Sunday, March 26, 2017

First trailer for Zack Snyder's 'Justice League' has hit the web

Even though the DC Cinematic Universe has a never-ending array of problems, Warner Bros. is still pushing forward with more films. After all, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad did make $873.2 million and $745.6 million at the worldwide box office, respectively. Things will kick off in June with the release of Wonder Woman, the first solo movie in the franchise since 2013's Man of Steel and the film that could possibly save the DCCU. But for fans, the big movie of the year is certainly Zack Snyder's Justice League, which will arrive in theaters on November 17. After the double dose of disappointment that came from Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice, there's a great deal of skepticism around DC's mega teamup movie. Can Snyder turn things around and develop a cohesive, entertaining superhero movie that delivers the goods? I don't know. I've counted myself as one of the defenders of the grim vision of Batman v Superman, but even I've struggled to get excited for a Justice League film in this current universe. WB launched the marketing campaign with a teaser at last year's Comic-Con, and yesterday, they released the first official trailer for the film. Here it is!

I've watched this trailer five or six times now. Not because I'm particularly excited for this, mind you, but because I'm still trying to figure out just what the hell is going on here. Okay, first let's dispel the rumor that Batman v Superman was bad because it was dark. No, that's not the case. If anything, its storytelling was monumentally flawed, but the tone was not the primary issue. So from the beginning, I've been highly skeptical of the idea that Justice League was completely flipping the script on the universe that Snyder started, aiming for a more fun, poppy version similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We all saw how it worked out when WB tried to reverse course on David Ayer's Suicide Squad late in the process. Things did not end well. Justice League definitely looks more "fun," highlighted by a good Batman joke and an Aquaman who likes to shout things while riding on the Batmobile. I don't know if that sensibility will really translate to the final product, but I guess some meta humor is a good start.

But there's still so much wrong here. I remain convinced that Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa are the wrong actors for their respective characters. Cyborg's CGI looks absolutely ghastly, and while I'm sure post-production work will make things better, the design is just not good. I hate the entire idea of having the Justice League fight an army of demons, led by Steppenwolf, a villain that I know nearly nothing about. But most of all, this film just looks like an eyesore. If this trailer is any indication, Justice League is going to give me a serious headache. The big action scenes look like murky, poorly digitized CGI chaos, and I honestly couldn't tell you what was happening amid all the slow-mo and giant explosions. DC fans can defend these movies until the end of time itself, but Snyder's frenetic style will just never do it for me. I know this is just a trailer, but some of the scenes on display here look damn near incomprehensible.

On a side note, did anybody at DC (including Zack Snyder) think about the implications of killing Superman in Dawn of Justice? Seriously, we're going to have a Justice League movie where the Man of Steel is not a factor in any of the marketing and probably won't show up until the end of the movie. That's just insane to me, especially for a plot device that feels pointless at best.

Look, I want Justice League to be good. As a kid, I read more DC than Marvel. Batman is my favorite superhero, and some of my favorite superhero films star the Caped Crusader. I should be so excited for this film. But with the muddy visuals, shoddy action, and bizarre storyline, I just can't force myself to be interested. This looks like another DC misfire, and as much as I hope I'm wrong, they need to show me something very soon to prove that this will be great.

Justice League opens on November 17.

Image Credit: IMDB/WB

Trailer for 'Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie' brings life to a childhood favorite

I may not remember much about them now, but I read plenty of the Captain Underpants books as a kid. The series by Dav Pilkey was the kind of juvenile, creative nonsense that elementary school kids ate up, and if you asked people from my generation, I'm sure that at least 80% would recall the wacky, gross-out adventures of Captain Underpants. It's a weird thing to count as a cultural touchstone, but it's why I'm expecting The First Epic Movie to be a sizable hit this summer. Sure, parents will take the kids to see it, but you're gonna get a massive crowd of people from age 16 to 25 heading to the theater to see this film. After years of waiting, Dreamworks is finally getting around to delivering the Captain Underpants film that fans have been clamoring (?) for. With a cast led by Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Jordan Peele, and Nick Kroll, there's plenty of reason to believe that this may be a delightful summer surprise. Late last week, Dreamworks released the trailer, which will presumably play with The Boss Baby starting on Friday. Check it out below!

This truly looks like a ton of fun, and I absolutely love the animation style on display here. Captain Underpants looks to have an appropriate amount of comedic and visual lunacy, and the bright, bubbly animation is right up my alley. The action looks terrifically kooky, the character design is nothing short of perfect, and I'm really loving the energy of the project. Sure, it's a little weird that Kevin Hart doesn't sound anything like a grade school kid, but I'm willing to overlook that. While there's nothing I love more than a truly great Pixar film filled with heart and soul, there's also plenty of room for films like Captain Underpants that aim to capture the spirit of old-school Saturday morning cartoons. This appears to be an inspired mix of Looney Tunes and that Popeye movie that fell through a few years ago, and for that reason, I could not be more excited. Two superhero movies will arrive in theaters on June 2, and while I'm certainly hoping for the best for Wonder Woman, there's a good chance that I'll be just a little more interested in checking out Captain Underpants. I'm ready for a childhood blast to the past.

Image Credit: IMDB/Fox

'Beauty and the Beast' review

Remaking Beauty and the Beast was always going to be a tricky proposition. The original 1991 animated film is one of the most beloved family classics of all time, a fairy tale that is quite possibly Disney's most iconic feature. It was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture, and its influence has only grown as the years have gone by. But with Disney's recent trend of re-imagining its animated classics, we all knew that at some point, they would turn their attention to Beauty and the Beast. Both Cinderella and The Jungle Book were box office bonanzas, bringing in family audiences in droves and making obscene profits for the Mouse House. With the recent announcement that Disney will be tackling remakes of films like The Lion King and Aladdin, it's clear that the studio plans to milk this cash cow until the end of time. Beauty and the Beast was the most hotly anticipated of the whole bunch, as fans eagerly watched to see how Disney would reinvent the "Tale as Old as Time" for a new generation. There was huge potential for a nostalgia-driven hit, but also the chance that they could screw it all up.

Thankfully, I'm here to report that they did a tremendous job. Beauty and the Beast is a magical remake that captures the spirit of the original and brings it to life for modern times, and it's pretty much everything that fans could possibly want. There are plenty of new additions that will surely upset those looking for an purely loyal adaptation, but director Bill Condon ultimately mixes reverence and reinvention to great effect. Beauty and the Beast is both fresh and faithful, a film that proves there's room for both nostalgic remakes and bold new visions in the sphere of fairy tale adaptations. With great performances, including a terrific lead turn from Emma Watson, gorgeous visual landscapes, and grand musical numbers, Beauty and the Beast comes together quite nicely. As a huge fan of the original, this film hits the spot.

Do I really need to tell you what this movie is about? If you're reading this review, you probably know the story and you're probably familiar with the original animated film. There's no need to tell you more. There's a beautiful girl, there's an ugly beast, and they fall in love. If anything, you're probably wondering what they've added to the story in this new rendition. After all, the 1991 animated film ran 84 minutes, while Condon's version is a whopping 129 minutes long. What's there to fill all that space? Well, not much that makes a difference. There's one subplot that I thought truly added to the narrative, while there are a few solid musical numbers that don't detract from the film. Even thought this Beauty is longer, it doesn't feel it, and the additions don't ultimately do much to benefit or harm anything. The heart of the story is still there, and that's all that really matters.

The clever trick that Condon pulls off is giving the audience enough new material to give this remake its own distinct flavor, while also delivering the wondrous nostalgia factor that I think most audiences are looking for in the first place. As someone who loves the original film and also performed in a middle school version of the show, I didn't want this to be some kind of bold re-imagining, because quite frankly, I don't think there's much worth changing. The animated film is perfect in every way, and I wouldn't have wanted to see a Disney remake with a radical shift in style and tone. There's plenty of room for different interpretations of Beauty and the Beast, but I wouldn't want the Mouse House behind the wheel. In 2017, I wanted a portrayal of the classic tale that was magical and musical and crafted with a sense of fun. I wanted some cinematic comfort food, a familiar tale in beautiful new clothes. If that makes me a bad critic, then I guess I'll accept that. But I knew what I wanted and Condon delivered.

However, when you remake something with so much loyalty to the classic source material, you do run the risk of making your movie feel like a vapid rip-off. Some have clearly felt that way about this big-budget version, and I went in with a great deal of trepidation. I wasn't sure how to feel at first- as the opening scene and initial number played out, something just felt off. The pieces were there, but the magic was missing. Slowly but surely, Condon finds his footing, giving a sense of marvelous wonder to match his spectacular visuals. At its worst, certain scenes play out like an obligation- Condon has to include "Be Our Guest," because fans would be disappointed otherwise (he even said this himself). This frustrates the pacing of the proceedings, and it's the sole element of the film that I don't think he quite pulled off. I was jarred when some of the musical numbers popped up, and there were moments that felt truncated or awkward. But when things come together, Beauty and the Beast is nothing short of classic Disney magic.

The cast is a large part of the appeal, and as a matter of fact, they were the main reason I was so intrigued in the first place. Emma Watson always seemed like the perfect actress to portray Belle in a live-action version, and she truly knocks it out of the park. She conveys the right mix of strong-willed independence, compassion, and radiant beauty, and her performance shines during every moment of the film. Watson is the glue that holds it all together, and she really proves herself as a talented, versatile actress here. Dan Stevens matches her well, and he does good work in a somewhat thankless role. Stevens is one of the best rising stars we have right now, and although I would prefer to see him do more terrific genre work like The Guest, something like Beauty and the Beast is an excellent profile boost for him. I was also surprised by Luke Evans' performance as Gaston- going in, I wasn't sure that he'd even be able to pull it off. Evans turns out to be a fabulous Gaston, chewing the scenery and reveling in this delightfully dastardly character and all of his boastful histrionics.

Of course, much has been made over the supposed gay moment involving Josh Gad's LeFou, with the filmmakers seemingly unable to decide whether it's an obvious choice or some kind of subtext. Even if Condon hadn't made a big deal about the "exclusively gay moment" in an interview, I think most adult viewers would have noticed LeFou's crush on his buff friend. It's an appropriate, fascinating interpretation of the character, and Gad's Broadway talent comes in handy during the bombastic musical numbers. I was also rather impressed by Kevin Kline's turn as Maurice, as he gives the character a heart and soul that I hadn't really seen before. As someone who played Maurice in my middle school stage adaptation, this was a nice adjustment for me. Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, and all the other voice actors are serviceable, but they're limited by the hyper-realistic visual design. And I still don't know how they couldn't get a French actor to play Lumiere.

Speaking of the visual design, Beauty and the Beast cost a reported $160 million and you can clearly see all of that money on the screen. Every aspect of the production design is opulent and gorgeous, from the dreamlike sets to the pitch-perfect costumes. Condon finds a balance between grounded humanity and surrealism, a mix that allows for the spectacular musical numbers and creative creature design. With a movie like this, you need that perfect blend, and the fact that Condon delivers the goods helps to make everything come together quite nicely. Beauty and the Beast is big and bold and beautiful to behold, and it's such a fantastically appealing film that most of its problems are overshadowed by its grand ambitions.

Sure, Beauty and the Beast might not offer much in the way of new material to enhance this classic story. And it definitely isn't any kind of radical re-interpretation of the 1991 film. But that doesn't stop Condon and the whole cast from making some Disney magic of their own, bringing the songs and characters to life in a delightful, attractive remake for a new generation. If you're a fan of the original, this will pretty much give you everything that you could possibly want. It's charming, fun, and thoroughly engaging. They nailed it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.6/10)

Image Credits: Coming Soon/IMDB/Disney

Friday, March 24, 2017

Violent, filthy red band trailer debuts for Martin McDonagh's 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of those movies that drew me in based on the concept and talent alone. When I first read the synopsis a few months ago, the third film from Martin McDonagh sounded like a perfect riff on the folksy charm of Fargo, with all the shocking violence and dark humor that defined the Coen Brothers' iconic classic. The story of a strong-willed mother who goes to war against a lazy, racist police department in a small town is inherently fascinating, and the fact that the film stars Frances McDormand (the star of the 1996 film), Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, and more absurdly talented actors doesn't hurt either. According to some of the big Oscar bloggers, Three Billboards is quite possibly going to be one of the biggest films of the 2017-18 season, which is somewhat surprising given McDonagh's relative lack of Oscar history. But with distribution from Fox Searchlight and the potential for a Telluride/Toronto premiere, there's no question that this dark comedy is being positioned for major success. Yesterday, Searchlight revealed the incredibly profane red band trailer for the film. Check it out below!

Even if you were excited for Three Billboards before like I was, this trailer takes the anticipation to a whole different level. Frances McDormand looks nothing short of incredible as Mildred Hayes, and although it's only March, yesterday's trailer debut sends her straight to the top of the Best Actress shortlist. I haven't seen McDonagh's previous two films (In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths), but if he's able to channel this kind of acidic comedic lunacy for the entire runtime, Three Billboards will be one of the can't-miss films of 2017. This looks genuinely vulgar and vicious, a unique cross between sharp comedy and grisly violence delivered with a killer kick. The atmosphere looks just about perfect, the performances look universally astounding, and the material couldn't be any more compelling. This is a brilliantly cut trailer, down to the details of every perfectly dropped f-bomb and each brutal punch to the face. I am all in for Three Billboards, and based on this trailer and the tremendous buzz, it seems like we could have a modern classic on our hands.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri currently does not have a release date, but Fox Searchlight will debut the film sometime in 2017.

Image Credit: IMDB/Fox

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Michael Shannon is now the front-runner to play Cable in 'Deadpool 2'

A few weeks ago, The Wrap's "ace scooper" Umberto Gonzalez reported that David Harbour, star of Netflix's Stranger Things, was Fox's top choice to play Cable in Deadpool 2. Initially teased during the end credits of the original smash hit, the time-traveling mutant will be one of the biggest draws for the hotly anticipated sequel. In the weeks since, Fox has been quiet on the status of the character. They never confirmed Harbour's casting, instead choosing to focus their attention on casting Domino, the other mutant superstar of Deadpool 2. After star Ryan Reynolds announced that Atlanta actress Zazie Beetz had been cast in the role, attention once again turned to the mystery behind Cable. And while there's still no confirmation from anybody involved, yesterday saw another fascinating twist that I can't say I expected.

According to an exclusive report from The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit, Michael Shannon is now the front-runner to play Cable in Deadpool 2. Yes, this might actually be happening. According to the report, Shannon is leading the pack of actors on the shortlist, which also includes Harbour and a few other actors. No official talks are in place at this point. I don't think I need to tell anybody how excited I would be if this all worked out. Shannon is one of my favorite working actors, shining in films like Midnight Special, The Night Before, and Elvis & Nixon with a distinct mix of heart and comedy. This was all before an Oscar-nominated standout turn in Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals, a performance that deserved to win the Academy gold in my humble opinion. Shannon delivers the goods almost every single time, and I would love to see him jump into the superhero world again after the disappointment of Man of Steel. Just the idea of watching Reynolds and Shannon together is making me giddy with excitement. Harbour would be a great choice as well, but man, I really hope Shannon's casting works out.

I would expect to hear more concrete information on Cable and Deadpool 2 in the near future. But for now, this serves as a compelling, incredibly exciting development.

Images courtesy of Focus Features and Fox
Sources: The Wrap, Hollywood Reporter

2017 Oscar Season takes shape as 'The Battle of the Sexes,' 'The Current War,' and more receive release dates

Yes, I know that we just wrapped up Oscar season. And no, I really have no desire to start writing about it again. But this has been an extremely slow news week, and while I'm still crafting my review of Beauty and the Beast (hopefully soon), I figured I would write about some of the more fascinating movies set to come out in the latter half of 2017. There are already quite a few movies on the calendar that have serious Oscar potential, from Christopher Nolan's hotly anticipated Dunkirk in July to Joe Wright's Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman. Alexander Payne's Downsizing, Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name (recently set for a November 24th limited release), and the Hugh Jackman-starred Greatest Showman on Earth all have potential as well, but to be quite honest, we're only at the tip of the iceberg. The Oscar season will expand with May's Cannes Film Festival, and by the time that Toronto and Telluride roll around, things will be getting hectic all over again.

To prepare for the season, Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company are assembling their Oscar slate, hoping to get back into the thick of the action in 2017. Both studios are coming off disappointing years, as Searchlight struck out with Jackie and The Birth of a Nation, while Weinstein walked away with zero Oscars, despite a nice showing from Lion at the box office. While Searchlight is currently dropping schlock like Table 19 and Wilson into theaters, they're prepping for what could be a big season. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will release its first trailer later today, but the film doesn't currently have a release date. However, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's The Battle of the Sexes has been dated by the studio, as it is now set for a September 22, 2017 release date, putting it in prime consideration for a Toronto or Telluride bow. The film, which centers around the legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell and could likely nab Oscar nods for both of its stars.

As for The Weinstein Company, the studio dated three of its high profile releases for 2017- Wind River, Mary Magdalene, and The Current War. The former is Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan's directorial debut, and it is now set for an August 4 release. Mary Magdalene is Garth Davis' follow-up to Lion, with a cast led by Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix. The film will hit theaters in limited release on November 24. Finally, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's The Current War will debut on December 22, and will likely be Weinstein's big Oscar play. With Benedict Cumberbatch, Nicholas Hoult, and Michael Shannon playing Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse, respectively, there's no doubt that the Academy will far hard for this one.

There will be plenty more release date announcements in the near future, but expect a trailer for Three Billboards later today.

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Monday, March 20, 2017

Alicia Vikander set to lead Ben Wheatley's 'Freakshift'

Free Fire is the best film of 2017 that barely anyone has seen yet, but I have a feeling that the insane 70s action opera will break out in a big way when it opens on April 21. I saw the film at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, where it blew everyone away with its clever mix of blood-splattered shootouts and pitch black humor. Free Fire comes from Ben Wheatley, a filmmaker who has been creeping slowly into the mainstream over the last several years. After starting with some critically acclaimed arthouse hits such as Kill List and Sightseers, Wheatley got a larger budget for High-Rise, which received a mixed reaction upon release last year. He's poised to have his biggest hit yet with Free Fire (A24 is set to give it a wide release), a film that could help him become a household name in the industry. With that sort of popularity comes more interesting projects, and that sounds like it could be the case for Wheatley. He'll be tackling Freakshift next, a horror/sci-fi mashup about a group of monster hunters. With the imminent release of Free Fire, Freakshift is starting to come together and Wheatley is assembling his cast.

On Thursday, Deadline exclusively reported that Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander is in talks to star in Freakshift, where she would play the female lead. Vikander, who won an Oscar in 2016 for Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl, is currently filming Tomb Raider, where she'll play the iconic Lara Croft. According to Deadline, Freakshift will begin filming in late summer, right after Tomb Raider wraps production. Wheatley and Amy Jump wrote the screenplay, and I'm sure that there will be a rather contentious battle for the distribution rights. Vikander is one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood at the moment, and the idea of her teaming up with Wheatley is very exciting. With such a terrific actress, I hope Wheatley has written a strong female protagonist deserving of her talents. Freakshift sounds like a blast, and if it is anything like Free Fire, it will surely be one of the most anticipated projects of the next few years. The shootout comedy firmly put him on the map, and if he keeps tackling unique and daring projects, he'll be one of the best in the game.

Image Credits: WB/A24/IMDB
Source: Deadline