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Friday, September 30, 2011

First Look: "I Melt With You"

Boys will be boys, right? Well, at least that's how the saying goes. We all knows what happens in Vegas stays there, but what happens when a couple of 40-something guys get together after years apart? According to the upcoming Mark Pellington-directed drama I Melt With You starring Jeremy Piven, Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe and Christian McKay, lots and lots of blow and apparently tearjerking confessions. From the trailer there looks like a massive development occurs between the fellas but we're not given much more information except a lot of random frantic expression shots. But it still looks intriguing, in an "I love melodramatic 80s dramas" kind of way. See for yourself. I Melt With You hits theaters in limited release December 9.

First Look: "Contraband"


Here's a fun-looking crime flick for you. Mark Wahlberg (who I have to always resist calling Marky Mark) stars as a security guard with a criminal past who receives a lucrative, albeit risky, offer he can't refuse in Contraband. The Oscar nominee teams with Giovanni Ribisi (almost unrecognizable as a thug in the trailer) and Kate Beckinsale (sans her Underworld fangs).

The trailer looks pretty standard, nothing too impressive and nothing too grotesque. What do you think? Contraband, which also stars Ben Foster, is set to hit theaters January 13, 2012.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First Look: "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

So this is another one of those films folks have been buzzing about for months, throwing around words like "Oscar worthy" and the like. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close teams Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock together in a post-9/11 drama about, well, 9/11. The pair play the parents of a nine-year-old boy (Thomas Horn) whose father is killed in the attacks. The mother and son struggle to move forward after his death. But the son, a precious little one, makes it his mission to run the streets of Manhattan looking for a mysterious key left behind by his father before he died. The trailer isn't all that enticing as one is led to believe. But at least we can hear a little U2 while we sleep-watch it (and yearn for more Viola Davis and John Goodman in it). Check it out for yourself. Hopefully we get to see something better soon. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close hits theaters January 20, 2012.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Early Review: "Pariah"

Rarely do we get to see a provocative coming-of-age story with an African-American lead. Less rarely do we get to see one where the lead is a lesbian black female. Although Pariah is both, it plays to neither.

Adepero Oduye plays the shy seventeen-year-old Brooklyn high school student Alike (pronounced Ah-lee-kay), who is on the verge. She's on the verge of graduating. She's on the verge of adulthood. And, she's on the verge of coming out. She's looking for love, the kind of love that seeped out of her parents' home years ago when their relationship began to crumble, the kind of unconditional love she wish her mother had for her, the kind of love she doesn't have to be ashamed about. But mostly she's looking for self-love.

Alike has one friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), an out lesbian who had a similar home life before her mother kicked her out of the house after she found out about her sexuality. Laura encourages Alike to come out her shell, but Alike realizes that, as far as personalities go, they're not very similar. Alike likes open mic night and house parties with underground music. Laura likes dance clubs and hip-hop.



When Alike meets the free-spirited Bina (Aasha Davis), she thinks she's finally found someone who gets her, someone with whom can really be herself. This moment becomes perhaps one of the most defining moments of her adolescence, a moment that opens the door to the rest of her life.

Writer/director Dee Rees tells a beautiful semi-autobiographical account of her own coming out experience as an intern on the set of Spike Lee's heist flick, Inside Man. She recalls scribbling notes about her soon-to-be film on the set to The Hollywood Reporter: "The script was, kind of, a catharsis to what I was going through." It became a short film in 2006 and this year a Toronto International Film Festival darling on the way to theaters on Christmas day.

Each actor in the movie brilliantly captures her story of love, happiness, forgiveness, and friendship. Oduye is so lovely as Alike. She plays her so sensitively and relatably. She makes Alike someone you root for, laugh with, and cry with. Oduye fully embraces her character warmly, something the character herself was seeking throughout the movie. Hopefully the academy will recognize both her and Dee Rees come awards season.

The usually hilarious Kim Wayans, who plays Alike's uptight church-going mother, is absolutely unrecognizable in the role. Gone are her witty banters and over-the-top performances. Save for one particular scene, her performance is threateningly quiet. But, really, every performance in the movie, including that of Walker, Davis, and Charles Parnell (who plays Alike's dad) is one to be savored. Each character is so real, like someone you may know, which makes Pariah a real comfort.

Pariah opens nationwide on December 25. In case you missed the trailer, you can check it out below:



Rating: A

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First Look: "Man on a Ledge"

Sam Worthington headlines a slight twist on the age-old heist movie in Man on a Ledge. In the movie, Worthington plays a framed cop who threatens to jump to his death to avoid wrongful punishment. But with a host of cops and onlookers crowding around the scene, he hopes to pull off the ultimate heist just when the city is at his mercy. The plot seems a bit stale but, hey, Kyra Sedgwick, Anthony Mackie and Ed Harris are in it so it can't be too bad. But then there is the wildly inconsistent Elizabeth Banks...You be the judge. Check out the trailer below. Man on a Ledge jumps to theaters January 13, 2012.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Look: "The Grey"

An oil drilling team crash lands in Alaska and must struggle to survive amidst below zero temperatures and threatening wolves in The Grey. But as long as our favorite action hero Liam Neeson is there, they should be okay. The Oscar nominee teams with Dermot Mulroney (whose name we've been hearing a lot lately) in what looks like a thriller/action flick. I''m guessing Neeson probably saves all surviving passengers (or at least ones that aren't eaten by the wolves). Clearly, Hollywood seems a bit obsessed with the whole trapped in a life and die situation under extreme circumstances type of story (127 Hours, Alive, etc.). But audiences seem to love it. Check out the trailer below. The Grey hits theaters January 27, 2012.

Monday, September 19, 2011

First Look: "J. Edgar"

Awards season may have officially kicked off with this debut of the eagerly-awaited J. Edgar Hover biopic, directed by Clint Eastwood. Leonardo DiCaprio steps into the shoes of the notorious first director of the FBI and title character. In this adaptation, Hoover's skeletons come climbing out of the closet, along with his relationship with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk) writes an enticingly dramatic movie, which also stars Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench (as Hoover's mother), Lea Thompson and Dermot Mulroney. J. Edgar hits theaters November 9.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Drive"


"What do you do?" "I drive."
Action movies almost always get dogged by critics, even the ones that are clearly in it for only the cool special effects and zippy one-liners. But, right out the gate, the Ryan Gosling-starring vehicle thriller had the usually sharp tongues wagging when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month. Although its trailer lacks the intrigue the film provides, Drive is a riveting watch.

Oscar nominee Gosling (Half Nelson, Blue Valentine) continues his impressive takeover of the big screen as a reticent mechanic who moonlights as movie stuntman for extremely dangerous car scenes. Besides having a knack for cars, he's also pretty good at smashing guys' heads into the floor as a wheelman. His usually low profile is put to the test when he gets a little too close to his even more reticent neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), whose husband is just a few days shy of being released from prison. "The Driver," as Gosling is referred to in the movie, gets wrapped up in a heist that goes awry with a few other shady characters, Shannon, Bernie, and Nino (Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, and Ron Perlman, respectively). When his back is to the wall, The Driver is left to only do what he does best--kill or be killed.

The description alone sounds like it has the makings for a C-movie starring Jason Statham. But what distinguishes Drive from a host of other similar movies is the top-notch acting (especially from Gosling), and the way the movie is shot. Even the movie takes place in present day, director Nicolas Winding Refn gives the movie an 80s feel by shooting with an almost faded lens, adding a rocking soundtrack and putting Gosling in a badass bomber jacket with a scorpion on the back.



Admittedly, the movie starts out a bit slow, and you have no idea where it's going to go. The Driver doesn't even speak for about the first twenty minutes of the movie, which really highlights how well Gosling can act even when he's not saying anything. He's actually fascinating to watch when he's just taking in the scene with small gestures and looks. But Mulligan, on the other hand, remains unfascinating onscreen. Although she's not a bad actress, she's not the most captivating to watch. And, without any dialogue, she's even more of a bore. Her expressions, unlike Gosling's, give away no specific emotion whatsoever, which makes you feel nothing for her character. This makes her scenes with Gosling slightly uncomfortable to watch.



But when the movie does finally pick up in the second half, it really gets going and becomes a cranium thrill ride. The events start to unfold rapidly as each character comes to light. Cranston continues to amaze audiences as he tackles a variety of characters, including the seedy film producer/mechanic, Shannon. Funnyman Brooks is also impressive as the menacing Bernie and Perlman rounds out the main cast as Bernie's right hand man, Nino. Although Drive isn't exactly reliant on heavy dialogue, its delicate and gradual character sketch of The Driver is very effective. The movie may not be for everyone, but few will be able to deny Gosling's remarkable grasp of the character and his amazing performance, which ranks as one of the best male performances of the year so far. Check it out.

Rating: B+

Friday, September 16, 2011

First Look: "Premium Rush"

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's really been flexing his newfound (and well deserved) "it" boy status, headlines next year's cinematic adrenaline rush, Premium Rush. He plays a bike messenger who picks up a mysterious envelope which winds up with him being the object of a dangerously wild chase by a dirty cop (Michael Shannon). The action flick also stars Dania Ramirez (who we last saw as Turtle's gal pal on Entourage) and Jamie Chung (who last played Phil's fiancee in Hangover II). Looks like it could be a fun flick. Check out the clip after the jump. Premium Rush heads to theaters January 13, 2012.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

First Look: "We Bought a Zoo"

Writer/director Cameron Crowe is generally a crowd-pleaser. He's one of the few writers who can add a really tasteful amount of vulnerability to male characters, while also uncovering their hidden strengths. From Jerry Maguire to Almost Famous and Say Anything, he usually impresses (aside from that dastardly Vanilla Sky...). But we digress..

Now the critically-acclaimed director seems to be going the Hallmark route with a "heartwarming" new trailer for We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church. Damon stars as a dad who just moved his family to the country and decides to renovate a zoo.

There doesn't seem to be much more to the plot, given the trailer below. But, Crowe being Crowe will probably have some life-altering moment from the lead male character to cause him to re-examine his life. Check out the clip below. We Bought a Zoo hits theaters in time for the family-friendly holiday crowd on December 23.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Contagion"

With an all-star cast filled with Oscar winners and nominees and other great performances, the hypochondriac thriller of the year, director Steven Soderbergh's Contagion manages to shake the feathers off germaphobes everywhere even when its premise is very familiar.

Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon star as the victims of medical examiners of a mysterious epidemic that has quickly claimed the lives of thousands of people across the world. With symptoms that range from nausea, to fevers and even seizures Soderbergh follows what happens when the world is at the mercy of something they both fear and puzzle over.

Paltrow plays one of the first victims whose international business trip results in her vicious death, which sparks the series of questions of what it is, where did it come from, and how do they get rid of it. Damon plays Paltrow's remarkably grief-stricken husband whose performances clutches at the heart strings. Fishburne plays Dr. Ellis Cheever a director at the Center for Disease Control who recruits Dr. Erin Mears (Winslet) to investigate and contain the disease. Cotillard is Leonora Orantes, sent in by the World Health Organization to do the same thing. While the health authorities hasten their studies and investigations, Soderbergh shows the fatal ripple effect of the disease rapidly spreading (through everything from doorknobs to glasses and hand shakes) and causes both a fury and panic in each citizen. Meanwhile Law's character, journalist Alan Krumwiede, cooks up even more of a mass hysteria in the crowd with his myriad of conspiracy theories and CDC accusations.



With all the various elements that swept the story along, it was hard to get attached to any one character. Damon's portrayal is quite impressive but disappears throughout much of the movie. His story adds more heart to an otherwise drab medical thriller heightened by, for the most part, well-written characters in a movie that bears very close resemblance to 1995's Outbreak. In addition, the movie doesn't seem to have much of an endpoint. However its middle act is quite impressive as it builds a sense of uneasiness and tension in the audience ( further emphasized by a ticking time count for each scene) with its taut execution of the drama that unfolds. Law's performance can also be seen as a stand-out as it really serves as a propeller for rash emotions that often go through the minds of those in a unknown crisis. Winslet and Cotillard's performances could have been more impressive if their characters were a little more fleshed out. You feel like there's something missing from each of their stories, even though they're so pivotal to the politics of what's going on. Fishburne's Cheever is an example of a good sketch of a character in the same position, as is Jennifer Ehle who plays the brilliant Dr. Ally Hextall from Cheever's office.



While Contagion succeeds in teasing (however not maintaining) those emotions in its audience, it fails to bring the story full circle. It's also lacking A bit of a mixed bag at times, its overall well developed character sketches and good performances will certainly keep the attention of moviegoers and no doubt increase DVD sales (as well as, perhaps, sales of Purell).

Rating: B+

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Midnight in Paris"

"That's what the present is. It's a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying."
Ask many critics and they'd tell you that they dropped out of the Woody Allen fan club several movies ago. Despite the negative buzz about his more recent flicks, few can deny his uncanny influence to cinema, providing a very distinguished perspective on charmingly neurotic characters that are precisely written. This can also be said about his most current movie (still in limited indie theaters), Midnight in Paris.

Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a Hollywood (semi)heavyweight-turned-quasi-novelist who is on a unsatisfying vacation in Paris with his fiance, Inez (Rachel McAdams), her snobby parents and her pretentious friends Paul and Carol. While he spends his days searching for inspiration for his book on the streets of Paris (partly to escape the scrutiny of Inez and her cohorts), Inez busies herself shopping, dancing, and dining. One particular night out gallivanting alone Gil finds more than just inspiration for his book; he finds its premise, by fantastically escaping into eras--including the Roaring '20s and the Renaissance period--where some of the greatest literary giants wrote their famous tomes. With a little help from such literary legends as Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and artistic geniuses like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Henri Matisse, Gil was not only able to find inspiration for his book but he also found a portal for him to relate with like-minded individuals.



In each episode, Gil falls further into this nostalgic world in which he approaches each new character he meets with gusto and charm. It's hard not to smile as he encounters his idols and becomes more and more inspired, even if it is by dream-like circumstance. You root for him, even though you know it's not real. It's real enough for him to be inspired, and that's all that matters. Besides, his real life is so dismal who can blame him for trying to find a means to escape it if it means coming back anew?

Midnight in Paris is an extremely imaginative and invigorating film to watch. Poetically written and directed by Allen, it's not without its signature Allen-esque neuroses and banter. McAdams' flippant and somewhat whimsical Inez is an interest contrast to Wilson's Gil. How Gil relates to both the past and present--including each character in each--is fascinating to watch. Wilson embraces Gil without losing his signature boyish, unassuming appeal he puts into most his characters.



Although each nostalgic character's time is quite fleeting--especially Adrien Brody's brief but entertaining appearance as Dalí--none of them are without unforgettable one-liners and enchanting stories. Kathy Bates' Gertrude Stein is a hilarious darling. Marion Cotillard is beautifully alluring as the layered and somewhat lost Adriana. And Alison Pill almost steals the show with her performance as the flighty yet charmingly brilliant Zelda Fitzgerald.

Allen does what few writer/directors can do--write a ensembles piece with one central character that doesn't cheat any character's story. You feel like you know and can appreciate each character as their stories' aren't skimpily written. Midnight in Parisis a very unselfish and lovely approach to inspiration, love, and the written word. A must watch.

Rating: A-

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In Theaters Tomorrow: "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975"

"My desire is to create a film that illuminates the remarkable people, society, activism, culture and styles that fuelled a change."- Göran Hugo Olsson - Filmmaker

Hitting theaters in New York tomorrow is The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, a quiet yet poignant indie film that takes a look at the civil rights movement as led by some of the most prominent figures of its time, while also giving a voice to some of our more modern heroes of the movement who reflect on the era. Featuring vintage interviews with icons of the era like Angela Davis--whose fascinating sound bytes breathe light into the captivating trailer you'll see below--and more recent interviews with modern legends like Erykah Badu and Melvin Van Peebles, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a remarkable time capsule of moving footage for younger moviegoers and those who lived through the movement, brought to you by director Göran Olsson and co-producer Danny Glover.





The official synopsis from the press release reads as follows:

At the end of the 1960’s, numerous Swedish journalists came to the US, drawn by stories of urban unrest and revolution. Filming for close to a decade, they gained access to many of the leaders of the Black Power movement – Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, and Eldridge Cleaver among them – capturing them in intimate moments and remarkably unguarded interviews. Thirty years later, this lush collection of 16mm film, peppered with footage of Black Panther activities and B-roll images of black America, was found languishing in the basement of Swedish Television. Director Göran Olsson and co-producer Danny Glover bring this mesmerizing footage to light and, integrating audio interviews with prominent African-American artists and activists who were influenced by the struggle – from Erykah Badu to Harry Belafonte – craft a dynamic chronicle of the birth and life of a movement.

Looks very powerful. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is in theaters in New York on Friday, September 9.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Colombiana"

"Never forget where you came from."
Zoe Saldana is quickly becoming the go-to pretty young action starlet in Hollywood. She's blazing a path that most recently both Michelle Rodriguez and Angelina have traveled before her. Always one to fully commit to a role, the Avatar star can take even a silly role and breathe so much heart and compassion into it. Her latest role, in the butt-kicking film Colombiana, puts her stage center where she belongs.

Saldana stars as Cataleya, a Colombian-born woman orphaned as a child when her parents are murdered in front of their own home by mobs. With only her father's chain necklace and a mysterious chip he gave her, Cataleya manages to narrowly escape the dangerous mob and flees to Chicago to live with her uncle and grandmother. With only revenge on her mind, Cataleya grows up to be a top-notch assassin working tirelessly to find and kill those who killed her parents.



After a fairly testosterone-filled summer with the fellas dominating the superhero action movies, Colombiana adds just the right amount of girl power the big screen needed. Saldana commands the screen with not only sex appeal but a truly heartfelt performance of a daughter in mourning. While the movie isn't without some unbelievable elements not absent to any film in its genre, it still manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. And how long has it been since we've seen a woman, especially an ethnic woman, helm a slick action thriller like this? Even if she does trigger a bomb in an apartment building wearing only her skivvies in one scene, Saldana still manages to does one of the things she does best--class it up.



We'd be remissed if we didn't mention the performances of some of the other actors in the movie, namely the criminally underrated Cliff Curtis (Training Day) and the always arresting Jordi Mollà (Blow). Curtis plays Cataleya's kindhearted, street-wise uncle whose vulnerable side only fuels his hardened exterior. Mollà portrays the ruthless Marco, one of Cataleya's targets, and never ceases to snatch the attention away from any other actor in his scene. It's about time both these actors have larger, more significant roles in other films. Unfortunately Michael Vartan as Cataleya's clueless man friend Danny, with his signature doe-eyed glazes, add nothing to the mix. He's starting to ride on this one expression in every role he plays. We still don't know what he's capable of as an actor, if anything.

Acclaimed writer Luc Besson (The Professional, Taken, The Fifth Element) co-writes another action-packed movie that even with a few outrageous moments is still a smart, sexy thriller with a good story that propels Saldana's star power. Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver, and Lucy Liu would be proud.

Rating: B+

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