Friday, December 16, 2016

Passengers

Sony is purposefully obscuring a key factor of this movie that isn't so much a shocking reveal as it is the major driving force of the plot. This action occurs very early on in the film, but it's not even hinted at in any of the trailers, so if you don't want to know about it, stop reading now. Consider yourselves warned.

Passengers is a $150 million sci-fi film based on an original idea. It has slick production design, cool visual effects, and it features two of the biggest, hottest movie stars in the world in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. It's a film that seemingly has everything going for it, but the film can't quite escape the feeling that it's less a modern day blockbuster and more like a '90s movie you'd see in constant rotation on TNT. It has a handful of decent moments, but despite the efforts of everyone involved, there's a hurdle in the story the movie can't quite leap — and it's a doozy.

Passengers
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars has been a cultural landmark for almost forty years, but it took until 2016 to finally get a movie in the franchise that doesn't once utter the name "Skywalker." It's refreshing in that regard, but Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first film to spin-off from the main saga, has been hyped as a "standalone" movie, and that couldn't be further from the truth. Rogue One does not and cannot stand alone — it's often paralyzingly dependent on the audience's knowledge of the events of A New Hope. Still, the good moments outweigh the bad, and if nothing else, the film showcases flashes of the potential these spin-off movies have to expand the franchise's universe beyond the actions of its most important family.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Arrival

Skillfully plotted and spectacularly executed, Denis Villeneuve's Arrival sidesteps the empty bluster of much of today's explosion-driven sci-fi and instead provides intelligent, highly emotional genre entertainment that scratches an itch we didn't even know we had. It's full of discovery, wonder, and suspense, has a potent and impressive score, and contains a stellar performance from Amy Adams. In short, it's a total stunner of a movie in the best possible way.

Arrival
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker



Sunday, October 23, 2016

Doctor Strange

It's been less than ten years since Marvel Studios kicked off its grand experiment with Iron Man and changed Hollywood forever, and it's interesting to look at the ways the company has both relied on what's worked and pushed its own boundaries since then. The studio's fourteenth (!) movie, Doctor Strange, is, when you break it down, a relatively formulaic origin story, but in many ways its the studio's most daring creation yet. This is the most visually stunning film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while co-writer/director Scott Derrickson leans on familiar beats in the screenplay, it's his stylistic eye that makes the movie leap off of the screen and truly command your attention.

Doctor Strange
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor


Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is a mysterious, mid-budget thriller aimed squarely at adults — in other words, it's the kind of movie Hollywood rarely makes anymore. While it does suffer from some unintentionally comedic moments, it's otherwise a pretty straightforward adaptation of Paula Hawkins' bestselling novel with its best asset being a standout performance from Emily Blunt.

The Girl on the Train
Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Luke Evans, Justin Theroux


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Queen of Katwe

Hollywood regularly churns out underdog sports movies, but rarely do modern entries in the genre work as well as Queen of Katwe, a true story that centers on a non-traditional subject (a Ugandan girl) and a non-traditional game (chess). Like this year's Eddie the Eagle (side note: holy crap, Eddie the Eagle came out this year?! I would have pegged it as a 2014 or 2015 film for sure), the film leans heavily on the formulaic aspects of its genre, but it's so enjoyable to watch these actors and these characters, it hardly matters that you know every major beat before it happens.

Queen of Katwe
Director: Mira Nair
Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o



Friday, September 16, 2016

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

As Hollywood continues its obsession with remaking and rebooting classic films, the conversation will continue about the best and worst examples of this phenomenon. John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly are consistently raised as examples of how to do it correctly, while more recent remakes like Total Recall and RoboCop are widely seen as wastes of time that give their predecessors a bad name. Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven falls into the latter camp. It's a soulless retread that not only fails to justify its existence, but fails to excite, inspire, charm, or otherwise elicit any emotion aside from contempt. This may be one of the most tedious action movies I've ever seen.

The Magnificent Seven
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Haley Bennett, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Light Between Oceans

When I sit down to watch any movie, there almost always ends up being at least one aspect of it that strikes me as as "wrong" in some way or another. I don't actively search for these elements — they just pop up along the way, and I'm sure you notice them too. Sometimes it's a character making a decision that doesn't feel justified, or a shot that seems particularly out of place. Sometimes it's a super cheesy line of dialogue, or an actor edging just a bit too far over the top as to briefly pull me out of the performance. Too many of these moments can ruin a movie, but for the most part, they're just little blips that I observe and sail right past. For me, The Light Between Oceans is the extraordinarily rare film that does not contain a single false note. I was utterly lost in the film from beginning to end, engulfed in every detail from the stitching on the characters' clothing to the heartbreaking events that propel its story. Tinged with melancholy and brushed with a light touch of hope, The Light Between Oceans is an unforgettable experience.

The Light Between Oceans
Writer/Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz


Friday, August 26, 2016

Don't Breathe

After remaking Evil Dead in 2013, director Fede Alvarez is back with his sophomore feature Don't Breathe, a startling, twisty thriller that's one of the most intense theatrical experiences I've had this year.

Don't Breathe
Co-writer/Director: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang



Friday, August 12, 2016

Hell or High Water

A rare bright light in a largely disappointing summer movie season, Hell or High Water is a sizzling modern noir western with a nifty script and a trio of superb performances.

Hell or High Water
Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sausage Party

Sausage Party, the first R-rated CG animated movie, has been a passion project for actor Seth Rogen and his friends for the past eight years. They somehow convinced a studio to finance their twisted vision, and the resulting film may be one of the most obscene mainstream comedies ever made. But beneath the vulgar language and orgies of CG food characters having graphic on-screen sex, I was surprised to find that the film has an actual message to it. I can't think of a mainstream studio film from the past decade that discusses religion quite like this one does, and considering how everyone tends to walk on eggshells about that topic in our country right now, it's interesting to see a movie — this movie, of all movies — so willing to address it head-on.

Sausage Party
Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
Starring: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Salma Hayek, Nick Kroll


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jason Bourne

Over the course of three movies from 2002-2007, Matt Damon explored the essential question of the Bourne franchise: who is Jason Bourne? Ultimatum gave him (and us) the answer: Jason Bourne is David Webb, a former soldier who volunteered to be a part of Treadstone, a secret organization that essentially turned him into a killing machine. With his identity issues finally solved, the story came to an end...or so we thought.

Jason Bourne
Co-writer/Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Stiles, Vincent Cassel


Friday, July 15, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, so it makes sense that this summer's Star Trek Beyond in some ways feels like a throwback to the original series and has plenty of nods to the franchise's past. Thankfully, it isn't as much of an obvious retread of past material as Star Trek Into Darkness, largely due to the wise decision of director Justin Lin (Fast Five) and co-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung to put the Enterprise crew squarely in the middle of their five-year mission to explore strange new worlds. This allows for the sorts of fresh moments, new species, and exploratory feeling many Trek fans felt were lacking in the previous two movies, and while this one definitely has some terrific moments, I still can't help but wish we got a more cerebral version of this story than the one we ended up with.

Star Trek Beyond
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ghostbusters: Answer The Call

When a female-led reboot of Ghostbusters was announced, I never could have anticipated just how terrible internet commenters would react to the news. More toxic hatred was spilled online about this movie than any in recent memory, and things only got worse when the trailers started coming out. Having loved director Paul Feig's previous film, Spy, which also had some awful trailers advertising it, I held out the slightest sliver of faith that Ghostbusters (which has now officially been retitled Ghostbusters: Answer The Call to avoid confusion with the original) would end up being worthwhile...so it's with a massive sigh of relief I tell you that the movie is pretty damn good.

Ghostbusters: Answer The Call
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon


Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets

Not all animation has to reach the lofty standards of Pixar, Walt Disney Animation, or Miyazaki. Since there will always be a generation of kids who have never seen a movie before, it stands to reason that there will always be a market for slapstick humor aimed directly at them. Illumination Entertainment — they of the Despicable Me movies, Hop, and now The Secret Life of Pets — seem to have that particular market cornered, and the company is seemingly content with churning out the kinds of movies whose highlights can best be described with a phrase like, "Well, at least I was sitting in air conditioning for an hour and a half."

The Secret Life of Pets
Directors: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Starring: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate



Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Shallows

Two hundred yards from the shore of a secluded beach, Nancy (Blake Lively) lies bleeding on a rock. She's been bitten by a massive, bloodthirsty shark which stalks the small cove in which she's trapped, and her time is running out. This is the fundamental conflict of The Shallows, director Jaume Collet-Serra's new film that proudly stakes its claim as a modern B-movie.

The Shallows
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Blake Lively, Sharkster A. Sharkington



Friday, June 17, 2016

Raiders! The Story of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

You've probably heard the story by now: Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark comes out in 1981 and blows everyone's minds, but three Mississippi kids' minds are arguably blown more than anyone else's. Against all odds, and without the internet or even a VHS copy of the movie to assist them, they set out to complete a shot for shot remake of the movie to be filmed in their houses, backyards, and surrounding town. For the next seven years, they work tirelessly through every summer vacation and spring break to finish this thing, sacrificing any semblance of a "normal" childhood in the quest to achieve their ultimate goal. An astonishing seven years later, they finally wrap production, and fifteen years after that, their movie becomes a sensation among hardcore film fans. So...what next?

Raiders! The Story of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
Directors: Jeremy Coon & Tim Skousen
Starring: Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, Jayson Lamb


Friday, June 10, 2016

Dying Laughing (LA Film Fest 2016)

A poetic, brutally candid examination of stand-up comedy, Dying Laughing features a murder’s row of famous comedians telling honest, genuine stories about the art form they love.

Dying Laughing
Directors: Lloyd Stanton, Paul Toogood
Starring: Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Jerry Lewis, Sarah Silverman

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Equity (LA Film Fest 2016)

Set in the high-powered world of New York City finance, Equity is a showcase for Breaking Bad star Anna Gunn to prove she unequivocally has what it takes to headline a movie.

Equity
Director: Meera Menon
Starring: Anna Gunn, Sarah Megan Thomas, James Purefoy

A Hundred Streets (LA Film Fest 2016)

Disparate people of different race, background, and social status intersect and bounce off each other in Jim O’Hanlon’s A Hundred Streets, a London-set film that attempts to make grand statements about life but ends up being a middling yet still somewhat enjoyable trek through key moments in their lives.

A Hundred Streets
Director: Jim O'Hanlon
Starring: Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton, Franz Drameh

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Don't Think Twice (LA Film Fest 2016)

Eddie Murphy. Will Ferrell. Bill Murray. The list of supremely talented improvisers who’ve made it big in Hollywood is extensive, but no one has ever made a movie that takes the audience inside the subculture of modern improv and investigates the often complicated relationships between its comedians. Mike Birbiglia has changed that with his sophomore directorial feature Don’t Think Twice, a love letter to the art form that also functions as an exploration of creativity, loyalty, and maturation.

Don't Think Twice
Writer/Director: Mike Birbiglia
Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia

Monday, June 6, 2016

Officer Downe (LA Film Fest 2016)

Outrageous, ultra-violent, and sleazy as hell, Officer Downe is the kind of movie made for midnight screenings and intended for audiences in the right mindset to see some deranged and psychotic nonsense.

Officer Downe
Director: Shawn Crahan
Starring: Kim Coates, Tyler Ross

Friday, June 3, 2016

Beyond The Gates (LA Film Fest 2016)

If you dumped JumanjiThe Ring, and a couple gallons of fake blood into a blender and hit the "combine into a 1980s horror homage" button, you'd get Beyond The Gates. A mishmash of genre influences, the film follows two brothers who return to their missing father's house, only to discover a dangerous, mystical board game they must play in order to save his soul. That's about all of the plot description you're going to get because I don't want to spoil any of the film's big moments, but it's clear the movie has a lot on its mind.

Beyond The Gates
Director/Co-writer: Jackson Stewart
Starring: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant



Thursday, June 2, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping takes aim at spoiled pop artists before we ever see a frame of footage (the title is a riff on the 2011 documentary Justin Bieber: Never Say Never), but this movie isn't only interested in raking singers over the coals: it's out to make fun of the entire music industry and the culture surrounding it. Celebrity romances, TMZ, social media, traditional news networks, and much more are skewered in this ridiculous — and often hilarious — examination of superstardom from The Lonely Island.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Directors: Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone
Starring: Andy Samberg, Tim Meadows, Sarah Silverman


Friday, May 20, 2016

The Nice Guys

Writer/director Shane Black may no longer be the Hollywood wonder boy who fetched record-breaking sums for his screenplays in the '90s, but it feels as if middle age suits the now-54-year-old filmmaker just fine because the dude is firing on all cylinders right now. The Nice Guys, Black's third directorial effort, has a very similar vibe to his 2005 debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and if you've seen that movie, you know that's very good news. A 1970s-set murder mystery featuring a couple of mismatched partners, this movie sees Black comfortably and completely in his lane...and, unsurprisingly, he crushes it.

The Nice Guys
Director/Co-writer: Shane Black
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling


Friday, May 13, 2016

High-Rise

I haven't read J.G. Ballard's novel on which High-Rise is based, but considering the book's glowing reputation, I have to assume it has more depth to it than this adaptation, one of director Ben Wheatley's most inaccessible movies to date. It's a film you'd think would have a lot on its mind, but it's only really interested in creating a single metaphor about the effect of capitalism on social structures. It's a metaphor that's clearly laid out in the first ten minutes, and though things go off the rails in the story pretty quickly, there's not much else to this movie when all is said and done.

High-Rise
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller



Monday, May 9, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Days of Future Past was my favorite of the X-Men movies, so I'm disappointed to report that Apocalypse is one of the weakest entries in the franchise so far.

X-Men: Apocalypse
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac


Friday, April 29, 2016

Keanu

There are plenty of laughs to be found in Keanu, the big-screen debut of former Comedy Central stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. That the movie works in spite of its cliche-ridden script is a testament to its stars' excellent chemistry and infectious personalities. 

Keanu
Director: Peter Atencio
Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Hadish, Method Man


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Green Room

I've heard great things about Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin since it debuted, so I added it to my Netflix queue and planned on watching it the day before I went to see his follow-up feature, Green Room. But by that point it had been removed from the streaming service, so I went into this film with a little less context than I would have liked. Even without having seen his breakout movie, it's very obvious Saulnier is a rising talent with a knack for managing tone; the way he balanced shocking bloodshed and sustained tension in Green Room made me excited to see what else he has up his sleeve.

Green Room
Writer/Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat



Friday, April 1, 2016

Everybody Wants Some!!

A hangout movie largely devoid of major conflict, Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! is an easygoing, carefree, and hilarious exploration of youth and philosophy viewed through the prism of an east Texas college baseball team in 1980. It's alternately raucous, touching, sweet, and silly, but it's almost always hilarious. This is one of my favorite films of 2016 so far.

Everybody Wants Some!!
Writer/Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Zoey Deutch



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I really wanted this movie to be great. I enjoyed Man of Steel at the time of release, (though it holds up less and less each time I revisit it), and I was excited about the potential of Ben Affleck playing Batman as soon as that casting was announced. But Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a joyless, grueling, two-plus hour waste of time, a film incapable of rising above director Zack Snyder's visual trappings and delivering anything remotely resembling a compelling story. This is a great example of how not to make a superhero movie.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Midnight Special

I was very impressed with writer/director Jeff Nichols' two most recent films, Take Shelter and Mud, so I was slightly torn when I heard he was going to be directing his first studio film. Would this new project retain the qualities that made the aforementioned movies so enjoyable, or would a bigger budget and navigating the complicated landscape of studio filmmaking soften the style I enjoyed so much? Thankfully, Midnight Special is a mostly-satisfying thriller that tells its own story while feeling like a throwback to classic sci-fi movies like Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Starman, and E.T.

Midnight Special
Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

Brimming with edge-of-your-seat suspense, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a wonderfully effective throwback to classic nail-biters and a terrific expansion of the Cloverfield cinematic universe.

10 Cloverfield Lane
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Triple 9

It's been a few years since we've seen a truly impressive heist film, but John Hillcoat's Triple 9 is here to remind us what one looks like.

Triple 9
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Zoolander 2

Following in the footsteps of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, another comedy sequel released many years after its zany, beloved original, Zoolander 2 arrives fifteen years after the first film — which, unfortunately, is about thirteen years too late. But if you can get past the film's questionable reasons for existing, there are a handful of laughs to be had in this idiotic farce.

Zoolander 2
Co-Writer/Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Deadpool

For years, hardcore Deadpool fans have been yearning for an R-rated live-action movie that does justice to the character. You asked for it, and now you got it — but while this film certainly gives the Merc with a Mouth plenty of opportunities to address the audience and make meta references, that unfortunately doesn't mean that the movie around it is great.

Deadpool
Director: Tim Miller
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein



Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hail, Caesar!

Full of humor and overflowing with the kind of rich themes you expect from the Coen Brothers, Hail, Caesar! is a delightful romp through the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Hail, Caesar!
Writers/Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton


Friday, January 29, 2016

Eddie the Eagle

There's a good reason sports stories tend to work well at the movies: no matter how many times you see the same basic formula play out, it's always inspiring to watch an underdog triumph over incredible odds. Despite being perhaps the most predictable distillation of this formula of the past thirty yearsEddie the Eagle hits all the right beats; while occasionally veering into cheesy territory, this based-on-a-true-story genre entry is a largely satisfying crowd-pleaser.

Eddie The Eagle
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Synchronicity

Fans of Timecrimes and Primer might enjoy Synchronicity, the newest film from writer/director Jacob Gentry. I haven't seen any of his previous movies (I hear The Signal was well-liked), but this low-budget indie is a solid piece of science fiction that handles the concept of time travel with the kind of precision geeks will appreciate.

Synchronicity
Director: Jacob Gentry
Starring: Chad McKnight, Brianne Davis, AJ Bowen, Michael Ironside