Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Official trailer for 'Jason Bourne' promises another stunning adventure

Few modern franchises have received as much widespread critical acclaim and audience admiration as the Bourne series. After Doug Liman started things off with The Bourne Identity in 2002, director Paul Greengrass elevated the series to new heights with The Bourne Supremacy, bringing a gritty sense of energy and intensity to the film. By the time The Bourne Ultimatum debuted in 2007, the franchise was clearly one of the most bankable and popular in Hollywood. The trilogy capper grossed $442.8 million worldwide and was certified fresh at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Any reasonable studio executive would have wanted to keep the franchise going, but after three films, star Matt Damon decided it was time to step away. To compensate for the loss of one of their biggest franchises, Universal swapped Damon for Jeremy Renner and created The Bourne Legacy, which debuted to an incredibly muted reaction in 2012. At that point, the studio knew that the only way to continue was to bring back Damon and Greengrass. Four years later, that's what they've done. Check out the trailer for Jason Bourne below!

Yup, this looks phenomenal. No question about it. This trailer doesn't give you much, but it tells you two important things.

A. Jason Bourne is back.
B. He's still awesome.

Even in the modern sphere of action movies, the Greengrass Bourne movies stand out as terrific pieces of action filmmaking. He's such a dynamic director, and he creates movies where each scene has an immediacy that is hard to imitate. Jason Bourne looks to have a similar style, but with a slicker look and a modern conscious. After three films of having Bourne search for his identity, I must say, it's going to be refreshing to see him embracing the action hero role. The new cast, led by Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones, is terrific, and the tone seems pitch-perfect. Plus, the Las Vegas strip set-piece looks just as astounding as promised. All in all, this is one of the summer's biggest action movies and one that I simply can't wait for. I would hesitate to guarantee quality from many upcoming summer movies, but with Jason Bourne, it's pretty much a sure thing. I'm ready for Greengrass and Damon to knock this one out of the park.

Jason Bourne stars Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepard, and Tommy Lee Jones, and hits theaters on July 29.

Image Credits: Joblo

Sunday, April 24, 2016

'Midnight Special' review

Going into Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols' enigmatic and mysterious sci-fi thriller, there's a good chance that you'll be wondering about the meaning behind the title. Is there some kind of significance to the phrase? Does it hint at a reveal in the movie? Is there a big plot twist? The answer is- none of the above. In the context of the movie, "Midnight Special" means absolutely nothing. But that doesn't mean that it's a meaningless title. Instead, it hints at the experience of the film. Midnight Special plays like a vision, a hallucination, a fantasy. It's the stuff of astounding science fiction stories- no true explanation is ever given for the events of the film. It thrusts you into the middle of the action with very little context only to leave you with an ending that will give you very little closure. It feels like a thought that pops into your head at night, one of those weird, wild concoctions that can only happen when the rest of the world is asleep. Like one of those dreams where you wake up suddenly, wondering what the hell happened. Midnight Special is the equivalent of watching one of those dreams come to life on the big screen for two hours.

In terms of the experience of the film, I think that the less you know, the better. So I'll give you this brief, Hemingway-style summary. Roy (Michael Shannon) is on the run with a boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). Lucas (Joel Edgerton), his friend, is helping him. Alton happens to be Roy's son. Alton has special powers. Those special powers are compelling to both the U.S. government, and a religious group known as The Ranch. The government believes that Alton is a weapon, while The Ranch believes that he's the savior of all mankind. Under the pursuit of Ranch leader Calvin (Sam Shepard), and U.S. agent Sevier (Adam Driver), Roy and Alton will have to find their way to his destiny.

This is all that you need to know about this movie, and going in, it's all that you should know. Nichols' film thrives on intrigue and mystery, not complicated plot mechanics. While it works as a high-concept sci-fi film, it feels so bare-bones and white-knuckle. The special effects are used sparingly, and in general, the color palette and style of the film is incredibly clean and minimalist. Sets are simple and plain, the chases and setpieces are incredibly basic, and the big surprises and reveals are never convoluted or mind-boggling. And in terms of tone, as many have noted, the influence of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg bleeds through every frame.

But despite those grandiose ambitions and inspirations, Midnight Special feels like its own unique thing. It almost works as a rebuttal to Close Encounters of the Third Kind in a certain way- it takes the decisions of that film, the regrets that Spielberg still holds in regards to character choices, and completely flips it. Nichols wrote the film in response to his new life as a father, which is the polar opposite of Spielberg's state of mind when he wrote Close Encounters. And in their respective films, it shows. Instead of making a movie about one man consumed by a fate that alienates him, Nichols has taken the tonal inspiration and created a film where a man is consumed by love for his child. Love, and the knowledge that maybe his child holds a greater destiny. Roy Neary walks away from his children at the end of Close Encounters. In Midnight Special, Roy Tomlin will do anything to ensure that his child reaches his potential.

The success of the movie hinges on this relationship working, and thankfully, Nichols has Michael Shannon to back him up. The ever-terrific Man of Steel star plays Roy as the emotional core of the movie, and even during the film's numerous slower moments, Shannon's determination and melancholy power shine through. It's a bittersweet performance in a bittersweet film. Shannon is complemented well by Kirsten Dunst's performance as Sarah, Alton's estranged mother. Dunst is equally subdued and calm, but she commands your attention in an interesting way. There's a clear history between Roy and Sarah that we've missed out on, which makes their scenes all the more compelling. Of course, the center of this is Alton, played with a noble steeliness by young actor Jaeden Lieberher. He does a lot with a tricky role, creating a character that works as the heart of the film.

Midnight Special also has a terrific supporting cast, highlighted by Joel Edgerton's quiet and pensive turn as Lucas, the complexity of Adam Driver's performance as Sevier, and the ominous presence of Sam Shepard's Calvin and the other members of the Ranch. However, there's no doubt that Jeff Nichols is the movie's superstar. The Arkansas-born director broke onto the scene with Take Shelter and Mud, but Midnight Special shows that he's a filmmaker with a diverse range of stories to tell. If Mud was his attempt at a modern Huck Finn, Midnight Special is his stab at the modern mythology of science fiction, with a story that feels ethereal and other-worldly in a strange, fascinating way.

Nichols injects that exquisite clarity into every scene of the film. Although he is also credited with writing the screenplay, I can't imagine there was much of one. In Midnight Special, the characters don't communicate by spelling everything out for each other. This is a movie that has virtually no exposition. And yet, there's never a moment where the audience is unaware of what is happening. There's no need to go too deep into the backstory of Roy and Alton, because just through a few quick phrases and glances, we have a complex understanding of their relationship. This is the magic of Nichols' storytelling. He eschews something complex in favor of celestial spirituality and basic narrative momentum, both of which carry the movie to the finish line.

That's not to say that Nichols' style doesn't have its failings. There's a reason why Warner Bros. didn't give this film a wide release- it certainly won't play to everyone's taste. The lack of introduction will likely be jarring for many audiences, and I even found myself bored at times during the middle section of the movie. Nichols' film always has momentum, but there are some moments where it lacks vigor and energy. Things slow down quite frequently, with certain scenes feeling out of place. Thankfully, Nichols is able to alleviate this by keeping the atmosphere steady. From the terrific cinematography by Adam Stone to David Wingo's eerie score, Midnight Special is always consistently phantasmal and dreamlike in its own way.

It ends quickly, and you'll probably be thrown back a little bit. You'll stumble out of the theater, maybe talking about some of the great elements that the movie has to offer. You'll wake up from the dream. And the dream might float away from your mind for a few days. But don't worry, it'll find its way back in. Like an illusive, hallucinatory experience that you just can't shake, Midnight Special will come back and stay in your head for a while. And this time, it'll stick. With a stunning eye for genre details, phenomenal performances, and a unique mood unmatched in most modern sci-fi films, Midnight Special becomes a memorable, haunting creation. You might not understand what you've seen, but you'll know that you saw something.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                               (8/10)

Image Credits: Telegraph, Variety, Guardian, THR, Joblo

Mark Rylance and Steven Spielberg to re-team for 'Ready Player One' and 'The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara'

Scorsese and DiCaprio. Wayne and Ford. Hitchcock and Stewart. Wright and Pegg. Shannon and Nichols. De Niro and Scorsese.

Rylance and Spielberg?

Although it came as a moment of triumph for acclaimed theatre star Mark Rylance, his win at the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor was one of the most crushing shocks of the night. Defeating heavyweight favorite Sylvester Stallone for the crown, the Academy rewarded the understated, soft-spoken charm of the actor's performance in Bridge of Spies over the nostalgia of Stallone's seventh round as Rocky Balboa. However, even with unfortunate circumstances, Rylance was gracious and humble in victory. And from the awards circuit and from his performance, he emerged as a low-key Hollywood hero, someone who just about everyone came to love. Which is good. Because we're going to be seeing a lot of him.

In addition to starring as the titular giant in Spielberg's The BFG, Rylance has now signed on for Ready Player One and The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, two more upcoming Spielberg films. To clarify, after his adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic story, Spielberg has three projects on the horizon- Ready Player One, The Kidnapping Edgardo Mortara, and Indiana Jones 5. Player One debuts in early 2018, Indy 5 hits theaters in July 2019, and Edgardo Mortara will be debuting in late fall 2017. The latter film, a Tony Kushner-penned adaptation of David Kertzer's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, was just announced a mere two weeks ago, with Deadline breaking the news. Rylance will be playing Pope Pius IX, in the film that details the mid-19th Century struggle of the Vatican against democratic values. According to the report, filming will begin in early 2017, intertwining with post-production on Ready Player One.

Speaking of Spielberg's adaptation of Ernest Cline's best-selling novel, it was only a few short days later that Rylance signed on for that film. According to the breaking report from The Hollywood Reporter, he'll be playing James Halliday, the complex and secretive founder of virtual reality system OASIS, in the film. With a cast that already includes Tye Sheridan, Ben Mendelsohn, and Olivia Cooke, Rylance only ups the pedigree of an already highly-anticipated film.

After three years without a Spielberg flick, it's safe to say that there will be no dearth of material from the iconic director in the next few years. It's going to get pretty crazy, and it's looking like Rylance will be there for the ride. It's only a matter of time before he signs on for Indiana Jones 5.

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara will hit theaters in late 2017, while Ready Player One will be unleashed on March 30, 2018.

Image Credits: Nerdist

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Movie Guru's Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of Summer 2016

April has arrived, and while the real world is still stuck in spring, the cinematic world is gearing up for the arrival of the 2016 Summer Movie Season. With major blockbusters like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Jungle Book already raking in millions of dollars, some would argue that the season has already begun. But technically, the summer movie season begins on May 6, with the release of Marvel's hotly anticipated Captain America: Civil War. After that, it's off to the races with four months full of a wide range of cinematic offerings. My preview of what the indie distributors and smaller films have to offer is coming later this week, but for now, here are the movies that I'm most excited for this summer.

Before I get to my top ten, here are five honorable mentions.

MONEY MONSTER- I've been on board with this one ever since I first heard the concept and my excitement has yet to dim. George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O'Connell headline a great cast, with a topical concept that could prove to be really interesting. If director Jodie Foster does this right, we could end up with a movie that feels very similar to classics like Dog Day Afternoon and Network. MAY 13

NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING- The original Neighbors is one of the funniest comedies in recent years and one of my personal favorites, so of course I'm going to be intrigued by the idea of a sequel. This seemed like a shoo-in for my top ten, but unfortunately, the marketing materials have promised....well, basically more of the same. While it does look hilarious, I'm still worried about the possibility of a Hangover Part II situation. MAY 20

POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING- As I said in my post about the trailer for Popstar, The Lonely Island, for better or worse, was a part of my younger childhood (I'm still 17, so it feels weird to say this). And when I saw the first teaser for Never Stop Never Stopping, my eyes immediately lit up. It feels like a perfect blend of their musical talent and their satirical eye, which could possibly produce the best musical mockumentary since This is Spinal Tap. All around, this looks fabulous. JUNE 3

GHOSTBUSTERS- Let's not skirt around the issue here- the first trailer for this movie absolutely sucked. I love Paul Feig, I love McCarthy and Wiig, and I love the Ghostbusters franchise, but there was nothing good about that trailer. However, after the success of Spy last year, I'm willing to give this team the benefit of the doubt. Those trailers were rough too, and Spy ended up being the comedy of the year. So who knows what could happen with this one. It's a total toss-up. JULY 15

PETE'S DRAGON- With Pete's Dragon, it's actually the opposite of my situation with Ghostbusters- I had no interest in this film until I saw the trailer. When I saw the first tease for David Lowery's live-action adaptation of the Disney classic, I was struck by how mysterious, heartfelt and Spielbergian the film looked. I was immediately intrigued and after The Jungle Book, it's safe to say that I'm pretty excited to see what they do with Pete's Dragon. AUGUST 12

Now, here are my Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of Summer 2016.

10. WAR DOGS- August 19

Todd Phillips hasn't made a movie since the disastrous final entry in the Hangover franchise back in 2013, but with War Dogs, the talented director looks to roar back to life. While the late August release date does give me some hesitation, everything about War Dogs just feels right. The trailer was dynamite, and the young cast, led by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill, is pretty spectacular. In many ways, I think that this has the possibility to be Phillips' own version of Pain & Gain or The Big Short- a smaller, more serious chance of pace for a notoriously bombastic director. It could fall flat, but my hopes are high.

9. JASON BOURNE- July 29

If I'm being honest, I really see no reason for the Bourne franchise to continue. But hey, if they're gonna do it, might as well do it right. And with Jason Bourne, that's what they're doing. Matt Damon is returning to the titular role for the fourth time, Paul Greengrass is writing and directing once again, and the supporting cast is terrific, led by Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones. The word out of CinemaCon was very strong, amplified by the apparently jaw-dropping footage of a chase through the Las Vegas strip. Everything about this sounds great and I'm hoping for another spectacular film from a consistently strong franchise.


Like Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond suffers from "Awful Trailer Syndrome," which is a fictional cinematic disease that I just made up. The first trailer, which premiered in front of Star Wars: The Force Awakens back in December, emphasized the film's major action beats and was set to "Sabotage" by The Beastie Boys. This really rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way, especially those who hated Star Trek Into Darkness. I didn't think it was a great trailer, but for me, there was something else about it that just felt off. Justin Lin took over for J.J. Abrams this time out, and in that first glimpse, I could tell. Screenwriter Simon Pegg insists that the movie features much more of the heart and brains that the Star Trek series is know for, but as of right now, Paramount has a huge uphill battle to climb.

7. THE BFG- July 1

The BFG has so much going for it. Directed by Steven Spielberg, music by John Williams, a cast that includes Oscar winner Mark Rylance, a screenplay by the late E.T. scribe Melissa Mathison- there is so much to be excited about in regards to this film. On top of that, Spielberg's latest is set for a Cannes premiere, and when it comes to a big blockbuster like this, that is an enormous sign of confidence. The giant CGI looks a little shoddy so far, but beyond that, I'm filled with anticipation for what could be another Spielberg classic.


Independence Day isn't one of my favorite films, but in many ways, it is the quintessential summer blockbuster. Destruction on a massive scale, epic runtime, jingoistic themes, Will Smith- that movie bleeds popcorn butter. And when it comes down to a hot summer day at the multiplex, there's nothing quite like watching an entire country be demolished. Independence Day: Resurgence brings back many of the original cast members, including Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, while also introducing us to characters played by rising stars like Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher. Everything about it looks fun and even if it isn't good, I'm fairly certain that I'll have a blast.


In the high stakes world of superhero filmmaking, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC's budding extended universe often get the bulk of the attention. Somehow, Fox's X-Men series gets lost in the shuffle. I've been a huge fan of what Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg have done over the last few years, bringing the franchise back to its roots with First Class before reuniting everyone for the show-stopping X-Men: Days of Future Past. Singer's latest X-Men film, Apocalypse, kinda feels like an extended victory lap for the success of DoFP, but at the same time, there's a lot to like. It's set in the 1980s, features larger roles for Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and stars Oscar Isaac as the titular villain. The trailers have been middle-of-the-road for me, but my faith in Singer has not been shaken.

4. SAUSAGE PARTY- August 12

When the trailer for this movie came out, it was like the entire internet had burned down. Everybody lost their collective minds over the idea of an R-rated animated comedy from Seth Rogen about food. I'm proud to say that I've been following this movie for years, and I'm quite pumped to see it finally come to life on the big screen. The work-in-progress showing at South by Southwest went great, with many critics noting that the film's blend of existentialism and raunchy humor worked terrifically. Everything about Sausage Party screams brilliance to me, and if that says a lot about me as a person, so be it.

3. THE NICE GUYS- May 20

The Nice Guys was my most anticipated movie of 2016 at the start of the year, and while I'm still very much looking forward to it, some of the other big blockbusters have found a way to jump over it in the rankings. Nonetheless, the L.A.-set buddy cop comedy is still high on my list, with a terrific marketing campaign and two incredibly funny, charismatic stars. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have fantastic chemistry, and Warner Bros. has decided to emphasize that over and over. But most of all, this just looks like plain fun. A cross between L.A. Confidential, Inherent Vice and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Nice Guys could be a new L.A. classic. Count me in already.


What more can be said about this one? People have already seen it, with practically everyone going ballistic because of how great it is. Captain America: Civil War currently stands at 88 on Metacritic and 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is utterly spectacular. Critics have highlighted the film's maturity and the way that it puts Batman v Superman to shame (which is kinda unfortunate, as I still have found some things to like about BvS), with many calling it the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Civil War is the Marvel movie that I've been waiting years for, and the fact that it's finally here makes me so happy.

1. SUICIDE SQUAD- August 5

Suicide Squad looks absolutely phenomenal. There is simply no other way to put it. It's no secret that DC has had a really rough run so far. Man of Steel was a grim and boring mess and Batman v Superman did little to improve on the concerns of fans- in fact, it probably made things worse. Suicide Squad is their chance to change that. This is the first movie with a clear directorial visionary at the helm (sorry, Zack Snyder) and the first true expansion of the universe into different corners. Warner Bros. has the chance to alter the public perception of the DC Universe with this film. This is a very important moment for them. Thankfully, the film looks great- the trailers have highlighted the fun factor, with a unique blend of stylish comic book action and 70s music. Each time I see the trailer for this film, I feel energized. That's gotta count for something, and that's why Suicide Squad is my most anticipated movie of the summer.

Here's hoping for a terrific summer!

Image Credits: Variety, EW, Variety, Screen Rant, The Guardian, Hollywood Reporter, YouTube, EW, Vulture, Joblo

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Channing Tatum joins the cast of 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle'

Remember when everybody thought that Channing Tatum couldn't act?

Yeah, me neither.

In the course of one year, Channing Tatum went from Hollywood eye candy to bona fide superstar actor without breaking a sweat. After years of suffering through streamlined blockbusters like the Step Up franchise and G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Tatum began to show his talents as both a great comedic actor and a dramatic superstar. In 2012, 21 Jump Street proved that he could stand with the giants of modern comedy and produce something spectacular, while his partnership with Steven Soderbergh produced fascinating features like Haywire, Side Effects (which hit a year later in 2013) and the box office smash Magic Mike. In the years since, Tatum has done a good mix of everything and he's done it well. He worked with Bennett Miller on Foxcatcher, delivering one of his finest performances. He starred in 22 Jump Street, one of the sharpest, funniest comedy sequels in recent memory. And he snagged small roles in great films from iconic directors, like Tarantino's The Hateful Eight and the Coens' Hail, Caesar! I'm convinced that this guy can do anything. With his third round in the Jump Street universe on the horizon and Gambit delayed indefinitely, Tatum now has the chance to take another fun role in a sequel to one of the most beloved action movies in recent memory.

Tatum officially announced late last week on his Twitter page that he has joined the cast of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to the 2015 spy film that grossed $414 million worldwide. "I'm about to get all up in that Golden Circle. #Kingsman" tweeted the actor, revealing another teaser poster with Harry Hart's glasses places strategically in the center. The poster says "My momma always told me the British gave us Southerners our good manners," hinting that Tatum will likely play a Southern member of the Statesmen, the American counterpart of the Kingsman. Tatum is an actor who can do it all, and with this role, he has the potential to seriously pull off something fun. Whenever Tatum tries to do serious action roles, it falls flat. But when he blends it with comedy, something magical happens, making this world the perfect playground for the actor. I seriously believe that he's one of the best working actors in Hollywood right now, and I'm so excited to see him join the project. This Kingsman sequel is only looking more and more impressive by the day, and if there's any justice in this world, we'll get a whole Cinematic Universe of these movies.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle stars Taron Egerton, Julianne Moore, Colin Firth, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Sophie Cookson, Mark Strong and Edward Holcroft and will hit theaters on June 16, 2017.

Image Credits: Joblo

'Demolition' review

Roger Ebert is one of the greatest critical voices of all time, and there's one quote of his that I particularly love. The quote goes like this:

"And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us."

I use this quote all the time, mostly because I think that it sums up so much of what I love about movies. Entering a film is like entering a world of endless possibilities. We can discover new worlds, meet new people, and find people who are like us. When people ask me why I love movies the way I do, Ebert's magnificent quote is always rattling in the back of my head.

And maybe that's why Demolition didn't work for me. In Jean-Marc Vallee's existential story of life and death, we're introduced to a character named Davis, played by the ever-terrific Jake Gyllenhaal. By every count, Davis is an unlikable person. He's not someone who I liked, or understood, or could even comprehend. I don't share his experiences, his feelings or his bizarre worldview. The best movies and the best filmmakers would take this material and elevate it, helping the audience to feel something for the characters. Demolition never does that. Vallee specializes in making flawed, complex characters, but in Demolition, he takes Davis and Karen (Naomi Watts) to an extreme that never quite pans out. Instead of witnessing a very emotional experience, the film will leave you cold and perplexed, wondering what exactly you just watched, why you hated every character in it and how the movie didn't work at all. Ultimately, Demolition fails the Roger Ebert test- it generates absolutely zero empathy.

So let's start with the character of Davis and the basic idea of the movie. He's a man disconnected from the world. He's an investment banker, which in the movie world, means that he's a giant tool. He doesn't really care about his wife, views his job as meaningless, and is basically a less murder-prone version of Patrick Bateman. In the first scene of the movie, his wife Julia (Heather Lind) is killed in an awful car accident. That should generate some sympathy for Davis immediately, and for a fleeting moment, it kinda works. But that doesn't last long. After a while, it's apparent that Davis has a very bizarre way of dealing with his grief. Misunderstood by his father-in-law (Chris Cooper) and the rest of his family, Davis attempts to figure out his life through a series of straight-up weird activities.

To start off, Davis writes a series of letters to Champion Vending Company, the operator of a vending machine at the hospital where his wife died. That specific vending machine failed to give him Peanut M&Ms, and I guess he holds some sort of personal vendetta against the company. Eventually, the letters reach Karen (Naomi Watts), the leader of the Champion customer services department. Karen is the only one who really gives him a chance, but it turns out that she's just as crazy as he is. And she also has a kid (Judah Lewis), who befriends Davis and discusses his burgeoning sexuality with him. And then after that, Davis has some sort of realization and then the movie ends. I guarantee that by the end of this movie, you will have zero sympathy for any of the characters that inhabit this world.

When I look at Demolition, I see a movie that has no vision and no focus. I see a never-ending series of awful choices. It takes an interesting concept and, pardon the pun, demolishes it with a weird mix of cliches and absurdity that never comes to fruition. There are flashes of brilliance- an occasional touching moment, or fascinating character idea. And yet, almost every plot point, script choice, and character detail made me scratch my head in a sort of disbelief. With all of the talent involved- acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club director Vallee, Gyllenhaal (who's on a spectacular roll), Cooper and Watts- it's almost astonishing how awful this movie ended up. Every choice is just......wrong. Plain and simple.

And then I saw who wrote the screenplay. Demolition was written by Bryan Sipe, who also wrote the instant classic romance movie The Choice, which received an absolutely stellar 26 on Metacritic. Now, I don't mean to completely wreck Sipe or his career as a screenwriter. This is only his second screenplay, and who knows, maybe he could write a masterpiece someday. But Demolition shows none of that promise. It's a movie that is completely tone-deaf, a movie that avoids giving its audience anything to work with. Every character in the movie is either a stuck-up, unlikable curmudgeon or an absolute crazy person. The film is dominated by lackluster storytelling, highlighted by head-scratch worthy twists and ridiculous subplots that serve no purpose. Demolition feels so maudlin and overdramatic that it almost reaches parody levels.

Ultimately, it all flows back to the characters of Davis and Karen. There's obvious some Silver Linings Playbook influence in here- two characters struggling with clear mental illnesses who find each other and assist in the healing process. And yet, the way Demolition plays it off feels phony and disingenuous. When I see Silver Linings, I see a movie with characters who make mistakes, who learn things and who take all of their pain and anger and channel it into a beautiful relationship. In Demolition, I see a movie with two characters who do bizarre, socially unacceptable things and then go "Oh, I guess I should be less of a jerk." By the end of Demolition, I didn't feel like Davis had healed himself. I didn't feel like Karen had actually become a better mother. Everything about it felt forced, and it contrasted everything that the narrative had built up beforehand. And most of all, I didn't care. I hated Davis and I hated Karen. Everything they did made me feel uncomfortable and when the movie gave them a traditional happy ending, it just made me squirm.

Demolition is a visually striking movie, led by a slick sense of a style and a modernist approach. Gyllenhaal delivers a compelling performance, proving once again that he can convincingly portray any character. And there are some decent attempts to redeem the movie towards the final act. That's about it. Everything else in Demolition will either confound audiences or bore them to tears. Dominated by a wacky mix of existential nonsense and uninteresting melodrama, this movie just falls flat. The best thing about Demolition is the fact that it isn't bad in an aggressive way. I forgot about it in less than a day. And unless you're suffering from a very acute crisis of emotional numbness, you'll probably end up feeling the same way.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                             (4.9/10)

Images courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Michael Keaton, Tony Revolori and Laura Harrier in talks for Marvel's 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'

The idea of placing Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is something that is very exciting to me. I've been waiting for nearly a decade for this to happen and it's almost here- in just over two weeks, Spider-Man will be sharing the big screen with Iron Man, Captain America and the rest of the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War. However, it's still hard for me to accept that we'll be getting another reboot of Spider-Man in just over a year. There's gonna be a whole new origin story, with new characters and another fresh spin on the iconic hero. After the failures of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, I hope that Marvel and Sony have learned their lesson(s). But I would be lying if I said that I wasn't worried. Nonetheless, there's a lot of reason to be intrigued. Everybody has said good things about Tom Holland as Peter Parker in Civil War, Marisa Tomei and Zendaya are interesting supporting choices, and Jon Watts is a director that picked up some steam last year with his indie thriller Cop Car. Recently, Marvel added some more names to the fray, and finally, my skepticism is beginning to fade.

The biggest news from the newly titled Spider-Man: Homecoming last week involved Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton. According to a Variety report, Keaton is in talks to play the villain in the film, representing a change of pace from his previous superhero role as Batman. The villain in Homecoming has previously been rumored to be the Vulture, and with Keaton's connection to the role of Birdman, it's ironically fitting. Later in the week, Deadling got the scoop that Grand Budapest Hotel star Tony Revolori and One Life to Live actress Laura Harrier have both joined the cast. Revolori will be playing Manuel, a high school nemesis of Parker, while Harrier will have a key role in the film. I don't have much familiarity with Harrier, so it wouldn't be right to comment on her casting. However, I do know and love both Revolori and Keaton, so their casting was big news to me. Keaton fits the role of the Vulture almost too well, if that does indeed end up being the character that they go with. But no matter the character, he's a great actor and I have no doubt that he'll do a terrific job. And I love the Revolori casting- I'd gladly have Zero Moustafa in every single movie. A part of me does wish that Revolori was actually the one playing Spider-Man, but if the role is written well and if it keeps the actor in the Marvel universe for a long time, I'll have no problem with it. Even though they have an uphill battle to fight, Marvel is beginning to win me over.

Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters on July 7, 2017.

Image Credits: Joblo

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Trailer for 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' is a glorious return to the 'Harry Potter' universe

If there was one constant pop culture influence throughout most of my young childhood, it was the Harry Potter series. I remember Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone being one of the first "chapter" books that I ever read with my mom. I remember devouring Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince as the release of the final chapter approached. I remember watching the trailer for the film version of Order nearly a thousand times in the summer of 2007. I remember being disappointed when I ended up feeling sick on the night of the release part for Deathly Hallows. I remember how excited I was to see Half-Blood Prince in theaters in 2009, the first Potter movie that I would get to see on the big screen. I remember seeing Deathly Hallows- Part 1 for my 12th birthday. And of course, I remember being there on opening day in 2011, witnessing the final chapter in the series that had come to mean so much to me. When Deathly Hallows- Part 2 concluded the Harry Potter series, it felt like the end of an era. And yet, in the back of my mind, I feel like I always knew that we'd return to the world of witchcraft and wizardry. Now, after a five year hiatus, Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling have returned with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spin-off series set in the Potter universe. Check out the latest trailer for the film below!

Man. This was really something. I've been excited for Fantastic Beasts ever since it was announced, but this trailer took my anticipation to the stratosphere. The cast is the first thing to note about this new look at the movie. Eddie Redmayne, who I usually don't like, looks great in the role of Newt Scamander, and the supporting cast, led by Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell and Alison Sudol, is equally terrific in this trailer. But most importantly, it looks like Rowling and director David Yates (who was at the helm for every Potter film starting with Order of the Phoenix) have created another immersive world with so much attention to detail and a great sense of atmosphere. Just through this two minute trailer, I already have a good feel for what the tone and mood of Fantastic Beasts will be, and that's a great thing. Also- when the Harry Potter theme came on, I just about lost it. Hearing that on the big screen in front of The Jungle Book made me lose it a little bit. I haven't had that kind of a reaction to a trailer since Star Wars last year. So yeah. I'm just a tad excited for this one.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Ron Perlman, Alison Sudol, Jon Voight, Samantha Morton, Carmen Ejogo and Gemma Chan, and will hit theaters on November 18, 2016.

Image Credit: Joblo

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

'Hardcore Henry' review

We've never seen a movie quite like Hardcore Henry before, and to be completely honest, I'm not sure that we'll ever seen one like it again. I said the same thing in regards to Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa a few months back, but in relation to this film, I mean it in a slightly different context. By all counts, Hardcore Henry has not been a success- it made a meager $5.1 million in its opening weekend and received a weak "C+" Cinemascore from audiences. It is dabbling with a technology that has never been used before in a major motion picture, and for some viewers, that tech is very off-putting. Filmed entirely with GoPro cameras from a first-person perspective, this movie puts you in the thick of the action in a way that could be nauseating and disorienting for plenty of audience members. Some of my friends saw the trailer and almost immediately said "There's no way that I can watch that movie."

To be completely honest, you kinda already know if you're going to be down for this movie or not. For those viewers ready to brave the revolutionary journey, you'll be rewarded with a hyper-violent extravaganza that is light on story and heavy on sheer brutality. Hardcore Henry is certainly one of the most ridiculously violent movies I've ever seen. It's so over-the-top that it almost becomes comedic. Blood spills by the gallon, limbs are pulled off, heads are torn in two, bodies are ripped apart, punches land with a thundering shock- the list goes on and on. Like a blow to the head, Hardcore Henry is a vicious, high-impact journey. The story is relatively simple. A man named Henry, who we never see, wakes up in a room with a woman who is said to be his wife. Unfortunately, there's an evil corporation led by the telepathic Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) after him. With the help of some newfound superpowers and a resourceful friend (Sharlto Copley), Henry will fight his way back to his wife.

All in all, it's relatively basic stuff. In the story department, this film isn't particularly ambitious. And with such a dazzling array of non-stop violence, the film can become a tad tedious. Over the course of the 96 minute runtime, Hardcore Henry is unremitting with its action, and it definitely takes a while to get accustomed to the formatting. Thankfully, director Ilya Naishuller proves that he's capable of far more than just a bit of the ol' ultra-violence. He injects Hardcore Henry with a weirdness that is simply irresistible and quite surprising. For example, there's an old-fashioned Broadway dance number halfway through this movie, on top of the bizarrely out-of-place scene where Henry rides on a horse. But in between those odd moments, there's also a savage massacre set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." So you get the best of both worlds.

But in all seriousness, Naishuller's vision is what holds this movie together. Without him, I'm not sure that this movie works. Sure, his screenplay isn't that great and the choppy directing gets distracting. However, what I'm talking about is something else entirely. An ordinary filmmaker would have taken this concept and fit it into a very specific, controlled template. And even though the story in Hardcore Henry is incredibly conventional, it's admirable how balls-out absurd this movie is. Naishuller doesn't necessarily have great control of character development or the camera, but he sure knows how to make a visual spectacle that works as an absolute blast of insanity.

Hardcore Henry's other secret weapon is Sharlto Copley, who plays Jimmy, the omnipresent guide for the movie's disoriented protagonist. Jimmy is one character, but he's actually a collection of different versions of himself. If you see the movie, you'll understand what I'm talking about. Like I said, weird. Nonetheless, Copley is masterful in just about every role, alternating between coked-out assassin and steely secret agent with ease. In many ways, Copley gives the perfect character performance in this film. He looks like he's having so much fun, whether he's playing a mohawk-wearing punk rocker or the real human at the heart of Jimmy. It's a dynamic, complex performance and whenever he was on screen, I was totally captivated.

The thing that defines Copley's performance is actually what defines the best aspect of the movie- it's unpredictable. Once again, I'm not talking about the plot. It's a lot of moving from Point A to Point B, with a few small little twists along the way. But during the movie itself, you literally never know what's going to happen. It's a cinematic video game, basically. A scene could be relatively calm, and then all of a sudden, some character gets their head blown off. Then the whole thing is thrown into chaos. Each scene carries this wild energy that grows and simmers before it just explodes into a melee of gleefully constructed violence. There were multiple times where I jumped out of my seat in sheer shock at what I had just seen. That's something that doesn't happen all that often.

With this unpredictability comes a pure adrenaline rush that is unparalleled by most movies. Each scene carries this raw, unadulterated, uncontrolled energy that manically pulsates through each frame. It's partially due to the style of the film and partially due to Naishuller's unique vision, but either way, it makes the film utterly engrossing. There is never a moment in Hardcore Henry where you, the audience member, feel like you can manage what is going on in the action. You're at the mercy of the filmmakers. And when you realize that, it's time to strap in for the ride.

Hardcore Henry isn't a great film by any stretch, but it is a great thrill ride, especially if you want something that is relentless, brutal and perfectly willing to beat you over the head with stunning violence. It never stops and it has a lot of terrific action sequences, but unfortunately, it never hits the next level. There's none of the beautiful cinematography or subtle theme work that made something like Mad Max: Fury Road a masterpiece. Hardcore Henry is like watching someone play an incredibly violent video game that they're really good at for 96 minutes. If that sounds appealing to you, or if you just like ridiculously gory films where people get killed in increasingly weird ways, take the ride. If not, stay far, far away.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.9/10)

Image Credits: Telegraph, Variety, Screen Rant, Joblo

Scott Eastwood to star in 'Fast 8'

Furious 7 was one of the most interesting and tricky Hollywood blockbusters in recent memory. The seventh installment in the Fast & Furious series served as both a beginning and an end- it charted new paths for the franchise's future, but also sent off its original star (the late Paul Walker) with grace and emotional pathos. We all knew that the Fast and Furious crew hadn't seen their last rodeo, but at the same time, the series was without one of its biggest faces for the first time ever. Now, we've entered the new era of the franchise. Major changes began happening at Universal immediately, as the studio hoped to avoid Vin Diesel in the director's chair by appointing Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray. In addition, the studio added Charlize Theron, hot off her success in Mad Max: Fury Road, into the mix, filling the role of the lead villain. But the franchise still needed another major hero, someone to become a face for the franchise. Nearly a year later, it seems that they've found their man.

Scott Eastwood, star of Suicide Squad and The Longest Ride, will star in Fast 8, which was officially announced by Universal on the Fast & Furious Twitter page. If the tweet is to be believed, Eastwood will play the "protege" of Kurt Russell's Mr. Nobody, who played a major role in the last film. No other word on Eastwood's role, but it's safe to say that this guy might just be the breakout star of the next few years. In addition to the aforementioned Suicide Squad, Eastwood also has critical roles in Oliver Stone's Snowden and Ben Affleck's Live by Night. So yeah, the son of a Hollywood legend could end up being one in his own right. I can't say that I'm honestly all that familiar with his work, and I think that statement goes for many people- after all, his career has only just begun. However, after reading his post on Instagram, it really does seem like he's at home in the Fast and Furious franchise. In the post, Eastwood noted that he was good friends with Walker and that he is going to make the late actor "proud" with this new role. I'm confident that he'll do a great job.

Fast 8 stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Scott Eastwood, Lucas Black and Charlize Theron, and will hit theaters on April 14, 2017.

Image Credits: Joblo

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Latest 'Suicide Squad' trailer prepares audiences for insanity

If you read my review of Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice yesterday, you know that I liked the first chapter in the DC Cinematic Universe more than most people did. However, I can't pretend that it was an ideal start by any stretch of the imagination. The film was plagued with all kinds of problems, including the box office receipts and critical reception. Dawn of Justice will likely fall short of $1 billion worldwide, and there's a good chance that it ends up falling short of Deadpool's $358.4 million in the domestic market. The opportunity is there to make money in this universe, but Warner/DC needs to capitalize with a truly great movie. Enter Suicide Squad. David Ayer's supervillain team-up, which will bring several popular characters to the big screen for the first time, is surely one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Warner Bros. has had a tough sell to make with this one, and so far, they've found a way to turn Suicide Squad into a major event picture. The studio seized the chance to release another trailer during the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday, and it's another great piece of marketing. Check it out below!

At this point, I'm confident in saying that we will not see a better marketing campaign this year than the one that WB has put together for Suicide Squad. Sure, they're definitely taking some beats from Guardians of the Galaxy and other recent hits. The use of Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" highlights the 70s musical theme that started with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the last trailer, and riffs on what Guardians did so well. And yet, it's working. The excitement for this movie is through the roof and after being skeptical for the longest time, I'm starting to think that this just might be my most anticipated movie of the summer. The character moments look great, the action has a colorful pizzazz that Batman v Superman lacked, and I just love the overall style of the film. With a cast of phenomenal actors, this has the potential to be something really special.

Suicide Squad stars Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Ben Affleck, Scott Eastwood, Ike Barinholtz, Common, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, Jay Hernandez and Viola Davis and will hit theaters on August 5.

Image Credits: Joblo

Monday, April 11, 2016

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' review

At this point, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a movie that needs no introduction. Ever since the embargo for Warner Bros.' kick-start to the DC Cinematic Universe broke on March 22, the internet has been a war zone. This is probably the most polarized and extreme reaction that I've ever seen to a film. Fans proclaimed it to be the best superhero movie of all time, while critics were repulsed, awarding the film a flat-out mediocre 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and 44 on Metacritic. Box office has been a constant topic of discussion. Angry DC fans have bashed critics, saying that they're on Marvel and Disney's payroll. It has ignited all kinds of discussion on the nature of the heroes, the future of the DCCU and critical viewpoints in America. And for some reason, I've yet to publish my thoughts. Partially because my life has exhausted me and partially because I keep telling myself that I'll see the movie again. But for whatever reason, I haven't published anything in-depth about this movie beyond a few tweets. So yeah. About time I change that.

I'll preface my thoughts on this movie by saying that I'm going to be qualifying a lot in this review. Now, for anyone who's take AP Lang or any kind of rhetoric class, you probably know that it's the last thing that you should do. Support a claim or refute it, with no middle ground. That's what they tell you. Unfortunately, that thinking does not work with Batman v Superman. It is neither the greatest superhero film of all time nor a trainwreck on the level of Fantastic Four, Green Lantern, or even Ant-Man. It is better than Man of Steel, but it isn't nearly as good as any of Nolan's Batman movies. Ben Affleck is good as Bruce Wayne and Batman, but he isn't the "quintessential" performance of the character. This whole movie is stuck in a bizarre middle ground that does not fit the internet climate of hyperbole.

When I look at Batman v Superman, I find a movie with a lot of raw potential. There's a lot of good stuff in this movie. Firstly, it is considerably darker than any superhero movie in the marketplace right now. This is grim, weighty material, created on an epic comic book stage. You can say a lot of things about Snyder, but there is something truly unique about his heroic vision. Batman v Superman takes place in a world where Batman is a murderer. Where he is perfectly willing to kill men in cold blood to enact his version of vengeance. This is a world where Superman is no longer universally regarded as a hero. He's a target, someone who becomes a scapegoat for the world's problems. This is a world where our heroes recognize the burden of being heroes. It takes the ambiguity of Nolan's trilogy and stretches it even further. The movie doesn't always follow through with this promise, but when it does, there's something magnetic about Snyder's vision and the promise that it holds for this cinematic universe.

In the years since Man of Steel, Superman (Henry Cavill) has split America in two. Some believe that he's a hero- a beacon of hope in a world swept up in anger, loss and fear. Others believe that he's a villain, a person with absolute power who must be stopped at any cost. After all, look at the destruction in Metropolis. Is that the work of a savior? Among those against Superman are megalomaniac tech mogul Lex Luthor (the manic Jesse Eisenberg) and Gotham vigilante Batman (Ben Affleck). Luthor has a complex history of hatred for people in power, and uses his manipulative mind against Superman, while Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) has a whole different story. His building was destroyed in the Metropolis attacks and many of his employees were killed. Because of this, he holds a deep mistrust of Superman. As the rift grows between the two icons, a battle will brew and evil forces will pit the Son of Krypton against the Bat of Gotham.

Although that does serve as a general summary of the story of this movie, I've barely begun to scratch the surface of the sheer amount of content that Zack Snyder and the head honchos at Warner Bros. tried to shove into this 151 minute film. Beyond the basic storyline, there are plenty of subplots and cut scenes that sometimes fit into the story and often don't. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) has a key (?) role in the movie, appearing during the final fight scene to help our heroes. There's also a lot of time devoted to the search for Kryptonite, a weapon that both Luthor and Batman are attempting to utilize. Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) has a vital role as well, conducting the majority of the Capitol hearings against Superman's actions in Africa- another part of the story.

Lois Lane (Amy Adams, popping up wherever the plot sees fit), Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and Alfred (Jeremy Irons) factor into the movie in various ways, and of course, we can't forget about Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy), the injured Wayne Enterprises employee who holds a grudge against Superman. Martha Kent has a very critical role in the plot, providing an emotional crux to one of the most fundamental moments of the film. Kevin Costner reappears for a moment as Jonathan Kent, Tao Okamoto has a small role as Mercy Graves, and Callan Mulvey plays criminal leader Anatoli Knyazev. Oh, and we also get to see Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Yeah, they're in there. And Jimmy Olsen! Spoiler alert- Snyder kills him without every telling you his real name.

All of what I just listed provides the basic problem with Batman v Superman- it's too much. This movie is trying to do everything and it is almost exactly what I feared going in. It's trying to be a Man of Steel sequel, a Batman origin story, a Justice League set-up movie, and a cohesive Batman v Superman movie all over the span of 2 hours and 31 minutes. There are so many characters, so many subplots and so much sheer information that it all becomes a bit overwhelming. For audiences not acclimated to the world of comic book movies, this will be like a slap in the face. Snyder and the writers pack in the comic book lore like it's nobody's business and the comic book-esque structure of the movie will definitely make things even worse for some casual fans. It's practically sensory overload.

Unfortunately, by trying to accomplish all of these things, Batman v Superman loses its identity as a film. The pacing can be shoddy, the film jumps around everywhere and the editing is pretty awful at times. One moment, we'll be at Ma Kent's farm in Kansas and the next, we'll be back at the Luthor laboratories. Oh, and then shortly after that, Wonder Woman will open her laptop and look at the videos of other "Metahumans" that Luthor has compiled. There's so little flow to Batman v Superman at times that it can be a tad stunning. It stretches to right the wrongs of Man of Steel (yes, we get it, the island is uninhabited) and is constantly at war with its more superfluous elements. And of course, by the third act, the movie is a total orgy of CGI and violence, as our Holy Trinity faces off against Doomsday. The faults in Batman v Superman are numerous, and it's completely understandable to see why someone would find a lot to dislike with this film.

And yet, I still really enjoyed this movie. I've had to ask myself "Why?" many times over the last few weeks, and I've arrived at a simple answer- it's different. I love Marvel, don't get me wrong. They have produced some of the greatest superhero films of the modern era. Avengers, The Winter Soldier, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy- I adore all of those films. But despite their many differences, most of those movies find themselves with the exact same visual palette and tone. Batman v Superman is different in nearly every way. It's sad. It's thoughtful. And yeah, it can be a bit joyless. In the world that Batman v Superman takes place in, there's very little reason to be happy or joyful. It's a world of terror, fear and violence, and it's a world that never stops.

In several ways, this is the world we live in. And for me, it's interesting to think about what might happen if Batman and Superman lived in this world. Would the citizens of America just blatantly accept two uncontrolled vigilantes as their heroes? Probably not. Would those two heroes like each other? Probably not. And does humanity even deserve to be saved? Once again, probably not. Batman v Superman poses these questions in a thoughtful way, and it all progresses over a series of character arcs that are compelling, thrilling and sweet. I like where this movie puts Batman and Superman at the end, and I feel that it's a fairly natural progression of their characters. It's depressing, but it works in every way.

While I did find much enjoyment in this epic superhero ride, it's easy to recognize the flaws. The Dark Knight, The Incredibles and The Winter Soldier did all of this and did it better. It's true. I can't avoid that fact. Dawn of Justice is a sprawling, overly busy mess at times, with a huge cast of characters that doesn't quite gel. But contrary to the views of many others, at the end of Batman v Superman, I cared about Batman, and for the first time, I cared about Superman. I wanted to see the Justice League movie that was being set up by this film. In that way, Snyder did the job right- he guaranteed that I'll buy a ticket for the next go-around. By taking a darker road, Snyder and the screenwriters (David Goyer and Chris Terrio) managed to explore elements of these heroes' psyche that we haven't seen before. For some, that will turn them off right away. But for me, this fantastical, philosophical journey into the mythos of two American icons was more rewarding than I ever expected.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.3/10)

Image Credits: THR, Variety, The Guardian, Joblo, Screen Rant, EW

First trailer for 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' promises gritty adventure

The Force Awakens was only the beginning. After Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, the company spent a good three years formulating J.J. Abrams' epic seventh chapter in the Star Wars franchise. It was a huge success, ranking as the biggest movie of all time in the United States. But if you thought the Star Wars franchise would be on pause until Episode VIII, you're just crazy. The money train has left the station for Disney and they're on a long journey. Shortly after the acquisition, the company announced plans to start a new franchise within the Star Wars universe- the Star Wars Anthology series. Now known as Star Wars Stories, these spin-off and stand-alone films will tackle other aspects of the universe away from the Skywalker family story. The first of these stand-alone films will be Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which will follow the group of Rebels who stole the plans for the First Death Star. So yeah. No Bothans. Let's get that out of the way now. We might see how the Bothans died to get us that information later, but not this time around. Anyways, the first trailer debuted late last week- check it out below!

Am I as excited for Rogue One as I was for The Force Awakens? No, of course not. But am I psyched for this movie in every possibly way? Absolutely. There is so much to unpack in this trailer that I don't even know where to start. First, let's deal with the elephant in the room. Is Jyn Erso, played be Felicity Jones, actually Rey's mom? Daisy Ridley says no, and as much as I'd like to think that she is, I know that Ridley is probably right. But nonetheless, I'm glad that director Gareth Edwards is introducing another strong female hero to the Star Wars universe. On top of that, I love the supporting cast, led by Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang (along with Riz Ahmed and Mads Mikkelsen, both not shown). Finally, I love Ben Mendelsohn as a terrifying imperial officer clad in an all-white outfit. Mendelsohn is a fantastic actor and I'm so excited to see what he'll do with this part.

But most of all, I love the grit that Edwards is bringing to this universe. While the trailer still had the light piano keys of the iconic Star Wars theme, Rogue One looks like a markedly darker movie than anything we've seen before from this world. It's a war story and thus, the style is fitting. And I have to admit, I did have one giant fanboy moment when the AT-AT's showed up on the beach. That made me gasp out loud. No shame. In just about every way, this looks phenomenal.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on December 16.

Image Credits: Fan Sided

Sunday, April 10, 2016

'Sing Street' review

In fourth grade, my friends and I started a band. Of course, I didn't have any musical talent. I quit piano two years earlier and had made no other attempts to learn an instrument. My friend played drums and he had a group of other friends who would comprise the rest of the band. I was going to be the manager, the agent hotshot who would coordinate our meteoric rise to success. We planned the whole thing out. I pulled out my school planner and began to set up our entire world tour, from Los Angeles to Topeka to Tokyo. It's rather hilarious that I still remember some of the exact cities that we planned on visiting, but it's just absolutely embedded in my brain. Nearly 8 years later, it's still some of the most fun I've ever had. This all occurred during a year where I particularly hated going to school, so it provided something to keep my mind off things. Class was boring and lame and putting a band together was fun. It was a diversion. It kept me entertained. I'm not even sure we had a name for this band, but we sure acted like we did.

We planned to send a demo tape to a record company, and I kept pressing my friend to get all of our music together. He kept putting it off and in the back of my head, I knew what that meant. I knew that my crazy dream of creating a nationally recognized band was going down the tubes. I knew that it wasn't going to happen. But I didn't want to think about that. I remember sharing all of this with our teacher, who listened along patiently. She knew that our "band" was nothing more than a dream, and that we definitely wouldn't be going on a nationwide tour anytime soon. But for us, it was real. It fell apart by the end of that week, of course. There was never really a band in the first place. And yet, for that fleeting moment, it felt like something that could actually happen. But in the real world, it couldn't.

Sing Street exists in a world where that dream can come true. Some critics have called it "wish fulfillment" and I guess that's true. Sing Street does basically fulfill a childhood fantasy of mine and in a realistic scenario, the events of this film probably would never happen. But I don't think director John Carney wants to live in that world. His world is a world of hope, of dreams, of finding love and finding purpose for your life. And yet, Sing Street doesn't operate in a fantasy world. The film is grounded in its take on bullying, on finding yourself, and on the high school experience in general. The magic is that it doesn't wallow in the pain and sadness, the crippling loneliness and emptiness that comes with that crucial time in life. It takes all of life's dreck and channels it into music, into raw passion, into Conor's ultimate purpose in life.

Sing Street is the most purely enjoyable film that I've seen in a very long time (possibly ever). It's a joyful, mesmerizing experience that I don't think I'll ever forget. In short, I fell in love with Sing Street harder than I have with a film in a very, very long time. Going in, I figured it would be the kind of film that I would be susceptible to. I like music, I like the idea of forming a band, and Sundance indies are usually my speed. I figured it would be fun and light and a little shallow, with not much to say in regards to themes. I was hopeful that it would connect to my life in a way, but I hadn't seen the trailer, so I didn't know what to expect.

And ultimately, I was blindsided by Sing Street. It spoke to me in a way that was personal and immediate. It's a wonderful film that deserves to be mentioned alongside the best teen movies and the best musical movies ever made. On every level, this movie is a masterpiece. From the instant classic songs to the visual palette to the acting, it's wonderful. But there's no way to understate the impact that it had on me. Watching this movie was like a shot in the arm. I walked into Sing Street feeling kind of lost, in the middle of some soul-searching. I walked out feeling like I had a better of understanding of life. Maybe that'll sound like hyperbole to some people, but to me, it's a perfect description of my experience.

I'm just a bit older than Conor (played brilliantly by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) but so many of his experiences are completely universal. From start to finish, Sing Street is his story. When the movie opens, Conor's parents (Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) have hit some rough waters and are low on money during an economic recession in 1980's Dublin. They decide to move Conor from his current private school to a different Catholic school, thrusting him into a brand new environment. When he arrives, it's pretty hostile. Bullied by the bizarrely motivated Barry (Ian King), Conor is left to find his place in the colorfully boisterous school, led by the strict and maniacal Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley).

But after a while, Conor starts to make some friends. He meets Darren (Ben Carolan), a short spitfire who shows him the ropes in the wild environment. Most importantly, Conor meets Raphina (Lucy Boynton). He first sees her standing on the corner of a street near the school, cigarette dangling from her lips. And like that, he's in love. He gets her number by asking her to be a model in his band, which unfortunately doesn't exist. But with the help of Darren, Conor meets Eamon (Mark McKenna), Ngig (Percy Chamburuka), Larry (Conor Hamilton) and Garry (Karl Rice) and together, they form Sing Street. With the help of his loving brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), Conor finds a passion in life and seizes his moment. It's his time take control of the school, win the girl and stick it to the man. And he's gonna drive it like he stole it.

Sing Street is one of those movies that is just impossible to dislike. It has everything you could want from this kind of movie. Stellar performances, great direction and script, catchy songs- it's the full package. It's a crowd-pleaser of the highest degree, which is demonstrated by the fact that when the movie ended at the advance screening I was at, the audience practically erupted in applause. I've never seen anything like that before. I sat in my seat stunned and just kinda stayed there for a few moments. Once I walked out of the theater, I had no idea what to do with myself. I just wanted to see the movie again and again. Sing Street is so incredibly satisfying on a basic narrative and character level, with endearing people that you just want to spend time with.

John Carney has been known for making musical dramas before, but I can't say that I'm familiar with either Once or Begin Again. After this, I'm definitely making some plans to check those two movies out. Carney is the reason this movie works. He wrote the honest and emotional screenplay, directed the film and had a huge influence on the movie's musical soundtrack (which will be on repeat for months on my iPhone). Carney does just about everything right with this movie. Everything is filmed with energy and pizzazz, but also a raw power that can't be matched by any other film that I've seen recently. The tunes are catchy and the characters are so well-developed in just about every way, giving the movie a flow that is remarkable.

But I'll be honest, the power of the characters is probably due to the fact that the cast is top-notch. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is a total newcomer, but if he doesn't get more roles in the immediate aftermath of this movie, there is no justice in this world. He's likable on nearly every level and you relate to Conor (aka Cosmo) in just about every way. He's simultaneously dynamic and shy and his character has a really complete arc over the course of the movie. He's complemented terrifically by Lucy Boynton, who plays the magical and lovable Raphina. Boynton is fantastic, bringing plenty of layers to a complex character that could have been done in a very simple way. It's easy to see why Cosmo falls in love with Raphina, and I think that's so critical to the movie.

Even though the two leads are mesmerizing, the supporting cast somehow manages to be just as good. The five supporting band members are hysterical and charming, led by the film's other breakout superstar, Mark McKenna. He has so much talent, charisma and chemistry and he creates one of the most effective dynamics in the whole movie. Also phenomenal is Ian King, who plays the bully-turned-muscle, a character that provides a crucial arc in the development of Sing Street's popularity. They feel like a real band that works together, and that's a major part of the movie's unique charm. But there's one other performance outside of the core that deserves plenty of recognition, and that's Jack Reynor's turn as Brendan. In many ways, he's the movie's secret weapon. You expect a lot of the themes about growing up and falling in love and so on, but there's a surprising touch that I would never have seen coming.

In reality, Sing Street is a movie about success and failure and the relationship of two brothers. Sure, it's about falling in love and the power of music and finding friends and growing up in the 1980s. But at its heart, at its deepest core, Sing Street is a movie about two brothers. One is a failure. He's a burnout, someone who had a chance at greatness but couldn't follow through. He spends his time smoking pot in his parents' attic, listening to music and roaming around town with no direction. He's what we all fear we might become when we're my age. The other brother is someone who is wide-eyed and optimistic. He falls head-over-heels in love, and is extremely talented. He has the potential to go somewhere. And for much of Sing Street, especially towards the end, the movie tells the story of how these two contrasting values evolve to create a relationship that will last forever. When you reach the end of the movie and see Brendan's reaction to a certain event, you feel his genuine excitement, his feeling of success.

In many ways, this is John Carney's most brilliant move. He takes a premise that could be simple and makes it about something more. Everybody in Sing Street is looking for love and for a place to belong and for friendships, but they're also looking to be something. The characters in this movie don't come from good places. They're orphans. They're from broken homes. They're poor. And yet, they're able to come together to form something pure and beautiful and fun. That's the beauty of Sing Street and I think it's a vital part of why this is such a wonderful film. In its essence, it's a movie about hope. It made me laugh, it brought me to the verge of tears and it made me want to stand up and cheer. It's the best movie of the year so far, and if it gets topped, we're in for a special 2016. I'm fully confident in saying that this is one of the most powerful and amazing film experiences I've ever had. Thank you, John Carney. This is one that I'll treasure forever.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A+                                             (10/10)

Images courtesy of The Weinstein Company