Friday, March 31, 2017

Joss Whedon to direct 'Batgirl' for DC

At this point, it seems like DC is just lining up projects for the hell of it. I have serious doubts about some of these movies ever seeing the light of day, and it almost feels like Warner Bros. is simply examining online and audience reaction to these potential films. Sure, Justice League and Aquaman are coming and we'll almost certainly get a solo Batman movie in the next few years, but is anybody convinced that Gotham City Sirens will ever see the light of day? What about the Flash movie that has been rotating directors since the beginning of time? The Man of Steel sequel that WB is reportedly courting Matthew Vaughn for? Oh, and how could I forget the Shazam movie that exists as one of Dwayne Johnson's 12 movies currently in development? There are so many random projects in various stages of production at Warner Bros. that I can't even keep up, and I'm not sure there's anybody at the studio with a cohesive plan. I'd be interested to see some of these films, but it's a total toss-up in terms of their odds of actually making it to the big screen.

Yesterday, DC added another fascinating project to the mix, as it was widely reported that Joss Whedon is on board for a Batgirl film. Whedon is one of the most beloved voices in the geek world, having created Buffy and the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, two shows that became iconic cultural touchstones. In addition, Whedon directed two installments in the highly popular Avengers series, all before leaving Marvel after some strong creative disagreements during the production of Age of Ultron. Whedon has long been known as a masterful writer of strong female characters, which makes Batgirl a perfect fit. According to EW, Barbara Gordon will be Batgirl in this film, and the writers are following the popular "New 52" version of the character. Casting speculation is already running rampant for the role, as Collider is currently running a poll that includes actresses such as Zoey Deutch, Hailee Steinfeld, and Anna Kendrick.

This is certainly an exciting development for the DCEU, but I wouldn't get too happy yet. Things have a tendency to go wrong in this world, and there's always the chance that Batgirl completely falls through. However, if the hiring of Whedon and Matt Reeves is any indication of the future direction of the DCEU, I am incredibly pumped. This has the chance to be quite spectacular if all the pieces fall into place.

Source: EW/Collider
Image Credits: IMDB/Disney/WB

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Second trailer for 'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets' is wacky and weird

I don't really know what to make of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The ambitious adaptation of the French graphic novel is Luc Besson's first film since Lucy, which gave him enough clout to finally produce the sci-fi film of his dreams. Valerian is a cultural touchstone in France, even though it has never had much of an impact on American shores. With a huge budget and a prime July release date, Valerian should be one of the biggest films of the summer. However, there's genuine concern that Besson's film could be the latest in the line of massive sci-fi flops at the box office. From an aesthetic perspective, Valerian has drawn comparisons to films like John Carter, Speed Racer, Jupiter Ascending, and Besson's own The Fifth Element, and all four of those have one thing in common- they didn't make much money. Audiences have an instant dislike for high concept science fiction, and even though this might make a good deal of money in France, we could be looking at one of the summer's biggest flops. This makes STX Entertainment's marketing job even more critical. If they're going to convince audiences to see a weird sci-fi movie over Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, they're going to need to do one hell of a job. After a teaser trailer debuted in November, the studio has returned with the full trailer. Check it out below!

I'm a huge fan of science fiction. I love the idea of bold, original movies on the big screen that take us to entirely different worlds. I've enjoyed films like Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending in the past. My desire for spectacularly bizarre sci-fi is a big reason why I'm still fairly excited for Scarlett Johansson's Ghost in the Shell this weekend. But for a number of reasons, I'm just not sold on Valerian. For starters, I can't see Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne leading a major summer blockbuster. DeHaan is a fine actor, but his first experience leading this kind of wildly original film (A Cure for Wellness) didn't go so well. As for Delevingne, she has struck out twice with Paper Towns and Suicide Squad, and I'll be skeptical about her casting right up until the very end. Beyond the central duo, Valerian just looks like a lot to take in. The trailer showcases a genuinely overwhelming amount of visuals to the point where I honestly cannot tell what is happening. Sure, some of it looks cool, but there's a slickness to the look that borders on cartoon-like. I seriously hope that this is good for the sake of big-budget sci-fi, but I'm far from convinced.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets opens on July 21. Plan on that possibly changing if STX catches wind of the early tracking numbers.

Image courtesy of STX Entertainment

Creepy trailer for 'It' unveils new adaptation of Stephen King's classic

If I'm being honest, I don't read many books these days. I just don't have much time, and in between school, work, screenings, and sleep, I don't have the energy or desire to get invested in a long read. This has pretty much been the case since my freshman year of high school, but if there's one author that I'm willing to make an exception for, it's Stephen King. I absolutely devoured King's 11/22/63 in middle school, and I've started to read some of his other popular works over time. The horror maestro is about to experience a massive surge in popularity, thanks to two highly anticipated adaptations of his most famous works. The Dark Tower, with a cast led by Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba, is set to hit theaters on July 28 (with no trailer, that date is seeming more and more unlikely), as Sony hopes to create a new franchise from King's very popular series of novels. Personally, I'm more excited for the second King adaptation of 2017- Warner Bros. and New Line's re-imagining of It. King's horror epic has had an incredibly rocky road to the big screen, with director Cary Fukunaga working on the project for several years before director Andres Muschietti took the helm. After finally getting the film into production, WB has now released the first trailer. Check it out below!

I'm not familiar with the novel, but I'm quite excited about the potential for a two-part, large-scale horror masterpiece. It is reported to only be Part 1 of the story, which will follow the Losers' Club and their first encounter with Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise in the 1980s. If all goes well at the box office, Part 2 will follow the adult version of these characters as they face their demons in the modern day. I love the idea of ambitious horror projects, which makes the failure of films like A Cure for Wellness all the more disappointing. However, considering the popularity of the source material and the strength of this trailer (which immediately went viral), I'm guessing that It will be a fairly monumental success. This is an excellent piece of studio marketing, one that conveys a sense of mystery and intrigue while also scaring the hell out of you. It feels like a scarier, bloodier mix of Stranger Things and Super 8, which is something that is right up my alley. The design of Pennywise is genuinely intimidating and there are some masterful shots in this trailer. All in all, I'm sold. This looks like a macabre, delightfully creepy horror film, and I can't wait to see more.

It will begin to scare audiences on September 8.

Image Credit: IMDB/WB

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Second trailer for Marvel's 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' ramps up the action

It's a big year for Marvel, as this is the first time that the studio has released three films in one year. Granted, one of those is a Sony co-production, but this is still uncharted territory for the Disney-backed studio. And while May's Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (tickets on sale now!) is still mostly a solo adventure, the latter two films on Marvel's 2017 slate could be indicative of the future direction of the company after the epic extravaganza of Avengers: Infinity War. November's Thor: Ragnarok will see Chris Hemsworth's Norse god teaming up with Mark Ruffalo's Incredible Hulk and Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange, finding our three heroes on a wacky, intergalactic journey from the mind of Hunt for the Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi. Before that film rocks into theaters, Spider-Man: Homecoming will serve as the web-slinger's solo MCU debut, but Tom Holland's Peter Parker will have a little bit of help from Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man. While characters like Scarlett Johannsson's Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury have appeared in solo projects before, the idea of a team-up movie is a relatively new one for Marvel. And while I'm quite excited for Ragnarok, I have more than a few reservations about Homecoming. Earlier today, Sony released the second trailer for the film, hoping to increase anticipation for what will surely be one of the summer's biggest films. Check it out below!

I don't know. I just don't know.

I've been vocal about the fact that Batman is my favorite superhero, but Spider-Man runs a close second. He's at least my favorite hero in the Marvel universe. That being said, I'm really struggling to get all that excited for Homecoming. Sure, when push comes to shove on July 6th at 7:00 PM, I'll probably be pretty pumped to see what director Jon Watts and Kevin Feige have up their sleeves. But until then, I'm going to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism and there's not a damn thing anyone can do to change my mind. My primary concern lies in the fact that there's a good chance that the presence of Downey will overshadow the entire project, and that's something that I don't really want from a Spider-Man movie. The web-slinger is one of the more iconic characters in pop culture, and although people gave them a lot of flack for it, Sony had the right idea with giving the hero his own cinematic universe. It was incredible to see Peter Parker fighting alongside Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War, but I really just want to see a good solo Spidey film. We'll get more of the team-up stuff in Infinity War- for now, can't we just give Spider-Man our full attention?

Other than that, the movie looks solid enough. There are plenty of great actors, the vibe is bright and cheery, and I still dig the high school setting. The first trailer was certainly better, but for casual fans, I don't think that will really matter. Homecoming will still rake in a ton of money this summer, and if there's any lesson that I've learned over the last several years, it's that we should always trust Marvel. Here's hoping for the best.

Spider-Man: Homecoming will swing into theaters on July 7.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

First trailer debuts for David Lowery's Sundance hit 'A Ghost Story'

Each year at the Sundance Film Festival, there are at least two or three titles that generate a good deal of buzz before arriving in theaters later in the calendar year. The January festival is the indie launchpad, and it has brought us a good deal of hits since the mid-1980s. In 2016, the three biggest Sundance sensations were Captain Fantastic, The Birth of a Nation, and Manchester by the Sea, with two of those films eventually receiving recognition from the Academy. This year, the slate was a little different. While there's a good chance that both Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name and Michael Showalter's The Big Sick will be honored by critics' groups later in the year, one of the biggest films of Sundance 2017 is poised to make a different kind of splash. When David Lowery's A Ghost Story premiered at the Park City festival, the response was nothing short of rapturous. After the success of Ain't Them Bodies Saints and Pete's Dragon, Lowery is said to have made his best film yet with this cerebral, unusual supernatural tale. With a cast led by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, A Ghost Story is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated films of the summer for cinephiles. A24 picked up the film at Sundance, and earlier today, the studio released the first trailer. Check it out below!

I'm still trying to determine exactly what the tone of this film is going to be, but it's safe to say that I'm in all the way. A24 is one of the few studios that can do no wrong in my book, and if they think that Lowery has made some kind of instant masterpiece here, I'll trust them. I wasn't a huge fan of his work on Pete's Dragon, but there's something irresistibly strange and thrillingly minimalist about this trailer. The classic bedsheet design of the titular ghost already feels iconic in its own way, and I'm always excited for any movie that brings together Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. There are some simply beautiful shots in this trailer, and I love the unique aspect ratio as well. As always with these arthouse favorites, I can't guarantee that I'll enjoy A Ghost Story. It could be just too off-kilter for my tastes. But this trailer truly has my interest, and I can't wait to see if the film delivers on its astronomical buzz.

A Ghost Story arrives in limited release on July 7. Also, check out the terrific new poster from A24 below!

Image: IMDB/A24

Sunday, March 26, 2017

First trailer for Zack Snyder's 'Justice League' has hit the web

Even though the DC Cinematic Universe has a never-ending array of problems, Warner Bros. is still pushing forward with more films. After all, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad did make $873.2 million and $745.6 million at the worldwide box office, respectively. Things will kick off in June with the release of Wonder Woman, the first solo movie in the franchise since 2013's Man of Steel and the film that could possibly save the DCCU. But for fans, the big movie of the year is certainly Zack Snyder's Justice League, which will arrive in theaters on November 17. After the double dose of disappointment that came from Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice, there's a great deal of skepticism around DC's mega teamup movie. Can Snyder turn things around and develop a cohesive, entertaining superhero movie that delivers the goods? I don't know. I've counted myself as one of the defenders of the grim vision of Batman v Superman, but even I've struggled to get excited for a Justice League film in this current universe. WB launched the marketing campaign with a teaser at last year's Comic-Con, and yesterday, they released the first official trailer for the film. Here it is!

I've watched this trailer five or six times now. Not because I'm particularly excited for this, mind you, but because I'm still trying to figure out just what the hell is going on here. Okay, first let's dispel the rumor that Batman v Superman was bad because it was dark. No, that's not the case. If anything, its storytelling was monumentally flawed, but the tone was not the primary issue. So from the beginning, I've been highly skeptical of the idea that Justice League was completely flipping the script on the universe that Snyder started, aiming for a more fun, poppy version similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We all saw how it worked out when WB tried to reverse course on David Ayer's Suicide Squad late in the process. Things did not end well. Justice League definitely looks more "fun," highlighted by a good Batman joke and an Aquaman who likes to shout things while riding on the Batmobile. I don't know if that sensibility will really translate to the final product, but I guess some meta humor is a good start.

But there's still so much wrong here. I remain convinced that Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa are the wrong actors for their respective characters. Cyborg's CGI looks absolutely ghastly, and while I'm sure post-production work will make things better, the design is just not good. I hate the entire idea of having the Justice League fight an army of demons, led by Steppenwolf, a villain that I know nearly nothing about. But most of all, this film just looks like an eyesore. If this trailer is any indication, Justice League is going to give me a serious headache. The big action scenes look like murky, poorly digitized CGI chaos, and I honestly couldn't tell you what was happening amid all the slow-mo and giant explosions. DC fans can defend these movies until the end of time itself, but Snyder's frenetic style will just never do it for me. I know this is just a trailer, but some of the scenes on display here look damn near incomprehensible.

On a side note, did anybody at DC (including Zack Snyder) think about the implications of killing Superman in Dawn of Justice? Seriously, we're going to have a Justice League movie where the Man of Steel is not a factor in any of the marketing and probably won't show up until the end of the movie. That's just insane to me, especially for a plot device that feels pointless at best.

Look, I want Justice League to be good. As a kid, I read more DC than Marvel. Batman is my favorite superhero, and some of my favorite superhero films star the Caped Crusader. I should be so excited for this film. But with the muddy visuals, shoddy action, and bizarre storyline, I just can't force myself to be interested. This looks like another DC misfire, and as much as I hope I'm wrong, they need to show me something very soon to prove that this will be great.

Justice League opens on November 17.

Image Credit: IMDB/WB

Trailer for 'Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie' brings life to a childhood favorite

I may not remember much about them now, but I read plenty of the Captain Underpants books as a kid. The series by Dav Pilkey was the kind of juvenile, creative nonsense that elementary school kids ate up, and if you asked people from my generation, I'm sure that at least 80% would recall the wacky, gross-out adventures of Captain Underpants. It's a weird thing to count as a cultural touchstone, but it's why I'm expecting The First Epic Movie to be a sizable hit this summer. Sure, parents will take the kids to see it, but you're gonna get a massive crowd of people from age 16 to 25 heading to the theater to see this film. After years of waiting, Dreamworks is finally getting around to delivering the Captain Underpants film that fans have been clamoring (?) for. With a cast led by Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Jordan Peele, and Nick Kroll, there's plenty of reason to believe that this may be a delightful summer surprise. Late last week, Dreamworks released the trailer, which will presumably play with The Boss Baby starting on Friday. Check it out below!

This truly looks like a ton of fun, and I absolutely love the animation style on display here. Captain Underpants looks to have an appropriate amount of comedic and visual lunacy, and the bright, bubbly animation is right up my alley. The action looks terrifically kooky, the character design is nothing short of perfect, and I'm really loving the energy of the project. Sure, it's a little weird that Kevin Hart doesn't sound anything like a grade school kid, but I'm willing to overlook that. While there's nothing I love more than a truly great Pixar film filled with heart and soul, there's also plenty of room for films like Captain Underpants that aim to capture the spirit of old-school Saturday morning cartoons. This appears to be an inspired mix of Looney Tunes and that Popeye movie that fell through a few years ago, and for that reason, I could not be more excited. Two superhero movies will arrive in theaters on June 2, and while I'm certainly hoping for the best for Wonder Woman, there's a good chance that I'll be just a little more interested in checking out Captain Underpants. I'm ready for a childhood blast to the past.

Image Credit: IMDB/Fox

'Beauty and the Beast' review

Remaking Beauty and the Beast was always going to be a tricky proposition. The original 1991 animated film is one of the most beloved family classics of all time, a fairy tale that is quite possibly Disney's most iconic feature. It was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture, and its influence has only grown as the years have gone by. But with Disney's recent trend of re-imagining its animated classics, we all knew that at some point, they would turn their attention to Beauty and the Beast. Both Cinderella and The Jungle Book were box office bonanzas, bringing in family audiences in droves and making obscene profits for the Mouse House. With the recent announcement that Disney will be tackling remakes of films like The Lion King and Aladdin, it's clear that the studio plans to milk this cash cow until the end of time. Beauty and the Beast was the most hotly anticipated of the whole bunch, as fans eagerly watched to see how Disney would reinvent the "Tale as Old as Time" for a new generation. There was huge potential for a nostalgia-driven hit, but also the chance that they could screw it all up.

Thankfully, I'm here to report that they did a tremendous job. Beauty and the Beast is a magical remake that captures the spirit of the original and brings it to life for modern times, and it's pretty much everything that fans could possibly want. There are plenty of new additions that will surely upset those looking for an purely loyal adaptation, but director Bill Condon ultimately mixes reverence and reinvention to great effect. Beauty and the Beast is both fresh and faithful, a film that proves there's room for both nostalgic remakes and bold new visions in the sphere of fairy tale adaptations. With great performances, including a terrific lead turn from Emma Watson, gorgeous visual landscapes, and grand musical numbers, Beauty and the Beast comes together quite nicely. As a huge fan of the original, this film hits the spot.

Do I really need to tell you what this movie is about? If you're reading this review, you probably know the story and you're probably familiar with the original animated film. There's no need to tell you more. There's a beautiful girl, there's an ugly beast, and they fall in love. If anything, you're probably wondering what they've added to the story in this new rendition. After all, the 1991 animated film ran 84 minutes, while Condon's version is a whopping 129 minutes long. What's there to fill all that space? Well, not much that makes a difference. There's one subplot that I thought truly added to the narrative, while there are a few solid musical numbers that don't detract from the film. Even thought this Beauty is longer, it doesn't feel it, and the additions don't ultimately do much to benefit or harm anything. The heart of the story is still there, and that's all that really matters.

The clever trick that Condon pulls off is giving the audience enough new material to give this remake its own distinct flavor, while also delivering the wondrous nostalgia factor that I think most audiences are looking for in the first place. As someone who loves the original film and also performed in a middle school version of the show, I didn't want this to be some kind of bold re-imagining, because quite frankly, I don't think there's much worth changing. The animated film is perfect in every way, and I wouldn't have wanted to see a Disney remake with a radical shift in style and tone. There's plenty of room for different interpretations of Beauty and the Beast, but I wouldn't want the Mouse House behind the wheel. In 2017, I wanted a portrayal of the classic tale that was magical and musical and crafted with a sense of fun. I wanted some cinematic comfort food, a familiar tale in beautiful new clothes. If that makes me a bad critic, then I guess I'll accept that. But I knew what I wanted and Condon delivered.

However, when you remake something with so much loyalty to the classic source material, you do run the risk of making your movie feel like a vapid rip-off. Some have clearly felt that way about this big-budget version, and I went in with a great deal of trepidation. I wasn't sure how to feel at first- as the opening scene and initial number played out, something just felt off. The pieces were there, but the magic was missing. Slowly but surely, Condon finds his footing, giving a sense of marvelous wonder to match his spectacular visuals. At its worst, certain scenes play out like an obligation- Condon has to include "Be Our Guest," because fans would be disappointed otherwise (he even said this himself). This frustrates the pacing of the proceedings, and it's the sole element of the film that I don't think he quite pulled off. I was jarred when some of the musical numbers popped up, and there were moments that felt truncated or awkward. But when things come together, Beauty and the Beast is nothing short of classic Disney magic.

The cast is a large part of the appeal, and as a matter of fact, they were the main reason I was so intrigued in the first place. Emma Watson always seemed like the perfect actress to portray Belle in a live-action version, and she truly knocks it out of the park. She conveys the right mix of strong-willed independence, compassion, and radiant beauty, and her performance shines during every moment of the film. Watson is the glue that holds it all together, and she really proves herself as a talented, versatile actress here. Dan Stevens matches her well, and he does good work in a somewhat thankless role. Stevens is one of the best rising stars we have right now, and although I would prefer to see him do more terrific genre work like The Guest, something like Beauty and the Beast is an excellent profile boost for him. I was also surprised by Luke Evans' performance as Gaston- going in, I wasn't sure that he'd even be able to pull it off. Evans turns out to be a fabulous Gaston, chewing the scenery and reveling in this delightfully dastardly character and all of his boastful histrionics.

Of course, much has been made over the supposed gay moment involving Josh Gad's LeFou, with the filmmakers seemingly unable to decide whether it's an obvious choice or some kind of subtext. Even if Condon hadn't made a big deal about the "exclusively gay moment" in an interview, I think most adult viewers would have noticed LeFou's crush on his buff friend. It's an appropriate, fascinating interpretation of the character, and Gad's Broadway talent comes in handy during the bombastic musical numbers. I was also rather impressed by Kevin Kline's turn as Maurice, as he gives the character a heart and soul that I hadn't really seen before. As someone who played Maurice in my middle school stage adaptation, this was a nice adjustment for me. Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, and all the other voice actors are serviceable, but they're limited by the hyper-realistic visual design. And I still don't know how they couldn't get a French actor to play Lumiere.

Speaking of the visual design, Beauty and the Beast cost a reported $160 million and you can clearly see all of that money on the screen. Every aspect of the production design is opulent and gorgeous, from the dreamlike sets to the pitch-perfect costumes. Condon finds a balance between grounded humanity and surrealism, a mix that allows for the spectacular musical numbers and creative creature design. With a movie like this, you need that perfect blend, and the fact that Condon delivers the goods helps to make everything come together quite nicely. Beauty and the Beast is big and bold and beautiful to behold, and it's such a fantastically appealing film that most of its problems are overshadowed by its grand ambitions.

Sure, Beauty and the Beast might not offer much in the way of new material to enhance this classic story. And it definitely isn't any kind of radical re-interpretation of the 1991 film. But that doesn't stop Condon and the whole cast from making some Disney magic of their own, bringing the songs and characters to life in a delightful, attractive remake for a new generation. If you're a fan of the original, this will pretty much give you everything that you could possibly want. It's charming, fun, and thoroughly engaging. They nailed it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.6/10)

Image Credits: Coming Soon/IMDB/Disney

Friday, March 24, 2017

Violent, filthy red band trailer debuts for Martin McDonagh's 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of those movies that drew me in based on the concept and talent alone. When I first read the synopsis a few months ago, the third film from Martin McDonagh sounded like a perfect riff on the folksy charm of Fargo, with all the shocking violence and dark humor that defined the Coen Brothers' iconic classic. The story of a strong-willed mother who goes to war against a lazy, racist police department in a small town is inherently fascinating, and the fact that the film stars Frances McDormand (the star of the 1996 film), Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, and more absurdly talented actors doesn't hurt either. According to some of the big Oscar bloggers, Three Billboards is quite possibly going to be one of the biggest films of the 2017-18 season, which is somewhat surprising given McDonagh's relative lack of Oscar history. But with distribution from Fox Searchlight and the potential for a Telluride/Toronto premiere, there's no question that this dark comedy is being positioned for major success. Yesterday, Searchlight revealed the incredibly profane red band trailer for the film. Check it out below!

Even if you were excited for Three Billboards before like I was, this trailer takes the anticipation to a whole different level. Frances McDormand looks nothing short of incredible as Mildred Hayes, and although it's only March, yesterday's trailer debut sends her straight to the top of the Best Actress shortlist. I haven't seen McDonagh's previous two films (In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths), but if he's able to channel this kind of acidic comedic lunacy for the entire runtime, Three Billboards will be one of the can't-miss films of 2017. This looks genuinely vulgar and vicious, a unique cross between sharp comedy and grisly violence delivered with a killer kick. The atmosphere looks just about perfect, the performances look universally astounding, and the material couldn't be any more compelling. This is a brilliantly cut trailer, down to the details of every perfectly dropped f-bomb and each brutal punch to the face. I am all in for Three Billboards, and based on this trailer and the tremendous buzz, it seems like we could have a modern classic on our hands.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri currently does not have a release date, but Fox Searchlight will debut the film sometime in 2017.

Image Credit: IMDB/Fox

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Michael Shannon is now the front-runner to play Cable in 'Deadpool 2'

A few weeks ago, The Wrap's "ace scooper" Umberto Gonzalez reported that David Harbour, star of Netflix's Stranger Things, was Fox's top choice to play Cable in Deadpool 2. Initially teased during the end credits of the original smash hit, the time-traveling mutant will be one of the biggest draws for the hotly anticipated sequel. In the weeks since, Fox has been quiet on the status of the character. They never confirmed Harbour's casting, instead choosing to focus their attention on casting Domino, the other mutant superstar of Deadpool 2. After star Ryan Reynolds announced that Atlanta actress Zazie Beetz had been cast in the role, attention once again turned to the mystery behind Cable. And while there's still no confirmation from anybody involved, yesterday saw another fascinating twist that I can't say I expected.

According to an exclusive report from The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit, Michael Shannon is now the front-runner to play Cable in Deadpool 2. Yes, this might actually be happening. According to the report, Shannon is leading the pack of actors on the shortlist, which also includes Harbour and a few other actors. No official talks are in place at this point. I don't think I need to tell anybody how excited I would be if this all worked out. Shannon is one of my favorite working actors, shining in films like Midnight Special, The Night Before, and Elvis & Nixon with a distinct mix of heart and comedy. This was all before an Oscar-nominated standout turn in Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals, a performance that deserved to win the Academy gold in my humble opinion. Shannon delivers the goods almost every single time, and I would love to see him jump into the superhero world again after the disappointment of Man of Steel. Just the idea of watching Reynolds and Shannon together is making me giddy with excitement. Harbour would be a great choice as well, but man, I really hope Shannon's casting works out.

I would expect to hear more concrete information on Cable and Deadpool 2 in the near future. But for now, this serves as a compelling, incredibly exciting development.

Images courtesy of Focus Features and Fox
Sources: The Wrap, Hollywood Reporter

2017 Oscar Season takes shape as 'The Battle of the Sexes,' 'The Current War,' and more receive release dates

Yes, I know that we just wrapped up Oscar season. And no, I really have no desire to start writing about it again. But this has been an extremely slow news week, and while I'm still crafting my review of Beauty and the Beast (hopefully soon), I figured I would write about some of the more fascinating movies set to come out in the latter half of 2017. There are already quite a few movies on the calendar that have serious Oscar potential, from Christopher Nolan's hotly anticipated Dunkirk in July to Joe Wright's Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman. Alexander Payne's Downsizing, Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name (recently set for a November 24th limited release), and the Hugh Jackman-starred Greatest Showman on Earth all have potential as well, but to be quite honest, we're only at the tip of the iceberg. The Oscar season will expand with May's Cannes Film Festival, and by the time that Toronto and Telluride roll around, things will be getting hectic all over again.

To prepare for the season, Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company are assembling their Oscar slate, hoping to get back into the thick of the action in 2017. Both studios are coming off disappointing years, as Searchlight struck out with Jackie and The Birth of a Nation, while Weinstein walked away with zero Oscars, despite a nice showing from Lion at the box office. While Searchlight is currently dropping schlock like Table 19 and Wilson into theaters, they're prepping for what could be a big season. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will release its first trailer later today, but the film doesn't currently have a release date. However, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's The Battle of the Sexes has been dated by the studio, as it is now set for a September 22, 2017 release date, putting it in prime consideration for a Toronto or Telluride bow. The film, which centers around the legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell and could likely nab Oscar nods for both of its stars.

As for The Weinstein Company, the studio dated three of its high profile releases for 2017- Wind River, Mary Magdalene, and The Current War. The former is Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan's directorial debut, and it is now set for an August 4 release. Mary Magdalene is Garth Davis' follow-up to Lion, with a cast led by Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix. The film will hit theaters in limited release on November 24. Finally, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's The Current War will debut on December 22, and will likely be Weinstein's big Oscar play. With Benedict Cumberbatch, Nicholas Hoult, and Michael Shannon playing Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse, respectively, there's no doubt that the Academy will far hard for this one.

There will be plenty more release date announcements in the near future, but expect a trailer for Three Billboards later today.

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Monday, March 20, 2017

Alicia Vikander set to lead Ben Wheatley's 'Freakshift'

Free Fire is the best film of 2017 that barely anyone has seen yet, but I have a feeling that the insane 70s action opera will break out in a big way when it opens on April 21. I saw the film at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, where it blew everyone away with its clever mix of blood-splattered shootouts and pitch black humor. Free Fire comes from Ben Wheatley, a filmmaker who has been creeping slowly into the mainstream over the last several years. After starting with some critically acclaimed arthouse hits such as Kill List and Sightseers, Wheatley got a larger budget for High-Rise, which received a mixed reaction upon release last year. He's poised to have his biggest hit yet with Free Fire (A24 is set to give it a wide release), a film that could help him become a household name in the industry. With that sort of popularity comes more interesting projects, and that sounds like it could be the case for Wheatley. He'll be tackling Freakshift next, a horror/sci-fi mashup about a group of monster hunters. With the imminent release of Free Fire, Freakshift is starting to come together and Wheatley is assembling his cast.

On Thursday, Deadline exclusively reported that Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander is in talks to star in Freakshift, where she would play the female lead. Vikander, who won an Oscar in 2016 for Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl, is currently filming Tomb Raider, where she'll play the iconic Lara Croft. According to Deadline, Freakshift will begin filming in late summer, right after Tomb Raider wraps production. Wheatley and Amy Jump wrote the screenplay, and I'm sure that there will be a rather contentious battle for the distribution rights. Vikander is one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood at the moment, and the idea of her teaming up with Wheatley is very exciting. With such a terrific actress, I hope Wheatley has written a strong female protagonist deserving of her talents. Freakshift sounds like a blast, and if it is anything like Free Fire, it will surely be one of the most anticipated projects of the next few years. The shootout comedy firmly put him on the map, and if he keeps tackling unique and daring projects, he'll be one of the best in the game.

Image Credits: WB/A24/IMDB
Source: Deadline

Friday, March 17, 2017

Henry Cavill joins the cast of 'Mission: Impossible 6'

The Mission: Impossible franchise didn't get off to the best start from a critical perspective. The first two installments in the series weren't all that beloved, and even J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible 3 didn't light the world on fire. But in 2011, Brad Bird turned the whole thing around with Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol. By bringing together Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Paula Patton, Bird created a spectacular core cast, taking the franchise to dizzying new heights with astonishing action scenes and amazing filmmaking. Four years later, Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) continued to build on what Bird started by delivering the terrific Rogue Nation, a film that came in a tremendous year for espionage movies. After the recent success, another installment in Paramount's strongest franchise is inevitable, but Cruise is getting older and they're hoping to get this one out pretty quickly. With a 2018 date in mind, McQuarrie is assembling his cast to jump into action.

Yesterday, it was revealed through a conversation on Twitter that Henry Cavill, star of the DC Cinematic Universe, will be joining the cast of Mission: Impossible 6. No word on his character, but there's rampant speculation on the endless possibilities of the role. Some believe that Cavill will be playing a villain (as I did initially), but Tracking Board's Jeff Sneider made a good point on Twitter about Cavill potentially replacing Cruise as the lead of the franchise. If all doesn't go well with Justice League in November, the charismatic British actor will certainly be looking for another big-budget series to headline. 

Nonetheless, casting Cavill in Mission: Impossible 6 feels weird to me. Not because Cavill is already lined up with another big-budget franchise, but because he already did a spy movie. Sure, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. wasn't the smash hit that everybody expected, and it was definitely overshadowed by the more impressive secret agent films from 2015 (Kingsman, Spy, Rogue Nation). However, it was still a highly entertaining romp, with a performance from Cavill that showcased his talents in a remarkable new way. Cavill hasn't had the best of luck with the DC Cinematic Universe, having starred in two critically derided blockbusters. But with a franchise as sturdy as Mission: Impossible, I have a feeling that he'll get a chance to do something spectacular. I like Cavill, and I like this move. I couldn't be more excited.

Mission: Impossible 6 is set to debut on July 27, 2018.

Image Credits: WB/Paramount/IMDB

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dazzling trailer for Pixar's 'Coco' previews 2017's most promising animated film

Pixar is now operating in this weird space where they constantly alternate between making bold, original animated films and conventional sequels. In 2015, they took the film world by storm with Inside Out, an emotional journey into the brain that might just stand as their finest achievement yet. One year later, they put out Finding Dory, which was essentially just a billion dollar cash cow for the studio (and it wasn't half bad either). Pixar makes the sequels to please Disney, while making the creative pictures to satisfy their basic company principles. With the exception of The Good Dinosaur, the rare original disappointment from the studio, this outline has remained true. In 2017, for the second time in the company's history, Pixar will release two films- Cars 3 and Coco. I don't know anyone who is genuinely excited for another round with Lightning McQueen and his crew, but there's real potential for Coco to be another Pixar masterpiece. Yesterday, the first trailer was released- check it out below!

I wasn't really all that pumped for Coco before this trailer, simply because Pixar's Dia De Los Muertos project has been in turmoil ever since the release of Fox's The Book of Life. As many have noted, Pixar has previously canceled projects due to similarities to other animated films, such as when the studio shelved Newt because of Rio. And while people immediately speculated that Pixar should have cancelled Coco, I have faith in director Lee Unkrich- they wouldn't have made this film if they didn't have a terrific story to tell. This is a really spectacular sneak peek that piqued my interest in a big way, and if I was a young kid, I would have been utterly fascinated by this trailer. The visuals are simply jaw-dropping, and I don't know if I'm fully emotionally prepared for another Pixar movie about death. In a year that looks fairly weak for animation (there are no hotly anticipated Disney projects in 2017), Coco is the film to look out for. I can't wait.

Coco will debut in theaters on November 22, 2017.

Image Credits: IMDB/Pixar

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

'Kong: Skull Island' review

While plenty of films soar to dazzling box office heights without ever stepping foot in Hall H, there really is no better place to generate buzz for your new movie than San Diego Comic-Con. Just ask the people behind 300, Iron Man, and Mad Max: Fury Road. An effective panel at Comic-Con and the early release of a good trailer can set in motion an excellent marketing campaign, one that often leads to strong success at the box office. Last year was widely considered to be a down year for the convention, as Star Wars and Fox opted to stay home. Marvel's panel was the usual party, DC released two okay trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League, but for me, the real star of the show was Kong: Skull Island. Before Comic-Con, my interest in the movie (and in the so-called MonsterVerse) was limited. I had written a little bit about the film in regards to the stellar cast and Joe Cornish's possible involvement, but there was very little to truly intrigue me.

But when I saw that trailer, Warner Bros. had me hook, line, and sinker. Seriously, they didn't need to show me any more- I was in all the way. Thanks to an epic first look that clearly showed off the film's visual brilliance and Apocalypse Now vibe, Skull Island shot to the top of my most anticipated list for 2017. This was a movie that I just had to see, and I couldn't wait to see if indie director Jordan Vogt-Roberts had pulled it off. Unfortunately, the breakout filmmaker fell short. While Kong: Skull Island is an absolutely gorgeous film with some great ideas, it doesn't quite stick the landing in any meaningful way. It's another giant monster movie with a phenomenal start and a lackluster finish, which means that I'll have to chalk it up alongside Godzilla as a blockbuster disappointment. Vogt-Roberts and the excellent cast had all the pieces in place, but they just couldn't put it all together. Skull Island is big and wild and completely forgettable.

Set in 1973, Kong: Skull Island finds America at the tail end of the Vietnam War, as troops prepare to evacuate the country. Two Monarch scientists, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), see this as their best possible chance to achieve their dream of an exploration mission of an uncharted island in the south pacific. The US government reluctantly grants their request, allowing them to plan for their bold and ambitious trip along with a military escort, led by the snarling Colonel Preston Packard (a very evil Samuel L. Jackson). In addition to Packard, Randa recruits a famed tracker named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), who warns the scientists of the danger of the mission. A beloved anti-war photojournalist named Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also comes along for the ride, and the eclectic group of scientists and soldiers head off on their helicopters to Skull Island.

After breaking through the storm, the explorers are astonished by the lush beauty of the hidden island. Oh, but then the giant monkey shows up. The gorgeous vista is interrupted by the sight of a giant palm tree flying towards the helicopter, which means that King Kong is close by. He absolutely demolishes their arsenal, and not even an endless barrage of bullets can stop the supersized ape from killing at least half of the crew. Scattered across the island, the unprepared and bloodied soldiers search desperately for a route to their exit point, while danger and horror lurk around every turn. Along the way, Conrad and Weaver receive a much-needed bit of clarity from Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a World War II-era soldier who crashed on Skull Island during the final years of the war. He tells them that the beast they entered during their flight, King Kong, is actually the king of the island and a friendly creature. The real danger comes in the form of the Skullcrawlers, ancient beings that live below the surface. As the vicious creatures prepare to make their final assault, Kong will have to face them and Colonel Packard, who insists on killing the beast as revenge for the death of his men. Chaos and monster fights ensue.

Let's start with the good, shall we? Kong: Skull Island really does have a phenomenal first act. When the film begins, everything is in place for a terrific, rousing adventure. The 1970s setting is a stroke of genius, allowing for the filmmakers to play with a pitch-perfect soundtrack and some groovy style. Vogt-Roberts is a director with an incredible visual eye, and in the early goings, he creates some breathtaking shots that look like retro paintings come to life. In addition to the exemplary artistic work, Vogt-Roberts and the team of screenwriters (comprised of Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, and John Gatins) create some classic archetypal characters that feel like relics from the pulp era. James Conrad is a classic Han Solo type, Mason Weaver is the intrepid journalist, Packard is the tough as nails soldier, and Randa is the overambitious mad scientist. All of this feels like the setup for a great journey, one that will deliver the kind of classic, old-fashioned thrills that we rarely see in today's blockbuster culture.

The first action scene on Skull Island, where Kong smashes a seemingly endless series of helicopters is gorgeous and thrilling, even though it is preceded by a bizarre monologue about Icarus from Sam Jackson. Vogt-Roberts gets things off to a rollicking start, but as soon as they crash land on the island, things go downhill almost immediately. Skull Island loses all sense of narrative momentum, and Vogt-Roberts never delivers on the promise of something clever and compelling. The story is weak, the characters are never established in any meaningful way, and the film meanders for a good bit of the runtime. Sure, the cinematography by Larry Fong is consistently incredible and the monster fights feature some awesome moments of geeky action, but it's not enough to overcome the monumental flaws of the whole thing. The final 2/3rds of Kong feel like a major series of missed opportunities, made all the more disappointing by the potential of the project.

The central issues in Skull Island can be blamed on a variety of factors, but for the sake of convenience, let's start with the characters. Plenty of people have complained about the lack of interesting characters in Kong, but that really isn't the main issue here. Instead, there are three major problems with the cast of characters in this film- there's too many of them, none of them have personal narratives beyond their first act backstories, and they don't follow through on their basic archetypes. Look, I don't necessarily think that a giant monster movie has to have dynamic, layered human characters. I love Jurassic World, but I couldn't tell you a damn thing about who Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard played in that film. However, Skull Island compounds the character issues through volume and lack of definition, two issues that are exemplified as the film moves forward.

There isn't a single character who has an actual arc, not even a predictably basic one like you would see in most monster flicks. Half of the characters are there to react to what happens, and the other half are there just to die. Most of the characters in Skull Island are murdered in horrendously unceremonious ways, whether it's being smacked into a mountain during a moment of sacrifice, impaled by the leg of a giant spider, or stepped on by Kong himself. Nobody really wants to feel anything when someone gets killed in a monster movie, but when you're asking yourself "Who was that again?" after someone dies, that's probably not a good sign. The leads (Conrad, Packard, Weaver) are all dull ciphers, and their relationship with Kong is laughably misguided. I don't expect anyone seeking monster-on-monster carnage to complain about the lack of three-dimensional characters, but this is probably the largest contributing factor to the movie's downfall.

The other main issue involves the general narrative incoherence, which isn't a product of a convoluted story- it's the total lack of a reason to keep us moving through the movie. Once they crash on the island, it's all about a game of cat and mouse between the soldiers and the giant creatures, while simultaneously waiting for Kong to fight the Skullcrawlers. Sure, there are a few funny moments with John C. Reilly's Marlow, who stands out as the film's "Man Out of Time" character. But drama is rarely found on Skull Island, as characters are murdered carelessly and randomly, without any pathos or any real sense of rhyme or reason. Motivation is thin, emotion is nonexistent, and logic quickly goes out the window.

And then there's the issue of the grand-scale IMAX monster battles, which is the primary reason that most audience members showed up in the first place. The film definitely has a few cool moments, but the isolation of the island and the lack of investment in any of the characters help to drag the climatic battles down. Not to mention the fact that (as many have noted) Kong is practically a supporting character in his own movie, forced to punch things and brutally attack creatures when the story needs him to do so. The character of King Kong has always had a certain level of depth to him that can be traced back to the 1933 film, which makes the giant ape's bland stoicism in Skull Island all the more disappointing. Some may feel sympathy for the giant ape, but he's big and violent and thinly written, just like everybody else in the film. Kong is a feat of visual effects, but I can't imagine that anybody will find him all that compelling.

As the post-credits scene indicates, this is just the beginning of what has been deemed the "Monsterverse," and there's a good chance that we'll see a whole bunch of creatures in the next few installments. However, Kong: Skull Island will likely go down as a beautiful disappointment, a gorgeously stylized film devoid of pretty much any substance. Jordan Vogt-Roberts clearly has a distinct filmmaking vision, but with his epic re-imagining of King Kong, he never manages to truly put that vision to good use. He carries it along fairly well for a while, but the hollow nature of the story catches up with him. As much as I wanted to love Skull Island, I found myself growing more and more disinterested as the film went on. This is a movie focused on aesthetics and surface level pleasures, and while it has a few bright spots, it falls just short of the mark as a fully satisfying summer blockbuster.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C+                                            (6.3/10)

Image Credits: IMDB/Warner Bros.

'Kingsman' director Matthew Vaughn wanted by Warner Bros. for 'Man of Steel 2'

DC needs to hit the restart button. I don't think anybody would argue against that. After a make-or-break 2016 that resulted in two films despised by both audiences and critics, Warner Bros. and DC are looking to save the cinematic universe in 2017. Wonder Woman is showing signs of promise, while most people are just hoping for the best with Justice League. But even if those two films emerge as critical disappointments, DC is preparing for a fresh start in the next few years. They hired Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves to helm The Batman, giving the acclaimed auteur total creative control over the project. They've put all of their chips on Aquaman, which is being directed by studio favorite James Wan (The Conjuring series). And now, a report is indicating that Warner Bros. might be going in an entirely different direction for the next solo adventure with Superman.

According to Collider, Warner Bros. is pushing forward with Man of Steel 2, and they're hoping to get Matthew Vaughn behind the camera for the much-anticipated project. Vaughn is pretty much a stylistic genius, directing films early in his career such as Layer Cake and Stardust. In recent years, Vaughn has turned his attention to comic book adaptations such as Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service (he's in post-production on the sequel, The Golden Circle). In addition to that, Vaughn was at the helm for X-Men: First Class, which is commonly known as the film that rejuvenated the X-Men franchise. Vaughn is the opposite of Zack Snyder in every way, so as a fan of Superman who absolutely hated Man of Steel, the possibility of Vaughn being in charge of the sequel is like a fever dream for me.

Per the Collider report, Warner Bros. and Vaughn have not entered any kind of deal-making discussions for the project, but he is their top choice at the moment. In my opinion, there isn't a better choice for this film than Vaughn. I adore Kingsman and First Class, and I would love to see what Vaughn could do with a Superman film. After years of a horribly sad Superman, can you imagine how satisfying it will be to see the Man of Steel soar onto the screen with that classic John Williams fanfare? I really hope this happens.

Source: Collider
Image Credits: IMDB/Paramount/WB

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sony releases two incredible trailers for Edgar Wright's 'Baby Driver' after electric SXSW premiere

In my not-so-humble opinion, Edgar Wright deserves to be mentioned alongside Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson as one of the most innovative and brilliant directors working today. Wright has made four films since 2004, and every single one of them has been terrific. He burst onto the scene in 2004 with Shaun of the Dead, a distinctly British zombie comedy that introduced the world to the hysterical talents of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Wright re-teamed with the two comedians for Hot Fuzz, the bombastic action movie spoof that cemented his status as a truly dazzling filmmaker. He got his first chance to work with a bigger budget for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a box office flop that has since emerged as a cult classic. In 2013, Wright finally completed his acclaimed Cornetto Trilogy (which started with Shaun and Fuzz) with The World's End, another comedic masterpiece that toyed with the sci-fi genre to great effect. After wasting several years on Marvel's Ant-Man, Wright left the project, giving him free reign to pursue whatever film he wanted to make. Wright immediately turned to Baby Driver, a musical heist picture that had long been a passion project for him. The film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin this weekend, and to coincide with the debut, Sony released the trailer(s) for the film. Check it out below!

In addition to the domestic trailer which will surely play in front of a few films in the coming weeks, Sony released an international trailer that is completely different from the US one. Check it out!

Wright is one of those directors who can simply do no wrong, and the SXSW crowd went wild for the film this weekend. Billing it as a car chase musical (with Indiewire's Eric Kohn calling it "Busby Berkeley's Grand Theft Auto"), fans raved that Baby Driver just might be Wright's best film yet. After multiple years of anticipation (and I do mean years), it appears that Wright's fifth film will be worth the wait. The film is currently standing at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes through 12 reviews, and it has a sterling 82 on Metacritic, which indicates universal acclaim on the review site. Anyone familiar with Wright's work knows that he uses music to great effect in every single one of his films, and the idea of the stylish filmmaker doing a whole film based around fast-paced tunes sounded like a dream come true. Someone described it as an addictive drug for Edgar Wright fans, and that just makes me giddy with anticipation.

As for these trailers, they're just awesome. I've watched each of them six or seven times, which is certainly the most I've watched any trailer since Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They're both spectacularly wild blends of music and action, and while there are certainly some very funny gags (the Michael Myers joke comes to mind), this looks much darker and more violent than anything Wright has done in the past. But even if it's less humorous, it certainly doesn't look any less fun. Baby Driver looks like a straight-up blast, and the fact that the cast includes Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx only makes me more excited. Baby Driver is pretty much everything I want from a movie, and it is undoubtedly one of my most anticipated of the summer. I still can't believe that we're getting a new films from Christopher Nolan and Edgar Wright in the span of less than a month. If you're looking for me late this summer, you know where I'll be.

Baby Driver opens August 11. It can't come soon enough.

Image Credit: IMDB/Sony

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Stylish red band trailer debuts for Charlize Theron's 'Atomic Blonde'

Who would have ever imagined that John Wick would be one of the most important action movies of the decade?

The Keanu Reeves action movie is a total blast that gave us his most iconic role since The Matrix, but most importantly, it introduced us to the talents of David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. The two stunt directors stepped behind the camera for the 2014 action film, and after Wick's stunning success, there was immediate interest in their services around Hollywood. Stahelski opted to stick with Reeves and the franchise, directing John Wick: Chapter Two, which is one of the best action sequels in history. He's on track to direct Highlander and the inevitable John Wick: Chapter Three, two movies that are very hotly anticipated in most fanboy circles. Meanwhile, Leitch opted to take the reigns on Deadpool 2, one of the biggest blockbusters of 2018 and a surefire hit. But before he steps into the world of the Merc with a Mouth, Leitch is delivering another film that looks like it could be one of the best of the year- Atomic Blonde. Starring Charlize Theron, the Cold War-set action film looks like a female-led John Wick. And yes, that is as awesome as it sounds. Check out the first red band trailer below!

Ever since I saw the first poster, I knew that Atomic Blonde would be a pretty cool action movie. But I had no idea it would look quite so badass. Seriously, if this isn't one of the most awesome movies of the year, I will be astonished. Atomic Blonde looks stylish, brutal, and hyperviolent, with a witty edge that will certainly distinguish it from the rest of the summer schlock. And in addition to Furiosa herself, it has a cast that includes John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, and James McAvoy, who seems to be having a blast as David Percival. From the vicious opening scene to the relentlessly fun montage of insanity, this Atomic Blonde trailer is one of the best in recent memory. With a South by Southwest premiere set for tomorrow, I think it's safe to say that Focus Features has a lot of confidence in this one. And why wouldn't they? It looks to deliver pretty much everything that action fans want from their movies. I simply can't wait- this just looks downright incredible.

Atomic Blonde opens July 28.

Image Credit: IMDB/Focus

'Table 19' review

It's always pretty easy to tell when a studio is dumping a movie. They'll either release it on a weekend where it stands no chance of being successful, or they'll throw it into theaters after several release date changes- either way, the studio is acknowledging that the film has no chance at being successful. After a rough awards season that saw both The Birth of a Nation and Jackie fail to connect (for very different reasons, obviously), Fox Searchlight is dumping a few of their duds before hitting the reset button on the next season. While I doubt that Wilson or Gifted will fare all that well, I can't imagine either being as much of a disaster as Table 19. Released into 868 theaters last weekend with absolutely zero fanfare, the Jeffrey Blitz-directed rom-com was dead on arrival, tanking at the box office and receiving ghastly reviews. And deservedly so- Table 19 is one of the very worst movies I've seen in a long time, a film so scattered and haphazard that it almost emerges with no redeemable qualities. While the winning cast led by Anna Kendrick, Wyatt Russell, and June Squibb try their best, this is a horribly misguided film that implodes on impact.

Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick) does not want to be at this wedding. Seriously- it's probably the last place she wants to be. After dating the bride's brother (Wyatt Russell) for two years, he dumped her over text, causing her to be removed from the position of maid of honor in favor of his new girlfriend. Eloise is disgracefully placed at the dreaded table 19, the table where misfits, weirdos, and "the people who should have known to RSVP their regrets" collide in spectacular fashion. In addition to Eloise, table 19 is also the temporary home of the feuding Kepps (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), socially awkward Renzo (Grand Budapest Hotel's Tony Revolori), ex-con cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant), and longtime nanny Jo Flanagan (June Squibb). As the wedding quickly turns disastrous for both Eloise and her tablemates, the gang of marital outcasts determine to make the best of the day, creating chaos and making some life-long friends in the process.

Table 19 is one of the most pointless movies I've ever seen. I somewhat regret the fact that I'm about to absolutely trash a rather slight comedy that simply tries to pleasant and entertaining, but this film is just such a brutal slog. It's 87 minutes in length, but it feels at least twice as long, and there were many times where I thought that this thing would never end. Table 19 is simply excruciating to watch, and the fact that it's all so trite and cliched only makes it worse. Sure, there are a few moments here that emerge as thoughtful or humorous. But the vast majority of this dreadful comedy is either unfunny, random, or incoherent from a story perspective, creating a narrative that bounces around before settling on a forced happy ending. It's groan-inducing, mind-numbing stuff.

And the worst part is that I actually like this cast quite a bit. Anna Kendrick is a consistently terrific actress, and in the past, I've loved her performances in films like 50/50, Pitch Perfect 2, and even something silly like Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Here, she's wasted on a character who is as unlikable and smug as she is poorly written. Eloise is all over the map, and the "twist" involving her character is so monumentally stupid that it makes the whole movie even more unbearable. Wyatt Russell has been great in films like 22 Jump Street and Everybody Wants Some!!, and he's actually pretty solid in this one, even if Teddy Millner is another underwritten character (hint: every single character in Table 19 is poorly developed in some shape or form). Other highlights from the cast include June Squibb as a pot-smoking nanny and Tony Revolori as the furry bow tie-wearing weirdo of the bunch. Meanwhile, I think it's safe to say that Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, and Stephen Merchant (who just gave an excellent performance in Logan) all could have given their talents to a much more compelling, fresh comedy. Instead, they're wasted in this mess.

Table 19 is so lackadaisically paced and incomprehensible that I'm almost certain it was butchered in the editing room. Not that Jeffrey Blitz or the Duplass Brothers had much to work with in the first place- this is a pretty dumb premise right from the start. But you can see the film stretching to make sense of a misshapen disaster, and the result is painful to watch. Considering the amount of times characters say "What the fu..." before being cut off, I'm pretty sure that the studio chopped this down to a PG-13, and it was so noticeable that you start to wonder if anyone even thought this movie was worth saving by the end. Table 19 establishes story threads that serve no purpose, introduces characters that have no reason to be in the movie, and makes abrupt choices without any semblance of buildup in the narrative. It's a film that is actively bad on a regular basis, and the fact that it tries to make a shift to emotional pathos in the final act does nothing to make matters better.

Considering the poor box office results, I'm guessing that not too many audience members were tricked into seeing this trainwreck. But if you were considering checking out Table 19 on the hope that it would be a fun, pleasant watch- you've been warned. It's essentially a series of comedy sketches that don't work, which is bad enough before things get even worse thanks to a series of forced emotional notes. It barely feels like a film, and it is awful in pretty much every way imaginable. I didn't have high expectations, but during the first thirty minutes of this movie, my jaw was on the floor. Table 19 is that bad, and not even a terrific ensemble has a chance of saving it from the hellish depths of cinematic mediocrity.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                              (3.7/10)

Images courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Friday, March 10, 2017

'Atlanta' star Zazie Beetz cast as Domino in 'Deadpool 2'

With Logan breaking out at the box office and the Wolverine saga done for good, Fox is turning their attention to the continuing adventures of the Merc with a Mouth. The hotly anticipated sequel now has gone through a slightly tumultuous pre-production stage, marked by the departure of director Tim Miller due to conflict with star Ryan Reynolds. David Leitch, director of John Wick and the upcoming Atomic Blonde, quickly jumped on board, but there has been more trouble in regards to filling out the rest of the cast. After an extensive search, it seems like Stranger Things star David Harbour is the top choice for Cable, a role previously rumored for some of the most famous action stars in Hollywood history. With Cable seemingly safe in the hands of Harbour, attention shifted to Domino, another famous mutant that will be appearing in the sequel. A famous mercenary in the X-Force and Cable's longtime girlfriend, Domino was regarded as one of the most coveted roles for a major studio production. Yesterday, Ryan Reynolds made the announcement of who will play the fan favorite character.

As announced by Reynolds on Twitter, Domino will be played by Zazie Beetz, who is the star of the hit FX show Atlanta. Jeff Sneider at Tracking Board had the early scoop, calling the casting early yesterday in a series of tweets. Beetz's breakout role came in the form of the Donald Glover-created show, where she appeared in six episodes alongside Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, and Lakeith Stanfield. Beetz's star is quickly rising, as she'll also be appearing in A24's Slice, which will likely be more commonly known as the movie where Chance the Rapper plays a werewolf pizza driver. This is the rare casting announcement where I really don't have much of a reaction. I'm not familiar with the character of Domino, I regrettably haven't seen Atlanta yet, and I don't know much about Beetz. But people seem excited, so I guess that's a positive. Deadpool 2 is undoubtedly a movie to look forward to in the future, and I can't wait to hear more about the return of Wade Wilson.

Source: Tracking Board
Image Credits: IMDB/FX/Fox

Thursday, March 9, 2017

'Logan,' the Marvel Cinematic Universe Curse, and the Future of Superhero Movies


We will not see a superhero film as good as Logan for a very long time. This is not an opinion, but simply an objective fact. James Mangold's superhero western is the best addition to the genre since The Dark Knight, a fully realized vision that takes a profound, emotional, and thoroughly tragic look at Logan during the final days of his life. It tells a moving and violently entertaining story to perfection, and it is a stylized, breathtaking work of filmmaking. To put it simply- it's the kind of blockbuster that Hollywood doesn't make anymore. Logan goes against everything that has defined the genre since the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe- it's R-rated, it's methodically paced, it tells a contained, standalone story, and it kills nearly every single main character. Studio executives would tell you that Logan is the kind of movie that people don't want to see, the kind of blockbuster that is doomed to fail. This weekend, audiences around the world proved them wrong.

For starters, let's dispel with the notion that R-rated movies don't make money. The industry maintains that the restricted rating keeps the ever-important demographic of teenagers from attending the show, but time after time, audiences have proved them wrong. Just take a look at this year's box office charts. Four of the top six films are rated R, and three of those are guaranteed to make well over $100 million at the US box office. Audiences are repeatedly showing up for R-rated content, and studios need to realize that the rating isn't quite as restrictive as they think. If the movie is good, audiences will be there. Logan and Deadpool have likely opened the floodgates in regards to R-rated blockbusters, and I'm sure that studios will be taking the wrong lesson from this and jumping at the chance to make more violent, profane blockbusters.

Like every phenomenon that happens in Hollywood, the studios are guaranteed to do something that contradicts the actual reason for success. Sure, the R-rating doesn't hinder a movie, but I don't necessarily believe that it's a ticket to success. These two movies worked because it fit the tone and source material- fans were hungry to see Wolverine in all his bloody glory, and nobody wanted to see a sanitized, watered down Deadpool movie. But does that mean that audiences want to see a gory, F-bomb filled Superman film? Absolutely not. The R-rating was only one part of the appeal for these two projects, and there's so much beyond the grisly violence that drove audiences to the theaters. Fans embraced Logan and Deadpool because they are utterly unique. There is nothing else like them in the genre, and the fact that they accept the core nastiness of the source material is an afterthought.

Superhero fatigue is clearly not a real issue. It just isn't. I don't find myself often siding with the fanboy community, but in this case, it doesn't exist. However, there is a growing fatigue with the idea of the shared universe, the concept of hit movies as grand-scale serialized television shows. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was downright revolutionary when it broke onto the scene- nobody had ever attempted anything like that, and the result was The Avengers, an unparalleled cultural event of epic proportions. But the interconnectivity and the constant desire to make things a piece of a larger puzzle is growing stale, and I have a feeling that audiences are slowly turning against the idea. What once was bold is now formulaic, and the tide will slowly begin to turn in a different direction.

Don't get me wrong- the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still enormously successful. Captain America: Civil War had the biggest opening weekend of the year in 2016, and it's safe to say that no other studio could have turned films like Doctor Strange and Ant-Man into the blockbusters that they became. But ever so slowly, things are beginning to go south for Marvel. Even though Civil War was one of the most acclaimed blockbusters of last year (it even made my top 25 list), there were some fans who were upset by the lack of consequences for both Iron Man and Captain America. Sure, they fought and tore each other apart, but the only real casualty was Rhodey's temporary paralysis, which will surely be reversed in future films. Nobody died, nothing that happened was truly permanent, and we all kinda know that they're going to be friends by the time that Infinity War rolls around. Civil War was great, thrilling blockbuster entertainment, but it still felt like a mildly inconsequential chapter of a larger saga.

But even with those flaws, Civil War was a hit because it still seemed like the film that Marvel had been building towards for several years. For that reason, it got by with widespread critical acclaim. But something like Avengers: Age of Ultron didn't. Fans didn't quite embrace the film like they had with The Avengers, and critical reception wasn't as strong. That's because the MCU process creates films that solely exist as extended exposition for larger projects- Age of Ultron sets up Civil War and Ragnarok, while also serving as the culmination for Phase 2. With that much going on, it feels like a mere stepping stone for bigger and better films. Marvel's entire strategy could literally be summed up by the post credits tease. Fans are less concerned by what they're watching than by what lies ahead in the future. The business model hinges on generating excitement for what comes next, and making people think that if they don't see one of the films, they're missing out on important information for the next movie.

That's also why films like Doctor Strange and Ant-Man feel so bitterly disappointing. They're mere introductions to characters that will play a larger role in future films, rendered entirely pointless by dramatically inert plots and the knowledge that everyone will be okay. It's a formula, and when that formula permanently links characters to future films, there's no reason to get invested in the current apocalyptic scenario. And don't get me wrong- this isn't just a Marvel Studios problem. I'll be getting to DC and the X-Men franchise very soon. But this problem started with Marvel, and I think it's fair to place the blame at the source. The low stakes, the constant teases, the fan drive to consume whatever's next- this is all an invention of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even great standalone films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are dragged down by the constant reminder of potential consequences for the next Avengers movie, and considering the incredible work Marvel can do with characters, that's a brutal letdown. It causes individual movies to feel less like exciting new stories, and more like obligations, cookie cutter product meant to advance the overall narrative of the MCU. When the latest Spider-Man movie is forced to include Iron Man, something about that rubs me the wrong way.

Marvel's biggest crime is consistent mediocrity and the total loss of stakes. However, that pales in comparison to the total incomprehensibility of the DC Extended Universe and Fox's attempt at a shared X-verse. Apocalypse attempted to introduce several characters to re-write the narrative of the franchise, and the result was a complete disaster. Meanwhile, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad felt less like movies and more like corporate powerpoint presentations, meant to establish characters in forced and uninteresting ways. When Marvel first established their cinematic universe, at least things came together naturally. Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad tried to force all the pieces into place, and the results were nothing short of disastrous. It doesn't get much worse than that. Going forward, the DCEU is looking for a complete reset, but they're a trainwreck so far.

And this problem extends beyond superhero movies. Hollywood's trend of overblown sequels and universe building has turned event movies into small pieces of a larger puzzle. I'm tremendously excited to see Kong: Skull Island, but I'm also concerned that Jordan Vogt-Roberts' 1970s-set film will serve as a mere setup movie for 2020's Kong vs. Godzilla. This summer's The Mummy simply exists to establish Universal's Monsters Cinematic Universe, and there's a good chance that the same could be said for Transformers: The Last Knight, as Paramount pushes to make more films with those characters. This curse has even extended to the Star Wars franchise- Rogue One only existed to fill in some pieces between Episode III and Episode IV. Simply put, these movies don't feel like actual movies anymore. They exist to get us to the next film, the bigger, more important one.

Which is why something like Logan feels so radical and different. Watching people bend over backwards to squeeze this film into the X-Men timeline, while also hounding James Mangold over why there isn't a post-credits scene, has made me uniquely frustrated, because it demonstrates a total lack of understanding of what makes this so special. Logan isn't about setting up 15 other movies, or uniting the disconnected X-Men universe. It's about giving closure to an epic character, and telling one last great story with a terrific actor. Logan is what happens when you give a director freedom to tell a story without any boundaries, and the result is beautiful. It why it belongs in that incredible class of blockbusters that includes Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight, and even some of Christopher Nolan's more esoteric spectacles.

It also does something that no other mainstream action film has dared to do- it kills its main character. Now, this is something that I've been wanting to see for years. I wanted to see a studio and a filmmaker go for broke and kill off a lead character. Given the excess of heroes in the MCU, I figured that they would be the first to kill someone off, especially with the circumstances of Civil War. However, they missed that opportunity, and I can't even say with absolute certainty that they'll seize their chance with Infinity War. Star Wars: The Force Awakens came close by killing Han Solo, but he wasn't the main character of that film. Logan takes the gamble, giving both Wolverine and Xavier a definitive final chapter by putting the indestructible mutant and the genius professor in the grave for good (don't even bring up the chance of a return in Deadpool 3). As someone who has been clamoring for this kind of risk for a very long time, I was interested to see how it would play on the screen. It surpassed even my highest expectations- Logan's death is tragic and heartbreaking, especially considering everything that comes before during the course of the movie. It's hard to watch a beloved character meet his end in such emotional fashion, and I can't praise Mangold enough for how he handled this superhero breakthrough.

Logan is perfect, and I wish that more movies were like it. But is that a pipe dream, or is that something that could genuinely occur during the next few years? I can't definitively say, but looking ahead at the schedule, I'm not encouraged. Sure, there are a few outliers this year, but the overwhelming amount of blockbusters fit into that safe, standardized void that I was discussing earlier. Even something like Alien: Covenant apparently has six sequels coming down the pipeline. If audiences keep pouring money into movies that are mediocre puzzle pieces, then we're going to get more mediocre puzzle pieces. However, if audiences turn to movies like Logan, films that take risks, tell stories, and stand on their own, then maybe there's a chance for us to get more movies like this.

Look, Hollywood has a lot of problems. A focus on sequels, a desperate need for brand recognition, and an excess of terrible movies- these are all issues that have plagued the system for years. But right now, I think the most concerning trend of all centers around big blockbusters not feeling like actual movies. This may seem like a foolish notion, but it is real and it is dangerous. There's a new Spider-Man movie coming out on July 7, and I guarantee that 99% of people will just be talking about the post-credits scene on July 8. That is something that I simply do not want to see anymore, and the existence of something as bold and incredible as this only makes that even more upsetting. Movies like Jurassic World, Mad Max, Skyfall, and Deadpool are beacons of change in the world of mainstream action cinema. My hope is that audiences start to turn against the formula, embracing things that are satisfying and thrilling on a deeper level.

Maybe all of this is totally unrealistic. Maybe the Marvel mold is the way of the future and we're forever stuck with a world where blockbusters don't matter anymore, where movies are nothing more than extended TV shows with a bigger budget. Maybe we'll have to deal with only having a few truly interesting large-scale movies each year, things like Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, and even War for the Planet of the Apes. Maybe films like the upcoming Han Solo spin-off and the next few installments in the Fantastic Beasts series will be just as pointless and soul-sucking as their predecessors. Maybe superhero movies will never figure it out, and they'll be stuck in this flat, stale void forever.

But we can hope. We can hope that the studios take the right lessons from Logan. Make films with a distinct vision, films that tell a resonant story. Give directors more creative control. Make sure that your major blockbusters have stakes. Make sure that the audience cares about what is happening on screen. These all seem like simple ideas, but the studios haven't been delivering. The product has been there, but the soul is gone.

Maybe Logan is an anomaly. After all, we've seen great standalone movies fall on their face at the box office. But I'm going to maintain the hope that Mangold's film has opened the door to a utopian future, a world where blockbusters have heart, soul, vision, and real characters that the audience cares about. Realistically, I don't think that we'll see anything like it again for a very long time. But to take the lesson of Logan, when things seem darkest, we need to embrace the light. Logan is a brutal, nasty vision of hope, and I'm going to hold onto it for as long as I can. It could change the game if we let it.

Also, a few articles about Logan that I really enjoyed:

"LOGAN: The Things We Leave Behind" by Siddhant Adlakha at Birth.Movies.Death

"'Logan' Shows Comic Book Movies Should Embrace Genre and Ignore Continuity" by Scott Mendelson at Forbes

Image Credits: 20th Century Fox, IMDB