January Movie Releases

Happy New Year!!

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, we have a new year in front of us which means one thing: new movies! Now, January is usually referred to as Hollywood’s “Dump” Month. Meaning they will release movies that they don’t think will perform well or are not confident in. Sometimes that is the case, but sometimes a movie will shine through. January is also filled with expanded releases of movies that came out in December so there is also that to look forward to.

 

You’ll notice that I will put the companies attached and responsible for releasing the film as well. Just trying something new to expand the page a bit and instead of posters, now you’ll be seeing trailers. I’ll try to update whenever new trailers come out.

 

 

5th

Insidious: The Last Key (Universal Pictures & Blumhouse Productions)

In the fourth installment in the Insidious franchise, Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet – in her own family home. The Insidious movies have always been pretty creepy in terms of visuals and the spirits the characters have to face. Shaye’s Elise is undoubtedly the best character in the franchise, so it makes sense that they would bring her back to be the face of the franchise. However, it kind of feels like – at least in the trailers – that they are trying to pass on the franchise to a new character in presumably Spencer Locke’s character.  Of course, we could be wrong, but The Last Key looks like another creepy installment to the franchise that I can’t wait to watch. Insidious: The Last Key also stars Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Caitlin Gerard, Tessa Ferrer, Josh Stewart and Kirk Acevedo.

 

12th

Expanded Release: The Post & Hostiles & Phantom Thread

 

Proud Mary (Sony Pictures & Screen Gems)

Taraji P. Henson plays Mary, a hitwoman working for an organized crime family in Boston. Her life is completely turned around when she meets a young boy whose path she crosses when a professional hit goes awry. I didn’t know anything about this until I saw the trailer, and I was indifferent about it. While I’m always for actors getting out of their comfort zone – Henson isn’t really known action roles – I’m not completely sold on the movie yet. That’s not to say I don’t think it won’t be any good, or I’m not going to watch it, but it’s something I’m not rushing out to watch. Proud Mary also stars Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Neal McDonough, Xander Berkeley and Danny Glover.

 

The Commuter (Lionsgate, StudioCanal & Ombra Films)

Reuniting director Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson – having done Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night together – The Commuter follows a businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute. The movie does have another added layer in that this could be Neeson’s final action movie – he did back peddle on that a bit, but still. The movie does look pretty good, despite the very spotty CGI of Neeson jumping from one train cart to another in the trailers. Either way, it’s Neeson doing what he does best, so I’m going to be sitting in the theater watching it. The Commuter also stars Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill.

 

Paddington 2 (Warner Bros., StudioCanal, Heyday Films & Canal+)

Paddington was a surprise and smash hit back in 2014, so a sequel was going to happen. Now, the sequel follows Paddington (voiced once again by Ben Whishaw), who is happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community. Paddington picks up a series of odd jobs to by the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen, and the blame put on him. I haven’t seen the first Paddington even though I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. However, just watching the trailers, it seems like a good time. Paddington 2 stars Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Brendon Gleeson and Hugh Grant.

 

19th

Forever My Girl (Roadside Attractions & LD Entertainment)

Based on the novel by Heidi McLaughlin, after being gone for a decade a country star returns home to the love he left behind. Forever My Girl stars Alex Roe and Jessica Rothe.

 

Den of Thieves (STX Films, Diamond Film Productions & G-Base)

Den of Thieves follows an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Department hunting down the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the crew plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank. I didn’t really think anything about the movie until I saw the trailer, and I have to admit, this jumped to my watch list. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the gritty feel of it, but seeing Gerard Butler chew it up as a questionable lawman is probably worthwhile. Den of Thieves co-stars Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Evan Jones and 50 Cent.

 

12 Strong (Warner Bros., Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Alcon Entertainment, & Black Label Media)

Based on the true story and novel by Doug Stanton, the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down the Taliban. The juxtaposition of the soldiers on horses going up against tanks is something that weirdly drew me in right away. The cast is also pretty damn great too. 12 Strong stars Chris Hemsworth, Michael Pena, Michael Shannon, Elsa Pataky, Trevante Rhodes, Navid Negahban, Rob Riggle and William Fichtner.

 

26th

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Twentieth Century Fox, Temple Hill Entertainment & Gotham Group)

The final installment of the Maze Runner adaptation, The Death Cure follows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) as he embarks on a mission to finally take down WCKD. I was surprised by the first Maze Runner but the sequel left me a bit disappointed. This looks like the big explosive finale that was built up in the last movie, so my only hope would be that they make it pay off. Maze Runner: The Death Cure co-stars Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Nathalie Emmanuel, Katherine McNamara, Walton Goggins and Patricia Clarkson.

 

What are you looking forward to?

‘The Founder’ Review

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Director: John Lee Hancock

Writer: Robert D. Siegel

Cast: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, Justin Randell Brooke, Kate Kneeland and Patrick Wilson

Synopsis: The story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers’ innovative fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into one of the biggest restaurant business in the world with a combination of ambition, persistence and ruthlessness.

 

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

 

We all know it, you’ve all eaten there, and its easily recognizable anywhere we go: McDonalds. Now the question is, do you know what the story behind the mega food chain is? Do you care? That’s what The Founder wants you to know and feel while watching. It’s a interesting, frustrating and engaging story that I’m surprised I’ve never heard before, and maybe you haven’t either.

The Founder tells the true story of Ray Kroc, a down on this luck traveling salesman, who at the beginning of the film is selling milkshake machines. When he hears about a surprisingly large order, he decides to check it out and travels to San Bernardino, California and finds McDonalds. Surprised by the quickness of getting orders out, he meets the owners in brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) McDonald and convinces them they should franchise the restaurant. Mac and Dick reluctantly agree and give Ray the run down and have him go do just that. What follows is the story of how a small family business became a world phenomenon, the lives it affected.

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The film is built around Michael Keaton, who hits it out of the park as Ray Kroc. Seeing him go from barely selling machines to owning a business is a performance that needs to be seen. Going from a somewhat modest seller to becoming a bit snarky back-stabbing business man is something where it’s hard to imagine this was the same person. You can make the argument that maybe Ray is in the right, and maybe he was to some extent, but the way he treats the McDonald’s and takes the credit does make him an easy villain, for the lack of a better word. Also, seeing a man being slowly corrupted by the idea that he sees could be a massive success is worth the price of the ticket alone, and makes a great character study.

When it comes to the McDonald’s, John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman are equally fantastic in their own right. Their portray as the brothers does make Ray’s betrayal harder because the two really are extremely likable, and you know from the very beginning they aren’t in it for the money, but for the pure joy of being the best burger and “fast-food” place around.

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The rest of the cast does great in their small roles, although some are overshadowed by Keaton. Laura Dern plays Ray’s first wife Ethel Kroc, who is a stay-at-home wife and handles a lot of the drama-side of the things, Linda Cardellini and Patrick Wilson pop in as Joan and Rollie Smith, who invests in Ray and leads to subplot that is a bit ham-fisted for me personally, but Cardellini gets the bigger role there. B.J. Novak plays Ray’s lawyer, Harry J. Sonneborn, near the end of the film, and Kate Kneeland plays June Martino who is Ray’s secretary.

All in all, The Founder will definitely strike a cord with people. Whether you see Ray as taking an opportunity and running with it, or seeing him as the villain for stealing a great idea from people who worked hard to get it. The film really lets you decide for yourself, and makes that debate even harder with the standout performances by John Carroll Lynch, Nick Offerman, and more importantly, Michael Keaton.

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The Founder

4 out of 5

‘Split’ Review

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Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Writer: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Betty Buckley

Synopsis: After three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 distinct personalities they must find some of the different personalities that can help them while running away and staying alive from the others.

 

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

 

M. Night Shyamalan may be back ladies and gentleman. Shyamalan had lost many of his fans after his films progressively got worse and worse, but returned to form in a small dose with The Visit last year. Now, with Split, it looks like Shyamalan is back to form and making compelling films again. While the film isn’t a straight out horror film, Split is a lot more than the trailers have you believe. Not only that, the much talked about twist ending is something I never would have imagined. I will say though, please do yourself the favor and don’t seek the twist ending. Seeing it for yourself is well worth it and totally deserved after you sit back and think about it, or read Shyamalan’s quotes.

The film centers on James McAvoy’s Kevin, who suffers with Dissociative Identity Disorder, which gives him twenty-three different identities. One of his identities, Dennis, kidnaps three young women in Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) because they are needed for a special ceremony for a new twenty-fourth identity emerging within Kevin known only as The Beast. What follows is the girls trying to escape, and avoid becoming “gifts” for The Beast.

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Like I mentioned, there is a lot more in Split than the trailers have you believe. The film is told with three different stories. One is the girls trying to escape and trying to convince one of the identities in Hedwig, who believes he’s child, to help them escape. The other is the relationship between Kevin and his psychiatrist in Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who starts to notice that maybe one of the identities is taking over more than she likes, and finally, Taylor-Joy’s Casey’s story, which is told through flashbacks. All of them, of course, intertwine near the end in a surprising way that I won’t even hint at, but it leads to the overall theme of the film, once you step back and look at it. That is why Split works, and why I think Shyamalan is back to form.

Split works on the thriller level as well, that’s all thanks to the James McAvoy’s stunning turn as Kevin. Some already have taken to say the film is trying mental illness as an easy way to make a “villain,” but Shyamalan treats the situation with respect. He never truly makes out to be the villain, although he essentially is – he did kidnap three girls after all. However, we rarely “see” Kevin, we mostly see his other identities, and even then we only spend time with Hedwig, Dennis, Barry – a fashion designer – and Patricia, the “mother” of the group. Regardless, McAvoy is amazing filling all the roles and I honestly couldn’t imagine seeing Joaquin Phoenix – originally set to play Kevin – doing the role now. McAvoy’s little subtleties to each identity make the performance that much better as well.

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When it comes to the rest of the cast, Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley are the only real characters to be rounded out. Once Casey’s story is fleshed out, we understand why he acts the way she does. Buckley’s Dr. Fletcher is our guide to Kevin’s disorder and makes us understand Kevin on a more deeper level. Haley Lu Richardson’s Claire and Jessica Sula’s Marcia don’t have a ton of screen time, but do show some smarts as they try to find a way out of the situation rather than just play “victim.”

While Split does work on a lot of levels, it also has some downfalls. The film drags a bit near the middle of the film, and the lack of character development toward two of the three girls we see kidnap does hurt the film a bit. Finally, the end of the film could border on being a bit too on-the-nose and telling the audience what exactly is going on, so it lessens the message just a bit.

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All in all, Split is Shyamalan’s best films in years, which of course, isn’t saying much considering his resume, but still. It’s a return to form in both storytelling and visuals that is showcased by James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. Finally, that twist will have your head twirling and wondering, what’s next?

Split

4 out of 5

‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ Review

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Director: D.J. Caruso

Writer: F. Scott Frazier

Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose, Kris Wu, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Michael Bisping, Hermione Corfield, Tony Gonzalez, Al Sapienza, Toni Colette and Samuel L. Jackson

Synopsis: Xander Cage if left for dead after an incident, though he secretly returns to action for a new, tough assignment with his handler Augustus Gibbons.

 

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

 

After sitting out the sequel of xXx, Vin Diesel returns to the series he helped create with the appropriately titled Return of Xander Cage. It also has Diesel’s fingerprints all over it, as it now involves Xander Cage having to work with a group of people like him to bring down a dangerous weapon and people that cause mayhem on Earth. Sound familiar? That’s not necessarily a bash at the film, but knowing that you’ll see some of the comparison. Also, if you’re looking forward to a smart action film, no, just no. This, like the other xXx films are dumb fun action films that is filled with cheesy and ridiculous moments.

After a crashed satellite seemingly kills Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), NSA agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette) finds Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is alive and well, and decides to bring him in after she finds out that the satellite was brought down by a device called Pandora’s Box. Cage then finds out that Pandora’s Box is being held by a mysterious figure named Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his own dangerous group – Serena (Deepika Padukone), Talon (Tony Jaa) and Hawk (Michael Bisping). Cage knowing that they can’t stop him the “traditional” way gets his own team in sniper Adee Wolff (Ruby Rose), stunt man Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann) and “fun guy” Nicks (Kris Wu) to bring them down.

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While there are some descent actions scenes, thanks to the always reliable Donnie Yen, the film fails to make us really connect any sort of connection to the characters. While most of the names may be familiar to some all of them have mostly one quality that you can remember. Although, all of them are better characters than Diesel’s Xander Cage. Xander still feels like he’s stuck in the first film, and comes off just a bit smug and thinks he’s better than anyone else. We probably shouldn’t suspect different, but you would think that he would change a bit since then. Also, if you looking for an elaborate reason to why he’s still alive, won’t happen.

The film of course tries to add the big extreme scene like the avalanche scene from the first film. Here the film has the heavily promoted riding on the ocean scene that has a more ridiculous scene that if you roll your eyes or laugh, it will be okay. That being said, the film is cheesy and fun in a good way. While it feels like Diesel, who is a producer on the film, is trying to recreate the Fast & Furious formula, it could help if fans go out to see it.

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All in all, xXx: Return of Xander Cage does have some problems with its tone, and while the cast works together nicely, a majority of them are not developed enough. Is the film fun and enjoyable? Yes, for the most part it is. But Return of Xander Cage hits the mark for enjoyable dumb fun action films, but misses when it comes to almost everything else.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

3.5 out of 5

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‘A Monster Calls’ Review

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Director: J.A Bayona

Writer: Patrick Ness

Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, and Liam Neeson

Synopsis: A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mum’s terminal illness.

 

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

 

Based on the book by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the film, that was based off the idea started by Siobhan Dowd, A Monster Calls is a visually, beautifully story done so well that hits you on every emotional level that you won’t leave the theater with a dry eyes. The story is a simple one, but what director J.A Bayona was able to do with his behind the camera team is nothing short of amazing and heartbreaking to watch.

The film revolves around a 12-year-old boy named Conor O’Malley, played by newcomer Lewis MacDougall, as he deals with seeing his mother, played by Felicity Jones, go through the final stages of chemotherapy for her cancer. When things take a turn for the worse, Conor loses himself in his drawings, but one night the giant tree in the cemetery near his home comes to life and visits him. Simply called The Monster, voiced by Liam Neeson, he comes to Conor and demands he listens to his three stories, and when the time is over, Conor will tell The Monster a fourth, which will be Conor’s truth.

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Conor not seeing the meaning of this, of course, comes to terms and hears The Monster’s stories that come to life in beautiful animation that looks like watercolors. The moments in-between involve Conor dealing with his Grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) that wants him to move in with her, and Conor’s father, played by Toby Kebbell, coming to visit from America. However, Conor is left with The Monster to deal with the grief of his mother.

From the moment I watched the first trailer for A Monster Calls, I knew this film was going to be special, and while watching I knew I was right about the film. While the visuals of The Monster and his stories are amazing – seriously – The Monster is an amazing effect and almost looks real in some shots. Combine that with Liam Neeson’s voice that conveys both terrifying monster, but compassion in some scenes as well. It’s a fine line that Neeson walks, and he does it so well.

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However, the film is put on the shoulders of newcomer Lewis MacDougall, who handles it with ease. Technically his second film – he starred in Pan – it’s still hard to think that MacDougall is a newcomer. He handles himself with so much poise and maturity around seasoned actors like Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell. Conor, and really MacDougall, is the driving force of the film, and without him, and what he goes through, I don’t think A Monster Calls would have worked.

When it comes to the rest of the (human) cast, Felicity Jones as the mother is heartbreaking to watch, and while she doesn’t say too much, Jones says more than enough with her body language. Toby Kebbell has a small role as Conor’s father, but Kebbell brings a certain reality and humanity to the situation, while James Melville plays Harry, a bully at school. Finally, Sigourney Weaver as the Grandmother takes some time to really delve into what her really makes her tick, but is worth the journey as well.

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All in all, A Monster Calls is a film that keeps you invested from beginning to end, and never let’s go. The film is carried by its young star Lewis MacDougall and Liam Neeson as The Monster. Also, any film that can hook me in and have me on the verge of, or have me in, tears is going in my book. Seriously, bring tissues. Lots of them.

A Monster Calls

5 out of 5

’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ Review

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Director: Michael Bay

Writer: Chuck Hogan

Cast: James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Alexia Barlier, Peyman Moaadi, David Giuntoli, Demetrius Grosse, Toby Stephens, Matt Letscher, and David Costabile

Synopsis: An American Ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.

 

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

 

Based on the book my Mitchell Zuckoff and inspired by the real life events that happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi focuses more on the action and soldiers than it does with the geopolitical issue. Being directed by Michael Bay, you can only assume what you’re walking into action-wise, but despite my dislike for Bay and his recent movies, this is better than I had thought it would be. But if you’re looking for a more political aspect while watching, you’ll be left out in the cold.

13 Hours follows a team of former Special Forces ops who have turned into security contractors to watch over secret CIA installations in Benghazi. The team is lead by Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods (Dale) who brings in an old friend in Jack Silva (Krasinski). When Silva arrives at the CIA outpost he meets the rest of the team in Kris ‘Tanto’ (Schreiber), John ‘Tig’ Tiegen (Fumusa), Dave ‘Boon’ Benton (Denman), and Mark ‘Oz’ Geist (Martini). We follow the team as they help out with some assignments that include helping/protecting Sona Jillani (Barlier) make a deal with a native, and helping more contractors in Dave Ubben (Grosse) and Scott Wickland (Giuntoll) help protect U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens (Letscher).

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Boon (David Denman), Jack Silva (John Krasinski), Tig (Dominic Fumusa), Tanto (Pablo Schreiber)

As we now know, something terrible happens and during the anniversary of September 11, Anti-American Libyans attack the CIA outposts. This leads our heroes to pick up their weapons and go against orders by the station chief, Bob (Costabile) to fight. What follows is the team protecting everyone in the station from a siege where they can’t tell who is there to help or kill them.

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Again, it’s directed by Michael Bay, so you know what to expect when you watching the action. I’m not saying the action is bad either. It’s actual nice to see a action film with Bay’s name on it that doesn’t include CGI robots hitting each other. Not saying the action is always easy to follow. It’s sometimes hard to make out who are heroes are from time to time, but if you want action, there is plenty of it in 13 Hours, and thankfully the majority of it is worthwhile.

That being said, the action can’t hold a whole movie together and 13 Hours would have feel shorter if it weren’t for the some of the cast. Before I get to them, I do want to mention that despite the little nuggets that every character gets, it isn’t until around the end of the movie that we finally start to get to really know them. Every character has their own traits and nuances, but again, it isn’t until around the end of the movie that we finally get to know them and what makes them tick a little more. Is it enough to root for them because they are the heroes of the movie? Take away the fact that all these people are based on real people that went through this terrible situation and event, but sometimes that isn’t enough, and other real life war events like this have done better at making us care about the character way before the end of the movie. That isn’t a knock on the real people that went through this, some of them even helped the crew to make the events more real, but I want to know more about a character and feel more for them, especially if there is a chance we may not see them make it until the end.

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Now thankfully, the cast do great with what they have. John Krasinski, who got really ripped for the role, is one of the most well-rounded characters, since he is the lead along with James Badge Dale’s ‘Rone.’ I’m glad to see Dale get a lead role because I think he’s one of the best underappreciated and unknown actors around. Pablo Schreiber’s ‘Tanto’ is the comic relief-type character, Dominic Fumusa’s ‘Tig,’ David Denman’s ‘Boon’ and Max Martini’s ‘Oz’ have their moments to shine, but are more background characters. David Costabile’s Station Chief Bob is the no-nonsense and dickish character that doesn’t think too highly of the group until they are his only hope to survive.

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Again, if you’re looking for a geopolitical movie that delves deeper into what happen in Benghazi, this isn’t a movie for you. This is an action movie about the guys on the ground that did everything they could and fought off everyone that came at them, and the people they protected that night. You do feel for the characters during this, despite what I said earlier, but not as much as we could if we got to know them more at the beginning of middle of the film. The film does touch on politics a bit when Bob and the people inside the compound try to get help, but that’s about it.

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All in all, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is much more of an action movie than it is a drama or even an action movie with political undertones. Instead Michael Bay decides to focus on the men that put their lives on the line and lets us see what they went through to survive. With solid leads in James Badge Dale and John Krasinski and some worthwhile action, 13 Hours is worth the watch.

 

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

3.5 out of 5

‘The Forest’ Review

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Director: Jason Zada

Writer: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai

Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, and Eoin Macken

Synopsis: A woman goes into Japan’s Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, and confronts supernatural terror.

 

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

 

Aokigahara Forest aka The Suicide Forest, or Sea of Tress, at the base of Mount Fuji is a real place. Aokigahara is actually very famous for being a common suicide site and being associated with demons in their mythology. So in other words, it’s prime for a horror movie setting. So, first time director Jason Zada along with Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer set The Forest within the famous and eerie location in their subpar horror film that has some issues that keep it from being more than just a generic horror film.

The Forest starts off when Sara (Dormer) has a nightmare about her twin sister Jess running in a forest. Her “twin connection” makes her feel that Jess is in trouble and Sarah decides to fly off to Japan where Jess is teaching at a school. What Sarah eventually finds out is that Jess went into Aokigahara Forest, which she finds out is the Suicide Forest. Despite what some people she encounters are saying, Sarah is convinced that her sister isn’t dead and wants to go into the forest to search for her.

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Sarah also encounters a travel writer, Aiden (Kinney), who along with local guide Michi (Ozawa), say they will take her into the forest to look for Jess. However, once there Sarah is constantly warned by Michi to stay on the path and not be fooled by what she sees in the forest, because it is all in her head. He also warns her to stay close because she is filled with sadness, something the forest thrives on. From there, what follows is supernatural occurrences and Sarah’s mission to find her sister and get out alive.

The Forest is not that great of a movie, however, it’s not that bad of a movie either. There are some things that really work for it and I’m quite impressed with how great the cinematography was by Mattias Troelstrup. It probably shouldn’t be that much of a surprise since Zada is music video director and some of the shots in the film, especially some tracking and swooping shots of the forest are beautiful to look at, in fact the way the film is shot, makes the forest feel like it is its own character. There’s one particular sequences right before the final act of the film that is a major highlight for me personally and is, arguably, the creepiest part of the film.

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The other best part of the film is Natalie Dormer. Her first real leading role playing twins is pretty fun to watch. Although there is a nice scene between the twins around the start of the film, we follow Sarah from start to finish as she journeys into Aokigahara Forest. Dormer handles herself very well in the horror genre and you believe her when she has to deal with everything that is thrown at her. Although The Forest isn’t the best movie for Dormer to showcase her talents, she even seems to phone it in at the beginning, although I don’t necessary blame her for that, Dormer’s Sarah is still a good lead to follow.

The rest of the supporting cast, which aren’t many mind you, are a bit one-note. Taylor Kinney’s Aiden is a mixed bag as his intentions are left unclear and unanswered, which more on that in a bit, but his character is met to be shrouded in mystery. There’s also Yukiyoshi Ozawa’s Michi, who could have been a great character if he was given more to do than just be the guide into the Suicide Forest and warning Sarah about the dangers of it. Eoin Macken pops in as Sara’s husband, who shows up in the beginning of the film and just disappears and isn’t really mentioned until the end.

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Now, going back to the unclear and unanswered statement I made, The Forest, had potential, but it’s overall a missed opportunity because of some big unanswered and unclear questions that the film brings up. There is also a big setup that adds to Sarah’s story and plays a factor later on, but the payoff is underwhelming with how it plays out which is a shame because it could have been powerful. The Forest also deals with a pacing issue which thankfully gets fixed by the end of the film, but it is a bit distracting for a good chuck of the film. There are quite a few pop-up scares that are scattered throughout, and some work more than others, but thankfully the ones that do are memorable.

The one thing you’ll probably be left out on Aokigahara itself. The movie just brushes past a lot of its history and simply uses the forest as a mere set-piece and backdrop for Sarah’s story. It isn’t too much of a bad thing, but the movie tries to put some emphasis on the importance of Aokigahara Forest, especially telling us that the souls of the lost in the forest are not ghosts, but trapped souls stuck there forever that are called Yurei. While the thought is appreciated, they could have put a little more thought into it, but the movie is Sarah’s story, so I can see why they wouldn’t go down that route.

Another thing that will divide audiences is the ending. I’m indifferent about it to be honest, because for me it lacks the extra punch because of the pacing and unclear/unanswered questions the movie leaves before the final shot.

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All in all, The Forest is an okay horror movie for January – dare I say the best one since Mama (for me anyway) – and while it leaves a lot of things up in the up, Natalie Dormer, the cinematography and a few standout horror/creepy scenes are worthwhile.

 

The Forest

3 out of 5

‘The Hateful Eight’ Review

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Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen, James Parks, and Channing Tatum

Synopsis: In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

 

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

 

Despite the script leak, Quentin Tarantino continued his eighth film with his mystery Western, The Hateful Eight. He also did something special by shooting the film in 70mm. Now if you’re not a huge cinephile, or just know what that means, it probably doesn’t mean too much, but considering the rarity of how films are made nowadays, The Hateful Eight is a special film. This film is filled with the traditional and very noticeable Tarantino tropes and works, but Tarantino still finds a way to make the film feel different and make the audience feel a bit uncomfortable watching these strangers stuck in a cabin as the tension between all of them arise.

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The film is set after the Civil War, and takes place in Wyoming as a blizzard comes roaring in. We follow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) hitching a ride with John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell), who is chained to his bounty Daisy Domergue (Leigh), who are on the way to Red Rock so Ruth can collect Daisy’s bounty. Along the way, they pick up former Confederate soldier Chris Mannix, who has just become the sheriff of Red Rock despite Ruth’s disbelief, and they all head to an inn in the mountains called Minnie’s Haberdashery. Once they get there, they meet the already there occupants in cowboy Joe Gage (Madsen), British gentlemen Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Dern), and Bob (Bichir), the man looking over Minnie’s as she’s away. Trapped in the inn for a few days as the blizzard blows over, Ruth and Warren try to figure out if everyone, if anyone, can be trusted which leads to a tension-filled environment that, in the typical Tarantino style, eventually goes into mayhem.

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The timeline for the film isn’t just some random place setting. The fact that Samuel L. Jackson’s Warren is the only real African-American character does lend itself to the plot and the characters later on in the film. Major Warren actually has something that everyone can’t believe he has, and leads to some funny moments, but also more tension between Warren, Mannix, and Smithers. Hell, the fact that Warren fought on the opposite side of Mannix and Smithers is enough to always keep your eyes on them. Warren makes a great point once everyone knows that he has the thing no one can believes he has that makes a lot of sense, not just in the movie, but even in today’s world. The Hateful Eight isn’t trying to be political; it just makes some interesting political points.

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What holds the film together is the very Tarantino-esque characters, and the great cast that brings them all to life. Of course, Samuel L. Jackson – the only actor in the cast that has worked with Tarantino the most – is great in this and delivers a great monologue-like speech around the beginning of the third act that could potentially send chills down your spine. It also reminds us why the film is called The Hateful Eight. On the other end, Kurt Russell’s John Ruth aka The Hangman doesn’t have a speech that makes us hate or feel awkward, although his mustache will probably make you envious, but the way he treats Daisy goes ranges from threatening to shoot her, despite wanting to hang her, to hitting her if she gets out of line. It’s an odd relationship that – somehow – seems to work once we see them juxtaposed to each other. Hey, speaking of Daisy, Jennifer Jason Leigh is just memorizing to watch. Daisy sometimes just blends into the background as we focus on the other characters, but every time Daisy is in the spotlight, she shines. One scene is particular had me going, which involved her simply sitting with a guitar and singing.

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The supporting cast is equally great in what they are given. Walton Goggins is the highlight for me personally. Goggins is always a great supporting character guy and he can do anything that a director throws at him, and he does it here again and has one of the best arcs at the end of the film. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Demian Bichir all have their moments to shine and bring some nice nuances to their roles. Bruce Dern doesn’t really do much until the middle of the film where his arch finally comes into play. Channing Tatum also pops up in a different role than he’s usually known for.

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On a technical level, The Hateful Eight is great to look at. The cinematography by Robert Richardson really puts you in Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is a great set, and out in the wintery landscape of Wyoming. Moreover, legendary spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone score is both tense and a bit haunting, almost The Thing-like. The score is more haunting due to the fact the film is a slow burn through-and-through.

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All in all, The Hateful Eight is a slow burn, scene chewing, mystery Western that makes you question every character until the end. The great cast and the characters they play are elevated even more thanks to the secluded and close-quarters environment. If you love Tarantino films, this will be right up your alley, although it can be arguably said that this may not be Tarantino best film, but it still a great one in his filmography.

 

The Hateful Eight

4.5 out of 5

January Movie Releases

Happy New Year!!

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, we have a new year in front of us which means one thing: new movies! Now, January is usually referred to as Hollywood’s “Dump” Month. Meaning they will release movies that they don’t think will perform well or are not confident in. Sometimes that is the case, but sometimes a movie will shine through. January is also filled with expanded releases of movies that came out in December so there is also that to look forward to.

 

You’ll notice that I will put the companies attached and responsible for releasing the film as well. Just trying something new to expand the page a bit.

 

 

1st

Expansion/Wide Release: The Hateful Eight

 

8th

Expansion/Wide Release: The Revenant

 

The Masked Saint (Action/Biography – Freestyle Releasing/P23 Entertainment/Ridgerock Entertainment Group)

The film is based on a true story about one pastor’s mission to help his community by risking his identity and returns to his former life as a wrestler. The triumphant story follows one man’s journey and struggle between helping others and the consequences he faces doing this. The film kind of showed up out of nowhere so I don’t know if the film will find a massive audience. The film stars Brett Granstaff, Lara Jean Chorostecki, T.J. McGibbon, Diahann Carroll and Roddy Pipper.

 

The Forest (Horror – Focus Features/Lava Bear Films/Gramercy Pictures)

Game of Thrones Natalie Dormer leads this creepy looking horror film about a sister on the search for her twin in one of the most haunted areas in the world, the forest at the base of Mt. Fuji known as Aokigahara aka Suicide Forest. The film also stars Taylor Kinney (NBC’s Chicago Fire).

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15th

Norm of the North (Animation – Lionsgate/Splash Entertainment/Telegael)

The film follows a polar bear named Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider), who along with three little creatures, winds up in New York City to convince humans to not move to his Arctic home. The film doesn’t look like too much for me, but kids will probably enjoy it. The voice cast also includes Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Colm Meaney, Gabriel Iglesias, and Bill Nighy.

 

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (Drama/Action – Paramount Pictures/Latina Pictures/3 Arts Entertainment)

Michael Bay directs the action drama thriller about the much talked event in Benghazi when an American Ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S compound. The film follows a security team as they try to make sense of the situation and try to save the remaining survivors. The film looks okay abut it still looks very Bay-y. The cast includes John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, Toby Stephens, James Badge Dale, Max Martini, and David Costabile.

 

Ride Along 2 (Action Comedy – Universal Pictures/Cube Vision/Will Packer Productions)

I enjoyed the first Ride Along, so I’m kind of looking forward to this one. The film follows Ben (Kevin Hart) and James (Ice Cube) as they head to Miami to stop a drug dealer who’s supplying the dealers in Atlanta. The problem is that Ben is getting married to James’ sister soon. The film looks like they are upping the ante a bit, but keeping the humor intact which is good. The rest of the cast stars Olivia Munn, Ken Jeonh, Glen Powell, Nadine Velazquez, Tika Sumpter, Sherri Shepherd, T.I., and Benjamin Bratt.

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22nd

Limited Release: Ip Man 3 (Action – Well Go USA)

The third installment – and potentially last – of the Ip Man series that stars Donnie Yen as the famous Yip Man, who is the last man standing for a city that is being shaken down by a band of brutal gangsters and a crooked property developer. I loved the first two installments and I can’t wait to see what they do this one. The film will also star Mike Tyson (not as himself) and Kwok-Kwan Chan as Bruce Lee.

 

Limited Release: Mojave (Thriller – A24/Atlas Independent/Henceforth Pictures)

Directed by William Monahan – writer of films like Kingdom of Heaven and The DepartedMojave follows a suicidal artist (Garrett Hedlund) as he goes into the desert, where he find his doppelganger (Oscar Isaac) who happens to be a homicidal drifter. I honestly don’t know what to think of the film. Monahan is great, but judging by the trailers, the film doesn’t look all that great. Maybe their is more too it, hopefully, especially with Oscar Isaac attached. Mojave also stars Walton Goggins, Louis Bourgoin, and Mark Wahlberg (who is nowhere in the promotional material mind you).

 

The Boy (Horror Thriller– Lakeshore Entertainment/Vertigo Entertainment/STX Entertainment)

The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan stars as an American nanny who goes to England to be shocked that the boy she is suppose to take care of for an important English family is actually a life-sized doll. After violating a list of rules, disturbing events start to make her believe that the doll is involved somehow. The movie looks kind of creepy – it does have a creepy doll after all – so let’s hope it turns out more than the trailer lets on. Rupert Evans and Ben Robson also star.

 

Dirty Grandpa (Comedy – Lionsgate/QED International/Josephson Entertainment/Ninjas Runnin’ Wild Productions)

Zac Efron stars in the comedy about an uptight guy that is tricked into driving his grandfather, played by Robert De Niro, a perverted former Army general to Florida for Spring Break, right before he gets married. The looks okay, I’m not dying to watch it, but will probably will end up watching it anyway. Because, well, it’s a movie. The film also stars Dermot Mulroney, Jason Mantzoukas, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza and Julianne Hough.

 

The 5th Wave (Sci-Fi Action Adventure – Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures/GK Films/LStar Capital)

Based on the book by the same name by Rick Yancey, The 5th Wave follows Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) as she tries to survive the now post-apocalyptic Earth after four deadly waves from aliens know as “The Others” has left nothing left. The only thing driving Cassie, besides survival, is finding her little brother. Meanwhile, Earth’s last remaining military try to stop “The Others” last wave to wipe out Earth. I’ve read the book and the book has its great moments, but everything I’ve seen for the film makes it look painfully generic, so I hope that the film come out better than the trailers. The rest of the cast includes Nick Robinson, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Zackary Arthur, Tony Revolori, Maria Bello, Ron Livingston and Liev Schreiber.

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29th

Fifty Shades of Black (Comedy – Open Road Films/IM Global)

A Marlon Wayans-lead parody of the novel and film 50 Shades of Grey. The film looks like nothing more of what he’s done in the past. The film also stars Jane Seymour, Kali Hawk, and Mike Epps.

 

Jane Got a Gun (Western – The Weinstein Company/1821 Pictures/Scott Pictures/Handsomecharlie Films/Unanimous Pictures)

Riddled with production problems, Jane Got a Gun is finally coming out! The film follows Jane (Natalie Portman) who asks her former lover (Joel Edgerton) for help in order to save her outlaw husband (Noah Emmerich) from a gang, lead by Ewan McGregor, that want to kill them. At this point, I’m just happy the film is coming out and that it looks pretty descent. The film also stars Rodrigo Santoro, Boyd Holbrook, Alex Manette, and Todd Stashwick.

 

The Finest Hours (Drama Thriller – Walt Disney Pictures/Whitaker Entertainment)

Based on the real life event, The Finest Hours follows The Coast Guard making a daring rescue attempting of the coast in Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroying during a blizzard in 1952. The film looks great and is filled with a great cast of Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger, Rachel Brosnahan and Eric Bana, the film might be a great watch.

 

Kung Fu Panda 3 (Animation – DreamWorks Animation/Oriental DreamWorks)

The third outing for Po (voiced by Jack Black again) sees him facing two threats: one supernatural and one closer to home. I enjoyed the first Kung Fu Panda more than the second one, but there still pretty fun movies to watch so lets hope that this is the same. The voice cast brings back Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim and Dustin Hoffman. The new voice cast includes Kate Hudson, J.K. Simmons, and Bryan Cranston.

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What are you looking forward to?

‘Taken 3’ Review

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Dir: Olivier Megaton

Writer(s): Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

Cast: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Don Harvey, Dylan Bruno, David Warshofsky, Jon Gries, Andrew Howard, Leland Orser, Sam Spruell, and Dougray Scott

Synopsis: Ex-government operative Bryan Mills is accused of a ruthless murder he never committed or witnessed. As he is tracked and pursued, Mills brings out his particular set of skills to find the true killer and clear his name

 

 

 

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

 

 

Believe it or not, Taken 3 doesn’t anybody taken, at least in the way the first two films did. Taken 3 actually has someone close to the Mills family die and has Bryan Mills (Neeson) framed for it. So this should have made the last installment (that we know of) more dramatic, thrilling, and unpredictable. So did we get that? Sort of. Taken 3 has elements that work really well, but with a already limited premise, pretty weak script, and Olivier Megaton’s terrible directing job, the cast does their best to make the movie work and enjoyable.

 

Taken 3 starts off with the villain, Oleg Malankov (Spruell), killing some random accountant to a mystery man because the mystery man owes Malankov money. Of course a beginning like that does two things, makes you wonder how they will connect to the main story/mystery element and shows off how deadly and serious Malankov will be. That is when he shows up, as Malankov disappears until the last half hour and we left to follow his henchmen and Maxim (Howard).  Then we go to the main story of Bryan, like the other movies, being happy and still trying to keep his family connection together. He goes to visit Kim (Grace), who dealing with something of her own, and meets up with his ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) again as they start to rekindle their feelings again.

 

Lenore tells him things aren’t working with her husband Stuart (now played by Dougray Scott replacing Xander Berkeley from the first film), but Bryan being the honorable man doesn’t want things to happen until they are cleared up. This leads Stuart to going to Bryan and telling him he wants to make things work and basically tells him to back off, which Bryan agrees to. Of course the trailer gives this away part away but Lenore is found dead in Bryan’s apartment and is framed to look like he did, which Bryan knows and runs from the police. This brings in Inspector Franck Dotzler (Whitaker) who is in charge to bring Bryan in for questioning.

 

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Like I wrote before, Taken 3 has some good elements working for it. The drama in Taken 3 feels like the first Taken although not as strong and during some of the action sequences it actually feels like they mean something, as opposed to Taken 2. One of the bad things, if not the worse thing next to Megaton’s terrible sense of direction, is the movie feels pretty predictable. It does try to swerve you into another direction but when it comes back to your original predication, you feel kind of dumb letting the movie fool you. That might be nitpicky but considering the movie doesn’t have a ton working for it there is some things to criticize.

 

The movie’s saving grace is Liam Neeson. Neeson is as reliable as ever and considering this is his third and final time playing a man with a particular set of skills. His take of Bryan this time is more determined than before but Neeson is so good at delivering one-liners and acting gruff that it’s probably second nature to him at this point.

 

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The supporting cast is not that bad, although they aren’t without their clichés. Maggie Grace isn’t a damsel in distress like the first film but has less to do here than she did in Taken 2. Forest Whitaker’s Franck Dotzler character is a by-the-books kind of cop but has his own ways of figuring out a case. Whitaker does fine but some poor character choices in script make the character sometimes laughable.

 

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Speaking of laughable, have I mentioned Oliver Megaton’s direction? I have? Well, let me go back then. I don’t mind shaky cam, if done moderation and doesn’t take away from the action sequences, but Megaton doesn’t follow that idea and instead makes all of the action feel and seem worthless, because he’d rather shake the camera and make the audience feel like they are there instead of letting us enjoy the scene for what it is.

 

All in all, Taken 3 is a mixed bag. While not as good the first Taken, it is better than Taken 2 even though that’s not saying much since the sequel didn’t have a lot going for it. Neeson does his best to carry the movie but all in all, this might be the place to end the Taken series.

 

 

Taken 3

3.5 out of 5