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Saturday, April 30, 2016

For Those of You Who Don't Believe in Spoilers...



I know in the age of the Internet, you'd pretty much have to unplug your TV, throw out your computer and sit alone in the darkness of your own home in order to avoid spoilers. But still, I manage to avoid them about 90% of the time. Which means I definitely will not be watching the season premiere of Showtime's Penny Dreadful before its Sunday night airing, despite the network releasing it online in advance. But since I love you guys, I am giving it to you to watch here. Just remember: don't tell me anything about it. 

Happy viewing!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Can This Be the Blerd Romance Film We've Been Waiting For?



Who would have thunk it? First Lady Michelle and President Barack Obama have kinda been our favorite aunt and uncle for the past eight years. So the thought of watching a film that chronicles their love story is like watching a family home video--except much, much better. Or so I'd like to think (and hope).

Writer/director Richard Tanne's SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU just looks like freshly baked apple pie: warm, fulfilling, and oh so American. Not to mention, wonderfully blerdy. Because you know a film about the Obamas. with their countless causes, boundless intelligence, and unlimited charisma, can only be blerdy. Guys, this may be the first blerd love story we've seen in a loooong while. Also, Tika Sumpter (who shines in the trailer as Michelle Obama) is finally taking center stage on the big screen, alongside Parker Sawyers (who despite not really looking like Barack Obama, he's got his affectations down pat in the trailer). I really, really hope this is good.

Oh, and did I mention that John Legend is the executive producer? Which means the soundtrack is going to be immensely sweet and beautifully written.

Synopsis:

Inspired by Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date, SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU recounts the eventful summer day in 1989 when a young law firm associate named Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) tried to woo lawyer Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) during a daylong date that took them from the Art Institute of Chicago to a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing to the site of their first kiss outside of an ice cream parlor.

Watch the trailer:



I'm here for it. Who's with me? 

SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU opens in theaters August 26. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Elodie Yung and Salma Hayek Round Out a Badass Cast for the Action Comedy, THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD



After watching Elodie Yung in the second season of Netflix's Daredevil, I'd pretty much watch her in anything. Badass, beautiful, and maybe slightly insane (at least her character on the show is), she is reminding Hollywood that, yes, great female villains/antiheroes exist and are as equally fascinating to watch as their male counterparts.

But I digress. Yung is starring alongside the equally kickass Salma Hayek, Ryan Reynolds (who's still riding high from Deadpool), and His Eternal Coolness Samuel L. Jackson in the action comedy, THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD. Now, I have been lukewarm on action comedies lately, mostly because the buddy cop trend has severely overstayed its welcome. But I am going to hold out hope because the cast is so great. More about the film:

"The Hitman's Bodyguard" is an action comedy about the world's top protection agent (Reynolds) and his new client: a notorious hitman who came in from the cold (Jackson). They've been on opposite ends of a bullet for years. They hate each other. Now they're stuck together and have 24 hours to get from England to The Hague. The only thing standing in their way is everything a murderous Eastern European dictator (Oldman) can throw at them.

The film stars Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, The Proposal) as protection agent Michael Bryce, Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight) as hitman Darius Kincaid, and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight) as Eastern European dictator Vladislav Dukhovich. The movie also features Salma Hayek (Grown Ups, Tale of Tales, Frida) as Darius' wife Sonia Kincaid, and Elodie Yung (Daredevil, The 

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Interpol agent Amelia Roussel.

Principal photography began yesterday in London. I'll keep you updated as I learn more. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

SNOWDEN Trailer: It's All Fun and Games Until Nicolas Cage Shows Up

But seriously, why wasn't I prepared with information that Nicolas Cage (perennially sloppy scene chomper) was in SNOWDEN? That really lowers the bar. This is actually Joseph Gordon-Levitt's movie. He's playing the infamous Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone's new thriller, which also stars (my boo) Timothy Olyphant, Melissa Leo, (the sleep-inducing) Shailene Woodley, Tom Wilkinson, and Zachary Quinto. Which means the film is going to be all kinds of erratic, but maybe with a few great performances.

The trailer (seen below) isn't really exciting to me, but I just have to trust Gordon-Levitt, Olyphant, Leo, Wilkinson and Quinto to really deliver. More in the synopsis:

Academy Award®-winning director Oliver Stone, who brought Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street and JFK to the big screen, tackles the most important and fascinating true story of the 21st century. Snowden, the politically-charged, pulse-pounding thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, reveals the incredible untold personal story of Edward Snowden, the polarizing figure who exposed shocking illegal surveillance activities by the NSA and became one of the most wanted men in the world. He is considered a hero by some, and a traitor by others. No matter which you believe, the epic story of why he did it, who he left behind, and how he pulled it off makes for one of the most compelling films of the year.

Check it out:



SNOWDEN hits theaters September 16. Thoughts?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tribeca Review of HOLIDAYS: Why is it So Hard to Make a Great Horror Anthology?



It doesn't matter how optimistic I am to watch them, horror anthologies are almost never good. You can cast a bunch of A-listers, bring in talent directors, but somehow they're still going to stink. But why? Why does it always feel like I'm watching a two-hour marathon of corny to horrible short horror films that have little to no significant connection? Why can't they ever be good?

I pondered this as I watched HOLIDAYS, a new horror anthology which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival (and was miraculously acquired for theatrical release by Vertical Entertainment). Related only by the fact that they are all set around a holiday (Mother's Day, St. Patrick's Day, etc), each film presents a promising premise yet falls apart before its ending credits (sometimes within the first two minutes). Whether it's the poor execution, as in the story of the woman who finds out she's pregnant with a creature baby, or the frustratingly false conclusion, as in the story of the young girl who learns that the Easter Bunny isn't as warm and fuzzy as she thought he'd be, each of them disappoints.

Some of the films could have actually worked better as standalone features (especially the one about a woman who's abducted by a fertility cult), though that would defeat the style and allure of the anthology. But if you don't connect the stories in a smart way (say, having the same actors play different roles in each story, or tying each narrative together with a single theme) or provide a great 10-15 minute story, what's the point?

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

Watch the surprisingly great trailer:



Monday, April 25, 2016

The Urgency of Life at a Time of Death: Revisiting the Brilliant SIX FEET UNDER Series Finale



My now late grandmother used to read the obituary section of the newspaper each day to see if anyone she knew was listed. She said she had reached a stage in life in which a close friend dying had become as natural as the sunrise. That's how I feel when I log on to the Internet each day, when I am sadly these days met with news that my childhood icons like David Bowie, Maurice White and Prince, people who provided the soundtrack of my life and defined a generation, have passed away. It's devastating, unreal, and yet so poignant.

Because of the prevalence of it in our daily lives, and the comfort of mass commentary on social media platforms, death is no longer so morbid to discuss. In fact, it provides an outlet for the person's humanity, and allows for those most affected by their passing to retain an element of their presence with them eternally.

This last point is a recurring theme in HBO's family funeral home drama, Six Feet Under, whose brilliant series finale aired nearly 15 years ago. I had the pleasure of re-watching its concluding episode again recently at the Tribeca Film Festival, with a special scene-by-scene commentary by none other than show creator, writer and director, Alan Ball. Arguably the best TV finale of all time, the tenderness, presentation, trajectory of the characters and the utterly gut-wrenching screenplay remains unprecedented. And it's now more relevant than ever before.

In retrospect, Six Feet Under was far ahead of its time. Not only does it speak eloquently about death, it creates an urgency for life. Each character is symbolic of his or her own desperation to be better, to push forward, and to ultimately be free--no matter how difficult and unrealistic that may seem to be. Sure, the characters are mess. They're often standing in their own way. But they're trying. And that's the beauty of the screenplay and each character--their struggles.

But not only are their journeys important to the storyline. It's the ghosts, or rather how the characters conjure their departed loved ones in a way that provides them with a sense of support, a cure for their solitude, kick in the pants, and an unexpected confrontation. No matter the circumstance, death continues to impact their lives. Not in a haunting way, but in a familial sense. And it's completely innate.

Because that's how death impacts us. At even its most crippling, it brings us together, drives us toward reflection, and most of all motivates us to think inwardly about ourselves and our own lives.

If you've never seen Six Feet Under, it is absolutely mandatory viewing. Trust me, you'll thank me later. For those who have watched the series, share what you love most about it in the comments section.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Tribeca Review: Bad Casting and Lack of Intrigue Plague A KIND OF MURDER



I always thought it was the fact that she stole Justin Timberlake from all of us that made me dislike Jessica Biel so much. And, while I'm definitely still sore about that, I now realize that it's mainly because she's a legitimately ineffective actress. Actually no, she's just bad. Which exacerbates any already flailing film, and derails those with the most potential.

So why do casting directors continue to place her in 1950 and 1960s period dramas? As far as I can tell, the only plus is that she looks good in the costumes. But she adopts no affectation, accent, flair, mannerism, or anything indicative of the era. Her naturally bland approach created an instant disconnect to both her performance as Vera Miles in Hitchcock and again in A KIND OF MURDER, which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

But I'd be lying if I implied that Biel was the only problem with the new mystery drama. Director Andy Goddard (TV's Daredevil, Downton Abbey), in only his second ever big screen feature, just doesn't develop a level of intrigue or tension that you'd expect from a narrative that is built on double identities, perceptions, classism, and homicide. And neither does first-time screenwriter Susan Boyd, who adapted the script from The Blunderer, a novel written by Patricia Highsmith (also known for Strangers on a Train and The Price of Salt aka Carol). The story about a philandering architect (Patrick Wilson) who finds himself at the center of a murder spree when his hopelessly depressed working wife (Biel) ends up dead, is not nearly as interesting as it ssounds.

As devastatingly handsome as Wilson is, his line delivery and connection to the character is completely uninspired. And while Eddie Marsan (who plays Wilson's unlikely nemesis) is always one of the best things about any project in which he's involved, he can't save a film that is basically dead on arrival on his own. Also, for all you Mad Men fans out there, you might be comforted to hear that Vincent Kartheiser plays the most annoying character here in the film as well. Take from that what you will.

Rating: D (* out of *****)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tribeca Review: Despite a Trifecta of Great Female Talent, CUSTODY Falls Flat



I really hate when bad movies happen to go people. I went into CUSTODY, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival really optimistic. A drama with Viola Davis, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Ellen Burstyn? How can you go wrong?

If you're writer/director James Lapine, it's by essentially having them each act like they're in totally different movies--and none of them particularly any good. CUSTODY claims to be about Sara (Moreno), a woman fighting to regain custody over her two young children after an accident at home leads to their being taken into foster care. But actually, there are storylines in the film that bear no connection to that premise--yet take up a giant amount of space in the film. One of them is Martha (Davis), who's the judge in Sara's case. She's struggling with intimacy at home with her husband Jason (Tony Shalhoub). The other is Ally (Hayden Pannetiere), Sara's lawyer. She's dealing with a traumatic event from her childhood that still haunts her. What do these latter two plots have to do with getting Sara's kids back? Absolutely nothing.



I don't know what's more frustrating about CUSTODY--that it's a poor use of great talent, or that it doesn't trust its core plot enough to focus on it, or that at it's best it's a decent Law & Order episode. The performances are intriguing enough, especially Davis's, who highlights the overwhelming responsibility of being the "strong black woman." And Moreno manages to emphasize a point about the role of class in the family justice system with her portrayal. But they all just fall flat in the midst of a flailing premise. It's a shame.

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tribeca Review: The Alluring Danish Drama, PARENTS, Takes an Unexpected Trip Down Memory Lane



If you're close to you're close to your parents, you've probably heard them reminisce about "the old times." The good ole days when they they used to go dancing at the crowded club down the block, when they were struggling to rub two pennies together in their 5th floor walk-up--before you came into the picture. The long-winded tales often end with a heavy stare into the distance. If you're like me, you kinda just...let them have that moment of silence on their own. But in writer/director Christian Tafdrup's Danish drama, PARENTS, he sends them down memory lane. 

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, PARENTS asks the question: who would we be if we could do it all over again? Would we make the same mistakes, because we know they're just learning trials? Would we change our own narrative? Vibeke and Kjeld (Miri Ann Beuschel and Elliot Crossett Grove) have just watched their only child Esben (Anton Honik) move out of their house, without a single tear in his eyes--grabbed his things and quickly waved goodbye. The seemingly final page in a beautiful story of their lives, Vibeke and Ejeld immediately slump into an autopiloted state, void of purpose and even dialogue. Until they decide to move back into their old studio apartment partly to downsize the space in their now empty home, but also to rekindle that ole feeling they had when they were young. That's when their life takes a startling turn, and they find themselves back in their old bodies. For most people, this is the dream. But for Vibeke and Kjeld, it's life-shattering.



In the saturated climate of sequels and remakes, the originality of PARENTS is one that catches you completely off guard. And, surprisingly, the idea of two-middle aged parents going back in time isn't even the most shocking thing that happens in it. That's just what makes it so refreshing yet strange to watch. Not only are Vibeke and Ejeld's lives dramatically altered, but Esben's relationship with them is as well. Tafdrup delivers an engrossing portrayal of youth, love, and yearning that's highlighted by gorgeous photography and affecting performances.

I hope this gets a major release.

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tribeca Review: LITTLE BOXES is One of the Rare Films About a Blerd



Finally, we get a film about a "blerd" (a black nerd) that's not a peripheral, one-dimensional character or a sidekick. In LITTLE BOXES, the blerd (Armani Jackson, Grey's Anatomy) is in fact the protagonist, a self-aware young boy about to enter sixth grade whose life is turned upside down when his interracial parents (Melanie Lynskey and Nelsan Ellis) uproot him from the lively and diverse New York City to the quiet and predominantly white Rome, Washington. It's also the summer that he loses himself.

Most of us have a story of being young and impressionable, quick to buckle at the mere suggestion from a peer about how you should dress, talk, or act. It's no different for the bespectacled Clark (Jackson), whose natural affinity toward fantasy novels and graphic t-shirts is sidelined when he meets and befriends Ambrosia and Julia (Oona Lawrence and Miranda McKeon) who are quick to take him under their wing as their "best black friend." They blindly assume that he listens to rap music and talks differently, so they immediately start twerking in front of him. And that's as awkward for Clark as it is to watch as an audience member.

But feeling the pressure to fit in, he alters his lingo, style, and interests to be "more black" for his new white friends. Which pleases them, but confounds his parents who barely recognize him anymore. He makes the difficult to decision to abandon who he is, for who he must be now. And for a while, that seems to be the easier choice.

While Clark is the main focus on the film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, it's no party for his parents Gina and Mack either. Needless to say, they stick out like a sore thumb. Either the locals treat them like they live in a fishbowl. Or, they turn their noses up at them. Or, they desperately want to understand them (which implies that they're somehow unique beings who should be studied and not befriended).  It all adds up to a major culture shock highlighted by the the block association, liquid lunches with colleagues, and suburban frenemies, Amid new challenges, the couple is forced to navigate their relationship in a place that fails to see them as a team but as two very different individuals separated by race, class, and education.

LITTLE BOXES, inspired by screenwriter Annie J. Howell's own experiences in an interracial marriage with a biracial son, defies the standard coming-of-age story led by white (usually male) characters that is considered "universal." Rather, the film, like its lead character, dares to be uniquely authentic. And that's what makes it so bold. Jackson, Lynskey and Ellis all deliver effortless performances that further illuminate an essential narrative.

Rating: B+ (***1/2 out of *****)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tribeca Review: EQUALS is an Immersive Modern Sci-Fi Experience



In today's social media, online dating, and telecommuting world, it seems ironic to call a film about an emotionless society that repels human connection science fiction. But with stunning cinematography, futuristic effects, and an impossibly controlled narrative, that's just what EQUALS is.

Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, the sci-fi romance takes a look into the the not so distant future in which human emotion is obsolete--in fact, stigmatized--and relationships are strictly outlawed. The premise alone is enough to create high tension in its stark setting that's swarmed with single-dimensional people living in close quarters yet none of whom share more than a forced greeting as they glide pass each other throughout the day. That is, until Silas (Nicholas Hoult) begins to notice Nia (Kristen Stewart). A forbidden moment turns into a dangerous affair that leaves the two questioning everything they ever knew about people, their world, and love.



Directed by Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) and written by Nathan Parker (Moon), EQUALS is an immersive film that captures the fragility of romance in a hopeless society--punctuated by a pair of tender performances. Hoult continues to be criminally underrated as a young actor who can find the humanity in even the most soulless character like Silas. While Stewart has finally found a role that complements her oft restrained acting style in a way that seems neither awkward nor disingenuous. As the hardened half of the two, she brings an explosion of emotion when you least expect it; while Hoult is the level-headed yet desperately curious one.

Despite its terribly shaky camera angles, EQUALS is a deeply passionate narrative that highlights themes of deviance, control, and active disconnect--all of which can just as equally be associated with modern culture.

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


Watch the trailer:

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I'm Here For Whatever This Is



Writer/director Nicholas Winding Rehn's new film, THE NEON DEMON, looks almost spectacular. That is to say, the cinematography looks luscious, the premise is as equally intriguing as it is mystifying, but...Elle Fanning is carrying it. And, well, she's typically excruciatingly boring to watch.

I don't want to pick favorites, but let's just say that her sister Dakota is a far more engrossing actress. But maybe Elle is looking to prove her talent to naysayers like myself. And if that's the case, kudos. But let's hope it pays off. Rehn's work can be a bit obtuse for unseasoned actresses. THE NEON DEMON looks no different from his typical fare. Synopsis:

When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.

The film also stars Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, and Christina Hendricks. Watch the trailer:



THE NEON DEMON is slated to hit theaters in June. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tribeca Review: Asian-American Marginalization, Cultural Appropriation, and BAD RAP



The title of the film already says it all: BAD RAP. Sure, it's a play on words, but it also highlights a type of music that has long been considered the source of racial, political and social aggravation. Which makes it ripe for exploration in a documentary. But filmmaker Salima Koroma doesn't focus on the negative sociopolitical issues persistently discussed in the media (misogyny, cultural appropriation, sexism, etc). Rather, she opens up the conversation to the far less discussed marginalization of Asian-American rappers in an industry dominated by African-American men.

"I hated being called an Asian rapper." Through interviews with rap artists like Lyricks, Rekstizzy, and Dumbfoundead, Koroma peels back yet another layer of a complex industry that fosters essential narratives just as much as it ostracizes them. Each of the subjects share their perspectives on everything from the lack of opportunity, battle raps in which freestyle lyrics against their ethnicity are praised, their parents' disapproval of their careers due to their own preconceptions, appropriating black hip-hop music videos with scantily clad black women, to their authenticity in rap challenged due to their race and assumptions that they bare no relation to the lifestyle they perpetuate in their songs.


While generalizations and stigmatizing of Asian-American culture and contributions is certainly not an unusual concept in the world of American entertainment (cough, Ghost in the Shell, cough, All You Need is Kill), it's interesting to witness some of those same Asian-American male artists turn around and solely attribute the success of female counterparts like Awkwafina to the fact that they are women in a male-dominated industry (and not, you know, on account of their actual talent). Further, while the concept of cultural appropriation is partly connected to Asian-American male artists who have half naked black women dancing in their music videos, it seems to be more controversial because the women are black--and not the fact that they're barely clothed. Which sounds more like a double standard on just who has the right to be misogynistic in their videos.


But BAD RAP isn't about what's wrong with rap. Even in the video clips featured above, you can see just how powerful the genre is and how it continues to birth amazing talent nationwide, across all ethnicities. And there's room for all of them, that's the point here. Is the industry perfect? Far from it. In fact, it's deeply flawed on a number of levels (like many other areas of entertainment). But great rap is about storytelling, and everyone has a story to tell. If only we'd listen.

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

THE BIRTH OF A NATION is About to Take All the Awards, Or So Help Us God

I'm pretty sure the new trailer for actor/director Nate Parker's THE BIRTH OF A NATION is pictured right next to the phrase "Oscar bait" in the dictionary. Because, I can see it now, his story of Nat Turner's monumental slavery rebellion will win all of the awards next season--or catch the wrath of #BlackTwitter. Check it out:


My thoughts on the film haven't really changed from my earlier post about it back in February, but I am here for the Nate Parker takeover. The trailer is extremely well edited. And I love that Billie Holiday's classic "Strange Fruit" is playing throughout the entire trailer. So on the nose, but so perfect nonetheless.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION is in theaters October 7. 

Win an Exclusive DVD/Blu-Ray Package of RIDE ALONG 2

Each time they release another Ride Along movie, I promise myself that I will at least watch the first one. Needless to say, I still have not gotten around to watching said film, which is now a two-film buddy cop comedy franchise starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. At this point, you guys will just have to let me know how the story goes, because Universal Pictures is offering one of you (by way of this blog post) a giveaway copy of the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD of RIDE ALONG 2 available April 26,

And all you have to do is be the first to email me through the contact box in the right sidebar of this page by no later than April 22, with a really fun reason why you deserve to win. To further entice you, here is a rundown of what you'll be getting:


BONUS FEATURES ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Gag Reel
  • Ride Along With Us - Ben & James host a police department’s recruitment video. 
  • Behind the Scenes of Ride Along With Us - Go behind the scenes as Ben and James go in front of the camera to film their police department recruitment video.
  • Kevin & Cube: Brothers-In-Law - One of the secrets behind this franchise’s success is the chemistry between Kevin and Cube… Filled with plenty of jokes, lots of banter, and lots of loving insults, this piece won’t talk about how much they loved each other… it will show it. 
  • Inside Black Hammer Vision – Bringing Ben Black Hammer’s love for gaming to life with the exciting Miami car chase scenes.
  • Feature Commentary with Director Tim Story 
BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVES
  • The Ride Along Roundtable
  • The Ride Diaries - Go on the set with Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, Will Packer, Tim Story and the whole cast & crew and experience the fun, excitement and action involved in creating some of the film’s most dynamic scenes. 
  • The New Recruits - For this sequel, Tim Story and Will Packer knew that they had to up the ante and push the characters even further. One of their key tactics was to introduce some new players to the cast - Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong. 
  • Ride Along With Kevin Hart - Kevin Hart is as wild and fast-talking behind the scenes as he is on camera. In this up-close-and-personal piece, we go on the set and inside the trailer with Kevin as he sets up scenes, plays to camera and jokes with other cast members.
  • Cori’s Wedding Commercial - As part of the wedding package, Cori was in charge of filming and editing Ben and Angela’s wedding video. Unfortunately, Cori accidentally recorded over the last half of the wedding with a commercial for her business.
Good luck!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tribeca Review: HERE ALONE is an Unremarkable Contribution to the Zombie Trend



Often times when we talk about final girls in the horror genre, we revere them as heroic, smart, and resilient. Let's be honest: sometimes they are (10 Cloverfield Lane, Aliens), but other times they are just remarkably lucky (Frozen, Halloween). In HERE ALONE, she's the former. But that is the only thing worth noting in an otherwise spectacularly mediocre film.

Premiering at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, HERE ALONE follows Ann, a woman (Lucy Walters) trapped in the middle of a bloody apocalypse, alone, with just a surgical mask, homemade weapons and quick reflexes to sustain her. Suffering flashbacks of her life as a mother and wife, Ann navigates a bleak world on her own, until she encounters a mysterious man and his daughter, who may or may not be coming in peace.

I partly blame AMC's The Walking Dead for raising the zombieapocalypse bar so high that so many other knockoffs pale in comparison. While HERE ALONE has an intriguing female heroine, there isn't much left to the story to keep your attention. It rests almost exclusively on the thin emotional portrayal that her solitude has left her desperate for human connection, yet suspicious of it just the same. It's just generic. There's no complex, layered characterization (or plot, for that matter). The effects leave much to be desired (undoubtedly signs of the minimal film budget), and the scare factor is pretty nil.  Director Rod Blackhurst and screenwriter David Ebeltoft should have spent more time telling the story than relying solely on the setting and atmosphere. It's unremarkable, and doesn't even have a clever twist at the end to make it all worth it.

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

New from Hollywood Whitewash Chronicles: GHOST IN THE SHELL



In case we needed another reminder that Hollywood does not care about minority characters or actors, yesterday brought the news that Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks Pictures thought it would be a cool idea to cast Scarlett Johansson as the famous Japanese heroine Major in the film adaptation of Japanese writer/illustrator Masamune Shirow's Kodansha Comics manga comic series, GHOST IN THE SHELL.

Here's a little more about the adaptation:

Based on the internationally-acclaimed sci-fi property, “GHOST IN THE SHELL” follows the Major, a special ops, one-of-a-kind human-cyborg hybrid, who leads the elite task force Section 9. Devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out Hanka Robotic’s advancements in cyber technology.

You hear that? That's the sound of about a million Asian and Asian American actresses rolling their eyes at this news, rightly so. First of all, Johansson doesn't need to do this role because 1) she's a white actress; she can have any role she wants (apparently including non-white roles), and 2) she already plays a superhero in The Avengers. And I'm a Johansson fan. She's badass, and if Major was a white character, I'd be all about it. 

But, there are literally countless Asian and Asian American actresses who should have gotten the opportunity to bring this character and series to a larger American audience. Hollywood, yet again, has ignored all of them, in their persistent need to perpetuate the ignorant notion that white characters are more universal, even in stories about minority characters. Seriously, f**k them. 

And this is from a town of "experts" that like to think that there just "aren't enough great narratives about minority characters." There are clearly plenty, you're just whitewashing all of them. This has been happening for years. Enough with the lies, and enough with marginalizing Asian characters in stereotypical roles that are considered to be more digestible to American audiences. It's insulting. 

They've also got the nerve to hire an all-white male directorial and screenwriting cast in a further effort to erase most all minority talent behind the scenes. They couldn't even put a woman into the mix? Major is a female heroine! Guys, I can't.

GHOST IN THE SHELL is in production in New Zealand, and slated for a March 31, 2017 release. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hollywood Still Has No Idea What To Do With Emma Stone

 


I always feel uncomfortable whenever Emma Stone attempts to do something other than a quirky romcom. Her performance in The Help is terribly disingenuous. Her performance in Magic in the Moonlight was uncomfortable to watch with the laughable age difference between her and Colin Firth, who plays her love interest. And her slinky dresses in Gangster Squad basically wore her (and not the other way around). And yet Hollywood continues to place her in every single character that comes to mind, to her detriment because only about 10% actually fit her abilities.

I say this as the first photo from her new film, BATTLE OF THE SEXES, emerges. Stone once again plays a character who seems to be so far outside what she's been able to do (and who she will likely overly quirk-ify). I mean seriously, Billie Jean King, at the height of here career facing off against Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell)? Was there no one else who they could have gotten for this?



I guess we'll just...have to see. Synopsis:

The electrifying 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as the BATTLE OF THE SEXES and became the most watched televised sports event of all time. The match caught the zeitgeist and sparked a global conversation on gender equality, spurring on the feminist movement. Trapped in the media glare, King and Riggs were on opposites sides of a binary argument, but off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. With a supportive husband urging her to fight the Establishment for equal pay, the fiercely private King was also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, while Riggs gambled his legacy and reputation in a bid to relive the glories of his past. Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis courts and animated the discussions between men and women in bedrooms and boardrooms around the world.

Well, I am intrigued by the possible feminist discussion this film will reignite. The casting is questionable, at best. Thoughts?

BATTLE OF THE SEXES was written by Simon Beaufoy (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) and has begun principle photography in Los Angeles.

More soon...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tribeca Sneak Peek: The Mystifying Danish Drama, PARENTS



So, I can't confidently say I am certain of what's even going on in this trailer for PARENTS, the new Danish drama premiering at Tribeca Film Festival this year. But I am engrossed. I am getting strong The One I Love vibes, which is giving me a lot of hope that this story that follows an aging couple looking to rekindle their romance in their own residence might in fact turn into a genre-defying conundrum. Here's more about it:

When their son Esben moves away from home, middle-aged Danish couple, Kjeld and Vibeke, become uncertain of their own path of existence; his absence leaving them with a feeling of needlessness. Attempting to revive the magic sparks of their younger days, they move into their old student apartment where they first fell in love. Recapturing their youth is literally changing them in strange and unexpected ways. And as they wake up one morning to find that they are actually now thirty years younger, they are forced to realise, that the past they once knew might no longer exist.



As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this is one of the films on my list to see at the festival. So I plan to have a review for you soon. Stay tuned... 

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR Looks Nice, But...



Let's be clear: THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR looks mahhhvelous. The cinematography is breathtaking, Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron look like a duo sent from above, and Chris Hemsworth is always delicious to look at. But, Snow White and the Huntsman never should have warranted a sequel. It was mediocre at best. And looking at the newly released images from the film here...just makes me yearn for a Wicked film adaptation (because it looks like I can never afford the Broadway show, and the Gregory Maguire's book is soooo good).

Alas, we're stuck with THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR. Here are a few more details on the film:

The fantastical world of Snow White and the Huntsman expands to reveal how the fates of The Huntsman Eric and Queen Ravenna are deeply and dangerously intertwined. Chris Hemsworth and Oscar® winner Charlize Theron return to their roles in The Huntsman: Winter's War, an epic action-adventure in which they are joined by Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain, as well as director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Producer Joe Roth (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland) once again leads the team in a breathtaking new tale nested in the legendary saga.

Long before the evil Queen Ravenna (Theron) was thought vanquished by Snow White's blade, she watched silently as her sister, Freya (Blunt), suffered a heartbreaking betrayal and fled their kingdom. With Freya's ability to freeze any enemy, the young ice queen has spent decades in a remote wintry palace raising a legion of deadly huntsmen—including Eric (Hemsworth) and warrior Sara (Chastain)—only to find that her prized two defied her one demand: Forever harden your hearts to love.

When Freya learns of her sister's demise, she summons her remaining soldiers to bring the Magic Mirror home to the only sorceress left who can harness its power. But once she discovers Ravenna can be resurrected from its golden depths, the wicked sisters threaten this enchanted land with twice the darkest force it's ever seen. Now, their amassing army shall prove undefeatable...unless the banished huntsmen who broke their queen's cardinal rule can fight their way back to one another.


Check out a few stills from the film:






THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR is in theaters April 22.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tribeca Sneak Peek: BAD RAP Takes a Look at Marginalization and Prejudice in the Rap Industry

A few weeks ago I highlighted BAD RAP as one of the films I'm looking out for at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, which kicks off this week. Partly because I am generally fascinated by the narratives that we don't talk, the stories that are too often left unexplored. The documentary offers a look into the lives and careers of Asian-American rappers marginalized by industry prejudice that preclude their place in the rap world.

The new trailer (below) also shows that the film doesn't just analyze racial bias in the industry, but also gender stereotypes among peers. Check out the synopsis:

Although it started in the South Bronx among African-American and Latino youths in the ‘70s, hip-hop culture today has transcended all racial and language boundaries. From the slums of France to nationally televised programs in Korea, rappers have emerged as legitimate pop culture stars around the world. Hip-hop’s global movement is diverse, but the face of rap in America remains primarily black, brown, and white.

BAD RAP follows the lives and careers of four Asian-American rappers trying to break into a world that often treats them as outsiders. Sharing dynamic live performance footage and revealing interviews, these artists make the most skeptical critics into believers.

From battle rhymes of crowd-favorite Dumbfoundead to the tongue-in-cheek songs of Awkwafina, the unapologetic visuals of Rekstizzy to conflicted values of Lyricks, the film paints a memorable portrait of artistic passion in the face of an unsung struggle.




This looks really interesting. Look out for my review soon. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Trailer Watch: Adrien Brody Gets Caught Up in a Fatal Attraction-Esque Modern Noir Film

Am I the only person desperate for a really great thriller? I'm talking about a really smart, crisp, neo-noir that Hollywood keeps teasing us with yet never delivering on. I can only hope that that is MANHATTAN NIGHT, Lionsgate's upcoming film starring Adrien Brody and Jennifer Beals (cheesy poster aside).

I'm getting Fatal Attraction vibes from the trailer (though I doubt it can live up to that comparison). More in the synopsis:

Based on Colin Harrison's acclaimed novel Manhattan Nocturne (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), MANHATTAN NIGHT tells the story of Porter Wren (Adrien Brody), a New York City tabloid writer with an appetite for scandal. On the beat he sells murder, tragedy and anything that passes for the truth. At home he is a model family man, devoted to his loving wife (Jennifer Beals). But when a seductive stranger (Yvonne Strahovski) asks him to dig into the unsolved murder of her filmmaker husband Simon (Campbell Scott), he can't resist. In this modern version of a classic film noir, we follow Porter as he is drawn into a very nasty case of sexual obsession and blackmail - one that threatens his job, his marriage and his life.

Honestly, I would have loved to have seen Beals as the crazy stalker woman, since she rarely plays a villain or antihero (come on, Hollywood. Do better). Watch the trailer:



Thoughts? MANHATTAN NIGHT is in theaters and On Demand May 20.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Netflix To Premiere the New Documentary Chronicling the Life and Murder of Olympic Wrestler David Schultz



Ugh. It's all coming back to me. The creepiness, the exorbitant luxury, and the internalized lunacy embodied by John E. DuPont, as previously depicted in Steve Carrell's surprisingly arresting performance in Foxcatcher.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this year's Tribeca Film Festival is premiering an even deeper look into the millionaire's stunning murder of wrestler David Schultz in the documentary TEAM FOXCATCHER. The new film chronicles the life and career of Schultz and how he became entangled in DuPont's world. And you'll be able to watch it when it make its global premiere on Netflix April 29. More in the synopsis:

Team Foxcatcher tells the story of descent into tragedy largely through the lens of Nancy Schultz, whose incredible footage chronicled her family’s time at Foxcatcher Farms. Archival home videos and first hand interviews show how the charismatic Schultz, an Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion, became the heart of the program and DuPont’s closest confidant. But on the fringes of this powerful partnership emerged a manic, mentally unstable DuPont, fueled by a disturbing obsession with power, wealth and influence. The film builds to the tragic final hours at Foxcatcher Farms, the murder of Dave Schultz, and the two-day police standoff before DuPont was ultimately arrested and charged.

Check out the trailer: 



Still very much hooked on this story. How about you?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Hamilton's "Controversial" Casting Call, Batman v Superman Fandom, and White Male Rage



Has anyone else noticed the increasingly popular trend of white male rage on social media? Whether it's white male movie fans who've actually said that Hollywood is "prejudice against older white male characters," white male critics who just hate the idea of anyone else having an opinion, and (most recently) white men who are vexed about the Hamilton musical casting call for "non-white actors," the Internet has become a strange place. And all of it seems to be on account of something called white male oppression.



I know, that's an odd and uncomfortable concept to swallow given the fact that it's completely fabricated and oxymoronic (or really, just moronic). But it gives white men yet another platform that they otherwise weren't a part of: exclusion. And that was just the basis of Sunday night's epic episode of "Cinema in Noir." You see, in just the last week, a white male critic at Variety was in his feelings because negative reviews (many from white male critics like himself) were devalued, resulting in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice seizing the #1 slot at the box office two weeks in a row. And on the Broadway side, members of the Actors' Equity are outraged over Hamilton's search for diverse casting, saying each role "should be open to anyone" (read: white actors should not be excluded in anything ever, even though non-white actors are excluded all the time. Sigh). White male rage is real, y'all. And it is baffling.

You can listen to the full episode here, which also features Shaun Lau's (No Totally! podcast) take on Asian representation in the second season of Daredevil:

Friday, April 1, 2016

On Nostalgia, Youth, and Token Diversity in EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!



When I first saw Richard Linklater's last-day-of-college comedy, Dazed and Confused, believe it or not just five years ago, I instantly fell in love with it. Which is weird to write since I still can't really pinpoint the reason. But I think it's because of the way it makes me feel--nostalgic, silly, and young. And I still get a kick out of Parker Posey hazing the freshmen girls, screaming "you little freshmen b**ches!" Funnily enough, that scene sticks out to me more than any other in the testosterone-fueled film.

But I was worried going into EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!, Linklater's supposed sequel to Dazed. Dazed barely had a plot to stand on, so to introduce a sequel implies that the narrative deserves a follow-up or conclusion, if you will. After watching it, I can confidently proclaim that it definitely does not. That isn't to say that EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! is bad (it's not). It's just frivolous and fleeting. And not fleeting in the sense that it's so good that you wish it would last longer; more like fleeting in the sense that you enjoy it for the moment you're watching it and instantly forget it. There are no standout scenes or characters. In fact, each one is generically identical, and the tone of the film is just as monotonous. So, I didn't get a warm feeling in my heart after watching it.



Here's something interesting, though: while the movie itself isn't all that funny, the characters are hilarious (and yet they're not really trying to be). Similar to DazedEVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! is set in a bygone era (the early 80s), which means the costumes, slang, hair and set design are all going to be indicative of the time period. And if you remember the 80s like I do, you know that in and of itself is enough to laugh at (save for the music, which makes a kickass soundtrack here). Add to that are the actual characters: a group of white baseball jocks (and one token black dude, who I'll discuss in a bit), on the prowl for an easy lay (hence the two exclamation points in the title) to cap off the summer. Donning cropped jock tops and floral button-ups, the crew traipse across their small Texas town sniffing up skirts, smoking weed, and cracking beer cans. With just a few days left before the new school year, their idle bliss gets turned up a notch with the arrival of a freshman pitcher, Jake (Blake Jenner), who they can simultaneously torture and envy over his "quiet guy in the backseat" looks.



Of course, I couldn't help but be fascinated by the one black guy on the team, Dale (J. Quinton Johnson, in his big screen debut). Not because he was the only guy of color in the film (one of Linklater's signature traits), but because he isn't a peripheral character only there to laugh at someone else's joke and nod in the background. He delivers some of the funniest lines in the film, next to Juston Street as Jay, the typical overhyped jock with an anger management problem.

While EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! isn't a great movie, there is something comforting about its predictability, self-awareness, and ability to basically recapture the plot of every single end-of-school-year/beginning-of-school-year teen/early 20s storyline (down to the token diversity and all the actors being way older than their characters). Except that no one really "comes of age" in this film. Rather, they just have a really great time basking in the naivete of the moment.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! is now playing.

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


Check out a few clips from the film:





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