Monday, May 30, 2016

Tom Hiddleston rumored to be in talks to play James Bond; Sam Mendes finished with the franchise

Is Daniel Craig's time as James Bond all but over? It's certainly looking that way at this point. Spectre was a major box office success, taking in $880 million worldwide, but generally, it was a critical misfire that was disliked by many fans. And during the film's press tour, Craig expressed his very strong disinterest in ever playing the role again. He later backtracked on some of those statements, but by many accounts, it seems that after a series of films that revitalized the franchise, Daniel Craig will no longer be playing 007. Which begs the question- who's next in line? The iconic series has always replaced actors without hesitation, and this time around, the hunt will be bigger than ever. Accepting Craig's departure as a given, many fans have already thrown out a barrage of names as possible replacements for the actor. Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Henry Cavill, Dan Stevens- the list goes on and on. However, one name has really stuck, and now, reports are suggesting that this actor may already be lined up to take on the role.

According to Phil Nobile Jr. at Birth. Movies. Death., Avengers star Tom Hiddleston is in "advanced talks" to take on the role of James Bond. In the report, Nobile indicates that sources close to Hiddleston gave him the news, and that while the actor very badly wants to be the new Bond, no offer has been made by Eon or Sony. The report does hold some suspicions that Eon is using the discussions to create leverage over Craig, but the possibility of Hiddleston as 007 is very strong right now. Meanwhile, no matter who is playing the superspy in the 25th Bond installment, it appears that director Sam Mendes won't be behind the camera. At the Hay Festival in Wales, the director of Skyfall and Spectre had this to say about his future with the franchise- "It was an incredible adventure, I loved every second of it. But I think it's time for somebody else. I'm a storyteller and at the end of the day, I want to make stories with new characters."

Mendes also noted that Barbara Broccoli will be the one to decide the next Bond, which puts an interesting spin on the Birth. Movies. Death. report. I'm undoubtedly disappointed to see Mendes leave the series, but the possibility of a new voice is tremendously exciting. Collider is currently running a poll on potential Bond 25 directors, and as of now, Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright, and Denis Villeneuve are leading the pack. Nolan has had discussions with Eon before, and once he finishes Dunkirk, I can definitely see him tackling a Bond film. As for Hiddleston, I'm still not sure about my feelings on this one. I love Hiddleston as an actor, but I just don't know if he would be my top choice for Bond. However, as shown in the past, sometimes the most unexpected choices end up being the best. I'm sure we'll be finding much more about the future of the Bond franchise very soon. 

Sources: Birth Movies Death, Hollywood Reporter, Collider
Image Credits: Joblo

'A Bigger Splash' review

It's summer blockbuster season, which means that for the next four months, the multiplexes will be dominated by superheroes, big budgets, and wall-to-wall explosions. Thankfully, we'll get a break from the action with a few top-notch independent films. One of the hottest indies of the summer is sure to be Luca Guadagnino's A Bigger Splash, which emerged from a slew of festivals with some really strong reviews. Led by a spectacular cast, this sexy and intense romance thriller is a well-crafted movie with a terrific sense of atmosphere. A Bigger Splash is compelling and mysterious, complementing the dazzling Italian landscapes with a seedy sense of drama. Unfortunately, the film doesn't make it all the way to the finish line, but thanks to to Guadagnino's great work and some stellar performances, A Bigger Splash is a memorable trip.

Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is one of the most famous rock stars on the planet and an icon of her generation. But after years in the business, she needs a break. Lane undergoes a serious vocal surgery and decides to spend a vacation on a secluded island in Italy with her partner, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). Things are going swimmingly on the angelic beachfront location until Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) shows up. Harry is a former lover of Marianne and a friend of Paul, and at first, the old buddies are happy to see each other. But this time around, Harry has brought his young daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), along for the ride. And that complicates things. What started as a reunion between former friends and a vacation along the Italian coast turns into something else entirely, as true intentions are revealed and the deep anger erupts into violence, sexual tension, and twisted manipulation.

A Bigger Splash is light on plot, but heavy on intrigue. Each scene carries a sense of cryptic subtlety, leaving you to question the actions of the characters. They speak with behaviors more than words, allowing many things to be left up to your own interpretation. Clear answers are hard to find, and as the sexual undertones turn to violence, betrayal, and jealousy, it can be incredibly difficult to figure out who's on what side of the fence. Even as the film moves into its final act, things are even more unclear than ever. It's this sense of delicious ambiguity that allows this film to succeed so well at times. David Kajganich's screenplay doesn't craft easily defined characters- they're flawed, prone to making decisions that the audience can't quite understand.

With Guadagnino and Kajganich's focus on characters, it almost goes without saying that the performances are front and center in A Bigger Splash. Ralph Fiennes is the obvious standout as Harry Hawkes, chewing scenery and commanding every bit of the audience's attention. From the moment that Harry shows up, his nature is immediately clear- he's a fast-talking, high-energy charisma machine. And Fiennes has a blast with those elements of Harry, dancing across the screen with a smile across his face. However, Fiennes also has a true understanding of the Harry Hawkes that lies beneath the dynamic persona. He's able to turn on a dime from being mesmerizing and funny to being filled with sadness and pain, and his chemistry with the rest of the cast is fabulous. Fiennes gives one of the finest performances of the year so far.

Tilda Swinton is known for her chameleon-like abilities as an actress, and in A Bigger Splash, she's able to undergo a transformation of a different kind. Swinton's Lane has just had vocal surgery, and because of that, her performance is nearly silent. Swinton has admitted that this was a choice on her part, and it's one that works out terrifically. Utilizing only faint whispers and facial tics, you never really know what Marianne is thinking and that adds to the sense of ambiguity that flows through every scene in the film. Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts is equally brilliant and subdued as Paul, Lane's partner and Harry's friend. Schoenaerts' Paul seems lost in his own world, but there are some really great moments where he shines. And finally, Dakota Johnson is downright outstanding as Penelope, the young daughter of Harry. Johnson's seductive performance is absolutely captivating and shows off her skills as an actress in a unique new way.

This is only Luca Guadagnino's third film, but from this outing, it's abundantly clear that he is a director with a phenomenal cinematic eye and a spectacular control of the camera. Every scene in A Bigger Splash is enticing and tempting, using the lush locations and bright Italian sun to bring you closer to the action. The setting is practically a character in the film- it lives and breathes and matches up against the darkness of the actions. But ultimately, the film operates as a showcase for the four actors. With this in mind, Guadagnino is able to stage each scene to perfection, whether it's a tense poolside gathering, a flashy and funny dance sequence, or a gripping stand-off between Paul and Harry. For much of its runtime, A Bigger Splash has strong dramatic momentum, moving along very well as the interactions between the characters grow more and more dangerous.

Unfortunately, after the violent climax of A Bigger Splash, the film hits a wall. Things go from being sultry and intense to tedious and perplexing, compounded by some bizarre twists and a few scenes that overstay their welcome (a lengthy detour at the police station sticks out in my mind). After two acts that keep things interesting from a narrative and character perspective, A Bigger Splash's crime elements begin to feel out of place, and the film essentially limps to the finish line. Certain things in the third act work tremendously well, but it still operates as a jarring and not altogether successful tonal shift from the film's sensational start.

If A Bigger Splash had managed to stick this landing, this would be a near-masterpiece. And yet in its current state, it falls just short of greatness. But even a flat finish can't take away from the fact that this is a hypnotizing film, dominated by four masterclass performances that we could still be talking about during Oscar season. Swinton, Schoenaerts, Johnson, and especially Fiennes are all unbelievably good, creating memorable characters that have so much depth. Guadagnino's direction is enthralling, the script is fantastic, and the cinematography, music, and settings are all impeccable. As a fascinating and alluring beachfront tale of love, loss, family, and violence, A Bigger Splash hits the mark.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.8/10)

Images courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Jeff Bridges joins the cast of 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle'

Kingsman: The Secret Service was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2015, a hyper-violent spy spoof that was everything I wanted it to be. There were plenty of secret agent movies that debuted last year (which culminated with the release of Spectre, the 24th installment in the Bond franchise), but I think Kingsman stood out from the pack in a lot of ways. It blended Tarantino-esque violence with debonair Bond iconography, emerging as a cross between Austin Powers, Roger Moore Bond, and Inglourious Basterds. On top of that, it's a really terrific origin story for Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton), the South London kid who undergoes his own My Fair Lady-style transformation into a superspy for the iconic Kingsman agency. The film made $414 million worldwide, and without delay or hesitation, Fox greenlit a sequel and fans around the world rejoiced. There are so many possibilities for the future of this franchise, and I must say, I love what Fox is doing with this sequel so far.

Before yesterday, Kingsman: The Golden Circle already had an absolutely stacked cast. In addition to returning cast members Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, and Edward Holcroft, The Golden Circle will also see Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascal, and Elton John join the franchise. And if you thought that cast couldn't get any better, well, The Dude has something to say about that. Yes, that's right, Lebowski is joining the Kingsmen. Jeff Bridges announced on Twitter yesterday that he will be in The Golden Circle, playing an unspecified role. His tweet simply said "#Kingsman" and was accompanied by a character poster that said "The only Golden Circle I want vexing me is the one my glass leaves behind on the table." Bridges is a consistently great actor, and I have no doubt that he'll be great in this universe. Whatever Matthew Vaughn has in store with this sequel, I'm thinking it's gotta be something big. This cast is just too good. I can't wait.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle will debut in theaters on June 16, 2017.

Image Credits: Joblo

'The Angry Birds Movie' review

In The Angry Birds Movie, the main character is Red, played by Jason Sudeikis. Red, as the title of the film would imply, is a very angry bird. He spends most of the film making meta-commentary on the stupidity of everything around him and occasionally blowing up and yelling at people. Some of the film's best material comes from Red, but there's actually a really interesting thing that happens with the character. Basically, Red and his smug jokes were the only things I could relate to in this insipid, frenetic, absolutely unfunny animated comedy. The Angry Birds Movie is just as awful as you would probably expect, a desperately empty movie that essentially operates as an extended, more shamelessly corporate version of the game's story. Pop culture references run amok, light social jabs are everywhere and real character and plot development is virtually nonexistent. The Angry Birds Movie lands a few funny jokes, but it's just a soul-sucking journey.

So what is this movie about actually? Well, if you've played the game, just imagine the opening scene of the game for 45 minutes, and then another 45 minutes of the actual game. Nothing else. That's about it. But for those of you who weren't caught up in the Angry Birds craze, I'll break it down for you. So there are some birds. And they live on an island. And a few of them are really angry. One of those angry birds is Red, who is forced to go to anger management classes after he blows up on a customer. In therapy, Red meets Chuck (Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride), and Terence (Sean Penn). Chuck is essentially a yellow version of The Flash, Bomb blows up all the time (obviously), and Terence is big and red and doesn't say much. The birds don't like each other at first, but over time, they become decent friends.

And then, the pigs show up. The birds have never met any other species before, so they're in love with their new visitors. However, Red is immediately skeptical of the pigs, who are led by the charismatic Leonard (Bill Hader). Red catches onto a bunch of lies that the pigs have fed the birds over their short stay here, and as the pigs become more and more comfortable, he becomes more and more suspicious. Eventually, his suspicions come true. The pigs take all of the eggs from the birds and go back to Piggy Island, where they plan on eating their treasure. After casting Red as a social outcast, the birds decide that it's time to rally around him and take down the pigs. They move to the island and basically shoot themselves at the pigs for 30 minutes. Then it's over.

Look, I didn't necessarily go into The Angry Birds Movie thinking that I would dislike it. In recent weeks, I began to believe that the potential was there for a LEGO Movie-style success, and even though most people called me crazy, I stuck to it. Early reviews didn't necessarily excite me, but I was still hoping for an entertaining ride that both adults and kids could enjoy. Unfortunately, I walked out wanting to punch myself in the face. The Angry Birds Movie is literally the opposite of what I was hoping for, which I feel like is some kind of ironic joke on me for ever really believing in this movie. It's shrill, exhausting, and completely lifeless, a movie squarely aimed at 5-year-olds with ADD attention spans.

I know some people will counter that argument with "Well, it's a movie for kids, what did you expect?" And I don't know why that viewpoint is still so prevalent because it has been proven time and time again that kids movies, even ones with ridiculous source material, can be great. Inside Out is one of the best films of the millennium so far, The LEGO Movie was an instant classic, and hell, we already saw a perfect example of this earlier in the year with Zootopia. Kids movies can be art. They can have interesting characters, good plots, and clever material. They don't have to play to the lowest common denominator, which is what Angry Birds does for 98 minutes. In that respect, this movie is a massive disappointment.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love the Mr. Plinkett reviews from Red Letter Media. In those reviews, there's a quote from Star Wars producer Rick McCallum that they make fun of endlessly. "It's so dense, every image has so much going on," says McCallum, which Plinkett points to as one of the major flaws of the prequels. The Angry Birds Movie follows the logic of McCallum, and I think that this film is maybe one of the most deliriously frenzied movies I've ever seen, especially in the second half. The "eye" candy is spat out at an absurd rate, and every scene is just a frantic series of things flying across the screen. The Angry Birds Movie wants to entertain its audience so badly, and it throws everything in the hopes that something will stick. Occasionally, they get lucky. But most of the time, it's just overwhelming.

I guess the best thing I can say about The Angry Birds Movie is that it's insanely forgettable. I saw it a few days ago, and I must say, I can't remember anything about it that was overtly terrible. The only taste it left in my mouth was one of mild annoyance. The characters are all either over-caffeinated or smugly unlikable, which puts the movie in an interesting predicament. But overall, the movie does try really hard not to suck. So even though it ends up being pretty awful in the end, I gotta give it a few points for trying. Directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly were never really put in a situation where they could succeed with this story and these characters, and that's unfortunate. This is a bright and bubbly film, and if the studio had allowed for any compelling material to be crafted, this might have been a better film.

But in its current state, nothing interesting really does happen in The Angry Birds Movie. It tries really hard to entertain and dazzle, but it ends up simply evaporating, leaving your brain moments after you exit the theater. This movie has nothing to say, no story to tell, no memorable characters that will be ingrained in your mind. It's a film that just exists, made by the studio to capitalize on a franchise that was extremely popular nearly half a decade ago. Despite its colorful clutter, The Angry Birds Movie is as soullessly empty as animated movies come. It's just an feature-length excuse to shoehorn in a bunch of pop songs and sell more toys.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.8/10)

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures

Friday, May 27, 2016

John Carpenter to produce new 'Halloween' movie; Mike Flanagan and Adam Wingard rumored to direct

John Carpenter's original Halloween is one of those iconic horror movies of all time and it's a film that will be alive and well for decades to come. Nearly 40 years later, the 1978 flick is still terrifying, entertaining, and thrilling. Iconic score, great atmosphere, fearsome villain- Halloween has it all. Many directors have attempted to make bigger, better, and scarier sequels, but most of the time, things haven't panned out so well. The most recent series of Halloween films came from acclaimed genre filmmaker Rob Zombie, who injected a gruesome, grisly twist to the madness. Zombie's Halloween II was released in 2009, and since then, the franchise has lay dormant. In fact, unlike the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series', I'm not even sure there has been much of a conversation surrounding possible Halloween reboots, remakes or sequels. But all of that changed earlier this week.

John Carpenter is returning to the Halloween franchise, a bit of breaking news that was officially revealed by Blumhouse Productions on Monday. In the Blumhouse press release (written by Gregory Burkart), the studio announced that a new Halloween movie will be heading to theaters under Jason Blum's watch, with Malek Akkad and Miramax also on board. Carpenter will be serving as an Executive Producer and Creative Consultant, and per the release, is also in early talks to compose the film's score. Carpenter had this to say about the film:

"Halloween needs to return to its traditions. I feel like the movies have gotten away from that....Michael is not just a human being; he's a force of nature, like the wind. That's what makes him so scary. We made the original Halloween for very little money. At its heart, it's just a good, scary story, and that's why it works. 38 years later, I'm going to help to try to make the tenth sequel the scariest of them all."

As for the man behind the camera this time around, Bloody Disgusting is floating around two names as possibilities. On Tuesday, the horror news website reported that Mike Flanagan, director of Oculus, Hush, and the upcoming Ouija 2, is in talks with Blumhouse Productions to helm the picture. Later in the day, the site updated their story, saying that there's reason to believe that You're Next and The Guest director Adam Wingard could take on the film. No real sources on that one, but he did tweet some stuff, I guess. Either director would be a good pick for horror fans, but I'm just excited that we're getting a genuine Halloween film again. I like the horror renaissance that is happening in Hollywood right now, and a new Halloween film that goes back to the franchise roots seems like a perfect move. And with Carpenter involved? Count me in already.

Source: Bloody Disgusitng, Blumhouse
Image Credit: Joblo

Thursday, May 26, 2016

'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising' review

While I know that it's a mainstream Seth Rogen vehicle, Neighbors still feels like one of the first films that I truly discovered. I saw it nearly a month early at an audience pre-screening (shout out to Regal Crown Club), and I immediately fell in love with the film's raunchy audacity. Blending the social satire of Judd Apatow's best with the frat boy hijinks of Animal House, Neighbors is a dynamite comedy. It began Seth Rogen's career transition, it gave Rose Byrne more great comedic material to work with, and it established Zac Efron as Hollywood's newest R-rated comedy superstar. When it broke out in May 2014, I wasn't surprised in the slightest. It's the kind of wild low-budget comedy that modern audiences simply eat up, and in Neighbors' case, the movie broke out beyond the typical audience for these films. By all accounts. Nicholas Stoller's film was a massive hit. Of course, a sequel was not far behind.

Everyone is back for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, a sequel that has arrived in theaters with significantly less fanfare and excitement. The film grossed a mere $21.7 million last weekend, a debut that was a far cry from industry estimates and a massive drop from the original's $49 million opening frame. And honestly, while I was predicting a much bigger opening, I could have seen this coming. When Neighbors came out, people were clamoring to see it at my school. With Sorority Rising? Not so much. The film has almost been a non-factor, and it looks like it will go down as another forgotten comedy sequel. There will be no 22 Jump Street-esque success for Rogen and his crew this time around. 

However, for audiences still interested in seeing the misadventures of Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen and Byrne), there's plenty to like in this sequel. Of course, as a follow-up effort to a movie that had a brilliant concept, Neighbors 2 retreads some familiar territory. The idea of a sorority moving into the same house as Zac Efron's Delta Psi is flat-out absurd, and the ever-increasing antics of the Radners are still ridiculous. But thanks to a strong script that places its focus on the compelling and likable characters, Neighbors 2 works very well. It's essentially a very raunchy suburban sitcom, with a strongly progressive bend and many more dildo jokes. It never reaches the heights of the original, but it's a mostly good time at the theater. 

Mac and Kelly are a good time removed from their battle against fraternity bros Teddy (Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), and they're now preparing to sell their house and have a second kid. They get an offer on their house, but before it can be sold, it has to enter a 30-day "escrow" period. They just have to keep things together for 30 days and then the deal is done. Easy, right? Well, not if you know these guys. At a nearby college, Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) are entering as freshmen and pledging the Phi Lamda sorority. However, Shelby is unnerved after being told by the chapter President (Selena Gomez) that sororities are not allowed to throw parties. They attend a frat party and see the rampant misogyny and decide to start a sorority of their own- a sorority that can party like they want.

Thus, Kappa Nu is born. However, they don't have any money. Enter Teddy Sanders. The Delta Psi President-turned-Abercrombie model is entering a major identity crisis, having realized that everyone around him is now successful and he's still stuck. Pete is getting married to his boyfriend, Garf (Jerrod Carmichael) is a cop working with Officer Watkins (Hannibal Burress), and Scoonie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has invented a successful sex app. Meanwhile, Teddy is doing nothing. When he happens to run into the Kappa Nu girls at the old frat house, Teddy decides to help them out. Kappa Nu moves in next door, and they Radners immediately realize they have a problem on their hands. Once again, the family launches into an all-out war against the rowdy sorority.

A large segment of the critic community has embraced Neighbors 2 as "one of the best comedy sequels of all time" and an improvement on the original, but I don't think either of those things are even close to being true. Neighbors was a remarkably compact and efficient comedy, a film that flowed beautifully and featured some dazzling visual filmmaking. Sorority Rising is less controlled, embracing a more random structure with significantly less inventiveness. The party scenes feel a bit duller, the conclusion is a tad stale, some gags are recycled (the infamous airbag trick returns for another hilarious go-around), and overall, this sequel doesn't carry quite the same sense that the original did. It is never able to gain a real sense of dramatic momentum, and thus, the film emerges as one of Rogen's weaker films in a long stretch of brilliance.

Thankfully, Sorority Rising makes up for these flaws with a terrific, character-driven script. Written by Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Evan Goldberg, and Rogen himself, Neighbors 2 knows its characters very well. The fact that this sequel feels like a natural, organic, and funny progression for all of these people is what puts it a cut above the rest, making up for the fact that the story is often lacking. Mac and Kelly's continued growth as parents and as old people is funny and sweet, while Teddy's identity crisis makes for one of the funniest aspects of the movie. After Neighbors opened the door for suburban satire and character drama, Neighbors 2 unleashes the floodgates. So many scenes focus around the individual crises of characters, and that really is the secret to the film's success.

Neighbors 2's progressive values have also been lauded by critics, and it's understandable why. Stoller and the writers don't just use the sorority as an excuse to have more parties and insanity next door. There's a genuine exploration of the difference between these collegiate groups, and Neighbors 2 definitely breaks down the inner workings of the Greek system. It's a fun way to add a layer of depth to the film, as the frat sequel surprisingly becomes a female empowerment tale. I think the fact that Shelby, Beth, and Nora are mostly one-dimensional characters harms the bite and impact of the film (their dynamic is fresh and funny, it just never feels totally genuine), but ultimately, the social ambitions of the Neighbors franchise continue to impress me.

Nonetheless, the humor in Sorority Rising comes first, and boy, there are some phenomenal moments in this movie. I may not have always felt that it held together from a narrative perspective, but I was in stitches multiple times. Every actor in this movie is firing on all cylinders, with Zac Efron and Rose Byrne standing out from the pack. Efron has done plenty of R-rated comedies in recent years (with Fox's Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates on the way) and it's been a mixed bag. But when he has the right material, he can work as the secret weapon for a film. Teddy's search for meaning is one of the stand-out parts of Neighbors 2, and Efron sells it with charm and an ironic charisma. But beyond even Efron, this movie is just plain funny, and the writers know the characters so well that most of the humor is produced in a totally natural way that is simply brilliant.

If you're looking for a comedy with a good story and setup, go see The Nice Guys or just watch Neighbors again. But if you seek pure, uncontrollable belly laughs, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising will more than suffice. Certain aspects fall short from the original, but with a strong, smart screenplay that knows its characters very well, this sequel is able to work in just about every way. With the box office returns, odds are that we won't see a Neighbors 3. And part of me realizes that's probably for the best. After all, who can move in next? However, it's clear that Rogen and his counterparts have found something incredibly interesting with this series, and they've been able to use that to create two funny films. Neighbors 2 isn't weighty or important, but in some strange, hysterical way, it's a reflection of modern suburbia and adulthood in the guise of a raunchy comedy. Who would have expected that from a comedy sequel?

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.3/10)

Image Credits: Yahoo, NY Times, Forbes, Coming Soon. Joblo

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, and Karl Urban join Marvel's 'Thor: Ragnarok'

If there's one weak spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's the Thor franchise. Everyone praises the blockbuster highs of The Avengers films, the grit of the Captain America trilogy, and fun experiments like the original Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, but there's very little praise for Marvel's two Thor films. The original is a solid, but mostly forgettable origin story, and the sequel is one of the MCU's worst efforts. There's no doubt that there are some great moments, yet Marvel just seems to not quite know what to do with the characters. However, I think that will change with Thor: Ragnarok. Indie superstar Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) is behind the camera this time, and the idea of bringing Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner into the action is really exciting. And in addition to that, it was announced that several new cast members will be joining the franchise, and my anticipation is higher than ever before.

Last week, it was confirmed by Marvel that Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, and Karl Urban will be joining the cast of Thor: Ragnarok. Marvel Chief Kevin Feige also confirmed that Natalie Portman will not be returning for the third film in the series. Blanchett will be playing Hela, Ragnarok's main villain. Goldblum is tackling the role of Grandmaster, a character described as "eccentric" in Marvel's press release. Thompson is playing Valkyrie, a heroic character from the Thor comics and a rumored love interest for Thor. And finally, Urban will be playing Skurge. I don't really know any of these characters that well (I'm not an avid reader of the Thor comics), but I absolutely love every one of these cast members. Blanchett is one of the best actresses on the planet, able to transform into any role and inject a sense of charisma. Urban is a brilliant genre actor, best known for his awesome turns in Star Trek and Dredd. Thompson was absolutely terrific in Creed, which was one of the best films of last year. And finally, do I even need to say anything about Jeff Goldblum? The man is a legend. After two disappointing efforts, I'm really ready for a Thor movie that knocks it out of the park.

Thor: Ragnarok hits theaters on November 3, 2017.

Image Credits: Joblo

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

'Captain America: Civil War' review

Let's just cut to the chase here- you already know what this movie is, and there's a good chance that you've probably already seen it. Captain America: Civil War is already one of the highest-grossing films of the year, taking in over $1 billion at the global box office. It has been acclaimed by critics, emerging as one of the best-reviewed comic book films in history. Fans have embraced it as well, citing it as possibly the greatest achievement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. Nearly every aspect of this movie has been lauded with heaps of praise from every corner of the cinematic globe. Writing this review a few weeks removed from the release of the film is truly difficult, simply because so much of what I loved about this movie has already been said. It's the struggle of coming late to the party with a movie that has received universal adoration. Ultimately, it's hard to find many fresh and unique things to say.

But let's start with this- Captain America: Civil War is a great movie. It's everything you want in a summer blockbuster, packed with the kind of dazzling action sequences and brilliant character moments that define the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Civil War is something more than that. It is the ultimate Marvel movie, a perfect amalgamation of everything that this universe has done well so far. It unites the thought-provoking theme work of Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the awesome blockbuster elements of The Avengers, creating an truly phenomenal experience. After the rocky road of Phase 2, which featured some solo films that didn't quite work for audiences, a general sense of repetition, and an Avengers movie that was widely viewed as a disappointment (though not by this critic), Civil War charts a path for the future with an emotional, eye-popping superhero blast.

However, there is one qualification required for Civil War. If you haven't kept up on your Marvel movies, you will be utterly confused by this one. So much of it relies on the events of previous Marvel movies that watching films like Age of Ultron, The Winter Soldier, and The Avengers should almost be required pre-requisites. Civil War opens in Lagos, Nigeria, with the new team of Avengers- Cap (Chris Evans), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson)- tracking down Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), the HYDRA enforcer who managed to escape the battle in DC alive. Rumlow (also known as Crossbones) is wreaking havoc, attempting to unleash a biological weapon on the population of Lagos. The Avengers stop him, but at a severe cost- when Scarlet Witch contains Crossbones, she accidentally launches him into a building, killing several Wakandans.

This incident, along with the disasters in New York, Washington D.C., and Sokovia, prompts the government to step in and control the Avengers. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) proposes the Sokovia Accords, a law that would allow the government to have oversight in regards to the operations of the team of "enhanced individuals." Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is wholeheartedly in favor of the legislation, haunted by the thousands of deaths in Sokovia that were caused by his Ultron program. However, Steve Rogers isn't quite ready to jump in and allow the United Nations to involve themselves in his operations. The Accords split the team right down the middle, with War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Black Widow aligning with Tony, while the other Avengers stick by Cap's side.

Despite Steve's hesitation, the Accords are approved by most countries. A final meeting is set at the UN in Vienna as a symbol of the unity between the governments of the world and the Avengers. All seems well, until a bomb goes off in the building. Several people are killed, including Wakanda's King T'Chaka (John Kani), prompting his son (Chadwick Boseman) to don the Black Panther armor. An international manhunt is launched for the prime suspect, who just so happens to be Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve's childhood friend and the infamous Soviet assassin known as The Winter Soldier. Steve knows that Bucky is innocent of the crimes, but Tony wants to bring him in. With Bucky effectively working as the prime example of the Accords in action, Tony and Steve launch into a major battle for their ideologies, a battle that might just have another mastermind working behind the scenes.

Captain America: Civil War has been often compared to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice over the last few weeks, and in all likelihood, those comparisons will continue. There are plenty of close similarities between the two movies that are almost eerie. I was a bigger fan of BvS than most (I gave it a "B" in my review), so I will hesitate to match the two up in a smackdown. But for me, there's one fundamental difference between Civil War and Dawn of Justice that allows the former to work much better as a film. Throughout its entire 147 minute runtime, Captain America: Civil War has remarkable narrative flow. This is a movie that juggles multiple characters, storylines, and setpieces, but does in a way that always feels cohesive and engaging.

Granted, my first viewing of Civil War was almost sensory overload. As a Marvel fan and as a moviegoer, I was thrown aback by the sheer insanity of what was happening on screen. The film took so many turns that I didn't expect, and it felt like I was constantly playing catch-up. I loved every minute of it, but I can't deny that Civil War is a jam-packed cinematic experience that might literally pop your eyes out. On a second viewing, once the initial nerdy excitement had settled, I was stunned by how well Civil War moves through its action. It shifts from the early events with the Accords to the main storyline between Bucky and Cap with remarkable ease, smartly giving the audience a sense of how the laws would work in practice. Civil War never lags or slows down. Each scene matters. Nothing feels superfluous. And thanks to the brilliant filmmaking of Joe and Anthony Russo, this movie works like a firecracker.

The Russo Brothers were responsible for The Winter Soldier, which is probably Marvel's best film to date. The studio was so impressed by their work on that film that they practically handed them the key to the Universe, setting them up for Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. While this entry is technically playing out like Avengers 3, there's no question that at its heart, this is a Captain America film. There have been plenty of debates in regards to that idea, especially when you consider the sheer amount of characters in this movie. But in my mind, Civil War boils down to two simple things- Steve Rogers' love for justice and his love for his friend. While Iron Man and the gang shows up to fight, this is still a movie about the character of Captain America. It features all of the political and thematic hallmarks of the Captain America franchise, and it feels like a natural continuation of the story explored in The Winter Soldier.

But at the same time, Civil War has the spectacular bombast of an Avengers movie. It features what might possibly be the greatest superhero action scene of all time, an IMAX-shot, 17-minute smackdown between twelve Marvel superheroes that has just about everything you've ever wanted to see from this fight. Iron Man and Cap trade blows, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) shoots webs at Falcon and Bucky, Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) exchange punches, and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) uses one of his most special powers. It's 17 minutes of nerd nirvana, and it's backed up by a series of supporting action pieces that work just as well. The Russos are great at bringing a hard-hitting edge to their action, and while the central setpiece features some cartoony, comic book-like moments, most of the violence is brutal, intense, and edge-of-your-seat fun.

So yeah, it's been established that Civil War is a fast, smooth ride that will cause your nerdy little brain to explode. But does it ever reach true greatness, something that I can genuinely say has only been reached by one other Marvel movie? Yes, and it does it with ease. I still hold firm in my believe that The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel movie to date, but Civil War is the studio's most impressive achievement, taking a complex concept and executing it with grace and perfection. Civil War gets points for spectacle, yet there's no question in my mind that this movie wouldn't work without the brilliant character work, the perfectly set up contrast, the surprisingly effective villain (played by Daniel Bruhl), the taut and zippy screenplay, and the wonderful performances.

In the end, it all goes back to the characters. I know that some people are complaining (there was a lengthy column written by Film Crit Hulk over at Birth. Movies. Death. today about this issue) about Marvel's character-centric focus, but in my mind, it's the key to their success. Civil War works because in addition to being a dynamite blockbuster, it's a movie about two characters that audiences love, filled with supporting characters that audiences love even more. I have spent an inordinate amount of time in the last few weeks at school debating the merits of Team Cap or Team Iron Man. Civil War works because it ignites that debate. You walk away entertained, but you just want to keep talking about it, which is a testament to the power of this franchise and these characters.

Marvel is still working out some of the kinks in their system (consequences are always gonna be a problem, I guess), but this is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the Universe so far. A pitch-perfect blockbuster, a terrific finale to the Captain America trilogy, a great start to the 3rd Phase of Marvel's great experiment, and a fantastic comic book movie to boot- Civil War does it all. Every piece of the puzzle clicks perfectly, every character action feels genuine, every action scene is stunning. I loved pretty much every minute of Captain America: Civil War, and I think it's a movie that will just keep getting better with age. Oh, and did I mention Spider-Man and Black Panther? They're great. This movie is great. Everything is great.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.5/10)

Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Guardian, Slash Film, Forbes, Joblo

Monday, May 23, 2016

Second trailer for Justin Lin's 'Star Trek Beyond' astonishes fans

It's safe to say that Star Trek Beyond did not get off on the right foot with fans. When the first trailer for the third installment in the rebooted series debuted in December, there was an immediate outcry from Trekkies and even casual fans. Set to "Sabotage" by The Beastie Boys, the action-heavy teaser trailer seemed to eschew traditional Trek material in favor of a Fast and Furious vibe, made worse by the fact that Beyond director Justin Lin is a long-time player in that franchise. Many wrote off the film right away, especially after a large segment of the fans were alienated by J.J. Abrams' previous efforts in the new franchise (notably 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, which at one point, was voted as the worst Star Trek film). For some reason, Paramount waited six months to do damage control, and after allowing the awful teaser to play in front of countless films, the studio is finally releasing the full trailer for Justin Lin's film. The trailer for Beyond debuted at a Star Trek fan event to a rather strong reaction. Check it out below!

I've always been a Star Wars fan. Just like Abrams, I never really watched Star Trek as a kid, and even now, I struggle to get hooked on the old series. However, when Star Trek came out in 2009, I thought it was a blast. I really loved that movie and couldn't wait for a sequel. When Star Trek Into Darkness dropped, I was initially disappointed, but later came to appreciate the pure spectacle and character work that flows throughout that movie. I've been cautiously excited for Star Trek Beyond, but by no means was I sold. After this trailer, I'm feeling slightly better. This looks like the mix of sci-fi action, character drama, and comic relief that this franchise thrives on, and with Lin's eye for action, this could ultimately be one of the most beautiful entries into the Trek series. The plot still seems heavily guarded, which gives me some pause, but with Simon Pegg on screenplay duty, I must say that my faith is pretty high. All in all, this trailer was a huge bounceback. I'm still worried about the film's box office potential, but as long as Star Trek Beyond delivers, I'm all in.

Star Trek Beyond stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, and Sofia Boutella, and will hit theaters on July 22.

Image Credits: Screen Rant

'Money Monster' review

At this moment, the political climate of the United States is extremely contentious. There is enormous anger on both sides, fueled by a hatred of the system and the unshakable feeling that we're all getting screwed over. It's the reason why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are doing so well in the election season. While the two candidates take very different approaches, the basic message is similar. Trump's rhetoric rallies around a dislike for political correctness and the Republican establishment, a message that has allowed him to become the GOP nominee. Bernie's language is calmer, but he has built his candidacy on the idea that the average American has been destroyed by the financial system and the rabid corruption of Wall Street. Trump's message has had a wider impact that could very well win him the Presidency, but Sanders' Rage Against the 1% platform is deeply felt in our modern culture. Ever since the 2008 crash, there has been a lot of distrust for the people at the forefront of the American financial markets.

This can be reflected in the release of films like The Big Short, and now, Money Monster. Jodie Foster's drama about a Wall Street guru (George Clooney) and the disgruntled investor (Jack O'Connell) who takes him hostage taps into a lot of the fury and rage that is so pervasive in today's world. In between the tense standoffs and the shootouts, there is a lot of topical content at the heart of this movie. Money Monster is very angry at the financial system, and there are some points throughout the movie where it feels like the characters are speaking directly from the perspective of the screenwriters who are certainly mad as hell.

Unfortunately, Money Monster is an incredibly difficult film to pull off. And despite a game effort from a talented group of people, director Jodie Foster's falls just short of the lofty mark. Walking a strange tightrope between absurd comedy and high-stakes drama, Money Monster emerges with a tonal clash of satirical strangeness. In a better film, as the stakes elevate and the consequences pile up, the tension would raise and the craziness would amount to something overwhelmingly terrific. In Foster's film, the story progresses in a way where the craziness rises, but in a way that totally sucks the air out of the tonal intensity. What amounts is a mostly fun thriller filled with a whole lot of unfulfilled potential.

Money Monster takes place mostly in real time, focusing on the life of financial TV guru Lee Gates (George Clooney), which is evidently based on Mad Money host Jim Cramer. The day before the taping of Gates' latest show, the stock for IBIS (a tech firm that Gates was overly fond of) crashed, sending Wall Street into a total panic. Gates had previously called IBIS stock "safer than a savings account," and unfortunately, Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell) listened to that advice. The down-on-his-luck delivery guy put a $60K windfall into IBIS, and when it crashed, he lost everything and potentially destroyed his life. Kyle blames Lee Gates, and because of his deep anger against the system, he makes a life-changing decision.

Kyle decides to break into the set of Money Monster (the name of Gates' show) with a gun, hold Lee hostage, and demand answers for what happened in the crash. Lee is strapped with a bomb, further complicating the situation. The hostage crisis gains national attention, while Lee's producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), attempts to keep Lee alive from inside the studio. But despite his initial bewilderment and hesitation, Lee eventually comes around to Kyle's complaints and begins asking questions of his own, pressing IBIS heads to find out what went wrong. The answer lies deep under a web of lies and deception, and the truth may ultimately not be what it seems.

There was a point in the production of Money Monster where the filmmakers sat down and fought over what this movie should be. One side argued that the film needed to be a grim, intense drama, told with edge-of-your-seat ferocity. The other side disagreed, proposing the idea that it needed to be a preposterous, over-the-top financial satire. Those two sides never came to an agreement, instead settling for something in between the two. This is the fundamental problem with Money Monster, and it's ultimately what keeps it from ever completely working. Network and Dog Day Afternoon (the film's clear influences) both had undercurrents of satirical comedy, but those humorous inclinations never dominated the movie. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Money Monster.

If you've ever listened to a conspiracy theory-obsessed friend ramble on about how the government was involved with some tragedy or happened to come across a Twitter account all about crazy occurrences in history, Money Monster sorta creates the same sensation. It goes into some truly ludicrous directions, and its plot is a series of events that could never happen in a fully realistic world. It almost plays like wish fulfillment for conspiracy theorists, as the movie delves into its deep and twisted webs where the financial leaders are actually mustache-twirling villains. In that way, it's a movie for our very angry times. It's crazy, it's strange, and often, it is literally laugh-out-loud funny.

However, mixing these nonsensical plot devices with the nail-biting action setpieces probably wasn't the best move on the part of the filmmakers. We're left with a movie that is just kinda entertaining. It isn't as deep as it wants to be, isn't as sharp as it aspires to be, and not nearly as thrilling as it should be. It ends up just being a light diversion, a pleasantly fun action movie with some old-fashioned star power. This in and of itself is not a disappointment. We need these kinds of movies in the current Hollywood marketplace. Unfortunately, with the talent involved, the virulent, topical subject material, and the flashes of satirical and dramatic brilliance, Money Monster's status as a warmly enjoyable film feels like a letdown.

Foster has flashes of directorial control, highlighted by sequences of gripping intensity. Her skills matched up with the terrific cast is mostly what keeps this movie afloat. George Clooney is in prime form as Lee Gates, the charismatic and lonely stock expert. This is mostly material in Clooney's wheelhouse, but it never manages to feel stale or uninteresting. Julia Roberts isn't working with a whole lot as Patty, a character that rather thinly drawn, and yet, she manages to always convey just the right amount of feverish anxiety. Jack O'Connell has the showiest performance, screaming and shouting his way through the wild ramblings of Kyle Budwell. It alternates between shrill and show-stopping, occasionally finding the happy medium. O'Connell is an actor with a lot of skill and raw power, but I think he's still searching for that great mainstream role that caters to his specific talents.

Money Monster never delivers on the promise of a slam dunk thriller, instead settling for something a little more light and fluffy. Hell, they even play a rap song over the end credits. This definitely isn't Dog Day Afternoon. Coming in with those expectations and witnessing something that aims for a much lower bar is undoubtedly disappointing. But coming in at a compact and quick 98 minutes, Money Monster is fun and efficient, loopy and diverting without ever piercing the cold heart of the financial sector. Clooney, Roberts, and O'Connell make for a periodically terrific trio, and Foster's direction is often razor sharp. I came in hoping for something more precise, focused, and engaging, but in the end, I got a highly entertaining movie without much staying power. Make of that what you will.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.7/10)

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures

Thursday, May 19, 2016

First trailer for Ben Affleck's 'The Accountant' previews intriguing thriller

When Ben Affleck was first cast as Batman in Warner Bros.' newly minted DC Cinematic Universe back in 2013, my reaction was one of anger. But I wasn't angry for the same reason that most fans were. Comic book fans didn't believe that Affleck had the right skill set to play Bruce Wayne, and there was a resounding cry when his casting was announced. Meanwhile, I was let down because I knew that it meant that we would be getting fewer Ben Affleck movies for the next few years. In August 2013, Affleck's next project was set to be an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's Live by Night, one of the most captivating crime novels I've ever read. There were a few other projects on his radar, and after the Oscar-winning success of Argo, Affleck's career had seemed to be on the right track. And frankly, a trip back to the land of blockbusters and superheroes seemed like an awful idea.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice landed with a booming thud earlier this year, putting added pressure on Warner Bros. to make their franchise better. Affleck is taking a leading role in the DCCU, putting his non-comic book projects in jeopardy. However, the multi-hyphenate has still managed to sneak in a few other movies in between Batman entries. Live by Night will finally hit theaters on October 20, 2017, but first, Affleck will star in Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant. The first trailer for the thriller hit the web last week, check it out below!

This looks like one wild ride. It's an incredibly well-cut trailer, one measured on precision and an intensity that consistently builds throughout the brief clip. And plus- the premise itself is inherently interesting. Affleck appears to play a mathematical and technological savant of some sorts, who also happens to be an assassin with brutal skills. That's a unique and fascinating concept, and I can see it translating really well to the big screen. The supporting cast is phenomenal as well, with J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Lithgow leading the way. Overall, The Accountant looks like a razor sharp thriller, and one that could be a major Oscar player if it connects in the right way.

The Accountant is directed by Gavin O'Connor and will debut on October 14, 2016.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lupita Nyong'o and Michael B. Jordan join Marvel's 'Black Panther'

My review of Captain America: Civil War is coming in just a little bit (spoiler alert- I loved it), but it's safe to say that one of the highlights of the film was Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther. The mysterious and intensely focused Wakandan hero had some spectacular action scenes and an enigmatic energy that was felt during each moment on screen. Marvel fans had been dying to see Black Panther on the big screen, and thanks to the Russo Brothers, the character became a show-stopper. In less than two years, the Wakandan Prince will be getting a solo movie of his own. Creed superstar Ryan Coogler is already on board to direct, and for many, this is one of the most anticipated movies of Marvel's epic, sprawling Phase 3. And after two casting additions last week, it's looking like Black Panther could be one of the most intriguing superhero movies in recent memory.

According to sources at Variety, 12 Years A Slave Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o is in talks to join Black Panther as T'Challa's love interest. This would continue Nyong'o's successful relationship with Disney as the acclaimed actress has also appeared in The Jungle Book and Star Wars: The Force Awakens and will appear in Queen of Katwe and Intelligent Life under the studio's banner. Later in the week, The Hollywood Reporter exclusively revealed that Creed star Michael B. Jordan is also in talks to join the film for what could be a potentially villainous role. Jordan previously starred in Fox's Fantastic Four, but this would be his first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I've already been rather excited for Black Panther, and the casting of two of the best young actors today only increases my anticipation. Jordan should have received an Oscar nomination for his role in Creed, and Nyong'o brings such an intense passion and complexity to her roles. Marvel doesn't have a great track record with love interests, but in my mind, Nyong'o could do something special in this film. And if Jordan is the villain, I have no doubt that he'll be magnificent. With such a plethora of talent in front of and behind the camera, I'm starting to think that this could be one of Marvel's best films.

Black Panther debuts on February 16, 2018.

Image Credits: Joblo

Sunday, May 15, 2016

'Green Room' review

Green Room is vicious. I can't think of any other word that describes this movie better than that. From start to finish, Jeremy Saulnier's horror thriller is gruesome, grisly, and a hell of a good time. If you can stomach the violence, you're in for a treat. Staged as a battle royale between Neo-Nazis and punk rockers, Green Room is one of the most shockingly entertaining films of the year so far. Appalling in its treatment of horrendous violence and electrifying in its constant suspense, this is a movie that will push you beyond your limits and then some. It's pulpy, it's nasty, and it's gory enough to make you cringe. But you won't look away. Created masterfully by Saulnier, Green Room is a movie that fits together almost perfectly, facilitating an atmosphere of dread before pummeling you with another act of hideous carnage. And frankly, it's the kind of film that we don't see enough of anymore. As visceral film experiences go, Green Room is up near the top of the list.

The Ain't Rights are out of luck. The punk band, comprised of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Reece (Joe Cole), Sam (Alia Shawkat), and Tiger (Callum Turner), is almost completely broke, living in their van and siphoning gas out of cars. They take a couple of lackluster gigs and do an interview with college journalist Tad (David W. Thompson), but they need something more. To wrap up their tour and make their way back home, The Ain't Rights will need one final performance. With the help of Tad, the band signs up to perform at a Neo-Nazi club run by some very strange white supremacists. It's an unfriendly arena, but it pays a nice fee. Even though they piss off the customers at times, it's a successful show and The Ain't Rights walk away with what they wanted.

But it turns out that they might end getting a little more than they bargained for. After the show, Pat walks into the green room and finds a dead body. Yup, this is no longer just a slightly sketchy racist bar- this is a crime scene. The leaders of the club (Macon Blair, Eric Edelstein) try to keep the band contained in order to control the situation, but things go south rather quickly. After a few nasty and tense standoffs, the club's menacing manager, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), is called in to take care of the band. With only a few makeshift weapons, The Ain't Rights will have to fight their way out of the club, facing down a terrifying army of Darcy's most fearsome men. It's safe to say that it won't end well.

Coming in at 95 minutes, Green Room is an incredibly economical film. This is a movie that is exceptionally quick and frighteningly efficient. But that doesn't diminish its impact one bit. Green Room is one of those movies that feels like a punch in the face. From the first burst of shocking violence that pops vividly onto the screen, this movie will have you in its grasp and it will never let you go. It's a film of great passion and violence, dominated by actors who maintain that level of steely intensity for the entire runtime. It's a roller-coaster ride that will have your head spinning, thrusting you back against your seat. And it might just make you grip the armrests a little bit tighter. Green Room is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and just utterly insane.

But Green Room isn't a great film because of its unpredictability or because of the disturbing impact of the violence. No, this is a phenomenal film because it's coming from a director who has a superb control of tension and mood, a director who is extremely comfortable in this genre. I haven't seen Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin, but after seeing this film, it's definitely on my must-watch list. Saulnier is a very precise filmmaker, and every scene in Green Room conveys a mood and evokes a specific feeling or emotion. You feel the desperation of the band at the beginning of the film. You see the panic as things go south at the club. You shake as these unprepared kids go up against a full-blown army. It takes a special filmmaker to create that consistent level of intimacy, and the hard-hitting authenticity of Saulnier's vision is on full display throughout Green Room.

Green Room is firmly based in a graphic reality that is often difficult to stomach, yet at the same time, it's an incredibly flashy and unhinged grindhouse film. Saulnier is terrific at inducing a mood of anxiety and vigor, but he also excels at blending beautifully strange genre elements with his exceptional filmmaking craft. I think it's safe that say that I've never seen a film quite like Green Room before. Sure, there have been plenty of other siege thrillers and backwoods horror movies, but nothing that quite strikes this specific tone. Mixing the thrills of an absorbing action flick with the gory sensibilities of a horror film and the setting of a chamber piece, Green Room is a gritty, colorful, and utterly riveting genre clash.

Saulnier's vision is elevated by a phenomenal cast of actors who fit their roles perfectly. This is even more impressive considering that we know so very little about each of the characters, as Saulnier gives a limited amount of background info in regards to the personalities of the actors. The lack of exposition gives the cast free reign to explore these characters and create their own distinct flavor, which works wonders. If there's a lead in the film, it's Anton Yelchin, who plays the reluctant head of the band. Yelchin conveys Pat's absolute terror at every turn, but as the movie goes on, there's an assertive anger that turns him into one of the movie's most dynamic characters. The rest of the band is rounded out with strong performances from Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, and Callum Turner. Their arcs are slightly more limited, but they all have great chemistry, which works wonders for the film.

On the Nazi side of things, Patrick Stewart is the obvious standout performance. His turn in Green Room was the big marketing pitch for this movie, and thankfully, the iconic British actor doesn't disappoint. Stewart's Darcy might not quite be the villain that you're expecting- he never kills anyone on screen or commits any horrendous acts of violence. Instead, Darcy hangs in the shadows. He manipulates and executes, commanding his troops around like a general. His calm demeanor and laser focus is chilling, and that's what makes it work. Another standout among the ranks of Darcy's men is Gabe, played by Macon Blair, who previously starred in Blue Ruin. Blair was unknown to me before this movie, but it was his performance that stuck. There's so much haunting conflict in his eyes, and his character becomes one of the most compelling in the film.

Finally, Green Room is just a fantastic-looking and sounding movie. As blood-soaked as it is, this flick is just an astonishingly beautiful audio/visual experience. Sean Porter's cinematography is so splashy and rich, contrasting the abrasive tone with a strong sense of visual energy. Porter accurately nails down the desolation of the venue, the grungy, sticky grime that pulsates through the walls. By the end of Green Room, I felt like I had just spent 95 minutes in that distinct, striking location. That's a feat that very few films pull off. The sound design in this movie is also astounding, mixing a constantly vibrating punk music vibe with the creeping sense of dread that permeates through every frame. This film is simply a vision.

2016 is already growing into one of the most impressive years for genre pictures in recent memory, and Green Room is another rollicking masterpiece to add to the growing list. It won't be for all tastes, but film fans will be appreciating this depraved, diabolically entertaining piece of cinema for ages. I walked out of Green Room with the feeling that I just been punched in the gut and smashed over the head with a sledgehammer of brutal, bloody force. I stumbled out of the theater in a complete daze. In less metaphorical terms, I felt energized by Saulnier's captivating vision of horror. It's an awe-inspiring ride that is simply unforgettable.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.2/10)

Image Credits: Deadline, Rolling Stone, Indiewire, Guardian, Joblo

Saturday, May 14, 2016

'Assassin's Creed' trailer teases Fox's major video game adaptation

I feel like I've written this intro before, and without a doubt in my mind, I'm sure that I'll write it again. For many video game fans, 2016 is supposed to be the year where their favorite properties translate to success on the big screen. Fans have been putting their chips on 2016 for years. While we already saw the failure of Ratchet & Clank, the first true test of the video game brand arrives on June 10th, when Duncan Jones' Warcraft smashes into theaters. The big-budget adaptation of popular PC game World of Warcraft comes with a lofty price ($100 million +) and high expectations, and so far, it's not looking great. The trailers have been mediocre, and Box Office Pro is currently projecting the film for a total gross of $78 million. It could break out, but in the case that it falls flat at the box office and with critics, video game fans will turn to another movie- Assassin's Creed. Directed by Macbeth's Justin Kurzel, the adaptation of the popular video game series is bolstered by a prime Christmas release date and a solid cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, and more. The first trailer for the film debuted earlier this week, check it out below.

This is a very strange trailer for what looks to be a very strange movie. And despite some poor choices by the studio, I kinda dug it. First, let's get the obvious out of the way- scoring this trailer with Kanye West's "I Am A God" was probably not the best choice. Juxtaposing Kanye with The Spanish Inquisition was a move that turned off a lot of people, which is understandable. However, when you move past the music, this is actually a pretty cool preview of this film. The blend of adventure with science fiction is really fascinating, giving Assassin's Creed a unique quality in the modern blockbuster climate. In addition to that, this is just a spectacular-looking film. The visuals appear to be stunning, the stuntwork looks eye-popping, and with esteemed actors like Fassbender and Cotillard, I truly believe that this could end up being a great film. I wasn't initially a huge fan of the trailer, but I'm starting to really warm up to what this movie could be.

Assassin's Creed stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Callum Turner, Michael K. Williams, Brian Gleeson, Ariane Labed, and Matias Varela. The film will debut on December 21.

Image Credits: Joblo

'A Hologram for the King' review

Did you know that a new Tom Hanks movie debuted in theaters a few weeks ago?

Yeah, I didn't think so. When Tom Hanks stars in a movie, people usually notice. For some reason, A Hologram for the King got lost in the shuffle. Premiering in 401 theaters with a limited marketing campaign, the latest film from Tom Tykwer feels like a movie that Roadside Attractions just wanted to push under the rug. Which is unfortunate, because A Hologram for the King is a pleasant, expertly crafted film that works in nearly every way. It's not one of Hanks' most impressive films nor is it one of his most ambitious, but with a light, easy-going tone, and a captivating performance from Tom Hanks, this low-key character drama is a film that could surprise some viewers looking for a nice slice of counter-programming in this action-packed summer.

At this point in his life, Alan Clay (Hanks) has failed. He's divorced, losing credibility at work, and slowly finding himself without the modern furnishings that he's come to expect. Searching for a change of pace, Alan heads to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to propose a holographic meeting system to the King. Alone and confused in this strange new land, Alan meets a few people who change his life. First, there's Yousef (Alexander Black), the funny and charming cab driver who becomes his best friend. And secondly, there's Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), a Saudi doctor that treats a bizarre wound on Alan's back. Throughout his time in Saudi Arabia, Alan will find a way to becoming a better person and discover the beauty of change in his life.

Judging by that synopsis, you'd probably think that not much happens in A Hologram for the King. And you'd be right. Tom Tykwer's film never really sticks to one plot or focuses enough to tell a complicated story. It just meanders through the desert oasis, while creating enough interesting scenarios to keep the audience hooked. If there is a glaring issue with A Hologram for the King, it's the pacing and the focus. The narrative can be a bit all over the place during the course of the movie, and it seems like on the story front, Tykwer never really knew what he wanted to tell. One moment it's focused on the sale of the hologram, and the next, it flips into a totally different area. There are times where the movie just seems lost in its own world.

But at the same time, even without a really strong focus, A Hologram for the King flows beautifully. By choosing to eschew a carefully calibrated story, Tykwer (who wrote the screenplay as well) is able to create a free-flowing atmosphere that allows us to really get to know the character of Alan Clay. Despite the often drifting nature of the film, A Hologram for the King is a constantly lovable, diverting film. Tykwer is terrific at creating mood and tone, and the spiritual, lighthearted sentiment that runs through this film is soothing and entertaining. There isn't a boring moment in the film, and even though the material is relatively routine on the surface, Tykwer blends in enough directorial energy and panache to make A Hologram for the King feel fresh and delightful.

There's no getting around it though- without Tom Hanks, this movie doesn't work. Undoubtedly one of the most talented actors on the planet and one of my personal favorites, Hanks injects magic into even the most basic of roles. On the surface, Alan Clay isn't a super compelling character. He's a checklist of things that we've seen in movies like this before. He's lost direction, he's searching for something new, he finds new life in a new land, etc.- it's not overly fresh material. Some of Tykwer and novelist Dave Eggers' symbolism is a little on the nose, and in the hands of another actor, the overt nature of the material may have consumed the movie and suffocated it, preventing it from ever growing into anything.

With Hanks, that is never the case. From start to finish, A Hologram for the King is his movie and it's his amiable, good-humored performance that holds everything together. Hanks carries every scene of the film, giving a sympathetic charm to Alan that works magnificently. It isn't on the level of his iconic performances, but this is a purely character-based film, and Hanks is able to exploit that to his advantage. By the end of A Hologram for the King, I cared deeply about Alan and his decisions, and after the serio-comic adventures of the film, it was refreshing to watch it reach a simple and happy conclusion. When you buy a ticket for this film, you're buying a ticket to see Hanks at his subtle best- and in that way, you won't be disappointed.

Beyond the terrific central performance of Hanks lies a supporting cast that often adds a fun and fascinating element to the movie. Alexander Black is tremendously funny as Yousef, standing toe-to-toe with Hanks and stealing each scene he's in. Black has very limited acting experience, but if his role in this film is any indication, we're going to be seeing him for a long time. Sarita Choudhury appears more in the final act of the film, but she's terrifically subdued, and her chemistry with Hanks is palpable. There's also one scene where Tom Skerritt shows up. I can't really tell you why he's in the movie, but he is.

A Hologram for the King is good cinematic comfort food. It isn't an overly ambitious drama, nor is it a film with incredibly weighty themes on its mind. Instead, it's a well-made, exceptionally acted film completely centered around its star performance- something that is all too rare in our modern cinematic landscape. I walked in with little to no expectations at all, and I walked out feeling a little bit better about the world. Very few people will see A Hologram for the King, and it won't have a real lasting impact on Hanks' career, but this sweet little film pays a nice emotional dividend and works as a solid slice of character-driven entertainment.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.6/10)

Image Credits: Indiewire, Variety, Yahoo, Joblo

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

'Keanu' review

Keanu feels like the kind of movie that is rarely made in Hollywood. It's a totally star-driven vehicle, it cost only $15 million to produce, and it features an absolutely ludicrous action comedy plot. Yes, this is a movie made by a major Hollywood studio about two friends who infiltrate a gang to retrieve their cat. On the surface, that sounds like a concept that could either go horribly wrong or become an instant classic comedy. Thankfully, due to the brilliance of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (simply known as Key and Peele), Keanu ends up more like the latter. Tremendously funny, extraordinarily clever, and raucously outrageous from start to finish, the comedic screen debut of Key and Peele comes out firing on all cylinders. Working with both real world issues and outlandish fantasy action beats, Keanu is a wholly fresh creation and one of the most undeniably satisfying studio comedies in recent memory.

If there is one glaring flaw with Keanu, it's the story. Not that it's bad, but it certainly takes a few too many twists and turns throughout the course of the film's 100 minute runtime. The narrative is appropriately ridiculous, yet occasionally just too wild for its own good. The film kicks off with an action setpiece involving the menacing Allentown Brothers (played by Key and Peele in wigs), who are fighting a Mexican drug lord in the pursuit of their beloved cat. Things go south, and after a long shootout, the cat ends up wandering through Los Angeles before arriving on the doorstep of Rell Williams (Jordan Peele). Rell has just gone through an awful break-up with his longtime girlfriend, who says that he's going nowhere in life. He's stuck on his couch, smoking weed and thinking about the emptiness of his life, until this absurdly cute cat shows up on his doorstep and changes everything.

Suddenly, with the help of Keanu (the name of the cat), Rell finds some motivation in life. He picks up his camera again (he's a budding photographer/filmmaker) and begins to create a cat calendar imitating famous films. Feeling good about himself, Rell goes out for a night with his cousin, Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), who is dealing with identity issues of his own. After a fun series of Liam Neesons jokes, the two friends head back to Rell's place. But something seems strange. Rell's door is open, and when they enter his home, Keanu is gone. Devastated, Rell slips into a deep depression, before becoming more determined than ever to get his prized cat back. But to save Keanu, Rell and Clarence will have to infiltrate one of the most powerful gangs in the city and fight their way to success.

In an odd way, Keanu feels like a movie that is both nostalgically retro and strangely of the moment. It's a film that feels like a throwback to the 80's heyday of action/comedy, where movies like Beverly Hills Cop thrived. The influence of classic action cinema hangs over every scene of Keanu, highlighted by the presence of Heat and New Jack City posters in Rell's apartment and the general tone that the movie strikes. It's no secret that the plot of this movie was inspired by Keanu Reeves' John Wick, which gives Keanu a smart and sly parody element that feels fresh. Part of the reason I loved this film so much was because it was abundantly clear that the people who made it also love movies, and that passion bleeds through every frame.

At the same time, Keanu is very much in the wheelhouse of the climate of modern comedies. Key and Peele started as TV stars and internet sensations, brought to fame with viral videos like "East/West Bowl" and "Substitute Teacher." Their videos have racked up hundreds of millions of views and in many ways, Keanu just feels like an extended edition of what they're good at. Some have seen that as a negative, but I felt like it helped the film in every way. Key and Peele are experts at melding absurd plot mechanics with witty pop culture references and social satire, and in its best moments, Keanu is the perfect amalgamation of all three. Modern raunchy comedies have gotten stuck in the Apatow style for the last several years, but we're finally seeing the rise of screwball, high-concept stuff that works as a reflection of our culture.

But most importantly, Key and Peele are incredibly talented, funny comedians. When they're on fire, very few people can top them. For much of Keanu, the duo is at the top of their game, working with a tremendous script by Peele and Alex Rubens to create some truly hilarious material. Rell and Clarence are both likable characters, and the film's mix of classic fish-out-of-water storytelling and gangland satire produces some fantastic moments for the two funnymen. Key and Peele dominate this film, but the supporting cast has opportunities to shine as well. Tiffany Haddish is pretty terrific as Hi-C, the simultaneously sweet and brutal right-hand woman of gang leader Cheddar (played with humor and energy by Method Man). The rest of the crew is rounded out well by Jason Mitchell, Jamar Malachi Neighbors, and Darrell Britt-Gibson, while Will Forte has some great bits as Hulka.

Peter Atencio's direction is smart and zippy, relatively conventional while moving efficiently through the action. He never brings a lot of flash to the film, but he's able to strike the right tone and effectively craft the feel that the movie strives for. While Atencio brings some undeniable stability and skill to this movie, it's the script that really holds this thing together and elevates it to new heights. Beyond the fact that it's consistently hysterical, the screenplay allows the movie to play in other sandboxes. Key and Peele have always had a talent for injecting racial undertones into their comedy sketches, and in Keanu, it's no different. In fact, the contrast between urban and suburban values factors in heavily into the plot, producing some of the movie's finest moments. It's further proof that Key and Peele are comedians that are able to tap into the zeitgeist, blending the comedy and action we all crave with an innovative dissection of racial politics and our American culture.

In a modern Hollywood where the R-rated comedies often feel safe and uninspired, Keanu comes out blazing. While the film does lose itself in a few too many plot twists towards the end, the laughs keep coming and the charm is indisputable. Keanu isn't making big money at the box office, but without a doubt in my mind, this is the birth of a promising film career for one of the funniest comedic duos in recent years. Really, there's something here for everybody- cute cats, bloody action, raucous comedy, the list goes on. So what's not to like? A clever, ingenious riff on the action genre, Keanu is one of the best surprises of the year so far.

THE FINAL GRADE:   A-                                            (8.5/10)

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