Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Movie Guru's Top 25 Most Anticipated Films of 2015

Wow. I cannot believe that 2014 is over. It's been an absolutely magnificent year for movies and I'm very excited to share my picks for the best movies of the year in a few weeks time. Why am I waiting? Because I still haven't seen everything. Selma and Inherent Vice don't open in my area until January 9th and American Sniper isn't arriving until January 16th. Now, it does seem a little bit silly to hold off on releasing my top 15 list just because of three movies, but I also want to rewatch a few other films and make sure that my list is truly great. Until then, expect tons of reviews and new content on my site, starting with this list.

2015 is going to be a very exciting year for cinema. The Avengers are returning to fight their most dangerous foe yet. Bond is back and he's facing off against Spectre. Audiences will head back to Jurassic Park with Chris Pratt and some new dinosaurs. And of course, we'll be heading back to a galaxy far, far away with JJ Abrams and the original crew in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Not to mention the many indie films and smaller blockbusters that will be hitting cinema screens this year. I'm psyched to see what this year might possibly hold and I'm hoping for another great year at the movies. Here are my top 25 most anticipated movies of 2015, along with 10 honorable mentions:

Honorable Mentions:

PIXELS- This Adam Sandler action comedy about classic video game characters attacking cities has major potential, but it still has to overcome the fact that it's an Adam Sandler movie. Directed by Chris Columbus. July 24

CRIMSON PEAK- I'm excited for this one because of its terrific cast (Benedict Cumberbatch, Jessica Chastain) and the fact that Guillermo del Toro is directing. However, I'm less excited about the prospects of a gothic horror, simply because it's a genre that doesn't interest me. Nonetheless, it's one to keep an eye on. October 16

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY- PART 2- It's the conclusion of the epic franchise and it should be a bloody good time. This will certainly be the most intense chapter in the series and it should allow for Jennifer Lawrence to do some magnificent work. November 20

KNIGHT OF CUPS- Although I'm not overly familiar with Terence Malick's work, he's always a critical favorite. Knight of Cups should give him the opportunity to do some lighter work, with Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman rounding out the cast. Very excited for this Hollywood satire. TBA

JUPITER ASCENDING- The visuals look astounding and I'm a huge fan of both Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. But the fact that the film was pushed to February is not a great sign. Hopefully the Wachowski's can create something amazing with this one. I'm optimistic, but I wouldn't be shocked to see it fall into shambles. February 6

THE MARTIAN- The Martian is based on a popular sci-fi best-seller and has an incredible cast that includes Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Jeff Daniels, and Michael Pena. So why isn't it in my top 25? The answer is Ridley Scott. The iconic director has made several misfires in a row, so I'm not exactly confident. However, with that cast and the strong source material, there's no reason not to be excited. November 25

SCOUTS VS. ZOMBIES- Okay, I'll be honest. This could be really terrible. But the premise of boy scouts fighting zombies is simply irresistible to me. October 30

CHAPPIE- I was a big fan of Neill Blomkamp's Elysium, but the trailer for Chappie just didn't hook me like it should have. It came off as a little goofy and silly. However, Blomkamp is still a visionary and if he embraces the goofiness of the premise, I think that this film will be gold. March 6

MINIONS- The Despicable Me franchise is very funny and almost ubiquitous at this point, so a Minions spin-off was destined to happen. The first trailer was promising, but it'll be interesting to see if the minions can carry their own film. Should be funny nonetheless. July 10

ENTOURAGE- I'm very excited for this Hollywood-set comedy and I hope that it delivers. I'm a little worried about the story, but that's okay- it looks hilarious anyways. This one barely missed the cut. June 12

Now, for the 25 movies that did make the cut.

25. THE GOOD DINOSAUR- November 25

We're getting two Pixar films this year and I'm just a little bit more excited for one than the other. The Good Dinosaur features the voices of Neil Patrick Harris, Frances McDormand, Judy Greer, John Lithgow, Bill Hader and Lucas Neff and tells the story of a dinosaur that befriends a young boy. Great premise, but this movie went into significant turnaround at Pixar and the original director was booted off. Hopefully studio head John Lasseter can pull this one together.


Fan excitement for this one is at an all-time low after a series of goofy images and a confusing trailer were released. And I understand the trepidation. The cast isn't exactly extraordinary and the story does look pretty confusing. But I enjoyed the trailer and I think that this movie looks like a lot of fun. If it doesn't deliver, I say it's time to shelf this franchise for good. However, it almost certainly can't be worse than Terminator: Salvation.


Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors working today, so there's no reason that I wouldn't be excited for his latest effort, Silence. The story of a group of Jesuit priests (played by Liam Neeson, Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) who travel to Japan to spread Christianity sounds very intriguing and it feels like material that is well suited to Scorsese. At this point, we don't know if this one will hit theaters in 2015, but it's looking likely at this point. Look for this to be a major Oscar contender next year.

22. BLACKHAT- January 16

Michael Mann's Collateral is one of the most underrated movies of the century so far. It's a tense and grim Hitchcockian thriller and Mann handles the material superbly. After watching that movie, I knew that Mann was a great director. His next film, Blackhat, stars Chris Hemsworth as a hacker who works for the US government to stop a terrorist hacker from destroying the world. The January release date is troubling and the film could get a little preachy since the subject is so topical, but I am pumped for this film. I really hope Mann can deliver.

21. BLACK MASS- September 18

The true story of Whitey Bulger is getting many film adaptations, but I have my eye on Black Mass. Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace) is directing and the cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson, Juno Temple, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard and Johnny Depp as Bulger. Cooper is a promising young director and with that terrific cast, I don't see how this movie can be anything but terrific.


If you've seen 50/50, you know why I'm excited for this movie. I recently watched the cancer dramedy for the first time and it hit me hard. I gained new respect for Rogen and even more respect for Gordon-Levitt. The two actors are now re-teaming for a Christmas eve movie about the search for the Holy Grail of Christmas parties. 50/50 director Johnathan Levine is returning to the director's chair and Lizzy Caplan, Anthony Mackie and 22 Jump Street breakout Jillian Bell round out the cast. Rogen has been on a roll lately and I can't wait to see what he has in store for us here.

19. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL- November 25

I haven't seen either of Jeff Nichols' previous films, but just reading the plot synopsis for Midnight Special has me excited. Nichols described the film as a "sci-fi chase movie" and the plot synopsis talks about a father finding out that his son has special powers. Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Michael Shannon and St. Vincent star Jaedan Lieberher round out the cast. All in all, I'm pumped for this movie simply because there's so much we don't know. But there's also a lot of potential for a terrific sci-fi movie that will blow us all away.


The first teaser trailer was a bit of a letdown for me, but I'm still extremely excited to see what Brad Bird has in store for us with Tomorrowland. George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Judy Greer and Hugh Laurie star in this sci-fi drama about a futuristic world that involves Walt Disney, imagination, collective memories and much more. There's a lot to like with that premise and the trailer hinted at some exciting things. With Brad Bird in the director's chair, the sky's the limit for this project. Very excited to see how this turns out.


Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the premiere actors in Hollywood at this point and Southpaw could be the movie that wins him the Oscar. The boxing story about a rising champion prize fighter that finds his world collapsing around him sounds a bit familiar, but with Gyllenhaal, there's potential for something. I wasn't overly impressed with The Equalizer, so I'm slightly skeptical about Antoine Fuqua directing this film. However, that alone is not enough to dampen my excitement for what sounds like an intense and intriguing film.

16. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 5- December 25

For one, I'm not even sure that this film will be in theaters this year. It's currently set to hit theaters way too close to Star Wars VII and I'm certain that Paramount does not want to face off against that one. But right now, it's set to hit theaters in 2015 and I'm very excited about that. The fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise, Ghost Protocol, was terrific action filmmaking and I'm ecstatic that the principal cast is returning for this one. Unfortunately, Brad Bird won't be back, but Christopher McQuarrie seems like a solid choice to take over. Mission: Impossible 5 has high expectations to live up to, but I believe in Tom Cruise and the rest of the team behind the M:I series.

15. THE REVENANT- December 25

Tom Hardy. Leonardo DiCaprio. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. What's not to like? The latest film from the director of Birdman tells the story of a frontiersman who seeks vengeance against the man who left him for dead. Definitely a tonal shift from Birdman, but it sounds like perfect material for Hardy and DiCaprio. I can't wait to see this one and it will certainly be one of the big Oscar contenders for next year.

14. THE WALK- October 2

I saw the trailer for this movie in IMAX 3D before The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and I was amazed. This looks like a truly dazzling movie. Plus, I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Robert Zemeckis so that makes me even more excited. The only reason that this isn't higher on this list is because I'm skeptical that there won't be much of a story to hang onto. But either way, this will be one incredible spectacle and I can't wait to see this film.


Critics have already seen Matthew Vaughn's spy comedy and they love it. That only adds to my extreme excitement for the latest film from the director of Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. The idea of a classy, ridiculous Bond movie in the style of Roger Moore and Sean Connery is infinitely appealing to me and I'm pumped to see this one. Hopefully it lives up to all of my expectations.


Steven Spielberg returns after a three year hiatus with a Cold War-set spy thriller starring Tom Hanks. The story of an American lawyer who does CIA work in the Soviet Union sounds right in the wheelhouse of Spielberg and Hanks and I couldn't be more excited. Not much else is known about this film, but I'm psyched. Should be one of 2015's big Oscar contenders.

11. INSIDE OUT- June 19

Inside Out is the single most promising film from Pixar in years and I'm pumped to see what they have in store for us here. After three years of sequels and unoriginal princess movies, we're finally getting a truly original Pixar movie set in the imagination of a young girl. The first trailer played off of the emotions of previous Pixar movies, but the second trailer blew me away by fully showing off the potential of the premise. This could definitely be the next Pixar classic.


Jurassic Park is one of the great sci-fi horror movies and fans have waited forever for a truly great sequel/reboot. After watching the first trailer, I believe that Jurassic World could be that great film. Chris Pratt is a charismatic star and Ty Simpkins was great in Iron Man 3. Not to mention that the trailer set a tense, ominous mood that I hope carries over to the film. I'm not 100% sure about Jurassic World, but I'm anticipating what could be in store with this film.


In the Heart of the Sea is the latest film from Ron Howard, which is primarily why I was excited initially. However, my excitement has grown since the release of the first two trailers. The trailers have been incredible and this looks like such an intense and visceral film. Howard is a great director and he had great success with Chris Hemsworth when they last teamed up. Hopefully they can recapture some of that magic.


Richard Linklater is an ambitious director and he's following up Boyhood with a spiritual sequel to his incredible 12 year project and his stoner comedy Dazed and Confused. That's enough to pique my interest and the fact that the movie is about baseball makes me even more enthusiastic about the film. We don't know much more than that, but I believe that's enough to make any Linklater fan eager to see this one.

7. JOY- December 25

Joy is a biopic of the woman that created the Miracle Mop. That doesn't necessarily sound all that promising, but when you add David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro into the mix, you've got a movie that I cannot wait to see. Russell gave us American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook over the last few years and he's back with another quirky dramedy. Looking forward to seeing what's in store this time around.


The Avengers was a more massive hit than anybody could have imagined and the entire world is anticipating the sequel, Age of Ultron. The first trailer was chilling and frightening, which hints at a darker Avengers film. The only reason I'm less enthused about this one is because Marvel has set up so much after Age of Ultron that the film might feel inconsequential. Still, this is certainly going to be one of the year's biggest films and I'm hoping that director Joss Whedon can deliver another delightful superhero flick.

5. FURIOUS 7- April 3

The Fast and Furious franchise lost one of its major stars last year when Paul Walker passed away, but the series will continue on. And it looks like an extremely good time. The first trailer was electrifying and incredible and after Fast Five and Furious 6, there's no reason not to be pumped for Furious 7. With Jason Statham and Kurt Russell joining the cast and James Wan in the director's chair, this could definitely be the best installment in the series so far.


A year ago, there was no reason to be even remotely interested in Mad Max: Fury Road. Production had been a disaster and there were numerous delays. However, once the first trailer dropped, the film world was turned upside down. This has slowly become one of the most anticipated movies of 2015 and I could not be more psyched for what looks like a spectacular ride.


It's Quentin Tarantino. What more do I need to say? The legendary director hasn't missed yet and he only has a few films left before he retires. And this chilly western sounds just as fun as the rest of his filmography. With a cast that includes Sam Jackson, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight sounds like a bloody good time.

2. SPECTRE- November 6

Bond is one of the most enduring and fun franchises in Hollywood and Skyfall was the best Bond yet. The way that it mixed the old and the new was brilliant and I have a feeling that Spectre will keep that trend going. Bringing back Spectre is a fantastic idea and I love the new actors (Christoph Waltz especially) that director Sam Mendes has brought in. All in all, this was almost my most anticipated of the year and I hope that Spectre can be the next Bond classic. I'm so incredibly excited.


Nothing else could top this list. Spectre looks great, Hateful Eight sounds like a great time and Mad Max looks amazing, but Star Wars is THE movie to look forward to in 2015. JJ Abrams is a major draw and the cast is incredible, yet the real draw is the franchise itself. We know almost nothing about the latest installment in the Star Wars series and that has only taken my anticipation to another level. This might not be the movie that I'm most excited to see, but it's certainly the movie that I'm anticipating the most. The fact that I have to wait until December to see it is painful and I'm praying that Abrams makes this film worth it.

I'm hoping for a truly fantastic 2015. It's shaping up to be a terrific year and a lot of great films will be hitting theaters over the next 12 months. Those are the 25 that I'm looking forward to the most, share yours in the comments below!

Image Credits: LA Times, Screen Rant, Indiewire, Hollywood Reporter, Latino Review, MTV, River Run Film, YouTube, Coming Soon, Brightest Young Things, National Geographic, Geek Tyrant, Yahoo, Variety, YouTube, Jurassic Park Wikia, YouTube, Indiewire, Screen Rant, Screen Rant, Business Insider, We Got This Covered, Movie Pilot, Empire, Star Wars

'Big Eyes' review

Tim Burton has been on a downward spiral for the last few years, making an eclectic mix of films that critics have definitely not warmed to. His 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is atrocious, but was a huge box office hit. However, Dark Shadows was a massive flop and sent Burton's career into shambles. The famously eccentric director has now bounced back with the small, interesting and bizarre film, Big Eyes. The movie tells the story of Margaret and Walter Keane, two artists responsibly for the kitschy "big eyes" paintings that were popular in the 1960's. This weird and emotional tale of lies and betrayal works because of the terrific performances by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz and the strong directorial eye of Burton. In an Oscar season filled with dark, intense biopics and character studies, Big Eyes stands out by being just a little bit more fun.

Big Eyes tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), a divorcee who walks out on her husband and moves to San Francisco with her daughter. She gets a job working at a factory and sells her paintings on the side. One day at an art show, she meets the charismatic Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). The two artists strike up a relationship and end up getting married. Walter recognizes potential in Margaret's "big eyes" paintings and uses his terrific likability to get her art sold. However, it comes at a price. Walter takes credit for all of Margaret's art and creates a lie that only grows and grows. Soon, Walter's manipulation and control takes over Margaret's life and creates a world of fear. Is money and power worth it if you have to live a lie to get it?

What initially sounds like a fun premise ends up being much darker than you would expect. Margaret Keane is a fascinating character and one that is brought truly to life by Adams. I'm honestly dumbfounded that her incredible performance isn't getting more attention. Adams portrays Margaret as a weak and damaged individual, and you feel good once she gives Walter his comeuppance and becomes her own person. It's a true character arc and Adams fully embodies Margaret.

Waltz also is terrific as Walter, creating a sleazy, despicable character that actually manages to be very interesting. Big Eyes seems to make the point that the art wouldn't have been successful without Walter's elaborate lie and incredible charisma, but then makes the claim that the lie wasn't worth the success. It's intriguing to think about and I enjoyed the fact that the film brought up questions like that. It made the film much more engrossing.

The supporting cast is rounded out by fantastic actors like Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston, and Terence Stamp, who do what they can with limited roles. Ritter is sweet and charming as DeeAnn, Margaret's helpful friend who is always looking out for her. Stamp is basically playing himself in this film, with a delightfully serious voice and exaggerated body movements. His character (critic John Canaday) doesn't add much to the movie, but it gives a little bit of insight into Walter's character. And Schwartzman is a lot of fun as Ruben, the uptight gallery owner who rejects Walter and his work.

Where I run into my biggest problem is with Danny Huston's character, Dick Nolan. He's a newspaper writer and a friend of Walter, but he also provides voiceover at various times during the movie. I guess he's supposed to be the audience's "in" to Walter and Margaret's world, but unfortunately, it was one of the few things that didn't work for me in this movie. The narration isn't consistent and his character only pops up occasionally and seems to serve no real purpose to the plot.

The script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski is also very fun and witty, highlighting both the highs and lows of Margaret's relationship with Walter. They did a great job of developing the two characters and making you understand why Margaret did what she did. You'll probably still ask questions at the end, but for the amount of time they had, I thought Alexander and Karaszewski did a fabulous job. The film also moves at a brisk pace throughout, yet still manages to feel a little bit long at 105 minutes, especially towards the end of the film.

Big Eyes is an engrossing film because of its story, but it's an expertly entertaining one because of Burton's direction, the beautifully quirky sets and the unique musical score. Burton carries the movie along, creating costumes, sets and music that perfectly fit the film's vision. The production design by Rick Heinrichs is bright and bubbly, filled with colors that perfectly describe the 1950's and 60's setting. And the music by Danny Elfman keeps this tale moving along. Terrific group effort by the production team.

Big Eyes has many great pieces and is a very good film. But it never manages to be a truly great film. It never had that one moment where I knew that I was watching a masterpiece.  Nonetheless, this is an incredibly fun and intriguing watch, highlighted by the brilliant performances from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. I immensely enjoyed this film throughout and it's definitely one of Tim Burton's best movies in recent memory. Big Eyes hasn't nearly made as much as it should at the box office, so I highly encourage you to seek it out.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.2/10)

Image Credits: Rama Screen, Variety, Screen Rant, Variety, Cinematic Shadows

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Theory of Everything review

If you don't know who Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are, you definitely will after watching this movie. The two give crackling, dynamic, Oscar-worthy performances as Stephen and Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Redmayne's physical transformation is incredible and his performance is breathtakingly precise. Jones is much more subdued, but even more impressive in many ways. It's a shame that the film is less interesting, a traditional period piece that is only elevated by two outstanding actors. The story meanders its way through and I can't say that I was ever moved or truly hooked by this movie. It's a noble effort, but not one that I particularly enjoyed. Although I hoped this wouldn't be the case, the general critics consensus on this one is correct: stellar performances, merely decent film.

The Theory of Everything tracks the extraordinary life of Stephen Hawking (Redmayne), the acclaimed cosmologist, who is in search of the one theory that will explain everything about life. At Cambridge University, he writes his thesis about a black hole theory that proves the universe was born from a black hole explosion. When he is at Cambridge, he also meets Jane (Jones). The two fall in love, but their relationship is tested when Stephen is diagnosed with ALS and given a life expectancy of two years. However, Jane is determined to keep their relationship strong. The two get married, have a kid and fight the illness for many years thanks to Stephen's determination and Jane's amazing strength.

Hawking's story is incredible and the fact that he was able to persevere through so much is absolutely amazing. And Jane also deserves so much credit- she managed to take care of Stephen and raise three kids. That's quite a feat. Redmayne and Jones definitely do justice to these great people. Jones is able to channel Jane's drive and resolve, while Redmayne manages to fully embody Hawking. Every single movement is exact and I was thoroughly amazed by Redmayne's performance. The supporting cast is completely overshadowed by these amazing lead performances, but some actors manage to stand out. David Thewlis is quite good as Hawking's friend and college professor, while Charlie Cox is solid as Johnathan as well.

As for the rest of the film, there really isn't too terribly much to say. I can't say that I was very interested in this film going in and it never managed to hook me or pique my interest at all while I was watching it. I found the film to be a bit of a slog at times and I was never overly involved or interested in the action that was going on. The first half hour at Cambridge is pretty solid, but the rest of the film is extremely dull. As Hawking loses his ability to speak, eat and move, Redmayne's performance becomes much more exceptional and the film becomes significantly less interesting.

The main problem with this movie is that there just isn't anywhere to go with it. Hawking overcame obstacles and managed to defy expectations, but there isn't an endpoint to the story. Director James Marsh and screenwriter Anthony McCarten manage to touch on many different plot points, yet they never can truly decide what story they want to tell.

What this film truly suffers from is a lack of cohesive focus. Hawking's love story with his Jane, her second husband, his second wife, his theory of everything, his scientific papers, their children- all of these subjects come up during this film. Much of it manages to work together well, but the science stuff feels incredibly out of place. This movie seems focused on telling the story of Jane and Stephen for much of the film, yet it'll throw a curveball at you and start discussing Stephen's black hole theory. Both aspects of Hawking's life are equally amazing, but focusing on one 80% of the time and then intermittently throwing the other one in there occasionally just doesn't truly work.

This film is also quite bland, hitting all the right notes but never doing anything truly interesting. The cinematography is about as drab as you can get, with no sense of color, but also a lack of style as well. The dearth of humor is quite concerning at times, with no moments of genuine fun during the film at all. 2014's other British biopic, The Imitation Game, does a much better job of balancing both the emotional and humorous aspects of the film.

Towards the second half of The Theory of Everything, it started to really lose me. The performances only grew more and more outstanding, but the filmmakers handled the material really poorly. As the tougher material started to appear, Marsh and McCarten start to shy away, only hinting at integral plot points. The relationships became more convoluted, the narrative became much more scattered and I started to get bored. I felt a little bit of inspiration at the end of the film, but it wasn't enough.

The Theory of Everything is worth seeing at some point for Redmayne and Jones. They are absolutely terrific and their work deserves to be recognized. It's unfortunate that the rest of the film is so dull. The musical score is seemingly non-existent for much of the film and the movie becomes less interesting as it continues on. Hawking's story is incredible and Jane's perseverance is admirable, but this film is simply too long, too boring and too scattered to be truly great.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.6/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire, Huffington Post, Screen Rant

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Oscar Update: 'Boyhood' still in front, but 'Selma' could play spoiler

It's been a while since we looked at the Oscar race and quite a bit has happened. Films have risen in the ranks, fallen completely off the radar and in some cases, clinched the win already. Here are my current Oscar predictions.


1. Boyhood
2. Selma
3. Birdman
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
5. The Imitation Game
6. The Theory of Everything
7. Gone Girl
8. Whiplash
9. Foxcatcher
10. Nightcrawler

On the outside looking in: A Most Violent Year, Unbroken, Interstellar

The Best Picture race is still very murky at this point, but I think that three clear front-runner have emerged. The first is Boyhood, the spectacular directorial achievement from Richard Linklater. The amazingly ambitious project is loved by all corners of the film world, but it was released very early in the year and it could be upstaged by two stronger contenders from more powerful studios. Birdman also has a chance at the win, with its insider humor and career-defining performance from Keaton. But is it simply too weird to take the big prize? I think that's a possibility. And finally, Selma has a very good chance to win this whole thing. It's the strongest competition to Boyhood right now. The powerful, relevant drama appeared late in the game and could definitely play spoiler.

The Grand Budapest Hotel has also seen a surge lately, picking up lots of nominations and wins at various award shows. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are still in thick of the race as well, but neither feels like a genuine threat to Boyhood or Selma. The darker movies round out the top ten, with Gone Girl, Whiplash, Foxcatcher, and Nightcrawler currently making the final list. Just missing the cut are A Most Violent Year, Unbroken and Interstellar. The latter two were both major front-runners at one point, but reviews have halted them in their tracks. All in all, it's going to be a very interesting couple of weeks as we prepare for the nominations to be revealed.


1. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
2. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
3. Michael Keaton, Birdman
4. David Oyelowo, Selma
5. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

On the Outside Looking In: Timothy Spall, Steve Carell

This is a very competitive category, with seven actors all vying for a chance at the gold. Right now, I have Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead for his performance in the highly-admired drama, The Imitation Game. However, after finally seeing Eddie Redmayne's performance in The Theory of Everything, I can't help but feel that he could take the win here. It's a stellar performance that elevates and somewhat bland and uninteresting film. Michael Keaton is also still in the running for Birdman, but I feel like he's slipping right now. Rounding out my current top five are David Oyelowo and Jake Gyllenhaal, for Selma and Nightcrawler, respectively. The love for Selma is strong and Nightcrawler has a lot of fans in the academy as well. Timothy Spall and Steve Carell just barely missed the cut, but Carell could definitely sneak in. This is a tight category and I have a feeling that we might not know the winner until Oscar night.


1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice
2. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
3. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
4. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
5. Jennifer Aniston, Cake

Unlike the Best Actor category, this one is pretty much over. Julianne Moore is going to win, no question. The more interesting question is: who will take the fifth spot? Reese Witherspoon, Rosamund Pike and Felicity Jones are in. The final spot comes down to Aniston vs. Adams. I have a feeling that Aniston could take it, but never underestimate Adams' power in the Academy.

On the Outside Looking In: Marion Cotillard, Amy Adams


1. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2. Ava DuVernay, Selma
3. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
4. David Fincher, Gone Girl
5. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

On the Outside Looking In: Angelina Jolie, Morten Tyldum

This is another category that is pretty much over right now. Richard Linklater's commitment and his unbelievable achievement will be recognized here. The only person who has even a chance of catching him is Ava DuVernay. Inarritu and Fincher are in, with Anderson and The Imitation Game's Morten Tyldum likely set to fight for the final spot.


1. J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
2. Edward Norton, Birdman
3. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
4. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
5. Robert Duvall, The Judge

On the Outside Looking In: Josh Brolin

The Best Supporting Actor category is pretty much completely set. J.K. Simmons is going to win, and Edward Norton, Ethan Hawke, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Duvall will all be nominated as well. Josh Brolin could possibly sneak in for his kooky turn in Inherent Vice, but it's doubtful.


1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2. Emma Stone, Birdman
3. Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
4. Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
5. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

On the Outside Looking In: Tilda Swinton

Patricia Arquette is definitely the front-runner in this category and I'm not sure anybody can stop her. Emma Stone's performance is too limited, Streep just isn't good enough, and I just don't see Knightley winning either. The only person I can see sneaking out with the win is Jessica Chastain, but even that's a long shot. Look for Arquette to easily take the Oscar here.


1. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, Birdman
2. Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
4. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
5. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher

On the Outside Looking In: Selma, Nightcrawler, Interstellar

This race is very tight and I think that any of these eight films could sneak out with the win. For me, the front-runners are Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel. A lot of prognosticators have Boyhood getting the win, but I just don't see that happening. Whiplash and Foxcatcher could be in there as well, but don't underestimate Nightcrawler, Selma and Interstellar.


1. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
2. Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
3. Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
4. Nick Hornby, Wild
5. Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything

On the Outside Looking In: Unbroken, American Sniper

Gone Girl and The Imitation Game will be fighting this one until the end, with Inherent Vice having the chance to play spoiler. I don't think that Unbroken's screenplay is good enough to get a nomination, but American Sniper could definitely boot The Theory of Everything out of the top five.

That concludes my analysis, but feel free to check out my predictions for the smaller categories that will be in play at the Academy Awards.


1. The LEGO Movie
2. Big Hero 6
3. The Boxtrolls
4. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
5. How to Train Your Dragon 2


1. Force Majeure
2. Ida
3. Leviathan
4. Wild Tales
5. Tangerines


1. Citizenfour
2. Life Itself
3. Virunga
4. Last Days in Vietnam
5. Keep on Keepin' On


1. Birdman
2. Gone Girl
3. Unbroken
4. Interstellar
5. Inherent Vice


1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Into the Woods
3. The Imitation Game
4. Big Eyes
5. Unbroken


1. Birdman
2. Interstellar
3. Boyhood
4. Whiplash
5. Gone Girl


1. Foxcatcher
2. Maleficent
3. Guardians of the Galaxy


1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Into the Woods
3. Interstellar
4. The Imitation Game
5. Mr. Turner


1. Interstellar
2. Gone Girl
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. The Imitation Game
5. Inherent Vice


1. Selma
2. The LEGO Movie
3. Big Eyes
4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1
5. Noah


1. Interstellar
2. Whiplash
3. Fury
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
5. American Sniper


1. Interstellar
2. Into the Woods
3. Whiplash
4. Fury
5. Gone Girl


1. Interstellar
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
4. Godzilla
5. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Image Credits: The Hollywood Reporter, Schmoes Know, Hitfix, Indiewire, NY Times, Indiewire, Screen Rant, NY Post

Friday, December 26, 2014

'The Interview' review

What started as another raunchy entry into the filmography of Seth Rogen and James Franco has slowly turned into one of the most talked-about films of the year. The Interview has sparked outrage from the country it parodies, support from Americans who believe in free speech and ultimately, it has cost Sony millions of dollars. Like the characters in some of their films, Rogen, Franco, and co-director Evan Goldberg are in way over their heads at this point, with a controversial film that has become an international crisis. For some, it will be very hard to separate the film from the controversy. Lots of critics have panned the juvenile humor of the film, saying that this ribald comedy was not even remotely worth the hype that has surrounded it.

That may be true, but have you seen any of Seth Rogen's other movies? The Interview is coming from a guy whose last movie included a fight with dildos and a scene where a baby chews on a condom. Seth Rogen is not a sharp satirist. He's a profane comedian who takes ridiculous situations and concepts and does something hilarious with them. That's what he does with The Interview and he does it extremely well. It's one of the funniest movies of the year and another knockout from the guys behind Neighbors and This is the End.

In The Interview, Dave Skylark (James Franco) is one of the most popular TV personalities in America. His hilarious, over-the-top show features all the fun news and the tabloid stories that the real news stations don't cover. Skylark's producer and best friend, Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen), wants to cover real news. When Skylark learns that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of his show, Aaron manages to snag an interview with Kim. But when the CIA finds out about the interview, they have a different idea in mind. They propose that the two head to North Korea and assassinate the Supreme Leader, allowing the totalitarian country to start fresh. The two bumbling idiots must find a way to survive in Korea and kill the leader of the most dangerous country in the world.

Rogen and Franco have made some terrific films together in the past, and their chemistry shines in this film. Man, these two are great together. The two play off each other so well and you feel that friendship that often comes off as forced in lesser buddy comedies. Despite that great chemistry, Franco steals the show. He gives an unhinged, completely hysterical performance in this movie. Dave Skylark is an instantly iconic character, a sweet, yet moronic fool with occasional flashes of maturity. Franco simply goes for it and he lets nothing get in his way. He takes over this film and steals the spotlight in every scene.

Rogen's performance is more subdued but he's funny as well. His chemistry with Franco allows him to play off of some of his more hilarious moments, which ends up working perfectly. All in all, the two leads in this film are terrific and they carry the movie through some of its slower patches. The supporting cast is also brilliant, with Randall Park and Diana Bang both giving terrific performances. Park's Kim Jong-un is perfect and Park manages to capture both sides of the dictator. Bang plays Sook, one of the more sympathetic characters in the film. She does a good job and has some very funny scenes with Rogen.

The script is peppered with obscenities and crude, sophomoric humor that isn't necessarily ambitious. But seriously, did you expect anything different? I understand that there's potential for satire with this movie, but we were never going to get that from Rogen and Goldberg. However, I was always confident that we were going to get a funny movie and they definitely deliver. The film has its slow parts, but there are so many clever one-liners and there's a bounty of hilarious dialogue as well. Rogen and Goldberg deliver the goods with this script.

This is very much a film of three acts. The first act is the TV stuff and the CIA prep, the second act is all the North Korea action, and the third act is the actual interview/assassination. A lot of people have seemingly had a problem with the second act, but I thought it was just fine. The stuff with Skylark and Kim is hysterical and the unexpected relationship between Aaron and Sook is very funny as well. Sure, a few things could have been trimmed here and there, but I thought that the second act worked as a whole.

However, the third act is when things get absolutely bonkers. The Interview is one of the most violent studio comedies I've ever seen. Seriously, this thing gets crazy. Not only does this film feature the exploding head of Kim Jong-un (not a spoiler- seriously, this was on the new), it also features a couple of gruesome headshots, some intense finger biting, and a tank rolling over the heads of an entire North Korean convoy. Rogen is unafraid of doing goofy comic violence in his films and The Interview is certainly no different.

Technical elements like cinematography and set design are typically unimportant for a big studio comedy, but I feel like they're worth pointing out here. The Interview has some pretty spectacular sets and some cool cinematography as well. This is as much an action movie as it is a comedy and Rogen and Sony definitely put some money towards the action elements. I also enjoyed the use of music in this film. There is no score per say, but there's some pretty catchy songs during certain parts of the movie.

In the end, this is a movie that will make you laugh. It will make you laugh very, very hard. There are bits in this movie that I will remember for an extremely long time. But not only is this movie funny, it's well-constructed and extremely exciting as well. The characters are engaging and the subject matter is consistently amusing. While some of the humor is strictly in Rogen's wheelhouse, I still feel like this is his most ambitious project yet. It's not as gutsy as Neighbors or as risky as This is the End, but this is a big-scale project with major setpieces and a topic that most filmmakers wouldn't touch.

When it comes down to it, that's why I like Rogen and Franco's films. Sure, I enjoy the profane humor and the sex jokes. And I like the over-the-top, bloody action. But when it comes down to it, I like that he just goes for it. His films are rarely safe. There's always something that's refreshing about a filmmaker who has the guts to continually push things to a different level. Maybe he pushed things a little too far this time, but that's okay. The Interview was still an insanely fun movie and it works again and again (I've seen it three times now). And to everybody who doesn't like this film, just remember: "Haters gonna hate.....and ainters gonna ain't!"

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.6/10)

Image Credits: Movie Pilot, BBC, Deadline, Rolling Stone,  Death and Taxes, Hollywood Reporter 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

'Unbroken' review

Going into each and every Oscar season, there is always a film that prognosticators bet on from the start. Angelina Jolie's Unbroken was that movie this year. The prestige drama, which is based on the true story of Olympic runner and war veteran Louie Zamperini, appeared to have everything going for it. Unbelievable true story about overcoming obstacles? Check. Famous director? Check. World War II movie? Check. However, Unbroken has pretty much fallen off the Oscar radar. Ever since the film premiered, journalists have written this film off as a non-contender. Why the sudden switch? It might have to do with the fact that the film isn't all that good. It certainly isn't a complete fiasco, but it's safe to say that this movie could have been much more engaging and interesting.

Unbroken tracks about 20 years in the life of Louie Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), the Olympic runner who became a fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II. Louie starts out his life as a troubled child. He's always running from the police, drinking liquor and stealing stuff. Eventually, Louie's brother Pete realizes that Louie is really fast. He becomes a world-class athlete, and actually ends up traveling to Berlin for the Olympics in 1936. A few years later, Louie ends up fighting as a bombardier during the war. But when his plane crashes in the middle of the Pacific during a routine flight, Louie's life changes forever. His journey takes him through a horrific 48 days at sea, before he's sent to a Japanese internment camp where he is at the mercy of Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), a disturbed, violent prison guard. Louie becomes stronger than ever and refuses to be destroyed by the circumstances in front of him.

I haven't finished Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling novel based on Zamperini's life yet, but so far, it's a highly engaging book and it's easy to see why so many people are fans. And it's also easy to see why so many of the book's fans are upset by this movie adaptation. Jolie's film barely scratches the surface of the story, skimming over Louie's childhood and not allowing any of the supporting characters to be truly interesting or engaging. However, most people familiar with the true story are enraged over the end of this film. In Hillenbrand's novel, the book goes on to explore Louie's PTSD and path to forgiveness after the war. The film ends when Louie returns from war. I couldn't possibly comment because I haven't gotten that far into the book yet, but it's easy to see why fans are enraged.

The main problem I had with this film is that it's miserably overlong and repetitively tedious. For a story this spectacular, it's amazing that Unbroken is so completely bland and uninteresting. The film's first scene is truly incredible, depicting an awesome aerial battle in the Pacific. I was very impressed by this start. I have to admit, going into this film, the early reviews had me weary. But once the film got started, I was undeniably hooked in no time. Then the rest of the film happened. Nothing that happened for the rest of the film's runtime managed to live up to that first scene. It's all slow, methodical and for the most part, pretty boring.

The acting is very good, but some of these supremely talented actors have absolutely nothing to work with. Jack O'Connell is front and center throughout as Louie and he does an absolutely phenomenal job. His physical transformation is impressive, expressing the character's completely desperate situation. Whether O'Connell ever truly manages to explore the emotional side of Zamperini is debatable, but I don't believe that any of the script's shortcomings are his fault- he gives his all to this film.

Takamasa Ishihara is also quite remarkable in this film. Known mostly by his stage name Miyavi, Ishihara has an undeniable screen presence. From the beginning it's clear that Watanabe has it out for Louie and Miyavi makes "The Bird" a frightening and intimidating character. Once again, there isn't much depth to his character, but it's an impressive performance nonetheless.

Louie and Watanabe are both surprisingly underdeveloped in this film, but it's nothing compared to what the script does to the other supporting characters. Domnhall Gleeson is one of the biggest rising stars in Hollywood, and with a role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens next year, it's clear that he's headed straight for the A-list. And he has a great character to play in this film. Gleeson plays Phil, who is an incredibly important person in Louie's life. He's his best friend during the war and the two have a really strong relationship that continued for a long time. In the movie, he's pretty much reduced to nothing. It's clear that he's Louie's friend and he's there for most of the scenes at sea, but we never get to know anything about him. If I hadn't read some of the book before seeing the movie, I would have never thought of Phil as an important character at all.

Same goes for Hugh "Cup" Cuppernull, Mac and Fitzgerald. Jai Courtney plays Cup and he actually does a terrific job. I was impressed by his performance and it gave me hope for Courtney in the future as he seems like an actor that will be big in Hollywood for a while. But his character is poorly handled as well. We get to know Mac (Finn Wittrock) a little bit better, especially during one of the more poignant moments on the boat. Fitzgerald (Garrett Hedlund) is also poorly developed. You really don't get to know anything more than that he's the leader of the prisoners in the internment camp.

On the technical side of things, Unbroken is flawless. Immaculately filmed, with beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins and gorgeous production values. I can definitely see Deakins getting another cinematography nomination, but with Emmanuel Lubezki's Birdman also in competition, it looks like Deakins will end up going home empty-handed again. The score is pretty bland and forgettable, if there was one at all. Jolie opts to use silence to convey the power of the images and it occasionally works.

In the end, I can't escape the fact that this film bored me and wore me down to nothing. By the time this film reached its conclusion, I had nothing left to give. I didn't feel inspired or happy that Louie had made it out alive. I just felt exhausted from the brutal repetitiveness of the film. This might have been because I had just sat through The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies before watching Unbroken, but I'm just going to assume that had nothing to do with it. The truth is, the last half of this film is dull and miserably tiresome, slogging along for way too long. The sea scenes aren't that much better and I was disappointed by the way that they handled Louie's early childhood as well.

Unfortunately, Unbroken ended up being just as disappointing as the early critics said. It's a film with flashes of greatness, but it's misled and it is pretty tedious throughout. Maybe this needed to be two movies, maybe it needed a better screenwriter (though I can't imagine anyone better than Joel and Ethan Coen) or maybe it needed a more experienced director. Whatever the case, this movie disappointed on many levels and should have been so much better and so much more inspiring than it ended up being.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                            (6.2/10)

Image Credits: Variety, LA Times, Huffington Post, Hollywood Reporter, Daily Mail, Rama Screen

First trailer for 'Entourage' promises more crazy Hollywood antics

In a summer packed with major big-budget tentpoles like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Minions, and Jurassic World, it's going to be tough for smaller films to make waves. Every single week of summer 2015 features some sort of major blockbuster and that's going to make for a very competitive market. However, I think that there's room for a film like Entourage during this crowded season. A continuation of the hit HBO show, Entourage will once again follow the exploits of Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his close circle of friends. The first trailer for the Hollywood satire was released yesterday and immediately had fans abuzz. Check out the trailer for the film below:

I'm not overly familiar with the show, but this trailer was fantastic. Starting off with a fake trailer for one of Chase's films was a stroke of brilliance and everything after that looked great. However, I'm still skeptical about some aspects of this film. I know this is just a teaser, but there didn't really seem to be a story at all. It looked like a lot of fun, yet I'm still not sure which way this film is going. If Entourage manages to deliver an amusing story with all the crazy Hollywood stuff, then I'm all in. Hopefully this film can live up to the high expectations that this trailer set. Directed by Doug Ellin, Entourage stars Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Mark Wahlberg, Billy Bob Thornton and a slew of other celebrities. The film will hit theaters on June 12, 2015.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb' review

2006's Night at the Museum was a massive breakout hit, grossing nearly $574 million worldwide and charming kids all over the world. Three years later, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian was a slight disappointment, making only $413 million on a much bigger budget ($150 million). After that lag at the box office, I was pretty sure that the franchise was done. Nevertheless, Fox found a way to churn out another Museum flick, and unsurprisingly, it hasn't torn it up at the box office so far. The charm of this series has worn off and the fans just aren't there. However, for the remaining fans, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is quite a treat. It's a bittersweet conclusion to the franchise and it manages to work because its heart is in the right place. Secret of the Tomb might not be the best film of the year, or even a truly good film in general, but it leaves this fun franchise on a high note.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb continues the misadventures of Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) and the rest of the museum gang. Before the debut of a new, show-stopping exhibit at the museum, Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) tells Larry that the magical tablet is corroding. During the new show, the museum exhibits begin to malfunction: Teddy (the late Robin Williams) points a gun at a guest, Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck) babbles nonsensical garbage and the cavemen go nuts. Ahkmenrah reveals that the only way to save the museum and the tablet is to head to Britain and meet his parents who have a strong knowledge of the tablet. After that, Larry heads off to the British Museum with his troubled son Nick (Skyler Gisondo) to save the museum and everything that lives in it.

I'm not going to try and argue that Secret of the Tomb is a masterpiece of cinema. It's a juvenile kids film with jokes that occasionally go on for way too long and humor that falls flat. But somehow, this movie got to me. I teared up at the end of this movie. I felt really, really sad when this film ended. Why? It's a combination of many things. Firstly, this is one of Robin Williams' final films and his final scene is hauntingly sad. I didn't find as much meaning in it as some did, but his final screen appearance made me cry. It's the final time we'll see Robin Williams on screen, and that was crushing to me. As I've noted before, I didn't grow up during the golden age of Robin Williams, but the Night at the Museum series was always a bright spot in his career for me.

But that couldn't have been the only reason the ending of this film got to me, right? I was tearing up before Williams even showed up for his final scene. I think the fact that this is the final film in the Night at the Museum series got to me. I grew up with these films and to say goodbye to this franchise was hard. I wouldn't have thought that before watching this film, but it ended up being hard to watch. Huge shout-out to Shawn Levy and the creative team behind this series for creating a poignant and powerful ending to this movie.

So before this movie reaches its terrific conclusion, is it any good? Truth is, it's merely decent. Some of the jokes land. Some don't. The acting is pretty solid, but the plot is flimsy and not all that engaging. Ben Stiller and Skyler Gisondo have good chemistry together, but Dan Stevens is flat-out spectacular as Lancelot. His character is funny on the surface, yet actually pretty interesting when you get into the film. Stevens is truly an actor on the rise and I look forward to seeing what he does next (I'm also looking forward to finally seeing The Guest when it comes out on Blu-Ray).

The plot of this film is serviceable. It's not overly involving, but it's efficient enough. I was kind of weary about the filmmakers doing another plot focused on the all-powerful tablet, yet it manages to work. I liked some of the twists that the movie took and it keeps the film fresh. It could have been completely predictable, but it ends up taking some turns that you wouldn't expect at all. For example, I knew that Dick van Dyke, Bill Cobbs and the late Mickey Rooney would be reprising their roles from the original in this film. However, I didn't know how they would show up and the filmmakers ended up reintroducing them in a very cool and unexpected manner. Little things like that manage to keep the film from floating towards mediocrity.

The actors also do a very good job throughout. Robin Williams is consistently funny in one of his final roles, and he brings his signature warmth and charm to the character of Teddy once again. Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan have some true-blue moments of hilarity as Jedediah and Octavius, the two miniature figures. Those two actors have terrific chemistry together and I loved their scenes. I'm still not a fan of Rebel Wilson, but she's not too bad in this film. Ricky Gervais and Ben Kingsley also make appearances and do pretty good. Kingsley has a hilarious moment in this film, and the irony of him playing a Jewish slave in Exodus and then an Egyptian pharaoh in Secret of the Tomb is great.

But in the end, when it comes down to it, you're gonna want to see this film because of the ending, especially if you were a fan of the franchise before this. The filmmakers close out this series with a poignancy that nobody would expect from a Night at the Museum movie. It wasn't quite on the level of Toy Story 3, but it was close. Throughout this series, the filmmakers took several missteps. The second film was pretty forgettable and this film has some issues as well. But nobody will ever be able to deny that they ended on a perfect note. Levy and company closed out one of my favorite childhood franchises with grace, heart and charm. A fun mix of old-school throwbacks to the first film and fun new additions, I couldn't be happier with the way that this one turned out.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.1/10)

Image Credits: Fox Movies, Fat Movie Guy, Fandango 

'Star Trek 3' to hit theaters on July 8, 2016 with Justin Lin in the director's chair

Star Trek Into Darkness was one of my favorite movies of 2013 (it finished at #9 on my 2013 top 15 list) and I'm very excited for the next chapter in the rebooted Trek series. However, the future of the franchise was quite uncertain after Into Darkness was released. Director JJ Abrams departed the series to spearhead Disney's Star Wars universe, leaving the next installment in limbo. After that, it appeared that superstar writer Roberto Orci would be directing the film for his solo directorial debut. Most fans expressed disdain over the choice, citing Orci's previous projects (Transformers, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Cowboys and Aliens). Orci was the director for quite a few months, but suddenly dropped out. There were some rumors about why left the project (including an incoherent script and other production issues) but none of it is truly known for sure.

After all of that drama, it appears that the dust has settled and the project will be heading over to Fast Five director Justin Lin. The talented action filmmaker has signed on to direct the film, which is now set for a July 8, 2016 release date. That's a pretty short timeline for the big-budget pic and I'm not sure that Lin will get the film done in time. Remember, Into Darkness was originally set to come out in Summer 2012 before being delayed. I can see that happening with Star Trek 3. Not to mention that it's being thrown into one of the most crowded summers in recent memory. We'll see what happens, but for now, it's going to be debuting in theaters on July 8, 2016. Most of the cast will seemingly be returning, but no word on anything else at this point.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' review

After six movies, 17 hours of film, and over fifteen years in production, Peter Jackson's Middle-earth saga is finally coming to a close with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The climatic chapter in his Hobbit trilogy ties up the loose ends of this series and sets up the first chapter in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Essentially, The Battle of the Five Armies amounts to little more than a final adieu to Middle-earth. Nobody is going to argue that this was necessary in any way and I would say that they could have ended with The Desolation of Smaug mixed with the first fifteen minutes of this movie and everything would have been fine and dandy. Nevertheless, Jackson decided to make one final film and it focuses mainly on an epic battle between men, dwarves, elves, Orcs and eagles. It's completely unnecessary, but it's mildly satisfying CGI eye candy and ultimately, it's a somewhat enjoyable conclusion to Jackson's bloated trilogy.

The Battle of the Five Armies picks up right where The Desolation of Smaug left us, with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) on his way to Lake Town and our heroes stuck at the Mountain. However, Bard (Luke Evans) manages to save the town and slay the dragon. This is not a spoiler. This happens in the first ten minutes of the movie. After that, the dwarves realize that they've won the mountain and they celebrate. Yet Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitrage), leader of the dwarves, is not impressed. First, he searches passionately for the Arkenstone, a gem that controls those who possess it. At the same time, the armies of men, Orcs, elves and even more dwarves are headed to the mountain to get their share of gold. 

While this is happening, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is stuck in a prison in some far-off land. When Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) rescue Gandalf, they realize that Sauron has burst back into the world, setting up the Lord of the Rings franchise. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) have also traveled to Gundabad to find a second army of Orcs that is moving towards the Mountain. Meanwhile, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves are preparing for a massive battle that will decide the fate of the Lonely Mountain- and the lives of many who have traveled to it. 

The Battle of the Five Armies does not even pretend to be an actually movie. It's merely here to finish off all of the extraneous storylines that Jackson mixed into this nine-hour adaptation of a children's novel, and to give us one final epic battle. But for the most part, this is a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed the way that it set up The Fellowship of the Ring and I thought that the battle scenes were pretty solid. Yet, just like the rest of the franchise, this final installment can't help but feel completely useless and unnecessary. The main story is over within the first ten minutes- Smaug is dead and the mountain belongs to the dwarves. I know that The Battle of the Five Armies is in the book, but to borrow a quote from Bilbo Baggins: "We've won the mountain. It's yours! Can't we go home?" My thoughts exactly, buddy.

What we get instead is an eclectic mix of emotionally cold CGI battle scenes and actual, genuine poignancy. The fight between Thorin and Azog the Defiler is appropriately epic and the whole final hour of the film is pretty good. Once Jackson gets going with these movies, he truly gets going. However, just like in The Desolation of Smaug, it just takes forever for the story to actually get going. The Battle of the Five Armies starts out with a bang, but drags its feet after that, spending much of the film's time with Bard, who is an interesting character, yet he's not meant to be the main focus of the film. For some reason, we end up with Bard and his annoying servant Alfrid (Ryan Gage) for quite a while.

After that, it's just a lot of waiting for the big battle to start. There's the subplot with Gandalf and Galadriel and a lot of the movie is just looking for the all-powerful Arkenstone. And once the armies start to assemble, there's a lot of talking about fighting, then a lot of standing around, waiting for people to start fighting. When the battle finally arrives, it's cool and enjoyable, but nowhere near the epic scale of The Two Towers or Return of the King. The practical fights were much more amazing than any of the CGI battles that Jackson orchestrates in this trilogy. 

The actors are all sufficient. No great performances. No bad ones. Simply fine. Any personality, fun or true depth is lost amid all the digitized fights and the constant world-building. Martin Freeman and Richard Armitrage are the one main exception. They have strong chemistry together and actually manage to achieve one genuine emotion during a critical scene at the end of the film. Yet other attempts to pull on the audiences' heartstrings come off as forced and groan-worthy, and by trying to make the audience care about useless characters, Jackson lost me a bit. 

This is also the shortest film in the Middle-earth franchise, clocking in at a still-lengthy 144 minutes. It goes pretty quickly, moving at a solid pace that doesn't feel nearly as extended as An Unexpected Journey. However, this film still feels like it's padded with twenty extra scenes that have no reason to be in the film at all. Truth is, Peter Jackson had enough material for two great movies, but he extended it to a trilogy and ended up weakening the films. I knew that going into this final installment, but it become even more clear as I watched Jackson stall the battle for most of the film's first hour. 

When it comes down to it, Peter Jackson has released the extended versions of The Hobbit films into theaters, with all the nerdy details that casual fans really didn't care about at all. I know that there still have been some extended editions for The Hobbit films, but the amount of added footage has been noticeably less than when Jackson released the extended editions for The Lord of the Rings

In the end, this is the product that we got and we have to deal with that fact. So what is my general opinion on this trilogy? It's bloated and forced and overstuffed and suffers from a multitude of issues. And yet, it still manages to capture a little bit of magic. When Howard Shore's masterful score kicked on in the background at any point during this series, I couldn't help but feel that Jackson had managed to recapture that feeling I got when I watched Lord of the Rings

Despite those brief moments of whimsy, I think it's safe to call The Hobbit trilogy an underwhelming cinematic achievement. With a glacially slow first installment, a monumentally entertaining, but still overstuffed penultimate chapter, and a third act that stalls around just to get to the battle scenes, The Hobbit trilogy didn't succeed in its goal of telling a singular story (a la Lord of the Rings). And this installment might just be the biggest mixed bag of the series, as there's simply too much of everything.

In the end, there's no denying the entertainment value that The Hobbit franchise brings to the table, especially in this massively epic conclusion. The nearly hour-long Battle of the Five Armies is big, bold and accompanied by some truly great individual fight scenes. It's a good way to close out this trilogy and I think that Jackson hit his stride a couple times during this film. It's safe to say that if you enjoyed the first few installments in this series, you'll love this one as well. If you hated the other films, you won't be swayed this time around. And if you're like me, and you fall somewhere in the middle, you'll probably find this to be an excessive final chapter, but one that closes out the series well nonetheless.

Note: I saw this film in IMAX 3D. I don't think you have to see it in that format. It gave me a crushing headache at times during the film, for whatever reason. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.9/10)

Image Credits: Movie Pilot, The One Ring, NY Daily News, Business Insider, Moviefone, Screen Rant

'Into the Woods' review

Movie musicals are few and far between at this point, yet we're still getting two alone this Holiday season. Not many fans are looking forward to Sony's Annie, which has received ghastly reviews so far. But fans of movie musicals are definitely anticipating Disney's Into the Woods, the Oscar contender from Chicago director Rob Marshall. Based on the beloved fairy tale show by Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods is a dark and revisionist take on a group of classic fables. Although it never works as a whole, Into the Woods features many admirable parts including terrific music and lyrics, strong performances and great production design. The second act is a mixed bag and the film is pretty forgettable in the end, but if you're looking for a solid film for kids this Christmas, Into the Woods might be a decent choice.

Into the Woods follows a group of classic fairy tale characters including The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Prince Charming (Chris Pine), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) and an evil witch (Meryl Streep). All of these characters head into the woods to find certain items and get what they wish for. However, just as it appears that everything is coming to a happy close, the darkness and reality of the world seeps in and happily ever after might not be a possibility.

I'm not a huge fan of movie musicals, but I can very much enjoy a well-made one (I count Singin' in the Rain as one of my all-time favorite films). I was hopeful for Into the Woods because I had heard so many good things about this show over the years and I was intrigued to see what Disney would do with such a risque and interesting property. And yet, even a week after watching this film, I still don't quite know what to think of it. I very much enjoyed the first act and all of its light and enjoyable musical fun. And I liked the idea of the second act, but I thought that the execution was off.

The actors all do a very good job of bringing these characters to life and do a terrific job with the singing as well. Emily Blunt and James Corden anchor the film and give the most nuanced and insightful performances. They're the only characters that we really get to understand in this ensemble cast of actors and I was quite impressed by both of them. Anna Kendrick is also good as Cinderella and she has quite a bit to do in the second act. Johnny Depp really surprised me after his stretch of awful movies that has wrecked his career over the last few years. He's delightfully sick as the slightly pervy wolf and I thought he was great. Chris Pine also is brilliant and his show-stopping musical number makes the film so much more fun.

The two kids in the cast, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, get off to a rocky start with the singing, but they're terrific in the second act. Surprisingly, Meryl Streep is the weak link in the cast. Maybe her character was just terribly underdeveloped, or maybe Streep was just too over-the-top, but I just didn't think she was all that great. She certainly doesn't deserve all the accolades that she has received for her performances.

Into the Woods is also a beautiful-looking film, with great costumes and stunning sets. The production design by Dennis Gassner is dark and interesting, and it does some fun stuff with what could have ended up being just another stuffy period piece. He could definitely get an Oscar for his work here. I had heard rumors that Colleen Atwood's costume designs were brilliant going in and I was definitely impressed by her work. The costumes are an intriguing mix of classic period garb and more modern clothes.

It's not honestly surprising that this is a well-written musical as well, considering that it was written by James Lapine, with music by Sondheim (both of whom created the Broadway production). Not only did I enjoy the big show-stopping numbers, I was also amazed by Sondheim's rhythmic flow in the dialogue, which adds quite a bit to the movie, especially in the mostly music-free second act. With those two principle players on board as well, I wasn't shocked that this also truly felt like a musical. This is a real musical, with dialogue that is mostly expressed through singing. I really liked that director Rob Marshall stuck to the musical elements and created this film the way it was originally made on Broadway.

Despite all of those terrific elements, this film just doesn't work as a cohesive whole. There's a lot going on for a 125 minute film and it hurts the film in the character development department. You never truly understand the motives of some characters and it becomes problematic at a point. The second act was also pretty dicey in my opinion. Some interesting things happen, but it's a jarring shift of tone and pace that will likely leave audiences puzzled. The twist that the film takes about half-way is good, but it leads to a second act that feels anti-climatic, bland and not all that satisfying.

Into the Woods mocks the idea of a happy ending with a last-minute twist just when everything seems to be ending well. I liked the idea of that, but I didn't like the direction that the film took after that. It's devoid of all the fun of the first act and the darkness isn't exactly that appealing. Everything happens so suddenly and so quickly that I wasn't even sure what the film was trying to say. I was never bored, but I found the second act to be troubling and I thought that the film's climax was completely unsatisfying. However, I did think that the ending of the film was strong and I enjoyed some of the last-minute choices made by the filmmakers.

Into the Woods is a film that I won't remember for very long, but I did enjoy it quite a bit while I was watching it. The performances are good and the music is unsurprisingly strong, yet the second act stops the film in its tracks. This is not a great film, but it's certainly a good one and I think that movie musical fans and families will probably enjoy it the most. I found quite a bit to enjoy with this one and the more I think about it, the more I like it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.9/10)

Image Credits: Hitfix, Flicks and Bits, NY Daily News, EW, We Are Movie Geeks

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Broadcast Film Critics Association reveals the nominations for the Critics Choice Awards

After the SAG Award nominations and the reveal of the Golden Globe nominations late last week, the BFCA (Broadcast Film Critics Association) revealed their nominations today for the best films of the year. With many unique categories (Best Action Movie, Best Rising Star, etc), the Critics Choice Awards is one of the more intriguing award shows around. The show is also an important Oscar precursor, dropping lots of hints about who could be nominated in January. Without further delay, here are the nominees for the 2014 Critics Choice Awards:


Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything


Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay, Selma
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
Richard Linklater, Boyhood


Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything


Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild


Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash


Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer


The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods


Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giaccobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash


Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, Unbroken
Nick Hornby, Wild


Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Interstellar
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins, Unbroken


The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods


Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione, Birdman
Sandra Adair, Boyhood
Kirk Baxter, Gone Girl
Lee Smith, Interstellar
Tom Cross, Whiplash


Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice
Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods
Anna B. Sheppard, Maleficent
Jacqueline Durran, Mr. Turner


Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Into the Woods


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Big Hero 6
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie


American Sniper
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy


Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow
Chris Evans, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Brad Pitt, Fury
Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy


Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow
Scarlett Johannson, Lucy
Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1
Zoe Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy
Shailene Woodley, Divergent


The Grand Budapest Hotel
St. Vincent
Top Five
22 Jump Street


Jon Favreau, Chef
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Bill Murray, St. Vincent
Chris Rock, Top Five
Channing Tatum, 22 Jump Street


Rose Byrne, Neighbors
Rosario Dawson, Top Five
Melissa McCarthy, St. Vincent
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Kristen Wiig, The Skeleton Twins


The Babadook
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Under the Skin


Force Majeure
Two Days, One Night
Wild Tales


Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me
Jodorowsky's Dune
Last Days in Vietnam
Life Itself
The Overnighters


"Big Eyes" from Big Eyes
"Everything is Awesome" from The LEGO Movie
"Glory" from Selma
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again
"Yellow Flicker Beat" from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1


Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Johann Johannson, The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez, Birdman
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar


Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood
Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars
Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar
Jaeden Lieberher, St. Vincent
Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Quvenzhane Wallis, Annie
Noah Wiseman, The Babadook

After sorting through these nominations, I'm not sure how I really feel. For one, I'm ecstatic that the BFCA decided to recognize some of my favorite films of the year. Interstellar may not have been nominated in many of the big categories, but it received plenty of nominations and Gone Girl was well-represented as well. I also enjoyed seeing the love for Snowpiercer and Nightcrawler and the fact that The Grand Budapest Hotel received the second-most nominations (11). But it gets to the point where there's almost too many categories. Almost every major 2014 film received recognition here somewhere, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. In the end, this won't majorly affect the Oscar race, but it's interesting nonetheless.