The energy was palpable at the midnight world premiere of Ben Wheatley's Free Fire last Thursday night. The famous Midnight Madness screenings at the Toronto Film Festival are known to be a fun event, with an enthusiastic crowd soaking up the energy of the late night festivities. No one could expect that the film that we were about to see would not only match the energy of the theater, but crank it all the way to 11. Dripping in 70's camp, Free Fire tells a story of a costly gun transaction that goes south very quickly. For 90 minutes you are stuck in a filthy Boston warehouse with these characters who have one thing in mind – take the money used to purchase the guns and get the hell out of dodge. As guns are drawn, bullets start to fly, and lines get drawn, the absurdity of the situation sinks in and the film become disturbingly dark and hilarious.
Seven outlaws come together to save a helpless town from a greedy tyrant in Antoine Fuqua's new version of The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the original 1960 film (directed by John Sturges) which in itself was an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. That's probably the most confusing thing to be said about this new movie since the story its telling is as straight-forward and as expected as you've seen many times before. The good news, however, is what Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven lacks in originality it more than makes up for in sheer entertainment, for those wondering if this one is worth seeing.
Herzog is back! The German documentary master has premiered his second new film this year (the other being Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World) at the Telluride Film Festival. This new one is titled Into the Inferno, and follows Werner Herzog as he examines and investigates a number of different active volcanoes around the world. He travels around with a "volcanologist" named Clive Oppenheimer, getting as close as they possibly can but also investigating the various cultures and indigenous people that remain near these volcanoes. It's a spectacular doc, more meaningful and intriguing than his other recent work. Into the Inferno examines the act of creation, with vivid imagery and utterly engrossing discussions.
Before returning to our condo and beginning this review, I stopped for a few minutes and stared up at the stars. Here in Telluride you can view them so clearly, but this time I felt a renewed sense of wonder after emerging from one of the most intelligent alien sci-fi movies since Contact. It's a major milestone in sci-fi, the next step in the non-stop evolution of this exciting genre of cinema. Arrival is a phenomenal film, an extremely intelligent yet captivating story brought to life in the most invigorating way by director Denis Villeneuve. It's one of those brilliant movies that actually makes you appreciate all that sci-fi can offer, making you think intensely about life, the choices we make, and what place humans have in the universe.
"At some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gunna be. Can't let nobody make that decision for you." Barry Jenkins' new film Moonlight is an intimate portrait of black youth, examining the balance of masculinity and individuality in a community that shuns homosexuality. Writer/director Barry Jenkins has made a masterful film that is an exceptional work of cinematic beauty, telling a vital story of humanity and honesty. It's a unique, singular work that stands out in its style and atmosphere, and in the way Jenkins holds back on what he shows, building the film around his very impressive actors and the emotions that life makes us feel. It's an immensely moving cinematic story of truth, and demands our respect and admiration.
"Is this the start of something wonderful? Or one more dream that I cannot make true." I'm on cloud nine. Damien Chazelle is such a remarkable storyteller and talented filmmaker, and he's made his masterpiece. La La Land is musical perfection, an exhilarating and emotional voyage through time, deep into music and cinema. This is definitely one of those movies they don't make anymore, he made one anyway, and it's so much more. La La Land is a love letter to jazz, it's a love letter to cinema, it's a love letter to dancing, it's a love letter to Los Angeles, it's a love letter to having hope, it's a love letter to dreams. It will sweep you off your feet, possibly break your heart, but will remind you of all the audacious joy to be found in this world.
Over the past week and a half I've been attending a few screenings of films as part of the Fantasy Filmfest in Berlin (where I now live). Inspired by and operated similar to Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX and Fantasia in Montreal, the Fantasy Filmfest is a horror/sci-fi/genre festival in Germany (taking place in multiple cities over these past few weeks). Their catchy tagline is "Fear Good Movies" and their line-up of films this year is impressive, including some of my favorites from other fests like: Swiss Army Man, Under the Shadow, Train to Busan, Yoga Hosers, and War on Everyone. I caught four films over the last few weeks, two of them worth recommending. Overall, I'm glad I heard about this fest (from a fellow movie lover in Germany) - I always enjoy seeing some of the latest genre films, especially since there's so many out there every year.
Don't Breathe, the second feature film from Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez (of 2013's Evil Dead reboot) produced by legendary filmmaker Sam Raimi, is the depraved offspring of Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring and Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs. It's about a group of teens who try to rob a blind man's house, only to discover he's not as passive as they expected. Jane Levy, who already earned her Final Girl Merit Badge as Mia in Alvarez's Evil Dead, stars as Rocky, a young woman determined to escape her abusive mother and save her younger sister (Emma Bercovici) from a dead-end existence in Detroit.
"If you must blink, do it now." Those words told in voiceover kickstart Kubo and the Two Strings, the latest effort from Laika, the stop-motion,animation studio that has brought us Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls. They are a production company whose films have blended majestic visuals with thoughtful, heartfelt stories resonating effortlessly with one another to deliver impressive works of cinematic art. Kubo is their strongest work to date, a powerful story at its core with some of the most magnificent animation bringing it to visual life. Easily a strong, early contender for animated film of the year, Kubo takes adventure storytelling as well as stop-motion animation to stirring, new heights raising the bar even higher
In 1977, Walt Disney Studios released Pete's Dragon, a live-action/animated musical about a boy and his dragon. The film, which was nominated for two Academy Awards, stars Mickey Rooney, Helen Reddy, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, and Charlie Callas as the voice of the animated dragon. 40 years later, Disney is introducing a whole new generation to Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field's classic story. The remake, co-written and directed by filmmaker David Lowery (of Ain't Them Bodies Saints previously), retains the sweetness of Don Chaffey and Don Bluth's original film while reimagining the story for a modern audience.
Sausage Party is offensive. It doesn't just cross the line. It gleefully tramples all over the line, recklessly abandoning any and all boundaries to which a film may adhere, let alone an animated film. Sausage Party is also hilarious. Neither of these claims are surprising to anyone who knows anything about the people behind the film, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The content of their 2014 comedy, The Interview, created so much worldwide backlash the film was dropped on torrent sites illegally via hackers; then pulled from its original, theatrical release; and released directly to Netflix. The pair is no stranger to controversy and may even seek it out. Regardless, the team serves its audience well, and the comedy found in Sausage Party is uproarious if you're able to even stomach it. At least fruits and vegetables can't hack computers.
"We're the bad guys." It's a common phrase heard throughout Suicide Squad, the latest expansion of the DC Cinematic Universe after Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The characters making up the eponymous team here are on constant alert to remind us just which side of the morality coin they prefer. Seeing "the worst of the worst" being forced to team up is an idea that works wonders on paper. Hell, it even works wonders in execution at least part of the time. But Suicide Squad, for all of its entertainment value, becomes the latest casualty to studio interference and the dreaded, editing machine. What's left over has just enough verve and edge to let us in on the film that could have been, a potentially great film, too
Written and directed by David Ayer (of Fury, End of Watch, Street Kings, and Harsh Times previously), Suicide Squad sounds like it should be a very fun movie. A secret government agency recruits incarcerated super-villains (from DC Comics lore) to carry out high-risk black ops missions in exchange for reduced sentences? It's The Dirty Dozen with Harley Quinn and the Joker and a few other bad guys, what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, everything. While the premise is intriguing, the movie is unfortunately an incoherent, aggressively dull mess that squanders an impressive ensemble cast of characters.
At least Matt Damon is back, right? That may be a common sentiment from anyone who followed along with the Bourne franchise. The first trilogy of films – The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum – make up an impressively intense series of espionage thrillers with Damon's eponymous character riding high in the lead seat. With The Bourne Legacy, Damon chose not to return, Jeremy Renner took his place, and the stale, lackluster adventure that time around made it seem like the franchise's shining moments were long behind it. It's now 14 years since the initial entry, and though Jason Bourne sees Damon returning for his fourth outing as the rogue super-spy the bloom hasn't quite grown back on the rose leaving us with a dulled, run-of-the-mill version of a series that once actually brushed against the limits of cool cinema.