Film Review: “Rampage”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Malin Akerman
Directed By: Brad Peyton
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 107 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

I remember several quarter eating games from my childhood. Most of them were first-person shooters like “House of the Dead” and “Carnevil” where it didn’t matter how good you were or if you were a sharpshooter, the game was designed to kill you so you’d have to keep pumping in change. Most other games that I would spend endless hours playing at the arcade were fun for a five-year-old boy to play, but inherently dumb because of its repeating pattern and repetitiveness. There were side-scrollers like “X-Men” and smash and destroy games like “Rampage.”

21st century video games are championed for interactive gameplay and in-depth storytelling. The games of the late 80’s and early 90’s could be crowned as mindless time wasters. That’s “Rampage” in a nutshell. How they made a movie out of that is genuinely impressive. One, because it should be towards the bottom of the list for potential big screen adaptations and second, there’s honestly not much to adapt other than the idea of giant monsters smashing buildings, something that’s already been done multiple times.

“Rampage” is like a melting pot of any Kaiju film, “Mighty Joe Young” and that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson charm we’ve become accustomed to over the past decade. Johnson plays beefy anthropologist Davis Okoye, who relates more to primates than he does his human co-workers at a San Diego wildlife sanctuary. The introverted scientist can fly helicopters, has a military background, and communicates with a massive albino silverback gorilla, named George, like it’s his frat brother.

The movie quickly picks up steam when George is infected with an experimental gas. The mutating fumes are from the remnants of a company space station that was experimenting with DNA. The gas acts like a steroid to all of George’s senses, turning him into a monstrous creature overnight. He’s bigger, stronger and angrier. He’s not the only creature to get hit with a dose of plot as several other canisters of this harmful gas have landed in rural Wyoming and some Florida swamplands, infecting a wolf and crocodile.

“Rampage” is a tad too long, padding it’s runtime with a lot of unnecessary character backgrounds, silly exposition, and a quick shoehorned message about poaching. It doesn’t help that the show stopping fight between all the monsters, in downtown Chicago, feels like it takes forever to get to. The pace that it moves at feels more like a painful tease rather than an actual build-up. Johnson, like he is in most of the other sub-par films he stars in, does give an otherwise limp noodle script a bit of life.

While in 2017, we learned he’s vulnerable to a complete inadequate script (“Baywatch), 2018 seems to prove once again he can do a lot with very little. While everyone merely acts scared of the CGI monstrosity that is George, Johnson brings some warmth to a cold creature and seems to be genuinely interacting with it. Johnson, along with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Naomie Harris, provide a likeable trio of heroes looking to save lives and the life of George. But after watching scores of service men and women die while civilians flee in terror in the final act, shouldn’t George be lumped in the same category as Superman in “Man of Steel?”

When it wants to be light-hearted, “Rampage” is quite fun, but when it wants to be dark with jump scares, and scenes of death and destruction, it’s off putting to the overall vibe the movie’s trying to establish with George and his nurturing human savior, Davis. There’s fun to be had in “Rampage” as long as you understand that this is a bad movie. But just like the old “Rampage” arcade game I played in my youth, I don’t necessarily feel like I should ever revisit this one or reflect on it as anything more than a cash grab.

Film Review: “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black
Directed By: Jake Kasdan
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 119 minutes
Sony Pictures Entertainment

In 2015 there was a collective gasp by 90’s kids after Sony confirmed long held rumors that the studio would be making a sequel to the much-beloved “Jumanji.” The 1995 film is just one of the many reasons Millennials fondly remember Robin Williams, so creating a sequel for it over two decades later for a new generation is no easy task, even if their the goal is to cash in on nostalgia.s

The new film picks up in 1996, where an unnamed boy is given the classic Jumanji board game by his father. He tosses it aside and proceeds to play a video game instead. Sensing its expiration date, the board game creates a video game cartridge for the unnamed boy to pop in. Tripping ahead 20 years later, we meet four teenagers, stuck in detention with a mundane task, and looking for an escape. That’s when the Jumanji video game rears its ugly head, with those iconic jungle drums, entrancing the high schoolers to plug it in.

Whereas the original brought the jungle to our realm, the new Jumanji transplants it’s victims into its realm. The teenagers take the form of video game avatars, played by the surprisingly charismatic and charming hodgepodge of Johnson, Gillan, Hart and Black. Their comedic strengths (except Gillan) are somewhat subdued so that there’s a lot more group improvisation and camaraderie so that no one overwhelms or steals a scene.

With five screenwriters, there are moments where “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” seems to understand video game clichés and utilizes them while at other times it seems to be written by a middle-aged man who believes video games are the death of creativity. In some ways you could say this movie suffers from the pitfalls of other video game movies where there’s not enough time to flesh out exposition and the action sequences suffer from rushed conflict resolution. But when the movie embraces video game tropes, it genuinely excels as popcorn entertainment and parody.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” benefits from a fun cast, willing to embody their absurd characters and the even more ridiculous plot. But that doesn’t mean the film isn’t without its flaws. The third act is weak, sometimes neglecting established plot points and making little use of the actual jungle. I’m also curious as to how well it’ll be received and understood by those who grew up without the film or are unaware of the previous flick. For those looking for a healthy dose of nostalgia, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a passable film, but it doesn’t make the case for a potential franchise or another sequel.

 

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Film Review: “Baywatch”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron and Alexandra Daddario
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 56 mins
Paramount

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Before I begin I want to tell you a story. I’ve only seen one episode of the “Baywatch” television show. It was at my friend Marty Kircher’s house and I couldn’t believe how someone of his age (late 30’s) could find the show interesting. The part I remember most was a scene with David Hasselhoff climbing on board a boat which had a man tied up in the middle of it. “What the hell is he doing,” I asked, “he’s a damn LIFEGUARD!” As if on cue, the Hoff looks into the camera and says, “I haven’t seen this much C-4 since my time in the Navy Seals.” Marty turns to me and says, “See! He was a NAVY SEAL!” Thankfully the makers of the new “Baywatch” film don’t take their movie as seriously as Marty would.

Mitch Buchannon (Johnson) is the main man on the beach. With summer starting it’s time for Mitch and his fellow lifeguards to pick three young wannabes to learn the ropes. He is surprised when former Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Efron) shows up and announces he’s now a “part of the team.” Stuck with Matt, Mitch also chooses Summer Quinn (Daddario) and Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) to complete his trio of newbies. Summer seems to have the skills necessary to save lives. Ronnie…well, Ronnie has heart! And that’s all you need to be a part of “Baywatch!”

Consistently funny with a few slow spots, “Baywatch” thankfully follows the formula that other television-shows-to-movies like “21 Jump Street” have in that it doesn’t take itself TOO seriously. Leading this charge is Johnson, who seems to want to let us know that it’s OK to laugh at things we find funny. And Johnson has fun as well, making fun of the new guard. Brody, who is surely inspired by American Olympian Ryan Locte, has rubbed Mitch wrong and Mitch confirms this by calling Brody pretty much everything BUT his name. One Direction. Bieber. High School Musical. Brody answers to all three and more. Completing the team are Kelly Rohrbach as C.J. and Ilfenish Hadera as Stephanie. Together they must investigate the recent growing of a new drug kingpin without attracting the wrath of the local police, who look upon the lifesaving gang with spite.

Both Johnson and Efron are well cast. I don’t know why but every time Johnson came on screen I began thinking about his character, Maui, from “Moana.” Efron, who reportedly exercised himself down to 5% body fat, plays up the “swimming Bad Boy” character for laughs, though as the film progresses you do begin to feel a little affinity for him. The supporting cast is also funny but I would be remiss if I didn’t give a special shout out to Jon Bass, who steals the film as Ronnie. And if you fans of the television series keep your eyes peeled, you may spot a familiar face or two.

All in all, a fun film you should wait 15 minutes after eating to see!

Film Review: “The Fate of the Furious”

Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham
Directed By: F. Gary Gray
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 136 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

“The Fast and the Furious” franchise experienced a Renaissance when it embraced mindless action and over the top stunts, combining CGI with a real-life demolition derby, back when “Fast 5” was released. Since then it’s embraced this absurd concept that the fate of the world rests in the hands of speed junkies that refer to themselves as a close-knit family. Its intentional cheesiness allowed us to ignore the laws of physics and embrace these street racers turned globetrotting heroes. But “Fate of the Furious” stomps on the brakes by hovering precariously close to taking itself too seriously.

Dom (Diesel) is approached by a mysterious figure known as Cipher (Charlize Theron), while on his honeymoon in Cuba. Without the audience seeing it, a cellphone video convinces Dom to betray his “family,” go rogue and work for Cipher. Die-hard “Fast and the Furious” fans, who accept its cheese or eat it up like housewives munching on daytime soap operas, will certainly have their eyes glued to the screen as the betrayal unfolds. I, on the other hand, rolled my eyes and began waiting patiently for some neat explosions.

It’s difficult to talk about the plot in-depth because much of the movie hinges on why Dom is going rogue and Cipher’s connection to the greater world that’s been established through eight movies now. For a movie franchise about fast cars, scantily clad women, and explosions, there’s a surprising amount of depth within it’s pulpy drama, much like WWE’s Wrestlemania. That’s not lost on people who’ve spent over a decade and half with the group, or newcomers who’ve embraced it recently.

Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Michelle Rodriguez, and a handful of other side characters are back to appease fans who’ve stuck with the franchise since 2001. For those who aren’t familiar with the franchise, or have lazily watched them throughout the years like me, the paper thin plot and lack of meaningful development is still hanging in there. That’s actually a positive since anything more would have otherwise made the series unnapproachable as time went on.

The main problem is that “Fate of the Furious” tows the self-serious line it found itself on the wrong side of before “Fast Five.” Viewers are treated to exposition that feels like a lecture, instead of fast cuts that visually summarize our new villain, the story’s direction, or the plot. It’s a real drag when characters are reduced to robotic dialogue and technobabble during 30 minutes of talking; much like listening to two computers share data. It kills the adrenaline, especially after watching dozens of self-driving cars cause mayhem on the streets of New York City or a prison break highlighting Statham’s parkour fighting abilities.

Most of the cast knows they’re making a dumb movie and roll around in the scenery, chewing on bits and pieces while in their million dollar speed racers or while breathlessly fighting in ice covered Russia. Statham and Johnson are the best at this. Maybe they should have instructed Diesel and Rodriguez on how to liven up a little. Because Diesel is now the driving force, and one of the producers of the franchise and this film, his character has been place under the microscope. It’s a near fatal mistake assuming that the audience cares about him. People connect more with Johnson’s soccer dad persona and Statham’s hard-ass with a soft spot more than Diesel’s stoic demeanor. It appears that the loss of Paul Walker has left a big hole in the storytelling department.

“The Fate of the Furious” is an entertaining distraction that tragically relies more heavily on its slow storytelling pace, rather than its edge of your seat action. Despite its flaws, there are very few movies being given blank checks so that their characters can face off against a thermal nuclear Russian submarine with only nitrous powered cars at their disposal. The high of “Furious 7” makes “Fate of the Furious” a letdown, but the character’s affinity and eye popping action are enough to make it a passable addition to the franchise.

Film Review: “Moana”

Starring the voices of: Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho and Rachel House
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker – co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hr 43 mins
Walt Disney Company

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

Say hello to Maui. As voiced by Dwayne Johnson, Maui is a demi-god of great strength, humor and a beautiful singing voice! When her family is in need of help, it falls on the young Moana (Cravalho) to seek out Maui before it becomes too late.

Both brilliant and breathtaking, “Moana” is sure to be the next Disney classic. The characters are beautifully established and the actors behind them are pitch perfect. While much will be made of young Ms. Cravalho – who celebrated her 16th birthday on November 22 – the star here is the man formerly known as “the Rock.” Johnson established his skills for comedy in such films as “Be Cool” and “Pain and Gain,” his performance here is truly award worthy. And what a singing voice! Too bad the film is animated, as I wouldn’t be surprised if he can dance as well.

Like previous Disney animated features, the animation is outstanding. 95% of the film takes place in/on water, and the images on screen – I saw the film in 3D but it’s not necessary to enjoy it – flow by beautifully. Also like previous Disney animated films, there are some cute and funny animal characters that will steal your heart, among them a dimwitted chicken and the cutest piglet you’ve ever seen. Yes, cuter than the REAL Piglet! Other voice talents include Rachel House as Moana’s grandmother and Jermaine Clement as the crab Tamatoa. The songs are all Oscar worthy, with many them written by “Hamilton” scribe Lin Manuel Miranda. When all is said and done, it’s certainly the best way to spend 90 minutes this holiday!

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Media Mikes 2016 Fall/Holiday Movie Preview

Labor Day has come and gone, and unless you’re dressing up as a ghost, you better not be wearing anything white! With the end of summer comes the beginning of fall and the start of Hollywood’s “Prestige Movie Push!”

We’ll take a look at what the studios hope are their best bets to fill the multiplexes and bring home the Oscars. Once again, a big thank you to our friends at Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) for some synopsis information. Opening dates noted are subject to change at the whim of the studios. Enjoy!

OCTOBER 7

THE 13th

Documentary
Directed by: Ava DuVernay

The director of “Selma” gives us an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.

OSCAR CHANCES: Will surely make the short list.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION

Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Nate Parker

Set against the antebellum South, the film follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself and his fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

OSCAR CHANCES: After last year’s #OSCARSOWHITE controversy, the early buzz on this film almost guaranteed a bounty of nominations. However, it was recently revealed that writer/director/star Nate Parker and his co-writer, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a fellow college student in 1999. Though Parker was not found guilty and Celestin had his conviction overturned, their alleged victim committed suicide. Not sure how this news will affect the Academy voters.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett and Justin Theroux
Directed by: Tate Taylor

In the film, being compared to “Gone Girl,” a recently divorced woman
takes the train to work every day and imagines the lives of a young couple she
sees every day. Things get weird when the young wife disappears.

OSCAR CHANCES: Blunt is already getting raves for her performance.


OCTOBER 13

MASCOTS

Starring: Christopher Guest, Parker Posey and Jane Lynch
Directed by: Christopher Guest

Simply described as “a look into the world of competitive mascots,” this is the latest opus from the great Christopher Guest. Sadly, unless I missed it, this is the first of Guest’s films that does not include Eugene Levy.

OSCAR CHANCES: Possible screenplay nod.

 

OCTOBER 14

THE ACCOUNTANT

Starring: Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons and Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

A forensic accountant un-cooks the books for illicit clients. What I like about the trailer is that Affleck seems to be a young genius. Maybe this is his chance to play Will Hunting?

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe.


KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?

Starring: Kevin Hart
Directed by: Leslie Small and Tim Story

Kevin Hart performs his comedy in front of 50,000 fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: No.


OCTOBER 21

AMERICAN PASTORAL

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning and Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Ewan McGregor

In 1968, a hardworking man, who’s been a staple in his quaint community for years, watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart as his daughter’s new radical political affiliation threatens to destroy their family. Based on the novel by Philip Roth.

OSCAR CHANCES: Adapted screenplay?

IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE

Starring: John Travolta, Ethan Hawke and Karen Gillan
Directed by: Ti West

A mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody cross-hairs of revenge. Ethan Hawke’s second western this season and John Travolta in a cowboy hat for the first time since “Urban Cowboy.” Yee-hah!

OSCAR CHANCES: Sadly Western’s very rarely get recognized.

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Edward Zwick

Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Director Zwick has helmed three of my favorite films (“About Last Night,” “Glory” and “Legends of the Fall” but only has an Oscar for co-producing “Shakespeare in Love.” It’s about time this man was recognized, though I don’t think it’s going to be for a Jack Reacher film.

A MONSTER CALLS

Starring: Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver
Directed by: J.A. Bayona

A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

TYLER PERRY’S BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN

Starring: Tyler Perry
Directed by: Tyler Perry

Madea winds up in the middle of mayhem when she spends a haunted Halloween fending off killers, paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls and zombies while keeping a watchful eye on a group of misbehaving teens. I’m scared.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m going to go out on a limb and say “no”

OCTOBER 28

INFERNO

Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Ron Howard

When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot. The second Felicity Jones film in as many weeks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Sorry, Tom, but your nomination this year is coming from “Sully”

 

NOVEMBER 4

BLEED FOR THIS

Starring: Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Ben Younger

The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash, which left him not knowing if he’d ever walk again, made one of sport’s most incredible comebacks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Robert DeNiro and Hillary Swank won Oscars for portraying boxers so never say never. Hell, Stallone got nominated…TWICE!

DOCTOR STRANGE

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by: Scott Derrickson

A neurosurgeon with a destroyed career sets out to repair his hands only to find himself protecting the world from inter-dimensional threats.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

HACKSAW RIDGE

Starring: Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington
Directed by: Mel Gibson

WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Mel doesn’t appear in this one but his dead-ringer son, Milo, does.

OSCAR CHANCES: Gibson (Mel, not Milo) already has an Oscar for directing so you never know. I’m sure people have forgotten what all of the hub-bub was about concerning him a few years ago.

LOVING

Starring: Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Back in the dark ages, Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. Apparently they had nothing better to do in Virginia at the time.

OSCAR CHANCES: Acting, picture.

TROLLS

Starring the voices of: Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake
Directed by: Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn

Remember those little plastic things with long hair that you used to put on the end of your pencil? When I was a kid we called them Kewpies but apparently they are Trolls and they have their own movie. Good for them!

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe best hairstyling?

NOVEMBER 11

ARRIVAL

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

OSCAR CHANCES: Picture, director, acting.

SHUT IN

Starring: Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay
Directed by: Farren Blackburn

A heart-pounding thriller about a widowed child psychologist who lives in an isolated existence in rural New England. Caught in a deadly winter storm, she must find a way to rescue a young boy before he disappears forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Unsure, but young Mr. Tremblay should have been nominated last year for “Room.”

USS INDIANAPOLIS: MEN OF COURAGE

Starring: Nicolas Cage and Tom Sizemore
Directed by: Mario Van Peebles

The harrowing true story of the crew of the USS Indianapolis, who were stranded in the Philippine Sea for five days after delivering the atomic weapons that would eventually end WWII. If you saw “Jaws,” this is the tale that Quint tells. Other “Jaws” related facts: this was the original idea for “Jaws 2.” Also: Mario Van Peebles starred in “Jaws the Revenge.”

OSCAR CHANCES: To me it looks like a “made for TV” movie. How about Emmy chances?


NOVEMBER 18

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

Starring: Hailiee Steinfeld, Blake Jenner and Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig

High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother. Is that weird? When I was in high-school I wanted to date my best friend’s older sister. Hopefully Stevie Nicks got some money from this.

OSCAR CHANCES: Nada

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jon Voight and Ezra Miller
Directed by: David Yates

The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards 70 years before Harry Potter reads his book in school. Even though Harry Potter and his pals are less than 20 years old it seems like they’ve been around forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, music (the great James Newton Howard)

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Starring: Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Affleck and Williams have been nominated in the past so I’m not ruling anything out.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Starring: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Tom Ford

An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. November is Amy Adams month.

OSCAR CHANCES: Across the board


NOVEMBER 23

ALLIED

Starring: Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war. Cotillard isn’t married so maybe we can look forward to reading about “Bradarion” soon.

OSCAR CHANCES: Pitt, Cotilliard and Zemeckis have been there before.

BAD SANTA 2

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Tony Cox
Directed by: Mark Waters

Fueled by cheap whiskey, greed and hatred, Willie teams up once again with his angry little sidekick, Marcus, to knock off a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve.

OSCAR CHANCES: I thought Billy Bob deserved a nod for the first film but I’m going to say no.

MOANA

Starring the voices of: Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk and Nicole Scherzinger
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams

A young woman uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated feature, original song

RULES DON’T APPLY

Starring: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins and Ed Harris
Directed by: Warren Beatty

An unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire who they work for. Beatty has been wanting to do a Howard Hughes-based film since the 1970s. Not sure if this is what he had in mind back then but, after a 15-year absence, it’s great to see him both in front of and behind the camera.

OSCAR CHANCES: Only two people have been nominated in the same year for acting, directing, writing and producing the best picture: Orson Welles and Warren Beatty. And Beatty did it TWICE!


NOVEMBER 25

LION

Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Garth Davis

A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

OSCAR CHANCES: Many


DECEMBER 2

LA LA LAND

Starring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
Directed by: Damien Chazelle

From the creator of “Whiplash” comes a film about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. And it’s a musical!

OSCAR CHANCES: Early film festival buzz say’s this may be the film to watch (both on screen and at awards time!)


DECEMBER 9

MISS SLOANE

Starring: Jessica Chastain
Directed by: John Madden

An ambitious lobbyist faces off against the powerful gun lobby in an attempt to pass gun control legislation.

OSCAR CHANCES: Actress. Madden directed the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love.”

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Starring: Jason Bateman and Jennifer Anniston
Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand.

OSCAR CHANCES: Zip

DECEMBER 16

COLLATERAL BEAUTY

Starring: Will Smith and Keira Knightley
Directed by: David Frankel

A tragic event sends a New York ad man on a downward spiral.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’ve already had to apologize to Will Smith twice for doubting he’d get nominated for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” There won’t be a third. Good luck Will.

FENCES

Starring: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis
Directed by: Denzel Washington

An African American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Based on the August Wilson play.

OSCAR CHANCES: YES!

THE FOUNDER

Starring: Michael Keaton and Patrick Wilson
Directed by: John Lee Hancock

The story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. You may look at your next hamburger differently. Keaton is said to be so good that they pulled the film from it’s original release date.

OSCAR CHANCES: Keaton

A KIND OF MURDER

Starring: Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel
Directed by: Andy Goddard

In 1960s New York, Walter Stackhouse is a successful architect married to the beautiful Clara who leads a seemingly perfect life. But his fascination with an unsolved murder leads him into a spiral of chaos as he is forced to play cat-and-mouse with a clever killer and an overambitious detective, while at the same time lusting after another woman. This will be a day of decisions for Patrick Wilson fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: Don’t see any

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

Starring: Felicity Jones, Jimmy Smits and Warwick Davis
Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Or, as I like to call it, “Episode 6.5” The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans to the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow. Holy crap! The Death Star, Leia’s family, Darth Vader AND Wicket the Ewok? I’m already in line!

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, make up.

DECEMBER 21

20th CENTURY WOMEN

Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Laura Wiggins
Directed by: Mike Mills

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.

OSCAR CHANCES: Can anyone tell me why Annette Bening hasn’t won an Oscar yet? Didn’t think so. Keep your fingers crossed.

ASSASSINS CREED

Starring: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Justin Kurzel

When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society. This synopsis seems so crazy considering the cast. I wonder if the two leads made the same mistake Bill Murray did when he thought “Garfield” had been written by one of the Coen brothers!

OSCAR CHANCES: Fassbender elevates everything he’s in so I’m not saying no!

PASSENGERS

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt
Directed by: Morten Tyldum

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early. It’s so weird to see Lawrence in a movie at the end of the year NOT directed by David O. Russell. Oh well, there’s always next year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, technical stuff

PATRIOTS DAY

Starring: Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Peter Berg

An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Sounds better than what I thought it was – knowing Wahlberg is a huge New England Patriot fan I thought it was about a day with Tom Brady. The third film by Wahlberg and director Berg and second this year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Oh yes.

SING

Starring the voices of: Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Garth Jennings

A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated film….maybe.

DECEMBER 25

GOLD

Starring: Matthew McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan

An unlikely pair venture to the Indonesian jungle in search of gold. When he was outrageously thin in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” McConaughey still looked good. In this one he’s bald and….dammit!

OSCAR CHANCES: No sir.

WHY HIM?

Starring: James Franco and Bryan Cranston
Directed by: John Hamburg.

A dad forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend. Based on a story by Jonah Hill. Somebody needed money.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m ashamed that I have to include those words with this film.

DECEMBER 28

PATERSON

Starring: Adam Driver
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet.

OSCAR CHANCES: Love Jarmusch. Maybe a witting nod.

Film Review: “Central Intelligence”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Amy Ryan
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hour 54 mins
Warner Bros

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Film Review By Mike Smith

It’s 1996. The last day of high school. And two young men are about to have two very different experiences. For Calvin “the Golden Jet” Joyner, it’s a day spent receiving the accolades of your classmates as you are honored for your achievements in, well, pretty much everything. For Robbie Weirdict, it’s a final day of humiliation, as the portly youngster is tossed, naked, into the middle of the same assembly.

20 years later, Calvin (Hart) finds himself stuck in a job he doesn’t really love, spending more time on Facebook than work. When he gets a friend request from Bob Stone (Johnson), he hesitates at first then, like most people, accepts it. He soon learns that Bob is really Robbie and that he has changed quite a bit. When the two mismatched men reunite it’s an eye opening for both of them.

Funny as hell, with a sweet message built in, “Central Intelligence” is successful in part thanks to its genius casting, which makes Hart the Bud Abbott-like straight man while Johnson grabs the majority of the laughs. And what isn’t funny about a guy Johnson’s size who shows up everywhere wearing a fanny pack? It seems Bob may or may not be a rogue C.I.A. agent looking to sell weapons to the highest bidder. He enlists Calvin’s help in part because Calvin was the only person who seemed genuinely friendly to him in the past, while Calvin goes along because he still feels sorry for what Robbie went through in school.

Hart has learned to tone down his Chris Tucker-like screaming and gives a fine performance here. The supporting cast is just as good, including Ryan as the C.I.A. agent in charge of finding Bob and Danielle Nicolet as Calvin’s high school sweetheart and now wife. But the real star here is Johnson. Always a very likable performer, his comedic work here recalls his standout performance in 2005’s “Be Cool.” A gentle giant with a heart of gold, Bob Stone seems ready to greet the world each morning with a smile. It’s Bob that makes this film the best comedy of the summer so far.

 

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