Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscars Live Blog!

The Oscars are here. We're in for a long, but hopefully entertaining night. And I'll be covering it every single step of the way, just as I have for the rest of the awards season. This is it- Hollywood's biggest night before we start this whole thing all over again. We're just under three minutes away. Let's get this show on the road!

-It's 8:30 PM here on the East Coast. The Oscars have begun!

-What a way to open the show. I absolutely loved that montage.

-Chris Rock enters the stage. And the #OscarsSoWhite jokes begin.....

-Very solid monologue from Rock. Tackled the scary subject in an incredibly pointed way. A little rambling, but I loved it.

-Emily Blunt and another white person are here to present the Best Original Screenplay award.

-Spotlight should get the easy win here, but great scripts from the other four nominees.

-And the first win of the night for Spotlight. It might be the only win as well......

-Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are presenting the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. They're starring in The Nice Guys in May. I can't wait for that one.

-Kinda funny that Gosling is presenting in a category that his movie, The Big Short, will surely win.

-The Big Short wins Best Adapted Screenplay. Hopefully the first of two awards tonight.

-And after a whirlwind 25 minutes, we've reached the first commercial break of the night.

-Wow. Wow. That was absolutely hysterical. They are killing it so far.

-Sarah Silverman is talking about......something. She's introducing Sam Smith's song from Spectre.

-Wait, let's throw it back to something real fast. What was that Stacy Dash thing? Was that real? Fake? What was that? Does anybody know?

-Okay, I get it now. That was a reaaaallly inside joke. Interesting choice. Rock is spreading blame all around tonight.

-Sam Smith's performance was alright. That song was pretty mediocre, not gonna lie.

-Henry Cavill and Kerry Washington are introducing one of the best movies of the year, Ridley Scott's The Martian.

-Washington is talking about The Big Short. Another great film.

-I gotta be honest though, I really thought they were talking about Spotlight.

-Big Short deserves Picture. It's one of the most terrific high-wire acts of the year.

-J.K. Simmons, winner for Whiplash, is introducing our five nominees for Best Supporting Actress. Should be an easy win for Vikander.

-We're 40 minutes in and 2 awards have been handed out. This is kinda nuts.

-Alicia Vikander wins Best Supporting Actress for The Danish Girl. If any acting category was going to be a surprise, it was that one. This is going to be a very predictable night.

-3 awards. 45 minutes. At this rate, we'll be here until 1 AM.

-Mad Max: Fury Road wins Best Costume Design. What a day. WHAT A LOVELY DAY!

-Steve Carell and Tina Fey are talking about how Production Designers take us to "where bears live?"

-Should be another easy win for Mad Max: Fury Road.

-Two for two so far! Gimme more Mad Max!

-Best Makeup and Hairstyling is up next, so we'll probably see Mad Max go 3 for 3.

-3 for 3. I hope they win everything.

-Jennifer Garner and Benicio Del Toro are introducing more Best Picture nominees. Del Toro talks about the worst of the bunch, The Revenant.

-Garner talking about Fury Road. Could it win Best Picture? I'm starting to think it could happen.

-Anything but The Revenant has been my motto all season. And that is still my motto tonight.

-Chris Rock is more prevalent in this show than any other host has been. Very good stuff.

-"Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams and shoulda been nominee Michael B. Jordan"- So good.

-Emmanuel Lubezki will win his third in a row for The Revenant. No question.

-And Lubezki wins. No shocker there, but still not a clinching victory for Inarritu's film.

-Another win for the Best Film of the Year. I'm ecstatic.

-The Black History Month Minute tells the story of Jack Black. That was so good. Another commercial break. I'm perfect so far on my predictions.

-Interesting way to kick off all the sound categories. If Mad Max takes both, I'll go nuts.

-Five wins. Five wins for Mad Max: Fury Road. I'm beaming.

-SIX. SIX WINS. This is nuts.

-If Visual Effects is next, this could be where I go wrong. Mad Max might win here too.

-What an upset. Ex Machina tops the heavy favorites for a big win in the Visual Effects category.

-The droid stars of Star Wars are on stage and I love this so very, very much.

-Chris Rock is picking on Leonardo DiCaprio a lot tonight. That's what you get for being the acclaimed front-runner all season and then whining about how you had to be in the cold.

-Get the Minions off the stage.

-Bear Story wins Best Animated Short Film!

-Best Animated Film is up next! And we get Buzz Lightyear and Woody. This is a bizarre turn of events.

-Inside Out or bust.

-A win for the second Best Film of the Year. So happy.

-Pete Docter delivered a short, soulful speech. He's one of the best.

-The Weeknd is here to perform a song from Fifty Shades of Grey. How did we let this happen.

-Meh. I think we're getting Supporting Actor next, which should be a great Oscars moment.

-Bridge of Spies and Spotlight are being introduced by Kate Winslet and Reese Witherspoon. I still haven't figured out the whole "let's talk about all the Best Picture nominees" thing.

-Chris Rock is killing it so far. This is one of the funniest Oscars in recent years.

-"Should Trumbo have been a bigger hit?"


-Stallone should win here. And get a standing ovation. And everybody'll cry.

-Oh. My. God.

-How did Rylance beat Stallone. Crazy.

-Louis C.K. is delivering a brilliant monologue right now. The comedy has been great this year.

-The winner was.......what again? That was a really long title.

-A Girl in the River wins! Onto Best Documentary Feature. If The Look of Silence wins, I'll be very happy.

-Nope, Amy wins. I don't know if it was good or not, but Look of Silence is such an essential movie.

-Chris Rock has not strayed away from controversy. This has been interesting.

-Schwarzanegger left a really sweet video for Stallone. That was cool.

-Whoopie Goldberg aka Oprah, according to a tweet from a dumb person, is here to talk about something. I think it's the Governors Awards. Yup, it is.

-Time for the annually scheduled food/bathroom break.

-The In Memoriam section, accompanied by a performance by Dave Grohl, is up next.

-Sorry for the quick break. Stutterer won Best Live-Action Short.

-Son of Saul should take home the trophy for Best Foreign Language Film.

-And it does! I still need to see this one desperately.

-Bro. Why is Joe Biden here? And why do we feel obligated to give every world leader that shows up a standing ovation?

-Joe Biden is talking about the terrible rape culture in America. A worthy topic, which I'm sure will lead into a Lady Gaga performance.

-Gaga is performing her soon-to-be Oscar winning song from The Hunting Ground. She's had a phenomenal year.

-Exceptional performance from Lady Gaga.

-Quincy Jones and Pharrell are presenting Best Original Score. Ennio Morricone better win. That is all.

-Ennio Morricone is here! And he was sitting with John Williams. I'm in movie composer heaven. His score for The Hateful Eight was pure brilliance.

-Best Original Song is up next, with Lady Gaga sure to win.

-Well, guess I was wrong.

-Sam Smith won and now, we've got Sacha Baron Cohen dressed as Ali G. This is one heck of a show.

-Baron Cohen and Wilde are introducing Brooklyn and Room. Both solid films.

-J.J. Abrams is presenting the Best Director Award. If Miller wins here, I will lose it.

-This is why we can't have nice things. Inarritu wins his second straight.

-Losing energy here fast. Should be an easy win for Brie Larson.

-No surprise there. Well-deserved win for Larson.

-Alright, here's how this is going to go. Leo's gonna win and get his nice little standing ovation and everything, and then, we're gonna go to Best Picture. And I'm either gonna go crazy or stay sane.

-Give the man his Oscar already.

-DiCaprio wins. No surprise there.

-Spotlight! Sorry for the delay, just had to catch my breath.

That's it for tonight. I'll be back tomorrow to close out the Oscar season.

'Evil Dead' icon Sam Raimi to direct 'World War III' at Warner Bros.

We live in a cinematic world where originality is rare. I know that I just wrote a whole article about how Deadpool connected with audiences because of its uniqueness, but it still was based off a famous comic book character. No, what I'm talking about is pure innovation- high-concept movies that take us to new places. I don't believe that original movies are "dead" as some people have said. They're just much more rare than ever before. Certain directors are the chosen ones who can get away with it- Del Toro, Nolan, Cameron, Tarantino, etc- while other big-budget sci-fi films like Jupiter Ascending and John Carter just didn't work out. But I applaud the studios for continuing to try. It'd be easy to just stop making original movies completely, and yet, every once in a while, we still get something cut from new cloth in Hollywood. And as I was scrolling through the other movie sites the other day, I read about an original movie that really caught my attention.

According to Coming Soon, director Sam Raimi, best known for Evil Dead and Spider-Man, will be directing World War III for Warner Bros. The film is based on a book by George Friedman entitled The Next 100 Years, which predicts the future of our global conflicts as the U.S., Russia, China and Japan shift world power over the course of a century. Per Variety, Bill Block's Blockmedia will produce at Warner Bros. I hadn't heard a single thing about this movie before, and now, I just can't wait to hear more. This is one of those concepts that is so tantalizing and so compelling that I'm hooked without even knowing much about the story or the cast. I just love the idea of revisionist history and futuristic visions, giving us a terrifying and/or fascinating look at a new world. Plus, Sam Raimi is a great director, someone who can blend blockbuster thrills with skillful genre craftsmanship. This movie just jumped to the top of my most anticipated list and I'm looking forward to hearing more about it over the next few months (hopefully). Although I wonder how much of the story they'll have to change if Donald Trump wins the Presidency. Should be pretty interesting.

Image Credits: Joblo

'Deadpool'- The Rise of a Box Office Supernova

As I've noted many times on this site, 2016 is a crucial year for the superhero genre. Is superhero fatigue a myth? Can R-rated films work in the genre? Will DC crumble? These are all questions on everyone's mind. We'll have to wait for another month to find out about the latter question, but the first two have been answered. And audiences have answered both with an unquestionable "yes." Deadpool is the first major blockbuster of 2016 and its success has been truly stunning. Since it opened on February 12, the bloody, profane film has racked up hundreds of millions at the box office and broken records, all while shattering the idea of what a superhero film truly is. How did this happen? And what does it mean for the future of superheroes?

Deadpool was always considered to be a bit of a gamble for 20th Century Fox. There have been R-rated comic book films before- Watchmen, 300, Blade, etc. But nothing as high-profile as Deadpool and nothing so closely associated with the Marvel label. Fox gave director Tim Miller and star Ryan Reynolds $58 million to work with and sent them on their way, hoping for a solid mid-February hit. Everybody figured that the first true big-screen edition of the Merc with a Mouth would be a hit with the fans, and yet, most pundits kept expectations in check for the mainstream appeal of the film. Forbes' Scott Mendelson called Deadpool the "ultimate Comic-Con movie" back in July, which seems like a wildly off-target statement now. But looking back on it, Mendelson reflected a common sentiment in Hollywood- Deadpool's appeal was thought to be limited to the hardcore fans and nobody else.

As the release date approached, some began to think that Deadpool would be a bit of a breakout hit. Box office projections put the film's opening around $70 million, putting it as one of the highest-grossing R-rated weekends of all time. Fox's violent roll-of-the-dice was set to pay off as a solid little blockbuster. But over the course of a weekend that continued to see soaring box office receipts, Deadpool evolved from being a standard Marvel hit into a four-quadrant smash. It grossed $132.4 million in its first four days, before adding $19.7 million on Monday for a $152.1 million Presidents Day frame. Its worldwide opening totaled $260 million. Over the course of that weekend, Deadpool snagged the record for an R-rated opening, the highest opening for an X-Men film, the highest opening for a February release, and the 17th highest grossing weekend of all time.

In its second weekend, Deadpool added another $56.4 million. In its third weekend, Deadpool raked in $31.5 million. Its current total stands at $285.6 million in the US and $609.8 million worldwide. It's already the highest grossing X-Men film to ever be released in the US and will probably top X-Men: Days of Future Past in the worldwide markets. It's on track to be the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. By the end of its run, it'll probably end up being the 7th or 8th highest-grossing superhero film ever. Where did this come from? And most importantly- should we be surprised by it?

I think that the clear answer there is no. I went into it a little bit in my review, but it's time to go more in-depth now. Deadpool was a movie that Hollywood didn't realize that people wanted until it hit them right in the face. That's the simple truth of it. Everything about this movie seemed wrong. It was rated R. It had a lot of brutal violence and crude jokes. It features a B-level Marvel character. On paper, Deadpool is a failure. The success of this film is a testament to the power of marketing and the power of fun entertainment. People have shown over and over that they don't want to see self-serious superhero films and that they don't need complexity. They want something fun.

Look at the comic book films that have been successful at the box office over the last few years. The "fun" and "lighthearted" Marvel universe has raked in billions of dollars. Humor-driven, goofy little flicks like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy have become breakout hits. Look at the comic book films that have failed. The "dark 'n' gritty" version of Fantastic Four fell on its face. Man of Steel made less than so many smaller superhero properties. The moviegoers of the world have spoken- they want fun, simple entertainment.

And that's what Deadpool promised. The marketing was crystal-clear to audiences- this movie is different, this movie is a blast, and you're gonna have a terrific time. It was so meta, so tongue-in-cheek and so prevalent over the last few months that it won over broad audiences. This is a four-quadrant hit, a word of mouth success that could evolve into one of the top five films of the year. Deadpool wasn't a hit because it was rated R, or because people thought that the character was great. It won because it was completely unique.

James Gunn's breakdown of this was incredible and it hits right to the point about how Hollywood will learn the exact wrong lessons about this movie. But in my mind, there are two lessons to take away from Deadpool. The first lesson is that people like fun movies. And the second lesson is that people like the same things in slightly different packages. People like to see the same movie, but they want a change of pace every once in a while. Something that shapes the basic concept into something new. Because let's face it- Deadpool is a pretty standard superhero film. But on the contrary, it's an inclusive audience experience and it's new and in-your-face in a way that audiences hadn't seen before. That struck people and they flocked to the movie that everybody was talking about. Deadpool is a triumph of authenticity, a movie that shows that if you stick to your guns and deliver a fresh product, the money will roll in. We may see higher-grossing films this year, but few box office surprises as pleasant as Deadpool.

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Joblo

Final Predictions for the 2016 Academy Awards

The extremely, ridiculously, absurdly long road to the Oscars has finally ended. Over a year of premieres, campaigns and pre-cursor shows will culminate tonight at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. And thank the lord that it's finally over. Oscar season has its place and it's a fun game for the town, but it's a grating, exhausting process. This year has been controversial (#OscarsSoWhite) and unpredictable (the Best Picture race), so here's hoping that Chris Rock and the producers of this year's show give us something that delivers on all fronts. With all that said, here are my final predictions for the 88th Annual Oscars. I would usually start with Best Picture, but since it's such a competitive category, I'll start from the bottom this year. Here we go.

The Short Winners-

Best Live-Action Short- Ave Maria
Best Documentary Short- Body Team 12
Best Animated Short- Sanjay's Super Team


Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

It's not often that we have two big-ticket special effects blockbusters nominated for a slew of Oscars in one year. In many of these categories, it's going to be an absolute dogfight between The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road. Both are visual and auditory experiences, but on the sound front, nothing was quite as immersive as the raw power of George Miller's wasteland epic. It should take both sound categories with ease.


Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Read above.


Will Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Should Win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Mad Max: Fury Road is a visually stunning film. If it wins this category tonight, I'll be more than happy. But I feel like this is the one area where the Academy can properly honor the stunning resurgence of the Star Wars franchise. The Force Awakens is visual perfection and the seamless blend of practical and CGI effects deserves an Oscar.


Will Win: "Til It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground

With the exclusion of Furious 7's hit song "See You Again" that honored the late Paul Walker, Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens To You" has emerged as the clear favorite. From a documentary about the terrifying statistics of U.S. campus rape, this is a topical song and one that has connected with a wide range of people. Expect an easy win.


Will Win: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Should Win: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

This isn't an easy category by any stretch of the imagination. With music from Carter Burwell, Johann Johannson, Thomas Newman and the legendary John Williams, there's a lot of competition. But Ennio Morricone, the iconic Western composer, has emerged as the clear favorite for his creeping, chilly score for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. Expect a triumphant victory for Morricone.


Will Win: Son of Saul

Laszlo Nemes' harrowing Holocaust drama has been the favorite all season, and nothing will change tomorrow night. Son of Saul could have received more noms that it did with the support in some corners, but it'll have to settle for a Foreign Language win.


Will Win: Inside Out
Should Win: Inside Out
Spoiler: Anomalisa

Inside Out is not only one of the best animated films of the year, it's one of the best films. No questions about it. But just like Son of Saul, it'll have to settle for a victory in a lower category. Anomalisa gained some momentum, causing some Inside Out fans to get a little scared. Honestly, there's no reason to be- the esoteric puppet drama has limited appeal, giving Inside Out the easy win.


Will Win: Amy
Should Win: The Look of Silence

Amy has dominated all year and will win again at the Oscars, but I can't help but be slightly disappointed that The Look of Silence isn't walking away with the trophy. It's a truly insightful and dark piece of cinema and one that will be studied for generations.


Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Does anybody know what Production Design is? Anybody? Do the Production Designers know what Production Design is? I don't know much about this category, but I do know that Mad Max: Fury Road will be taking home the trophy.


Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Yup, Mad Max wins again here. The makeup in that film was astounding.


Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Quite the shocker here. Another win for Mad Max!? Who would have guessed it.


Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Now this is just getting tiresome.


Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Emmanuel Lubezki will win his third Oscar in a row for his visceral, au natural work on The Revenant. Even though more deserving nominees have emerged over the past few years, Lubezki has always gotten a certain core of voters with his dynamic work. Expect another easy win, even though Mad Max (or even The Hateful Eight) is really more deserving.


Will Win: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Should Win: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Even in a packed category of Original Screenplay nominees (Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out and Straight Outta Compton round out the top five), Spotlight gets the easy win here. Terrific screenplay, terrific movie, easy victory.


Will Win: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short
Should Win: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short

Best Adapted Screenplay is a less striking category than Original, making it even easier for The Big Short to come in here and sweep the competition. It won easily at the WGA, and there's no reason that The Big Short won't replicate that success at the Oscars.


Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

This year, if any category was going to have some significant competition, it was going to be Best Supporting Actress. With five dynamic performances in this category from Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rachel McAdams, Alicia Vikander, Kate Winslet and Rooney Mara, this one was projected to go down to the wire. Unfortunately, Vikander wrapped up the race pretty early. It's not surprising- this was Vikander's year, and her performance in Ex Machina also got a significant amount of love. I wish that we had an acting category that wasn't completely set, but so it goes.


Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Should Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Mark Rylance's subtle performance in Bridge of Spies has an outside chance according to some pundits, with Mark Ruffalo and Christian Bale also in the running. But make no mistake. This has been Sylvester Stallone's year since the beginning. The Oscar voters have wanted the moment of Stallone walking up on stage to accept his trophy since they first saw Creed back in November, and there's no way that anybody else is going to change that.


Will Win: Brie Larson, Room
Should Win: Brie Larson, Room

Honestly, I don't know how Larson wrapped up this category so early. Jennifer Lawrence's Joy had a lack of momentum, Charlotte Rampling shot herself in the foot with her comments about the Oscars controversy, and I guess Cate Blanchett won too recently. However, I did at least figure that Larson and Brooklyn star Saoirse Ronan would be in a dogfight until Oscar Sunday.

Yup, I was wrong. Larson wins here easily.


Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Should Win: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins his inevitable Oscar for The Revenant on Sunday. Everyone knew this was happening, and after a very weak year of lead acting performances, DiCaprio clinched it early in the process. Michael Fassbender should win for his screen-commanding performance as Apple titan Steve Jobs, but it just wasn't meant to be. DiCaprio wins here handily, sure to receive the second standing ovation of the night.


Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

For a while, this was the most competitive category. George Miller's adrenaline-fueled epic against Alejandro G. Inarritu's daring journey into the cold winter of Canada. I figured that Miller would have the upper hand because of two reasons

A. Miller has never won.
B. Inarritu just won last year.

But after a critical, crushing win by Inarritu at the Directors Guild Awards, it's looking like the director of The Revenant will become the first director since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949-1950. I've just come to accept this one.


Will Win: The Big Short
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

It all comes down to this. The one category of the night that is completely and totally unpredictable. First, let's run through what certainly won't win. Room is a thoughtful and sad film, but it's too intense and depressing to win the big award. Not enough people saw Brooklyn for it to emerge victorious. The Martian had the momentum earlier, but there wasn't as much uproar over Ridley Scott's omission as I thought there would be, leaving the film in a tough spot. And finally, Bridge of Spies is too safe and unsurprising to take the prize.

That leaves us with four movies- Spotlight, The Revenant, The Big Short and Mad Max: Fury Road. The latter choice is pretty unlikely- after all, over at Gold Derby, Mad Max has a 1% chance to win. But with so much support in the lower technical categories, the achievement of George Miller's film cannot be ignored. The chances are slim, but it's still a factor in the race.

The Big Short and Spotlight are the two most beloved choices. Everybody in the Academy likes these films, and they'll benefit enormously from the Oscars' preferential ballot system. That system requires that all members rank the Best Picture winners from #1 to #8 and benefits a more consensus pick, instead of the film with the most ardent support. Both well-liked films, these two have been in a dogfight all season.

The Revenant is the hot pick right now. It has scooped up wins at the Directors Guild, the Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs, leading the charge into Oscar night. However, Alejandro G. Inarritu's frontier Western epic is divisive and brutal, two things that the Oscars don't usually favor. So there are a lot of questions about The Revenant.

It's honestly still a toss-up. Any one of those three films could win. But I have to go with history. The Producers Guild Award has matched up with the Best Picture trophy for the last nine years, mostly because of the balloting similarities. So I'm going with The Big Short. But I could be very wrong. Nothing in this category would surprise me.

Those are my picks for the 2016 Academy Awards. Here's hoping for a fun and entertaining night. Looking forward to Chris Rock's complete skewering of the Academy.

Image Credits: Variety, Forbes, Hollywood Reporter, Screen Rant, Guardian, Telegraph, Rolling Stone, NPR, Rolling Stone, Variety, Vanity Fair, Telegraph, YouTube, NY Times, Hollywood Reporter, Joblo

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Tye Sheridan to star in Steven Spielberg's 'Ready Player One'

I love Star Wars with every inch of my being, but I must say, when Episode VIII moved to December 2017 back in January, I was disappointed for a number of reasons. First, the obvious- I was mad about having to wait another seven months to see the next chapter in the Star Wars saga. But beyond that, I was upset that Episode VIII's presence in the December calendar scared away other major films. James Cameron's Avatar 2 fled the month and so did Steven Spielberg's video game epic Ready Player One. Now, I don't care about Avatar 2 in the slightest. But I'm really, really pumped for Ready Player One. Adapted from one of the most popular sci-fi novels in recent years, Spielberg's film has so much promise. With the concept of virtual reality, a cast that includes Ben Mendelsohn and Olivia Cooke, and the potential that Spielberg might coax Gene Wilder out of retirement, Ready Player One is one of my most anticipated films for the next several years. And I just got a little bit more excited.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tye Sheridan will star in Ready Player One. Sheridan, best known for his breakout performance in Mud, will play Wade Watts, the teenage video game devotee at the heart of the story. In the THR report, the trade magazine cites that after a massive nationwide search left Spielberg unsatisfied, Sheridan emerged as the clear favorite and inked the deal to play Watts. Sheridan is one of the most talented young actors in Hollywood, so this is a tremendously thrilling, and yet, simultaneously obvious choice. Sheridan gained massive critical acclaim for Mud and has garnered praise for The Stanford Prison Experiment and Joe as well. He'll next be seen in X-Men: Apocalypse as Cyclops, breaking him into the national spotlight for the first time. But even if Apocalypse brings him to new audiences, I'm fairly certain that Ready Player One will be the movie that solidifies him as a star. Ever since I heard about this film and read the Deadline article that accompanied the production announcement, I've been fairly certain that we're looking at a true game-changer. And I really hope I'm right. Ready Player One hits theaters on March 30, 2018.

Image Credits: Nerdist

'Eddie the Eagle' review

I don't think a movie like Eddie the Eagle needs much introduction. If you've seen the trailers, you should know what you're getting into with this film. The crowd-pleasing ski jumper flick hits all of the popular underdog story beats without even breaking a sweat. There aren't many surprises in store nor is the movie all that revolutionary. Instead, what you'll find is an immensely enjoyable experience, a satisfying winter diversion bolstered by two strong performances from Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman. Eddie the Eagle may not be overly interested in delving deeper into the lives of its characters, but it manages to keep you hooked with its well-calibrated mix of formula and style. It's a rock-solid film in every single sense of the word, and one that audiences will simply devour over the coming weeks. You've seen films like this before, but that doesn't stop Eddie the Eagle from working on nearly every level.

Throughout his whole life, people doubted Michael "Eddie" Edwards (Taron Egerton). He spends a year in the hospital as a kid with a leg injury, which causes everybody to tell Eddie that he shouldn't focus on sports.  But Eddie stays determined and tries his hand in a variety of sports, with the loving support of his mother (Jo Hartley). After failing in track and field, pole vaulting, hurdles, and more, Eddie turns to the Winter Olympics and attempts to become a world-class skier. He comes close to making the British National Team for the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Canada, but he just misses the cut, mostly due to the objections of Dustin Target (Tim McInnery), the British Olympic Committee Chairman who will stop at nothing to make sure that Eddie doesn't end up in the Olympics.

And yet, Eddie doesn't give up. Instead, he turns to ski jumping, a sport that Britain hasn't participated in for decades. He packs his bags and travels to Germany to begin training for the games, leaving his job and his family to follow his dreams. But when he arrives, he's met with a rather cold reception. The world-class jumpers from Norway, Sweden and other expert countries turn away from Eddie and pretty much let him fail. He tries and fails and tries again, which leads hard-drinking former American jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) to take notice. With Peary as his coach, Eddie's dream becomes a reality as he captures the hearts of millions and evolves into the lovable loser icon of the '88 games.

Sports movies are very formulaic. That's just the nature of the game, and they'll never change. That's why I'm always positively baffled when people complain about these types of movies and call them "cliched" or "predictable." Honestly- what did you expect? They follow a set trajectory and that path will never change. It's all about how well the story is told and the style that the filmmakers bring to the table. Eddie the Eagle is syrupy and sweet and very, very entertaining. Everything about it is good. It's not great, it's not mediocre, it's just plain good. It aims to be a solid B-movie and it hits that mark right on. You know how I said a few weeks back that movies like Zoolander 2 are easy to review? Well, movies like Eddie the Eagle make my job even easier.

If there's one weak point in this flashy sports biopic, it's the characters. Because while Eddie and Bronson are both likable, there's very little attempt by director Dexter Fletcher and screenwriters Sean Macauley and Simon Kelton to dig deeper and find out what really makes them tick. Bronson has a bit more of a clearly defined redemption arc, going from alcoholic, chain-smoking loser to admirable hero. Eddie's story is a bit more empty from a depth perspective. You like Eddie, and you feel for him because the whole world is against him, but there's not much to the character. If I was going to describe Eddie in a few words, I would say he's determined and.......well, that's about it. The film fails to answer the question of why Eddie is so insistent on being an Olympic champion. You just sorta have to accept that and move on.

What Eddie the Eagle lacks in substance, it makes up for in style and pure enjoyment. Set in the heart of the 1980s, the film effectively represents that era on the big screen. Big hair, loud colors and a thundering techno score from Matthew Margeson bring some vivid energy to the somewhat calculated story, creating a bright, poppy ride. The film comes in at a brisk 105 minutes, and every minute of that is authentic and satisfying, a lighthearted romp that works in equal parts comedy and drama. The audience at my screening ate this film up, cheering and laughing at the big moments as it progressed. Credit to the screenwriters on Fletcher for creating a film that is enormously fun and engrossing.

Eddie also gets a boost from two tremendous lead performances, both of which add some credibility and swagger to the mostly unknown story. It's sorta odd to see Jackman transitioning into the middle-age part of his career- he's hanging up his claws after one more ride as the Wolverine, and now, he's taking on a mentor role in an inspirational sports movie. And yet, like with everything he does, Jackman brings his all to the role, creating a character that is tender, hard-edged, and also completely made-up (look up some trivia for the movie, it's fascinating). Egerton, on the other hand, continues to solidify his spot as one of the great rising stars, essentially playing the opposite of his breakout character in last year's Kingsman: The Secret Service. This dude is seriously gonna be a force for years to come.

As long as your expectations are in check, you'll find that Eddie the Eagle is a terrific little February treat. Disney went and made a Coast Guard movie this year, so Fox picked up the slack and created what essentially plays out as this year's McFarland, USA/Million Dollar Arm, a sports movie with a bit more of a lively edge. Eddie the Eagle knows what it is, and it never attempts to go under the surface and find something more meaningful at the heart of this story. That will disappoint some audiences, but for most sports movie fans, Eddie the Eagle will be another great addition to the collection. It's a movie that is simply impossible to dislike.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.4/10)

Image Credits: Variety, LA Times, Guardian, Screen Rant

Friday, February 26, 2016

First trailer for Disney's 'Pete's Dragon' is a magnificent tease

I still haven't figured out if I'm gonna get sick of talking about all of these new Disney live-action remakes/reboots/sequels. As I sat down today and looked at all of the articles that needed to be written, I saw that I had yet to talk about the Pete's Dragon trailer. "Huh. I thought I did that one," I said to myself. Then I remembered that I had actually written about a different Disney movie, the Mary Poppins sequel, and had merely mentioned Pete's Dragon in the article. So yeah. There are a lot of moving parts in the Disney universe right now. And this is without even mentioning The Jungle Book, which just got a huge plug over at Birth. Movies. Death earlier today. I feel like I'm going to be writing about live-action Disney movies as much as Marvel or Star Wars at this point. But if they all look as good as Pete's Dragon does, I don't think I'll have too much of a problem with it. The first teaser was released at Disney's Soulless Corporate Marketing Event, also known as the the Disneyland Diamond Anniversary TV Special. Take a look at the trailer for the upcoming film below!

Now, this is just a teaser trailer, so it doesn't show much in terms of character or story. And yet, I found myself mesmerized by this tease. Before last weekend, I could have cared less about a Pete's Dragon live-action remake. I never watched the original animated film, and I must say, it's not exactly high on my priority list. However, something is very striking about this new film. The cast, led by Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban and Wes Bentley, is quite enticing, and it's also interesting that Disney picked David Lowery, best known for the indie film Ain't Them Bodies Saints, to helm the project. But even avoiding those basic elements, there is just a vibe to the first trailer for Pete's Dragon that is magical. Set in the 1980s, this almost feels Spielbergian in tone and I love the way that it seems to be blending these different elements of whimsy and thematic intensity. It's a great piece of marketing, simply because I suddenly found myself very excited for a film that I had absolutely zero interest in. Pete's Dragon arrives on August 12. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this one.

Image Credits: Joblo

'Alien: Covenant' adds Demian Bichir, Billy Crudup, Carmen Ejogo and more

At this point, it's easy to forget how pumped people were for Prometheus back in 2012. Billed as Ridley Scott's glorious return to the world of hard-R science-fiction, the fan excitement for the Alien prequel/spin-off/franchise was palpable. The trailers were buzzy and mysterious, leaving audiences enticed for the event movie. Was it an origin story? A direct prequel? A spin-off set in the same universe? The questions remained until the release of the movie, but when the film finally hit theaters, the buzz deflated. Prometheus still stands at 73% on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who will defend it today. I think that it's certainly better than its reputation, although there's no denying that it poses a lot of questions that it doesn't seem to be too interested in answering. I didn't fall head over heels for Prometheus, but I always held out hope that Scott would return for a sequel. The years passed and rumors kept dropping, with nothing official coming from Scott or Fox. Finally, we received word that Alien: Covenant would be coming to theaters in October 2017. Now, some more details are dropping on the cast of Covenant and it's looking pretty good so far.

Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterston were already signed on, but this week saw several new cast members joining the project. Demian Bichir and Danny McBride were the first to jump on board, with several others arriving shortly after. According to a wide range sources, six additional actors have joined the cast of Alien: Covenant- the upcoming La La Land's Callie Hernandez, Selma's Carmen Ejogo, Upstream Color's Amy Seimetz, Empire's Jussie Smollett, Billy Crudup, and Gods of Egypt's Alex England. That's a wide and diverse cast and I have to say that I'm quite impressed. I love Crudup and Bichir, and McBride can be great in the right situation. No matter how the film ends up working out, it's almost a guarantee that the cast will turn in great performances. With very little connections to Prometheus beyond Michael Fassbender's David, I'm interested to see how this plays out. I have so many questions about Covenant that just can't be answered yet. Scott's still a terrific filmmaker and he's playing in a beautiful sandbox, so ultimately, it all comes down to the script. And I gotta be honest, a screenplay by the guy who wrote Transcendence and the guy who wrote Green Lantern isn't exactly promising. The re-write by John Logan calms my fears a little bit, but I'm still approaching this with a little bit of trepidation. Nonetheless, it's a new Alien movie. Of course I'm pumped. October 6, 2017 can't come soon enough.

Image Credits: Screen Rant, Slash Film

'Deadpool' review

X Gon' Give it to Ya

For many fans, a big-screen version of Deadpool that wasn't awful seemed like a pipe dream for a very long time. The beloved character has only grown in popularity over the years in the comics world, but that success didn't seem to translate to the big screen. Director Gavid Hood and his team completely butchered the character in the widely despised X-Men: Origins- Wolverine, closing the mouth of the profane and witty assassin and completely betraying the heart and soul of Wade Wilson. Origins star Ryan Reynolds and the fans continued to press Fox for an R-rated version that stayed true to the character that Rob Liefield created, but Fox avoided it at all costs. Thankfully, someone (maybe Reynolds, maybe not Reynolds) leaked test footage of a violent Deadpool movie proposed to Fox and it unleashed a fan uproar. Fox had no choice and they finally gave Deadpool the green light.

And so far, Fox's decision has paid off. The first major R-rated superhero movie in years has made $516 million worldwide, with $250 million alone in the US. It had the 17th highest grossing weekend of all time and the highest grossing weekend ever for an R-rated film. It has made more money than any other X-Men film. By all accounts, Deadpool is an absolute juggernaut. But honestly, this really shouldn't be a surprise. Because in addition to the pent-up demand and the wonderful marketing campaign, Deadpool is a fantastic movie. Unconventional in its structure, Deadpool utilizes the classic superhero origin story to become what is probably the most meta comic book movie ever made- and that's a good thing. With a fantastic performance from Reynolds, a script that will have you laughing for days, and a bit of the ol' ultra-violence, Deadpool is the breath of fresh air that the comic book genre desperately needs.

Deadpool (Reynolds) is on a mission. He's after someone on his "naughty list" as he tells his cab driver, Dopinder (Karan Soni). Armed with an arsenal of knives and guns, Deadpool is on the hunt for the notorious Ajax (Ed Skrein), who he simply refers to as Francis. Ajax permanently scarred him and ruined his life and Deadpool is gonna take his revenge. But first, we gotta flash back to the beginning of this wild story.

Wade Wilson is a small-time mob enforcer and yet, a good person in general. He does the dirty work that nobody else really wants, but he's kind to kids and has a respect for women. His whole life changes when he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a prostitute who he immediately falls in love with. Wade and Vanessa fall into a whirlwind romance and it's clear that they both care about each other. Unfortunately, life gets in the way. Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer and given not much time to live. Angered and scared by this diagnosis, Wade takes drastic action and signs up for a program that he thinks will cure him. Instead, it's just a cruel trick by Ajax to brainwash him and turn him into a superslave. Wade isn't quite down with that. After escaping, Wade turns into the motormouth anti-hero Deadpool and with the help of Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), he goes on the hunt to take down Ajax and the evil organization that ruined his life.

Deadpool isn't necessarily a revolutionary take on the archetypal superhero origin story. The circumstances for Wade Wilson are a little different, but the basic tale is the same. So in that case, why are audiences flocking to Deadpool in such massive droves? I think it's a combination of factors. With the inundation of costumed hero films in the market today, my guess is that audiences were really interested in something that was tongue-in-cheek and incredibly self-aware. But more than that, Deadpool is a testament to the power of passion. It's clear from watching the movie that Reynolds, director Tim Miller and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are all passionate about the character of Deadpool. This movie doesn't feel like a soulless corporate product. It feels like a group of enthusiastic individuals got together with $58 million dollars and made a movie completely outside of the studio system. Audiences are responding to that idea and thus, we have the first megahit of 2016.

But the most impressive part of Deadpool is that the anarchy of the character and the energy of the filmmakers translates into a great film. It's a small-scale story and an intimate one, making for a change of pace from the humongous scale and widespread destruction that has dominated the superhero genre in recent years. And yet, more critical than that is the fact that Deadpool is fun. Tremendously smart and witty, Miller's film appeals on a basic level. In a world where superhero films are becoming more and more convoluted and crazy by the day, Deadpool appeals on a pure, instinctual level. It's loud, it's in your face, it's violent, and it's so easy to like. Because while this movie might be brutal and vulgar, it's not sadistic. I have a feeling that pretty much anyone could watch this movie and love it. It's a simply story and one that will be paying dividends for audiences for a long time.

Reynolds is the other reason that this movie works so well. The charismatic and appealing actor has toiled in the gutters of Hollywood for so many years with very little reward. His most successful movie was probably The Proposal, and his forays into the superhero genre (Green Lantern, Origins) were met with vehement hatred from fans. Even his well-received indie movies like Mississippi Grind and Buried weren't seen by anybody. So Deadpool works as a bit of a redemption story. After years of failure, Reynolds has finally found his iconic hero. Reynolds and Wade Wilson is a match made in heaven and he so thoroughly fits the character that it's impossible to see anybody else in the role. The supporting cast (led by Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin and TJ Miller) is great, but every scene in Deadpool is improved by the smirking sarcasm of Reynolds. It's a hilarious performance that will come to define his career in the coming years.

Now, humor in superhero films is nothing new. Marvel Studios has thrived on funny characters like Iron Man, Star-Lord and Ant-Man and in general, Marvel films feature a generous dose of comic relief. But Deadpool is of a completely different breed. In fact, I would argue that it's almost a pure comedy, goofy and profane and violently over-the-top. There are more penis and sex jokes in Deadpool than in every other superhero movie combined. But in addition to that, there's a lot of smart commentary about Hollywood and the superhero genre. Whenever a movie opens with the credits stating "20th Century Fox Presents......A Film by Some Asshole," you know that the irreverence will hit new heights. Deadpool attacks Green Lantern, the X-Men and just costumed heroes in general. Constantly winking and filled with fourth-wall breaking, the film's comedy is almost overwhelming at a point.

The action is also pretty wild. Although it's not nearly as violent as you might expect, Deadpool still takes things to a level that we've never seen before in a heroic action movie. Even with the occasionally juvenile tone, Deadpool doesn't skimp on the blood and guts. Heads roll, blood spills, brain matter splatters across the screen- this is the real deal. And yet, the violence never feels like it's overdone. Reading that you're probably thinking "What? How can decapitation and savage murders not be too much?" Well, Deadpool is no more vicious than Taken or the first Wolverine movie. It's a revenge narrative that is just a little more open about depicting the repercussions of the on-screen carnage. What results is a sort of happy medium- it's violent enough that the fans will be satisfied, but never so graphic that casual moviegoers would be turned off.

But despite the more primal aspects of the film, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick never lose sight of what's important- the story and the characters. At its essence, this is a tale of two people who fall in love and the terrible things that go wrong in their relationship- it's a romance movie, just with more violence. It's a superhero take on True Romance and it's so much fun to watch. The romance heightens the emotional connection and ups the stakes, connecting the audience to Wade and Vanessa and further investing everybody in the action. On top of that, every character in Reese and Wernick's script fills their preordained role (as decided by the perfect opening credits). Skrein's Ajax is a great British bad guy. T.J. Miller is terrific comic relief. Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are excellent sidekicks. The story and characters in Deadpool may be simplistic, but sometimes, being uncomplicated is not a bad thing.

Deadpool is unique and fresh, but also very familiar and sweet. It takes the superhero origin story and twists and turns it into a stylish, cartoony and dazzling creation. In a fundamental way, that's the reason that it works so very well. It isn't good because it's R-rated or because there were a lot of sex jokes. Deadpool works because it turns the genre completely on its head in a movie fueled by the pure passion of the filmmmakers. It's a movie that strikes a perfect tone, and is energized by a soundtrack and an attitude that just can't be paralleled in any way. Hollywood will try to replicate this success, but it just ain't gonna happen- this is a one-of-a-kind film. Bolstered by the charm of Reynolds, the supporting cast, a phenomenal script and a deft directorial touch from Tim Miller, Deadpool is a new superhero classic. It's a movie that is so completely in love with itself that you can't help but love it too.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                            (8.5/10)

Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Variety, EW, Telegraph, Joblo

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda in talks for Disney's 'Mary Poppins' sequel

As if owning Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar wasn't enough, Disney has found a way to print more money- bring back classic films and put a new spin on it. So far, they've had great success with Cinderella and Maleficent, and they have tons of films coming down the pipeline based off this idea. The Jungle Book hits theaters in just under two months, Pete's Dragon will debut later this year (more on that soon) and Beauty of the Beast will undoubtedly be a smash hit next February. I'm really excited for all of these films, but if I'm being honest, the movie that has piqued my interest the most is the studio's upcoming Mary Poppins sequel. Set in Depression-era London, director Rob Marshall will bring back the beloved character for the continued adventures of the Banks family. Now, a sequel to a decades-old classic is usually a bad idea. But the talent involved in this Poppins follow-up has me so excited, and the news that has slowly trickled out over the last couple of weeks has only raised my interest level.

According to Variety, Emily Blunt is in talks to take on the daunting task of playing Mary Poppins in this upcoming sequel. Blunt worked with Marshall on Into the Woods, and per Variety, has always been the favorite for the role. But the good news doesn't stop there. According to a wide range of sources, Hamilton megastar Lin-Manuel Miranda is also in talks to join the film in the role of Jack, a lamplighter who will parallel Dick van Dyke's Bert. Neither actor has signed on yet, but it seems like things are looking good at this point. If you don't think that this is perfect casting, you're crazy. Blunt is the heir apparent to Julie Andrews for this character, featuring the distinct mix of toughness and charm that you need to pull off this role. And Miranda is the new darling of Broadway, a breakout superstar who will be a major player in the world of musical theatre for a very long time. This is a match made in heaven and I'm so pumped to see this universe come back to life. I've never been a huge fan of the original classic, and yet, this film is just too intriguing to resist. There's no release date, but I expect that we'll be hearing a lot about this one in the coming months.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

'Blade Runner' sequel to debut on January 12, 2018

Most of the time, films stuck in development hell are approached with a lot of trepidation when they finally get off the ground. And yet, I'm not nervous in the slightest for the Blade Runner sequel. The currently untitled follow-up to Ridley Scott's 1982 classic may seem like a bad idea on the surface. After all, look at how Promtheus turned out. That movie had a lot of promise as well and it ended up being a disappointment for a lot of fans. But I can't help but feel like this Blade Runner sequel will end up being different. First off, Harrison Ford is back as Rick Deckard, probably his third most iconic role after Han Solo and Indiana Jones. On top of that, Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher is penning the script and Scott himself will be returning in a producer role. Finally, the new blood is terrific. Ryan Gosling is one of the best young actors today, and to see him join the Blade Runner universe with Ford will make for a cinematic event. And who can forget about Denis Villeneuve. The director was an unknown at the start of the decade, but the massive success of Incendies, Prisoners, and Sicario, Villeneuve has emerged as one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. So yeah, I'm excited for this movie.

Earlier this week, Warner Bros. announced that the Untitled Blade Runner sequel will hit theaters on January 12, 2018. Check out the press release:

"Alcon Entertainment's sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 masterpiece BLADE RUNNER, to star Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford (reprising his role as Rick Deckard), and to be directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners), will be released by Warner Bros. in North America on January 12, 2018, it was announced by Alcon co-founders and co-CEO's Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson.

Sony Pictures Releasing International will distribute in all overseas territories in all media.

The story, written by Hampton Fancher (co-writer of the original) and Michael Green and based on a story by Fancher and Ridley Scott, takes up several decades after the conclusion of the 1982 original.

Principal photography is scheduled to begin in July 2016. Multi-Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins (Sicario, Prisoners) will reunite with Villeneuve on the project.

Alcon Entertainment acquired the film, television and ancillary franchise rights to BLADE RUNNER in 2011 from the late producer Bud Yorkin and Cynthia Sikes Yorkin to produce prequels and sequels to the iconic science-fiction thriller. Cynthia Sikes Yorkin will produce along with Johnson and Kosove. Bud Yorkin will receive producer credit.

Ridley Scott will serve as Executive Producer. Frank Giustra and Tim Gamble, CEO's of Thunderbird Films, will also serve as executive producers along with Bill Carraro ("Terminator: Genisys," "The Golden Compass")."

Just think about how awesome the winter of 2017/2018 will be. Star Wars: Episode VIII and Blade Runner 2 back-to-back. Now, is the January release date a little peculiar? Yes. But I think that the potential is there for Warner Bros. to do a limited run in 2017 for Oscar qualification before the wide expansion in January. Not likely, but it could happen. Also, as many other writers have pointed out in regards to this film, the release calendar is changing. Things aren't quite what they used to be, as Deadpool and many other blockbusters have reinforced. January and February are no longer cinematic dumping grounds, and I have no doubt that this will be an excellent film. The Blade Runner sequel has loads of potential and it is very, very high on my most anticipated list. I can't wait to hear more about it.

Press Release via Slash Film
Image Credits: Joblo

'Zoolander 2' review

It has been nearly 15 years since Zoolander first graced the screens of cinemas around the world and introduced us to the world of high fashion dominated by Hansel, Mugatu, and the iconic Derek Zoolander. The film wasn't a massive hit in any sense of the word- it made $45.1 million off a $28 million budget, with meager worldwide returns. But somehow, just like Will Ferrell's news media satire Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Zoolander gained new life on home video and expanded to wider audiences. Mix that in with the mythic bit of trivia that Ben Stiller's male model flick was the first comedy to open in the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 terror attacks, and you have something of a cult classic. It's one of those movies where its cultural impact is probably better than the film itself. It's a funny movie, but I never was one to really clamor for a sequel (I've always been rooting for an Austin Powers 4 as my comedy guilty pleasure). Nonetheless, after over a decade, the rabid fans finally got what they asked for- Zoolander 2 has arrived.

And man, it really sucks. There's no other way to put it. I can't even think of a way to justify the mess that is Zoolander 2. There's no "Well, it's a bit of a mess, but I laughed quite a bit!" Nope. In addition to failing as a piece of filmmaking, it's also completely devoid of laughs. For a while, Zoolander 2 rides on the coattails of the original. After all, Derek and Hansel are great characters and witnessing the complete downfall that occurred after the end of the original is pretty entertaining. But as it moves on, the plot slows down and the air is literally sucked out of the film. Not even a mildly engaging appearance by Will Ferrell in the final act can generate many laughs and it all just feels rather flat. We've seen worse movies in 2016 already, but chalk Zoolander 2 up as the first major disappointment.

After opening with the murder of Justin Bieber, Zoolander 2 flashes back and views the last fifteen years in the history of Derek, Hansel and the other characters that featured prominently in the original film. And unfortunately, things haven't necessarily gone very well for these guys. Only a few short days after it opened, The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too completely collapsed, killing Zoolander's wife, Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor) and permanently damaging Hansel's face. In the years after, Derek's life fell apart quicker than the poorly structured building- he lost his son, Derek Jr., to child services and quit the modeling industry. Hansel moved to a remote area of California to enjoy a series of orgies, and Derek became a recluse in the snowy depths of New Jersey.

Nearly a decade later, the industry will come knocking again. With the help of Billy Zane (playing himself), the two models resume their career under the eye of hipster designer Don Atari (Kyle Mooney). But while Derek and Hansel have stayed the same, the modeling game has changed drastically- the ambiguously gendered All (Benedict Cumberbatch in a hilarious extended cameo) dominates the stage, causing the two veterans to be labeled as washed-up. And yet, there's more going on than the clueless former stars know. Interpol Agent Valentina (Penelope Cruz) has uncovered a possible conspiracy to kill the world's most beautiful people, and Derek may be the one to connect it all together. So they all get together to save the world. I think. I don't really care. And I don't think the movie does either.

If that plot synopsis didn't make sense, well, don't expect much more from the movie. I tried my best to put the bizarrely sprawling plot into a cohesive summary, but it just can't be done. Oh, and I didn't even get to the plot about Zoolander's reconciliation with his long-lost son (Cyrus Arnold), the ancient prophesy proposed by Sting, Kristen Wiig's modeling titan Alexanya Atoz, or the arrival of Zoolander's nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell). Zoolander 2 has so many moving parts, and it results in a plot that relies on celebrity cameos as its connective tissue. The weirder it got, the less convinced I was that director Ben Stiller and the four credited screenwriters knew what they were doing or even really believed in the story that they were telling.

But that's okay, right? A good plot isn't necessarily a benchmark for comedic success. Funny movies have had messy, lackluster plots before and still worked as laugh riots. And this is where the desperately unfunny Zoolander 2 hits a wall. It cannot earn a laugh to save its life. It throws the gauntlet on the screen in an attempt to make the audience laugh. The situations are increasingly absurd, the plot is absolutely ludicrous, and the lineup of celebrity cameos is never-ending- Olivia Munn, Susan Sarandon, Joe Jonas, Demi Lovato, Lenny Kravitz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Susan Boyle, A$AP Rocky and even more. And yet, it still can't conjure up much comedic magic. Sure, I might have chuckled one or two times. They were bound to get a few hits in there. And yet, for much of the runtime, Zoolander 2 feels like it's stretching every inch of itself to create something that simply is not there.

It's stunning to me that a group of such talented people came together to create a movie that is so totally out of tune. And I'm not talking about the actors. Good actors have made bad movies before, it's nothing new there. And anyways, most of the principle players are relatively solid in the film. Ben Stiller's Zoolander is still a terrific screen creation, despite the fact that there's nearly nothing to work with this time around. Seeing the nitwit male model interact with Owen Wilson's Hansel again is a lot of fun, and they actually have some decent chemistry with Penelope Cruz, wasted in a supporting role. And we haven't even talked about Will Ferrell yet. If the rest of the movie wasn't such a disaster, Ferrell would emerge as the film's third act savior. Mugatu steals every moment on screen- he commands any attention and goodwill that the audience has left by the film's overblown and confusing conclusion.

With such a talented core of actors, it's ultimately the writers who screw this one up. Four writers (!) are credited on Zoolander 2- Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller. The fact that they've all turned in some stellar output in the past makes it all the more disappointing. Zoolander 2 ultimately feels like a constant clash between a bunch of different styles and tones that just never emerges as one clear, focused vision. It honestly seems that at a certain point, Stiller and the other writers just gave up any sense of cohesion and put the rest of the film on autopilot. The pacing drags, the subplots build up, and there's a real sense of "Ah, screw it," that runs throughout the entirety of the film.

Failing to generate a solid laugh for most of the runtime, Zoolander 2 is completely dead on arrival. Maybe it was just too late, or maybe something went really wrong during production, but whatever the case, this is a movie that simply doesn't work. It isn't as blatantly cliched as Ride Along 2 or as disgustingly gasp-inducing as Dirty Grandpa. And yet, purely by the virtue that it isn't funny, Zoolander 2 almost manages to be as bad as those two cinematic disasters. Films like this make my job relatively easy- there's not much to criticize at all. It's just a bad movie that doesn't work.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.5/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Forbes, Screen Rant, Telegraph, Joblo

Saturday, February 20, 2016

'The Revenant' wins Best Film at the BAFTAs as Oscar Sunday looms large

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the craziest Best Picture race ever.

Just when you think that the race is clearing up, something else comes in and screws it all up. I've already been over the winners of many of the other guilds and I see no reason to repeat myself again. Just know this race is going to go down to the wire. The Big Short, Spotlight and The Revenant all have a pretty even shot of winning the big prize. The Revenant added another accolade to its impressive collection this weekend, taking home Best Picture at the BAFTAs, essentially the British version of the Oscars. The frontier epic also won awards for Best Sound and Cinematography, as well as another Best Actor win for Leonardo DiCaprio and a Best Director triumph for Alejandro G. Inarritu. With each pre-cursor show that passes, The Revenant is looking more and more like a Best Picture favorite.

Over at Gold Derby, 15 out of 25 experts are predicting that The Revenant will win Best Picture. 6 experts have Spotlight coming out on top, and the remaining 4 are giving the edge to Adam McKay's The Big Short. With only ten days until Oscar Sunday, we're forced to deal with the unfortunate fact that The Revenant might win Best Picture. It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the film- I feel like it's winning its awards for all the wrong reasons. I'd like to keep telling myself that there's no chance of the overindulgent western winning the big prize, especially in a year so stacked with brilliant titles. But I also can't avoid the facts. With support from the actors, the directors and the technical branches, as well as 12 total nominations, The Revenant is in a great place. As of now, it's the favorite. Say it ain't so. The preferential ballot still puts the divisive film at a big disadvantage, but that didn't seem to stop Birdman last year. If I had to make a wager right now, as much as it pains me, I would put my money on The Revenant. Look for more Oscar coverage soon.

Image Credits: Telegraph, Joblo

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

'Star Wars: Episode VIII' adds Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro and Kelly Marie Tran as filming begins

Star Wars: Episode VIII isn't even the next Star Wars film that will hit theaters. Let that sink in for a second. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first spin-off film under the supervision of Disney, will debut in December 2016 and beyond a cast photo and a bootleg teaser from Star Wars Celebration, we haven't seen much at all. So does it feel like Disney is getting a bit ahead of themselves by kicking off the marketing campaign for Episode VIII already? Yes. But do I care? Not at all. Filming commenced on Rian Johnson's Episode VIII yesterday morning (there's some debate over whether or not some filming was done on the film at Skellig Michael back in October, but that's beside the point), and to reveal the start of filming, Disney and Lucasfilm released a brief video to get fans excited. There isn't much in the way of new footage, but we get to see more of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a brief look at Johnson's first day of filming. Check out the video below:

Not much to see, but it still got me unreasonably pumped for a movie that is nearly two years away. In addition to that, Disney and Lucasfilm wrote up a press release announcing the start of production and the cast of the film. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Domnhall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong'o, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis and Anthony Daniels will reprise their role in the eighth installment of the franchise, with Benicio Del Toro, Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran joining the series for the first time. We knew that Del Toro would be joining the cast in a possibly villainous role, but the additions of Dern and Tran were quite surprising. I'm not overly familiar with Kelly Marie Tran, but I must say, if Laura Dern doesn't play Rey's long-lost mother, I'll be sorely disappointed. Gugu Mbatha-Raw was also rumored to join the cast, and yet, there was no mention of the Concussion star in the press release. We could possibly hear a few more casting announcements on the film as production continues, but I wouldn't expect to see much more footage. After all, this movie is still quite far off. Rogue One is coming more immediately down the pipeline, so that's where much of Disney's marketing will focus. Nonetheless, it was tremendously exciting to see a brief look at Episode VIII, which will be unleashed upon the world on December 15, 2017.

Image Credit: Screen Rant

'The Big Short' and 'Spotlight' win at the Writers Guild Awards, heating up the Oscar race

It's February 16. That means that we're a mere 12 days away from Oscar Sunday. For many films, it's now or never at this point. Studios are putting all of their assets into getting voters to select their films, as most Academy members are filling out their ballots this week. Certain categories are pretty much set. In fact, I'd say that most categories are a done deal besides the big one. Leonardo DiCaprio will win Best Actor for his gritty, committed performance in The Revenant. Brie Larson is close to a sure thing for her emotionally devastating turn in Room. Sylvester Stallone is a lock. Alicia Vikander is looking more and more like a guarantee as the race pushes forward. And much to my disappointment, Alejandro G. Inarritu will probably win his second straight Best Director Oscar over the extraordinary efforts of Mad Max: Fury Road's George Miller. The screenplay categories are also pretty set- The Big Short and Spotlight will win Best Adapted and Original Screenplay, respectively. So the results of Saturday night's Writers Guild Awards weren't necessarily a surprise. But it continued to complicate an already ridiculous race.

The Big Short and Spotlight took home the big prizes on Saturday night, winning the coveted Adapted and Original Screenplay awards at the Writers Guild Awards. There was no other foreseeable result but it still leaves the race in a very tight spot. So far, The Big Short has taken home awards at the Writers and Producers Guilds. The Revenant won Best Drama at the Golden Globes, as well as the DGA Award and Best Film at the BAFTAs (the British Oscars). And Spotlight emerged victorious at the SAG and WGA Awards, as well as numerous critical wins. With under two weeks to go, three films remain competitive in this crazy race and I'm still not sure if any film has a better chance than the other. The Big Short has history on its side- after all, the PGA is usually a great Oscar predictor. The Revenant has momentum, as well as the power of DiCaprio and Inarritu, both beloved Oscar favorites. And finally, Spotlight seems to be the consensus pick. There's very little divisiveness in regards to this film- pretty much everyone loves it. If I had to take a bet right now, Spotlight will win thanks to the balloting system that the Oscars use. But I really don't know. This is gonna go right down to the wire.

Image Credits: Rolling Stone, Joblo