Thursday, October 1, 2015


The admirably accessible, deep-space offspring of GRAVITY, CAST AWAY, APOLLO 13 and 127 HOURS, THE MARTIAN is a briskly-paced and whip-smart big screen delight.  It’s a gold standard testament to old school, high tech film making – a cinematic experience where masterful storytelling sensibilities collide with gorgeous visuals and effortless, popcorn munching fun!  Director Ridley Scott – with, arguably, his most audience friendly film to date – has assembled a dream team of actors: Damon, in a seemingly dire situation, turns in an engagingly sure-footed performance forged of wit and wisdom; while the supporting cast (Daniels, Ejiofor, Chastain, Mara, Pena, Bean and Glover) rigorously navigates the compelling tides of NASA’s terra firma-bound bureaucratic soup.  …and the ‘should they rescue him/can they rescue him’ ping-ponging is endlessly compelling.  Trying to make-do on Mars, THE MARTIAN – with ample amounts of head smarts, heart and humor – is the type of film that puts the ‘science’ in ‘science fiction’.  In fact, (coupled with its starry-eyed special effects) its upbeat themes on perseverance, ingenuity, communications, problem-solving and teamwork are so refreshingly sincere that I definitely plan on sharing this film with my three, game-for-any-movie-that-takes-place-in-outer-space children (ages 10, 8 and 5).  Easily one of the best films of the year, this exhilaratingly scientific MacGyver-on-Mars (#MarsGyver?) charmer is out of this world!

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, Kristen Wiig, Sebastian Stan and Sean Bean
Directed by: Ridley Scott (BLADE RUNNER, ALIEN and GLADIATOR)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2hr. 14min.
Story: During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Based on the best-selling novel. (C) Fox


Friday, September 18, 2015


Fear and Loathing in South Boston.  Johnny Depp gives a mightily memorable (and mascara-free) performance in BLACK MASS – a semi-competently constructed crime caper that dumps it’s puzzle pieces on the table, builds out as much of the puzzle as possible and then swipes the remaining pieces – the ones they can’t seem to fit – to the floor.  This based-on-a-true-story potboiler offers a fairly bleak, slow burn look at schoolyard loyalties and the unholy alliance between notorious gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and the FBI – a partnership that is ultimately forged in the depths of a morally blindsided hell.  Aside from solid casting and an inherently intriguing true-crime plot, almost everything worth wanting to know more about is either handled in a surface-level fashion or dropped all together.  Just when you want them to keep digging…they throw away the shovel.  It’s seedy, South Boston street smarts may be slickly aligned in terms of tone and texture, but it seems to have no real interest in the what-and-why ways of Bulger the sociopath (brother to a state senator, childhood friend to a federal agent) or the countless Winter Hill Gang cronies that (mostly) blindly followed his deranged command.  BLACK MASS is seemingly begging to rub shoulders with like-minded genre greats like Goodfellas and The Departed…  Since it brings nothing new to the table, it can’t – so ultimately, it locates that tossed shovel and starts digging itself in to a cinematic shallow grave.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Sienna Miller, Adam Scott, David Harbour, Corey Stoll and Dakota Johnson
Directed by: Scott Cooper (OUT OF THE FURNACE and CRAZY HEART)
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hr. 2 min.
Story: In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly persuades Irish mobster James "Whitey" Bulger to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy: the Italian mob. The drama tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement, consolidate power, and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in Boston history. -- (C) Warner Bros


Visually stunning, stressful and tense, this tale of survival and sacrifice demands to be seen in an IMAX sanctioned theater – find the biggest screen, the best sound and you can then – basically – tell your friends you’ve scaled this dauntingly precarious precipice.  Seriously, anything short of this big screen format would be a bust – because although a handful of characters manage to reach summit, the movie never quite does…  There is an inherent intensity that exists here, but with wafer-thin characterizations (the reliable guy, the throw caution to the wind guy, the no oxygen guy, the unsure guy, the Asian woman, The Texan, to name more than a few)  and forcedly shoehorned antics from back-at-home loved ones, I was never fully invested in the lives at stake.  …and this, in turn, kept me from the edge of my seat.  EVEREST is mostly style over substance, with breathtaking camera work and dizzying spectacle that becomes tethered to a blizzard of characters that will sadly be forgotten once you leave the theater.  The mountain IS the movie.  A breeze to recommend based on spectacle alone, EVEREST is a bleak expedition procedural that will ocularly dazzle, occasionally compel and yet never fully engage.  Its intentions far exceed its frozen-handed grasp.

Starring: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright and Keira Knightley
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur (2 GUNS and CONTRABAND)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hr. 1 min.
Story: Inspired by the incredible events surrounding a treacherous attempt to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Everest documents the awe-inspiring journey of two different expeditions challenged beyond their limits by one of the fiercest snowstorms ever encountered by mankind. Their mettle tested by the harshest of elements found on the planet, the climbers will face nearly impossible obstacles as a lifelong obsession becomes a breathtaking struggle for survival. (Universal Pictures)

Friday, September 11, 2015


The Grandparent Trap.  Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan dazzled audiences with his directorial prowess and intricate slight-of-hand when he placed pen upon paper.  He (or maybe we) started to rely a little too heavily on his next big reveal with any given film.  Regardless of his tricks, THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SIGNS and (to a lesser extent) THE VILLAGE proved that he knew how to hang an audience on his every written word and tweak of the camera lens.  A few years later he directed THE HAPPENING, THE LAST AIRBENDER and AFTER EARTH – arguably three of the worst movies of the last ten years.  Back for another potential browbeating from critics, M. Night has managed to scale down his usually exorbitant production budget, slim down his storytelling, beef up the focus on characters and, all in turn, deliver an intimately insane little pseudo-thriller about an unassuming, weeklong visit to Nana and Pop Pop’s.  The real twist of this story is that it doesn’t suck – like most of us expected. This creepily kooky crowd-pleaser is a brazenly bare-bones, out-of-left-field, what-the-hell-just-happened bounce-back for M. Night.  It’ll make you squirm in your seat, hide your eyes and laugh from both nervous fear and comedic delight .  Moviegoer masses willing, this is a perfect example of a film begging to be viewed for the first time with as many unassuming strangers as possible. This found-footage format sibling adventure contains loads of tension, tons of wit, touching familial drama, terrific performances from all involved and a balanced, self aware tone that makes it almost impossible to resist.  Don’t leave your room after 9:30pm, sleep with one eye open and skip that over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house nonsense this holiday season.  THE VISIT is good ol’ fashioned horrific fun!

Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge, Peter McRobbie and Deanna Dunagan
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr. 34min.
Story: A brother and sister are sent to their grandparents’ remote Pennsylvania farm for a weeklong trip. Once the children discover that the ederly couple is involved in something deeply disturbing, they see their chances of getting back home are growing smaller every day.

Friday, August 21, 2015


Jason Bourne meets Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski (aka: The Bourne HIGHdentity).  In concept, this seems like a terrific hybrid pairing of genres.  In execution, however, American Ultra is a slack lazy attempt to simultaneously make audiences laugh galore and squirm by gore.  It’s a Frankenstein-ian patchwork of granularly geek-tastic notebook doodles.  Ideas that seemingly popped in to the filmmaker’s head while, hopefully, under the influence of reefer madness.  There are some laughs, a few modestly intriguing concepts and a couple of not-so-obnoxious lead performances – but that all quickly caves under the girth of an overbearing action premise that loses its way in a cannabis-induced haze of misdirection and obnoxiously meandering shifts in tone.  It’s funny then it’s not, it sweet, then its super violent.  It’s as if this paranoia-laced premise was designed to simply impress the people that made it…  American Ultra is absolutely in love with how creatively out-of-the-box it thinks it is.  It’s not a bad movie – occasionally the quirk works – I just gave up on giving a damn.  Not unlike Eisenberg’s slack-jawed slacker, the movie feels riddled with anxiety about what it is and what it wants to be…  After the blood-splattered Cheeto dust settles, you’ll find you have the munchies for a much better movie.  I’d puff-puff-pass on this one…
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Tony Hale, John Leguizamo, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins and Bill Pullman
Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh (PROJECT X)
Rated: R
Running time: 1hr. 39min.
Story: American Ultra is a fast-paced action comedy about Mike (Eisenberg), a seemingly hapless and unmotivated stoner whose small-town life with his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe (Stewart), is suddenly turned upside down. Unbeknownst to him, Mike is actually a highly trained, lethal sleeper agent. In the blink of an eye, as his secret past comes back to haunt him, Mike is thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation and is forced to summon his inner action-hero in order to survive. (C) Lionsgate
Official site:

Friday, August 14, 2015


Witness the strength and influence of street knowledge in director F. Gary Gray’s near-masterful and fascinatingly raw depiction of N.W.A. and their meteoric and legacy-leaving rise to stardom.  A pulse-pounding, thought-provoking and head-bopping origin story, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON tells an intricately and compellingly woven tale of forged friendships, brotherly bonds, societal acceptance and freedom of speech – all with heart, humor and great deal of hubris.  Minor setbacks here include some clich├ęd melodrama (which is inherent to the biopic genre in general) – as well as glossing the protagonists as a relatively clean-nosed band of brothers that only held a mirror to their surroundings, put pen to paper and dropped some sick beats…  Their explicit lyrics lead me to believe otherwise (perhaps wrongly, perhaps I’m outta line).  Outside of those minor issues, this is a perfectly cast (like seriously, this relatively unknown cast is superb), tightly directed, engagingly written piece of controversial, must-see cinema.  This is not a movie to be watched, it’s a movie to be experienced.  You may not agree with their explicit, demeaning and extremely violent approach, but there’s no denying its potent relevancy in the 80’s, 90’s and even today.

Starring: O’shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr and Paul Giamatti
Rated: R
Running time: 2hrs. 27min.
Story: In the mid-1980s, the streets of Compton, California, were some of the most dangerous in the country. When five young men translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. Following the meteoric rise and fall of N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton tells the astonishing story of how these youngsters revolutionized music and pop culture forever the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war. -- (C) Universal Pictures