Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Early Christmas Break Pocket Reviews

I'm so behind on reviews! Here are my two cents on the past eight films I've seen in theaters:

In the Heart of the Sea 

Following RUSH, Ron Howard adds another Chris Hemsworth film to his diverse oeuvre. IN THE HEART OF THE SEA charts the alleged true story that inspired Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." The whale sequences are intense, and the drama mostly works thanks to Hemsworth and a terrific supporting cast. Sometimes in between whaling scenes can be a bit of a slog. Practically no humor and many of the interpersonal relationships among the men on the ship are undercooked. Also, I don't think the film says quite as much about humanity or the human spirit as this kind of story demands. It's worth seeing in theaters for the whaling scenes, but if you have a decent home setup, wait to rent it.


CONCUSSION is an excellent story told in a way that's far more vanilla than it deserves. Even Will Smith's best performance in years isn't quite enough to elevate CONCUSSION to must-see awards contender. Too often the film doesn't know whether to be a football drama, a biopic of Dr. Bennett Omalu's life, or a hospital thriller in the vein of ER. As the narrative careens from one big event to the next, it's hard to get emotionally invested in anything besides the occasional shot of game film which is, more often than not, played for simple shock value. If nothing else, though, the movie succeeded in getting me to rethink my Sunday afternoon priorities.


Spike Lee's latest joint is his funniest and most urgent in ages. CHI-RAQ is a modern day retelling of the Greek play "Lysistrata" by Aristophanes. In the film, gang violence cripples several south-side Chicago neighborhoods. In order to reach peace, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) organizes a sexual revolution. The boyfriends/husbands of the neighborhood won't get any until they put down their guns and stop killing one another. For me, the film actually slows down a bit when the revolution finally gets into full swing. The concerned men of the neighborhood are somehow far less interesting to watch than Lysistrata and the rest of the women. Nick Cannon, of all people, is actually the standout male actor here. As the gang-leader/rapper boyfriend of Lysistrata, he deftly embodies the emotional struggle between the call to peace and honesty versus his obligations to the streets, the only life he knows. His character changes the most from beginning to end, and Cannon plays it with as much nuance as some of the finest actors working in film today.

Fair warning that the entire script is written in the same style as the original play. That means the whole thing is spoken in rhyme. This may be distracting to unversed viewers, but you should know what you're getting into by seeing "Lysistrata" in the byline.

Star Wars: Episode 7 - The Force Awakens

Well, you should know by now whether you're going to see STAR WARS or not. Without spoiling anything, it's the best since EMPIRE. Newcomers John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are wonderful. They suit the STAR WARS universe perfectly and are poised to become the next in-demand superstars. My biggest issues with the film were that J.J. went a bit too heavy on the nostalgia bait and that it was way too funny. STAR WARS was never this hilarious until it was spoofed by Mel Brooks. I also docked the film a few points for not really having an original bone in its body. They just essentially remade A New Hope. This didn't distract me from the exciting fact that we finally have a good STAR WARS movie again, but it left me concerned that episodes 8 and 9 might copy the same formula as their predecessors. Let's hope that isn't the case.

The Big Short


FOXCATCHER was no fluke. Steve Carell stands out once again in awards-hopeful THE BIG SHORT. It's about the select few individuals who predicted the burst of the housing bubble and 2008 economic collapse. Director and frequent Will Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay does his best Scorsese impression here; it's easy to make comparisons to THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. Between the two, there's plenty of fourth wall breaking, F-bombs, and freeze frames. If I had to choose between the two, though, I found THE BIG SHORT to be a more focused production and thus far more enriching in the end than WOLF OF WALL STREET. The entire cast (Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt) shines along with a host of impressive supporting players and stellar cameos. Sometimes the quasi-GOODFELLAS approach takes you out of the story, but in all honesty, who can resist a shameless cut to Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining how sub-prime loans work?


Director Justin Kurzel presents what is perhaps one of the most compelling examples of "cinema as art" of the past several years. Shakespeare's classic tragedy is brought to vivid life by Michael Fassbender in the title role and Marion Cotillard as his muse Lady Macbeth. Both players are revelatory and fit the material beautifully, even if some of it is occasionally too dense and dour to keep up with. If Chivo weren't back in the awards race this year for THE REVENANT, surely MACBETH would be the Oscar frontrunner for best cinematography. If nothing else, the look of the film is simply sublime; like a colorful homage to Bergman. 


ROOM tells the story of a young woman (Brie Larson) and her 5-year old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who have lived in captivity for years. When they escape the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the fragile pair try to acclimate to life back in the real world. Easily one of the best films of 2015. This is a strong, emotional story that never panders us with clichés and is impeccably acted by Larson, Tremblay and Joan Allen as "Grandma." All three deserve awards consideration; Larson especially will likely have it for Best Actress. ROOM would make a great double feature with Denis Villeneuve's PRISONERS


In SPOTLIGHT, a team of Boston Globe reporters investigate a scandal within the local Catholic archdiocese. For me, I think this is it. This is the film to beat this year. Not only that, but it's probably in my top 5 of the last several years. The ensemble cast is marvelous, working from a near-perfect script by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy. The film takes an honest approach to the world of journalism and doesn't attempt to make idols of the heroes or total pariahs of the villains. I can't help but think what David Fincher might have done with this material, but I appreciate McCarthy's honest, straightforward approach. There's really not enough of that in movies these days. See it ASAP and expect it to have a big presence at the Oscars in February. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

"Krampus" Review

Writer/director Michael Dougherty decided to put Trick 'r Treat 2 on hold for another couple of years in order to bring us Krampus, a Yuletide horror-comedy about a dysfunctional family struggling to find the Christmas spirit.

Something we can all relate to, yes?

When the family's youngest son, Max (Emjay Anthony), tears apart his wish list for Santa Claus, he unwittingly conjures something far more "naughty" than anyone could have bargained for. 

Like Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat, I think Krampus has cult status written all over it. I see myself enjoying it even more with perennial viewings. It's as though Christmas Vacation, Gremlins and Jumanji all got into the egg nog together and birthed this raucous family film. It's on par with those beloved family classics in terms of humor, horror and excitement.

Dougherty displays a delightfully grinchy attitude that stands in refreshing contrast to the saccharinity of most of the films people will be watching this season. There is perhaps a not-so-subtle poetry behind the slow-motion, Black Friday binge scene set to Bing Crosby's soothing "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." Krampus really works because of this kind of dark, cynical mentality that everyone has about Christmas, to a certain extent, that makes the film so funny, so relatable and so frightening. In other words, Dougherty is saying what we've all been thinking for years. Very few Christmas movies have had the balls to do that. The ones that have are now considered classics (Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, etc). Soon enough we'll see if time is equally as kind to Krampus.

My only real complaint is that it has a bit of a convoluted ending. It feels like a cop-out but is also one of the oddest and possibly most satisfying resolutions of any mainstream film this year. Certainly repeat viewings will help.

Kudos to Dougherty for getting an excitingly original genre piece out in theaters at this time of year.  


Thursday, December 3, 2015

"A Matter of Perspective" - A Curation on Voyeurism in Cinema

To paraphrase Laura Mulvey, it is said that analyzing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it...

That is the intention of this blog post.

To understand voyeurism is to understand a little bit of psychoanalytic theory...

Stay with me...

Scopophilia - "taking other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze" (3).

Norman Bates did that with Marion Crane in Psycho.

What's interesting here is that director Alfred Hitchcock creates tension by simple camera placement.

Notice in this scene how the perspective switches from a medium shot of Norman looking through the peephole to a seemingly first-person view of what Norman actually sees. This implicates the audience as the violators themselves; we become unwittingly responsible for the sin of scopophilia, not Norman!

Voyeurism itself is slightly different from scopophilia...

Scopophilia = objectification
Voyeurism = obsession

Merriam-Webster defines a voyeur as "someone who enjoys seeing and talking or writing about something that is considered to be private" (4). Scopophilia seems to always focus specifically on the objectification of one person by another.

Mulvey, on voyeurism:

"The mass of mainstream film, and the conventions within which it has consciously evolved, portray a hermetically sealed world which unwinds magically, indifferent to the presence of the audience, producing for them a sense of separation and playing on their voyeuristic fantasy" (3).

In her article titled "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," Mulvey also speaks specifically on the implication of the audience's voyeuristic tendencies by noting that "conditions of screening and narrative conventions give the spectator an illusion of looking in on a private world..." (3).

Voyeurism usually has sexual connotations, but it isn't always like that...

Checking in on the "private world" of Truman Burbank

If to be a voyeur means to derive pleasure from seeing something considered to be private, then anyone around the world who enjoys watching the reality television program "The Truman Show" is a voyeur. 

In the film The Truman Show, there are two levels of voyeurs within the world of the narrative: the "creator" in the television studio (Ed Harris) and the audience of viewers at home.

In this clip, the "creator" orchestrates a moment of beautiful emotion for the program's millions of viewers to enjoy:

Notice the intense focus of the "creator" throughout the scene. He is slightly obsessed with choosing the proper tools to create this moment of catharsis between Truman (Jim Carrey) and his long-lost father. Thus the "creator" is the ultimate voyeur to Truman's world. What's more is that director Peter Weir cuts between the studio and the actual live moment of Truman meeting his father. In doing so, he allows us, the spectators of the real-life Truman Show film, to derive the same sense of emotional release and pleasure as the audience in the story world viewing "The Truman Show" television program.  

In The Routledge Encyclopedia of Film Theory's entry on "film and enunciation," theorist Christian Metz speaks on why we, and essentially the fans of Truman's television show, derive pleasure from watching fiction programs like The Truman Show and Psycho. There is a level of suspense derived from the seemingly illicit viewing of another person's private life. Metz says that voyeurism works in fiction film because "the mechanism of satisfaction relies on my awareness that the object I am watching is unaware of being watched" (1). 

"...the mechanism of satisfaction relies on my awareness that the object I am watching is unaware of being watchted."
- Christian Metz (1)

Perhaps that's how Rear Window's L.B. Jeffries begins his obsession of watching his neighbor's curious goings-on...

Voyeurism and Gaze Theory

In keeping with the Hitchcock theme...

In Hitchcock's film Rear Window, photojournalist L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is sidelined with a broken leg, which confines him to a wheelchair in his small apartment with little to do but gaze at his neighbors and live vicariously through their experiences. He believes that the man living across the way, Mr. Thorwald (Raymond Burr), is acting suspicious. What's more is that the man's wife doesn't seem to be around anymore. What starts as an innocent hobby soon becomes an obsession for Jeffries as he works with his girlfriend Liza (Grace Kelly) to unravel the mystery of Mrs. Thorwald's disapperance.

Jeffries himself becomes a voyeur with his obsessive peering through the windows of his neighbors, especially those of Mr. Thorwald. 

However, especially in Hitchcock's work, the voyeuristic gaze becomes a defining characteristic of gender within the text of the film.

Jeffries' caretaker notices his leering at the sexy "Miss Torso"

We get the sense that Jeffries may be girl-crazed from the start.

Who can blame him?

Hitchcock films Kelly in close-up here to emphasize her beauty. Theorist Linda Williams is cited in The Routledge Encyclopedia by saying that "while the voyeuristic male gaze derives pleasure from the fetishistic distance between the spectator and the filmed image, the body genre's pleasure can often be found in the very lack of distance from the filmed image that makes the body genre so captivating" (5).

In this case, the closeness between the viewer and the filmed subject (Kelly) puts us in Jeffries' shoes and forces the audience to identify with the male's perspective. For anyone viewing the film through a heterosexual male lens, this approach to the voyeuristic gaze is just as titilating, if not more so, as Metz's idea that pleasure comes from the subject's naïveté about being watched.

When bae agrees to help you solve a murder mystery...

Everything about the way Liza is framed and lit throughout this film highlights her sex appeal. Just look at the way Jeffries literally gazes at her!

Mulvey muses on the male gaze theory in an entry in the Routledge Encyclopedia:

"The determining male gaze projects its phantasy onto the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role, women are simultaneously coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote 'to-be-looked-at-ness'."
- Laura Mulvey (2)

That's why Hitchcock always makes his women look appealing

Mulvey also says that "the image of woman as passive raw material for the active gaze of man takes the argument a step further into the structure of representation," but we'll leave that for another curation post (2).


1.Metz, Christian. "Film and Enunciation." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Film Theory. Ed. Edward Branigan and Warren Buckland. New York: Routledge, 2014. 158. Print.
2. Mulvey, Laura. "Gaze Theory." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Film Theory. Ed. Edward Branigan and Warren Buckland. New York: Routledge, 2014. 225. Print.
3. Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18. Jahsonic. Web. 3 Dec. 2015. <>.
4.  "Voyeur." Merriam-Webster, Inc, n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2015. <>.
5. Williams, Linda. "History of Feminist Film Theory." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Film Theory. Ed. Edward Branigan and Warren Buckland. New York: Routledge, 2. 198. Print.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving Break Pocket Reviews

The Night Before (2015)
dir. Jonathan Levine
Cast: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan

After the indelible, understated charms of 50-50, director Jonathan Levine re-teams with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt for this flat-out absurd holiday comedy. Think The Hangover set at Christmastime.

When three best friends (Rogen, Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie) meet for their last Christmas Eve together, they embark on an odyssey to make it the greatest night of their lives.

Each goofy, unrealistic escapade begets another, but so goes every single one of Rogen's movies. That said, the film shows some heart and could just be the best new Christmas movie in several years. It really is the holiday-themed Hangover movie I didn't realize I needed to put me right in the spirit of the season.

The Night Before is a total riot, but whether or not it becomes a perennial favorite remains to be seen. I'll have to try it out again next Christmas.


Creed (2015)
dir. Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson

Director Ryan Coogler reinvigorates the Rocky franchise with the exceptional seventh sequel, Creed.

Living in Apollo's shadow, young Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) seeks to honor his late father's legacy while also forging his own path on his way to becoming a champion. Along the way, Adonis seeks the counsel of former champ Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and also finds his "Adrian" in Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an edgy, up-and-coming musical artist from Rocky's neighborhood.

Spectacular performances, a great story, gorgeous cinematography and confident direction will make you forget Southpaw even existed, if you haven't already. Creed is as good as anything I've seen all year.

(P.S. Stallone is firmly, unfacetiously in the conversation for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Yes, that's right. THAT Sylvester Stallone, bitches.)


Spectre (2015)
dir. Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz, Naomi Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista, and Monica Bellucci

I finally made it out to see Spectre, the latest (and possibly last) adventure for Daniel Craig's 007.

Following a snafu in Mexico City, James Bond returns to England disgraced. He's suspended by M (Ralph Fiennes) just as political tensions loom regarding worldwide surveilance / "big data." This somehow prompts Bond to embark on a personal mission to uncover the secrets behind a rogue organization of assassins and terrorists.

Many of the subplots didn't quite gel for me. I also found Spectre to be criminally lacking in urgency and stakes compared to Skyfall and Casino Royale. To add insult to injury, this is apparently one of the most expensive movies ever made, costing around $300 million after re-shoots and marketing expenses. You'd never know it by just watching the thing though. There aren't enough set pieces to justify going so far overbudget, and most of the locations are no more lavish than what we've seen in previous Bond films.

All said, it's interesting to dig deeper into Bond's character as it seems all roads so far have led to this. At the same time, it still feels like the real conflict is just beginning. The performances are quite good as well. Christoph Waltz is the standout as the main villain, Franz Oberhauser.

If you have yet to see Spectre at this point, wait and give it a rent when it hits Blu-ray.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Spectre" Review

by Levi Hill


Spectre sees Daniel Craig return for his fourth go-round as special agent 007. In this film, as his past comes back to haunt him, James Bond hunts for a sinister terrorist organization while M (Ralph Fiennes) fights to keep MI6 in operation. The movie tries to craft a deeper personal look at Bond but lackluster storytelling holds it back from reaching its full potential. Acting and set pieces are solid though.

Spectre’s main issue is that the villain of the film, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), is severely underused. He doesn’t appear until well into the film, and once he does appear, he is completely hidden in shadow. When he surfaces a second time, near the very end of the film, he shows exactly how perfect of a Bond villain he is. However his three scenes are not nearly enough screen time for a cretin of his caliber.

The next issue I had with Spectre is that the relationship between Bond and Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) feels incredibly forced. Of course Bond isn’t known for taking things slow with his women, but by the end of the film their relationship feels rushed and unearned. Similar to Vesper in Casino Royale, Swann is set up to be a real love interest for Bond. However, the lack of chemistry between the two makes their relationship here hard to believe.

Despite these complaints, the film is still worth your while. The opening sequence is a masterpiece of continuous camera movement. The action scenes are exciting, and you can feel the impact of each blow, especially when Bond is fighting Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista).

There are no bad performances in the film. Craig is fantastic as Bond, which should be expected with his fourth, and potentially final, outing as 007. Waltz is incredible in his limited screen time. Seydoux is convincing enough despite her character being rushed. The supporting cast, including Fiennes, Andrew Scott, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw, also give solid performances. 

Overall, Spectre is a fun, enjoyable action film. It doesn’t live up to the post-Skyfall hype that surrounded it, but that doesn’t make it a complete failure.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Words on "Star Wars: Battlefront"

I've seen so much negativity out there surrounding this new video game, Star Wars: Battlefront, that I felt compelled to offer my meager two cents after spending time with last month's beta as well as this week's full release.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not played enough of the original Battlefront games to speak in depth on them here. However, I recognize a hard reboot when I see one.)

This game is AWESOME. Fans on the fence who didn't have a chance to play the beta should at least rent it, but if you're like me (a Star Wars fan who enjoys playing online shooters with friends who are also Star Wars fans) pick this game up post-haste.

There are many caveats to developer DICE and publisher EA's approach to this thing. It thrives on multiplayer and doesn't feature much by way of an offline single-player campaign. There are several training, battle, and survival missions for players to choose from that each take place within the context of the larger "story world" of this game, which is almost exclusively based on Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Players can tackle these modes alone or with a friend offline locally, but online co-op is also supported. I had a blast racing speeder bikes on Endor with a friend who lives 100 miles away.

Battlefront also has myriad online multiplayer game modes. Some are better than others. Without the fan-favorite Galactic Conquest, most players will probably turn to Supremacy, Walker Assault, and Fighter Squadron. The current game has about 12-13 maps spread across 4 planets: Hoth, Endor, Sullist and Tattoine. The thing holding some of these modes back is that the game limits map choice. For example, you can only play Walker Assault on 4 of the 13 maps. However it wouldn't make sense to have the massive AT-ATs on a map like "Ice Caves" which is made up entirely of a network of underground tunnels on Hoth.

There are many critics out there that think limitations such as these constitute a broken game. They're also complaining that EA is pushing a $50 DLC season pass that, over the course of the coming year, will offer 16 more maps, more game modes (possibly Galactic Conquest?), more weapons, and additional playable heroes. Is that really more overall content than the final game? Who knows? I'd rather have a sure thing in my hands first than base my entire judgement on mysterious additional content that may be underwhelming. 

From a visual standpoint, the whole thing just looks and sounds so damn good that it's easy for me to let some of the limitations slide. It really feels like I'm playing the movie. Blaster fire and character movement feel authentic. Killing stormtroopers is extremely satisfying when they crumble to the ground with physics that mirror the films.

Controls are pretty tight too. The only thing that feels out of place is the ability to switch between first and third person views on the fly, which is mapped exclusively to the down arrow on the D-pad. That feels awkward when I'm trying to quickly outmaneuver enemy fire.

 For me, Battlefront is about as immersive a video game as I've ever played. I'm having such a blast with it that I'm not put off by any of these nitpicks, many of which can be fixed for free in future software updates let alone $50 DLC. 

(Once the season pass is fully detailed, I might spring for it. Maybe that means I'm part of the problem, but from what I've experienced so far, it's worth it.)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Steve Jobs" Review

With Steve Jobs, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 127 Hours) directs a script from Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) based on Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography

The drama here centers around the events backstage at three product launches which signify three distinct eras in Jobs' life and career. Thus, the entire movie is really just three extended scenes.

1984 - the Macintosh represents the culmination of Jobs' misguided, unchecked hubris leading to his firing from Apple. For you cinematography nerds, this section of the film was shot on 16mm film stock. Grain levels are high, and you can see the scratches and burns in the image itself. 

1988 - the NeXT Black Cube is Jobs' independed project that serves as a mere stunt in order to win back Apple's good graces. Shot on 35mm film stock.

1998 - the original iMac serves as the climax of Jobs' aspirations in personal computing. His relationships with other characters such as Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), and his daughter Lisa (in this era, Perla Haney-Jardine) come to a head as well. Shot on the latest digital cameras.

Though deliberately and rather uniquely structured for a biopic, this is one of Sorkin's weakest screenplays. He seems content to let the dialogue be little more than quips for the characters to shout at one another. As for the direction, this feels like Danny Boyle directing a David Fincher film. The material doesn't suit Boyle's stylistic proclivities as well as it does Fincher's. In fact I couldn't even tell I was watching a Boyle movie until the last five minutes.

Still, at least it's less vanilla than the Ashton Kutcher version.

What keeps the film watchable are the incredible acting performances. Fassbender is as good as, if not better than, he's ever been despite the fact he looks nothing at all like Jobs. Winslet and Katherine Waterston (playing Jobs' muse Chrisann Brennan) are wonderful in meaty roles as the only females who can stand up to Jobs' domineering, boorish personality. Rogen gives the dramatic performance of his life as Wozniak. Many of the film's strongest moments are when he is on screen trading barbs with Fassbender. One of the best scenes comes in 1988 where they meet in the pit of the San Francisco orchestra for a private conversation about their individual contributions to personal computing.

I think my favorite part though is also during the '88 section where Steve finds himself in an empty room with John Scully (Jeff Daniels), Apple's CEO. Their meet-cute is pretty corny. Scully is sitting in a chair at the end of this long, empty room as if planning for the random chance that Jobs might wander in and see him. From there, the next 5-7 minutes are a master class in elliptical editing and narrative economy. Boyle uses these tools to build tension and deliver character development at the same time. The conversation eventually devolves into quip-shouting, but at least here it makes sense. This is as tense a scene as I've witnessed in any film this year.

At the time of this posting, Steve Jobs is projected to put up only $7.5 million in its first weekend of nationwide release. That's sad because I think this film is worthy of attention, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a big Oscar campaign built around it. However it is neither the best movie of the year nor does it live up to the full potential of a dream Boyle-Sorkin team-up.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Weekend Report (October 16-18)

Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg directs this Cold War espionage thriller about insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who is selected by the CIA to represent a Soviet spy in American court. After an American spy plane is shot down over Soviet air space, Donovan is called on again to negotiate a trade - one spy for another.

The story is so riveting and the script so well written by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers that the narrative seems to move at a gingerly pace. Hanks turns in another bravura performance, but who really impressed me was Mark Rylance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Rylance turns in a nuanced, understated performance that makes me want to seek out more of his work. He's slated to play the title character in Spielberg's upcoming Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG, and after seeing Bridge of Spies, I think Rylance is a marvelous choice. The film is also very well lit and shot by DP Janusz Kaminski. Figures don't seem to glow as they have in some of Kaminski's previous work. Rather this film seems to be an exercise in visual economy. The viewer always sees what he/she needs to see, and the atmosphere appears clean, clear and cool. My only major gripe is that this is one of two movies this weekend in which actress Amy Ryan is limited to a wifely/motherly role with little to no agency.


Where Bridge of Spies displays visual economy, Goosebumps demonstrates narrative economy. It moves at a breakneck pace in which just about every moment services the plot or character development.

The story follows a kid named Zach (Dylan Minnette) who moves to a sleepy Delaware town with his mother (Amy Ryan) who's taken a job as the vice principal at her son's new high school. Talk about awkward. Zach befriends his next door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), the daughter of children's book author R.L. Stine (Jack Black). Stine is adamant that Zach and Hannah are not to see each other, but things go awry when Zach tries to save Hannah from what he mistakenly believes is a domestic dispute with her father. He breaks into their home and accidentally opens one of the transcripts in Stine's office, unleashing every manner of monsters, ghouls and creepy crawlies from the Goosebumps canon.

I had tons of fun with this. While the fast pacing and visual effects may overwhelm some, Goosebumps features several genuinely hilarious moments and pitch-perfect performances. The cast fully commits to the silliness. Black especially shows a dark edge that makes the experience so much more interesting than just early Halloween eye candy. This is a good horror comedy for the whole family.

Crimson Peak

Following a mysterious family tragedy, a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) from New York is whisked away to a mansion in the English countryside after she falls for an outsider (Tom Hiddleston). 

Guillermo Del Toro's unique visual style is on full display. The costume and production designers deserve Oscars. The film isn't especially scary in the traditional "horror movie" sense, but Crimson Peak revels in the macabre and nods to several hallmarks of Gothic cinema/literature. You'll notice specks of Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Innocents, and The Uninvited among other influences. I've never particularly cared for Wasikowska as an actress but Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, who plays his sister, are both terrific.

99 Homes

A man (Andrew Garfield) and his mother and son (Laura Dern, Noah Lomax) are evicted from their home in Orlando, Florida. In order to get it back, he begins working for the shady real estate broker that took everything from him (Michael Shannon).

Shannon gives another great performance as the real estate magnate, but Garfield turns in his finest work to date as the desperate Dennis Nash. There was some talk of Oscar potential for the two lead actors, but I don't think this movie has it. As great as their performances are, I don't think Broad Green or Noruz Films have the money to put together an Oscar campaign for this film. It's destined to be overlooked like Drive and so many other deserving indies over the past several years. Aside from that, 99 Homes tells a riveting story that would've been perfect had it come out at the height of the housing collapse a few years ago. Now it feels something like old news.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Legendary & WB are re-teaming for an all-new cinematic universe with Godzilla, King Kong and other famous monsters

News doesn't get any bigger than this.

Today, Legendary and Warner Bros. Pictures announced a limited partnership to produce and distribute films for a "kaiju" cinematic universe. This comes on the heels of Godzilla's worldwide success for the studios last year. Legendary plans to cross over Gareth Edwards' latest incarnation of Godzilla with an upcoming King Kong, as well as Toho's other popular monsters King Gidorah, Mothra and Rodan eventually.

According to the press release from Legendary, these films will be linked by Monarch, the human organization that David Strathairn led in the 2014 film, as they continue missions around the globe. It is unconfirmed if Strathairn will reprise his role as Admiral Stentz in these upcoming films.

The next film in this new franchise, Kong: Skull Island, will be in theaters on March 10, 2017.

Gareth Edwards' Godzilla 2 will be out June 8, 2018.

Things will come to a head in Godzilla Vs. Kong, which bows at a date to be determined for 2020.

Personally, I think all of this sounds awesome. But this new Godzilla is nearly the height of a skyscraper, and King Kong isn't even as tall as the spire on the Empire State Building. The "8th wonder of the world" might be at a slight disadvantage...

I guess we'll see.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Marvel Studios announces "Ant-Man" sequel and new Phase 3 release dates

by Levi Hill (@Levi_Hill15)

Marvel Studios have shaken up their Phase 3 lineup once again.

This time they’ve added a sequel to this summer’s surprise hit Ant-Man with Ant-Man and the Wasp, which will debut on July 6, 2018. This marks the first time a Marvel Studios film has used its heroine’s name in the title. Ant-Man has earned $410 million dollars so far at the worldwide box-office, $178.5 million coming from the United States.

Over the summer, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige said that we would see Hope Van Dyne on screen as the Wasp before Phase 3 was over, so this is confirmation of that promise. Paul Rudd, who played the titular hero in Ant-Man, is set to appear next in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Whether he will join the Avengers for 2018’s Infinity War – Part 1 has yet to be announced.

Marvel Studios also moved the release dates for Black Panther and Captain Marvel. Black Panther will now release on February 16, 2018, and Captain Marvel will hit theaters on March 8, 2019.

This will be the first time that Marvel releases movies in the months of February and March.

The studio also announced three untitled films for 2020 – releasing May 1, July 10 and November 6. This adheres to the three-movie-per-year model they are starting in 2017. It’s safe to say that these films will be a mix of sequels and new characters, but it’s impossible to predict who the films will be about until we get closer to their releases.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fall Break 2015 Extravaganza (Pocket Reviews for THE WALK, SICARIO, THE MARTIAN)


Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away) harnesses the full power of IMAX 3D with The Walk, a true story about Philippe Petit who crossed a high wire between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The movie itself is good, but it would've been better as a French foreign language film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt just didn't quite cut it for me this time. The Walk feels too mainstream and suffers from that sappy, Disney "you can achieve all your impossible dreams" diatribe despite being a Sony release. However, the visual and 3D effects are a sight to behold. I nearly cried seeing the World Trade Center so vividly realized at the beginning of the film. I've heard that the documentary about this same exact subject, Man on Wire, is better, so I think I'll give that a shot before I ever revisit The Walk.


Sicario is a fascinating exercise in morality that asks us to contemplate which lengths we would go in order to find truth. Much of the film plays like your standard police procedural; thus it may drag for those expecting nonstop action. However, performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro are particularly excellent, and Roger Deakins' cinematography is gorgeous. There are also plenty of narrative twists and turns to set this one apart from your usual "law & order" fare. I enjoyed catching The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal and The Avengers's Maximiliano Hernandez in substantial bit parts. Sicario is what the second season of True Detective wants to be when it grows up. Highly recommended. 


I'll be honest. The Martian was much better than I expected. It doesn't reach the lofty philosophical or artistic heights of, say, Gravity, but I found this to be the most wholly accessible and satisfying outer space movie I've seen since probably Apollo 13. Matt Damon leads a terrific ensemble cast in director Ridley Scott's best movie in years. That said, the film editing proves to be a major chink in the hull. Several sequences play out as if important actions/reactions are cut off too soon. Keep in mind also that Drew Goddard's script is loaded with quips for Watney (Damon) to spout off even at times of heightened drama. Personally I appreciate the fact that Watney recognizes the humor in his grave situation, but I can see how his making light of the circumstances may upset some viewers looking for dense character drama. This isn't Cast Away or Gravity, but it paints a broader picture with lots of wonderful supporting characters. Recommended.

Monday, September 28, 2015

"The Green Inferno" Review

Eli Roth delivers B-movie nirvana with The Green Inferno, the controversial film that was stuck in distribution hell for two years before horror super-producer Jason Blum swooped in to save the day.

It's about a group of college activists who travel to the Amazonian jungle in order to protest the rampant deforestation going on in the area. A miraculous turn of events finds the students crossing paths with cannibalistic natives who kidnap and terrorize them.

This movie is something of a love letter to the cannibal exploitation films of the late 1970s and early '80s. Roth even provides a nice curated list of the specific movies which inspired him at the bottom of the credits just in case you're in the mood for more blood, guts, dismemberment and live animal killings.

Having seen Ruggero Deodato's 1980 cult classic Cannibal Holocaust, I can say that Green Inferno is like watching My Little Pony in comparison. That is in no way negative criticism.

Though Cannibal Holocaust doesen't cease to genuinely shock even 35 years after its release, Green Inferno has far greater entertainment value. The performances are inconsistent, especially in the film's first 30-45 minutes, but the looks of utter terror on the actors' faces never get old once the "fear of the unknown" really sets in. Though nobody will be rushing to hand awards to Lorenza Izzo, Daryl Sabara or Kirby Blanton later this year, it's refreshing to see horror-movie characters appear so genuinely, outwardly horrified. It doesn't look like anyone is acting.

The movie also earns points for its wonderful practical gore effects from the legendary KNB FX Group (led here by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger). Nobody does barbecued torsos, detached limbs and gouged-out eyeballs better than those guys.

Despite all the gristle and gore, Roth never forgets to approach it all with a sly wink to the straight-up goofy, just to let us all know that we're privy to an exercise in B-movie making for the iPhone era. Whether it's tarantulas in your shorts or some cunning use of your recreational drug of choice, there's no shortage of comedic relief here.

At the end of the day The Green Inferno is much more than a straight-up gorefest. It's a scathing indictment of generation Y entitlement, political correctness, foreign capitalism and geopolitics.

The Green Inferno is not for the faint of heart. If you can't stomach blood and guts, then I cannot recommend this movie to you.

However if you can look past that and savor the film as a solid product of its context (the subtexts, the practical special effects, the B-movie sense of humor, the use of actual native tribesmen, the social media zeitgeist surrounding it), then you will have an absolute blast.

I loved The Green Inferno, and it will likely stand as the most abhorrent-in-content mainstream release for some time. They're just too scared to make 'em like this anymore.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Levi's Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of Fall/Winter 2015

By Levi Hill 

So far, 2015 has yielded several surprises and several disappointments. However, as the fabled Oscar season approaches, we turn our attention toward the upcoming movies. I seriously doubt all of these picks will get nominated for an Academy Award, but these are my top 10 most anticipated films for the remainder of 2015.

10. The Good Dinosaur
Release Date: November 25, 2015
Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jeffery Wright, Steve Zahn, and Anna Paquin
This is the first time Pixar has released two features in one year. They have their work cut out for them if they want to try and catch lightning in a bottle twice following the critical and commercial success of this summer's Inside Out. Firing the entire voice cast just months before the film’s release doesn’t bode well. However, it’s still a movie from Pixar, and that is enough to get my attention as well as the 10th spot on this list.

9. Creed
Release Date: November 25, 2015
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, and Tony Bellew
It’s a return to the world of Rocky Balboa, this time focusing on the son of Apollo Creed with Balboa serving as the mentor. The trailers for Creed look great, but the key element for me is that Ryan Coogler is directing the film. Coogler directed Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, the best performance of Jordan’s career, in my opinion. Assuming Coogler can get high-caliber performances out of Jordan and Stallone, this movie should be very good and deserves a spot on this list.

8. Bridge of Spies
Release Date: October 16, 2015
Starring: Tom Hanks, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, and Eve Hewson.
A Spielberg-directed film, starring Tom Hanks, co-written by the Coen brothers. Do I need to say anything else? Set during the height of the Cold War, Hanks plays an insurance lawyer tasked with negotiating the exchange of captive spies between the United States and the Soviet Union. The stakes are high, and I can't think of a finer actor-director pairing to take this story on. 

7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
Release Date: November 20, 2015
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and Donald Sutherland.
The Hunger Games series finally comes to a conclusion. Following a surprisingly good third installment, the fourth should provide plenty of action and fulfill the emotional tension built up in Mockingjay - Part 1. Jennifer Lawrence returns and has turned in three exceptional performances as Katniss so far. I expect nothing less this final time. It’s probably not going to win any Oscars, but it will still be an intense action film. Who can turn one of those down on Thanksgiving weekend?

6. The Revenant
Release Date: December 25, 2015
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter.
 Alejandro González Iñárritu, winner of last year's Best Director Oscar for Birdman, returns for yet another daring test of the film medium. The Revenant was shot chronologically, on location, and used only natural light. These challenges, an all-star cast (including DiCaprio who might just be able to claim that elusive Oscar with his performance), and Iñárritu in the director’s chair combine to give The Revenant a huge amount of Oscar buzz and will more than likely result in a fantastic film.

5. The Hateful Eight
Release Date: December 25, 2015
Starring: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Channing Tatum.
It won't get a wide release until January 8, 2016, but since Quentin Tarantino's latest has a limited release scheduled for Christmas Day, it fits the criteria to join this list by a narrow margin. The Hateful Eight is sure to be full of snappy dialogue, quick editing, and most likely a ton of violence. Tarantino has a knack for taking talented actors and getting the performance of their careers out of them. John Travolta in Pulp Fiction is an example. I think that Channing Tatum could steal this movie, if he has a decent sized role in the film. It will definitely be one to look out for when it comes to your town.

4. Steve Jobs
Release Date: October 23, 2015
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels.
After going through enough turmoil at Sony to get most films canceled, the Steve Jobs biopic is finally being released, and it looks very good. Fassbender is definitely one of my favorite actors working today, and I’m excited to see Rogen showcase his dramatic acting ability for once. If a Fassbender drama doesn’t have you hooked, the film was directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social NetworkA Few Good Men). Steve Jobs easily finds a place on my list of most anticipated films.

3. The Martian
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Kate Mara.
Matt Damon is an astronaut stranded on Mars who has to survive for several years until NASA can make it back to save him. All of the film’s early buzz sounds like it's one you don't want to miss. The novel was surprisingly hilarious, and the trailers seem to keep the very light-hearted vibe despite the perilous situation Damon’s character is in. Hopefully this will be director Ridley Scott’s return to form.

2. Spectre
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Starring: Daniel Craig, Naomie Harris, Christoph Waltz, and Ralph Finnes.
Daniel Craig is back for yet another adventure as 007. Sam Mendes returns to the director’s chair, following up the critically acclaimed Skyfall. The addition of Christoph Waltz as the villain is nothing but good news, as he is a world-class actor and should be one of the most menacing Bond villains in some time. Spectre would normally probably be number one on this list, however there is one franchise returning to the screen that has many people, myself included, incredibly excited.

1. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Release Date: December 18, 2015
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Issac.

It’s Star Wars. Do I need to say more? This could potentially be the first truly great Star Wars film since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher return as Luke, Han, and Leia, respectively, along with several incredibly talented newcomers to the franchise. The production has been shrouded in secrecy, and in my opinion, that is fantastic because I want to know as little as possible heading into this film. I struggle to find the words to explain how excited I am for this movie. It’s been years in the making, and it’s finally here. It is easily my most anticipated film for the rest of 2015.