Friday, May 29, 2015

Point Break (2015) and Cop Car Traile

Earlier this week I posted a trailer for the new Keanu Reeves thriller, Knock Knock. And as it turns out, Reeves is having one of his earlier career classics being remade. Inspired by the 1991 crime thriller of the same name, Point Break hits theaters this Christmas Day with a large cast of unknowns. Aussie actor Luke Bracey (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) stars as an FBI agent Johnny Utah with a knack for extreme sports. And after a rare breed of high octane criminals devastate the financial markets with a string of mind-blowing heists, Utah must infiltrate their group and put an end to their antics. The stunts and action sequences look pretty insane, which makes me wonder why Point Break is holding off until Christmas rather than cashing in on the summer crowd.

Kicking off its festival run as a member of this year's Sundance class, Jon Watts' newest thriller looks pretty intense. Cop Car stars Kevin Bacon as a dirty cop whose squad car is stolen by a thrifty pair of ten year olds who find themselves involved in a much bigger predicament. Early reviews out of Sundance were heavily positive and you'll want to keep an eye out for Cop Car when it makes its way to theaters this August.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Film: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Starring: Thomas Mann (Project X), Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) and RJ Cyler

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

U.S. Release: June 12th, 2015 (Limited - Rated PG-13)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 104 minutes

Most years I have to wait until at least the fall and sometimes even into late-December, when the heavyweight Oscar contenders begin to unveil themselves across movie theaters nationwide, in order to find that special film that astonishes me on all fronts. Well, Christmas came early last night as I had the privilege of catching this year's superb Sundance Grand Jury and Audience prize winner, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Recent winners of Park City's most prestigious award, namely Whiplash and Beasts of the Southern Wild, ultimately found a large level of Oscar success. But although my instincts tell me that this year's indie gem won't have the same sustaining power as those previous awards season contenders, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is still far and away the most superior of the bunch.

Based on Jesse Andrews' novel of the same name Thomas Mann stars as Greg, a self-loathing high school senior who spends his days staying under the radar and making films with his lifelong "co-worker", Earl (RJ Cyler). But when Greg reluctantly befriends a cancer-stricken classmate named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) at his mom's demanding request, their relationship slowly pulls Greg out from under his shell. And as Rachel's medical condition begins to worsen, Greg and Earl struggle to make a momentous cinematic masterpiece on her behalf.

Beautifully infusing elements of cynicism, sarcasm, fear, tenderness and compassion, novelist turned screenwriter, Jesse Andrews, delivers a screenplay for the ages. Never before has a coming-of-age film felt so earnest and forthright. Andrews creates dialogue that's unapologetically honest and occasionally awkward at all the right times. And through his words, budding stars Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke give the type of spectacular performances that re-direct a career. Selecting lesser known, but equally talented, leads was a brilliant choice by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. These fresh faces give Me and Earl and the Dying Girl a clean slate and the pair of dynamic stars provide such a rare and unique voice to their characters. Furthermore, enough can't be stated about the supporting turns as well, which happen to come from newbie RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman and Jon Bernthal. Of the bunch, Cyler is given the largest platform to work with and his natural comedic abilities are wonderfully counter-balanced by a soulful handling of the film's more dramatic moments.

For such an impressive script and cast, matching these bright spots with the stylish eye and vision of filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon only elevated the film to even greater heights. Alfonso incorporated many rare shots in his repertoire that added an enormous level of distinction to the film. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl amazes on nearly every level and displays a special blend of both humor and tenderness which is simply perfected through Rejon's keen eye.

Throughout the brisk 104 minute affair, the film takes its audience on an unforgettable journey boasting a wide array of emotions. There were laughs and there were tears, but most importantly there was an indestructible connection between each and every moviegoer and all of the characters we fell in love with onscreen. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a magnificent piece of cinema that warrants a viewing from just about film lover out there, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled when the feature hit theaters this June.

Stars: 4 stars out of 4

Grade: A

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Pitch Perfect 2 and Poltergeist (2015)

In 2012 the Barden Bellas took audiences by storm with their unique a capella skills. And this year, the collection of harmonizing misfits return to keep their brand and tradition in tact with Pitch Perfect 2. Some changes have been made, though. Funny-woman and co-star Elizabeth Banks takes the reins as director in her major motion picture debut and there are some new interesting Bellas added to the mix.

After a trio of collegiate national championships, the Barden Bellas are the country's most recognized a capella group. That is, until a wardrobe malfunction at an event hosting the president of the U.S. turns the group into a hated and mocked laughing-stock that results in their banishment from competitive singing. The only way the Bellas can resurrect their sisterhood is by becoming the first American group to win the world championship.

As someone who initially felt that Pitch Perfect was an over-hyped and overrated comedy, it slowly became a guilty pleasure for me. I enjoyed the original less for its storylines and more for the vocal mastery that is actually quite impressive. Its sequel takes a hit all across the board. Pitch Perfect 2's subplots are forced, its jokes are weaker and the song arrangements are almost, but not nearly, as effective as its predecessor. Thankfully, though, fantastic cameos are given by Snoop Lion and NFL sack-master, Clay Mathews III, that assist in keeping Pitch Perfect 2 tolerable as the minutes pile on and filmmaker Elizabeth Banks prides herself with far too much screen time.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Thanks to a barren amount of originality floating throughout Tinseltown, remakes have become a necessity in the film industry, especially with the horror genre. Gil Kenan reworks Steven Spielberg's original story idea as director of this year's reboot, Poltergeist.

After their father (Sam Rockwell) loses his job, the Bowens reluctantly relocate to a new suburban home. But once strange occurrences around the house begin to escalate to frightening heights, the family realizes that they're being terrorized by angry spirits who have kidnapped their youngest daughter, Madison (Kennedi Clements). They must enlist the help of a paranormal expert and band together to save Maddy.

Times have changed and, nowadays, a PG-13 rating for a horror movie is a huge red flag. So as expected, Poltergeist runs low on terrifying scares and delivers some of the most unforgivable dialogue I've seen in a long time. As an outspoken fan of the versatile Sam Rockwell, even his most dedicated talents can't keep this chintzy remake from disaster. A brutal screenplay from David Lindsay-Abaire and a large collection of awful supporting performances plague this harshly lacking scary movie. Do yourself a favor a huge favor and take a pass on Poltergeist.

Stars: 1 star out of 4

Grade: D

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Knock Knock and The Gallows Trailers

It's horror, horror everywhere as new trailers for scary movies seem to be popping up all over the internet. A pair of new previews debuted this week and the first comes from horror mastermind, Eli Roth, director of Cabin Fever and Hostel. Roth's latest film and Sundance selection, Knock Knock, features Keanu Reeves as a happily married father who offers to help two beautiful young women who knock at his door in search of a phone during a rain storm. However, this duo of femme fatales use seduction to lead him into a twisted game with deadly consequences. Early word from fanboys is that this taboo thriller is a must-see, so any lover of scary movies should keep an eye out for Knock Knock later this year.

I think we can all agree that the found-footage style of filmmaking has grown extremely tiresome, but that first-hand general consensus hasn't filtered into the horror genre just yet. In July we're given The Gallows, a first-hand horror account from the directing duo of Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Two decades to the day after a prop malfunction takes the life of a student during a high school play, a new wave of teenagers sneak onto the stage in an attempt to carry out the show themselves. Clearly, things go terribly wrong in this contemporary horror flick. If the preview below catches your interest, you can check out The Gallows later this summer.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Mad Max: Fury Road and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Over 35 years after George Miller branded the iconic post-apocalyptic universe of Max Rockatansky, he returns in 2015 with the highly anticipated prequel of sorts, Mad Max: Fury Road. While I'm admittedly far from a die-hard fan of the franchise and by no means an expert on Miller's long thriving tale, I can guarantee that this latest adventure delivers the same type of thrills and aura as the original.

Move over Mel Gibson while Tom Hardy takes the reins as Max Rockatansky, a rebel consumed by survival and disgraced by what the world has become. As Max finds himself imprisoned by a group of sand dwellers, he crosses paths with another rebel named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who struggles to escape and return to the civilization where she was born.

As advertised Mad Max: Fury Road is literally a two-hour, high-octane chase scene that delivers on action and intensity. But although the fast-paced sequences grow tiresome as the minutes accumulate, a gratifying finale and excellent performances from Hardy and, to a larger degree, Charlize Theron help make this blockbuster franchise reboot worth the watch.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

As I mentioned before when I did a rapid review for the Scientology documentary, Going Clear, HBO has become a major player on the festival market. Leaving the landmark Sundance Film Festival with the rights to both Going Clear and the new Kurt Cobain documentary, Montage of Heck, they've cemented their position as a distributor of upper-echelon films.

Dissecting the birth, death and everything in between of grunge music pioneer, Kurt Cobain, through the use of home videos, live interviews and interpretive animation sequences, Montage of Heck paints a devastating portrait of  drug addiction. While the heroin epidemic sweeps across our nation and filters into suburban homes at an alarming rate, this documentary is suitably timed and severely eye-opening.

Cobain became an overnight megastar after the release of Nirvana's iconic grunge album, Nevermind, changed the face of rock music in 1991. Cobain undesirably became the voice and face of a generation as he sadly withered away by relentless addiction with his lifetime partner, Courtney Love. Montage of Heck is a depressing but necessary examination of Cobain's struggles with heroin even after the life-changing birth of his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pan and The Intern Trailers

While the recent crop of trailers has been rather disappointing, a new Joe Wright preview just dropped a few hours ago. Wright, who's best known for a wide array of films such as Atonement and Hanna, will be releasing his visionary take on the tale of Neverland with the October release, Pan. Levi Miller stars as Peter Pan in this origin story which pits the young boy and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) against a villainous pirate named Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). If you're wondering what's the deal with the iconic character, Captain Hook, well it appears that Pan will help develop an early understanding of Hook before he become the nemesis to Peter that we all know.

It was nice to see Anne Hathaway follow up her Oscar win with last year's strong role in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. However, we all know that Hathaway has a soft spot for the comedy genre where she got an early start in films like The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada. This September she'll take center stage alongside another Academy Award winner, Robert Deniro, in The Intern. Deniro plays a 70 year-old widower named Ben who decides that retirement isn't for him and takes on a senior intern position at an online fashion website headed by Jules Ostin (Hathaway). From the writer of The Father of the Bride and the writer/director of It's Complicated, perhaps The Intern will be a valuable source of wholesome laughs.