Saturday, January 30, 2016

SAG Awards Live Blog!

Tonight, the Screen Actors Guild hand out their awards for the best of 2015. Let's see how this shakes up the Oscar race. Here we go!

-I didn't do a predictions article for tonight, so let me run through them real quick.
              -Best Cast in a Motion Picture- The Big Short
              -Best Actor- Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
              -Best Actress- Brie Larson, Room
              -Best Supporting Actor- Christian Bale, The Big Short
              -Best Supporting Actress- Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

-I love how the Screen Actors Guild just gets right to it. There's very little fluff in this show. It's very efficiently run. First award of the night handed to Uzo Aduba for Orange is the New Black.

-Male Actor in a Comedy Series is up next. I honestly have no clue about the TV awards most of the time.

-If I had to have a guess, Jeffrey Tambor wins this one.

-"Get up here, Dad!"- Bateman with the nice Arrested Development reference as Tambor comes up to accept his award for Transparent.

-Christian Bale and Steve Carell are on stage to discuss The Big Short, one of my favorite movies of the year.

-Best Comedy series is up next, with our two supporting winners from last year on stage to present.

-Orange is the New Black wins Best Comedy Ensemble.

-Jeremy Renner is here to present the award for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role. This one is critical.

-Alicia Vikander wins Best Supporting Actress for The Danish Girl. One more step towards the Oscar. What a spectacular year for her.

-Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell and O'Shea Jackson Jr. are here to talk about Straight Outta Compton. Huge applause as they walked on stage.

-Still absurd that it didn't get a Best Picture nomination. I'm angry about that one, and will be for a long time.

-Best Supporting Actor is up next. This one doesn't really matter because Sylvester Stallone isn't nominated. I've got Bale here, but it could go in any direction.

-I would love it if Elba won here. Snubbed by the Oscars, deserves so much praise for an incredible performance.

-Idris Elba wins for Beasts of No Nation! And deservedly so, great performance in a phenomenal film.

-Somebody is on stage. I don't know who it is. I'm guessing he's an actor. Just a shot in the dark.

-He's still talking. Oh.

-Solid montage, but kinda unnecessary.

-Queen Latifah wins Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV movie for Bessie.

-Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo talk about Spotlight. It's bad news if they don't win tonight.

-Tremblay and Larson take the stage to present the award for Best Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries. More TV categories!

-Idris Elba wins Best Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries for Luther. Second award of the night.

-The stars of Trumbo come on stage to discuss the film. Haven't seen this one yet.

-Carol Burnett is about to receive her lifetime achievement.

-Great speech and a standing ovation for Carol Burnett.

-Next up is Best Actress in a TV drama series. We're close to the major movie awards.

-Viola Davis wins Best Actress for How to Get Away with Murder.

-Idris Elba and Abraham Attah present the final Best Cast nominee of the night, Beasts of No Nation.

-Best Actor in a Drama TV Series is up next. This one is a toss-up.

-Kevin Spacey wins Best Actor for House of Cards! Somewhat shocking upset over Jon Hamm.

-Funny speech from Kevin Spacey, one of the definite highlights of the night.

-The In Memoriam section is up next. Susan Sarandon is here to present.

-Excellent, tremendously sad memorial for several great actors. Loved the Nimoy and Rickman sign-offs.

-Keegan-Michael Key and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss are here to present the award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series.

-Downton Abbey wins Best Cast. Shocked that it topped House of Cards and Mad Men.

-Eddie Redmayne to present the Best Actress award. Should be Larson. No question in my mind.

-Brie Larson wins for Room. On her way to an Oscar.

-DiCaprio will win the Best Actor award, but Best Cast is where things will get really interesting.

-Alright Leo. Let's get this over with.

-Leonardo DiCaprio continues his march to the Oscar with a win for The Revenant.

-I'm very excited to see what wins Best Cast. I can't wait. This is a pivotal moment in the Oscar season.

-Spotlight wins Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Great film and it really throws the whole awards season into total disarray.

-That's it for tonight! But look for more reaction soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fox Searchlight strikes record deal for Nate Parker's Sundance breakout 'The Birth of a Nation'

Although it maintains its stance as a haven for independent films and filmmakers, Sundance has become a major player in the Oscar race. Seemingly each year we get a new film from Sundance that ends up as a critical factor in the Oscar race and it has made the festival a hot target for the studios. Films like this year's Brooklyn, as well as films from previous years like Whiplash, Boyhood, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Little Miss Sunshine have broken out from the famed festival and made Park City a major destination for cinephiles. Going into the 2016 fest, everybody was wondering what the next big Oscar smash would be. A couple days later, I think I have a good idea of what film we'll be talking about for the next several months. Plenty of films have garnered a lot of attention, but no other film has captivated Sundance like Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation. The story of Nat Turner's famed slave rebellion in 1831, the historical epic (which plays off the title of D.W. Griffith's notoriously racist 1915 film) bowled over critics and audiences as the Sundance crowd was brought to their feet multiple times. Audiences and studios alike knew that this was going to be a big one- and it turned into the largest bidding war in the history of the festival.

Everybody wanted The Birth of a Nation. Netflix, Amazon, Sony, Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Company- every studio was willing to drop big money on what they seemed certain would be a box office and award hit. In the end, The Birth of a Nation went to Fox Searchlight in a $17.5 million deal that topped Me and Earl and the Dying Girl's $12 million record (also to Searchlight). Fox was able to carry Steve McQueen's hard-hitting slavery drama 12 Years a Slave to success in 2013, so I think that it was a good move for Parker to choose the indie distributor over Netflix and their $20 million offer. The Birth of a Nation comes at a very interesting time in the industry, as Hollywood is gripped by the #OscarsSoWhite debate that has been raging for weeks (I'm hoping to write an extended article on the debate in the coming weeks, so stay tuned). It's refreshing to see a film written and directed by an African-American man sparking such a strong reception, but will it be a hit at the Oscars? Or will they ignore it like they ignored Straight Outta Compton, Creed and Beasts of No Nation? I would like to think so. Searchlight knows how to market a film and this seems to be in the Academy's wheelhouse. I think that we definitely have our first Oscar favorite of 2016 in The Birth of a Nation. Look for more reports from Sundance in the coming days.

Image Credits: Variety, Sundance

'Dirty Grandpa' review

Robert De Niro is an enigma. He's undoubtedly one of the greatest actors in cinematic history. Goodfellas, The Godfather Part II, Casino, Once Upon a Time in America, The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Heat, Awakenings, The Untouchables, Silver Linings Playbook- the list of classic De Niro flicks goes on and on and on. But De Niro doesn't make the best career choices. He has a tendency to star in almost any movie that comes his way, and sometimes, I think that really hurts him and his legacy. A movie like Dirty Grandpa makes it difficult to take him seriously. You might call me an idiot or a liar, but believe it or not, I was actually mildly excited for Dirty Grandpa. The red band trailer was mildly amusing and the concept of De Niro playing a foul-mouthed geezer in a movie that would put Zac Efron back into the R-rated comedy genre definitely intrigued me. The reviews rolled in late on Thursday night and they were all atrocious. But I didn't quite buy into it. "It couldn't be that bad, right?" I asked myself.

It's that bad. It really is. Dirty Grandpa is truly, unquestionably awful. It's unhinged in its vulgarity, and in doing so, reaches new levels of stupidity in comedic filmmaking. Dirty Grandpa rides for a while off the pedigree of stars Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, but after a while, they're just hurting their reputation in this mess. It's a great concept for a movie- matching a classic Hollywood star with a rising talent in a filthy comedy- and yet, Dirty Grandpa feels like it was written by a 10-year old who only recently discovered the power of the "F"-word. It throws every single raunchy thing it can think of on the screen, but it never once manages to be funny. This film makes the fatal mistake of mistaking crudeness for comedy and because of that, Dirty Grandpa ends up as a poorly structured mess of the movie with forced character development, lackluster pacing and a series of offensive gags that never land. This is the definition of a January movie.

I'll be honest, I don't even know where to start on this one. I guess I should run through the semblance of a plot that this movie has. Jason (Zac Efron) is a soulless cog in the corporate machine. He's a lawyer at his dad (Dermot Mulroney)'s firm, and he is set to marry Meredith (Julianne Hough), who is portrayed as being a controlling crazy person for pretty much the whole movie. But after his grandma's passing, Jason is tasking with taking his grandfather, Dick Kelly (Robert De Niro), to his vacation home in Boca. Jason reluctantly agrees, even though Meredith is freaking out about their upcoming wedding. But from the moment that Jason walks in on his grandfather watching porn and "taking a #3" as Dick puts it, he knows that this won't be a typical trip.

Within moments, Jason realizes that Dick is basically a really horny dude. And he wants to take this road trip so that Jason can be his wingman and allow him to have sex with college girls. That's the basic gist of Dick's idea. Or is it? At some point, the movie tries to convince us that Dick is actually doing all of this to "free" Jason from his repressive relationships, and yet, there's never any development to that. His motivation seems focused on having sex with Lenore (Aubrey Plaza), a very flirty college girl. I think that Dirty Grandapa views itself as an incredibly filthy version of The Graduate, but all of those subplots are completely undercooked and frankly, don't make much sense. Anyways, they party in Daytona, as Jason reconnects with an old college classmate (Zoey Deutch) and realizes that maybe he needs to rethink his life. That's pretty much the whole movie.

Dirty Grandpa could probably get away with a lot more if it was funny. But I think if you described a lot of the gags to someone who hadn't seen this movie, they'd respond more with shock and surprise than with laughter. A movie like this really makes me appreciate someone like Seth Rogen- someone who can take a very dirty concept and come up with a clever and well-paced set of jokes to accompany the filthiness. Rogen's R-rated raunchfests may be filled with their share of drugs, sex and f-words, but there's a degree of ambition to it. Dirty Grandpa is sloppy and nasty just for the sake of being sloppy and nasty. The jokes in this film barely qualify as jokes. For instance, there's a scene where Efron is in prison and asks for a pair of pants. The cop responds: "Alright, the only pants we have are from an orgy gone wrong, so do you want the semen stained ones or the blood stained ones?"

That's something that classifies as a joke in the world of Dirty Grandpa. But the movie doesn't earn the joke. There's nothing funny about a man waking up on the beach with a bunch of swastikas on his head drawn in the shape of penises. Nothing is inherently amusing about an old guy describing 500 different permutations of the word "c--kblock." Hearing about the sexual adventures of Andre the Giant isn't funny. The writer and director of Dirty Grandpa don't understand humor. They have no concept of how a joke builds and pays off. The humor in this film doesn't help the characters, it doesn't come from the situations, it's just forced, cheap garbage. I will say this though- eventually, you'll probably laugh out of sheer disbelief.

But beyond the sheer clumsiness of the film's humor, there's a laziness to the way that the entire plot is set up. There's absolutely no structure to this movie. It flows all over the place. Scenes are repeated. Jokes play again and again. "Serious" character scenes are dropped in every once in a while to advance the dramatic effect of the story. Simply put, nothing works. The characters don't make any sense, the plot is practically non-existent and the fact that the movie is constantly unfunny only adds to the dogpile of junk that this movie has built.

People will easily blame this movie on De Niro or Efron or the surprisingly solid supporting cast. Please don't. There are two people to blame for this movie- John Phillips and Dan Mazer. Phillips' script is awful in every way and Mazer's direction adds nothing to the movie. They've created a movie that scrapes the bottom of the barrel and then keeps digging (this flick barely avoids the dreaded "F" grade). De Niro's legacy will be okay, and Efron will bounce back with Neighbors 2 in a couple of months. Zoey Deutch will break out as a star at some point and there are a few other funny people in this movie who will survive this fiasco. It's just a shame that they didn't get out early.

Leonardo DiCaprio recently said this when discussing his horrific experience making The Revenant: "Pain is temporary, film is forever." In DiCaprio's case, he meant that as a positive- the legacy of The Revenant will live on, no matter how cold he was while making the film. In the case of Dirty Grandpa, that quote backfires. De Niro might keep making great movies and Efron may eventually be a star, but for those of us who suffered through it, we'll always remember Dirty Grandpa.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D-                                            (2.5/10)

Image Credits: Telegraph, Guardian, Screen Rant, Joblo

Monday, January 25, 2016

Will James Cameron ever make 'Avatar 2'?

Last week, some film fans were surprised when Disney and Lucasfilm moved Rian Johnson's Star Wars: Episode VIII to December 2017. Not because they thought Episode VIII didn't belong in December, but because that was already set to be a pretty stacked month. Along with an array of smaller releases like The Croods 2 and The Six Billion Dollar Man, December was the home of two major heavy hitters- Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One and James Cameron's Avatar 2, which he had previously stated would be ready for a Christmas 2017 release date. With all of those new releases, it was set to be box office pandemonium. Pundits and fans were giddy with excitement over what was going to possibly be the most epic box office showdown in history. Unfortunately, that fervor didn't last for long- earlier this week, The Wrap confirmed that Cameron's sequel to the highest grossing worldwide hit of all time will not be ready in time for December 2017. Not shocking at all, considering Cameron's track record of delaying films, but it does beg the question- will Avatar 2 ever be made?

The short answer is yes. Not making Avatar 2 would leave far too much money on the table. Cameron has been teasing a return to Pandora for the past seven years, stating that he plans to make another three films to complete his quadrilogy. In addition to that, Disney's Avatar Land will be opening soon in their Animal Kingdom Park and the plan to connect the opening of the theme park with a sequel to the sci-fi hit has been in the cards the whole time. But on top of that, the question remains- if it ever gets made, would Avatar 2 be a hit? There's a great article by Scott Mendelson over at Forbes that you should definitely check out, as it describes a lot of the problems with the Avatar series (link here) and how the film's cultural impact is next to zero. Very few people care about that movie anymore. The world has moved on and the interest in a return to Pandora is low. The connection to the series and the characters is waning and there's good reason to believe that most people have forgotten about the film at this point.

However, I think that if Cameron can come up with something truly revolutionary (which he has discussed numerous times before), then there's a very good chance that the film matches the original at the box office. Because that's what made the original special in the first place- the technology. People went to see Avatar because they'd never seen an immersive 3-D experience like that, and I understand why Cameron is waiting to see if he can find a way to top himself. But if he doesn't get moving fast, this film could be stuck in development hell forever. The clock is ticking.

Image Credits: Joblo

'13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi' review

If it's January, you can bet that there's a military movie set to hit theaters. That has been the trend for the last couple years and it has worked wonders for the studios. To kick things off, Act of Valor and Zero Dark Thirty did modest business in 2012 and 2013, respectively. One year later, Lone Survivor seemed like an unlikely gamble, but with a bona fide movie star in Mark Wahlberg and a famous true story, it ended up with great reviews (75% on Rotten Tomatoes) and became a box office smash ($125 million). But that was only a warm-up act for Clint Eastwood's American Sniper. The Bradley Cooper-starred biopic broke out in January 2015, riding a wave of Oscar nominations to become the highest grossing film of 2014 with $350.1 million in the U.S. Now, January has rolled around once again and another military action flick has washed up on American shores- Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

The topic of Benghazi is sure to arouse controversy whenever it's brought up in a conversation. The terrorist assault on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks cost four American lives and plenty of questions remain over what could have been done. Did Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama do enough? Who's at fault for the attack? Could those lives have been saved? These questions still haunt America and its politics today, but thankfully, Michael Bay's film isn't overtly interested in these politics. Sure, there's a character that I'm pretty sure works as a representation of the Clinton/Obama inaction, but beyond that, the film is pretty straight-forward and surprisingly anti-war. A pulse-pounding and intense action thriller, Bay's film has plenty of flaws and yet, it still puts his considerable cinematic flair on display in an incredible effective flick. It may not have the prestige of the last few military flicks, but 13 Hours is a gritty, white-knuckle ride worth taking.

In 2012, Libya was one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Rocked by a revolution toppled the fascist dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the U.S. embassies in Tripoli and Benghazi were put in crisis mode in the early months of the year. Jack Silva (John Krasinski) takes the contract to head over to Benghazi with his old friend, Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), despite the fact that he has a wife and two young girls to care for. Along with five other members of an elite security team (Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini and Toby Stephens), Jack and Tyrone protect a secret U.S. compound from the constant dangers of the war-struck country.

Everything is relatively calm until disaster strikes in September. With Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher) arriving in Benghazi soon, Tyrone and the security unit remain worried that the protection isn't quite up to speed. Stevens is welcomed at a local U.S. facility and gives a speech, but soon, a group of violent insurgents charge the mostly unprotected base. With very little security, Stevens and a group of U.S. citizens are put in grave danger. No backup, no friendly fire and no hope for a rescue plan- except from Jack and Tyrone's unit. Unfortunately, their chief of command (David Costabile) prevents them from intervening in the attack- he insists that there's more assistance coming from the government. But with the situation growing worse by the minute, the soldiers of Benghazi enter a living hell for 13 hours to save American lives from one of the worst terror attacks in recent history.

Subtlety isn't a word in Michael Bay's vocabulary. From his straight-forward action movies like Bad Boys II to the Transformers epics to his weird comedy/horror/drama Pain & Gain, Bay's movies exist more like blunt instruments- they pummel you and overwhelm the senses. And despite being a considerably more mature effort from the infamously wild director, Bay still hits you very hard with 13 Hours. This is a frenzied, explosive film and it is unrelentingly crazy for nearly 144 minutes. Bay is great at mayhem, but less so at emotion- despite the extraordinarily intense circumstances, I felt very little for these characters and some of the attempts at emotion felt a bit sentimental. But don't count that as too much of a discredit to the film- character depth isn't the goal of this flick.

If I'm being completely honest here- I don't know much about the real Benghazi attack or the details of how it went down. It's a talking point in American politics, but I still don't have much of a flashbulb memory of it like I do for Aurora or Sandy Hook. One of the strengths of Bay's film is that it immerses the viewer in the action. This is very much a minute-for-minute "you are there" account of the Benghazi attack and it does a terrific job at conveying the tragedy and insanity of what happened. You could walk into this film having no idea what the Benghazi attack was and walk out having a pretty solid understanding of the absolute pandemonium that occurred in September 2012.

And for that reason, Michael Bay was probably the right director to make this movie. Bay specializes in truly insane action and his latest outing features plenty of that. Over the course of its lengthy runtime, 13 Hours features enough blood, bullets and dirt to fill three other movies. There are moments where the film slows down, but for the most part, this is one long, roller-coaster of an action setpiece. The insanity primarily focuses on the violence, but Bay also does a phenomenal job of conveying the nuttiness of how many people were involved in this attack. There were random fighters on every side and it's terrifying to never quite know who's on what side. And while Bay's movies may be instruments of blunt force as described above, they're also experiences. It's almost a guarantee that you'll be tired by the end of a Michael Bay movie. 13 Hours is no different. It's an exhaustive trip to the movie theater and it fits with the theme of the movie.

Where Bay goes wrong with the action scenes is his tendency to make things feel like a video game. The Transformers films are infamous for being a non-stop barrage of action and they're often similar to watching a live-action video game. 13 Hours occasionally feels like a movie version of Call of Duty. The action is crazed and unhinged, but there's a video game sensibility to it that the movie just can't shake. The heroes tackle one problem and it's almost as if the movie pops a little "Next Level" sign up on the screen. The action becomes redundant at a point, and while I know that Bay is trying to create an authentic portrayal of real life events, there's something a bit mechanized about how he has structured this film.

There's also something rather phony and artificial about the film's emotional bend. A lot of the connections to the characters feel forced and inauthentic (quite often, the principle players are nearly interchangeable), with a bizarre flashback to Jack building a treehouse with his daughters that stands out as particularly bad. That said, 13 Hours features some surprisingly thoughtful meditations on the necessity of war and the futility of overseas interference. There's a terrific scene in the movie where, after several hours of fighting, Jack and Tyrone sit down and discuss what their children would think about them dying in a country that held no meaning to them and didn't want them there in the first place. It's a scene that is full of shocking depth and I was glad to see that sort of thematic message conveyed in what I was expecting to be a rather empty film.

13 Hours may not reach the heights of some of the other recent military movies, but it's a thrillingly hard-hitting action movie that gives a thorough and intense portrayal of one of the defining events of our time. A tad overlong, yet always captivating, this flick is led to success by Michael Bay's wonderful cinematic eye and a constant stream of action that will have you on the edge of your seat. In a January filled with some truly awful cinematic dreck, 13 Hours stands out as the first genuinely good movie of 2016.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.4/10)

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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

'The Big Short' wins Best Picture at the Producers Guild Awards

This race is far from over. Very, very far.

What originally seemed like an incredibly uninteresting race for Best Picture has turned into one of the most compelling competitions in years. Spotlight was the favorite for most of the Oscar season after its premiere at Toronto, but the tides have turned in recent weeks. The Golden Globes awarded their Best Picture trophies to The Revenant and The Martian, while many critic groups handed out awards to Mad Max: Fury Road. Meanwhile, Adam McKay's The Big Short surged big-time in many races, receiving five Oscar nominations. Spotlight's lone victory was its win for Best Picture at the Critics' Choice Awards after a long night of wins for George Miller's Fury Road. So where does that leave us? Basically, every single major competitor for the Best Picture prize has won at least one pre-cursor award and no movie is the outright front-runner. But it's crunch-time now, and I have a feeling that we're going to get a much clearer picture of what will win Best Picture in the coming weeks. The first piece of the puzzle was last night's Producers Guild Awards, a traditionally strong prognosticator of the Academy Awards.

Going into the night, there was a general sense of mystery surrounding the award. The Revenant had been surging with great box office and a lot of momentum and Spotlight was still looked at as the safe pick, but as reported by numerous sites, most voters and insiders had no idea what would win. In the end, Adam McKay's financial comedy The Big Short came out on top. The energetic film about the 2008 housing crisis has been rising for a while, but it didn't have the wins to back it up quite yet. Many expected that it would be victorious on Golden Globes night and yet, it couldn't pull it together- The Big Short still had to wait for its big night. With a win at the Producers Guild and a prime nomination at the SAG Awards, this film could be on the fast track to a Best Picture win. For some perspective, the last time a film won the Producers Guild Award and didn't win Best Picture was 2006's Little Miss Sunshine (in 2013, Gravity tied for the award). As Variety noted yesterday, the PGA uses a preferential balloting system that allows for it to be incredibly similar to how the Oscars play out. There's still another month to go before the awards are handed out at the Dolby Theatre, but as of now, The Big Short is in truly terrific shape. Look for another Oscar update later this week.

Image Credits: Variety, Joblo

Saturday, January 23, 2016

'Ride Along 2' review

I find it funny when I look back now, but when the original Ride Along was set to hit theaters in January 2014, I was actually pretty excited for it. The trailers were amusing, Kevin Hart's star was on the rise, and pairing him with Ice Cube seemed like a great idea. Then I saw the movie. Ride Along was undoubtedly one of 2014's worst films, a lazy, uninspired buddy cop movie that was neither funny nor entertaining. There was nearly nothing good about it- it was a soul-sucking experience. So it's safe to say that I wasn't looking forward to Ride Along 2 at all. The marketing promised more of the same and well, yeah, that's pretty much what you get. Nearly a carbon copy of the original film, Ride Along 2 follows the Hangover template of taking the same story and simply moving it to a new location. Slightly worse than the original and absurdly predictable, Ride Along 2 is another cold and uninteresting corporate product that fails as an action comedy.

Ride Along 2 continues the adventures of veteran cop James Payton (Ice Cube) and his undersized, under-experienced partner Ben Barber (Kevin Hart). After botching a drug bust, Payton and Barber are left in a tough position with their superior officer, Lt. Brooks (Bruce McGill). However, one good thing came from the bust- a piece of evidence that leads the two men to Miami. Despite the fact that Ben is getting married to James' sister Angela (Tika Sumpter) in a week, Angela begs James to take Ben with him to Miami. So they go.....and stuff happens I guess. There's a big businessman (played by Benjamin Bratt) who's shockingly the main villain (spoiler: it's not a shock at all), a nerdy hacker (Ken Jeong) who stole some money, and a female cop (Olivia Munn) who may or may not be a love interest for James. It's all the same. You've seen this movie before. Trust me.

I hope that nobody confuses me saying a few good things about this movie with me giving it a recommendation. It's not good at all. Director Tim Story has become somewhat more talented with the camera, which in turn makes the action sequences a bit more entertaining. And the film is set in Miami this time, so it's a bit more visually interesting. That's about it. As a comedy, Ride Along 2 is almost completely devoid of laughs. I chuckled maybe once or twice. And as an action movie, it's a pretty dull affair with all of the familiar elements (mismatched partners, drugs, crime lords, etc.). At this point, I'm no longer angry with the Ride Along series- I'm just frustrated. There are so many talented people involved with this series- so why do we keep getting the same dreary results? I can't possibly explain it, but it's endlessly baffling.

If there's a word to describe Ride Along 2, it's uninspired. Most movies try to mask their predictability. Ride Along 2 doesn't even afford us that luxury. It's so obviously calculated and controlled and I was pretty much able to see where this thing was going from scene one. Now, here's the thing. I know some people are great at predicting movies and figuring out exactly where a movie is going from the moment that it starts. I am not one of those people. I don't know if I'm just dumb, or if my brain purposefully doesn't think during movies to avoid spoiling it for myself, but I am usually pretty awful at deciphering the plot of a movie. I didn't even have to try at all to know where Ride Along 2 was going. It's that utterly and completely predictable.

But beyond the tried-and-true plot, there's nothing fresh or interesting in Ride Along 2. As I said earlier, it's practically the same movie as the original. Except it's even less funny. The filmmakers repeat setpieces and jokes, and even the character dynamic of the movie is the same. It ignores almost any and all progress that the original movie made in regards to the relationship between James and Ben, allowing for Ice Cube to make more stupid jokes at Hart's expense. And that's another thing about this movie- it's never funny. Cube is great in the Jump Street movies and Hart is a natural comedian, but man, nothing in this movie lands. Everything feels so safely in the wheelhouse of these actors that not a single joke is effective at generating laughs.

The failure of this film (and this series for that matter) is not for a lack of talent in front of the camera. Ice Cube may make some questionable choices when it comes to his movies, but he's an undoubtedly funny and talented guy. Hart has still yet to be in a good studio comedy, but he's quite hilarious in small doses. And even the supporting cast isn't bad- Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong are usually solid and Benjamin Bratt and Sherri Shepard have been solid over the years. They just don't have anything to work with. Tim Story is a great businessman, but not a great director- he shows flashes of promise, but so many scenes are shot in a bland style. And on top of that, the script from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (the guys behind cinematic classics like R.I.P.D. and Clash of the Titans) never works, as evidenced by the fact that there's no reason to ever laugh or be interested in what's happening in this movie. The characters are empty and most of the new players have zero personality or intrigue, which is shockingly bad even for this series.

One last note before I get to forget that this movie exists- Ride Along 2 might have the worst final battle in recent cinematic history. There are a few glimmers of hope that pop up throughout this film's 101 minute runtime, but the ending is not one of them. Like the original, the finale takes place in a shipping yard where the main characters happen to run into the drug dealers. The filmmakers build up the conflict decently, the fight begins and's over. Literally. There's no tension or drama or anything. The conflict in this movie just pretty much ends with a couple of bullets. It's probably the most anticlimatic final scene ever. I was astonished.

Ride Along 2 is in a slightly shinier package, but make no mistake- this is no better than the last time. Contrived and endlessly boring, this "action/comedy" wastes the talents of everyone involved on a weak script that mashes together a bunch of things that you've seen before in better movies. It's repetitive and unfunny, with an atrocious and silly conclusion. I know that Cube will bounce back from this series (with somewhat lackluster box office receipts, I don't see a Ride Along 3 coming down the pipeline any time soon) and I'm still holding out hope for Hart. Central Intelligence, which will pair Hart with Dwayne Johnson, actually doesn't look bad. Hopefully it makes me forget about this whole Ride Along mess.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                              (4.3/10)

Image Credits: Variety, EW, Telegraph, Joblo

Thursday, January 21, 2016

New trailer for 'Suicide Squad' is pure brilliance

This is a very big year for Warner Bros., and especially for DC. Man of Steel kicked off the new DC Cinematic Universe in 2013 with mixed results, but this is really the year where DC will have to prove themselves as a competitor to Marvel, the studio that is currently THE name in comic book movies. Marvel is set to have a big year in their own right, with the highly anticipated Captain America: Civil War and the Benedict Cumberbatch-starred standalone flick Doctor Strange. But for the first time in a while, they won't be on their own. DC is kicking off their connected universe in March with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which will bring together the two iconic heroes for the first time. The trailers for Zack Snyder's epic superhero smackdown have drawn mixed reviews, leading some fans to approach the film with trepidation. Same can be said for DC's other 2016 offering, David Ayer's villainous team-up Suicide Squad. Bringing together classic anti-heroes and straight-up villains like Deadshot, Harley Quinn and The Joker, Suicide Squad is the big unknown of the year. Will audiences embrace this group of misfit characters like they did with Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy? Or will Suicide Squad be an off-the-wall bomb? The first trailer enticed audiences with a good look at many fan favorite characters, but many were still skeptical. But after Tuesday's premiere of the second trailer, many of those fears were put to rest. Check it out for yourself below.

Remember what I said last week about the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane being one of the best pieces of studio marketing I'd seen in a very long time? Well, I've found a better trailer. I was already pretty excited for Suicide Squad- after all, it was my #7 most anticipated film of 2016. However, if I had seen this trailer before making my list, there's a good chance that DC's superhero team-up would have been much higher on my list. Whoever cut this trailer and whoever had the idea to set it to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" deserves all of the money in the world. Seriously. This is one of the best-edited trailers in years and I absolutely adore the tone that it strikes. With just one trailer, Warner Bros. has shown us that their most unique property yet will be sadistically funny, but also filled with spectacular action. Everything about this movie looks terrific. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn is an awesome bit of casting, Jared Leto's Joker is very intriguing and heck, even Jai Courtney looks good here. I've watched this trailer countless times since its debut on Tuesday night. It's that good. I really can't wait for Suicide Squad. If DC gets this right, I'll be officially sucked into their cinematic universe.

Suicide Squad is directed by David Ayer, stars Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jared Leto, Scott Eastwood, Ben Affleck, Cara Delevingne, Ike Barinholtz, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Common, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, Jim Parrack and Jay Hernandez and will debut on August 5, 2016. I'm pretty hyped for this one. Don't let me down guys.

Image Credits: Joblo

'The Revenant' review

If Star Wars was the blockbuster event of the year and The Hateful Eight was the cinematic experience that you couldn't miss, then The Revenant was certainly the most-hyped up art house flick of 2015. For months, the internet heard tales of on-set fights, a budget that ballooned to $135 million (and possibly more according to some sources), and Leonardo DiCaprio's near-hypothermia and crazy method acting on set. From sleeping in animal carcasses to eating raw bison liver, DiCaprio's adventures on the set of this film have become Hollywood legend after barely even a few months. And after 12 Oscar nominations and a surprise win at the Golden Globes, The Revenant is slowly becoming another shocking smash hit for DiCaprio and Birdman superstar Alejandro G. Inarritu.

But is there anything lying below the surface of this technically brilliant film? Not really. Empty on most levels and brutally pummeling to a fault, The Revenant is a relentless, over-indulgent and ultimately redundant film that is visually impressive but fails to tell a story that manages to be interesting or engaging. In many ways, The Revenant feels like the indie response to the completely pointless cinematic spectacles of the Hollywood studios, in that it's completely dull beyond its surface pleasures. It's made with artistry and care, but there's no compelling character work, no story to latch onto, and sadly, there's just no point. The Revenant was undoubtedly one of my most anticipated movies of the year and it was so sad to find that it's as barren thematically as the landscapes that Leonardo DiCaprio wanders throughout most of the runtime. This is a crushing disappointment.

In a mostly ambiguous time and setting, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of explorers are on the hunt for fur on the snowy plains of America. After a surprise attack from an Indian tribe, Glass' expedition ends up charting a new course back to safety. Glass is known as an expert in the field of western expeditions, but he has a rather contemptuous relationship with many members of his crew, especially John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). On the way to safety, Glass is mauled by a bear, leaving him beaten, bloodied and unable to move. Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) is adamant that the team must stay with Glass, but others aren't so sure. The devious Fitzgerald believes that it's in the team's best interest to finish Glass off quick and move on.

Fitzgerald and the young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) volunteer to stay with Glass until the end while Henry and the others on the expedition move back to safety. But Fitzgerald doesn't intend to hang around and wait for Glass to die. Fitzgerald kills Glass' son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and buries Glass alive, hoping to leave the injured explorer in the dirt. Despite his injuries, Glass becomes the man who just won't quit. Surviving Indian attacks, the brutal force of nature, and a lack of food and supplies, Glass finds his way back to civilization in the hopes of taking revenge against the man who took everything from him.

It's tough to flat-out pan The Revenant, because on most levels, it is expertly crafted and beautifully made. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is deserving of an Oscar, capturing the grit and beauty of the American frontier, while Inarritu's insistence on shooting with only natural light definitely adds something to the movie. The sound design is gorgeous, and there's a level of authenticity that is unmatched by most films. And despite my qualms with Inarritu's filmmaking, he certainly knows how to shoot a great action scene and there are so many gorgeously filmed setpieces in The Revenant that immerse the audience in the action. The way that Inarritu carries the camera is stunning and there are so many stretches of pure, expert filmmaking in this movie.

But for what? The Revenant may be really pretty to look at it, but that doesn't carry a 156 minute movie. Ultimately, the movie feels like Inarritu pulling out every trick in the book to make you feel like you're witnessing something special. Inarritu's Oscar-winning Birdman was a bit gimmicky and bizarre, but there was something under the surface- that film had quite a bit to say about fame and the Hollywood world and had a very fascinating character at its center. There were some times where it distracted, but for the most part, the one-shot trick was secondary to the substance of the film. In The Revenant, it's practically the opposite. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it's the most extreme example of style over substance in recent movie history.

Let's go over the story again. Leonardo DiCaprio gets mauled by a bear. His son gets killed. And he goes to get the man who did it. DiCaprio's Hugh Glass barely speaks the whole time. He walks around the empty landscapes of the West for days and days. And every once in a while, he does something really gross and brutal, like disembowel a horse or cut somebody's fingers off. I dare anybody who watches this movie to find anything to like about the character of Hugh Glass or to really care about the plot of The Revenant. Yes, you feel bad about what happened to Glass. I guess you kinda want him to kill Fitzgerald because of what happened to his son. But at the same time, the movie absolutely pummels you into submission with its despair and violence, and in the end, it's not worth it. There's no reward for the audience at the film's conclusion. It's a slog to get through and by the end, I knew no more about Hugh Glass than I did at the beginning. It's almost pointless.

That's why I don't think that Leonardo DiCaprio should win an Oscar this year. Look, I'm one of the biggest fans of DiCaprio around. Every movie he does is unique and different in its own way and he has made so many modern classics that it's insane. But in The Revenant, DiCaprio gives the most Oscar-bait performance in a world where Oscar-bait performances are all the rage. He crawls, cries, screams and spits his way through the savagery and inhumanity and as the film's marketing campaign has emphasized over and over again, he really did all of that. But is that what constitutes a great performance? Someone who crawls in the mud a lot? Maybe there was something I missed, but I'm pretty sure that all DiCaprio did in The Revenant was roll through the mud and limp in the snow. It's an impressive achievement in physical method acting, but there's no depth to his character.

When I think of good movies, I think about stories and characters that I truly care about. Physical and technical aspects come second. The problem with The Revenant is that it thinks that if it throws enough visual stimulation at the audience, they'll forget about the fact that it's not that interesting of a story. For comparison, let's look at 2015's other Golden Globe-winning survival film, Ridley Scott's The Martian. Now, I'm not saying that these two films should have been similar in any way. That's just not true. But The Martian is a great example of how to make the audience care about a character that they know next to nothing about. Mark Watney is resourceful, funny and charming, despite being in a situation where the odds are stacked against him. For much of The Revenant, it feels like Hugh Glass is just there. Some terrible things happen to him, but there's not much of a genuine emotional reaction. Glass is a flat character in every sense of the word, driven by one thing and one thing only- revenge.

I think the most crushingly sad part of The Revenant is how thematically vacant it is. And because of that thematic void, the movie feels completely insignificant. There are little things that pop in and out over the course of the film, but there's never one thing to latch onto. Is it about a man surviving the elements of nature? Not really. In my view, The Revenant is a very simple and unsatisfying story of revenge. Inarritu attempts to throw in an oddly spiritual, Earthly element to it that emphasizes family and forgiveness, but it factors into the film so little that it feels useless. On a completely unrelated note, there's a side story that is mostly unrelated to the main story and only collides with Glass' journey at the very end. And according to people who know their history, the ending is completely made up. So why did Inarritu think this was necessary? I have no idea.

The Revenant is a beautiful film, but it's also a punishing experience. It's a grueling, graphic film, and a tough movie to sit through. Are hard, unrelenting movies always a bad thing? No. Absolutely not. There are plenty of great films that are horrific and harsh that I would never watch again. But there's something about this film that fails in every regard. In The Revenant, Inarritu absolutely trounces the viewer with monstrosity after monstrosity to the point where it becomes monotonous. It loses the impact. When something awful happened to a character, I felt nothing, because there's nothing to feel. Inarritu hits you with everything in the book- savage murder, rape, bear attacks, severed limbs, gruesome injuries, disemboweled animals- and yet, he hits you so many times that it becomes a numbing sensation. It's the most simultaneously painful and tedious experience I've had in a cinema in a long time.

The Revenant has no suspense. You sit back and let it batter and pelt you with a murderers' row of appallingly violent acts until you just give up hope. Inarritu's film is stunningly ambitious in a visual and practical sense, and yet, there are no stakes- he feels uninterested in creating a story with any real intrigue for the audience. I didn't hate The Revenant (although this review may sound rather negative, I still found many aspects impressive), but there's so much in it that just feels wrong. Technically robust, but completely hollow, The Revenant is one of the year's biggest letdowns- a promising film lost in its own pretentiousness.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                               (6/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Joblo

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Trailer for 'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising' promises raunchy sequel

If you read this blog even occasionally, you probably know that I'm a very big fan of Nicholas Stoller's 2014 comedy Neighbors. When I first saw the film, I thought that it was a true breath of fresh air in the comedic world- the movie just goes for it and is absolutely wild in its raunchiness. The film made terrific use of Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne and Dave Franco, and some of the party scenes are all-timers. Neighbors was my #9 film of 2014 and I maintain my view that it's a modern comedy classic, an Animal House for a new generation. With a strong critical reception and box office receipts that resulted in Rogen's biggest hit yet, there was no doubt that a sequel to the smash hit was in the cards. But how do you follow up the original film? The ending of Neighbors is pretty finite and there didn't seem to be anywhere to go with the concept. And with comedy sequels having the dubious reputation of being trainwrecks, there is still a lot of nervousness surrounding Neighbors 2, now titled Sorority Rising. The first trailer, released by Universal earlier today, hopes to put some of those fears to rest. Check it out below.

I've watched the trailer quite a few times now, and I'd say that I'm pretty excited for the sequel. Sure, there's still a little bit of me that maintains the concern that it'll just basically be the same thing as the original, but there looks to be enough wild gags that will change the way that the film plays out. I love how they're bringing Zac Efron's Teddy back into the mix, and the additions of Selena Gomez, Chloe Grace Moretz and Kiersey Clemons are inspired bits of casting. However, there was one thing that I was thinking- Gomez has been known her whole career for playing pure, innocent characters, while Moretz is more famous for being the hard-edged, Kick-Ass type. Wouldn't it have been more fun to have their roles switch in this flick? Random note, but just a thought. Other than that, this looks like another very fun adventure in the world of Mac and Kelly Radner with all the craziness you'd expect from a Rogen movie. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising stars Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Chloe Grace Moretz, Selena Gomez, Ike Barinholtz, Kiersey Clemons, Carla Gallo and Lisa Kudrow and will debut on May 20, 2016.

'Carol' review

I feel like I've been hearing about Carol forever and I'm really not exaggerating that much. The sumptuous and delightful romance drama from Todd Haynes premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May, and immediately thrust itself into the Oscar race. With actresses Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett sharing the prestigious Cannes Best Actress award, Carol was seen as a front-runner going into this year's Oscar season. And despite missing out on a Best Picture nomination, Carol had a very solid showing last week, receiving six nominations including several for technical categories and a pair of nods for its two stars. But I have to admit, I'm still saddened by that. Carol should have done better. Certainly one of the most beautiful and stunning movies of 2015, Carol is a romance for the ages anchored by two of the year's most sublime performances. Blanchett and Mara are incredible in this extraordinary period piece that finds a striking balance between style and substance that works wonders. An emotional journey that you won't soon forget, Carol is a must-see, no matter what the Academy says.

It's the 1950s. A young man walks into a bar on a cold winter night in New York, hoping to get a drink before heading to a party. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a woman. "Therese? I haven't seen you in months!" he says as he approaches the woman. She smiles and says that it's good to see him again, and she introduces him to her friend. "Hello, I'm Carol Aird. Pleasure," says the other woman. "I'm going to a party later, Therese, I was wondering if you would want to come?" he inquires. Therese looks at Carol. "Go on," she says. As they drive over, Therese looks out the window longingly, as if something has truly hurt her. Who are these two women? What is their story? And that is how Carol begins. After that fast and intriguing start, you'll get all the answers you need over the course of a two-hour love story between two women that is pure cinematic brilliance.

Of course, there's much more to this consistently gorgeous love story than what I've just described here. I'm giving not much of a plot summary because I feel like the marketing has really gone out of the way to not spoil too much. The trailers for this film have been very atmospheric and morose, vividly portraying the rich settings and exquisite costumes that dominate such a large portion of the film. But despite those hints, Carol's marketing team has refrained from spoiling much of the actual storyline, something that is refreshing in an era where no plot secrets seem to be off the table (sorry, Money Monster). Not that there are any humongous, Empire Strikes Back-style spoilers in Carol, but I feel like it's a special experience to watch this great film unfold, having no clue of where it's heading next.

I think that the most impressive thing about Carol is the way that it combines all of the elements of film to create a wonderful motion picture. Director Todd Haynes is a master of composition and I love the way that he blends period elements with terrific performances and a sense of warmth or chilliness. Every aspect of this film is absolutely spot-on, reflecting the gorgeous setting and the melancholy heart of the story. Carter Burwell's musical score is sensual and arresting, marking every scene with the perfect tinge of pensive sadness or ecstatic bliss. The costumes and set design are equally handsome, commanding the attention of the audience at all times. Shot with love and an eye for detail by cinematographer Edward Lachman, Carol is the equivalent of looking at a moving painting. And Haynes' knack for making all of that beauty flow so effortlessly is what elevates Carol beyond a typical period romance.

Aside from the lavish visual and design elements of the film, Carol is splendidly written and acted with Haynes carefully controlling the action the whole way through. Phyllis Nagy's script keeps the plot moving at a manageable pace, but it's insightful enough that even when things get slow, there's plenty going on under the surface. The characters in Nagy's script are well drawn out, and yet, there's just enough of a mysterious aura about the principle players. Eventually, that makes the film unpredictable and there are several times where it moves in directions that are completely unexpected. You never quite know what someone is thinking or what they're going to do, and many of the motivations are hidden. But I love how it all amounts to a simple, devastating conclusion that perfectly sums up this whole universe that Haynes has created. On every level, the screenplay serves the film well.

But of course, you'll probably walk away from Carol talking about the performances the most. Even in the immediate aftermath of the film's breakout Cannes premiere, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara's performances were the talk of the town. The two women are practically co-leads, and it's hard to say that either actress gives a better performance than the other. Blanchett has the showier performance (as she always seems to) as the titular character, commanding your attention whenever she bursts onto the screen. For much of the film, Carol is a bit of an enigma- her choices and lifestyle seem odd and there's a cryptic sense about her. But what I love about this film is that there's so much more to Carol than what there initially seems to be. A character that could be very unlikable ends up being a very profound statement.

Mara contrasts Blanchett's charisma with a subtlety and sense of heartache unmatched by most young actresses. Therese is the opposite of Carol in every way, and I love that Blanchett and Mara complement each other so well. And while they may anchor the film, Carol also features an incredibly impressive supporting cast. Kyle Chandler is sensational as Harge Aird, a man who is fighting for his wife back. So much of the movie takes place from the tragic perspective of Carol and Therese that it's incredibly refreshing to see a different viewpoint. Sarah Paulson is remarkable as usual as Abby Gerhard, the former girlfriend of Carol. The Big Short star John Magaro also pops in for a couple of scenes.

Carol is a terrifically executed love story and the way that the romance between Carol and Therese evolves throughout the film is marvelous. But I think the most impressive aspect of Carol is how it fully captures a lost era of both impeccable beauty and social constraint. We live in an age where gay marriage is the norm and acceptance is everywhere. The 1950s didn't think the same way. Carol and Therese exist in a world where everyone is trying to stop their relationship, and that adds a lot of dramatic gravitas to the film at times. It's sorrowful, but the film overcomes it with a love story that is simply engrossing.

Led by two of 2015's best performances from Blanchett and Mara, Carol is a mesmerizing piece of cinema that will put you through the ringer with its tale of love and loss. But in the end, this superbly made film is well worth it. Every single aspect of Carol works to great effect, and it's a shame that the Oscars didn't award this movie with more attention. But forget the Oscars. This is one of the year's best films, a unique tale that will compel you constantly for 118 minutes. See this one for yourself and I don't think you'll be able to shake it any time soon.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                                 (9/10)

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

'Star Wars: Episode VIII' pushed back to December 15, 2017

It's safe to say that Disney's relaunch of the classic Star Wars franchise in 2015 could not have gone any better. Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens outperformed even the most astronomical of expectations, grossing $861.3 million in the US and over $1.873 billion worldwide- and these numbers are still growing. In addition to that, word of mouth was phenomenal and critics adored the film, awarding it a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes and an 81 on Metacritic. And despite the lack of a Best Picture nomination, The Force Awakens performed well at the Oscars too, snagging five nominations for many technical categories. Highest grossing film of all time in the US, critical smash, fan favorite- yeah, I'd say that they knocked this one out of the park. One of the reasons that The Force Awakens ended up being so successful was its prime December release date. Before the seventh installment, every Star Wars film had opened in May and found success. J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm bucked that trend, moving the film to a December release date where it had both a massive opening weekend and great holiday legs. It worked well for everyone involved, so why mess with a good thing? Episode VIII may have been set for a May 2017 release date, but I think we all knew that this move was coming.

Earlier today, Disney and Lucasfilm announced that Rian Johnson's Star Wars: Episode VIII will now hit theaters on December 15, 2017. This gives more time for Johnson and his team to touch up the script, and it permanently sets the idea that a Star Wars movie is a holiday event, similar to what Peter Jackson and New Line did with both The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises. Episode VIII will debut two years after The Force Awakens rejuvenated the series, and one year after Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first spin-off movie in the new Star Wars canon. But in December 2017, Episode VIII will not be alone. The eighth film in the saga will face off against Steven Spielberg's hotly anticipated Ready Player One on the December 15th date, as well as The Croods 2, The Six Billion Dollar Man and The Greatest Showman on Earth over the holiday season. In addition to that, James Cameron has stated that he plans to have Avatar 2 ready in time for Christmas 2017, which opens up the possibility of all-out anarchy at the box office. I'm placing my bets on Avatar moving to a different date, but it's an interesting scenario nonetheless.

As a Star Wars fan, I'm disappointed that I'm going to have to wait another seven months for this film. But in all honesty, I think I can handle it. As I said before, many pundits had predicted that Disney would maximize on the holiday season profits by moving Episode VIII to December and on top of that, there had been plenty of talk about rewrites on the script. I believe that we'll get a better film because of this, and I have good faith that Rian Johnson will make it worth the wait. Star Wars: Episode VIII stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford (?), Domnhall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Benicio Del Toro and will debut on December 15, 2017.

Image Credits: Variety, Joblo

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

'Concussion' review

2015 was the year of movies that took on the system. The journalists of Spotlight attacked the Catholic Church with smarts and suspense to spare, while the outsiders of The Big Short kicked the bankers where it hurt. So with all of these great movies about taking on the establishment, it's disheartening and terribly disappointing to see a movie about a doctor fighting the corruption of the NFL with such a tame and dull perspective. A committed performance from Will Smith can't save this rote and uninteresting drama, which seems insistent on being a biting take on the NFL while being careful to not step on anybody's toes. It may try to convince you otherwise, but Concussion is absolutely toothless and unsatisfying. By trying to appease the NFL while deconstructing their practices, Concussion ends up being a misfire on every conceivable level.

Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a really, really smart guy. Omalu (and the movie) likes to emphasize that early and often. He has a seemingly endless amount of doctorates and is the man behind most of the autopsies in the city of Pittsburgh. Brilliant, but despised by his colleagues (mostly Mike O'Malley's Daniel Sullivan), the Nigerian immigrant Omalu is already faced with enormous challenges from the start. It only gets worse when he's tasked with the autopsy of Mike Webster (David Morse), a beloved football star and a Steelers icon. A normal autopsy turns life-changing when Omalu discovers something that nobody else has seen- the true effects of head trauma from the game of football.

With the help of Pittsburgh coroner Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), former Pittsburgh team doctor Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) and many other esteemed doctors around the world (Eddie Marsan, Stephen Moyer and more), Omalu discovers chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE. Excited by his discovery, Omalu eagerly publishes the information and shares it with the world and the NFL. Unfortunately, lots of people are not very interested in Omalu's discoveries. Met with hostility, death threats and sheer disregard from the National Football League, Omalu must find a way to convince Commissioner Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson) and the entire world that football poses a serious threat to the health of players.

Note to future filmmakers- if you're going to take on a corrupt organization, at least put your all into it. The major problem with Concussion is that it wants to have its cake and eat it too. It thinks that it can take on the NFL and all of their wrongdoings, but still emphasize over and over that football is a great game. The film describes football as this ethereal and near-spiritual experience for the players, all while simultaneously showing the ways that the men behind the curtain manipulated the facts for their own personal gain. This wishy-washy spirit ultimately crushes the movie when it gets to the hard facts, the damning information that will paint the NFL in a truly awful light.

I know that Will Smith and director Peter Landesman don't want to permanently ruin the reputation of the National Football League. That's not their goal here, and they've expressed that numerous times (despite Smith's insistence that he hasn't watched any football since making the movie). Unfortunately, safeness was the last thing that Concussion needed. As I've learned from many argumentation classes, it's really, truly difficult to justify an argument. On tests, they tell you that it's the absolute last thing that you want to do. Pick a side. Don't stand in the middle, because in the end, it's going to hurt your argument. Concussion's attitude of "Well, the NFL was horrible and despicable, but in the end, football's a beautiful game!" suffocates the movie. It needed a clear voice of anger and frustration. Not one of balance.

Concussion disappointed at the box office and was a critical miss, but none of the blame should go to star Will Smith. I've never been a hug fan of Smith myself and that's why I found myself very surprised here- he's sincerely terrific as Omalu in this film. Charismatic, resourceful and troubled, Smith creates a likable character that the audience can relate to. It would have been easy for Smith to mess up this performance and go way overboard, but he keeps it simple and restrained, benefiting the character along the way. He carries this entire film, even with strong help from a supporting cast that includes esteemed actors like Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and more. Smith should have definitely been considered seriously for an Oscar nomination this year.

The problem is the rest of the movie. Smith may be great, but Concussion is just a slog. The opening sets a nice tone and strikes a good balance and yet, it only goes downhill from there. Concussion feels sanitized and dull, never striking at its subject with intensity as I've already discussed. But even worse than that, it's filmed in an incredibly bland and uninteresting manner. The characters beyond Omalu are pretty thinly drawn, the themes are very muddled (is the movie about the NFL or one immigrant's disillusionment with the American dream?) and Landesman just doesn't have that ability to compel audiences with the camera. All of it adds up to a rather flat experience, one that doesn't have the narrative or entertainment impact that it should.

If you're a fan of Smith, you'll probably enjoy it for the performance from the Hollywood superstar. He's phenomenal in the film and I doubt that anybody can deny him that. But the movie just has nothing going for it beyond the central character. It's a long, lumbering fact-based drama that never manages to grab your attention or keep you in suspense. The story in Concussion needs to be told. It's important to know the danger that we put players in when they're playing a game that we all know and love. Football is an important American touchstone. Americans deserve to know about the corruption of the organization that runs it. Concussion just isn't the movie to do it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.5/10)

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

Mysterious trailer for '10 Cloverfield Lane' stuns audiences

In terms of legendary Hollywood marketing campaigns, few movies can top Cloverfield. The Matt Reeves found-footage sci-fi film was one of the most engaging uses of J.J. Abrams' mystery box technique to date, and it kept audiences in suspense leading up to its January 2008 release date. The first teaser premiered in July 2007 with Michael Bay's Transformers and completely baffled audiences. The now-iconic shot of the Statue of Liberty head being thrown into the streets of New York became a talking point, and there was no title for the film- just a release date. Film fans scrambled for more details on the film and it became a phenomenon that translated to a massive January opening weekend. Abrams messed a little with the mystery box for Super 8 and kept fans in the dark about Star Wars, but there has yet to be another example of the viral marketing that worked so beautifully for Cloverfield. Until now. For the last few months, a little Bad Robot movie titled Valencia has been on the official Box Office Mojo calendar for a March 2016 release date. Nobody really knew what it was, but the first trailer premiered with Michael Bay's 13 Hours on Friday. Suddenly, the newly titled 10 Cloverfield Lane has become the talk of Hollywood. Check out the trailer below.

That, my friends, is how to cut a terrific trailer. Seriously, I believe that just might be one of the best pieces of studio marketing in recent memory. I don't know how this connects to Cloverfield (Abrams called it a "blood relative" of the sci-fi flick), but I definitely want to find out. And after all, isn't that what great trailers are supposed to do? The trailer creates an unsettling vibe and is set to a seriously bizarre jam, which builds up the tension and creepiness as the trailer progresses. Plus, having Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman star in your movie is never a bad thing. From what we know about this film, I'm betting on some pretty huge twists in the final act. 10 Cloverfield Lane might not be the Cloverfield 2 that many fans were hoping for, but this will surely be another Bad Robot production to get excited about. And in addition to that, it's coming out in less than two months. Who had any idea? This is one of my most anticipated films for the first half of the year, that's for sure. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane will open the mystery box on March 11.

Image Credits: Joblo

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nominations revealed for the 88th annual Oscars

Well, we're finally here. Oscar nominations were announced this morning, so let's get to it. Here are your nominees for the 88th annual Academy Awards.


The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant


Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road


Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl


Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn


Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed


Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs


Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen, Bridge of Spies
Alex Garland, Ex Machina
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauvre and Josh Cooley, Inside Out
Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, Straight Outta Compton


Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short
Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
Phyllis Nagy, Carol
Emma Donoghue, Room
Drew Goddard, The Martian


Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There


Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight For Freedom


A War
Embrace of the Serpent
Son of Saul


The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant


The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant


The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Mad Max: Fury Road
The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
The Revenant


Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant


Bridge of Spies
The Hateful Eight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


"Earned It" from Fifty Shades of Grey
"Til It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground
"Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction
"Writing's On the Wall" from Spectre
"Simple Song #3" from Youth


Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Body Team 12
Chau, beyond the Lines
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
Last Day of Freedom


Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay


Bear Story
Sanjay's Super Team
We Can't Live Without Cosmos
World of Tomorrow

In all honesty, nothing too crazy happened at the nominations today. Sure, there were a couple of huge snubs and the conversation on diversity has started up again, but there were no shocking omissions like The LEGO Movie missing out on a Best Animated Feature nomination last year. But still, there were a few things I noticed. Here are my thoughts and notes on today's Oscar nominations.

-No Best Director nomination for Ridley Scott

By far the biggest shock/surprise/snub of the day, The Martian director Ridley Scott failed to garner a Best Director nomination. I knew that the director branch would throw us a curveball in there somewhere, but I never expected Scott, the presumed favorite going into Oscar night, to be the one to miss the cut. Adam McKay, George Miller, Tom McCarthy and Alejandro Inarritu made the final five as expected, but the branch chose Room director Lenny Abrahamson over veteran favorite Scott. The Martian did well in many other categories- just not here. The biggest question to raise from this snub- can The Martian pull an Argo? For those who've forgotten, Ben Affleck's Argo was beginning to fade in the Best Picture rankings when Affleck failed to get a Director nomination from the Academy. Hollywood rallied around Affleck and the film, and Argo went on to win Best Picture. I'm not sure that I see a similar situation playing out here, but it's a question worth asking.

-The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road lead all nominees

I gotta say- writing out this year's Oscar nominees got pretty redundant. That's because The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road were nominated in seemingly every category, from Best Picture all the way down to Visual Effects. Leonardo DiCaprio's survival drama led all films with 12 nominations, while George Miller's return to the Wasteland received 10 nominations. It's going to be a close competition between both films for many of the awards, and they're both pretty heavily favored in the Best Picture race too. It was a great year for effects-driven spectacles.

-Creed, Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton mostly ignored- diversity problem?

Does the Academy have a diversity problem? I wasn't one of the people who brought up this issue when it became a talking point last year, but as recent years have shown, this might be an epidemic in Hollywood. This year, great films like Creed, Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation were shunned almost completely (Creed and Compton each had one nominee). Not that I expected anything else to happen, but this is indeed the second year in a row where not a single African-American actor was nominated. I plan on writing an article on this problem later in the week and evaluating some of the opinions that are flying around on this topic right now.

-Sorkin and Tarantino miss the cut

Two Academy favorites didn't have enough to receive a nomination on Thursday, as both Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino found themselves on the outside looking in. Sorkin missed the Adapted Screenplay cut for his Steve Jobs script, which won at the Golden Globes on Sunday. Adapted was always going to be a tough race, and the writers decided to go with Emma Donoghue's Room screenplay over Sorkin. As for Tarantino, the controversial writer/director's The Hateful Eight couldn't top Ex Machina and Straight Outta Compton, as both films overthrew his bloody western and received an Original Screenplay nomination. Definitely disappointing to see two of the year's best screenplays go unnoticed.

-Lots of love for Room

Room seemed to be falling apart in the Best Picture race, especially after it lost out on nominations at all of the guilds. But somehow, Lenny Abrahamson's claustrophobic drama surged big-time at the Oscars, gaining nominations for star Brie Larson, Emma Donoghue's screenplay, Lenny Abrahamson's directing, and for Best Picture of the year. I don't see Room winning for anything but Larson's performance, but this is a terrific showing from indie distributor A24.

-"See You Again" snubbed

Not something that I'm really upset about, but it's definitely an interesting note. "See You Again," Furious 7's farewell to Paul Walker was snubbed by the Academy in favor of a song about Manta Rays. Add this to the list of straight-up random nominees.

-Carol, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Straight Outta Compton miss the Best Picture race

The Best Picture race wasn't entirely unpredictable. I figured that one of the films I had predicted would miss the cut, and unfortunately, that film was Carol. Todd Haynes did such a magnificent job with that film and despite the love that it received elsewhere (6 nominations), the film couldn't snag the big one. Ultimately, that went to Room (which I discussed earlier) as the number of nominees was capped at 8 once again. Star Wars became the first film to become the highest-grossing film in America and miss the Best Picture cut in well over 40 years, and unfortunately, F. Gary Gray's biopic Straight Outta Compton only received one nomination. I'm sad for these three great films, but not altogether shocked.

This wasn't all that surprising of a set of nominees. But now, the real fun begins. Keep tuning in over the next month for more Oscar coverage.

Image Credits: Variety