Monday, November 23, 2015


It’s been forty years since we first took a ringside ride down the Rocky Balboa pugilistic rabbit hole – a bare-knuckled journey that’s seen its fair share of bombastic brawler highs and ridiculous Russkie lows.  …and had it not been for that tantalizing trailer, I probably would have made fun of CREED (like we all do the band) sight unseen.  I’m here to say, however, that I’m glad I never led with that easy-to-dismiss jab…because CREED turns out to be something wholeheartedly different.  It’s a thrillingly unabashed, crowd pleasing sports drama fueled on vim, vigor and vehemently passionate performances from both Jordan and Stallone (arguably some of the latter’s best work – ever).  Director Ryan Coogler has more than efficiently polished the gloves of this once golden franchise – enabling the pulse-pounding tale to briskly bob-and-weave like a bantamweight independent film and yet hit with emotional and motivational, star-powered ferocity of a box office heavyweight.  Ultimately, Coogler’s winning hook is creating a fresh, raw, urban legend of ambition, talent and legacy that’s rooted in palpable doses of rah-rah nostalgia.  Equal parts drama, romance, action, heart and humor, it’s an engagingly energized, commendably charismatic and serendipitously soulful sequel that will make you stand up and cheer!  CREED is an ambitiously gripping film that everyone should welcome with arms wide open – because it will, indeed, take you higher.  Creed is the lord of the ring!

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad
Directed by: Ryan Coogler (FRUITVALE STATION)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2hr. 12min.
Story: Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Still, there’s no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed’s legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa. Once in the City of Brotherly Love, Adonis tracks down Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and asks him to be his trainer. Despite his insistence that he is out of the fight game for good, Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo—the fierce rival who became his closest friend. Agreeing to take him on, Rocky trains the young fighter, even as the former champ is battling an opponent more deadly than any he faced in the ring. With Rocky in his corner, it isn’t long before Adonis gets his own shot at the title…but can he develop not only the drive but also the heart of a true fighter, in time to get into the ring? [Warner Bros.]

Friday, November 20, 2015


Hobbled by a Hobbit movie-like penchant for copious amounts of laborious walking, this finale – while definitely a semi-ambitious step above its perfunctory Part 1 predecessor (not a hard task, mind you) – is a glumly-toned blockbuster that sporadically excites… When it does deliver, it’s the inherent dramatic nature of the journey – we’re at the end, where the wrapping up of people, places and secrets discovered is explored.  The flip side of splitting one book in to two movies, however, is that the story gets needlessly drawn out and all momentum is essentially lost…or at least that’s what’s happened here.  We’re forced to exist in a relatively tension-free district where the thrills and surprises are few and far between.  For me, it basically boiled down to no longer caring about the plight of these Panem-ian people.  Aside from a few tight action sequences and some occasionally decent acting, this is a movie that rambles instead of rouses, that’s fleeting instead of focused.  I did find myself occasionally engaged but never fully enthralled or entertained. There’s easily enough here to satisfy the loyal masses – this is a splendid looking yet virtually emotionless soon-to-be blockbuster – however, it ultimately seem likes these final two movies exist for the sole benefit of box office coffers…and not the actual people coughing up the cash to see ‘em.

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2hr. 16min.
Story: With the nation of Panem in a full scale war, Katniss confronts President Snow in the final showdown. Teamed with a group of her closest friends – including Gale, Finnick and Peeta – Katniss goes off on a mission with the unit from District 13 as they risk their lives to liberate the citizens of Panem, and stage an assassination attempt on President Snow who has become increasingly obsessed with destroying her. The mortal traps, enemies, and moral choices that await Katniss will challenge her more than any arena she faced in The Hunger Games. [Lionsgate]

Friday, November 13, 2015


Familiarize yourself with SPOTLIGHT now. It may not be my favorite movie of the year, but come Oscar time it’s, rightfully, sure to be top-of-mind with those in the know...  It’s a compellingly predictable story of news writing tenacity and integrity – an intelligent tale of exposing horrendous societal wrongs.  The screenplay is taut, the direction is informative and the terrific ensemble cast (keep a watchful nomination eye on Keaton, Ruffalo and/or McAdams) delivers it all in a solid, no-nonsense, workman-like fashion.  A punch-to-the-gut from a subject matter standpoint, SPOTLIGHT remains a respectfully-toned, pseudo-thriller that focuses its print media gaze on the political and procedural nature of the investigation and, most quizzically, how does a person say ‘no’ to God.  On a slightly negative fringe, the nature of these true events easily lends itself to a no-frills, no-surprises conclusion – and, I would have welcomed a bit more background on the Boston Globe crew who turned these events in to a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Aside from those mild qualms, SPOTLIGHT remains a scrappy yet straightforward take down of the Catholic Church that’s sure to play in to the hands of awards voters and audiences alike.

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Live Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Billy Crudup
Directed by: Tom McCarthy (THE STATION AGENT, WIN WIN and THE VISITOR)
Rated: R
Running time: 2hr. 7min.
Story: SPOTLIGHT tells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city and cause a crisis in one of the world's oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper's tenacious "Spotlight" team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston's religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world. (C) Open Road

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Clocking in at around 2 hours and 30 minutes, Daniel Craig’s latest turn as the spy with a license to kill is the longest movie of his tenure with, by far, the least amount to say…  And aside from a terrific opening sequence, lush cinematography and a few welcomed Bond bon mots, we’re left with little more than a lazily substance-free, double uh-oh downer.  Somehow, the director of the far superior SKYFALL (Sam Mendes) manages to mangle and meander our hero through a thoroughly consistent maze of missed opportunities.  The premise is silly, the action is uninspired, the villain is…well, the villain is Christoph Waltz playing Christoph Waltz (yawn) - and the movie as a whole is one bloated, yet easy to look at, misfire.  SPECTRE blandly, and quite shamelessly, attempts to tether together Craig’s previous three-film run as if this film were the action/reaction culmination of the lives he’s lost and his do-gooder deeds that went villainously unpunished.  Watching this greatest ‘hits’ party play out though is like watching someone attempt to knit a patchwork quilt with a single blade of grass.  It’s not shaken, it’s not stirred, it’s not fun.  Many may easily dismiss the unfocused, chemistry-free nature of QUANTUM OF SOLACE (a leaner, more energetic adventure by comparison + Craig seemed he was still having fun…as much as I imagine Craig can), but this is the lesser of the last four Bond flicks – easily.  If Grammy-winning singer Sam Smith’s solemnly snooze-inducing, post-opening sequence theme song doesn’t completely shut down your senses, you may find a few jewels here to (briefly) admire.  As it stands, however, this is one flat and moody spy movie that goes off way more than a little half-cocked.

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Naomie Harris, Ben Wishaw, David Batista, Monica Bellucci, Andrew Scott and Ralph Fiennes
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2hr. 30min.
Story: A cryptic message from Bond's past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Dishing out generous servings of back-of-house, culinary-staging abuse, Bradley Cooper gives a firecracker performance as a once-great chef given a second chance…  The movie itself may be overstuffed, clich├ęd and more than a little melodramatic, but the behind-the-door mechanics of how a high-end kitchen lives, breathes and dies based on customer and critical feedback is endlessly compelling.  Food, as expected, is highlighted quite nicely here but the main ingredient missing is the love for each dish – no matter how small (like the expert grilled cheese work done by Jon Favreau in last year’s superior, CHEF).  BURNT makes for a breezy watch, but it still could have used a pinch of restraint and a dash of affection…  Still, I’d recommend – at some point – you check out what B-Coops is cookin’. #BRADtatouille #SilverLiningsCookbook

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy and Daniel Bruhl
Directed by: John Wells (AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY and THE COMPANY MEN)
Rated: R
Running time: 1hr. 40min.
Story: Chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) had it all – and lost it. A two-star Michelin rockstar with the bad habits to match, the former enfant terrible of the Paris restaurant scene did everything different every time out, and only ever cared about the thrill of creating explosions of taste. To land his own kitchen and that third elusive Michelin star though, he’ll need the best of the best on his side, including the beautiful Helene (Sienna Miller). [TWC]

Friday, October 23, 2015


A satirically silly stab in the dark, Bill Murray’s latest is a blindly jutting, dull blade of poorly written dialogue, inexplicable character motivations and structurally unsound storytelling.  The tale itself, goofy as it all sounds, has the potential to be interesting: A down-on-his-luck, L.A.-based rock manager discovers a desert gem of a voice while promoting his American client’s USO, Kabul-based show… You know what, scratch that – this sounds awful.  At every turn, ROCK THE KASBAH relies too heavily on Murray’s dryly wise-cracking shlubbish shtick – an act I truly adore when the material around him is working toward the same goal of entertaining audiences (which is most of the time).  In this case, however, his efforts range wildly from harmless hot potato to hellish hand grenade.  The performance works every so often, but mostly lacks effective bite and smacks of sad-clown desperation. You can also expect an emotionless performance from Bruce Willis, an awkwardly underdeveloped performance from Kate Hudson and a ridiculously brief performance from Zooey Deschanel.  Lots of talent here – all wasted.  There’s an inherent fish-out-water cultural clash of politics, religion and reality-show glitz that all go largely unexamined throughout its seems-longer-than-it-really-is running time.  This lazy, forced and unfocused Middle East mess aside, Murray still remains a god amongst entertainers…even if ROCK THE KASBAH is literally lost in translation.

Starring: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Scott Caan, Danny McBride and Zooey Deschanel
Rated: R
Running time: 1hr. 40min.
Story: ROCK THE KASBAH is the story of "Richie Vance," a has-been rock manager who takes his last remaining client on a USO tour of Afghanistan. When Richie finds himself in Kabul, abandoned, penniless and without his passport, he discovers a young girl with an extraordinary voice and manages her through Afghanistan's version of "American Idol," the wildly popular "Afghan Star." (C) Open Road

Friday, October 16, 2015


Steven Spielberg and Tom Hank’s most recent cinematic outing – a fish-out-of-water, Capra-esque, nomination-ready potboiler – may purposely lack the flash of their past movie projects, but still stands dutifully tall alongside box office brethren like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.  BRIDGE OF SPIES is an engrossingly layered, true-life tale of liberty and loyalties, of walls being built and walls crumbling down...  Team Spielberg (including co-screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen) have delivered an engrossingly chatty, tone-rich, late 50’s world born of main street innocence and spy versus spy insecurities.  I’ve heard mentions that the trailers look too dry or stodgy, too much political banter and legalese.  That, to some extent, is a legitimate concern – but I would counter that the greatest scenes in this movie (of which there are many) happen to be when Hanks (engagingly phenomenal in the role, as expected) is in a room simply talking to another person – be it his wife, a Russian diplomat, a government stooge or an incarcerated spy.  I could have actually used more of this; specifically scenes with said spy – actor Mark Rylance – who, even with too little screen time, still brings a stoic yet humble intimacy to the film. It’s the kind of stuff Oscar nominations are made of… If you’re open to Spielberg’s particular brand of optimistic intrigue then you’ll find BRIDGE OF SPIES to be a masterful tale of morals and men, honor among enemies.  It’s a confidently patient and quirkily (thanks to the Coen Bros) commanding Cold War-by-way-of-courtroom caper!

Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan and Sebastian Koch
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2hrs. 21mins.
Story: Bridge of Spies tells the story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), a Brooklyn lawyer who finds himself thrust into the center of the Cold War when the CIA sends him on the near-impossible task to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot. [Dreamworks]