Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Adam Wingard to direct 'Godzilla vs. Kong'

While many studios have tried, let's be honest here- the whole idea of shared universes hasn't been a total success in Hollywood. Marvel kicked things off tremendously with their inter-connected series of films and while it looks like DC might be making a comeback this weekend with Wonder Woman, many others have tried and failed to create a web of popular movies. And yet as always, that won't stop them from trying. Universal is going all-in on the idea of Dark Universe (we'll see how The Mummy fares next month), while Warner Bros. clearly established that Godzilla and King Kong live in the same universe. Of all the potential movie mash-ups, this has the best chance of becoming a smash hit. Both the 2014 Godzilla reboot and this year's Kong: Skull Island were fairly well-received hits, and I think audience demand is high to see these two classic characters beat each other senselessly. Today saw a major development in the world of giant monsters at Warner Bros., and it's safe to say that my anticipation levels are at an all-time high.

Minutes ago, The Hollywood Reporter exclusively revealed that Adam Wingard, the filmmaker behind Blair Witch and The Guest, has finalized a deal to direct Godzilla vs. Kong. Wingard's breakthrough feature was the 2011 low-budget horror film You're Next, and in the years since, the director has seen his clout and popularity significantly rise. On August 25, Wingard's Death Note, a bloody adaptation of the popular Japanese anime that has already generated plenty of controversy, will be released on Netflix. As for the giant monster film that will undoubtedly take up a good deal of Wingard's time, the filmmaker is the second major piece of the puzzle. According to THR, Warner Bros. has created a writer's room to pen the screenplay for the film, a team that will be comprised of Terry Rossio, J. Michael Straczynski, Patrick McKay, J.D. Payne, Lindsey Beer, Cat Vasko, T.S. Nowlin, and Jack Paglen. Wingard's film will certainly be influenced by Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the next film in this giant monster-verse, which is coming courtesy of Krampus director Michael Dougherty. The cast is led by Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Ken Watanabe, O'Shea Jackson Jr., and Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown, and the film will be released on March 22, 2019.

As for Wingard's hiring, I can't think of a better filmmaker to take on this project. I'm one of the few who has been relatively mixed on both of the films in this universe so far, but I like that Warner Bros. is continually selecting interesting directors for these massive endeavors. The Guest is one of the most coolly entertaining films I've seen in recent years, and if Wingard can bring that same sense of style and flair to Godzilla vs. Kong, we're in for a hell of a treat. Plus, as Blair Witch showed us all, the guy isn't half-bad at scaring the hell out of people either. Wingard has great pop sensibilities and a terrific eye for horror, making him the perfect fit. I cannot wait to see what he does with this thing- my excitement is through the roof.

Godzilla vs. Kong will hit theaters on May 22, 2020. Consider me pumped.

Source: THR
Images: Lionsgate, IMDB

Monday, May 29, 2017

'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales' review

The Pirates of the Caribbean series has run its course. I think we all can agree on that. Director Gore Verbinksi, producer Jerry Bruckenheimer, and all the people at Disney caught lightning in a bottle in 2003 with The Curse of the Black Pearl, and they haven't been able to replicate that success since. The second and third installments, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, both have their charms, but by the time 2011's On Stranger Tides rolled around, it seemed like Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew were all but finished (I say this despite a box office gross of $1 billion dollars). But even after two lackluster movies that were both overlong and convoluted, I found myself surprisingly excited to see another Pirates film after over half a decade. They're swashbuckling adventures with delightfully weird twists, and early buzz said that Dead Men Tell No Tales was a great sequel that recalled the pure blockbuster charm of the original film.

And for fans, there was plenty of reason to be anticipating this fifth chapter. Javier Bardem was joining the crew as a villainous pirate, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley make their return as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, and of course, it's always delightful to see Johnny Depp as the one and only Captain Jack Sparrow. While the early buzz didn't translate to strong reviews (this is currently the worst reviewed of the entire series), I have a feeling that audiences will embrace Dead Men Tell No Tales. Sure, it isn't the most intelligent or complex movie, but directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg deliver the kind of engaging escapism that I crave during the summer months. Frequently insane, always entertaining, and never dull, this fifth (and supposedly final) installment delivers swashbuckling thrills and epic action that plays beautifully on the IMAX screen. It's dumb fun, and while the series is clearly running in circles, Dead Men Tell No Tales is a welcome addition to the saga.

After a brief prologue that finds young Henry Turner visiting his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), on the Flying Dutchman, Dead Men Tell No Tales jumps forward several years to introduce us to new characters and reunite us with old friends. The older Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is on a ship for the British Royal Navy, one that eventually finds itself boarded by the nefarious Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). Henry is an expert in famous pirates and mythology, and when Salazar notices a picture of Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), he asks Henry to relay him a message- death is coming. Next thing Henry knows, he's in a hospital ward in St. Martin about to be hanged for high treason. But he'll have help- Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is also in trouble with the law for witchcraft, but she's crafty enough to help herself and Henry escape. Carina is searching for the Trident of Poseidon with a book left by her father, and coincidentally, Henry wants the Trident as well, in the hopes of freeing his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman.

Oh yeah, I forgot to talk about Jack. When we find our beloved Captain, he's washed up, drunk in the middle of a heist that is being orchestrated by his crew. After the robbery goes wrong, Mr. Gibbs (Kevin McNally) and the rest of Jack's loyal friends decide it's time to go their separate ways. Jack ends up in prison as well, eventually forced to team up with Henry and Carina to find the Trident. Meanwhile, Salazar finds and entraps Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), forcing him to assist in the search for Jack. The result is what you've come to expect from Jack Sparrow and the rest of his friends- action, sea battles, a little bit of romance, and a mythological conclusion with a healthy dose of madness.

As you can likely tell from that plot synopsis, story comes second in Dead Men Tell No Tales. The negative reviews are completely understandable, as this film's narrative is a mess that tries to do too much and accomplishes far too little. Character motivations range from simple to flimsy, few undergo actual arcs, the mythology of the Trident of Poseidon is as muddy as anything that has come before in this franchise, and to be entirely honest, there were a few times where it was hard to know exactly what was happening. The new characters are a mixed bag, while old favorites aren't exactly utilized in the best possible way- some are even relegated to cameos. Did we really need a complex subplot for Barbossa or another chapter in the story of Will Turner's time on the Flying Dutchman? Probably not.

But there's something to be said for the sense of fun that pervades this film, the sense that was missing from both At World's End and On Stranger Tides, the last two installments in the franchise that were dragged down by convoluted plotting and dull action, respectively. New directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg are keenly aware of what the essence of this series has always been, and they're not trying to rewrite history or shake up the formula at all. Contrary to popular belief, the Pirates of the Caribbean films have never been high art- no, not even The Curse of the Black Pearl. People have very fond memories of the original, but having rewatched the film recently, it's nothing more than a propulsive piece of expertly crafted blockbuster fun. The characters are fairly shallow and the mythology is confusing, but I'll be damned if that movie isn't a blast. It shoots you off like a rocket and it doesn't slow down for 143 minutes.

Dead Men Tell No Tales does pretty much the same thing, although it's less effective considering the fact that, yes, we've seen this movie before. The fresh feeling is gone, but when done the right way, the entertainment value that this series delivers hasn't dimmed one bit. Like the original, this film blasts off at 100 miles per hour, throwing you right into the action and giving you very little room to breathe. The thought of slowing down doesn't even cross the mind of the filmmakers, and this installment is almost oppressively fast-paced at times. The result is what feels like an endless chase sequence, as characters and ships bounce around the ocean at lightning speed. Ronning and Sandberg know that the audience has come for swashbuckling action, which is something that they're more than willing to provide. And as the cherry on top, the film is utterly dazzling in IMAX 3D, and even if it becomes exhausting every once in a while, the experience of the format is fully immersive.

The key to it all is the fact that this movie feels light and charming- the self-serious melodrama is thrown out the window in favor of crowd-pleasing setpieces and witty character moments. While the series is still missing the practical touch of Gore Verbinski (who directed the first three films), this chapter is visually impressive, finding new and creative action sequences among the familiarity of the situations. There's a heist early in the film that stands as one of the franchise's best action moments, and the finale is appropriately insane. In addition, the characters are solid in a back-to basics way, and while Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites don't have the charm of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, they get the job done in what is clearly fashioned as a legacyquel. Javier Bardem and his decomposing crew have some moments that are pretty gross and scary (what this series excels at), and although I think the Barbossa stuff could have been handled better, Geoffrey Rush is still a crucial asset for this series. And of course, there's Depp. Captain Jack Sparrow is perhaps a bit too drunk in the early goings (I literally couldn't understand what he was saying), but it's still fun to watch Depp play this character.

Are we pretty much done with Pirates franchise at this point? I would say so. This is a satisfying conclusion, and while there's the promise of more adventures to come (an end credits scene teases more- of course), I think we've reached the end for Captain Jack and friends. But is it still satisfying to watch Depp and the pirates do their thing while that iconic score blasts through the breathtaking IMAX speakers?


Dead Men Tell No Tales is far from the best that this summer has had to offer, but I had a big grin on my face for most of the runtime. It's loud and dumb and goofy, and after a few middling installments, it's exactly the movie I wanted to see from this franchise. Sure, it's convoluted and stupid, but it's also fun as hell, and sometimes that's all that really matters.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.2/10)

Images: IMDB/Disney

Cannes: 'The Square' wins Palme d'Or, while Joaquin Phoenix, Sofia Coppola, and more take home awards

The 2017 Cannes Film Festival has come and gone, and the common consensus was that it was a fairly underwhelming year for the prestigious festival. The closest thing we saw to a universally acclaimed hit was Lynne Ramsay's late-breaking You Were Never Really Here, but even that Joaquin Phoenix-led action film had its dissenters. In addition to Ramsay's film, it seemed to be a fairly good festival for genre fans, with Bong Joon Ho's Okja and Ben and Josh Safdie's Good Time generating a good bit of critical praise. But when it came to the big ticket auteurs, there were many letdowns. Critics seemed to turn their backs on Michael Haneke's Happy End, labeling it as a dull rehash of the director's prior work, while very few found much to love in Wonderstruck, the children's fable from Carol director Todd Haynes. Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of a Sacred Deer was incredibly divisive, while even Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled didn't cause many passionate responses from fans or critics. With reactions to this year's competition slate all over the map, nobody was really sure how the awards would turn out. Yesterday, Jury President Pedro Almodovar and his colleagues announced their picks, and there were more than a few surprises. Check out the full list below!

Palme d'Or- The Square, dir. Ruben Ostlund

Grand Prix- 120 Beats per Minute, dir. Robin Campillo

Jury Prize- Loveless, dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev

Best Director- Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled

Best Actor- Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here

Best Actress- Diane Kruger, In the Fade

Best Screenplay- (TIE) Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Lynne Ramsay, You Were Never Really Here

70th Anniversary Prize- Nicole Kidman

For quick reference, this year's Cannes Jury was comprised of the following individuals- Pedro Almodovar (President), Maren Ade, Fan Bingbing, Park Chan-wook, Jessica Chastain, Agnes Jaoui, Will Smith, Paolo Sorrentino, and Gabriel Yared.

Going into yesterday's ceremony, most expected Robin Campillo's 120 Beats per Minute to take home the Palme, given that the French AIDS drama was generally well-respected and admired by just about everyone at the festival. So it was surprising that The Square came out on top- Ostlund's film had garnered a fair bit of praise, but it didn't seem like a universally beloved choice. Campillo and Andrey Zyvaginstsev rounded out the main prizes without much in the way of surprises, while there were a few interesting twists in the other categories. I can't say I expected Sofia Coppola to take home Director, as I was fully anticipating that Lynne Ramsay would take that prize for her acclaimed revenge drama. Ramsay ended up sharing Best Screenplay with Yorgos Lanthimos, while Joaquin Phoenix took home Best Actor, meaning that You Were Never Really Here was fairly well represented.

Overall, while Cannes may have disappointed for those in attendance at the festival, there are quite a few films that have popped onto my radar in the last week that I simply can't wait to see. I was ecstatic to see the reception to Okja, Good Time, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and I'm certainly much more intrigued by You Were Never Really Here and The Square than I was before (although I wasn't a big fan of Ostlund's last film, the tricky Force Majeure). Anyways, I think that's it for this year's Cannes. Expect the cinephiles to wake back up in August, just in time for the start of the Oscar season.

Image: IMDB

'War Machine' review

I've already said quite a bit about Netflix in recent weeks, and I don't feel the need to discuss all of my ideas and opinions once again. The streaming giant has captured the film world thanks to the inclusion of Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories in the Cannes Film Festival lineup, which prompted increased tensions in the already tricky relationship between Netflix and the studios. But while all of the excitement has been centered in the south of France, the burgeoning distributor is releasing their biggest original film yet this weekend. War Machine comes from director David Michod, and it's a mid-budget war movie that stars Brad Pitt and feels like the kind of thing you would expect to see from a major studio. The fact that this is coming from Netflix and that its release is being handled in such a nonchalant fashion is just one more reason for the studios to tremble- this is slowly becoming the new normal.

But what about the film itself? I'll always applaud Netflix for taking a risk on any creative project, but does War Machine work? The film has been described as a Dr. Strangelove-like riff on the Afghanistan war, with more than a few shades of Robert Altman's M*A*S*H thrown in for good measure. Michod has described the film as "tonally schizophrenic" which is a statement that rings true throughout the entire film- and not necessarily in a good way. While the first act does a good job establishing the main players with Brad Pitt chewing all of the scenery he can get his hands on, War Machine feels like a half-baked collection of ideas and stories. It alternates between dry absurdist humor and dull plotting, struggling to make any sense of the message it's trying to send. War Machine poses the idea that war is both hellish and absurd, a proposition that makes sense on paper but fails to ignite much dramatic intrigue in execution. The result is a tedious disappointment, one that feels especially upsetting considering the strong talent and exceptional production values.

It's the start of President Barack Obama's first term in office, and the war in Afghanistan is not going well. They need someone who can come in and clean up the mess- they need General Glen McMahon (Pitt). The kind of clinically insane person that only the military could create, McMahon is a leadership expert, a dynamic personality, and also kind of an idiot. He believes that he's coming in to win the war, and he's prepared to do absolutely anything to do so. Behind Glen is a loyal crew of equally dim-witted soldiers who buy into all of his BS. There's Greg Pulver (Anthony Michael Hall), a West Point classmate of Glen and his right hand man- well, if you don't count Willy Dunne (Emory Cohen), a true devotee of Glen's philosophies who practically exists as his manservant. Cory Staggart (John Magaro) is his chief strategist, Pete Duckman (Anthony Hayes) is the fireball of the group, Andy Moon (RJ Cyler) is his tech guy, while Simon Ball (Daniel Betts) and Matt Little (Topher Grace) handle PR. And all of these guys have one thing in common- they're both hopelessly dumb and profoundly arrogant.

In his time in Afghanistan, Glen makes one fatal miscalculation- he doesn't understand why he's there. Despite the pleadings of Washington insider Pat McKinnon (Alan Ruck) to not ask for any additional troops and to just keep things in order, Glen decides that his best move is to create a bold new strategy that involves taking a province previously deemed untouchable for American forces. Everyone in Washington is against this move and Obama won't even give him any facetime, which leads to a good deal of anger and mistrust between the two sides. But when a Rolling Stone reporter (Scoot McNairy) shows up in Afghanistan to profile McMahon and his crew, everything will come tumbling down, leading Glen closer and closer to the inevitability of failure.

Essentially, War Machine is stuck trying to be three movies at once- a ludicrous war comedy in the vein of Dr. Strangelove, a Scorsese-esque rise-and-fall tale similar to Todd Phillips' recent War Dogs, and a straight war movie. The problem that the film quickly runs into is that director David Michod doesn't do any of these things particularly well. The comedy bits are among the movie's strongest components, but Michod never wants to commit to the farce. Imagine if Stanley Kubrick decided to turn some of Strangelove's funniest sequences into dead serious examinations of the impact of war- that's what this film does and it doesn't do it particularly well. Michod tries his hand at Scorsese, but can't conjure the same energy, and the war sequences are some of the dullest I've seen. What you're left with is a movie that tries too hard to do too much, leaving the audience with a whole lot of nothing.

War Machine also tries to explain the character of General Glen McMahon, which is a very poor decision that leads nowhere. When Scoot McNairy's Rolling Stone beat writer (McNairy is also the film's narrator) introduces McMahon, he positions him as a larger-than-life figure who exemplifies everything that pops into your mind when you think of the military. The tightly controlled schedule, the finely tuned physical shape, the devotion to leadership and strength- it's all present in the crazy brain of Glen McMahon. He's a caricature of a general, and Brad Pitt plays the character as such. From the awkward mannerisms to the uncomfortable physical presence, Pitt's McMahon does not feel like a real human being. And yet, for some reason unknown to me, Michod decides that he needs to give McMahon some kind of heart and soul. Maybe it's because the character is loosely based on the real life of General Stanley McChrystal, or maybe Michod just thought he could pull it off.

But you can't humanize a caricature. You can't expect the audience to empathize with the actions and behaviors of someone who doesn't feel like a real person. Michod tries- he gives McMahon a wife, he plays on the pathos of his downfall, and he seems to want the audience to like the character. All of this fails, of course, because it's something that simply can't be done. He doesn't attempt to humanize any of the supporting characters, who are almost all portrayed as hopelessly arrogant idiots, which makes his attempt for the audience to relate to McMahon that much more bizarre. McMahon is the guy that we're supposed to laugh at- he's the embodiment of everything that is wrong with modern war and the military culture that exists today. Michod doesn't understand this, and we're left questioning what the hell we're even watching in the first place.

All of this goes back to the fact that War Machine feels like a movie trying its hand at a variety of tones and ideas and failing to make any of them compelling or effective. There are plenty of ways to criticize the Afghanistan War and the folly of the people who led it, but in order to make either a good anti-war movie or a good satire, you have to commit. Michod wants to make the audience laugh, but he also wants his film to have a conscious, to make the audience really examine why this war was so doomed in the first place. What he doesn't understand is that good satire leads to contemplation- it's the reason why Dr. Strangelove is as funny as it is terrifying. If Michod had really committed to make a biting critique of the military, this film really would have worked. Instead, it's just a hodgepodge of nonsense that quickly grows more and more tedious as the story progresses.

War Machine is an impressive step forward for Netflix from a production standpoint- this really does feel like a big-budget spectacle. The music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is incredible, the cinematography from Dariusz Wolski (who was also behind the camera for Alien: Covenant) is sleek and sharp, and I applaud Michod for trying something so radically different. Unfortunately, I'm gonna have to mark this one down as a failed experiment. War Machine's inability to commit to a tone or even a clear narrative quickly proves disastrous, making this a long slog to get through. There are a lot of interesting ideas and approaches but Michod never finds a groove, and the film suffers because of it. Ultimately, while War Machine should be a cutting and savage parody of war, it ends up committing the cardinal sin of satire- it's brutally dull.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C                                             (5.7/10) 

Images courtesy of Netflix

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Steven Soderbergh returns with the first trailer for 'Logan Lucky'

Steven Soderbergh has threatened to retire so many times, and while he appeared to fully call it quits after the release of 2013's Side Effects, the acclaimed filmmaker ultimately opted to just take an extended hiatus. Soderbergh dove into the world of TV for a few years with The Knick in 2014 and 2015, but he's back in August with Logan Lucky, a heist film set in the world of NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway. As a resident of the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, this is quite the enticing idea. The Speedway is fairly far away from me (it's technically in Concord), but I saw the world premiere of Cars at the track in 2006, and I also took multiple field trips there throughout my school years. So yeah, the fact that they're making a movie set at the giant racing facility is pretty cool. Throw in Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, and more esteemed actors playing a bunch of Southern idiots, and suddenly this becomes the kind of movie that you simply can't miss. To coincide with this weekend's Coca-Cola 600 (around which the film is centered), Bleecker Street has released the first trailer. Check it out below!

So yeah, this looks fun as hell. I knew as soon as I read the concept that this was something that would be in my wheelhouse, but this trailer solidified that fact. The cast alone is worth the price of admission- Tatum, Driver, and Craig look to be the perfect trio, and the supporting cast includes talented people like Riley Keough, Katherine Waterston, Seth MacFarlane, Sebastian Stan, and Hillary Swank. It's cool to see the filmmaker tackling an absurdist comedy after a streak of much more serious work, and recently in Entertainment Weekly, Soderbergh called this the "anti-glam version of an Ocean's movie," in reference to the trilogy he directed. This seems like the kind of smart action/comedy that will be both clever and infinitely quotable, dumb as a box of rocks but with its heart in the right place. This trailer plays really well off the retro charm of the project, and it seems like Soderbergh has struck a perfect tone here. And plus, any movie where 007 gets to do a deep Southern accent while Kylo Ren wears a prosthetic arm is one that can't be missed in my book, and Logan Lucky will likely be the movie that keeps all us cinephiles excited during the August slump. And considering Charlotte Motor Speedway's ability to handle big premieres, maybe I'll even get to take a trip up to Concord to see this thing early. Either way, it's one of my most anticipated of the summer.

Logan Lucky hits theaters on August 18.

Poster: The Playlist

'The Lovers' review

A24 has only been on the Hollywood scene for a few short years, but the distributor has quickly become one of the most popular and critically acclaimed hubs for independent cinema. Moonlight's Best Picture won solidified their position as a Tinseltown power player, while unique gems like The End of the Tour, Green Room, Ex Machina, and Free Fire made me a fan. In a way, A24 has quickly developed a brand similar to Pixar and Marvel, where every film that the studio releases generates a certain audience just by their involvement. It's rare to be a fan of a particular studio, but A24 has proven to be the exception to the rule. In addition to distributing movies that seem like they were made just for me, their seal of approval has led me to check out films that I likely would have missed otherwise, projects that aren't necessarily in my wheelhouse.

This is true for something like The Lovers, the latest film from indie director Azazel Jacobs. A comedy about an aging couple in the midst of two passionate affairs isn't exactly the kind of movie that I would seek out on my own, but thanks to the involvement of the good people at A24, The Lovers became one of the can't miss arthouse flicks of the summer. And ultimately, I'm glad it popped onto my radar- this is a lively, funny film that takes its time and plays with character motivations and situations to great effect. It's clever, deadpan, and maybe even a bit more cynical than it initially appears, which makes it a cut above most of the romantic comedies that Hollywood puts out each year. Jacobs has made a film that is grounded in humanity and absurdity, and while it's a little slight and tiresome at times, it's a nice slice of adult counter-programming for the summer months.

Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger) have been married for a very long time, and they're finally starting to get bored. They seem to have nothing to say to each other anymore, and their life is an endless cycle of suburban routines that have grown tedious. And for that reason, they're both having affairs. Michael is seeing Lucy (Melora Walters), a dance instructor, while Mary is dating Robert (Aidan Gillen), an artsy writer type. Both are on the verge of ending their marriage and starting fresh with their new partner when something strange happens- they re-discover their passion for each other. Over the course of a whirlwind few days, Michael and Mary embark on a love affair of their own, leading them to question both their decision to leave each other and the whole messy nature of love in the first place.

The Lovers is a film that is entirely built around its characters, so it's no surprise that the performances are front and center. To be completely honest, there isn't a single character in this film that I would want to spend more than five minutes with, and I think that's part of the design of Jacobs' screenplay. Winger and Letts are both insufferably boring, scatter-brained people, and their romantic partners outside of marriage aren't much better. Winger plays Mary as a woman who looks like she's about to fall asleep at any moment, exhausted by the mere action of life itself. It makes the moments where Mary finds a spark that much more interesting, and Winger delivers a finely tuned performance. Meanwhile, Letts is excellent at conveying a sort of slick laziness, mixing smooth charisma and genuine emotion to great effect. Michael is kind of a loser, but he's a lovable loser, and that makes his relationship with Mary really work.

If The Lovers has a major flaw, it's that we don't really know the characters all that well. And for a movie that puts much of its focus on the characters, that can be a problem at times. It's never all that clear why Mary and Michael have embarked on these affairs, beyond the fact that they're extremely bored in their relationship at home. Their new romantic partners aren't all that great, and it almost feels like Jacobs is inviting you to hate them. Aidan Gillen plays Robert as the uber-pretentious type, and almost everything he does feels both manipulative and despicable. Meanwhile, Melora Walters' Lucy is almost unbearably over-dramatic, annoying to the point that Michael has her labeled as "Work" in his phone. The only purely good character is taken by Jessica Sula, who plays the girlfriend of Michael and Mary's hothead son Joel (Tyler Ross). Part of the joy of The Lovers is watching how these flawed individuals behave in ridiculous situations, but the film would still be better off if we knew more about everyone involved.

But let's circle back around to the question of why they're having affairs- because this is where the movie gets really interesting. There's no question in my mind that at first, yes, Jacobs positions their respective affairs as a result of suburban discontent and an inevitability considering the doldrums of their life. But without spoiling anything, it seems like Jacobs moves away from that idea as the film moves forward. He begins to shift from the story of these four people to a breakdown of the inner workings of romance itself, proposing the idea that humans can never be happy with stability of any kind. Some may see the ending as Jacobs saying that true love never really dies, but I think that he has something much more sly and satirical on his mind. The Lovers is primarily a spectacular farce, and the way that it plays with situations and decisions is what gives it much of its momentum.

The Lovers is certainly a rather slight production, but it's consistently amusing and compelling. Long stretches go without much in the way of dialogue, allowing the film to be carried almost entirely by the dynamic orchestral score of Mandy Hoffman. But when Jacobs allows his actors to take the stage, the small cast does terrific work, twisting scenes and blending humor and emotion to great effect. Winger and Letts really carry the film, and Jacobs does a good job keeping the audience engaged even with the occasionally slow pace of the story. While it's far from a classic romantic comedy, The Lovers is good enough to recommend, delivering enough acidic charm to satisfy adult audiences looking for something refreshingly different.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                              (7.3/10)

Images courtesy of A24

Saturday, May 27, 2017

'Baywatch' review

21 Jump Street is one of those movies where Hollywood learns all the wrong lessons. In 2012, nobody thought that an R-rated adaptation of a schlocky '80s TV show would be a hit, but Phil Lord and Christopher Miller surprised us all with a funny, subversive, extremely self-aware comedy that blended buddy cop action and raunchy humor to great effect. So of course, instead of opting to make smart comedies from talented filmmakers, the studios decided that what we really needed were more R-rated versions of classic TV shows. So five years after the success of Jump Street, we have Baywatch, a filthy summer comedy that takes the campy show and throws in plenty of star power and dick jokes. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron in a splashy R-rated parody may seem like a slam dunk on paper, but somehow, Baywatch is a fiasco of massive proportions. A tedious, poorly written, and utterly unfunny "comedy," this edgy nonsense is one mediocre joke stretched out to an exhausting 119 minute runtime. It's trying so hard to please the audience, but it consistently fails to take off. This may seem like an exaggeration, but there's no question in my mind that Baywatch is one of the worst studio comedies in recent memory.

Baywatch follows the adventures of Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), the leader of a legendary crew of lifeguards who not only save people from drowning, they also investigate crimes and stop trafficking (this is the main joke of the film). Mitch's team is rounded out by Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), but at the start of the film, they're looking for three new lifeguards to complete the crew. Looking to make the team are Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) and Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), as well as Matt Brody (Zac Efron), Olympic swimmer and certified bad boy. Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) believes that Brody is the boost that Baywatch needs to get their popularity back, but Mitch isn't so sure- he knows that Brody is selfish and arrogant, not the team player that they need.

All three prospective lifeguards are welcomed to the Baywatch family, and predictably, they all struggle to get along. Ronnie has a massive crush on CJ, Brody thinks that he can woo Summer, and Mitch still maintains his belief that Brody is the wrong man for the job. But they'll have to put all of their differences aside when it becomes abundantly clear that Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the wealthy owner of a large amount of property on the beach, is dealing drugs and bribing politicians. Murder, scandal, betrayal- this must be a job for......lifeguards? Despite resistance from the police, Mitch and Brody will use their intelligence and their charm to save the beach that they love so dearly, and maybe make a few friends in the process.

It's hard to find a place to start with Baywatch. It's a movie that does nearly nothing right, and it's so horrendously made that my final grade feels generous. Baywatch is poorly written, dumb, juvenile, and way too long, but most importantly, it isn't funny. Some of the film's flaws could be forgiven if it made me laugh, but I sat stone-faced for nearly the entire runtime. Essentially, director Seth Gordon and the producers decided that it'd be a good idea to take the plot of 21 Jump Street- and I literally mean the exact plot- but fail to inject any effective humor. Each joke (like The Rock calling Efron a variety of boy band names) is quickly run into the ground, and after a while, it's clear that there's nowhere to go. Baywatch digs itself into a hole in the early goings, and the plot feels like such sub-standard action/comedy fare that it never manages to pull the audience back into the world of the film.

Chalk most of this up to the screenplay, which comes courtesy of four credited story authors (Jay Sherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon, and Robert Ben Garant) and two actual screenwriters (Damian Shannon and Mark Swift). The fact that it took a whopping six people to write such lazy garbage feels like Hollywood in a nutshell, and this whole thing is so bad that it's almost amusing to watch the writers flail around to find interesting material. There are no twists or turns, no interesting characters or clever jokes. This is another studio comedy that thinks the word "f*ck" and the human body are both inherently funny concepts, and that a lengthy scene of Zac Efron examining a dead man's "taint" is comedic gold. Baywatch scrapes the bottom of the barrel and finds nothing, but they just keep scraping anyways. It's so uninspired and cringe-worthy, and it reaches a point where it feels like nobody is even trying anymore.

It feels unfair to continually compare this film to 21 Jump Street, but the producers of this film aped the formula of that hit to such a blatant extent that it warrants repeated mention. Jump Street was funny because of how self-aware it was (something that Baywatch tries and fails to imitate), but it also had characters that you cared about and understood. Channing Tatum's Jenko was a bully who peaked in high school and Jonah Hill's Schmidt was a loser who managed to find something he was really good at. Watching their relationship grow and develop over those two films was part of the joy of the Jump Street series, and seeing Lord and Miller continually put them in situations that tested their friendship and their character was delightful. Baywatch doesn't get that- the writers don't get that, Seth Gordon doesn't get that, and The Rock and Efron certainly don't understand it either.

Johnson's Mitch is technically the lead of the movie, but his character is so incredibly non-existent that it's hard to feel much for him. Mitch is a bit of an arrogant ass, which makes him fairly unlikable at times. Not that Efron's Brody is much better- he's basically Ryan Lochte, except smart enough to realize that lifeguards shouldn't be solving crimes. He's the only character with an actual "arc," although it's so predictably stupid that you can't help but roll your eyes. But if you think there's comedic relief to be found in the supporting cast- guess again! Every female character is horribly wasted, devoid of any real humanity or traits that would qualify them as being interesting. Daddario, Rohrbach, and Hadera are there to stand around and be sex symbols, fueling more jokes about human anatomy and general male stupidity. Jon Bass is basically discount Josh Gad, except not even close to being funny, while even the cameos from original Baywatch stars David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson fail to ignite much interest. And good lord, the villain. Priyanka Chopra is one of the biggest stars on the planet, but she's working with such a one-note character here. You know that Victoria is evil from the moment she steps on screen, and it's exhausting to watch the movie strain to make her self-aware of her dastardly deeds.

And just from a production standpoint, Baywatch feels like a poorly made raunchy TV sitcom that gets canceled after one episode. The directing is horrible (it's pretty hard to screw up directing a comedy, but Gordon finds a way here), jumping frantically from scene to scene and staging everything in the most obvious way possible. The soundtrack feels like someone made a Spotify playlist of rap music and then just threw it in there, not even really bothering to see if any of the music fit the mood of the scene. And the special effects are egregiously bad to the point that it's dumbfounding. Baywatch is one of the laziest movies I've ever seen, and for something that cost well over $50 million, it feels like nobody involved cared how that money was spent. It's almost like they made this movie, edited it in one night, and threw it into theaters hoping that people would see it based on star power alone. Thankfully, it's bombing at the box office- maybe we'll even be able to avoid Baywatch 2.

On paper, Baywatch seemed like the comedy event of the summer. In practice, it's exactly what we all feared 21 Jump Street would be the first time around. It's comically inept and dramatically inert, riddled with jokes that aren't funny and a plot that is as predictably boring as anything I've seen in a mainstream comedy in a long time. Baywatch fails to do anything right, and it's so bad that the experience isn't even excruciating, it's mind-numbing. This goofy R-rated comedy finds a way to be one of the most tedious films I've seen in a theater in a very long time, so painfully dull and brutally unfunny that I was fighting off sleep by the half hour mark. I have nothing else to say about this fiasco. I'm gonna pretend that it never happened and pray that its charismatic stars find something better to do in the future. Avoid at all costs.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D-                                            (2.8/10)

Images: IMDB/Paramount

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