Monday, August 31, 2015

Horror director Wes Craven dies at 76

In the world of horror films, when you talk about directors, there are usually three names that come to mind- William Friedkin, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven. Unfortunately, Craven is with us no more. The horror director who helmed iconic classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream died yesterday at the age of 76 after a long battle with brain cancer. With 29 directorial credits to his name on IMDb, Craven began his career in Hollywood in 1972, tackling projects like The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and Swamp Thing before hitting the big time with A Nightmare on Elm Street. The classic chiller introduced us to famed slasher Freddy Krueger, and the dream-based flick was a huge success with critics and fans. Craven's career ran into a bit of a snag before Scream debuted in 1996, which was the birth of another modern horror hit. He directed all four installments of the franchise, with 2011's Scream 4 standing as his final credit. As The Exorcist director William Friedkin said on Twitter- "To be clear, film for film, Wes Craven was the best horror director. Ever. And he did it with a sense of humor."

I think that the most powerful thing about Craven's legacy is that he created characters that will live on beyond the films that they starred in. Freddy Krueger and Ghostface are two of the most instantly recognizable killers in movie history, and they have always succeeded in scaring a new generation. Krueger was even voted #40 on the American Film Institute's list of the Greatest Film Villains of all time. And while I can't say that I'm overly familiar with his filmography, Wes Craven is simply one of those names that you knew if you were a fan of movies, horror aficionado or not. The impact was widespread and the cultural influence was profound. Craven was a huge voice in the cinematic world and he will be missed.

Image Credits: AICN

Sunday, August 30, 2015

'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' review

2015 is, without a doubt in my mind, the year of the spy movie. The year kicked off with Matthew Vaughn's terrific Kingsman: The Secret Service, and continued with Paul Feig's Spy, Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, and now, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the latest film from acclaimed director Guy Ritchie. And while this flick isn't quite as fresh or compelling as those other espionage adventures, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is still a stylish and enjoyable film. With a tone that feels like a mishmash of Kingsman, Bond and Quentin Tarantino, U.N.C.L.E. is held together very loosely by its story while the direction and performances elevate it. There's not much substance underneath all of the 1960s gloss, but when a film looks and feels as good as U.N.C.L.E., there's no need for much depth.

Set in the tumultuous time of the early 60s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. follows two secret agents- American Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer)- as they search for a nuclear weapon that has the potential to fall into the wrong hands. Solo and Kuryakin duel at first, but shortly after, their superiors inform them that they'll have to team up with each other for their next mission, along with Gaby (Alicia Vikander), the niece of a former Nazi scientist (Sylvester Groth) with the potential to develop an Atom bomb. Napoleon, Illya and Gaby will need to infiltrate the organization of Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), the head of a powerful family that intends to use Gaby's Uncle to create the bomb. The uneasy alliance blossoms into a real friendship as the film unfolds, leading the trio into a unique and insane series of adventures.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn't a very challenging film, nor is it one that specializes in a complex plot or excessively compelling characters. The plot is pretty basic spy territory- bad guys have nuclear bomb. Bad guys want to use nuke. Good guys must stop them. And while the film does attempt to have some genuine character moments, there isn't a lot beneath the surface for the principal leads of this trio. But to say that this film isn't very smart or complex would be underestimating the charm of the film. What makes The Man from U.N.C.L.E. work is the style and ultimately, the characters. The style is brilliant and it keeps the movie flowing, while the characters are simply likable, which is refreshing in the world of darkly motivated anti-heroes. This film might be the weakest of the 2015 spy films, but there's plenty of fun to be had with Ritchie's spy extravaganza.

At the start of the film, I didn't really care about Napoleon, Illya or Gaby. And on their own, I'm still not sure that I care that much about them. They're pretty generic characters and there's not much there to make them interesting. However, when you put the trio together, that's when there's something special. While The Man from U.N.C.L.E. can often be a shaky origin story, by the end of the film, I was impressed by how much Ritchie had made me like the characters, and how badly I wanted to see more adventures with them. There's this odd chemistry between the three that simply works and it brings a human element to the stylistic and colorful direction.

Henry Cavill is best known for playing Superman in Man of Steel and I have to admit, when I first saw that film, I didn't think much of his acting abilities. His Clark Kent/Superman is pretty lifeless and there's not much emotion or energy to make that character interesting. In The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Cavill seems to be having much more fun and because of that, the audience is having more fun too. The sarcastic suaveness of Cavill's Solo works on every level and I think he brought a lot to this movie. Hammer is very good as well, making Illya a brutish, but lovable character that has a rather amusing relationship with Solo. Cavill and Hammer have terrific chemistry in the film and I really loved the dynamic between the two characters.

Alicia Vikander is the final link of the trio of leads, and she continues her very impressive run of performances. After her dazzling and terrifying in Alex Garland's Ex Machina, the beautiful Vikander manages to be sweet and down-to-Earth as Gaby, who's cunning and smart with questionable motivations. Vikander is the gel between Cavill and Hammer that makes the whole thing work, and I can personally guarantee you that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. would not work without its three leads.

The other aspect that makes U.N.C.L.E. stand out from the pack is the jazzy and polished direction of Guy Ritchie. While not quite as hyper-violent as Kingsman or as thrillingly Hitchcockian as Rogue Nation, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a high-energy burst of Tarantino-esque music ques, fast and borderline comical editing, and dry comedic tension that makes each scene pop with a freshness that makes the film memorable. The style is almost so overwhelming at times that it can become a bit generic, but as the film moves on, it becomes more and more comfortable with its smooth flow and modern look. The music by Daniel Pemberton is also quite great, giving the film a flashy sensibility that really works. All in all, Ritchie's direction and the elements that he manages to bring together work terrifically, overwhelming the film's flaws.

Despite the fact that it's ultimately a pretty good film, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn't as good as it should be. It's undoubtedly good to look at and energetically performed, but the script is a failure in many aspects. It's tough to care too much about any of the going-ons in the film, with a plot that is undercooked in more ways than one. Elizabeth Debicki's Victoria is a vague and poorly developed villain and some of the twists feel forced and unnecessary. And there are moments where the film's sensibilities feel fake and phony, similar to the way that they felt in Focus, the mediocre Will Smith vehicle from earlier this year.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may be narratively and thematically empty, but that doesn't stop it from being a rollicking good time. Even though this film is struggling at the box office, I can't help but want to see more films with these characters and more movies like this. Because despite its derivative elements, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. feels like a wholly unique creation and one that becomes memorable because of its direction and performances. For an August blockbuster, this film is everything that you could possibly want.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.5/10)

Image Credits: YouTube, Hollywood Reporter,

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Christian Bale will star as Enzo Ferrari in Michael Mann-directed biopic

Michael Mann has had a pretty rough run lately. The acclaimed director of modern crime classics such as Heat, The Insider and Collateral went on to make some less critically acclaimed films like Miami Vice, the Johnny Depp-starred Public Enemies, and most recently, the critical and box office disaster Blackhat. Some may question if Mann has lost his touch, but with such a strong range of films, most cinephiles still put their faith in the director. While Mann has struggled commercially in recent years, Public Enemies star Christian Bale has been on the rise. Bale has had the occasional flop- Exodus: Gods and Kings is the most notable example- but for the most part, he has been racking up hits at the box office (The Dark Knight Trilogy) and plenty of Oscar nominations, with a win for The Fighter. So what happens next for these two? Mann needs a career rebound and Bale needs to continue his Oscar momentum, and with this new report, it looks like the two just may do that.

According to a new report, Christian Bale has agreed to star as Enzo Ferrari in Michael Mann's next film, which will tell the story of the Italian sports car magnate. The pic is aiming to shoot next summer and will likely be available for purchase at some of the upcoming film festivals, as it currently is without a distributor. In the report over at Deadline, the trade site reports that Mann has been working on this project for a very long time (15 years), and previously collaborated with Sydney Pollack in an attempt to get the film made. The logline says that the Ferrari biopic will take place in 1957, a year "where passion, success and death and life all collided." Sounds like a fascinating project and I'm excited to see Mann take it on. Bale doesn't look much like Ferrari, but that hasn't stopped him before. I have no doubt that he'll give a dynamic performance and garner a lot of Oscar attention. This biopic seems like a change of pace for the director and for any Michael Mann fans out there, that should prove to be quite exciting. With the shoot aimed for next summer, I would estimate a Fall 2016 or 2017 release date for this flick.

'Straight Outta Compton' review

We've seen an insane amount of music biopics over the years, but oddly enough, there has been a surprising lack of films chronicling the success stories of famous rappers. With two superstar figures behind it, Straight Outta Compton is the first major, big-budget rap biopic in what could end up being a large string of them. A very comprehensive look at the career of Compton-based rap group N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton is packed with plenty of engaging material- from the group's street origins, to the first N.W.A. tour, to the break up and diss tracks, and finally, to the betrayal of their manager, and the tragic death of Eazy E. The film covers a lot of ground over the 147 minute runtime, and it is a tad overlong. But no matter- Straight Outta Compton is an exhilarating film. Both an endlessly fascinating look at the hip-hop world and the people who created it, and a look at the racial problems that have plagued America for years, this film is complex, nuanced and most of all, entertaining from start to finish. It's a pure blast of energy.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, Compton is the story of N.W.A., the famous rap gang from the 1980's that created the genre of gangsta rap and kickstarted the careers of icons like Ice Cube (played by O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Eazy E (Jason Mitchell) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins). The group didn't last long, but their impact was enormous and their bond remained tight as the years went on. The film begins in Compton and gives us a look at the environment that helped to form the group's famous songs. We see the gangs, the drugs (Easy E actually starts as a drug dealer), the violence and the police brutality that shaped the members of N.W.A. as they grew up. It gives some important perspective to why songs like "F**k tha Police" and "Dopeman" resonated like they did.

From there, the film explores a lot of conventional biopic territory and plenty of fresh new ground. This is undoubtedly the story of Cube, Dre and Eazy (with a little bit of screentime for DJ Yella and MC Ren), but it's also a reflection on the time period that created this genre, and the reverberations that we're still feeling in America today. This is not an intimate, quiet character study like Love & Mercy. This is an expansive film with a massively epic scope that covers a daunting amount of territory, creating a fascinating picture of the world of the 1980's and 1990's. As Ice Cube said about the film "I don't know any other movie where you can mix Gangster Rap, the F.B.I., L.A. Riots, H.I.V. and f**king feuding with each other." This fundamental cultural scope provides the basis for this film and it's what makes Straight Outta Compton one of the best films of the year.

The soundtrack certainly helps. N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton is probably one of the best rap albums of all time, with a variety of fresh beats and terrific lyrics. The energy of the music carries over to the film, with a constant, pulsing soundtrack in the background. When Ice Cube performs "Gangsta Gangsta" at a club early in the film, there's a power to it that is undeniable. And while the focus is on the characters and the developing rap scene, the music is always there. The way that Gray matches the songs with the way that the film is unfolding is simply masterful (I particularly loved the scene that depicted the creation of "F**k tha Police" in the aftermath of a brutal police attack).

The one troubling aspect about this film for many people will be how close the subjects were to the production. F. Gary Gray has been a friend of Ice Cube for a long time (he directed Friday, which starred Cube), Dre and Cube produced the film, and O'Shea Jackson Jr., Cube's son, plays him in the film. It's all a bit self-congratulatory and that has already proven controversial with many people, as the film doesn't exactly dwell on the negative aspects of the group's personalities- Dre's domestic violence incidents, lyrics accused of being homophobic and sexist, etc.

But as problematic as that may be, I can't help but believe that these were the right people to tell this story. F. Gary Gray, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were all there when the events of this film were going down. They saw the Rodney King aftermath, they witnessed the birth of hip-hop, they went on tour as the FBI went after them. All of these things happened to them, and although the film is ultimately about the relationship between the members of this group, it's also a celebration and reflection of the world we live in today and the way that these guys shaped that world. Straight Outta Compton is less about focusing on the men behind the act than it is about depicting a changing world and telling the story of the five guys who were at the center of it all.

The result of that is a grounded realism to the film that counters the flashy rap performances and lavish parties. The opening scenes of Straight Outta Compton depict a dark and violent place. When we first meet Ice Cube, he's on a bus as a gang member threatens to shoot a teenager in the head. And when we're introduced to Eazy E, he's in the middle of a drug deal gone wrong, as the police are busting through the house with a tank. That's the world that we're thrust into right away. And even though the film becomes more and more outlandish as it goes on, there's an element of authenticity to it that makes it work.

The performances are incredibly authentic as well, with all three actors doing a terrific job of both channeling the men that they're playing and bringing an element of depth to their role. Dre, as portrayed by Corey Hawkins, is the center of the group, surrounding by the more explosive Cube and Eazy. Hawkins does a good job of making Dre feel like the most human of the group. O'Shea Jackson Jr. looks remarkably like his dad, and that similarity comes across in his performance in ways beyond appearance. He captures the anger, the frustration and ultimately, the tenderness of Ice Cube and it's a terrific portrayal overall.

If Hawkins's Dre is the center of group, then Eazy E is the volatile, whipsmart emotional core of the film. Jason Mitchell is brilliant as Eazy and he brings a lot to character. Eazy comes off as small, but mighty- of all the guys in the group, he'd be the quickest to get into a fight. He's the businessman and in the end, he's the guy that divides the group and brings it back together. Mitchell has a scene late in the film that is emotionally devastating, and his relationship with Jerry Heller, played by Paul Giamatti, is equally tragic. Heller was a father figure to Eazy, but he betrayed the group in many ways and his actions kickstart the second half of the film. Heller and Mitchell have a natural chemistry and it works during both the good and bad times.

If the film is a tad overlong, it's not because of a lack of interesting material. After N.W.A. crumbles (which happens about halfway through the film), Straight Outta Compton pushes on and focuses on the aftermath of that seminal album. Death Row Records, Suge Knight, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, Friday, L.A. Riots, Rodney King- we see all of this over the nine year span that the film covers and it's equal parts invigorating and daunting. The second half of the film gives us the chance to examine the importance of that tour and that album and how N.W.A. shaped the decade that followed, which makes for some truly compelling scenes.

The relevance of this story is also critical. While critics touted the way that 42 and Selma felt relevant to today's society, I didn't quite feel the same way. With Straight Outta Compton, I truly felt that there was a deliberate attempt to make this film feel not like a period piece, but a movie about today's issues. We're dealing with a world where police officers are looking worse and worse every week and protests are erupting across the country. N.W.A's messages have never felt more relevant than they have now. And even though the film's latter half deals mostly with the characters, the infighting and the rap world, there's a constant ripple effect of real-life events that is truly felt by the people on screen.

Straight Outta Compton combines great performances, fantastic music and a topical message for a firecracker of a film that is entertaining throughout. Some biopics and dramas delve deep into their subjects without much entertainment value or emotional reward in the end. Straight Outta Compton is a certifiable summer blockbuster and it's one that packs an emotional wallop. Succeeding on a character, atmospheric and sonic level, Straight Outta Compton is one of the most purely enjoyable biopics I've seen recently.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                                 (9/10)

Image Credits: Forbes, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Indiewire, Joblo

Friday, August 21, 2015

'Mad Max' director George Miller rumored to helm 'Man of Steel 2'

Although films like Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron were magnificent pieces of popcorn entertainment this summer, the action blockbuster that stunned, surprised and wowed the entire film world was undoubtedly George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road. The stunt extravaganza was light on dialogue and heavy on some of the most brilliant action scenes in recent memory, a spectacular symphony of lights, sounds and desolate landscapes. The film did solid business at the box office ($373.2 million worldwide) and is already generating quite a bit of Oscar buzz, for not only the sets and visual effects, but for Miller and the film itself. So with all of that being said, what is Miller going to tackle next? While the 70-year old director has announced plans to make Mad Max: The Wasteland, there is another property on the horizon that could be much more interesting to comic book fans, according to filmmaker and Collider movie talk host Jon Schnepp.

Schnepp, who recently directed The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened, a documentary about Nicolas Cage's failed Superman movie in the 1980's, is reporting that Miller will be directing Man of Steel 2 for Warner Bros., which will likely be released after Batman v Superman and Justice League. There is no confirmation, but according to Joblo, Schnepp seems very assured of this claim in his conversation with Popcorn Talk. Schnepp is the same guy who saw an early test screening of Mad Max: Fury Road and reported how incredible it was to everyone, so I definitely trust him. This also doesn't surprise me because of Miller's long-in-development Justice League film, entitled Mortal, which fell through back in 2007.

As much as I want a Mad Max sequel sooner rather than later, I definitely think that Miller could fit both into his schedule. Man of Steel 2 likely won't hit until 2020 or later, thanks to all of Cavill's commitments to Justice League, so Miller could film The Wasteland in the meantime and tackle the Superman sequel after that. But if taking on this film means sacrificing more Mad Max films, then I definitely don't want to see it happen. It's great to have a variety of directorial voices in the DC universe, but Miller created the Mad Max universe and I don't want to see it fade away because of other films.

Image Credits: Hey U Guys

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

'The Gift' review

Sometimes it's good for a movie to subvert your expectations. In a culture where we predict everything in advance, it can be good to have a movie that comes out of nowhere to surprise us. I have to admit that I was never all that excited for Joel Edgerton's directorial debut, The Gift, which hit theaters last week. The trailers were decent, but the film seemed like the kind of late-summer B-movie that wouldn't really amount to much. Yet as The Gift's release drew nearer, the buzz began to build and I was suddenly fascinated by this thriller that was drawing rave reviews from critics and fans alike. Could it possibly live up to the hype? The answer to that question is a simple yes. Beyond the last-minute twist, The Gift is a glossy and compelling piece of filmmaking that benefits from a nail-biting sense of suspense and a trio of fantastic performances with actors cast to perfection. The Gift doesn't need the gore or the shocks of other thrillers- this one succeeds with its story and characters and it does so in a way that is absolutely brilliant.

A psychological thriller with a killer twist, The Gift is the story of Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), a young married couple who move to California after Simon receives a big promotion. With a beautiful house and a new start, everything seems to be going fine. But one day, a chance encounter between Simon and an old friend will change everything. When shopping for furniture, Simon runs into Gordon "Gordo" Mosley, who he attended high school with. He vaguely remembers Gordo and moves on. However, Gordo continues to show up time and time again, leaving random gifts at their doorstep and showing up at their house in the middle of the day. What is Gordo's true intention? Is he a friend, or is there something more sinister at play? And is Simon as great as he's believed to be?

Joel Edgerton is best known for playing brash, arrogant, sleazy characters who get their comeuppance in the end. Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Great Gatsby and from the looks of it, Black Mass, are prime examples of films where Edgerton has played that kind of character. Jason Bateman, on the other hand, is better known for his likable, if prickly everymen. Arrested Development and Horrible Bosses are great illustrations of Bateman's traditional style, and it's how I best knew him. The genius of The Gift is that it flips the casting completely. I won't discuss how, in order to avoid spoilers, but I will tell you this- you will question who you sympathize with several times throughout this movie.

While Alison Tolman, PJ Byrne and Busy Philipps all have small roles in The Gift, this film belongs to Bateman, Edgerton and Rebecca Hall, who is the true emotional center of the movie. The marketing makes you think that the film will revolve around Bateman, but in all honesty, we follow Hall's emotionally damaged Robyn for a good chunk of the film. This is her story, told completely from her point-of-view. And Hall does a very good job with the material, making Robyn a likable character. Bateman is fantastic as well, creating a dynamic character that shifts and changes throughout the entire running time. Simon is a brilliantly designed, fully developed character and I applaud what Edgerton did with what could have been something much less difficult.

The best performance comes from Edgerton, who seriously deserves some Oscar attention for this role. It's hard to make a stalker sympathetic, but it's exactly what Edgerton does. And it's mostly thanks to his closely measured writing and directing, which allows the audience to consider Gordo's actions and think about whether or not they're right. This isn't a simple drama about a stalker and a family- this is a complex and intricately woven film about bullying, revenge and a blurred line that makes you truly use your brain and consider these questions.

The Gift is a methodically paced film, and that's part of the brilliance of it. Edgerton never goes for anything cheap. There are only a few jump scares in this movie, and most of the jumps have absolutely nothing to do with the actual plot. Instead, Edgerton spends his time building suspense. You see Gordo and you understand how something isn't quite right with him, but you don't see what he's capable of and you don't understand his past. You meet Robyn, but you don't know what makes her character tick. And you know Simon, but do you really know him?

There is no filler in The Gift. Every slower moment is topped off by something of intrigue, something that develops the characters further. This is a psychological thriller, but most importantly, it's a character drama and a film that truly examines themes of bullying, past mistakes and the true colors of a person's character. Even though The Gift was produced by Blumhouse, the production company behind films like Sinister and Insidious (and oddly enough, Whiplash), this film could not be more different than those chillers. There is one big scare in The Gift, and if you've seen the trailers, you'll know when it's coming.

The Gift is more unsettling- it gets under your skin in creepy ways. The buildup is part of the fun and the way that the film keeps you in suspense works wonders. You know something is wrong, and every scene has a palpable sense of danger that puts you on edge. Gordo, Simon and Robyn all could snap at any moment, which brings an element of tension to the whole thing. As an audience member, you truly don't know what to expect, and the twist is one that you really can't see coming.

Something else struck me about The Gift and that was the artificiality of it. This is a film that is glossy and it very much feels like it made with the production values of a thriller about the rich and wealthy. Everything about it spells smooth and calm, when in reality, there's something darker. Unlike a bad film like Focus, The Gift uses this artificial flavoring as theme enhancement in order to show how we often get caught up by what things look like on the surface, and not what's underneath. Simon's a nice guy on the surface, but deep down, who is he really? And is Gordo as purely evil and creepy as we're led to believe?

Huge props belong to Edgerton, who really crafted something interesting here. Nobody saw this one coming when the year started, but The Gift is truly one of the most magnificent surprises of the year- a slick, low budget thriller with a lot under the surface. Bateman and Edgerton make a formidable duo and it was refreshing to see such a character-based drama in the heat of the summer action season, where character and substance comes second to flash and special effects. I can't wait to see where Edgerton goes from here, but one thing is for certain- this is a very impressive debut.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.6/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Beaumont Enterprise, The Gift Movie, Coming Soon

Sunday, August 16, 2015

'Straight Outta Compton' stuns with $60.2 million, 'Man From U.N.C.L.E.' disappoints at weekend box office

Although the summer is coming to an end, the season had one last big hit in it, and that hit was Universal's N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. The true story of the hip-hop group that revolutionized the genre and changed America grossed $60.2 million, which is a hugely impressive number. I expected the film to be big, but this is definitely another important win for Universal. Riding a wave of buzz and good reviews, Straight Outta Compton snagged an "A" Cinemascore from audiences and did all of this in a relatively small amount of theaters (2,757). Compton had a brilliant marketing campaign from Universal that utilized the timeliness of the film's themes (police brutality, free speech) and the superstar power of the group's members (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre). It's a great film and one that I hope continues to see box office success and awards season attention. Chalk this up as another smart move by Universal in a year that has already been quite exceptional for the studio, with hits like Fifty Shades of Grey, Furious 7, Jurassic World and Minions.

Paramount's Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation finished in second place with $17 million, which was enough to raise the film's total to $138.1 million. In all likelihood, Rogue Nation won't reach the heights of Ghost Protocol or Mission: Impossible 2, but strong overseas numbers (the film currently stands at $373.4 million worldwide) and a domestic total around $160-$170 million should be more than enough for Paramount to keep this franchise alive. If you haven't checked it out yet, it's definitely worth a watch.

Unfortunately, Straight Outta Compton and Rogue Nation's success was doomed to hurt some films and this weekend, Warner Bros.' The Man From U.N.C.L.E. took the big hit. The Guy Ritchie spy adventure grossed $13.5 million, lower than even the most conservative estimates. The "B" Cinemascore doesn't hint at a lot of audience support, and the critics didn't go crazy over it either (it landed at 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, which isn't bad, but certainly not great). The film cost $80 million, so Warner Bros. is in danger of a pretty major disaster here. A writedown is probably coming, but hopefully overseas receipts will save it. I'm going to check out the film soon, but I definitely had higher box office hopes for this one.

In 4,000 theaters this weekend, Fantastic Four finished in four place with $8 million. That's laughably bad and a major 68.9% drop from last weekend. The poorly reviewed superhero flick has now grossed $41.9 million off a $120 million budget, which should prove disastrous for Fox. This is honestly one of the biggest fiascoes in recent years. Just insane. The Gift was close behind in fifth place with $6.5 million. The terrific Joel Edgerton drama has made $23.5 million so far- very impressive considering that the flick cost a mere $5 million to produce. This is a hidden gem in a pretty putrid lineup of films, so if you've already headed to Straight Outta Compton and Rogue Nation, this is a film that you should definitely check out. My review will be up soon.

Marvel's Ant-Man dropped to sixth place this weekend and took in another $5.5 million, raising its total to $157.5 million. This will ultimately be one of Marvel's smallest hits, but nobody's crying for them- they've had a pretty solid year. Close behind Ant-Man was Vacation, which snagged $5.3 million. The film has now made $46.8 million, and I have to say, that's pretty disappointing. Right behind that film was Minions, which took in $5.2 million in eighth place. Minions has $312.9 million in the US and currently stands at $957.4 million worldwide. Stunning stuff.

In ninth place was Ricki and the Flash which took a small tumble and made $4.5 million. The Meryl Streep drama has made $14.6 million so far- disappointing, but not surprising because of the indifferent reviews and non-existent marketing campaign. And finally, Trainwreck rounded out the top ten with $3.8 million. The Amy Schumer comedy has made $97.9 million so far and will cross $100 million in the next week.

Next weekend sees the release of Hitman: Agent 47, American Ultra and Sinister 2. Here are my predictions:

1. Straight Outta Compton- $31.2 million
2. American Ultra- $16 million
3. Sinister 2- $14.8 million
4. Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation- $11.5 million
5. Hitman: Agent 47- $8.1 million
6. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.- $6.8 million
7. The Gift- $4.9 million
8. Ant-Man- $4 million
9. Vacation- $3.7 million
10. Fantastic Four- $3.5 million

Image Credits: Forbes, Joblo

Saturday, August 15, 2015

First official cast photo revealed for 'Rogue One- A Star Wars Story'; cast includes Mads Mikkelsen, Donnie Yen and more

The Star Wars section of Disney's live-action panel at D23 today was short and sweet, but a solid bunch of tidbits were revealed about the company's future plans for the saga. In addition to confirming that Colin Trevorrow is directing Star Wars: Episode IX, the studio revealed a new Drew Struzan-designed poster for The Force Awakens (exclusive to D23 members) and some big news about Star Wars: Rogue One. Now officially titled Rogue One- A Star Wars Story, this film will chronicle the daring mission that the rebels embark on in order to steal the Death Star plans. There has been a slow trickle of news in regards to Rogue One, with a brief teaser at Star Wars Celebration, as well as few cast announcements including reports that Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed and more had joined the cast of the film. Today, we got our first look at the full cast for Gareth Edwards' film, which including some pretty big reveals. Check out the first cast image below.

Produced by Kathleen Kennedy and directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters), it was announced at D23 today that Rogue One- A Star Wars Story has commenced principal photography. The cast is led by Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Jones, as well as Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk and Riz Ahmed. The first cast image includes Jones, Luna, Yen, Wen and Ahmed in costume as rebels who will take on the villainous Empire in the hopes of stealing the plans to their superweapon.

In a statement about the film, Kennedy said "Rogue One takes place before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and will be a departure from the saga films but have elements that are familiar to the Star Wars universe. It goes into new territory, exploring the galactic struggle from a ground-war perspective while maintaining that essential Star Wars feel that fans have come to know. Gareth is such an innovative director and I'm so excited to be working with him and the extraordinary ensemble cast he's selected for Rogue One."

When I look at this cast image for Rogue One, the first thing that I notice is how drastically different it is from anything we've ever seen in the Star Wars universe. It looks dirty and grungy, with a very unique visual flair. I can still tell that these are rebels, but they don't look to be in good shape at this point. The ground war perspective plan is interesting, and I have to say that I really like the direction that Edwards has taken for this film. I absolutely love the cast and I can't wait to see more from Rogue One. The film hits theaters on December 16, 2016.

Image Credits: Star Wars, The Wrap

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

Last month, Heroic Hollywood's Umberto Gonzalez (aka El Mayimbe) dropped a hot rumor, stating that director Colin Trevorrow, who most recently created Jurassic World for Universal, was Lucasfilm's choice to direct Star Wars: Episode IX, the trilogy finale after J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson put their stamp on the saga. It was expected by many that Disney and Lucasfilm would confirm Trevorrow's spot as the Episode IX director at San Diego Comic-Con, but that didn't happen, leaving fans puzzled as to whether or not Gonzalez's scoop was correct. Fan debate raged on about whether Trevorrow was right for the job, while people threw out other names including Brad Bird and Neill Blomkamp. The picture got a bit clearer this week when J.J. Abrams, director of The Force Awakens, confirmed that he would not be returning to direct Star Wars: Episode IX, despite rumors and fan speculation. At that point, many began looking Trevorrow's way. And today, Disney finally confirmed what we had all been speculating.

Colin Trevorrow will direct Star Wars: Episode IX for Disney, which is currently set for a 2019 release. "This is not a job or an assignment. It is a seat at a campfire," says Trevorrow "surrounded by an extraordinary group of storytellers, filmmakers, artists and craftspeople. We've been charged with telling new stories for a younger generation because they deserve what we all had- a mythology to call their own. We will do this by channeling something George Lucas instilled in all of us: boundless creativity, pure invention and hope." Lucasfilm President and Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy went on to say "Colin is someone I've been interested in working with ever since I saw Safety Not Guaranteed. The power of that film paired with the enormous success of Jurassic World speaks volumes about his abilities as both a storyteller and skilled filmmaker. We are thrilled to have such an incredible talent as Colin join our family and step into the Star Wars universe."

As a lifelong Star Wars fan and a fan of blockbuster cinema, this move excites me. Many complained about Jurassic World, but I just don't get it- after months of summer movies, World stands as quite possibly the most entertaining of the summer. Trevorrow will be working with Kennedy, Episode VIII director Rian Johnson (who is writing the screenplay for IX), Abrams and most likely Lawrence Kasdan as well, so the talent on this film is enormous. I can't wait to see what Trevorrow does with the material, and I hope that Episode IX is a fantastic end to what looks like an exciting trilogy. The first chapter in this new saga, Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens, will hit theaters on December 18.

'Fantastic Four' review

You can't talk about Josh Trank's Fantastic Four without discussing all of the crazy backstage drama that has occurred since this film went into production. Early reports said that Trank's erratic behavior caused problems on the set and many believed that Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn came in for reshoots. After that, Trank mysteriously left the Star Wars Anthology film that he was set to direct, and more bad buzz grew for Fantastic Four. And then, the night before the film was released, Trank sent out a damning tweet, saying that he had a great version of the film a year ago, and that Fox took it away from him. The tweet was quickly taken down, but Trank had already sent the final crippling blow.

But the saga of Trank vs. Fox didn't end there. In the days after, Entertainment Weekly's Anthony Breznican chronicled the entire history of the dispute and included some new information that surprised people. Screenwriter Max Landis threw his two cents in, the film began to bomb at the Friday box office and Hollywood sharpened their knives for the slaughter that was about to ensue. As the weekend began, reports flew in that the studio had removed three action scenes right before production, that Fox didn't like the first cut and that there was a mutual agreement about the film's direction, but Fox changed halfway through. Blame was pointed at both parties, but we can all agree on one thing- Fantastic Four is an unmitigated disaster, both artistically and financially. The only good thing about this whole mess is that the rights will probably go back to Marvel Studios in the end (even though Fox says that they're still moving forward with the sequel, currently set for a 2017 release date).

So what is this giant fiasco about? Well, it's the origin story of Marvel's first family- Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). This dark 'n' gritty take on the Fantastic Four starts in childhood with Reed creating a teleportation device with Ben in his garage. Jump forward to high school and Reed his perfected the device, with Ben essentially throwing in little helpful bits of information at times. Reed is recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to join the Baxter Foundation to create his invention on a much larger scale. Reed has to leave Ben behind, but he teams up with Dr. Storm's adopted daughter Sue and reckless son Johnny to work on the device. They also have to recruit the help of Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), the slightly demented, but brilliant scientist who previously worked under Dr. Storm.

The team eventually cracks inter-dimensional travel, but unfortunately, evil government guy (Tim Blake Nelson) decides to get NASA to help with the mission. Reed, Johnny and Victor get super drunk and they ultimately choose to go on their own (but not before they get Ben in on the mission). The four head over to the negative zone, things go wrong, Victor is presumed dead, Sue tries to help, and all four end up getting their powers. With their new powers, the four must team up to fight a threat to all of humanity.

About halfway through writing that synopsis, I realize just how futile it was. There really is no avoiding the fact that this movie absolutely sucks, even though there's promise in the first half. And that's the sad thing- there is a lot of promise with this film. The initial hour sets up a world that is interesting, and it sets up story threads where you can see the payoff coming, but it just never happens. The characters are never developed, the villain is ridiculous and ultimately, this isn't even a movie. But beneath all of that awfulness, there's something fascinating about how utterly catastrophic this thing is.

I enjoyed the first hour of Fantastic Four. That's a weird way to start off what will ultimately amount to an extremely negative review, but it's the truth. I had a good bit of fun with the universe that was set up by.....well, whoever directed this mess. I think that Miles Teller's performance as Reed Richards is endearing and Michael B. Jordan is solid as well. There are some weird editing cuts, sure, but the unavoidable fact is- this movie doesn't start off that bad. It's a lot of exposition and a lot of world-building, but for a reboot that is supposed to connect these new characters with the X-Men and more, a lot of world-building isn't such a bad thing.

However, the set-up keeps going. And going. And going. By the end of the film's first hour, we haven't even reached the negative zone yet. Keep in mind that this is only a 100 minute film. There's not much time for Trank and company to set up an expansive universe. Then, the plot suddenly shifts into gear. The Fantastic Four get their powers, they begin working for the government, Reed goes on the run, people get into fights, Dr. Doom comes back, there's something at stake, a fight ensues and then the movie finishes. It's a rushed climax in a movie that feels extremely dull and drawn out at times. But what I've listed seems like a pretty standard superhero plot, doesn't it? Yet when all of that is crammed into the span of about a half hour, and there is literally no breathing room for character development, motivations or even the slightest hint of emotional involvement, that just doesn't work.

In all honesty, I find it difficult to even call Fantastic Four a movie. For the first half, you can see the shape of a movie forming. Relationships develop, you can see rivalries starting to occur, and the potential is there for a really good second act. After the body horror section of the film (which occurs quickly after the four get their powers), Fantastic Four becomes something else entirely. Everything is rushed and borderline incomprehensible. The effects are awful (some of the worst in a major motion picture this year), and we're supposed to just accept that these guys are working as a team now. There is no emotion, no energy. The final half of this movie is as soulless as you can get.

Fantastic Four feels like a movie that was butchered mercilessly, with the hope of finding something, no, ANYTHING that would work as a complete story. Josh Trank obviously wanted to start with a character-based premise, but they forgot to actually develop the characters. It's difficult to dissect the current form of Fantastic Four and find out what belongs to Fox and what Trank actually did, but in all honesty, I think that it's clear- Trank started the darker, grittier and more complex first half, and Fox put together the abomination that is the second half of the film after they realized what Trank's vision was. The end result is a film that doesn't work in the slightest.

By now, people have realized the magnitude of the disaster behind Fantastic Four. The movie flopped at the box office last weekend, audiences gave it a putrid "C-" Cinemascore, and the fans are rabid with calls for Fox to give the characters back to Marvel. While all of this is going on, I'm still baffled by everything that happened. It's easy to blame Fox for this catastrophe, but Trank obviously has some blame here as well. Fantastic Four feels like the ultimate studio film gone wrong- when too many people are involved with too much money, trying to make a four quadrant hit that just isn't there. I don't know what Fox will do with these characters now, but it's clear that the "Reset" button needs to be hit. Despite some fine moments, this film is one of the year's biggest and most perplexing failures.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.6/10)

Image Credits: Screen Rant, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Forbes, Space

Friday, August 14, 2015

First Oscar Predictions for 2015!

With Straight Outta Compton and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. hitting theaters this weekend, the summer movie season has pretty much come to a close. And if you're familiar with the traditional seasonal movie calendar, you know that means Oscar season is coming up next. The Venice, Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals are fast approaching and the movie business is primed and ready for a full six months of predictions, awards and great films. There have been a few Oscar-worthy films to debut in theaters already, but they've been few and far between this year. So with that said, here are my Oscar predictions for the main categories of Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Check out my predictions and analysis below.


The Front-Runners

1. The Revenant
2. Joy
3. Bridge of Spies
4. Inside Out
5. Steve Jobs
6. Black Mass
7. The Hateful Eight
8. In the Heart of the Sea
9. The Danish Girl
10. Carol

The Second Wave

11. Mad Max: Fury Road
12. The Martian
13. The Walk
14. Brooklyn
15. Trumbo
16. Suffragette
17. The End of the Tour
18. Snowden
19. By the Sea
20. Burnt

The Longshots

21. Sicario
22. Pawn Sacrifice
23. Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens
24. Concussion
25. Youth
26. I Saw the Light
27. The Secret in Their Eyes
28. Legend
29. The 33
30. Our Brand is Crisis
31. Ex Machina
32. Beasts of No Nation
33. Spectre
34. Creed
35. Stonewall
36. Everest
37. The Good Dinosaur
38. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
39. Ricki and the Flash

As you can probably tell from this list, there are a lot of films in 2015 that have a chance to contend for a Best Picture berth. I separated the three into basic categories of front-runners, second wave and longshots just to give an idea of where I think that most of these films stand.

The longshots are films that will need some serious buzz to crack the final eight. Films like Sicario, Beasts of No Nation, Stonewall and Legend seem too indie or difficult for the Academy to crack. Ex Machina was buzzy, but it won't have the staying power of some of the best films of the year so far. The 33 and Concussion sound like Oscar films that will try way too hard and will end up failing. Other films listed in the longshot category include big populist films like Star Wars and Spectre. Of all of the films on this list, Star Wars and Creed are the films with the best shot to move into the top ten. With a mix of voter nostalgia and (hopefully) quality, these films might have a chance (I Saw the Light and Pawn Sacrifice could be big as well).

Moving up to the next tier of films, for me, The Walk and The Martian are the two big question marks. Both are special effects driven films from beloved directors, and they're both playing at festivals. Whether they'll be any good or even Oscar-worthy is another story, but I have a feeling that they could creep into the top ten. Suffragette, Trumbo, The End of the Tour and Brooklyn are very Oscar-y films that could fly to the top if they play well. And I was very intrigued by the trailer for Burnt, which could be another great showcase for Bradley Cooper. Finally, we have Mad Max: Fury Road, seemingly everyone's favorite film of the year. Whether it'll be an Oscar contender is up for grabs, but as of now, it's up there.

Now we're onto the top ten, which features an incredibly competitive lineup of films. Carol received rave reviews at Cannes and will likely be a big favorite with voters. The Danish Girl has a popular star and an acclaimed director, as well as a very topical subject that could prove to be a major talking point this fall. And I can't imagine that In the Heart of the Sea moved to December just to open one week before Star Wars.

The Hateful Eight will prove to be another successful Tarantino entry, Steve Jobs will play to the same crowd that loved Moneyball and The Social Network, Inside Out will bring Pixar back into the Oscar race and Black Mass will be playing at every festival under the sun, which is hopefully a good sign. My top 3 are Bridge of Spies, Joy and The Revenant. Bridge of Spies is Steven Spielberg's first film in three years, and it looks like another good one. It plays into the Academy wheelhouse and it's playing as the centerpiece at the New York Film Festival, which is a good move. Joy is David O. Russell's follow-up to three Academy Award-nominated films and Joy looks like another masterpiece. And finally, I have The Revenant at my number one spot. The troubled production is slowly becoming the stuff of legend, but that trailer, and the fact that Alejandro G. Inarritu recently won for Birdman makes this DiCaprio vehicle an early favorite.


1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
2. Johnny Depp, Black Mass
3. Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
4. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
5. Jason Segel, The End of the Tour

DiCaprio and Depp. Two of the most famous actors on the planet. And neither has won an Oscar. In my humble opinion, this is a dogfight between DiCaprio and Depp until the finish. Both seem to have delivered impressive performances and there's definitely a sense that both are deserving of an award. Eddie Redmayne is starring in the most Oscar-y role, but he just won last year and I don't think anybody can stomach seeing him win two years in a row. Fassbender has a chance, yet there have been some concerns about how well he's channeling Steve Jobs. To conclude things, Jason Segel could sneak in for his well-received portrayal of David Foster Wallace. Once again, this is a very crowded field and we could see a wide range of actors sneak in.


1. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
2. Cate Blanchett, Carol
3. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
4. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
5. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road

The Best Actress category is relatively weak this year, and the two favorites are actresses who won awards very recently. Jennifer Lawrence and Cate Blanchett won in 2013 and 2014, respectively, but they're both back in it this year. Blanchett was highly praised for her performance in Carol and Lawrence looks terrific in Joy. Both have a good shot, but don't underestimate some of the other contenders in this category. Although Saoirse Ronan is young, I can see her getting some love for what looks like a complicated role. Charlize Theron has a chance for her heavily lauded work in the critical darling, Mad Max: Fury Road, but it's truly Alicia Vikander that we need to look out for. She's had a terrific year and The Danish Girl could be a big role for her. That being said, Lawrence and Blanchett will be the favorites going into the year.


1. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
2. Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies
3. David O. Russell, Joy
4. Scott Cooper, Black Mass
5. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Although Inarritu won last year for Birdman, the pure filmmaking charms behind The Revenant should shoot him straight to the top of most prognosticator lists. Perennial favorites Spielberg and O. Russell should follow closely behind, while some outside favorites could sneak into the final category. Scott Cooper's chances at a nomination will be dependent on the early reception for Black Mass, but I'm betting that this film will be the big hit at the fall festivals. And to round things out, I have George Miller for his fantastic work on Mad Max. There seems to be a general sentiment that this film will be snubbed at the Academy, but Miller has never been honored and this is the time for him to get his due.


1. Bradley Cooper, Joy
2. Tom Hardy, The Revenant
3. Seth Rogen, Steve Jobs
4. Harvey Keitel, Youth
5. Joel Edgerton, Black Mass

The Supporting Actor category is another tough one, but after years of fantastic performances, I can see Bradley Cooper finally getting his due here for his performance in Joy. Tom Hardy has a shot for his gritty turn in The Revenant and it's likely that Seth Rogen will pull a Jonah Hill and snag a nomination for Steve Jobs. The final two spots are up for grabs, but I can see Harvey Keitel getting another nomination for Youth, as well as Joel Edgerton, for what looks like a very critical part in Black Mass.


1. Rooney Mara, Carol
2. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
3. Meryl Streep, Suffragette
4. Shailene Woodley, Snowden
5. Helen Mirren, Trumbo

Rooney Mara trumped Cate Blanchett to win the Best Actress award at Cannes, and I can see her playing the field in that category. But as of now, most people seem to have her in Supporting Actress so I have her as the favorite here. Kate Winslet should have a decent shot for her role in Steve Jobs and if Mara goes into the lead category, Winslet will be the clear front-runner. Meryl Streep gets nominated for everything, so a nomination for Suffragette is nearly a no-brainer. Shailene Woodley has turned in consistently solid work, and with Snowden playing directly to many branches of the Oscar crowd, I can see her getting a nod. And finally, I have a feeling that Trumbo will get some love in many corners of the Academy, and with a competitive Best Actor field, I have a feeling that Helen Mirren might be the film's best shot.

Well, those are just my preliminary Oscar picks. It's a crowded field and it's already tough to predict where this race is headed. I'll be back after the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals with a report on the status of the race after more of the major players premiere.

Image Credits: Movie Pilot, IFC, Newsday, Hitfix, Telegraph, Indiewire

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trailer debuts for Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight'

It has been a rough ride for Quentin Tarantino since Django Unchained. The epic western garnered tons of acclaim and an Oscar for Tarantino, but it was what happened after Django that shook the Tarantinoverse a bit. Originally, Tarantino was planning on directing The Hateful Eight, another big western, after Django Unchained. He finished a draft of the script, had a cast picked out and was ready to go. Unfortunately, the script got into the wrong hands and Tarantino got pretty upset. He scrapped The Hateful Eight completely, sued Gawker (who published the leaked script) and moved on. Thankfully, after time had passed, some people persuaded Tarantino to stick with the project and he eventually decided to re-write the third act and send The Hateful Eight into production. Shot in "Glorious Ultra 70 mm Panavision," Tarantino's latest is another bloody, tense western with some fan favorite actors like Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Samuel L. Jackson. After a series of poster teases, the first trailer was released earlier today. Check it out below.

While I'm a fan of nearly all of Tarantino's films, he has been on a phenomenal groove lately, producing what I believe to be two of his best films- Inglourious Basterds and Django. As Tarantino himself even stated, The Hateful Eight is a more contained and small-scale story when put in comparison to something like Kill Bill. It's more of a throwback to earlier Tarantino, especially Reservoir Dogs- a group of strangers in a room who can't trust each other. Reading what Tarantino has said about the film makes me very excited and this trailer is a pretty solid tease as well. I liked the snowy atmosphere and the way that the trailer mixed humor with the constant threat of spectacular, Tarantino-style bloodshed. With a great cast, one of my favorite directors and some awesome filmmaking tricks (this was shot on the same lenses that filmed classics like Ben-Hur), The Hateful Eight is one of my most anticipated for the rest of the year (and on a side note, the poster shown below is straight-up incredible).

The Hateful Eight stars Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Zoe Bell, James Parks, Dana Gourrier and Samuel L. Jackson, and will debut in limited 70 mm release on December 25. It will debut in wide release on January 8, 2016.

Image Credits: Screen Rant

'Mr. Holmes' review

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most enduring characters in pop culture, having gone through multiple adaptations and interpretations since the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels. From the Steven Spielberg-produced Young Sherlock Holmes, to the revisionist TV dramas Elementary and Sherlock, to the Robert Downey Jr. film versions, Sherlock Holmes has continued to reinvent and evolve through the decades, just like Batman or Bond. The latest flick starring the famous detective to smash into theaters, Mr. Holmes, is a much different type of film compared to what we've seen in recent years. While the Downey films focus on splashy action and the TV series' put the emphasis on prickly outsiders, Mr. Holmes is a traditional look at the character as he ages into his 90's. With a terrific performance from Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes is thematically compelling, but narratively slight. It's a film with a lot to offer, yet it moves at such a glacial place that some of that power is lost.

Mr. Holmes is the story of an aging Sherlock Holmes as he reflects on his life and de-constructs the myth that his long-time partner, John Watson, created. He's living on a farm with his caretaker, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her smart, curious son, Roger (Milo Parker). Holmes is 93 years old and is just returning from a journey to Japan where he met with a man (Hiroyuki Sanada) who wrote to him, asking the detective to journey to Japan. Holmes mostly spends time talking with Roger, tending to his bees, and writing in his room. However, he's struggling with memory issues and he's haunted by the one case that he never solved. Holmes begins to write the true story of that unsolved case, and through that journey, he discovers things about his past and the way that his choices have impacted his life over time.

I have a feeling that fans of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies and the Benedict Cumberbatch show will walk away from this movie severely disappointed. This has nothing to do with the quality of the film, but I think it would prove interesting to see the reactions of people who have enjoyed other recent Sherlock films. Mr. Holmes is much slower, and it's more methodical and complex than anything we've seen in the Sherlock universe recently. It's less about solving a specific mystery and more about peeking behind the curtain at the man who became legend. And in that respect, it succeeds at times. Mr. Holmes has some plot threads that I really liked, and some that I wasn't as involved with. It's a mixed bag, but it's efficiently made and anchored by a brilliant performance.

Ian McKellen is best known for his roles in the Lord of the Rings, Hobbit and X-Men franchises, where he brings a terrific amount of veteran skill and credibility to the bombastic action films. And I sincerely believe that without his brilliant performance, Mr. Holmes wouldn't work. I can't imagine anyone else in this role as McKellen believably portrays the wit, charm and unfortunately, the degeneration of this aging Sherlock Holmes. McKellen is only in his late 70's, but with the makeup effects and his slowed down performance, Holmes truly feels like a man at the end of his life. His chemistry with young actor Milo Parker is very good and the dynamic that he shares with Laura Linney is strong as well.

Director Bill Condon also stages the film with an effortless grace, moving the story at a leisurely pace, but never losing the audience. Mr. Holmes is a deliberately paced film and it does become very slow at times, yet there's always something there to bring you back into the story. The scenery is gorgeous and the constant shift between British countryside and Japan makes for a fresh and interesting contrast.

For me, the most compelling aspect of this film was the way that McKellen's Sherlock Holmes acknowledges that Watson had over-exaggerated many aspects of his personality in the stories. This is a film that knows the myth of Sherlock Holmes, but takes many steps to break it down and find the true spirit of the man. The pipe, the hat, the way that the murders were solved- all Watson's creative liberty according to our aging Sherlock. There's a great scene where Holmes goes to a movie theater and watches a cinematic version of one his mysteries, laughing along at all of the things that simply didn't happen. It's a very compelling theme to explore and I liked the way that Jeffrey Hatcher's script brings Holmes to a very human level.

Ultimately, Mr. Holmes loses its way a little bit because of just how many stories are being told in the film. Holmes' current state and his memory loss, his adventures in Japan, his attempt to solve the mystery that has haunted him for 30 years- all of this is packed into a relatively compact 104 minutes. All of the stories wrap together decently in the end, but for much of the film, some of it seems like filler. And the unavoidable fact is that the film runs a few minutes too long, taking a left turn into a subplot that satisfies one of the film's arcs, but still feels inconsequential.

Although some issues keep the film from being great, Mr. Holmes is decently engaging summertime drama with a very strong performance from McKellen. In its essence, this feels like an extended PBS Masterpiece theater episode, with a little bit of cinematic flair from director Bill Condon. Its shortcomings are problematic, but I didn't walk away from this film disappointed- it does what it sets out to do, and it does it in an efficient manner. And in a summer where certain films have been swept up in their own ambition, Mr. Holmes is mostly satisfying because of its human scale, and compelling, contained story.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.8/10)

Image Credits: Comic Book, Moviefone, Joblo, Flickering Myth

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Rumor: Steven Spielberg trying to coax Gene Wilder out of retirement for upcoming project

Gene Wilder is one of the most iconic Hollywood actors still alive today, with appearances in classic films like Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and most famously, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Wilder had a fantastic string of films in the 1960's and 70's, with a wide range of dramas (Bonnie and Clyde), comedies (The Producers) and kids flicks (Willy Wonka) that still endure to this day. But unlike Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and some of Wilder's contemporaries, Wilder decided to call it quits in the early 2000's, retiring at the age of 70 after a few guest stints on Will & Grace. Since then, Wilder has stuck to his retirement pretty well and until recently, there was no indication that Wilder would ever stage a comeback and return to the film world. However, some new rumors are spreading, and the hot news in Hollywood is that famed director Steven Spielberg is attempting to bring Wilder out of retirement for an upcoming project.

Spielberg hasn't made a film since 2012's Lincoln, but that is changing very soon. Bridge of Spies, his Tom Hanks Cold War vehicle, is hitting theaters on October 16 with major Oscar hopes. After that, Spielberg will return to the world of children's fantasy with The BFG, an adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl adaptation which is set to debut on July 1, 2016. With two big films in a short span, most directors would take a quick vacation and worry about making another big project later. Not Spielberg. Once The BFG is completed, Spielberg is set to make Ready Player One, the epic and ambitious adaptation of Ernest Cline's best-selling novel, for a December 2017 release date. All of this raises the question- which role is Spielberg pursuing Wilder for?

The common thought in Hollywood is that Spielberg wants Wilder to either voice The BFG in next summer's fantasy flick, or play James Halliday, the Willy Wonka-esque leader of OASIS in Ready Player One. In my opinion, I would clearly bank on the latter option. On IMDb, Mark Rylance is already listed as The BFG, and with that film in post-production, I can't imagine Wilder coming in at this point. Ready Player One, on the other hand, makes a ton of sense. From everything that I've read, Halliday is very much like Willy Wonka, and I think that it would be both a brilliant tribute to Wilder and a genius bit of casting if he was cast in that role. I'm hoping to read the novel soon, but for now, I can say that I sincerely hope that Wilder is cast in this film. It would be truly amazing. Ready Player One will hit theaters on December 15, 2017.

'Paper Towns' review

John Green fever was unleashed last year with The Fault in Our Stars, the hit cancer drama that sent a wave of tears and cheers throughout movie theaters everywhere. As soon as the studios realized what Green's books could do at the box office, they scooped up the rights to pretty much every single one that was still available. Fox, the studio behind The Fault in Our Stars, snagged Paper Towns as well, and despite some similar cast members, the results are decidedly less impressive. Paper Towns is a movie that is so quirky, so different and so comically over-the-top with its story and characters that it almost feels like a parody of itself. It tries to do the whole "Wes Anderson lite" thing, but without the slightest hint of irony. The two main characters are unlikable and idiotic, the plot is frustrating and the film has some of the most laughable moments of the year. Moments pop up every once in a while with promise, but Paper Towns just never works as a whole.

Paper Towns is the story of Quentin (Nat Wolff) aka Q, a smart kid who has plans to do stuff with his life, including go to Duke, get a job, have a family and live a happy life. However, he believes that his one miracle in life is Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), the attractive, free spirited girl-next-door who befriends Q when they're both young. Margo and Q have a fun series of adventures when they're kids (including finding a dead body!), but they grow apart. Q becomes bookish and timid, while Margo becomes a popular girl who pretty much does what she pleases. The two are polar opposites, but one night will change their relationship forever.

Towards the end of their senior year, Margo learns that her boyfriend has been cheating on her and that several of her friends knew about the relationship. Margo jumps through Q's window, and tells him that she needs a getaway driver for the nine things that she has to do to take revenge on her ex-boyfriend and former friends. Margo and Q go and do a bunch of dumb things, Q starts to fall for Margo even harder, they go up to the Sun Trust building and see the "sweet smells of corporate America" and the "paper town" that is Orlando, Florida. They dance a little, Q goes home, and the next day, Margo is gone.

She never comes back, and although she has a tendency to disappear for long periods of time, Q begins this massive search to find his "true love." Q finds a series of clues in her room and enlists the help of his friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), along with Margo's friend Lacey (Halston Sage) and Radar's girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) for an epic quest that will hopefully lead them to Margo.

I hated Paper Towns and this is coming from somebody who really, and I mean really, liked The Fault in Our Stars. That was an enjoyable film, one with heart, humor and a dose of emotional poignancy. Paper Towns has none of that. It's a film that simply pummels you into submission with a massive array of cliches that make the film a borderline comedic experience. In addition, Margo and Q are two of the dumbest screen characters of the year. Actually, scratch that- Margo is just plain unlikable, a selfish brat who does more whining than anything and Q is an idiot for being in love with her. The supporting cast is fine and there are a few moments that work, but this is a true slog to get through.

Let's talk about the character of Margo for a minute. Because she's the main reason that Paper Towns is a movie that is easy to hate. Believe it or not, this is actually a well-made film. Director Jake Schreier shoots the film with a calming ease that is pretty engaging, and some of the performances aren't bad. But when you have a central story that is eye-rollingly silly and moronic, it's hard to enjoy any of the elements that were put into making the film.

Margo Roth Spiegelman, in Hollywood, is a character that would be known as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. That term was invented by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2005 after he watched Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown. Popular examples include Summer Finn in the brilliant Marc Webb film (500) Days of Summer, Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Penny Lane in Almost Famous. The difference between Margo and all of those characters is that I didn't like Margo. Not. One. Bit. She's a terrible human being, a vengeful, selfish, immature and straight-up goofy person with a series of quirks that are downright hilarious. Here's a few examples- she doesn't like the rules of capitalization (so in turn, she capitalizes random words in sentences), she ran off and joined the circus at one point, and she believes that doing stupid things is equivalent to actually living.

The ending of the film (which is equally admirable and frustrating) tries to deconstruct Margo and her Manic Pixie Dream Girl image, but it's already too late. No matter how much Margo tells Q that he's in love with "the concept" and not the actual girl, she still fits that archetype. And Q, for being a kid with Duke-level intelligence, isn't very smart. I realize that the film leads up to Q's discovery that his pursuit of Margo was dumb, but still, his undying love for Margo throughout 98% of this film is hysterical.

That points to the fundamental flaw of Paper Towns- it thinks that if it throws in a little coda at the end to tell us that we shouldn't pursue the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and that our friends are what matter, that it makes up for the rest of the film. And it doesn't. Q does start to realize towards the second half of the film that his friends are great, but he doesn't change anything- he's still hopelessly in love with Margo. It's not until she actually flat-out tells him to stop being in love with her that he realizes "Oh, maybe I am kinda stupid."

It's what separates a bad film like Paper Towns from a good one like The Fault in Our Stars, or a great one like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. The characters learn and grow from their mistakes, but not in the literal final moments of the film. Greg changes throughout Me and Earl. He learns to stop hating himself and to look at relationships as good things, not as burdens. Hazel Grace learns to stop being so cynical about her disease and celebrate the love that is given to her, no matter what the circumstances. Q literally needs someone to smack him in the face and go "Whatsa matter with you?" to change his ways. It's almost like the filmmakers realized that their film was laughably bad and then threw in this small ending to try to make it better.

Paper Towns has moments that work incredibly well. There's a rather inspired scene that takes place at a gas station that is quite delightful, and I enjoyed the performances of Nat Wolff and the supporting cast (I wasn't a fan of Cara Delevingne, but I struggled to separate the character from the performance). And there is a bit of an emotional core towards the second half of the film that works. But that doesn't change the fact that Paper Towns is a self-serious mess, without the pathos of a film like The Fault in Our Stars and bereft of the humor and charm of other teenage flicks. Ultimately, I think that your opinion of the film will come down to your opinion of Margo. If you like her (which I don't think is possible), then you'll enjoy the movie. But if you don't, good luck with this one.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.7/10)

Image Credits: Huffington Post, Hollywood Reporter, Roger's Movie Nation, Variety, Movie Pilot

Sunday, August 9, 2015

First 'Deadpool' red band trailer brings the blood and the wisecracks

Deadpool is an interesting comic book property and an interesting film experiment on Fox's part, because it seems that it was almost exclusively made due to clamors from fans. Fox botched the character of Wade Wilson and Deadpool in the much-maligned X-Men: Origins- Wolverine back in 2009, and since Deadpool met his end during the climax of that film, it seemed that his Hollywood story was over. For many years, Ryan Reynolds (who played the character in Origins) discussed the potential of a Deadpool spin-off film, but nothing ever happened. But that all changed last year when test footage for an R-rated Deadpool film leaked. It sparked massive excitement from comic book fans across the globe and shortly after, Fox greenlit the film. There were some jokes about the film being PG-13 and then finally, on April Fool's Day, Reynolds announced that the film would be R. So after a long wait, the fans were finally getting what they wanted- an R-rated, bloody, f-bomb filled Deadpool movie. The first red band trailer for the film hit the web earlier this week. Watch the trailer and check out my thoughts below!

This is a very intriguing trailer, but despite how much I enjoyed the over-the-top violence and ridiculous humor, I'm still a bit worried about the film. My biggest fear about Deadpool is that it looks like a lot of fan service. From the Green Lantern joke to the triple headshot, it almost feels like Fox gave Reynolds and his team free reign to do whatever, for the sole purpose of getting the fans off their back. It all looks fun, but if the movie is a lot of pandering to the fans who wanted this movie to be made, it could be a serious struggle for general audiences. My other problem with this trailer is that the first half seems like a very conventional, straight-forward origin story. And then all of a sudden, the trailer shifts to being a gleefully violent romp accompanied with all of things that Deadpool fans love. Is that shift going to be jarring in the movie? Or was it just for the trailer? I don't know, but it was something that I noticed. All in all, I did very much enjoy this trailer and I think that Deadpool will be a refreshingly different superhero movie. It's probably what Fox needs the most right now after the epic disaster that was Fantastic Four. Deadpool is directed by Tim Miller, stars Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein, Brianna Hildebrand, Andre Tricoteux and Rachel Sheen, and will hit theaters on February 12, 2016. 

Image Credits: Cosmic Book News

Saturday, August 8, 2015

When will we see another 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' trailer?

131 days. 16 hours. 42 minutes. 59 seconds. At the time of this post, that is how long we have until Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens hits theaters. Fans have been waiting for this film for years and I think that the world is ready for this juggernaut. However, it is safe to say that excitement for the film might just be tapering off a bit. With the exception of the Comic-Con panel, the news media circuit has been dominated by Suicide Squad, Batman v Superman, Deadpool, Fantastic Four and Spectre, leaving Star Wars in the dust. We're still pretty far removed from the film's December 18th release date, but shouldn't Disney be doing more to keep the hype train going? And more importantly, when are we going to get a trailer that gives us some sort of clue in regards to the basic story of Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

Now, don't get me wrong- I do not want the whole film spoiled in the trailers. Disney has already sold me with two brilliant, finely crafted teasers that unleashed a massive fan reaction. But if they want the big box office numbers, if they want to come close to The Avengers or Jurassic World or even Avatar, they're going to need to release a trailer that gives audiences an idea of what exactly to expect beyond "Practical Effects!" and "Chewie, we're home." Once again, not knocking what Disney and Lucasfilm have done so far- but there needs to be a bit more. Which begs the question- when will this marketing campaign kick into high gear? And will J.J. Abrams finally crack open the mystery box that has kept The Force Awakens quite well-hidden for the past several years?

I can't possibly answer the second question, but let's go through a brief schedule of Disney's marketing for The Force Awakens in the upcoming weeks. First, J.J. and the team behind the film will host a panel at D23 (Disney's version of Comic-Con) on August 14th, and there is a really good chance that we get some major marketing bits there. Fans want the toys revealed, they want first looks at the characters, and they want a trailer. If I was to take a guess at what will be shown at D23, I would have to imagine that we'll at least get a trailer or TV spot or something with a bit more footage. Character reveals don't make much sense, since the only characters that we have seen nothing from are Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata, Andy Serkis' Supreme Leader Snoke, and Luke Skywalker. And honestly, I think that Disney will hold out on revealing the toys until September 4th, the next big event in the Star Wars marketing blitz.

September 4th has been deemed "Force Friday" by the Lucasfilm camp and it is the date that a large chunk of Star Wars: The Force Awakens products will hit the shelves in major retail stores like Target, Walmart and Toys R Us. Force Friday is a big deal for Star Wars fans, and some of the toys are already leaking on Reddit boards and the like. While Disney and Abrams have remained coy about The Force Awakens thus far, giving us next to nothing to go on, this will be the day that the mystery box cracks open. But only partially. According to many sources, there will be two major toy releases- one in September and one in January, after the movie has already hit theaters. So on Force Friday, you can expect action figures of Kylo Ren, Rey, Finn, Captain Phasma, Han Solo and pretty much everything else that we've seen so far. Just don't expect any spoilers. However, I am fully expecting that we will see a new trailer for The Force Awakens on or by Force Friday. According to that EW report back near Comic-Con, the trailer will hit in the fall, and technically, September counts as fall. 

The Force Awakens is already one of the most anticipated movies in history, but Disney definitely needs to make a big push here. I plan on doing another article discussing what we might see in the trailer, rumors from Making Star Wars's Jason Ward, and some other things. But that's an article for a different day. For now, my guess is that we'll be seeing a new trailer on September 4. 

Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens is directed by J.J. Abrams and stars John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, Domnhall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Greg Grunberg, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Warwick Davis and Max von Sydow and will hit theaters on December 18, 2015.

Image Credits: Apple Trailers, Screen Rant