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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Celebrate 65 Years of Charlie Brown and the Gang with This Adorable New Video

If this video doesn't warm your heart, I don't know what will. Even after the day I've had, this managed to put a smile on my face. I'm talking, of course, about this cute video commemorating 65 years (can you believe it's been that long?) of the iconic comic Peanuts strip, Yes, Charles Schulz's brainchild is officially a senior citizen. And to celebrate, Charlie Brown and the gang are finally making their way to the cinemaplex for THE PEANUTS MOVIE. I AM SO PSYCHED FOR THIS!!

Check it out:


THE PEANUTS MOVIE hits theaters on November 6.

Friday, October 23, 2015

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION is Legit Scary



Excuse me while I eat a mouthful of crow in this post. I totally thought the sixth iteration of the Paranormal Activity series would be tremendously stupid and very un-scary. I mean, all the other films I saw were just that (including that super lame The Marked Ones installment). Man, was I was awful.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION does what every other movie in the franchise has failed to do--tell a story. Not only does it have an actual narrative, it is genuinely entertaining without being annoying. And it is scary. Like, for real. Creeeeeepy.

So, I must tell you about what it is of course, since it is actually about something. Here goes: a couple (Brit Shaw and Chris J. Murray) and their young daughter (Ivy George) welcome her sister (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and his brother (Dan Gill) into their new home for the week, unknowingly along with a terrifying spirit--brought to life by pretty impressive special effects. Ryan (Murray) discovers a random video camera on their front step, starts exploring its footage and along with the audience is stunned to learn what it holds. Basically, s**t hits the fan after that and I am still surprised by how it unfolds.



And surprise means it's not boring, which is what too any modern mainstream horror films are now. They're just way too expected and simple. This one manages to turn its own premise on its head and actually present a film that you don't want to check out of thirty minutes in. Sure, it has some of the tired tropes of horror like moving towards the scary sound and not away from it, the evil force gravitating toward the child, and of course found footage.

But I am not mad at PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION. It's funny yet smart at the same time; scary but not gory; and has a twist at the end that is actually not pretentious . I'd say that's a success.

Rating: B+

Watch two clips from the film below:


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is On Its Way....



As you know, I am a die-hard Tom Cruise fan (I like him crazy, I like him sane, and I like him when he is still deciding). I also think he is actually a great actor who, like many others, needs a good vehicle to support him. So I usually pay attention to any announcement of a new movie he's in because I just know it's going to be super sized and entertaining. Which means, yes, I will definitely be tuning in to JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK, the follow-up to 2012's silent hit Jack Reacher.

Paramount Pictures has just announced that the film has commenced principal photography and production will take place in New Orleans. Now, I haven't read any of author Lee Child's books upon which these films are based, but I was mildly entertained by the first film (and seeing David Oyelowo play a bad guy for a change) so I interested to see how this story will unfold. Oscar-winner Edward Zwick, who directed Cruise in The Last Samurai, will helm this installment of the series that was previously directed by Christopher McQuarrie (who's producing this one).

There will apparently be three screenwriters attached to the film: Richard Wenk (The Expendables 2), Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai) and Zwick--which seems like a helluva lot of writers for a film like this. But, you know, I guess we'll see how that works out.

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is set for release on October 21, 2016. I'll keep you updated as I learn more.

Any of you fans of the first film? Sound off in the comments section below.

DVD Review: DOPE is Incredibly Disappointing and Reductive



Don't you hate it when a movie you had such high hopes for, a movie that seemed you'd been waiting your whole life for, is actually horrible? Talk about anticlimactic. That's how I feel about DOPE, that movie that was supposed to be the seminal black geek film of our time, which turned out to be just another okey doke film that barely even tried. Perhaps even worse, it ended up being a victim of its own stereotype.

So, it's worth noting now that DOPE is neither a good coming-of-age film nor a good black geek film. Rather, it's more like a fun teen flick that's not nearly quirky as it presents itself to be. It begins as a trio of friends in Inglewood, California who form a punk band as an outlet to express their true selves in a society in which they they don't fit and are often misunderstood. The name of their band is aptly called Awreeoh (pronounced “oreo,” a cheeky nod to what black kids called other black kids who they felt were black out on the outside and white on the inside). And that's about where it ends as far as the film making a statement, though that in and of itself is subtle. The film then spirals into being about a group of friends who stumble onto a bag of weed and spend the rest of the film trying to return it to its rightful owner while getting caught in the middle of amateur drug dealer shenanigans. Seriously, that is the entire premise. Lead character Malcolm (Shameik Moore) gets tossed from one compromising situation to another--like running around with a random naked girl and trying to do business with a pothead hacker. And every so often writer/director Rick Famuyiwa would remind us that Malcolm is just a teenager trying to get into Harvard and get a date to the prom. 



Guys, this is absolutely ridiculous and hugely disappointing. The film falls so hard off its course that I basically checked out after about 40 minutes. Why invest in a movie that gave up on its own intention midway through? It just became so damn reductive. It attempted to make a statement, then swerved to the point of no return into becoming (bad) movie black movie about young people and drugs. Then at the end of the film it tries to recover by basically completely the theme it presented in the first 10 minutes of the film, but by then it was too far of a disconnect to truly pull off.

So, DOPE isn't the film I wanted. Not even the characters are fully developed. And I am actually fascinated by the amount of reviews I've read that praised it for supposedly bringing to the forefront a story that was 1) indicative of a John Hughes film and 2) showed a far too rare view of quirky black teens. It did neither. I'm still waiting for my black teen geek film and/or the black version of a John Hughes coming-of-age film. Because this isn't it.

Rating: C-

DOPE is now on DBD/Blu-Ray. Watch the trailer:

Monday, October 19, 2015

SUFFRAGETTE Explores Whether a (White) Woman Could be a Feminist and a Wife in the Early 20th Century



Let this be known about SUFFRAGETTE, before I begin this review: director Sarah Gavron made it a point to open the film with a disclaimer indicating that this is just one story about a group of women who fought for women's rights in the early 1900s in London. Which may or may not assuage those who have for weeks been vocal about the fact that this is yet again another women's rights story that essentially deletes women of color from the movement.

It's not a new Hollywood approach, but it doesn't make it right. It just perpetuates the idea that white women represent all women. Period.

But again, this is just one group of women's stories. And that aside, SUFFRAGETTE is a really solid movie with great performances. Not necessarily a new story, but I can honestly say that Carey Mulligan delivers the best performance by a woman in a film that I've seen so far this season. And her co-star Anne-Marie Duff gives her a run for her money here (so much so that I became quickly obsessed with finding out who she was and learned that she is actually James McAvoy's wife). Though I'm sure once award season truly revs up, it will be Mulligan who gets all the shine and Duff will be a distant memory.

Because that's how Hollywood works.



But anyway, back to the movie. Duff plays Violet, the fearless feminist who recruits Maud (Mulligan) as a Suffragette. Armed with a feisty tongue and a passion for equality, Violet is no stranger to staging public rallies, violent retaliation from law officials, and the inside of a police station. Duff plays her as not only a badass but Maud's compassionate friend when she needed her the most. What's most interesting about Abi Morgan's (Shame, The Iron Lady) screenplay is that she doesn't only show them as "strong, empowered" women. but also as wives and mothers in a society that only recognized those sides of their humanity. This movie explores the question: Could a woman be a feminist and a wife at the same time in the early twentieth century?

If you take a look at Maud's story, the answer is a sad and resounding no. Without giving away any spoilers, Maud discovers the sacrifice of being a woman while belonging to a husband at the height of the woman's rights movement. It's a harrowing realization, and Mulligan's performance is so honest and moving--better than any performance I've ever seen from her.

While Mulligan and Duff are definitely the two best performances in the film, there are other noteworthy actors such as Natalie Press, who plays the iconic activist Emily Davison, and Helena Bonham Carter, who plays a woman who was jailed numerous times for her commitment to the movement. For those looking to see another great Meryl Streep performance will have to look elsewhere as she is only on screen for a few generic moments until she too is whisk away. (Though, I think it's pretty funny how the marketing for the film is really pushing Streep's attachment).

A solid film with a great cast, SUFFRAGETTE will definitely be talked about for the next several months.

SUFFRAGETTE opens in theaters October 23.

Rating: B

Watch the trailer:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sarah Silverman is the Only Good Thing About the Frustrating New Drama, I SMILE BACK



I've said it before and I'll say it again, I do not care for these vapid dissatisfied housewife portrayals in Hollywood films. I don't know if it's that too many are helmed by male directors who fail to see the depth of housewife characters outside the fact that they are married and unhappy. They don't bother to delve into why their unhappy and or offer the audience a deeper sense of their humanity.

And that problem is repeated in I SMILE BACK, the new drama directed by Adam Salky and starring Sarah Silverman. While Silverman impresses as Laney, a mother of two spiraling down a slippery slope of drugs, extramarital sex and emotional instability, her character is so poorly developed that you never fully understand her. We learn that she is suffering from emotional instability possibly triggered by her father's distance from her life (which is also never really explained). Every aspect of her character is just so thinly drawn that it's a frustrating watch. We want to sympathize with her, but it's hard to do so when we see her practically ask for sex at a seedy bar, abandoning her husband (Josh Charles) while they're out of town together, snorting coke in her bathroom while her children are just steps away, and wallowing in a general distaste for life. This disconnect is purely on account of the filmmaker and screenwriter's (Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman) lack of understanding (or empathy?) of Laney, which is hugely problematic when drawing a character like this.



So, it makes it hard to like this film. I actually question whether we're even supposed to like it. I am pleasantly surprised by Silverman's dramatic turn here (and even Charles is solid despite playing a thankless role), but there just isn't much to grab on to here. And the ending is one of those conclusions of a film that you see coming a few minutes before it does yet you pray it actually doesn't end that way because you know you'd feel like throwing your shoe at the screen. One of those.

All that said, though, I am interested to see what kind of choices Silverman will make next.

I SMILE BACK opens October 23 in theaters and On Demand.

Rating: D

Watch the trailer:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Chris Evans Will Play the Uncle of a Child Prodigy in GIFTED, Co-Starring Octavia Spencer



This sounds very made-for-TV to me. But Chris Evans (you know, Captain America?) is stepping out of his superhero costume to play a caring uncle of a child prodigy in the Fox Searchlight drama, GIFTED. While the synopsis is pretty generic if you ask me, I do like the fact that the child genius is actually a girl this time (too often it's been either a boy or an adult male character), and any reason to see Octavia Spencer on the big screen is a good thing. So, there's that.

Read the description:

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising a child prodigy - his spirited young niece Mary (Mckenna Grace) - in a coastal town in Florida. Frank's plans for a normal school life for Mary are foiled when the seven-year-old’s mathematical abilities come to the attention of Frank’s formidable mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Frank and Mary. Octavia Spencer plays Roberta, Frank and Mary’s landlady and best friend. Jenny Slate is Mary’s teacher, Bonnie, a young woman whose concern for her student develops into a connection with her uncle as well.

Yeah...we'll see how this goes. Also, it's been how long since Spencer's Oscar win and she is still playing a "best friend?' Come on, Hollywood. 

Principal photography on GIFTED has started in Savannah and on Tybee Island, GA. I'll keep you posted on any other details as I receive them. What do you think so far?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

TRUTH Boldly Tackles What is Wrong with Modern Journalism



Finally, we get a film that tackles one of the most ignored crimes in media today: the death of real journalism. As someone who has a degree in journalism, who's baffled by how top ten lists (as fun as they are to read and write) have taken the place of actual articles, I often find myself frustrated by not the popularity of fluff pieces but the demotion of traditional articles. Further, these long-form, researched pieces aren't even read word for word. Millenials, who make up most online pageviews, are reading every other sentence (or paragraph in some cases) specifically to find something to pick apart--usually something so petty and unrelated to the piece that it's almost laughable to learn that their criticism of a story they didn't actually read soon becomes the basis of a think piece that is more widely read and garners more traffic than the original story. Go figure.

Which brings us to TRUTH, the new film that addresses this very issue by presenting its effects on a real-life journalism story. You may remember Rathergate back in 2004, the highly publicized controversy swirling around a story veteran CBS anchor Dan Rather reported that disputed the veracity of former President George W. Bush's military service in the Texas Air National Guard back in the 60s. A serious accusation in the midst of Bush's already divisive presidency that sparked a conversation about not Bush's validity, but rather the documents used to help prove the story that apparently had questionable typographical symbols that didn't exist in the 60s. Typographical symbols, people. Not the possibility that someone lied about Bush being in the military, but about type symbols. The case spiraled so dramatically that story producer Mary Mapes's politics were brought to question in a formal board (after which she was fired), Rather later stepped down from his 43-year CBS throne, and several other producers lost their jobs.



Yet still to this day no one has been able to disprove the story about Bush. And it seems no one even cared to conduct that investigation. Because it was more important to scrutinize and sell papers with stories about typographical symbols.

There is a great scene towards the end of the film when Mapes (Cate Blanchett) is sitting opposite the aforementioned board (led by Dermot Mulroney), having to answer a barrage of questions unrelated to her story when she throws down all her cards with a speech that reveals her frustration over where the story had come and where it never will go. I'm sure that is the scene we'll all see through award season, and it is also the best scene of the movie. At least, that's what I thought was the most interesting thing about the movie: its commentary on modern journalism. The actual plot, while wonderfully delivered and portrayed by the entire cast (including Robert Redford as Rather), was frankly akin to a really great episode of HBO's The Newsroom. Don't get me wrong, I loved The Newsroom, but there is something to be said about a big screen high-profile film that could also be a very close cousin of a TV show.

The pace of TRUTH is excellent, and keeps you at the edge of your seat from beginning to end. While writer/director James Vanderbilt's music choices are often ostentatious, his direction was solid and he gets extra cool points for bringing Mapes's own book to the big screen. Is it a great film? No, but it definitely deserves to be talked about.

TRUTH is in select theaters October 16.

Rating: B

Watch the trailer:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Yep, JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS Still Looks Horrendous



You guys already know what I think about this new JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS movie, so I won't go rehashing my anguish in this post. Like, how it looks better suited as a low-grade Disney Channel film than anything that should pass as a blockbuster film that is supposed to excite fans of the original 80s series (because it's not). I mean, have you seen this trailer?


I can't even deal. Anyway, read the synopsis:

As a small-town girl catapults from underground video sensation to global superstar, she and her three sisters begin a one-in-a-million journey of discovering that some talents are too special to keep hidden. In Universal Pictures' Jem and the Holograms, four aspiring musicians will take the world by storm when they see that the key to creating your own destiny lies in finding your own voice.
I know, super basic.

Universal just released a few new images from the film that I've included below. Check 'em out:








I weep for Juliette Lewis and Molly Ringwald. JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS hits theaters October 23. 

STEVE JOBS Brings Us Just One Step Closer to a Real Steve Jobs Profile



I think STEVE JOBS might be the first film in a long while on which everyone seems to have an "informed" opinion--whether they've watched it or not. Even I went into the film trepidatious, still licking my battle wounds from Ashton Kutcher's hack job as the tech icon in Jobs. Why did we need another movie about Steve Jobs, even if it does star the great Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet? Just like any Apple product, Hollywood seems to be constantly trying to upgrade his story in hopes of getting it "just right."

But is STEVE JOBS the perfect model? Well, let's just say his Hollywood narrative has come a long way. But I still don't feel I know Jobs any better. Rather than telling a chronological account of his rise to success (a familiar biopic tactic), this film captures singular moments in his professional life, spilling into its effects on his personal life, peppered with tense dialogue between the key players: Macintosh Marketing Head Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), and Lisa Jobs (Makenzie Moss and Perla Haney-Jardine), Steve's daughter. In essence, the film is drawn more like a prosecution of Jobs' life, rather than an exploration.



He was apparently an egomaniac (we got that from the previous film). He famously denied the paternity of his daughter, which is remarkably portrayed by Fassbender in the film--a mixture of cold distance and tortured emotion. Overall, he had very little compassion for anyone, including himself as his perfectionism even got in the way of that. So, as one can imagine, he acquired enemies--lots of them--on his ascent to the top. This seems to be the typical journey for many tech inventors--ts least as Hollywood depictions go (i.e. The Social Network, etc)

Director Danny Boyle recreates the late 70s and early 80s era of bellbottoms and gigantic personal home computers with a vintage camera, and places the audience right in the center of Jobs' four-way conflict. First, there is Jobs and ex-girlfriend Chrissann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) in the middle of what seems to be a routine argument about money and responsibility, which ping pongs to Jobs' squabbles later in his life with Wozniak, who's disgruntled over Jobs' perpetual habit of discrediting the significance of Apple co-founders including Wozniak himself. There's also Sculley, who's got a years-long bone to pick with Jobs.



But perhaps the most interesting contention is the one with Hoffman, because it has more to do with Jobs as a person than his professional ethics. Thus, we get a glimpse of Jobs' humanity here. Having worked most closely with Jobs for over two decades, Hoffman had the overwhelming vantage point of having seen (and managed) Jobs' personal and professional faults. I actually wish their relationship was the entire film because not only was it the most engaging (and the least documented), but also because we get to know more about Jobs. And not just his vulnerability, but his justifications. It seems from this film that it was only Hoffman to whom he at least bothered to explain himself--though his respect for her was still mired in his own pompousness. Having their relationship at the forefront of the film would have complicated the typical Hollywood narrative on Jobs.

That's not to say that Aaron Sorkin's story wasn't well done (it was). It was just expected, especially if you think about it in relation to Sorkin's similar approach to The Social Network.  Both Fassbender and Winslet are mesmerizing to watch, while Rogen and Daniels also give strong supporting performances. So STEVE JOBS is more of an actor's movie in which the performances outweigh every other area of the film. Which isn't a negative, but is what it is. Take that for what it's worth.

Rating: B+

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Toni Collette, Sam Trammell, and Daniel Radcliffe Star in a New White Supremacy Thriller



Well, this should be...interesting. Toni Collette (who seriously deserves better than most of her roles) has teamed up with Sam Trammell (Sam from True Blood) and Daniel Radcliffe for the thriller, IMPERIUM, about a cop who goes undercover to infiltrate a white supremacist group. Which already sounds real questionable. More in the synopsis:

Daniel Radcliffe stars as Nate Foster, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where he specializes in domestic terrorism and covert operations. Toni Collette is veteran battle-hardened colleague FBI Agent Angela Zampino, with Tracy Letts as Dallas Wolf, a modern-day leader of the white supremacy movement and Sam Trammell plays Jerry Conrad, a seemingly normal suburban Dad who is also the local Ayran youth recruiter.

Based on true events, IMPERIUM focuses on the FBI agent as he goes undercover and joins a white supremacist group in order to expose a sizable terrorist plot to create a dirty bomb. The bright up-and-coming analyst must confront the challenge of sticking to a new identity while maintaining his real principles as he navigates the dangerous underworld of white supremacy.

I assure you, if this movie gets a major release, there will be about a million think pieces written about its depiction of white supremacy. I'm definitely on the fence about this one, despite my appreciation for Collette. Thoughts?

IMPERIUM begins production this month in Hopewell, Virginia.

Friday, October 9, 2015

BEASTS OF NO NATION Isn't The Amazing Film I Wanted It To Be



When I first heard that writer/director Cary Fukunaga and Hollywood heartthrob Idris Elba were forming their own superhero empire (i.e. teaming up for a new movie), I was ecstatic. Then I discovered the premise of the movie, and I became less so. And now that I've seen the movie, I can only muster the following reaction: meh.

It's a disappointing take on BEASTS OF NO NATION, for sure. In my dream scenario, a Netflix original production with the two giants would have come in the form of something like Daredevil or, hell, True Detective. Instead, BEASTS OF NO NATION is a derivative look at the story of a child soldier in Africa (Agu, played by the now 15-year-old Abraham Attah), which really could have been the story of any African child soldier in that the film fails to characterize Agu. The way it was told was just so expected, could have been any number of child soldier dramas Hollywood loves to love. Which is especially surprising to say because Fukunaga is anything but a predictable filmmaker. Here it just seems like he watched a lot of African child soldier films (including the 2012 drama War Witch) and copied everything they had in common--down to the tyrannical, morally reprehensible Commander played by Idris Elba (whose dramatic performances I still find largely unconvincing). I was just...underwhelmed.

This isn't to say that the movie itself isn't good (though it's a bit too long) or that the lead performance isn't compelling. The cinematography is striking. And Attah is particularly effective, revealing a talent that far exceeds his age. You believe that Agu is in agony when he is separated from his parents early in the film, that he is terrified of being alone for the first time, and suffering through daily emotional and psychological torture under the commander's reign. His portrayal is visceral, Certainly more so than Elba, who while his commitment to the role is undeniable, it was unaffecting, unmemorable even. (I'm sure I'm not going to win over any new readers by saying anything negative about Elba, but so be it. I still think he's hot and should be the next James Bond. So that's something).



BEASTS OF NO NATION will likely be a film that we'll hear about a lot of this awards season, about which I still feel unsettled. Though I'm happy to hear that folks are excited about Fukunaga and Elba (as well as Attah), but just as much as Hollywood champions films like this it should also get behind African narratives like The First Grader--a criminally underrated film that is deeply effective. Once again, Hollywood is supporting a very one-dimensional look at marginalized characters, and ignoring all other stories. So, I can offer nothing but a side eye at that.

Rating: B-

BEASTS OF NO NATION opens both in theaters and on Netflix October 16.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

On the Season 2 Premiere of THE AFFAIR: Sex, Money, and Intrigue



I can't resist starting this post off by acknowledging the remarkable male frontal nudity that appears on the season two premiere episode of Showtime's THE AFFAIR. Simply because I want to beat haters of my "Nudity Double Standard" post to the punch (it seems many of my male readers are still in their feelings about that), and also to commend the cable network for having a show in which sex is its own character and depicting it in a way that feels more honest that, oh, most every other dramatic TV show/film.

But that's not the only reason to get excited about season two of the Golden Globe-winning series. The dual perspectives (something I've always loved) are further complicated when Helen's (Maura Tierney, who plays Noah's jilted wife) point of view enters the story. The drama is no longer about the two lovers, Alison (Ruth Wilson) and Noah (Dominic West), whose intricate affair set the tone of the first season. Now in season two, the drama delves deeper into the lives of those they crushed: their spouses. Beginning with Helen, we see how her husband's infidelity has led her to a new phase in her life--one with which she's grappling. Her relationship with her snobby, overbearing mother (Kathleen Chalfant) has further complicated that. And something tells me that we'll be seeing Cole's (Joshua Jackson, who plays Alison's husband) story unravel shortly as well...



That's always been a question watching the first season of THE AFFAIR. What about the spouses? Did they suspect anything? But it's a very clever way to begin the new season, as we see the progression of Alison and Noah's relationship get pushed to the background as a long-brewing mystery slowly begins to unfold. But how will all of this affect Helen and Cole? We'll have to watch and see.

The first episode is a bit of a slow burn with a WTF moment at the end, yet it teases a season that will likely bring all the players to the forefront--and maybe even those you least expect.

Don't miss the season two premiere of THE AFFAIR on Showtime Sunday at 10pm.

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