Coming Soon – ‘Mad Max – Fury Road’

Several people have emailed me about this newest trailer for “Mad Max – Fury Road” (as well as the latest Bond teaser for “Spectre“).

Well, here you go…

The epic storyline started in 1979 by the Australian Miller, continues next month with the release of 4th “Mad Max” film from writer, director and producer George Miller. The Oscar winning director of “Happy Feet” continues the post-apocalyptic setting for this movie–which makes Kevin Costner’s “The Postman” look even more silly.  It doesn’t look like Miller has lost his touch over the past 35 years telling this narrative.  Of note, Cobie Smulders who played Robin in the TV series “How I Met Your Mother“, also stars in this instant classic.

Again, “Mad Max – Fury Road” hits theaters May 15.

Coming Soon – ‘Good Kill’

An unflinching, raw look into the Fog of War…the confusion and realities of split-second combat decisions and its consequences.  4-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke delivers his most explosive role yet.

The movie also stars hottie January Jones (from “Mad Men”) and Bruce Greenwood, who played Captain Christopher Pike is 2009’s “Star Trek” film and its sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness“.

“Good Kill” opens in theaters on May 15.

Movie Review: ‘It Follows’

It Follows

This sophomore film from young writer-director David Robert Mitchell starts off with all the trappings of a great old school, scary movie—complete with wide-angle shots and electronic music to build suspense. Viewers immediately find themselves in a quaint urban neighborhood at nightfall, watching as a teenage girl darts from her house in a sheer panic, attempting to outrun “It”…the ominous killer—and true star—of this horror film.

A creepy, suspenseful beginning shines light on the rampant dangers lurking for the teens in this small community; a sexually transmitted death sentence awaits these young adults who carry a pathogen in their bodies. Those infected are stalked by zombie-like killers to face certain death unless they can pass along their troubles to someone else through, of course, more casual sex. A perfect solution and message to our Next Gen of teenagers…don’t worry about solving your problems if you can just give them to someone else, right? At this point, the film has already peaked and only disappoints in the remaining hour of silliness.

It Follows2An interesting movie concept with significant potential early on, unravels into poor editing, bad acting and even worse storytelling. Director Mitchell either ran out of ideas or money in the final two acts of this low-budget production. Great music and suspenseful set-ups transform what could have been an instant, cult horror classic into an incomplete and silly assault on seriousness. Despite clever camera work and a powerful statement on the dangers of casual sex, Mitchell never truly fulfills his storytelling promise to audiences due to the film’s abrupt, callous ending.

“It Follows” packs a strong message on sexual promiscuity and has several jumpy, out-of-your-seat moments. Shot mostly using wide-angle camera lenses, the film looks and sounds like horror movies from the past—a la John Carpenter’s 1982 classic “The Thing”. Unfortunately, the comparisons end there. With a running time of only 1 hour and 34 minutes, more thoughtful and compelling presentations can be found on cable television series like “The Walking Dead”. Bluntly edited scenes and a conclusion missing altogether, pinpoint the homework for young, rising director Mitchell. Horror film enthusiasts who want glimpses into the suspense created from old-style electronic music and accompanying wide-angle shots, will find those traits plentiful in this movie. However, those wanting to see a film’s story make it to the finish line will be disappointed. Perhaps the title “It Follows” was Mitchell’s humorous presage, pointing audiences towards a sequel to find a conclusion to this movie.

Grade: D

‘It Follows’ is rated R, for disturbing violence, graphic nudity, language.  Running time is 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Movie Review: ‘Insurgent’

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As one who still hasn’t seen this trilogy’s original, place setter film “Divergent” from last year, I was hesitant as to whether I’d be able to completely understand this second edition to the action thriller series. Within minutes of this movie’s start, however, viewers are armed with enough background information to understand the chess pieces involved and make immediate comparisons between this futuristic adventure and the wildly successful “The Hunger Games” collection–although this spinoff series doesn’t come remotely close to catching fire in its storytelling or competing with the mayhem found in District 12.

Based upon New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth’s vastly popular young adult novels, this sequel finds the last remaining humans fighting for survival in Chicago—200 years into the future. Isolated from wastelands outside the city by enclosed walls, all the citizens have been placed into one of 5 groups, or “factions”, based upon testing of aptitude and personality. Problems arise when a smaller populace, identified as Divergents, hold traits associated with all five factions.  Their independent thinking and inability to be kept harbored within a specific group, creates a rebellious pushback to a tyrannical leader seeking total control, played by overqualified Academy Award winner Kate Winslet (for 2009’s “The Reader”). Leading the Divergent opposition group of misfits and other bad apples, is none other than Hollywood’s fastest rising action starlet, Shailene Woodley.

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Theo James’ character “Four” assists Divergent leader Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley).

Shailene Woodley’s action-packed performance in “Insurgent” reminds me of Tom Cruise’s decisive move from dramatic roles in “Rain Man”, “Born of the Fourth of July” and “A Few Good Men” to action-hero status in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. Woodley, coming off last year’s emotional and heart-wrenching role as a teen cancer survivor in “The Fault In Our Stars”, once again outshines all others on the big screen. And, by “all others”, I’m alluding to Academy Award winners Winslet (with six nominations), Octavia Spencer (2011’s “The Help”) and 2-time Oscar nominated Naomi Watts…pretty good company that Woodley decimates and overshadows throughout.

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Academy Award winner Kate Winslet as the prime evil Jeanine Matthews.

Despite Woodley’s stand-alone, remarkable job as instigator and leader of the faction-less and divergent groups, coupled with fascinating CGI simulator challenges in the movie, “Insurgent” is hampered by a weak script and even thinner plot. At the halfway point in this collection’s theater blitz, let’s hope next year’s “Allegiant: Part 1” and 2017’s “Part 2” rise to the level of this series’ “Hunger Games” inspiration.

Grade: C+

“Insurgent” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 1 hour, 59 minutes.

Movie Review: ‘McFarland USA’

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This latest Disney film starring Academy Award winner Kevin Costner tells the uplifting and remarkable true story of a small California high school cross-country team in 1987. It’s an inspiring and motivational film tribute to a community and culture that raises children with a tireless work ethic while fostering a strong sense of family responsibility. “McFarland USA” is an eye-opening and heartwarming movie that challenges our assumptions about people, personal sacrifice and endurance. The film delivers an epic account on both cultural and physical conditioning–combining to superbly illustrate the tenacity of the human spirit.

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Nowhere are assumptions and preconceived notions about people more evident than in Costner’s character, Jim White, portraying McFarland’s high school cross-country coach in the small agricultural town. Transplanted from more posh coaching environs, the White family’s relocation to this community of immigrant farm workers, or “pickers” as they’re self-described in the film, creates the immensely satisfying learning curve for viewers on the rich Hispanic culture.

As Coach White develops and trains his cross-country team, we find out how special this young group of runners and their community are. The movie’s most salient point is how Costner’s coaching role challenges his student athletes to not assume they can’t be successful outside of McFarland, CA. This rebuke to the status quo gains momentum as the film’s real story unfolds on the screen—culminating in a spectacular and emotional movie ending.

The film’s invigorating cast shines bright throughout this brilliant journey. Each of the jarring performances, particularly from the young runners, is exceptional and believable. In fact, while Costner’s work as Coach White was adequate enough, it pales in comparison to the authentic and endearing efforts by the other stars.

The first great movie of 2015, “McFarland USA” is a motivational true story of endurance and challenging one’s assumptions. It radiates guts, determination and pushing well beyond a person’s threshold of pain and physical limitations. An extraordinary cast brings a heartfelt and triumphant message of culture, family and hard work. Misguided stereotypes are broken with an unorthodox coach and a well-conditioned and tenacious handful of runners. Altogether, the film brings us full-circle to a place that feels like no other…home.

Grade: A-

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“McFarland USA” is rated PG with a running time of 2 hours and 9 minutes.

Trailer – ‘Hitman: Agent 47′

Anyone else anxious to see this genetically altered assassin film this August?  Viewers who’ve watched recent seasons of the TV series “Homeland” on Showtime will recognize CIA operative Peter Quinn (played by Rupert Friend) in the leading role of this summer’s surefire hit.

“Hitman: Agent 47″ is director Aleksander Bach’s debut big-screen film and also stars Zachary Quinto, who played Spock in the 2009 remake of “Star Trek” and it’s 2013 sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness”.  Quinto, has appeared in such TV series as “So NoTORIous” and earned an Emmy nomination for his role in “American Horror Story: Asylum”.

The movie opens on August 28th.

Movie Review: ‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

Exotic1Fans of 2012’s sleeper hit “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” will find this sequel entertaining and watchable, but without nearly as many satisfying accommodations and perks as its first adventure. Viewers’ prior familiarity with the large and diverse returning cast is a prerequisite to comprehending the multitude of plotlines in this newest feature. Despite repeated attempts to tap into the successful courtship formula used in the original film with the introduction of Richard Gere, this story squanders potential excellence with self-indulgence and an overall lack of focus on a main theme. The end result is a mixed bag of short-lived comedy and numerous missed opportunities.

Energetic and talented British actor Dev Patel, from 2008’s Academy Award-winning Best Picture “Slumdog Millionaire”, returns as the face of India’s Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Patel’s character Sonny wishes to expand his hotel business to a second location in the Indian city, but must first clear several hurdles in his way. Patel’s over-the-top performance as Sonny, a gadabout engaged to be married to his fiancée Sunaina (Tena Desae), is both comical and endearing. The film, however, doesn’t give the couple’s upcoming nuptials the attention it deserves or that audiences, who saw the first film, come to expect.

Exotic2After a sluggish beginning to the film, too many tortuous and convoluted storylines unravel–none of which can be salvaged with the thin, transparent screen time afforded to them. The most promising side dish is Gere’s character, who’s central to the movie’s overall plot, but remains underdeveloped and underutilized throughout.

ExoticThis film does provide several amenities which help it gain momentum leading up to a spectacular ending. The movie’s most appealing aspect is the majestic Indian attire and vibrant dancing found in Sonny’s long-awaited matrimony to the smoldering Sunaina. Once again Academy Award-winning director John Madden captures the allure and beauty offered by India’s rich culture and traditions. His intimate and insightful look at India through this film’s camera lens, is enough to even make the travel guide giant Fodor’s jealous. And that alone may be worth the cost of a theater ticket to travel enthusiasts. For the rest, though, you’d be better served waiting for this sequel to be released as a DVD or streaming rental.

Grade: C+

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is rated PG with a running time of 2 hours and 2 minutes.

Movie Review: ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’

Fun, exciting spy thriller erupts into laughs

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Academy Award winner Colin Firth (for 2010’s “The King’s Speech) impressively leads this light-hearted and quite enjoyable spy thriller as British agent Harry Hart, opposite world Internet antagonist Richmond Valentine—portrayed good-naturedly by Samuel L. Jackson. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a fun and entertaining action-packed spoof presented as an alternative to the more thought-provoking, stuffy spy genres such as the James Bond and Jason Bourne classics.

After slightly drawn out and timid opening scenes, Director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”, “X-Men: First Class”) smartly moves this adaption from the Mark Millar comic book series to a feverish and, often, hilarious pace–leaving no type of lethal hand-to-hand combat skills unused. A large part of this movie’s success is due to infusion of raw, young talent from Englishman Taron Egerton, who plays the wannabe spy learning from his amiable, yet soft-spoken mentor–Firth’s Agent Hart. The generational gap between these two, combined with their teacher-pupil relationship, offers the audience pure enjoyment as the secretive “Kingsman” torch gets passed down to Egerton’s untested “Eggsy” character.

Kingsman2Egerton’s admirable performance as “Eggsy” keeps up nicely with a stalwart cast that, besides Firth and Jackson, includes six-time Oscar nominated (winning twice) Michael Caine and Mark Strong from last year’s “The Imitation Game”. Sexy Sofia Boutella, the Algerian-French actress/dancer more recognizable as the Nike Girl in television ads, teams up with Jackson’s lisping rogue billionaire villain to bring harm to our planet. Rounding out the film’s exceptional line-up is none other than Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker—Mark Hamill—in a small cameo as Professor James Arnold.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a highly satisfying, over-the-top explosion of fun as good defeats evil in the world. Using excessive, mindless violence to the point of comic relief takes “Kingsman” to the edge of satire, stopping just short of ridicule towards the weightier spy films. This movie works because director Vaughn never takes the characters or the script too seriously or disparages the clandestine profession. Vaughn even offers several hat-tips to the Bond legacy, paying proper homage with references and ensuring the spy always gets the girl. After all, “Manners maketh man”.

Grade: B+

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content.  The running time is 2 hours and 8 minutes.

 

Movie Review: ‘Still Alice’

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This film’s heartfelt and frightening look at the early onset of Alzheimer’s leaves viewers to ponder and question their own mortality. It offers the unpleasant and unfair ending to a brilliant life, the result of a ruthless disease that attacks, degrades and then destroys one’s mind over time. The movie feels like a punch to the stomach for audiences, as it calculates the disease’s heaviest toll; the loss of one’s ability to reflect back on their most precious moments accumulated over a lifetime.  It focuses on one family’s response to Alzheimer’s, underscoring the need for acceptance and understanding of this terrible life sentence. The movie saddens and shocks in a world where one’s Bucket List of all the must-do sights, sounds and tastes to remember before death, are replaced by the disoriented, forgotten and mistaken lists of an Alzheimer’s sufferer.

Academy Award winner Julianne Moore is phenomenal as Dr. Alice Howland, a married mother of three, who is diagnosed at the age of 50 with Alzheimer’s. Ironically, Howland is a renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University and understands, better than most, the difficult and unpleasant journey ahead for her and the Howland family.

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Moore’s chilling transformation in physical demeanor and mental acuity, as her condition worsens, leaves the audience in the uncomfortable position of bystander–wanting to help, but unable to do so. Whether it’s answering the simple questions Howland has placed in her phone or seeing a family member go unrecognized, viewers can’t help but feel unnerved and disheartened seeing Moore’s sad story unfold before their eyes.

Based upon first-time author Dr. Lisa Genova’s 2007 best-selling novel by the same name, “Still Alice” superbly illustrates the struggles and coping mechanisms used by Moore as she attempts to slow down the disease. The film, though, doesn’t go nearly far enough in describing the vastly different relationships Howland develops with her children. As a result, the supporting cast equates to average overall, leaving the Oscar-winning Moore to cope and carry the film herself, alone—just as Alice must do.

This story is Moore’s to live and tell, in the moment. Her courageous fight reminds us to cherish our memories and live today. We are a society of etched memories stored on Go-Pro videos and selfie-sticks for later reflection. But what if there were no later, only a now? It’s that question which “Still Alice” answers unabashedly, triumphantly raising awareness to Alzheimer’s and its frightening aftermath following diagnosis.

Grade: B

“Still Alice” is rated PG-13 with a running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes.

Now Accepting – REEL BRIEF 2016 Oscar Voting Members

Do you watch all the Oscar nominated film’s in the Best Picture category? Ever wish your Academy Award vote and voice was counted and heard? Well, here’s your chance…

REEL BRIEF is seeking volunteers who would like to be part of a 100-person Oscar voting block for next year’s 2016 nominated films. You’d agree to watch as many of the nominated film’s as possible and cast your vote for the deserved winners to REEL BRIEF via email 1-week prior to the ABC telecast.

81st Academy Awards¨ Press Kit Images

Results would be posted on this website as well as on the REEL BRIEF Facebook page. Your votes and identify would, of course, remain anonymous. However, those wanting to discuss their votes casts may as do so if they wish–your call.

Interested voters please email Patrick at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.com by March 1st to get placed on the REEL BRIEF 100-person voting committee. Selected voters will be notified by email.

Thank you.

REEL BRIEF.com