‘The Last Witch Hunter’ Review

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Director: Breck Eisner

Writer: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless

Cast: Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Julie Engelbrecht, Joseph Gilgun, and Michael Caine

Synopsis: The last witch hunter is all that stand between humanity and the combined forces of the most horrifying witches in history.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

What better way to celebrate the approaching Halloween than with a film with witches. Vin Diesel stars and produces this film which I’m sure to him feels like one of his D&D games gone full scale – because Diesel has admitted he’s a nerd for that kind of stuff. While The Last Witch Hunter is filled with mythology and magic, there are time when the film loses some of its charm as it trudges through.

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The film starts off in the middle ages after the plague breaks out, which just so happened to be the work of the Witch Queen (Engelbrecht), which leads a group known as The Axe and Cross, which includes Kaulder (Diesel) to hunt her down into the snowy mountains to a her lair. There they encounter the Witch Queen and her underlings, which leads to a battle and Kaulder coming face-to-face with the Witch Queen where he kills her, but not before she curses him with immortality. We then cut to the present day where witches and humans now live in a truce, but there are still witches out there that want to go back to the olden days. The truce is kept in order by Kaulder, who still works for the Axe and Cross and takes his orders from the group and a head figure known as The Dolan, which at the start of the movie is played by Michael Caine, and is the thirty-sixth.

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However, when Dolan the 36th is attacked this leads Kaulder and the new appointed Dolan (Wood) to investigate and find out that someone wants release the Witch Queen. Realizing that he can’t do this alone and trying to decipher a message left for him to remember his past, Kaulder seeks Chloe (Leslie) to help him. They farther they go however, the more dangerous the mission becomes.

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The Last Witch Hunter is a huge mix bag of a movie. There are some things that are serviceable and that work, but then again, there are things that lack to grab you. Some of the world-building aspects are fun to see play out and establish itself, and granted, the film is about witchcraft so that’s fun to see. But, when it goes away, which it does at one point, it slows the movie down a bit. It also doesn’t help that some of the dialogue is a bit heavy handed at times, and a bit sluggish.

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The visuals are also hit-and-miss. Some of them really work within the scene like the transition to the “dream-world” or the landscape shot of the Witch Queen’s lair at the beginning and again later on. The bad CG is pretty bad and does take away from the movie when you compare it to the rest of the movie’s visuals. Of course, one of the highlight visuals is the heavily promoted flaming sword, which looks pretty cool when Diesel’s Kaulder is using it.

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Speaking of Diesel, he’s serviceable as the immortal witch hunter. Diesel brings his natural charisma to the role and thankfully brings some levity to the role as opposed to be just the tough guy that can’t die. He does have his moments of intensity in the film, but it’s what you’d expect in a Vin Diesel movie. Rose Leslie’s witch character, Chloe, does the best she can in the role she’s given. She thankfully has something to do rather than just be Kaulder’s love interest – which is a tad forced, but whatever – and has her own desires. Elijah Wood as the new Dolan is rather refreshing as a character and also brings some levity, more so at the beginning, and has his moments to shine, but it otherwise a supporting character and disappears in the middle of the movie.

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Olafur Darri Olafsson as Belial, a warlock that antagonizes Kaulder throughout the movie, is pretty intimidating as a villain, so it’s kind of a shame that he doesn’t have more scenes and is used as a secondary villain. Julie Engelbrecht, a Canadian actress in her first American film, plays the heavy makeup Witch Queen. The design of the Witch Queen is okay, but she’s surrounded by CGI that it takes away from her character a bit, and she only has only limited screen time. Finally, Michael Caine has only a very small role in the film as Kaulder’s friend and mentor.

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All in all, The Last Witch Hunter does have its fun moments, but some glaring misstep of structure and CGI keep the movie for being far more than it should be and from what people would probably want.

The Last Witch Hunter

3.5 out of 5

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‘Steve Jobs’ Review

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Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Sarah Snook, John Ortiz, Ripley Sobo, Makenzie Moss, and Perla Haney-Jardine

Synopsis: Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, Steven Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Former Apple CEO and, arguably, the face of the company, Steve Jobs is a polarizing figure. Whether you believe the stories or not, or you like him or not, Jobs has done wonders in the industry of technology. There has also been two films on Jobs’ life, but this one takes a different approach to the other films and is based on the biography novel by Walter Isaacson titled “Steve Jobs.” Director Danny Boyle brings some interesting ideas and filmmaking to Steve Jobs, and while some will find it repetitive, the film is filled with great performances all around.

Steve Jobs is broken down into three different parts. Each part takes place during the launch of three different products that Steve Jobs (Fassbender) was a part: 1984 with the launch of Macintosh computer, 1988’s NeXT, and finally 1998’s iMac. Each where filmed differently, the first on 16mm, the second in 35mm, and the last part is filmed digitally. Does that matter? Probably not, but I’m just saying since it is noticeably, well, for me anyway. Also, it was a nice move by Boyle to do that since it also shows the advancements in technology in our own right.

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Anyway, Steve Jobs starts in 1984 before the launch of the Macintosh computer. The film wastes no time getting into the thick of everything. The film is about two hours long, and every segment, for the lack of a better word, is roughly thirty minutes or more. And they are very heavy handed. The film is very Aaron Sorkin as the dialogue is very brisk, breathless, and witty. At the beginning of the film we get a good feel to how Jobs would be portrayed as Jobs is ticked off at Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg) that the Macintosh isn’t saying “hello.” We are not just introduced to Hertzfeld, but to pretty the whole cast in Jobs’ marketing expert and right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), Jobs’ oldest friend and engineer Steve Wozinak (Rogen), Andrea “Andy” Cunningham (Snook), reporter Joel Pforzheimer (Ortiz), and former President of Apple and father figure-like John Sculley (Daniels).

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The film doesn’t really show any of the actual launch presentations, as it decides to focus on the craziness going on before. Jobs even says at one point “it seems like five minutes before every launch, everyone gets drunk and decides to air their grievances,” which is true. The biggest dramatic moments happen right before Jobs is getting ready to go out on stage. The first is one is the heavily featured story with his daughter Lisa played by Makenzie Moss, or as Jobs proclaims multiple times during that part is not his daughter, and the mother of his daughter Chrisann (Waterston). The second is Jobs moving on from Apple with the NeXT and “clearing the air” with Hertzfeld, Wozinak, and Sculley, but it’s Sculley that takes the biggest chuck and is, for me, the best part and most dramatic part of the film. Jeff Daniels’ performance as Sculley, especially in this scene that also involves flashbacks, is just phenomenal. The back-and-forth between Daniels and Michael Fassbender is amazing to watch and it did, honestly, leave me breathless and as soon as the scene was over I took a deep breath and thought “wow.” The final big dramatic scenes are between Jobs and Wozinak going at it again and having an argument they had at the beginning of the film, and between Jobs, Joanna, and his teen daughter Lisa (Haney-Jardine).

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I’m going to be honest, this one is hard for me to review. One, because the scenes have so much in them, although it’s never overbearing and handled in a good way, and two, some of the actions, especially, Jobs’ actions are subjective and should be seen for yourself. This is where many will be split on the film. Do they believe that Jobs was mean to everyone around him and was a pain in the ass to work with or was he truly a genius that no one saw? The film also struggles with answering this question. Jobs is both a pain in the ass to almost everyone around him, but has moments of true genuine compassion toward his daughter sometimes – albeit sometimes reluctant – and has moments of great charisma. However, do his good moments outweigh his negative moments? That’s up to you to decide. And remember, this isn’t a documentary and things are probably and obviously dramatize.

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Even if you don’t like Steve Jobs, let’s just say the character for the sake of argument, the cast and performances make this film all the worthwhile. Fassbender is great as Jobs and brings everything he can possibly bring to the role. But, despite the other great performances by the rest of the cast, Steve Jobs is Fassbender’s show. I already mentioned Daniels is great, and the rest of the cast have their fair share of highlights. Kate Winslet is nearly unrecognizable with her black-haired wig and small accent. Seth Rogen proves he can do a scene without cracking a joke and come off as a great actor, although he doesn’t get a ton of screen time, but just enough for us to get a good feel for him. Katherine Waterston holds her own with Fassbender especially when they are shouting at each other. Michael Stuhlbarg surprised me with this turn of Hertzfeld, he takes most of the word beatings from Jobs and keeps going. The three actresses that play Lisa over the years are pretty great too, although there was something about the older Lisa that didn’t quite click with me. Sarah Snook and John Ortiz are kind of left out of everything, but when they appear it is rather welcoming.

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All in all, Steve Jobs will definitely be one of those films that will have you talking. Whether you like Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s vision of Steve Jobs or not, you can’t say that Jobs didn’t know what he was doing and rolled with the punches. The cast give amazing performances all around, but Michael Fassbender is the star of the show and his Steve Jobs is equal parts tragic figure, hardheaded, standoffish, charismatic, and visionary.

Steve Jobs

4.5 out of 5

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‘Goosebumps’ Review

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Director: Rob Letterman

Writer: Darren Lemke

Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, Halston Sage, and Amy Ryan.

Synopsis: A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R.L. Stine after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

If you’re in the right age range, you probably grew up reading the Goosebumps books like I did. R.L. Stine was a one of my favorite authors growing up and I loved the books, and the TV show. When I first read that they were doing a Goosebumps movie though, I was a little hesitant. What exactly would they bring to the big screen and what kind of approach they would take? The movie has been in the works for years but never reach anything but planning stages. Then I saw Jack Black was cast as R.L. Stine I became reluctant, but now after watching Goosebumps, I can happily say, I was wrong about the film and it was a ton of fun to watch.

Goosebumps follows Zach (Minnette) and his mom Gale (Ryan) as they move to a new town of Madison, Delaware for Gale’s new job of being vice president at Zach’s new school. While Zach tries to adjust to his new life he meets one of his neighbors in Hannah (Rush). The two hit it off right away and spend a night having fun and getting to know each other. However, Hannah is scuttled away by her over-protective father “Mr. Shivers” (Black). The next night, Zach hears scream from Hannah’s house and enlists a friend he met at school in Champ (Lee) to rush over and see what’s going on. Once there, they find a shelf filled with Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine and that they are locked. When Hannah comes in the room and scares them, they accidently open one of the books, which happens to be the abominable snowman (of Pasadena).

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Zach and Champ then find out that Mr. Shivers is indeed R.L. Stine and Hannah is his daughter. Unfortunately, they have little time to breath as Stine’s worst fears have come true: All his creations are set free by the ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Jack Black as well). Zach, Hannah, Champ and Stine now have to work together and save the town from being destroyed.

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The approach of making Stine a character in the movie is pretty clever in the sense that Stine has to face his own creations and fight them to save his own skin, it also makes a little more sense than making multiple films with different characters and storylines or even an anthology film – although that would awesome to see too. Also, the fact that we get to see multiple of Stine’s creations together was the best way to go really. Of course, all his creations are lead by, arguably, Stine’s most popular villain in Slappy, who takes the role of main bad guy in the film. The reasoning behind him taking the big bad role isn’t just for being bad and taking over the world, which they could, but rather revenge on Stine for locking them away.

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Of course, the books were always creepy and scary for some probably, and some of that thankfully carries over to the film. It is a kids movie that is rated PG by the way, so it’s toned down horror. There are some pop-up moments, I’ll admit that one even got me, but even for a kids movie the “horror” moments could please fans of Goosebumps. There’s also a nice mix of old school horror too. There are some nice visuals in the film as well, but some of the CGI does get wonky at times, to point that it does become a bit distracting compared to the other better CG. They also used practical effects, which is welcomed since they could have gone strictly CG, especially for Slappy. Goosebumps is also, surprisingly, more funnier than I thought it would be, and it’s not kid’s movie funny, it is actually genuinely funny with some jokes I wasn’t expecting.

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What makes Goosebumps work though is the cast. The main adult cast of Amy Ryan and Jillian Bell as Gale and Zach’s aunt Lorraine, respectively, have their moments with Bell being more of the standout between the two. Ken Marino pops in as coach, Halston Sage as Champ’s sort love-interest, and Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund as the towns cops that have some funny moments at the beginning of the film. Of course, the big adult cast member is Jack Black as the famous author R.L. Stine. He doe serviceable as Stine, coming off as intense and standoffish at the start toward Zach and everyone else, but opens up a little more especially near the end of the film. However, he does get lost in the shuffle a bit with all the craziness and the focus being on the younger trio.

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Speaking of that, our three main leads are what make this film so fun, enjoyable, and make the biggest impacts in the film. Ryan Lee is a great comic relief and has great comedic timing and plays well off Dylan Minnette and Jack Black. Dylan Minnette, who I’ve only seen in a few things personally, is believable as the lead here and his chemistry with Odeya Rush’s Hannah is spot on. Finally, Odeya Rush’s Hannah is a strong part of the group and isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with her father’s creations.

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There is also an interesting twist in the film that was intriguing to see play out, and the cast handled it pretty well. It’s also something that isn’t just thrown in at the end. Looking back, it was touched on at the beginning of the film very subtly and it actually ties in the whole film together and connects a theme that I won’t spoil here.

All in all, Goosebumps is a lot more fun and enjoyable than I first thought it would be and probably how you thought it would be. It’s a fun family film and while Jack Black may be on all the promotion material, he is the biggest star in the film, besides Slappy, the film belongs to the young cast of Minnette, Rush and Lee. Also, what’s not to like to see some of R.L. Stine’s work come to life?

 

Goosebumps

4 out of 5

‘The Finals Girls’ Review

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Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Writer: M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alla Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson, and Dan B. Norris

Synopsis: A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The term “Final Girl” is synonymous with horror fans. The term is connected to, well, the final girl in a horror film that is usually the virgin and or the last female character to stand up to the killer or monster at the end of the film. The term has changed and been used different through the years from Ellen Ripley in the Alien films and Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s Halloween. The concept even got turned on its head in the recent years like in Adam Wingard’s You’re Next – and even a little in his last film The Guest. Regardless, the concept has worked and is something that horror fans expect when they tune in. Once again, the concept is played around with in Todd Strauss- Schulson’s The Final Girls. However, The Final Girls is much more than a horror comedy, because at its heart lies a touching and beautiful story.

The Final Girls follows Max (Farmiga), the daughter of famous actress Amanda Cartwright (Akerman) who was never able to escape the image of playing the shy girl in a cult classic horror film, Camp Bloodbath. Three years after losing her mother in a car crash, Max is still having trouble moving on and it doesn’t help when her best friend Gertie’s (Shawkat) brother, Duncan (Middleditch) drags her to a screening of the film on the anniversary of her mother’s death. There they meet Chris (Ludwig) who has a crush on Max, and Chris’ ex-girlfriend and former friend of Max and Gertie, Vicki (Dobrev). While watching the film a fire breaks out in the theater and Max and her friends slash the screen so they can escape. However, they somehow end up in the actual film of Camp Bloodbath. There they meet the characters, including Max’s mother’s character Amanda, but also the killer of the film Billy Murphy. The group then tries to find a way out, but Max also has a chance to be with her mother, despite it being her character, one last time.

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I didn’t know what to expect from The Finals Girls, but I was pleasantly, and thankfully, surprised by how great the film turned out. Strauss-Schulson could have gone the full campy approach, and while the film is campy at times, it is done on purpose to make fun of the campiness of the slasher horror films from the 80s. Instead he takes the very meta approach with essentially bringing to life some people’s dream of being in a horror film. The way that the characters eventually find out they are in the horror film and what they have to do to get back home is both rather clever and funny and effective.

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The characters even have the familiar stereotypes – Max is the virgin, Chris is the jock and has a crush on Max, Gertie is the best friend, Vicki is the mean girl, and Duncan is the movie greek. However, the cast manages to bring something more to each character. Sure their stereotypes, but they bring just a little more to their characters to make them more well-rounded and bring some humanity to them so we actually feel and root for these characters and not want them to die. It was odd to watch a horror film and root for people to live instead of dying. Well, most of them anyway. The film characters always stay in the campy-slasher film characteristics and are pushed to the max, and in that case they are very stark comparisons between the two. Adam DeVine’s Kurt is the horndog and jerk of the group that wants to sleep with all the women, and has some great one-liners. Angela Trimbur’s Tina is the loose camp counselor that has one of the biggest highlights of the film that I won’t spoil for you. Tory N. Thompson’s Blake is the hippy-like character, while Chloe Bridges’ Paula is the film within the film’s “final girl” and is the rock-like girl.

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The only real balance between the two set of characters is Akerman’s film with the film character of Nancy. She’s playing the part of her character, but, unlike the camp counselors, she is more fleshed out and is genuine with her emotions and feelings. This also makes her relationship with Max extremely more genuine and feels real. The movie might be billed as a horror comedy, but for me, The Finals Girls is built around the relationship between Max and Nancy and short relationship between Max and her mother Amanda that we see at the beginning of the film. This is certainly the heart of the film and I think this, besides the fun horror comedy parts, is why I loved The Final Girls as much as I did. Farmiga and Akerman have tremendous chemistry and every time they are onscreen together I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s also these scenes that remind us this is Max’s first and second chance to be around her mother again, even though it’s not really her mother. It’s both sad and touching to watch those scenes and Farmiga was able to really make us feel her emotions while in those scenes, especially their first and last scenes together.

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The other thing that surprised me and highly enjoyed is the visuals. The Finals Girls is filled with not just throwback visuals to slasher films, but also vibrant and colorful backdrops. One of them is definitely near the end when our killer Billy Murphy comes through a fog, and when Nancy and Max begin to open up about their future. Finally, there is a pretty great 360-degree rotating shot that brings in a new feature to the group experience in Camp Bloodbath.

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All in all, The Final Girls is much more than a horror comedy, it is also a touching film about loss, acceptance, and moving on. Don’t be fooled though, the film is highly entertaining and fresh in its own way. The clichés, tropes and stereotypes of classic campy slasher films of old, are welcomed and don’t take away from the film at all and actually add to the film. Do yourself a favor and check out The Final Girls.

 

The Final Girls

5 out of 5

‘Bridge of Spies’ Review

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons, Jon Rue, Scott Shepherd, Dakin Matthews, Mikhail Gorevoy, Sebastian Koch, Will Rogers and Amy Ryan

Synopsis: An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The Cold War was an important time in American, and Soviet Union, history. Both sides were at odds with each other and more importantly, both sides wanted information on the other. Steven Spielberg manages to bring some of the mindset to the big screen with his latest film Bridge of Spies, and who better to help him than someone that has proven to give him great work in the past in Tom Hanks. However, Bridges of Spies, which is based on true events, is actually composed as two films in one. One being a courtroom drama and the other being a spy thriller. The two blend together rather well, while also faltering a bit as it tries to handle a bit too much.

While the whole film is set during the height of the Civil War, the first half of Bridges of Spies follows James Donovan, a successful insurance lawyer who is suddenly picked by the government to “defend” a supposed Soviet spy in Rudolf Abel (Rylance). The idea is for Donovan to put on a show for the public and make it looks like Abel is getting a fair trial, even though he will be found guilty. However, Donovan isn’t all that thrilled with the idea since he will become a hated man and not only put himself in danger, but his family’s safety as well. But, to Donovan, there is something about Abel that intrigues him and sees that Abel isn’t really getting a fair shot, so he actually does his best to try and actually do his job much to the chagrin of his co-workers.

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The second half of Bridges of Spies follows the heavily promoted material of Hanks’ Donovan going to Berlin, thanks to the help of the CIA, to discuss and work out a trade for pilot Gary Powers (Stowell), who was shot down, for Abel. Of course, not everything goes as planned and Donovan has to worry about not only making this deal happen, but also getting back home alive.

There is no mistaking that Bridge of Spies belongs to Tom Hanks. Hanks brings his likeability and nice-guy demeanor to Donovan that not only makes his performance work well, and makes us easily root for him, but also enhances the film. Donovan may be a by-the-book kind of guy, but he cares and there are moments where he’s conflicted about doing what’s right and what people are telling him is right. Near the end of the film, he makes a decision based on a new predicament that occurs that is extremely dangerous, and could have had extreme consequences. However, at this point of the film we already know how he will react. It’s great to see, but looking back, you can easily see how dangerous that would have been.

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One of the things that also works extremely well is the relationship and chemistry between Hanks and Mark Rylance. It’s arguably the best working component of the film, and it disappears as Hanks and Rylance don’t share any screen time after the first act of the film. Thankfully, Hanks carries the film, but there is something about the relationship between Hanks and Rylance that makes the film tick and so engaging.

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Rylance is also a standout on his own. The beginning of the film actually follows Rylance’s Abel in a cold – no pun intended – opening as we follow him, and as agents follow him too, doing what seems like a morning routine until he gets a call to pick up something that we, as the audience, know is incriminating. But Rylance doesn’t need to say anything – in fact, he doesn’t say much in terms of dialogue – because he has such an amazing screen presences that it helps not only his character, but the tension going in for the rest of the film.

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However, despite amazing performances by Rylance and Hanks, the rest of the cast get only a few moments to shine, however not all of them work. Austin Stowell’s Gary Powers isn’t as intriguing as Abel, and after his introduction and getting shot down, he disappears with the exception of an integration scene. It’s kind of shame he’s not in the film more since he does play an important part for Hanks’ Donovan. Jesse Plemons also shows up as Powers’ friend and fellow pilot, but there isn’t really much for him to do. Amy Ryan pops in as Mary Donovan, who plays the part of concerned wife, but also somewhat understands why her husband does what he does.

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Dakin Matthews plays Judge Byers during the first half of the film and does a pretty good job and reminds us that during this time of history, even people that are supposed to up hold the law took a side. Scott Shepherd plays CIA agent Hoffman which goes to Berlin with Donovan, and tries to keep Donovan on track that the deal is to make them the trade. Sebastian Koch plays Vogel, a man that Donovan thinks could help him with everything in Berlin, but something to Donovan feels off.

Bridge of Spies does stumble a bit near the middle of the film. A new plot point is introduced that doesn’t really do too much for the film other than give Donovan another obstacle to overcome. There are also a few plot points that a bought up, but never mentioned or even hinted at again as the film progresses. Yes, the film is all about Donovan and his task, but it would have been nice for the film to give some sort of resolution or a mention.

The film, again, really tries to put you in the mindset of the people living in the time. There is even a point in the film where Donovan makes a funny remark about his treatment in a certain place. Speaking of funny, Bridge of Spies has some surprisingly great humor injected into the film that breaks some of the tension and seriousness of the situations.

All in all, Bridge of Spies has a lot going on, and while most of it works, the missteps make it from being an even greater film. Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance’s chemistry makes the film pop and is the arguably the better part of the film, but make no mistake in saying that this film belongs to Hanks.

Bridge of Spies

4 out of 5

‘Crimson Peak’ Review

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Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writers: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, and Doug Jones

Synopsis: In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds…and remembers.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

I should point this out right from the beginning, despite the ads and the heavy use of the horror elements, Crimson Peak is not a full blown horror film. Guillermo del Toro has instead created a wonderful, dark, twisted and beautiful gothic romance. The film also brings del Toro back to his Pan’s Labyrinth sense of wonderment and style, and it’s great to finally see him come back to it.

Set in the early 1900s, Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) is an aspiring writer who wants to be taken seriously. One day she is at the office of her father Carter (Beaver), a powerful businessman, who hears a proposition from Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston). The business proposition involves Thomas’ estate in England, Allerdale Hall, which sits on top of a valuable mine. However, during Thomas’ stay he manages to win Edith’s heart, much to Carter’s dismay, and his enigmatic sister, Lucille (Chastain). Eventually, Edith marries Thomas and relocates to Allerdale Hall where she finds out that the house not only holds dark and terrible secrets, but also ghosts, which remind her of a warning she got as a child from her departed mother, “Beware of Crimson Peak.”

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Again, Crimson Peak is as del Toro has said, a gothic romance and has stressed that it is not a horror film. The film does have many horror elements scattered throughout the film, but for the most part del Toro sticks to his word about it being a gothic romance. Matter of fact, Edith even says at one point when presenting her book that it’s “more of a story with a ghost in it.” This may turn off some people, especially those waiting for a full blown horror film, but don’t worry, there are enough horror elements in the film to hold you over.

The cast is pretty spot on here. Mia Wasikowska’s Edith is filled hopes and dreams, but seeing it slowly get taken away from her as the film progresses and seeing her go through the horrors and spirits she sees in the house. However, the character falters a bit, because all the ambition is put to the side once she enters the house, it’s not too surprising since the focus becomes Edith’s terrors, but a silver lining is that Edith becomes more powerful and her survival instincts take over. Wasikowska does great regardless.

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Tom Hiddleston’s Thomas is nicely layered as a charming, sympathetic and mysterious figure that fits him perfectly. You’re conflicted as to whether or not Thomas actually loves Edith or is he merely acting a part of whatever scheme he and his sister have up their sleeves. Charlie Hunnam pops in as an old friend of Edith and now a doctor that has his own practice. His character isn’t really used too much and it’s a bit of a shame, but he is the least interesting character in the film. Jim Beaver’s father character is surprisingly greater than I thought it would be, even though Beaver is great in pretty much anything he does. Burn Gorman also pops in as a investigator of sorts that works for Carter.

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However, this film belongs to Jessica Chastain’s Lucille Sharpe. Chastain is one of the best actress in Hollywood today and she always gives it her all in whatever role she in, and Crimson Peak is no different. Her portray of Lucille is closed off and cold to Edith most of the time, but there is something about the way she acts for the rest of the film is what makes her more interesting and mysterious, especially in the end, when we finally see her reveal everything.

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Of course, if you know Guillermo del Toro’s work, you know he has a knack for amazing visuals and Crimson Peak may be one of best works yet. Del Toro actually built Allerdale Hall and rigged the set to make it an actual character in the film, and there is no doubt that Allerdale Hall is a character in the film. The production design is top notch, and dare I say, del Toro’s best he’s ever done. Everything down to the clothing, the decaying house and the walls of the massive house even look like they’re bleeding (will make more sense when you watch the film). Even if whatever reason you don’t like the film, you’ll at least me impressed by how beautiful it looks.

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The film is a bit of a slow burn, with the last twenty or so minutes not only revealing everything, but also turning the film up a notch. The film is also surprisingly bloody. I know it’s teased in the film and in the trailers, but actually watching it was shocking to me. However, del Toro manages to make it fit and a part of the story, rather than just have violence for the sake of having violence. Moreover, the ghosts in the film also serve a purpose and are not there for the sake of a scare. The ghosts are rather creepy at first glance, but it seems that ghosts are all CGI, which seeing the production design, I can see why del Toro would rather go the CGI route since he probably spent most of the budget on the house alone.

All in all, Crimson Peak is a dark and twisted story that could be a hard watch sometimes, but there is something beautiful and touching in its own weird and twisted way. The film does take a while to get going, but the performance, especially the standout of Jessica Chastain, and subtle nuances laid throughout the story will keep you going along for the ride. While not a full blown horror film, the gothic romance angle of Crimson Peak is beautiful enough for me to appreciate.

 

Crimson Peak

4.5 out of 5

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‘Sicario’ Review

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo P. Saracino, Maximillano Hernandez, and Edgar Arreola.

Synopsis: An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The War on Drugs is something that has been done on film before and some have been done with great success, but director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan have done something special with Sicario. The film gives an unapologetic, rare and bleak look on the subject and one of the most intense and effective thrillers I’ve seen in a while.

 

Sicario opens with FBI agent Kate Macer, the leader of a kidnap and response team in Arizona, who with her team that includes her partner Reggie Wayne (Kaluuya) raid a house that has dead bodies inside the walls. The raid and discovery puts her on the radar of government agent Matt Graver (Brolin), who decides to bring her in to his operation of taking down a head of one of the Mexican cartels. When she bought she also meets Alejandro (Del Toro) who, according to Matt, is a “liaison” but never tells her from or what to. As the operation goes on, Kate soon realizes that everything around her may not be as clear cut as it seems. More importantly, can she trust the people around her?

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Kate acts as our surrogate into the drug war and specific situation they are trying to pull off in the film. Thankfully, Emily Blunt gives another reliable performance and makes us believe her as she is thrown into a world she doesn’t completely understand and well trying to get answers, she is pushed to the side and kept in the dark. Blunt truly is one of the best actresses in Hollywood today and being the lead in the film like this is refreshing to see. They could have easily put a man in the lead role – and they almost did, but Villeneuve and Sheridan protested – but it probably wouldn’t have worked.

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However, despite Blunt’s great performance, Sicario belongs to Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro. It takes a while to finally figure his character out, but Del Toro gives us enough to be interested in him until that point. Hell, his character doesn’t say too much at the beginning of the film and even other people see him they stiffen up a little bit. Del Toro has always been on people’s radar, but it feels like recently he is getting a lot more attention, and he deserves it. Alejandro is definitely one of Benicio Del Toro’s best characters and maybe one of the best characters of the year.

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The rest of the cast fare well in the roles they are given, although the film really does belong to the main actors. Josh Brolin looks to be having fun chewing up scenery as his cocky, brash and laid-back government agent that is always keeping Kate in the dark right up until the end. Daniel Kaluuya’s Reggie is loyal to Kate through-and-through and has a nice scene that breaks all the tension from the rest of the film that shows you how close the two characters are. Victor Garber pops in as Kate and Reggie’s boss, Jeffery Donovan also pops in as another government agent that Matt works with and is equally mysterious and cocky. Finally Maximiliano Hernandez, who fans will know as Agent Sitwell from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plays a Mexican police officer, Silvio serves a great purpose to the overall theme of the film than you would think.

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Speaking of the theme, Sicario has a lot going on and thankfully it doesn’t get lost too much in them. I don’t really want to give any of them away, but as you can assume with the film being about going after one of the bosses in one of the cartels in Mexico, things are going to get a bit murky. Yes, Taylor Sheridan is saying something about the war on drugs, and quite honestly it could be what many think, but there is something about how Sheridan and director Denis Villeneuve are saying about it that makes the film, like I pointed out earlier, unapologetic

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Finally, the last bits that make Sicario all that more effective and great is the chilling and atmospheric score by Johann Johannsson that really elevates a lot of the tension filled scenes. Seriously, Sicario is jam packed with tension from beginning to end, and some nice twists that believe me, the trailers really don’t give away. The other great thing about the film is some of the cinematography by one of the best in the business, Roger Deakins. Some of Deakins shots that are mixed with Johnnsson’s score are just so great by themselves, but mixed with the themes and what leads to them makes the film more worthwhile at the end.

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All in all, Sicario is lead by great performances by Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and more importantly Benicio Del Toro. The film is unapologetic, raw, and bleak, along with being an effective tension filled thriller that I have experienced in years. Will it be for everyone? No, the film is tough and heavy to watch, but layered underneath all that, is a great film.

Sicario

5 out of 5

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‘The Martian’ Review

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Director: Ridley Scott

Writer(s): Drew Goddard

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Askel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejifor

Synopsis: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit, and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Andy Weir, director Ridley Scott takes the helm of telling a story of probably someone’s worst fear: being left behind alone on a different planet. Scott has been on slump lately, but The Martian is the film that may get him back on track.

 

The film really jumps right into the action and story. The film take place on Sol 18 (“Sol” is a Martian day) of a 31-Sol mission on Mars. Astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) and his fellow Ares III crewmembers are hit by a storm sooner than they anticipated. Seeing that they are left with no choice, Commander Lewis (Chastain) orders the crew to leave Mars, but while the crew attempts to escape, the storm hits and Watney is struck by debris and vanishes into the storm. Lewis stays back a bit to search for him, but the crew eventually assumes he’s dead and leaves. Of course, Watney survives – not without getting impaled in the stomach – and makes his way back to their base of operations known as The Hab.

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There Watney realizes besides his biggest problem of being left behind on an isolated planet has to deal with other problems. He has no way to communicate with NASA, he doesn’t have enough food and the food he does have only will only last a few weeks, and finally, the next mission to Mars won’t arrive for four years. So left on the planet with nothing but wits and need to survive, he’s going to, as he puts it, “science the shit out of this.”

I actually read Andy Weir’s book prior to watching the film and Ridley Scott and writer Drew Goddard keep the spirit of the novel intact, and while changes were made The Martian is a pretty faithful adaptation. The film leaves out a good chuck of the science that Watney talks and does about his time on Mars, and what he does to make sure he doesn’t run oxygen, water, or food. Instead, Scott focuses more on the immediacy of the issue that Watney faces, and while some of the science is there, it’s scattered throughout, and the focus becomes how Watney will survive on Mars and what NASA is doing to save him. It’s really a bad move really, even though the film marks in at about two and half hours.

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Despite this, a film like this lives and dies with the lead, and Matt Damon’s Mark Watney is great. Damon may have not been on everyone’s wish list to play Watney, but Damon brings everything to the character that he can and that task is not easy. Damon is pretty much alone for the whole film and thanks to Damon’s always reliable acting chops. We feel for Watney and want to root for him. The other thing that Damon brings to Watney, and the film that will surprise some people, is humor. The Martian is surprisingly funny and filled with humor throughout. If you’re wondering how Watney doesn’t go crazy – and how the humor comes into play – Watney video records everything for NASA’s log and much like a scientist, he is documenting everything he does taking us along for the ride.

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While The Martian is on Damon’s shoulders to carry, a lead is only as good as their supporting characters, and the film has great supporting characters and actors. The Ares III crew chemistry is solid and you believe that these people have been together for months with the banter being fresh and quick. Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis is the stern and no-nonsense leader, Michael Pena’s Martinez, the pilot, shares most if not all the banter between Watney and its pretty damn great to hear and watch. Sebastian Stan’s Beck, the doctor, and Askel Hennie’s Vogel, the chemist get lost in the shuffle a bit, but have their moments. Finally, Kate Mara’s Johanssen, the tech, gets her moment to shine too, but with Pena and Chastain getting more of the attention, she also gets lost.

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The NASA and Earth characters are as great as Damon. Jeff Daniels plays Teddy Sanders, the head of NASA, and is looking out the agency as a whole and while his decisions may look like he’s being a hard-ass or the suit bad guy, Daniels gives Sander a special feel. Chiwetel Ejifor’s Vincent Kapoor plays the Mars Missions supervisor and has some great moments especially when he’s across Daniels and Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson, who is the Ares III’s supervisor. Anytime the three characters are together, the scenes pop because everyone is trying to pull the power away from each other. The scenes also bring the two different sides of the argument that people would face if this ever happened.

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Kristen Wiig plays NASA spokesperson Annie Montrose who has some funny scenes and honestly, I thought was great casting, although I wished they kept more of her lines from the book. Mackenzie Davis plays Mindy Park, who is the first to discover that Watney is alive on Mars and keeps track on him through satellites. Finally Donald Glover and Benedict Wong plays an astrodynamics engineer that tries to figure out a way to bring Watney home and an engineer that works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that tries to communicate with Watney on Mars and brings up an idea that could get Watney more food.

The Martian won’t be for everyone. The film does follow Watney as he’s on Mars and tries to survive, and while it’s great to see how he does it and not go crazy, the film is a slow burn and moves at pace that could make people lose focus. However, the pacing and the editing between Earth and Mars should make the film go by fasting that it really is.

All in all, The Martian is a great human story about survival. What helps the film is the great cast, especially Matt Damon who carries the film with ease, and director Ridley Scott who shots the film in such a way that it does make you think they shot the film on Mars. The Martian is definitely one of the best films of the year.

 

The Martian

5 out of 5

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October Movie Releases

It is October ladies and gentleman!

This month looks pretty great and, yet again, some early Oscar nominations could come out. Of course, let’s not forget that it is the month of Halloween, so there are some potentially great horror films out this month. But let’s stop talking about them and actually get to them!

Also, Happy Early Halloween!

 

2nd

*The Walk gets an early/limited IMAX release before its wide release next week. So check out next week for my thoughts*

*Sicario gets its final theater release this week*

 

The Martian

Ridley Scott adapts Andy Weir’s critically acclaimed and best-selling novel of the same name with an impressive and awesome cast. The film follows Mark Watney (Matt Damon) as an astronaut that is left behind and presumed dead on Mars during a man mission. Watney then has to use his skills to surive on the planet while his crew (Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, and Aksel Vogel) find out from NASA that he is still alive and decide to go get him back. The film looks great and, like I mentioned, the cast is great. Besides the aforementioned cast members, The Martian also stars Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Stan, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jeff Daniels.

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9th

*Steve Jobs gets a limited release only in L.A and New York. It gets a wide release at the end of the month, so I’ll give my thoughts and info there.*

 

Limited Release: The Final Girls

Max (Taissa Farmiga) grieving the loss of her mother (Malin Akerman), a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself and her friends pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer. The film was a hit as Fantastic Fest and based on the trailer, it does look like it can be a fun time. The film also stars Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alla Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson and Dan B. Norris.

 

Pan

Joe Wright (Hanna) brings the classic J.M. Barrie characters to life in a prequel format. The films follows a young orphaned Peter Pan (Levi Miller) who gets transported to the fantasy land of Neverland. There, he finds both fun and dangers, and finds out that he is part of a prophecy by the people there that he will lead them to freedom by the fearsome Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). I’m not completely sold on Pan just yet, the trailers make the film look like it could be a lot of fun and Neverland looks, well, fantastical. Maybe it’s the prequel idea or that I wasn’t always the biggest Peter Pan fan, but I will probably end up watching it. Pan also stars Garrett Hedlund (Hook), Rooney Mara (Tiger Lilly), Amanda Seyfried (Mary), Nonso Anozie (Bishop), and  Adeel Akhtar (Mr. Smee).

 

The Walk

Robert Zemeckis tells the true story about French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The film looks great and Zemeckis apparently shot a lot of the film in IMAX and the stuff he filmed in it looks great (seeing the trailer in IMAX anyway). This one definitely is in a must-watch list. The Walk stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Schwartz, James Badge Dale and Ben Kingsley.

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16th

Limited Release: Room

Rising star actress Brie Larson stars in a modern-day story about the boundless love between mother and child; young Jack knows nothing of the world except for the single room in which he was born and raised. The film is an adaptation of the novel written by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the film) and is inspired off the real life cases of Jaycee Lee Dugard and Elisabeth Fritzl, who were kidnapped and held captive and hidden in rooms for 18 years and had children. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (who directed last year’s Frank) debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival recently to rave reviews, especially for Larson, who plays the mother and Jacob Tremblay, who portrays Jack. The film also stars Joan Allen and William H. Macy.

 

Goosebumps

R.L. Stine’s famous characters come to life in this film that follows Zach (Dylan Minnette), who teams up with Hannah (Odeya Rush) – who just so happens to be the daughter of famous author R.L. Stine (Jack Black) – to help her free their home town of Greendale, Maryland after Stine’s characters magically get set free. I’ve been split on this since it was first announced. I was for it when they said they were going to do, then Jack Black got cast as R.L. Stine and nothing against Black, he can be good when he wants to be and with the right material, but I didn’t buy it. Then the trailers came out, and it looks like it’s going to be a fun family movie or just least dumb fun, so I’m in again. Goosebumps also stars Ryan Lee, Halston Sage, Ella Wahlestedt, Jillian Bell, Kumail Nanjlani, Ken Marino and Amy Ryan.

 

Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks reunite to tell a true story about an insurance salesman (Hanks), who is brought in by the government to help them negotiate the return of a soldier that shot down behind enemy lines during the Cold War for a spy that is in America. Written by the Coen Brothers, the film looks like a great drama-thriller that is suited for Spielberg and Hanks, and with these two fronting it, it should be good. Bridge of Spies also stars Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Eve Hewson, Peter McRobbie, Austin Stowell, Sebastian Koch, and Mark Rylance.

 

Crimson Peak

Guillermo Del Toro goes back to his gothic horror roots with this film. That sees Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring author who is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds and remembers. The film looks creepy as hell and del Toro is a master of his craft and with a cast that also includes Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Leslie Hope, Burn Gorman and Jim Beaver, this has been on my must-see list since it was announced.

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23rd

Burnt

Bradley Cooper stars as Adam Jones as a chef that ruined his career with drugs and his diva begavior that tries to clean up his act by going to London and starting a new restaurant so he can gain three Michelin stars. I’ve seen the trailer a few times now and I’m not completely sold on it yet. Maybe it’s because Jon Favreau’s Chef was so good that it has tarnished me watching another chef movie, okay not really, it’s just that the trailer hasn’t grabbed me yet, which doesn’t sit well with me because the cat is great. The cast includes Alicia Vikander, Lily James, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Rhys, Uma Thurman, Sarah Greene, Omar Sy and Emma Thompson.

 

Rock the Kasbah

Bill Murray fronts this musical comedy about a down-on-his-luck music manager (Murray) who discovers a teenage girl with an extraordinary voice while on a music tour in Afghanistan and takes her to Kabul to compete on a popular TV show, Afghan Star. I’ve only seen the trailer once at a movie theater and it looked pretty funny. But, I think I’ll have to watch another trailer to really get me into the film. Yeah sure it’s Bill Murray, but, that can’t be enough to carry a movie – at least for me. The film also stars Zooey Deschanel, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Scott Caan, and Danny McBride.

 

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

The last installment of the Paranormal Activity films brings everything full circle, or at least that is what producers are saying. The film follows the same format from what we’ve seen so far. A family finds old and weird tapes from Katie and Kristi’s childhood and eventually weird things start to happen around their home and around their young children. They then find a special camera that shows us, for the first time in the series, “The Ghost Dimension” where we can see things that human eyes can’t. Personally, I just hope that it doesn’t disappoint because the series has kind of gone downhill since the third outing.

 

Jem and the Holograms

A modern day adaptation of the popular 80s musical cartoon directed by Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation)tells us the story of a small town girl (Aubrey Peeples) who goes from video sensation to global superstar known as Jem. She and her three sisters (Stefanie Scott, Hayley Kiyoko, and Aurora Perrineau) begin a journey to of self-discovery and family. A lot fans are up-in-arms about the adaptation because it doesn’t look like the Jem they knew growing up. Just basing it off the trailers, I’m not really looking forward to this. It could be that I’m not the demographic they are trying to reach, but something about the trailers doesn’t pull me in. The rest of the cast includes Molly Ringwald, Ryan Guzman, Nicholas Braun, Nathan Moore and Juliette Lewis.

 

The Last Witch Hunter

Vin Diesel stars as, well, the last witch hunter that was cursed with immortality and now in present-day New York he must team up with another witch (Rose Leslie) to take down a plot that plans on releasing a more powerful witch upon the world. The movie doesn’t look that bad really and I think we can all know what to expect, but the trailers do make the film look like it could be at least a cool time while watching. The film also stars Elijah Wood, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Julie Engelbrecht, Rena Owen and Michael Caine.

 

Steve Jobs

Danny Boyle-directed and Aaron Soarkin-written biopic about, well, Apple innovator and face of the company, Steve Jobs. Jobs is played by Michael Fassbender that will follow Jobs through three, 30-minute scenes spreading across sixteen years of the life of Steve Jobs. The scenes will dramatize backstage events before three major product launches and will employ some flashbacks depicting key moments of Jobs’ life. The film debuted at film festivals recently and has been heavily praised by many, and not surprisingly, has been said it could be nominated for Oscars when the time comes. The film looks great so let’s see what happens. The films also stars Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Ortiz, and Jeff Daniels.

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30th

Our Brand Is Crisis

A feature film based on the documentary of the same name, focuses on the use of American political campaign strategies in South America. The film is being labeled as a comedy-drama, and while I haven’t seen the trailer, I’ve seen bits of the documentary online and it gives me an idea on who they will go with this. The cast is rather impressive with Sandra Bullock leading the cast with Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Scott McNairy, Zoe Kazan and Joaquim de Almedia.

 

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Originally titled Scouts vs. Zombies, the film sounds ridiculously yes, but after watching the trailer, it actually looks like a fun movie. The red-band trailer really doesn’t hold back and the movie doesn’t look like it’s going to hold back. I can’t believe I’m looking forward to this, but I am. The film stars Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sarah Dumont, Joey Morgan, Halston Sage, David Koechner, and Cloris Leachman.

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What are you looking forward to?

‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails’ Review

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Director: Wes Ball

Writer(s): T.S. Nowlin

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk, Katherine McNamara, Nathalie Emmanuel, Lili Taylor, and Patricia Clarkson

Synopsis: After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

I have to admit, when I went to go watch The Maze Runner, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it was and how much I liked it. So when the sequel was coming out, I was looking forward to watching it. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails keeps up the action set-pieces, but takes a tumble that it takes a while to come back from. Besides that, it should go without saying, but Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails doesn’t play pick-up, so you should brush up on your history or remind yourself what happened in the last one before watching this.

 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails starts off pretty much where The Maze Runner left off. The Gladers, Thomas (O’Brien), Minho (Hong Lee), Newt (Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Darden), Winston (Flores), and Teresa (Scodelario) are bought to a new facility by an unnamed group that is lead by Janson (Gillen). Janson promises them they are safe from W.C.K.D – the company that put them in the Maze – and tells them he can get them to a safe place, along with other survivors. However, Thomas doesn’t fully trust Janson and his suspicion is heighten even more by Aris (Lofland), who has had his own suspicion since he arrived at the facility too. Thomas eventually uncovers the truth and leads his friends and Aris out of the facility and into barren landscape that Janson and others call “The Scorch.”

 

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Once out, Thomas, Aris and the Gladers run into different obstacles along the way to their destination, meeting a resistance group. They run into “Cranks,” people that have been infected by a virus that turns them into mindless killing monsters, they run into Jorge (Esposito) and Brenda (Salazar) who have their own group and share a common interest with Thomas and the Gladers in finding the resistance, but for a different reason, and finally the group is being chased by Janson and W.C.K.D.

 

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One of the big things with the sequel is that it takes us out of the Maze, so now director Wes Ball has time to build up the world that we are now a part of and that was written by author the novel’s being adapted, James Dashner. The world outside the Maze is pretty big. There isn’t much signs of life and everything has been taken over by sand. There are zones that seem to have people there to try to live some sort of their old life. Thomas and Brenda eventually end up at one that is run by Alan Tudyk’s character. That particular scene is one of the biggest missteps of the movie though, and actually crashes the film to a stand-still. It took me a while to get back into the movie after the scene because it felt a bit out of place and, dare I say, unnecessary.

 

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The cast is hit-and-miss. Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas takes on more a leader role here and you can clearly see he’s struggling with that, but embraces it because we find out a little more about Thomas’ past. Kaya Scodelario’s Teresa, who was the only female character in the last film, has a big plot point, but it takes a while for it to really flourish. Ki Hong Lee’s Minho has a bigger supporting role here, but gets lost in the shuffle along with returning characters Newt and Frypan – although they have their moments too – because of the new characters. Jacob Lofland’s Aris starts off as a strong character, but once the movie starts moving forward, he gets pushed to the wayside. However, his character could have a bigger role in the final installment along with other characters that I’ll get to in a second.

 

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Leading the charge for new characters is definitely Giancarlo Esposito’s Jorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda. They bring some freshness into the film and they will do whatever they have to survive, and are a welcomed addition to the series. Aidan Gillen’s Janson does a serviceable job of playing a deceitful character as only he can. Lili Taylor and Barry Pepper pop in as Mary and Vince, leaders of the resistance group, but their character aren’t introduced until the last act of the film, so their characters don’t feel as big as they should be or intended to be. Nathalie Emmanuel and Katherine McNamara also appear as resistance fighters Harriet and Sonya, but like Aris, their characters could have bigger roles in the sequel. Finally Patricia Clarkson has a “bigger” role here than she did in the first film.

 

Another problem that I had with The Scorch Trails is like the first film, it suffers a bit from leaving things a bit too open for a sequel. It’s not as bad as the first film, but it is clearly there and bothered me just a tad. Thankfully, The Scorch Trails is a bigger and ambitious film that has great moments of action and drama scattered throughout and avoids most clichés and tropes of the genre (well, for the most part).

 

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All in all, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails is more ambitious, fun, and slightly better than the first film, but still suffers from being the middle film in a trilogy (they thankfully won’t be splitting the third book into two movies) and leaves more things open than it should.

 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails

3.5 out of 5

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