Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast by Stephen Signor

Run Time: 2hr.9min.

In typical fashion Disney Productions has managed to create that magical experience we always expect. This animated classic takes us beyond the norm of this classic with a widened mythology, an all-star cast and a new form - it is a musical. It has been a long wait, as filming was completed by August 27, 2015, more than 18 months before the film's release. 

A young prince, imprisoned in the form of a beast, can be freed only by true love. What may be his only opportunity arrives, when he meets the only human girl to ever visit the castle since it was enchanted. Her name is Belle and she is convincingly played by Emma Watson - who needs no introduction. Her first appearance in a Disney film, Watson is perfect for this role. Kudos goes to Casting Director Lucy Bevan, whose credits include “Maleficent”, “The Legend of Tarzan” and “Alice through the Looking Glass”.

Dan Stevens, who starred in 2014s “The Guest”, portrays the beast. Writers Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (“The Huntsman: Winters War”) allow this cursed beast to show his sensitive and humorous side which adds believability to his character. Couple this with the direction of Director Bill Condon, 2015s “Mr. Holmes” and what you get is a collaboration and collection of talented crew members.

Not to be shunned is the performance of Luke Evans as Gaston. His menacing, charismatic character was one you couldn’t help but love-to-hate with his impetuous, contemptuous attempts to win the love of Belle. 

Alan Menken, who scored “Beauty and the Beast (1991), returns to score this live-action adaptation, which includes new recordings of the original songs, in addition to new songs written by Menken and Tim Rice. And it all works, despite that additionally most of the characters in this remake are noticeably different in appearance than their 1991 counterparts.

Will it be successful? According to Disney, the first teaser trailer was viewed 91.8 million times in its first 24 hours. This marks the first teaser trailer of "Beauty and the Beast" to be the most viewed in history by beating the previous record by “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (88 million views); followed by “Captain America: Civil War” (61 million views), each of them Disney films as well. This version is delightful, funny and well done - just highly entertaining on every level.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Movie Review: “Kong” by Stephen Signor

Run Time: 2 hours
By Stephen Signor

I have seen countless films since my first one some 45 years ago. In my life, I have never been so moved, thrilled and captivated by a motion picture than I was with this one. From the moment “Kong” makes his first appearance less than two minutes into the film, to the ending two hours later, I could do nothing but sit in awe at what was happening before me.

Based on the appearance of his 1933 counterpart, this Kong is the tallest incarnation in an American film, standing approximately 104 feet tall. Compare this to Peter Jackson’s Kong released in 2005, who was only 25 feet tall, and what you get is a larger-than-life beast that fills the screen. 

Set in 1973, a diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers unite to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific - as dangerous as it is beautiful. Both aspects were impressively accomplished with the aid of superb visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic that includes numerous thought provoking slow motion sequences.  Worth mentioning, is a 70’s soundtrack that adds a perfect, “Apocalypse Now” feel to the mood of changing situational environments.  

With a mission of discovery that becomes one of survival, the team must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong. With a plot that thickens and then seamlessly gels, Director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts (2013s “Kings of Summer”) left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Ulterior mission objectives eventually collide, causing raised stakes for survival from each other, as well as the presence of unknown primal creatures that inhabit the island. 

While there are seasoned actors immersed in endless action, there are no lead roles to speak of. Every character has a purpose other than providing dialog. For this reason, they have been omitted. This is enforced and made evident through the additional cast of island natives whose intricately placed tribal paint speaks volumes. An injection of humor, while at times seems a bit corny, actually works taking the edge off stressful situations.

In conclusion, this film works on every level. As for a potential sequel - judge that for yourself. Do not leave the theater until the credits have completed rolling. The film continues with a one minute scene that takes place in an interrogation room with actors Brie Larson (Mason Weaver), Tom Hiddleston (James Conrad) and Mills (Jason Mitchell).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Movie Review: “Before I Fall” by Stephen Signor

Can you say “Groundhog Day” (1993) on steroids - with a side injection of “Mean Girls” (2014)? Seriously, the movie began just the same way. Zoey Deutch as Samantha Kingston (“Goosebumps” 2015) is one of four mean, teenage girls. She awakes every day only to discover nothing has changed. No matter what she does after realizing her fate, she wakes up at the same time, to the same tune playing on her android device - just reliving the same day over and over.

But that is where the similarities end. From having everything to having nothing happens after one fateful night. Kingston wakes up that first time and begins to question just how perfect her life really is. Trapped, she begins to untangle the mystery of a life suddenly derailed; at the same time revealing secrets of the people closest to her. She discovers the power of a single day that can make a difference, not just in her own life, but in the lives of those around her. Time is on her side but not for long.

Director Ry Russo Young (“Nobody Walks” 2012) has taken author Lauren Oliver’s first person narrative and brought the pages to life. However it is short lived. This isn’t a bad movie; it is just one that I felt could have been better. While there were four teenagers involved in the mean girl sub-plot, only two of them managed to be believable. That was, I think, due to the fact that Halston Sage and Logan Miller previously worked together in “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” (2015) where Sage played the older sister to Miller. 

There are moments in the film that I found wasteful but - I never checked my watch so they are short. The acting was on par for the most part but as always, there are exceptions. The recipient of the bullying from the mean girls, Juliet, was portrayed by Elena Kampouris (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” 2016). Although her dialog was limited, it was her delivery accompanied by precise body language that impressed. It actually made me feel sorry for her. 

Well known Jennifer Beals plays Mrs. Kingston; a kind gentle soul with an abundance of understanding but very low tolerance. Unfortunately it is not enough to give the film merit. If I should wake up tomorrow and have to see this again I will be really upset.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Movie Review: "Prisoners" by Daniel Kilgallon

“Prisoners” (R)
Run Time: 153 minutes

With “Logan” finally hitting theaters this weekend, it is important to understand that Hugh Jackman’s acting capabilities range far beyond that signature role of the Wolverine which he has owned since the turn of the century. Amongst his finest performances is “Prisoners”, a 2013 thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”, “Sicario”). In this movie, Jackman stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and the pair truly provide top-notch acting throughout this intense who-dun-it story. Nominated for just one Academy Award (Achievement in Cinematography), “Prisoners” certainly deserved even more recognition than that and is absolutely one of the most overlooked films of 2013.

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a man living in rural Pennsylvania. Following a Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends, his young daughter and her playmate suddenly go missing. As soon as authorities are notified of the abductions, an investigation is led by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). Over the course of several days, a few different suspects arise as the search for the girls continues. It doesn’t take long for Dover to become impatient with the police and he begins to take the law into his own hands.

“Prisoners” is an incredibly complex movie loaded with many serious themes and layers. Perhaps more so than anything else, the film raises the very tough question of: Just how far will we go to protect the ones we love? There are also some religious undertones present, carefully shown through well-crafted shots and the thorough characterizations of Dover and Loki. Jackman and Gyllenhaal deliver, perhaps their strongest performances with the portrayals of these two morally complicated individuals, providing the driving force for this movie. 

Jackman’s character of Dover, intensely exemplifies how one can lose grip of their faith and morals when experiencing a nightmare situation like this; as shown through the extreme actions he takes during the movie. On the contrary, Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Loki illustrates a morality struggle in a different way, as his character feels the continuing pressure of solving the mystery at hand before it’s too late. 

“Prisoners” is a grim movie that delivers its thought-provoking messages through a pair of outstanding performances. While its dark violence definitely isn’t for everybody, this film is strung together by an intricate sequence of suspenseful moments. All of this is topped off by a powerful ending that is not easily forgotten. “Prisoners” is a hidden gem that is well worth a viewing for anybody who hasn’t seen it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Movie Review: “X-Men” movies ranked by Dan Kilgallon

When “Logan” hits theaters on March 3, it will mark the tenth installment in the “X-Men” movie franchise as well as the final performance from Hugh Jackman in his signature role of the Wolverine. That being said, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look back on the series as a whole and rank the films in ascending order of preference. With the release of the original “X-Men” movie at the turn of the century, it is fair to say that this franchise really kick started the modern superhero genre as we know it today. For well over fifteen years now, the series has continued to pump out quality movies with plenty more productions in the works. When you couple that with a worldwide box office haul of $4.3 billion and counting, this has to be considered one of the most successful superhero franchises of all time. With some truly awesome trailers and a well deserved “R” rating for Hugh Jackman’s sendoff for the series, I have high hopes that “Logan” will be one of the best “X-Men” movies yet. Without further ado, this is how the films stack up for me at this point in time:

9. “X-Men: The Last Stand” (PG-13)

Run Time: 104 mins
Director: Brett Ratner (2006)
My Rating: 5/10

Brian Singer’s absence was clearly felt in this weak third installment of the original “X-Men” trilogy. Most of the cast was held intact and they all delivered decent performances, but the strong storytelling of the first two movies just wasn’t there this time around. There are a handful of decent action sequences throughout the film but aside from that, “The Last Stand” doesn’t really have much going for it in my opinion. This is an easy choice for me, when it comes to choosing my least favorite chapter in the “X-Men” franchise.

8. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (PG-13)
Run Time: 107 mins
Director: Gavin Hood (2009)

My Rating: 6.5/10

Many people may have this at the bottom of their own rankings, but I give “Origins” a few guilty pleasure points here. Wolverine is one of my favorite characters ever, so for that reasons alone - this movie is a little more watchable to me. This film definitely has a lot of problems (as pointed out in 2016’s “Deadpool”), but there are at least some fun action scenes over the course of the run time. Nevertheless, this still really missed the mark on a potentially badass storyline.

7. “The Wolverine” (PG-13)
Run Time: 126 mins
Director: James Mangold (2013)
My Rating: 7/10

Sadly, I don’t think that the second “Wolverine” standalone movie is much better than the first. Hugh Jackman delivers another great performance in his signature role of the title character; and there are a few really awesome action sequence scenes including the bullet train sequence. I thought that the ending was poorly executed, but overall, this is still a respectable movie. Hopefully “Logan” will complete this “Wolverine” trilogy with the film we all deserve.

6. “X-Men” (PG-13)
Run Time: 104 mins
Director: Bryan Singer (2000)

My Rating: 7.5/10

The one that started it all, “X-Men” does not get the credit it deserves for truly marking the beginning of a new era, in the now dominant, genre of superhero movies. The visuals have held up pretty well over the years, but it is the now iconic cast featuring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, and others - that really form the heart of this movie. That, coupled with exciting action and a funny script, makes “X-Men” a modern classic of the superhero genre.

5. “X-Men: First Class” (PG-13)
Run Time: 132 mins
Director: Matthew Vaughn (2011)

My Rating: 9/10

After the letdowns of “The Last Stand” and Origins, “First Class” brought the “X-Men” franchise back to life in a big way. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender played a huge part in doing this through their spot-on portrayals of the young versions of Professor X and Magneto, respectively. This reboot/prequel is a blast of an action movie and offers an excellent ensemble origin story. On top of all of that, this features my favorite movie cameo of all time by none other than the Wolverine.

4. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (PG-13)
Run Time: 132 mins
Director: Bryan Singer (2014)

My Rating: 9/10

Bryan Singer’s return to the film franchise he started, certainly payed off in a big way. Combining the ensemble casts of the new and original trilogies, this features some of the best acting talent of any superhero movie. The complex, time-travelling storyline here is a lot to take in, but in the end, “Days of Future Past” actually managed to fix some of the problems created by the series’ weaker installments. Most fans would agree this led to one of the best installments yet.

3. “X2”
Run Time: 134 mins

Director: Bryan Singer (2003)

My Rating: 9/10

After “X-Men” set the groundwork for this series, this movie brought everything to a whole new level in the form of what remains one of the greatest comic book sequels of all time. In fact, at one point in time, you could argue that “X2” was the singular greatest superhero film ever made. This movie features a perfect blend of humor, action and darker storytelling as most sequels strive to do. I would also add, that the opening scene of “Nightcrawler” attacking the White House is still one of the best superhero scenes ever filmed.

2. “Deadpool” (R)
Run Time: 108 mins
Director: Tim Miller (2016)

My Rating: 9/10

A project ten years in the making; it was so satisfying to see Ryan Reynolds do justice to the title role he was born to play. More than just a superhero flick, “Deadpool” is completely violent, absolutely hilarious, and everything else in between. Raunchy and certainly not for everybody - this movie totally makes fun of the genre and even the series which it is a part of.  “Deadpool” is perhaps the most unique superhero film ever and a close second on this tight list.

1. “X-Men: Apocalypse” (PG-13)
Run Time: 144 mins
Director: Bryan Singer (2016)

My Rating: 9/10

As you may be able to tell from the equal ratings towards the top of this list, my top five “X-Men” movies are honestly sort of a toss-up for me. Even though it is not the most critically acclaimed of the series, “Apocalypse” is still my favorite of the bunch right now. I think that the cast is at its best, the visuals are outstanding; and overall, Bryan Singer delivered the most epic contribution of the “X-Men” franchise to date with this movie. Wolverine’s five minute cameo rampage is also one of my favorite scenes in the entire series.