Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sisters

Fans of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey won't be disappointed with Sisters, a worthy pairing of the talented SNL alumni that places the comedic duo in a situation ripe for laughs.

Sisters
Director: Jason Moore
Starring: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Maya Rudolph



Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens might be the most anticipated movie of all time, and expectations are through the roof as fans hope and pray the new film returns to the glory of the original trilogy. So, did J.J. Abrams pull it off? Read on to find out.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Co-Writer/Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill


Friday, December 4, 2015

The Revenant

Breathtaking, fierce, and truly awe-inspiring, The Revenant is a colossal cinematic achievement. Featuring riveting lead performances, numerous jaw-dropping moments, and some of the most gorgeous cinematography of all time, this is a revenge thriller that's intense, immersive, and absolutely one of a kind.

The Revenant
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Creed

One thing to know about Creed is that while the film is definitely a mainstream studio movie, it wasn't some spin-off idea generated by a bunch of number-crunchers in a boardroom at MGM who were looking for new ways to rejuvenate the Rocky franchise. Co-writer/director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) came up with the story himself years ago and lobbied to tell it, and while the movie absolutely benefits from the iconography established in the previous films (including Sylvester Stallone himself), there's also an undeniably different perspective at work here, one that's arguably just as personal as Stallone's original script that kicked this whole thing off back in 1976.

Another thing to know about Creed? It's really, really good.

Creed
Co-Writer/Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson


Friday, November 20, 2015

Secret in Their Eyes

A remake of a 2009 Argentinian film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Secret in Their Eyes is a competent suspense thriller with a dynamite cast. I've seen some people question the reason for this film's existence, and if I'd seen the original film, I might be doing the same thing. But since I haven't seen the first movie and therefore can't compare the two, I'm left to ponder the effectiveness of this film alone, and I found it to be a slick, well-acted murder mystery that makes good use of its stellar talent.

Secret in Their Eyes
Writer/Director: Billy Ray
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman


Writer/director Billy Ray (who also wrote The Hunger Games, the last entry of which ironically faces off against this film at the box office this weekend) intertwines two timelines to tell this story. In 2002, FBI agents Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Claire (Julia Roberts) are working in a counter-terrorism unit in Los Angeles, trying to prevent another 9/11. They discover a body in a dumpster near a high-profile mosque, but they're shocked to discover it's Claire's teenage daughter. In 2015, Ray returns to L.A. after thirteen years working security for the New York Mets, spending every night looking through a database of criminals trying to ID Claire's daughter's killer. He thinks he's found the guy, and so he attempts to convince the new District Attorney — his ambitious former love interest from '02, Claire (Nicole Kidman) — to reopen the case. The film criss-crosses back and forth between these timelines, filling in the gaps of how the killer escaped as 2015 Ray finally tries to solve the case once and for all.


This is the best showcase for Roberts in a long time. It seems rare that movies depict more than a few seconds of a mother discovering her child's body, but the camera lingers on Roberts here as she completely breaks down, overflowing with anguish, anger, and heartbreak in a performance that gave me chills. (It was tough to watch, and I don't even have kids; I can't imagine what it'd be like for parents to view this scene.) Ejiofor and Kidman don't have the kind of electric chemistry needed to justify them pining for each other for thirteen years, and Kidman doesn't have much to do outside of the love story. We see the story through Ejiofor's eyes, and I'm convinced the only reason he's the main character is so that we can experience the same jaw-dropping revelation he does as the film builds to its twisty, exciting conclusion (otherwise, this should totally be Roberts' story). The acting is great all around, with sturdy supporting turns by Breaking Bad's Dean Norris as Ejiofor's FBI accomplice and House of Cards' Michael Kelly as a smug enforcer for the 2002 District Attorney (Alfred Molina) whose concerns about terrorism overshadow his desire to prosecute the killer.


We know the bad guy gets away since we've seen what happens in 2015, so it's to Billy Ray's credit that there's still a palpable tension in the scenes that take place in 2002. This is a propulsive movie that rarely slows down — it's always pulling back the curtain and revealing more about everyone's motivations. A haunting procedural that utilizes some all-star artists, Secret in Their Eyes brings us face to face with the chilling consequences of obsession.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Concussion

Though it will rightfully garner some attention for Will Smith's impressive lead performance, Concussion is a largely flat procedural about the discovery of CTE, the disease caused by the sort of repeated head trauma regularly experienced by NFL players. It's clear writer/director Peter Landesman is passionate about the subject, but this poorly paced and meandering drama seems as if he set out to make a conspiracy thriller and forgot all about the "thriller" aspect. Not as revelatory as Michael Mann's The Insider, which pitted a different small-time David against a multi-billion dollar Goliath, Concussion covers a necessary and vital topic but never quite coalesces into the kind of Important Movie to which it aspires.

Concussion
Writer/Director: Peter Landesman
Starring: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks



The Night Before

A very funny and often surprisingly sincere send-up of Christmas movies, The Night Before is a broad studio comedy that's about more than just jumping from big laugh to big laugh. That's becoming more scarce every year as studios seem content to check off formulaic boxes, making these kinds of movies feel like they're just collections of sometimes-humorous scenes and not a cohesive part of a larger whole; maybe one of the best things that could be said about The Night Before is that it actually feels like a complete story worth telling.

The Night Before
Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie



Friday, November 13, 2015

The Big Short (AFI FEST 2015)

Writer/director Adam McKay is outraged that banks got away with tanking the world economy, and by the end of The Big Short, you will be, too.

The Big Short
Writer/Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt



Thursday, November 12, 2015

Anomalisa (AFI Fest 2015)

A labor of love years in the making, Anomalisa is startlingly human for a movie comprised only of stop-motion puppets. It's a film about love, hope, fear, connection, and loneliness, and it marks a return to the cinematic territory of Charlie Kaufman, the man behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Synecdoche, New York, complete with the surreality and palpable emotion that filmography promises. This is one of the most remarkable movies of the year.

Anomalisa
Directors: Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

By the Sea (AFI Fest 2015)

A vanity project that may have been made only because its stars are two of the world's most recognizable people, there's a good — or least interesting— movie buried deep within By the Sea. Unfortunately, what writer/director/star Angelina Jolie Pitt ends up with is a meandering, drawn out, and often tedious exploration of a struggling marriage that, while intended to evoke European art films of the '60s and '70s, ultimately evokes little more than drowsiness.


By the Sea
Director: Angelina Jolie Pitt
Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud


Friday, November 6, 2015

Brooklyn

Anchored by a tremendous lead performance from Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn is an intimate, sincere drama that manages to dodge the cliches of many immigrant stories and completely avoid cynicism. It's a very simple story of a woman torn between two worlds, but with lush cinematography, terrific production design, and impeccable acting, Brooklyn transports you to a time and place in which, for a couple of hours, nothing matters more than the happiness of its main character.

Brooklyn
Director: John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson


The Peanuts Movie

I was extremely skeptical of The Peanuts Movie when it was first announced. Could the studio that made the Ice Age and Rio movies really turn the classic Charles M. Schulz comic strip into a worthy CGI movie? Turns out the answer is yes, and The Peanuts Movie has everything you could want from a movie that follows Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Woodstock, and the rest of the gang.

The Peanuts Movie
Director: Steve Martino
Starring: Noah Schnapp, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller


Spotlight

With the "publish first, ask questions later" mentality of today's internet and the underfunding of newspaper staffs around the country, movies about real journalism are practically all period pieces now. Spotlight is no exception. The film, set in 2001, tracks the year-long investigation of the Boston Globe's Spotlight unit — a small, close-knit group of reporters devoted to deep investigative journalism — into the Catholic church's cover-up of sexually abusive priests, and it's one of the best journalism films ever made.

Spotlight
Co-Writer/Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Spectre

Here's a little secret: most James Bond movies are pretty bad. That's not me trying to be contrarian or trying to rile anyone up, it's just my honest opinion. I think the majority of viewers (excluding true Bond obsessives who have seen all of the movies enough times to know better) have an inflated view of this series' overall quality. Until two years ago, I know I certainly did.

Spectre
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Lobster (AFI Fest 2015)

A darkly funny meditation on romance and relationships, The Lobster uses a high concept in order to explore some of the universal truths of love in 2015. It's one of the year's weirdest movies, and while it walks the line of surreality and absurdism, there's an undercurrent of sadness and heartbreak to it that grounds the story even during its most outlandish moments. The Lobster is a rich exploration of modern love, and its eccentric personality makes it feel like the work of a creative force who sees the world like no one else.

The Lobster
Co-Writer/Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Lea Seydoux, Rachel Weisz



Friday, October 23, 2015

Dangerous Men

Waves crash on a beach as cheesy synth music bops along in the background. The words Dangerous and Men appear on screen, slam together, and explode, and the credits begin: "Created & Written By John Rad. Producer: John Rad. Original Music, Song & Lyrics: John Rad." It goes on like that for a while. It's clear from the opening moments that this is a singular work from a singular mind, but absolutely nothing can prepare you for the what happens during the next hour and eighteen minutes.

Dangerous Men
Director: John Rad
Starring: Melody Wiggins, Michael Gradilone


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Room

Five year old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has spent his entire life in what he calls Room, a windowless sound-proofed shed with an electronically locked door. He's only ever spoken to his loving Ma (Brie Larson), who has spent the last seven years trapped inside by a mysterious captor. Since escape has always seemed hopeless, she's decided to tell Jack that there is nothing outside of Room: the people they watch on their small TV aren't real, trees and oceans aren't real...everything outside of their confines is considered "outer space." It's a heck of a premise for a movie, and writer Emma Donoghue's script (adapted from her own novel) provides plenty of opportunities for gut-wrenching — and even a few heart-pounding — set pieces.

Room
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bridge of Spies

Whatever imagery the title Bridge of Spies conjures in your mind are likely a heck of a lot more thrilling than what appears in Steven Spielberg's latest film, a studious spy tale that's about as far from thrilling as it gets. Still, this is a Spielberg movie we're talking about here, and there's plenty to like: it's an insightful, noir-tinged, captivating recreation of a historical event I hadn't heard about before. I never thought I'd describe one of Spielberg's movies as "educational," apart from maybe just a pure filmmaking perspective, but here we are.

Bridge of Spies
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell


Friday, October 9, 2015

Bone Tomahawk

Statistically speaking, most movies are bad. That's simply an unfortunate truth. And after seeing so many average, disappointing, or outright terrible films every year, it's truly exciting when I'm sitting in a theater and I realize I'm watching something amazing. I cherish that feeling. When I'm watching a great movie, I can actually feel it recharging my love and passion for film. It's the kind of experience that, if I'm lucky, I'll get maybe three or four times a year. Bone Tomahawk delivered that feeling in a huge way. S. Craig Zahler's debut film is a perfect union of impeccable writing, controlled direction, stellar performances, and nail-biting tension. It's a once-in-a-decade masterpiece.

Bone Tomahawk
Writer/Director: S. Craig Zahler
Starring: Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox


Monday, October 5, 2015

Legend

Legend's biggest draw is a dual performance from Tom Hardy as twin brothers Ron and Reggie Kray, the notorious 1960s gangsters who made headlines in East End London with their violent exploits and by hobnobbing with high class socialites. The trouble is, even after watching more than two hours of their story play out on screen (as written and directed by Oscar-winning writer Brian Helgeland), I still don't have a very good sense of who these men really were. Legend is a stylish period piece with a lot of flash but very little soul.

Legend
Writer/Director: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton


Monday, September 21, 2015

The Keeping Room

Suspenseful and tedious in equal measure, The Keeping Room is not the badass feminist western I wanted it to be. Its central premise is compelling, but a ponderously slow build-up and a thematically confused ending ultimately undercut its effectiveness.

The Keeping Room
Director: Daniel Barber
Starring: Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, Sam Worthington



Friday, September 18, 2015

Sicario

Suspenseful, ruthless, and hopelessly bleak, Sicario is director Denis Villeneuve's latest masterclass in tension. He keeps the audience on edge by demonstrating how bursts of violence can come at any time, from a daring opening raid on an Arizona drug den all the way to the film's fatalistic finale, all while questioning the moral consequences of the American intelligence community's shady alliances. Those searching for a typical badass action movie should look elsewhere, because while there are some scenes that match that description, the film is equally interested in posing ethical quandaries as it is depicting brutal scenes of bloodshed.

Sicario
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Everest

Snowflakes whip horizontally so fast you can hardly see them, and over a crevasse on the world's tallest mountain, a climber grips for his life, dangling above disappearing blackness. This is Everest, the newest film from Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband, 2 Guns), and while the director excels at creating suspenseful set-pieces, the script sometimes fails its human characters in favor of putting the spotlight on the mountain itself. Framing the peak in all its grandeur (and perilousness) is to be expected — it's freaking Everest, after all — but I wish that didn't mean doing its human co-stars such a comparative disservice. There are some heart-pounding moments on display here, and overall it's a mostly enjoyable ride, but the movie doesn't quite ascend to the pantheon of great disaster films to which it seems to aspire.

Everest
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Starring: Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley



Thursday, August 6, 2015

Fantastic Four

Heading into theaters with a target on its back, Fantastic Four has been a whipping boy for fans since it cast a black man as The Human Torch (for some, it committed the unforgivable sin of going against the depiction of the character in the comics) and it's been the subject of tons of rumors about troubled behavior on the set, none of which I'll repeat here because I have no idea if they're valid or not. I went into this movie hoping that all of that negative talk wouldn't actually apply to the movie itself, and frankly, I didn't see any major issues with it from a directing standpoint. The cast does a decent job with what they're given, but as is so often the case, Fantastic Four's biggest problem lies in its script.

Fantastic Four
Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell


Friday, July 31, 2015

Straight Outta Compton

If you strip it down to its most basic elements, Straight Outta Compton isn't all that different from any other music biopic: it charts the humble origins, meteoric rise, staggering success, and eventual fall of a popular group. But thanks to its blistering energy and superstar performances from the lead actors, the film manages to transcend its formula, delivering a captivating portrayal of young men whose music changed the national conversation and had a massive impact on pop culture.

Straight Outta Compton
Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: O'Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti


Friday, July 24, 2015

Paper Towns

If you've seen the trailers for Paper Towns, you'd be forgiven if you thought it looked like a load of Manic Pixie Dream Girl garbage, in which the hot, whimsical girl teaches a shy nice guy to come out of his shell by taking him on a grand adventure. For God's sake, the last line of dialogue in the first trailer is "Everyone gets a miracle. My miracle was Margo Roth Spiegelman." The marketing is really leaning into the whole MPDG thing.

Thankfully, the movie itself takes a surprising turn: it does contain some of those elements, but it subverts that trope instead of celebrating it, and along the way it turns into one of the most truthful expressions of teenage friendship I've seen in a long time.

Paper Towns
Director: Jake Schreier
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Self/Less

I haven't always loved Tarsem Singh's films, but his ability to create stunning, elegant visuals has at least made his career interesting to follow. Unfortunately, none of his impressive visual skills are on display in Self/Less, a by-the-numbers sci-fi thriller that could have been directed by just about any competent filmmaker. It's a decent movie, but there's nothing in it to identify it as a Tarsem film, and that X factor was what I was hoping would take this film to the next level.

Self/Less
Director: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Kingsley, Matthew Goode



Monday, June 29, 2015

Terminator Genisys

As someone who despised Thor: The Dark World, it's understandable that I wasn't expecting much when I walked into the Alan Taylor-directed Terminator Genisys. But perhaps those lowered expectations worked in my favor, because I ended up enjoying Genisys quite a bit. It has some issues involving dialogue and some questionable action sequences, but overall, I found it to be a satisfying sequel to a franchise that was essentially dead in the water after the horrendous Terminator Salvation. This is a movie worthy of the Terminator name.

Terminator Genisys
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Trainwreck

Comedian Amy Schumer has her first starring role in Trainwreck, the latest film from director Judd Apatow, and this movie heralds the arrival of a true movie star. This is the first time Apatow has directed a feature he didn't also write — Schumer took scripting duties on this one — and, coincidentally or not, it also might be Apatow's best movie. Trainwreck is consistently funny, but it's also a personal, emotional film that surprised me with its mixture of heart and hilarity.

Trainwreck
Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, LeBron James


Big Game

As nostalgia continues to fuel decisions of what films to greenlight these days, there are two different ways filmmakers can play on audiences' memories of films from years past: they can either directly reference older movies, or they can try to capture their vibe and incorporate that style into their storytelling. Big Game is a perfect example of the latter, a self-aware, idiotic '90s throwback full of B-movie fun.

Big Game
Writer/Director: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ted 2

There was a time when I found Seth MacFarlane's style of humor to be hysterical, back when his non-sequiturs and cutaways were still considered groundbreaking. I couldn't get enough of the so-called "random" comedy he was pushing. But that time has long passed, and though I still tune in to Family Guy, the show is a shadow of its former self. With Ted 2, MacFarlane confirms that he has no interest in evolving as an artist, and that's tough for me to come to grips with because I feel like he's not living up to his full potential. He appears to be a smart guy in real life, but that intelligence hardly ever translates to the screen; in every scene, it seems as if he makes a beeline for the quickest, most obvious joke, and while that approach will get a few laughs, I find myself wrestling with accepting him for the filmmaker he is and holding out hope for the filmmaker I want him to be.

Ted 2
Co-Writer/Director: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried


Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Final Girls (LA Film Fest 2015)

In a post-Scream world, it seems like there have been hundreds of horror films that offer meta-commentary about the genre. But movies that make that commentary essential to the story instead of just "look how clever we are" asides are rare, and now we can add The Final Girls to that camp. Todd Strauss-Schulson's film sends up horror tropes while also being genuinely emotional and deeply moving, which are aspects of storytelling normally avoided in a genre celebrated for its over-the-top kills and terrible puns. The Final Girls is the last movie of LA Film Fest 2015 for me, and it's also hands-down the best movie I saw at this year's festival.

The Final Girls
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Inside Out

After taking a year off, Pixar returns with an animated effort that ranks among the best of the studio's mostly terrific filmography. Like the rest of Pixar's classics, Inside Out is bursting with creativity and full of recognizable, relatable characters. Poignant, imaginative, fun, and funny, this is a must-see film for people of all ages.

Inside Out
Co-Writer/Director: Pete Docter
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce (LA Film Fest 2015)

Former L.A. Clippers star Baron Davis co-directed and produced this up-tempo documentary about The Drew, an amateur basketball league that’s been situated in South Central Los Angeles for over forty years. Tracing the history of the league through the eyes of its long-time commissioner Dino Smiley, The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce details how the small, scrappy organization became a safe haven for South Central residents during the gang warfare of the ‘80s and ’90s.

The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce
Co-Directors: Baron Davis, Chad Gordon


Monday, June 15, 2015

Flock of Dudes (LA Film Fest 2015)

I get no joy from writing a negative review of an indie film at a film festival. The movies that play at places like LA Film Fest are often the kinds that won’t have distinguished futures or impressive theatrical runs; if anything, you’ll likely have a chance to see a few of them when they pop up on Netflix in a few months. I have no problem writing a negative review of a huge studio movie because I feel like those filmmakers and studios should know better and be held to a higher standard. But if I see a bad film at a festival, chances are I won’t even write a review of it at all, simply because I prefer to be a champion of small movies I love instead of tearing down small films that don’t have much of a chance at a long life anyway.

There’s an exception to every rule.

Flock of Dudes
Co-writer/Director: Bob Castrone
Starring: Chris D'Elia, Brett Gelman, Bryan Greenberg, Eric Andre


Dude Bro Party Massacre III (LA Film Fest 2015)

The toughest kinds of films to review are the ones that are all over the place, tonally inconsistent, and seem to not be aware of what kind of movie they want to be. Thankfully, this is not one of those projects. Dude Bro Party Massacre III, from the team behind 5 Second Films, knows exactly what kind of movie it wants to be and delivers on that in spades. It's an '80s slasher movie homage that doesn't make the mistake of getting hung up on referencing specific horror movies from the '80s, instead using the genre as a springboard for its own knowingly stupid jokes.

Dude Bro Party Massacre III
Co-Writers/Directors: Tomm Jacobsen, Jon Salmon, Michael Rousselet
Starring: Alec Owen, Patton Oswalt, Paul Prado


Saturday, June 13, 2015

It's Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong (LA Film Fest 2015)

Two charming leads explore a gorgeous foreign city on foot while talking about life and developing a romance: It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong seems destined to draw comparisons to Richard Linklater's Before films, so I may as well address that in the first sentence of this review. While not quite as overtly philosophical as Linklater's trilogy, writer/director Emily Ting's own riff on the concept has a lot of the same magic, and for those who are looking for a film that explores modern love without relying on excessive cliches of the genre, this should work just fine.

It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong
Writer/Director: Emily Ting
Starring: Jamie Chung, Bryan Greenberg




Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jurassic World

Right before my screening started, I told my wife there was absolutely no way this movie was going to be great: based on the dialogue featured in the trailers, I was convinced it was either going to be just passable or an outright disaster. Thankfully, I can't remember a time when I've been more wrong. Jurassic World is a thrilling, breathless, edge-of-your-seat adventure with some of the best action of the year.

Jurassic World
Co-Writer/Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins




Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Entourage

In its eight seasons on the air, Entourage went from a relatively small HBO series about the inner workings of Hollywood to the go-to bastion of bro culture. Its surface-level elements — the cars, the women, the gay jokes — have overtaken any relic of what the show may have once tried to be, and creator/showrunner Doug Ellin didn't do much to change that perception. The result is a property that carries a lot of baggage with it, and a dividing line has been drawn. Love it or hate it, Entourage is back — and it's the same as it always was. This is not a complicated adaptation: if you loved the show, you'll love the movie. It's a feature-length episode of the show, complete with all of the baggage that entails.

Entourage
Writer/Director: Doug Ellin
Starring: Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Dillon



Friday, May 29, 2015

Spy

In case there was any doubt, Spy proves once and for all that writer/director Paul Feig brings out the best in Melissa McCarthy. Feig directed both Bridesmaids and The Heat, but Spy is his best film yet, and certainly the best showcase for McCarthy's talents we've seen thus far. As desk-jockey-turned-field-agent Susan Cooper, McCarthy is a whirling dervish of comedy, completely owning scene after scene with confidence that comes with the knowledge that she's playing a solid character with an excellent script as a foundation.

Spy
Writer/Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Aloha

Cameron Crowe, who hit it big with the one-two punch of Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, has been relatively quiet over the past fifteen years, releasing only three features during that time: Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown, and We Bought A ZooAloha is his first film in four years, though it's been in development for much longer than that (Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon were initially going to play the leads). So the movie has finally arrived, but is it any good? Sadly, the answer is no.

Aloha
Writer/Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams



Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2

There's a subculture that worships the first Pitch Perfect, and I am by no means a member of that group. I thought the original was fine, a nice underdog sports comedy in which the sport is singing — a cappella style. So I was almost shocked to discover that I actually like Pitch Perfect 2, a film I wasn't particularly excited about seeing in the first place. But that's the great thing about movies: sometimes they can surprise you.

Pitch Perfect 2
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld


Thursday, April 16, 2015

True Story

When you think about Jonah Hill and James Franco starring in a movie together, there are certain expectations that come to mind: insult humor, dick jokes, maybe a bromance or two. True Story throws all of that out the window and casts the two Apatow alums in dramatic roles without a joke to be heard in the entire film. While each man has previously dipped his toe in dramatic waters independently from one another (Moneyball, The Wolf of Wall Street, 127 Hours, As I Lay Dying), this is the first time they've been cast as leads in a serious project opposite each other, and they both dive in with conviction.

True Story
Co-writer/Director: Rupert Goold
Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ex Machina

Suspenseful, stylish, and refreshingly smart, Alex Garland's Ex Machina is the sci-fi film we've been waiting for. Garland made a name for himself writing movies like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Dredd, but this is his directorial debut — a chance for him to execute his own vision on screen — and he ably takes on the challenge, forging an impressive first feature that tackles the idea of artificial intelligence with some actual intelligence.

Ex Machina
Writer/Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander


Monday, April 6, 2015

Furious 7

I'll just come right out and say it: Furious 7 is the best Fast & Furious movie. It's a wonderful blend of the two things these films do best — cheesy sentimentality and jaw-dropping action — and it's packed to the brim with comedic moments and transcendent set pieces. It also contains a perfect goodbye to Paul Walker that left me wiping away tears. It's everything you could want in a Fast movie, and more.

Furious 7
Director: James Wan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, et al.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

In 2014, the excellent FX original series Fargo explored the consequences of Steve Buscemi's character burying thousands of dollars in the snow in a universe shared with the Coen Brothers' 1996 film. The Zellner Brothers' Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter touches on the same topic, but their story is ostensibly set in the "real" world: their film, which debuted last year and is getting a limited release this week, follows a 29-year-old girl named Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) who discovers a waterlogged VHS tape of Fargo, believes that movie's opening proclamation that it tells a true story, and ventures from Tokyo to the United States in an attempt to find the money. Beautiful and beguiling, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter takes us on a quixotic quest toward an unspecified location in the American Midwest that holds much more than the promise of cash: a woman's soul is on the line here, and you can feel her determination with every step.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Co-writer/Director: David Zellner
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken

With one of the most literal titles in recent memory, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken tells the remarkable true story of a group of childhood friends who kidnapped the Heineken beer tycoon and held him for ransom in Amsterdam in 1983. Director Daniel Alfredson (The Girl Who Played With Fire) imbues the movie with many of the conventions of a heist film, except instead of robbing a bank or stealing money from a casino, his criminals are stealing a human being. While the specific events of this film are admittedly unique, the themes are as old as time itself: living in a tough economy, yearning for a better life, and eventually, greed as the cause of a downfall.

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington, Anthony Hopkins



Friday, February 27, 2015

The Salvation

The Salvation is the latest in a long line of western revenge thrillers, and if you've seen two or three films in that subgenre, you'll know exactly how this story is going to play out from the first two minutes. But while that predictability can often lead to a boring, disengaged viewing experience, this movie is elevated by strong performances from its lead actors. It's about as straightforward a genre piece as you'll ever find, and at a quick 92 minutes, it doesn't waste any time getting where it needs to go.

The Salvation
Director: Kristian Levring
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Eva Green