senna

A documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna. Film perfectly mixes 1980s-90s video footage with subtitles, personality conflicts, and rise to stardom of Senna. Racing novices will enjoy the captivating personal story and politics behind the scenes. Indy, NASCAR and yes, F1 racing junkies, will be fascinated with this phenomenal young driver and his emotional navigation of the track.

Go rent this movie, "Because in a split second, it's gone"- Senna.

Grade: Winner!

"Senna" is rated PG-13 with a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes.  Available to rent at Netflix and iTunes. You may also purchase it at Amazon or Target.

birdman

Most of us remember Michael Keaton's successful string of comedies in the early 1980s that started off with "Night Shift" and "Mr. Mom".  Afterwards, he starred in Tim Burton's highly anticipated "Batman" in 1989. By 1992, he once again played the caped crusader in "Batman Returns", earning Keaton widespread acclaim. Then something happened; Keaton's movies were more "misses" than "hits" until he seemed to disappear from cinema screens overnight. Keaton's career had fallen into the category of insignificance.  He missed out on meatier roles and blockbuster box office winners. Years later, even as he found himself providing voices to successful animated films ("Cars", "Toy Story 3"), Keaton was never handed that potential Academy Award acting part or movie. Until now.

Keaton's enthralling performance completely dominates this film from start to finish. As the character Riggan Thomson, Keaton plays a once famous actor still revered by his fans for his superhero movie persona Birdman from years ago. Riggan, perhaps similar to Keaton following his Batman days, doesn't want history to only remember him for wearing the crime-fighting costume. Unwilling to reprise the Birdman gig for a fourth movie installment, Keaton's character leaves Hollywood for the world of Broadway plays. Now, struggling to gain acceptance from critics, fans and his family, Keaton's Riggan becomes despondent. Keaton's intensity shines throughout the movie like a laser in a dark theater.  But by no means does he carry this remarkable film solely. The film's edgy behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway production reveals a combative storyline from its entire cast and crew.

Just as impressive as Keaton's acting gem in this movie is the extraordinary job two-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton ("Primal Fear", 1996) does to keep the plot and film moving along effortlessly. Norton's character, Mike, is hired as a last-minute replacement actor to co-star opposite Keaton's delusional Riggan in the Broadway play. Together, Keaton and Norton give movie audiences a volatile mix of personalities so convincingly testy that viewers will be left cringing at times and shaking their heads. Likewise, Naomi Watts (2-time Academy Award nominee) perfectly stars as the uncertain female lead in the play's production.  Rounding out the splendid cast are Zach Galifianakis ("The Hangover" trilogy) and Emma Stone ("Amazing Spider-Man").

"Birdman" marks such a powerful, riveting masterpiece by Keaton and his co-stars, that this film should garner several Oscar nominations. It's almost certain to make the list for Best Picture while Keaton is a heavy favorite to get a nod for Best Actor. "Birdman" also makes a strong case for Academy Award nominations in the Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton) and Best Directing (Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) categories.

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Fight Club 2: Keaton and Norton in action.

Aside from the exceptionally strong acting performances, the movie also excels in the cinematography department. Despite being filmed almost entirely within the confines of their Broadway theater, the terrific camera angles and shots deserves separate mention. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu gallantly captures the long, maze-like hallways containing the brisk-paced walk of Keaton and others in single, continuous shots.  Viewers become transfixed on the theater set itself; both the happenings in front of the stage and behind it--never missing a step with the characters.  At other times, the film holds a shot an extra few seconds for effect and audience reflection. It's that unique showcase of the film's storyline on camera, combined with brilliant leading and supporting acting, that makes "Birdman" one of the best films in 2014.

"Birdman" provides Michael Keaton the opportunity to remold his film legacy.  While Keaton has attempted for years to rekindle his 1990s popularly at the box office, fictional superhero Riggan Thomson has refused to be typecast as Birdman--despite the insecurity that his decision costs him.  It's only fitting that Keaton's character in "Birdman" desires relevancy and acceptance while taking on a new direction. After all, it's the movie "Birdman" that stands to help return Keaton to the top of the entertainment business. And in return, look for this film to gain massive Oscar buzz come this January--thanks to the dynamic duo of Keaton and Norton.

Grade: A+

"Birdman" is rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 59 minutes.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” puts DreamWorks on top of the animated film charts, moving ahead of previous industry-leader Pixar. In fact, the visuals in this film almost distract viewers, at least initially with the vast landscape shots. During the first few scenes, the lucid—almost magical—pictures on the big screen mesmerized me. Raising the animation bar to such a high quality product really opens this movie to wider audiences, as adults will forget they’re watching a kids’ film. Pixar’s “Toy Story” collection was brilliant at this realism too, leading the way for other studios to market these movies not only to parents, but also to adults without children.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 2

Besides its remarkable visual acuity, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” satisfies audiences with its successful storyline. A darker plot involves another milestone for the young Viking boy, Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), to overcome on his rise to leadership. Following in the footsteps of his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), Hiccup must protect and defend the dragons against outsiders. With plenty of action and a soft tug at our heartstrings, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” invokes emotion and interest throughout its 1 hour and 45 minute running time. DeBlois deserves credit for keeping the film’s length commensurate with its target audience attention span, never trying to do too much on the big screen.

This movie deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film and accolades for producing a storyline that’s enjoyable for both adults and kids. Never getting too far ahead of its viewers, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” keeps the action and suspense flowing seamlessly. The film instills the positive messages of personal fortitude and one’s goal to settle differences peacefully. While the story is kept simple for younger audiences, it offers enough boldness to pique the interest of older viewers—and for an animation film to capture the attention viewers of all ages, that’s saying a lot.

Released earlier this week to DVD and Blu-ray, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" is now available for rent or purchase at; Amazon, Flixster, iTunes, Netflix, Redbox, and VUDU.

Grade: A-

"How to Train Your Dragon 2" is Rated PG, running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Interstellar2

This latest Christopher Nolan film challenges audiences to keep up with the director's cerebral vision and fast-paced storytelling. "Interstellar" moves at a speed and distance that doesn't afford us, the moviegoers, the time to get complete answers along this fascinating journey. With such vast space to cover in the film, Nolan must play loose with the math and science equations, staying focussed instead on the many threats facing the talented cast. After all, the stakes are high; Earth is becoming uninhabitable and another planet must be found…right now. Like a rock skipped across the smooth waters of a lake, Nolan couldn't slow down to fully explain the mathematics of gravity, Einstein's theory of relativity, or how space travel was possible from a Midwestern farm to deep inside a wormhole. That deceleration would've halted the 3-time Oscar nominated director's story and sank this movie. Cleverly, Nolan decided to toss one life and death challenge after another at the cast and audience, keeping both groups entertained while the rock (the main story) skips along at a high velocity.

Despite being just shy of three hours long, "Interstellar" delivers full-throttle action at a nearly non-stop clip. Every scene has new challenges or dangers lurking, often instigated by windy dust-ups or callous behavior by man. Between buzz-kill talk of spatial and temporal coordinates along time dimensions and falling back to Morse Code for answers from above, the movie's real strength is its sense of isolation and loneliness that comes across the big-screen in a jarring, powerful way. "Interstellar" strives to connect universes and planets for humanity's survival, but it's the film's portrayal of people being separated from family and others that makes it enlightening and suspenseful.

Selling the notion of loneliness in outer space to grounded theater ticket buyers requires exceptional acting, which this movie has in spades. Every member of the award-winning cast delivers, including youngster Mackenzie Foy ("The Conjuring" 2013) as Matthew McConaughey's inquisitive daughter, Murphy.  Academy Award winners Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables" 2012) and Michael Caine ("The Cider House Rules" 1999) join a perfectly cast Jessica Chastain (Oscar-nominated in "Zero Dark Thirty" in 2012), who plays an older Murphy. Notwithstanding those performances, "Interstellar" is about Matthew McConaughey and him alone.

Interstellar

The first film I began to take notice of Matthew McConaughey's dramatic acting chops was in 2011's "The Lincoln Lawyer". Before that, his talent was measured mostly by his looks or laughs in such comedies as "The Wedding Planner" (2001) or "How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days" (2003). At the time of my review for "The Lincoln Lawyer", one reader sarcastically asked me if McConaughey went shirtless in the movie? Oh, how times and McConaughey's devotion to his acting craft have changed for the better. The truly great actors mature and get better with age, taking on the more vulnerable and risky roles to raise their game.

How important is Matthew McConaughey to "Interstellar" and its success? Very. As the stalwart father-engineer-astronaut figure who just goes by "Coop", McConaughey takes a mind-boggling space travel narrative, without traces of romance or laughs, and transforms an above average movie into a very good one. Director Nolan's nimble storytelling attempts to drop viewers the furthest distance from their starting point, omitting key connecting dots along the way. It's actually McConaughey that keeps the viewers glued to the galactic ride, using his slow, calming delivery to sell us the story. In this thought-provoking sci-fi thriller, McConaughey leaves his shirt on, proving his dramatic acting skills and the character "Coop" have made leaps and bounds over the years.

Grade: A-

"Interstellar" is rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours, 49 minutes.

Catwoman

During a recent interview with IGN, Anne Hathaway suggested that she's willing to reprise her Selina Kyle role as "Catwoman" in a future DC Comics film:

“I would be totally up for doing it” she explained “If Chris [Nolan] was involved. For me, the thing that made doing that part particularly fun was that she existed in his Gotham. Without him I don’t think it would be the same thing...

Catwoman2

But she's also willing to put on the skintight suit for a smaller appearance too:

We then asked Hathaway if she’d be keen on bringing the character back to cameo in one of DC’s many other forthcoming films…

“Oh yeah that’d be fun. I’d definitely love that. I want to play her again. I don’t know – this is just speculation, because I do think about it sometimes – I think she’s got an amazing backstory and it would be great to see her get her own film. But I don’t know – she is someone who… mystery serves her well so I don’t know what a whole film would do. But who knows?”

Hmmm.  I don't remember this one in "The Dark Knight Rises"...

Catwoman3

 

British actor Benedict Cumberbatch makes a strong case in this film to have his name thrown on the Academy Award's Best Actor short-list.  Is he able to crack the Top 5 of leading actors and score a nomination?  Early advantages go to Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher") and Eddie Redmayne ("The Theory of Everything") with Michael Keaton ("Birdman") holding the pole position.

Cumberbatch (from "Star Trek Into the Darkness") headlines a movie that should be well received by Oscar voters; it's based upon a true story, has international flavor, and Cumberbatch's character helped the Allies defeat the Nazi's in WWII.

"The Imitation Game" is also about to hit theaters after generating accolades at film festivals earlier this year.  In particular, the Toronto Film Festival, where it earned the "People Choice Award for Best Film". Which brings up Cumberbatch's best odds for an Oscar nom--the Academy most likely will nominate "The Imitation Game" for Best Picture and its director, relative newcomer Morten Tyldum ("Headhunters", 2012), in the Best Director category.  We all know the Academy likes to throw in one, possibly two, newer directors into the mix each year.  If Tyldum makes the list it means this film more than likely also competes for Best Picture.  Those two pieces falling into place almost guarantee Cumberbatch's name will garner a Best Actor nomination.  Time will tell.

"The Imitation Game" comes to theaters on November 21st and is rated PG-13.

Act of Valor2

In honor of Veterans Day next week and to help pass time until 'American Sniper' gets released, comes an instant classic on my 'Top 10 List of Tier 1' action films. Enjoy!

**

This fast-paced flick stars real U.S. Navy SEALs doing what they do best--bringing bad guys to room temperature. The best part is that no attempt was made to change the dialogue for civilian moviegoers to better understand. Thus, the non-military may miss key points or judge the script as bland. But all will enjoy seeing the world's most surgical and lethal weapon employed to defend our nation. You'll also see how small gains in intel lead from one op to the next. And feel 50-cal rounds over your shoulder during exfils!

We are very fortunate to have guys with these skill sets in our arsenal and their families supporting them and us. The Damn Few.

Grade: A

act of valor3

'Act of Valor' was released in 2012 and is available to rent or buy at Amazon, Netflix, Redbox and VUDO.  It's rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Toy Story 4

Very few movie trilogies work.  It's just hard to either keep the original cast intact to sign-up for a third go or the plot weakens to make "Part 3" just barely relevant.  One blockbuster hit that was as good in Part 3 as it was in the original, is the 'Toy Story' franchise--a Pixar story of play-things involving a cowboy and space adventurer.

Well, rest easy Woody fans, Pixar just announced today that 'Toy Story 4' is a go-for-launch!  Yep, expect to see Buzz Lightyear, Woody and plastic Army figurines return in two summers.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the 'Toy Story 4' director will be none other than two-time Academy Award winner John Lasseter, who brought us the original, epic 'Toy Story' and its follow-up, 'Toy Story 2'.  Lasseter, who is officially the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, directed the massively successful 'A Bug's Life' (1998).

“We love these characters so much; they are like family to us,” said Lasseter in a statement. “We don’t want to do anything with them unless it lives up to or surpasses what’s gone before. Toy Story 3 ended Woody and Buzz’s story with Andy so perfectly that for a long time, we never even talked about doing another Toy Story movie. But when Andrew, Pete, Lee and I came up with this new idea, I just could not stop thinking about it. It was so exciting to me, I knew we had to make this movie—and I wanted to direct it myself.”

The official release is set for sometime in June of 2017.  

A winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival in the "Best Actor" (Timothy Spall) and "Cinematography" categories, "Mr. Turner" tells the true story of British watercolor landscape artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, known as "the painter of light" back in the 19th Century.

"Mr. Turner" hits theaters on December 19th and is rated R.

Nightcrawler lead

The one point that director Dan Gilroy's latest film hammers home to moviegoers is that we've emerged as a society with an inherent morbid curiosity. We seek out and are drawn to this fascination with other's death or unpleasant circumstances. Feeding this obsession with over-the-top gruesomeness is a news media hell-bent on higher ratings at any cost. "Nightcrawler" unapologetically illustrates the high price television stations are willing to pay to get that grisly, leading story even if truth and fairness must be discarded to the side as collateral damage. Gilroy's vision for the movie is either a tongue-and-cheek play upon our grim desires as consumers of news or a gallant effort on his part to bring awareness to society's lack of respect and dignity for one another. Regardless, "Nightcrawler" is a dark and disturbing thriller about the sick, reciprocal relationship between television viewers and the media.

Jake Gyllenhaal is superb as the emotionally troubled and socially awkward freelance cameraman capturing overnight violence for Los Angeles' TV audiences. Intellectually brilliant yet residing firmly within the autism spectrum, Gyllenhaal's character skillfully manipulates others to achieve his primary goal of notoriety through violent videos.

Nightcrawler

Nominated for an Academy Award in 2005's "Brokeback Mountain", this could be the year and movie that Gyllenhaal actually wins the coveted award. This unhinged role brings us a much darker and more unusual Gyllenhaal than we've seen in other films. His demeanor is believably off-kilter with a dangerous, menacing angle that taps into the fears of his bright supporting cast--especially his sidekick and videographer Rick (exceptionally played by Riz Ahmed).

Any discomfort viewers have watching this film is easily overmatched by one's inability to turn away from the action, underscoring the strength of "Nightcrawler" and Gilroy's salacious direction. The message of the movie is clear; as we become more immune to violence in our lives and build up a tolerance, the media must work harder to induce fear in their TV viewers. Not any crime story, however, will do. It must make the untouchable now feel touchable. Spinning this vicious cycle of violence through fear creates a slippery slope of media reporting that fuels higher ratings, burying any feel-good stories to later in a news cycle. Although we hate our penchant for this type of reporting, there's no denying it exists or our uneasiness with it. It's this unmistakable draw and one's level of discomfort that "Nightcrawler" is counting on from filmgoers to make it a success.

Grade: B

"Nightcrawler" is rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 57 minutes.