Thursday, March 31, 2016

David Oyelowo and Gugu Mbatha-Raw to star in Bad Robot's 'God Particle'

Bad Robot is probably the most quietly powerful studio in Hollywood. The production company of Tinseltown superstar J.J. Abrams, the studio has been behind some of the biggest blockbuster franchises in recent years- Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and of course, Star Wars. But soon, Bad Robot could have its first home-grown franchise- the Cloverfield series. 2008's Cloverfield seemed like a successful stand-alone flick, but Abrams brought the possibility of an anthology series roaring back to life this year with Dan Trachtenberg's well-received 10 Cloverfield Lane. God Particle, the next film from Bad Robot, has not been confirmed to have any sort of connection to the Cloverfield universe. But all you need to do is read the plot synopsis to see why I'm drawing that conclusion. Centering around a team of astronauts who make a terrifying, reality-challenging discovery, God Particle seems like the kind of mysterious sci-fi project that would warrant the Cloverfield name. And now, the film has the acting clout to back it up.

According to a Variety exclusive, David Oyelowo and Gugu Mbatha-Raw have joined the cast of God Particle. Presumably, the two actors will lead the team of astronauts, with no other word on additional cast members. First-time feature director Julius Onah will be at the helm, with the film set to begin production soon for a February 24, 2017 release date.

People give J.J. Abrams a lot of hate for everything that he does. He's accused of being a rip-off who steals from the best, with his dissenters using films like Star Trek Into Darkness, Super 8 (a masterpiece, by the way) and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens as examples. But as a 17-year old kid, for my generation, he's the closest thing to a Spielberg that we have. Sure, you could throw Nolan in that mix as well, but Abrams means something to a lot of people around my age. He's one of the most influential filmmakers in Hollywood, and I absolutely love the standard that he's setting. In a world where whitewashing and gender inequality are still major topics of discussion, Abrams is shutting all of that down with critical roles for African-American and Latino actors, strong female protagonists and a celebration of diversity behind the camera too. Whether or not God Particle connects to Cloverfield, I'm excited either way. This sounds like an intriguing film, and with a similar formula to what Abrams did with 10 Cloverfield Lane, this could be another fun sleeper smash that announces the talent of a promising young filmmaker. Count me in.

Image Credits: Joblo

Warner Bros. and New Line tease summer horror slate with trailers for 'The Conjuring 2' and 'Lights Out'

Looking at the slate of movies for this summer is actually getting me pretty excited. It's striking how diverse this year's lineup is- there's no glut of action blockbusters or tentpoles, with everything expertly spread out over the four month frame. There are some big superhero movies (Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad), sci-fi blockbusters (Independence Day: Resurgence, Star Trek Beyond), adult dramas (Money Monster, Free State of Jones), raunchy comedies (The Nice Guys, Sausage Party, Popstar, War Dogs), animated flicks (Finding Dory, Angry Birds) and even more. There are also some pretty promising horror flicks on the horizon, with New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. leading the way with two major releases. First up, the studios will release The Conjuring 2 on June 10. A hotly anticipated sequel to the beloved 2013 flick, The Conjuring 2 will move the action to England with director James Wan back at the helm. Check out the main trailer below.

The Conjuring is one of the most impressive horror films in recent years, able to conjure (pun intended) up scare after scare for a thrilling ride. James Wan has a lot to live up to with this sequel, but from the looks of the trailer, there's a good chance that he's delivered another spooky chiller. Based on the famous Enfield Poltergeist case, The Conjuring 2 once again appears to be a mix of classic scares with period flair, giving the series a distinct flavor. The relationship between Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga's Ed and Lorraine Warren was the backbone of the original, and I like the way that Wan is emphasizing that again this time around. Overall, horror sequels aren't usually a good move, but if any film can buck that trend, it's this one. With a cast that includes Wilson, Farmiga, Franka Potente, Frances O'Connor, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Madison Wolfe and Steve Coulter, The Conjuring 2 hits theaters on June 10. Now, check out the trailer for the other summer offering from WB/New Line, David Sandberg's Lights Out.

Lights Out is based off Sandberg's short film of the same name, and oddly enough, I've actually seen the short before. I remember watching the short in theater class last year around Halloween (shout out to Mr. Seagroves), and it mesmerized and terrified me in equal measure. We received no introduction to the short film, and everyone was left covering their eyes and gripping their chairs as the two minutes unfolded. It's a great piece of work, and I encourage everyone to check it out. According to reports from inside the studio, Sandberg's feature-length adaptation has been testing great with audiences and could turn into a late-summer hit. This is a solid trailer, effectively introducing the concept to a new audience. If Sandberg is able to sustain the fear that he packed into the short in a full-length movie, then you can count Lights Out as one of my most anticipated movies of the summer. Lights Out stars Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello, Billy Burke, Emily Alyn Lind and Alicia Vela-Bailey and will debut on July 22.

Image Credits: Joblo

'The Divergent Series: Allegiant' review

Another year, another installment in the Divergent series. After a promising start in 2014 with the original chapter, director Robert Schwentke took over for Neil Burger and delivered a major disappointment. Insurgent was bland, poorly paced and just generally not a good movie, effectively slowing the series to a halt. Schwentke is back for the third chapter in the series, Allegiant, which further shows that there's literally nowhere left to go with this franchise. On a superficial level, it's better than Insurgent- the action is crisper, the score is pretty good, the look is impressive. But if Insurgent halted the franchise, Allegiant stagnates it. After three movies, this story has gone absolutely nowhere and by the end of this go-around, I was just utterly baffled. Delivering just over two hours of a story that feels completely and totally inconsequential to the overall arc of the Divergent franchise, Allegiant is another boring mess that can't muster up any excitement, intrigue or interest for most of its run time. Simply put, it doesn't give you a reason to care.

I'm gonna try my best to sum up exactly what this movie is about, so bear with me here, and if I'm wrong, please leave lots of angry comments. Okay, so it's set some time after that last one (not that I remember what happened), and things are going bad. Evelyn (Naomi Watts) is killing people and Johanna Reyes (Octavia Spencer) is about to engage in a civil war with her new government. Live executions are going on in the streets and tension between the now-dissolved society is at an all-time high after the death of Jeanine (Kate Winslet). But after hearing about the possibilities of a world beyond the wall that encircles Chicago, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller) and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) decide to break free and see what's truly out there.

After a daring escape, what they find is a fully-functioning society, led by David (Jeff Daniels). He informs the crew that Chicago was a big experiment and that there is a council searching for those who classify as genetically "pure." So far, there's only one who is completely pure- Tris. After a failed meeting with the council makes him upset, David enacts a new plan to do things with.......brainwash gas? Yeah, there's a lengthy segment of this movie devoted to a megalomaniac's plan to kill people with poison gas. And then it just kinda ends. I don't know, after a while, the movie really lost me and I stopped caring about whatever the filmmakers were trying to do.

Here's the frustrating thing about the Divergent franchise: there's a lot of talent here. Shailene Woodley is a great actress, who has given fantastic performances before in films like The Spectacular Now. Ansel Elgort was terrific in The Fault in Our Stars. The supporting cast of esteemed adult actors, led by Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Jeff Daniels, has all the credibility in the world. And do I even need to mention Miles Teller? The dude is one of the fastest rising stars in Hollywood. But the Divergent series is what happens when you take a bunch of extremely talented individuals and give them absolutely nothing to work with. There's no over-arching story to the Divergent franchise, and Allegiant stretches the issue further. At this point, I don't know what the hell is going on and I also don't know why anything is happening. It's a totally confounding movie.

Oddly enough, this time around the movie actually gets off to a fast and entertaining start. Even riding off the dull and sleep-inducing Insurgent, this installment finds itself with a significant amount of momentum at the start. Joseph Trapanese's thundering, thrilling score sets the stage with a brash energy, and that is carried over into the film itself. Lots of things happen in the opening minutes of Allegiant, and while some might find it overwhelming, I found it to be quite refreshing. It felt like there was a purpose, a trajectory that director Robert Schwentke was setting for the movie. The wall escape and the accompanying chase is undoubtedly the best setpiece that this franchise has seen so far, giving the movie a nice jumping pad to start on. As Allegiant began, I was actually compelled and maybe even mildly invested in the story. It was quite the shock for me.

And then the movie just sits there. For the other 90 minutes, not a single thing of interest or intrigue takes place. There's some talk about genetics, some mumbo jumbo about "pure" people, a lot of moping, an unsurprising twist and a dopey action conclusion that gives you no indication of where this franchise is headed. The plot jumps around, characters hop in and out of the story, and the action grows increasingly numbing as the film moves on. I sat with a blank expression on my face, watching as literally nothing happened on screen that hooked me into the story at all. After a promising start, this was just straight-up demoralizing.

For those who don't follow this whole YA adaptation game closely, Allegiant is the title of the final book in the Divergent trilogy, which was then split into two movies (Allegiant and next June's Ascendant). Usually, when a book is split into two movies, the first film in the set feels incomplete. It's supposed to be half a movie- that's why Mockingjay-Part 1 and Deathly Hallows- Part 1 were incredibly unsatisfying. And yet, both of those movies got by with promising bigger and better things to come in future installments. An odd thing happens with Allegiant. Somehow, it feels like a complete story. When it's over, it almost feels like the franchise is over. For some, this might sound like a net positive, especially after I complained about previous splits feeling incomplete. In reality, it's the farthest thing from a compliment that I can give this movie.

Allegiant doesn't feel like the first part in an epic conclusion because this franchise has lost its way completely and totally. It no longer has any idea what story it wants to tell or why they're telling it. There's nothing to promise for future installment because I don't think they even know what they're going to do with them. The best they can do now is throw some stuff up on the screen and hope that it sticks. And in Allegiant, they get lucky for the first 30 minutes. It's a good start. But after that, the internal logic of the movie is annihilated. Allegiant gets lost in its own universe, which is a universe that unfortunately doesn't include the audience. There are almost no words to describe how this film leaves you feeling at the end. It's a soul-sucking feeling, an emptiness that only the worst of Hollywood franchises can provide.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.8/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Yahoo, Screen Rant, Joblo

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

'War Dogs' trailer promises wild war comedy

Few comedies have struck the cultural zeitgeist as strongly as The Hangover did back in 2009. Billed as a raucous and wild R-rated comedy, the first adventure for The Wolfpack (led by Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) received fantastic reviews and made $467 million worldwide. The sequels were underwhelming and poorly received, but there's no denying the impact that the original had. Director Todd Phillips, also known for Due Date and Old School, was a large part of that success. Unfortunately, in the years since The Hangover Part III crashed and burned at the box office, Phillips has nearly vanished. But now, after a three-year hiatus, Phillips is roaring back with War Dogs, a mix of war action and the director's traditional comedic insanity. Similar to Adam McKay's transition to Oscar-winning dramedy with The Big Short, War Dogs will provide a big change of pace for the director. Check out the first trailer for the movie below.

Originally titled Arms and the Dudes, War Dogs definitely looks like a bro-tastic story. And I gotta be honest, after watching that trailer, I'm pretty excited for this film. It looks like a fascinating mix of the "How the hell did this happen?" story of Pain & Gain mixed with the drug-fueled insanity of The Wolf of Wall Street. Miles Teller and Jonah Hill are two of the best working young actors today, and they both seem like perfect fits for their respective roles. It is sorta interesting that Hill is playing a Donny Azoff-like role so shortly after Wolf, but then again, he looks like a good fit for the part so I'm not complaining. The tricky thing with this movie will be finding a way to make these unlikable characters seem a little more compelling. Wolf did it well, but this is a major aspect where Pain & Gain failed miserably- after all, it's pretty hard to sympathize with murderers. I think that Phillips will be able to pull it off, and I'm incredibly intrigued by this energizing first trailer.

War Dogs stars Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana De Armas, Bradley Cooper, Brenda Koo and JB Blanc and will hit theaters on August 19.

Image Credits: Joblo

Sunday, March 27, 2016

'10 Cloverfield Lane' review

10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the most enigmatic and, frankly, one of the most awesome cinematic experiments in recent years. Billed for months as Valencia or Untitled Bad Robot Project, J.J. Abrams and Paramount shocked everybody by dropping a trailer for this film in front of Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, similar to the way that Abrams announced the arrival of the original Cloverfield in front of Bay's Transformers in 2007. By revealing that the film had the word "Cloverfield" in the title, Abrams delivered a stunner, confirming the film to be a "blood relative" of the beloved 2008 sci-fi flick. The mysterious, chilling trailer mixed haunting music with a tease that "Something's Coming." It was a huge shock and a very pleasant one. At the time, there were only two short months until the film was set to hit theaters, and there were a lot of questions from fans. Is it a sequel? A prequel? A spin-off? Something set in the Cloverfield universe?

Well, to be honest, I don't know if Dan Trachtenberg's brilliant instant classic is any of those things. 10 Cloverfield Lane's connections are loose at best, and non-existent at worst. But with Abrams' goal of creating a new anthology series (think Twilight Zone) with the name "Cloverfield," this new film works in every way. A masterpiece of contained, smart science-fiction, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a Hitchcockian suspense thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. Even with high expectations, this film hits all the right notes. Led by a trio of great performances from John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a nail-biting film of atmosphere and intensity, terrifying and gleefully entertaining in equal measure. It's something that I think will be celebrated for a very long time.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is on the run. As 10 Cloverfield Lane begins, she's packing her bags, collecting what she can, and driving off to somewhere new. Her boyfriend (voiced by none other than Bradley Cooper) calls, begging her to come back. She won't even speak a word to him. She keeps driving. Soon enough, it's late at night, and there's a car that she can't quite shake off her tail. Next thing Michelle knows, she's in a brutal accident. Her car is decimated, and she's knocked out cold. When she wakes up, she's in an empty room. There's no cell phone signal, her leg is in a brace, and she's handcuffed to the wall. Within minutes, a large, gruff man named Howard (John Goodman) walks into the room.

Michelle is terrified. Who is this guy and why is she locked in his basement? She begs Howard to let her go, but he says that he can't. There has been some sort of catastrophe, and the world is no longer safe for humans. Howard tells Michelle that he found her on the side of the road, and when the strike occurred, he saved her life. Also inside the bunker is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a quiet, regretful young man with a broken arm, who tells Michelle that he fought hard to find his way into Howard's fallout shelter. After initial tensions, all seems well in the bunker. But who really is Howard? Is he telling the truth? Or is there something more sinister lying at the heart of this whole thing? Find out in the next episode of The Twilight Zone.

I say that in a slightly joking manner, but honestly, I'd be completely fine if Cloverfield became the new Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In fact, I would be absolutely ecstatic. Give me more movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane. Give me hundreds like it. This is a film that is nearly perfect, so frightening and arresting in almost every way. It's filled with almost unbearable tension- you'll grip your armrest in fear for most of the runtime. It's directed brilliantly, with Dan Trachtenberg announcing himself as the next big thing. The script by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecker and Damien Chazelle is phenomenal, creating rich, compelling characters that you'll be invested in. In fact, I have absolutely no problem at all in saying that Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Michelle is the best strong female protagonist since Ripley. This movie is that good. Everything about it screams sci-fi classic.

This is the rare review where I don't know where to start. I feel like I've given you just a bunch of reasons for why this movie is great, but I'm struggling to string all that together into something cohesive. Frankly, there's just so much that I love about this movie on a pure cinematic level that it's one of the few movies that I'm just going to be gushing over. If you've ever wished that Alfred Hitchcock had been around to make an Alien movie, this is the movie you've been waiting for. In fact, Trachtenberg might just be the filmmaker you've been waiting for. Of course, it's way too early to call Dan Trachtenberg the next Hitchcock. After all, J.J. Abrams and Damien Chazelle were also involved with this, and those guys have made some iconic films. But many articles have undervalued Trachtenberg's contribution to the film, and that's an enormous mistake.

From the early goings, Trachtenberg commands control of this film. Each scene in 10 Cloverfield Lane is intense. There is an air of uneasiness that surrounds each move, each plot twist, each character decision. It's an atmosphere and a mood that is not easily shaken, and it swallows up the entire film. Which is a good thing. Trachtenberg abandons the found footage style of Matt Reeves' (highly overrated) Cloverfield in favor of steady, engrossing camera work that sucks you into the film. The film is both claustrophobic and expansive, nostalgic in its 1950's B-movie style and equipped with a modern look. Trachtenberg is a master of composition and direction- the way he combines Jeff Cutter's sparkling cinematography, the cryptic script and Bear McCreary's powerful score is wonderful, and the performances he gets out of his actors are mesmerizing. Don't forget his name. We'll be hearing about him for a long, long time.

While Trachtenberg is the rising star of the show, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is already an established name. She has appeared in films like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Death Proof and The Spectacular Now, and done a fabulous job. But in many ways, this still feels like her breakout performance. I've always loved Winstead, and it was so amazing to see her evolve into this fierce and incredible character over the course of 10 Cloverfield Lane. Michelle is resourceful, smart and cunning, able to work her way around the most terrifying of situations. She's one of the strongest characters we've seen on the big screen in a long time, someone who deserves to be mentioned with other feminist icons like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. While 10 Cloverfield Lane shares many elements of a horror film, Michelle is no damsel in distress.

Beyond Winstead's gritty performance, the rest of the cast is equally impressive. Goodman's Howard is fascinating and horrifying, performed with a wild explosiveness by the iconic actor. Howard can be set off by even the smallest thing, and it's that sense of unpredictability that keeps 10 Cloverfield Lane interesting for its entire runtime. There are times where Howard, especially towards the beginning, seems a little too crazy for his own good. It reminded me of Stephen King's comment that Kubrick's version of The Shining didn't work because Jack Nicholson's Torrance was already crazy at the start of the movie. And yet, Goodman's portrayal is so nuanced and complex that Howard is never quite defined by his surface-level actions. Some have been petitioning for an Oscar campaign for the actor, and I would be completely on board with that. He's truly terrifying in this role. Finally, John Gallagher Jr. is great as Emmett, bringing a sweetness and humanity to the whole bloody affair. He rounds out a perfectly balanced trio of performances.

10 Cloverfield Lane keeps the tension running high for most of the film, building it up to the point where you'll probably be gasping for air as the claustrophobic setting turns violent. But just as it all calms down, Trachtenberg and the screenwriters send you straight into The Twilight Zone. If you've seen the original Cloverfield, you probably know what I'm talking about. The human drama takes a spooky twist and it'll surprise audiences who aren't expecting it. And if the ending is any indication, we could be seeing a sequel very soon. There's gonna be quite a bit of debate over the merits of this twist, and whether or not Abrams should have given this wholly original thriller a freshly minted franchise tag. In my mind, it doesn't matter- it got people to see a fantastic movie, so why's anyone complaining?

For now, fans and critics will debate 10 Cloverfield Lane over its connection to a larger universe, its implications in the overall scheme of Hollywood, and its box office results. After all, this was the kind of experiment that we hadn't really seen before in the world of complex marketing and target demographics. But in a decade, this film will be hailed as a classic sci-fi thriller. Announcing the stunning directorial talent of Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane blends unforgettable performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman with spectacular B-movie thrills for one of the first true gems of 2016. Delivering on every level, this one is a knockout.

Hollywood- more movies like this, please.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.5/10)

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford set to return for 'Indiana Jones 5' in 2019

I guess it was bound to happen someday. After Harrison Ford's massive success with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where he returned to the role of Han Solo, the iconic actor is set to reprise another one of his famous roles- Indiana Jones. In the aftermath of 2008's poorly received Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Ford will pick up the whip for (presumably) one last time. Check out the Disney press release below for Indiana Jones 5.

"Spielberg and Ford reunite as Indiana Jones returns to theaters July 19, 2019"

"Indiana Jones will return to the big screen on July 19, 2019, for a fifth epic adventure in the blockbuster series. Steven Spielberg, who directed all four previous films, will helm the as-yet-untitled project with star Harrison Ford reprising his iconic role. Franchise veterans Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall will produce.

"Indiana Jones is one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history, and we can't wait to bring him back to the screen in 2019," said Alan Horn, Chairman, The Walt Disney Studios. "It's rare to have such a perfect combination of director, producers, actor and role, and we couldn't be more excited to embark on this adventure with Harrison and Steven."

Famed archaeologist and explorer Indiana Jones was introduced in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark- one of AFI's 100 Greatest American Films of All Time- and later thrilled audiences in 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The four films have brought in nearly $2 billion at the global box office."

I still don't know how I should feel about this. Crystal Skull isn't as awful as some people like to think it is, but it definitely showed plenty of signs of weakness and I'm not sure that Ford can effectively handle the physicality of this role anymore. By the time Indiana Jones 5 hits theaters, the iconic actor will be 77 years old. Look, I saw him play Han Solo in TFA. He can do it. I'm just not sure if I want to see him do it. Unlike many, I've argued for a while that Indiana Jones should be recast and rebooted. Get Spielberg in the director's chair, have Williams do the music, whatever- just put a different actor in the lead role. Like Sean Connery is to the role of James Bond, Harrison Ford would always be the most famous and well-respected actor to play Indiana Jones. But at the same time, it would allow for the franchise to grow and expand in new directions, keeping the spirit of the series alive and young.

Indiana Jones was never about one actor or one group of people. Just like Star Wars and Bond, it has always been about immortality and timelessness. Indiana Jones is a timeless hero. He's smart, suave, clever and cunning, and he always beats the bad guy and gets the girl in the end. That appeal will never waver and it will never go away. The character shouldn't be beholden to one actor for years and years. Nobody can ever be as good as Ford- not in the role of Han Solo or Indiana Jones or probably even Jack Ryan. But it's time to move on. In my perfect world, this movie would never happen and Indiana Jones would be played by a younger actor in the inevitable Disney reboot.

But we don't live in my perfect world. We live in a world where Indiana Jones 5 is being made. What can ya do. I'm not overly excited, but Spielberg is one of the greatest directors ever, and if the script is good, there's potential. I'm not going to write it off yet, because there's so much good stuff riding on it. There are plenty of interesting directions that they can go with it, and if Spielberg has a great idea, I have faith in his ability to pull it off. But if nothing else happens, I just hope that they finally give Ford the proper send-off he truly deserves.

Image Credits: Screen Rant, Joblo

Red-band trailer for Seth Rogen's 'Sausage Party' is filthy and hilarious

When I first read the concept for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's Sausage Party a few years ago, I immediately thought it was comedic gold. An R-rated animated movie set in a grocery store? From the guys behind high-concept comedies like This is the End and The Interview? Count me in already. Maybe I have a really bizarre sense of humor, but the idea of watching "one sausage's quest to discover the truth about his existence" just straight-up tickles my funny bone. After Rogen and Goldberg announced the film, it bounced around a little bit before finally landing with Sony and Annapurna. And if the reaction from my friends (all 16-18 year olds) to this trailer is accurate, the studio could have a pretty sizable hit on their hands. This red-band trailer was retweeted thousands of times yesterday, and after the rough cut premiere at South by Southwest, this is slowly becoming a movie with quite a bit of buzz. But enough with what everyone else is thinking. Check out the raunchy red-band trailer for yourself.

In theory, an R-rated animated movie filled with sex, drugs and F-bombs is an extremely tough sell in Hollywood. But if every bit of marketing for Sausage Party plays out exactly like this initial red-band trailer, the sky is the limit for this movie. In a few years, this might be in the conversation for "Funniest Trailer of All Time." I've watched it maybe 20 times in the last day. Sausage Party looks so, so, so funny. A clever Toy Story twist blended with the timing and twisted smarts of Rogen is such a brilliant idea, and everything about this trailer is perfect. The prolonged set-up, the violent and hilarious food massacre, the riff on Saving Private Ryan- I've shown this trailer to a lot of people, and it plays like dynamite each and every time. But with Sausage Party, we might have something that transcends being a funny concept and becomes a great movie. Reaction at SXSW to a work-in-progress screening was enthusiastic, and even though the movie isn't finished, people started dropping the words "unprecedented" and "masterpiece." So this could be something special. Without a doubt, after this trailer, Sausage Party is one of my most anticipated movies of the summer. 

Sausage Party stars Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Edward Norton, Michael Cera, Bill Hader, David Krumholtz, Danny McBride, Nick Kroll, Conrad Vernon, Craig Robinson and Salma Hayek and will hit theaters on August 12. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Daisy Ridley wanted by Warner Bros. and MGM for 'Tomb Raider' reboot

When you're the star of the biggest movie in Hollywood history, you're probably going to become a screen icon pretty quickly. Star Wars: The Force Awakens only hit US theaters a few short months ago, but in that time, Daisy Ridley has already become one of the most popular actresses in the world. While Ridley and her co-stars will be locked up with the Star Wars franchise for the next few years, they're all going to receive countless offers for other major films and franchises. Unlike the original Star Wars trilogy (with the exception of Ford), I have a feeling that actors like John Boyega and Adam Driver will be around to stay, slowly becoming generational icons beyond the franchise. But in particular, I have faith that Ridley will become a megastar. She demonstrated her acting chops in TFA and I have a feeling that we'll be seeing her in a wide and diverse range of films for a very long time. No offers are on the table yet, but last week, there was an incredibly intriguing proposition at Deadline that could give Ridley her second major franchise.

According to the entertainment trade site, Ridley is one of the actresses under consideration for the role of Lara Croft in Warner Bros. and MGM's reboot of Tomb Raider. The role of Croft was originally played by Angelina Jolie in 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and its 2003 sequel. In the report, Deadline's Ali Jaafar states that Ridley is part of a large group of actresses who are all under consideration for this film and that no offer is on the table yet. But this only makes perfect sense. In fact, if Ridley takes the role of Lara Croft, there will be some extremely eerie parallels between Ridley's journey and the path that Harrison Ford took after his newfound Star Wars fame. Some seem to think that Ridley should avoid Tomb Raider because it's just too similar to her role as Rey, but I have to say that I disagree. She's a phenomenal actress and with this franchise providing the potential for another strong female character, this is nearly perfect casting. Why can't Ridley have her own Han Solo/Indiana Jones combo? Ridley's casting is still in the early stages of development, but I'm hoping that we hear much more about this soon.

'London Has Fallen' review

I read an article the other day called "Revenge of the Simple: How George W. Bush gave rise to Trump," which, of course, is about the Donald Trump phenomenon and how George W. Bush started the beginning of the end of American politics. It was written by Matt Taibbi over at Rolling Stone, and it's a really fascinating read that deconstructs a lot of things about our culture. But there's a specific part of the article that I want to focus on. At one point, Taibbi explains how the media demonizes intelligence in the country, knocking it as pretentiousness. He connects this back to Hollywood movies, especially those in the action genre. "The hero in American culture, meanwhile, was always a moron with a big gun," says Taibbi "who learned everything he needed to know from cowboy movies. The climax of pretty much every action movie from the mid-eighties on involved shotgunning the smarty-pants villain in the face before he could finish some fruity speech about whatever." Now, I'm always quick to defend Hollywood entertainment. For instance, the movie that Taibbi is directly referencing, Die Hard, is a great example of action done well.

But as I watched London Has Fallen, the latest "Die Hard in the ____" movie to hit theaters, I fully realized Taibbi's point. When people talk about dumb action movies, this is what they're talking about. When people look at American culture and see total and complete emptiness, this is what they're talking about. Ridiculous, over-dramatic, absurdly patriotic (this movie ends with Morgan Freeman saying "God Bless the United States of America!"), brutally violent and borderline offensive, London Has Fallen is a ludicrous crapfest of bullets, blood, and one-liners. At any moment, I was fully expecting the song "America, F**k Yeah!" to burst through the theater speakers. Desolate on a character, story and emotional level, London Has Fallen is one of the worst action movies to come around in recent years.

A few years removed from the disastrous events of Olympus Has Fallen, Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is still defending President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) from the danger that is always lurking. However, Banning is about to have his first child, and he's seriously considering submitting his resignation. Unfortunately, all of that is put to the side when the British Prime Minister suddenly dies, with most of the world leaders heading to his funeral. Banning, Lynn Jacobs (Angela Bassett) and Asher head to London for the event, which is billed as one of the most heavily protected events in human history. Yeah, right. Soon enough, Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) and his army of revenge-seeking terrorists hijack the capital, assassinating world leaders and putting the life of President Asher in severe danger. As usual, it's up to the always-resourceful Banning to save the future of the free world.

It's all non-stop action from start to finish, culminating in a predictably endless series of chases, shootouts and showdowns. For some audiences seeking a barrage of banal surface-level pleasures, London Has Fallen will deliver in spades. There's barely a moment that goes by in this film where some poor sucker isn't being shot in the face, so if that sounds like a great time at the movies, by all means, see this film. But for anyone else, London Has Fallen will be an incredibly painful 99 minutes. In all honesty, beyond the fact that it has some big-name stars, it lacks the fundamental ingredients to qualify as a film. Shoddy pacing, thinly drawn characters, painfully cheap effects, cringeworthy dialogue, offensively high amounts of xenophobia, lack of any sense of motivation- anything that could go wrong, goes wrong.

It would be easy to place all of the blame on relatively inexperienced director Babak Najafi, who was previously best known for Easy Money II: Hard to Kill. But that would be a big mistake. Surprisingly, Najafi's directing is solid, bringing some intensity to the otherwise rote action scenes. There's a spectacular tracking shot that feels like it's in the wrong movie, sweeping us through a high-octane street fight with an impressive sense of energy. It was one of the few moments where I felt excited by what I was watching on the screen, and it was so good that it actually took me out of the movie (not that I was complaining).

Unfortunately, the rookie director seems to be the only one who showed up to work. The cast is mostly wasted on a group of thin characters, with esteemed actors like Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, and Robert Forster working with material that literally isn't there. Aaron Eckhart's President Asher has no definition whatsoever, Angela Bassett is stuck with one of the dumbest moments in a really dumb movie, and Jackie Earle Haley just sits there. Gerard Butler does fine with the action scenes, but he lacks the likability to turn a dimwitted character into someone that the audiences cares about. The screenwriting team has a basic misunderstanding of what makes a character like this work. In Die Hard, John McClane is smart, clever and resourceful. He's in a tough situation, and the audience can relate to that. In contrast, Mike Banning is purely unlikable- brash and brutal, this is a character that does so many unnecessarily violent things that it's sickening to a point.

But honestly, none of this is especially shocking considering the fact that the team of four screenwriters don't seem to get much of anything right. On top of having nothing but two-dimensional stock characters, London Has Fallen abandons any sense of logic in favor of spectacle. The film barely runs 100 minutes, and yet, I would bargain that a good hour of it is spent solely on bombastic action scenes, with effects that would barely work in the early 1990s. Oh, but it only gets worse. On top of that, the villains are as flat and uninteresting as possible, mixing cliched motivations with poor characterization. Led by Barkawi, they're Middle Eastern terrorists (of course!) who are hellbent on revenge, and have magically created this grand plan to kill everybody. Don't ask about the "How?" or the "Why?" and it all plays swimmingly. Basically, if you don't care about things like plot or character development, it's a blast.

To close out my review of this lovely movie that I hope to never speak about again, I'll give you a brief description of a scene from London Has Fallen. Mike gets a terrorist on the phone, who in turn, informs Mike that his name is Kamran. Banning responds by saying something to the extent of: "All right, you listen here Cameron. I'm ready to come in, kick your ass and send you back to whatever Stan you came from." It was like listening to something from Cloyd Rivers' Twitter page. Except it was in a movie. A movie that I paid money to see.

Hollywood. Please stop this madness before it's too late.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                                 (4/10)

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

New 'Captain America: Civil War' trailer unleashes Spider-Man

Looking back at the greatest cinematic experiments ever, the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be at the top of the list. When Kevin Feige and his team of ambitious superhero fans decided that they would make The Avengers and combine all of their franchises into one epic mashup, not everyone was sure that it would even work. Thankfully, it did and the MCU exploded into new directions. After the (relative) disappointment of last year's Avengers: Age of Ultron, all of the tension and bitterness at the heart of the MCU will clash in Captain America: Civil War. Pitting Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man against Chris Evans' Captain America, Civil War has the potential to permanently divide the universe. Mix in appearances by heroes like Black Panther, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ant-Man and everyone's favorite web-slinger, and you have a movie that pretty much the entire world is waiting for. After a brief, yet exciting glimpse back in November, Marvel has released the second major trailer for Civil War. And man, it is truly incredible. Check it out below:

SPIDER-MAN!!!! That was my pure fan reaction to this trailer. The relative misfire of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise left a terrible taste in my mouth, which makes me all the more excited to finally see Tom Holland's Peter Parker join the ranks of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. This is a rather brief first look and the jokiness felt a little out of place, but the classic costume design is pretty terrific (besides the eyes- those are still kinda bizarre). All I know is that I can't wait to see more. On top of that, this is a phenomenal trailer, combining crackerjack setpieces and raw emotion. One of the problems that I've consistently had with the MCU is that it lacks stakes. Characters die, and within a few days, they're magically resurrected. Well, I think that Civil War could permanently do away with this issue. People will die in this movie. Things are going to change. I have a feeling that this will be darker than anything we've ever seen from Marvel before. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo brought real-life stakes to The Winter Soldier back in 2014, and it looks like they've done it again here. The fights look vicious, the big action bits look epic and the character drama is as intense as it's ever been. As much as I'm excited to see what DC has to offer this year, there's no doubt in my mind that Civil War is the cinematic event of the summer. Early word is great and the setup is there for the best Marvel film yet. Let's hope it lives up to the hype.

Captain America: Civil War stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Paul Bettany, Gwenyth Paltrow, Frank Grillo, Don Cheadle, William Hurt, Martin Freeman, Tom Holland and Daniel Bruhl, and will hit theaters on May 6.

Image Credits: Joblo

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Harry Styles and newcomer Fionn Whitehead in talks for Christopher Nolan's 'Dunkirk'

Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest living filmmakers in the world today, and whenever he makes a new film, talented actors sign up quickly. Films like The Dark Knight, Inception and Interstellar attracted large casts, filled with actors like Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and even more. Nolan can basically work with any actor on the planet. But for his next film, the U.K.-born filmmaker seems to be taking a decidedly more British vibe. Dunkirk, the tale of the British operation that saved the Allies near the beginning of World War II, will star Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Mark Rylance. All great actors, but no mega-stars like DiCaprio or McConaughey. According to some new reports, Nolan has no plans to change that, and will be rounding out the cast of his new film with some talented young actors who could emerge as rising stars from this epic war tale.

On Thursday, The Wrap exclusively reported that newcomer Fionn Whitehead is Nolan's top choice to star in Dunkirk. Whitehead's only acting experience is an ITV miniseries entitled Him. In the report, Wrap journalist Jeff Sneider mentions that the deal might not go through, but Nolan certainly wants to cast the young actor. Later in the week, Deadline reported that One Direction star Harry Styles is also in talks for a supporting role in the film. Although it isn't rare for a major pop star to take their talents to the big screen, the British singer has never starred in a major motion picture before. Finally, Variety added later in the week that Jack Lowden and Aneurin Barnard have joined the film's cast as well. I don't really know much about any of these actors, so I don't want to pass judgment on any of these guys. All I know is that I trust Nolan no matter what. I'm tremendously excited for Dunkirk and I can't wait to see Nolan's first foray into the war genre. The film will debut on July 21, 2017.

Image Credits: Joblo

The Lonely Island head to the big screen in the 'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping' red-band trailer

If I was going to create a list of things that defined my middle school years, there'd be a few that I would definitely mention. Super 8 leads the list- it came out around the time that I started to blog and it kickstarted my movie obsession in a way. I would probably also mention pop music, James Bond, raunchy jokes at lunch, LMFAO, general middle school drama, and, without a doubt in my mind, the music and videos of The Lonely Island. I distinctly remember singing along with songs like "Threw it on the Ground" and "Jack Sparrow" and watching the videos for "Like a Boss" and "Dick in a Box" at recess. It was all wildly inappropriate and we ate up all of it. So I gotta say, I'm pretty excited to see the trio of musical comedians (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone) head to the big screen. Before last week, their first film was only known as the Top Secret Untitled Lonely Island Movie, but now, it has a title and a very funny red band trailer. Check it out below:

This looks incredible. There's no other way around it. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping looks fast, funny and biting- all things that are right in the wheelhouse of The Lonely Island. This was a great little tease, but its style leaves a lot of questions about the direction that the film is headed. Is it a mockumentary? A Zoolander-esque tale of a dimwitted superstar? Something else entirely? At this point, who knows. And honestly, I'm not sure if it really matters at all. But if they go towards the first option, this could be the greatest musical mockumentary since This is Spinal Tap. From the trailer, directors Schaffer and Taccone have seemingly tapped (pun intended) into the tone of both Rob Reiner's 1984 classic and the current climate of the musical industry. On top of that, Samberg's Conner4Real looks like the perfect mix of Harry Styles, Justin Bieber, and Macklemore and if the script is really good, he has the potential to be an iconic character. Everything about this looks great so far and I'm hoping for a terrific summer comedy with some classic Lonely Island musical numbers.

In addition to a bunch of celebrity cameos, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping stars Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Bill Hader, Will Forte, Joan Cusack, Martin Sheen, Imogen Poots, Tim Meadows and Will Arnett and will hit theaters on June 3.

Image Credits: Joblo

'Zootopia' review

We're witnessing quite the paradigm shift in the world of animated movies right now. Throughout the early years of the new century, Pixar dominated the game, with Dreamworks falling pretty far behind. Pixar, the California-based studio now operating under the oversight of Disney, churned out a consistent series of masterpieces, from Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo to Wall-E and Up. Despite the occasional smash hit from Dreamworks (Shrek, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon), there was absolutely no question about who the best in the animated business. Unfortunately, as the new decade dawned, things began to change at Pixar. After Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University, fans and critics started to realize that maybe the studio wasn't as infallible as they once thought. As Pixar retreated back, younger studios seized the opportunity to rise to power. Warner Animation Group released The LEGO Movie to critical and audience acclaim in early 2014, legitimizing the new startup. Universal grew the Despicable Me franchise to billion-dollar heights. And finally, Disney regained its crown as the King of Animation.

Now, let's keep in mind that Pixar did just release Inside Out, one of their greatest films and a film that deserves to be considered an all-time classic. But after Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, and now, Zootopia, there's no question in my mind that Disney is leading the pack in terms of creativity, innovation and storytelling brilliance. After the slight setback that was Big Hero 6, Disney roars back to life with Zootopia, a thrilling, righteously funny crime drama with a pulsing social conscience. In addition to its colorful, complex world that you'll want to spend hours exploring, Zootopia features a phenomenal story that is completely engrossing. Effective on a character and metaphorical level, Zootopia will delight adults and children alike. It's destined to become a new Disney classic.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has always wanted to be something more. Labeled as a "cute" bunny as a kid, Judy has been out to prove to her parents, her friends and her community that she can be the first rabbit Police Officer in the Zootopia Police Department. After a grueling week of training, Judy's dream comes true- she's appointed by Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons) to the ZPD. However, not everyone is so accepting. Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) doesn't believe in her abilities and treats her as an outcast in the predator-heavy ranks of the Police Department. Judy is stuck on parking duty, and despite her best efforts, her dream slowly turns into a nightmare.

Soon enough, opportunity comes knocking in the form of a case that has mostly been ignored by the rest of the cops. Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer), the wife of Emmet Otterton, has been coming to the ZPD for weeks about her husband's mysterious disappearance. There's no traction on the case and no witnesses to go on, leading Chief Bogo to inform Mrs. Otterton that the case is a lost cause. Nonetheless, that won't deter Judy, who is given 48 hours by Bogo to solve the case or resign. With the help of con artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who just might be a witness to the case, Judy will delve into the seedy underbelly of Zootopia, moving from naturalist clubs to crime organizations, potentially revealing a terrifying conspiracy at the heart of the shining city.

Zootopia is a remarkable film in nearly every way. It's satisfying on a character level, giving us a cast of dynamic, fascinating Disney creations that evolve and change throughout the story. It's stylistically terrific, mixing the bright pop of an animated film with a jazzy style that recalls classics like L.A. Confidential and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. From a political perspective, Zootopia is effective, giving social critics and thematically-driven viewers plenty of material to dissect and discuss. And on a fundamental storytelling level, it hits pretty much all of the right notes. The story flows naturally, with just enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. So yeah, despite some minor quibbles I had with the pacing, this really is nearly the perfect package.

But if you merely looked at the number of cooks in the kitchen on this film, you probably would have never guessed that it'd be so terrific. Zootopia was directed by Rich Moore, Byron Howard and Jared Bush, with Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee and Dan Fogelman contributing to the story/screenplay. That rounds up to a whopping 8 people involved with crafting the story of this film, which is a daunting number for any movie. In that case, it's amazing that Zootopia ends up working as such a cohesive, singular vision. It unfolds so effortlessly and it's so smoothly produced that it's winds up hooking you early on.

Part of that instant connection comes from the voice cast and the characters, most of whom are instantly likable and funny. Judy Hopps is a plucky and determined heroine, voiced with energy and grit by Ginnifer Goodwin. From the moment that Zootopia starts, Hopps is positioned as the clear lead and she's a universally likable character. Her foil is the laidback and quick-witted Nick Wilde, who is driven by street smarts and voiced with snarky ease by Jason Bateman. As the story progresses, Hopps and Wilde begin to warm up to each other, and we're introduced to the buddy cop storyline, the other genre element that makes this movie a blast of fun. One of the reasons that I really want to see Zootopia become a franchise is the fantastic chemistry between Hopps and Wilde. By the end of the film, they're a perfect match and I truly want to see more of these two great characters in the future.

While Hopps and Wilde are undoubtedly the central characters of the film, the supporting cast is pretty phenomenal. From critical players like Chief Bogo and Deputy Mayor Bellwether, to the smaller characters like Yax and Mr. Big, the supporting unit is colorful and fun. Zootopia works as an archetypal crime drama in many ways, and the secondary players fill both the traditional roles of the noir potboiler and enrich the spectacular universe that the film creates. Because that's one of the most magical aspects of Zootopia. Like the early Pixar classics and some of the greatest animated films, the world of Zootopia is so well thought-out, all the way down to the most minute detail. It's such an immersive society and I could have spent hours digging through this universe.

But as it goes with most great films, it all flows back to story. What I think is most exceptional about Zootopia's story is how well it services everything that this film is trying to accomplish. By crafting a crime mystery, Zootopia perfectly meshes its style, its characters and its racial message into a perfect brew. It caters to both young and old audiences, working with a tale that is unpredictable, and most importantly, a whole lot of fun. As a fan of old school crime movies and flashy noir comedies like Inherent Vice, this movie feels like it was made for me. If any of this sounds appealing to you, you'll probably love Zootopia.

However, if you're not usually an animated fan and you're hearing about this movie, it's probably because it has an incredibly topical message that is resonating beyond the usual boundaries for a kids movie. The surprising fact of the matter is that Zootopia isn't exactly guarded with its metaphorical racial statement- the way it's presented borderlines on preachy and it's abundantly clear what the filmmakers are going for. Nonetheless, the film overcomes that with a sly sense of satirical humor mixed with the other incredibly effective elements of the film. Zootopia's set up- prey make up the majority of the population and they're finally beginning to get along with the predators- is already being picked apart by critics, but I wouldn't put a whole lot of extra meaning into it. The overall message is rather simple, and in such a contentious time, that message that will go a very, very long way.

Endlessly witty, smart and fun, Zootopia is another great addition to the Disney canon, filled with terrific characters and an important anti-prejudice message. It's a triumph in every aspect of creativity and storytelling, hitting all the right beats as it moves through its addicting tale. It's everything you could want from a Disney movie and more. In fact, Zootopia is practically the perfect storm of an animated movie, blending genres, turning a crooked eye to American society and throwing in pop culture references like it's nobody's business. After all, this is a kids' movie with an extended Godfather joke. I mean, come on. How can you not love it?

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.2/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, The Guardian, Joblo

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Disney star Zendaya joins Marvel's 'Spider-Man' reboot

I think it's still hard for me to accept that we're getting another reboot of Spider-Man in just over a year. It has been only four short years since Andrew Garfield took on the mantle of Spider-Man from Tobey Maguire and only two years since the sequel caused the total collapse of Sony's planned Spidey Cinematic Universe. So, yeah. It's sorta shocking to realize that we'll be seeing Tom Holland take over for Garfield in less than two months. But in this constantly changing cinematic world of superheroes, I guess we just have to accept it and move on. Director Jon Watts, best known for the well-received indie film Cop Car, is at the helm, with Sony oddly following a similar playbook to what The Amazing Spider-Man did a few years ago. However, I think that it's not an understatement to say that the cast is critical to this movie's success or failure. Say what you will about Marc Webb's TASM franchise, but it had some phenomenal casting- Garfield, Emma Stone, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Irrfan Khan, and so on. They also cast Jamie Foxx as Electro, but we'll just ignore that for now. In terms of casting, Marvel and Sony's latest Spider-Man flick has to get it right. After the casting of Marisa Tomei a few months ago, Marvel is back with another major character move, and it's definitely an interesting one.

According to Deadline, Disney star/singer Zendaya has joined the cast of the Spider-Man reboot in the role of Michelle. Nobody knows if this role is a love interest for Holland's Peter Parker, but one would think that Watts and the writers would want to keep Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy in the mix. Zendaya is best known for starring in the Disney show Shake It Up!, which I must admit, is sorta past my time for Disney shows. So I don't know about this casting. Zendaya did emerge as a beautiful and charismatic breakout star from that show, but I have no idea if she'll be the right fit for the role or not. Nonetheless, Disney has produced a plethora of superstars before, and I see no reason that Zendaya will be any different. I'm most compelled by the nature of the role- is it a love interest? Maybe a villain? Who knows, really. According to some reports, we'll be getting our first look at the new Spider-Man in today's Captain America: Civil War trailer, so this franchise is definitely moving full steam ahead. So far, they're off to a pretty solid start. Civil War debuts on May 6, with Marvel and Sony's Spider-Man reboot hitting nearly a year later on July 7, 2017.

J.K. Simmons to play Commissioner Gordon in 'Justice League'

With the glut of superhero films that have premiered over the last few years, and the seemingly endless stream of reboots, cross-overs and cinematic universes, it's easy to forgot about some of the earliest comic book films. For example, the first trilogy of Spider-Man films is very close to my heart. Yeah, I know that Spider-Man 3 is a mess. And the original has some effects that just don't hold up today. Yet, there's something so incredibly pure about that series and there's so much that the producers got right. From the best use of New York in a superhero film thus far to the pizzazz of the color scheme, Sam Raimi brought comic books to life on screen in a brand new way. But in addition to all that, there was one small bit of casting that might just be the best comic book character decision ever. Of course, I'm talking about J.K. Simmons as hotheaded Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson. No matter who plays Jameson in future Spider-Man flicks, nobody will ever be as good as Simmons. Fans even clamored for the esteemed character actor, who gained increased fame after his ferocious performance as Terence Fletcher in Whiplash, to return as Jameson in future Spider-Man reboots. Instead, Simmons will take his talents to another superhero franchise.

J.K. Simmons will star as Commissioner Jim Gordon in Justice League, taking up the mantle of Gary Oldman, who played the role in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Simmons joins the epic cast of Justice League, which also stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams and Amber Heard. It'll be hard for Simmons to follow up Oldman's terrific turn as Gotham PD's finest, but if anyone can do it, it'll be Simmons. He has always been one of my favorite actors and he brings such an emotional intensity to each role. I'm very intrigued to see how he treats the character of Gordon, because the Commissioner isn't as inherently fiery as Jameson or Fletcher. But as Simmons has shown with Juno and even last week's Zootopia, he can bring warmth, humor and pathos to his roles as well, and ultimately, I have no doubt that Simmons will knock it out of the park. I have my doubts about this new DC Cinematic Universe, but if they keep making casting choices like this, my excitement will only continue to grow. With phenomenal actors like Jared Leto, Affleck, Margot Robbie, Simmons and Jeremy Irons, it's beginning to look like the DC Universe might be in great hands after all. Batman v Superman; Dawn of Justice hits theaters in two weeks, while Justice League Part One is set to debut on November 17, 2017.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

'Triple 9' review

John Hilcoat is a filmmaker who continually has the promise of delivering a masterpiece, and yet, can't quite ever seal the deal. His latest film, Triple 9, is no exception. It isn't an instant classic on the level of Heat or The Departed. The film is neither as tightly polished nor as dramatically compelling as those two masterworks. But what it ends up becoming is a solid exercise in strong B-movie filmmaking, a grimy, dirty cops-'n'-robbers thriller that will provide a spectacular diversion for a couple of hours. With the impressive directorial flair of Hilcoat, a taut and suspenseful script from rookie screenwriter Matt Cook, and a stunning cast that includes great performances from Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Woody Harrelson, Triple 9 is a late-February treat.

A dark parking lot. A cigarette is lit. Five men- Michael Atwood (Ejiofor), Marcus Belmont (Mackie), Russell Welch (Norman Reedus), Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul) and Franco Rodriguez (Clifton Collins Jr.)- are planning their next heist. Atwood is in the pocket of the Russian mafia, and specifically, Irina Vaslov (Kate Winslet), the terrifying wife of a mob boss who is running her husband's operation while he sits in jail. Irina's sister, Elena (Gal Gadot), is the mother of Atwood's child, leaving him in a tight position- either finish this job for Irina or never see his son again. After completing the initial job, Irina informs Michael that there's one more job she needs him to do, and if he doesn't do it, he'll die.

Meanwhile, Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) is the new cop in the rough streets of the Atlanta Police Department. Coming from the posh Buckhead region to the crime-ridden projects of the city, Chris is immediately an outcast in the slightly unorthodox unit. He's paired with Marcus, who shows Chris around and takes an immediate disliking to him. Chris and his famous cop uncle, Jeffrey Allen (Woody Harrelson), begin to suspect that something big is going down. And they would be right. Michael's team is planning to do a 999- the cop code for "Officer Down." This would cause every officer in the city to the scene of the crime, allowing the team to execute their heist. What follows is a story full of twists and turns, with nobody sure who to trust.

Even though we're two months into the year, I'm already fairly certain that Triple 9 is going to be one of the most underrated movies of 2016. When a movie that I like get bad reviews, usually I can understand that perspective in one way or another. With Triple 9, I must say, I'm utterly perplexed as to why it's sitting at 56% on Rotten Tomatoes and 52 on Metacritic with a "C+" Cinemascore from audiences. I really just don't get it. Sure, it has weaknesses. But unless your expectations for Hilcoat's film were absolutely sky-high, I can't see anyone being disappointed by the workmanlike grit of Triple 9. It wanders occasionally in the middle section as the stories intertwine, but the story builds terrifically and by the end, I was completely engrossed by this tale of violence and corruption.

On the surface, the cast is the reason that this movie works so well. There are so many great performances in this film and all of the actors play off each other well. Casey Affleck delivers his second solid performance of the year as Chris, a determined, morally solid young cop. Affleck works as the human center- in a violent, vicious world, Chris is the audience's window in. As Marcus Belmont, Anthony Mackie counters Affleck's performance with a character filled with subtle rage and an underlying intensity. The friction between the two actors is great, and even though we don't know much about either character, it works. Clifton Collins Jr., best known for Pacific Rim, continues to demonstrate his chops as a supporting actor, bring a lot of cool swagger to the role of dirty cop Franco Rodriguez. And finally, Woody Harrelson rounds out the crew of cops in Triple 9 with his traditional mix of charm and nuance- he's the closest the movie comes to comic relief, but there's something in the eyes of Jeffrey Allen that screams ferocity.

As for the criminal crew, Chiwetel Ejiofor is by far the standout. He's one of the best working actors today, and he has quite a meaty part to work with. Unlike some of the other characters, Ejiofor's Michael Atwood has a strong emotional bend, allowing for the British actor to dig deep and deliver a soulful performance as the career criminal with a heart. Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus aren't in the film much, but both have their strong points- Reedus as the efficient, reliable getaway driver and Paul as the damaged, hard-drinking heist man. Finally, the women in Triple 9 are mostly neglected, with the lone exception of Kate Winslet. She's pretty dynamic as the fearsome mob boss, and there are some really fascinating scenes. Unfortunately, Gal Gadot and Teresa Palmer aren't given much at all to do beyond stand around and watch the action play out. All in all, a terrific ensemble effort.

However, Triple 9 is a movie that has plenty of weaknesses. The characters aren't exactly the most complex, with the exception of Atwood and a few others. The story gets a little twisted sometimes, as it can become unclear as to who's working for who, why people are doing certain things, etc. And the movie effectively stagnates for a brief period in the middle, sucking a bit of the momentum from the film. John Hilcoat sometimes struggles with keeping the laser focus that you need for a great crime drama and with such a sprawling cast, I guess it's understandable. But while Triple 9 never reaches greatness, something much more interesting happens.

Instead of making a thematically rich and potent drama, Hilcoat and screenwriter Matt Cook sacrifice that in favor of an almost archetypal cops and criminals tale that works almost like a guilty pleasure. This is the kind of film that is very much a dying breed in today's Hollywood atmosphere. Triple 9 is thoroughly grungy and filthy, filled with richly filmed sequences of gruesome violence and a messy, unclean sheen. Hilcoat elevates this with some terrifically filmed sequences, especially one absolutely brilliant tracking shot that is brimming with tension. But nonetheless, there's no polish or shine in this film- it's a movie that feels dirty and sleazy, filled with a bunch of unlikable and morally empty characters.

Triple 9 is pure pulp fiction, not in the comic sense of Tarantino's masterpiece, but in the sense of structure and style. In some ways, this flick feels like a comic book, a lost Detective Tales story from the 1950s, only with an elevated sense of viciousness. The bright reds and blazing colors of Triple 9 pop off the screen, contrasting with the gloomy atmosphere and the mostly dark cinematography of Nicolas Karakatsanis. It's essentially a film noir, with most of the action taking place in seedy bars, dimly lit parking lots, shady backrooms and chaotic police offices.

This is undoubtedly the key to Triple 9's success. While I was watching it, I felt truly drawn into the action, and in many ways, it reminded me of how Tarantino described the pulp magazines that formed the basis for Pulp Fiction. Triple 9 is brutal and wild, but you're simply addicted. Hilcoat's solid directing chops, Cook's meat-and-potatoes screenplay and the exceptional cast give this crime drama the shiny facade of prestige, but make no mistake- this is classic noir of the highest degree. It's mean, delicious greatness and I have no shame in admitting that I had a total blast with every minute of it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.8/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Fandango, NPR, Screen Rant, Joblo

Monday, March 7, 2016

'Muppets' director James Bobin in talks for 'Men in Black/21 Jump Street' crossover film

21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street are, without a doubt, two of the most pleasant comedic surprises I've ever experienced. The first time around, people treated 21 Jump Street as a total joke. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in a light-hearted reboot of a cheesy 1980's TV show? It sounded like a trainwreck waiting to happen. Audiences and critics were equally surprised when the film turned out to be phenomenal, a hysterical buddy cop comedy filled with heart and energy. 21 Jump Street made just over $200 million at the worldwide box office and became somewhat of a teen favorite. But people were immediately skeptical of the sequel. Comedy follow-ups had always been notoriously terrible, and 22 Jump Street seemed like another Hangover Part II on paper. Once again, as a surprise to everyone, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller came through in the clutch and delivered a sharp, meta deconstruction of the comedy sequel. However, the ending left Sony in a tricky spot. The end credits of 22 Jump Street featured a series of mock trailers for the presumed Jump Street sequels, going from 23 all the way to 41 Jump Street and beyond. After making fun of Hollywood's money-grubbing practices, could Sony really go and do more sequels?

They quickly found a way around it in the form of the Men in Black franchise, formerly one of Sony's prize jewels. In 2012, Men in Black 3 made $624 million off a massive $225 million budget, effectively stagnating the franchise. However, rumors began to swirl during the email hack that Sony was considering a crossover film with the Jump Street franchise, an idea that many seemed to be on board with back in April 2015. We didn't hear much more about the film in the months afterwards, but now, Variety has released an exclusive report announcing that production on the Men in Black/Jump Street crossover will be starting soon.

In the report, Variety discloses that The Muppets director James Bobin is in talks with the studio to take over for Lord and Miller. In addition, Tatum and Hill will reprise their roles, while the studio searches for replacements for Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith before the targeted June production date. The script is written by Rodney Rothman with no current plot details being revealed at this moment.

After quite a long period of radio silence, the Variety article was refreshing to read as I was very pumped for this project when the rumors started to come out. We've reached an incredibly interesting point in the history of Hollywood and if this does well, crossovers will become all the rage. The rating will be interesting (MIB is a PG-13 franchise, Jump Street is R), but other than that, these franchises are a truly perfect match- it's going to be so much fun to see Schmidt and Jenko taking on aliens. I love this idea with a passion, and with Bobin in the director's chair, a good script and the right casting, this could be a four-quadrant smash hit. Look for more news on this one in the coming weeks.

Source: Variety
Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Joblo

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Trailer for 'Ghostbusters' gives us our first look at Paul Feig's reboot

Few Hollywood projects have generated as much criticism, disdain and worry as Paul Feig's reboot of the beloved 1984 classic Ghostbusters. After years of attempting to get Ghostbusters 3, with the original cast of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, the late Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, off the ground, Sony finally scrapped those plans in favor of a soft reboot starring four women- Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Some have been rather accepting of the decision. After all, it's a talented cast and Feig, who has directed great comedies like Spy and Bridesmaids, has proven himself as a filmmaker. But others were not so enthused. Ghostbusters "purists" (if that's even a thing) were opposed to the idea of a reboot/remake, and in some corners of the internet, especially one that starred four women. Sony has been holding off on releasing the first footage for the film, but with the July 15 release date fast approaching, the studio dropped the first trailer yesterday. Check it out below.

Judging such a hotly contested movie over one trailer is going to be hard. Because while this isn't a great trailer, the first preview for Feig's Spy was absolutely awful as well, and look how that turned out. So for now, I'm going to remain optimistic. But I don't think there's much debate- this isn't a good trailer by any stretch of the imagination. The initial moments are refreshing and enticing, highlighting the classic elements of the original film and the legacy that it left. And then the rest of the trailer I don't know. It looks almost like a complete remake of the original, which could go well, but could also go very wrong. McKinnon looks hilarious, McCarthy and Wiig are always good, and Jones has some solid moments as well. So the cast is alright. It's not a good trailer, but it's just a trailer. I'm going to keep hoping that we finally get a worthy Ghostbusters follow-up.

Directed by Paul Feig and starring McCarthy,Wiig, Jones, McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong, Michael K. Williams, Karan Soni and Andy Garcia, Ghostbusters will hit theaters on July 15.

Image Credits: Joblo