Thursday, December 24, 2015

Movie Review: “The Hateful Eight”

The Hateful Eight

***** out of 5
168 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
The Weinstein Company

Article first published at The Reel Place.

The only movies I’ve tried to keep from showing my bias toward this year are Jurassic World and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.  I have a tried and true love for each and every one of his masterpieces. Case in point: I have a dog named Beatrix Kiddo, and I own a complete set of the eBay-banned Django Unchained action figures from NECA. As for Tarantino, there aren’t very many filmmakers who can create their own complete universes every time they make a movie. They all revolve inside the same one, really — his. Never scurred to wear his inspirations on his sleeves, Tarantino is the master of his film domain and The Hateful Eight only proves that the man truly is an unstoppable force of nature.

Some time after the Civil War — and broken up into five chapters — bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is trying to beat a snowstorm while bringing in his latest fugitive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Along the way, John picks up Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix, the new sheriff of Red Rock. Knowing they aren’t going to arrive in Red Rock, they make for Minnie’s Haberdashery where they shack up with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Bob (Demian Bichir), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). It doesn’t take long before Ruth and Warren call shenanigans on the situation and discover that they may be in over their heads and someone, or everyone, may not be who they claim with ulterior motives.

Yes, Tarantino has gone and made another western. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s an incidental sequel to Django Unchained. The Hateful Eight is a beast all its own and it’s firing on all cylinders from the opening credits, right up until the bloody ending. Don’t think that’s giving anything away now, this is a Quentin Tarantino film after all. The cast is having a ball delivering the year’s best screenplay, with monologue after monologue just waiting to be memorized by the most savvy filmgoer. This is also the year’s best looking film. As much as I loved the cinematography of The Revenant, Robert Richardson and Tarantino take full advantage of their 70mm film stock. While I wasn’t lucky enough to see the film as intended, the digital theatrical cut still looks incredible.

The Hateful Eight also features one of the year’s best scores with Ennio Morricone giving Junkie XL a run for their money after Mad Max: Fury Road. It saddens me that I wasn’t able to take in the film’s overture or intermission, but Morricone has delivered a tried and true classic film score. The surprises come fast and furious, which may sound like the biggest shock considering the film’s length. Even at 168 minutes — with the Roadshow running over three hours — this is Tarantino’s least indulgent movie, but yet his most satisfying. That’s not to say it isn’t without its own set of Tarantino Easter eggs.

Long story short, this is the big one I’ve been waiting for all year and it never disappoints. There have been a lot of really good films in 2015, but this takes the cake. It’s the absolute best. And before you cry “fanboy” on me, just make sure you give the film the chance it deserves. Never boring and keeping the audience on their toes for that long is no small feat. Plain and simple: The Hateful Eight is the best damn film of the year.

Movie Review: “Concussion”


**** out of 5
123 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including some disturbing images, and language
Sony Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

While watching the new football drama Concussion, it made me think, “there’s no way the NFL is going to want people seeing this film.” As it turns out, the NFL had a hand in the final cut and what we get is a surprisingly watered down version of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — not that it’s any less powerful. Writer/director Peter Landesman has an Oscar-worthy performance from Will Smith on hand as they team up to bring Omalu’s plight to the big screen. Considering how hard hitting what we see is, I can only imagine how scary CTE really is.

In Pittsburgh 2002, Omalu is working at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office as a neuropathologist. His unorthodox methods make him beloved by some — namely Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) — while hated by others — fellow pathologist Daniel Sullivan (Mike O’Malley). After retired Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Webster (David Morse) — and a string of players including Justin Strzelczyk (Matthew Willig) — start taking their own lives, Omalu sets out to discover why. Using his own money, Omalu discovers CET and wants to let the world know. Of course it’s not without the obvious headbutting of the NFL with everyone from Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Christopher Jones (Hill Harper) to Commissioner Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson), doing everything they can to try and discredit his findings.

Landesman makes an astounding case for CTE, even with the NFL having their meddling hands in the process. Most of the public will once again shrug off Omalu’s findings, but there’s no doubt going to be a lot of people watching the film and realizing that Omalu is right, and football is in no way shape or form as safe as the league wants fans or parents to believe. Stretching all the way back to childhood sports, there’s going to be more than one set of parents who may stop their child from playing to save them later. The NFL is an almost god-like institution now — something pointed out by Wecht during the film, that they even managed to steal Sunday away.

The cast is phenomenal. Brooks shines as Wecht, delivering some of the most pointed jabs, while Alec Baldwin gets to play doctor alongside Smith as Dr. Julian Bailes. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a great love interest as Prema Mutiso. Her fantastic chemistry with Smith makes the two a believable couple — even if their story sits on the sidelines of the real one. With Smith already nominated for a Golden Globe, I won’t be surprised if he’s nominated come Oscar time. He wound up on my ballot for the annual Utah Film Critics Association — losing to Leonardo DiCaprio — but Smith emerses himself in the role like never before. This is one of his best performances period. The icing on the cake is that he manages to bring such a powerful performance surrounded by a story that needs to be heard.

I’ve never been a huge fan of football, and it’s very interesting to see a little bit of the seedier side of things. Not that I’m surprised it’s there, that would be ridiculous, but for it to be cast in such a spotlight in a big Hollywood production is something of a minor miracle itself. Concussion is a surprisingly important film, and I hope the right people see it. Let’s just say that it’ll never be used a recruiting tool, but it’s definitely a fantastic warning for parents who think that their kid somehow needs to play football. Oh, it’s also one of the best pictures of the year to boot. Who knew science could be so thrilling?

Movie Review: “Joy”


**** out of 5
124 minutes
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
20th Century Fox

Article first published at The Reel Place.

The biopic Joy — chronicling the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the Wonder Mop — directed by David O. Russell, proves two things: his ability to turn even the most mundane sounding venture into something enormously entertaining and his hot streak shows no signs of stopping. Accidental Love aside, Russell has delivered a stellar lineup after a six year hiatus.

Not discounting his earlier films, the man has just never directed a bad film. Something most directors only dream being said about their career. And Joy only keeps the momentum going after The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle with another Oscar-caliber performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Something I was praying we would see after her sleepwalking through The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2.

Joy (Lawrence) lives at home with her helpless mother Carrie (Virginia Madsen), grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), basement-dwelling ex-husband Tony (Édgar Ramírez), and her two kids. She’s barely making ends meet when her father Rudy (Robert De Niro) is given back to him from his current fling of two years, and takes up residence in the basement with the lounge-singing Tony.

Dealing with downsizing at work, Joy is forced to come to grips with the reality that her life is nowhere close to what Mimi told her it would be. One day, Joy decides she’s had enough and sets out to make an invention that will save her family and her sanity: the Miracle Mop. Now, she’s in more debt than ever before after a disastrous turn of events thanks to her half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) and must take a stand when a tycoon tries to steal her patent and ruin her forever.

If there’s one emotion that comes to mind watching Russell’s Joy, it’s that of the title. From scene to scene he takes the mundane and finds just the right amount of quirk to make it immediately familiar, but just larger than life to be entertaining. The cast helps in this regard, but that should come as no surprise. It was interesting to think that it appeared as if Amy Adams was Russell’s muse after her turns in The Fighter and American Hustle, but here, it becomes all too clear that it’s really Lawrence.

And just because Bradley Cooper is in the credits, don’t think that Russell is milking their chemistry together again so soon. The two do work wonders together, but they aren’t here to play hookup. The film opens with the disclaimer: “Inspired by stories of daring women. One in particular.” And that’s exactly who Joy is. Strong and independent — at least after the character finally gets deep enough to take action — Lawrence owns the character of Mangano and brings her to life in all her vulnerability as well.

The rest of the cast are having a lot of fun, with De Niro in particular making sure we know that he doesn’t just take paycheck flicks. With the right material and director, the man is every bit as good as he’s always been. Russell keeps the pace chugging along, making the two hour runtime fly by, something that can’t be said for most biopics. With Lawrence giving another one of her Oscar-caliber performances, we’re bound to see her name announced come February, and I bet we get the same thing with Russell. Joy may not be the best film of the year, but it’s definitely one of them. And would we expect anything less from Russell & Company?

Movie Review: “In the Heart of the Sea”

In the Heart of the Sea

** out of 5
122 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and peril, brief startling violence, and thematic material
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

If there’s any director who used to make great films, it’s Ron Howard. While Rush made it appear as if maybe someone had finally lit the fires and kicked his tires, here we are with one of the year’s most boring films, In the Heart of the Sea. Adapting Nathaniel Philbrick’s novel, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, should have been a cakewalk. And while screenwriter Charles Leavitt gives us one or two fantastic action sequences involving the whale attack that inspired Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick and John Huston’s epic film, what we’re left with here is not the whale of a tale we were hoping — instead, it’s more like Jaws meets Castaway, but nowhere near as fun as that sounds. Not even close.

In 1850, Melville (Ben Whishaw) has just arrived in Nantucket, seeking out Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the sole survivor of the fateful Essex vessel. Melville offers Tom all the money he has in the world for one good story — one Tom won’t even share with his wife (Michelle Fairley). Bouncing back and forth from 1850 to the disastrous whaling expedition, we join the rest of the crew, including First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy) and teenage deck swabbing Tom (Tom Holland). Everyone is off in search of whale oil, something Chase manages to bring back more than anyone else, and it’s not long before they’re attacked by the giant sperm whale and fighting for their lives.

Whaling, the high seas, and cannibalism all sound like the makings of an interesting film, but Howard and company let everyone down with horrendous pacing. It takes forever to get to the action beats, and you never care who lives or dies as the whale attacks. The bickering between Chase and Pollard is supposed to give the film some emotional heft, but they both come across as pompous. And while some may be interested in the fact that this is the first chance to see Thor and Spider-man on screen together for the first time, don’t get too excited. Their interaction is few and far between and honestly, it could have made a far more interesting story had Chase played surrogate older brother, but that never comes to light.

Howard is clearing aiming for Oscars with In the Heart of the Sea, and there may be some technical nominations in its future — one thing it will never win is for cinematography. While managing to pull off the feat of making you feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the action, it means you feel like you’re standing on the rocking boat. Seasickness is bound to strike the most average moviegoer, only to be exacerbated with being in 3D. The whale should have been the star of the show, and whenever it comes to attack this is certainly one realistic sea creature. So much so, that Warner Bros. used their footage to finally convince Eli Roth to jump on the long gestating megalodon flick Meg.

Somewhere, In the Heart of the Sea, there’s a way better movie to be made. But alas, this isn’t it. The film is a complete bore and doesn’t really deserve any kind of special mention aside from the whale footage. And on that note, anyone with even an inkling of interest might as well hold off to watch it at home from the safety of their own couch, with a bucket standing by. The cliche “thar she blows” gets hollered more than a couple of times, and sadly, the same is all there is to say.

Blu-ray Review: “Goodnight Mommy”

Movie: **** out of 5
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: **** 1/2
Extras: **

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Goodnight Mommy’ Lives Up To the Hype As One of the Year’s Creepiest Films on Blogcritics.

Creepy twins are nothing new to the horror genre. The Shining, Dead Ringers, Sisters, Basket Case. If you want an easy way to keep audiences on their toes, twins are always a winner. And the German horror Goodnight Mommy certainly delivers on its premise — even if you can see the big twist coming in the first five minutes. Don’t let that get in the way as writing/directing team Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz manage to pull out the stops in what will go down as the year’s creepiest film. Armed with a more than game cast in Susanne Wuest and twin boys Lukas and Elias Schwarz, they set out to make you squirm more and more as the film makes its way to its final reveal.

Goodnight Mommy, Horror, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias SchwarzThe film is quite simple really: Lukas and Elias’s Mother (Wuest) has just returned from having cosmetic surgery. Wrapped in bandages, the boys don’t question the identity of the woman beneath the gauze, until some increasingly warped happenings shed light that she may not be who they think she is. A quick Internet search only heightens their suspicion when they find pictures of their mother with someone they don’t know, who happens to look an awful lot like Mother. A disappearing birthmark, pet cockroaches, missing family photos, and a dead cat all make an appearance as the boys embark on a mission to find out whether their Mother is an imposter as a fight to the finish erupts in the ultimate case of identity.

Anchor Bay Entertainment sets Goodnight Mommy loose on a 25GB disc, framed in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio with pretty fantastic results. While there may not be any crush — aside from intentional — or aliasing — a small miracle considering the home is filled with blinds — the finale is riddled with excessive banding. Thankfully, detail is razor sharp, aside from a few inherited soft shots. Colors are muted for the most part, something that certainly helps when blood is finally spilt. The German 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track also makes the most of a full surround environment —most particularly when a storm blows through with plenty of wind, rain, and deep rumbling thunder. Music is sparse — I honestly can’t remember a single instance of it — so you never have to worry about missing dialogue. It’s not a problem anyway with the included English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired.

Goodnight Mommy, Horror, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias SchwarzConsidering how simplistic the film is, it’s no surprise that there’s only one special feature: “A Conversation with Filmmakers Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala.” Here, they discuss multiple aspects of the production, indicating the plot is based on their own real fears from childhood, and Fiala’s struggles with identity having a twin of his own. They also mention how they like the idea of how horror movies are essentially nightmares compressed into a controlled two-hour environment and how exciting they find it to wake up from a nightmare knowing that it was all just a dream. The film itself at times has a dreamlike quality, always keeping the audience on its toes.

Wuest and the Schwarz boys do a magnificent job keeping the audience enthralled in the deviousness no matter how extreme they start to get before the credits roll. My only complaint, surprisingly, is that the film feels like it could use another twist. Maybe it’s just the fact that I called it five minutes in, but at least they stick to the twist and never cheat. Goodnight Mommy is so highly-acclaimed right now that a Hollywood remake is inevitable, but I would say, aside from the ending, the film is damn near flawless. Filled with enough creepy visuals to haunt you long after it’s over, Goodnight Mommy lives up to the hype and is worth a look for anyone in need of fulfilling their annual horror quota in a year that’s been sorely lacking from anything this great.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

***** out of 5
135 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence

Article first published at The Reel Place.

Film critics get the chance to review a lot of films. But how many happen to be called Stars Wars? OK, so the vets have had the chance to review six of them, and I bet they remember their first. And so it comes to pass, I too, get the chance to write my own first Star Wars review with The Force Awakens. While having never necessarily been in development hell, it’s been 10 years since the iconic title card and John Williams’s soaring score graced the silver screen in Revenge of the Sith. With J.J. Abrams at the helm can the rabid fanbase rest easy, or does the joke hold true that J.J. would turn out to stand for Jar Jar Abrams? Luckily, The Force Awakens lives up to the original trilogy in every possible way, leaving the prequels to mold and rot as they rightly deserve.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished! Thirty years since the fall of the Empire, a new threat to a galaxy far far away has risen from its ashes. The First Order — overseen by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) — are on the hunt for the missing piece of a map leading to Skywalker. Luke may have vanished, but the First Order will stop at nothing to find and destroy him. General Leia (Carrie Fisher) has sent her best Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to meet with Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) on the planet Jakku, to get the missing piece of the map before it falls into the wrong hands. Poe is captured then freed by Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and they crash land back on Jakku where Finn joins forces with scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). Now, the two must find safety for Poe’s droid BB-8 who holds the map piece. Aboard the Millennium Falcon they take off on the adventure of a lifetime with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) in tow.

Oh mama, audiences are in for a treat with The Force Awakens. The biggest sigh of relief for the most hardened fans, is that Abrams hasn’t just gone and made an Abrams Star Wars movie. This is a Star Wars film through and through. From Williams’s score to the beloved sound effects, characters, and scene transitions, this is the Star Wars fans know and love. There really isn’t much to get into. There’s only so much praise you can heap upon one film, right? I mean, I guess I could dive into how much fun everyone is having back in such an iconic universe and how the new blood mix fantastically with the characters of yore and amongst themselves as well. Or how amazing the action sequences are. Or how no one will be left walking out of the theater without a big fat smile slapped across their face.

My only minor quibble is with the character of Maz Kanata (played by Lupita Nyong’o). She may be a gifted actress, but she doesn’t seem to have the requirements needed to bring a full-CGI character to life. I’ve heard her character was trimmed down immensely and sometimes less is more. She definitely sticks out amongst the rest of the animatronic/made up creatures and characters. At first I wasn’t too keen on the look of one of the main villains, Supreme Leader Snoke, but Andy Serkis can only do so much with a small amount of time. It isn’t the character that could have used a tuneup so much as the special effects which call attention to themselves until the end of the first scene Snook is in. Once something is revealed about the character I was able to let it go. This may not make sense now — you’ll see what I mean.

And speaking of which, I may have seen this with select critics in Salt Lake City, but I cannot wait to see it again with a huge audience. I will be back to see again in IMAX 3D and can’t wait for everyone I know to finally witness all the thrills, chills, and feels that I’ve been managing to keep mum on for the past day and a half. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the biggest gift fans — and anyone else — could wish for this holiday season. It’s one of the biggest, badass rides of the year, and never disappoints for a second.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Movie Review: “The Good Dinosaur”

The Good Dinosaur

**** out of 5
100 minutes
Rated PG for peril, action and thematic elements
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place. 

While DreamWorks still has their fair share of misses, Pixar really only has one true flub in their arsenal: Cars 2. While Brave and Monsters University have their naysayers, even they were at least enjoyable — not to mention box office hits. The only thing holding back The Good Dinosaur, is it’s coming hot on the heels of Inside Out, one of their all-time best. Director Peter Sohn’s dinosaur-western (yes, you read that right), doesn’t quite pale by comparison, but some will deem it merely adequate Pixar. In this day and age though, even mediocre Pixar still makes the best animated films of any year, which unto itself is always an accomplishment.

Sixty-five million years ago, the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs has simply skimped by as a shooting star in the night. Millions of years later, Poppa (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (voiced by Frances McDormand) are plowing fields and building huts to keep their newly hatched apatosaurus family safe and fed. Hatchlings Libby (voiced by Maleah Nipay-Padilla), Buck (voiced by Ryan Teeple), and our hero Arlo (voiced by Jack McGraw) are brought into a world where the dinosaurs have evolved to rule the world. Years later, the grown up siblings (now voiced by Maleah Padilla, Marcus Scribner, and Raymond Ochoa) are trying to make their mark on the family food supply, with Arlo trying to prove he’s more than just the runt.

Despite being terrified of everything, Poppa tasks Arlo with catching and killing the critter that’s been stealing their corn. Arlo gets scared causing the human child — later named Spot (voiced by Jack Bright) — to be chased into the wilderness by Arlo and Poppa. Soon enough, a storm hits, causing Arlo to witness his father’s death, and is cast into the world on his own. Not without running across little Spot of course, who leads Arlo on an adventure of self discovery involving run ins with various dinosaurs from the friendly tyrannosaurus rexes to the loopy styracosaurus to the terrors of velociraptors and pterodactyls.

When it comes to Pixar, the final product always manages to shine through the production troubles, and The Good Dinosaur is no exception. Work on the film began in 2009, when Sohn and original director Bob Peterson (co-director of Up and the voice of Dug), came up with the idea and eventually Peterson was replaced by Sohn. Meg LeFauve may get final screenwriting credit (she also co-wrote Inside Out), but the five story credits shed light on the production issues. It also underwent a major release date shift from November 2013 to May 2014, and is now finally being released. The third act was completely redone, and a lot of the voice cast was replaced. Thankfully — while still not being one of the Pixar prime films — The Good Dinosaur has come out on top.

The voice cast who remain are having a lot of fun and Sohn has managed to make more than just a good movie. Full of heart and adventure, there’s plenty to keep everyone in the family invested. While it’s hard for me to not be biased — this is a western, featuring dinosaurs, made by Pixar, three of my favorite things — it’s definitely far from perfect. Spot remains hilarious throughout, but Arlo can be a bit annoying from time to time. It also starts to get repetitive how many times he screams and runs away from something, or gets hit in the head and the film cuts to a blackout. However, the story is a lot of fun — it’s nice to see nature getting to play the villain, even if the pterodactyls and velociraptors wreak havoc — and it flies by pretty quick. And in true Pixar fashion, some viewers will want to bring along some tissues. Hilarious, heartbreaking, and gorgeously animated, The Good Dinosaur may not be perfect Pixar, but it’s still really good Pixar.

*Also, be sure to arrive on time to make sure you don’t miss the short, Sanjay’s Super Team. It’s an action packed hilarious ode to Hindu traditions and superhero tropes.

Movie Review: “Creed”


**** out of 5
133 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

The world may be gaga over Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise, but I’ve just never seen the appeal. A friend of mine tried to get me to watch the original years ago, but I fell asleep. After watching the spin off movie Creed — and perhaps being a bit older — I can appreciate the appeal of even Rocky Balboa himself now. Stallone may not be the best actor, but at least they picked the right one for this. Michael B. Jordan has always been one of the hottest rising stars today, and with Creed, it finally proves he lives up to the hype. Jumping back into the ring with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, the trio deliver one of the year’s biggest crowd-pleasing knockouts.

Creed kicks off drumming to its own beat, introducing us to the young Adonis Johnson (Alex Henderson) in juvenile detention. After his latest fight, he gets thrown into lockup and is soon visited by the widow of Apollo Creed himself, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). She knows he is Apollo’s son, and takes him in, offering him a better chance at life. Cutting to the present, we find adult Adonis (Jordan) working at a financial institute and quitting his job the same day he gets a promotion. Adonis wants to live up to his father’s namesake, and moves to Philadelphia to try to get Rocky (Stallone) to teach him how to fight. Along the way, he also finds time to meet-cute his singer/neighbor Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and catch the attention of heavyweight champion “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) who wants to fight Adonis before Conlan is shipped off to prison.

If there’s one thing that helps Creed more than anything, it’s that Coogler has made the world of Rocky come alive, probably better than ever before. The film makes the character feel literally real and not just out of a movie. This feels less like a sequel and more like a documentary. It helps that Stallone took the backseat and didn’t even touch the screenplay, giving him the chance to loosen up for the camera. The film also benefits from a welcome sense of humor and character relationships that also feel as real as Rocky does.

Jordan and Thompson have great chemistry together, along with Jordan and Stallone. Some may not like the sight of an aging Rocky, but let’s face it, Stallone himself turns 70 next year. It only makes sense for the series to be passing the torch at this point. We’ve seen what happens with Stallone back in the ring, and rest assured, this is no Grudge Match. The bottom line is with Creed, the Rocky legacy gets a chance to live on, and if it can make a fan out of me, then I can see the franchise continuing on for years to come.

Movie Review: “Trumbo”


**** out of 5
124 minutes
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Bleecker Street Media

Article first published at The Reel Place.

If there’s one piece of irony when it comes to films about Hollywood, it’s that they’re not made for mainstream audiences. Typically armed with surefire dialogue and larger-than-life characters, these are films made for a far more niche group. Occasionally they can reach a bigger audience, but they’re usually fictionalized: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Singin’ in the Rain, Adaptation, Tropic Thunder, Get Shorty. So imagine how small the audience for Trumbo will be when it comes to the topic of the “Hollywood 10,” a group of screenwriters thrown in prison for communism. Thankfully, director Jay Roach has delivered his best film yet, armed with a game cast — even if the film barely lives up to its subjects own Oscar-winning abilities.

It’s 1947 and we’re on the set of the latest collaboration between Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). While Trumbo is constantly made fun of for hanging out on set, it’s his words that he wants to make sure get brought to life in all their splendor. Meanwhile, Trumbo is living a rocky personal life because he’s a communist, and the government is out to get them. Not even John Wayne (David James Elliott) takes kindly to their sort, and Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) has her own agenda to out anyone she can. What do you do when no one in Hollywood will let you write? Just slap someone else’s name on it of course. This leads to Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk) winning an Oscar for the Roman Holiday screenplay. Eventually, Trumbo and some of his closest colleagues — including Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) — are imprisoned for their beliefs, but that doesn’t stop Trumbo from writing his biggest movie yet: Spartacus.

Roach leads his actors through the motions with Cranston in particular getting to rant some spectacularly crafted monologues courtesy of John McNamara. While the film does run a little long, Cranston commands the screen, bringing Trumbo to brilliant life. The supporting cast all do their best to keep up with him, especially C.K. with his patented brand of deadpan delivery providing huge laughs. Some good digs are made that still ring true today: “It’s a good government, but everything could be better,” and “There are many angry and ignorant people in this world and they seem to be breeding in record numbers.”

The point the film wants to get across more than anything is that just because someone believes something different than you, doesn’t mean they’re a radical with an agenda. The first amendment is meant for everyone, and if we don’t acknowledge that these kinds of things have happened in the past, then we’re bound to repeat them. As for the film itself, don’t be surprised to see it mentioned in a few categories. Especially Cranston, the man is electric and mesmerizing as he spews the dialogue provided — the best bits are saved for him and C.K. If Trumbo happens to be playing in your area, it’s a sad piece of Hollywood history that shows that it isn’t always flash and glitter behind the scenes.

Blu-ray Review: “A Christmas Horror Story”

Movie: *** 1/2 out of 5
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: **** 1/2
Extras: ** 1/2

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘A Christmas Horror Story’ Featuring William Shatner on Blogcritics.

The two holidays I love the most, also happen to have the most films at their disposal: Halloween and Christmas. And as much as I love both of them, I may love holiday horror films even more. There’s just something cathartic about watching something so sacred get torn to shreds for the sake of a laugh or scare. While ranging in quality to severe degrees, I’ll watch pretty much anything with a good holiday twist to it. Black Christmas/X-mas, Silent Night Deadly Night, Rare Exports, Gremlins, Jack Frost, and Santa’s Slay, there’s something for everyone under the tree. So, how does the new anthology, A Christmas Horror Story, stack up? Unfortunately, it doesn’t all gel the way you’d hope, but there is a great twist at the end that almost more than makes up for it.

A Christmas Horror Story, Christmas, Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan, William Shatner, Santa, Santa Claus, Krampus, George Buza, Zoe De Grand Maison, Rob ArcherThree tales come together on Christmas Eve in the fictional town of Bailey Downs where radio DJ Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) is keeping everyone in the spirit of the season, while a trio of groups are about to cross paths with some demented mythology. Video journalists Molly (Zoé De Grand Maison), Ben (Alex Ozerov), and Dylan (Shannon Kook) are investigating the deaths of two students who are about to find out that there may be more to the Virgin Mary than they ever imagined.

Dysfunctional family Scott (Adrian Holmes), Kim (Oluniké Adeliyi), and young Will (Orion John) get up close and personal with the effects of a changeling. Caprice (Amy Forsyth), her parents Taylor (Jeff Clarke) and Diane (Michelle Nolden), and brother Duncan (Percy Hynes White) get to find out why Aunt Edda (Corinne Conley) keeps a Krampus figurine laying around. Meanwhile, up at the North Pole, Santa (George Buza) discovers that Krampus (Rob Archer) may have been released after his elves wind up turning into zombies.

Image Entertainment unleashes these sordid Christmas tales to stunning life, proving yet again that sometimes you can’t keep a 25GB disc down. Detail never falters, whether out in the woods, or in the basement of a creepy old school. Shadows never result in crush, and there is surprisingly never any banding. Colors pop, which only exacerbates the punches of red whenever blood starts flying, and the bright greens and reds never result in bleeding. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track also gets a lot of mileage, with plenty of deep, rumbling bass, and a lot of surround effects. This is a horror after all, and there’s plenty of carnage to assault the viewer from every speaker. The festive score and dialogue are never lost in the chaos. English SDH subtitles are on hand for those in need.

The special features are as sparse as can be, but at least we aren’t left with a lump of coal in our stocking. Featuring pre-menu trailers for Odd Thomas and WolfCop, the lone extra is a “Behind the Scenes” (14:45) featurette letting the cast and crew provide insight as to who directed which segment, and where their inspirations stem from. However, it wasn’t pleasing hearing them say how Creepshow was a huge inspiration, only to turn around and say how “corny” they think it is now. That anthology is a true horror classic, and I have to say now, that I will probably never watch A Christmas Horror Story again. As much fun as it may be seeing elves die in extreme fashion, there’s just not enough to make this an annual favorite. It works in spurts, but never comes together in a satisfying whole, but there is at least enough good to make inquiring minds get their money’s worth. Anyone making a blind purchase may find themselves in the mood for re-gifting.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Movie Review: “The Night Before”

The Night Before

**** 1/2 out of 5
101 minutes
Rated R for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity
Columbia Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

Ho ho ho, now this is more like it. Studios really can still make a good holiday film after all! Just when we thought Love the Coopers had come to destroy our Christmas cheer, along comes a gaggle of potheads to bowl us over with the true yuletide spirit. Leave it to Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie to make one of the year’s most hilarious trios as they take us through the holiday motions in The Night Before. Sure, it’s jam-packed with lowest common denominator humor, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be smart and damn funny. Armed with always reliable director Jonathan Levine — All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Wackness, 50/50, Warm Bodies — it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that there’s every bit of heart and warmth amidst the potty humor.

In 2001, Ethan (JGL) lost his parents in a car accident. Lucky for him, he’s blessed with two of the world’s best friends — Isaac (Rogen) and Chris Roberts (Mackie) — who vow that he’ll never spend Christmas alone. Over the years, Isaac and Chris have started to move on with their lives — Chris is a professional football player and Isaac is now married to Betsy (Jillian Bell) with a baby on the way — and each year it’s getting harder and harder to keep their tradition alive. That is until Ethan steals a Christmas miracle when he finds tickets to the holiday’s hottest, most secret, party. Now, Ethan forces his friends to endure one last night they might never remember, all while holding out hope to win back his one true love, Diana (Lizzy Caplan).

Man, oh man, does this make up for the vitriol we had to spew upon last week’s Love the Coopers. Not only is The Night Before one of the year’s funniest comedies, it’s a spectacularly heartfelt ode to the Christmas classics my generation grew up with. There are plenty of nods to everything from Die Hard to the first two Home Alone films. Yes, a new Christmas classic is born. Risen from the ashes of Nothing Like the Holidays, Four Christmases, Fred Claus, Deck the Halls, Surviving Christmas, The Polar Express, and Christmas with the Kranks, this is one of the best since Bad Santa, Love Actually, and Elf all came out in 2003. There have been some others along the way, but this really takes the cake and just oozes Christmas from every frame.

The cast are having a blast, and thankfully so are we. How many times have we been burned by a film where the cast were merely enjoying a studio-paid vacation? Here’s looking at you Adam Sandler who’s responsible for one of the worst Christmas/films ever: Eight Crazy Nights. The Night Before just wants everyone to have a good time and that’s exactly what we get. Even Michael Shannon gets to steal every scene he’s in. Mr. Green is one of the best characters of the year.

There may be four credited screenwriters — Levine is joined by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, and Rogen right-hand man Evan Goldberg — fill the film with spit-out-your-soda hilarious lines of dialogue and some of the most outrageous visual gags we’ve been waiting for since This Is the End. Some may have found The Interview a bit of a let down after they made one of the best apocalypse films ever, but they are right back where they belong, keeping the hilarity chugging right along with the message.

Don’t think the film has an agenda, if it does, it’s to let the audience join in on the year’s best night out. The Night Before may not be for every taste, but for those looking for the year’s most spirited, balls out, Christmas comedy, this is all we need to get through the holidays, at least until we get to see how Krampus plays out. If it’s anywhere near as delightful as The Night Before, then merry Christmas to all and to all a good night, indeed!

Movie Review: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

*** out of 5
137 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material

Article first published at The Reel Place.

Long story short, it took four films — culminating with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 for me to realize this film series, simply isn’t meant for me. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first film after having read and thoroughly enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel. But director Gary Ross’s sluggishly paced big screen adaptation just left something unfulfilled.

After a change in director, to Francis Lawrence, Catching Fire proved that the series could live up to both fans and the average moviegoer. So far, it’s the best film in the series, period.

After a disastrous of an end in Mockingjay – Part 1, how does Part 2 stack up? Well, as a series finale it mangles any chance of redemption with what has to be the most anticlimactic capper seen in awhile. I can’t imagine watching both films back-to-back. Nothing happens in such a long runtime.
Judging by my wife’s reaction to me feeling underwhelmed, the fans will eat it up. And that’s all that really matters, right? Is it even really worth spending time on a full review that’s as critic proof as this? The only other film this year that might be even harder to justify reviewing — whether it’s fantastic or not — would be Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Resistance is futile with a rabid fan base that couldn’t care less whether or not Jennifer Lawrence gives a surprisingly weak performance, or that Donald Sutherland is almost unintentionally hilarious. And there’s the action. The film plays out like a video game: get the characters from point A to point B and then they sit in darkness, waiting to move on to the next plot point. Peter Craig and Danny Strong’s screenplay suffers from extreme bouts of being episodic. Even if you haven’t read the book, or know anything about foreshadowing, you will see the film’s twists coming from a mile away.

I’m not trying to rake the film over the coals, it just could have been so much more. Had Part 1 and Part 2 been whittled down to even just a three hour runtime, this really could have been a fantastic finale. But as it stands, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 sends the series out not with the bang, but with a whimper.

Maybe there’s hope for the announced spinoffs, because there is a world of interesting ideas Collins has set into motion with her books and films. They need to be fully tapped. Maybe with some creative license, Lionsgate can keep the franchise going — even if mostly in name — and they can find someone to deliver another entry that lives up to the greatness of Catching Fire. Until then, all I could think walking out out of this was, “They made us wait a whole year for that?!”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Movie Review: “Love the Coopers”

Love the Coopers

Zero stars
107 excruciating minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some sexuality
CBS Films

Article first published at The Reel Place.

To say I love Christmas movies is a bit of an understatement. From standard classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street to what some kind consider the oddball choices of Gremlins and Die Hard. Love Actually happens to be one of my all-time favorite films. So it made my heart sink to learn that this season’s big holiday film, Love the Coopers,  had some not so encouraging names behind the scenes.

Director Jessie Rogers made a career out of writing/directing nothing but manipulative garbage — Corrina, Corrina, I Am Sam, Stepmom, Because I Said So. She also is credited with the story for another horrible holiday film: Fred Claus. Rogers was enough to discredited all hope. Then you factor in that it was written by Steven Rogers — Hope Floats, Stepmom, Kate & Leopold, P.S. I Love You — and I think you can guess what you’re getting yourself into with Love the Coopers.

There’s no love to be found anywhere in a hopelessly petty outing with one of cinemas most unlikeable families. You will not love anyone by the time the big stupid twist comes at the end. Let’s just say that Steve Martin — who narrates the entire movie — should be ashamed of himself for stooping to such a lowbrow film. And the rest of the cast should know better too.

Except for Diane Keaton. When’s the last time she did anything watchable? And So It Goes, The Big Wedding, Because I Said So, Something’s Gotta Give, Town & Country, Hanging Up, The Other Sister… as another recent holiday film would say, “good grief!”

The only one person watchable through the entire run time is Alan Arkin. But that man could read the phone book and make it enjoyable. It’s a shame that the opportunity to reunite Arkin with John Goodman results in so little amusement. They were so fantastic together in Argo, but here, Arkin is squandered to spewing unintentionally creepy monologues at Amanda Seyfried.

Then there’s the wasted opportunity of having Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) stuck in the world’s longest police arrest with what appears to take an eternity before Tomei eventually jokes, “You can let me out here” only making the audience pray for the same luxury. The bottom line is that Love the Coopers is not just one of the worst holiday movies ever, it’s one of the worst films of the year and should be avoided at all costs.

Movie Review: “The 33”

The 33

** 1/2 out of 5
127 minutes
Rated PG-13 for a disaster sequence and some language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

When’s the last time you ever sat through a made-for-TV movie and thought to yourself: “Man, that would have been killer on the big screen?” Never? That’s what I thought. Unfortunately for the true story The 33 — based on the 2010 Chilean mining disaster — director Patricia Riggen never manages to dig the film out of the depths of manipulative melodrama. Three screenwriters — Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas — certainly doesn’t help either because they never take the time for one scene of authenticity to make you care about the devastated miners trapped inside a San Jose mine for 69 days. Not even the dependable Antonio Banderas can keep our interests, let alone the fact that — SPOILER ALERT — all of the ill-fated 33 survive.

For those who may not be as well versed in what happened, in 2010, Mario Sepulveda (Banderas), along with 32 other miners, started their day like any other day. What they didn’t know was that “the heart of the mountain” was going to come crash down on them, leaving them stranded with next to no food or water. Down below, Mario and bossman Luis Urzua (Lou Diamond Phillips) must keep everyone sane and safe while above, Minister Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), the Minister of Minery of Chile, must keep his promise to the miners’ loved ones to find a way to get the men back to the surface.

Not meaning any disrespect to the miners who were trapped below the surface, they have not been given their due with The 33. The film suffers from an excruciating pace, deflating any kind of tension to their eventual rescue. It doesn’t help that the entire cast is directed to histrionics and overacting every chance they get. It’s also extremely distracting that they decided to make the film in English. There’s absolutely no reason the cast couldn’t have been allowed to speak in their native tongues; it just makes the film feel even more whitewashed than The Help did. It ends informing the audience how the men were never compensated for the disaster, yet there’s an online petition stating the same thing about the movie. Hypocrisy at its finest — if it’s true.

But I suppose it really doesn’t matter, I have no idea who the film was made for. The miners themselves? Because it sure sounds like they wouldn’t even be able to pay to see it. Lets hope they at least get invited to the premiere. Maybe it’d seem more powerful if you were sitting next to one of them. As it stands, it’s just another pseudo-disaster movie that would feel right at home on the Hallmark Channel. Something that should never be said of a big screen Hollywood biopic.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Blu-ray Review: “Some Kind of Hate”

Movie: *** 1/2 out of 5
Video: ****
Audio: *** 1/2
Extras: ***

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s ‘Some Kind of Hate’ Tries to Breathe New Life Into the Slasher Genre on Blogcritics.

With how many movies are released every year, there are an astounding number of horror films. While not all of them get the theatrical treatment — and many of them shouldn’t — it’s amazing what we do see up on the big screen versus what winds up in the direct-to-video heap. While director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Some Kind of Hate isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it’s way better than, say, Unfriended. Mortimer attempts to create a new iconic slasher for horror hounds, but there are way more ideas running through the film, than outright strokes of genius. But there’s still plenty of fun to be found. It’s available for purchase as a Best Buy exclusive until December 29 from RLJ Entertainment.

Some Kind of Hate, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Brian DeLeeuw, Sierra McCormick, Grace Phipps, Lexi Atkins, Spencer Breslin, Ronen RubinsteinLincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) deals with his fair share of bullies. His dad is an alcoholic who blames him for the TV not working because there’s so many wires plugged into it, and at school he also deals with being the outsider until he decides to stick a fork in his tormentor’s eye. Shipped off to the Mind’s Eye Academy, things take a turn for the Friday the 13th Part V when he runs into a new set of bullies that he wishes were all dead, unleashing the vengeful spirit of Moira (Sierra McCormick). Turns out, Moira was bullied herself and wound up dead at the hands of the current counselors — including Krauss (Noah Segan), Christine (Lexi Atkins), and Jack Iverson (Michael Polish). Now, Moira wants to unleash her revenge upon those who killed her, but wants to also have her way with the rest of the current batch of misfits — most of all Lincoln’s maybe-girlfriend Kaitlin (Grace Phipps).

RLJ Entertainment may never provide their films with spacious 50GB discs, but considering there aren’t a ton of extra features helps provide enough room to get the job done. Some Kind of Hate was designed to look like an independent drama and that’s exactly what we get. While there isn’t a whole lot of post-processing, the color timing goes from drab to natural from scene to scene. Colors look completely natural in one scene and may appear dreary in another. Fine detail is never as razor sharp as it could be, but even in the darkest scenes there’s plenty of shadow delineation. That is unless the director is aiming for intentional crush. There’s not a lot, but it is a horror film, so we still get some. Alisasing and banding never appear. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a little lesser than the video, yet still manages to create enough ambience to keep you on edge when required. Surrounds are limited to when there’s on-screen action. There is no alternate language options and subtitles are English SDH only.

As for special features, like I said, there aren’t a whole lot, and the highlight is the audio commentaries. One features writer/director Mortimer joined by co-writer Brian DeLeeuw, with the other having Mortimer joined by Rubinstein, Phipps, and McCormick. The usual behind-the-scenes anecdotes are discussed, with the director and co-writer talking about how they wanted to create themes akin to Nightmare on Elm Street and Candyman. They also wanted to make sure we know that Mortimer is a big fan of New Wave Euro horror and that he loves to make people watch Martyrs — a film I still think is extremely overrated. A collection of deleted scenes (4:02) include: “Computer Room” (:25), “Iverson’s Office” (:56), “Lincoln’s Mom” (2:13), and “Vice Magazine” (:29). None of these really add much to the story, aside from “Lincoln’s Mom” where we do get a little insight to his motivations involving his mother’s death. There’s also optional commentary with Mortimer on all of them.

The film finds a fun, new twist to play with in their villainous Moira. Whatever kind of harm you inflict upon her inflicts on you. Let’s just say you don’t want to stick a gun in her mouth and pull the trigger. Moira may not have an instantly iconic look, but McCormick brings a manic glee that lets you know she relishes playing the slasher character, getting to dispatch victims in bloody fashion. The rest of the cast aren’t quite having as much fun as she is, but Phipps comes close. Decked out in I Spit on Your Grave-styled daisy dukes, she gets to shine in what almost becomes her own villain, even if she’s simply trying to save Lincoln. Featuring decent video/audio and a small set of special features, horror hounds may not have a new horror hero on their hands, but Some Kind of Hate will more than satisfy genre fans on any day of the week.

Movie Review: “The Peanuts Movie”

The Peanuts Movie

**** out of 5
88 minutes
Rated G
20th Century Fox

Article first published at The Reel Place.

Sometimes a movie can t exist on nostalgia alone — Jurassic World proved that this summer, aside from being a fantastic adventure in its own right. So you would think that The Peanuts Movie would be an a slam dunk, right? Especially considering how much care goes into animated features these days. Add to that Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz’s son (Craig) and grandson (Bryan) were co-writing the screenplay — along with Cornelius Uliano — we can at least say the spirit of the original comics and TV specials remain intact. Unfortunately, they’ve kept the Peanuts world contained to a G rating — something of a rarity these days — which creates a sense of boredom in a film that plays it a little too safe at times.

We kick off our new adventure during winter. Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) is up to his usual good grief antics of having to pick himself up after all the usual failed attempts at life. Soon, things start to look up for the blockhead when a new Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) moves in across the street. Now, Chuck has found a reason for living and sets out to do everything he can to win her affection. Meanwhile, after Snoopy (Bill Melendez) is banned from sneaking into school and finds a typewriter in a dumpster, he starts writing the next great novel — with the help of Woodstock of course — about the World War I Flying Ace trying to defeat the Red Baron, trying to win his own true love, Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth).

Director Steve Martino keeps things moving at a mostly frenetic pace — things do seem to slow down in the second act though — and provides a gorgeous landscape for the newly computer-animated characters to live in. It literally feels like you were sucked into the comic strip or TV specials and never worries about trying to razzle dazzle the audience. However, the biggest thing working against the film achieving instant classic status is Martino himself. He’s never made a great movie to begin with — Horton Hears a Who!, Ice Age: Continental Drift — so it makes me curious who thought he was the man for the job. Serviceable is the best word to describe The Peanuts Movie, but it may have a hard time winning over new fans.

The one job the film has is winning over the adults — we are the ones who grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — so I hoped there would be plenty of magic on the first big screen adventure. Unfortunately, there is barely enough story to sustain a 90-minute movie. As fantastic as it was to see the likes of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, Marcie, Peppermint Patty, Linus, Schroeder, Sally, and Pig-Pen together again, the Peanuts Movie doesn’t have that instant rewatch factor. Once it’s over, you won’t want to run right back out to buy another ticket. I’m sure kids will think otherwise — and this is way better than this summer’s Minions — but the bar was set mighty high for the year after Inside Out. So for what it is, I guess The Peanuts Movie relying on nostalgia is good enough.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Movie Review: ‘Spectre’


**** 1/2 out of 5
148 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language
Sony Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

If there’s one thing James Bond fans have been waiting for since Daniel Craig finally nailed the original Ian Fleming description, it’s the inclusion of “Spectre.” The dastardly crime syndicate was very briefly hinted at in Quantum of Solace, so it should come as no surprise that there are more than a few familiar faces featured in Spectre — Bond’s 24th adventure. Sam Mendes is back in the director’s chair, helping create the necessary tone he helped deliver in Skyfall — still the best Bond film ever. Does Spectre fall victim to the Quantum syndrome? Fans did not love that entry after being treated to the stupendous reboot of Casino Royale. This one falls right in line with Skyfall and Casino, keeping fans, new and old, extremely happy.

Picking up right after the end of Skyfall, Bond is on a mission in Mexico City to take out Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), leaving behind a clue: a ring with an octopus on it. Back in London, M (Ralph Fiennes) is infuriated with Bond’s reckless behavior and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) clues Bond in that he may have finally gone one step too far. The MI6 is about to be disbanded and the cocky C (Andrew Scott) is threatening to pull the plug on the 007 project for being outdated. But Bond is just getting started. After meeting — and of course, bedding — Sciarra’s widow Lucia (Monica Bellucci), he’s lead to Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) who is dying at a remote cabin in the woods and enlists Bond to help keep his daughter, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) from the evil clutches of the head of Spectre, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Now, Bond and Swann are on the lam, trying to stay one step ahead of Oberhauser’s right hand man — the Jaws-like superkiller Hinx (Dave Bautista) — and exposing Oberhauser’s real interests.

There may sound like a lot of plot in Spectre — and its 148 minute runtime certainly may appear bloated — but this is one of the least convoluted Bond films ever made. While some of the twists offered up in John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth’s screenplay may be more transparent than they’d like, there’s no denying it’s damn fun. Craig continues to deliver one of the best Bond performances — no offense to Sean Connery’s iconic portrayal — and Mendes keeps the tension mounting with some of the most spectacular action scenes of the year. Let alone that even when characters are sitting around talking, you’re still fully invested.

The supporting cast are all finally given far more to do as well. Fiennes gets to continually have his feathers ruffled by Bond’s brazen misadventures, and even Q (Ben Whishaw) gets to partake in an action scene or two. Field work is definitely not something the character has joined in on and it’s hilarious watching book smart try to keep up with street smart in the line of duty. Featuring a never ending globetrotting adventure, we’re taken from one enthralling locale to another: from Mexico City to London to Rome and finally Austria. Mendes and crew also make sure to tick off the prerequisite Bond moments to make sure fans get to have their cake and eat it too. But the real star of the last two Bond outings is Mendes for knowing how to shoot and edit an action scene so we always know what’s going on — cheers to that!

Audiences are in for another treat with Spectre. While it may not be the best Bond ever made, but the film is never short on delirious action scenes and enough character intrigue to keep a few of you guessing right up to the very end. It also manages to pull off quite the feat of feeling somewhat of a swan song for Craig’s Bond, while simultaneously setting up pieces for further adventures, a major achievement for any action film. Spectre keeps the series moving in a continuing trend of greatness, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Back to the Future: 30th Anniversary Trilogy’

Movies: ***** out of 5
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: **** 1/2
Extras: *****

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Robert Zemeckis’s ‘Back to the Future: 30th Anniversary Edition’ Goes Back In Time With New Special Features on Blogcritics.

As if it wasn’t hard enough to face the facts that Back to the Future celebrated its 25th anniversary, here we are, celebrating its 30th. It’s a little weird knowing that we are officially living in the future. October 21, 2015, has come and gone, and a few current events have happened in the meantime. Nike announced that we should be getting power-laced shoes next year; the hoverboard keeps getting closer and closer to a reality, and Pepsi has managed to bungle not just one release of their fictitious Pepsi Perfect, but two! Leaving a bad taste for fans worldwide.

So what’s new with the 30th anniversary release? Surprisingly, not a whole lot. While the films’ transfers still hold up, they’re also still not quite as good as they could be. With five years passing, and such a monumental date for a re-release, you would think that Universal would have gone the extra mile. I guess for those willing to spend the money there is the Back to the Future: The Complete Adventures featuring a “working” flux capacitor packaging, a 64-page booklet, and the inclusion of the complete animated series on DVD. Is the lesser set worth the double dip? Depends on your feelings toward simply having an extra Blu-ray of special features. Running more than two plus hours I suppose it is fun to see the behind-the-scenes additions, but when a film is celebrating its 30th anniversary, is there really that much more to offer fans?

On the plus side, there are two new new shorts featuring Christopher Lloyd reprising his Doc Brown role. “2015 Message from Doc Brown” (:45) is a super quick message from Doc about making the future a good one. “Doc Brown Saves the World!” (9:38) has Doc on another adventure through space and time to stop Biff Tannen from creating Bifftech and destroying the planet with malfunctions involving all our beloved BTTF items such as the Food Hydrator, Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor, and even the hoverboard.

“Outatime: Restoring the DeLorean” (22:00) shows the painstaking, year-plus task of restoring the most iconic time machine ever invented. “Looking Back to the Future” is comprised of nine short featurettes that cover all the things about BTTF we may already know and love, but it’s nice to see them get broken down and discussed. “The Script” (3:02) has Bob Gale declaring the original film “The best screenplay I ever wrote” and I am not arguing that. “Casting Marty McFly” (5:05) lets fans know that Michael J. Fox was always first choice, but yet we still never see footage of Eric Stoltz in action.

“Christopher Lloyd Reflects on Doc Brown” (5:18) is a nice retrospect of Lloyd, well, reflecting back on playing such a treasured role. In case you didn’t know, Jeff Goldblum was also in contention. “The DeLorean Time Machine” (6:26) lets us in on the fact that the original time machine was going to be a fridge, and it’s also hilarious to see the driver using a giant fake dog head to drive the car when Doc is sending Einstein into the past. “Building Hill Valley” (5:02) finds Robert Zemeckis cracking wise about how he wasn’t old enough to remember the ’50s, but did his best to make it feel authentic and that those scenes were filmed before the ’80s sequences. “Preparing for the ‘Johnny B. Goode’ Scene” (7:28) has fun with Huey Lewis on set and watching Fox go over the guitar riffs — made funnier only with how fake it looks onscreen. “The Score” (5:08) was a highlight for me. I love a good film score and Alan Silvestri’s Back to the Future is by far one of the most iconic ever recorded.
“Pushing the Cut” (3:53) has the cast and crew joking about how fast the film was edited together; it was only about a month from wrapping the shoot to the release date. They also mention how glad they are that the film wound up being a success after some questionable test screenings didn’t go so well considering the film’s slow build. And finally, “The Legacy” (4:57) discusses the film’s long lasting impact on the world and how you can’t flip through the channels without running across at least one of the films playing. The fact that this supplement is from 2008 and it still holds true only shows the importance the films continue to have on fans and pop culture.

A set of 2015 commercials are included: the first is a fake, hilarious trailer for Jaws 19 (1:28) and a “Hoverboard Commercial” (1:06). Two episodes of the animated series flesh things out for those who don’t spring for the complete set, but these two episodes show that the series is clearly not a wise investment. Full of choppy animation and stale writing, the only interesting aspect is that the episodes are introduced by Doc. But sadly, not even the most brazen Back to the Future fan will be able to get much out of the nostalgia here.

Needless to say, anyone who doesn’t already own the trilogy — this person can only exist in some kind of alternate reality — the packaging is much better. Here we get a digibook case with a flip book making the discs way easier to get out compared to the ghastly 25th anniversary casing. I suppose the additional special features make this a no brainer for hardcore fans, but I don’t see anything else of interest for those who already own it considering these are the exact same audio/video presentations. I suppose sometimes it may be better to leave well enough alone, and in the case of such a classic trilogy, a 4K remastering was all the more we could hope for. Maybe we’ll have better luck with the 35th anniversary edition. Until then, any set you pick up is worth it, because when it comes to Back to the Future you can never go wrong. Unless it’s DVD, this is 2015 after all.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Movie Review: “Our Brand Is Crisis”

Our Brand Is Crisis

*** out of 5
Rated R for language including some sexual references
107 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

If there’s anything I willingly admit to not knowing much about, or even paying attention to, it’s politics. Ask me anything you want about a movie and I seem to have somewhat of an eidetic memory, but I freely admit I know nothing about politics. So it should come as no surprise that I knew the Sandra Bullock film Our Brand Is Crisis was coming out, but had no idea it was based on a documentary from 2005 of the same name. The original was an examination of the questionable campaign tactics of Greenville Carville Shrum in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election.

The David Gordon Green dramedy is a fictionalized account, which is probably even more boring than the true events. You would think a film surrounding such a sensational event could whip your interest into a frenzy, but alas, screenwriter Peter Straughan has saddled Green with a schizophrenic mashup that has moments worthy of Pineapple Express anarchy. The movie winds up getting excruciatingly boring whenever it takes a serious turn. The sad thing is that it works way better in comedy mode, with the last half hour completing tanking the rest of the film. I’m not shocked about this considering Straughan also wrote Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the most boring spy movie ever committed to film.

I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Our Brand Is Crisis was greenlit because Straughan is friends with producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov — and Clooney gave his life to help save hers in Gravity. The trio of men are also responsible for another “wacky” drama The Men Who Stare at Goats. The only plus to Brand is watching Bullock deliver another winning performance as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, who is talked into helping with her brass knuckle scheming tactics to help Pedro Gallo (Joaquim de Almeida) win the election. She brings her all to the verbal sparring with Billy Bob Thornton, the man hired to lead the opposition’s campaign. Anthony Mackie is also a delight as he tries to be Jane’s right hand man.

If there’s any reason to see Our Brand Is Crisis it’s to watch Bullock shine. It still irks me that these are the kinds of roles she’s best in, yet somehow won for The Blind Side, where she gave one of the worst performances that year. Not enough funny, and a boring serious side greatly affect the entertainment factor as Green tries to have his cake and eat it too. It’s a shame that he seems to throw his hands up in the air as Straughan’s screenplay starts trying to wrap itself up and give the characters unnecessary life lessons. Not even the most hardened artsy fartsy film lover is going to walk away completely satisfied. Our Brand Is Flippy Floppy would have been a better title since Crisis merely finds itself in one of identity, leaving everyone unfulfilled in the process.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Movie Review: “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

**** out of 5
93 minutes
Rated R for zombie violence and gore, sexual material, graphic nudity, and language throughout.
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

If there’s any genre on its last breath these days, it’s zombies. Overflowing between theatrical and television, zombies are everywhere. Not all of them suffer from a lack of brains. They can’t all be Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, but Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse makes a great effort and more than lives up to its outrageous title. For once, there is a glutton of spooky movies invading the multiplexes this October — Crimson Peak, Goosebumps, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, Hotel Transylvania 2, and now Scouts — and only one of them completely sucks.

The ironic part is that Scouts’ director Christopher (yes, son of Michael) Landon directed the last entry in the finally defunct Paranormal Activity franchise The Marked Ones. Coincidentally, I’ve heard that’s just about the only watchable film in the whole series. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that Scouts Guide winds up being such an enjoyable romp. Armed with a game young cast — and a few seasoned comedic vets — the blood and jokes fly with more than enough of them managing to stick.

Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller), and Augie (Joey Morgan) are the only members in Scout Leader Rogers’s (David Koechner) scout troop. Ben and Carter only stick around because Augie is hellbent on earning every badge known to man. But their friendship is about to hit a speed bump when they head out for one last campout, with Ben and Carter planning to sneak off to a super secret senior party. Little do they — or the poor town of Deer Field, California — that a zombie outbreak is spreading and it’s about to be up to them to stave off the ward of flesheaters. Thankfully, they have a new friend in strip club cocktail waitress Denise (Sarah Dumont), who joins them on their quest to save Carter’s sister/Ben’s unrequited love Kendall (Halston Sage) before the town gets bombed.

If there’s one horror movie that gets as much mileage out of its budget as Scouts Guide, it’s the Evil Dead remake. This is no-holds-barred gore that flows as fast as the jokes from the actor’s mouths. Landon — co-writing with Emi Mochizuki and Carrie Evans — keeps the gags (sometimes literal) coming at a rapid fire pace. Sheridan, Miller, and Morgan make a fantastic trio, and it was nice to see Dumont get way more to do than stand around and show off her legs. Poor Sage is delegated to damsel in distress, looking like she literally walked over from the Goosebumps set. Koechner and Cloris Leachman also get a lot of mileage out of their roles, with Koechner having a hilarious post-mortem fight with Augie while Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” playing in the background.

There isn’t a lot of publicity surrounding the release of Scouts Guide, which is a shame. The film clearly has an audience with it being a horror movie, but the film is truly hilarious. It even has a bit of heart — and not just of the literal kind — something that comes in mighty handy when our heroes are up to their necks in zombies. There’s even a nice nod to Halloween for eagle-eyed viewers, and things get truly outrageous when the senior party finally falls under attack. For a genre settling into a sad case of rigor mortis, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse has something for everyone. The good news is, the genre isn’t dead yet, it’s gonna have to wait a little bit longer before it reaches its dying breath. For now, audiences should pay more attention and make sure to squeeze this one into their Halloween weekend. You won’t be sorry.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Blu-ray 3D Review: “Jurassic World”

Movie: **** 1/2
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: *****
Extras: *** 1/2

Article first published as Blu-ray 3D Review: ‘Jurassic World’ Evolves from Must-See to Must-Own on Blogcritics.

In one of the opening scenes of Jurassic World, park operator Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) says, “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore.” The monster hit’s box office would beg to differ. With a record-shattering  No. 1 opening weekend of $208 million, the world was ready for a new Jurassic movie. While some questioned whether or not sophomore director Colin Trevorrow was up to the task of finally delivering a sequel worthy of Steven Spielberg’s original Park, he proved naysayers wrong in just about every way. Winding up in third place on both the all-time worldwide and domestic — I still consider it second domestic since Titanic only beats it by $7 million and only with the inclusion of the 2012 3D re-release — the Jurassic franchise is back and bigger than ever!

Jurassic World, Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton, Colin Trevorrow, Steven Spielberg, Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B. D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Judy GreerIt’s been 22 years since John Hammond’s ill-fated Jurassic Park never opened after a disastrous preview weekend. Jurassic World has since picked up where Hammond left off and has been a huge success for eight years running. The problem now is the public demand more: bigger, louder, cooler

Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) has the answer and has engineered the new Indominus Rex. Claire is presenting the new attraction to potential sponsors, but CEO Masrani (Irrfan Khan) is worried about the new creature’s paddock and asks to have the park’s raptor whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) inspect. And wouldn’t you know it, the geneticists also managed to make the I-rex smarter. It manages to escape, wreaking havoc on Isla Nublar, with Jurassic World under attack by a new super-predator that’s about to eat its way up the food chain.

Jurassic World stomps onto Blu-ray in a 3D/2D/DVD/Digital HD combo pack courtesy of Universal Home Entertainment and makes the most of its 2.00:1 framed 50GB disc presentation with nearly flawless results. Virtually every scene is filled with depth and object separation. This is one of those looking-through-the-window transfers with not a whole lot of things spilling into your room. Some have complained of crosstalk throughout the presentation, but I never saw any on my passive 3D TV. Blacks look best ironically during sunlit scenes, but the last 40 minutes, during the prolonged night scenes, also look great. The only time there’s a hiccup are in scenes taking place inside Jurassic World’s control room. Here, the transfer slightly falters with muted grayish-blacks and far less depth. Outside of these scenes, the transfer shines. Blacks are inky with no crush, and there’s never any aliasing or banding. This is as top notch as you’d expect from a huge summer blockbuster.

Jurassic World attendees want bigger and louder? Well, that’s exactly what we get with the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Surrounds aren’t quite as active as you’d expect for the first 40 minutes or so, but they do provide a nice enveloping case of ambiance, making you feel like you’re standing next to every character in each scene. You always know where a dinosaur sits off camera. When the pteranodon and dimorphodons finally get unleashed upon the guests, they dive bomb your room from every speaker, panning from left to right and overhead with exact precision. And what would a movie about dinosaurs be without plenty of wall-shaking, picture frame-rattling bass? Universal delivers another one of the best sound mixes of the year — the other being Furious 7 of course — and it should come as no surprise they spared no expense. Additional audio tracks include Spanish and French DTS 5.1 with subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French.

While the special features may not be overwhelming, at least they’re a lot of fun. The cast and crew clearly loved their trip back to Jurassic and it more than shines through in the end result. These first two can be found on the 3D disc but aren’t necessarily in 3D. “Deleted Scenes” (6:08) consists of sporadically cut or trimmed parts of existing scenes, some are completely new, but most are simply extensions.

There are no titles for each, but the funniest bit involves Claire covering herself with dino droppings to cover up the scent of her perfume and lotion. “Chris & Colin Take on the World” (8:57) is a sit-down chat with the star and director. The two have a great rapport and ask each other various questions regarding their love and respect of the first film, with the best bit stemming from Pratt’s premonition about starring in Jurassic Park IV and ignoring calls and texts from Spielberg while on set for Parks & Recreation.

“Welcome to Jurassic World” (29:52) dives into the making of the film with interviews including everyone from Spielberg and Trevorrow to producer Frank Marshall and cast members Pratt, Howard, Wong, and Jake Johnson. They discuss the director’s intentions of poking fun at the corporate world and how they set out to achieve their goal of making a new park so realistic it would convince audiences they want to visit. Mission accomplished. We also get to visit the sets and locations while Trevorrow is relieved they never had to do any reshoots because they simply rewrote scenes taking place in the control room for any alterations to the story they needed to make.

“Dinosaurs Roam Once Again” (16:29) sheds light on the creation of the dinosaurs, including the new villain: Indominus Rex. Interviews with Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett give us a look at the creation of the one robotic dinosaur that was used, and ILM shows how they utilized tablet apps which could insert the dinosaurs at the click of a button to help cinematographer John Schwartzman set up shots. We also get to see doomed babysitter Zara (Katie McGrath) perform her own stunt as she’s attacked by pteranodons and eaten by the scene-stealing mosasaurus.

 “Jurassic World: All-Access Pass” (10:11) presents Pratt and Trevorrow in the “control room” where they discuss Pratt getting real life animal training to help with his raptor scenes. It also shows how they used a Sphero to figure out how the gyrospheres would work. “Innovation Center Tour with Chris Pratt” (2:01) is a quick look at the innovation center from the film with Pratt clowning around with the funniest joke being Pratt trying to pronounce a dinosaur’s name. Finally, “Jurassic’s Closest Shaves – Presented by Barbasol” (3:00) is a short collection of the entire series’ action sequences.

Jurassic World stunned the world with its return to Isla Nublar and made everyone feel like it was 1993 all over again. Breaking records left and right while entertaining the world is no easy feat, but Trevorrow has definitely breathed new life into a franchise fans feared would be extinct forever. Thankfully, World integrates enough pieces to a larger puzzle to expand the series even further with at least two more sequels headed our way. Featuring a fantastic 3D presentation and an appropriately bombastic 7.1 mix that will leave you enthralled in the action. Not to mention more special features than the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever thought to bless us with, Jurassic World is one of the best Blu-rays — not to mention one the year’s most fun films — of the year, making good on its theatrical run with another fantastic Jurassic addition to our home video libraries.