Thursday, April 28, 2016

Keanu




Film: Keanu

Starring: Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele

Director: Peter Atencio

U.S. Release: April 29th, 2016 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 100 minutes


When news broke that Comedy Central had declined to renew the hilarious sketch comedy show from creators Key and Peele, I became immersed in the 5 stages of grief. But after witnessing their triumphant big screen debut last night, I've officially reached the stage of acceptance because I know there will be plenty of more laughs in their future. Lovers of the show can rest easy knowing that Keanu is every bit as hilarious and head-scratchingly insane as you would imagine.

Following a recent break-up, Rell (Jordan Peele) struggles with the rejection and hopelessness of his life. Yet, when an angelic little kitten literally arrives on his doorstep, Rell names the furry ball of cuteness Keanu and it rejuvenates his entire world. Meanwhile, suburbanite Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), Rell's cousin, is granted a weekend alone from his wife in hopes of embracing his inner passions, so the relatives decide to enjoy a movie together. However, when they return to Rell's home, they discover that Keanu's been kidnapped and they're forced to wear their most hardcore faces as they hit the mean streets to find the feline.


Longtime Key & Peele director, Peter Atencio, re-teams with the duo in their film debut and the collaboration is wildly effective. Keanu succeeds on well-written and hysterically-acted situational comedy, an undeniable forte of the film's leading stars. Their fake gangster personas carry the 100-minute laugh-fest without ever growing tiresome. Key and Peele have the unique ability to take a simple idea and wring out more jokes than you ever thought possible, and those talents are on full display here. But in addition to the movie's large dose of hilarity, Atencio's direction is completely on point as well. We can only hope that this collaborative team will return again in short order and continue making worthwhile comedies for years to come.


In all honesty, though, Keanu does suffer from a few noticeable faults. The script is flooded with major conveniences and eye-popping plot holes that are used to progress the story, and it's these lazily written ideas that ultimately hinder the film from reaching legendary comedic heights. Furthermore, Keanu's finale is a bit muddled and in some ways thoughtlessly written as well. However, these less than impressive moments come and go quickly enough to become a distant memory as an onslaught of humor stands as the film's lasting memory.

Keanu is in no way groundbreaking or even a must-see comedy. Yet, the film is a pleasantly-paced and entertaining effort with an abundance of genuine laughs. Key and Peele are an extremely talented pair of writers and actors. This debut feature is a refreshing entry that should pave the way for future projects. And if they're anywhere as good as Keanu, we'll be be enjoying them for a long time.


Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Best Films Relying on Jon Favreau


Jon Favreau has influenced Hollywood for the better part of two decades, yet the multi-talented writer, director, actor and producer never seems to command the level of appreciation that he truly deserves. In some way or another, it's a safe bet that Favreau has had his hand in some of your favorite movies since the early 90s. Most recently he returned to the director's chair for the critically adored live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book. Therefore, April's movie list of the month addresses the best films that Jon Favreau has been involved with as either a writer, director or actor throughout the course of his career (March's List).

Honorable Mention: Elf (actor/director), The Jungle Book (director), and The Replacements (actor)


#5. The Break-Up (2006)


In a comedy that was ripped by critics, I actually found a large sense of enjoyment with Peyton Reed's The Break-Up. At the pinnacle of leading star Vince Vaughn's career, we're given this wonderful blend of comedy and drama that offers a realistic examination of American relationships. Jon Favreau is merely a supporting character, although he offers a sincere turn during one of the film's most pivotal scenes. And at the end of the day Favreau lends his acting talents to an extremely quotable laugh-fest filled with one liners galore. Some will knock The Break-Up for its many uncomfortable and awkward scenes which feature an immature feuding couple. Yet, its those realistic moments of childish bickering that lend credibility to this pioneering dramedy.


#4. Swingers (1996)


With the mid 90s cult classic comedy, Swingers, Favreau not only delivered a breakout performance, he also opened many eyes in the industry as the film's screenwriter. Along with Vince Vaughn, the film follows a pair of wannabe actors who enjoy a night out on the time in order to get one of the friends over the pain of a recent breakup. Their antics and conversation is unforgettable, all of which help make Swingers a clear cut winner.


#3. Iron Man (2008)


Since Iron Man sparked the origins of the ever-growing Marvel film universe nearly eight years ago, that means its humble beginnings need to be credited to Jon Favreau. While you may simply recognize Favreau as bodyguard and personal friend to Tony Stark, Happy Hogan, you're undervaluing the film icon's significance to the franchise. Favreau began as the director behind both Iron Man and Iron Man 2, earning him a prominent role in the development of Hollywood's most lucrative film universe.


#2. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)


One of the most difficult aspects of this movie list is weighing the quality of the overall film with the level of involvement from Jon Favreau. Although Martin Scorcese's The Wolf of Wall Street happens to be my favorite movie on the list (by a small margin over the #1 selection below), Favreau leaves a much tinier imprint on the overall project than the other films featured in my Top 5. Within this Best Picture Nominee Favreau offers his acting talents only in the small role of Manny Riskin, the lawyer for Jordan Belfort (Leonoardo DiCaprio). But still, here's another iconic film in Hollywood's history impacted by the wide-ranging talents of Jon Favreau.


#1. Chef (2014)


If there's a film emblematic of Jon Favreau's all encompassing talents, it's his indie passion-project hit, Chef. Favreau writes, directs and stars in this fantastic father-son tale of a divorced culinary master who walks away from a renowned fine dining restaurant in order to pursue his limitless passion of running a food truck. Yet, at Chef's core is a tender and heartfelt story of a child's desire to connect with his father. And through the many lessons of the kitchen, Carl Casper (Favreau) is able to build an everlasting bond with his son. Chef combines genuine laughs with an emotionally earnest foundation that enables the film to transcend far beyond the typical indie. Through his words, eyes and expressions Favreau manages to deliver an exceptional piece of filmmaking that's as dedicated to its craft as its main character. Chef is a crowd-pleasing film that's availble on Netflix and certainly worth a watch. It will open your eyes to the many talents of an overlooked movie icon such as Jon Favreau.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Founder and The Girl on the Train Trailers


Over the last two years as a key figure in Best Picture winners Birdman and Spotlight, Michael Keaton failed to secure his first Oscar statue. This year he's back in the ring again in John Lee Hancock's The Founder. Keaton stars as McDonald's founder, Ray Kroc, who fell into great fortune with a do-whatever-it-takes mentality. The Founder shows the cut-throat nature of business, in a similar vein of the powerhouse drama The Social Network. Check out the debut trailer for The Founder below.





Two years ago the success of David Fincher's adapted thriller, Gone Girl, has now helped pave the way for other dark psychological tales. The Girl on the Train, a novel getting the big screen treatment this October, gets its turn at critical and box office success. Emily Blunt stars as a divorced woman who believes she witnessed a kidnapping while riding the train to work. Her search for the facts sends her into a mental tailspin. The trailer is a little all over the place, but I'll certainly take a shot with The Girl on the Train.




Thursday, April 21, 2016

2016 Summer Movie Preview: July & August


Earlier this week I took a look at the summer blockbusters being unveiled during the months of May & June. Today I'll be shifting my focus to the promising films slated for a release during the second half of the summer months. Here's a look at what you can expect from July & August:


July 2016


The BFG - July 1st



After the overwhelming success of Jon Favreau's live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book, nothing can stop the ever-growing expectations for Steven Spielberg's similar re-branding of the Roald Dahl classic, The BFG. Academy Award winner Mark Rylance offers his voice as the title character in this story of a young girl named Sophie who encounters a secret world of giants. Sophie happens to befriend an outcast who refuses to eat little boys and girls like all the other giants. Spielberg has a knack for grandeur and that gives all the more reason to get excited for The BFG.


Ghostbusters (2016) - July 15th



I know what you're thinking and, yes, I did reserve a special place on my summer movie preview for Paul Feig's Ghostbusters re-boot. I was less than impressed with the film's first trailer, but Feig has a few hits to his name so I'm still in the "wait and see" stage. Either way this female-driven remake stars Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig and also includes Chris Hemsworth in a supporting role. Hopefully they're saving all the best jokes for the theatrical experience. Either way, Ghostbusters will reach movie screens nationwide in mid-July.


Jason Bourne - July 29th



A beloved action franchise returns this summer with the latest saga, Jason Bourne. This fifth installment reunites Matt Damon with director Paul Greengrass, the filmmaker behind Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum. Plot details are very thin at the moment but after failing to star in the last film, Matt Damon resumes his title role as a trained assassin who once again seeks out revenge on U.S. officials who lied to him. Hopefully Jason Bourne marks the spectacular type of rejuvenation to the franchise that we all crave so dearly.


Other July Releases: Horror franchise The Purge: Election Year (7/1) returns with its third inclusion and Alexander Skarsgard stars in The Legend of Tarzan (7/1). Kids movies The Secret Life of Pets (7/8) and yet another Ice Age: Colloison Course (7/22) will arrive in July as well. The Zac Efron & Adam DeVine comedy, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (7/8) isn't quite at the top of my list, but the Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell comedy, Bad Moms (7/29), has all the makings of a huge wild card. And finally, Star Trek Beyond (7/22) marks a return for fanboys of the legendary sci-fi universe.


August 2016


The Founder - August 5th



In a rare industry twist, we may be getting a legitimate Oscar contender earlier than expected. It was recently announced that John Lee Hancock's The Founder, starring the Oscar-hungry Michael Keaton, will reach theaters during the final summer month. Keaton stars as McDonald's founder, Ray Kroc, a struggling milkshake machine salesman who has dreams of launching the fast-food industry nationwide and who will stop at nothing to achieve it. Keaton is a prime candidate for a Best Actor nod and Harvey Weinstein has dubbed The Founder a serious awards season player. Let's enjoy this unique occurrence in early August when the time comes.


Suicide Squad - August 5th



Despite the disappointment that was Dawn of Justice, DC Comics quick to follow feature, Suicide Squad, could prove to be a saving grave for the film universe. David Ayer's tale of a government agency that summons a collection of super-villains to handle a dangerous mission has delivered a trio of energetic and exciting trailers. Suicide Squad may be a make or break effort for the long-term goals of the DC Comic universe, but all signs point to a thrilling and comical action flick worth savoring.


Sausage Party - August 12th



In what's clearly an anti-children's animated comedy, the writing team behind Superbad and Pineapple Express present the R-Rated Sausage Party, In grocery stores worldwide it's a lifelong goal for food to be chosen by consumers. And after a flirty sausage named Frank (voice of Seth Rogen) and his bun of choice, Brenda (voice of Kristen Wiig), are purchased together, they look forward to a life of eternal bliss. Yet, once they discover the mayhem behind humans and their perspective-driven violent consumption of food, these edible characters must work to survive being devoured. Sausage Party's Red-Band trailer (above) is full of clever laughs and I truly can't wait for this comedy to arrive.


Pete's Dragon (2016) - August 12th



Call it nostalgia, but the first look into the remake, Pete's Dragon, has me excited to relive one of my favorite childhood journeys. When an orphaned child named Pete is discovered, no one believes the boy's stories of his best friend, Elliot, a dragon with remarkable abilities. Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford co-star in what will hopefully be a valiant re-boot. The 1977 version of Pete's Dragon will always remain a classic tale in my eyes so, while hopes are high, I can only hope for a solid re-introduction to these lovable characters.


Other August Releases: The goofy kid's film, Nine Lives (8/5), starring Kevin Spacey as a father who becomes trapped in a cat's body helps kick off the summer's final month. Also, the Jonah Hill and Miles Teller true story, War Dogs (8/19), debuts alongside a reboot of the classic, Ben-Hur (8/12). The sci-fi effort, The Space Between Us (8/19), is an intriguing prospect as well as the cleverly premised horror flick, Don't Breathe (8/26).

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

2016 Summer Movie Preview: May & June


We're only a couple weeks out from another summer blockbuster season filled with sequels, prequels, remakes and even some fresh new ideas. Here's a look at what's on tap throughout the first half of the summer months.


May 2016


Captain America: Civil War - May 4th



Guaranteed to be this summer's biggest box office smash, Captain America: Civil War is also the first major release to kick off the festivities. After a disappointing debut for the DC Comics universe with Dawn of Justice, all eyes will shift back to the well-developed series that Marvel has put together. In a well constructed set of interweaving storylines, the pinnacle of the action will finally reach theaters on May 4th as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) feud over the future of the Avengers.


The Nice Guys - May 20th



Speaking of the Marvel film universe, Iron Man 3 director, Shane Black, transitions to the comedy caper genre with the intriguing movie prospect, The Nice Guys. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star as an "enforcer" and a private investigator whose decide to work together to uncover the disappearance of a young woman and the death of a porn star. Shane Black, who also directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, seems like a perfect match for his strong pair of lead actors. Keep an eye out for The Nice Guys later in May.


Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising - May 20th



While I admittedly have some reservations regarding the comedy sequel, Neighbors 2, the other laughing-inducing prospects this summer really haven't caught my attention either. Therefore, when it comes to the mighty summer comedy, I must default to the always enjoyable Seth Rogen. This time around Rogen's character and his wife (Rose Byrne) are hoping to sell their house when a destructive new sorority moves in right next door. These dueling neighbors reach a tipping point that forces the couple to bring in reinforcements (Zac Efron) to put an end to this madness. My fingers are crossed that Neighbors 2 is at least decent, but I guess we'll find out later next month.


Other May Releases: The financial drama Money Monster (5/13) starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney. A popular children's game transitions to the big screen with The Angry Birds Movie (5/20), and the imaginative sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass (5/27), debuts as well. Finally, the X-Men will return again with X-Men: Apocalypse (5/27).


June 2016


Finding Dory - June 17th



I'm typical impartial when it comes to kids' movies. However, Finding Nemo was such a superior entry that it actually makes me excited for the long-awaited sequel, Finding Dory. This time around the scatter-brained Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres) remembers images of her family and sets out on a mission to find them in the vast ocean waters. The return of Marlin, Nemo and Crush the sea turtle all combine to make Finding Dory my most anticipated release of June.


Independence Day: Resurgence - June 24th


Another delayed sequel 20 years in the making will debut later in June. Independence Day: Resurgence features Jeff Goldblum reprising his role as a satellite expert who must, once again, help prepare Earth for the battle of human existence. Unfortuantely, Will Smith is nowhere to be found but Liam Hemsworth steps into a leading role and Roland Emmerich has returned to the director's chair. It's always dangerous trying to recapture the essence of a 20 year-old success, but perhaps this one will.


Free State of Jones - June 24th



Following Matthew McConaughey's well-deserved Oscar Win for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, he's certainly become a must-watch actor. In an unconventional summer blockbuster, McConaughey teams with Academy Award Nominated screenwriter and director, Gary Ross, in the Civil War drama, Free State of Jones. Set in 1860s Mississippi during the height of the war, a rebellious southern farmer (McConaughey) leads an uprising against the Confederate army as Jones County fights to secede from the Confederacy. Boasting epic potential, Free State of Jones arrives in theaters on June 24th.


Other June Releases: The pair of sequels Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (6/3) and Now You See Me 2 (6/10) will kick off the month of June. Horror fans will have plenty of titles to look forward to as the middle of summer approaches with The Conjuring 2 (6/10), Bye Bye Man (6/3) and the long-awaited Eli Roth produced Clown (6/17). Finally the video-game adapted Warcraft (6/10) and action-comedy Central Intelligence (6/17) starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart close out the month.

* Stay tuned this week for July & August *

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Rapid Reviews: The Jungle Book and Criminal





Praise has been awfully high for Jon Favreau's live-action adaption of the Disney classic, The Jungle Book. The actor turned filmmaker follows up his wonderful indie comedy, Chef, with another solid effort. In all honesty, I don't recall watching the 1967 animated version of Rudyard Kipling's classic written work. However, Jon Favreau and company manage to create another winning interpretation all on their own.

Newcomer Neel Sethi stars as man-cub Mowgli, a boy raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves. But when the powerful tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) threatens the young boys life, Mowgli must return the human civilization for protection. However, his trek back to a populated village gets sidetracked and Mowgli meets a slew of characters on his heroic journey through the jungle.

Favreau's live-action retelling opens with an energetic tempo that certainly levels off as the story progresses, but never grows tiresome. There's a deep story at play within Kipling's writing that is transferred to the big screen wonderfully by screenwriter Justin Marks. Debut performer, Neel Sethi, delivers a convincing performance for such a youngster and it serves as the foundation for the rest of the film. Despite the many winning attributes of The Jungle Book, I will say I was a bit puzzled when they break out into song about halfway into the movie with a rendition of "Bear Necessities". Like I mentioned above, I'm unfamiliar with the original source material, but featuring only a pair of scattered songs throughout the film made them feel very out of place. Yet, a large crop of lovable jungle creatures headlined by Bill Murray's wonderful voicing of Baloo helps make The Jungle Book another successful endeavor from Jon Favreau.


Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-





Another film opening which opened this weekend is the crime-action flick, Criminal, starring Kevin Costner, Gary Oldham and Ryan Reynolds. With The Iceman director, Ariel Vromen, at its forefront, I expected some violence and bloodshed and, apparently, so should you. Mixing in a bit of scientific ingenuity into its plot, Criminal is merely a mediocre and undersold film that boasts a more intriguing premise than what it ultimately delivers on screen.

After the murder of a CIA Operative (Reynolds) in Germany who possesses the knowledge of some valuable information, U.S. officials engage in a groundbreaking neurological surgery that will place the agent's memories into the mind of a compatible patient. Yet, since the requirements for a patient are so rare, the only choice becomes a dangerous and emotion-less criminal named Jericho (Costner) who happens to fit the bill. But after the surgery concludes, Jericho goes rogue and the mission becomes personal as the memories force him to finally develop a sense of right and wrong.

Kevin Costner stands front and center with a memorable lead performance in Ariel Vromen's Criminal. However, the entirety of the story feels overly animated in all regards and never feels grounded in reality. As a result, this clunky film pushes along solely as mindless action fluff that never exudes any legitimate depth to its characters. Furthermore, the movie's main villain lacks the necessary appeal of a quintessential "bad guy". Therefore, Criminal comes and goes as a run of the mill effort that, in many ways, squanders a very thought-provoking premise.


Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C