Saturday, September 26, 2015

John Goodman and Thomas Mann join the cast of 'Kong: Skull Island'

Kong: Skull Island was announced back at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014, but since then, it has gone through a plethora of changes. Joe Cornish was originally rumored to direct the film, yet in the end, Kings of Summer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts took over. After that, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Keaton and J.K. Simmons joined the cast, making the film appealing to a wide range of audiences. Unfortunately, Simmons and Keaton were forced to drop out because of conflicts, leaving many film fans disappointed. Then earlier this month came the stunning announcement that Universal was moving Skull Island to Warner Bros. to ultimately set up a massive conflict between King Kong and Godzilla. The project has also gone through four writers- Max Borenstein, John Gatins and Dan Gilroy all put their spin on it before Jurassic World's Derek Connolly finished the last draft. So with all of that craziness, it's clear that this movie has been constantly in motion since it was first announced. Now, the storm seems to finally be calming and some official casting information is coming out. It started last month when Straight Outta Compton stars Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell joined the cast, and now, two more fantastic actors have signed on for a trip to Skull Island.

John Goodman and Thomas Mann, the breakout star of this summer's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, have joined the cast of Kong: Skull Island for unspecified roles. Despite the constantly shifting cast, there is very little hard information on the plot of this film or the characters. The story is reportedly set in the 1970s (source: J.K. Simmons via Screen Rant) and will be a new and unique take on King Kong. However, with all of the script rewrites and the move to WB, I wouldn't be surprised to see this become a modern-day take on the classic monster. All in all, despite the slightly unsettling shifts that have occurred with the project, I'm very excited for Skull Island. The cast and talent is strong, the premise is great, and the potential for a crossover with Godzilla is incredibly exciting. Goodman has always been one of my favorite actors and Mann was dynamite in Me and Earl. This is shaping up nicely and if it holds together, Kong: Skull Island will be one to watch. 

With a cast led by Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann, John C. Reilly and Toby Kebbell, Kong: Skull Island will hit theaters on March 10, 2017.

Source: Screen Rant

Thursday, September 24, 2015

'Everest' review

The disaster movie is a dying breed in Hollywood, and the true-story disaster film is even more rare at this point. And despite brilliant visual filmmaking and a cast that tries its best to make it work, Everest will not bring that genre back to life. Technically awe-inspiring, especially in IMAX 3D, but dramatically empty and uninvolving, Everest moves at a sluggish pace through its tale of misery and death, culminating with a conclusion that beats you into submission so hard with its special effects that you don't get much out of its story. Director Baltasar Kormakur handles the visual sequences well, and there are a few moments of true emotional poignancy from Jason Clarke and Keira Knightley, but this overlong adventure tale (it feels like 3 hours, but only runs for 2) has a script that is a consistent letdown, resulting in a laborious and tiresome flick that never lives up to its potential.

Based on the tragic true-story of a group of climbers who were caught in a terrible storm back in 1996, Everest aims to show us how and why several men risked their lives to conquer one of the most dangerous natural sights in the world. As the story begins, we set the stage with Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), climber extraordinaire and businessman, who has made a living off of taking people to the summit of Mt. Everest and getting them back safely. This year, he's competing with the smart and somewhat reckless Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) for the money of climbers and especially for the attention of journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly). Climbers arrive in March and Hall's group for the season contains Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) and more, all of whom are regular guys with one goal in mind- climb the world's tallest mountain.

After months of training, Hall, the climbers, and his team (Emily Watson, Elizabeth Debicki, Sam Worthington) begin to work their way up the mountain with the goal of reaching the summit on May 10, the prime window for climbers. Hall and the men face harsh elements- illness, bitter temperatures, thin air- but as they work their way up, they form a bond and become more and more determined to reach the top of the mountain. They reach the top of the mountain successfully (at least a large majority of them do), but during their return trip, disaster strikes. A large storm hits, killing several climbers and injuring many others, leaving the remaining men and women to band together to survive the worst disaster in Everest's history.

The failure of Everest has nothing to do with a lack of material or a dearth of visual punch. This movie has both of those things in droves. What Everest lacks is discipline, storytelling control and moviemaking pizzazz. Despite all of the sensory flash of this so-called IMAX "experience," Everest struggles to ever find a consistent pace, a momentum that carries it from scene to scene. Most of the movie consists of moving from one point on the mountain to another, with little drama or flash to go along with it. And when the action hits and the film gets intense, it's still pretty boring to watch; in fact, I'd go as far as to call Everest a miserable watch. I know that the events that form the basis of the film aren't exactly happy, but there have been films that have used tragic material to create a compelling story for the audience. Everest merely shows you what happened- there's no attempt to really create much drama between the climbers, or to create any real "movie magic." It makes for visceral filmmaking, but it's a pretty tedious narrative to watch.

There's a great moment in Mr. Plinkett's Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace review where he talks about the lack of a central protagonist in the film. It's not Anakin, it's not Qui Gon, it's not Obi-Wan and it's not Padme, so who is it? Everest suffers from this same fundamental protagonist issue. The ensemble cast is full of talented actors who aren't given much to work with at all, and there's not one central character for us to connect with. Jason Clarke's Rob Hall seems like the film's leader at some points, but there are other stretches that disconnect him completely from the film. Same goes for Josh Brolin and John Hawkes, and even Jake Gyllenhaal in some stretches- they all seem like the main character of the film, but Everest never latches onto a single person in the cast. It jumps around from character to character, presumably with the goal of creating the most vivid picture of what really went down. But unfortunately, that doesn't work and the film just ends up being extremely overcrowded.

That's not to say that the acting in Everest is bad, per say. The stars do pretty solid work with what they're given and occasionally, what they're given is quite spectacular. There's a scene in the late goings of the film with Jason Clarke and Keira Knightley that will probably go down as the best scene in a bad movie this year. For a film that feels so emotionally (and literally) cold the rest of the time, it's this odd moment of warmth between two characters with a tangible, palpable connection. Clarke and Knightley elevate the material to another level, and it's impressive.

Gyllenhaal also does a fantastic job of playing the young and brash Scott Fischer, while John Hawkes' Doug Hansen is one of the few characters with whom I felt a particularly strong connection. Josh Brolin and Robin Wright have a few decent moments as well, though none that are quite as mesmerizing as those from Clarke and Knightley. And yet, the cast list doesn't even end there. Sam Worthington pops up from time to time as the team's scout, Emily Watson has some good scenes as Helen Wilton (base camp manager), Michael Kelly stars as "In Thin Air" author Jon Krakauer, and Elizabeth Debicki is there too, but to be honest, I had no idea she was in this movie until I read the cast list yesterday.

All of these actors are talented and they give committed performances, but the overall theme is that there's just too many people that director Baltasar Kormakur tries to shove into the story. And beyond just the name-brand actors that I mentioned, there are literally tons of other characters that pop in and out on occasion- the team of Sherpas, Hall's assistants, South African climbers, Japanese climbers, Fischer's assistants, etc. It's just too much for one two hour film to handle. If Kormakur had aimed for a vignette style approach that mixed together several different perspectives on the events, maybe this expansive cast could have worked. But Everest goes a very traditional route, and the sheer number of characters becomes problematic at that point.

But Everest's ultimate problem is momentum, or more specifically, a lack thereof. For what has been marketed and pitched as a disaster/action/adventure/thriller, Everest is insanely slow. The characters walk. And they walk. They stop and eat and share "climber ties." They walk some more. They fall down from a lack of oxygen. They talk about the magnitude of Everest. And then they walk some more. This goes on for nearly the entire runtime, with only a few moments of dramatic tension here and there. Even the ending of the film, with all of its terrifying visuals, suffers from an abundance of sitting around and not doing much of anything. If Everest had a more focused approach, a better screenplay with more lively dialogue, more developed characters, and more measured emotional punches, the walking and the climbing might not have been so repetitive and tedious. Instead, we get a film that feels miserably long and uninteresting, devoid of much flair or interest.

Everest is a visually stunning film, and for some, that, along with the performances from the stars, will be enough. Unfortunately, the story and the characters are pushed to the backburner, leaving us with some cool avalanche scenes and a few sad moments. There is a good film here somewhere, and maybe even a great one. As a realistic take on the events of May 1996, this is probably pretty accurate, but as a movie with solid pacing, a natural flow and interesting characters, Everest simply falls short.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.9/10)

Image Credits: The Guardian, Screen Rant, Variety, Youtube,  Fat Movie Guy

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Post-Toronto Oscar Update- Where does the Best Picture race stand now?

The Toronto Film Festival closed up shop this past weekend, after a long stretch of premieres, galas and movies that formed the foundation for the Oscar race. The end of Toronto signals the finale of the first leg of fall festivals (TIFF, along with Venice and Telluride) and we're now able to get a much better picture of the awards potential for many films. Although several films like Black Mass, Spotlight, The Danish Girl, Room and Beasts of No Nation premiered at other festivals, how the audience responds at Toronto is absolutely critical to Oscar success. In previous years, Best Picture winners like Argo, Slumdog Millionaire and 12 Years A Slave have hit it big in the Great White North and gone on to be massive hits on the awards circuit. So this year, who were the big winners from Toronto? And what does it mean for the Oscar race?

The most critical award that TIFF hands out is the Audience Award, which in recent years has gone to successful films such as Silver Linings Playbook, The King's Speech, 12 Years A Slave and last year's The Imitation Game. This year, Lenny Abrahamson's Room, the tale of a woman and her child adjusting to life outside of captivity, won the prize, further signifying that this A24 release is here to stay. The indie distributor has never had a big awards player before, but Room is looking more and more like a film to watch. Room hits theaters on October 16, a prime slot for any Oscar contender. It'll make a stop at the Savannah Film Festival next month during its presumably slow rollout over October and November.

Other films that premiered at Venice and Telluride also continued to gain momentum at Toronto, firmly putting themselves in the Oscar conversation. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa, which won the Golden Lion at Venice, was a smash at Toronto as well, with Paramount striking a huge distribution deal for the film. The stop-motion animation drama will now debut on December 30, just in time for Paramount to squeeze it into the Oscar race. With such a strong reception, Inside Out now has some major competition in the Best Animated Feature category. Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation also played well at the Fest, with most viewers considering it to be "mandatory viewing" as Joblo's Chris Bumbray put it. The Netflix-distributed drama is an awards season question mark, as it is currently eschewing a traditional release. But will the pure power of Fukunaga's film be too much for the Academy to ignore? We'll find out.

Brooklyn, the Sundance hit, kept its momentum strong as well and is looking more and more like a major Oscar play each day. It debuts in cinemas on November 4, and if it continues to play well at festivals, it could be a Best Picture nominee. The Lobster had a successful TIFF run after its Cannes premiere, and Sicario was a huge box office hit, as well as a critical one at Toronto, hinting that we could see this one sneak into the Oscar race. But out of all of the films that had previously premiered, Spotlight was the one that gained the most at Toronto. Once an afterthought in the race, Spotlight is now the Best Picture frontrunner according to prognosticator site Gold Derby. Critics went crazy for the film and it's the type of movie that can appeal to many audience members as well. Spotlight debuts on November 6. This will be a big test for Open Road Films, but if they run a good campaign, we may see director Thomas McCarthy and Michael Keaton on stage in February.

Beyond the big festival hits, TIFF was set to hold the premieres of some pretty big films. But oddly enough, The Martian was the only one that really hit it big. Fans and critics went appropriately bonkers over the Ridley Scott sci-fi flick, heaping tons of praise on it. While I've been skeptical about The Martian all along because of Scott's recent track record, it's clear that Fox and the director have a big hit on their hands- one that will make a ton of money, and one that will garner quite a bit of awards attention.

Unfortunately, a lot of the other big-ticket premieres fell flat. Biopics Trumbo and Truth received some praise, but mostly for the performances. Truth might get a bit of Best Picture buzz, but with Spotlight hogging all of the attention, James Vanderbilt's journalism-based flick might not stand a chance. David Gordon Green's Our Brand is Crisis fell flat with pretty mediocre reviews across the board, Freeheld gained zero traction, and Demolition, the opening night film and the latest from Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallee, was also a disappointment (it's obvious that Fox Searchlight isn't looking at it as an Oscar player as the film debuts in 2016). And finally, Tom Hiddleston's I Saw the Light bombed completely- reviews were poor and reaction was pretty muted.

In addition to that, some films that hit it big at other fests weren't so big in Toronto. The Danish Girl will still likely snag some acting nods, but the film took a major hit after the so-called "lukewarm" Toronto reception. Same goes for Black Mass- Johnny Depp will still get nominated, but the film's flaws are being amplified by more successful flicks. As for the other gangster flick of 2015, I have a feeling that Legend will be much more successful in Britain than in the US (the box office overseas was huge when it opened). The film didn't even make a dent in Toronto, and Universal moved the film to November because of the reaction.

So with all of that said- and I know it's a ton of info- where does the Oscar race stand today? What films are in, what films are out, and what movies are we waiting for? As for the latter, I have a strong feeling that films like The Revenant, Joy, Bridge of Spies and The Hateful Eight will be on the final list, with Creed, The Walk and In the Heart of the Sea standing an outside chance. Also, The Big Short just jumped into the Oscar race today after a series of strong test screenings, so that's an important one to consider. It's a messy race right now, but it's clearing up pretty quickly and we'll get an even clearer picture after New York next week. But as of now, here are my Oscar predictions for Best Picture.

1. The Revenant
2. Spotlight
3. Joy
4. Steve Jobs
5. Carol
6. Inside Out
7. The Martian
8. The Hateful Eight
9. Brooklyn
10. Bridge of Spies

Sunday, September 20, 2015

'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials' review

After dominating Hollywood for years, it seems that the young adult genre may finally be riding off into the sunset. The Hunger Games series wraps up this year, Twilight is long gone and Divergent only has a couple movies left in the tank. Most of the other YA films have fallen flat, but one film that did manage to catch on was last year's The Maze Runner. Its $340 million worldwide total meant that Fox pushed to get the other two films in the franchise out as fast as possible, and because of that, we now have chapter two, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, only one year later. And while it will surely rake in a healthy profit for Fox, it further hints to the downfall of the YA adaptation. Because just like Insurgent, Paper Towns, and some other recent films, The Scorch Trials is dull, tedious, uninteresting, soulless, repetitive, murky, moronic and simply, a whole mess of nothing. Despite being familiar with the source material, I had no idea what was going on, why it was going on and most importantly, why I should care. The Scorch Trials is simply a terrible movie and a big disappointment after a solid first entry into the franchise.

The Scorch Trials picks up pretty much right where The Maze Runner left off- the Gladers, led by Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), have escaped from the Maze and now live in a bizarre facility operated by the mysterious Janson (Aidan Gillen). Once Thomas begins to suspect something sinister thanks to the help of Aris (Jacob Lofland), he orchestrates a prison break of sorts. Thomas seeks a group of people in the mountains that will protect them from WICKD, the organization that put them in the Maze. But once they find themselves stuck in the Scorch, the Gladers will realize that their toughest task is ahead of them. The Scorch is an unforgiving landscape, filled with Cranks (zombie-like creatures that attack without provocation) and gangsters, all while WICKD is still following their every move. Through their ordeal in the Scorch, Thomas will have to find a way to unite the Gladers and the others in the Scorch against WICKD and prevent them from orchestrating their reign of terror.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a movie that is so lifeless and boring that I feel like I'm wasting my time. Every word that I write in this review is a word that could be put to better use, better than telling you that The Scorch Trials sucks. Because it does. The first 20 minutes hold the intrigue of the first film, and the final sequence works too, but the other 90 minutes in between are stunningly uninteresting. None of the characters are developed, their motivations are completely up in the air, and to be honest, I didn't really care or like any of them. Character actors like Barry Pepper, Giancarlo Esposito and Aiden Gillen give it their all, but there's no getting around the emptiness of this film.

Let's talk plot. I find it hard to say that The Scorch Trials has one, at least one that really works at all. The basic idea behind it seems to be "Hmm, something is up with these WICKD people. Let's go run around the Scorch to avoid being used for an antidote that will save THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE." Maybe I'm missing a key plot point or something, but from what I remember, the heart of the book series was the moral dilemma behind using the minds of a generation of children to find the cure for a disease. Was that ethical? Was that something worth doing? Is WICKD truly good, as they claim to be?

The film series is so much more shallow. There's a bit of moral conflict thrown in there every once in a while, especially towards the end, y'know, the good part of the movie. But for about 80% of the film, it's a sterile, soulless, bland trip through a CGI landscape that doesn't feel palpable in any way, with characters that we don't care about, on a quest we don't care about, moving from Point A to Point B to Point C and so on, in the most tiresome and rote way possible. I don't think I've ever heard the words "Go! Go! GO!" or "We gotta move! Let's run!" used so many times in any other movie. The concept and direction of the action scenes is fine. Wes Ball is a perfectly solid director and when he has the screenplay content to work with, he's able to do some pretty solid stuff. But the rest of the time, he has no good material and that's problematic for any director.

The main characters don't do much to add intrigue. Dylan O'Brien is a perfectly fine actor, but his character is the most static, flat protagonist I've ever seen in a young adult adaptation. Thomas has not changed in the slightest from the moment that he arrived in the maze. He starts off as a leader, he progresses as a leader and at the end of this film, he's still a leader. It would have been cool if Thomas had been a really timid person at first, with a lot of bad stuff thrust on him that makes him change, but that didn't happen. We have a protagonist who isn't compelling in the slightest, so what about the rest of the cast? They're not much better. Minho, Newt, Frypan and Winston are merely stand-ins who work as people for Thomas to run around with, as they have nearly no character development. The only character that changes in the slightest is Kaya Scodelario's Teresa and her change is abrupt, unwarranted and straight-up silly.

The supporting adult actors bring a bit of dignity to the project, but at a certain point, even they can't save it. Patricia Clarkson, Alan Tudyk, Gillen, Esposito, Pepper- all of them are actually pretty fantastic in their roles. Clarkson and Gillen work well as the mustache-twirling villains, Esposito and Tudyk bring the comic relief and Pepper works well as the military guy. I will say this- The Maze Runner does have one of the more impressive supporting casts in a recent YA adaptation, certainly better than Twilight or the Divergent series. Not quite on the Hunger Games or Harry Potter level, but all of the adult actors work surprisingly well.

But there's simply no getting around the pure tedium of this film. The number of times I checked my watch was sky-high, and the non-stop, breathless action with no real purpose in mind did nothing to curb my boredom. Most of the action takes place in generic settings- warehouses, abandoned buildings, underground bunkers- and none of it feels real. The Maze Runner was a promising start for a new franchise, but The Scorch Trials proves that it was a fluke. Chalk this up as the second big dystopian disappointment of the year, after Insurgent failed to do anything in March. Audiences are tiring of this material, and I think that the creative forces behind it are drained as well. It's a crushing disappointment for any fan of the source material, but considering the recent track record of these types of films, it's nothing surprising.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.7/10)

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

Theatrical cuts of original 'Star Wars' trilogy rumored to be hitting Blu-Ray soon

Lots of mistakes have been made in the handling of the Star Wars franchise over the years, but one of the most egregious is the release of "Special Editions" of the original Star Wars trilogy, which feature digital additions that do nothing to benefit the movies. If you want a good breakdown of what I'm talking about, go over to Red Letter Media and watch some of their videos. The Mr. Plinkett Prequel Trilogy reviews are brilliant and there's a good video in their Half in the Bag series that goes into details about the Special Editions and why they're awful. But for the sake of being concise, here's all you need to know- George Lucas added a bunch of crap to the original Star Wars films, giving them a fake digital look, and in the years since, the theatrical cuts have not been released. Lucas defends the Special Editions, but for the most part, fans have lambasted them for hurting, not helping, the quality of the films. Fans have begged Lucas for years to release the original editions in all their glory on Blu-Ray, but he has never budged. Now, according to another contemporary, Lucas may have had a change of heart.

In an interview at Universal Studios Orlando, director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London, Animal House) said "Did you know Disney, by the way, is putting out the original Star Wars the way it was?" Now, there has been no confirmation from anyone official here, but that's solid evidence to me, considering that Landis is on record saying that he heard that from Lucas himself. While there is a massive rights issue with Fox and the original trilogy, Disney could solve those problems with ease. However, Anthony Breznican, EW reporter and notorious Star Wars source (he's been the bearer of bad trailer news for all Star Wars fans for the last few months), later said to "beware of anything that says Disney is releasing original Star Wars." I don't know if Breznican knows anything or not, but he brings up an important point- this is currently just a rumor, and there's no physical evidence from anyone involved that this is actually happening. Disney has been very hush-hush with anything related to a galaxy far, far away so far, and with something like this that means so much to fans, I can imagine that if they do have any serious plans, they'll keep them under wraps until just the right moment. But with Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the horizon, this seems like a smart business move for Disney.

Source: Collider
Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Screen Rant

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Woody Harrelson to star in "War of the Planet of the Apes"

Planet of the Apes is the farthest thing from your typical Hollywood franchise, in every way, shape and form. Nobody expected much from Rise of the Planet of the Apes when it hit theaters in 2011, but surprisingly, thanks to Andy Serkis' brilliantly measured performance as Caesar and the terrific work done by WETA digital and director Rupert Wyatt, the film worked. The 2014 sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, brought back Serkis, but none of the principle human players of the cast. Matt Reeves took over the director's chair and the result was a distinctly unique and interesting spin on the Planet of the Apes story. But yet, once again, most of the main human players ended their stories in Dawn, leaving very little for Reeves to work with in the sequel. Will Jason Clarke and Keri Russell still return for a third film? I don't know, but it doesn't seem likely at this point. So with that said, Reeves is going to have to start fresh with new actors. But I don't think that'll really be a problem, as he's already put a fantastic actor into the third chapter of the franchise.

Woody Harrelson has been cast as Colonel in War of the Planet of the Apes, which is being reported as a villainous role. Harrelson, who recently wrapped production on Now You See Me 2 and the final chapter of the Hunger Games saga, will star as Lyndon B. Johnson in the upcoming film titled LBJ before heading off to star in the latest Apes film. Harrelson joins Andy Serkis, who is the only other cast member signed on for the film. This is a nearly perfect casting choice and I can totally see Harrelson in this role. War of the Planet of the Apes sounds like the film that I really wanted from Dawn, and I'm chomping at the bit to see what Reeves does here. While I haven't always been down with his direction for the franchise, there's no question in my mind that he is a smart and thoughtful filmmaker, someone with vision and heart who can make a terrific story. War of the Planet of the Apes is a must-see movie for every film fan, and with Harrelson as the principle member of the human cast, we may finally have a dynamic and interesting human character in this franchise. With War of the Planet of the Apes gearing up to head into production soon, I'm sure that we'll hear quite a bit more about the cast and the direction that Reeves is taking this third chapter. The film will debut in theaters on July 14, 2017.

Image Credits: Square Space

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Warner Bros. rumored to be developing three 'Akira' films with Christopher Nolan involved

Akira is one of those Hollywood projects that can just never get off the ground. When the original anime film premiered in 1988, it immediately shot to cult status and there was large interest in Hollywood in the rights to the film. Warner Bros. holds the rights to Akira now and they've been working on this project for an eternity. They've been working on this movie since before I even starting covering movies on this site and for the longest time, they couldn't seem to gain any traction on the tricky adaptation. The last we heard of the adaptation was that Jaume Collet-Serra was involved, but if this new report is to be believed, the director is most likely no longer attached to the project. Before Monday's report, the status of the adaptation was that Warner Bros. and Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way productions held the rights to the franchise and that they were actively trying to the get the film going. A new report from Den of Geek holds those facts true, but brings some new things to the table that could be very compelling for film fans.

According to the report, Warner Bros. is looking to do a full trilogy of films based off of the Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, which will be "all the better to do justice to Otomo's sprawling dystopian sci-fi yarn." But the bigger news from the report is that Christopher Nolan is rumored to be involved, and that Den of Geek is hearing that Nolan has met with another filmmaker to talk about the film. This is very interesting because, of course, Warner Bros. recently dated Nolan's next film for July 21, 2017. Could this be the first in a trilogy of Akira films? Personally, I don't think so, and many of the other trades seem to be thinking the same way. After his work on The Dark Knight trilogy, I don't know if Nolan is keen on making another huge commitment to a franchise. However, working on an Akira series would be an interesting possibility for him and the fact that DiCaprio is involved is even more promising, since the two worked together on Inception. All of the pieces seem to be there, but we just don't know if they're going to ultimately come together. For now, this is just a rumor, but an interesting one at that.

Image Credits: Drafthouse

Monday, September 14, 2015

'The Visit' review

M. Night Shyamalan's fall from grace has been one of the most fascinating and baffling stories of the last several years. Deemed "the next Spielberg" when he burst onto the scene in the late 90s with films like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, Shyamalan went on to make some of the most hysterically awful movies ever. Lady in the Water, The Happening, and even The Last Airbender, which is the worst movie I've ever seen, were all Shyamalan productions that fell flat when they hit theaters, sending the director's reputation crashing to the ground. At a low point in the aftermath of the Will Smith vehicle After Earth, Shyamalan decided to use the $5 million paycheck from that movie to make a smaller, more intimate horror film that would hopefully bring his career back to life. And while The Visit is a tonally confused and somewhat bizarrely structured film, the sparks of promise that Shyamalan shows in this unnerving and sometimes downright terrifying found footage flick are more than enough to get me excited about what his future could hold. The Visit isn't the rip-roaring comeback that his most avid fans were hoping for, but it gets the director back on the right track.

When Becca and Tyler (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould)'s mother (Kathryn Hahn) was a teen, she got into a huge fight with her parents over her relationship with an older man, left, and never saw her parents again. Becca and Tyler have never seen their grandparents, but after fifteen long years, Nana and PopPop (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) want to see their grandchildren for the first time. In the aftermath of a nasty split with her husband, their mom goes off on a cruise with her boyfriend while Becca and Tyler adventure to Pennsylvania to meet their grandparents for the very first time (all while Becca films a documentary film). Everything seems to be going well at first, but after a while, the kids start to notice some strange behavior. Their grandparents are a bit odd during the day, but they're straight-up insane after 9:30 PM, wandering around naked, scratching walls, etc. What is truly going on here? Are Nana and PopPop just senile elderly people, or is there something more sinister at play? If you've ever seen an M. Night Shyamalan movie before, you know the answer to that question.

We're on the cusp of Oscar season right now, and in the next few months, we'll see quite a few movies that are few better than The Visit. That's not really a question in my mind. Shyamalan's latest picture is a B-movie at best, and a tedious slog at worst. But when it's good, when it gets down and dirty and when it gets scary, I was truly stunned by how great it was. The mix of comedy, emotional drama and found-footage chills makes for a bizarre experience and one that you wouldn't expect from this film. There are some scenes that are side-splittingly funny and there are quite a few moments that will have you clutching your armrest, but at the same time, Shyamalan brings this emotional poignancy to it that strangely works at times (not always). In its base form, The Visit feels like an experimental picture- Shyamalan is pushing boundaries on tonal clashes, testing limits and simply seeing what all is going to work. And it doesn't always work, but he brings a lot of interesting stuff to the table.

The acting in The Visit is a mixed bag of oddly terrifying and ridiculously overdone. Olivia DeJonge carries a lot of the emotional weight of the film and her documentary storyline surprisingly works well. Meanwhile, her cinematic brother, Ed Oxenbould, is exceptionally good at being annoying. Oxenbould's Tyler is a wannabe rapper and it makes for some of the most cringe-worthy moments of the film. There's a bit of emotional subtlety to Tyler that makes him more interesting, but I still question Shyamalan's decision to make the character so incredibly grating.

The performances from the grandparents are very interesting to say the least. I wouldn't say that they're "good" in the traditional sense of the word, but they're sufficiently spooky at times and they fit Shyamalan's tone to perfection. Peter McRobbie brings a bit of normality to PopPop, as we definitely don't see him doing as many weird things in the early goings of the film. So when the terror goes down, it's even more scary to see PopPop turn into a lunatic. To contrast that, Deanna Dunagan's Nana is alarming from the first time that you see her. Just take one look at her and you know there's something up. Her performance is so stilted and so well-oiled that it becomes all the more effective in generating scares as the film goes on.

The comedic elements in The Visit work at times, but for me, the horror stuff was what really struck a chord and made me enjoy this film. For the most part, this film is perfectly executed to generate the most suspenseful and scary sequences possible. There are very few calm moments in The Visit, mostly because of the way that the film is structured. The film begins on Sunday Morning and moves onto go through Monday Morning, Monday Night, Tuesday Morning and so on. Basically, with every scene, it starts out normally and then something weird happens. That formula is followed throughout with few exceptions, but it escalates well as the film goes on.

But despite the structural issues and tonal inconsistencies, something about The Visit consistently got under my skin. I think that it has something to do with Shyamalan's ambition and the way that he shifts away from basic haunted house and found footage cliches. I knew the basic twist going in and I still was wondering what exactly was going on with the grandparents. The hints are there, but no easy answer is given. And the funny thing about it is that you can see every jump scare coming, and yet, you fall for it every time. That's the sign of an effective horror film to me. You're being fed the bait, but you still bite down.

With the scare factor, Shyamalan is back on the right track. That's not a question in my mind anymore. But what about everything else? In all honesty, this movie still falls short in many other places. The basic story is compelling, but that strong emotional angle that the filmmakers try to pull at the end doesn't work, and in the aftermath of the film's disturbingly violent and intense conclusion, it just felt out of place. In addition to that, the film's basic structure hinders the dramatic tension, as you pretty much know what will happen in each scene. It drags some of the energy out of the scene and I did feel quite bored at times during the film.

And yet, for what it is, The Visit is a more-than-satisfying horror film and the first step in what I think will be a big comeback for M. Night Shyamalan. Many elements are still missing or don't work well, but there's so much that's good about this film that I was left more thrilled than bored. The third act of the film is tremendously chilling and if Shyamalan can make more movies that work consistently on that level, I would be so, so happy. He will make another great movie someday, but for now, The Visit is a promising start, a B movie that doesn't explain too much, that is both terrifying and entertaining, and can often be a perfect blend of thrills, screams and nervous laughs.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.8/10)

Image Credits: Forbes, The Wrap, Screen Rant, Flickering Myth, Joblo

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Olivia Cooke in talks to star as female lead in Steven Spielberg's 'Ready Player One'

Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One is undoubtedly one of my most anticipated movies for the next few years. Once the famed director signed on for the project, it was immediately hyped as a technological revolution, a film that would change the way that we saw the medium of cinema. The 1980s reference-filled source material was also a plus for me, and the Willy Wonka meets virtual reality plot truly piqued my interest. Then the rumors started arriving that Spielberg was courting Gene Wilder for the film, and considering the actor's past roles and his long-standing retirement, that really got me excited. With a date that will appeal to both awards season voters and commercial audiences, the film industry will likely be keeping a very close eye on this one. Even though the film is just over two years out, Warner Bros., Village Roadshow and Spielberg are already on the hunt for the actors that will lead this blockbuster. And if The Hollywood Reporter's source is to be believed, the cast for this is starting off nicely.

According to THR, Olivia Cooke, star of Sundance darling Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, will star in Ready Player One as Sam (aka Artem3s), the Canadian blogger friend of our lead protagonist Wade Watts (still uncast). Cooke has nabbed the role and is in active negotiations right now. She was recently rumored to be on the shortlist for Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: Episode VIII, but that seems unlikely at this point. All in all, I love this casting choice. Cooke was brilliant in Me and Earl, which is still one of the very best films of 2015. She has a real emotional depth that she is able to channel and if the screenplay for Ready Player One is as smart as the concept, I have a feeling that she'll do a great job. With one role cast, we'll start to see more from this film in the near future. Ready Player One debuts on December 15, 2017.

Image Credits: Nerdist

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Christopher Nolan's next film set to hit theaters in July 2017

Christopher Nolan is, without a doubt in my mind, the best director in Hollywood right now. Maybe Tarantino and Edgar Wright are running close behind, but Nolan is leading the pack- every film is a new and unique vision, operating on the grandest scale possible. From crime thrillers like Memento and Insomnia, to cerebral sci-fi thrillers like Inception and Interstellar, to his classic Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan is one of the few filmmakers left that I would deem to be a "visionary." Whether or not you love his work, there's no denying the craft and imagination behind it. Nolan's last film, Interstellar, was without a doubt his most polarizing yet. Some critics (like yours truly) considered it to be a masterpiece, while others (James Rocchi is the most notable) deemed it to be a total disaster and one of the year's worst films. However, there's no denying that the film was a total success, with $675 million at the worldwide box office, 5 Oscar nominations (including one win) and a high spot on the IMDb Top 250. So how will Nolan follow it up? That question has been rolling around the heads of film fans for most of the last year, and now, we sorta have an answer.

Warner Bros. has now set Christopher Nolan's untitled new film for a July 21, 2017 release date. That's around the same time that Nolan released The Dark Knight, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, so I think that it's obvious that this will be another big project. It's hitting theaters on the same day as a new Fox animated flick, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and Pitch Perfect 3, one week after the latest Planet of the Apes flick, and one week before Sony's Spider-Man reboot. An incredibly crowded frame and if Warner Bros. is managing to fit this film in there, they must think that it's something special. There is absolutely no other information on the top-secret project, and with a release date that far out, I think that it's safe to say that we won't hear anything about the film for a while. The "Mystery Box" style of marketing can frustrate me sometimes, but nobody handles it better than Nolan and I can't wait to hear more about his next project. But without even hearing a title or a synopsis, this film has shot up to become one of my most anticipated for 2017. And man, what a year that's shaping up to be. New films from Nolan and Edgar Wright, as well as Star Wars: Episode VIII, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Spielberg's Ready Player One. I'm very pumped to see the possibilities that 2017 holds. 

Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter

Monday, September 7, 2015

Early buzz from Telluride and Venice gives preview of 2015 awards season

After a long summer movie season that was both exciting and exhausting, we have finally reached the 2015 awards season. We've already seen a few movies that could potentially play as Oscar contenders this year (Inside Out, The End of the Tour, Mad Max: Fury Road), but now, we're getting to the season where a new awards player drops every week. The Telluride and Venice Film Festivals kicked off the festival circuit right, with several big-ticket premieres and a lot of buzz for some big films. Some Sundance and Cannes favorites increased their momentum, while other films proved to be bona fide smash hits. Here's a quick breakdown of what went down at these two festivals and what the overall Oscar implications are for these films.

The 2015 Venice Film Festival opened with Everest, Baltasar Kormakur's real life disaster pic, which features an all-star cast led by Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington and more. While I think that it's clear now that Everest is not going to be an Oscar favorite, reviews from the Lido were still mostly positive. The film sits at 72% on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment, with solid scores from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Indiewire gave the film a "B+", while The Playlist and Time Out London each posted favorable notices. The Telegraph and The Wrap were noticeably less positive, and ultimately, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw was not a fan, giving the film 2/5 stars. But overall, Everest had a solid showing at Venice and is looking at some pretty decent box office success when it opens later this month.

Carol was a big hit at Cannes back in May and it continued its strong run at Telluride. This film has been crushing it at festivals and I assume that it will continue to do so until its December 18th release. Cannes hit Son of Saul also continued its festival run and I wouldn't be surprised to hear some foreign language film buzz for this one. And finally, before we get to all of the potential Oscar players that debuted, there was one film that hit it big at both festivals and that film was Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa. The stop-motion animation comedy received a 5/5 star rating from The Guardian and similarly strong praise from other trade magazines. It's safe to say that we'll be hearing quite a bit more about this one in the near future.

But now, let's move onto the Oscar race. While most of the awards vehicles received strong praise, there were a few that landed with a bit of a thud. Tom Hardy's gangster drama Legend still has a Toronto premiere ahead, but the response at Venice was noticeably muted. The Brian Helgeland-directed pic currently holds a 57 on Metacritic and a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with opinion split down the middle. Some, like Dave Kalhoun at Time Out London, were big fans of Hardy's brash performance, while others were less impressed. It's safe to say that this wasn't the home run I was hoping for. Sarah Gavron's Suffragette also failed to generate much traction at either festival, with a negative review from The Playlist and mixed ratings from Variety and The Guardian. However, there's still a lot of hope for this one, as some critics seemed to really dig it (Fred Topel at Crave Online heaped on the praise, calling it "This year's Selma"), but it'll need some strong momentum to overcome this initial reaction.

One of the hottest tickets at both Venice and Telluride this year was Scott Cooper's Black Mass, the gangster drama that chronicles the relationship between notorious gangster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and the FBI. And while the reaction to the film wasn't rapturous, Cooper's film still got some pretty solid buzz, especially for Depp. Variety called his performance "mesmerizing" in their very positive review, Screen International deemed his turn "broodingly psychotic" and The Wrap called it his "best dramatic performance since....Donnie Brasco." The film was generally well-liked, but nobody is deeming it a new gangster classic. Overall, it's likely that we'll be hearing much more about Depp's Bulger over the next 6 months.

Eddie Redmayne's performance in The Danish Girl was another highly-anticipated one, and from the early buzz, he didn't disappoint. The film stands at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a clean sweep of positive reviews from the three major trades. Variety's Peter DeBruge said that the film is "destined to be the year's most talked-about arthouse phenomenon" in what was certainly the film's most glowing review. It's unclear whether Redmayne has the potential to win a second-straight Oscar, but this was definitely a good start for the film.

There were four films that debuted at the initial fall festivals that I would consider to be breakout films. While not everybody loved Lenny Abrahamson's Room, the reaction has been pretty strong so far. Coming from indie distributor A24, it's unclear if Room will be able to pick up much awards traction, but "A-" reviews from Hitfix and Indiewire certainly will help. I can definitely see Brie Larson gaining some awards attention, but ultimately, it's all about how A24 markets this film- if it gets a big push, there could be some love thrown its way.

Tom McCarthy's journalism film Spotlight, which chronicles the tale of the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, was also a huge hit at both festivals, debuting to spectacular reviews. Critics praised Michael Keaton's performance in the film, stating that he might be able to gain some momentum after his well-received turn in Birdman last year. And while Keaton snagged a lot of the buzz, the film was a success too, receiving perfect scores from Hitfix and Time Out. With an early November release date, I have a feeling that this one is here to stay.

Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation landed with an emotional gutpunch at both festivals, shocking everybody with its raw intensity. The first major awards player to be released on Netflix, this one has the potential to be a game-changer for the industry, especially if audiences respond to it the way they did at the festivals. The Playlist gave the film an "A", Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called it "grim, grueling and gripping" and the overall consensus is that this is a tragic, must-see film. We'll see what Netflix does with it next month.

And finally, the biggest surprise of the Telluride lineup was that Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs would play at the festival. When it did play, the response was very, very strong. Alex Billington called it "one for the ages", while positive reviews flew in from all of the major sites. Michael Fassbender has now flown to the top of every Best Actor prediction list, and Aaron Sorkin's screenplay is probably up there as well. With a centerpiece debut at the New York Film Festival, Steve Jobs is in very good shape and is looking like a big contender come February.

That's it for the Telluride and Venice festivals, but don't worry, the festival season is far from over. The Toronto International Film Festival starts this weekend and we'll be bombarded by a ton of new films that will give us a much clearer picture of the Oscar race. But for now, these two festivals cleared things up and I'm very excited for the upcoming several months of films.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

'The End of the Tour' review

James Ponsoldt only has four full-length credits to his name, but so far, he has made a tremendous impact on the film world. Off the Black and Smashed generated some buzz, but The Spectacular Now really took him to the next level. Praised by critics and fans almost universally, the teen alcoholism drama is one of the best high school movies in recent years, perfectly balancing complex characters and weighty themes. For his follow-up, Ponsoldt has tackled another mature, sophisticated story, with real emotion and poignancy. The End of the Tour, the story of the relationship between author David Foster Wallace and Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky, is one of the very best films of the year, a grounded, human piece of cinema that firmly establishes Ponsoldt as one of the best character directors on the planet. Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel are magnificent, the atmosphere and music is calm and soothing, and the script is intuitive and smart, ultimately making The End of the Tour a film that's hard to forget.

In 2008, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) sits on his couch, typing away at another story. The phone rings. He picks up. "I'm not sure if you've heard this yet, but they're reporting that David Foster Wallace has died of a suicide," says the friend on the other line. Lipsky is in disbelief. He rushes to his laptop, only to confirm what he was just told. He starts moving boxes, rearranging things in his room, and searching for something. A tape recorder. He finds it. Rewinds it. And hits play.

With this set-up, we're launched into The End of the Tour, the true story of the interview between Lipsky and the late Foster Wallace (played brilliantly by Jason Segel). After reading a review praising Wallace's novel Infinite Jest as a masterpiece and a lock for nearly every book award possible, Lipsky picks up the 1,000 page opus and is immediately enthralled. He begs his editor to allow him to write a story on the conclusion of Wallace's Infinite Jest tour, and the editor reluctantly agrees. Lipsky packs his bags and travels to Wallace's home in Illinois. Over the next five days, the unlikely pair embarks on a journey of conversation and discovery, covering everything from television culture to fame to depression. Lipsky and Wallace become true friends, and a bond is formed that will impact both of them in surprising ways.

Something about Ponsoldt's films just hits me in the right spot. When I first saw The Spectacular Now, I was completely swept up by it and everything that Ponsoldt did made me more invested in the characters and story. Because of how much I loved that film, my expectations for The End of the Tour were sky-high. They were undoubtedly met, and maybe even surpassed. What works about Ponsoldt's films is not only the themes and directorial style, but the attention to detail and the way that everything feels so complete. His films are laser-focused, with as little filler as possible. This one is no different. From frame one, the focus is on Lipsky and Wallace- their relationships, their perspectives and the way that they change each other. The characters change as the story evolves, and it allows for a genuine feeling of emotion as the film progresses, especially as it nears its sad, but undoubtedly perfect conclusion.

It also helps that the film is structured with simplicity, allowing the audience to really get deep inside the heads of the characters and feel a close relationship with them. For some audiences, this might prove to be boring. Most of The End of the Tour takes place in humble Midwestern houses, cars, libraries, bookstores and the like. But to call that "boring" or "uninteresting" would be to underestimate what makes this film special. There's not much flash because that's not the point- the goal of The End of the Tour is to make you listen. Truly, seriously listen. Examine what the characters are saying and why they're saying it. Get into the head of Lipsky and Foster Wallace. The true depth of this literary epic, along with the spectacular structure and quiet, reserved feel makes The End of the Tour a movie worth seeking out and treasuring for a long time.

Segel and Eisenberg are the stars here, and even though we get small, but memorable performances from Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer and Ron Livingston, this film belongs to its two main stars. Eisenberg is always an interesting actor in my view, because he manages to give a similar performance in nearly every film, but always do such a good job. It's a little different this time around. With David Lipsky, Eisenberg is channeling less of that whipsmart Zombieland/Now You See Me tone, and definitely less of the smartass tech mogul thing that he did with The Social Network. Here, he's much more subdued. He still has certain nervous elements to him, but with The End of the Tour, there's something completely different in the air. Eisenberg struggles to break out of the Eisenberg shell because he has such a distinct voice and look, but this film showed a new side to him that was quite impressive.

Segel gives the much more showy performance, and depending on how the fall awards season plays out, I can see him getting an Oscar nomination. I'm not overly familiar with how Foster Wallace talked and acted in real life, but while watching the film, I completely forgot that I was watching Jason Segel. It's an excellent character performance and Segel brings a ton of depth to the film. Foster Wallace is obviously an iconic writer, but Segel humanizes him with ease. He delivers the dialogue with crisp skill and it's just absolutely wonderful to watch these two characters talk.

That brings me to my next point- the script by Donald Margulies is truly masterful. He had a lot of good material to work with thanks to Lipsky's interview and the accompanying novel, but it's still incredibly impressive. The way that Margulies synthesized the information to work to the heart of the story is admirable, and what we get is an examination of fame, television culture and modern day America, but most importantly, the relationship between these two men and how it meant something to both of them and changed their lives (especially Lipsky's). While listening to and watching the film, you sit there and nod your head in agreement, which I think is the sign of something that really hits the nail on the head.

The basis for this film was already pretty strong thanks to the performances and the script and yet, it gets even better. Ponsoldt's direction is magnificent, perfectly balancing the spectacular cinematography of Jakob Ihre and the performances. Ponsoldt's camera gets close into the faces of the characters, bringing out their true emotions as they talk and dissect their lives. The cinematography contrasts that with the sort of beautiful emptiness that only the midwest can provide, and an iciness that works on every level. And finally, the music by Danny Elfman is terrifically devastating, providing a steady pulse and highlighting the emotion of the film's best moments.

The End of the Tour is not your typical biopic and I'm thankful for that. It's a quiet film and one that is not at all concerned with flair or show-off filmmaking. Instead, this film demands to be felt and it demands to be examined. There's so much here to dissect, making it one of the most intelligent films of the year. But most importantly, it's one of the best on a basic character and human level. In the relationship between Foster Wallace and Lipsky, Ponsoldt and Margulies have found a universal bond, a unifying emptiness, an existential longing that these characters feel too. That humanity, that emotional feeling, that skill and precision- that's the true achievement of this masterpiece.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A+                                            (10/10)

Image Credits: Rolling Stone, EW, Roger Ebert, Variety, A24