Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Review of "Go Set A Watchman"



Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird – to many, a junior high/high school mandatory read – changed my life. I’m not the only one who could say that with no ounce of pretentiousness. For some, the character of Atticus Finch is seen as a father figure, for others an inspiration for getting into law and making the world a better place, to legally fight the inequalities of life. Finch has been on many a list of people’s greatest characters of all time (Jay and I both placed him on our respective Best Movie Dads) and this is mostly due to his silver screen portrayal by the legendary, all-around wonderful human being Gregory Peck in the 1962 film version

For me, Finch and his ilk in Mockingbird said many deep, philosophical things without sounding deep and philosophical, but rather more simplistic, realistic speak with which almost anyone could search for meaning. I use Mockingbird quotes to get me through dealing with tough times -- and people -- as well as trying to become a better person. I use Mockingbird quotes to try and make sense of a world that was just as convoluted as it was back in the 1930s setting of the story and 1950s reality of which time the story was written. Mockingbird has not just hope but gritty reality. Mostly, it has hope and that has made it – and its Southern charm, elegant prose – the enduring classic for which it is known.

It’s only been six days since the release of Lee’s much-anticipated novel, Go Set A Watchman, the sequel to her legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and I finished it in three days. First off, I will quickly get out of the way the known facts of how the novel came together. When Harper Lee originally wrote Watchman back in the late 1950s, she had included flashbacks to her main character’s – Jean Louise Finch’s – childhood. Her editor read the manuscript and enjoyed the flashbacks so much, he gave her the idea of focusing on Jean Louise’s, or as we know her, Scout’s, childhood. So Lee took a few of the flashbacks out of Watchman, inserted them into her new manuscript – originally entitled Atticus Finch – and ran with it. The manuscript eventually became Mockingbird and Lee’s whirlwind entry into literary fame. What was eventually found soon after Lee’s protective, attorney sister, Alice, passed away in late 2014, was the original manuscript of Watchman (without the scenes which were eventually added to Mockingbird), and it was released last week with Lee’s blessing.

Now, on to the good stuff. I will keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, so don’t fret. Watchman, which takes its name from the Bible verse Isaiah 21:6, focuses on Scout once again, although, this time, Scout goes by Jean Louise and she is now twenty-six-years-old and no longer a permanent resident of the Alabama township of Maycomb, but now a New Yorker. The story begins with Jean Louise returning to Maycomb via train, and we are given a history of her native land and its people (more so than in Mockingbird) as well as the joyous news that she is somewhat engaged to her childhood friend Henry “Hank” Clinton (no, not Dill!). The major difference with the story is that, whereas Mockingbird was written from the perspective of six-year-old Scout, Watchman is told from a third-person perspective. However, sometimes, not very often, Lee slips and the narration, without warning or noticeable change in font, switches to Jean Louise’s thoughts. This is further proof that the original story of Watchman was to be told in third-person, and either Lee or her editor made the decision to have Mockingbird told from Scout’s perspective. Most readers may not like the third person narration and prefer the Scout’s first-person voice as they feel more connected to the character. To argue first person versus third person in terms of which is better is an age-old argument in the literary world and I won’t get in to it here. All I will say in terms of the narration is that Lee’s distinct voice is still a heavy presence in Watchman.

The endearing characters from Mockingbird are mostly all here, whether by a simple mention of name or a heavy presence: Atticus, Jem, Dill, Calpurnia, Aunt Alexandra, Uncle Jack, as well as Zeebo, Judge Taylor, a nameless mention of Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mention of Miss Maudie Atkinson. Whereas Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack had somewhat smaller roles in Mockingbird, their roles here are much more significant and the reader gets to know more of their personalities, even if those personalities may have somewhat changed over the past twenty years. There are also some flashbacks to Scout’s adolescence still intact, but they are the clich├ęd tales of growing pains (i.e., feeling the need to wear falsies), albeit told with Lee’s wit. One can tell Lee wrote this at the same time she wrote Mockingbird as all of the character’s mannerisms, description (although they are twenty years older), and ways of talking are the same.

The book started a bit slow to me as I wasn’t quite interested in the town’s history, but by chapter eight, the story and the bulk of the plot are revealed. The first seven chapters were still a quick, easy read and once the story picked up, Lee’s prose, speeches and situations made the book impossible to put down. Ultimately, Watchman is a coming-of-age tale about a young woman coming home to her small hometown to find that those she turned to for moral inspiration and support are not who she thought they were. It’s about growing up to find out that your parents are human, they make mistakes, and they may not have the same set of ideals as you. Lee’s Jean Louise/Scout is rudely awakened to find that her father is not the man she thought him to be and that her town – a place she is half in love with and half despises – has become a faraway place in terms of who she now is as a person. Anyone who has ever had the same feeling as Scout, having drastically differing views than those of their parent(s) or guardian(s) and/or discovering their parent(s) is not who they thought they were, will most likely be deeply affected by this story. Watchman is the death of a hero … but it is a necessary death. I found myself feeling exactly the way Jean Louise feels throughout most of the last two-thirds of the book, trying her best to ignore the wretched truth of which cannot be ignored. What she speaks is what I have felt in my own personal experiences.

The issue of racial equality is still front-and-center of Jean Louise’s journey as it becomes the catalyst for her adversity with her family and most of Maycomb. What most people want to know is whether Atticus – a strong, moral pillar of a man – is racist in Watchman. Well … yes and no. On its face, he has racist views. Ones not expressed at all in Mockingbird. There is no explanation why or how he came to change, but I believe that is what happened to him. He changed. People do that, after all. Atheists can become Christians. Christians can become atheists. Democrats can become Republicans. Republicans can become Democrats. People can switch their favorite sports team or favorite ice cream flavor. It happens all the time during our lives. And there is no exception in the lives of a literary character; that is what's real. Let’s also remember that this story does take place in the South in the late 1950s during the big segregation battle. Nevertheless, above all, Atticus still believes in the law. And he believes the law should service everyone equally, no matter their race. The tragic sting of having an inspirational character revealed to actually be everything you thought they would never be is heartbreaking. No one takes that sting to heart more than Jean Louise and the reader is easily transformed into her and joins her on her journey through Lee’s writing. My only criticism to Lee’s tome is that there is one prevalent line Atticus says in Mockingbird which would completely contradict his own moral character and make him a hypocrite in Watchman (HINT: The line begins, "As you grow older, you'll see white men ..."). Again, even though Jean Louise calls out here Atticus’s hypocritical ways, all one can chalk up his drastic change to is time – time and change of beliefs.

I believe Watchman came along at just the right time. With many debates and outrage today regarding race relations, the NAACP, racially-motivated shootings, and the “true” basis for the Civil War (which could parallel to the creation of the Confederate flag) – all of which are addressed in Watchman – Lee’s 1950s-penned story is uncannily apropos to today’s racial issues. While there is no absolution to such issues within Watchman’s pages, Lee continues the good fight and it is felt through Jean Louise. What is great about Lee’s story is also her ability to not be entirely one-sided. She touches on both sides of the issue with a level head and plenty of respect … even when her characters are freaking out. When a character is dancing around an issue, the reader will feel just as frustrated as Jean Louise and want a flat-out answer. Lee’s characters dance to their own music and answer life’s – and Jean Louise’s – questions in their own melodic ways. It is this which gives them credibility and life.

But there is more going on than just racial issues. There is the issue of a girl who held her father in such high esteem seeing a side of him that she didn’t believe existed or could never exist. That is what lies at the heart of Watchman. It’s about making peace with what you cannot control, learning the true meaning of tolerance of others who are different than you lest you turn into the very thing you claim to despise – a lesson many people on both sides of any issue or political party must learn if we are to grow as a country united – and being true to yourself. My personal take on the ending was that it was very cathartic for me. I related to SO much of what Jean Louise was experiencing, saying and feeling – not so much because of racial beliefs (although I do believe in the equality she does), but more about being different and seeing things differently than a seeming majority. While the story may seem a tad darker thematically than its predecessor, and the story somewhat lulls at the beginning, I believe Harper Lee’s unearthed story still contains what made Mockingbird so beloved. The ultimate message which Jean Louise learns from the most unlikely source near the end is inspiring and endearing and full of hope, yet also delicately, with great understanding, shows any reader the opposite side of their own belief. It was those feelings which permeated me as I closed the final page on Go Set A Watchman – and as Ms. Lee is famously quoted as saying, “The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.” Doesn’t that, after all, make for a successful, effective piece of literature? I reckon it does.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Movie Review of "Avengers: Age of Ultron"


The long-awaited Avengers sequel has finally hit and like any sequel, there are good points and bad points. This phase in the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU) finds the team going directly into action to face off against HYDRA and Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) to obtain the scepter previously used by Loki, obtaining the wisdom infinity stone. The audience is not given any review or catching up on what our heroes have been up to lately. So let's review what we know so far: Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) have been on missions together and seen the end of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was infiltrated and corrupted by its enemy HYDRA; Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who, somewhere between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and here, got into a romantic relationship with Black Widow, went off to work at Stark Industries, alongside Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.); after a major battle with Aldrich Killian, who tried to further weaponize the "Extremis" technology, Stark seemingly gives up his Iron Man persona to be with an ailing Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow); Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has been laying low; Thor (Chris Hemsworth) saved his world, Asgard, and Earth from the evil Malekith, with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) posing as their father, Odin, and two Asgardians deliver an Infinity Stone (featured in Guardians of the Galaxy) to the Collector (Benecio del Toro), which, thanks to the Guardians, is currently in the custody of the NOVA Corps. Otherwise, the audience is just thrown into the action. What follows is a fun, action-packed beginning to the summer movie season!

 The newest addition to the MCU is the addition of the "miracles" (they're mutants -- let's be real), "the Twins," Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who have powers beyond a scientific explanation; Wanda has telekinesis, hypnosis, and can emit powerful energy bolts, and Pietro is a super-fast speedster. We find out the two are not the victims they were made out to be in their brief appearance of the post-credit scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As Wanda uses her powers to hypnotize Tony Stark, he sees his worst nightmare of his teammates dying while Earth is faced with another alien invasion. This fear spreads within him and he decides to turn his sentient Iron Man soldiers (oh yeah! They were made too in the interim between films!) into more aware artificial intelligence (AI). The problem is that his AI -- named Ultron -- becomes all too self-aware and decides the only way it can bring about Tony's "world peace" is by destroying those who make the world the most violent: humans. Thus, the Avengers spring into action and it's an entertaining ride to watch.

"There are no strings on me." Ultron first meets the Avengers and makes a rather underrated, sinister threat.

One of the best things about the villain of Ultron is that he is a broad-based villain. Everywhere there is computer AI and the internet, he lives. Plus, he makes several copies of himself, making an innumerable threat. But that is also a problem in Age of Ultron, because, for a villain who seems so much of a huge threat and is capable of being one, the filmmakers don't fully utilize his power of coursing through the world's internet and it is never explained why (I can't say too much now as it would become too much of a spoiler). Sure, there's a brief mention of NEXUS, but how Ultron is prevented from fully using his power is never explained. Of course, in the comic, Ultron is actually created by Hank Pym -- who will be played by Michael Douglas in the Ant-Man film due out this summer -- but, in this film, it is understandable that director/writer Joss Whedon had to keep it in the already-established characters' world. The other best thing about Ultron is he is voiced by James Spader. Spader brings a delightful playfulness to his villainy, his voice oozing with delighted evil (fans of NBC's The Blacklist know what I'm talkin' about!). Ultron is probably one of the best robotic characters I've ever seen on film. Since Ultron is created by Stark in the film, it is understandable that the robot would take on Stark's wit and pompousness. I think he's even better of a villain than Loki. Taylor-Johnson is good as Quicksilver but -- because I'm a DC Comics fan, I have to say -- that character is no Flash. Olsen really brings "the dark" as Scarlet Witch and I can't wait to see how the MCU fits her in to its world. And Paul Bettany's Vision was interesting, I liked the way Bettany portrayed him as well as how he was written, and there was one jaw-dropping moment which Vision silently shows his full strength ... and it's not even in an action sequence! I look forward to seeing how he'll affect the overall function of the Avengers as a whole.

Some of the best parts of this film are some of the small quirks peppered throughout the film; my personal favorite is when all of the Avengers are humorously trying to lift Thor's hammer and Cap -- an insanely buff Evans -- slightly nudges it, and Thor gets a worried look on his face but quickly plays it off like he wasn't worried. Also worth mentioning is the introduction of Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis) in Africa -- this is a brief intro to the world of Black Panther (who will be introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and have his own film come out in July 2018). Plus, this has to be my favorite Stan Lee cameo of all the ones he's done so far ("Excelsior!"). What I also liked about the film was the further development of Hawkeye's (Renner) character, and Thor's little side mission where he sees a major foreshadowing. I've said this since The Avengers and I'll say it again: Black Widow should have her own stand-alone film; she has one of the best origin stories in the Marvel universe. There is also definite seeds being planted to foreshadow the famous "Civil War" event storyline (from the comics), which will be the centerpiece to the next Captain America movie (due out in May 2016), most notably the fight between Cap and Stark. I love that this film explored the duality between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Stark is so intent on wanting to protect the world that he creates destructive devices to do so (sounds like most real-life "politicos" nowadays) -- an idea which is one of the Maximoffs' main reasons for not trusting Stark -- while Rogers believes in overall freedom. I couldn't help but think of Rogers' most quotable line in any of the films he's appeared in when he confronts Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in Winter Soldier, by pointing to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new weapons and saying: "... Like holding a gun on everyone on Earth and calling it protection. This isn't freedom. This is fear." This will play out more in Civil War. Now, some people may think this film follows the same formula of the first, especially involving the "dysfunctional family" feel. However, this aspect is necessary in this film so that Marvel could set it up for what's to inevitably come. 

A house divided ...

What I wasn't too crazy about was some of Cap's action stunts. I know this is a comic book adaptation movie, but there's still only so much unrealistic action moves I can stomach, and his were too much to bear. Also, Marvel's continuing utilization of the entire "coincidence catastrophe" technique is good in theory. Let me explain. You might notice in every Marvel film that when any major disaster happens in a city or place, miraculously no major lives, cities, and/or places are destroyed (although, in this film, there is plenty of destruction, and I'd like to see what Man of Steel naysayers who were so up-in-arms about the destruction of Metropolis would say after seeing this -- even though I'm sure they'll make excuses). Anyways, like I said, this technique is good in theory in that kids don't see much death and it makes the story all the more optimistic, but it sort of gets old. It gets to be too unrealistic ... even for a film steeped in science fiction and flying men. But it still works nonetheless ... for now.

Overall, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a great way to start the season, another exceptional notch in Marvel's belt, but don't expect too much exposition. Still, there's more story here than in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies! The cast ups their game as we get glimpses into what they really fear, and makes me really wish there would be a Hulk stand-alone film. But what's most exciting is the mid-end-credit scene. I won't spoil it but it sets up for the next Avengers film: probably one of the most major events in comic book history. Whedon does a great job -- as usual -- but it is the humanity of Avengers: Age of Ultron which ultimately makes this film a memorable addition to the MCU.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

My Most Anticipated Movies of 2015

It's that time of year again! Because the dawn of a new year in film is upon us, I figured I'd share the films with which I'm most excited to see in 2015 (in alphabetical order)! (Please note that all release dates of the films could change.):


Aloha
Directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring Bradley CooperEmma StoneRachel McAdamsJohn KrasinskiBill MurrayJay Baruchel, and Danny McBride

Once called Deep Tiki, the currently-titled film, Aloha (which may change names again before its release), from writer-director Cameron Crowe (Almost FamousSay AnythingWe Bought a Zoo) is a dramedy (comedy/drama) about a disgraced 30-something U.S. weapons consultant, Brian Gilcrest (Cooper), who is deployed to a dormant military base in Hawaii to launch a spy satellite in response to aggression from China. While in Hawaii, with his U.S. Air Force assistant, Major Lisa Ng (Stone), Brian must get approval from the native Hawaiian council before the launch, all the while reconnecting with the love of his life, Tracy (McAdams) ... and her husband and kids. While the story sounds a bit simplistic -- and far-fetched -- leave it to Crowe to take such a concept and put his own special, particular spin on it to make one hell of a delightful movie. With an amazing comedic cast (especially the wonderful Cooper!) and the backdrop of Hawaii, there's much to anticipate with this film. To be released: May 29, 2015.



Avengers: Age of Ultron
Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Paul Bettany, and James Spader

Marvel consistently is upping its game, taking over not only the big screen but also the small screen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter), but it is its massive Avengers initiative (bringing together A-list actors to portray the legendary Marvel heroes) which wins most fans' attention. So, since the first installment, what have our heroes been up to? Captain America (Evans) and Black Widow (Johansson) have been on missions together and seen the end of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was infiltrated and corrupted by its enemy HYDRA; Bruce Banner/Hulk (Ruffalo) went off to work at Stark Industries, alongside Tony Stark (Downey Jr.); after a major battle with Aldrich Killian, who tried to further weaponize the "Extremis" technology, Stark seemingly gives up his Iron Man persona to be with an ailing Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow); Hawkeye (Renner) has been laying low; Thor (Hemsworth) saved his world, Asgard, and Earth from the evil Malekith, with his brother Loki (Hiddleston) posing as their father, Odin, and two Asgardians deliver an Infinity Stone (featured in Guardians of the Galaxy) to the Collector (Benecio del Toro), which, thanks to the Guardians, is currently in the custody of the NOVA Corps. In this sequel, the team come together once again to defeat the robotic threat that is Ultron (Spader), which -- in this film -- is created by Stark (in the comics, his creator is Hank Pym, who will be portrayed by Michael Douglas in the Ant-Man movie due out this year). There is no doubt this will mark the beginning of the "Civil War" storyline featured in the comics, which will lead into the next Captain America movie, to be released in 2016. To be released: May 1, 2015.


Ant-Man
Directed by Peyton Reed
Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, Judy Greer, Hayley Atwell, and John Slattery

First, many cinephiles were overjoyed at the announcement of cult director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) taking on Marvel's miniature might man. But it was short-lived as Wright soon dropped out and was replaced by director Peyton Reed (Yes Man, Bring it On, The Break-Up), known mostly for comedies. Although Reed doesn't have any action movies under his belt, it is still Marvel and I'm trusting they wouldn't hire someone who wasn't up for the challenge. The choice of having Paul Rudd (a comedic "everyman") portray protagonist Scott Lang is a bold choice -- and some say too risky -- but Rudd has proven he can do drama just as well as comedy. Plus, with the addition of Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter and Slattery as the older Howard Stark (Tony Stark's dad), there promises to be more flashback information to tie together Marvel's expanding cinematic universe. Although the film will not closely follow the Ant-Man comics, it still promises to be one of the top hits of the summer. To be released: July 17, 2015.


Black Mass
Directed by Scott Cooper
Starring Johnny DeppJoel EdgertonSienna Miller, Dakota Johnson, Juno Temple, Peter Sarsgaard, Kevin Bacon, Corey StollAdam Scott, and Benedict Cumberbatch

Based on the true story of how the FBI exploited a childhood friendship in order to take down Boston's Italian Mafia, Black Mass -- based on the non-fiction novel of the same name -- explores the friendship of childhood friends John Connolly (Edgerton) and James "Whitey" Bulger (Depp). In the late 1970s, Connolly grew up to be a major figure in the FBI's Boston office, and Bulger grew up to be godfather of the Irish Mob. The film examines how, through the two's friendship, the FBI used Bulger and his mob to take down the Italian Mafia, leading to the FBI's involvement in murders, drug dealing, racketeering indictments, and Bulger making the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted List. With an all-star cast, and director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), the film promises to make a mark this year, as well as maybe garner some Oscar nominations. To be released: September 18, 2015.


Bridge of Spies
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tom HanksAustin StowellAmy RyanAlan AldaSebastian Koch, and Eve Hewson

Matt: Steven Spielberg's newest film is the true-life event of James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), a Brooklyn lawyer and U.S. Navy Reserve commander, who negotiates the release of U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowall) after he is shot down in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. This is Spielberg doing what he does best, along with partner-in-crime Hanks, so I have big expectations with this one. To be released: October 16, 2015.


Cinderella
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Hayley Atwell, Ben Chaplin, and Derek Jacobi

With the release -- and success -- of Disney's live-action Maleficent, the House of Mouse has been looking to transition other famous princesses into the live world. The next step, for release this year, is Cinderella (and Beauty and the Beast has already been given the green light with Emma Watson to star as Belle). With director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), the film promises to fit the style Disney likes to achieve. What's mostly a stand-out on this film, though, is the cast: Lily James (Downton Abbey) as Cinderella and Cate Blanchett as her evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine (a perfect casting as far as I'm concerned). Hopefully, Disney can deliver on a script as good as Maleficent, with its ability to take a somewhat simplistic story and giving it multiple layers. To be released: March 13, 2015.


The End of the Tour
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Starring Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Anna Chlumsky, Mamie Gummer, Joan Cusack, and Ron Livingston

This is a biographical film (biopic) of writer David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide on September 12, 2008, at the age of 46, based on the 2010 non-fiction David Lipsky book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. The film follows Lipsky (Eisenberg), who accompanies Wallace (Segel) on his book tour to promote his novel, Infinite Jest. To be released: January 24, 2015.


Entourage
Directed by Doug Ellin
Starring Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Piven, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Billy Bob Thornton, Haley Joel Osment, Rex Lee, and Perrey Reeves

For fans of the hit HBO series, this is long overdue! Especially since there were some unanswered questions left by the series finale. To see the cast again reminds me of what made the series so fun and so entertaining. Let's hope Doug Ellin can keep that same magic going with a full-feature film. For those who don't know, Entourage is loosely based on actor Mark Wahlberg's life as he hails from Boston (in the series/movie, the character Vince Chase hails from Queens, New York) and has his entourage made up of childhood friends. In the series, Chase (Adrian Grenier) is a successful actor who is managed by best friend Eric (or "E") (Kevin Connolly), and accompanied by his D-list actor brother, Drama (Kevin Dillon) and his driver, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara). The show follows them as they are "fish-out-of-water" trying to navigate the roads of Hollywood, lead by Chase's lovable-jerk-of-an-agent Ari (Jeremy Piven). The film promises to be an end-all to the story and I'm looking forward to seeing each of the characters (hopefully) succeed. To be released: June 5, 2015.


Everly
Directed by Joe Lynch
Starring Salma Hayek, Jennifer Blanc, and Hiroyuki Watanabe

Salma Hayek is stirring up some action in her latest film, about a single mother who finds herself in an apartment where multiple assassins are sent to kill her. In order to save her mother and daughter, she must fight her way through the melee of dangerous killers and find a way out of the building ... and her situation. This isn't the first time Hayek has played action (the most notable being Once Upon a Time in Mexico), but this is the first time she has taken the lead. And I can't wait to see how she does it. In a film reminiscent of Smokin' Aces and Shoot 'Em Up, there promises to be lots of action and lots of funny sight gags and cheesy one-liners. To be released: February 27, 2015.


The Fantastic Four
Directed by Josh Trank
Starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelson, and Reg E. Cathey

Marvel's Fantastic Four is one of those franchises which -- for some reason or another -- is so difficult to adapt into a decent film. The original (starring Chris Evans, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, and Ioan Gruffold) was a major stinker, but if anyone can revitalize the franchise, it's director Josh Trank -- the awesome director behind the sleeper hit Chronicle (a found-footage film showing the birth of a supervillain, in a real-world setting). Plus, with Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan leading the film, there is a lot of acting strength here. Let's just hope the screenwriters get this right! To be released: August 7, 2015.


Goosebumps
Directed by Rob Letterman
Starring Odeya Rush, Jack Black, Amy Ryan, Ken Marino, Dylan Minnette, Ryan Lee, and Halston Sage

I have to admit that I'm more excited to see this with my daughters more than anything else. They're big fans of the series and we're looking forward to going and see this together. Based on R.L. Stine's series of young adult/tween horror books and the 1995 TV anthology series, Goosebumps promises to have plenty of thrills as a kid must team up with Stine's niece (Odeya Rush) after Stine's (Jack Black) imaginary demons are set loose on the town of Greendale, Maryland. To be released: August 7, 2015.


High-Rise (2015)
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, and Sienna Guillory

I was quite excited when I read this film -- based on the 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard -- was going to be released. The story is about a class war which erupts within a luxurious apartment building, transforming the building into a battleground between economic classes. Lead character Dr. Robert Laing will be played by Tom Hiddleston, and the story will stick to its metaphor of the building representing wealth class politics in America. Really can't wait to see this one! To be released: TBD 2015.



In the Heart of the Sea
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom HollandBen Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson

Based on the true life 1820 event which inspired Herman Melville to write the classic novel Moby Dick, and based on Nathaniel Philbrick's non-fiction novel In the Heart of the Sea, this film looks like it could be a cross between The Perfect Storm and Jaws. The story follows a whaling ship crew, lead by its Captain George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker) and First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), who are stalked and hunted by a large sperm whale, which strands the crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home. Director Ron Howard hasn't had any major solid hits lately -- his last film being 2013's Rush, with Hemsworth -- but this looks to put him back on the map. Plus, there's always an intriguing story when it comes to man vs. nature. It makes for great drama! To be released: December 11, 2015.



Inside Out
Directed by Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen
Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, and Kaitlyn Dias

Pixar promises to strike cinematic gold again with its latest release: Inside Out. This time, the master animators are bringing audiences into our brains to see the inner workings of Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). They all reside in each of us, but this particular set of emotions reside within "tween" girl Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). They help guide her through the difficult process of her life being suddenly uprooted and having to move to San Francisco, where she has no friends and has to navigate the new city, school and home with many conflicting emotions in the "headquarters of her mind." I'm excited to take my girls to see this and, as for why it may be good, it's Pixar! There doesn't need to be any other reason. To be released: June 19, 2015.


Jupiter Ascending
Directed by The Wachowskis
Starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Douglas Booth

Originally set for release last year, the film got pushed back to its new release date to contend with lesser blockbuster films and gain some more audiences. Fortunately, it comes to most movie-goers in February -- a time when there aren't many major film releases -- and is a film with more originality than 99% of main studio releases nowadays. In the film, a caretaker, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), is surprisingly targeted by a ruthless son (Eddie Redmayne) of a powerful family that live on a planet in need of a new heir. Jones travels with a genetically-engineered warrior (Channing Tatum) -- sworn to protect her -- to the planet in order to stop the son's tyrannical reign. The Wachowskis (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) are very visual and action-oriented directors but, no matter what they do, their methods effectively work ... and work well. I don't let the visual effects sway me into wanting to see this film, but am ultimately excited to see where the story goes ... even if it may somewhat be predictable. To be released: February 6, 2015.


Jurassic World
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jake Johnson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, BD Wong, Judy Greer, and Katie McGrath  

Fourteen years after the last Jurassic Park film (Jurassic Park 3), the franchise has been brought back to life by director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), with the story taking place 22 years after the events of the original Jurassic Park. In the film, the island of Isla Nubar now features a fully-functioning Jurassic World theme park (like the one conceived of in the original 1993 film), but, after 10 years of low ticket sales and attendance, the owners concoct a scheme to draw more crowds to the park and up their revenue in the process. Unfortunately, the new "scheme" is a new genetically-modified hybrid dinosaur called the Indominus Rex, and it breaks loose on the island, wreaking havoc and killing patrons. It's up to the park's staff, lead by Velociraptor behavioral researcher Owen (Chris Pratt). Sure, the premise sounds like some B-movie you may watch on the SyFy channel, but with the cast and involvement of Trevorrow, my interest is certainly piqued to visit the park once again. Plus, I love the premise of the film(s) as it shows how humans' involvement with wildlife as entertainment is just another form of a reality-show mentality (notice in the trailer the audience cheering when an aquatic dinosaur feeds on a great white shark); in a way it's perverse and this film's story reminds us of that. Unlike the reality shows we see on TV, these "participants" did not volunteer for their "work" and, most times, are not happy with their environment (I'm looking at you, SeaWorld!). To be released: June 12, 2015.


Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by George Miller
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

I have to admit that I never was that crazy about the Mad Max series of films, but this one looks way too cool to pass up seeing in the theater! The casting of Tom Hardy as Max (the original role being portrayed by Mel Gibson) is nothing short of brilliant and the film looks like one ride through literal hell! In an apocalyptic future set in a dust-bowl desert, Max comes across Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a mysterious woman on a mission to cross the desert, back to her childhood homeland. Along the way, they meet several degenerate pirates, who hunt for blood and nothing more. Like I said, Mad Max has not been my favorite -- although I have wonderful memories of going to see Beyond Thunderdome in the theater when it was released in 1985! But this trailer makes this film seem like one of the craziest films to be released in the past 10 years or so (although Verdi's "Requiem" only makes me think of the beginning of Battle Royale)! So I'm onboard! Start your engines! To be released: May 15, 2015.


Masterminds
Directed by Jared Hess
Starring Zach Galifianakis, Owen WilsonKristen WiigDevin Ratray, Jason Sudeikis, Ken Marino, and Kate McKinnon

Based on the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery in North Carolina, this film follows armored car driver and vault supervisor David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), who, along with many accomplices, steals $17.3 million in cash. Because of the comedic actors picked for the film, I think it's not a stretch to say this film will be more comedic in tone, but at least it's not at the expense at someone's life (a major problem when Michael Bay's Pain & Gain -- a film that made comedic situations over someone's murder -- was released). I'm intrigued to see what director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) will do with this. To be released: August 14, 2015.



Minions
Directed by Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin
Starring Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, and Jennifer Saunders

Set in 1968, 42 years before their adventures with Gru from Despicable Me, the Minions -- led by Stuart, Kevin and Bob -- are looking for a new evil master to serve when they come across Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), an aspiring villain, in New York City. Not much else is known about the plot other than that, but with the same team from Despicable Me leading this film, there promises to be plenty of laughs. Another one I'm looking forward to seeing with my kids! To be released: July 10, 2015.


Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon McBurney, and Alec Baldwin

After Brad Bird did such an amazing job with its predecessor, I'm looking forward to seeing what Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, The Way of the Gun) does with the franchise! The Mission: Impossible series has come a long way since its dismal first and second films. The only thing known about the plot is the IMF team (Cruise, Pegg, Rhames, and Renner) take on eradicating The Syndicate -- an international rogue organization committed to destroying the IMF. To be released: July 31, 2015.


Pan
Directed by Joe Wright
Starring Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried, and Garrett Hedlund

Director Joe Wright is taking the legend of J.M. Barrie's literary immortal "boy-who-never-wants-to-grow-up" and turning it into somewhat of an origin story. In the film, Peter (Levi Miller) is spirited away to a magical land where he comes to know fun and danger while meeting the pirates Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), Hook (Garrett Hedlund), and Princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). I've always been a fan of the world of Neverland and look forward to seeing this particular spin on the myth! To be released: July 17, 2015.



The Peanuts Movie
Directed by Steve Martino
Starring Noah Schnapp, Venus Schultheis, Mariel Sheets, Hadley Belle Miller, Noah Johnston, Rebecca Bloom, and Alexander Garfin

It's been a while since the Peanuts gang have seen the screen, and while this release makes me a little wary, I have to say, I'm very excited about this film! I've been a Charlie Brown/Snoopy fan since I was a kid and I gratuitously watch the Peanuts specials on TV every year. I have to admit I find a spiritual comradeship with Charlie Brown ("I got a rock."). And now, with having kids, I look forward to taking them to see this movie -- even if it's more for me than for them! To be released: November 6, 2015.


Pixels
Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring Michelle Monaghan, Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Sean Bean, Ashley Benson, Jane Krakowski, and Kevin James

Gamers of all generations! Take note! There is a new movie coming out this year about 1980s video games characters attacking New York! And even though Adam Sandler is involved, Pixels looks to be as every bit of awesome as it sounds. In the film, video game experts -- lead by Sam Brenner (Sandler) -- are called on by his childhood friend-now-President Will Cooper (Kevin James) to help save the U.S. (and the world) from aliens that misinterpret video feeds from classic 1980s video games as a declaration of war against them, thus using the games as models from their various assaults. For anyone who grew up playing Atari 2600 (Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Centipede, etc.), this film will be a must-see. And I know that's what the production companies are banking on, but they sure got my money! To be released: July 24, 2015.


 
Regression
Directed by Alejandro Amenabar
Starring Emma Watson, Ethan Hawke, David Thewlis, Devon Bostick, Dale Dickey, and Aaron Ashmore

All that is known about this film is a father is accused of sexually abusing his daughter (Watson) -- a crime of which he has no memory of committing. This film is the disturbing tale of a father and daughter torn apart, and the detective (Hawke) investigating the case, thrown into the center of a conspiracy that shocks the nation. While that is not much to go on -- and sexual abuse films are not my "cup of tea" -- I still am looking forward to seeing this film solely based on its leadership under excellent filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar (Open Your Eyes, The Others, The Sea Inside). Amenabar knows drama and how to expertly weave an intriguing tale so this will be one I won't miss. To be released: August 28, 2015.



The Revenant
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring Tom Hardy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, and Lukas Haas

Based on the novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant is about frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who, in the 1823, sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling. Not only is the film directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu -- fresh off his impressive, Oscar-nominated Birdman -- but it's a revenge pic with DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. 'Nuff said. To be released: December 25, 2015.


Spectre
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, and Andrew Scott

It's James Bond. There is no further explanation needed. To be released: November 6, 2015.


Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Domhnall Gleeson, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong'o, Max von Sydow, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Warwick Davis, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker

I've heard one potential storyline for this sequel to 1983's Return of the Jedi, and all I will say is that if what I read is going to be the film, I will be disappointed. However, I'll still give it a try. I'm looking forward to the return of original trilogy characters Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), but also very curious how the new characters will figure well into such a huge saga. I was hoping director Brad Bird would take up the task on this film, but I got my very-close-second J.J. Abrams so I'm very happy. Either way, it's the Wars, so I'll be first in line come opening day! To be released: December 18, 2015.


Straight Outta Compton
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Starring Corey Hawkins, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti, Keith Stanfield, and Neil Brown Jr.

The biopic of gangsta rap group N.W.A. may not be for everyone, but I can't wait to see the early lives of some of rap's most influential pioneers (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E) brought to the screen. Plus, I think F. Gary Gray is a great filmmaker. While not a huge rap fan, even I have to say this film is long overdue. (WARNING: The trailer below is a red-band trailer, meaning there is expletive language and brief nudity.) To be released: August 14, 2015.




Tomorrowland
Directed by Brad Bird
Starring George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Kathryn Hahn, Hugh Laurie, Pierce Gagnon, Judy Greer, and Tim McGraw

Rather than take on the newest Star Wars, director Brad Bird decided to stay loyal to his commitment to Disney to make the long-awaited Tomorrowland -- based on the theme park at Disney World. In the film, a teenager (Britt Robertson), who loves science, teams up with a former boy-genius inventor (George Clooney) to embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory. Disney is keeping the story very hush-hush, but with a screenplay by Bird and Lost alum Damon Lindelof, there is great promise here, in which I'm sure will be a story for all ages. To be released: May 22, 2015.


Triple Nine
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Kate Winslet, Gal Gadot, Teresa Palmer, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Clifton Collins Jr.

In this all-star cast movie, a group of corrupt cops are blackmailed into pulling off a seemingly impossible heist, which includes the murder of a rookie police officer -- a code "999" -- in order to distract the other cops while they pull the heist. The cast is what makes me most excited for this film, along with direction by John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless). To be released: September 11, 2015.



True Story
Directed by Rupert Goold
Starring Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Ethan Suplee, Gretchen Mol, Genevieve Angelson, and Robert John Burke

Based on the true story of journalist Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), who finds out his identity had been stolen by murdering fugitive Christian Longo after Longo murdered his own wife and children in December 2001. The film deals with Finkel's interviewing of Longo and getting to know him -- giving the film tones of Infamous. To be released: April 10, 2015.


Vacation
Directed by John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein
Starring Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Michael Pena, Elizabeth Gillies, Charlie Day, Chevy Chase, and Beverly D'Angelo

This reboot/sequel of the classic National Lampoon's Vacation series is either going to be really funny or really lame. In the film, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) is finally grown up and, inspired by his father Clark (Chevy Chase), taking his family on a trip to Wally World before it closes down permanently. Although Wally World's security guard (the late, great John Candy) and Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) will be sorely missed, I still think this film has great potential. Let's just hope Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road" makes an appearance! To be released: October 9, 2015.



The Walk
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, and Steve Valentine

After the documentary Man on Wire, great interest was sparked about Philippe Petit, the French man who walked between the two Twin Towers (of the World Trade Center) in Manhattan in 1974 -- one year after the finish of its construction. This film directed by Robert Zemeckis, follows Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his team as they get ready for the legendary feat. NOTE: If you're afraid of heights, this may not be the movie for you to see -- as evidenced in the trailer alone! To be released: October 2, 2015. 
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