Reporting from the Cannes Film Festival. Two recurring themes in Woody Allen's filmography are murder and dangerous love affairs. His latest is Irrational Man and it continues this trend with mixed results. But mostly it will leave you with thoughts of revisiting Allen's better efforts like Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point and Cassandra's Dream. His latest film (which just premiered at Cannes) takes place in a concentrated college town where everyone seems to know each other and privacy is nonexistent. Insecure philosophy professor Abe Lucas (played by Joaquin Phoenix) has just been hired at the fictional Braylin College and it's treated like an atom bomb of gossip by the faculty and student body.
The Barden Bellas are back, and they're at it again. By "it," I'm referring to performing the most popular musical hits in the world acappella style, something the Bellas know quite a bit about. I'm also referring to the comedy found in Pitch Perfect 2, the sequel to 2012's surprise hit, which chooses to cover just about every joke made in that previous film. Overlong, oddly paced, and sometimes downright ugly, it's the latest example of Hollywood's attempt to catch lightning twice in a bottle. As with so many comedy failures in the past, Pitch Perfect 2 uses the same techniques to catch the same lightning. They even use the same bottle.
What a lovely day, indeed. It's been 30 years since we ventured out into the Wasteland with "Mad" Max Rockatansky, 34 if you're not counting the time he went Beyond Thunderdome. Who could blame you? With 30 years worth of hope and nearly 20 years of promise from series creator George Miller, a new adventure in Mad Max's dusty, brutal world had better deliver the goods. That adventure is now here for our sensory feasting. Mad Max: Fury Road delivers on your every, post-apocalyptic wish and with an endless supply of visual insanity. What more could you possibly hope for in Miller's vision for the world after the fall?
Meanwhile, back in the Marvel cinematic universe, it's business as usual. Iron Man soars through the air blasting tanks and terrorists with his repulser beams. Thor, immaculate hair flowing, tosses his hammer around controlling the lightning. Hulk, you know, smashes. Even Hawkeye, with his bow and arrows, flings his…arrows with his…bow. Yes, it's everything you've come to expect and anticipate when the Avengers get back together, and Avengers: Age of Ultron has familiarity in abundance. That's good and bad when you get down to it, and even with the bloom off the rose, Marvel sure knows how to entertain with the best.
It really will be a terrifying end to the world it when artificially intelligent machines choose to rise up and take us over. Until that day, though, we'll have to make due with films like Ex Machina to keep us up late at night staring at our computer while wondering, "Is it watching me back?" Alex Garland, screenwriter of some of the best modern sci-fi has to offer, makes his directorial debut with this terrifying, futuristic thriller that puts the fear of A.I. into you in ways you never even imagined. Intelligent, sleek, and with a small, thermal charge of a cast, Ex Machina is a can't-miss, future classic work of science fiction.
As far as the English dictionary goes, all the synonyms we have for the word "brutal" have a difficult time doing justice to the level of violence on display in New Zealand's The Dead Lands. From the visceral and energetic opening scene, the tribal actioner proves its worth in blood spilt and limbs lopped off. It's a virtual candy store for martial arts fanatics and hand-to-hand junkies, but this Maori tale of honor and vengeance slowly wears down under the weight of all that visual carnage. The level of brutality holds up in The Dead Lands. The story, though itself drenched with grand ideas of legends, Gods, and monsters, barely clicks.
It’s been 14 years since The Fast and the Furious was released, and the franchise that followed has taken more crazy, left turns than the adrenaline-craving gear heads in its character roster. Good, bad, and even tragic changes have brought the series to this finish line. Furious 7 continues the insane and wholly entertaining level of action these films have taken on for the last couple of entries, and while the excitement level is clearly on par, it’s in the tribute to its characters where Furious 7 takes that step above and beyond.
The first thing we see, the first thing we hear, in Get Hard, the new comedy vehicle for Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, is Ferrell himself crying uncontrollably into the camera, more screams coming from him than actual tears. It’s a good, and early, indication of where the comedy in Get Hard lies. The comedic co-leads combine their greatest hits for the film, Hart’s size and stature coming up a time or two in humorous conversation and Ferrell, well, being Will Ferrell. The schtick may be wearing thin, but the two certainly know how to get the laugh-track going. It may never rise to the heights of Ferrell’s better, earlier efforts, and Hart has definitely accomplished more with less. Though the film never finds its way to full-blown belly laughs, Get Hard definitely knows how to make an audience keep chuckling consistently. More below!
Artificial intelligence seems to be a popular topic in science fiction these days–between giving life to a robot in Neill Blomkamp's Chappie, to extending life in Wally Pfister's Transcendence. The latest A.I. tale is Ex Machina, the feature directing debut of sci-fi screenwriter Alex Garland, whose past work includes 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go and Dredd. How does he fare bringing to life his own script? Better than expected. Ex Machina is an engaging, amusing sci-fi thriller that literally asks provocative questions, with smart lines of dialogue that touch upon fascinating, honest topics. Garland digs deep with this movie, bringing up questions and concerns about artificial intelligence that not many others have really addressed.
"I think, therefore I am Chappie." Third times the charm. South African sci-fi director Neill Blomkamp is back with his third feature, titled Chappie, following District 9 and Elysium over the past six years. While he is certainly adept at building one-of-a-kind science fiction worlds, and crazy characters to inhabit them, the stories in each of his three movies have been completely different and often times, unfortunately, the weakest link. Chappie, while on one hand a violent R-rated action film, sorta seems like RoboCop-for-kids designed for teens to go crazy over whenever they finally somehow see it. It's a lot more fun, totally wild at times, occasionally absurd, and much more charming than I was expecting. And I mean that in a good way.
Yes, you're tired of "fresh" takes on the vampire myth, and you're sick to death of the found footage/faux documentary filmmaking style. Both have been driven well into the ground, especially in recent years, but there's a good reason these types of films continue on for so long. The simple reason is that films like What We Do in the Shadows come along once in a while achieving something that is as simple as it is clever, as hilarious as it is atmospheric, and as revitalizing as it is genuine. Not only is it the first must-see movie of 2015, it's sure to have a hand in lengthening the shelf lives of vampire movies and found footage horror.
What could be more ridiculous than a Hot Tub Time Machine? How about a sequel? Gratuitous as it may seem, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 has found its way to theaters five short years after its absurd and hysterical predecessor. Extraneous? Sure. Once you’re familiar with the title of the film all questions of whether or not it’s called for get swept aside. The real question here is, “Is this film funny in the slightest?” Simply, yes, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is hilarious. Bringing three of the four leads back from the first film – the funniest three, by the way – this second film twists the aggressive comedy dial hard to the right and with a brazen attitude. It’s as if the film dares you to be disgusted, and, to an extent, it succeeds. More below!
Fifty Shades of Grey is not the disgusting trainwreck of awful filmmaking and horrendous acting some of you were expecting. It’s not even the steamy, sexually enlightening handbook for which some of you were hoping. The adaptation to E.L. James’ nationwide bestseller – itself based from Twilight fan fiction – was inevitably going to stir up controversy of all manner before its release, but the film, itself, is both tamer and, surprisingly, more accomplished than the preemptive lack of credit being given. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, it’s is a freshly-shot film telling a weakly-crafted story, the latter criticism of which seems to be built in to today’s Hollywood release structure. It’s the first of a three act story, but Fifty Shades of Grey brings enough visual style – and one solid lead performer – to keep you on board for the eventual trilogy.
If only he had 13 more minutes, the world would be an entirely different place. The new film from German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Das Experiment, Downfall, The Invasion), titled 13 Minutes, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival this week. It's a solid thriller that tells the true story of carpenter Georg Elser, a resistance fighter who designed a bomb and attempted to kill Hitler in 1939, but was unsuccessful by only 13 minutes. It feels very much like Germany's response to The Imitation Game, highlighting an individual who tried to impact WWII for the better and wasn't recognized by his country for many years. It's also everything that Valkyrie should've been, but wasn't, and explores Georg's life leading up to and after the bombing.