Sunday, May 31, 2015

'San Andreas' surprises with $53.2 million, 'Aloha' lukewarm in 6th place at weekend box office

After a Memorial Day weekend that disappointed many in Hollywood, the box office roared back to life this weekend with the arrival of Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema's San Andreas. The Dwayne Johnson-led picture grossed a spectacular $53.2 million, which was well above most expectations. The epic disaster picture was tracking around $40 million, but thanks to the star power of The Rock, the film was able to fight its way to a much more impressive debut. Although critics are mostly giving the cheesy disaster film a soft pass, audiences seemed to enjoy themselves, handing San Andreas an "A-" Cinemascore. The film's budget has not been officially revealed by the studio, but thanks to Forbes, we know that the budget is just over $100 million. Not bad at all, and with an additional $60 million in international grosses, San Andreas' global total is standing at a mighty $113.2 million. Look for a finish around $400-$450 million. It's not a bad film at all, and if you're bored at any point during the summer, San Andreas might be a good way to pass the time.

Universal's sleeper hit Pitch Perfect 2 continued its spectacular run in second place with $14.3 million, down only 53.3% from last weekend. The musical/comedy has snagged $147.5 million at the domestic box office and is working its way to a total around $180 million. For a film that cost very little, that's incredibly impressive. Once again, props to Universal for knocking this one out of the park.

Disney's Tomorrowland has certainly seen less success. The $190 million sci-fi extravaganza opened poorly in its debut frame, and plummeted 58.2% to third place this weekend. The film took in $13.8 million and has grossed a total of $63.1 in the US. For an original sci-fi film, that's not terrible, but with that budget, Disney needed something much, much better. The repercussions of this disappointment are already being felt on the Disney lot, with Tron 3 being shelved by the Mouse House.

Mad Max: Fury Road, on the other hand, is definitely not a disappointment. George Miller's 3D postapocalyptic epic rolled into theaters off a wave of terrific buzz, and in the weeks since its opening, the film has been incredibly impressive. Fury Road finished in fourth place this weekend, and pulled in another $13.6 million. The fourth installment in the Mad Max franchise has now grossed an astonishing $115.9 million. Look for a final total around $150 million.

Just behind Fury Road was Disney's Avengers: Age of Ultron, which grossed $10.9 million in its fifth weekend of release. The superhero sequel's total now stands at $427 million and it's likely that the film will climb to $450 million. Certainly lower than the original, but still mighty impressive. In sixth place was Cameron Crowe's Aloha, the only other major release of the week. The Hawaii-set romantic comedy grossed $10 million, which is probably not what Sony was hoping for. However, in the aftermath of incredibly negative buzz from leaked Sony emails and horrific reviews (17% on Rotten Tomatoes), the studio couldn't have had huge expectations for this film. And with a poor "B-" Cinemascore, it's likely that Aloha will tap out around $30 million.

Poltergeist was the only other film that made much money this weekend, grossing $7.8 million in seventh place. The poorly received horror flick has now made $38.2 million. Not much, but then again, the film didn't cost more than $30 million to make. Poltergeist should finish around $55 million. Far From the Madding Crowd, Hot Pursuit and Home rounded out the top ten.

Next weekend sees the release of Entourage on Wednesday, Spy and Insidious- Chapter 3. It should be a big weekend. Here are my predictions:

1. Spy- $51.5 million
2. Insidious- Chapter 3- $36 million
3. San Andreas- $24.9 million
4. Entourage- $13 million ($18 million Five-Day)
5. Mad Max: Fury Road- $8 million
6. Pitch Perfect 2- $7.7 million
7. Tomorrowland- $6.8 million
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron- $6.6 million
9. Aloha- $4.9 million
10. Poltergeist- $4.5 million

Image Credits: Variety, Deadline, Slate

Friday, May 29, 2015

'San Andreas' review

In my family, we created a term called "the perfect HBO movie." The qualifications are- it has to be dumb, it has to have a terrible script, it has to be overrun by a ridiculous amount of CGI, and it has to be entertaining. For my dad and brother, this category would include films like Battleship and Cowboys and Aliens. For me, I would put in 300: Rise of an Empire and the G.I. Joe franchise. San Andreas is the perfect HBO movie. This visual effects driven symphony is marred by an atrocious screenplay, a bevy of laughable moments and some truly idiotic character development, yet ultimately, is still a highly entertaining film at times. The disaster scenes are appropriately epic and the film is professionally made by Brad Peyton, with a superstar performance from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. It's certainly not a good movie, but there's enough fun to be had with San Andreas to warrant a viewing at some point.

Chief Raymond Gaines (Johnson) is one of the Los Angeles Fire Department's most prolific rescue pilots, documenting over 600 rescues in Los Angeles and Afghanistan. But he also has a struggling family life- his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), is requesting a divorce and moving in with her boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), while their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) is caught in the middle. Gaines is pulled apart from his family and despite his constant heroism in the field, his life is becoming a bit difficult.

However, life as the world knows it changes when a big Earthquake hits the Hoover Dam, destroying the dam completely and killing one of the world's premiere seismologists. His partner, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), sees something more terrifying with the quake and he believes that the entire San Andreas fault could go off. Of course, it does eventually and all sorts of disaster related mayhem ensues. After daringly rescuing Emma in Los Angeles, Ray teams up with her to fly to San Francisco to save their daughter as the world collapses around them.

I think I might have laughed in San Andreas as much as I did in Spy. That's nothing against Melissa McCarthy's truly hysterical special agent comedy (it's one of the best films of the year so far)- it just shows how freakin' ridiculous San Andreas is. Cheesy dialogue, cliched characters and some laughable disaster scenes flow throughout San Andreas to the point where I was audibly laughing in the theater. But that's not to say that this is a bad movie. Entertaining and slickly made to a fault, San Andreas will entertain its target audience and maybe even a few other people thanks to the movie-star charm of Dwayne Johnson. It's a rather forgettable flick, but there's a little bit of summer fun to be had with San Andreas.

The one thing about movies like this that I love is that they always feature good actors saying really, really dumb lines. San Andreas is no exception. The Rock does his usual stuff, but Paul Giamatti and Carla Gugino get some of the worst of the script. It doesn't help that screenwriters Carlton Cuse, Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore pump the script with as many absurd, disaster movie cliches as possible. Lost daughter, dead daughter, evil step dad, divorced couple- this feels like a rehash of 2012 restricted to the state of California.

The screenplay is atrocious, but I feel like director Brad Peyton tried to inject this movie with as much of a sense of fun as possible. The disaster scenes are big and absurd, and there were some moments that I thought were simply hysterical. Here's a few:

                         -A woman drives a car off a cliff, flips it like ten times and survives.
                         -Giant pieces of concrete fall on people and smash them to smithereens.
                         -In a restaurant, a chef runs out on fire, screaming. It's horrifically amusing.
                         -A giant battleship rises above the ocean and crashes through 2 skyscrapers.

There is more hilarious content to be found in San Andreas, but those were the examples that stuck out to me. The film constructs this serious tone, yet it's so rampantly over-the-top that it's funny. Dwayne Johnson and the rest of the cast try to keep a straight face through all of the laughable moments and they carry the film at times. However, other times feature some truly awful acting and even charismatic actors like Johnson and Gugino can't carry this film past mediocrity.

The disaster scenes and visual effects are appropriately massive, with giant cracks in the ground, huge tsunamis, big buildings falling, and more of the usual disaster stuff. The film is filled with all sorts of CGI and I sincerely doubt that many of the effects were done practically. In fact, the most thrilling scenes are a parachute scene in the middle of San Francisco and the daring rescue that begins the movie- the only scenes that might have been done practically. But for the most part, I was incredibly impressed by the CGI and the glossy look of the film.

In all honesty, I don't have too much more to say about San Andreas. It's a fun movie. Nothing more. Nothing less. The script is horrific and the cliches run rampant throughout, but there's enough disastrous action of epic proportions to go around. It's not one of the most memorable films of the year and you definitely have to know what you're getting into with this movie, but amid all of its flaws, San Andreas is a decently entertaining film.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                             (6.4/10)

Image Credits: Deadline, Huffington Post, Deadline, Variety

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chris Pine to star as Steve Trevor in DC's 'Wonder Woman'

Warner Bros.' DC Cinematic Universe is practically a living, breathing mess right now. The first trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a tonal misfire, displaying a dark and grim world that nobody really seemed interested in. Everything that we've seen from Suicide Squad beside the Joker's car has been bizarre, with a cast picture that made me truly question my excitement for that film. And finally, there have been widespread reports of dysfunction within the script department of many DC films, with several writers working on multiple drafts of different scripts at the same time. Baffling stuff and definitely concerning for all DC fans. However, casting is a key element of everything and DC picked up an important piece this week for their upcoming Wonder Woman adaptation.

Earlier this week, Variety broke the news that Chris Pine will play Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman. The role was originally thought to have been snagged by Scott Eastwood, but it turns out that he opted for a supporting role in Suicide Squad instead. Trevor will be the main love interest for Gal Gadot's and I cannot think of anybody more perfect for the part than Chris Pine. While I would have liked to see him play Green Lantern, I feel like this will be an equally good opportunity. Although Pine had a career setback last year with the doomed reboot of Jack Ryan, he's still one of Hollywood's most talented and charismatic actors. Anybody who can breathe new life into Captain Kirk is good in my book. Wonder Woman is set for release on June 23, 2017 and will be directed by Patty Jenkins.

Image Credits: Flickering Myth

'Good Kill' review

Drones are steeped in controversy to say the least. This intriguing new technology has the potential to do a lot of good for us, but there are the questions of ethics, Constitutional rights and just basic human dignity. Just like Ex Machina tackled artificial intelligence with a fresh spin last month, Good Kill does the same for drone strikes. It's far from a perfect film- it can be a bit repetitive and it doesn't quite have the impact that it should. But at the same time, Good Kill is a fascinating character study and one of the most compelling war films I've seen in some time. Anchored by a stellar performance from Ethan Hawke, a somber, haunting atmosphere and some extremely tense moments, Good Kill is a film that works on so many levels.

Tommy Egan (Hawke) is an esteemed Air Force Major who flew six tours during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But after a while, the Air Force doesn't need pilots- they need drone strike operators. Tommy is stationed in Las Vegas, NV and at the start of the movie, he's already starting to question his morally shady job. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood) knows that drones are the future and M.I.C. Joseph Zimmer (Jake Abel) is assured that we're doing the right thing, but Tommy and his assistant, Vera Suarez (Zoe Kravitz), are less sure about things. After the Air Force team starts to conduct missions for the CIA, the gray area becomes even bigger as the civilian casualties increase.

But every night after killing droves of Taliban for the Air Force, Tommy gets to go home to his wife (January Jones) and kids. What seems like a pleasant life for a military officer begins to cause Tommy's life to completely unravel, as the moral intensity of the job starts to swarm him. Through alcohol, abuse and depression, Tommy's life becomes a living hell and he must find a way to cope with his actions and decisions to become stronger once again.

Most war films have quiet moments, but also scenes of explosive violence that will get your blood pumping. Good Kill is not that film. While Tommy's breakdown is handled with intensity, Good Kill is, for the most part, a quiet, chilling film. The soundtrack eerily channels the moral ambiguity of drone strikes and Ethan Hawke's chilly, distant performance highlights the mental wear and tear of being in a war zone by day and with your family by night. Mix that with the stunning locales of Las Vegas and the superb pacing of the film and Good Kill becomes one of the more satisfying recent war films.

Director Andrew Niccol helms Good Kill with a solemn intensity that pervades throughout every scene of the film, but he also injects an interesting political statement that will undoubtedly get people talking. Niccol contrasts the positives and negatives of drone strikes, but pretty much falls firmly on the side that drones are wrong. Bruce Greenwood's Johns and Abel's Zimmer both seem to be in favor of the strikes at different points, but even though come around to the negative side of things.

However, Niccol manages to get his message across without making everything sound super preachy. From scene one, the ethics of drone strikes are questioned, but the focus of the film is always character. Tommy Egan is a character who the audience can really care about and Hawke's performance gives extra layers to Tommy. There was never any question in my mind that Tommy was a good man. He cares about his family and wife, but his job just doesn't allow him to express that. One of the major faults of the film is that it never allows for Tommy to be a nice family guy before the drone strikes take a toll on him. Good Kill hits early and hard, with very little room for Tommy to not be an emotionally damaged mess.

But for every one of the film's failings, there's an equally stellar moment that makes Good Kill memorable. Niccol specializes in sci-fi thrillers and Good Kill definitely has that sort of tone and feel to it. Maybe it's just the Las Vegas setting or Christophe Beck's atmospheric score that mixes rock music and chilling beats well, but Good Kill felt like a unique addition to the war genre with a bit of a sci-fi twist. The film plays out like a video game movie and that's mostly because drone strikes are video games with real life consequences. That was an interesting little theme that Niccol added to the movie, and there's an absolutely perfect moment in the film where Tommy goes home and turns off his son's copy of Call of Duty. Subtle things like that mix well with the occasionally heavy-handed moralizing, making Good Kill a layered experience.

Repetition is always a problem in war movies, and Good Kill falls victim to this flaw as well. After all, how many times can you show people getting blown up by drone strikes in different scenarios before it starts to get old? Despite that repetition, Good Kill manages to vary the scenes enough that each scene feels like a big moral question that can't be answered. It's not a perfect way to solve the problems of the film, but Good Kill balances the disturbing action with enough character to get by.

Well directed and made by Niccol and led by a first class performance from Ethan Hawke, Good Kill mixes a well-developed character study with a compelling look at the controversial topic of drone strikes. It might not be the most perfect war film ever made, but the atmosphere, tone and the charismatic performances of the stars make Good Kill one to watch. Disturbing and provocative, Good Kill dips its toes into a genre that we will likely be seeing a lot of in the next few years.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.7/10)

Image Credits: Roger Ebert, Variety, Hollywood Reporter

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Director Cary Fukunaga departs adaptation of Stephen King's 'It'

Stephen King is one of the few authors who can still create original and chilling horror and movie adaptations of his books have been quite effective at times. The Shining, It, The Shawkshank Redemption- in a variety of genres, King's ambitious books have made for good movies. Director Cary Fukunaga, the director of HBO's hit show True Detective, was set to direct a massive two-part adaptation of King's It, which tells the multi-generational story of a group of children haunted by the evil clown Pennywise. King approved of Fukunaga's vision and New Line Cinema was ready to go into production this summer. Unfortunately, it looks like we won't be seeing Fukunaga's film any time soon- or possibly ever.

The Wrap reported this weekend that Fukunaga has officially departed the horror project after a series of clashes with New Line. Fukunaga seemingly fought with the studio over everything- budget, stars, shooting locations, etc. The first film in the two-part series was greenlit at $30 million, which was less than what Fukunaga desired. He also wanted to shoot in New York, one of the more expensive possible shooting locations. And finally, Fukunaga had cast We're the Millers and Maze Runner star Will Poulter as Pennywise, the demonic clown who stars in the film. The studio reportedly wanted Ben Mendelsohn, but the actor wouldn't take the necessary pay cut. All of this has prompted Fukunaga to leave the film and it isn't clear as to whether New Line will hire a new director any time soon. I have to say, I'm pretty disappointed by all of this. What sounded like an interesting and ambitious adaptation is not going to happen due to more studio cuts, which is just kinda sad. Hopefully New Line can find another director to bring their unique vision to It sometime soon.

Source: The Wrap

Monday, May 25, 2015

'Tomorrowland' leads disappointing Memorial Day Weekend with $40.7 million

For the last two years, Memorial Day Weekend has seen the debut of some of the year's biggest box office heavyweights. In 2013, we had the three-way battle between Fast and Furious 6, The Hangover Part III and Epic, and last year, X-Men: Days of Future Past made a pretty tidy profit. The same can't be said for this year. With only two middling releases that didn't gain much traction, this was a pretty lackluster Memorial Day frame. Disney's Tomorrowland, budgeted at $190 million, opened in first place with $40.7 million over the long weekend. That was well below industry projections of $50 million+ and another major hit for Disney. Buzz on Tomorrowland was strong for a while, but negative reviews and a very vague marketing campaign led the film to be another disappointment for the studio. Word of mouth was poor as well- the film received a "B" Cinemascore from audiences, which is very unenthusiastic. Disney will survive this blow, but after John Carter, Prince of Persia and even The Sorcerer's Apprentice, it might be time to stop these big-budget live-action films.

Pitch Perfect 2 held very well and stayed in second place, with $37.9 million over the holiday. The A Cappella comedy has now grossed $125.4 million and could skyrocket as high as $200 million. This has been a banner year for Universal so far, and with the continued success of Pitch Perfect 2 and the strong tracking for Jurassic World, I can see Universal taking the overall box office crown for this year. Right behind Pitch Perfect 2 in third place was Mad Max: Fury Road, which grossed $30 million this weekend, enough to raise its total to $93.4 million. Word of mouth has been carrying this one and I can see Fury Road staying long enough to hit $150 million. It's an absolutely brilliant film and I'm so glad that it's doing well at the box office.

The other new release of the weekend was Fox's Poltergeist. The $35 million horror picture took in $27.7 million, which is a decent debut. I'm honestly not sure if it was a good idea to open so close to Insidious- Chapter 3, but Poltergeist is also not a very good movie, so that certainly didn't help things. Critics weren't enthusiastic and neither were audiences- the film was awarded a terrible "C+" Cinemascore. With a plethora of other films in the marketplace, I doubt that we'll hear much about Poltergeist again.

Avengers: Age of Ultron rounded out the top five with a very solid $26.7 million. The box office phenomenon crossed the $400 million mark this weekend, and it's total now stands at $409.9 million. It pales in comparison to the original film, but Age of Ultron is doing just fine on its own. The film should close with around $475 million in the US.

Next weekend, we'll see the debut of two new films- Dwayne Johnson's disaster blockbuster San Andreas and Cameron Crowe's Aloha. Here are my predictions:

1. San Andreas- $37 million
2. Pitch Perfect 2- $19.5 million
3. Mad Max; Fury Road- $17 million
4. Aloha- $14.8 million
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron- $14.6 million
6. Poltergeist- $12 million
7. Hot Pursuit- $2 million
8. Far From the Madding Crowd- $1.9 million
9. Furious 7- $1.4 million
10. Home- $900K

Image Credits: YouTube, Pelis Pelis Pelis

Sunday, May 24, 2015

'Tomorrowland' review

Tomorrowland is an optimistic film for a deeply cynical world. While most sci-fi films spend their time looking at a bleak and dark version of the future, Tomorrowland wants us to look forward to the future in the same way that we did in the 1950s and 60s- with wonder and excitement. Director Brad Bird and screenwriter Damon Lindeof clearly believe in these ideals and they inject them into every scene of Tomorrowland. It's a great message and one that could inspire a new generation of kids to get involved with science, but when your entire movie is one big sermon about how great optimism can be, there starts to be a problem. Tomorrowland has fantastic moments, but never really hits its stride. I liked and admired what Bird was going for, but the heavy-handed approach and methodical pacing make this a difficult film to truly enjoy.

In 1964, a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) creates a prototype for a jetpack and takes it to the World's Fair. He puts his invention up for a contest, where he is immediately shot down by David Nix (Hugh Laurie). However, Athena (Rafey Cassidy) sees potential in Frank and tells him to follow her to Tomorrowland. Frank boards It's a Small World! and ends up being transported through some sort of portal to Tomorrowland thanks to a magic pin that Athena gave him. Nix accepts him into the futuristic utopia and everything is fine for a while. "But then it all went to hell...." says Frank, now a middle-aged inventor (played by George Clooney) living in exile from Tomorrowland.

After that brief prologue, we flash-forward to the present day, where ambitious young scientist Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is trying to stop the total destruction of a NASA platform. Although she bends the rules and gets into a lot of trouble, Casey has a fearless sense of hope that makes her a perfect fit to help enact Athena's master plan to save Tomorrowland. While being pursued by a group of relentless robots, Casey, Athena and Frank must find a way to get to the world of tomorrow and uncover the secrets behind the most reclusive society in the world.

To really enjoy this movie, you're going to have to buy into certain things. Back when Interstellar came out late last year, some people thought that the ending was preposterous and that the whole "power of love" theme was absurd. But I bought into it, loved the film and accepted everything that Nolan threw at me. With Tomorrowland, despite my best attempts, I struggled to accept some things. Maybe it's just that I'm a cold and cynical person, but when Casey made one hopeful statement and suddenly, Frank's doomsday clock dropped from 100% chance of certain death to 99.5%, I held back laughter. Much of Tomorrowland feels like something that a hippie from the 1960s would tell people if they let him give a speech- "Get rid of all that negativity, man, and it'll be totally far out."

That's not to say that Bird and Lindelof's message is inherently bad. It's good to think positive about things, but it's not the key to saving the world. And while I understand that Tomorrowland is a children's movie meant to make them optimistic about the future, I think that even some kids will find this movie to be a bit laborious. To fully get the message, these kids are going to have to make it through the whole movie first, and that might be a difficult task. Tomorrowland has great moments, strong performances and some fantastic setpieces, but man, this thing can be a slog to get through at times.

The fact that Tomorrowland is tonally catastrophic doesn't help either. Certain scenes have a level of maturity that is quite surprising, while others are goofy fun. For a film about how great optimism is, the third act is morally dark and quite heavy for a kids movie, and that could be a struggle for some parents. Tomorrowland asks big moral questions, but unlike a smarter movie like Ex Machina, it doesn't choose to leave those questions ambiguous. This isn't a movie that asks the audience to ponder its thematic implications after leaving the theater. It pretty much believes that it knows the answers and gives them to the audience without much thought. That was problematic for me.

I struggled with the pacing of this film as well. Tomorrowland moves in bursts, occasionally shooting forward at a very fast pace before staying stagnant for a while. It takes forever to actually get to Tomorrowland, and once we get there, there's not all that much to be engaged by. Tomorrowland sacrifices several things that could have potentially been interesting in favor of finding ways to convey its message. Make no mistake about it- Tomorrowland is a message movie and everything is centered around making sure that its message is pounded into the audience's skull.

As a piece of entertainment, Tomorrowland is flawed, but has some flourishes and touches that I really enjoyed. The film's visual palette is very much that of a Saturday morning serial film and I love that Bird continually channels that in every film that he does. The score by Michael Giacchino is brilliant and I'm a sucker for stuff inspired by 1950s sci-fi, so there were obviously some things that I found to enjoy. This movie really feels like a Close Encounters/Spielberg sci-fi film at times and that's a very high compliment.

The performances are very strong, and at times, the actors manage to carry the movie. Clooney gives Frank a world-weary quality that balances well with Robertson's bouncy, energetic performance as Casey. Tim McGraw and Hugh Laurie also do solid work, but the true star of this film is Rafey Cassidy. With a significant chunk of screen time and a big part, Cassidy could have been overwhelmed by the whole affair. But she was really up to the task here and I thought that she did a phenomenal job.

In all honesty, I don't exactly know how to feel about Tomorrowland. I know this review has seemed harsh, but I did enjoy much of this film. Bird constructed a half-decent sci-fi movie that is unfortunately undone by its sermonizing nature and its occasionally glacial pace. The cast is good, the visuals are great and I really liked what Bird was going for, but ultimately, I feel like he made the wrong movie. This is far from a bad film and there are some fantastic sequences, yet it just never comes together in the way that I wanted it to.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.8/10)

Image Credits: Slash Film, Hollywood Reporter, Slash Film, YouTube, Pelis Pelis Pelis

Friday, May 22, 2015

'Poltergeist' review

Horror remakes have to be some of the most despised projects in Hollywood. Critics and fans often hate it when new filmmakers take on classics, and I can't give you too many instances where a remake has worked out well. Poltergeist will not start a new trend. While the final twenty minutes hint at an action/horror hybrid that could have been much more entertaining, Poltergeist is still fairly stuck within the confines of the haunted house genre. Down on their luck family, weird kids, spooky house- you know the deal here. Mix that with a bunch of terrible CGI and the fact that this film doesn't have any genuine scares and Poltergeist falls firmly into bland, tedious territory. Sam Rockwell is solid and Jared Harris comes close to saving the movie at the end, but Poltergeist still isn't worth your time.

Eric Bowen (Rockwell) was a successful businessman who worked for John Deere Corporate at one point, but now, he's lost his job and is being forced to move into a middle class neighborhood with his family. His wife, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), wants to make the best of the situation and his youngest daughter, Madison, (Kennedi Clements) loves the new house, but his other two kids- Kendra and Griffin (Saxon Sharbino and Kyle Catlett)- are not so pleased. Kendra's the typical angsty teenager, while Griffin is scared of pretty much everything. However, Griffin might actually be on to something, as the Bowens' new house is actually occupied by some really angry spirits. Madison gets captured by the poltergeist in the house, and in desperation, the Bowens call on a group of paranormal investigators, led by Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris), to find Madison and stop the poltergeist from ever harming their family again.

There are numerous problems with this movie. But Poltergeist's biggest downfall is that it isn't scary, or even creepy. The jump scares are obvious and the film's reliance on CGI effects and haunted house cliches becomes tiresome after a while. Poltergeist can't escape the fact that it's basically a less interesting version of The Conjuring, and with a PG-13 rating, there's simply not much that this movie can do to be compelling as a horror film. But as a horror action hybrid, similar to things that director Gil Kenan has done in the past, I feel like this would have been a much better movie.

Kenan directed 2006's Monster House, which is a movie that I haven't watched in ages, but I remember it being one of my favorite films at the time. It was a creepy, fun ride and that's what I wanted Poltergeist to be. And there are flashes of that. Although the final 20 minutes rely way too much on some of the worst CGI I've seen in decades, the film becomes creepily fun and I was quite enjoying myself. I also liked the retro suburban vibe that the film gave off, and it felt similar to what Kenan did with Monster House. But those flashes are few and far between compared to the ridiculous amount of horror cliches thrown at us throughout this film's 93 minute runtime.

I thought Kenan did an okay job directing this film, but I thought the script by David Lindsay-Abaire was horrible. All of the characters (except for Maddie) have some sort of despicable flaw that makes it really hard to like them. Besides the fact that they're living on top of a cemetery, the Bowen family's house is not all that bad. It's a nice, middle-class house, but throughout the entire movie, all they do is complain about how it sucks and how their life is terrible and it just goes on and on and on. They just come off as spoiled brats and it makes them sorta unlikable.

Let's talk about the kids in this movie. Maddie is tolerable- high energy and still cliched, but I liked her the most. Griffin is the typical weird horror movie kid. You take one look at this kid, and you can immediately tell that he's gonna be the first one to notice something wrong. And Kendra is just a spoiled brat, the typical angry teenager type. None of them are particularly compelling, but I will say that even though I didn't like Griffin, he does at least have an arc of some sorts and that was effective.

The dramatic burden of this movie falls on the adult actors- Rockwell, DeWitt and Harris. The former two are solid, never doing anything to wow me but serving their purpose. But when Harris comes in, he comes close to saving the whole movie. He just gives the whole thing an air of credibility that feels missing from the rest of the film. He only has maybe fifteen minutes of screen time, but those fifteen minutes are by far the most enjoyable in the film. Why the screenwriters decided to bring a different group of paranormal investigators in before bringing in Harris' character is beyond me.

But unfortunately, even Harris can't save Poltergeist from mediocrity. Whatever upside he brings to the film, the atrocious CGI takes it right away. There wasn't a single convincing special effect in this movie and it all appeared to be rushed and ill-conceived. The ghosts are just skeletal blobs and the big action scenes don't even look realistic at all. It's also obvious that the filmmakers know that the visual effects are bad. The scenes are done with quick editing and camera motions that are meant to distract you from what's actually on screen. The dimension where the poltergeist lives has to be one of the most fake CGI worlds in recent memory, and that's why they only go in there with this stupid little drone thing that feels totally out of place. With more practical effects and low-budget scares, we could have seen a better movie.

Poltergeist isn't a terrible film. I've seen worse this year and there are moments where I genuinely enjoyed myself. But by playing it safe and going the usual haunted house route, the film ends up being dull, tedious and just unenjoyable in general. Harris and Rockwell are a good team, but a lack of scares, poor character development and bad CGI bring Poltergeist right back down to Earth. I was never invested, interested or fascinated by what was going on in the film. And the fact that there was the potential for something better makes me even more sad.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.5/10)

Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Screen Rant, Variety, The Dissolve, JoBlo

Paramount sets 'World War Z' sequel for June 2017

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

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

Image Credits: Schmoes Know

Thursday, May 21, 2015

'Entourage' review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.6/10)

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

'Slow West' review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.5/10)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Comic

Sunday, May 17, 2015

'Mad Max: Fury Road' review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.1/10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Variety, ET Online

Saturday, May 16, 2015

'Ex Machina' review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.4/10)

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

Friday, May 15, 2015

'The Fault in Our Stars' director Josh Boone to helm X-Men spin-off 'The New Mutants'

It's the end of an era in the X-Men franchise. After director Bryan Singer finishes his final mutant epic, X-Men: Apocalypse, and once Hugh Jackman dons the claws in Wolverine 3 for the last time, both men will be departing the franchise. These two superstars kick-started the X-Men series in 2000 with the first major Marvel superhero movie and seventeen years later, they're finally wrapping it up. After righting the wrongs of the franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past and hopefully giving us two more epic adventures, this feels like the right thing to do. Jackman is 46 years old now and while he probably has the physique and the work ethic to keep playing Wolverine until he's 90, I'm glad that he's moving on to other adventures. He's a fantastic actor and I know he'll pick some good projects down the line. As for Singer, despite his public scandals, he's done a fabulous job with the X-Men franchise and is leaving it in infinitely better shape than when he started.

But for 20th Century Fox, this franchise must continue in one way or another. The studio relies on the X-Men series as their biggest cash cow and there's no way that the departure of two men will stop this multi-billion dollar franchise. And while the immediate future of Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Xavier, Magneto and other popular mutants is still uncertain, Fox has found their man to direct their X-Men spin-off film The New Mutants. This project is still in early development, but Deadline has confirmed that Fault in Our Stars director Josh Boone will be the one to direct the film. Simon Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner will produce the film. Fox still has Deadpool, Gambit and the final two Singer/Jackman X-Men films to worry about first, but Boone's film will certainly come out before 2020. I don't know much about the New Mutants, but I do know that Boone is an incredibly talented director and that Fox is lucky to have him. He did a fantastic job with Fault in Our Stars and I'm glad that he's getting the chance to direct a film like this. Stay tuned for more info on The New Mutants, but for now, you can get your next X-Men fix on February 12, 2016, when Deadpool hits theaters. 

Diego Luna set to star in 'Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One'

The amazing world of Star Wars continues to grow......

After snagging director Gareth Edwards, The Theory of Everything star Felicity Jones, Sam Clafin, Riz Ahmed and acclaimed character actor Ben Mendelsohn, Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One has now added another major star to the mix. Diego Luna, best known for Elysium and Milk, will star alongside those other acclaimed actors in Rogue One, the Star Wars Anthology film set to focus on the Rebel heist of the Death Star plans. According to Variety, Luna will play a Rebel fighter in a large ensemble cast akin to The Dirty Dozen and Saving Private Ryan. Mendelsohn is set to play the lead villain in the film, and it's likely that we will hear many more casting announcements for Rogue One in the near future.

The future of Star Wars is so promising. So very promising. Luna is another great actor to add into the mix for Rogue One, a film that is already stacked with impressive actors. Jones, Clafin, Ahmed, Luna and Mendelsohn would make a solid cast on their own, and the fact that we're about to have more big name actors joining is particularly exciting. Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens has a plethora of talented actors and it looks like Rogue One could be even more amazing. Although it is slightly disappointing that Rogue One will focus on a story that we already know the end to, I couldn't be more excited to see how this film will shape up with this cast and Edwards behind the camera. Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One is set to hit theaters on December 18, 2016.

Image Credits: Screen Rant