Thursday, July 23, 2015

The End of the Tour

Film: The End of the Tour

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Jason Segel (The Muppets)

Director: James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now)

U.S. Release: July 31st, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 106 minutes

I've never been an avid reader, so it's safe to assume that I haven't wrapped my brain around David Foster Wallace's groundbreaking 1,079 page 1996 novel, Infinite Jest. Having very little prior knowledge of this unusual author who's known for always wearing his trademark bandanna, even though the idea of this personal choice representing some preconceived "fashion statement" would have ran maddening circles around his mind until it nearly exploded, I was intrigued to learn more about Wallace through a very impressive team of collaborators. Filmmaker James Ponsoldt's early work is impressive all on its own, but he emerged onto the scene in a big way with his most recent success, The Spectacular Now. And once you add two narrow, yet immense, acting talents like Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel into the mix, The End of the Tour becomes an indie drama I wouldn't think to miss.

Upon hearing news of David Foster Wallace's (Segel) tragic suicide in 2008, David Lipsky (Eisenberg) fishes through his closet and listens to some old cassette tapes. These conversations transport Lipsky back to 1996 where the one time Rolling Stone reporter embarked on a five-day journey with the lonely, albeit it brilliant, critically acclaimed author. As these two free-thinkers travel around the final dates of Wallace's book tour together, their interactions break down barriers and evolve into philosophical discussions surrounding society, fame and addiction. Conversations that Lipsky and the rest of the world will cherish long after the sad loss of this progressive writer.

James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour is a captivating and highly personal examination of the human psyche. Brought to life through the transcending performances of its two leading stars, the film's rich dialogue is both existential and enthralling. Jason Segel is an absolute revelation who embraces his portrayal of David Foster Wallace with an obvious sense of passion and respect. To experience The End of the Tour is to discover avenues of life and existence that often go ignored and become lost in the mundane patterns of every day behaviors. The film delivers an exuberance and awareness to one's cognitive being that's utterly refreshing. Ponsoldt places his audience into the unique perspective of Wallace's forward-thinking mind and shows how terrifying and lonely it can be to find enlightenment.

For all of the movie's remarkable dialogue-heavy interactions and sharp mental expansion, The End of the Tour is an extremely unconventional piece of work. The film circumvents any real story or plot.. Instead, it serves an homage of sorts to David Foster Wallace and the artistic genius we lost far too young. And despite an occasional sluggish pace, The End of the Tour presses on with its convictions and shapes a delicate piece of liberating art. One that leaves a rare imprint and will stick with me forever.

Some films tell magnificent and grand stories that dazzle and excite. Others search for something deeper and more profound. It's safe to say that The End of the Tour is the latter. David Foster Wallace believed that all different forms of entertainment can become mind-numbing and hypnotic to the point where people fail to exercise life's greatest gift, the ability to think for yourself. That's a valuable lesson and one that everyone deserves to hear. Thank you to James Ponsoldt, Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel for sharing it with me.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vacation (2015)

Film: Vacation (2015)

Starring: Ed Helms (The Hangover) and Christina Applegate (Anchorman)

Directors: John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

U.S. Release: July 29th, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 99 minutes

When Harold Ramis passed away last year, a comedic legend was lost. But while most people who look back at Ramis will see Dr. Egon Spengler from the Ghostbusters films, his greatest achievements came from beyond the camera where he directed classics like Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and National Lampoon's Vacation. Fast-forward a trio of decades and a promising young team of writers and directors, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, turn to funnyman Ed Helms to revive the Griswold's family legacy. And let's just say, Harold Ramis would be extremely proud of their decision.

When regional pilot and a grown up Rusty Griswold (Helms) detects some serious troubles at home, he decides to spice things up by taking his unenthusiastic family on a road trip to the majestic theme park from his childhood, "Walley World". But in typical Griswold tradition, what was supposed to be a fun-filled bonding experience turns into a hellish road trip that pushes each of them to their respective limits. Yet, if they can just make it to "Walley World" and ride the epic Velociraptor roller coaster, perhaps the trip will be worth it after all.

Unlike many (and I do mean many) 21st century comedies that rely on shock value to generate amusement from its crowd, Vacation finds humor in a reminiscently familiar place. Capturing all of the mannerisms and bone-headed charm of former patriarch, Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase), Ed Helms gives a nostalgic performance that is a breath of fresh air from all of these poorly written and contemporary comedies. The writing and directing duo, Daley and Goldstein, mold together a brilliant concoction of the older films with some modern edgy twists that allow Vacation to stand as a solid film all on its own. Each new member of the Griswold family plays a vital role to the story and truly encapsulates the all-for-one tradition of the iconic franchise.

Despite many riotous laughs and unforgettable scenes, Vacation fails to go from start to finish without a hiccup. There are a handful of over-the-top and unrealistic situations that would usually plague a film such as this, but Helms and his co-stars always guide the audience back to the Griswold family norm, which is too good of a place to resist. Another noticeable blemish resides in the somewhat hefty collection of jokes that don't pan out. Although these moments are sporadic but evident throughout the entire film, it becomes routine to let them pass by with ease as more of Vacation's cheeky and hysterical humor is always quick to follow.

In an age where reboots, remakes and sequels are typically off base and disappointing, Vacation serves as a gratifying reminder of when a new branding is handled with respect and class. While I must caution that the film is by no means an instant classic like its original source material, this new entry delivers an abundance of laughs and proves to be a worthy inclusion to the franchise. The actors go all-out and it pays huge dividends by the time the credits roll. If you're a fan of the Griswolds, then don't miss your chance to relive another adventure with one of our favorite movie families.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Monday, July 20, 2015


Film: Trainwreck

Starring: Amy Schumer and Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins)

Director: Judd Apatow (This Is 40)

U.S. Release: July 17th, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 125 minutes

Over the course of the past decade Judd Apatow has quickly evolved into Hollywood's face of comedy. The writer, director and producer has had his hand in many of the funniest films and television shows that we've encountered in recent memory. But when it comes to Apatow's pet projects, the movies he directs and holds complete control over, you can sense his desperate desire to pack a dramatic punch. For better or worse (and in most cases, worse), this fixation with tapping into his audience's emotions inevitably launches his films past the two-hour threshold and loses sight of what we're all seeking from a prototypical Judd Apatow film ... to laugh.

Comedian Amy Schumer takes center stage as a carefree and uninhibited magazine writer who finds zero comfort in settling down with a man. But as she jumps from bedroom to bedroom, nothing can prepare her for the complexities she faces when she experiences a romantic evening the subject of her latest article, a prestigious sports surgeon named Aaron Conners (played by Bill Hader), who instantly falls for her. And as their relationship slowly begins to blossom, Amy struggles with changing her natural unencumbered perception of life.

Despite Amy Schumer's admirable efforts, Trainwreck fails to establish a clear tone. In fact, the film is indisputably advertised as a comedy, but it plays to a much more dramatic rhythm. And while Apatow manages to develop a few spectacular and moving onscreen moments at the hands of his talented leading star, these highlights are merely sprinkled throughout an outstretched two hour affair. Unfortunately, the jokes are almost non-existent and it's inexcusable. Outside of a few obviously improvised and ineffective attempts at eliciting laughs, Trainwreck glosses over the humor and attempts to lure in the audience with a touching romantic story that never fully commits to the approach. Consequently, the film hangs in limbo and never rises to the occasion on either side of the spectrum.

For all of the movie's structural shortcomings, Trainwreck does serve as a coming out party for the versatile talent, Amy Schumer. In a bit of a twist, the comedian's emotional diversity far exceeds her improvised jokes. Therefore, Schumer should find a fair amount of future success in her transition to a big-screen actress. Along with Schumer, Bill Hader serves as a strong counterpart and the always magnificent Brie Larson also shines in a supporting role. And although Trainwreck pieces together some fine performances, LeBron James should really just stick to basketball.

As expected with any Apatow film these days, Trainwreck possesses many ups and downs throughout an over-extended story. Yet, unlike the Apatow films we've enjoyed in the past, the laughs aren't right around the corner to pick you up through the sluggish moments. I will applaud the film for proving to be one of Apatow's most exceptional dramatic examinations, as it finishes strongly with a charming and memorable finale, However, Trainwreck is light-years away from a comedy classic and plays more like a middling chick flick.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Revenant and Joy Trailers

Fresh off Best Picture and Best Director Oscar wins for last year's Birdman, Alejandro G. Inarritu is wasting no time jumping back into the awards season frenzy with this year's revenge tale, The Revenant. Based on the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who was viciously attacked by a bear on an expedition in the 1820s, he seeks vengeance on his hunting team who left him stranded to die and struggles to survive a brutal winter on his path back to his family. With two personal favorites, Tom Hardy and Domnhall Gleeson, set to co-star, The Revenant's first look is peculiar but still an intriguing late-year prospect.

Another presumed Oscar contender debuted a first-look trailer recently, David O. Russell has offered a glimpse into his Christmas Day release, Joy. From the director of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle comes the true story of a family's business and the woman who experienced multiple obstacles and turmoil on her path to creating a money-making dynasty. Starring Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence as the title character and Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in supporting roles, check out the debut trailer for Joy below,

Friday, July 17, 2015


Film: Ant-Man

Starring: Paul Rudd (This Is 40) and Michael Douglas (Traffic)

Director: Peyton Reed (Yes Man)

U.S. Release: July 17th, 2015 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 117 minutes

Evident by their massively interconnected stories that will come to an epic union in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, Marvel has been an extremely calculated and well-oiled machine. Therefore, upon hearing the news of an Ant-Man release starring comedy icon, Paul Rudd, and directed by Yes Man and The Break-Up filmmaker, Peyton Reed, these head-scratching choices felt very unorthodox for such a meticulous studio. And although Marvel placed all of their power and resources behind a team of stars unfamiliar with the superhero norm, Ant-Man still unfolds as another solid spectacle in a long line of interweaving tales.

After pulling what many would describe as an "ethical heist" that landed him in jail, burglar extraordinaire, Scott Lang (Rudd), is released from prison and dead-set on making things right with his young daughter. But after an honest lifestyle shows very little remorse for an ex-convict, Scott considers a return to his old ways. However, when the groundbreaking scientist, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), learns that his old protege has discovered the secrets to his most powerful invention, one that could be absolutely catastrophic if placed in the wrong hands, he enlists the help of Lang to break into a heavily guarded facility and steal back his secret.

Marvel's Ant-Man, the latest in a lengthy string of newly introduced superheros with a long-standing history in the comic book realm, is a worthwhile endeavor for fans of this widely developed universe. While the film is a far cry from the most unforgettable superhero flicks to ever captivate audiences, it does a stellar job of sticking to Marvel's indistinguishable formula of constant jokes and heavy action. Sporting a sleek and toned physique for the role, Paul Rudd handles each of the fast-paced sequences just as well as his more natural comedic moments. Ant-Man is such an interesting character who possesses unique abilities that make for a cleverly filmed movie. Constant changes in physical size from small to large give the director a lot of freedom to use his imagination and he doesn't disappoint. Furthermore, it would be a huge disservice to address all of the fine attributes to the film and ignore one of Ant-Man's true highlights, the hysterical co-starring work from Michael Pena. As one of Scott Lang's partners in crime, Pena provides such an elevated level of humor that he almost steals the show himself.

Despite a funny script loaded with timely laughs and a fresh sense of creativity, Ant-Man can't avoid a few unfortunate issues. With a tiring mid-section that results from a major shift to a more dramatic tone, one that proves wildly ineffectively, the film leaves you begging to reach the finish line. In addition, Ant-Man suffers from another common blemish evident in many recent Marvel productions. These films devote so much of their attention to bridging characters together that they often avoid building a strong villainous foe. I don't know about you, but when I'm going into a superhero flick, I want a nemesis for the ages. It's something Christopher Nolan mastered so well in his Dark Knight trilogy, but a non-existent theme in many of Marvel's latest works.

Ant-Man is nowhere near a must-see summer blockbuster, but it's another above average addition to Marvel's quickly-expanding universe. Any doubts surrounding Paul Rudd in the leading role should be squashed like a bug. He and his many co-stars keep the film light and entertaining all at the same time. If you're someone committed to Marvel's illustrious future plans, then don't worry because Ant-Man is another inclusion that warrants a watch.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Suicide Squad and Fantastic Four (New) Trailers

Given Marvel's enormous head-start, DC has a lot of catching up to do. They're expediting the process in 2016 with the release of both Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and its villain-filled counterpart, Suicide Squad. With recent Academy Award winner, Jared Leto, taking over the role of Joker and co-starring Will Smith, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie and many more, Suicide Squad follows an assembled group of super-villains who execute missions for the police in exchange for reduced prison sentences. This brand new footage out of Comic-Con looks exceptional and has me eager to see how well DC's response to the Marvel universe plays out.

While we have to wait until 2016 for DC's pair of films, Marvel has Ant-Man and another Fantastic Four reboot slated for release this summer. Boasting a star-studded cast including Whiplash's Miles Teller, House of Cards' Kate Mara and Fruitvale Station's Michael B. Jordan, a mishap with an experiment gives remarkable powers to four scientists who must band together to fight a dangerous foe. This newly dropped trailer is the final look into the August 7th release, Fantastic Four.