Friday, January 31, 2014

2014 Radar Project: The Final Round

Release Date: November 7th, 2014
Christopher Nolan is one of the most exciting filmmakers working right now. He makes mind-bending, emotional, thrilling, and awesome films every couple of years. He is constantly pushing the bar on Hollywood, even his own projects. Even his lesser work like "The Dark Knight Rises" or "Insomnia" is more exciting than most jargon crunched out every year. Whether you like his films or not, its hard to not get excited or the least bit curious about this wonder artists filmography.

Christopher Nolan is once again returning to the science fiction genre and I think what he's cooking up will be astonishing. Plot details are hard to come by as usual, (this is a Nolan movie, no doubt), but we do know that Nolan will be playing with wormholes, time travel and alternate dimensions. This is no doubt some of the most ambitious subject matter Nolan has tackled yet and I can't wait to see what he does. Especially with a cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, John Lithgow and Wes Bentley. November can't come soon enough.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Release Date: May 23rd, 2014
I know, I know. I know exactly what you are all thinking before you even say it. I know I sound like a broken record or that I am beating a horse. But to be honest, X-Men are my favorite superheroes ever, easily my favorite superhero team. I grew up with the comics, I grew up with the original animated show. I own episodes of the original animated show, I watch their cartoon revamps over the years through Netflix. I am an X-Men nut, and when Hollywood started making X-Men films, the amount of excitement that coursed through my blood was unbearable. Not only that, but when I realized that, overall, the X-Men films have been pretty good...well I know that I will die happy someday. 

What is rally getting exciting is that 20th Century Fox is starting to realize what they have and their going with it. "X-Men: Days of Future Past," is based on the Marvel crossover of the same name. Finally, we are getting X-Men movies based on their own original stories. Not only that, but Bryan Singer is playing with time travel and that's going to be fun. Also, know that Apocalypse is right around the corner is promising news. This is going to be "The Expendables" version of X-Men, where the "whose-who" of everyone through the entire film franchise will be present. This is going to be a huge event, and that's why I can't wait. I am not even close to being done talking about this film, so stay comfortable.

The Monuments Men
Release Date: NEXT WEEKEND!
I'd normally get excited about a film that featured Matt Damon, George Clooney, John Goodman, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin. But even with that stellar cast, we are getting a very cool story. An amazing story based on history about a group of non-soldiers who risked their lives for a greater good. Now, some may think it was weird to save art, but these soldiers were not just saving art. These guys were preserving a culture, apart of other countries that made those countries unique. The Nazi's wanted to take that away from them and that's plain wrong. I know the Nazi's did much more horrific things during World War II, but its cool that groups of people did everything to save what other countries stood for. Whether it was saving lives or saving art, it is truly inspiring. I can't wait to see this.

Well, January is over at 12:00 AM tonight and we will start a new month tomorrow. I hope you enjoyed my big countdown of the films to look for in 2014. Let's hope everything can live up to its potential. More than anything, let's hope that despite this massive countdown, that something comes along and surprises the hell out of us. I hope you have enjoyed this round of blogs, its been fun.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

2014 Radar Project: Round 19

Inherent Vice
Release Date: TBD 2014
Paul Thomas Anderson is a master of filmmaking. Ironically, he directed a film called "The Master," too. That movie came out last year, was one of my very first members of my "Overlooked Film of the Week" column and it starred Joaquin Phoenix. Sometime this year, Phoenix will reunited with Paul Thomas Anderson for the crime comedy "Inherent Vice." Not only will Phoenix reunite with P.T. Anderson, but he will also reunite with Reese Witherspoon, who starred with Phoenix in "Walk The Line" in 2005. The film is based on a book by Thomas Pynchon, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The film co-stars Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Eric Roberts and Michael K. Williams. 

I am especially curious because like I said, I love Anderson. "Magnolia," "The Master," "There Will Be Blood," "Boogie Nights" etc...but look at that list of films, they are all mostly on the serious side. The book is apparently a crime comedy. I have no doubt in my mind that Anderson can be funny, there are small moments of comic relief in all of his films. I am just intrigued by the material, and I think its a good course for Anderson. This movie will showcase his range, and I look forward to it promptly.

Release Date: December 12th, 2014
Many critics will try to tell you that director Ridley Scott is only a so-so director. But as I have argued before, that is all in the eye of the beholder. Yes not everyone agrees with me on the merits of "Prometheus," or "American Gangster" or "Body of Lies," but Scott brings a unique quality to his films that I find exciting. Plus, when Scott is working in historic mode, he's almost unbeatable. Look, I know "Robin Hood" was a huge miscalculation, but Scott was mixing fable with history and it flat-out didn't work. But that film isn't comparable to "Kingdom of Heaven" or "Gladiator." I think Scott will deliver similar power with "Exodus."

Like I have said before, the Christian epic sub-genre is making a comeback this year. I hope "Noah" will be everything it looks like, and I am sure Scott is going to do wonderful things with the story of Exodus. He's got Christian Bale playing Moses. He also has Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Sir Ben Kingsley, John Turturro and Sigourney Weaver rounding out the rest of his cast. I am expecting good things from this film and I can't wait to see the first big trailer for this one!

The Congress
Release Date: TBD 2014
This is a movie that combines the live-action with the animation and it just looks like a dream. The word from last year's Toronto Film Festival was strong on "The Congress," and its United States release will happen sometime this year. How powerful does the film look? Well just check out the trailer:

I think that pretty much speaks for itself. Oh, and I also got to say that Robin Wright was particularly strong in Netflix's "House of Cards," just more incentive to check this out.

So, tomorrow night I will list my last three films on my 2014 Radar Project list. January is almost over and February is almost here. I have had a great time looking at all of these films individually. I hope you have to and I hope that I have at least got you curious about a few titles I listed. I hope your calendars are all marked up and your ready for 2014 as much as I am. I am sure you'll agree 2014 could end up being another great year for movies. Let's hope it is!

2013 Award Circuit: Enough Said

2013 Award Circuit

Enough Said Review
The 2013 Awards Circuit will be a collection of  reviews for films that are in some kind of award running within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed in 2013. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.


When James Gandolfini died, it was a big deal to me. He wasn't just Tony Soprano, even though that was obviously the role he's famous for. In my mind, it was always the scene with Patricia Arquette in "True Romance." In that quick scene, he became more of a character and presence then most actors in all their movies. It showed how electrifying Gandolfini could really be and its a shame he wasn't a bigger name than he was.

I wanted to see "Enough Said" to see his final moments onscreen. I am happy to report that he gives another genuine, realistic performance. Gandolfini plays Albert a divorced man who meets Eva (Julia Lewis-Dreyfus) a divorced woman. The film focuses on Eva, she is a massage therapist who is thinking about dating again. Meeting Albert at this party, he is instantly attracted to Eva. The connection they make is written all over their faces. One date turns into two dates, then turns into a serious relationship. Around the same time Eva attends the party, she begins to become good friends with one her clients, who also happened to get out of a seemingly bad marriage. Eva soon learns the real meaning behind living in a small world.

Its tough to talk about what works and what doesn't work about "Enough Said" without getting into some spoiler territory. Ya'see, Marianne (Catherine Keener), the client Eva soon becomes best friends with, is Albert's ex-wife. Eva kind of thinks she figures this out but never tells Albert or Marianne, which creates lots of drama when the trio gets together unexpectedly. Sadly, the revelation at the end lands with a uninspiring, unexciting dud. 

The film would have been much better if they had made the film a little more exciting. "Enough Said" is another slice-of-life movie. Basically, we see several moments from Eva's life, then it the movie is over. There is some sort of resolution, but not much of one. I feel the idea of being best friends with one half of a torn marriage and dating the other half and not knowing it could lead to some riveting drama and big jokes. For some reason, "Enough Said" decided not to pursue any of that. Instead, we see Albert and Eva go on several dates, as well as an overdrawn sub-plot revolving around Eva and her relationship with her daughter. Its sad that I don't care because the story is written to be so unbelievably boring.

I guess what kept me watching was the great performances by Gandolfini, Dreyfus, and Keener. They make us believe in the story, they make the unneeded sub-plots somewhat interesting and they keep the film moving along. Toni Collette shows up as another friend of Eva's and her brief work in this film is spot-on. Everybody is does good work, so it pads down the films flaws. Those flaws are still relevant though, and this could have been a wonderful, little treasure.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2014: Radar Project: Round 18

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
Release Date: August 22, 2014
Well, this follow-up has been a long time coming, and its something that should have happened sooner.

I don't know how many of you remember "Sin City" when it came out in 2005, but it was like a bomb going off. There was absolutely nothing like it, the closest film made so far that looks like a comic book come to life. Still to this day, I re-watch it and I sit on my futon, shellshocked. It had a great cast to work with, which included Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen, Michael Clarke Duncan, Brittany Murphy, Devon Yoki, Powers Boothe, Elijah Wood, and Michael Madsen. The film is unbelievable, and a sequel was more than necessary. Frank Miller wrote several "Sin City" graphic novels, we only saw three of his stories in the first movie. But there is a long, boring story to why it took this long for Robert Rodriguez to get a sequel out, so let's just focus on the movie at hand.

Returing for the sequel is Willis, Rourke, Dawson, Boothe, Alba and Jaime King. Newbies include Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joesph Gordon-Levitt, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Lady Gaga, Dennis Haysbert, and Jaime Chung. So, once again, Rodriguez has a great cast. I can't wait for the first trailer!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I
Release Date: November 21st, 2014
What can I say about "The Hunger Games" that has not been said already? Its another great saga adapted from a series of books, its a fine example of how to do an adaptation right, and it outdoes "Twilight" at its own game as far as love triangles go. I have loved the first two films, and I can't wait for the two-part finale. Yes, I know that it seems commonplace when adapting fantasy material that the last book will be two movies, but hey its a strategy that seems to be working in the business, why should this franchise be any different.

I feel through these characters, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson have really developed into wonderful character actors, I believe in their journey. I am very curious about the addition of Julianne Moore and can't wait to see how she develops her character. This is going to be one epic ending, and I can't wait to see each and every minute of it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Release Date: March 7th, 2014
There is usually no middle ground when it comes to Wes Anderson. Either you like the dry comedies he churns out or you don't. Either you like is offbeat style toward filmmaking or you detest it. I have always enjoyed Anderson's direction toward comedy and I think throughout his career, he's had more hits than misses. 

I think his movie due this March could be his best yet. Working with Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson. Anderson has a perfect blend of his regulars and newcomers to work with, and I think the blend will be note-perfect. Check out the trailer below!


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2014 Radar Project: Round 17

The Hobbit: There And Back Again
Release Date: December 17th, 2014
Next winter, Peter Jackson's long-winded interpretation of "The Hobbit" will come to a close. I had my hesitations about adapting a small book into three films, I felt that the book should have been adapted into one sitting (Shit, even two films is kind of pushing it.), I was never throughout. But, despite all my gripes, I never let them overwhelm me. I kept my mind and my heart completely open and I have been rewarded for it. For all the major changes in order to drag this story out, Jackson has been able to entertain each time. You can't argue against that. I don't think this series can even come close to comparing to "Lord of the Rings," but I have had one hell of a great time so far, and I think the conclusion will be great.

Not to mention that "Desolation of Smaug" this year had quite possibly, the best ending in any film of the Lord of the Rings universe so far. The beginning and ending of this third film will be sweepingly emotional. The work done by Jackson's cast has been nearly perfect. Jackson also showcased a great eye for world-building and once I have all three Hobbit films at my disposal and I can watch Jackson's vision in its entirety, I feel I will be visiting Middle Earth, and that's an encouraging thought!

Guardians of the Galaxy
Release Date: August 1st, 2014
In recent weeks, I have been overjoyed by Marvel. They are really going to start getting into the wackier parts of their universe. If you ask me, its the perfect time to do that. Marvel took its time to build a coherent universe that everyone took seriously and everyone embraced. Marvel has been cunning, smart and relentless with its MCU project that has been a wild ride so far. Now that Marvel got us to believe in a Norse God, can they make us believe in a gun-trotting, talking space-raccoon, voiced by none other than Bradley Cooper?

For a long time, I have longed for Marvel to make into space. Now, my dreams are finally coming true and I am ecstatic. A cast that includes Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Bradley Cooper, Benicio Del Toro, Dave Batista, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Djimon Hounsou has got to be the most random cast in history of film, but it will probably a great example of the right casting. I feel with all my heart that this will be the best  film in Phase Two, something that will surprise the viewers with shock and awe. I can't wait for our first look of the film on SuperBowl Sunday!

Release Date: March 28th, 2014
Well, the story of Noah and his Ark is being adapted into an epic film by Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky has made some horrific and experimental films like "Black Swan" and "Requiem For A Dream." But he also made something powerfully inspiring as "The Wrestler." Aronofsky is a guy with a lot of talent which he can take in any direction. He maybe the perfect guy for "Noah."

What I did not expect was how emotional this film looks it will be. Every time I watch the trailer, and I see Ray Winstone come to Russell Crowe with his horde of merciless murderers. Then Winstone says "you face me alone with a army at my back?" And Crowe unflinched says "I am not alone." punches me in the heart every time. Russell Crowe, as well as the rest of the cast, are going to nail this movie. I can also tell that this film will be a visual wonder. No matter what faith you hail from, I think everyone will agree how special a movie Aronofsky has made.

I, Frankenstein Review

I, Frankenstein Review
I knew very little going into "I, Frankenstein." I knew it was based off a unpublished comic book, I knew Aaron Eckhart was to play the Frankenstein Monster. Other than that, I didn't know where this story would take me, and I was curious than anything else. I am not sure what this cast and crew saw in the unpublished work that inspired them to make a movie about it, but my mind was open and I was ready for anything tonight.

I guess this movie goes to show that some ideas are do not get published for a reason. "I, Frankenstein" was not a movie that I expected to blow my mind, or get Oscar nominations next year, but I was hoping for a fun time. There is a little fun in it, and Aaron Eckhart at least tries to get this film's pulse going, but there isn't much there. "I, Frankenstein" is not very exciting, it does not feature a whole bunch of character development, and it ridden with cliche.

I don't know how well this script followed the original work, but based on the film, "I, Frankenstein" adds up to nothing more than an "Underworld" knock-off with a male lead. We learn of a lonely drifter who gets caught in a centuries old war that carries into modern day. There the drifter joins one side in the fight against the other, where he kind of falls for a girl on the other side. He also learns of a conspiracy on the other side which could tip the war in their favor. Sound familiar yet? That drifter is the Frankenstein Creature (Eckhart), and sometime after he killed his creator, he almost got abducted by demons. The Creature is saved by Gargoyles, whom we learn were created by the Archangels to rid the world of demons. Not right away, but eventually The Creature will join the Gargoyles in the fight against the demons. The Creature eventually meets Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) who works for a corporation run by the demon prince, though she doesn't know that.

Through Terra's help, The Creature must stop the demons plot to create an army of reanimated corpses for their demon buddies in Hell to possess, therefor creating an army that cannot be destroyed. So yes, the whole time I was thinking "Underworld." Though the "Underworld" films worked for me because there was always a sense of excitement in those films, there isn't much excitement whatsoever in "I, Frankenstein." There are couple of moments where the battle scenes are kind of cool. But they loose that coolness quick time and time again. Plus, the demons and gargoyles look so similar that I could barely tell who was on whose side. When I can't tell who I am supposed to be rooting for, an action piece looses me and that happened several times in this movie.

"I, Frankenstein" also happens to feature two "Underworld" alum's, thus reinforcing my point above. Bill Nighy plays Charles Wessex, the billionaire-secret-demon and main villain of the film. I love Nighy, but he's completely wasted in a film with such a weak script. Kevin Grevioux, who plays a right-hand man to werewovles in "Underworld" plays a right-hand man to the demons in "I, Frankenstein" and its basically an extension of the role he played in the latter. Liked him in "Underworld?" Well, this is essentially the same character, just with different abilities. I loved that Jai Courtney, popular for playing Varo in "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" makes an appearance in this film, and he does what he can to make this all matter. The script lets him down though, and that's a shame. The cast is truly decent, perfect for a movie like this, why did they sign on to bring such an undercooked story to life.

If you are at all thinking of seeing this, I'd say skip it. Its not worth your entertainment budget.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review
Before we begin, let me shed light on an important fact. I never read a lot of Tom Clancy, not that I dislike the deceased author. Its just that our paths have never really crossed yet. The light reading I have done of Clancy, I have had the opportunity to meet Jack Ryan. I have also seen the movie adaptations of "The Hunt For The Red October," "Clear and Present Danger" and "The Sum of All Fears." I have a somewhat good understanding of the character, and I understand what makes him different compared to Jason Bourne and James Bond. Ryan isn't an action hero, he's an analyst. He defends our nation with very different weapons compared to the previous spies I suggested, which should pave the way for a different looking film.

So excuse me if I am puzzled that director Kenneth Branagh shoehorned the character into a clear action movie.

Look, its pretty clear that one of Hollywood's new strategies is to set up franchises and let the money roll in, much like a fast food restaurant. So Paramount's next big idea was to turn Jack Ryan into another big brand for the studio. After all, Paramount and Clancy had a big relationship with the author's character, and they helped Ryan get onscreen. However, taking a semi-popular, fictional spy and placing him into a popular, modern action model of a movie doesn't automatically mean its a good idea. "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" proves more than ever that some characters belong to the authors who manifested them, and trying to create something new is possibly hazardous.

I'll give the film a few points. The casting of Kevin Costner was absolutely near-perfect. Coming off the rails of last year's "Man of Steel," Costner feels right at home playing Harper. The CIA official who recruits Jack Ryan into the Agency. Before Harper recruits him, Ryan leaves collegiate study in London to join the army after 9/11. During his time in Afghanistan, Ryan is badly injured after his helicopter is shot down. Harper finds Ryan recuperating from his injuries. Costner makes it all seem effortless, much like Liam Neeson, Costner could become the next great mentor character in movies. Added with the cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos, everything looks quite luminous. But, aside from those details, the films problems begin here.

Branagh's decision to turn the analytical Jack Ryan into a action-packed, super-spy. There comes a point in this movie where Ryan stops acting analytical and can suddenly shoot better, jump higher, kill better, drive faster, and run faster than every other character in the movie. You could try to argue that his character had training in the Army, but soldiers can't do the things Ryan does in this movie. Ryan is pretty much superheroic during moments in this movie, and the worst thing they could have done with the character is turn him into an action hero. Jack Ryan will look like a Jason Bourne clone to people unfamiliar with Tom Clancy's work, and that's a shame. Even the casting of Chris Pine shows that. As much as I love Pine, he's completely wrong for Jack Ryan. He's not someone I think of when I think analytical, but action hero? He's perfect, and there lies the problem.

The analysis aspect of Ryan's personality may not be as commercial in a modern setting, but its not impossible. What was even more dumbfounding about this whole experience were the bad guys. Kenneth Branagh plays the villain of the movie, a Russian official with a bad plot to bankrupt America. The villain as well as how his plot is handled felt like a 1960's or 1970's James Bond film. Russia isn't the same county as it was during The Cold War, and a movie about a modern Jack Ryan should show that, but it doesn't and its all weird. Its especially weird due to Branagh's bad Russian accent.

What this all boils down to is this. I don't get why a new Jack Ryan movie not based on any of Tom Clancy's books was made. I don't get why Paramount wanted to make this if they were going to ignore what made the character unique in he first place, and make a standard, cliche action thriller. Sure, there are some analytical points Ryan uses in the film, but mostly, its just another spy-action thriller. Except this one is boring, tedium and completely confused by its politics. I really doubt that this will become the next big franchise for Paramount, and that's a disappointment.


2014 Radar Project: Round 16

Into The Woods
Release Date: December 25th, 2014
I don't know what it is about Disney and their fairytale properties as of late. One thing is for sure though, at the start of the 2010's, the studio willingly and seemingly wanted to mark this decade as the decade of fables.  With live-action reinterpretations of popular characters, animated features based on Rapunzel and the Snow Queen, as well as "Once Upon A Time" and "Grimm" ruling the small screen. Looking to the future, I can confidently say that these classic tales and their classic lessons aren't going anywhere anytime soon. The only question is, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

My answer to that question is it really depends on the cast, the crew, and how much of their heart and souls that will go into every production. Doing some research, I found out that "Into The Woods," is based on the award-winning Broadway Musical of the same name, which was written by Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim is very popular in the stage arena, so the source material is golden. The whose-who of the industry will be involved in this thing (as you can see from the picture above.), so I have some confidence. The film is being directed by Rob Marshall, who directed the last "Pirates of the Caribbean" film. I have come to the conclusion that this film will be another naked cash-crab by Disney, or it will be a pleasant surprise, prime to get some Oscars under its belt in 2015. Only time will tell, and I hope it turns out great.

The One I love
Release Date: Premiered at Sundance already, TBD wider release
Even though this just premiered at the Sundance film festival, and festival fair is never set in stone as to when it'll be released, I am fairly certain that we'll hear about this one sooner rather than later. The buzz from Sundance has been enormously high for the film. Plus, you can't go wrong with leads that include Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss. Duplass seems like he's in everything at the moment, but I love his inclusion in everything he does. I have been quite fond of Moss from "Mad Men" and "Get Him To The Greek," and find her to be quite talented. I also have to confess that I am a sucker for a confident, clever love story. That sounds like what I can expect from "The One I Love." Keep an ear out for this one folks, it sounds like a winner.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Overlooked Film of the Week- "Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012)

Overlooked Film of the Week- #41

Safety Not Guaranteed
Time travel in movies is always cool, and always fills us with wonder. Will there ever come a day in our future where time travel is possible? Will a scientist come forth and be able to create a device that allows such an act? I love "Back To The Future" and "The Terminator" films, I laugh out loud at the "Family Guy" time travel episodes, and I love smaller, less sophisticated uses of the device, such as "Timecrimes." Even though time-travel has been stuck in the action genre, the possibilities with the idea are nearly limitless. 

"Safety Not Guaranteed" is a film about time-travel, but its not your average film. The film focuses on Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) and her life interning at Seattle Magazine. Jeff (Jack Johnson) a writer of the magazine finds a classifieds ad in the newspaper, asking for someone to accompany another man to travel through time to the past, warning that there is great risk in the procedure. Jeff gets Darius and another intern Arnanu (Karan Soni) to investigate the man behind the ad and see what he is up to.

The trio goes to a suburb of Seattle and Darius poses as a person interested in the ad. This leads her to meet Kenneth (Mark Duplass) the man behind the ad. He claims that he has invented a time machine that works, and wants somebody to accompany him. At first, he is wary of Darius, but he softens up to him and begins "training" her before the big take-off. All the while she is doing this, she is reporting back to Jeff about her findings, and begins to feel badly about it. There are also government employees trying to get to Kenneth, which makes Darius believe, more and more that this is no hoax.

The work done by Plaza, Duplass and Johnson is all solid. They create something that is sweet, sincere and quite funny at times. Plaza and Duplass create a poetic and believable relationship over the course of the film and they are very funny together. Johnson is also very good, playing an asshole only concerned with nostalgia and career. The town that Kenneth lives in happens to be the town where Jeff grew up in. That is part of the reason why he wanted the gig so bad, so that he could go back and relive certain times in his life. This storyline kind of parallels Kenneth's need to go back in time. "Safety Not Guaranteed" is smart in its views of nostalgia and how quickly it can destroy us.

There are moments of sheer drama and there are moments of hilarious comedy and I think there is something here that everyone can enjoy.

The Essentials- "Dr.No" (1962)

The Essentials-#41

Dr. No
Its hard to believe that the James Bond series has been alive and well for over 50 years. Though, it was not always easy on MGM to maintain the franchise. I remember the studio went bankrupted for awhile (or, at least, was nearly bankrupted) I remember hearing that "Skyfall" almost didn't happen and that 2008's "Quantum of Solace" came pretty damn close to being the last Bond film in history. I don't know what MGM did to get itself back on track, but I am certainly glad they did. There is truly nothing comparable to the James Bond franchise. A series of film that seems to have no continuity, that has featured six different actors in the title role, and a handful of different directors, styles and visions.

If you were to ask 100 different James Bond fans who their favorite Bond was, there would not be a general consensus. Each actor not only approached the character differently, but the times had changed as well. Put the Connery films next to the Moore films, it would almost not look like the same franchise (almost). Not only was Moore different than Connery, but the 1970's created a different style of filmmaking compared to the 1960's. As the world and its politics changed, and how Hollywood action genre changed, so did the style of this franchise. Which has made Bond unlike any other series in the business.

I must confess that my favorite era of Bond were the Connery years. Simply put, he was the first horse out of the gate, he defined the character first and molded him in a certain way. Even though Moore, Lazenby, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig are very different interpretations, its clear that they took ideas from Connery's playbook. Plus, the first years really defined the franchise overall, and I think they made the first films of the franchise very special. "Dr. No" was the first James Bond film ever made and it paved the way to something truly memorable.

There was nothing like James Bond being escorted through Dr. No's (Joesph Wisemen) lair whose walls are giant shark tanks. There was nothing like seeing Ursula Andress bursting out of the Jamaican waters in her white bikini. Most of all, there is nothing more addicting to listen to than the catchy Bond theme. "Dr. No" started it all, and it did so in an epic, tense and entertaining way. "Dr. No" really set the stage for spies on film, and I think the film set the standard for the franchise and for the sub-genre itself.

Another reason why Connery resonated with me the most is how well he portrayed Bond in those early years. When he takes on the job to go to Jamaica and find out what happened to Agent Strangeways, we believe that he means it. When Connery is seducing several women, which has become a lovable cliche in the series, we believe it. The audience believed every decision Connery made as Bond, which possibly helped Connery's popularity with the character. Joesph Wisemen as Dr. No is a powerful creation and a great first villain for the series. Dr. No is callous, malicious, and completely villainous. Wisemen's work is solid, and he's a great first villain.

Bond as a character has assimilated himself as an American popular culture icon. Many of the cliches and troupes that have become common in the franchise started with "Dr. No." The movie gave birth to one of our long-lasting franchises. I will be forever grateful for that.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

2013 Awards Circuit: Blue Jasmine Review

2013 Awards Circuit

Blue Jasmine Review
The 2013 Awards Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award running within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed in 2013. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.

I have always been a huge Woody Allen fan, and I don't think my love for his work will drought anytime soon. I think he's got a keen voice and an eye of a true artist. I don't like to get into the whole "Such-in-such is the greatest Woody Allen movie since..." fiasco. When a director and writer has been making one movie a year since the early 1970's, they are going to have a wide array of work. Plenty of examples of good and bad in their resume, plenty to experiment with and sample. When a director has been making movies that long, it makes that type of argument invalid. It also feels like it takes away from the experience as a whole.

"Blue Jasmine" is another joyous film that Mr. Allen can add to his filmography. But what surprised me most is how depressing it was, especially as the film concluded. This is definitely the saddest and most angry Woody Allen film in a very long time. Of course there are laughs in it, but those laughs are hard-boiled and are earned. I don't want what I am saying to sound negative, quite the opposite. Its been awhile since Allen has been this mature onscreen and it was welcoming on my part.

Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, who was married to Hal Francis (Alec Baldwin) who was a very talented investor. Jasmine lived the Hampton life, bathed in riches everyday. She is a woman who has lived the high life, even though she does not know entirely how her husband makes a living and what he does in his spare time. She decides to reach out to her less fortunate sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). But when she finds out that her husband has been cheating on her, she makes big decisions to make sure Hal pays for his past.

This leads her to loose that luxurious life she always wanted, and it forces her to move to San Francisco to start a new life with her sister. She has to go back to school, get a job to finance her classes, the whole bit. Not only that but she tries very hard to pry into her sister's personal life, even though she did not do the best job with hers. Blanchett and Hawkins do exceptional work as two dysfunctional sisters who still deeply love each other. Both actresses should be front and center for every award ceremony this year, easily some of the best acting Allen has ever caught on film. I love the way both actresses allow themselves to be completely de-glammed in this movie. For Blanchett in particular, there were plenty of moments in this film where I didn't even recognize her.

Not that Blanchett and Hawkins are alone. Baldwin does really great work as does Louis C.K. in his very small amount of screentime. I have to say that Bobby Cannavale easily steals the show for me as Ginger's deadbeat boyfriend. If anybody in this movie should become the next Woody Allen regular, its Bobby Cannavale. Out of all the performances in this film, its Cannavale who made me feel like I was watching a person, not a character. This is the highlight of his career so far, and I hope he only hits the ground running from this point. He is definitely becoming an actor to look for, if he wasn't at that caliber already.

Yes, this is a typical Woody Allen film, so all the women in are deeply troubled. Yes, there is plenty of cheating and divorce in it, just like every other movie Allen has made. Yet, even though Allen has used the same themes throughout his career, he still finds a way to make it all feel fresh. That's the best part of "Blue Jasmine," its freshness. For Allen-lovers, this will be pure bliss.


2014 Radar Project: Round 15

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day
Release Date: October 10th 2014
Every Monday through Friday, I drive 40 minutes to Mt. Prospect, IL and work as a lead teacher at a daycare. One of the stories I have on my teacher's shelf is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day. Its one of my very favorite stories to read, and the kids love it just as much as I do. The story is exactly what it sounds, a little boy named Alexander has a very bad day, all day long. It starts with him dropping his sweater into a sink of water, then moves to getting scrunched in the car pool to school. He gets told that he is the third best friend of his best friend, his teacher hounds him, his mother forgets dessert, he gets a cavity at the dentist, the shoes he wants at the shoe store are sold out. On top of everything, his family has lima beans for dinner and Alexander hates them. The entire story, Alexander wants to move to Australia, and the day doesn't go right at all. His mother reassures him that some days will be like that, even in Australia.

There will be a live action adaptation of the children's book due this October. The film will star Steve Carrell, Jennifer Garner and it will introduce Ed Oxenbould as Alexander. I am insanely curious to see how the movie will interpret the book. Much like with Spike Jonze with "Where The Wild Things Are," Alexander... isn't a very long book, and there isn't a real narrative holding it together. I will be very curious to see the first trailers for the film and see where the story on film takes us!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Release Date: April 4th, 2014
If you've been paying close attention to this blog, and if you know me well at all, then it should come as no surprise that I am discussing the sequel to "Captain America: The First Avenger" on a 2014 anticipation countdown. Everything about the first film in 2011 surprised me, everything. I was surprised by how adventurous the whole production looked, and I was surprised just how old-school it looked and how that style fit the movie well. Most of all, I shocked at how well Chris Evans did with the part. He was the only piece of casting I was dreading for several months prior to the first films release. Before 2011, Evans wasn't an actor I particularly looked for nor particularly liked. I thought Evans would be too comedic, I thought he'd be too tedium and I thought be a little overly-sexed. However, I ate my words badly in 2011. I feel the Captain America we saw onscreen is the closest Marvel has come to really translating a character from comics to screen. It felt like Steve Rogers left the comic world and entered the film world and that is due mainly to Chris Evans performance.

Now, the sequel is coming in a few months and it seems things are going to get dark. Through the darkness however, it seems the film will still inspire and be entertaining. I love that we are going to see the turmoil of the Winter Soldier onscreen. (For those of you who didn't read the comics, I am not giving anything away!) I can't wait to see what Marvel does with the story. There seem to be some political parallels to our current situation, there is a mysterious malice toward Robert Redford's character, there may even be a budding romance between the Captain and Black Widow. There are also some big rumors revolving around a couple characters from previous MCU fans that have got my curiosity in overdrive. Phase Two has been slow so far, but 2014 could kick this second major faction of films into gear!

The Green Inferno
Release Date: September 5th, 2014
In the 1980's there was an exploitation-horror film released called "Cannibal Holocaust." Does it ring a bell to anyone, I am sure that it doesn't. That's too bad, because it was one of the very first examples of the found-footage genre. It also has some of the most unsettling imagery in any movie ever, which makes the film hard to see, hard to find and hard to discuss. The film focused on a film crew who goes down to Brazil to shoot a documentary about The Amazon. The crew never returns but the college that funded the trip got the footage back, and watch in terror as their people were killed by the Amazon tribes that were down there. 

Eli Roth, who has made such films as "Cabin Fever," and "Hostel" directed "The Green Inferno," which was very much inspired by "Cannibal Holocaust" and other cannibal horror films that were like it. "The Green Inferno" taps into the same storyline. A group of activists go down to the Amazon to help tribes down there, when they crash into the jungle. The activists are soon taken hostage by the very people they wanted to help, and as I can imagine, things get very bad from there. Eli Roth is a modern-day exploitation master, and the buzz from the 2013 Toronto Film Festival has been strong on this film. Me being the horror fan that I am, I cannot wait to lay eyes on this HORROR-iffic masterpiece. The year 2014 could be another great year for horror, let's keep our fingers crossed for that notion to come true.

Reasonable Doubt Review

Reasonable Doubt Review
I totally meant to write this review last night. I had rented "Reasonable Doubt" this week, preparing to watch it and review it last night. It was a long day at work, and I got incredibly tired. I didn't want to miss a moment of it, so I went to bed and finished it today. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss a minute of the film, I love a good old fashion revenge flick. I know when I discussed this film's trailer several months ago, I disliked how the trailer seemingly gave away the entire movie. I was only half-right on that point, there is much to learn from the characters, which made the film a little bit better.

One major plot-point "Reasonable Doubt" gets very right is how it handles Samuel L. Jackson's Davis. He's not just some psycho who is killing just to kill. Davis' life has been terrible, he's experienced the worst tragedy anybody could fathom, something you would not bless on your worst enemy. We never see what happened, but through Jackson's performance, we definitely feel it. He's completely justified in his anger and his revenge, even though he doesn't go about it in the best way. "Reasonable Doubt" isn't black-and-white, Jackson is such a great, gray character and he was brought to life by the great Sam Jackson. I wish the rest of the film was just as great.

Okay, let's back up a bit. "Reasonable Doubt" focuses on a hotshot lawyer in Chicago named Mitch Brockden (Dominic Cooper). He's very good at what he does, holds a very impressive record. One night, after a night of celebration and a lot of drinking. He calls a cab to take home when he sees two men looking at his car. He gets them away, then decides to drive home despite being impaired for the task. He doesn't want his car stolen and if he drives drunk this one time, nothing bad will happen, right? Brockden is soon involved in a hit-and-run. He gets started, makes bad decisions to protect his reputation and leaves the victim. What Brockden didn't know was that someone was watching from afar, soaking in the entire ordeal.

Brockden meets Davis when Davis is brought in and charged with the hit-and-run instead of Brockden. Brockden knows what he's doing is wrong, but he can't bring himself to admit what he did. As Brockden looks closer into Davis' past, its clear Davis is not as innocent as he seems to be. As the case is dropped on Davis, Brockden secretly pursues Davis to see who Davis really is. Sadly what ensues is a lot of familiar "wrong place at the wrong time" cliches and big narrative and logic flaws. While the performances by Jackson and Cooper are both strong, they are let down by a silly script.

I can't stand it in movies like this when lawyers and police make dumb decisions. It takes me completely out of the movie. Why not a television show or movie about smart cops? Whats wrong with smart cops going after smart bad guys? Does Hollywood honestly think that the audience could not take that sort of thing seriously? I wondered why "Reasonable Doubt" went straight to VOD instead of getting a major release. This is an overblown "CSI" episode, nothing more. How silly does it get? How about a lawyer being able to subdue a policeman more than half his size in mere seconds? How about the villains warehouse being so close to his house and the lawyer figuring it out while he's in the villain's house looking for clues? Decisions with the storyline are made out of convenience not cleverness. It was that kind of storytelling that took me right out of the movie.

I am not sure what I was expecting from "Reasonable Doubt" but one thing is that I did not expect to have such a strong character in the midst of a typical script. Had the script been written in an intelligent manner, this really could have been something. But Jackson made this film, at the very least, watchable. The idea of Nick Fury going head-to-head with Howard Stark was a fun concept. But sadly, that is all "Reasonable Doubt" adds up to, good ideas and concepts that never come to fruition.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Big Bad Wolves Review

Big Bad Wolves Review
When one usually thinks of a big, bad wolf, they may expect a fairytale story. "Big Bad Wolves," the new  Israeli film I watched tonight, contains little girls in trouble, as well as evil men who could be considered "wolves," but the film is about as far from a fairytale as possible. This is a steep thriller of three men with particular agendas, who end up colliding with one another. I was captured by "Big Bad Wolves" pretty much from the beginning. The opening credits scene is truly unbelievable. Its a perfect combination of mood, music, camera-angles, setting and actors. The best part about it is, the film only got better as it went along. Its been quite awhile since a film grabbed me from its beginning, and I am glad this one did.

The opening credits shows us something truly terrible which happened to a little girl. Then we immediately meet Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), a detective for the Israeli Police Department. Seems Miki has a hunch that Eli (Guy Adler), a teacher at a school, is the man responsible for the brutal kidnapping and murder of the little girl in the opening credits. Eli doesn't talk though, so Miki uses tactics which a normal cop would not use, such tactics get Miki suspended from the Department. However, Miki's boss allows him to keep pursuing Eli as a lead. Miki gets Eli cornered and captured, and as Miki is getting ready to interrogate him, he is suddenly knocked unconscious with a shovel.

When Miki comes to, he is tied up with his mouth duct-taped shut by Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the father of the little girl who died. Gidi wants Eli to pay for what he did and allows Miki to be his accomplice during the "interrogation." We quickly learn that Gidi is a revenge-driven monster and will stop at nothing to get the answers he needs from Eli. The rest of the film is this huge stretch in Gidi secluded house, as he tries to find out where Eli has hidden the remains of his daughter.

"Big Bad Wolves" would have been a fairly decent stage play. Except for the first 20-30 minutes, the film takes place in one spot, though I don't know where something this bloody could be done onstage. What kind of thriller doesn't make you cringe, unless its not doing the job right? There are some deeply intense moments in "Big Bad Wolves" that I found nearly unbearable. The film is also undercut by some hard earned, dark humor that I found enticing. The movie is brought to astounding life by a great ensemble of actors, Ashkenazi, Adler, Grad create a twisted, disturbed, yet thrilling mystery that only gets better as it wears along. The film is full of twists and turns that I just did not see coming. Plus, there is style that is hard to beat in this day and age.

I understand that January is usually a crappy time of the year for movies. However, its also the time of year when cooler stuff from overseas finally reaches our shores. "Big Bad Wolves" was released in Israel in 2013, and now finally received major United States distribution this year. I can truly say that it was worth the effort to get this movie to play in my homeland, as it was an experience that will be hard forget. Even as the year pushes forward, this one is going to be caught in my craw for awhile, something I don't mind one bit.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

2014 Radar Project: Round 14

Jupiter Ascending
Release Date: July 18th, 2014
If there is any group of filmmakers who are constantly pushing the envelope in the sci/fi arena, its the Wachowski Brothers. Every time I sit down to watch the "The Matrix" trilogy, I sit back, awe-struck. I never knew that a movie which featured alternate realities, flying people, sad  futures, kung-fu, deadly robots, machine guns, and a boatload of philosophy could be so addicting and awesome, but the Wachowski brothers pulled it off. I am also quite fond of their adaptation of "V For Vendetta" and I am completely in love with "Cloud Atlas." I must also say that "Speed Racer" was a bit of a miscalculation, a fun miscalculation, but a miscalculation nonetheless.

These ambitious brothers are returning this summer with "Jupiter Ascending," and honestly, this will be one movie to NOT miss this summer. I feel like the Wachowski brothers are at their best when they are working with their own original ideas rather than a mere adaptation. The look of the film is a complete marvel, and I love the cast. Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean and Terry Gilliam looks like a perfect example of not the best casting, but the right casting. Big, poetic and mysterious, I can't wait for this!

"Nymphomaniac : Part One" will be released on March 21st, 2014
"Nymphomaniac: Part Two" will be released on April, 18th, 2014
Yes, you are reading this correctly. I have not gone crazy and my head and heart are both perfectly clear. This year, we will witness the two-part journey of a woman and her lifelong addiction to sex. It features a cast that includes Uma Thurman, Connie Nielsen, Christian Slater, Stellan Skarsgard, Willem Dafoe, Shia LaBeouf and Charlotte Gainsbourg. So how does a movie about epic nymphomania make my list of films to see in 2014?

Well, if there is a master of capturing adult subjects onscreen, its Lars Van Trier. When he gets an idea for a movie, he takes his vision all the way, handles it like an adult, though still completely relentless at the same time. In "Melancholia" he tackled end of the world with family anxiety, in "Antichrist" he tackled religion and misogyny, and in "Breaking The Waves" he tackled sexuality and faith. Uusally, those themes are rarely handled in a mature way, but Van Trier seems to handle his themes with ease. Along the way, Van Trier has been able to shock, debase, overwhelm and pierce his audience, but he has always left his audience entertained. I am sure "Nymphomaniac" will have some comedic moments, but the film will definitely not be a comedy. Van Trier will take this mature content and make something luminous, something bold, and something intelligent with it. Watch out, this will be something to look for.

Big Hero 6
Release Date: November 7th, 2014
The year 2014 will, yet again, be a huge year for Marvel. Starting this year, we are going to see Disney and Marvel start to become incredibly ambitious, breaking the barriers they have created. The year 2014 for them will be full of question marks. "Guardians of the Galaxy" will be the weirdest thing yet to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (more on that particular film later) and we should expect MCU to get weirder as we move into 2015. Also in 2014, we will get our first Disney/Marvel animated film, as well as the first Disney/Marvel film not connected to the MCU. I am talking, of course, about "Big Hero 6"

Information is pretty dismal so far for the film. You can find a couple beautiful images online, as well as some plot points for the film. The movie seems like it will be vaguely based on the Marvel superhero team of the same name. The animation is, no doubt, beautiful. I am also dying to see the Marvel characters being used in the Disney-ish setting. I can't wait to see how this one shakes out. First trailer soon, please!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 Radar Project: Round 13

The Expendables 3
Release Date: August 15th, 2014
When it comes to action franchises, its hard to go wrong with Slyvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis. Over the years, moreso than any other action star, this trio has proven its longevity. Stallone in particular has several memorable franchises under his belt, and its crazy that he created another popular one while being well in his 60's. Back in 2010, it was easy to look at "The Expendables" as a publicity stunt. A big homage film filled with old and rising action stars, but it was more successful than I imagined it would be and this franchise has been a ton of fun. How can you go wrong with an action franchise that has included, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lungren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Eric Roberts, Jean Claude Van-Damme, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Scott Adkins and Chuck Norris? The quick answer is that you can't, and this has definitely been the most interesting series of the 2010's so far.

I can't believe that we are moving into the third chapter. But part of the fun of this series has been the casting rumors and eventual complitions. Joining the Expendables family this year includes Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and the up-and-coming Kellan Lutz. The genius part is that Stallone also added in unsuspected, near-forgotten action guys, like Robert Davi, and seemingly random choices like Kelsey Grammar. I have had one hell of a kick-ass time with this franchise so far, its a great way to turn off the brain and turn on the mayhem. Sure, its a homage franchise, but these action stars have poured their souls into it, so its hard not to love it. I only hope that the series can keep expanding, and continue thrill and thrive.

22 Jump Street
Release Date: March 16th, 2014
"21 Jump Street" was one of 2012's biggest surprises, for me at least. It was the film that put Channing Tatum on my radar for good. It put Jonah Hill front in center in a way I don't think even "Superbad" utilized. It was also a near-perfect blend of comedy and action that was just what I needed. It was also a perfect film to set up for a sequel and I am glad they are going to go ahead and make one.

As alluded at the end of the first film, Tatum and Hill will go to college this year to bust drug dealers. Based on the trailer, it looks just as crazy and just as funny compared to the first film. This could become a capable and reliable comedic franchise and the jump-point is how well this sequel does. Let's hope it turns out great!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Release Date: May 23rd, 2014
Prequels are usually a wet basket for me. I feel they completely destroy anything resembling narrative. I always find that they are un-needed and utterly eliminate any sort of thrill and excitement. I had absolutely nothing but low expectations for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," when it came out in 2011. I went into the theater ready to dismiss it completely. As I watched the movie unfold, I was waiting to hate it. But I could not believe that I was enjoying it as much as I did. When it was over I declared it my favorite prequel of all time. Fox was able to create something exciting, emotional, potent and inspiring. It was also a film that embraced the "Apes" franchise has a whole, which was also a big plus.

Now I am absolutely rabid for this sequel, especially since we know Ceasar has been taking over the world little by little. I also love that the film has added Gary Oldman, Keri Russell and Jason Clarke to the mix. I hope this sequel can fire on the same cylinders as its predecessor, I hope this series can continually reinvigorate the franchise. I also hope that this is just a ton of fun.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2014 Radar Project: Round 12

Life After Beth
Release Date: Sundance Film Festival Right Now, wider release TBD
I know I have said this already, but I love that we are living in a time where even the most basic of ideas can still appear original. This indie comedy is premiering at Sundance in Park City, UT currently. The details on this one are scarce. But we know its got a great, young, comedic cast; which includes Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon. Its about zombies, so right there I am in. It may have something to do with a particular love story, but that is a mere guess. All I know is I love the content and I love the cast. I hope to get some positive word on this one in a few days. Hopefully, we will get our hands on it soon.

Release Date: May 30th, 2014
This movie is either going to be lots of fun, or a huge miscalculation. I have no idea which side of the coin this one will land on, but I can't help but be curious about it. I think its pretty clear that Angelina Jolie has her own personal style when it comes to her acting. I think when she aims that style at a particular target, she hits the bullseye everytime. If she misses the bullseye, its usually by far and its pretty embarrassing. With all this said, Maleficent may be that one character from our pop culture in which all of Jolie's strengths can really shine, that is what I hope for the most.

She's got a great cast surrounding her, which includes Elle Fanning and the magnificent Sharlto Copley. We already has a trailer which, at least has caught some attention. So I will give this one a try. Between all the Disney animated films, all the live-action recreations of their classic films and ABC's "Once Upon A Time," it seems Disney is really cashing out on their properties, and I am not sure yet just how good of an idea that is. I hope Jolie and everybody else involved can make us forget that hang-up and deliver something worthwhile.