Friday, May 26, 2017

Sony debuts solid third trailer and awful poster for 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'

We're just over a month away from the release of Sony's Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I still don't know how to feel about it. For every single thing that gets me excited about seeing the first solo Spidey movie in the MCU, there's something else that gives me pause or makes me worried. Take for example the marketing blitz that came on Wednesday. The trailer was a mixed bag of positives and negatives, but the poster......good lord, the poster. I encourage you to jump down and look at this thing (click on it to enlarge). It is one of the most atrocious posters I have ever seen, an overly photoshopped mess of characters that has no clear sense of cohesion. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark
appears twice on the poster, and one time he's literally on fire. The Vulture hangs over his chest, Logan Marshall-Green is shown firing a giant gun, and the skylines of both Washington D.C. and New York City are shown in the background. It's literally so bad. Nonetheless, a new Spider-Man movie won't be hurt by one awful poster, and the third (and presumably) final trailer that accompanied it is actually pretty decent. Check it out below!

Okay, so here's my breakdown of the positives and negatives for Homecoming:

The Good

-High school stuff
-Tom Holland
-Chemistry with Zendaya and Jacob Batalon

The Bad

-Anything with Tony Stark
-The fact that Tony made his Spidey suit
-Seriously, why does Tony have such a large role?

Look, I love Iron Man. I didn't mind when Marvel turned the third installment in the Captain America trilogy into a glorified Avengers movie by including Tony and the rest of the heroes. But something about the level of his inclusion in Homecoming irks me, and I hate the idea of Stark being essential to Peter Parker's origin story. Homecoming appears to be fighting a war between two movies- a high school Spider-Man movie and a movie that exists to emphasize how big of a role it plays in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I hope that the stand-alone Spidey stuff comes out on top, but the fact that six writers wrote the screenplay doesn't give me much confidence. Anyways, we'll see how this turns out, but I'm still skeptical.

Spider-Man: Homecoming debuts on July 7.

Image courtesy of Sony

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sam Mendes in early talks to direct Disney's 'Pinocchio'

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

At this point, that seems to be Disney's strategy when it comes to live-action adaptations of their animated classics. Disney seems to be getting better and better at doing this type of thing each time out, with films like Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast becoming massive box office hits. Disney knows that they have an excellent formula on their hands here, and they're giving high-profile adaptations to talented directors on what seems like a weekly basis. Tim Burton is tackling Dumbo, Jon Favreau is returning to the Disney world with The Lion King, Guy Ritchie is hoping to bounce back with Aladdin, and Niki Caro is bringing Mulan to life. Beyond those officially announced projects, Disney has many more films in development, including an adaptation of Pinocchio. While Guillermo del Toro is also hoping to put his stamp on the classic tale, Disney might beat him to the punch, as the film is quickly gaining traction at the Mouse House.

According to Deadline, Sam Mendes is in early talks to direct Disney's live-action adaptation of Pinocchio. Deadline gave no further details on the project, and the film does not seem to have a screenplay or even a targeted release date. Mendes was last behind the camera for Spectre and Skyfall, two well-received installments in the James Bond franchise, but he is not expected to return for Bond 25. At one point, Mendes was on track to direct an adaptation of Gay Talese's The Voyeur's Motel, but that appears to be dead in the water. The director has been mostly working in the theater world, as he was recently at the helm for The Ferryman from Jez Butterworth, per Deadline. I don't know why there are so many versions of Pinocchio running through Hollywood at the moment, but Disney obviously has the upper hand due to the iconic status of the animated film. Paul Thomas Anderson was rumored to be involved with an adaptation at Warner Bros. that fell through, and who knows what is happening with del Toro's version (his next film is The Shape of Water, which is completed and in theaters on December 8).

I don't know why Mendes is compelled to direct this movie, but as a fan of the filmmaker who practically resurrected the Bond series, I'm automatically much more intrigued in a Pinocchio movie. I like that Disney is bringing smart directors to the studio to direct these films, and Mendes has a background in creating kids' entertainment on the stage. We'll see where this goes, but Disney's Pinocchio has officially caught my eye.

Image courtesy of Sony
Poster: IMDB
Source: Deadline

Roger Moore has died at the age of 89

Some very sad news to share today, as we just learned that Roger Moore, who played James Bond from 1973 to 1985 in a total of 7 films in the storied franchise, has died at the age of 89. On the actor's Twitter page, his children tweeted the following: "With the heaviest of hearts, we must share the awful news that our father, Sir Roger Moore, passed away today. We are all devastated."

In addition to the brief tweet, the family released this statement:

"Sir Roger Moore KBE

Actor- UNICEF Ambassador- Author

It is with a heavy heart that we must announce our loving father, Sir Roger Moore, has passed away today in Switzerland after a short but brave battle with cancer. The love with which he was surrounded in his final days was so great that it cannot be quantified in word alone.

We know our own love and admiration will be magnified many times over, across the world, by people who knew him for his films, his television shows and his passionate work for UNICEF which he considered to be his greatest achievement.

The affection our father felt whenever he walked on to a stage or in front of a camera buoyed him hugely and kept him busy working into his 90th year, through to his last appearance in November 2016 on stage at London's Royal Festival Hall. The capacity crowd cheered him on and off stage, shaking the very foundations of the building just a short distance from where he was born.

Thank you Pops for being you, and for being so very special to so many people.

Our thoughts must now turn to supporting Kristina at this difficult time, and in accordance with our father's wishes there will be a private funeral in Monaco.

Deborah, Geoffrey and Christian"

Moore was a prolific actor with 96 IMDb credits to his name, dating all the way back to his uncredited role in 1945's Vacation from Marriage. But there's no doubt that Moore was best known for starring as James Bond- he was the third actor to play the role after Sean Connery and George Lazenby. Moore first appeared as 007 in 1973's Live and Let Die, going on to reprise his role in The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill. Famous for starring in some of the campiest Bond films, Moore was integral in developing the iconic mythos of the character, highlighting the superspy's sexuality and suave charisma. Moore's films were popular for their outrageous stunts and devotion to bending genre, incorporating elements of kung fu movies and blaxploitation in the classic series. Moore was also notorious for being the oldest actor to play Bond, as he was astonishingly in his late 50s when he played the character for the last time. Moore's Bond filmography is a mixed bag of fun- The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the best of the series, but others don't quite hit the mark.

Nonetheless, Moore has the most diverse collection of appearances as the spy, and his films utilize a delightful formula that pays off well. Moore's appearances are always entertaining and insane, which is something that can't be said for all of the films in the series. Moore's Bond was funny, smooth, and always composed, which is what made him so distinct. As a Bond fan, this is a truly sad day. Moore is the first of the Bond actors to pass on, making this a tragic loss for the franchise. Moore was an essential part of one of the most iconic characters in pop culture, and he will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, Sir Roger Moore.

Image: 007

Zack Snyder stepping away from 'Justice League' due to family tragedy

This isn't a story that I believe requires a lengthy introduction, so I'll just cut right to the chase. Yesterday in The Hollywood Reporter, Justice League director Zack Snyder revealed that he is stepping down from his directorial duties on the film to deal with a family tragedy. Snyder's daughter committed suicide in March at the age of 20, and while Snyder initially wanted to return to the film, he has decided to leave Justice League and spend time with his family. Here are Snyder's full statements on the matter:

"In my mind, I thought it was a cathartic thing to go back to work, to just bury myself and see if that was the way through it. The demands of the job are pretty intense. It is all-consuming. And in the last two months, I've come to the realization....I've decided to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me. They are all having a hard time. I'm having a hard time.

"Here's the thing, I never planned to make this public. I thought it would just be in the family, a private matter, our private sorrow that we would deal with. When it became obvious that I need to take a break, I knew there would be narratives created on the internet. They'll do what they do. The truth is...I'm past that kind of thing now.

"I want this movie to be amazing, and I'm a fan, but that all pales pretty quickly in comparison. I know the fans are going to be worried about the movie, but there are seven other kids who need me. In the end, it's just a movie. It's a great movie. But it's just a movie."

Joss Whedon, director of The Avengers and the upcoming Batgirl, will step in to direct the reshoots and complete the film in post-production. Warner Bros. initially offered to push back the release of the film, but Snyder and his wife, producer Deborah Snyder, decided against that. Warner Bros. President Toby Emmerich had this to say: "What they are going through is unimaginable, and my heart- our hearts- go out to them." Emmerich also ensured that the new scenes filmed by Whedon would adhere to the style and tone set by Snyder, and would not be a radical departure from the current cut of the film.

This is a monumental tragedy, and I am heartbroken for Snyder and his entire family. Regardless of what you think of his films or whether or not you were excited for Justice League, Zack Snyder seems like a genuinely good human being and a passionate filmmaker, and I'm deeply saddened to see something so horrible happen. At this point, discussing the film or the future of the DC Universe feels unnecessary. The important thing is making sure that Snyder heals and works through this terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to him.

Images: IMDB

Universal officially announces Dark Universe, sets 'Bride of Frankenstein' for February 2019

Marvel has given us so many great movies over the years. The thrilling origin stories of Iron Man and Captain America, the spectacular fun of The Avengers, the cosmic madness of Guardians of the Galaxy, the epic drama of Civil War- Marvel has consistently delivered entertaining, high quality blockbusters.

They also cursed us with cinematic universes.

Ever since Nick Fury told Tony Stark that he was part of a bigger universe in 2008, and especially since Kevin Feige and the team at Marvel pulled off the team-up magic trick in 2012, studios across Hollywood have been playing catch-up. Warner Bros. has been desperately trying to create a connected universe of DC Comics films, Sony at one point hoped to create multiple Ghostbusters films in one shared universe, and Universal has mentioned numerous times that they hope to bring together all of their classic monsters for one big movie. Even though tracking for The Mummy is somewhat soft, it appears that the studio is pushing forward with this idea. Yesterday, Universal revealed more details about this cinematic universe, which is either exciting or horrifying depending on who you ask.

In a press release today, Universal officially revealed that Dark Universe will bring together their new world of gods and monsters. Here is the press release:

"Universal Pictures Unveils "Dark Universe" With Name, Mark And Musical Theme For Its Classic Monsters Series of Films"

Universal City, CA, May 22, 2017- "Universal Pictures announced today that its series of films reviving the studio's classic monster characters for a new generation will be known as "Dark Universe." The motion logo for the new initiative features a musical theme composed by Danny Elfman and will debut in theaters preceding The Mummy, which will be released on June 9. The announcement includes details of the enterprise relaunching Universal's iconic characters into modern cinema, as well as confirmations of superstar cast and that Academy Award winner Bill Condon will direct Bride of Frankenstein.

Dark Universe was begun by core creatives Alex Kurtzman, who also serves as director and producer of The Mummy, the inaugural film in the new classic monster series, and The Mummy producer Chris Morgan, who recently saw The Fate of the Furious, the sixth film he wrote for the Fast & Furious franchise, claim the biggest opening in history at the global box office when it opened on April 14. Also joining the enterprise to inspire and entertain a new generation are such visionary talents as Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible series, The Usual Suspects) and David Koepp (War of the Worlds, Jurassic Park).

"We take enormous pride in the creativity and passion that has inspired the reimagining of Universal's iconic monsters and promise audiences we will expand this series strategically," said Donna Langley, Chairman, Universal Pictures."The enterprise masterfully developed by Chris and Alex will allow each subsequent chapter the right time to find the perfect cast, filmmakers and vision to fulfill it. As we launch Dark Universe and Danny's provocative theme before The Mummy and collaborate with a brilliant filmmaker like Bill to weave the story of a very modern woman in a classic tale, we feel confident we're off to a tremendous start."

"When Universal approached us with the idea of reimagining these classic characters, we recognized the responsibility of respecting their legacy while bringing them into new and modern adventures," said Kurtzman and Morgan. "The studio and our fellow creative collaborators have championed and challenged us as we've begun to spin the web of Dark Universe. It's our hope these movies will engross longtime fans and spark the imagination of brand-new ones."

From his first score on Tim Burton's Pee Wee's Big Adventure and his iconic theme to The Simpsons- not to mention his collaborations with filmmakers including Ang Lee, David O. Russell, Sam Raimi, Rob Marshall, Guillermo del Toro, Joss Whedon, and Peter Jackson- four time Academy Award nominee Danny Elfman's inimitable compositions have vaulted him into one of the most versatile and accomplished composers in history.

"I grew up on monsters," said Elfman. "Monsters were my life, and these iconic Universal mosnters were almost like my family. I simply wouldn't be the same without them. When I got the opportunity to compose a theme for the Dark Universe logo, of course I jumped at it. What could be more fun than connecting to this world that has always been so deeply embedded in my psyche? I tried to find something that was new but still had some connections with the past- the origins- at least in a subtle way. Something that was looking forward to a creative, fertile, imaginative future that Dark Universe will enter, and at the same time saluting the heritage of the tragic heroes (or anti-heroes) of my childhood. To the Monsters!!!!"

In another exciting development, Oscar winner Bill Condon will follow his worldwide smash Beauty and the Beast, one of this year's biggest hits- which crossed $1 billion at the global box office and became the most successful musical of all time- by directing Bride of Frankenstein, from a screenplay by Koepp. The next film from Dark Universe, Bride of Frankenstein will be released on Thursday, February 14, 2019.

In a related move, Universal announced that it will not release a Dark Universe film as previously planned for April 13, 2018, and that Bride will instead be the next chapter in the unspooling series of movies following this year's The Mummy. The actress chosen to play the lead role in Condon's version of this timeless story will be announced soon.

"I'm very excited to bring a new Bride of Frankenstein to life on screen, particularly since James Whale's original creation is still so potent," stated Condon. "The Bride of Frankenstein remains the most iconic female monster in film history, and that's a testament to Whale's masterpiece- which endures as one of the greatest movies ever made."

Dark Universe films will be distinguished by performances from some of the most talented and popular global superstars stepping into iconic roles, as well as electric new talents whose careers are starting to break through. While previously announced, the stars of both imminent and future Dark Universe projects are gathered for the first time in the attached photo. The Invisible Man and Frankenstein's Monster will be played by, respectively, blockbuster icon Johnny Depp and Academy Award winner Javier Bardem, who appear together later this summer in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Those actors join superstar Tom Cruise as soldier of fortune Nick Morton and Oscar winner Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll, who lead the all-star cast of The Mummy, along with Sofia Boutella, the actress who embodies the title role in that film.

Both the graphic and the motion logo were created by five-time Academy Award-winning visual effects facility Weta Digital (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, Avatar).

At its organizing principle, Dark Universe films are connected by a mysterious multi-national organization known as Prodigium. Led by the enigmatic and brilliant Dr. Henry Jekyll, Prodigium's mission is to track, study and- when necessary- destroy evil embodied in the form of monsters in our world. Working outside the aegis of any government, and with practices concealed by millennia of secrecy, Prodigium protects the public from knowledge of the evil that exists just beyond the thin membrane of civilized society- and will go to any length to contain it.

Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters. Welcome to Dark Universe."

So, uh, okay. I feel like they should have waited until The Mummy actually hit theaters, but this might actually be an effective way to get people to the theater for this film, which is currently slammed between several big blockbusters. There's a lot to unpack in this press release, which is quite possibly one of the longest I've ever seen. The casting of Bardem and Depp has been rumored for quite some time, and Condon's connection on Bride of Frankenstein was widely reported weeks ago. I've said before that I love the idea of a Universal Monsters cinematic universe, and while I'm not exactly encouraged by what I've seen from The Mummy so far, I'm still excited at the prospect of big-budget films with a solid dash of horror. It's good to know that Universal has a plan, and even though this could certainly crash and burn, this announcement got me oddly excited. At this point, I'm hoping for the best.

The first installment in Dark Universe, Alex Kurtzman's The Mummy, opens on June 9.

Images courtesy of Universal/Pop Culture

Monday, May 22, 2017

Tom Holland to lead Sony's adaptation of 'Uncharted'

Remember when 2016 was going to be the year that saved video game movies?

Yeah, about that.....

With two big-budget video game adaptations from critically acclaimed directors on the release calendar in the form of Duncan Jones' Warcraft and Justin Kurzel's Assassin's Creed, the popular thought was that after years of misfires, things would finally turn around for the genre. Instead, those two films just put video game movies in a deeper hole. Warcraft was a box office hit in foreign markets with over $386 million, but it failed to crack $50 million in the US and it was widely panned (I kinda liked it, but whatever). Meanwhile, Assassin's Creed received equally ghastly reviews, and it didn't have the strong overseas grosses as a consolation prize. There's no doubt that there's a big market of gaming fans who would show up for these films, but the quality just hasn't been there. Sony has been attempting to turn Uncharted, the popular adventure gaming series, into a movie for years with no avail. The film popped up on the release calendar multiple times, but it seemed to continually find a way to be stuck in development hell. But today, a surprising report indicates that Sony is moving forward and might actually get this thing going this time around.

According to Deadline, Tom Holland, the star of this summer's Spider-Man: Homecoming, will be playing Nathan Drake in an upcoming adaptation of Uncharted. The film will be directed by Shawn Levy, who was last at the helm for several episodes of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. Sony will also be commissioning a new draft of the script, adjusting the previously completed versions to turn the story into a prequel. Per Deadline's sources, this idea came from Sony chief Tom Rothman, who was so impressed by the latest cut of Homecoming that he decided Holland was the perfect choice to play Drake.

Look, I generally think that video game movies are a terrible idea. They haven't worked so far, and I don't know why anyone thinks that things will magically change. But I'm willing to make an exception for Uncharted, which has a simple enough concept that even someone who has never played the games can understand- it's basically Indiana Jones meets Jason Bourne, with some heist and horror elements thrown in. It doesn't seem to have a convoluted mythology, which makes it a prime candidate for a film adaptation. Tom Holland is an excellent choice, and Levy showed his strength as a filmmaker with Stranger Things. We'll see if this thing really gets off the ground, but this is certainly a positive development.

Source: Deadline
Image courtesy of Sony

Sunday, May 21, 2017

'Alien: Covenant' review

Ridley Scott may be turning 80 years old in 2017, but the famous director isn't slowing down one bit. Fresh off The Martian, one of the best films of his career, Scott is once again returning to the franchise he created with Alien: Covenant. This is Scott's second crack at a prequel to his 1979 classic, the first being the sci-fi epic Prometheus back in 2012. During the months leading up to that film's release, anticipation was at a fever pitch. I was 13 years old at the time, and I was practically drooling at the thought of a massive, big-budget R-rated science fiction movie. Nobody knew much about the story or how it would connect to the series, but Scott made sure to emphasize that the film contained "Alien DNA." Mix in a trailer that incorporated the screeching noises of the iconic teaser for Alien, and most Xenomorph fans knew something was up.

And then people saw the movie. Prometheus quickly became one of the most hotly debated titles in recent memory- some people loved the film's bold ideas and breathtaking vision, while others were underwhelmed by the moronic characters and frustrating ambiguity. The prequel was a box office hit, but it didn't exactly catch fire with audiences or critics. When I finally got around to seeing the film, I had issues, but I could only come to one conclusion- I wanted more. Five years later, Scott is back with Covenant, a film that exists as both a direct sequel to Prometheus and another step closer to reaching the time period of the original. For many fans, the ultimate goal of this chapter wasn't immediately clear. Would it answer the burning existential questions of Prometheus? Or would it lead us all the way up to Ellen Ripley's fateful adventure on the Nostromo? 

The answer is somewhere in between, but Scott manages to expertly mix the philosophical leanings of the 2012 film and the horror that made the original a classic. While the latest installment certainly involves some familiar territory, Covenant feels like a singular vision from Scott, a brutal, intelligent, and ultimately insane experience. Bolstered by a dark sense of atmosphere that pervades the entire film, a unique crew dynamic, and a pair of incredible performances from the ever-reliable Michael Fassbender, Covenant is a fever dream of violence and gore that is as beautiful as it is terrifying. And oh, is it bloody. So very, very bloody. Covenant has clearly been a divisive movie, but its astonishing mixture of hard sci-fi and epic filmmaking is an intoxicating combination that is hard to resist.

Picking up some time after the events of Prometheus, this installment finds a new crew from the Weyland-Yutani corporation on the starship Covenant heading for a planet to colonize. The 15-person crew is made up of couples, led by Captain Branson (James Franco, in a brief cameo), while the cargo includes 2,000 colonists and several additional embryos. The ship is maintained by Walter (Fassbender), an android who is a more efficient model of the arrogant David, the first creation of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). During an attempt to re-charge the ship, an energy surge from a nearby storm causes a malfunction, waking up the crew several years early and causes significant damage to the ship. In the process, several colonists are killed and Captain Branson is horrifically burned alive in his pod. His wife, the strong-willed Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is completely mortified and the crew is totally heartbroken.

Oram (Billy Crudup) achieves the role of captain, and he's immediately put at odds with Daniels and the rest of the team, who hope to have time to honor Branson. However, the mourning only last so long, as a rogue transmission from a nearby planet leads them to discover a habitable world within their reach. With a crew hesitant to get back in the hypersleep pods, Captain Oram makes the decision to investigate this nearby planet, even though nobody from the Weyland Corporation has the slightest idea of what could be down there. After landing on this mysterious planet, the crew discovers a beautiful landscape that is lush with greenery and even some human vegetation. But as always with the Alien franchise, there's more than meets the eye to this newfound paradise. Things quickly go south, as they discover ancient beings, brutal creatures, and an old friend with vague intentions on this disturbing adventure into the depths of hell.

Going into Covenant, my primary concern was that the film would be a mere rehash, recycling elements from the original Alien without bringing anything new to the table. I should have put more faith in Scott, as the filmmaker declares from the very first scene that this will not be a glorified remake. Covenant certainly revels in its Xenomorphs and the bloody results that come from their actions, but the horror never feels familiar or overwhelming. The same can be said for the meandering existentialism that guided Prometheus- it's present, but it doesn't slow the story down to the point of stagnation. The result is a film that feels like a perfect mix of the two, as Covenant succeeds in being an effective action movie with quite a bit on its mind beneath the blood-soaked extraterrestrial antics. Covenant is brutally, relentlessly dark, darker than any Alien film Ridley Scott has ever made before. It's a big-budget horror movie that quotes classic poets and features set design elements that recall ancient epics. While I can't claim to have seen every Alien film, Scott is most definitely bringing something new to the table here.

Scott left us with plenty of questions at the end of Prometheus, questions that nobody was really sure if he had the answers for. Judging by what we see in Covenant, I don't think he really did. There's no big revelation of who the Engineers were nor do we get much explanation for the "why" of their actions. Somewhere between the two films, Scott realized that he had posed massive questions that he couldn't possibly comprehend- he had painted with far too broad of a stroke. So instead of solving the fundamental question of humanity, Scott chooses to follow-up with one character in particular- David. Fassbender pulls double duty as both Walter and David, the latter being the more interesting of the two. In fact, David just may be one of the most compelling antagonists in recent memory, emerging as the perfect way for Scott to explore these key questions while also setting up the threads of Alien. Some of the film's best scenes take place solely between David and Walter, and some of the most wickedly fun (and gory) moments come when David is in control.

In Prometheus, David began as a mischievous android, curious to discover the origins of humanity and the story behind the race that created him. As David continued to realize his discontent with his robotic makeup, he became determined to transcend what his creators intended, a philosophy that leads to his desire to play a role as some kind of malevolent god. It's fascinating to see this mad scientist ideology pitted against Walter's model of efficiency, as the newer rendition is kinder and gentler, created in stark contrast to the dangerous David. Fassbender pulls off both characters with a remarkable ease, shining in each android's own respective scenes, as well as the dynamite moments that they share together. As Walter, Fassbender is laid back and coolly smart, the kind of charming sophistication you'd expect from an android. As David, Fassbender gets a chance to unleash his most villainous character yet, a purely evil being with ideas that surprisingly make quite a bit of sense. Hell, there's even a little bit of sexual tension between the characters that comes off as both playfully funny and chillingly bizarre. This is Fassbender's film through and through, and he is absolutely mesmerizing.

But don't worry Alien fans, you'll still get plenty of what you're coming for. To match the dark tone and haunting antagonist, Scott has concocted a hellish and gory Alien film that doesn't just bring the franchise back to its glory days of terror, it practically ups the insanity to a level that would be nearly impossible to top. For all the complaints of dumb characters doing dumb things, Covenant seems to embrace the idea of the impending demise of the characters, placing them in an unforgiving terrain controlled by a mastermind with no soul, no remorse, and nothing but the desire to kill them in the most horrific way possible. Covenant puts its characters in the depths of madness, making it feel less like an Alien movie than the high-concept work of a sci-fi maestro. And when people start dying, this film just doesn't let up. For context, the opening moments feature a man being burned alive in a hypersleep pod as his wife and friends are helpless to watch. And it only gets worse from there. Backbursters, chestbursters, decapitations, enough blood to fill the elevator from The Shining several times- Covenant is a gory extravaganza.

And beyond the core elements that make Covenant work, Scott brings a new crew to life that proves to be filled with strong characters, albeit ones that don't always make the best decisions. The fact that the ship is made up of a couples feels like a design flaw from the Weyland Corporation, but it allows for more dramatically satisfying moments when the heads start to roll. Katherine Waterston proves to be a worthy successor to Sigourney Weaver, a tough as nails female protagonist who expresses a great deal of vulnerability while also kicking some alien ass. Billy Crudup is also fairly impressive as Oram, the captain who believes that his faith has ostracized him from both the crew and the Weyland Corporation. After Elizabeth Shaw's faith was featured prominently in Prometheus, it's fascinating to find that topic being tackled once again. Danny McBride is surprisingly good as Tennessee, while Amy Seimetz, Demian Bichir, and the rest of the crew have some interesting moments as well. This is the Michael Fassbender show, but that doesn't mean our Xenomorph fodder can't be sympathetic or interesting.

But while there's a good deal of human intrigue in this story, Covenant is first and foremost a rollicking, beautiful blockbuster from start to finish. It's a true action epic- bold, pitch black, and horrifyingly grotesque. It's both a film of massive, thought-provoking ideas and a film of rich atmosphere, so dark and so intense that it practically consumes you. And perhaps most importantly, it's a top-notch cinematic production, with gorgeous cinematography from Dariusz Wolski, an expert score from Jed Kurzel, and a plethora of incredible design elements. Ridley Scott may have relented and given fans more of the Alien prequel that they wanted the first time around, but in no way did he compromise his vision of utter madness. This is the kind of grand sci-fi entertainment that should be embraced, and even if it has the Alien name slapped on it, Covenant feels like the original work of a genius. It's a great summer thrill ride, and the fact that it's an excellent, thoughtful piece of hard science fiction is just the cherry on top.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                             (8.5/10)

Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Netflix, Cannes, and the Battle for the Future of Cinema

The Cannes Film Festival is the most prestigious and exclusive cinematic event of the calendar year. Each May in the south of France, the press, the industry, and the filmmakers collide to make deals, attend glitzy red carpet events, and most importantly, watch some of the most hotly anticipated films of the year. The 2017 edition of Cannes is one of the most stacked in years, with a lineup that includes films from a variety of respected auteurs. Michael Haneke is hoping to win his third Palme D'Or with Happy End, Sofia Coppola is making her return to the big screen with The Beguiled, and The Lobster filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is hoping to solidify his position as one of the best in the game with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. New films from Todd Haynes, Ruben Ostlund, the Safdie Brothers, and more round out the incredible lineup. But at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the main story hasn't been the movies or the filmmakers or the red carpet drama. All of the attention has been focused on one distributor, a studio that is shaking up the game and permanently altering the way that we watch movies.

Of course, I'm talking about Netflix.

They killed the home video industry, and now, they're coming for the theaters as well. At least that's how the theaters see it. To many in the industry, Netflix is viewed as an existential threat to the way that business has been done since the dawn of cinema itself. Everything was fine when Netflix stuck to making original TV programs, but the studio is beginning to establish itself as a force in the film industry as well. To chronicle the whole Netflix/Cannes drama, let's start at the beginning of the story. When the lineup for this year's festival was announced, Cannes programmer Thierry Fremaux revealed that Bong Joon Ho's Okja and Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories were both part of the In Competition lineup, marking those as the first titles from Netflix to receive the coveted slots. Some time later, Cannes revealed that starting in 2018, films that would not receive a theatrical distribution in France would no longer be eligible to receive a Competition slot. Essentially, this banned Netflix films from being eligible for awards at the festival.

When journalists and filmmakers made their way to Cannes earlier this week, the drama over Netflix continued to rage. Jury President Pedro Almodovar and jury member Will Smith found themselves at odds, with Almodovar walking back controversial comments that seemed to indicate that he wouldn't consider Netflix titles for the Palme D'Or. With Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos also in town (essential reading- Telegraph critic Robbie Collin's interview with Sarandos), the battle continued, overwhelming the discussion and putting many famous voices on opposite sides of the aisle. Then somehow, things got even worse. At the first screening of Okja on Friday morning, it was reported that there were a loud smattering of boos that emerged as the Netflix logo shined across the screen. Those boos continued for the first several minutes of the movie, as audience members quickly came to the realization that the masking on the film was completely incorrect. The film started over, with critics jeering even louder when the Netflix logo appeared for the second time. While Okja ultimately received a fairly warm reception, the drama over Netflix (and the potential sabotage of the screening) was all the rage.

This is a debate that will continue for the foreseeable future. Netflix continues to acquire many major projects, films from beloved directors that many audience members want to see. Hell, they already acquired Taika Waititi's Bubbles at Cannes, a stop-motion animated film about Michael Jackson's pet chimpanzee. They'll premiere the Brad Pitt vehicle War Machine next week, and in addition to Okja, 2017 will also see the release of Adam Wingard's Death Note, David Ayer's Bright, and Mute, the latest film from director Duncan Jones. They appear to be in final negotiations to make Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, and they bought several titles at this year's Sundance Film Festival, including Grand Jury prize winner I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, Jeremy Saulnier, and Dee Rees are flocking to the studio. They're changing the game. And most importantly, they refuse to cater to anyone.

Both Sarandos and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings aren't in the business of bowing to the current studio model. It's not to say that they don't believe in the theatrical distribution window so much as they don't believe that they have to be a part of it. Hastings especially seems to advocate for a confrontational relationship between Netflix and the theater industry, saying that they haven't innovated in the past several decades beyond popcorn that tastes slightly better. Hastings clearly isn't trying to make things better, and I have no doubt that the relationship between theaters and the streaming giant will continue to be testy for the next few years. So who's right here? Is Netflix destroying cinema as we know it, as the theater industry holds on for dear life? Or are people like Hastings and Sarandos actually saving movies as we know it?

Although it surprises me to admit it, I'm on Netflix's side. They aren't the saviors of cinema yet, but look at the films that they're producing, beyond the weird Adam Sandler garbage. Okja is a big-budget movie (upwards of $50 million) from a Korean genius who experienced a ridiculous battle with a studio chief over his last masterpiece, the 2014 sci-fi film Snowpiercer. With Netflix, Bong claims that he was given total freedom to make exactly the movie he wanted- and if critics are to be believed, his strange, uneven family flick is uniquely brilliant. Netflix is taking big risks on creative, talented people who have been shunned from the studio system. Would an R-rated original film about a cop and an orc in a futuristic Los Angeles that costs $100 million be made by a major studio today? No, so David Ayer took Bright to Netflix and now it's one of their biggest movies of the year.

If the studios and the theaters really want to know why Netflix is a threat, they need to do nothing more than look at themselves. For one, the theaters have managed to destroy the practice of regular moviegoing. My local theater recently underwent a major overhaul, changing to reclining chairs and reserved seating. The seats are nice and the theater is beautiful, but to put it bluntly, it's a pain in the ass to go to the movies there now. You have to buy the best seats well in advance and you'll likely be stuck off to the side or in the front two rows if you don't buy early, which kills the spontaneity of going to the movies. It makes a trip to the cinema feel like an event- great for the people who go four times a year, terrible for those who make multiple trips to the theater every week. And not to mention the fact that the clientele hasn't gotten any better. Movies today are dominated by loud talkers, people who spend their whole time on their phone, and just general disruptions who find a way to ruin things for everyone else. Chains like Alamo Drafthouse have managed to cut down on that, but it's a pervasive problem that threatens the industry as a whole.

Next, let's turn to the studios and the product that they're putting out. I'll be honest, this is a pretty solid summer for movies, one that could be a record-breaker at the box office. But there's a sense that audiences will eventually tire of the sequels and reboots, creating a market where we'll see more flops like last weekend's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. And while the blockbusters are impressive, there's a growing sense that the smaller movies are being pushed out. While there have been quite a few breakout films in 2017, there have also been long stretches of mediocrity at the theater, where even someone like myself hasn't felt compelled to leave the house to see a movie. Studios like A24 and Amazon have found a way to survive and put out consistent quality product, but with a relentless slate of would-be blockbusters, this summer looks to reinforce the idea that smaller films are a dying breed.

So let's recap:

-Movie theaters are making it more difficult to attend films on a regular basis.
-Audience members suck.
-Original movies are struggling to find the money to be produced.
-The only films worth seeing in a theater are the big blockbusters.

I know the theaters think they have the advantage here, but they really don't. Netflix is the connective tissue of pop culture right now- the release of shows like Stranger Things and House of Cards is arguably just as much of an event as the theatrical premiere of a new blockbuster movie. I saw twice as many articles written last week about the Netflix premiere of Master of None than I did about the debut of King Arthur. Netflix is funding bold originality from filmmakers with vision, which is something that most of the major studios simply aren't doing. Netflix doesn't meddle or re-cut or force script changes- they hire filmmakers with a vision and they allow them to execute.

For all of this evidence towards the ascendance of Netflix, theaters have shown surprising resilience over the last few months with the success of a few films that aren't blockbusters in the traditional sense of the word. Damien Chazelle's La La Land was a bona fide breakout over the course of the holiday season, grossing $151 million in the US off a $30 million budget. Jordan Peele's Get Out became a genuine cultural phenomenon in February, and M. Night Shyamalan's Split proved to be a buzzy title as well. These movies are generating huge amounts of excitement, and they're getting people to show up to the theater.

But if you look at the top of the box office charts, you'll quickly realize that these are the box office outliers, not the norm. The charts are dominated by franchises like Star Wars, Fast and Furious, and the X-Men. Remakes of films like Beauty and the Beast. Marvel installments, Pixar flicks, the latest kids movie with talking animals- these are the films that get made these days. And that's not to say that these films can't be good- Logan is a masterpiece, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 is a superior sequel from a true mastermind, and I even found a good deal to enjoy with Beauty and the Beast. But these are safe bets, movies that come with a built-in audience that the studios know will show up on opening weekend. There isn't much room for an original idea to become a blockbuster.

Did I cherish being able to see Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room on the big screen? Absolutely. Am I heartbroken that Hold the Dark, Saulnier's next film, will be heading directly to Netflix? Nope. As long as the brilliant filmmaker gets the chance to make the film that he wants to make, I'm happy with that. For so long, directors have had to choose between either working within the confines of the studio system or financing their film independently. Netflix is liberating these artists, giving them the money that they need and the platform that they deserve. Indiewire critic David Ehrlich makes a lot of good points about how Netflix promotes their content, and how they still have much to learn when it comes to getting their subscribers to watch these great movies. But they're still young, and I have no doubt that as the years go by, they'll only get better and better.

This is all coming from someone who cherishes the theatrical experience. I love watching trailers on the big screen. I love seeing a movie at my local IMAX theater, being overwhelmed by the size of the screen and the quality of the sound. I can't wait to watch Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and be utterly immersed by the experience. But if you told me that Baby Driver, the new film from Edgar Wright, one of my favorite filmmakers on the planet, was going to be released on Netflix on June 28 instead of receiving a theatrical release, would I be heartbroken?

No, I really don't think I would.

And coming from someone who loves movies and loves going to the theater, I think that's really saying something. It's a brave new world for the studios, the theaters, and the filmmakers. We're going to see many rapid changes over the next few years, and this debate at Cannes is only the beginning. As more filmmakers choose creative freedom over theatrical exhibition, this fight will only grow more contentious. But at this point, one thing is abundantly clear to me- Netflix has the upper hand.

Sources: Telegraph, The Verge, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire
Images courtesy of Netflix, Sony, and Lionsgate
'King Arthur' Image Credit: IMDB/WB

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tom Hardy to star in 'Venom' from director Ruben Fleischer

The most hilarious rumor to come out of Film Twitter in 2017 so far was undoubtedly the idea that Daniel Espinosa's Life was actually a stealth prequel to Venom. On the surface, there were a few things that made sense- both films came from the same studio (Sony), Sony surprisingly put Venom on the release calendar just weeks before the sci-fi film's release, and I guess Life's space squid thing kinda looked like the symbiote. But beyond those random facts, there was absolutely nothing that indicated any sort of relation between the two films. I bring this up because, much to my disbelief, Sony is actually moving forward with the Venom movie. While they're working with Marvel to bring Spider-Man: Homecoming to the big-screen in July, the struggling studio is also hoping to create a successful series of films based on characters in the Spidey universe. Venom wasn't a hit character when he was played by Topher Grace in 2007's Spider-Man 3, but I guess they think it's worth another shot. Earlier today, Sony finally revealed their plans for the upcoming spin-off with their pick for who will play the titular character, as well as their choice for the man in the director's chair.

On Twitter, Sony confirmed that Tom Hardy will star as Eddie Brock in Venom, which will begin production in the fall. In addition, The Hollywood Reporter notes that Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer is in final negotiations to direct the film. In THR's report, it's emphasized that Venom is a top priority for the studio, and that they're fast-tracking the film for an October 5, 2018 release date. The script was written by Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pickner, who also wrote the upcoming Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Fleischer broke out with the hit zombie film in 2009, but his career took a detour after 30 Minutes or Less and Gangster Squad, two straight misfires that were met with a mixed reaction from audiences and critics. Meanwhile, Hardy will next be seen in this summer's Dunkirk, from close collaborator Christopher Nolan. Hardy also has War Party, Fonzo, and George Miller's Mad Max: The Wasteland on the potential docket, as well as some rumors that he'll be taking on James Bond in a future installment, but it seems that he'll be tackling Venom first. I can't help but feel like Hardy's talents would be better used elsewhere, but I also can't deny that his involvement makes me infinitely more interested in seeing a Venom film. This thing still seems like a bad idea, but if Hardy and Fleischer are involved, at least that's something.

With Sony pushing hard for this film, look for more information in the coming weeks.

Images: Universal/Sony/IMDB

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Incredible new trailer debuts for Bong Joon Ho's 'Okja'

The Cannes Film Festival kicked off yesterday, and there already has been a good deal of conflict and controversy over the inclusion of Netflix titles in the Competition selection. I plan on writing a whole article on how this battle is a big moment in the future of cinema, but for now, let's give it a quick summary. This year, the Cannes Film Festival and lead programmer Thierry Fremaux made the decision of including two Netflix films in the prestigious Competition lineup. Weeks later, Cannes announced that in the future, films that weren't scheduled for a release in French theaters would no longer be allowed to show In Competition at Cannes, relegating those titles to the Out of Competition and Un Certain Regard sections. This was clearly a rule aimed at Netflix, which put Cannes at odds with festivals like TIFF and Venice.

Yesterday, the Cannes jury was pitted against one another, as Will Smith and jury chief Pedro Almodovar came down on opposite sides of the argument. Smith argued that Netflix was increasing connectivity and bringing cinema to a broad audience (he stars in Bright, on Netflix in December), while Almodovar made the shocking announcement that he wouldn't even consider Netflix films for the Palme D'Or. That means Almodovar won't even look at Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories or Bong Joon Ho's Okja, which is set to be one of the biggest original films yet from the streaming giant. With the film's June 28 release and Cannes premiere looming, Netflix has released the first full trailer for the film- check it out below!

"And most importantly.......they need to taste f**king good."

If anyone thought that Bong Joon Ho was losing some of his edge by making a film with a child protagonist, the first few seconds of this trailer immediately do away with those concerns. This looks seriously astonishing, the kind of wildly original concoction that seems to have the makings of an instant classic. On the surface, it sounds like Bong is making his own unique riff on Steven Spielberg's E.T. with this big-budget production, but this trailer makes it clear that this is going to be so much more. Okja is clearly set in a bold and incredible universe that will be populated by wacky characters and a genuine emotional core, mixing sci-fi action with wondrous adventure to great effect. And wow, how amazing is this cast? Tilda Swinton is obviously going to crush it as Lucy Mirando and Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the most consistent actors alive, but the depth of this cast goes beyond that. Paul Dano is probably one of the most undervalued stars on the planet, Lily Collins looks like a perfect fit for the part, and young Seo-Hyun Ahn is set to give a terrific performance as the lead. I simply cannot wait to see more, and I'm extremely excited to see the reactions from Cannes tomorrow morning. It looks like Bong Joon Ho has crafted something singular and incredible here, and after the jaw-dropping Snowpiercer, I'm hoping that the Korean auteur can return with another masterpiece.

Okja debuts on Netflix on June 28. Check out the new poster below and look for more on this film and on the streaming craze in the near future.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Fun trailer for 'Battle of the Sexes' pits Emma Stone against Steve Carell

We may be in the thick of the summer movie bonanza at the moment, but don't worry, it won't be long before Hollywood begins to trot out its crop of Oscar contenders for the 2017-2018 awards season. No matter what happens in the coming battle for Oscar glory, it'll be tough to top this year, an incredibly close race that culminated in Damien Chazelle's La La Land being wrongly announced as the Best Picture winner before Barry Jenkins and the Moonlight team ultimately took the stage. Emma Stone was at the center of the Oscar madness, taking home the Best Actress Oscar for Chazelle's musical masterwork and finding her winning envelope in Warren Beatty's hands after the PwC misstep. While Stone is likely hoping for a less tumultuous end to the Oscar season this year, she'll be back in the thick of the race with Battle of the Sexes, a 70s-set drama that chronicles the famous tennis match between Stone's Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, played by Steve Carell. Fox Searchlight has the film set for a September release date, which means a TIFF/Telluride premiere is likely in the cards. Earlier today, the first trailer for the film was revealed- check it out below!

I feel like I've been hearing about Battle of the Sexes for ages, and I can't say that I ever managed to get all that excited about the concept. I like both Stone and Carell, but on the surface, this seems like a bland re-telling of a pop culture event that doesn't require much deeper analysis or thought. With that in mind, I was thoroughly surprised by how much I enjoyed this trailer, which makes the film look like a blast of retro fun. I was far too young to get caught up in the Little Miss Sunshine craze back in 2006, but it looks like Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have created a film that will be impeccably crafted and incredibly entertaining. The cinematography from La La Land Oscar winner Linus Sandgren is immediately noticeable, and it looks like Stone and Carell are both set to deliver terrific performances. Fox Searchlight is definitely setting this up for Oscar glory, but as much as I liked this trailer, I'm not sure if that's a gamble that will pay off. However, if Battle of the Sexes takes off, Fox Searchlight could be in for a strong awards season. I wasn't sold before, but this trailer did its job- I'm intrigued to see how this one turns out.

Battle of the Sexes will open on September 22.

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight

'The Circle' review

After a successful run on the independent film circuit, director James Ponsoldt seemed poised to become one of the most critically acclaimed directors of his generation. Ponsoldt broke out with the 2012 alcoholism drama Smashed, which led him to bigger projects such as The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour, a fruitful partnership with A24 that produced two great films. The latter movies are modern classics, tender, insightful stories told with a sense of humanity and a conversational vibe that leads to the development of great characters. I really understood what Ponsoldt was going for with those two films, and I couldn't wait to see more from the young filmmaker. It's why I listed The Circle as one of my most anticipated films of the year. Sure, I was excited by the prospect of a technological thriller with Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and John Boyega, but I was mostly intrigued to see what Ponsoldt would be able to do with a bigger budget.

Early reviews came in and were overwhelmingly negative, but I maintained some hope that I would find something to enjoy in Ponsoldt's fourth film. Unfortunately, that didn't turn out to be the case. The Circle is an absolute disaster, so dull and messy that it doesn't even feel like a completed film. And to be quite honest with you, I don't know who to blame for this fiasco. As much as I don't want to put the weight of this failure on Ponsoldt, this will likely stand as the director's first major misfire. On every conceivable level, The Circle just does not work. The characters are so thinly written that it's astonishing, Ponsoldt never manages to strike a consistent or effective tone, and the ending is one of the worst I've ever seen. This is a baffling film, and the fact that I don't even know what it was really going for makes it so much worse. Hopefully Ponsoldt can find a way to bounce back from this, but The Circle is the kind of explosive flop that really stings.

In a near future (this is never made clear), human interaction is all controlled through The Circle, an internet corporation that combines various online networks into one giant service. Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is working a dead-end job at a credit card company, but with a little help from a powerful friend (Karen Gillan) at The Circle, she snags an interview for her dream job. She gets the job and begins to work in customer experience, immediately being thrust into the world of this massive tech giant. Mae quickly becomes something of a sensation, striking her fellow Circlers as an enigmatic figure shrouded in mystery. In addition to her job, Mae also has to cope with her father (Bill Paxton), who is dealing with an acute case of MS.

After an unfortunate incident with a kayak and a surprise rescue mission, Mae captures the attention of Circle CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), who decide to use her for a new program. Mae opts to go totally transparent, wearing a camera at all times with millions tracking her every move. But while Mae becomes a superstar and a power player at The Circle, this fresh young "guppie" (the term for new Circlers) is also introduced to the darker secrets of the corporation by Ty LaFitte (John Boyega), the programmer behind Bailey's most popular social networks. As Mae's journey takes a horrifying turn, she'll have to make a decision that will alter the entire world as she knows it.

I didn't read the book by Dave Eggers, so I can't pretend to make a comparison between the film and the novel. But it feels like nobody involved in the making of The Circle knew what the hell they were trying to make, and this isn't the kind of film where the blame can be shifted to studio interference. To put it simply, I'm fairly certain that STX Films and EuropaCorp weren't interfering with Ponsoldt and Eggers, who co-wrote the script. The Circle suffers from a complete lack of vision on both a macro and micro level, missing the big picture of what this film is trying to say while also never managing to create any fascinating characters or even an intriguing story. It's utterly generic and totally disposable, failing in just about every way.

For a film labeled as a mystery/thriller, The Circle certainly isn't very mysterious or thrilling. It has one exciting sequence in the latter half of the film, but it never successfully manages to strike a tone that coincides with its lofty ambitions. Is this movie supposed to be scary and sinister, tricking us into loving this bubbly corporation before revealing the shocking truth? If so, it fails miserably on that front. Is it supposed to be a lesson about friendly fascism, carrying the company's sunny disposition over to the movie itself? This comes closest to describing the experience, but Ponsoldt never crafts anything that feels satirical or ironic. Instead, The Circle is just saddled with a story that doesn't work and an approach that doesn't follow through on the promise of a compelling parable for the tech age. Where it should be scary and provocative, the film fails to even garner the slightest bit of intrigue.

The Circle is very much a film about a woman who is seduced by a shady enterprise who is then forced to rage against the machine when she realizes the terrible truth. But that fairly standard narrative is tough to pull off when you have a character as weak as Emma Watson's Mae Holland. On the surface, there's a lot to work with. She's dealing with a sick parent, her devotion to technology conflicts with her friendships, and she seems to view her new job with both eagerness and skepticism. But despite all of these interesting threads, her character never has an arc and it's never immediately clear what her motivations are. Watson is a great actress, but she just has absolutely nothing to do here- Mae is an inconsistent character at best, and a totally non-existent one at worst.

But somehow, it only gets worse from there. It's always good to see Tom Hanks in a movie, but Eamon Bailey is one of the most poorly written villains I think I've ever seen. Bailey is clearly modeled after Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos, giants of the tech age who revolutionized our culture and had both a positive and negative impact. Bailey clearly desires a certain level of control over all of society's functions, but for a calculated mastermind who has turned this corporation into his own private evil-doing machine, he's surprisingly inept. It's never clear why he's doing any of this, and that just kills his character. And good lord, why did they have to put John Boyega, one of the most charismatic rising stars on the planet, in such a thankless, pointless role? Ty LaFitte could be an interesting character in the right story, but he's mostly stuck on the sidelines, watching and silently judging the action.

The fact that The Circle can't pull off a relatively standard narrative is frankly shocking. Judging by what's on the screen, I'm not sure that this was ever destined to be a great movie, but it at least could have been good. It has a great cast, some impressive cinematography from Matthew Libatique, and a very solid techno score by Danny Elfman, elements that would have stood out more in a better movie. And even with all the missteps, Ponsoldt is still a talented filmmaker, bringing some splashy flair that sticks out. But it's almost like he hit a brick wall with this one, realizing halfway through production that this thing wasn't going to come together and abandoning hope altogether. The ending is laughably bad, giving the audience no answers and literally avoiding the idea of a conclusion to the story. In the final moments, Bailey looks at his partner-in-crime, chuckles, and says "We're so f**ked." It almost feels like a meta commentary from the whole crew, as it slowly dawned on them that this film was destined to be a colossal misfire. The Circle had plenty of potential, but none of it comes to life on the screen. To be quite honest with you, I'm still shocked. It's that bad.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.7/10)

Images courtesy of STX Films

Final trailer for 'War for the Planet of the Apes' is intense, epic, and beautiful

Summer 2017 might not go down as the best season on record, but it has the potential to be an incredible time for cinema (although it's looking a little sparse from an arthouse perspective), and there are a good number of films worth getting excited about. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 already blew me away, and Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant is getting some pretty good reviews, making me excited to check it out on Thursday night. But looking beyond the immediate future, June and July feature some films that stand as my most anticipated of the year. Edgar Wright's Baby Driver will almost certainly be one of my favorite films of 2017, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk looks like a magnificent epic, and I have high hopes for superhero flicks like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Wonder Woman. Throw in a few small films like Atomic Blonde, Detroit, and It Comes at Night, and suddenly it's looking like a pretty damn good slate. But one of the few guarantees of the summer is undoubtedly Matt Reeves' War for the Planet of the Apes, the final chapter of the epic trilogy that has continually surprised critics and audiences. Not only will this likely be a massive box office hit- this thing could garner a little bit of Oscar attention along the way. Today, Fox released the final trailer for the film- check it out below!

This looks absolutely incredible, and I will honestly be hugely surprised if this movie ends up being anything less than great. Everything in this trailer is gorgeous, epic, and thrillingly emotional, and it looks like exactly the kind of series finale that gets made in the wake of films built on character and story. Reeves has crafted what looks to be one of the bleakest blockbusters in Hollywood history, a grim, snowy epic with a murky sense of morality and a death toll that will likely reach the thousands. But amazingly, thanks to the world that Reeves has created in this post-apocalyptic conflict between apes and humans, the focus won't be on the stunning action, but on Andy Serkis' Caesar and the choices he has to make as the planet of apes draws near. That's an incredible thing for a modern franchise to do, and it makes me hopeful for Reeves' take on Batman in the coming years. In short, War for the Planet of the Apes looks like some kind of jaw-dropping masterpiece, a film that audiences simply won't want to miss during this crazy cinematic summer. This is going to be special.

War for the Planet of the Apes will hit theaters on July 14.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Gritty trailer for Cannes entry 'Good Time' previews A24's latest

The Cannes Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, and it looks like we're in for a pretty terrific year at the world's biggest cinematic showcase. Some of the biggest films of the year, such as Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled, Bong Joon Ho's Okja, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck, and Michael Haneke's Happy End, will be debuting on the Croisette, hoping to attract critical attention and maybe even a bit of Oscar buzz. These are the big-ticket items at this year's Cannes, but beyond the obvious choices, there's quite a bit to be excited about. One of the most intriguing titles is Ben and Joshua Safdie's Good Time, a New York City-set crime drama about a pair of bank-robbing brothers. The Safdies haven't broken out yet, but with this A24 title led by Robert Pattinson, the filmmaking duo have a real shot to be thrust into the mainstream spotlight. With the Cannes premiere on the horizon, A24 has released the first trailer for the film. Check it out below!

This weekend, the first poster for Good Time popped up on my Twitter timeline and immediately caught my eye. The incredible poster (shown below) combines bright colors and a uniquely wacky design to great effect, which made me infinitely more curious about the potential of this film. Much to my surprise, this is a very gritty and intense trailer, looking more like a deadly serious Scorsese crime drama than the movie advertised by that poster. And yet, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Good Time appears to be a remarkably assured thriller from two directors who understand exactly what they're going for, expertly contrasting the neon-soaked action with the brutal storyline. Robert Pattinson already impressed critics and audiences (including myself) with his turn as Henry Costin in James Gray's The Lost City of Z, and judging by this brief trailer, I have a feeling that he could really solidify himself as a dynamite performer with his role in Good Time. And of course, I can't talk about any movie from A24 without mentioning how much I love this studio. They've brought us an eclectic collection of incredible films over the years, and they seem to be indicating that they have something really special with Good Time. This could be a nice late summer breakout hit, and I'm excited to hear the reaction from Cannes this week.

Good Time will open in limited release on August 11.

Poster: A24/IMDB

Monday, May 15, 2017

'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword' review

Was anyone really asking for a new King Arthur movie? I don't think so. With the failure of Guy Ritchie's $175 million revisionist take on the popular legend, I'm glad to see that people are finally coming around to the realization that all of these movies are bad ideas. Nobody cares about these ancient characters anymore (Scott Weinberg said that we need to retire Peter Pan, Pinocchio, King Arthur, and Robin Hood and I couldn't agree more), and audience members are certainly not willing to shell out money for a trip to the theater. Warner Bros. has been at the forefront of making these things, dropping a critically panned box office bomb nearly every time without fail. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is one of those disasters that you can see from a mile away, a mega-budget movie with just about no built-in audience interest and a troubled production that sent costs to the stratosphere. To no one's surprise, it made $14.7 million this weekend, putting it on course to be one of the biggest financial catastrophes in recent memory.

In a way, King Arthur feels like the quintessential blockbuster of the modern Hollywood age. If you read Variety's breakdown of why the movie flopped, Ritchie's film went through so many of the things that we've come to associate with misshapen studio failures. It went through extensive reshoots, with some rumors swirling that they nearly re-shot the entire film. It was originally a much longer film, butchered down to nothing to appease studio chiefs. It was meant to establish a broad cinematic universe of King Arthur movies, forcing the film to tease future installments. In short, Legend of the Sword is a feature-length trailer. It has no character development, no storytelling power, no solid sense of pacing or cohesion. Instead of cutting extraneous characters and subplots, it feels like Ritchie just turned up the speed, whittling the movie down to an endless series of montages. And yet, for all of its failures, King Arthur is a surprisingly entertaining mess, working effectively as the kind of movie you'd watch on HBO in a hotel room at midnight. I know that's not the highest of praise, but for one of the biggest flops of the year, that's gotta count for something.

Set in a fantasy version of England where man and myth collide, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the origin story of everyone's favorite medieval hero. The story begins with a battle between the land of King Uther (Eric Bana) and the mages, who hope to create chaos in Camelot. Uther wins but he is quickly betrayed by Vortigern (Jude Law), his brother and the man who hopes to be king. Uther and his wife are killed, and they send their only son down the river to save him from Vortigern's wrath. The king's son finds his way to Londinium, raised in a brothel and trained in the art of combat from a very young age. As an adult, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is a powerful street broker on the streets of the rough-and-tumble city, able to negotiate and work with a variety of shady characters and royal servants. Meanwhile in Camelot, the iconic sword Excalibur has re-appeared, prompting Vortigern to undergo a massive search to find the true heir to the throne.

While attempting to escape the king's soldiers after an unfortunate incident, Arthur is rounded up and sent to test his ability to pull sword from stone. And if you're familiar with the story, you know what happens next- Arthur pulls Excalibur from the stone, stunning everyone from the crowd, and prompting Vortigern to throw him in jail. After the ostentatious king attempts to display his power by humiliating Arthur, the born king is rescued by a group of revolutionaries who have been waiting for the return of Uther's son. Led by Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen), and the Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), these resistance fighters will show the hesitant Arthur the truth he was never told, invigorating his spirit and compelling him to lead his people. With these scrappy warriors by his side, Arthur will take on Vortigern, fighting the malevolent being for his right to the throne and re-claiming his destiny once and for all.

There's so much wrong with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword that it's hard to know exactly where to start. The story, the characters, the world-building, even some of the effects- everything feels cobbled together and scattered, the result of reshoots and contrasting visions that never meshed. Reading the background story of this film's production is practically essential to understanding why this barely even feels like a movie. While watching King Arthur, I could see the pieces in place for a true epic, a brilliant re-telling of the classic story depicted on a grand scale. But at some point, Warner Bros. and Ritchie decided that it didn't work, opting to chop down scenes and turn everything into a bunch of fast-paced nonsense. Ritchie's signature style has been successful in reinvigorating brands like Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the past, but in this film, his quick cuts and cockney flair suck the essence out of the story, turning the whole affair into a glorified example of style over substance.

Legend of the Sword could have been an epic tale of good vs. evil with a Shakespearean twist, but instead, it feels like the editors turned the speed up to 2.5 and just let the whole thing play out. Moments that should have a certain impact on the characters and the story are dramatically inert, delivered with an energy that is admirable but lacking in pathos or storytelling momentum. For a prime example, when Arthur is sent to some kind of dark forest to find the truth about his parentage and the murder of his father, this should be seen as a critical moment for his arc as a character and a hero. Instead, it's told entirely in a quickly edited montage where Arthur is chased by a variety of monsters and creatures before he gets a chance to put Excalibur on the altar. When the maybe one minute long scene has concluded, the Mage asks Arthur if he got all the information he needed, he nods in agreement, and that's it. Legend of the Sword ignores the most basic understanding of how stories work to the point that it's almost amazing, so inept that it's incredible to consider the caliber of the talented people involved.

For all the pitfalls that come with setting a medieval epic to lightspeed and letting it unfold, King Arthur manages to commit even more borderline unforgivable screw-ups. There isn't a single character in this film that has an arc or really any sort of definition- I would call them one-note, if there was even a note to find. Charlie Hunnam may be having a great year with James Gray's The Lost City of Z, but here he's stuck with a basic role that crosses Han Solo with a tedious hero archetype that feels completely uninspired. I can imagine Arthur's story working in a more cogent film, but it amounts to nothing but nonsense in this misfire. And yet somehow, Arthur is still the most clearly developed character in the entire thing. The Mage, Bedivere, Bill, Maggie (Annabelle Wallis in a thankless role), Rubio, even Jude Law's mustache-twirling baddie- I couldn't tell you anything about them beyond the most basic of information. And in some instances, even that might be a stretch.

And despite a $175 million budget, King Arthur still has some shoddy effects that are noticeably bad. The final battle between Arthur and Vortigern features a monster that looks like it was ripped straight out of a video game, so obviously the product of extensive CGI tinkering that just doesn't work. And to make matters worse, this is just a visually confused film that wants to be both gritty and fantastical at the same time. This is a movie where Arthur is a scrappy street hustler raised in a brothel, but in this exact same movie, there are giant snakes that murder people and giant elephants that wreck castles. Do these contrasting approaches even come close to working beyond giving the whole thing a general tone of weirdness? Absolutely not. This whole thing feels like the product of an over-abundance of ideas, and I don't know why some of it wasn't left on the editing floor.

But I was entertained. I know that that's a strange claim to make after absolutely panning a film for nearly four paragraphs, but it's the truth. King Arthur is a thoroughly watchable movie, even if my brain was consistently telling me "Wow, this is really terrible." I don't know if Ritchie's film quite fits into so-bad-it's-good territory, but it sure does come close.

In short, everything about Legend of the Sword is awful. Bad writing, poor character development, horrid storytelling- a total botch job in the editing room. I can't recommend that anyone go to the theater to see it, but if you catch it on HBO in eight months, you'll probably be pretty damn entertained. It's hopelessly stupid and insane, which makes it the perfect cable movie. Just don't expect anything cohesive or really anything that resembles an actual motion picture.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                              (5.9/10)

Images: IMDB/WB