Wednesday, July 29, 2015

'Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation' review

When a film opens with one of the most daring and spectacular stunt sequences in recent memory, conventional wisdom would say that the movie peaks too early- that the rest of the film will certainly fall short of that dazzling scene. Not Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation. Even though the fifth installment in the spy franchise opens with a set piece for the record books, Rogue Nation keeps finding a way to top itself, with carefully designed, edge-of-your-seat thrills and twists. A good, old-fashioned piece of Hollywood entertainment, Tom Cruise's latest espionage spectacular thrives off of the charm of its stars as well as an incredible amount of gasp-inducing, mind-blowing action scenes that rank among some of the best to grace the silver screen this year. While it doesn't quite reach the heights of Ghost Protocol, the franchise's finest achievement, Rogue Nation is another fantastic outing for the Mission: Impossible team and a blast of pure energy in a summer that has lost its way in recent weeks.

Picking up where Ghost Protocol left off, Rogue Nation continues the adventures of IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) as he hunts criminals around the globe. This time, he's tracking a terrorist organization known as The Syndicate, responsible for the disappearance of many agents across the globe. However, Hunt and the IMF are also under fire from the CIA, especially Chief Hunley (Alec Baldwin) for their crazy mishaps that left the Kremlin in pieces (the irony that it's Alec Baldwin trying to take down the IMF will undoubtedly draw mentions to Team America: World Police, which is simply hilarious in my mind). Top IMF agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) tries to stop Hunley and an executive government board but it's too late- the IMF is disbanded and Hunt is deemed a rogue agent, with his capture being a top priority. But despite the constant presence of the CIA on his trail, Hunt will stop at nothing to stop the Syndicate and capture Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the ruthless mastermind behind the whole operation. With the help of femme fatale Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and his close friend Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Hunt will embark on his most dangerous mission yet to prevent the world from falling into total chaos.

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is one of the better action films of the 21st Century so far. It's a slick, funny thrill ride and I remember sitting in that theater back in 2011 and being completely awed by what was on screen. With that in mind, I knew that Rogue Nation would have a lot of expectations to live up to. And in many aspects, director Christopher McQuarrie and his team exceed that high bar. As a stunt show and as an action film, Rogue Nation matches and even beats Ghost Protocol in pretty much every way. Each set piece is so meticulously staged and delicately crafted that you'll find yourself leaning forward, holding your breath and staring in awe as the scene unfolds. That sort of power is unparalleled in modern film making and it's something that this franchise has done so well in recent years.

The biggest obstacle that Rogue Nation runs into is in regards to the plot department, and this has consistently been my most pressing issue with this franchise. As the twists pile up, so do the questions, and at times, it seems that Rogue Nation really isn't keen on answering them. What I liked about Ghost Protocol was that it mixed that amazement factor with clear objectives and a plot that was smart, but easy enough to follow. Rogue Nation, particularly in its third act, is much more muddled. The sudden turns can be fun, but at a certain point, they just kept coming and coming to the point where I felt that enough was enough. The screenplay by McQuarrie is quick and sharp, yet a tad too convoluted for its own good.

But despite those issues, Rogue Nation is a rollicking good time and certainly one of the better entries in the series. Although Rogue Nation didn't continue Ghost Protocol's simple plot structure, it did manage to amplify many other aspects of that film and even improve on them. This is a tremendously quick-witted and funny film, with much of the humor coming from Simon Pegg. He's one of the funniest comedic actors on the planet, and he gets the chance to do some great work as well as work with a developed character that has a real importance to the film. Pegg's Benji has been the comic relief guy in the past, but now, he's a full-fledged member of the team and that works to this film's benefit.

Renner has some good scenes too and he continues to show that he's a gifted actor who can work with action scenes as well as comedic beats and deep character moments. He's an actor with a lot of depth and range and that has always helped him give strong performances. Rebecca Ferguson delivers an impressive performance as the female lead of the cast, but I have to admit that I wasn't a fan of some of the directions that her character went in. However, it is certainly refreshing to see a movie where the main female cast member doesn't have to run around in high heels or have a romantic relationship with any of the characters. Ferguson's Ilsa has a complicated relationship with Hunt and I love their dynamic throughout this film.

Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris and Ving Rhames are great as well in their supporting roles, but the glue that holds it all together is Cruise and I think that it's no secret at this point- he's the reason this franchise is still flying so high. Cruise's drive for perfection and his desire to make this film feel as real as possible are things that make Rogue Nation better. The fact that Cruise did some of these stunts is insane and it adds some weight to the film that wouldn't be there otherwise. I've never seen Cruise so determined in a movie role before. Hunt is a man on a mission and so is Cruise.

The slight weaknesses of Rogue Nation are undeniable, but the strengths are so strong that they almost make you forget about what doesn't work in the film. Although the film runs a tad long at 131 minutes, McQuarrie holds the audience's attention throughout and moves the simple, yet complex plot along at such a breakneck pace that it can be hard to keep up. The hard-hitting violence and the Third Man-esque conclusion match up well with the absurd stunt work, making for an action experience that is constantly engaging.

The most impressive thing about Rogue Nation's action scenes is that each one stands on its own. The setpieces aren't all monotonously the same- there's something different in every scene. A different setting, a different weapon, different stakes. If I were to find a flaw in George Miller's action masterclass Mad Max: Fury Road, that would be it- all of the action scenes pretty much play out in similar ways. With Rogue Nation, that isn't a problem at all. The airplane chase. The opera house shootout. The motorcycle chase. The water dive. The cafe duel. All of these scenes up the ante and each have their own distinct feel and that makes the experience of watching Rogue Nation very interesting and engaging.

While Rogue Nation isn't as invigorating as something like Ghost Protocol or Skyfall, it works on nearly every level, delivering non-stop fun and some white-knuckle action scenes that are visceral, yet staged brilliantly. In a time where many action films feel fun, yet safe, Rogue Nation plays with our expectations, delivering an unpredictable and entertaining thriller that will please die hard fans and amaze audience members. Ghost Protocol brought this series back to life. Rogue Nation proves that it's here to stay.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.5/10)


Monday, July 27, 2015

'Pixels' review

I know that Pixels is a bad movie. I know that I should pan this movie to death. Pixels is cliched, poorly structured and paced, and is filled with some truly lackluster performances. It is utterly tone deaf and it shifts so much that it's clear that Adam Sandler and director Chris Columbus really didn't know what to go for with this concept. But despite all of the juvenile humor, the cheesy references, the over-the-top turns by Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage, and the overall nature of the product, I truly enjoyed much of Pixels. Maybe something got into me as I watched Sandler's latest critical disaster, but I was consistently surprised by how much fun I was having with this film. Pixels, for me, works as a guilty pleasure film- I shook my head every few minutes as the film moved along, even though each action scene and silly comedic beat brought me right back in. I can't possibly tell you that you're in for a good piece of cinema but for a quick bit of fun, Pixels is a pretty solid choice.


The idea behind Pixels is brilliant- essentially, America sent a bunch of videos of humans playing classic video games into space, some aliens found it, took it as a war message and decided to challenge us for our planet using lifelike versions of those classic games. As setups for summer blockbusters go, that's pretty good. Throw in Adam Sandler, Kevin James as the President of the United States (let that sink in for a second) and an atrociously goofy screenplay, and that premise gets worn down a little bit. In the film, Sandler and James play Sam Brenner and Cooper, two gaming buddies in the 1980s who went down separate career paths- Brenner pretty much became a member of the Best Buy Geek Squad (although it's called the Nerd Brigade or something like that in the movie), while Cooper became the President of the United States.

In the 80s, Ludlow (Josh Gad) and Eddie (Peter Dinklage) were also video game champs, and rivals of Brenner. By the time the present day rolls around, Ludlow is living with his mother while Eddie is in prison. But all four of them will be reunited when Galaga attacks an Air Force base, prompting President Cooper to recruit the team of experts to lead the counter-attack against the aliens, who lead an assault with Pac-Man, Centipede and Space Invaders, along with a bevy of other classic characters. If Brenner and the squad lose too many times, it's game over for them- and for the whole planet.

Pixels is not Wreck-It Ralph. It's not Ghostbusters either, which many have cited as its biggest influence. But in its own weird, sophomoric way, it simply works as a classic piece of summer blockbuster movie-making. Admittedly, it feels more like a movie that would have fit best in the 90s, during the heyday of both Sandler and high-concept alien invasion movies, but it will suffice fine now in the era of 1980s nostalgia. However, it's not all fun and games- Gad, Dinklage and poor Michelle Monaghan have never been worse, the story is so loosely and flimsily constructed that the film seems on the verge of collapse every minute and ultimately, Pixels suffers from a blunt lack of cleverness that seems to seep into every Sandler production. And yet the movie sets every scene with this stupid, overly idiotic glee that I couldn't help but laugh. I feel like I'm going out of my way to justify it, but it's undeniable- I enjoyed Pixels quite a bit.

The charm of Pixels is that it is pure, 100% dumb fun. There's nothing too preachy or deep about it. This is just a movie about middle-aged guys fighting video game characters with the help of the US army. Going in, you have to know that the humor will be lowbrow. I mean, this is a movie where one of the running jokes is that a certain character wants to have a three-way with Martha Stewart and Serena Williams. If you buy a ticket for Pixels, that's the movie you're getting into. It's not all about the nostalgia or the video games. Sandler manages to inject his typical brand of humor into this flick, and that does make the movie worse off sometimes.

The good thing with Pixels is that for every bad joke that made me groan and roll my eyes, there was a fun and inventive action scene that was a blast of well-shot cinematic energy. Whether it's a duel through New York City with Pac-Man, a field battle with Centipede or a major city battle between humans and video game characters, the action scenes in this movie have an entertainment value that simply can't be denied. Despite the occasionally idiotic script. Chris Columbus is still an adept director who knows how to stage a fun action scene, even when the movie has't properly set up the stakes of the scene.

Beyond the undeniable fun factor, I know that Pixels isn't necessarily a good film. The characters are lazily written, the stakes are never properly set and the action scenes, while fun, have zero weight or gravity. The acting is mostly bad- Sandler and James are their usual selves, but Gad and Dinklage surprised me with their awfulness. These are two gifted and smart performers who are left to work with pathetic roles where they either speak with dumb accents (Dinklage) or spout off embarrassingly nonsensical dialogue (Gad). It's pretty sad to watch and the talents of these two men were definitely wasted in this film.

It's a shame, honestly, when I go back and think about how great Pixels could have been in the hands of another group of people. Ghostbusters is a classic because Ivan Reitman knew what to do with the concept and used the actors well. Wreck-It Ralph is a great homage to video games because the filmmakers set up a convincing world where video game characters lived and breathed like actual people. Pixels isn't that good because it's just a series of fun, but inconsequential action scenes with some Sandler jokes thrown in for good measure. With some script re-tooling, I have a feeling that we would be having a very different conversation in regards to this film.

Although I think Pixels didn't really deserve the critical drubbing it received, I perfectly understand why people despised this film. Pixels isn't complex or interesting- just set your expectations low and you'll probably enjoy yourself. I know that is the faintest of faint praise, but it's simply true. Sandler and James aren't exactly aiming for the sky here and for what it is, Pixels is decent. Simultaneously one of the best and one of the most incredibly awful movies of the summer, Pixels falls into the area of cinematic McDonald's- you know that it's terrible for you, you cry at how horrible it is, but somehow, you just can't stop eating it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.6/10)


Image Credits: MovieWeb, Wired, Huffington Post, IGN

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Movie Guru's Top Fifteen Most Anticipated Films for the Rest of 2015

We've reached the halfway point in 2015, and it has been a pretty phenomenal year so far. 2015 got off to a slow start, but once May started, the movies got better and it has been a blast ever since. Before I go into my list of the 15 movies that I'm looking forward to for July- December of this year, I want to take a look back at the list that I made last year at the beginning of the year. On December 31 of last year, I published my Top 25 most anticipated films for 2015, along with 10 honorable mentions. I have seen 9 of the 35 movies published on that list already, so it's obvious that there's still a long way to go. But I think that we should still look at what has passed by already, so here are the grades for my anticipated 2015 movies that I've gotten a chance to see already.

Honorable Mentions

Chappie- C
Jupiter Ascending- B-
Entourage- B-

Top 25

#22- Blackhat- N/A
#18- Tomorrowland- B-
#13- Kingsman: The Secret Service- A
#11- Inside Out- A+
#10- Jurassic World- A
#6- Avengers: Age of Ultron- A
#5- Furious 7- B+
#4- Mad Max: Fury Road- A

So obviously, I've mostly enjoyed the titles that I was looking forward to going into 2015. There haven't been any outright busts yet. Before the end of the year, I'm sure there will be a flick or two that I will be profoundly disappointed by, but it hasn't happened yet. The rest of 2015 promises to be incredibly exciting, and I can't wait to see what we have in store. From incredible IMAX experiences, to violent crime drams, to the return of everybody's favorite spy, and a trip back to the galaxy far, far away, the latter half of 2015 is going to be an exciting adventure. Here are the 15 movies that I'm looking forward to the most, along with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

SNOWDEN- Directed by Oliver Stone, this one has a lot of promise and with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead, you never know what'll happen. Stone has lost favor with audiences and critics with his last few pictures so let's hope that he gets back on track with this one.  DECEMBER 25

STEVE JOBS- This movie went through years of development hell, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale and David Fincher all attached at some point. After moving from Columbia to Universal, director Danny Boyle and Michael Fassbender are finally getting the ball rolling on this one, with the hopes that the film will be an Oscar frontrunner. The first teaser was atmospheric and intriguing and I'm definitely interested to see what this one has to offer. OCTOBER 9

AMERICAN ULTRA- A movie that was not on my radar at all for a long time, American Ultra could be a blast of late summer stoner fun. It's hitting in August, where these kinds of movies typically thrive, and it has a great cast and one amazing trailer that completely sold me on the film. This is one of my most anticipated for the rest of summer. AUGUST 21

THE NIGHT BEFORE- If you've seen Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jonathan Levine's 50/50, you know why I'm excited for this film. With Levine in the director's chair, Rogen has proven that he can work with serious emotional content and do his usual funny bits at the same time. And with a Christmas setting, a cast that includes Lizzy Caplan (who appeared with Rogen in The Interview), Anthony Mackie and Jillian Bell, The Night Before should be a fun and thematically engaging film. NOVEMBER 25

THE WALK- The first trailer for this one really blew me away, and I thought that the second trailer did a good job of highlighting the emotional stakes of the film. This will be an IMAX experience to behold and despite the trepidation over Joseph Gordon-Levitt's accent, I know he'll do a solid job. And also- it's directed by Robert Zemeckis, one of the finest filmmakers in Hollywood. Look for plenty of awards attention for this one. OCTOBER 9

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON- Although I was more excited for this film earlier in the year, I can't wait to see what looks like an impressive biopic. Clocking in at 147 minutes, this should be a pretty comprehensive look at NWA, the most influential rap group in history and with two impressive trailers, I think we're looking at a pretty big box office hit as well. AUGUST 14

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.- My excitement started to slip for Guy Ritchie's latest spy flick, but Warner Bros. has been screening it in advance for many critics and that is always a good sign. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer appear to be having a lot of fun, and it's good to see Alicia Vikander in another big flick after Ex Machina. U.N.C.L.E. might not reach the heights of Kingsman or Spy, but it should be good fun nonetheless. AUGUST 14

Now, for my fifteen most anticipated films.

15. CREED- November 25

I have to admit- after seeing Southpaw, I'm approaching Creed with a bit more trepidation. As I stated in my review, there's not much more that can be done with the boxing movie and I don't know if this Rocky spin-off will be any different. But even if it does end up being another cliched sports drama, Warner Bros. has done one heck of a job selling it so far. The first trailer played off both the grittiness of director Ryan Coogler's vision and the nostalgia of seeing Michael B. Jordan's Adonis Creed train with Rocky Balboa. With Coogler and Jordan in tow, my excitement is high and I'm hoping for a strong franchise starter with this one.

14. CRIMSON PEAK- October 16

After Pacific Rim sent Guillermo del Toro into full-on Transformers mode, he's back to his horror roots with Crimson Peak. The trailers have sold the creepiness factor of this haunted house tale and I'm interested to see what del Toro does with his first American horror film. I recently watched Pan's Labyrinth for the first time, and it only made me more excited to see this film. del Toro has a mastery over mood and tone that is unmatched by most directors and with a strong cast, Crimson Peak should be one of 2015's finest horror films.

13. THE MARTIAN- October 2

Anybody who isn't a little scared about The Martian is a crazy person. Ridley Scott is still one of the most prolific directors in Hollywood, but after Prometheus (not as bad as you remember, but still a bit wild), The Counselor and Exodus (one of the worst movies in recent memory), there's good reason to worry that Scott may have botched The Martian. But after the first trailer, some of my worries have been put to rest. Although it is a bit ironic that Matt Damon is doing another sci-fi movie right after Interstellar (is that still considered a spoiler? Spoiler alert? Whatever), The Martian looks unique and thrilling, like Cast Away with a bigger ensemble. This could be a disaster, but I'm staying optimistic.

12. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE- ROGUE NATION- July 31

I'm seeing this one tomorrow night and I couldn't be more excited. Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is one of the best action films of the 21st Century and early word on the street is that Tom Cruise and company have created another fine action film with Rogue Nation. Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner are back and the team behind Cruise's Jack Reacher and Edge of Tomorrow wrote and directed the film. If that, combined with the spectacular stunt work and great reviews isn't enough to get you excited, nothing will.

11. SICARIO- September 18 (limited), September 25 (wide)

Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners is a brilliant procedural- smart, chilling and thought provoking in equal measure. After a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Villeneuve is returning to theaters with Sicario, a brutal cartel drama. Buzz out of Cannes was good, and the lead trifecta of Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro should provide for some good intensity. Mix that with the Roger Deakins cinematography and the empty desert locales, and you have a movie that should find that blend of thrills and smarts that Prisoners did so, so well.

10. THE END OF THE TOUR- July 31

One of the few Sundance films that has yet to debut in theaters, The End of the Tour looks like the kind of film that will appeal directly to me. Someone recently compared this film to Almost Famous and if that comparison is even slightly accurate, I will absolutely love The End of the Tour. Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg look to be a great pair, and considering how much I adored James Ponsoldt's last movie, The Spectacular Now, I can't see a scenario where I don't fall for this one.

9. IN THE HEART OF THE SEA- December 11

Ron Howard's Rush was one of the finest biopics in recent years, and In the Heart of the Sea should be one of the major Oscar players this year. Originally set to debut in March, I was immediately hooked by the two trailers for the Chris Hemsworth nautical drama, which hinted at a grand, sweeping and intense epic. In the Heart of the Sea should be a great theatrical experience and I'm pumped for another Hemworth-Howard joint production.

8. BRIDGE OF SPIES- October 16

The first Steven Spielberg flick in nearly three years, Bridge of Spies looks to be another fine collaboration between Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The first trailer was taut and suspenseful and I'm unfamiliar with the historical event that the film is based on, which makes this one even more interesting. Lincoln was a bit too talky for my tastes, but Bridge of Spies will hopefully combine that film's smarts with the intensity of a film like Saving Private Ryan. This is definitely shaping up to be another Spielberg classic.

7. JOY- December 25

After the one-two punch of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle (two of my favorite films), David O. Russell is re-teaming with Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper for Joy, loosely based of the story of Miracle Mop creator and businesswoman Joy Mangano. Judging by the logline for Joy, Russell's latest will be a multi-generational story and it even sounds a little bit like The Godfather, only without the guns and the shootings and stuff. Russell is one of my favorite directors, the first teaser was great and Lawrence and Cooper are a dynamite screen pairing- I literally could not be more excited for this film.

6. THE REVENANT- December 25 (limited), January 8 (wide)

The Revenant looks insane. It looks absolutely, completely bonkers. And everything about it sounds absolutely, completely bonkers. Academy Award winner Alejandro G. Inarritu (who won last year for Birdman) pretty much took Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and an entire film crew out into the Vancouver wilderness and shot this epic survival tale. Reshoots, budget restrictions, labor complaints and various problems ensued, but when the first trailer debuted, all worries were silenced. This looks majestic and after Birdman, it appears to be a complete 180 for Inarritu. We might not see this one until the last minute, but The Revenant should be on every film lover's must-see list.

5. LEGEND- October 2

As if Mad Max: Fury Road wasn't enough, Tom Hardy is continuing to appear in unique films from directors with vision. Before he heads off to the Canadian wilderness in The Revenant, Hardy will appear in Legend, which is already receiving fantastic early buzz. Playing both Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two London-based gangsters who took over the city in the 1950s, Hardy should be able to show some terrific range and the fact that the film is directed by L.A. Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland has me even more excited. Ever since the darkly twisted first teaser hit the web, I've been hooked and I can't wait to see what Hardy, Kingsman breakout Taron Egerton and Helgeland have to offer.

4. BLACK MASS- September 18

2015's other gangster drama, Black Mass is debuting at the Venice Film Festival and should be one of the year's biggest Oscar players. Led by a mesmerizing Johnny Depp, Black Mass has benefited from two great trailers and a terrific supporting cast, which features Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon and more. Depp can be kinda erratic with his performances, but this one could get him an Oscar- terrifying, focused and brilliant so far in the teasers. I'm still not sure whether I'm more excited for Black Mass or Legend, but I have a feeling that Black Mass could be a classic for years to come.

3. THE HATEFUL EIGHT- December 25 (70 MM), January 8 (wide)

It's Quentin Tarantino. What more do I have to say? QT is one of the greatest directors on the planet and every time that he debuts a new film, you just know that it's going to be something special. I recently did a marathon of seven of his eight films (I didn't own Death Proof at the time, but I just fixed that) and it's so impressive to see how his style has evolved over time. Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are still masterpieces, but with his recent works in the revenge genre, he's only strengthened his energy and filmmaking ability. With many calling The Hateful Eight a return to his Reservoir Dogs roots, only in the Western genre, I can't even imagine how fantastic this film will be.

2. SPECTRE- November 6

Skyfall was the best James Bond film since Goldfinger, and with everyone back, why wouldn't Spectre be just as good or even better? Christoph Waltz is in the mix this time, Mr. White and some of the loose ties from Casino Royale are coming back into the picture, and Sam Mendes is still in the director's chair. Rumors of a ballooning budget and script issues are troubling and the second trailer wasn't quite as perfect as the first teaser, but in all honesty, nothing can dim my excitement for this film. I love James Bond films and Spectre will hopefully be in the upper ranks of the series in regards to quality.

1. STAR WARS: EPISODE VII- THE FORCE AWAKENS- December 18

I don't think I've ever been so excited for a movie. That isn't even an overstatement at all. It might actually be an understatement. I'm so incredibly pumped for Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens that I don't even know where to begin. JJ Abrams and co. have shown us so little from this film that we've had to grab onto every little detail that we can find, making for a fun and frustrating journey over the last few months. But what we've seen has been oh-so-promising. The Force Awakens looks like a return to the Star Wars franchise that we know and love, and with a mix of old and new faces, this should be a nostalgia trip that blazes a promising path for a new generation. The cultural event of the year will come on December 18 and I simply cannot wait to open Abrams' mystery box.

Those are my top fifteen most anticipated movies for the rest of the year, along with the honorable mentions. There are some other films that I'm looking forward to, but these are the big ones. I'll be back later this week with reviews of Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation, Pixels and more.

'Southpaw' review

There is a problem with boxing movies that simply can't ever be solved. You see, Hollywood has been churning out boxing movies for years. Some are great (Rocky, Raging Bull), some take you by surprise (The Fighter) and some really, really suck (Grudge Match). But the problem is that Rocky was the ultimate boxing movie in 1976. The underdog story has never been told better than that and I sincerely doubt that any boxing film will ever top that. And Raging Bull already did the whole "tortured, violent man in and outside the ring" story very, very well in 1980. Both films are undisputed classics that will never be topped and that's why Southpaw already starts out in a very tricky situation. Because there's simply nothing fresh here. Besides a bizarre murder twist that the trailers spoiled completely, Southpaw is standard rise, fall and rise again boxing territory. But that doesn't mean the film isn't a modest success. Southpaw thrives off of its filmmaking vitality and the intensely focused performance of Jake Gyllenhaal. It's not a boxing classic by any means- this is a formulaic, straight-forward mid-summer diversion.

For those who haven't seen the trailers for this film, I might try avoiding this synopsis. Because they pretty much spoil the entire movie. Not that you couldn't have seen the whole story coming from a mile away, but it was still frustrating to watch Southpaw and know virtually everything that was about to happen. Essentially, the story is that Billy "The Great" Hope (Gyllenhaal) is one of the greatest fighters in the world, the undisputed champion known best for his violent, fearless style. Despite the beatdowns that he takes in the ring, his personal life is great- he has a beautiful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and a young daughter (Oona Laurence) who he very much loves. However, that all comes crashing down when Maureen is shot in a freak altercation between Hope's entourage and the cronies that surround a rival fighter (Miguel Gomez).

So not only does Maureen pass away, Billy also winds up in financial trouble due to......well, the movie never really explains that. It's possible that his manager (played by 50 Cent, ironically bankrupt in real life) was stealing from him but that's never confirmed in the film. Hope begins to display erratic behavior, gets suspended from boxing and ends up having to give up his daughter to Child Protection Services. Billy's at rock bottom and to stage his inevitable comeback during his darkest hours, he calls on Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), a local trainer. After that, it's time to bring on the training montage, running scenes, Eminem music and big title fight.

First off, I think I should note that the projection in my theater was absolutely atrocious. I honestly don't know why I didn't ask an employee to fix it, because it was simply awful. Pretty much only the dead center of the screen was clear- the rest was a blur caused by a framing mess-up, if I'm assuming correctly. However, that didn't stop me from both enjoying and despising this movie. Even if you're one of the film's detractors, you have to give it credit for putting together an intense and gritty experience on screen. This isn't the toothless, cartoony hitmen-and-prostitutes tale that The Equalizer was- this is a vicious drama more akin to Training Day than anything else in Fuqua's catalog. But still, there are numerous issues to be had with this film and you really don't have to look too hard to find them.

Logic and plot holes are the biggest areas that Southpaw struggles with. On the drive home from my screening, I talked with my dad (who really didn't like this flick) about the movie quite a bit and some questions started to pop up that I realized could not quite be answered. Just a few examples I'm gonna rattle off real fast. Where did all of Billy's money go? Did 50 Cent steal it? Is Billy just really dumb? Why does he go to Tick Wills? Out of all of the trainers, was Tick really the best? Did he have some sort of past that we didn't understand? Why did the filmmakers feel the need to copy one of the most iconic scenes from Raging Bull? Why is Rita Ora in this movie? Why does Billy's daughter only care about him when he's fighting? Why does Escobar (the rival fighter) hate Billy so much? Or does Billy just not realize that it's trash talk? What is life?

Basically, my point is that there are quite a few logic holes that just don't make much sense at all. But I feel like Fuqua is such a dynamic filmmaker that some of the holes are forgivable. The fight scenes are brutal and visceral- completely unrealistic of course, but well shot. In addition to that, Gyllenhaal's performance is outstanding. He seems to be channeling a mix of Tom Hardy and Eminem (the part was originally written for him) and it makes for a performance that is a sharp contrast from the work he did last year in Nightcrawler. The supporting cast is decent as well, with McAdams and Whitaker each getting their moments to shine.

Can we all just take a moment to recognize that Jake Gyllenhaal is literally one of the best actors on the planet, if not the best? The man has been brilliance on brilliance since Prince of Persia disappointed, turning in great performances in Source Code and End of Watch, as well as masterclass turns in Nightcrawler and Prisoners. He has been stellar for several films straight now, and Southpaw is no different. Bulked up, bloodied and beaten down, his Hope is a strong piece of method acting, even if the character isn't that compelling.

But ultimately, Southpaw's downfall is that it's rather tedious and predictable. Instead of being energized by Billy's rise from the doldrums of life, I just felt indifferent. I liked the final fight and wanted Billy to win, but not because I really liked his character- I just thought that Escobar was a fool who needed his face beaten into a bloody pulp. I think that the predictability of the film made it a little bland after a while, and despite the sure-handed direction of Fuqua, he can't really save how predictable this film is. That doesn't mean that Southpaw isn't well-executed. It just isn't that innovative or interesting.

You can enjoy Southpaw pretty easily for what it is- a formulaic, simple sports drama. Despite the occasionally hard subject matter and excessive swearing, Southpaw goes down pretty smoothly, if a bit slowly. Gyllenhaal is brilliant, but in the end, the script is littered with poor character development, logic holes and a cookie-cutter story that doesn't really reach for something greater. Southpaw could have been better, but I feel like most people will be satisfied with this simple flick.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                            (6.4/10)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Benicio Del Toro is Disney's pick to play lead villain in 'Star Wars: Episode VIII'

Although we haven't even received our first taste of Disney's new Star Wars universe, Episode VIII is coming up sooner than you think. Rian Johnson's sequel is heading into production pretty soon, and despite how little we know about JJ Abrams's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Disney and Lucasfilm will have to cast some new characters for the eighth chapter in the saga. John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac- the new "Big 3" of the Star Wars universe- are confirmed to be returning for Episode VIII, and now, The Wrap and several other Hollywood trades are reporting that Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro has received an offer to play the main villain in Episode VIII. Joaquin Phoenix was also up for the role, and the trades say that Disney was definitely going after "A-list talent" for this villainous character. Del Toro hasn't been confirmed yet, but considering his previous history with Disney (he appeared in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy), I would be surprised to not see him take the role.

We likely won't know much more than we already do in regards to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but we should be able to pick up some clues thanks to production information from Episode VIII (although I doubt that it'll be much). JJ Abrams seems keen to keep a tight lid on things, but some interesting discussion has already started in the Star Wars community over who Del Toro might be playing and the implications of his casting for Episode VII. For those who haven't fervently obsessed over every Star Wars detail, there are four villains in this new film- Captain Phasma (Gwendolyn Christie), General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). The assumption is that Snoke will be an Emperor-esque figure for the rest of the trilogy but with Del Toro's casting, things get a bit more interesting. My bet is that one of those four villains (probably Hux or Phasma) bites the dust in The Force Awakens, leaving a big trifecta for the rest of the series. Hopefully we'll get some more details at D23 (Disney's annual Anaheim convention) next month. Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits on December 18, with Episode VIII debuting on May 26, 2017.


Image Credits: Flickering Myth

Thursday, July 23, 2015

'Ant-Man' review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a well-oiled machine meant to churn out a satisfactory, easily digestible product each time. Not that I'm against that- far from it, actually. If you've followed my site over the years, you know that for the most part, I've enjoyed Marvel's output. Guardians of the Galaxy was a blast of pure summer fun, both Avengers installments were magnificent blockbusters, Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man told fantastic origin stories, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is legitimately an action masterpiece. But when the Marvel machine goes off the rails, and the secret ingredients of tone, flavor and energy are left at the factory, we get something like Ant-Man. A movie at war against itself, Ant-Man is one giant bag of mediocrity. It's not a bad film, per say. All of the basic Marvel movie ingredients are there. But it's missing that extra something that elevates bland material to brilliance. Casual fans might embrace the inherent oddball nature of the property, yet Ant-Man still fails to deliver anything memorable.


A new hero in the MCU, Ant-Man's alter ego is Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), cat burglar and loving father who has just finished a stint in prison. When he's released, Scott's friends- Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian)- try to help him get back on his feet by setting him up with a new heist. Lang is initially resistant, but after his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and her new cop husband (Bobby Cannavale) refuse to let him visit his daughter until he starts paying child support, Lang succumbs to the offer. After an elaborate break-in, Lang finds a special suit- not the cash and jewels he was expecting. However, it turns out that Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) actually set up the job for Scott. Pym needs Scott to help him prevent Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from using his technology to destroy humanity. He needs him to become the Ant-Man.

Anyone involved with the online film community knows the notorious Hollywood story of Ant-Man. For years, critic and fan favorite Edgar Wright was lobbying to get the project made, but weeks before the film was set to begin production, Wright left the film, citing "creative differences" with Marvel. For a while, it appeared that Anchorman director Adam McKay would take over the project, but the job ended up going to Peyton Reed. Wright and Joe Cornish's original script remained the framework for the film, but McKay and Paul Rudd himself came in to do some re-writes. Ultimately, all of the writers got credit and we have a film that just doesn't work at all.

Now, as an Edgar Wright superfan, it's easy to critique all of the things in the film that definitely wouldn't have happened under Wright's watch. But I'm not going to do that. We can't worry about the film that Wright didn't make- the film on screen must be judged. And unfortunately, that film just isn't very good. I think that one of the fundamental issues here is that we have a Wright screenplay not directed by Wright. The only other time that happened was with The Adventures of Tintin and look how that worked out. What I'm saying is that what Wright puts on the page can really only be directed by him. His writing suits his visual style and nobody else's. That's why some of the jokes in the film that were surely written by Wright fall flat. His sensibilities just don't match up with Reed and McKay's.

Ant-Man isn't a very consequential film to the MCU, which leaves it in a tricky situation. Kevin Feige's master plan of "everything must fit together" just doesn't really work for this film. So, instead of focusing on making an exciting and fun action comedy, Feige and co. throw in a bunch of random Avengers references just to get you pumped for what's coming (references to Spider-Man and the end credits scene that hints at Civil War) or throwback to what has already happened (a long sequence with Falcon and multiple mentions of the battle of Sokovia). Instead of making Ant-Man its own distinct film, the creative team exhausts every possible opportunity to make sure that we recognize that Ant-Man is a Marvel hero, that he's in the Marvel universe, and that he will be in more Marvel films.

Despite all of those mistakes, by far the worst thing about Ant-Man is that it's a visually and thematically generic film. It's a by-the-numbers origin story, just with a guy who shrinks. And it's as dull and uninteresting as superhero films come from a visual standpoint, except that it has some cool effects where a dude shrinks. Literally, beyond the somewhat quirky humor (which is more hit and miss than anything) and the unique effects, there's nothing special about Ant-Man. It's just another MCU origin story with all the right story beats.

I know that a lot of critics have said that Ant-Man has the most heart out of any Marvel film, but I just don't believe that's true. Sure, there are some interesting moments between Scott and his daughter as well as some good scenes between Hank and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). But is it the most heartfelt Marvel film? Not by a longshot. Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America both easily top Ant-Man here, and they feel like they were made by filmmakers who had a vision of what they wanted to do with the story, the setpieces and the characters. Ant-Man is just one long slog, and I never found Scott Lang to be particularly interesting.

The cast isn't bad, led by likable everyman Paul Rudd. Despite the film's issues, Lang could be a good character and I'm definitely not opposed to seeing Ant-Man in more MCU properties like Captain America: Civil War. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly also have their moments, and Corey Stoll does solid work with an underdeveloped character. The supporting cast is led by Michael Pena, whose character has caused much controversy recently. After the initial screenings, Pena was deemed to have stole the show, but today, Heroic Hollywood's Umberto Gonzalez (who is a member of the Latino community) essentially called the character a racist caricature and compared the scenes to a minstrel show. I don't think that the character was made with racist intent, but it is an interesting conversation that should be had in regards to this film.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe will survive Ant-Man and I have no doubt that many more great Marvel films will be made in the future. But after this misfire, I have to wonder if the formula is getting stale. References to a "guy who crawls on walls" are fun, but if I don't care about the story that's on screen, then it's all pointless. Ant-Man feels stale and recycled, and despite some fun moments, there's just not much to be excited about with this one.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.9/10)



Image Credits: Variety, Forbes, Movie Pilot, Comic Book, Joblo

Brie Larson to star in 'Kong: Skull Island', Russell Crowe also in talks

Despite this year being completely devoid of any and all surprise announcements, in the past, San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) has commonly been used by the studios as a place to make very big reveals about upcoming releases. At SDCC 2014, Universal and Legendary decided to end their panel with the surprise announcement that Skull Island, a new movie set in the King Kong universe, was in production and set to hit theaters in 2016. That reveal made waves at the time, but the road to filming has been tumultuous ever since. Originally, Attack the Block director Joe Cornish was rumored to be involved with the film, but the gig ended up going to Jordan Vogt-Roberts. After that, the cast was revealed, headlined by Tom Hiddleston, J.K. Simmons and Michael Keaton. That made people a little bit more excited, but unfortunately, Simmons and Keaton recently departed the project. Now, with only Hiddleston, Vogt-Roberts and a March 2017 release date in tow, Legendary has some casting work to do for Skull Island. Thankfully, Universal is getting off to a strong start with a pair of great actors to fill lead roles.

According to Deadline, Short Term 12 and 21 Jump Street star Brie Larson has snagged a major role in Kong: Skull Island (the official title for the film). She will be the female lead of the film alongside the aforementioned Hiddleston. Sources at Deadline and The Wrap also are reporting that Russell Crowe is in talks to join the cast and fill one of the roles left vacant by Keaton and Simmons. However, Mike Fleming at Deadline says that nothing official will come on that front until another draft of the script comes in. Regardless of whether or not Crowe pans out, casting Larson is a great move for Skull Island. Larson has great cred in the indie world thanks to appearances in films like The Spectacular Now, but has also done mainstream work, like The Gambler, Scott Pilgrim and the recently released Trainwreck. I've always enjoyed Larson's performances and I'm excited to see if she can bring some weight to Skull Island, which will debut on March 10, 2017.

Monday, July 20, 2015

'Minions' review

If you had told me back in 2010 that Despicable Me would evolve into one of the most popular and enduring franchises in Hollywood, I would have called you crazy. A low budget, slightly obscure animated comedy from an untested studio, Despicable Me was a breath of fresh air. By 2013, the sequel had sent the series to the stratosphere and minion mania was beginning to ensue. Now, the supporting players who always stole the show- those little yellow minions- have their own spin-off film. With millions in box office receipts already, Minions is clearly a hit- but does it match the heart and humor of the first two films? The easy answer there is no. Minions is a film without much depth, and not much in regards to story or character. It's a copy-and-paste spin-off meant to maximize off of the popularity of the minions and it doesn't help that nearly 3/4ths of the movie was shown in the trailer. It has a few moments, but Minions lands with a resounding thud.


I usually don't complain about movies being spoiled in the trailers, but Minions is a prime example. If you've seen the trailer for this movie, you've pretty much seen everything that this movie has to offer. You've heard the jokes, you've seen the story and there aren't many surprises that follow (with the exception of a witty end tag and a clever visual gag). The basic point of Minions is to tell the origin story of how the little yellow things came to be and then show how we got to the start of Despicable Me. Most of the film is dedicated to the first idea, with only a little bit of background for Gru. But essentially, the minions are meant to serve the most evil master on Earth and they've done this since the dinosaur age. Eventually, they set up shop in the Arctic but get bored easily because they have no evil master to serve. 

All of that changes when three minions- Kevin, Stuart and Bob- decide to venture to 1960s New York to find a new master. After a series of misadventures, the minions end up in Orlando for Villain Con, a convention for the most evil supervillains on the planet. After inadvertently winning a contest, the minions end up working for Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and assist her in an epic quest to steal the crown of the Queen of England. 

Minions has some funny moments. There are some inventive action scenes, and the final act of the film is pretty solid too. But the problem is that there's nothing here. Sure, kids will get a kick out of it and adults might be mildly amused at times, but the film lacks heart. It lacks depth. It lacks feeling. It's the worst kind of film- a dull, emotionless studio product that doesn't even try to do anything interesting. Despicable Me 2 kinda had an emotional core, but ever since the original film hit, I've noticed a severe drop in the quality of the films at Illumination Entertainment (the company behind Despicable Me and Minions). Hop, The Lorax and Minions are all empty products created to make money and there's nothing under the surface. 

Character-wise, Minions is a giant pool of nothingness. I can't tell you a single thing about Kevin, Stuart or Bob beyond..........well, that's exactly my point. They're not really characters. They're just there to move the story along. Despicable Me worked because Gru had a character arc. He went from being selfish, villainous and evil to being a good dad who cared about a group of kids. That's good character work. That's heart. Minions has none of that. It's soulless and the human characters aren't better.

Scarlet Overkill is evil. And she wants the crown for the Queen of England because she always wanted it as a kid. And she has a weirdo husband (voiced perfectly by Jon Hamm) who helps her do evil stuff. That's all we know about her character. Michael Keaton and Allison Janney show up as the leaders of a criminal family and they have some amusing moments, but once again, we know absolutely nothing about their characters. Maybe I'm being overly critical in the aftermath of an insightful masterpiece like Inside Out, but Minions is absolutely hollow. 

Technically and visually, Minions is impressively made. The Despicable Me universe is colorful and robust and that has always impressed me. I also loved the soundtrack, which is filled with British references and 60s tracks. Some of the references and jokes are cheap, but at least they didn't feel stale (that can't be said about the rest of the film). As I said before, I thought that the third act was well done as well, capturing a sense of fun that the rest of the film doesn't have. The final scene brings the franchise full circle and I thought that was brilliantly done. 

Beyond that, there isn't a whole lot to say about Minions. If you're a die hard fan of the little yellow guys, then you'll probably have a fun time with Minions. But I have a feeling that anyone else who shows up will be disappointed. In a world where we have such magnificent animated films like The LEGO Movie, Inside Out and even the original Despicable Me, that makes something like Minions even more disappointing. A quick and painless affair, Minions nevertheless ends up being a pretty poor effort from the folks at Illumination. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                             (5.1/10)

Image Credits: JoBlo, Screen Rant

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

'Suicide Squad' drops first trailer after Comic-Con leaks

Leaks at Comic-Con are considered a problem, but in my opinion, there's no reason for them to be a huge problem. Piracy is bad. We all get it. Piracy of films has caused problems and has resulted in the loss of billions of dollars in worldwide revenue. I do not pirate films myself and I do not advocate for piracy among my friends and family. However, the over-dramatic handling of Comic-Con TRAILER leaks is becoming a problem. During the weekend panels, the footage revealed for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released immediately online in the aftermath of the SDCC panel. On the flip side, films like Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse and most prominently, Suicide Squad, revealed footage exclusively to fans at SDCC and did not post trailers online after the panels. Of course, those panels were pirated and fans all across the globe discussed, dissected and enjoyed the crappy, shoddily filmed footage. This sparked a lot of outrage from Hollywood studios and many industry trades began to speculate that studios may stop showing early trailers entirely. And that's just ridiculous. It's free promotion. Why would you not want free promotion? You have to go into these Comic-Con trailers expecting that someone will leak the footage if you don't post it and you must plan accordingly. I find the whole hubbub to be quite ridiculous, but enough about the controversy- the first trailer for Suicide Squad hit the web! After leaks and much fan speculation, Warner Bros. posted the teaser along with a statement damning the leakers and expressing the studio's disappointment with the whole deal. Check out the trailer for yourself below:


My skepticism towards this movie has been pretty extreme since the first materials hit for the film. I liked the look of the Joker despite some concerns, but I thought that the first cast photo looked absolutely horrendous. This trailer definitely wiped away many of those concerns. David Ayer appears to have crafted a chilling, intense superhero film. This footage was gritty, it was haunting, it seemed real. Margot Robbie and Jared Leto look fantastic and there was something very simple, but terrifying about Leto's Joker. The line was delivered brilliantly, yet I think it was truly the character design- the crazy tattoos and the simplicity of the rubber gloves. I was unsettled and I can't wait to see more of this character. All in all, Warner Bros. crushed this one. I can't wait to see what Suicide Squad has to offer on August 5, 2016.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

'Minions' continues Universal's dominance with second biggest animated opening of all time

Despite the surprising success of Pixar's smash hit Inside Out, everyone knew that the animated smash of the summer would be Universal's Minions. The spin-off film featuring the most popular characters from the Despicable Me franchise, Minions was guaranteed to be a massive smash hit and quite possible one of the biggest animated films of all time. And that promise was fulfilled this weekend. Minions crushed the competition with $115.2 million, which is the second largest animated opening of all time behind only Dreamworks' Shrek the Third, crushing Shrek 2 and Toy Story 3 along the way. In 4,301 theaters, Minions did big business and fans were obviously pleased, crowning the film with an "A" Cinemascore. Although I didn't think the film was all that (will try to crank out the review in the midst of my busy schedule), it's clear that those little yellow minions have practically taken over the world at this point. Overseas, the film has grossed $280.5 million, bringing it to a total global cume of $395.7 million. Very impressive stuff and this could be Universal's third billion dollar grosser of the calendar year. Kudos to Universal for another job well done.


Universal also held the second spot on the charts this weekend, as Jurassic World finished with $18.1 million, crushing more milestones by the minute. The Colin Trevorrow-directed smash has now grossed $590.6 million at the domestic box office, and all signs are pointing to the film eventually overtaking The Avengers for the #3 spot on the charts (Titanic and Avatar appear to be out of reach). On the worldwide charts, Jurassic World moved into fifth place all time behind Furious 7, The Avengers, Titanic and Avatar. The film has grossed $1.465 billion so far and will likely finish with around $1.6-$1.7 billion, easily clearing The Avengers and Furious 7.

Inside Out continued its stellar run in third place, although the film did take a hit this weekend thanks to Minions. The Pixar comedy snagged $17.1 million and now stands at $283.6 million in the US. Inside Out has already blown past other Pixar films like Wall-E, Brave and Ratatouille and will pass Up very soon to become one of Pixar's biggest original films. In international markets, the film has snagged $151 million for a solid worldwide total of $435.4 million.

Terminator: Genisys continued its mediocre stateside run with $13.7 million, enough to raise the film's total to $68.7 million. A final total of $90 million is a good bet at this point. Overseas, the film is doing a bit better with $156.1 million, but I don't know if that's quite enough to justify a sequel for the film. Disappointing numbers for sure, but not surprising in the least. Magic Mike XXL held extremely well for a Fourth of July release, dropping a mere 25% to $9.6 million in sixth place. The male stripper comedy has grossed $48.3 million in the US so far.

As for the new releases of the weekend, New Line's The Gallows grossed $10 million in fifth place, which is a decent result for the dirt cheap horror flick. The Cinemascore was terrible- a "C" from audiences- but I'm not sure that New Line really cares at all. The other new release of the weekend- Focus Features' Self/Less- was a bona fide flop, grossing a mere $5.3 million in ninth place. Throw that in the ever-growing pile of "Ryan Reynolds movies that flopped."Hopefully Deadpool can turn that around.

Next weekend sees the release of Ant-Man and Trainwreck. Here are my predictions:

1. Ant-Man- $71 million
2. Minions- $59 million
3. Trainwreck- $32.5 million
4. Jurassic World- $12.3 million
5. Inside Out- $11.9 million
6. Terminator: Genisys- $8.6 million
7. Magic Mike XXL- $7.5 million
8. The Gallows- $4.3 million
9. Ted 2- $3.8 million
10. Self/Less- $3 million


Image Credits: Variety, Joblo

Warner Bros. rocks Comic-Con with preview of DC slate, reveals new 'Batman v Superman' trailer

Disney's Star Wars panel revealed a cool behind-the-scenes sizzle reel for fans, but the superheroes of DC and Fox brought it on Saturday. Warner Bros. was the first studio up, and with all of the fan skepticism out there for the studio's upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, they knew that they needed to hit this one out of the park. And they did. They really did. After an extended preview for Guy Ritchie's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a new trailer for Joe Wright's Pan, Warner Bros. brought out the big guns from DC comics. First up was a little bit of concept art with a preview of Ezra Miller as The Flash, an announcement that the new Green Lantern movie would be entitled Green Lantern Corps, and a brief look at some logos for upcoming DC films. Then came the fan hysteria.

Suicide Squad was first up and they revealed a brand new trailer that took the Hall H floor by storm. The trailer has not been released online yet (I'm sure it has leaked somewhere, but Warner Bros. hasn't posted it), but some fan tidbits were telling. While scanning Twitter, the general consensus was that the film looked unique and dark, unlike much we've seen from the comic book world so far. Fans were also impressed by Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), who should be one of the film's standouts. And finally, the trailer concludes with Jared Leto saying "I'm not gonna kill ya. I'm just gonna hurt ya really, really bad." The voice definitely sounds like Heath Ledger (there was a brief clip on Twitter), but I'm sure that Leto will put his own unique spin on the character. Hopefully Warner releases this trailer soon so we can dissect it in its entirety. 

Finally, Zack Synder and the cast of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit the stage and brought the house down. Snyder revealed an extended trailer for the film that ran nearly 3.5 minutes, which is quite an extended look. Shortly after the panel, Warner Bros. released the footage online. Check it out below:


Throughout this entire DC universe journey, I have remained skeptical of everything. I wasn't a very big fan of Man of Steel, Green Lantern got the universe off to a rocky start, and when the plans for Batman v Superman were announced, I remained unexcited. The first trailer did nothing to change my mind, but this time, Snyder has turned me around. Man, this looks incredible. Absolutely phenomenal trailer. Does this mean that the movie will be any good at all? Of course not. The Man of Steel trailer was great and that movie ended up being a profound disappointment. But I can't watch this trailer and not get excited. From the interesting themes, to the comic references to the just absolutely epic shot of Superman ripping the Batmobile to shreds and staring at Batman, this trailer had everything. It brought Comic-Con to its feet and I can feel the fan community finally getting behind this one. It may have taken awhile, but Snyder has put this film on everybody's must-see list.

"Black and blue, God vs. man, day vs. night......the red capes are coming.

The Red Capes Are Coming."

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice stars Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter, Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne and hits theaters on March 25, 2016. 


Image Credit: Bloody Disgusting

Rumor: Colin Trevorrow to direct 'Star Wars: Episode IX'

Although Disney did not confirm this rumor at the Star Wars/Lucasfilm panel on Friday, this was one of the hot stories of the weekend coming from Umberto Gonzalez's Heroic Hollywood. After the massive, unprecedented success of Jurassic World, it would be logical to think that everyone involved would get an extra boost to their careers. Chris Pratt's star is still rising (with rumored appearances in Indiana Jones and Star Wars), Bryce Dallas Howard might get some more roles and now, director Colin Trevorrow might get one of the biggest gigs in Hollywood. According to Heroic Hollywood, Trevorrow is Disney's choice to direct Star Wars: Episode IX, which is targeting a 2019 release date. Hot off the success of helming one of the biggest blockbusters in global history, Trevorrow is the clear, if not exactly fan-friendly choice to direct Episode IX.

According to Gonzalez and other sources (including Peter Sciretta and Drew McWeeny), Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall enjoyed collaborating with Trevorrow on Jurassic World and the film proved that he could handle a big-budget event. That sorta helped him to secure Episode IX. Of all the directors that were options for this trilogy capper, Trevorrow always seemed like one of the most viable options. Sure, Brad Bird and Jon Favreau would have been nice, but Trevorrow already has connections within the Amblin/Lucas and it just made sense. But the real question is- do I like this choice? Yes, I really do. Fans aren't so enthusiastic, but I think that they need to give him the benefit of the doubt. Jurassic World may have had some structural and character issues, but those problems came from the script, not from the filmmaking. Trevorrow proved that he can make a rip-roaringly fun blockbuster and I'm excited to see his take on Star Wars- especially if Episode VII and VIII end up being good. The first chapter in the new Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, will debut in theaters on December 18.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Ben Affleck to direct, co-write and star in 'Batman' stand-alone film

In all likelihood, we'll be getting our first full-length trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice tomorrow night at Comic-Con, kicking the DC universe into high gear. Warner Bros. has big plans for this cinematic universe and they really need to impress the fans right off the bat. I'm hoping that the trailer will blow people away, but even if the reaction is more lukewarm, I still won't write off the film yet. But it's no secret that Warner needs Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad to do big business if they want this franchise to continue on. The good news is that they've collected an impressive group of talented people to tell these stories. Margot Robbie, Ezra Miller, Margot Robbie, David Ayer, Zack Snyder, Chris Terrio, Will Smith, and most importantly, Ben Affleck. When Affleck signed on to play Batman in 2013, there was a fan uproar. People weren't a fan of the so-called "Bat-fleck" and didn't think that he would work as a grizzled, older Batman. Fans are still skeptical, but my excitement has grown with this recent news that Affleck will have a bigger hand in the DC universe beyond donning the cape and cowl.

Yesterday, Deadline reported that in addition to starring as Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman and future Justice League movies, Ben Affleck will co-write and direct a stand-alone Batman film after he wraps production on Live By Night. Affleck will write the film with DC comics CCO Geoff Johns, who is one of the most famous figures in the comic book industry. With Batman v Superman and Live By Night set to hit in 2016, Justice League Part 1 in 2017 and Part 2 in 2019, it's expected that Affleck's take on Batman will hit theaters in 2019 or 2020. Whenever it comes out, I'll be the first in line to see it. I'm a big fan of Ben Affleck as a director and the fact that his directorial plans were put on hold was one of the things that disappointed me the most when I first read that he was playing Batman. But all things worked out well and I'm glad that Affleck's directorial career will stay on track. Our first taste of the new Batman era will come on March 25, 2016, when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters. 



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to direct Han Solo 'Star Wars Anthology' film

The Star Wars universe has been moving full speed ahead since Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm back in 2012, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One and Star Wars: Episode VIII all set to hit theaters in the next two years and already going through various stages of production. The only big question mark left was centered around what would happen to the planned Anthology film that Josh Trank was set to direct. The Chronicle director departed the project (which was rumored to be focused on Boba Fett) after.......well, that's up for debate. But it's safe to say that the future of the second Anthology feature was one of the main concerns for fans. Now, that question has been solved and Disney has now snagged two of the most famous and beloved directors in Hollywood to direct a new movie centered on one of the greatest characters in the Star Wars franchise.

Yesterday, Star Wars.com and Disney confirmed that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, best known for directing both installments of the 21 Jump Street series and The LEGO Movie, have signed on to direct a Star Wars Anthology film about a young Han Solo and how he became "the smuggler, thief and scoundrel whom Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi first encountered in the cantina at Mos Eisley." The film will be written by Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jon Kasdan and is currently set for a May 25, 2018 release date. People in the Star Wars community have already jumped on this idea for being unoriginal and uninspired, which is partially true. Do we really need to see how Han Solo became Han Solo? No. Do we really need to know the exact details of how the rebels stole the Death Star plans (the story of Rogue One)? Not at all. However, that doesn't mean they won't be good movies. Talented filmmakers with vision are making these films and I have a feeling that Lord and Miller will put a lot of good work into this project.

In the official press release, Lord and Miller said:

"This is the first film we've worked on that seems like a good idea to begin with. We promise to take risks, to give the audience a fresh experience, and we pledge ourselves to be faithful stewards of these characters who mean so much to us. This is a dream come true for us. And not the kind of dream where you're late for work and all your clothes are made of pudding, but the kind of dream where you get to make a film with some of the greatest characters ever, in a film franchise you've loved since before you can remember having dreams at all."

The Kasdans went on to say:

"We're so excited to be working with Chris and Phil, who will bring a fresh new dimension to the Star Wars universe. They're two of the smartest, funniest and most original filmmakers around, and the ideal choice to tell the story of Han Solo, one of the coolest characters in the galaxy."

And finally, producer and Lucasfilm executive Kathleen Kennedy said:

"It's not just any filmmakers who can tell the story of such a beloved icon like Han Solo, and I'm excited to say we've found the perfect team to handle the task. Larry and Jon know all there is to know about the character, and Chris and Phil will bring their wit, style, energy and heart to tell Han's story."

I'm excited about the potential for this project, but I think that the key lies with who they cast as Han Solo. It won't be Chris Pratt, because the poor guy already has enough big franchises to deal with. Somebody like Miles Teller would be a fantastic pick in my opinion and there's already a lot of buzz around Aaron Paul. As for when Disney will finally get around to making some original Anthology films, I believe that it will happen after Episode IX. As we head towards the new decade, Disney will hopefully get some more originality in and work to deal with characters from this new universe and trilogy. Our first taste of Disney's new Star Wars universe comes on December 18 of this year, when JJ Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Best and Worst Films of 2015 so far

2015 is halfway done, and before we start to look forward to the rest of the year (my most anticipated post is coming soon), let's take a brief look back at what has been an absolutely awesome year for movies so far. Unfortunately, they haven't all been great and some turkeys have popped up here and there. Here are my picks for the five worst movies of the year so far.

THE WORST

5. POLTERGEIST

Not so much an aggressively bad film as an aggressively dull and uninteresting one. Poltergeist is completely devoid of any and all scares, has some pretty awful CGI and is filled with a bunch of ignorant characters who I simply didn't care about at all. Some parts are inspired, but this is mostly bland horror remake territory.

4. SLOW WEST

This revisionist western has its fans, but I simply despised its mix of Wes Anderson design flourishes and nihilistic garbage. At 84 minutes, the film is disappointingly short and the ending just frustrated me to no end. With Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn leading the cast, I expected to like this movie more, but it just didn't happen.

3. THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT

The worst thing about Insurgent is that it's forgettable. In fact, it is so terribly bland and unmemorable that I can't even remember anything to say about it. I don't remember the negatives nor do I remember the positives. It faded from my memory pretty much as soon as I saw it.

2. HOME

Now, this is a bad movie. Home stars Jim Parsons and it pretty much sealed its fate right then and there. Not that I don't like The Big Bang Theory's Emmy nominated star. Far from it- I'm actually a pretty big fan of that show. But there's something about that show that knows how to use Parsons' talent and Home definitely did not know how to do that. It just threw a bunch of cutesy animated cliches on screen and hoped that something good would come out. Ultimately, it just ended up being an incredibly annoying mess of a film.

1. TAKEN 3

Taken 3 is the only movie that I've ever given an "F" to on this site. That has to say something. And it does, because Taken 3 is truly one of the worst action films that I've ever seen. So little effort is put forth in an attempt to make a cohesive movie, and the filmmaking is so bad. Liam Neeson is giving it his all, but this miserable fare has run its course (thankfully Run All Night, Neeson's other 2015 actioner, was much better).

Before I reveal my top ten films of 2015 so far, here are a few honorable mentions that barely missed the cut.

EX MACHINA- Good thriller with a slightly too ambiguous ending for my tastes.

IT FOLLOWS- Chilling and fun, but the hype for this film was ridiculous.

FURIOUS 7- Big, bold blockbuster fun with a sorrow touch. Another solid entry into the series.

GOOD KILL- Atmospheric and intriguing thriller that works on many levels.

THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE- Great film. This would be on the list, but it currently has no distribution pattern set up. But otherwise, this was definitely one of the best films I've seen this year.


Now, let's take a look at the ten best films of 2015 so far.

10. THE LOOK OF SILENCE

The Look of Silence was a film that I caught at the 2015 River Run International Film Festival, and I'm definitely glad that I did. It's a chilling, harrowing documentary about the Indonesian genocide and another critically acclaimed entry into Joshua Oppenheimer's filmmography. But while The Act of Killing focused on the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, The Look of Silence takes a look at the people who have really been impacted- the families of the victims. While a tad repetitive, The Look of Silence is stark and unflinching. A tough watch, but an essential one.

9. LOVE & MERCY

Music biopics are hit and miss, but Love & Mercy works beautifully. Set during two periods in the life of Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson, Love & Mercy does a great job of tweaking the formula of the traditional rise and fall musician genre to make something uniquely engaging. Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks are all stunningly good and John Cusack gives a truly Oscar-worthy performance. This film has its flaws, but it has stuck with me in a way that most films this year have not.

8. SPY

One of the funniest comedies of the year so far, and the debut of Paul Feig as a directorial titan, Spy is a James Bond-inspired flick that hits all the right notes. By working firmly within the framework of the classic series while providing a leading lady (Melissa McCarthy) who's game for all of the insanity that the film will throw in her way, Spy just works. The warm-up act is slow, but after that, Spy catches fire and is absurdly funny.

7. GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF

The most consistently fascinating movie of the year, Going Clear gives a unprecedented look into the world of Scientology that shocks, provokes and disturbs in equal measure. Through a series of interviews with former members, along with archive footage from previous Scientology events, director Alex Gibney is able to construct a comprehensive, unique look at the world's most terrifying "religion" and the ego-maniacs that inhabit it.

6. KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE

Kingsman isn't quite as flawless as I originally praised it to be in my "A" review, but it's still a hyper-kinetic blast of fun that works as the brash, profane twist on James Bond. Taron Egerton is a true breakout star, Colin Firth and Mark Strong work well as dashing gentleman spies, and Samuel L. Jackson is a perfect villain in this awesome ride of an action movie, made complete with a terrific climax, one of the best action scenes in recent years and a great sense of tone and style. Good fun all around.

5. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

There was no way that Avengers: Age of Ultron was going to be as good as The Avengers. The original phenomenon was a smashing success in its own right and Age of Ultron had to bring back all of those characters and introduce some new ones. It also had to set up Phase 3, finish off Phase 2 and find a way to create compelling character arcs for everyone involved. Tough task, but Joss Whedon pulled it off well and created another fast and funny movie that put a nerdy smile on my face.

4. JURASSIC WORLD

Forget the critics and the haters- Jurassic World is awesome. Of course, it's not without its flaws, but I can't imagine that anything besides Star Wars will be able to capture the sense of awe and wonder that Jurassic World did. Even when I was annoyed with little logic holes and stupid character decisions, Jurassic World had me sucked in by its scope, pacing and terrific musical score from Michael Giacchino. This movie is a massive hit for a reason- it's a crowd pleasing smash that brings this franchise roaring back to life.

3. ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

Before Inside Out came to smash my emotions with a sledgehammer, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was the first cinematic gut-punch of the year. An instant teenage classic with heart, soul and style, Me and Earl should be the breakout movie for Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke, all of whom are fantastic in this film. But the real power of this film comes from its quirky but sweet screenplay, and beautiful third act. If you haven't seen this film, please do. It's a masterpiece of simple power.

2. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

What is there to say about Mad Max: Fury Road that hasn't already been said? This is electrifying filmmaking- action cinema at its best. Director George Miller stages Fury Road as a massive roller-coaster ride with dynamic performances, absurdly amazing stunt work and a great eye for world-building and imaginative characters. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are both fantastic, and so far, this is the action event of the summer, and possibly, the year.

1. INSIDE OUT

After Pixar's brief slump over the last few years, Inside Out sees the animation house return to fine form in a big way. An emotionally devastating, complex and clever animated comedy that is more for adults than it is for kids, Inside Out is both the funniest movie of the year and the most philosophically smart, handling big themes in a smart and approachable way. Director Pete Docter solidifies himself as Pixar's best director in this sophisticated comedy that is one of the best films of the decade so far.

Those are the ten best movies of 2015 so far, and I have to imagine that many of those films will make it onto my list at the end of 2015. We've still got a lot of time left, but instant classics like Inside Out and Mad Max: Fury Road will not be going anywhere. I've been very impressed by what 2015 has had to offer, especially in the last few months, and I'm really hoping that the momentum can keep going strong throughout the rest of the summer and into Oscar season. Come back in a few days for my list of the 15 movies that I'm anticipating the most for the rest of 2015.

First trailer for 'Creed' promises an exciting, gritty boxing drama

2015 is the year of nostalgia for classic movies. Jurassic World has blazed a new path for the esteemed Jurassic Park franchise with billions of dollars at the box office, Terminator: Genisys tried to bring that iconic franchise back to life again, and Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens will rely heavily on the nostalgia factor to bring in a lot of fans for a new installment in the farthest reaches of the galaxy. All of those films (with possibly the exception of Genisys) have one idea in common- bring in old, familiar faces, but set a new path for the future with new stars. Creed, the latest film from director Ryan Coogler, is playing with that idea as well. Creed is not another Rocky movie, but Rocky is in the film. Instead, this film will focus on the adventures of Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, who Rocky famously fought in the ring. Rocky Balboa is serving as a mentor figure for Adonis and that should prove to be an interesting dynamic. The first trailer for the film hit last week. Check it out below:


I was very impressed with this trailer and I like how it seems to bring this franchise back to its gritty roots. Despite the fact that a ton of sequels drove the Rocky franchise into the ground, people often forget that the original Rocky won the Oscar for Best Picture back in 1976. With acclaimed director Ryan Coogler and rising star Michael B. Jordan, Creed has the potential to actually be an Oscar player later this year. I also like the fact that Sylvester Stallone is returning to his role for a good reason- it makes sense that Adonis would seek out Rocky for training. Stallone doesn't seem to be phoning it in and that is a great thing. I'm not going to say that this is an Oscar contender just yet because of the stiff competition, but there's definitely the potential for a fantastic film here. Creed stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Graham McTavish, Phylicia Rashad and Hans Marrero and will hit theaters on November 25, 2015. It's one that I'm very excited for.