie, I don't know what does. From the first couple of scenes, you should know whether or not you'll enjoy this film. Entourage is a flashy look at both the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle (fast cars, nice homes, gorgeous women) and the behind-the-scenes deals that must go down to get films made. And for a 104 minute film, Entourage packs in a ton of stuff. The party scenes are fun, the dialogue is sharp and biting and the filmmakers and actors have a deep respect for the characters. It's just unfortunate that the movie runs out of steam pretty quickly.

Entourage is based off of the popular HBO TV show and it once again takes a look at the lives of movie star Vincent Chase, his agent (now studio executive) Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) and his group of cronies (Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrera) who surround him. This time, the boys are making Ari's first blockbuster picture, but everything threatens to go off the rails when the movie goes over budget. To get more money for the production, Ari has to go and deal with his difficult Texan financier (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son (Haley Joel Osment). Meanwhile, E (Connolly) is dealing with multiple pregnancies, Turtle (Ferrera) is courting Ronda Rousey, Vince is dealing with his relationship with Emily Ratajkowski and directing his first major film for Ari, and Drama (Dillon) is coping with his stagnant career and a leaked sex tape. It's all light Hollywood fun, accompanied by fast cars, LA icons and an absurd amount of celebrity cameos.

Even though watching the TV show version of Entourage has been on my to-do list forever, I've never gotten around to it. And even though I didn't love this movie, I still would love to watch the show. The characters are appealing, the writing is good and of course, I love the backstage Hollywood setting. And as a continuation of the show, Entourage will probably work for most hardcore fans. It's just that, as a movie, Entourage struggles at times. For me, it played out like a bro version of Pitch Perfect 2- lots of funny moments, sharp dialogue and a deep respect for the characters, but a scattershot narrative that results in a ridiculous amount of extra subplots. It's an entertaining, but slightly tiresome film that had me checking my watch with around 30 minutes left in the movie. Not a good sign.

After the aforementioned opening scene on the yacht, Entourage goes through its electric opening credit scene that features just about every famous LA tourist site and then moves onto an interview with Piers Morgan. The interview is a good way to start the film and the yacht scene gives the movie an early sense of tone and style. But as for the characters and the dialogue, Entourage takes quite a while to get going. A lot of the early scenes feel a bit stilted and the banter isn't as razor-sharp as it should be. For a movie that thrives on its quick exchanges between characters, Entourage feels exceptionally dull and tame in its opening moments.

Around the time that I started to get a feel for where this movie was headed, I started to enjoy it more. The different plotlines start to develop more, the party scene that occupies much of the middle section of the film is fantastic and the script starts to move at a faster, funnier pace. After all, who doesn't love seeing Rob Gronkowski shotgun beers and shout f-bombs while partying with Russell Wilson and Ari Gold. For a while, Entourage is quite good and I was having a really great time.

But then the movie keeps going. And going. And going. Entourage takes the strategy of throwing everything at the screen in the hopes that some stuff will stick, and some of it does. Unfortunately, it's just trying to balance too much. E's relationship drama is funny for one scene, but uneven throughout, while Turtle's fling with MMA fighter Ronda Rousey results in some laughs, yet it keeps going even as the movie is trying to wrap up and it gets annoying. Drama's sex tape is a late addition to the plot that felt like forced raunchiness and Vince's tabloid romance with Emily Ratajkowski does nothing but service a specific plot point. It's just way too much for one film to handle and it results in the movie running out of energy pretty quickly.

In truth, it's always Ari who brings the film back together. Ari is by far the most compelling character in the film, always ranting and raving, shouting an incessant amount of profanity at his co-workers and dealing with some crazy financiers. Piven is a true scene-stealer, spouting off as much as he can and having a lot of fun with the role. As for the other four principle stars, they're great together, but less so when they're on their own. Grenier, Connolly, Dillon and Ferrera have fantastic chemistry together, but when Connolly or Ferrera are doing scenes on their own- not so great.

In addition to the main crew of guys, Entourage also features more bit parts for major actors and celebrity cameos than you can count. Haley Joel Osment gets the funniest and meatiest role out of all the actors, getting the chance to portray an immature Texan kid overwhelmed by the celebrity lifestyle. Billy Bob Thornton works well too, while Ronda Rousey and Emily Ratajkowski are serviceable in their love interest roles. Liam Neeson, Jessica Alba, Ed O'Neil, Tom Brady, Armie Hammer, David Spade, George Takei, Pharrell and even more actors also appear in the film.

Although the screenplay by Doug Ellin is sprawling and messy, it's ultimately what brings this film together. Despite the fact that it drags on for at least 30 minutes longer than it should, the film is consistently funny and there's always something going on. Ellin does a good job of directing the film as well, but it's staged much like a sitcom and it feels like watching a prolonged episode of a network show, just with more sex and profanity.

It's far from a masterpiece and we'll see much better movies this summer, but for a nice summer diversion, Entourage is a solid choice. It's a big, fun, summer-y film and it features some very funny moments, great dialogue and an electric vibe. It's too bad that the film is so messy and scattered, but in the end, fans of the show won't really care. Entourage delivers everything you could possibly want from a movie like this, and despite its pretty major flaws, I had a good time. If there's more Entourage in our future like producer Mark Wahlberg has promised, I'll gladly be on board.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.6/10)

Image Credits: YouTube, YouTube, High Snobiety, Movie Fone, Screen Rant

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Slow West review

Maybe I should just stop renting Michael Fassbender indie movies. The last time I saw Fassbender in a movie that didn't have major studio backing, it was Frank, and we all know how that turned out (spoiler: it made my worst of 2014 list). Fassbender's first 2015 indie effort could also end up earning the dubious distinction of being one of my least favorite movies of the year. Slow West, an exquisitely shot film with a rambling narrative, is a ridiculously frustrating look at the old west that starts out as an inspired western but quickly devolves into a nihilistic mess. With underdeveloped characters and relationships, an abbreviated runtime, and an ending that made me give up on the movie entirely, Slow West is another indie flick that is beloved by many, but just not right for my tastes.

Slow West chronicles the journey of a young Scottish boy named Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who travels to America in search of Rose (Caren Pistorius), the love of his life. Rose fled from Scotland with her father after they technically committed a murder, and now, outlaws and bounty hunters are on their tail. Jay finds himself adrift in the American West, but quickly starts to run into trouble. However, his luck changes when he teams up with Silas (Michael Fassbender), a grizzled outlaw who takes pity on Jay. The two become closer as they travel across the unforgiving landscape and face off against Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) and his gang, a group of mercenaries out to take down Rose and her father.

If Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers joined forces to create a stylish but hollow film, it might look something like Slow West. This film has the sharp dialogue of Tarantino mixed with the visual quirks of Anderson and the Coens and for the first half of the movie, it works pretty well. There are some effectively tense scenes and there's just enough action to keep the film moving along. But after a while, Slow West starts to meander and wander, just like the open landscape that it's set in. None of the characters are developed particularly well, and by the time the film reaches its bloodbath of a conclusion, I had given up on it completely.

For most movies, a run time under 90 minutes would be an absolute blessing. I hate movies that drag on for too long and Slow West seemed like it would be a compact, but enjoyable film. But I think it was almost too short. At a mere 84 minutes, Slow West drags and meanders through its middle section before reaching a visually sumptuous, yet completely unsatisfying conclusion. At times, the film felt like "Michael Fassbender's random adventures in the Old West" and not an actual story. It's not until the final 20 minutes of the film that we actually see Rose and her father and at that point, there was very little that could be done to shape a good ending.

Slow West also relies on the charisma of pretty much only four actors to carry the film- Fassbender, Mendelsohn, Pistorius and Smit-McPhee. Fassbender is extremely effective, giving off a tough and weathered charm that works well for the character. Silas is appropriately ambiguous and I thought that Fassbender once again did a fantastic job, in a not-so-fantastic film. Smit-McPhee was also pretty impressive, making Jay a character that I liked and cared about. But on the other hand, Mendelsohn and Pistorius have a combined screen time of maybe 15 minutes tops, so neither one of these talented actors really had much to work with.

Artistically, this is a beautifully made film in every sense of the word. Set in Colorado and other famous landscapes of the American West, but shot in New Zealand, the cinematography gives off a unique and dreamy quality to the production that draws in the viewer in the film's first half. Director John MacLean also has a spectacular visual eye, and despite this film's failures, I'm still interested to see where he goes as a director. He films action with balanced, colorful camera work and even though I was completely bored by what I was watching, I liked the way that MacLean set up the film.

What ultimately brings this film down is its rambling and meandering nature. Certain scenes serve no purpose to the plot at all and feel out of place. Character decisions don't make sense, subplots go nowhere and the villain is terribly underdeveloped. And the ending is ridiculous. The ending really frustrated me and after one thing happened, I practically gave up. In its final ten minutes, Slow West becomes a baffling and nihilistic mess, and it literally rubs salt in the wounds of the audience. As MacLean pans over the body of every single person who they killed during the course of the story, I shook my head in disbelief.

Slow West is the perfect example of style over substance. There are some tightly wound scenes, Fassbender is good and the camerawork is gorgeous, but the film is narratively hollow and portrays a hopelessly sad version of humanity. The ending made me want to throw a brick at my TV and I hated many of the choices made by the screenplay. MacLean is a talented filmmaker and I'm interested to see where he goes from here, but I have to say that his directorial debut is a profound disappointment.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                               (5.5/10)

Image Credits: EW, Hollywood Reporter, Rama Screen, Blog Spot

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Trailers! Trailers! Trailers! New previews debut for 'Pan', 'Scorch Trials', 'Steve Jobs' and more

We're in the thick of the summer movie season, which means that people are flocking to the movie theater in droves. It also means that the studios are starting to shell out trailers for some of their most anticipated late summer and fall movies. Although the trailer for Steve Jobs hit the web on Sunday night, Tuesday saw the release of four new trailers and overwhelmed the online film community. It was a lot to handle and I'm sure we'll be seeing even more trailers hit the web later this week. But for now, let's break down the trailers that we did get, starting with Pixels.

This full trailer for Pixels was certainly better than the first one. The initial teaser that played during March Madness was absolutely awful and made the film look intolerable. The full trailer for the film is slightly funnier, even though it recycles some of the same beats. Even though I'm not overly excited for this flick, I will maintain that the concept is pure genius- a group of middle-aged video game experts have to join together to save the world. There are some funny bits in here and I feel like Gad and Dinklage could save the movie, but ultimately, this looks like a film targeted squarely at kids who will surely eat this thing up. For now, my excitement remains at a pretty low level. Pixels is directed by Chris Columbus, stars Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Michelle Monaghan, Sean Bean and Ashley Benson and will hit theaters on July 24, 2015. Now, let's move on to We Are Your Friends.

To be completely honest with you, I had heard absolutely nothing about this film before I watched the trailer. All I knew was that Zac Efron was doing DJ stuff in California. But surprisingly, this was a really great trailer that got me excited for the film. The trailer started to lose steam as it got sappier and more sentimental in its second half but the first half moved with an energy that was engaging, fun and palpable. For a late summer release, We Are Your Friends has a pretty solid cast (Ratajkowski, Bernthal, Weston, Bentley) and a nice vibe. I'm actually very excited to see this one now. The trailer did its job well. We Are Your Friends is directed by Max Joseph, stars Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Wes Bentley, Jon Bernthal and Shiloh Fernandez and hits theaters on August 28, 2015. Now, it's time to move on to Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.

The Maze Runner was a solid little B-movie and from what I remember, The Scorch Trials was the best book in the series. This trailer was very effective, perfectly mixing what I liked about the first movie (the wild sci-fi premise and enticing visuals) with a bigger scope that promises more action and more suspense. The cast is good and even though this isn't one of my most anticipated of the year, I'll gladly go and check this one out when it hits theaters. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is directed by Wes Ball, stars Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aidan Gillen, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Nathalie Emmanuel, Patricia Clarkson, Barry Pepper, Katharine McNamara and Lili Taylor, and hits theaters on September 18, 2015. Time to move on and take a look at Joe Wright's Pan.

Pan was just moved from July to October, and judging by this trailer, I think that was a smart move. I don't want to pass judgement too early on what appears to be a unique and interesting movie, but I did not enjoy this trailer at all. The movie looks like a visual hodgepodge of styles, all used with the goal of being edgy and different. It's not to say that I don't like a revisionist fantasy film, but this one just seems like it's drowning in visual effects. Wright could surprise us, yet I think we should all brace for disaster with this one. Pan is directed by Joe Wright, stars Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried and Cara Delevingne and debuts on October 9, 2015. Finally, let's take a look at the first brief trailer for Steve Jobs.

This trailer shows us next to nothing from the movie, and yet, was still more fascinating than most of the trailers I've discussed today. The artistic way that they closed in on Jobs was very interesting and I liked the style and structure of the trailer. This is going to be an incredibly intriguing film based on what Boyle and Sorkin have said about it, and I can't wait to see what Fassbender is able to do with this character. Steve Jobs is directed by Danny Boyle, stars Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katharine Waterston, John Ortiz and Michael Stuhlbarg and will hit theaters on October 9, 2015.

That's it for my trailer wrap-up today. Come back later for more reviews, breakdowns and trailer reports.

Image Credit: Comic

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road review

Mad Max: Fury Road is being handled with a great deal of hyperbole in Hollywood. Ever since it was shown to critics in early May, it has been hailed as an instant classic masterpiece that doubles as one of the greatest action films of all time. It boasts a stellar 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes and is standing at 89 on Metacritic, a number that beats out universally acclaimed blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Inception. When a film has that much buzz behind it, there's inevitably the potential for some disappointment. I walked into Mad Max ready to experience a cinematic masterwork, and for the most part, director George Miller delivered. Despite some of the absurd reactions to the film, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Fury Road is the most artistic Hollywood blockbuster ever made. This is a film that a major studio spent hundreds of millions of dollars on, and yet it features an extremely minimal amount of dialogue and a simple storyline that is mostly told through a series of practical effects-driven action scenes. This is unlike any other film you'll see this year and whether or not you fall in love with Mad Max: Fury Road like most of us have, everyone should see it to experience the light and sound sensation that Miller has put together.

As the camera fades in, we see Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) stands on a cliff, staring at the desert wasteland below him. He stomps on a lizard and eats it before jumping in his car to try to escape the clutches of a miserable group known as the War Boys. They capture Max, torture him and use him for his blood to supply the other soldiers. The War Boys work for Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), an overweight, maniacal dictator who controls the world below him. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) also works for Immortan Joe, but this time, she has a different plan when she heads out to retrieve gasoline for him.

Furiosa takes five women with her, all of whom are set to either make fresh milk for his troops or babies for the despicable Immortan. Furiosa's intent is to set them free, but Joe isn't so keen on that idea. The two collide paths down Fury Road, a nightmarish hell that mixes scorching deserts, dangerous canyons and beautiful night landscapes. Eventually, Max and Furiosa cross paths and decide to work together to stop Immortan and redeem their past mistakes.

Ever since I first heard about the concept for Fury Road last summer, I was intrigued by this film. The reviews only added fuel to the fire, but the idea of a major action film that consists of little dialogue, one major chase scene and a story that develops the characters along the way is infinitely appealing. And I gotta say, Miller pulled it off. An electrifying, radically unusual and unique action film, Mad Max: Fury Road is a thrilling emotional roller-coaster that moves at a lightning pace and never lets up.

"When I used to go to the cinema as a kid, I used to love that feeling of walking out of the cinema and feeling like you'd been on a ride and that you want to go back on the ride."- George Miller

This quote from Miller is Fury Road in its purest essence. This is a movie that is not concerned with overwhelming exposition. It doesn't care about complicated story mechanics. Most dialogue is non-essential. Fury Road is an engaging and enjoyable character study at times, but for the most part, this is just one big, outrageous, insane roller-coaster ride. The music, the stunts, the characters, the pacing- everything about Fury Road is daring, inventive and thrillingly realized.

And the best part about it is that it doesn't feel like standard action territory. Miller isn't designing his movie to go from Action Scene A to Action Scene B (something that Furious 7 suffered from). His movie is one giant action scene with little bits of character and dialogue that move the film forward. It's such a drastically different format from most action films and the movie is more artfully done than most blockbusters. There are no witty exchanges between characters, no comic relief. Miller doesn't pander to his audience. He delivers a breathlessly fast action film that works on so many levels.

It's sometimes hard to remember that Fury Road is a major studio blockbuster because there are so many flourishes that you would find in an indie movie. There are many long, operatic passages that feature no dialogue and it's clear that Miller wants to use the language of motion and action to tell his story. That's not something that you usually see in Hollywood pictures, which is part of what makes Fury Road so appealing. The story isn't complex. It doesn't worry about unnecessary world-building (although Miller does a fabulous job of setting up the Mad Max universe). It's a story about two guilt-ridden loners who travel across a barren wasteland in the hopes of finding redemption while a group of maniacal tyrants follow their every move. Not complicated, but it doesn't need to be. The storyline provides a solid arc for our characters and allows for us to enjoy the pure spectacle that Miller has put together.

And to call Fury Road a spectacle is an understatement. This is a Hollywood epic set on the grandest, weirdest scale possible. On first viewing, I was amazed, thrilled, perplexed and overwhelmed by what I was seeing on screen. Miller has filmed and structured some of the most exciting action scenes in recent memory and it's all set to the brilliant score by Junkie XL. This is an action lover's fever dream.

Mad Max: Fury Road clocks in at a compact 120 minutes (the film feels much shorter than that) and I would say that a good 80 minutes of that is purely devoted to big, spectacular action sequences. This is a film that is constantly barreling forward to the next action setpiece to the point where all of them start to blend together. And at this point, I'm not sure if that's a compliment or a flaw of the film. The action can get a little redundant after a while, but the film definitely isn't staged like Furious 7, where the action scenes are clearly defined and you are positive that the danger is over, which is not a good thing. With Mad Max, the film is always an adrenaline-fueled rush, even in the quiet moments.

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are the stars of the film, and they make for a formidable duo. Hardy is confined to a mask again for a good chunk of the runtime, and at other times, he communicates mostly with simple sentences or grunts. And yet, Hardy still manages to deliver an effective performance. He's a talented actor and this is one of his most impressive feats yet. Nothing about Max is spelled out and the audience has to figure out a lot about him on their own. And by the end, I truly did care about Max and I felt uplifted by his triumph. And Theron is even more impressive, turning in a damaged and soulful performance. Furiosa will go down with Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley in the Hall of Fame of awesome female action heroes and much of that credit can go to Theron.

With Mad Max: Fury Road, I've heard the word "classic" thrown around a lot. When a film is as highly praised as Fury Road has been so far, that term will inevitably come into play at some point. But what makes this movie a classic and could it actually be considered one of the greatest action movies of all time in the future? I think that the answer there is yes. Fury Road has issues. It's not a perfect film. But Die Hard has issues. Terminator 2 has issues. Heck, even Star Wars has problems that we neglect all the time. But all four of the movies that I've mentioned have one thing in common- an ambitious, overwhelming vision. Fury Road is a movie so different from anything that I've seen in recent years that it's hard to put it into words. It's a movie so thrilling that I get excited even talking about it. That's the sign of a true future classic.

Mad Max: Fury Road will not be for everyone. I'm very curious to see how general audiences will react. Even though this movie delivers action scenes in droves, it goes away from the conventions of the modern action movie and that could turn some people away from it. But I feel like this is a movie that people need to see no matter what. Fury Road is one of the few films I've seen in recent memory when I watched it and went "wow, that was truly epic." I got a little bit of that with The Dark Knight and Interstellar, but even those films felt somewhat digitally constructed. While I watched Fury Road, my mind was drawing comparisons to Lawrence of Arabia, 2001 and Star Wars. If that ever happens to you when you're watching a movie, you know you've seen something special.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.1/10)

Image Credits: Mad Max Movie, YouTube, Schmoes Know, LA Times, Film School Rejects, Ain't It Cool News

'Pitch Perfect 2' and 'Mad Max' lead impressive weekend at the box office

We all knew that this would be a weekend, but I didn't think that it would be this big. Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road, two highly anticipated flicks, both debuted to stunning numbers, although one was a bit more impressive than the other. Pitch Perfect 2, the sequel to the 2012 breakout hit, snagged $70.3 million in its opening weekend, an absolutely astonishing number. The musical comedy about college a cappella singers topped the original's grosses in just one weekend- a testament to both Universal's marketing department and the original's cultural impact. Pitch Perfect 2 also benefited from solid reviews (69% on Rotten Tomatoes), great audience reception ("A-" Cinemascore) and a lack of comedies in the marketplace. Despite its numerous issues, I quite enjoyed the film myself and I'm glad that it's successful. Pitch Perfect 2 will likely carry into next weekend and end up with a gross that pushes towards $200 million. Truly amazing. Another check in the win column for Universal after the stellar performances of Fifty Shades of Grey and Furious 7.

Mad Max: Fury Road, the critical darling sci-fi thriller, finished in second place with $44.4 million. There are a lot of ways that this number could be interpreted. In my view, this is a success for Warner Bros. and the Mad Max franchise. Fury Road is an R-rated, high concept, very artistic sci-fi blockbuster that works as a sequel to franchise that nobody has really been talking about in years. And it cost $150 million to make and even more to market. This movie is a true Hollywood rarity and I don't think we'll ever see a movie like Fury Road again. So in my view, this was a good weekend for the film. It played on the same level as 300: Rise of an Empire, a comparable R-rated title, but it has one thing that Rise of an Empire didn't have- buzz.

Fury Road is one of the most universally acclaimed blockbuster movies in recent memory, with reviews that stand at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and 89 on Metacritic. And the internet buzz is deafening. Everybody in the film community is rallying behind this movie (my own glowing review for the film will come out shortly after this article), and with the tepid buzz for Tomorrowland, I've got a feeling that word of mouth will come into play over memorial day weekend for Mad Max. It did only receive a "B+" Cinemascore (it's a unique experience that won't work for everybody), but Cinemascores have been proven ineffective before. I bet that this plays like Edge of Tomorrow and ends up somewhere near $150 million. With worldwide grosses added as well, I'm hoping that we see another Mad Max movie down the line.

In a close third, Avengers: Age of Ultron dropped a soft 50% to $38.8 million. The Marvel juggernaut has now grossed $372 million in the US and just topped $1.1 billion worldwide. Yeah, the sky is falling everybody. Marvel might never make movies again (I hope everyone catches the sarcasm here). All in all, Age of Ultron will push towards $1.6 billion worldwide and $450 million in the US. Very, very good totals.

Beyond those three films, the box office was a desolate wasteland akin to the world of Mad Max. Hot Pursuit, the critically derided comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara, finished in fourth with $5.7 million. So far, the box office flop has grossed $23.5 million. And finally, Furious 7 continued its incredibly impressive run with $3.6 million. The film now stands at $343.7 million in the US.

Next weekend is Memorial Day weekend and two new films will be hitting theaters- Tomorrowland and Poltergeist. Here are my predictions for the four day weekend:

1. Tomorrowland- $52 million
2. Pitch Perfect 2- $43 million
3. Mad Max: Fury Road- $31 million
4. Poltergeist- $28 million
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron- $25 million
6. Hot Pursuit- $4.8 million
7. Furious 7- $2.8 million
8. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2- $2.5 million
9. The Age of Adaline- $2 million
10. Home- $1.9 million

Image Credits: Variety, ET Online, Cinema Blend

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ex Machina review

Artificial intelligence is going to be a hot topic in movies over the next few years. That's an inevitable fact- as artificial intelligence continues to become a more realistic proposition, the more that fear will be reflected in our movies. And so far, they haven't been very good. Transcendence was a bust and Age of Ultron handled its A.I. villain very poorly, so in the modern era, there hadn't really been a precedent for Ex Machina. Sure, Blade Runner and 2001 had elements of A.I., but Ex Machina is the first real movie about the creation and testing of an artificial machine. And with that new territory comes some speed bumps. Ex Machina can be a talky film, it's a bit too long, and it feels overwhelmed by its own vision at times. But it's also a fascinating character study- a compelling and engaging examination of human nature, sexuality and invention. Directed with skill by Alex Garland, Ex Machina is a must-see for sci-fi fans and scientists around the globe. Its flaws are numerous, but that doesn't negate the fact that this is a thought-provoking and consistently compelling film.

Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) is a programmer for Blue Book, one of the world's top tech companies. When the film begins, there's a massive hunt on for an invitation to stay at the house of the company's creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), for one week. Caleb wins this contest and is transported by private jet to Nathan's massive estate. The reclusive billionaire starts with small talk, but then reveals the true purpose of the contest- he wanted the winner to come and perform a Turing Test on his new Artificial Intelligence experiment, Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb is fascinated by Ava and becomes close with her in many different ways. But what are Nathan's true intentions? Can he be trusted? Through a series of chilling events, Ex Machina becomes a parable for the terrifying future that A.I. could unleash.

The trouble with A.I. films is that they always feel the need to work as both a piece of entertainment and a big, obvious warning against this prospective technology. And despite its best efforts, Ex Machina falls into these traps too. The movie gets very talky at times, and can be bogged down in its own scientific ambition. This is also a big-budget story told on a low budget. It feels at times like Garland was constrained by his financial limitations and that shows in the film. Nevertheless, Ex Machina succeeds in being both a tense sci-fi thriller and a frightening character study that provokes and disturbs in equal measure. Part of that can be credited to the film's superb technical efficiency, but the characters are ultimately what bring this film to life.

Gleeson, Isaac and Vikander are the three stars of this film and they carry the entire weight of the 108 minute runtime. That's a tall task for any trio of actors, but this talented group does a lot with what they're given. Gleeson isn't necessarily stretching himself much here, yet he manages to be very impressive. Caleb is geeky, awkward and a sort of lonely figure created by the digital isolation age. Gleeson channels that well and it's easy to see why he falls for Ava in the way that he does. Caleb takes some dark and nasty turns as the movie goes on and he's a pretty fascinating main character.

Oscar Isaac steals the show again as Nathan, the drunken billionaire behind this new A.I. phenomenon. Isaac is such a fantastic actor, consistently giving his characters the nuance they deserve. He impressed me in Drive and A Most Violent Year, but so far his crown jewel is his sarcastic, sad performance in the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. And while his funny, damaged performance in Ex Machina doesn't quite reach that level, it's another fine entry into his filmography. I'm very excited to see what he does with Star Wars later this year (fun fact: Domnhall Gleeson also is set to appear in The Force Awakens).

Vikander is the final aspect of this small, but talented cast and she is impressive as well. She channels a strong, calming tone of voice and an icy, manipulative personality that works very well for Ava. The character of Ava is somewhat underdeveloped, but Vikander is perfect for the part- it's not hard to see why Caleb might fall for her. The makeup and visuals work on Ava also deserves a lot of recognition, impressively subtle and even a little astounding at times.

Ex Machina is a film that thrives on technical efficiency. It's so clean, so smooth and so gorgeously done that you simply can't deny its filmmaking power. The musical score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury is expertly chilling, while the production design and cinematography create a subtle atmosphere of dread and fear. Garland maintains a level of filmmaking mastery that is incredible to behold and I can't wait to see where he goes with his ideas in the future.

Garland, however, has less of a mastery in the script department. For me, much of Ex Machina felt muddled or at least came out as frustratingly ambiguous. Character motivations are not always clear, the development isn't always where I wanted it to be. Long scenes between Caleb and Ava feature testing and conversations, but to be honest, I never felt like they really got close to each other. That's why some of the later turns felt a bit unwarranted.

The movie leaves you with a lot of questions. Some of them are the questions that I wanted to be thinking about after the movie was over. What is the future of humanity with A.I.? Are we that susceptible to sexual appeals? How far off are we from something like this? But I was also thinking about certain twists and turns throughout the movie. I won't divulge them here because of spoilers, but it's safe to say that I felt some twists were left too ambiguous.

Despite those missteps, Ex Machina is a more than worthy film that does an extremely effective job of telling a compelling story. Anchored by three great performances and a director with a great visual eye, this is a film to think about and dissect. Like A Most Violent Year earlier in 2015, this is a film that hints at several promising Hollywood careers and I think that it'll be very interesting to look at this film down the line. But for now, sci-fi fans should readily seek out this engaging and thought-provoking film that mixes hard science and character drama to create a solid, if flawed whole. It might not live up to the hype for me, but it's a film that starts a conversation that will certainly be a part of our modern society for a very long time.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.4/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Telegraph, Ex Machina Movie, Indiewire, Reddit