Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Speedy Reviews: Get on Up and Wish I Was Here

*** Guest Review Courtesy of Greg Rouleau

This all seems very familiar.  That’s the impression we’re bound to get by the end of the James Brown biopic, Get On Up.  It’s another in the long line of musician biographies on film, this time tackled by The Help director Tate Taylor.  The Help featured an innocuous but heartfelt story of racism and civil rights in Mississippi during the 1960s.  In Get On Up we start back in roughly the same time period in Georgia.  Chadwick Boseman, who recently portrayed other famed African-American, Jackie Robinson in 42, plays the Godfather of Soul.

Boseman, who was rather underwhelming as Robinson, really impresses with his turn as Brown.  He’ll almost certainly, at the very least, be in the conversation for Best Actor at the conclusion of the year.  It’s unfortunate, however, the rest of the film can’t match the spark of his performance.   Taylor employs every biopic trope that even the audience can imagine each one being crossed off the figurative checklist.  From the rags to riches arc, the chance meeting that leads to a big break, marital and band issues as the result of an inflated ego and/or drug abuse, we’ve certainly been down this road before.

It’s understandable that we’re covering a mostly true story of a real-life figure, but perhaps more of a light should’ve been shined on the years where Brown made his mark.  It’s not all for naught, though.  The childhood years give us some decent albeit brief performances by The Help alum, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  Nelsan Ellis is also a welcome addition on screen as Bobby Byrd.  Taylor attempts to keep up the pace by frequently switching between time periods, but few scenes seem to have a chance to really stand out.  Despite the formulaic story, the musical pieces are certainly enjoyable and that’s a credit to Boseman whose enthusiasm for this character is quite infectious.  At 138 minutes, though, I imagine those that aren’t enamored with the music of Mr. Brown may be squirming for a final number.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+ 

*** Guest Review Courtesy of Greg Rouleau

Much has been made over Zach Braff’s controversial Kickstarter campaign from last year.   As a huge fan of Braff’s directorial debut, Garden State, no complaints we’re made on this end, especially since it’s been ten years since Garden State was released.  It’s almost difficult to believe that much time has passed in between projects.  That, and the fact the audience funded much of this film, certainly increased expectations for the actor’s sophomore effort.

Wish I Was Here stars Braff as Aiden Bloom, a thirty something year old that discovers his father’s dying and won’t be able to pay for his grandchildren’s expensive private school anymore.  Aiden, with the help of his breadwinning wife, Sarah, played by Kate Hudson, attempts to home school the little ones and an adventure ensues.  The movie debuted at Sundance earlier this year and was met with lukewarm reception.  It’s hard to argue that Wish I Was Here isn’t a bit of a disappointment but it certainly isn’t one to avoid. 

Much like Garden State the soundtrack is a shining star here.  Even though that serves as a crutch for some potentially weak storytelling, Braff certainly knows his fair share of solid indie tunes.  We can also be thankful that Braff was able to get the likes of Mandy Patinkin and Hudson on board, as they deliver the best performances by far.  There’s a little too much pondering the wonders and tragedies of life, some of which doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.  The film also works better when it’s trying to be funny rather than when the emotion gets dialed up, which is frequently in the final act.  Even though it may not leave a lasting impression, it’s difficult not to admire the passion that Braff so evidently poured into the writing and directing of Wish I Was Here. 

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Red Band) and Whiplash

As Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's long-awaited sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, creeps closer to its late-August release date, new Red Band footage of the film has been delivered to the masses. Boasting a cast filled with A-listers such as Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the return to one of cinema's most wicked towns is as anticipated as ever. Check out the R-rated trailer for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For below.

One of the most well-received films out of this year's Sundance class was the Grand Jury Prize Winner, Whiplash. Director Damien Chazelle's captivating tale of a music school Jazz drummer (played by Miles Teller) who develops an obsession with greatness thanks to his instructor's (J.K. Simmons) highly demanding personality. Whiplash is an impressive debut feature that successfully transforms Jazz drumming into an engaging backdrop to a much larger story. You'll definitely want to catch the trailer for this indie sensation below.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Speedy Reviews: Begin Again and The Purge: Anarchy

Slowly expanding its way through screens across the country this month is John Carney's Begin Again. While many moviegoers will recall the title thanks to its biggest mainstream identifier, the film acting debut of Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, I was eager to catch the movie because of a lead pairing that features Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley. Both performers starred separately in my two favorite films from this year's Sundance class, Infinitely Polar Bear and Laggies, and the idea of a collaborative effort immediately sparked my interest.

There's certainly a magic surrounding Begin Again, a tale of a deadbeat alcoholic father (Ruffalo) who loses his job as a music executive and haphazardly discovers a promising young talent (Knightley) while drinking his sorrows away at the bar. How he envisions her simple acoustic song transformed to new heights by a full accompaniment of instruments is a memorable scene and one that truly captures the essence of the film. Each and every musical arrangement serves as a stepping stone from beginning to end and help keep afloat an otherwise mediocre affair.

Begin Again harbors many weak plot lines and a character arc that doesn't feel 100% authentic for Ruffalo. High on aesthetics and low on substance, there are plenty of ups and downs surrounding the movie. However, valiant performances from the collective cast, which also features Hallee Steinfeld (True Grit) and Catherine Keener (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), and a hearty amount of fantastic musical performances help elevate Begin Again above the norm.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

I typically get worked up for horror releases only to be let down by what transpires on screen. It's proven to be quite difficult capturing an effective scary movie nowadays. One of the most anticipated releases in recent memory was 2013's The Purge and, more so than usual, I was extremely disappointed in the final product. Yet, one feeling I remember having was that the premise was so intriguing, I would happily give future installments a fair shake at making the idea work.

New to theatres is the franchise's second go-around, The Purge: Anarchy. Undoubtedly a mighty improvement over its predecessor, the sequel takes the clever idea surrounding a futuristic American society where all crime is legal for one 12-hour period a year and sets it free. While the origin story is set entirely in a house during the annual purge, this latest effort takes moviegoers to the beastly streets where surviving the night seems very unlikely.

Interconnecting 3 stories of civilians on this stressful evening, most of whom want nothing to do with the holiday, it's Warrior's Frank Grillo who steals the show. The fast-rising actor adds a surprisingly effective action-hero element to this crazed horror tale. While Grillo's character takes to the mean streets to seek vengeance, he has a moment of sympathy for these helpless survivors and becomes their guardian angel with a machine gun. Although I still believe the franchise needs to wander away from the overly-referenced socio-economic subplots, as well as the whole guerrilla-style group who rivals the government, The Purge: Anarchy solidifies itself as a step in the right direction for the franchise. The well-conceived premise will always leave room for expansive creativity and it appears as though writer/director James DeMonaco finally recognizes that character-driven stories are the way to go.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fifty Shades of Grey and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Red Band) Trailers

Women everywhere can finally rejoice as the best-selling novel from E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey, has officially released a trailer for director Sam Taylor-Johnson's (Nowhere Boy) 2015 big-screen adaptation. Relatively unknown stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan tackle the roles of naive literature student, Anastasia Steele, and billionaire, Christian Grey, who develop a wild sexual relationship after a friendly interview together. Fans of the novel can check out the first look into Fifty Shades of Grey below.

Christmas brings an extra gift this year for fans of the 2010 wacky time-travel film, Hot Tub Time Machine, as its sequel is scheduled to reach theatres. Although John Cusack has bailed on the franchise, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke all reprise their roles, except this time they've been sent far into the future. While the original had its fair share of hilarious moments, we'll all have to take the wait-and-see approach with this slightly over-reaching follow-up feature. You can catch the official Red Band trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 below.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Film: Boyhood

Starring: Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke (Training Day)

Director: Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused)

U.S. Release: July 11th, 2014 (Limited - Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 164 minutes

By now most people have heard the rumblings about Richard Linklater's spectacular new film, Boyhood. There's very little I can add to the warranted praises that have flooded radio airwaves and internet websites. Truth be told, Boyhood is a magnificent cinematic feat that required vision and collective patience from its director, cast and crew. And I'm sure almost everyone involved would agree on one simple fact, it was certainly worth the wait.

Boyhood follows its lead character, Mason (played by an evolving Ellar Coltrane), from the ages of 5 to 18 where life experiences uniquely shape his world views. Mason travels around with his mother and older sister from town to town as the matriarch struggles to provide the quintessential family environment for her children. Filmed masterfully in bits and pieces over the course of 12 lingering years, the movie gives a once-in-a-lifetime perspective into a boy's transition through adolescence.

It's difficult to put into words the culminating experience of witnessing a masterpiece such as Boyhood. An unbreakable bond is established immediately as we watch Ellar Coltrane grow before our very eyes. The ride is both a mirror of our own personal ventures into adulthood as well as a reminder that all of us must set an individual path. Be assured that Mason has his own story, filled with complexities and obstacles that continually mold him into the spirited young man we see just before the credits start to roll. Even after a long-winded and nearly three hour endeavor, it's painful to accept a finale. It almost feels as though any ending would be unjust because, like with our own lives, the story presses on.

Despite the brilliance and handling of Linklater's undeniable instant classic, there were a few small hiccups existing throughout. For starters, Boyhood isn't compromised of many lasting moments like other coming-of-age gems such as Stand By Me and The Sandlot. Instead, the feature serves as a premier example of an instance where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, an overlooked facet that echoes the greatness of Linklater's achievement. But still, a couple more iconic scenes would have been preferred. Also, throughout a relatively well-paced 164 minute marathon to the finish line, Boyhood unravels with the occasional lull. However, a truly engaging and transformative journey eases the audience past all of the brief uninspiring moments.

Trust me, until you do, you've never seen anything like Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Perhaps more monumental in scope and execution than in substance and flavor, the result is still the same, an impressive feature that breeds innovation and personal connection. Boyhood is one of the year's finest films and something everyone deserves to witness.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: A-

Monday, July 21, 2014

Laggies and The One I Love Trailers

One of my favorite films from this year's Sundance Festival lineup was Lynn Shelton's Laggies. This heartfelt comedy stars Keira Knightley as Megan, a twenty-something woman finding difficulty branching out from adolescence. And when Megan's longtime boyfriend decides to propose to her, she lies about going on a retreat and stays with a teenage girl she just met (Chloe Grace Moretz) in order to figure things out. As someone not too far removed from my late-twenties, Laggies proves to be a relatable film that helps define an ever-growing cultural trend.

Another Sundance selection has recently released its debut trailer, but it's one that I wasn't able to catch at this year's festival and that's Charlie McDowell's The One I Love. Indie stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss star as a struggling married couple who attempt to escape for a weekend and save their marriage. Instead, they find themselves confronted with a very unusual dilemma. With solid buzz surrounding the film and a unique style to go along with it, The One I Love presents plenty of intrigue and mystery to the rom-com genre.