Thursday, April 27, 2017

David Fincher close to officially directing 'World War Z' sequel

It's weird to think about, but we haven't seen a new film from David Fincher in almost three years. The director last brought his talents to the big screen with Gone Girl, his pulp masterpiece that drew critical acclaim despite a surprising lack of Oscar love. In the years since, Fincher has been rumored for a myriad of projects, but nothing much has come to fruition. At one point, rumor had it that he would re-team with Gone Girl star Ben Affleck and screenwriter Gillian Flynn on a modern remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train entitled Strangers, but that film seems dead in the water due to Affleck's crazy Batman schedule. In addition, Fincher has directed three episodes of Mindhunter, a dark and violent Netflix series that will debut in October 2017. But perhaps the most bizarre rumor of all was that Brad Pitt was courting Fincher to direct World War Z 2, a sequel that appeared to be stuck in development hell. Fans immediately asked- why would such an acclaimed filmmaker direct a franchise movie, especially one that's a sequel to a film that isn't especially memorable? We still don't know that answer, but judging by yesterday's report, it won't be long before we find out what a David Fincher zombie movie looks like.

According to Variety reporter Justin Kroll (who also broke the original story on Fincher's involvement), Fincher is close to finalizing a deal that would see him directing a World War Z sequel. Brad Pitt will reprise his role as Gerry Lane, and is considered to be a primary reason as to why the director is so interested in joining the project. Paramount has recently seen a change in leadership, as Jim Gianopulos is taking over the reigns and altering the culture at the famous studio. Gianopulos is expected to give World War Z 2 the greenlight very soon, with a start date in early 2018. Fincher is on a short list of directors (Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, Christopher Nolan, among others) who can do no wrong in my eyes, so while I'll admit that this is a baffling and unexpected decision, I couldn't be more excited to see what he does with the project. World War Z is a really interesting blockbuster in that it went through a brutal production process before becoming a surprise hit, so it'll be fascinating to see what a true visionary can do with the series. Zombie films have been done well by auteur filmmakers in the past, so I don't see why Fincher can't create his own unique masterpiece with this sequel.

No official word yet, but I would expect World War Z 2 to debut sometime in 2019.

Source: Variety
Images: IMDB/Paramount

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

M. Night Shyamalan officially announces 'Glass' for January 2019 release

*Spoilers for Split (duh)*

When M. Night Shyamalan's Split had its surprise premiere at Austin's Fantastic Fest back in September, fans of the director instantly praised the twist ending of his new project. But then again, that wasn't necessarily a surprise as a twist in a Shyamalan movie is only natural. However, it was far from a conventional twist by the director's standards- instead of something akin to The Sixth Sense or The Happening, Split ended by revealing that the film took place in the same universe as Unbreakable, Shyamalan's 2000 cult comic book movie. Essentially, a James McAvoy film about a man with 23 distinct identities was shockingly revealed as an origin story for a supervillain that would face off against Bruce Willis' David Dunn in a potential follow-up installment. This re-ignited hope that Shyamalan would once again consider directing an Unbreakable sequel, and the director confirmed that, yes, a sequel to both films was in the works. Today, the pieces came together and the director officially announced all the details for his upcoming film.

On Twitter, Shyamalan had this to say about the sequel (Note: I've condensed all the tweets, added italics, and removed hashtags).

"Okay. Here we go. Finished the new script. It's taken 17 years but I can finally answer the #1 question I get, "Are you making a ******* sequel to Unbreakable or what?" My new film is the sequel to Unbreakable AND Split. It was always my dream to have both films collide in this third film. The iconic Bruce Willis returns as David Dunn. The incomparable Samuel L. Jackson will return as Elijah Price/Mr. Glass. The virtuoso James McAvoy will return as Kevin Wendell Crumb, Patricia, Dennis, Hedwig, Jade, Orwell, The Beast, Heinrich, Norma, Pol-.....And the prodigy, Anya Taylor-Joy will return as Casey Cooke. I'm re-teaming with my partners Jason Blum and Universal Pictures for this crazy comic book thriller. And the film is called GLASS.....Universal Pictures will release Glass on January 18, 2019 all over the world. How's that for not keeping a secret!"

Well, looks like I need to see Unbreakable. When I reviewed Split back in January, I mentioned that I didn't have much of a reaction to the last-minute twist because I just don't have any familiarity with the popular comic book flick. I'll definitely check it out before seeing Glass, and judging by the 2019 release date, I have plenty of time. That being said, as someone who enjoyed Split, I'm interested to see the continued adventures of Casey and Kevin Wendell Crumb as they collide with the superheroes and villains of the Unbreakable universe. Shyamalan is officially back, and he just might be better than ever.

Glass will hit theaters on January 18, 2019.

Images: Universal/Disney/IMDB

Fox Searchlight reveals release date and first poster for Wes Anderson's 'Isle of Dogs'

Wes Anderson is one of the few visionary filmmakers left on the planet, a director who has the ability to bring a very distinct, specific sensibility to every movie that he touches. He's a true original, never dabbling in franchise material or drawing from anything but his own imagination. And it honestly seems like he just keeps getting better and better. After breaking onto the scene during the American independent movement of the late 1990s, Anderson has continually improved his craft and style to the point where he is consistently delivering masterpieces. 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of the most innovative animated films of the last decade, Moonrise Kingdom is a delightful burst of unadulterated cinematic pleasure, and without a doubt in my mind, 2014's Oscar-nominated The Grand Budapest Hotel is his crowning achievement. That film took home four Oscars and was the first of Anderson's projects to receive a Best Picture nomination, further establishing him as one of the foremost auteurs on the planet. After a hiatus that was far too long, Anderson is returning next year with Isle of Dogs. Check out the first poster below!

While there are plenty of big movies to be excited about in 2018 like Avengers: Infinity War, the Han Solo movie, The Incredibles 2, and Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, there's no question that Anderson's new film will stand as one of my most anticipated films of the year. The director is returning to stop-motion animation with a jam-packed cast, one that includes Anderson favorites as well as newcomers like Scarlett Johansson and Bryan Cranston. The film has been rumored to blend Anderson's iconic style with the atmosphere of Akira Kurosawa, which is a truly exciting proposition for cinephiles. In addition to the first poster, Searchlight announced that Isle of Dogs will hit theaters on April 20, 2018. It'll be a nice bit of counter-programming before next year's massive summer blitz. I'm all in on this film, and I cannot wait to see more.

Image: Indiewire/Fox Searchlight

Jeff Goldblum to return as Ian Malcolm for 'Jurassic World' sequel

I don't care what anyone says- I love Jurassic World. The characters are dumb and the plot is mainly recycled from Steven Spielberg's 1993 classic, but there's no question in my mind that Colin Trevorrow's 2015 film is one of the most unabashedly entertaining summer blockbusters in recent memory. There have been plenty of giant monster movies of the years, but none have been able to channel the pure sense of pleasure that comes from watching massive prehistoric dinosaurs smash each other to bits. It's a nostalgia-fueled adventure that feels like a theme park ride come to life, and despite its flaws, it's a movie that I truly enjoy without even a hint of irony. There's even more room for improvement and expansion with next year's sequel, which will bring back Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard for more dinosaur-centric action. This time around, A Monster Calls and The Impossible director J.A. Bayona is behind the camera, hoping to bring a sense of emotion and terror to match Trevorrow's popcorn sensibilities. As if that wasn't enough, yesterday gave us another reason to be excited for the sequel.

In an exclusive report from The Hollywood Reporter's Rebecca Ford, the trade publication confirms that Jeff Goldblum, who previously appeared in the original Jurassic Park and 1997's The Lost World, will be returning to play Dr. Ian Malcolm in next year's sequel. No other information was provided, but expect Goldblum's presence in the follow-up to be a major draw for fans, even those that were skeptical of Jurassic World. Goldblum will appear in November's Thor: Ragnarok and next April's Isle of Dogs, the new film from acclaimed filmmaker Wes Anderson. Now, let's keep in mind that Goldblum reprising a famous role isn't necessarily a guarantee of quality- he starred in Independence Day: Resurgence, and that was still the worst film of 2016. Nonetheless, this is an incredible development. Goldblum's character is one of the highlights of the original film, and it'll be great to see him return for whatever Bayona and producer Frank Marshall draw up next. Jurassic World 2 (or whatever they end up calling it) will undoubtedly be one of the biggest films of 2018, and Goldblum's casting gives us just one more reason to be excited.

In addition to Pratt, Howard, and Goldblum, the untitled Jurassic World sequel stars Ted Levine, Toby Jones, BD Wong, James Cromwell, Justice Smith, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda, and Geraldine Chaplin and will hit theaters on June 22, 2018.

Images: Universal/IMDB
Source: THR

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner join the cast of Jon Favreau's 'The Lion King'

Ha. Told you I'd be back with more Disney news soon.

It's been less than an hour since I published my breakdown of Disney's massive calendar adjustments, and we're already being hit with more news from the Mouse House.

I think it's safe to say that out of all the upcoming Disney remakes of their animated classics, Jon Favreau's re-imagining of The Lion King is one of the most hotly-anticipated. Favreau was widely praised for his visually stunning take on The Jungle Book, and if he can take that sense of visual wonder and blend it with a great story like this, the possibilities are endless. Donald Glover and James Earl Jones headline the growing cast, and the film will debut on the prime spot of July 19, 2019. Disney obviously has a great deal of faith in this one, and considering the insane popularity of the animated film, a final worldwide box office total of over $1 billion feels like a guarantee. But even though it's locked and loaded for a summer 2019 premiere, lots of pieces still need to click into place before Favreau can head into production. Minutes ago, news broke that two of the most iconic roles from the original have finally been cast with two of the most famous comedians on the planet.

According to The Wrap's Matt Donnelly, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner have been cast as Pumbaa and Timon, respectively. The warthog and meerkat are probably best known for the "Hakuna Matata" number that is the centerpiece of the 1994 film, but in the years since, they've become an essential part of the Disney pop culture lexicon. Rogen is obviously a known commodity, having directed two well-liked comedies (This is the End and 2014's ill-fated The Interview) and starred in many more. He has done plenty of voice work before in kids' movies such as Monsters vs. Aliens and the Kung Fu Panda franchise, as well as last year's raunchy comedy Sausage Party. As for Eichner, the viral comedian has seen his profile rise through Billy on the Street, as well as a few small roles in films like The Angry Birds Movie and Neighbors 2. According to the report, the two actors are in final negotiations.

In my opinion, this is near-perfect casting. While I still think it's kinda hilarious that two comedians known for profane, crude comedy are joining the Disney universe, they really fit the characters. Look for more news on The Lion King as Favreau's film gears up for production. It'll hit theaters on July 19, 2019.

Source: The Wrap
Images: Universal/Disney

Disney announces release dates for 'Star Wars: Episode IX,' 'Indiana Jones 5,' 'Lion King' remake, and more

This past weekend saw a slew of release date announcements from 20th Century Fox, as the studio revealed that three new X-Men films are on the calendar, as well as multiple Avatar sequels and new films from Steve McQueen, Bryan Singer, and Steven Spielberg. I figured that this would be the main story in release date news for a while, but never to be topped by another studio, Disney has announced three major titles today that will certainly get fans talking. New installments in two of the most beloved franchises of all time and a remake of an iconic animated property? Forget the X-Men- Disney has my full attention.

First off, let's get all the untitled films out of the way. I'm not gonna speculate as to what these films could be, but here they are nonetheless.

-The Untitled Live-Action Disney Fairy Tale that was previously set for July 28, 2017 has been pushed to August 3, 2018. No surprise there- I figured we wouldn't be getting a surprise Disney movie this summer.

-In addition, there are Untitled Live-Action movies scheduled for release on August 9, 2019, April 3, 2020, and March 12, 2021.

-And finally, an Untitled Marvel film will smash into theaters on August 7, 2020.

-An Untitled Pixar film will debut on June 18, 2021.

-An Untitled Animated film will now hit theaters on November 24, 2021.

-Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time is one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the next few years for cinephiles, and the wait to see it just got a little shorter. Disney will now release the film on March 9, 2018. The star-studded cast is led by Reese Witherspoon, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Michael Pena, Mindy Kaling, Zach Galifianakis, and Andre Holland.

-I don't know what Magic Camp really is, but it's set to hit theaters on April 6, 2018, taking the spot of DuVernay's film. According to the IMDb synopsis, the film follows a guy named Andy who hopes to reignite his career by serving as a camp counselor. The cast includes Adam Devine, Gillian Jacobs, Aldis Hodge, and Jeffrey Tambor.

-Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, the sequel to the 2012 hit, has been pushed back a few months, moving from its March 9, 2018 release date to November 21, 2018. John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman, and Jane Lynch will return, with James Corden and Jodi Benson joining the cast of the film.

-This is probably the most surprising news of the day. Okay, sure, we all knew that Star Wars: Episode IX was coming in 2019. That was a given. But I think that everybody expected Disney and Lucasfilm to stick with the December strategy. I know that the Han Solo movie is coming in May, but before James Cameron comes back to dominate the month starting in 2020, I figured they would want one last box office bonanza. Anyways, Colin Trevorrow's Episode IX will still be a huge hit when it debuts on May 24, 2019. Expect Minecraft and the new Doctor Dolittle movie to abandon that date as soon as humanly possible.

-After the smashing success of The Jungle Book, we all knew that this one was coming. Jon Favreau is coming back to Disney to direct The Lion King, a live-action adaptation of one of the most beloved animated films in cinematic history. Disney clearly has a lot of confidence in the film, as it is now set for a July 19, 2019 release date. James Earl Jones will reprise his role as Mufasa, while Donald Glover is voicing Simba. Rumor has it that the studio wants Beyonce to play Nala, but no deal has been completed as of yet.

-Disney made an unexpectedly massive amount of money on 2013's Frozen, so a sequel was always a no-brainer. Six years later, Elsa, Anna, and Olaf will be returning to the big screen with Frozen 2, set to debut on November 27, 2019. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee are back behind the camera, while Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel are reprising their roles.

-Gigantic has been on the Disney production line for years, but it looks like we'll have to wait much longer to see it. The animated re-telling of Jack and the Beanstalk has been pushed back to November 25, 2020. Inside Out and Captain Marvel screenwriter Meg LeFauve will be co-directing with Tangled director Nathan Greno.

-Finally, Lucasfilm announced that the untitled Indiana Jones sequel has been pushed back a year, now set to hit theaters on July 10, 2020. Steven Spielberg will direct and Harrison Ford (who will turn 78 the week of the film's release) will star as the titular character. Expect to hear more about this one soon.

That's it! While it's certainly a lot to digest, we pretty much knew that all of these movies were coming. Look for more news on Disney-related properties in the coming weeks.

Source: Disney/Daniel Miller (Twitter)
Images: IMDB/Disney/Paramount 

First trailer for 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' is spectacularly entertaining

2015 was a great year for spy movies, led by the combination of Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation and Spectre, two great franchise installments, and three relatively original films that came in the form of Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. While Paul Feig's Spy was a solid hit and the latter film from Guy Ritchie is rumored to be getting a sequel soon, the real breakout of the year was Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman. Expectations were low for the hyper-violent film from the director of Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, but The Secret Service emerged as one of the most surprisingly entertaining flicks of the year, turning Taron Egerton into a star and further setting the viability of R-rated blockbusters. The film made a stunning $414 million at the worldwide box office, making a huge profit off an $81 million budget and establishing Kingsman as the next big spy franchise. Just over two years later, Vaughn and his crew are back with The Golden Circle, a sequel that will expand the wacky, hard-R universe of the Kingsman in an exciting new way. Originally locked for release this summer, Fox recently set the film for September 22, 2017. With that date looming, the studio is getting the marketing machine started with a teaser trailer- check it out below!

I'm a sucker for a good spy movie, and Kingsman is a highlight of the genre. The 2015 film is so damn delightful on just about every single level, and the way that it told a standalone story while also establishing a franchise and a unique world was really impressive. I couldn't be more excited for The Golden Circle, a sequel that looks to be upping the insanity and bringing in a whole new group of characters. Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Julianne Moore, and Pedro Pascal have all joined the cast, helping to assemble the Statesmen- essentially the American equivalent of the Kingsmen. This first look is just a brief glimpse at what's to come, but this teaser is still truly spectacular in every way. The trailer neatly centers around the destruction of the Kingsmen mansion, all before Frank Sinatra's "My Way" kicks in and gives us a taste of all the ridiculous action we have to look forward to in The Golden Circle. The car chase looks bonkers, the snowy showdown looks to be a highlight, and Tatum seems pretty handy with that shotgun. And of course, the trailer ends with the "shocking" reveal- Colin Firth's Harry Hart is back from the dead, and he's sporting a classy eye patch. All in all, this is one of my most anticipated films of the year, hands down. I can't wait to see more, but first, I'm gonna watch this teaser again and again and again.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle debuts on September 22, 2017.

Image courtesy of Fox

Monday, April 24, 2017

Ranking the Films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe- April 2017 Edition

The Marvel Cinematic Universe started almost a decade ago, and today, it stands as one of the most ambitious and brilliant experiments in film history. The idea of blending together multiple franchises and characters to create one shared universe and storyline was something that had never been attempted before, and when Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury told Tony Stark that he was a part of a bigger universe in 2008, nobody knew exactly where this would go after. Nine years and billions of dollars later, it's safe to say that Marvel pulled it off.

2017 is a big year for the MCU, with three new films hitting theaters in the next seven months- Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. Before we get started on what promises to be a great year of Marvel movies, let's take a look back and rank the 14 films that we've seen from the MCU thus far. Here we go.....


The origin story formula that once felt fresh has quickly gone stale, which is why it's exciting that films like Black Panther and Captain Marvel will deal with characters that we already know. I must admit that I have a slight bias against Ant-Man, as the film was originally set to be directed by Edgar Wright before he clashed with Marvel chief Kevin Feige and left the project. Much of Wright's script remained, but Peyton Reed failed to put his own stamp on the film. In the absence of Wright's dazzling kinetic energy, we ended up receiving a visually stale superhero flick with a familiar narrative, one that introduced us to characters that honestly weren't all that interesting. It's the most forgettable of all the Marvel movies, despite action scenes that were admittedly scaled down from prior films. Ant-Man falls into the worst traps of the MCU, and while Paul Rudd is a committed hero, this one falls well short of the mark.


Doctor Strange should be better. It's the most visually dazzling of all the Marvel films, brilliantly twisty and so insanely stylized that it feels like a heroic acid trip. But for all of its visual razzle dazzle, Doctor Strange is almost shockingly rote, stuck with a standard origin story that is populated by characters that feel cliched at best and perfunctory at worst. Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange isn't that likable, Mads Mikkelsen's villain (I can't remember his name and I don't care enough to look it up) is forgettable, and the side characters are forced to spout endless exposition. Throw in a romantic interest who is utterly wasted by the narrative, and you have a Marvel origin story that feels like it's just going through the motions. 


Marvel origin stories can be tediously average, but the sequels are rarely guaranteed to improve matters. In 2013, I was happy to see Thor: The Dark World, a sequel that re-connected elements of the Marvel universe after the stand-alone action of Iron Man 3. But The Dark World is almost impossible to re-watch- it brings nothing new to the table, it continues to waste interesting characters, and its sense of darkness feels forced. Like so many Marvel films, The Dark World went through a rough pre-production process as Patty Jenkins left the project in favor of Alan Taylor, who later trashed Marvel's creative control over their films. After this disappointing installment, it felt like the Thor series had run out of gas early, but Taika Waititi is hoping to change everyone's minds with Ragnarok in November. Judging by his track record and that first look, I have a feeling that he's going to succeed. 

11. IRON MAN 2

Plenty of people are unreasonably harsh on Iron Man 2, a messy sequel that tries to do way too much but still manages to entertain. This was actually the first of the Marvel films that I saw in theaters (I'm really young, I know), and it feels like a quintessential summer blockbuster sequel. Iron Man 2 is bigger, badder, and more jam-packed with characters- some of it works, some of it doesn't. I love that this film introduced Sam Jackson's Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, and this film came in at a point when the connectivity of the MCU was still a novel idea. Jon Favreau juggled way too many characters and subplots, almost working as a pre-cursor for what happened with Joss Whedon with Avengers 2. Nonetheless, Iron Man 2 is fun- and sometimes, that's all that we need from these movies.

10. THOR

Thor isn't a great movie, but it's a fun expansion of the Marvel world that takes us to a corner of the universe that we hadn't seen before. It's a fairly typical origin story for this series- an arrogant hero (in this instance, Chris Hemsworth's Thor) is humbled in some way, learns to adapt to a whole new world, and proceeds to save the day and learn a few lessons along the way. Coming from director Kenneth Branagh, Thor has a somewhat insane cast of prestige actors, with Oscar winners like Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins taking on fairly thankless roles. Thor also had the important task of welcoming Tom Hiddleston's Loki to the MCU, creating the most memorable antagonist in the entire series. Thor has some great action beats, some fun fantasy elements, and it's an enjoyable little ride. If you're not looking for more than that, you'll have a blast.


Beyond William Hurt's General Ross, The Incredible Hulk is the least important movie in the MCU. In fact, if Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark hadn't shown up in the end credits, I don't even know if this film would be considered to be part of the franchise. Edward Norton never played Bruce Banner again, Liv Tyler's Betty Ross never appeared again, and Marvel never went through with Tim Blake Nelson's villainous character. But even though The Incredible Hulk is purely a standalone project, it's still a rip-roaring blockbuster with some great setpieces and a classic feel. Director Louis Leterrier avoids the typical origin story trappings, summarizing Hulk's creation in the opening credits before jumping right into the Jason Bourne-esque action. The final battle is an outstanding, simplistic finale, and while Mark Ruffalo is certainly the best Bruce Banner, Norton isn't half-bad either. Ultimately, The Incredible Hulk is the most underrated film of the MCU. Give it another chance. It's better than you remember.


Shane Black is a terrific director of action comedies- The Nice Guys is simply one of my favorite movies of the decade so far. And in making Iron Man 3, Black got a chance to utilize his skills on a bigger project while also demonstrating his effortless chemistry with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang star Robert Downey Jr. And for the most part, it works. Iron Man 3 is great fun, led by a few tremendous action pieces, an introspective look at the soul of Tony Stark (with some weird PTSD pieces that don't really work), and a terrifically funny twist involving Ben Kingsley's actor-turned-supervillain. At its best, Iron Man 3 has some of the most visually creative stretches of the MCU, with a comic book energy that most directors dream of channeling. At its worst, it's a slightly inconsequential sequel, one that director Joss Whedon pretty much ignored when the next film on this list came around.


Avengers: Age of Ultron is a bit of a mess. Nobody can dispute that. It has too many characters, too many subplots, and Kevin Feige simply gave Joss Whedon way too much to do. Whedon was forced to close the book on Phase 2, while also establishing several Phase 3 films, including Civil War, Ragnarok, and more that we haven't even seen yet. He was tasked with introducing Paul Bettany's Vision, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Quicksilver, Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, and James Spader's villainous Ultron, while also maintaining the emotional core of the series. This was a monumental task for any filmmaker, and to be quite honest, this film should have been a total fiasco.

And yet, Age of Ultron works. It's still a pure dose of summer blockbuster fun, accompanied by the big action scenes that fans want from Marvel and the small character moments that give Whedon his distinctive touch. The scenes at Hawkeye's cabin are some of the best that the MCU has had to offer, and the massive scope of the final battle in Sokovia is dazzling. Age of Ultron wasn't able to top the heights of The Avengers, and unfortunately, it was surpassed a year later by Civil War. But that doesn't mean that it's a failure by any stretch of the imagination.


The film that started it all. Without Iron Man, there is no MCU- plain and simple. Jon Favreau's 2008 film was a stunner of an origin story that took fans and critics for a loop, rejuvenating the career of Robert Downey Jr. and furthering the legitimacy of the superhero genre. In addition to that, it firmly established many of the hallmarks of the MCU- a clever mix of comedy and action, a devotion to character-based stories, a post-credits stinger that set up the next few movies. Mainly, Iron Man works because of Downey's incredible performance as the character, a billionaire playboy who is forced to re-assess his priorities after a tragic accident. The initial stretch in the Afghan cave is quite possibly the best that the MCU has ever had to offer, with genuine emotion and a thrilling action scene to boot. Iron Man is on a much smaller scale than anything that Marvel has had to offer short of Ant-Man, but that focused scope helps it stand out from the pack.


Everybody generally likes Captain America: The First Avenger, but when it comes to these lists, it's usually placed far too low. Sure, the first adventure with Steve Rogers is corny and a bit old-fashioned, but that's Captain America for you. While the follow-up installments in the trilogy have had their own distinct vibe and charm, the World War II setting of The First Avenger is perhaps the most inspired of the entire MCU. A delightful slice of classic superhero cinema, Captain America delivers some excellent action scenes, some wonderfully nostalgic pulp, and a plethora of great character moments. It never reinvents the wheel, but quite frankly, it didn't have to do anything revolutionary- it's superhero comfort food. The First Avenger is insanely entertaining and anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves.


Guardians of the Galaxy was perhaps the most important film from Marvel. Yeah, we all knew that fans would show up for The Avengers and the other solo superhero movies- but would any casual fans make it to the theater to see a film that featured a talking raccoon, a giant tree, two green aliens, and the guy from Parks and Rec in the lead? Skepticism ran high, but Guardians blew away everyone away. James Gunn delivered a box office smash and a cultural phenomenon, one that established the popularity of Chris Pratt, and existed as further proof that Marvel could turn even the strangest of concepts into a hit. And while Guardians is quite possibly Marvel's weakest film from a story perspective, it also feels like their most innovative and engaging. The soundtrack was an incredible success (everybody had that thing on repeat for months after the film came out), the characters became instant icons, and the Marvel universe expanded beyond the realms of Earth and Asgard. For all of its missteps, Guardians of the Galaxy is just an absurdly entertaining movie. 


Watching The Avengers in a theater was magical. Seriously, this will probably go down as one of the greatest theater-going experiences of my entire life. The whole theater whooped and cheered throughout the final act of this crowd-pleasing smash hit, staring in awe as the Avengers teamed up to take down Loki and an alien army in the middle of New York City. The Avengers is one of the greatest blockbusters of our time, a genuine blast that brought together classic characters in  spectacularly entertaining fashion. It was an excellent summation of every Marvel movie that came before, and it delivered on the promise of a superhero team-up movie for the ages. What more can I say? The Avengers is magnificent fun. I love every second of it. 


Everybody had high hopes for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but I don't know if anyone expected the final result to be so astonishing. Untested directors Joe and Anthony Russo promised that The Winter Soldier would be akin to a 1970s paranoia thriller, and they miraculously pulled it off, blending together suspenseful setpieces, big blockbuster action, and grounded character drama to great effect. The film features some of the most spectacular action scenes in Marvel history, from the stunning highway chase that takes Nick Fury out of commission, to the incredible elevator face-off, to the final battle that sends a Helicarrier crashing into the middle of Washington, D.C. The Winter Soldier is a blast from start to finish, and the fact that it took so many monumental risks so quickly after the success of The Avengers is even more astonishing in retrospect. The S.H.I.E.L.D. twist was downright jaw-dropping, and it sent the MCU on an entirely different course. I straight-up love this movie. It's truly incredible.


Captain America: Civil War has flaws. It's not a perfect movie, perhaps standing as a little too ambitious for its own good. But it is the crowning achievement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a dizzying spectacle of blockbuster action and character drama that perfectly served as the culmination of years and years of work. Ever since the MCU started, fans had been clamoring for an adaptation of the classic Civil War story, and while the third (and supposedly final) film in the Captain America trilogy didn't send any characters to their grave, the pacing and emotion on display is simply unparalleled by any other MCU film. Civil War jumps right into the action, giving us a look into the mind of Chris Evans' Steve Rogers and Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark as they grapple with the effects of their heroics and the damage that they've caused over the years.

The conflicting ideologies of both Captain America and Iron Man are incredibly flawed- but the fact that I managed to have a seemingly endless series of debates with friends in the weeks after this film debuted says so much about what Joe and Anthony Russo put together. The airport fight sequence is the most eye-popping IMAX action scene I've ever seen, the introduction of characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther couldn't be better, and the final battle between our two heroes has quite possibly the best shot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War is the longest and most sprawling film in Marvel's history, and even with its shortcomings, this is nothing short of an epic, triumphant accomplishment.

Well, that's my current ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe I'll give this another whirl next year after we see what 2017 has to offer. Come back next week for my review of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

'Green Room' star Callum Turner joins cast of 'Fantastic Beasts' sequel

If you're an avid reader of this site (there's probably like five of you, but hey, that's still cool), you know how much I love Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room. I saw the grisly horror thriller when it was released last April, and even after hearing nearly a full year of buzz from the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals, I was still completely and totally blown away. The film placed at #7 on my Top 25 list for 2016, and in a just world, everybody involved with Green Room would become a superstar. And much to my delight, that is slowly happening. Saulnier is moving to Netflix in 2018 with Hold the Dark, supporting star Macon Blair won the biggest prize at Sundance this year and will appear in new films from Steven Soderbergh and Sean Baker, and Joe Cole has multiple projects on the horizon. Now, it looks like Callum Turner is the next Green Room star to head for mainstream stardom. Turner will appear in Mobile Homes (which is set to premiere in Director's Fortnight at Cannes) and The Only Boy Living in New York (the new film from Marc Webb) in the next few months, but on Friday, he snagged a coveted role in a highly anticipated sequel.

According to Variety film reporter Justin Kroll in an exclusive report, Callum Turner has joined the cast of the untitled Fantastic Beasts sequel. Turner will play the brother of Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander, who will continue his magical adventures in Paris as the wizarding world is embroiled in the growing conflict between Johnny Depp's Gellert Grindelwald and Jude Law's Albus Dumbledore. Per IMDb, the name of Turner's character is Theseus Scamander, but that wasn't confirmed by the Variety report or any other verifiable outlet. Turner joins a growing cast led by Redmayne, Depp, Law, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, and Zoe Kravitz. Turner was tremendous in Green Room, and I'm happy to see anybody from that movie get cast in a big-budget project like this. While I'm worried that director David Yates has no idea what story he wants to tell with this franchise, as a Harry Potter fan, I'm sticking around to find out where this goes.

Fantastic Beasts 2 will hit theaters on November 16, 2018.

Source: Variety, IMDB
Image Credits: IMDB

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fox announces massive release slate, including 'Avatar' sequels, 'Deadpool 2,' new films from McQueen, Spielberg, and more

Saturdays are usually pretty quiet for movie news, but today, 20th Century Fox switched it up by announcing an absurd amount of release date changes that will have an impact going all the way up to 2025. Yes, you read that right. At first, news broke that James Cameron's Avatar sequels had finally received release dates, but the adjustment of Fox's slate goes so much further than that. Courtesy of Box Office Mojo, here's a breakdown of all the changes made today by one of Hollywood's biggest studios:

-Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the much-anticipated sequel to the 2015 film, will now hit theaters one week earlier on September 22, 2017. It is set to face off against Tom Cruise's American Made, Warner Bros.' Ninjago, and Lionsgate's Granite Mountain, which is hitting a distribution snag. I'm expecting both the former and latter films to flee to another date.

-Kenneth Branagh's star-packed remake of Murder on the Orient Express has been shifted up a few weeks to November 10, 2017, where it will face off against Daddy's Home 2 and the second weekend of Thor: Ragnarok. The film was originally the only wide release set for the Thanksgiving frame, leaving that weekend wide open for the studios (although Justice League will certainly be a formidable threat).

-Steven Spielberg's Pentagon Papers drama, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, will hit theaters on December 22, 2017. Mojo has it as a limited release alongside Weinstein's The Current War.

-Maze Runner: The Death Cure, the final installment of the popular franchise, has been pushed back a month to February 9, 2018. It will debut on the same weekend as Fifty Shades Freed and Peter Rabbit, although there isn't a whole lot of market overlap between those films.

-Francis Lawrence's Red Sparrow, which stars Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton among others, will now debut on March 2, 2018. Originally set to premiere during the crowded November frame, the Cold War thriller (which was teased at CinemaCon) will now have an entire weekend to itself.

-Josh Boone's New Mutants has been a much-anticipated project for years, and now, the project finally has an April 13, 2018 release date. James McAvoy is rumored to star in the film, but beyond that, nearly nothing is known about the latest X-Men flick. It opens a week after Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time and on the same day as an untitled Universal Monsters project. Expect to hear much more about New Mutants very soon.

-Possibly the biggest announcement beyond Cameron's return to Pandora was the reveal that David Letich's Deadpool 2 will hit theaters on June 1, 2018, putting the Merc with a Mouth in the thick of the summer movie season. That's one weekend after Lucasfilm's untitled Han Solo project and one weekend before the release of Ocean's 8 and Transformers 6 (is this even in production?), so I would expect some major shifts to the 2018 summer calendar in the coming weeks.

-The most disappointing news of the day was the reveal that Shane Black's Predator has been pushed back from its original February 9 release date to August 3, 2018. The film will now hit during an August frame that is surprisingly crowded, with Holmes & Watson, an untitled Disney project, Jason Statham's Meg, and Scarface all set to debut during the month. But for most cinephiles, the new film from the director of The Nice Guys and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang will undoubtedly be the event of late summer 2018.

-I know absolutely nothing about Fox's The Kid Who Would Be King, but it's now set for a September 28, 2018 release. So there's that.

-The next major installment in the X-Men franchise, entitled Dark Phoenix, will hit theaters on November 2, 2018. It'll face off against Disney's live-action remake of Mulan, as well as an untitled Paramount event film. Also set for release in November 2018 are the Fantastic Beasts sequel, Bad Boys For Life, an animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Disney's Gigantic. Dark Phoenix is expected to continue the adventures of the cast of X-Men: Apocalypse, chronicling the saga of Sophie Turner's Jean Grey. Hopefully it's better than that 2016 disaster.

-Steve McQueen hasn't released a film since 2013's Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, but he'll be returning on November 16, 2018 with Widows. The film is the story of a group of widows who pick up the slack for their deceased husbands with a bank robbery. The cast includes Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya, Viola Davis, Robert Duvall, Cynthia Erivo, and Moonlight's Andre Holland. So yeah, I'm pretty excited about this one.

-I knew that a biopic of Queen star Freddie Mercury had been in development for a very long time, but I had no idea that it was this close to hitting the big screen. Bohemian Rhapsody will debut on December 25, 2018 from director Bryan Singer, with Mr. Robot star Rami Malek playing Mercury. It'll face off against Mary Poppins Returns and a new film from Warner Bros.

-And finally, after years of delays and speculation, Fox revealed the release dates for James Cameron's Avatar sequels. They are as follows:

     -Avatar 2- December 18, 2020
     -Avatar 3- December 17, 2021
     -Avatar 4- December 20, 2024
     -Avatar 5- December 19, 2025

It's been a long wait, and at this point, I'm not sure that there's much interest. Disney's Avatar Land will be opening next month will little in the way of fanfare or excitement, and I'm not sure if it'll do much to increase anticipation for the four upcoming sequels. But hey, we can never doubt James Cameron. He's proven everybody wrong time and time again.

That'll do it for today's release date announcements. But there's quite a bit to be excited about from this list of titles. I'm sure we'll be hearing quite a bit more about many of these films in the near future.

Friday, April 21, 2017

'Colossal' review

When you attend a major film festival, there's a good chance that you won't get the opportunity to see every movie that catches your interest. That's especially true when the festival in question is the Toronto International Film Festival, which historically features the most sprawling slate of films of any major cinematic showcase. At the 2016 festival I managed to see 13 films, including some of the best movies of the year and even Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars. But even with a jam-packed weekend of movies, I wasn't able to even scratch the surface of the TIFF lineup, missing out on future Oscar favorites like La La Land and Lion, as well as arthouse genre flicks like Raw and Nacho Vigalando's Colossal. The latter is finally opening wide across the country courtesy of Neon Films, the new distribution chain started by Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League that is clearly being designed to directly compete with A24.

Colossal is the type of film that thrives in a festival environment. It's weird, unique, and buzzy, a high-concept flick that is best experienced with no expectations and no pre-conceived notions. Going in, I basically knew that Colossal was going to be a wacky journey, something funny and strange that would go in some unexpected and hysterical directions. The result is a film that is decidedly more serious, a monster movie that deals as much with the concept of power and abuse as it does with the funny monster stuff. Vigalando has crafted something distinct and surreal, a singular adventure with themes and concepts that nobody has ever really explored before. And while I generally enjoyed this indescribable bit of insanity, there's something missing here that I can't quite put my finger on. Vigalondo's film is bursting with ideas- but the execution is somewhat lacking.

Life hasn't gone quite as expected for Gloria (Anne Hathaway). After leaving her small hometown for a new start in beautiful New York City, Gloria has slipped into alcoholism and self-destruction, spending each night getting wasted with her friends and sleeping the day away. Her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), finally gets tired of her behavior and abruptly decides to kick her out of his luxurious apartment. With no money, no job, and no financial security, Gloria returns home. She's immediately befriended by Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend who took over his family bar from his deceased parents. At the bar, Gloria also meets Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson), two friendly faces who welcome her home and also manage to encourage her alcoholic binges. One morning, Gloria wakes up from a blackout to discover some remarkably strange news- a giant monster has attacked Seoul.

Like any normal person, Gloria is absolutely stunned by this news- and even more stunned by the fact that she was knocked out for the entirety of the attack. But Gloria quickly realizes that something weirder is going on here. For starters, each time that the monster attacks Seoul, Gloria is passed out drunk. Soon, she realizes that the monster imitates her movements and physical tics, scratching its head just like Gloria does. By the time she puts it all together, she realizes an astonishing truth- she is permanently linked to the monster due to a freak accident in her hometown as a child. But while Gloria isn't one to abuse her newfound power, a second twist puts her in a very scary scenario, forcing her to put her life together and save the world.

Conceptually, Colossal is genuinely brilliant. It's the kind of idea that could only come from the mind of a mad genius, someone with an uncanny mastery of genre material and conventions. And as the debut of Neon, a slick new indie producer, this film successfully positions the studio as the chief competitor to A24. Before the feature begins, we're treated to five short films about technology that are all really hilarious, oddly standing as the highlight of the whole experience. But there's no denying that as an actual movie, Colossal falls short. It's still an engaging, interesting watch, but it's a film that sadly never gets off the ground, leaving the audience in a state of mild amusement that doesn't last long after the end credits roll.

But for all of the film's flaws, none of the blame can fall on the shoulders of Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, who deliver terrific performances in this film. Hathaway is endlessly likable as the party girl whose life has gone awry, blending the vulnerability and strength that this character desperately needs. Meanwhile, Sudeikis plays against type to great effect, creating a dynamic character out of this jealous, mild-mannered small town guy. Strong supporting turns are given by Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, and Tim Blake Nelson, rounding out a small ensemble that is very impressive.

This is Nacho Vigalondo's biggest film yet, which isn't saying much considering it's still a relatively low-key indie. While I'm impressed by his ambition and vision, Vigalondo has difficulty maintaining a consistent tone and a steady sense of momentum. Colossal never manages to decide whether it wants to be an absurdist comedy or a serious monster movie, settling for this weird middle ground where it has funny moments in an unusually dark plot. There are a few laughs, but Colossal is a pitch-black movie about the dynamics of power and the abuse that comes with. It has more in common with The Incredibles and Spider-Man than it does with other monster movies, and despite its B-movie roots, it can never decide if it wants to have fun or give the audience a specific message.

The result is a film that moves in bursts- it's occasionally thrilling, sometimes funny, and often a bit dull. The final act is fairly strong, but Colossal just feels unreasonably frustrating. It's on the cusp of greatness, and yet it just can't decide what it wants to be. Director/screenwriter Nacho Vigalondo should be commended for his originality and unique vision, but in the end, it's in service of a film that exists as a slight miscalculation. Colossal has all the right pieces, but it just can't put it all together.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                            (6.2/10)

Images: IMDB/Neon

'Free Fire' review

Note: This is a re-publication of my review from the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Ben Wheatley's Free Fire is in American theaters nationwide today.

Movie trailers are an essential part of the filmgoing experience these days, and it has gotten to the point where I think that people look forward to trailers almost as much as the films themselves. Over the last few months, the Twitter account TrailerTrack has become one of the best sources of info for when the most anticipated trailers will hit the web. The account has gained popularity for accurately reporting info on the trailers for DunkirkArrival, Passengers and more, and they've been incredibly reliable from the start. I first heard of Ben Wheatley's Free Fire when TrailerTrack reported that the first trailer would screen with Swiss Army Man, and ever since that point, the film has been one of my most anticipated upcoming releases. I saw the electrifying, funny trailer with the aforementioned Daniel Radcliffe vehicle, and my anticipation only grew. However, the Free Fire trailer took on a sort of mystical status in the TrailerTrack world, as A24 never released it online despite having it play in theaters for months. I rapidly searched for more information on the film, yet it was nowhere to be found. But when I heard that Wheatley and the studio would be taking the dark comedy to the Midnight Madness section at the Toronto International Film Festival, it immediately became the movie that I absolutely had to see during my time in the Great White North.

With a talented cast, a high-concept story, and a period energy that appeared to be a cross between Tarantino and Scorsese, there were plenty of reasons to be excited for Free Fire. But Ben Wheatley had been hit-or-miss with critics in the past, and as excited as I was, I did feel like there was a chance that this film could fall flat out of the gate. Thankfully, that is very, very far from the case. Free Fire is a profoundly anarchic action movie blast, a darkly comic hellstorm of bullets and one-liners that stands as the most fun I had at TIFF. Wheatley has diluted the action movie to its essence and delivered a 90-minute orgy of insnae violence and gleeful humor. Confined to one complex location, Free Fire's roller-coaster ride of continuous mayhem is a dazzling feat of genre filmmaking that doubles as a deranged shootout for the ages.

Set in Boston in 1978, Free Fire centers around an arms deal between a group of IRA members and a highly influential crime syndicate. The group of Irish nationalists- led by Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley)- are in the market to purchase several M16's from Vernon (Sharlto Copley), a powerful gangster. With the help of two powerful players on the Boston crime scene, Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer), the deal is set up and the two groups agree to meet in a warehouse at night to hammer out a deal. The IRA bring along their local lackeys (Sam Riley and Enzo Cilenti) to help with the merchandise, and the Boston syndicate bring their lower-level assistants (Noah Taylor and Jack Reynor) as well, which quickly becomes a major problem for reasons I won't spoil here. With everybody holed up in one location, armed to the deal with a wide range of weapons, it's safe to say that things go south rather quickly. But as bullets fly and the bodies pile up, the gangs realize that something even more sinister may be going on.

If there's one complaint to be waged against Free Fire, it's that there isn't a whole hell of a lot to the story. The movie doesn't have much in the way of complicated plot dynamics or character development, and even a few of the twists that do pop up feel muddled. But at the same time, the simplicity is pretty much what makes this movie work. Ben Wheatley essentially puts a group of idiots in a room and watches them kill each other. Even the smart characters in Free Fire have the IQ of a 10-year old, and it makes the movie a refreshing change of pace from its predecessors. In most films like this, all of the characters are smart and cunning, constantly trying to think their way out of a situation by duping the other people in a room. In Free Fire, pretty much every character is thinking out loud, spouting off all kinds of idiotic lunacy as they settle their problems the only way they know how- with a barrage of bullets.

Having one of the most talented casts in recent memory certainly helps things, and it's a pure delight to watch them go to work. It's an impressive mix of character actors and major superstars, and they all get a chance to shine in this film. There's no real lead, but if there's one consensus pick for the standout performance, it's probably Armie Hammer. He's been typecast as an old-fashioned Hollywood star for years, and it's great to see him flip things around and play a different kind of character. This is the funniest Hammer has ever been, and his narcissistic, charming, pot-smoking criminal associate is one of the highlights of the film. Sharlto Copley shines as well as the cowardly Vern, a fashion-obsessed numbskull of a gangster who gets himself into some hairy situations. Copley has always played his characters at a manic pitch, which has sometimes felt like a miscalculation. Here, it's perfect for the tone that Wheatley has created, and he has some absolutely brilliant moments.

Sam Riley and Jack Reynor are also terrific as fierce adversaries, continuing to prove that they both have plenty to offer in these kinds of supporting roles. Riley's Stevo is both despicable and lovable, which is no small feat. And Reynor, after the surprise success of his turn in Sing Street earlier in the year, continues to prove that he has endless charisma. Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley try to play the "straight men" in the cast, but even they get to have some fun firing off one-liners as the bullets whiz around the room. Surprisingly, Brie Larson's role is fairly small, although I have a feeling this movie was made well before the release of Room. She's great at playing a badass, no-nonsense anti-heroine, and Justine emerges as one of the most fascinating players in the movie. Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, and Enzo Cilenti also have excellent moments in supporting roles.

As great as this cast is, Free Fire would be impossible without the directorial innovation of Wheatley and the screenwriting wisdom of his co-writer and partner, Amy Jump. In fact, I firmly believe that the non-stop sensual assault of the shootout would be a bit harder to swallow if not for the humor that is injected into every moment of this film (in the post-screening Q&A, Wheatley credited Jump for all the humor and fun stuff). The script is compact and concise, firmly establishing the nature of each of the characters without dwelling on it. Ord is a smooth-talking swindler, Stevo is an addicted coward, Chris always plays it straight, and so on. We get all of this information just as the film begins, and as the firestorm of violence erupts, these simple personality details are important. I would compare the script to Reservoir Dogs or another similar Tarantino screenplay, but the truth is, it's a lot more open with its humor than those films. It's a different beast altogether.

Wheatley makes full use of the 1970s setting, delivering a product that is fully devoted to its sense of grimy, dirty grittiness. Nobody stays clean during this film, and every star is covered in a unique mix of dirt and gore by the end of it. Wheatley drags the camera through the mud as well, bouncing back and forth during the fight scenes with an invigorating sense of cinematic energy that will send shockwaves through your system. He complements this with occasional moments of absurdist flair, such as a jarring tracking shot of a canister being fired through the air at full-speed. The film has moments like this sprinkled throughout, and it keeps you on your toes for the whole runtime.

With Free Fire, Wheatley has delivered a manic burst of action cinema that serves as a joyous shot of delicious adrenaline. It's a jaw-dropping feat of brutal comedic lunacy, and it's definitely headed for cult status, which some seem to view as a bad thing (I certainly don't). If you read the tagline "feature length shootout with bursts of comedy" and were intrigued by that concept, you're almost certain to adore this movie. I was in sheer awe of its bullet-riddled audacity, and it's a movie that I know I'll revisit over and over again. Bonkers, beautifully choreographed, and entertaining as hell, Free Fire is just a spectacularly good time. It's one of the fastest, funniest action movies I've seen in a long time.

Free Fire will hit theaters in 2017.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.4/10)

Images courtesy of A24

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'The Fate of the Furious' review

At this point, you should know what you're getting with the Fast and Furious franchise. It's not like the producers and writers of this series are going to switch up the formula now. These movies thrive on big, dumb action, setpieces so ludicrous that you know they practically defy every law of physics, and an emphasis on family that comes off as bizarrely sentimental at best. But now, it's just a matter of how far this series can push it before people start to turn on the mayhem. Fast Five had its protagonists drive a giant safe through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Fast and Furious 6 had a car chase with a tank on a highway, as well as a sequence that featured what might possibly be the world's largest runway. And in addition to the tragic send-off for Paul Walker, Furious 7 took the action to a whole new level, dropping cars out of the sky, having them drive between skyscrapers, and bringing all-out mayhem to the streets of Los Angeles.

If you thought that was ridiculous, just wait until you see what the producers dreamed up for The Fate of the Furious. With the 8th installment in the highly successful series (the film broke the global opening weekend record), director F. Gary Gray and screenwriter Chris Morgan push things to the absolute limit, taking the action to a point of absurdity that could only be topped by a trip to outer space. A chase with a nuclear submarine, remote-controlled cars in the streets of New York City, dazzling feats of superhuman strength- it's all here in this big-budget demolition derby. Dwayne Johnson literally plays the Incredible Hulk, Jason Statham shoots people while carrying a baby, and Vin Diesel occasionally screams to indicate that this is a serious scene. Without a doubt in my mind, this is the most ridiculous film ever made. But at what point does the absurdity become too much? With The Fate of the Furious, we may have finally reached a breaking point. All of the action is no longer as fun as it is mind-numbing, soulless carnage devoid of the spirit that made the other Fast films so tremendous. It has moments of spectacular blockbuster madness, but Fate is a significant step down for the franchise.

When we last saw Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), he was driving off into the sunset and bidding farewell to Brian (the late Paul Walker), who abandoned their fast and furious life to raise his child with Mia (Jordana Brewster, also absent from this installment). The Fate of the Furious picks up in Cuba, as Dom is now on his honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who was rescued from memory loss in the sixth chapter of the seemingly endless series. Dom's honeymoon is interrupted by Cipher (Charlize Theron), a cyberterrorist who has some pretty scary dirt on the Toretto family leader. It turns out that Cipher has been the one pulling the strings the whole time, and she forces Dom to do the impossible and turn against his family. Dom's betrayal puts Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) behind bars, forcing him to go face-to-face with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the vengeful criminal mastermind that the crew imprisoned last time around.

This leaves Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) to ponder just how Dom could betray their bond like that. Enter Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). The two mystery men tell the team that Cipher is hoping to start a nuclear war, employing a variety of terrorists to carry out her bidding. She's already used Dom to steal a weapon of mass destruction with the capability of shutting down an electrical grid, and she's making a push to have the world at her fingertips. To stop Cipher, the team will have to bring in some old friends and some old enemies and use their love of vehicular mayhem to bring the terrorist down. As the team moves from Cuba to New York to Russia, they'll leave plenty of destruction in their path, hoping to save their family and their world at the same time.

None of the Fast and Furious movies have a particularly strong plot, but the eighth installment is borderline inept from a narrative perspective. The producers and writers have previously stated that they design these films by creating the setpieces first and writing the story later, and for the first time, that truly shows. The Fate of the Furious features a whole lot of sitting around, as characters kill time, make quips, and spout off expository dialogue about nuclear weapons and family and the like. All of the Fast movies have featured scenes like this, but the pacing has always been better than it is here. It's just messy and fairly tedious, and it's sad considering that the two most influential creative leaders have both done great work before. Director F. Gary Gray, who perfected the rap biopic in 2015 with Straight Outta Compton, has no discernible directorial stamp here, forced to imitate what Justin Lin did so well with the fifth and sixth installments. He isn't helped by Chris Morgan's weak screenplay (which is terrible compared to his prior scripts), but it's sad to see Gray's impressive touch feel so diluted.

When the big action moments do come around, they alternate between being absurd fun and just plain absurd. The Fast and Furious movies have always walked a very fine line between entertaining schlock and outlandish nonsense, and for the first time in the franchise's recent history, the series is finally leaning more towards the latter. Gone is the visceral practicality of the car chases from the fifth and sixth installments- The Fate of the Furious jumps the shark with a cacophonous spectacle of outrageously overblown action. Every character is a superhuman, every setpiece feels like it has been ripped straight out of a James Bond movie, and every cool moment is punctuated by a ridiculous note that just makes you groan. After a while, I started to get numb to the whole ordeal, which is something that had never happened in previous Furious movies. There's only so much you can take before it just gets to be too much.

In fact, I would almost go as far as to say that it feels like the producers of this franchise are attempting to take the series in an explicitly comedic direction. Fate inspires more laughs than thrills, and it's so hilariously over-the-top at times that you just want it to stop. But oddly enough, the generally ludicrous nature of the film is accompanied by a sinister side, where the emotional stakes of the series are taken to a new level with darkly violent subplot. Cipher's dirt on Dom is some pretty nasty stuff, and it goes into some directions that don't necessarily work with the idea of a car chase on the Russian tundra. It almost seems like Gray and Morgan had two plans for the eighth film- go super dark or ramp up the insanity. Instead of picking one and sticking with a cohesive tone that kept the audience involved, the result is a movie that does both and ends up feeling scatter-brained.

But even as one of the most tonally inconsistent installments in the history of the series, The Fate of the Furious manages to barely skirt by as passable by relying on the franchise's greatest strength- the characters. While Charlize Theron's Cipher isn't all that memorable of a villain and Scott Eastwood's Little Nobody is relatively forgettable, I love the way that the Furious series continues to bring in a rotating crew of characters into the proverbial family. Dwayne Johnson plays a truly ridiculous version of Luke Hobbs in this film, but he's still one of the most charismatic stars on the planet. Jason Statham matches him well, and if rumors are to be believed, their characters will be in for one hell of a spin-off. Kurt Russell is stuck spouting off exposition as Mr. Nobody, and yet somehow, he still manages to be incredibly entertaining. Vin Diesel is definitely the weak link (the dude literally has two kinds of acting that he can do), but this franchise has never been populated by great thespians. In addition to all of this, we even get a few cameos that were simply delightful.

Fans of the Fast and Furious franchise are going to want to check this one out no matter what I say, but I almost feel like I'm writing this review in the naive hope that someone involved with this series reads it. Because even as a fan of the Fast franchise, Fate pushed it way too far. It's the first time that this adrenaline-fueled insanity has felt more like a chore than a delight, and that's something that I really don't want from a piece of pure popcorn entertainment. Diesel has repeatedly stated that this is the start of a new trilogy, and judging by the ridiculous box office receipts, Universal doesn't really need to change much. But if they want to make sure that audiences stay happy and keep the Furious franchise from slipping into Transformers-level irrelevance, they'll need to make sure that chapters 9 and 10 are a vast improvement over this disappointing eighth installment.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                            (6.3/10)

Image Credits: IMDB/Universal

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck to direct Brie Larson's 'Captain Marvel'

The next few years are going to be very busy for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Currently, Marvel is in the middle of what they call Phase 3 (this started with Captain America: Civil War), which serves as the culmination of years of work and connected franchises. 2017 will see the release of next month's Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, July's Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok. Director Ryan Coogler will bring Black Panther to the screen in 2018 and Peyton Reed will return for Ant-Man & The Wasp, but the real event will be Avengers: Infinity War, set to hit theaters in May 2018. The film, which will be directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, will bring together all of Marvel's characters and franchises for a giant showdown, one that will continue in the still-untitled Avengers 4 in 2019. So yes, that means the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, and even Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury will be fighting side-by-side to take down Josh Brolin's Thanos. In addition to all of these previously established characters, Infinity War will also serve as our introduction to Brie Larson's Carol Danvers, also known to comic book fans as Captain Marvel. The beloved character will be getting her own solo adventure in 2019 before Avengers 4, and today, a critical piece of the puzzle came together for the hotly-anticipated film.

After months of buzz and rumors (what's new in Hollywood?), Variety's Justin Kroll exclusively revealed that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck will be directing Captain Marvel for the studio. The pair of filmmakers previously directed Sugar, It's Kind of a Funny Story, and Mississippi Grind, indie films that gained quite a bit of traction with critics. Boden will be Marvel's first female director, working from a script by Meg LeFauve and Nicole Perlman. According to Variety's report, Marvel executive Kevin Feige met with the pair of filmmakers multiple times, finding their pitch to stand out from the competition. This choice has been met with a mixed reception from the Marvel community, and while I certainly don't know what Boden and Fleck will bring to the table, I absolutely adored Mississippi Grind. I named that Ryan Reynolds/Ben Mendelsohn gambling flick as the most underrated film of 2015, and I loved the casual nature and character work. Boden and Fleck are obviously working on a much larger scale, but I have a feeling that they'll be able to pull this off nicely.

Captain Marvel will debut on March 8, 2019, but the character will be making her MCU debut on May 4, 2018, when Infinity War smashes into theaters.

Images: Focus, Marvel, IMDB
Source: Variety

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

'The Discovery' review

*The Discovery is impossible to talk about without delving into spoilers. With that in mind, if you haven't seen Charlie McDowell's film yet, I encourage you to check it out before reading this review as it will contain SPOILERS.*

I've written before about how some movies succeed on ambition alone. Some movies just deal with such compelling themes and amazing ideas that no procedural flaws can prevent them from maintaining a permanent spot in the mind of their audience. The Discovery is one of those movies. The film, which premiered at Sundance and is now on Netflix, certainly has its fair share of structural issues. Sometimes the pacing is a bit too sluggish, and despite an infinite amount of interesting concepts, some of the main ideas feel a bit half-baked. But I just can't get this movie out of my head. I want to talk about it, I want to keep thinking about it, and I want to endlessly dissect its ideas about life and what comes after. It isn't a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes, an imperfect film still manages to put it all together in the end. The Discovery is uncommonly ambitious, an epic film told on an intimate scale. Flaws be damned- this movie is special.

In a near future (the exact timeline is never made clear), a shocking discovery is made that changes the course of human history. In the study that serves as the culmination of his life's work, Dr. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) reveals to the world that he has overwhelming proof of the existence of an afterlife. As you would expect, this discovery sends the world into chaos. The suicide rate immediately skyrockets, as people take their own life in the hopes of finding something better on the other side. As the film begins, Harbor conducts his first TV interview with a concerned journalist (Mary Steenburgen, in an incredibly brief cameo) who chastises him for ignoring the public concerns in the wake of millions of suicides. After an on-camera suicide by a production assistant, Harbor disappears again, allowing the toll to reach over 4 million as he continues his research.

The story begins with his son, Will (Jason Segel), a brilliant, reserved neuroscientist who is traveling to his reclusive father's remote location to get him to end the madness of his research. On the boat ride over, Will meets Isla (Rooney Mara), a mysterious woman who is heading to the dreary island for unknown reasons. The two hit it off in a strange way, but Will bids her farewell, only to save her days later after a frightening suicide attempt. At his father's castle location, Will finds a cult-like following of people who are all under the unique protection of Thomas. Will's brother (Jesse Plemons) has been assisting with the research, and in the process, Thomas has created a machine that he believes creates a glimpse of the afterlife. As the twists pile up and as the mystery grows stranger, Will discovers the truth at the heart of his father's groundbreaking discovery.

The Discovery feels like mumblecore Kubrick which, believe it or not, is actually a compliment. If Kubrick had positioned the mysteries of the universe in a uniquely human way, you'd probably end up with something like this. McDowell clearly loves the legendary director's sense of visual unity, as he designs Dr. Harbor's secluded castle as a Kubrickian fever dream, accompanied by matching uniforms and crisp, clean production design. He mixes this with a unique romantic angle and some strong handheld camerawork that stands as a hallmark of indie film. The Discovery is an incredibly impressive film from a technical perspective, assisted by gorgeous cinematography and a consistent visual palette that sets the tone of McDowell's odyssey. But despite the director's effectiveness as a filmmaker, the strongest aspect of this film is the central question that McDowell asks:

What is your greatest regret, and how would a different decision change your life?

While experimenting with his father's machine, Will finds a video that displays something from the mind of their cadaver. Initially he believes that this is evidence that his father built a machine that records memory, but he soon realizes the unique truth about the afterlife- it takes you to the source of your greatest regret and allows you to live your life until you've managed to right that terrible wrong. For Thomas, it's returning to the moment when he put work over his wife, causing her to take her own life and inspire a lifetime of work. For Will, it's saving the life of a woman who he once had a chance encounter with. After a bumpy road of material that alternates between being engaging and dull, this final twist in McDowell's narrative is a true revelation, one that captured my attention and sent my jaw to the floor.

If you ask certain people who know me, they'll probably tell you that I'm obsessed with the idea of alternate timelines. I find it absolutely fascinating to think about how much could be changed with just a small decision, such as taking a certain class or deciding what to have for lunch. Sometimes those decisions wind up working out, and other times, we end up making a choice that we regret. To position the afterlife as a place where we work out the kinks of our life to achieve perfection is uniquely appealing to me. It's an idea that I hadn't explored before, and it has found a way to stick in my mind ever since I saw this film. The Discovery has one of the most compelling endings I've seen in a long time, and while it doesn't have the buildup necessary to stand as a truly great film, it certainly goes out with a hell of a bang.

In some ways, The Discovery still feels like a missed opportunity. McDowell never manages to fully explore the twisted mental state of Dr. Harbor, nor does he solve all of the narrative threads that he establishes during the course of the relatively short film. There's a last-minute twist that feels kinda ridiculous, building on a character's resentment that I never really felt was palpable at all. In addition, I'm not sure that Jason Segel was the best choice as the lead, as his totally humorless character almost made me laugh at a few low points. But for every shortfall or miscalculation, McDowell makes up for it with another thought-provoking idea that has the potential to stick in your brain for a very long time. The Discovery is a moody, carefully calibrated experience before it takes you in a completely new direction with a twist that I simply did not see coming. It's not perfect, but don't even think about missing it- you'll want to see it, discuss it, and let it simmer in your brain for days. It's thoughtful, thoroughly engaging sci-fi, the kind of film we just don't see enough of these days.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.4/10)

Images courtesy of Netflix