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Ashley Z
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New Releases and Upcoming Movies

New & Upcoming Movie Releases

The Finest Hours
Release: January 29th
Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Eric Bana 
Genre: Drama | History | Thriller
Synopsis: The Coast Guard makes a daring rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard in 1952.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Release: February 5th
Cast: Lily James, Lena Headey, Matt Smith
Genre: Action | Horror | Romance
Synopsis: Jane Austen's classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge -- an army of undead zombies.
Hail, Caesar!
Release: February 5th
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Emily Beecham, Channing Tatum
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Musical
Synopsis: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio's stars in line.
Zoolander 2
Release: February 12th
Cast: Olivia Munn, Penélope Cruz, Benedict Cumberbatch 
Genre: Comedy
Synopsis: Derek and Hansel are modelling again when an opposing company attempts to take them out from the business.
Release: February 12th
Cast: Morena Baccarin, Ryan Reynolds, Gina Carano 
Genre: Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi
Synopsis: A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers and adopts the alter ego Deadpool.
Knight of Cups
Release: March 4th
Cast: Natalie Portman, Teresa Palmer, Christian Bale
Genre: Drama | Romance
Synopsis: A screenwriter living in LA tries to make sense of the strange events occurring around him.
London Has Fallen
Release: March 4th
Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Charlotte Riley 
Genre: Action | Crime | Thriller
Synopsis: In London for the Prime Minister's funeral, Mike Banning discovers a plot to assassinate all the attending world leaders.

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Hail, Caesar
My top five favorite comedies of all time go in the following order: #5. Airplane #4 Monty Python and The Holy Grail #3 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas #2 Anchorman and coming in at #1 is The Big Lebowski. That last one is a perfect comedy that has only gotten better and better over the years. I've been chasing the dream that another comedy would be that funny and that finely crafted for almost 20 years. I've often thought that if anyone was going to duplicate that magic it was going to be the guys that wrote and directed it to begin with…the Coen Brothers. Unfortunately (and fortunately), The Coens are masters of many different genres and making a bizarre, screwball comedy is one that they don't do very often. When I saw the trailers for Hail, Caesar it seemed to hit all the sweet notes and I was so excited. I'm sad to report that my hunt continues and I may have to wait another 20 years. Despite my enthusiasm, something felt wrong about this movie from the first signs of advertising. All the trailers had moments that were really funny but none of them pointed to a real story. I chalked that up to the Coens wanting to keep a sense of mystery as to what it was about. Turns out I was wrong because the movie really isn't about much of anything. It takes place in the the early '50s in an era of Hollywood that is often romanticized. This was when actors and actresses worked for studios and only did movies for those studios. In return, those studios found films for them, made them stars and took care of them personally…even covered up their shady personal lives. That's where Hail, Caesar starts when a prized performer, played by George Clooney, is kidnapped and Josh Brolin's character, as a studio executive, has to find him. Yes, there are hilarious scenes that involve really talented actors like Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel, the Harry Potter films), Scarlett Johansen, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and an amazingly adorable performance from Alden Ehrenreich (Stoker, Blue Jasmine). Every single cast member is quirky and funny in their own way. The problem is that half of them are unnecessary for the little story there is and the Coens even knew it, which is why they give up on half of them and leave their conclusions hanging in mid-air. It's as if they simply needed more big stars or didn't feel like there were enough weirdos in it so they just started throwing darts at a board with plots and character traits and then added them to the script. When you hear about the history of this movie, that makes sense though. Clooney, who starred in the Coen brother's O Brother, Where Art Thou, Burn After Reading and Intolerable Cruelty, had an inside joke with them. Whenever a reporter asked if he was going to do another film with them he would reply, "oh yeah, we're working on a film called Hail, Caesar now." He would do this just to mess with reporters but after a while the Coens thought they should actually make a film with that title. So what started as just a joke turned into this semi-mess of a film. When you're master filmmakers, however, even something that starts as a joke is still worth watching. Hail, Caesar was a disappointment but that might be a very personal thing for me. I was hoping I'd be able to finally lay to rest my search for another Big Lebowski but sadly, that journey still goes on. I love it when the Coens make screwball comedies but I don't think we'll see another one from them in a long time. That's fine because they make dramatic thrillers just as well (No Country for Old Men is one of my favorite crime dramas of all time too). Word 'round the campfire is that their next project is a bit of both genres and is about vicious crimes committed in suburbia by ordinary people in the '50s. I think that sounds great but what doesn't is that it might be directed by Clooney instead and his track record as a director isn't so hot. In the meantime, we have Hail, Caesar to remind us that big casts and genius filmmakers don't always make greatness.
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Kung Fu Panda 3
  When I first heard of a movie coming out called Kung Fu Panda in 2008, I thought it was a joke.  It was a concept that was so awful that I thought it was a fake trailer for another movie coming out like how they promoted Tropic Thunder or something.  Because of that stigma (and because I didn’t have children at the time), I didn’t see Kung Fu Panda at all.  By the time the second one came out in 2011, I was a movie critic.  I went to the screening with a smug smile on my face and snarky comments in mind for the review.  But I was blown away at how much I loved it.  Now, I have a 3-year-old son who couldn’t be more into animals and hitting, so the Kung Fu Panda films are staples of our weekend routine and I have seen the first one many, many, many times.  I wish I could go back to 2008 Gavin and tell him that by 2016, I would be excited to see Kung Fu Panda 3 with my son but also to see what happens after the cliffhanger ending of the last one. Jennifer Yuh returns as director after the last one and has, with the help of first-time co-director Alessandro Carloni, made the best Panda yet.  In this third installment, the dangerously-close to being a one-joke-film turns into so much more as it introduces Po, played again by Jack Black, to his biological father, played by Bryan Cranston.  This allows the film, for the first time in its history, to actually explore deeper emotions and reflect back on adoption, genial roots and the importance of recognizing that many are needed to raise one person.  None of it is handled with Pixar-level heaviness but nonetheless, it’s effective and powerful when the appropriate moments come and go. The entire cast returns once again proving that this must be an easy paycheck for all involved.  Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, David Cross and Lucy Liu are an interesting collection of people assembled for a kung fu film.  Despite several Oscar-winners in the mix, some seem like they’re reading the lines for the first time and put zero work into the roles.  Jolie is one of the guilty even though she has the most screen time than she has in any of the other films.   The best addition to the film is JK Simmons (Whiplash, Juno) who plays the villain.  Unlike Gary Oldman (the Harry Potter films, The Dark Knight films) and Ian McShane (John Wick, Snow White and the Huntsman), who were the villains for the previous films, Simmons adds a perfect amount of comedy to his menace.  This is something he’s been flawless doing in almost every film he’s done since the man began acting.  His Oscar victory last year was way overdue and I’m thrilled to see him in anything, even if it’s animated.   Despite the fact that Kung Fu Panda 3 steals it’s climax from The Three Amigos, it’s still hilarious and thrilling to watch.  When it comes to creativity, children’s films often get a free pass from me and this is certainly one of those occasions.  What’s interesting about Dreamworks Animation is that they don’t have the success that Disney or Pixar do.  They either make a film that is pretty spectacular like How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda or Shrek or they make total dog crap like Monsters vs. Aliens, Shark Tale, or Turbo.  I’m really happy to report that this film doesn’t just keep Kung Fu Panda in the spectacular pile but it’s the best one yet.  I know it’s easy to roll your eyes at these animated movies that just keep churning out sequels but as long as there is fun storytelling to be told, I won’t grow tired of it.
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The Finest Hours
When it comes to period dramas, they usually can run a little dry.  But when the period drama is about one of the greatest rescue missions in US Coast Guard history and contains more scenes of soaked men since Magic Mike, you have no fear of it running dry.  The Finest Hours is the true story of a 1952 blizzard that hit Cape Cod and cracked two oil tankers in half.  The only people who could rescue the 32 survivors of one of them were four guys on a boat that’s only meant to hold 12.  Sounds super exciting right?  Parts of it is very exciting but the rest of it is sluggish and dull. I am of the opinion that Chris Pine (Star Trek, Into the Woods) can do no wrong.  The guy is charming, good looking, funny and talented.  He has been in plenty of lousy movies but has always been the best thing in them.  This is the first time in Pine’s career that his performance is worse than the movie.  Now, it might be my love of Pine that’s making me say this, but I feel like that’s not his fault.  First of all, he’s portraying the real hero who went out on a suicide mission to save the survivors and his character traits of being soft spoken, timid and aloof might be accurate.  If that’s the case, my apology to his family for saying this but it’s boring, frustrating and short of entertaining. The other star of the film is Casey Affleck (Ocean's Eleven, Insterstellar).  Affleck is also a great actor who rarely gets his deserved credit because of the long and large shadow his brother, Ben, casts.  He plays the leader of the survivors on the oil tanker which is a story just as harrowing as the four guys who head out to save them.  Again, Affleck is portraying a real person but his performance is flat and dull.  It’s one thing to be a character that is always in control and thinking clearly and it’s another to act like you don’t give a damn about anything that’s going on around you.   Some of these calls might be the fault of director Craig Gillespie (Fright Night, Million Dollar Arm).  Gillespie has proven that he’s fully capable of making a kick-ass, well-crafted film but he’s also proven that he’s capable of phoning in boring film too.  Working with a PG-13 goal and having Disney breathing down your neck probably doesn’t help make the film feel more real and full of peril but nonetheless, Gillespie missteps in other places besides that.  No doubt, that once the film gets to the rescue it’s non-stop, heart-racing action filled with exciting sequences of tidal waves and extreme weather.  Getting to that part of the movie is an act of patience like none other.  The first hour of the film is almost punishing how slow, poorly acted and filled with incidental details it is.  The ending is a fair reward for those that can sit through two acts of Ambient-like entertainment though. It’s always sad to me when a film that’s a true tribute to historical figures doesn’t do well.  The Finest Hours isn’t a bad film but it falls short of what it could have been.  The attention to detail to make this feel like a film shot in the ‘50s is incredible but that level of nitty-gritty is what bogs down the first 60 minutes in ways I haven’t seen in a while.  The climax is exciting, emotional and thrilling but by the time we get there, we all feel like survivors.
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There aren't that many filmmakers out there that have to be reckoned with, right?  I mean, that their films are too big, too bold, too smart, too weird, too difficult to create to simply brush off and say, "eh, that sucked."  For me, the list is small...Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Lars von Trier, Gaspar Noe, some of Stanley Kubrik's work.  I need to add Charlie Kaufman to that list.  As a writer, his works are usually enjoyable in their quirky way like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but as a director, I can't seem to wrap my brain around him.  His latest film is called Anomalisa and it just might be the hardest film to digest yet in his resume, which is impressive considering he's the same guy who made Synecdoche, New York.   This animated film was not enjoyable for me or my wife and I believe that was Kaufman's goal.  He wanted to make a movie that was personal and human but the side of life he chose to show is depressing, unrelatable to me, and narcissistic.  It follows a man who travels a lot for business as a Customer Service expert.  He's written a book and carries a low level of fame among Customer Service people but he's lonely.  The entire film is about a 24-hour period of him arriving to a city, checking in to his hotel, meeting someone, having a one-night-stand, giving his speech and returning to his family.  However, because this is from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, nothing is easy to process and certainly not simple.     You can tell that Kaufman has nothing but contempt for 99% of the population of this planet.  You can tell that he's an uncomfortable, uneasy introvert that thinks very highly of himself and not of others.  That all comes across in his writing for most scripts but this one especially.  His interpretation of what "small talk" sounds like is very funny.  My wife is an introvert and she has described "small talk" the same way but because of that, she did not find it funny.  The main character thinks so highly of himself that, to him, everyone else in the world might as well be the same person.  Kaufman does a great job of showing that by having all the other characters share the same face and are voiced by the same actor, Tom Noonan (The Last Action Hero, AMC's Hell on Wheels), even the female characters.  This is confusing at first till you figure that out.     The only person who isn't the same to him, who's voiced by David Thewlis (the Harry Potter films, The Big Lebowski), is Lisa, who's voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, The Machinist).  The device of using such a limited cast is really brilliant and you can tell this film started as a radio play that Kaufman was performing, although it must have been impossible to understand who was talking.  It's also brilliant that he brought in animator Duke Johnson (NBC's Community) to share in the directing because this film wouldn't have felt as unique if wasn't done in stop-motion animation.  Yes, there is animated sex too...very graphic sex.  In fact, the sex scene is so realistic and ugly that it's very difficult to watch.  Kaufman chooses to stay on the scene for an excruciatingly long time to ensure that you flinch while watching two average-looking, middle aged strangers fumble around.  I understand the point but that doesn't mean I have to like it.   That brings me to the original point of reckoning with a filmmaker.  Many artists like Kaufman develop a fan base that love to say, "you just didn't GET it."  I assure you who proclaim that, I got it.  Anamolisa is a film that I spent a very long time thinking about when it was over.  I talked about it.  I read about it.  I even listened to an interview Kaufman and Johnson did explaining the film.  My takeaway is that I just didn't like it.  I can't relate to the level of loneliness that the film is built upon.  That's not to say that I'm better than the main character or Charlie Kaufman or people who travel from city-to-city like nomads, I simply can't relate to it though.  A lot of people claimed that it's a deeply human film that truly reaches into the soul.  I can see how and why some people would say that, I'm just not one of those people.  Anomolisa is a boring 90-minute animated thesis that is impressive in its effort but ultimately void of entertainment beyond a few chuckles and spiraling discussions on humanity that go nowhere.
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