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Friday, October 31, 2014

5 New Images from DUMB AND DUMBER TO Show That Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are Still Goofy as Ever

I'm not even going to write a snarky comment here because, as I previously noted, this is one of the most anticipated movies this season. So, I'll just say that DUMB AND DUMBER TO still looks as ridiculous as the title sounds, and leave it at that.

Here is a full synopsis of the Farrelly brothers film, the third (and hopefully final) film in the Dumb and Dumber franchise:

Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprise their signature roles as Lloyd and Harry in the sequel to the smash hit that took the physical comedy and kicked it in the nuts:Dumb and Dumber To. The original film's directors, Peter and Bobby Farrelly, take Lloyd and Harry on a road trip to find a child Harry never knew he had and the responsibility neither should ever, ever be given.

OMG, one now has a kid. Gawd help us all.

Check out a few new images below.

I'm sure this foolishness will be at or near the top of the box office. Universal Pictures will release DUMB AND DUMBER TO on November 14th.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Color Me Intrigued: Watch the Trailer for Sci-Fi Thriller EX MACHINA

If you go by all the science fiction/romance films we've been getting lately, you'd think that in the future we will all be romantically paired up with a robot, with whom we will live happily ever after. Or at least until they're batteries die.

That's the kind of strange but electrifying vibe I'm getting from the teaser trailer for EX MACHINA, the science fiction thriller I told you about yesterday. It looks like an intriguing mix between Oblivion and Her, which means it could be really good or really disastrous but pretty to look at. With the tag line "To erase the line between man and machine is to obscure the line between men and gods," it could really go either way.

Watch the trailer:

EX MACHINA is in theaters April 10, 2015

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What In Gawd's Name Is This SERENA Trailer About?

No, really. I need to understand. I know at this point we're just supposed to think that anything Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence do together is the cat's pajamas, but this SERENA trailer, though? I just...what is even going on in this movie?? I see that Lawrence is playing another vixen-type character paired with a much older man (Cooper, for the third time) back in another era, and..she may or may not have killed save their marriage? All I know is by the end of the two-minute clip the couple looks like they've Romeo and Juliet'ed each other. I mean....?

Guess you just had to be there. Maybe the synopsis will help?

North Carolina mountains at the end of the 1920s – George (Bradley Cooper) and Serena Pemberton (Jennifer Lawrence), love-struck newly-weds, begin to build a timber empire. Serena soon proves herself to be equal to any man: overseeing loggers, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving a man’s life in the wilderness. With power and influence now in their hands, the Pembertons refuse to let anyone stand in the way of their inflated love and ambitions. However, once Serena discovers George’s hidden past and faces an unchangeable fate of her own, the Pemberton’s passionate marriage begins to unravel leading toward a dramatic reckoning.

Not...really. Except now we know that this Serena character was a feminist before her time, and can apparently be just as conniving as any man. Win?

Gawd, I hope the movie is better than how it looks. Susanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire) directed the film (which could be its saving grace) from Christopher Kyle's (Alexander) screenplay adapted from the original novel by Ron Rash. Rhys Ifans also stars in the film.

Magnolia Pictures will release SERENA on iTunes / VOD February 26, 2015 and in theaters March 27, 2015.

28 DAYS LATER Writer To Make His Directorial Debut with a Sci-Fi Thriller Starring Oscar Isaac

I'm so glad that everyone is finally on the Oscar Isaac train. I admit, I didn't officially start to take notice of him until he cradled a cat for 100 minutes starred in Inside Llewyn Davis, but he's always been an actor who delivered solid performances in that film about that guy. Not really a standout, but you're intrigued enough to keep one eye on him. He may finally be on his way to that coveted A-list status with an interesting new role that, like most roles, could go really well or really badly.

A24, the studio that brought us Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson earlier this year, has just announced that they have acquired the rights to 28 Days Later... and Never Let Me Go writer Alex Garland's directorial debut, EX MACHINA. Described as a cerebral thriller, the film will star Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander (soon to be seen in The Man from U.N.C.L.E remake).

More about the project after the jump:

Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, makes his directorial debut with the stylish and cerebral thriller, EX MACHINA. Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant, wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company's brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test—charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a breathtaking A.I. whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated, seductive––and more deceptive––than the two men could have imagined.

Goodness knows we've been getting a lot of these sci-fi thrillers lately, though I think Garland is really good at approaching the genre in a fresh and genuinely interesting way that is more than just big explosions and bleak apocalyptic undertones. So we'll just have to wait and see how this one will end up. I'm not familiar with Vikander's work, and while I know Gleeson has landed on a few people's "stars to watch" lists, I can't say I've been too impressed with what I've seen from him. So it's really all about Isaac and Garland for me. As for now, I'm intrigued. 

What do you think? Check back back on the site Thursday for a teaser trailer.

EX MACHINA will be released April 10, 2015. 

We Need To Talk About What's Going On With Djimon Hounsou's Career

Remember that one time when Djimon Hounsou was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in In America, or that other time he was nominated for an Oscar for Blood Diamond? Have you seen that actor lately? Because I haven't. And that saddens me because I truly believe that he had such promise, such talent. He could have been a contender. Hell, he was a contender. Twice. He even held his own alongside Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator. Like a boss.

But since his Oscar runs back in 2004 and 2007, Hounsou has kinda...fallen off. Sure, he's been working consistently (including roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Baggage Claim) since he first burst onto the screen more than twenty years ago. He's even got eight other films on his slate within the next year, which could very well push him back onto the A-list. But I feel he's lost the Hollywood clout he once had. Which brings me to yesterday's announcement that he has joined the cast of Paramount Pictures' SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME. Yes, this is the actual title of the film. It's based off the nonfiction bestselling book by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent. Judging by the synopsis below, it sounds like an inspirational drama and also stars Gregg Kinnear, Jon Voight and Renee Zellweger.

This brings me to my next question: How did Hounsou get wrapped up in an inspirational drama with Zellweger and Kinnear, who also haven't had a great movie in a LONG time? (I purposely left out Voight, who's doing great work on Ray Donovan, but I'm looking at him too). I weep.

Read the film's description:

“SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME” is the story of an international art dealer Ron Hall (Kinnear) who must befriend a dangerous homeless man (Hounsou) in order to save his struggling marriage to his wife (Zellweger), a woman whose dreams will lead all three of them on the most remarkable journey of their lives. Voight plays Hall's father, with whom he reconciles thanks to the revelations of his new life.

Vincent is also the author of Heaven is For Real, which I think some people liked. So maybe this will attract a similar audience. But for right now, this is a bit of a head scratcher to me. I will likely see it because I do respect the cast, but I just really want Hounsou to get back on top again. You know? Can this really be the project to propel him back into the big leagues again? I don't know. 

Director Michael Carney will make his first full-length feature debut with this film, which he co-wrote with Alexander Foard and Ron Hall. Principal photography began October 27th in Jackson, Mississippi.

Check back here for updates.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In Other Horror-Related News, THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT Will bein 3-D

Wait, am I the only one who wants to type Detergent every time instead of Divergent? Yes? Oh...ok.

Anyway. fans of the Divergent series will be happy to learn that the next installment in the series, Insurgent, will be in 3-D. The rest of us, however, are cringing at the mere thought that this sequel will could be three dimensionally far more awful than the first film. Oh, the horror.

Clearly, it's become an unspoken rule that most every YA adaptation has to be in 3-D now. But am I the only one worried about how wooden Shailene Woodley's acting (and everyone else's in the cast, for that matter) will be in bold 3-D? It just...hurts my head. But, you know, maybe the first film was a rough start and THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT will be when it really gets good. Maybe.

Here's a little more about what to expect next in the series:

The Divergent Series: Insurgent raises the stakes for Tris as she searches for allies and answers in the ruins of a futuristic Chicago. Tris (Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are now fugitives on the run, hunted by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite. Racing against time, they must find out what Tris’s family sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. Haunted by her past choices but desperate to protect the ones she loves, Tris, with Four at her side, faces one impossible challenge after another as they unlock the truth about the past and ultimately the future of their world.

I will say this about the franchise: it's introduced me to the beautiful Theo James, so that's something. Also, as I reported previously on the site, Octavia Spencer has joined the cast as the leader of the Amity faction, which is also a good look. I haven't read the book, so I'm curious how large her role is. And, to that point, whether Maggie Q's lab role will expand in the new film as well (she is so much better than a fleeting cameo). The rest of the cast remains the same (Jai Courtney, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q and Mekhi Phifer).

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT hits theaters March 20, 2015. 

Feast Your Eyes on the Trailer for the First Iranian Vampire Western

Could this be the beginning of a new wave of vampire westerns? I haven't seen a whole lot myself, but I remember the genre became a thing years back and has since faded from the forefront. But if they are staging a comeback, can they all look like writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour's full-length narrative debut, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT? The film is not only breaking barriers as the first of its kind by an Iranian-American filmmaker, but its trailer makes it look like something ripped out of Robert Rodriguez's handbook of cult horrors -- with a seductive feminine twist. Which means it could be ridiculously awesome or simply ridiculous.

Either way, the trailer has won me over. It's apparently already garnered other fans as Amipour was nominated just last week for a 2014 Gotham Independent Film Award in the Breakthrough Director category. The film also earned raves at this year's Sundance Film Festival. (It probably also helps that Elijah Wood is one of the executive producers on the project). Here's more about it:

Strange things are afoot in Bad City. The Iranian ghost town, home to prostitutes, junkies, pimps and other sordid souls, is a bastion of depravity and hopelessness where a lonely vampire stalks its most unsavory inhabitants.

Cinema's first Iranian vampire western, Ana Lily Amirpour's debut feature basks in the sheer pleasure of pulp. A joyful mash-up of genre, archetype, and iconography, its prolific influences span spaghetti westerns, graphic novels, horror films, and the Iranian New Wave. Amped by a mix of Iranian rock, techno, and Morricone-inspired riffs, its airy, anamorphic, black-and-white aesthetic and artfully drawn-out scenes combine the simmering tension of Sergio Leone with the weird surrealism of David Lynch.

LOL. I love that the story is set in a town called "Bad City," where things are "afoot." Seriously, sign me up for whatever craziness is happening right here. It looks so campy yet stylish, and I need to watch it right this instant. Plus, you've gotta love that this is helmed by and stars two Iranian-American talents (You may recognize the film's star, Sheila Vand, from her work in Argo two years ago. She'll also be seen next in the upcoming NBC show, State of Affairs, starring Alfre Woodard and Katherine Heigl). 

Watch the trailer:

U.S. Distributor Kino Lorber will release A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT in New York and Los Angeles on November 21st, with national expansion to follow. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

How Many of These Indie Horror Films Have You Seen?

As per tradition, this month I've been really binging on horror films -- revisiting some of my favorites, some classics, and others I've never seen before (by the way, Netflix has a pretty gnarly collection recently added that I'd encourage you to check out).

So, needless to say, I'm always looking for recommendations. Which is why I was happy to receive an email from (a streaming service for indie films), that introduced me to 8 films I've never heard of, plus one I've been meaning to watch for some time (A Tale of Two Sisters). In case any of you are also looking to marathon a few horror movies this Halloween, I thought I'd share the list. Check it out:

Director: Gerardo de Leon
Screenwriter: Cesar Amigo
Cast: Ronald Remy, Amalia Fuentes, Eddie Fernandez
Plot: The monstrous vampire Marco is determined to raise his beloved Katrina from the dead. But in order to do so, he needs to transplant the heart of her living sister, Charito, the sweetest, loveliest girl in the village. Unleashing his murderous giant bat and his evil minions, Marco spreads terror and death through the community as he attempts to abduct the innocent girl. But a priest, a detective, and Charito's friends risk their lives in a desperate attempt to save her from Marco's hideous surgery.

Director: Harry Kümel
Screenwriter: Pierre Druot, Harry Kümel
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet
Plot: International screen icon Delphine Seyrig stars as Elizabeth Bathory, an ageless Countess with a beautiful young 'companion' and a legendary legacy of perversion. But when the two women seduce a troubled newlywed couple, they unleash a frenzy of sudden violence and depraved desire.

Director: Arthur Crabtree
Screenwriter: Herman Cohen, Aben Kandel
Cast: Michael Gough, June Cunningham, Graham Curnow
Plot: London is fear-struck and Scotland Yard is baffled by a series of strange murders plaguing the city. Through his stories of the atrocities, crime journalist Edmond Bancroft (Michael Gough) comes to his own conclusions while clues of the crimes continue to elude the police. This is because Edmond is actually behind these horrible crimes in order to create material for his writing. Along with his assistant Rick (Graham Curnow), Edmond runs a private "Black Museum" filled with the very murder and torture devices used in the creation of these horrific stories.

INFERNO (1980)
Director: Dario Argento
Screenwriter: Dario Argento
Cast: Leigh McCloskey, Irene Miracle, Eleanora Giorgi
Plot: A young woman stumbles upon a mysterious diary that reveals the secrets of the "Three Mothers" and unleashes a nightmare world of demonic evil. As the unstoppable horror spreads from Rome to New York City, this unholy trinity must be stopped before the world is submerged in the blood of the innocent. Written and directed by Dario Argento, INFERNO is the second chapter of the "Three Mothers" trilogy begun with the classic SUSPIRIA.

Director: Harold Daniels, Jerry Warren
Screenwriter: Lora Crozetti, Richard Mahoney
Cast: Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Andrea King
Plot: Warlock Belial Desard (Lon Chaney Jr.) and his brother Andre (John Carradine) battle for dominion over the creepy House of Desard. HOUSE OF THE BLACK DEATH is a result of one group of hack filmmakers making half a movie and a different group of hacks unsuccessfully attempting to finish the job. 

ZOMBIE (1979)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenwriter: Elisa Briganti
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson
Plot: In Italy, it was considered the 'unofficial sequel' to DAWN OF THE DEAD. In England, it was known as ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS and banned as obscene. In America, it was called ZOMBIE and advertised with the depraved tag line, "We are going to eat you!" Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Al Cliver and Richard Johnson star in this worldwide splatter sensation directed by 'Maestro of Gore' Lucio Fulci that is described as one of the most eye-skewering, skin-ripping, gore-gushingly graphic horror hits of all time.

Director: Kim Jee-Woon
Screenwriter: Kim Jee-Woon
Cast: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim
Plot: Su-mi and Su-yeon return home after an extended hospital stay. Things have not been the same since their mother passed away. Their return is welcomed by their stepmother Eun-joo. Su-mi, the older and stronger of the two, isn’t afraid to speak her mind, while Su-yeon is more timid and wary of their stepmother and looks to Su-mi for help. Continually picked on and harassed by their stepmother, the two have no choice but to endure the relationship for their father’s sake. Su-mi promises Su-yeon that she will never let their stepmother beat them again. Unexplainable things start to occur at the house. Could it be their stepmother trying to torment them, or is a more sinister supernatural force at work?

Director: Pete Walker
Screenwriter: David McGillivray
Cast: Rupert Davies, Sheila Keith, Deborah Fairfax
Plot: Sheila Keith stars as a former patient of a mental institution who has settled down in a remote farmhouse, where she tells fortunes in her spare time. But the kind, maternal exterior conceals a dreadful monster, which the asylum, it seems, was unable to cure.

TOAD ROAD (2012)
Director: Jason Banker
Screenwriter: Jason Banker
Cast: James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Whitleigh Higuera
Plot: TOAD ROAD, presented by Elijah Wood and his SpectreVision production company, unfolds like a hallucinatory cross between the sexual candor of Larry Clark and Harmony Korine and the backwoods creep-out of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Young James kills time with his small town druggie friends, engaging in excessive chemical intake, until he meets sweet new arrival Sara. But just as James wants to abandon the narcotics life, Sara wants him to take her further into mind-altering experimentation and she also wants him to introduce her to the sinister local legend of Toad Road, a spot deep in the forest that is apparently home to the Seven Gates of Hell. 

As you can see, the list is pretty diverse -- from absolutely absurd to really intriguing. Which ones will you check out, and which others have you already seen and have an opinion on?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Vin Diesel Will Play a Witch Hunter in an Upcoming Film

I...don't even really know what to make of this, so I'm just going to let you guys have at it. I've just learned that Vin Diesel and Elijah Wood have teamed up for a new project that's currently filming in which the former will play an immortal witch hunter. Simply titled THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, the film is being directed by Breck Eisner, who brought us the 2010 remake of The Crazies (which is still hard for me to get through to this day).

Honestly, this movie sounds like a mix between The Chronicles of Riddick and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so... take from that what you will (I'm still trying to figure it out myself). There's not much other information available yet, including what role Wood will play, but Michael Caine is also among the cast. Oscar nominee Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club) and Cory Goodman (Priest) collaborated on the screenplay -- which should be interesting to say the least.

Here's the synopsis:

From Summit Entertainment. Tormented by the loss of his family and cursed with immortal life, the last witch hunter (Vin Diesel) is all that stands between humanity and the combined forces of the most horrifying witches in history.

It's being described as an action/fantasy, but it sounds like it's also got some horror elements. Plus, it's coming to theaters right around Halloween next year. What do you think so far?

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER will open in wide release on October 23, 2015.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Horror Trailer Thursday: The Deadly Wolves and Haunted Houses Edition

Yesterday I told you about director Adrian Garcia Bogliano's (Here Comes the Devil) grizzly new horror film, LATE PHASES. And today we get a look at the trailer, which is as dark and weird as it sounds. What I am just learning is that Nick Damici's character of a war veteran father is actually blind -- and still clearly badass. In the clip we see him give these no good wolves a run for their money with nothing but a rusty shot gun. Check it out over on Entertainment Weekly, and let me know what you think.

Also, today brings us the trailer premiere of the eagerly awaited, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (which I prepared you for yesterday here). It looks like this prequel will introduce us to a whole new set of freaky-looking ghosts gearing up to terrorize a recently crippled teen (Stefanie Scott) and undoubtedly her dad played by Dermot Mulroney. Meanwhile, trusted psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) is there to presumably exorcise their house. Obviously we know that Elise will survive this horror (since she's in the two previous movies, whose stories follow this one), but who knows whether Scott or Mulroney's characters will make it out of this alive. Or whether Elise may have more in common with these spirits than we realized, which would be an interesting twist.

Watch the trailer for INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 below:

LATE PHASES is in theaters November 21st, and INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 opens May 29, 2015. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Body Is Ready for INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3

Well, if this isn't the eeriest looking poster I've seen in a while... But will INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 actually be scarier than the first two films? Truth be told, I didn't think the first two were particularly scary as much as they were just creepy and weird. But haunted houses in general freak me out, and it's clear that this home has harvested a number of secrets that may finally come boiling to the surface in this new film -- which is actually a prequel to the series.

So, this installment will tell the story of what happened before Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson's characters took residence, and before their son got sucked into the wall. Dermot Mulroney is now a part of the cast. Here's more about the film:

The newest chapter in the terrifying horror series is written and directed by franchise co-creator Leigh Whannell. This chilling prequel, set before the haunting of the Lambert family, reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl (Stefanie Scott) who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity.

I actually kinda like the idea of focusing on the psychic rather than the victim family this time. 

Watch the teaser clip below, and check Facebook tomorrow at 9am PST for a longer trailer. 

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 opens in theaters May 29, 2015. 

The Director of HERE COMES THE DEVIL Returns With a Grizzly New Horror

I have to say, I'm not one for a whole lot of horror films with wolves (my favorite is still probably watching Jack Nicholson and James Spader face off in the the sorta-comedy, Wolf), but I am here for Adrian Garcia Bogliano, who directed the criminally underrated Here Comes the Devil two years ago. So I am really hyped to see LATE PHASES, his new film about a strange little town plagued by a series of deadly animal attacks. Plus, it stars Nick Damici (most recently seen in the not-so-great Cold in July and the awesome We Are What We Are) and Ethan Embry (who I'll always remember as Mr Papagiorgio in Vegas Vacation) -- which could provide an interesting mix of comedy and heavy suspense.

Here's a little more about the film:

Crescent Bay is not the ideal place to spend one's golden years, especially since the once-idyllic retirement community has been beset by a series of deadly animal attacks from the ominous forest surrounding it. When grizzled war veteran Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici) is forced into moving there by his yuppie son Will (Ethan Embry), the residents immediately take offense to Ambrose's abrasive personality. But that take-no-prisoners attitude may be just what Ambrose needs to survive as it becomes clear that the attacks are being caused by creatures that are neither animal nor man, and that the tight-knit community of Crescent Bay is hiding something truly sinister in its midst...

LATE PHASES opens in select theaters November 21st.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

OMG! Grace Jones Has a Song on THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 Soundtrack

I was just scanning my inbox and came across this really cool nugget of information that not only has Lorde curated the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (which I first told you about here), but my own personal slay queen, Grace Jones, is featured on the track list as well -- which was just released today. I believe that in a past life, Grace and I were real BFFs, so this is HUGE news for me.

In case you're interested in who else have contributed tunes (though I would have been perfectly content with a soundtrack consisting only of Lorde and Grace Jones songs), you can check out the full track list below:

1. Meltdown - Stromae ft. Lorde, Pusha T, Q-Tip & Haim
2. Dead Air - CHVRCHES
3. Scream My Name - Tove Lo
4. Kingdom - Charli XCX ft. Simon Le Bon
6. Lost Souls - Raury
7. Yellow Flicker Beat - Lorde
8. The Leap - Tinashe
9. Plan The Escape (Son Lux Cover) - Bat For Lashes
10. Original Beast - Grace Jones
11. Flicker (Kanye West Rework) - Lorde
12. Animal - XOV
13. This Is Not A Game - The Chemical Brothers ft. Miguel
14. Ladder Song - Lorde

I'm kinda curious about what track will fill that mysterious 5th slot on this already diverse list. Guess only time will tell. 

The digital pre-order went live on iTunes today, and the album will be available in stores and on all online partners beginning November 17. Those who purchase the pre-order will receive instant downloads of Lorde's recently release first single, "Yellow Flicker Beat" and The Chemical Brothers' "This Is Not A Game" [featuring Miguel].

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 hits theaters November 21st.

I Saw V/H/S: VIRAL So You Don't Have To

I really want to believe that anthology horror on the big screen can be revived, but let's be clear on one thing: the V/H/S series is not the answer. Seriously, all this franchise has done is cheapen the genre. It's like the filmmakers gather every single horror film cliche, and stuff it into this collection of uninteresting, empty short films that serve no purpose but to gross you out. The stories are unimportant (or, nonexistent), the production value is at negative 9, and you always come away from it wondering why you put yourself through such torture. Or maybe that's just me.

V/H/S: VIRAL is no different. It's actually so indistinguishable that after watching the second installment of the series, V/H/S/2, right beforehand, I honestly couldn't even tell one from the other. What frustrates me the most is that VIRAL has an actually good idea that draws on the millenial obsession with the online celebrity -- the idea that young people today are fascinated by anything popular that's online (if you need proof of this, check the latest videos on YouTube). So setting this as a backdrop to a horror premise should work, or at least keep you engaged for the full hour and a half. But it doesn't. In fact, my eyes probably started rolling to the back of my head after the first 20 minutes. It's that awful.

So here's the connecting story (the word "story" being used loosely here): a young man and his girlfriend are messing around with a video camera when the guy goes outside and witnesses what looks like the end of days. He sees a cop get run over by a truck, which sets off a series of strange, unfortunate and gory events from there. Unable to reach his girlfriend, who for some reason is in a haze across the street, he gets on his bike and tries quickly to pedal to refuge in between dodging corpses lying in the middle of the street and zombies out to get him. The end.

Just kidding, but no that's really the gist of that main storyline, which is kind of ridiculous since the film returns to this scene of chaos every twenty minutes or so with no satisfying conclusion. Meanwhile, we're treated to several other short films -- including a man trapped in a hellish bizarro world and a zombie outbreak at a family barbecue -- that fail to cohesively connect to the theme of viral obsession. So, what's the point?

Well, to scare the wits out of you, obviously. But does it do that? Not...really. I was mostly waiting for it to end. Maybe because I've seen so many other (better) horror films that the whole watching blood gush from a severed stomach thing doesn't really do much for me anymore. I need a foundation story, a reason to understand and possibly root for any of these characters. Instead, I got this super lame collection of blah. Ugh.

Rating: F+ (* out of *****)

V/H/S: VIRAL will be available on iTunes/On Demand October 23rd and in theaters November 21st.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why Gangster Film REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS is So Relevant Right Now

Police brutality and racial prejudice has once again become the topic of discussion in the U.S. recently with the controversial stop and frisk practices in New York often targeting Blacks and Latinos, as well as the horrific aftermath of the shooting of an unarmed Black teen by a White cop in Ferguson, Missouri -- which sparked a national discussion on Twitter and beyond. But in our ongoing conversation about these serious events, we often neglect to discuss how other marginalized races in America have been affected by police injustice.

Which is what makes a film like REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS so relevant right now. It goes beyond the story of the rise of the prominent Chinese gang in New York City 1980s by exposing how a virtual war was brewing right underneath the noses of the NYPD without so much of an acknowledgement. The notion is--and the gang is very savvy about this--as long as the crimes only involved other Asian gangs or victims, police won't pay them any mind. In short, murder became legal as long as it was acted against their own kind.

It's a bold statement which still reflects today's society, sadly. Directors Wai-keung Lau (Infernal Affairs) and Andrew Loo take on the enormous task of not only bringing to light a buried truth in this country but also illuminating this story through the eyes of a generally unknown cast--in a way that resonates and rises up to the level of classic modern gangster films.

While executive producer Martin Scorsese's (who remade Infernal Affairs with The Departed) influence is sure to be found in pockets of the film (especially when it the tone shifts between hyper violence and petty romance), Lau and Loo (the latter who co-wrote the film with Michael Di Jiacomo) definitely have a heavy hand when it comes to the execution of each scene and the persistent slow-motion shots.

What also stands out in the film is, of course, the riveting story that follows Sonny (Justin Chon) from the meek adopted son of a Chinese restaurant worker to becoming one of the biggest threats in the gang. Coincidentally, we only see him actually kill someone once, as a child in the initiation stage who's brought in to finish a guy who originally pegged as his friend's target. While the two, childhood friends and brothers in the truest sense, rise up the ranks of the gang it is Sonny who sees beyond the crew while his friend Steven (Kevin Wu) sees his alliance with the gang as an inevitable means to an end--one which fills him with as much power as dread. With a feeble romance between Sonny and Tina (Shuya Chang) waiting in the wings, the friends must contend with dangerous head honcho Paul Wong (Harry Shum Jr.), irresponsible law enforcement led by Ray Liotta's Detective Bloom, and their own fates.

Chon and Wu, with Shum, hold their own on screen as the main characters in the film, but Eugenia Yuan as a fierce puppet master commands each of the few scenes she's in with even just a rise of an eyebrow. With a ending you'll never see coming, REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS is a solid crime drama that presents an alternative to the typical American gangster film often about a white man wreaking havoc. Lau and Loo are forces to be reckoned with. Your move, Scorsese.

Rating: A- (**** out of *****)

REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS is in theaters October 24th. Watch the trailer here,

Friday, October 17, 2014

Watch the Official Trailer for EXTRATERRESTRIAL, the New Horror Film from the Vicious Brothers

I won't rehash my review of EXTRATERRESTRIAL in this post, mainly because this is the type of film that will likely defy critical opinion (but if you're curious, you can read it here). Since the Vicious Brothers' (Grave Encounters) new alien horror film is on VOD today, you may be interested to check out the official trailer. First, here's a little background info on the movie in the following synopsis:

From The Vicious Brothers, the creators of Grave Encounters comes a different kind of encounter, one of 'EXTRATERRESTRIAL' origin. Still reeling from her parents’ divorce, April (Daytime Emmy winner, Brittany Allen) is dragged back to the vacation cabin she spent fond summers at as a child accompanied by a group of friends. Her trip down memory lane takes a dramatic and terrifying turn when a fireball descends from the sky and explodes in the nearby woods. Lead by her boyfriend, played by Freddie Stroma (Harry Potter & The Half Blooded Prince, Pitch Perfect), the group venture out toward the crash site and discover the remnants of a ship from another planet along with footprints that suggest its alien occupants are still alive. The college friends soon find themselves caught in the middle of something bigger and more terrifying than anything they could ever imagine.

Watch the clip:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Trailer for TOP FIVE Isn't What I Was Expecting

So, when I first wrote about Chris Rock's TOP FIVE, I kinda thought that it would be, you know, good. I mean, it's really hard to tell what a film will be based on its trailer, so I'm going to try to take this one with a grain of salt. But, in my head, I had souped up the film to be witty and smart -- indicative of most of Rock's comedy. Or maybe that's just too high of an expectation.

It could be that the trailer reflects what you may already consider Rock to be, a successful comedian who's kinda stuck in a mid-career crisis, and not a more fresh comedy approach concept (or even something that moves away from both those things and builds off the tone of 2 Days in New York). In any case, it doesn't look bad, just...unexpected. Plus, it's filled with tons of star power like Kevin Hart and J.B. Smoove (both from BET's Real Husbands of Hollywood), Whoopi Goldberg, Cedric the Entertainer, Gabrielle Union and Rosario Dawson. So that's gotta amount to something. It actually kinda reminds me of Adam Sandler's Funny People, which I really liked (I know I'm in the minority with that).

Watch the trailer and let me know what you think:

TOP FIVE is in select theaters starting Dec. 5 and nationwide Dec. 12th

Review: BIRDMAN is a Meta Tale of Superheroes and Other Narcissists

It's interesting to me that in a film poised to revitalize the career of its star Michael Keaton, it is supporting actor Edward Norton who I can't seem to get out of my head. It's not because Keaton isn't spectacular in BIRDMAN (for the record, I've always known him as The Great Michael Keaton), it's that his character -- an old school superhero superstar-turned-flailing Broadway novice -- is so self-important, wallows in his own moroseness, desperately trying to rekindle his flamed-out celebrity status, such, you know, an actor that he just sorta drains all the energy out of the room. But Norton's character is the trendier version of him -- nihilistic, ubiquitous, self-indulgent but relevant and oddly entertaining. Keaton's character? He just crawls under your skin and stays there.

This idea of generational celebrity shift as it pertains to one actor in competition with his former self or with another actor is the pulse of Keaton's performance and, in a sense, Norton's as well. Keaton plays Riggan, a washed up actor in the middle of probably his fourth or fifth career reinvention as the new Broadway star, director and writer (of course) of the upcoming show, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (which is really just a story about Riggan, because he can't stop thinking about himself even when he's supposed to be writing about other characters). To say that Keaton's performance is art imitating life only reduces it and grossly overlooks the fact that the actor has consistently tackled a variety of roles that magnificently vary in not just intensity but quality  as well -- an ideal resume for a role like this. Riggan is estranged from his straight-out-of-rehab, brutally honest daughter Sam (Emma Stone), and the closest thing he's ever come to a real relationship was years ago with his ex wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan), who's really just a distant friend out of obligation. Also, he can't seem to recapture the flourishing career he had back when he was once Birdman, a beloved superhero he played back in his heyday. No matter how hard he's tried to erase the alter ego from his celebrity image. Oh and... *cues the violins*.

The list goes on and on. He's unhappy, underappreciated, and battling inner demons (in this case, Birdman himself -- who may be friend or foe). Until he's forced to take a look at himself once he finally opens his eyes to the fact that he just may never be a star anymore in a world in which celebrity is more viral sensation that an indicator of talent (he refuses to open a Twitter account). Meanwhile, his newly appointed co-star Mike Shiner (Norton) gets it: this is the guy who probably has about 75 social media accounts and has found a way to be on all of them at once. If tanning is considered cool at all, he'll sleep inside a tanning booth if he has to, he'll date every budding actress he can find and say whatever out-of-pocket drivel that pops into his mind just to be on the cover of a magazine. And yet, he's also quite talented. He's able to be so in control of his celebrity persona that it drives someone like Riggan absolutely crazy (which isn't really a far trip). He puts on the act, plays the game in order to, by his own account, be able to put that all aside to go full method on stage. Norton masterly walks a tightrope between charm and empathy -- and succeeds on both levels.

BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) presents a fascinating dichotomy, a character study of self-absorption in which even when they're speaking to one another, no one is really listening. With the help of composer Antonio Sanchez, director and co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu draws you in to a series of tedious personal battles, heightened by the sound of jazz drum beats and the obsessive ticking of a clock as the story quickly unfolds within the tiny crevices of backstage at a Broadway theater. The physical and emotional claustrophobia is so unbearable that the actors playing the actors (I know, this is all so meta) often step out onto the street or onto the roof just to escape their own thoughts. In vain, because everyone else is out there doing the same thing but out loud. Iñárritu wonderfully recreates this ever hovering feeling of New York City's theater district -- down to the omnipresent racket of the random guy screaming on the street corner for no reason.

But though it gracefully taps into the deterioration of the human spirit, there's a strangeness to this story. While each character desperately looks to maintain or acquire acceptance in a world where they don't really belong, including the smaller characters played by Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Zach Galifianakis, the element of the supernatural too often overwhelms these subtler, more touching nuances of the story. It's just so self-indulgent, so self-congratulatory from a filmmaker like Iñárritu (or any director, for that matter). There are a few scenes that I could have done without (watching Riggan literally fly high above buildings channeling Birdman is interesting in theory, but falls remarkably flat). Iñárritu often shifts from hyper meta to hyper extravagant any time he departs the snug safety and comfort of the St. James Theatre.

The penultimate sequence in the film brings us back to the main stage where Riggan finds an ironic loophole in his dwindling sense of self-- one so perfect for the film that I wish it ended right there. But in a film like this that is part dark comedy and part melodrama, it is only the fictional characters who can prevail while the actors playing them ultimately concede to their existence out of necessity.

I'd wager that BIRDMAN is the type of film that begs multiple viewings not only because it's worth the watch, but because there are so many new things you can pick up from it each time. The characters come alive with this rather random cast (outside of Keaton and Norton, who fit their roles like well worn gloves) that make much of the surrealism in the film work. It's not perfect (it can be exhausting at times, actually), but it says a lot about people, narcissism and the co-dependent relationship between actor and celebrity.

Rating; B+ (**** out of *****)

BIRDMAN is in theaters Friday. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Maybe Just Got A Little Excited About JURASSIC WORLD

Confession: I really haven't been paying much attention to this whole new Jurassic Park movie business. Steven Spielberg's original film released back in 1993 is jaw-dropping, unlike anything I'd see before. And since then I've avoided all the sequels in hopes to contain the original in a capsule of its own. But years later, when reports began to surface about a new film in the works, I grew concerned all over again. Why can't they leave this series alone??

Today I finally decided to look into JURASSIC WORLD and you know what? It doesn't sound so bad. In fact, it sounds like something I may want to see. So, I didn't realize Bryce Dallas Howard, Internet sensation Chris Pratt (I still haven't seen Guardians of the Galaxy) AND Judy Greer were in the movie. Guys, this is starting to look like a good film!

But of course the quality will also depend greatly on Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow's screenplay (the duo previously teamed up for Safety Not Guaranteed) and Trevorrrow's direction. Honestly, I remember not really loving Safety, but...I remain hopeful.

Check out a few images from the images:

All I need now is a trailer with a giant, hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex in it and I'd be all set. Hopefully that's coming soon. 

JURASSIC WORLD is scheduled to hit theaters June 12, 2015. Anyone else getting excited? 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NYCC: What Distinguishes the Zombie Genre from Every Other Type of Horror

Out of all the subgenres of horror (and there are plenty), I still believe that none have been as compelling, vastly explored and consistently fresh as the zombie genre. From George A. Romero's groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead in 1968 to 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead, creators continue to churn out captivating stories that delve into the human experience and survival unlike any other genre -- horror or otherwise.

Some of the best and brightest zombie creators from literature and cinema gathered together to discuss this very topic at a New York Comic Con panel I attended last weekend titled Decade of the Dead: A Zombie-versary. Panelists Jonathan Maberry (New York Times bestselling author of "Dead of Night: A Zombie Novel"), Roger Ma (author of "The Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Dead") gave their thoughts on the last ten years of zombie film and TV in a lively hour of conversation moderated by the co-creator of the SYFY channel's Z Nation, Craig Engler. Here's a great takeaway:

While many people often focus on the zombies, there's a deeper meaning behind most great stories that often leads back to the human connection. Maberry said, "What's so interesting about the zombie genre is that zombies generally don't have a personality, so the humans remain the center of the story. In fact, many fans don't realize that the title The Walking Dead refers to the humans, not the zombies." It's the humans who have to fight to survive knowing that this could be their last day on Earth. "Any story that makes the zombies the focus, loses the audience," Maberry added.
It's true that the humans' fight for survival is most absorbing to watch (and I'd also add understanding how a situation as unique as a zombie outbreak affects their sense of self and who they ultimately become when faced with death). But then I thought of Warm Bodies, which is more about the zombies' struggle with their humanity. It's also the only time I've seen a zombie gradually recompose and develop human capabilities. I've always wondered whether a zombie would even want to ever be human again, and how that would affect their zombie urges. What's also fascinating is that zombies are former humans, and some of them have just recently inhabited their zombie forms yet still feel so distant from humanity. The Walking Dead often plays with this concept: sometimes the zombies start exhibiting symptoms quickly after they've been exposed or bitten, while others are bitten and instantly shed their humanity.

Does it make a difference to the viewer whether the zombie is first introduced as a human rather than only ever being a zombie with actual characteristics? I feel more connected to a human-turned-zombie, but I can also understand how some may be drawn to a zombie like R in Warm Bodies who's quite distinct. But that goes back to the earlier theory that many of us are interested in the human aspect, even if the human aspect is provided by the zombie.

But hey, I also love a zombie to just be a zombie -- a slow-moving, human-eating villain with no name. There is, however, the idea of fast zombies, which are often found in more recent contributions to the genre. They get around quickly, but there is something about them that definitely leaves an impression, especially given that they're the rarer breed. Plus, their speed weakens the humans' chances of survival because it makes it difficult for them to be outran. So how does a human overcome this type of zombie? Well, fight them as if they were human. Ma went into greater detail from his book on how a human could utilize common weapons to annihilate a zombie (like, seriously explicit detail that even discusses how to properly bash in their skulls).

I could really go on and on about the zombie genre since it has been revitalized so often, which is perhaps the best thing about it. As Ma said, "Everyone has an opinion about the zombie genre. Even if they hate it, they've got something to say about it and what it means to them."

So now I must ask, what do you love most about the zombie genre? Or what do you dislike most about it?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is DEAR WHITE PEOPLE More of a Movement Than a Film?

At the core of every great college film is its exploration of identity at an age when many of us are still trying to find a place in the world, when we are still struggling to discover who we are and who we want to be. In that sense, filmmaker Justin Simien's DEAR WHITE PEOPLE is no different. But the dramedy goes beyond the default teenage-early 20s existential dilemmas to introduce a new topic to the discussion that examines the question, What do you do when you're 20 years old and Black on a predominantly white campus?

It's a question that can move beyond the campus to the office or any other organization in which there is a clear minority, in which your race is seen first followed by your character. That's what makes DEAR WHITE PEOPLE so important is that it calls out the significant nuances that a particular set of people (in this case, Blacks) have to deal with when enveloped by a room filled with white people -- whether it be hair, skin tone or social differences. By setting the story on a college campus, it gives a voice to characters like Dee from Clueless, Charles from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jodi from Daria and Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds, who are faced with a unique set of challenges that are less about they're being minorities and more about intersectionality within the black culture and their struggle to be seen as something more than just a trending topic or object of satire.

But as great as the message is, and as hilarious as it is at times, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE struggles as a full-length film. While it is refreshing to see Simien tackle such subjects on the big screen as sexuality, closeted nerdom, and the power of conflict, the characters could have used a lot more fleshing out. As a result, they lack dimensions and are short changed. For instance, the always excellent Tessa Thompson (For Colored Girls) and Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) play college students on separate yet equal sides of the minority spectrum. Lionel (Williams) is a Mumford and Sons listening, openly gay and openly nerdy young black man stuck living in an all-white and all-jerk frat house with an overwhelming number of idiots. A loner partly by choice and partly out of convenience, he's compelled to step out of his shell once tepidly treading the social in between on campus becomes impossible. Samantha (Thompson) is a radio deejay who many would call a rebel rouser, someone who will no longer stand for the status quo of social and racial injustices on campus, and has essentially become the face of the new rebellion (I really hate to use a Hunger Games reference here, but it applies). Unlike Lionel, her role on campus is distinct, even envied at times. But her appointed status, with all its prestige and notoriety, may also mean losing herself in the process. Both characters, while engaging, clearly represent very specific molds that we've seen before (though not in this context), but still manage to lack a connection with the audience because they are written as messages and not as people. Who are they beyond what they're supposed to represent?

The rest of the characters aren't drawn any differently in terms of their development. Simien's screenplay is spread quite thin, but most noticeably when it comes to the wide variety of characters he creates. Plus, the editing doesn't do it any favors. The film often shifts between scenes for no clear reason, which also makes it difficult to get truly invested in any of the smaller storylines. Specifically, Samantha has the potential to be more interesting had Simien made her character outside her "Dear White People" movement as significant as her popular cause. Luckily, in Thompson's capable hands, Samantha is more humanized, but she can only do so much given the script. Another good character in theory, Coco (Mad Men's Teyonah Parris in a solid performance), feels remote. Coco is a young woman who like everyone else is trying to find a way to stand out. So, as is often the case in this social media age, she creates an online identity that represents a countermovement to Samantha's "Dear White People," to elevate her social status. But we don't get to spend enough time with her to truly understand her. Why she does what she does, and what she learns by the end of the movie (if anything).

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE has a lot of great ideas, a wonderful cast with relatable and entertaining scenarios throughout, but I wonder whether what people will remember more -- the story or the messaging? Will it matter if one is weaker than the other?

Rating: B- (*** out of *****)

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE is in theaters Friday.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

NYCC: Women Can Like Whichever Movies They Want (And Anyone Who Tells You Otherwise Can F*ck Off)

It seems like every day there's a new article (like this one) that generalizes what female audiences wants to see on screen, which films are for us and which films are boys only. In the words of the great Samantha Jones on Sex and the City, "Did someone just order a Victorian straight up?" Why are people still thinking like this? Why are we still designating films to a certain gender?

Thankfully, I'm not the only one annoyed by this trend. At a New York Comic Con panel I attended this weekend titled "Panel: Vulture Presents Carol Corps and Beyond: The Future of Female Fandom," it seems there's a whole community of women struggling to navigate their love of certain films and comic books that still have a strict boys only label attached to them. While the discussion focused on popular comic books, panelists and successful female comic book creators Gail Simone, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Sana Amanat dished about the problems with fandom gatekeeping which crosses all mediums.

First off, it's important to note that women loving superhero, action and other genre films (including horror and sci-fi) is not a new trend, it's not a hashtag that will eventually fade away in the next year or so. Women have been fans of these types of books and films for years. Thanks to social media and other platforms, it's given us a voice to discuss our fandom on a larger scale. "[Female fandom]," said DeConnick, "is not a revolution but a restoration."

But still, women have to fight to prove that they're legitimate fans of genre fiction (as ridiculous as this may sound, a woman in the panel audience revealed that she went to a comic book store and was actually quizzed by a male employee on her comic book IQ. WTF?). We're not only fighting for acceptance by film and comic book marketers, but also our male counterparts. Seriously, when will the madness end? Simone reflected that when she first attended San Diego Comic Con a decade ago, the attendees were about 80% male -- not because there were no women fans, but because they didn't feel welcome at the event. Now the ratio is more even, but we are still struggling to be accounted for. "I believe in another ten years female creators will change the way comics are," Simone said. (*fist pump*)

It's not enough, however, that we are represented on the page or the big screen just to fulfill a quota. Quality should should be a serious consideration that allows a female character to have agency -- and whose sexuality is her choice, not something the creator tacked on as the only way to distinguish her from her male cohorts. Please writers, consider using your imaginations when creating female -- and male -- characters (multidimensions are key). As DeConnick advised,"Pretend their people." And to that end, my fellow movie critics, I love you but the next time you get the itch to discuss whether a film is for women or men (or any one group of people), don't. You sound silly. DeConnick agrees: "No one gets to make you feel like they can decide what you like."

The panel conversation got especially interesting when an audience member mentioned the division in feminism in which it seems to only include white women and not all women. So how do we contend with that? And why isn't this more of a concern for not just non-white women, but all women? I mean, seriously, if we're going to discuss feminism in media, this needs to be all inclusive. The most memorable quote of the conversation was when DeConnick said, "My feminism is intersctional or it is bullsh*t."

The only panelist of color (specifically, of Indian descent), Amanat, who co-created Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan (featured above), discussed the idea behind the first Muslim character to headline her own comic book and the wide reception she instantly received. "We tapped into something that people wanted for a long time," Amanat said. She went on to say that in a country in which Muslims are one of the largest religious groups, there is still a prejudice against them. But it's obvious that there's a hunger for more diverse female characters, but there is still resistance in the industry--from both men and women. Default women characters are still white and even their personas are being policed by those less accepting of villain/antihero characters than the traditional protagonist. How can we demand better female characters and not welcome the plethora of personalities and motives they can have? "To put all female characters on a pedestal of goodness gets old," Simone said.

People, we must do better. Female fandom is in a good place, but it can be in a much better place. What are you doing to make it better?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

KILL THE MESSENGER Doesn't Really Deliver On Its Promises

Maybe I went in with the wrong impression. Or maybe I expected Jeremy Renner to really blow me away. Or maybe I just really found KILL THE MESSENGER, in a word, disappointing. If you're expecting a fast-paced journo politico thriller, let me just tame your expectations right now because that's not what this film is. It's not bad, but it's not great. It's just so middle of the road.

Which, again, is disappointing to write because there is such a great story here, but it is executed so poorly, tepidly even. You'd think a story about investigative journalist Gary Webb (Renner) hot on the trail of a highly controversial Central America drug trafficking deal in which the U.S. was allegedly complicit during the Reagan era would warrant an engrossing, nail-biting film. But not KILL THE MESSENGER. This film is not much about how one of the most delicate political headliners of all time was cracked open, but about the relatively small time journalist who was behind it. The thing is, his story isn't so interesting. Actually, scratch that. I believe his story is in fact fascinating, but the way it comes together in the film is most definitely not. (Honestly, even Webb's Wikipedia page is a more enthralling read).

It seems as though director Michael Cuesta (most known for his TV work on Dexter, Six Feet Under and Homeland) struggled with what he ultimately wanted the film to convey. Every promisingly intense scene is counteracted with an arbitrary domestic scene that did little to determine the kind of character Webb was (his early death by two gun shot wounds was ruled a suicide, which was only considered worthy of a post script in the film). Each time I thought the film was going to lead us down a foreboding path that places our determined antagonist in a threatening position, it quickly swerved to deliver a more basic approach to the common political story -- one that's more personal drama than riveting thriller. And a very choppy drama at that.

Sure, we see how Webb goes to great lengths for a sensitive story that will, in his own words in the film, "ruffle some feathers" by accusing the U.S. government of a drugs for guns deal, but once he reaches as far as he can go, the film kinda teeters off a cliff. Webb is benched after the higher ups at the San Jose Mercury newspaper put the kibosh on his story, and it breaks him -- both professionally and spiritually. There's a whole lot of filler dialogue between Webb and his long-suffering wife (Rosemarie DeWitt, in a thankless role), which should humanize Webb but only further emphasizes how his presence at home is more a placeholder than anything else (kinda like the real life news footage and images from the actual events stuck in several areas in the film). It doesn't tell us who he is when he's not working on a story. For a film that's supposed to go beyond what we've already read about Webb, this doesn't really have anything more to say.

This is more frustrating when the post script starts to roll up the screen at the end of the film, when we get a far more interesting account of Webb's life and how it ended. Why not show that movie? I want to know more about the circumstances surrounding his death, the ultimate deterioration of his marriage (and possibly mental state?), and the U.S. involvement in the drug war from Senator John Kerry's "Kerry Report" (which stated that "U.S. officials involved in Central America failed to address the drug issue for fear of jeopardizing the war efforts against Nicaragua"). I want a story that is as unafraid as its protagonist, not one that gives us a loose account of hazy details then saves the important stuff as a rushed afterthought. It's poorly organized, but decently acted. The main actors are all committed (including Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Webb's editor), but Peter Landesman's script (adapted from Webb's own book "Dark Alliance" and Nick Schou's "Kill the Messenger") just isn't quite there. In fact, the story often spends so much time trying -- in vain -- to develop Webb's story that it ends up reducing the key supporting characters in the drug alliance into one-dimensional roles. Seriously, Andy Garcia, Paz Vega, Barry Pepper and Michael Kenneth Williams all deserve better than that.

KILL THE MESSENGER may not be the story you're expecting, but it also doesn't really succeed at what it's trying to accomplish either. Come for the acting, but not much else.

Rating: C- (**1/2 out of *****)

KILL THE MESSENGER is in theaters Friday.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Women Directors Team Up for a Brand New Anthology Horror Film

Am I the only one who asks every 4-5 years or so where Mary Harron is? I know, she did the Anna Nicole movie on Lifetime last year, but I kinda like to forget that ever happened, so that I can go back to pining away for the real Mary Harron. You know, the one who gave us the great American Psycho. Like so many awesome female directors before and after her, too many release great projects and end up flailing in the wind afterward.

But wait, Harron may be making a minor comeback. And I am so here for it. I've just received a press release from Magnet Releasing announcing that Harron and other cool women filmmakers will be teaming up for the horror anthology, XX. The project will feature short horror films from not only Harron but Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer's Body), Jennifer Lynch (Surveillance), and Jovanka Vuckovic (The Guest). Each film will be directed by a woman and the cast will be led by a woman. How cool is that?! The project is being produced by XYZ Films, which brought us The Raid.

And the cherry on the pie is that each filmmaker has been given creative rein (barring budget and time constraints). I. AM. SO. READY. FOR THIS. But I'm going to try to tame my expectations given the fact that I am not so love with Magnet's recent horror anthology films (*cough* ABCs of Death and V/H/S *cough*). I will remain hopeful, and I really need these filmmakers to win at life. I really do.

XYZ's Todd Brown has already got me hyped. His statement from the press release: "We believe strongly in fostering the best talents around the world at XYZ. We believe different perspectives are what keep storytelling fresh and exciting and hope that XX can help to encourage more female writers and directors to explore the genre world. And we know the ones we have for this first effort are going to absolutely kick ass."

Just like that, I'm sold.

XX will be completed in 2015. I'll keep you updated as I learn more.

Trailer Watch: Greta Gerwig Romances a Washed Up Stage Actor Played by Al Pacino in THE HUMBLING

As I type this I can already see the mass eye roll from audiences who balk at the idea of yet another older man/young woman romance on screen. Seriously though, how long is this going to be a thing before Hollywood moves on to another trope to abuse? In Al Pacino's latest starring role, THE HUMBLING, the actor stars as an aging stage actor who may or may not have reached his prime (both professionally and personally), and is devastatingly close to ending his own life. That is, until Greta Gerwig enters his life and reminds him of its importance.

I know, super generic. Many of you are probably asking, so let me just add here that Pacino and Gerwig are ages 74 and 31 (respectively). And the pairing looks as odd as it sounds. But before we get to the trailer, here's a little more background on the film:

Based on Phillip Roth’s final novel, The Humbling tells the story of over-the-hill stage actor Simon Axler (Al Pacino) and his struggle to find his passion for life again. Near his breaking point, he finds motivation in the form of a young and lustful lesbian Pegeen Stapleford (Greta Gerwig), but as their relationship heats up Simon has a hard time keeping up with the youthful Pegeen. The Humbling is directed by Barry Levinson and also stars Dianne Wiest, Kyra Sedgwick, Dylan Baker, Charles Grodin and Nina Arianda.

Watch the trailer:

For what it's worth (which may not be much), this would look like a better film if it didn't have the romantic angle. With it, it just looks like an older man trying to find a new lease on life by sleeping with a woman who's less than half his age. Ugh, and the cast is so strong too. Plus, Barry Levinson (Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man) directed the film from the script written by Buck Henry (The Graduate). So, maybe this is just a bad trailer...or maybe the film really is this awful. 

Your thoughts?

THE HUMBLING is in theaters and On Demand January 23, 2015.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mark Wahlberg Takes on Another Real Life Story in an Upcoming Drama from the Director of MARGIN CALL and ALL IS LOST

I stand by what I said in my review of Lone Survivor: I don't think Mark Wahlberg can headline his own film -- certainly not a drama. But clearly Hollywood does as I'm hearing that he's the star behind J.C. Chandor's (All is Lost, Margin Call) newest film, DEEPWATER HORIZON. After seeing both of Chandor's aforementioned films (I preferred Margin Call), I can honestly say that it takes a strong actor to really do his stories justice (otherwise they can come off very, very distant and inaccessible).

So, needless to say, I am a bit concerned about this casting. The film is based on the true story of the  events surrounding the oil rig explosion that occurred in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. More in the official synopsis:

From Summit Entertainment. Based on the true events that occurred on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, the story chronicles the courage of those who worked on the Deepwater Horizon and the extreme moments of bravery and survival in the face of what would become one of the biggest man-made disasters in world history.

You may remember that Lone Survivor was also a true story. So...yeah. I can only hope Wahlberg does better with this one. But hey, here's some good news: Screenwriters Matthew Sand (Ninja Assassin) and Matthew Carnahan (Showtime's House of Lies) helmed the script, which may be a great thing (this will mark the first film Chandor has directed and not also written). 

I'll keep you posted on this project as I learn more about it. DEEPWATER HORIZON will open in wide release on September 30, 2016,

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