Sunday, August 31, 2014

Foxcatcher (NEW) and Rosewater Trailers

The suspense is killing me! It feels as though I've been waiting my whole life for the release of Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher, a story that's both local and iconic from my childhood, and all the studio continues to release are short teaser trailers. Steve Carell stars as John du Pont, a wealthy sponsor driven to recapture American glory in the sport of wresting. After he builds a first-class training facility and recruits a pair of gifted brothers, Mark and Dave Schultz (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, respectively), du Pont begins to display unusual behavior that leads to a shocking finale. Foxcatcher received rave reviews at the Cannes Festival earlier this year and reaches theatres on November 14th.

Both Foxcatcher and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart's directorial debut, Rosewater, were outlined in my Fall Oscar Preview. While little has been known about Stewart's passion project until the release of Rosewater's first official trailer, we can now see that he's going for Oscar gold. Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Maziar Bahari in the adapted autobiographical account of the journalist's 100+ days of brutal interrogation in an Irani prison. There's no shortage of dramatics here and if the film can manage to tell a well thought-out harrowing story, then Rosewater may end up being a legitimate Oscar contender.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Maze Runner

Film: The Maze Runner

Starring: Dylan O'Brien (The Internship), Will Poulter (We're the Millers) and Patricia Clarkson (Easy A)

Director: Wes Ball

U.S. Release: September 19th, 2014 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 113 minutes

You can run, but you can't hide. The young adult novel craze has taken over mainstream film and, after staring far over the horizon, it's clear to see that there's no ending in sight. The latest adapted film from the genre, Wes Ball's The Maze Runner, serves as an unfortunate example of just how deeply entrenched our culture is in this teenage-driven phenomenon. In a dog-eat-dog world it's shocking to see just how open these money-hoarding studios are to forking over the funds to develop a blockbuster franchise such as this. Well, I guess money really does talk.

After Thomas (played by Dylan O'Brien) awakes with a severe case of memory-loss only to discover a trapped community of boys facing the same set of circumstances, he begins learn about their developed society where an ever-changing maze appears to be the only hope of escape. However, spider-like creatures known as Grievers terrorize the maze throughout the nighttime where no one has ever lived to tell about an encounter. Therefore, a brave and courageous Thomas goes against the rules of the society in order to search the maze for answers and free themselves from this mysterious set of circumstances.

With a Lost-like approach more inclined to create questions than answering them, The Maze Runner attempts to entertain solely on intrigue and action alone. Utilizing a large cast of characters, each of which has no useful backstory due to a weakly supported memory-loss premise, debut director Wes Ball demonstrates no desire to establish an emotional connection with the audience. Rather, nearly two hours are spent focusing on thrilling chase sequences throughout the maze where nothing helps progress the story forward. All of which lead to a less-than revelatory finale that paves the way for multiple sequels to this newly established franchise.

Despite the feature's fundamentally flawed agenda of sacrificing content and story for suspense and visuals, The Maze Runner has many edge-of-your-seat moments. The up-tempo sequences inevitably make for entertaining viewing experiences until they begin to run their course. Eventually, the intensity loses its spark and a flimsy storyline emerges from the background destroying everything the film has built to that point, much like the Grievers to the boys' community. After wading through a myriad of action-packed and visually pleasing moments, The Maze Runner is unmasked for what it truly is, a money-printing piece of fluff.

Furthermore, I'd like to take this opportunity to address the family member of young actor Dexter Darden who sat near me during the screening and continually ruined the entire experience for many of the viewing audience. By adding your own soundtrack and dialogue to the film, filled with vulgarities and shrieking screams that were by no means necessary, you alienated a large number of people who will most-likely spread negativity about The Maze Runner. All of Dexter and the rest of the young cast's hard work becomes overshadowed by your inexplicable lack of respect and disregard for proper social behavior. If a grown woman such as yourself is unable to control your own personal actions, much like a toddler, than please refrain from ever leaving the house.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nightcrawler and White Bird in a Blizzard Trailers

This Halloween screenwriter Dan Gilroy delivers his first directorial effort with the highly anticipated Nightcrawler. Appearing as a sadistic blend of American Psycho meets Drive, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a young man who discovers the brutal realities of freelance crime journalism in Los Angeles and begins to do anything it takes to capture a great story. At first glance, Nightcrawler has all the makings of an anti-Oscar crowd-pleaser.

Another Sundance selection arriving in theatres this Fall is Gregg Araki's adapted drama, White Bird in a Blizzard. Rising star Shailene Woodley stars as a small town 17 year old girl facing all sorts of changes in her life, when her depressed and emotionless mother (Eva Green) mysteriously goes missing one day. Playing to generally positive reviews and creatively combining the coming-of-age and thriller genres, White Bird in a Blizzard reaches theatres on September 25th.

Monday, August 18, 2014

St. Vincent and Rudderless Trailers

At the beginning of the month I chronicled the Fall Oscar Preview and one of the films I highlighted was Theodore Melfi's indie comedy St. Vincent. Bill Murray stars in the title role as a grumpy old war veteran who convinces his new single-mother neighbor (Melissa McCarthy) to let him babysit her young boy after he finds out he's broke. With hearty laughs and a potential drama-filled mentor story at its core, St. Vincent could be Bill Murray's chance to return to the Oscar spotlight.

Yet another film out of this year's Sundance class due for an October release is actor William H. Macy's directorial debut, Rudderless. This tender drama tells the story of Sam Manning (Almost Famous' Billy Crudup), a grieving father whose life spirals out of control after the loss of his son, Josh. But when Sam discovers some of Josh's original music, he decides to start up a rock band and play his son's songs. Critics and audiences alike raved about the charming nature of William H. Macy's Rudderless.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Giver

Film: The Giver

Starring: Brenton Thwaites (Oculus) and Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

Director: Phillip Noyce (Salt)

Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama

Runtime: 94 minutes

For all of the many passion projects floating around Hollywood, it's amazing to imagine that Jeff Bridges has spent nearly 20 years begging and pleading for an opportunity to play the title role in an adaptation of Lois Lowry's 1993 futuristic novel, The Giver. Finally, after decades of struggle and perseverance, the Acadamy Award Winning actor's wish has been granted. Yet, director Phillip Noyce's visually compelling finished product proves that good things don't always come to those who wait.

Following a world filled with war and pain mankind adopts the idea of communities, seemingly perfect places where extreme "sameness" and "likeness" leave no room for envy or jealousy. With happiness and conflict no longer in existence a young boy named Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites) is given his future assignment, to meet with "The Giver" (Jeff Bridges) and become the Receiver of Memory. It's here where Jonas learns about the old world and discovers a wide range of emotions that he never knew existed. These revelations force the boy to question the entire foundation of his upbringing.

There are many issues circling around the latest sci-fi drama, The Giver. First, the film lands in an enormous line of young adult novels adapted into major motion pictures, which forms a natural comparison against blockbuster franchises that include The Hunger Games and Divergent. And while The Giver isn't a far cry from the newly popularized genre's finest offerings, it struggles to earn a respectable place in the crowded collection. Another blemish resides in the film's superficial approach to the story. For a novel filled with controversial and stimulating ideas about societal issues, The Giver's screenplay barely scratches the surface with properly addressing such topics. Therefore, the feature concludes as a cheapened adaptation focused more on appearance and style than delivering a mindful interpretation of Lois Lowry's novel.

To be perfectly honest, there aren't many glowing attributes to this summer's newest blockbuster. Outside of a tasteful filming style with its clever use of colors and state-of-the-art camerawork that captures some fantastic shots, The Giver is a rather bland feature. Jeff Bridges gives a fully committed performance but the rest of the cast is serviceable at best. Even fans of second hand stars such as the great Meryl Streep and music sensation Taylor Swift should harness their expectations, because neither character or performance adds much soul to the film. And despite leading man Brenton Thwaites' valiant efforts, he never feels like the right fit for the role of Jonas.

The Giver helped spawn the young adult novel movement over two decades ago and, ironically, kept getting skipped over during the recent cinematic surge. Now that audiences and fans of Lois Lowry's work are given the opportunity to visualize her words, it feels like a huge disservice. Perhaps the thought-provoking themes surrounding The Giver were never meant to be translated to the big screen.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Let's Be Cops

Film: Let's Be Cops

Starring: Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed), Damon Wayans Jr. and Rob Riggle (21 Jump Street)

Director: Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door)

U.S. Release: August 13th, 2014 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 104 minutes

Back in April when I ran a Summer Preview series, one of the films I outlined was Luke Greenfield's law enforcement comedy, Let's Be Cops. Considering Greenfield was at the helm for a guilty pleasure of mine, 2004's The Girl Next Door, and I've always admired Jake Johnson's work, I figured that if Damon Wayans Jr. was even half as funny as his father, we could have the surprise comedy of the summer on our hands. Unfortunately, my initial thoughts were misguided and Let's Be Cops remains mired in mediocrity for a multitude of reasons.

Ryan (played by Johnson) and Justin (Wayans Jr.) are Ohio transplants struggling to find success in Los Angeles. And while Justin's passion project gets rejected by his boss at work and Ryan continues to dwell on his glory days as a college quarterback before he sustained a career-ending injury, the duo contemplate a return to their home state. However, a dim-witted mistake on Ryan's part finds the pair of friends dressed authentically as police officers, where they quickly discover an insatiable appetite for the power and respect that comes along with being a cop.

There are quite a few flaws peppered throughout the latest summer comedy, Let's Be Cops. Outside of its leading stars who deliver respectable performances given the circumstances, the feature is dowsed with ineffective secondary characters that offer nothing to the film. Rob Riggle leaps from the 21 Jump Street franchise to this easily comparable counterpart and fails to shine. The same can be said for Andy Garcia, Nina Dobrev, James D'Arcy and Comedy Central's Keegan-Michael Key. Then there's youngster Joshua Ormond, a worthless inclusion who manages to conveniently appear and disappear at any given moment. Also, for an R-rated comedy the jokes are merely molded out of vulgarity and male nudity, which mix together to form an almost laugh-less affair. And although the film begins with a playful examination circling the leading pair's seemingly harmless, yet punishable, offense, in the blink of an eye Let's Be Cops spins right off the realistic-meter and lands in the realm of unbelievable.

Despite the fact that driving on sidewalks appears to go unnoticed and the wanna-be cop tag-team are able to obtain expensive surveillance equipment from local law enforcement without raising suspicion, Let's Be Cops still manages to offer a handful of redeeming qualities. Jake Johnson is a bright spot who constantly demonstrates an innate ability to make a fluid transition between comedy and drama, to the point where it feels shockingly effortless. Furthermore, his chemistry with onscreen sidekick Damon Wayans Jr. is evident as The New Girl co-stars work undeniably well together.  Yet, as the minutes begin to mount and the film requires the audience to constantly suspend their disbelief, Let's Be Cops falls further and further into the class of forgettable buddy comedies.

Desperate to stack up against the recent successful 21 Jump Street franchise, this latest comedic effort lacks the creative humor and slick storytelling to stay in contention. Relying solely on f-bombs and other vulgar improv to muster up the laughs, Let's Be Cops marks another run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster that swings and misses. You're better off holding on to your hard earned money or looking elsewhere for a more reliable source of entertainment.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C