Sunday, September 25, 2016

Don't Breathe - Review

A trio of amateur house burglars get more than they bargain for with their last job: a blind ex-army vet who's sitting on $300,000 in cash yet stills retains his expert skills at killing people. DON'T BREATHE is an engaging, taut thriller but you must swallow a whole lot of bad medicine in order to be fully entertained. Horror movies have been plagued by unlikable protagonists for ages now but this can certifiably take the cake. The viewer is forced to tag along with a ghetto white boy with cornrows, a friend-zoned loser made out of Wonder Bread, and a final girl that is not so secretly a pathetic femme fatale. Writer-director Fede Alvarex tries to throw in a cartoonishly evil mom, a brief sob story and a bad child actor in order to make us care about Jane Levy's character but it's hard to fully sympathize with a walking sociopath. If this derision of the "heroes" makes you think that it is a-okay to cheer on the excellently acted Stephen Lang as he navigates the walls and sounds in order to snuff them out, Alvarez has a trap card laying in wait to activate. He has not one but two disturbing twists in the second act, with the latter of the two being absolutely repugnant for those who haven't dined on on more foreign and/or upsetting horror fare. Despite my clear reservations of some its storytelling, not to mention its numerous plot holes, the movie is a well shot and directed terror-fest. Save for its creative decision to have the action be clothed often in teal and orange, it's framed and edited perfectly to make every tense scene pop your goosebumps and bring forth many memorable moments, particularly it's now famous basement chase sequence. The film's final act absolutely begs you to see this with a packed theater, as a series of unfortunate and kick-ass events transpire in rapid succession, leaving you practically breathless and filled with pitch-black glee. Only terror aficionados and those ready and willing to shoulder on with sheer assholes as the leads should venture into this dark house of horrors.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven (2016) - Review

Having only three weeks to decide on whether they should sell their homes to a robber baron or be killed on the streets, citizens of Rose Creek hire seven roaming gunslingers willing enough to do battle with the evil industrialist and his mercenary army. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is as fine as a finely forgettable action flick can be. Antoine Fuqua is a very serviceable director of thrills, spills, gunfire and explosions but his soul is clearly not fully invested in this pointless remake. Shootouts start off with a high amount of tension only to then be ruined by bad editing that leaves you unable to grasp the geography of the location and easily spot who's shooting who. The film's creative changes in the makeup of its racially diverse cast and their characters' backstory may feel like a welcome change from their predecessors in the John Sturges classic, which of course took the DNA from Akira Kurosawa's phenomenal SEVEN SAMURAI, but they all lack true depth due to the film's willingness to cut out all characterization in order to streamline the story. Hell, the story is so lean that instead of a series of escalating battles between the two groups, the film concludes on absolute genocide in one big showdown. Those few that have some substance to them however are clearly plagiarizing from better material and more entertaining modern westerns; it doesn't take a rocket scientist to spot that Denzel Washington's bounty hunter Sam Chisolm is a carbon copy of Jaime Foxx's Django. The saving grace of the movie is its rich cast, all of whom make a lifetime's supply of chicken salad out of the shit spun by Richard Wenk and True Detective's Nic Pizzolatto. The camaraderie between the seven is so infectious and delightful to partake in, as they all trade a joke one minute and justifiable kill a man the next. Chris Pratt maybe the shining star for many a viewer with his literally and figuratively wild card antics but it's Ethan Hawke as Goodnight, a silly drunkard who's ravaged by his marksmanship and Confederate-bred hatred, who really steals every scene. Barely being a worthwhile watch, you're better off waiting for this remake's eventual premiere on TNT in order to see this.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Curtis Hanson - RIP

Film director Curtis Hanson has died. He was 71 years old.

Hanson seemed destined to never break out in Hollywood, only to remain in the B-movie realm he first started in the 70's under the eye of Roger Corman and through out the 80's with a series of forgettable little thrillers (save for the Tom Cruise-Shelley Long sex comedy Losin' It). His fortunes changed on a dime in 1992 with the popular domestic shocker The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. The theme of a fractured family being terrorized by an evil outsider continued with his follow-up feature The River Wild, which brought acclaim to stars Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon and would later be a longtime staple of cable television.

Hanson finally became part of the elite in 1997 with L.A. Confidential. He worked overtime on the film: he producde it, co-wrote a shapable script with Brian Helgeland from the dense James Ellroy novel, and shaped a pulpy vision of the glamorous, smutty, and corrupt times in 1950's Los Angeles. Famous for its creative twists and kickstarting the careers of Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, the film earned major raves from critics and was awarded "Best Film" by major publications and critic organizations. Though it was overshadowed at the Oscars by the juggernaut that was Titanic, Hanson walked away with one for Best Screenplay. The movie has since grown in praise over time and is one of my absolute favorites.

Hanson's next projects were the very underrated Wonderboys, starring Michael Douglas and considered one of the best movies about writers, and popular rap movie 8 Mile, which famously had Eminem in the lead role and featured the amazing rap epic that is "Lose Yourself".

His career started to rapidly decline with the so-so reception to In Her Shoes and the absolute box office disaster Lucky You. He popped back up in 2011 with the acclaimed HBO television film Too Big To Fail but he finally had to call it quits the very next year. He left during the production of the surfer drama Chasing Mavericks due to heart problems, leaving Michael Apted to handle the rest.

He will be missed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

20 Horror Movies I Still Haven't Seen

October is just around the corner, which means that I will once again partake in one of my favorite holiday traditions: watching a horror movie ever single day of the month! This will be my 4th official edition of the Horrors of October; it would have been the 6th one if I didn't get a nasty cold in 2011, ruining my overview of season one of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, or my complete lack of caring in 2012. Regardless, I have had a ton of fun binging on the cinematic macabre, from the amateurish atrocities to the scary masterpieces.

Though I get to enjoy taking in 31+ horror films every October, there's always those select few that escape my grasp. I say grasp but really I mean my utter lack of actually sitting down and making the time for them. I often resort to just randomly picking a movie with a 90 minute running time so I can get it and my review done before midnight each night. Here's 20 of them I still haven't seen in front of my naked eyes:

1. It

This movie was the all the rage back when I was in 3rd grade; that and rather stupidly Jason Goes To Hell. All of my friends wouldn't stop talking about how frightening Pennywise is and all of the big scares. My parents refused to allow me to watch it, despite it originally being a television miniseries and the fact that its "R" rating was just slapped on for the home video release. Since then, the damn thing has grown and grown further in popularity to the point of madness. This has been one of the biggest head-slappers for me, doubly so considering I own a DVD copy of it, but the drummed-up brouhaha for next year's film remake of the classic Stephen King novel has me yearning to finally watch it.

2. The Saw Franchise

Another personal story: The original Saw movie came out right during my first year in college at Syracuse University. I sadly never got around to watching it at the Regal Cinemas in the Carousel Center, instead being more focused on seeing Resident Evil: Apocalypse and the rush of world cinema in my film classes. The indie horror flick ended up becoming a blockbuster and created a new franchise for Lionsgate to abuse the hell out of. Maybe this year, I will run the gamut of Jigsaw's gory antics.

3. Let The Right One In

I heard all the love and admiration for this 2008 Swedish film and I was all set to pick up a copy of it once it hit video. Unfortunately, the internet was aflame at the awful subtitles it was given by Magnolia Films. They eventually fixed it (if the subtitles box says "English (Theatrical)", you're all set!) but the whole ordeal severely burned my anticipation.

4. The Babadook

It was all the rage in 2014 but I never got on that train to NYC in order to see the Australian flick with the frightening pop-up book.

5. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

I have touched on all of the big Universal Monsters, save for this one. The silent classic with Lon Chaney Sr.'s famous portrayal of the masked man in the rafters was expected to be an easy pick when I did my Essential Film List project but alas, never touched it due to some terrible DVD transfers.

6. The Others

This very popular horror film starring Nicole Kidman received a lot of love and attention in 2001 but it never really snatched me up with its gothic trappings. I didn't really want to see in theaters and later, when I was more engaged, it was consistently out-of-stock at my local video store.

7. Fright Night

As a huge fan of horror-comedies, the fact that I have never watched one of its granddaddies is total blasphemy. I was going to view it in time for the 2011 remake but I instead left it in the dust.

8. Irreversible

The last of the Big Five of the New French Extremity. I was intrigued to see it since its controversial premiere at the Cannes Film Festival but you must remember, this was still during the dark age of video rental stores. Blockbuster and Hollywood Video refused to care it and I wasn't in the mood then to fork over some dough for an art movie with an extended rape scene.

9. The Descent

Neil Marshall's career further blossomed when he followed up Dog Soldiers with this literal underground horror film. Doomsday nearly nipped it in the bud. Still, I want to spelunk with the extended female cast and see the horrible creatures within the cave walls.

10. [REC]

I have sat through a treasure trove of unlikable douches walking around with live cameras amid horrific plights but never have I seen this Spanish found footage horror film. I put all the blame on the English remake Quarantine and its spoiler-filled marketing campaign.

11. The Orphanage

J. A. Bayona's debut feature was overshadowed by the booming presence of Guillermo del Toro. I'm not a fan of the horror film marketing strategy of "(Insert Famous Director Here) Presents" which is why I largely avoided this in theaters. Bayona has gone on to make the amazing yet hard-to-stomach The Impossible and is already drawing major raves for this year's A Monster Calls, so maybe it's time to see his start in feature films.

12. Silent Hill

Despite many "dude, you gotta play this" from video gaming buddies, I've never gotten around to playing a Silent Hill game. Hopefully seeing its loose film adaptation will kickstart my journey into survival horror.

13. Pulse

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's sobering look at the internet age always piqued my interest but my fears of it being too depressing has always hurt it chances of being viewed.

14. Drag Me To Hell

Spider-Man 3. That's why I shunned seeing Sam Raimi's return to horror and critical acclaim in theaters. Oz: The Great and Powerful further hindered my desire.

15. Children of the Corn

Outlander! Bad reviews and constantly getting it mixed up with "The Cornfield" from The Twilight Zone made me steer clear from this half-baked yet still popular Stephen King story.

16. The Devil's Backbone

I love Pan's Labyrinth but I just softly admire Cronos. Guillermo del Toro's gothic anti-war film might fit right in between those two films when I hit play on my purchased blu-ray from the Criteron Collection.

17. Christmas Evil

I love the idea of Christmas horror movies. This has always been the top draw from that specific sub-genre, mainly due to its twisted psychological thrills and its mind-blowing ending.

18. Ginger Snaps

Female werewolves haven't been better explored and put to great use than this Canadian cult hit.

19. May

Roger Ebert famously gave this horror indie four stars and a big spotlight on At The Movies. I'm a big fan of Luck McGee's The Woman but never gotten around to seeing his early take at a twisted female protagonist.

20. Stakeland

Jim Mickle is one of the most underrated directors today. I sadly never watched any of the four acclaimed features he has done, especially his view of a vampire apocalypse.

Well that was a fun, breezy article to write up, even though it makes myself look like a idiot for continually skipping out on these features. Maybe I'll do a Part Two come next September.

But as for the big question: Will I watch any of these films next month? Just wait and see.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Young Messiah - Review

A seven-year-old Jesus heads from Alexandria to Nazareth, and then from there to Jerusalem, all the while being stuck in a möbius strip strip of him asking questions and everyone telling him to leave them be. Meanwhile, some Roman centurions led by Sean Bean are out searching for the rumored Messiah, under the strict orders of the flamboyant son of Herod the Great. THE YOUNG MESSIAH is a goosed-up television movie that is slower than a snail orgy. Adapted from a novel by Anne Rice of all people, it could have been an interesting tale under capable hands. Instead, political provocateur Cyrus Nowrasteh is at the helm, delivering a pathetically shot and woefully written movie that is sure to not enlighten anyone. It starts off blowing it entire load by having two consecutive resurrections by kid Jesus and the full reveal of Satan, then wastes the rest of the running time mostly having everyone walking or talking about how Jesus shouldn't know about who he is. Briefs moments of violence are embarrassingly filmed, done all in shaky cam and featuring bloodless swipes around the chest and back. By the time the climax is revealed, the stakes are completely muted and you're left with someone telling a baby's version of the nativity, despite the sheer fact that we just saw and heard all of it a hour ago. The whole picture is miserably edited, with several noticeable continuity errors throughout it and scenes that swiftly end and transit into the next block of dialogue. The acting for the most part is serviceable and could have saved the pic from being a complete bore but Adam Greaves-Neal is incredibly annoying and untalented as the lil' savior, Sara Lazzaro's Mary only dabbles in severe glares, and the guy that got to play the Devil is too funny to take seriously. Plus, you know, the fact that the main cast is all white actors playing Jewish people from the The Holy Land makes the film even more eye-rolling. Stick with the good book or your weekly visit to the church.


Sing Street - Review

Irish teen Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) seeks solace in his developing music skills and the 80's new wave movement from the dysfunction in his house and the unchecked chaos and poverty in the streets of Dublin. Forcibly transferred from his prep school to the local public high by his cash-strapped parents, he sees a beacon of hope in the form of the girl across the way, a wannabe teen model named Raphina (Lucy Boynton). He gets her to be in the music video he's set to shoot but first he needs a band, songs, camera equipment, and musical guidance in order to keep her impressed. SING STREET is a beautiful ode to the dreamers in life. Wonderfully woven by John Carney, he continues his hot streak of musical masterpieces with this obviously being his most personal endeavor, as his surrogate stumbles his way into finding the creative beauty he possesses and the people who support him and love him back. All of the scenes where Conor and his "futurist" crew come together to play a new tune or shoot a video are spellbindingly delightful, as the joy of making music and movies are artfully captured by Carney's vision and Yaron Orbach's cinematography. This feel-good movie can't all be sunshine and rainbows however, as it constantly informs and showcases the gritty depression of the city and the people within it. The rampant domestic and authoritative abuse, non-stop homophobia, and other unsolvable horrors all come baring down on Conor and his mates in graphic detail. Nevertheless, they continue to move forward, accepting the "happy sad" nature of life and seeking whatever new musical trend they can be influenced by and model themselves after.

I had some of the best movie-induced goosebumps while watching this movie. The soundtrack is beyond excellent, weaving in the brand new songs with the nostalgic jams that helped motivated the making of them. Carney and his musical company even expertly snuck in the bad creative decisions many 80's songs still have, as best seen in the band's first single "The Riddle of the Model", where the musical body contains that offensive Asian jingle that plagues the likes of The Vapors' "Turning Japanese". All of the songs are fantastic but it's hard to top "Drive It Like You Stole It", the film's centerpiece that mixes the exhilarating Hall & Oates-inspired tune with the aesthetics of the climax of BACK TO THE FUTURE and the dream theater that is playing only within Conor's head. Trained musician Walsh-Peelo delivers a great performance in his acting debut, as does Boynton whose character thankfully contributes a huge part to the trope and their musical video projects when she's not scorching up the screen. But the real acting highlight obviously has to go to Jack Reynor as Conor's older brother and secondary muse, who's brilliant in both the humor and drama he brings to the picture. I have some minor nit-picks about the movie, such as how the band members themselves kinda fade away in the second half, but the sheer scope of Carney's filmed fantasy along with the film's high watchability rate makes this a magnificent work of art to be won over by. See the movie, buy the soundtrack, and view the movie it again and again, whenever your day is up or down.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Jon Polito - RIP

Prolific character actor Jon Polito has died from cancer. He was 65 years old.

Polito was widely known for constantly playing tough guys on film and television, often as a detective or the head of the mafia. Fans of the Coen Brothers would often spot him in their films, starting off his streak of roles as Johnny Caspar, the Italian rival to Albert Finney's empire in Miller's Crossing. TV fans will recognize him for his role as Detective Crosetti in Homicide: Life On The Streets.

He will be missed.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Look at Fall 2016

This summer movie season frankly stunk. Will the fall line-up change that sour tune or be more of the same? Explore with me as we journey through the Oscar contenders and wannabes, the major new films helmed by auteurs, the scary, the strange, the ones that go better with popcorn, the family dreck, the holiday cash-ins, the last of the blockbusters, and some bad Christian flicks.

Let's check out and go thoroughly through all of the offerings coming out in the last four months of 2016.

September 2 is the death weekend, as the studios are quite aware that no one wants to check out a flick when they are too busy getting last minute school supplies and trying to deal with their kids' new schedules. Only two major films are willing to suffer the consequences of being thoroughly shunned. The first one up is Morgan, a sci-fi thriller that is marketed as being produced by Ridley Scott but neglects to mention that it's directed by his son Luke. Holy Nepotism, Batman! The movie has Kate Mara playing a corporate investigator, who's sent to monitor a science team that is starting to lose control over their bio-engineered psychic girl. Looks okay but way too close to trying to be the next Ex Machina. Competing against this non-starter is the sleepy looking The Light Between Oceans, which surprisingly is from director Derek Cianfrance. Based on some book that your mom took out at the library, Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander play a loving couple turn asunder by the death of their baby, only for a new one to be boated into their lighthouse home. It has some drama in the second half with Rachel Weisz as the possible mother of the shipwrecked infant but it looks like you have to sit through a lot of cloying material before it. If you want to see a movie this weekend, or have no children to care for, the art theater is where to head to with some prime selection. Dekalog, aka Krzysztof Kieślowski's famous television miniseries The Decalogue, reaches to American theaters for the first time ever. Critics will be gushing profusely for it but given its running time (572 minutes!), you best stay with a DVD copy and slowly go through its fictional takes on each and every one of The Ten Commandments. No Manches Frida looks to draw in that rich Latino crowd with a broad comedy about a ex-con who weasels his way into a rowdy high school as a substitute teacher in order to dig up his job money buried within its bedrock. May not be great but it's pretty colorful and I like seeing some high-schoolers getting a paintball to the head. Drafthouse Pictures brings out Klown Forever, the sequel to the uncomfortable Danish comedy it previously bequeathed to an unsuspecting public. And Jerry Lewis returns to the screen (hooray?) with Max Rose, a generic geriatric drama about a geezer who finds out his dead wife was unfaithful.

September 9 gives us Sully, your dad's new favorite movie. Clint Eastwood steps away from his crazy political ramblings and pushing his unglamorous son down our throats to direct this safe pick for the over 40 crowd. Tom Hanks plays Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the famed airline pilot who saved his plane with a forced landing into the Hudson river in 2009. The film's trailer was tailored made to be an exact recreation of Flight, in order to build up easy hype, and like that film, you really have no sudden urge to witness it. D. J. Caruso rears his head back into the mainstream again with The Disappointments Room, a horror thriller where a blond Kate Beckinsale finds a hidden room in the dust-filled haunted mansion she thought would be a good place to move into. One of the "lost children" films held up due to the bankruptcy of Relativity Pictures, it gets its chance to bomb in theaters. Looking to fit in the same spot The Perfect Man was last year, When The Bough Breaks is a thriller where Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall hire Jaz Sinclair to be their baby surrogate, only to find out she's co-co for Chestnut's cocoa puffs. Sorry, I had to go for the easy joke. Summit tries to sucker in families with The Wild Life, the animated feature better known outside the states as Robinson Crusoe because, you know, the main character is Crusoe, not a bunch of annoying animals who get in lame shenanigans with him. The indie selection this weekend has some interesting fare to offer up. Author: The JT LeRoy Story is an intriguing doc about how an aspiring female writer used her sister to appear as the real-life version of her enigmatic nom de plume. Demon brings forth a chilling Polish take on the horrors brought on by a dybbuk, as a groom finds himself possessed by the Jewish spirit and going insane during his wedding reception. And finally, Kicks looks to be an ambitious small film about a boy from the Bay Area who heads down a dark path when he tries to recover his stolen Nikes. In other words, Keanu if it was play totally straight and the cute kitty was replaced by a pair of sneakers.

September 16 unleashes something everybody loves: another sequel to a found footage horror film! Blair Witch was a total surprise to everyone at this year's Comic-Con, stealthily produced by growing cult film director Adam Wingard and screened at the event. It hopes to do justice to the horror film that popularized (for better or worse) the found footage genre and help scrub away the stink of the unwanted first sequel (despite what others now say, that film is still terrible!). Unfortunately, from the early footage, its another sibling rescue storyline which has been done to death and it looks to be nothing but jump scares, despite the talents of Wingard. It took close to a full year but Oliver Stone finally gets to have Snowden released into theaters. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as the titular hero/villain, who leaked out information about the NSA to several journalists and eventually the American public. Stone is a magnificent figure in film but he has not made a great movie in over two decades, despite my fondness for Any Given Sunday. Plus, Levitt's recent habit of questionable accents further detracts from the political allure. Female audiences will be the dominant viewer for Bridget Jones's Baby, possibly even giving it the top slot at the box office. Renée Zellweger returns from her self-exile to reprise her most popular role, as Jones must navigate her torturous sex life between her former husband Colin Firth and new beau Patrick Dempsey. Oh, and a baby is to be born but the mystery of the father resides within the film's wacky hijinks. Sadly, no appearance by Maury is to be expected. I've never been interested with this series so I cross my fingers that this will be the last entry. Speaking of delays and taking forever to come out, Hillsong - Let Hope Rise, the music documentary about that questionable Christian mega-church that you saw trailers forever ago, gets its chance to predictably fail at the cinema.

September 23 is practically a one film weekend, as general audiences will likely flock for The Magnificent Seven. A remake of a western remake of a Japanese samurai picture, movie stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt slide into the positions of Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen respectively as the co-leaders of a group of hired guns tasked with protecting a town from evil Peter Sarsgaard and his milita. Antoine Fuqua may bring his usual serviceable skills as a fun action director to the proceedings but like many other films this year, particularly the recent failing of Ben Hur, audiences nowadays tend to just enjoy the original and reject any attempts to replicate it. The only other new release willing to stand across from it at high noon is Storks. Nicholas Stoller wrote and co-directs this dumb looking animated feature about a head stork and his female human friend trying to secretly deliver a unplanned baby to a suitable couple before they get caught. Kids will be desperate to have some kind of film in theaters for them, so this may get some bread but the majority of them and their parents will likely eye-roll at the whole myth of where babies come from. The art theaters get to have a new Mira Nair film! Hooray! Oh wait, she's sadly not been very good for quite a while now. The Queen of Katwe, a biopic about Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, doesn't look to change that bad streak. The other limited release I wanted to spotlight is Beauty and the Beast, a live-action adaptation of the famed fairy tale, courtesy of Shout! Factory and looking to be positioned for video release come next year when Disney shows off there take.

September 30 has director Peter Berg team up again with Mark Wahlberg for the first time this season with Deepwater Horizon. The disaster film seeks to recreate what went wrong back in 2010 to cause BP's oil rig to explode and create an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Like other Berg films, it will be very Michael Bay-like and very patriotic to the max but I'll admit that this dirty and dangerous blockbuster has me hooked. 20th Century Fox will try to steal some of the thunder at the box office with Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children but even they have no faith in the fantasy film. I have seen and heard practically nothing about this movie from Tim Burton, which is just another of one of his desired stories about a sullen boy who finds a new family to love and protect. Eva Green now stands in for the typical lead role for Helena Bonham Carter, since Burton and her are now longer married, but even her great talents can't save this picture from being a certifiable bomb. Speaking of bombs, Masterminds finally gets to die hard and fast, as the much delayed comedy featuring Zach Galifianakis Kristen Wiig as bumbling real-life bank robbers gets to escape the hell-hole that was/is Relativity Media. The art theaters have a better shot at a quality feature with American Honey, the latest from Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank). The road trip movie about a teenage girl and her new party hard family drew some raves at this year's Cannes and won the Jury Prize.

October 7, oh boy, kicks off the Halloween season with some horror infused movies (in more ways than one) and also the most controversial film of the entire season. First up is the eventual winner of the weekend, The Girl On The Train. The live-action adaptation of the popular thriller novel has Emily Blunt as an unreliable heroine whose habit of staring at a certain couple's house every train ride leads her down a rabbit hole of terror and shocking developments. The marketing has helped make this one of the top films to check out this fall, clearly banking on people's lingering love for Gone Girl, as what Paul Dawkins and her publishers were doing when her book was introduced to the public. However, the possible spoiler for the picture is its director; Tate Taylor is certainly not known for his skills as a director of thrills (The Help sure was suspenseful, right?) so I have my fingers cross that he can actually pull it off. Now for the elephant in the room: The Birth of a Nation had all the makings of a certified Oscar contender. It dominated the Sundance Film Festival, Fox Searchlight forked $17.5 million to earn the distribution rights, its title throws massive amount of shade at the D.W. Griffith silent and contentious masterpiece of the same name, and its subject matter about Nat Turner and his slave rebellion makes it a hot pic to see. But then, writer/director/producer/actor Nate Parker brought up his troubling past in hopes of beating any detractors to the punch, only to bring more fuel to the fire. I was hyped for this feature until actually seeing a trailer cut for it and found the final product to appear to be pretty mediocre. This white hot controversy recently further hampers my taste for it but I will wait and see what critics and first-weekend audiences have to say. Then, ugh, we have Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life. Adapted from a book by James Patterson of all people, this 90s kid flick wannabe has some twerp trying to get even with his mean principal and teachers. Brad "The Cinema Snob" Jones said it best about this putrid upcoming release: it should only be shown in a double bill with The Diary of Anne Frank. If you need a new horror film to start the Halloween festivities, there's Friend Request. A college student pisses off some stranger she befriends on Facebook, who then proceeds to become an online spirit that somehow kills her friends and terrorizes her Facebook profile. I still stand by Unfriended but this sounds terrible. Additionally, I love Paul Verhoeven but I don't think his son Simon has the chops to direct this well.

October 14 gives us another showing of badass Ben Affleck this year with The Accountant. He plays a brilliant mathematician who deals with sordid businesses and whose social behavior eventually causes him to turn violent. Gavin O'Connor is practically the definition of a hit-or-miss director but this could be a quality choice for adult audiences. Comedian Kevin Hart returns to his cinematic stand-up ways with Kevin Hart: What Now?. Not much else to say considering it's a concert film but he better have great material in order to justify selling out the home stadium of the Philadelphia Eagles. However, if you want the biggest laughs of the weekend, be one of the few people checking out Max Steel. Based on the most recent iteration of the character, not the one from the more popular 2000 animated series, Ben Winchell (who?) stars as titular champion of justice. Was anyone really calling for this kiddie superhero film to be made? The indies have some interesting selection: Jonás Cuarón tries to stand out of his father's shadow with the delayed border drama Desierto; GKIDS bring over another interesting anime film with the animated biopic Miss Hokusai; and Kelly Reichardt returns with Certain Women, a female drama that has Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and Laura Dern colliding with each other in a small town.

October 21, dear lords above, hands out Boo! A Madea Halloween. Tyler Perry's awful character returns for another series of holiday-based antics. Instant pass. Ouija: Origin of Evil is, you guess it, an origin story to the 2014 board game adapted horror film that the public roundly booed after wasting their money on it. Don't care. Keeping Up With The Joneses is a straight up remake of Cops and Robbersons, with Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot as secret spies who live next door to Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher. Hell no. Finally, we also have Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Tom Cruise returns as the unbreakable and unrelenting killing machine, this time seeking to clear his and former colleague Cobie Smulders' names from a murder charge and unraveling another big conspiracy. The first film was a genuinely exciting action thriller but let's see if Edward Zwick can be a suitable replacement for Christopher McQuarrie. And we concluded the big releases this weekend with I'm Not Ashamed, a I-shit-you-not Christian take on the Columbine Shooting. Oh brother. Genre fans will have some fun at their local art theater, as Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden is set to bring shocks of horror and eroticism.

October 28 is the last weekend of the month and right before Halloween. So of course the studios naturally will see fit to only have one horror film to come out. Rings brings back the video-based horror everyone has moved on from for over a decade now, hoping that you care that some girl has found a movie within the movie that will give you a seven-day time limit. Again, no one is looking forward to this. Your mom and dad may force you to sit through that dumb picture because they will be off seeing Inferno, the third adventure film based on the Robert Langdon book series by Dan Brown. Once again helmed by Ron Howard, who still hasn't made any of these film actually good, Tom Hanks returns as Langdon, this time running around Florence in order to figure out the symbols and solve the puzzles before a deadly Dante-inspired terrorist attack is performed. In limited release, Sony Picture Classics offers up The Eagle Huntress, a documentary about a tribe that holds an eagle training competition and the one girl brave enough to challenge the norm. I kinda hate how the marketing pushes the girl power aspect in order to make you care about what is otherwise a decent yet forgettable animal doc. I also wanted to highlight The Love Witch, an indie attempt to replicate the Technicolor fever dreams of giallos and horror films of the 1960s. Looks pretty trashy but it may be fun.

November 4 kicks off the blockbuster section of the season with Doctor Strange. Marvel waited very patiently to sign Benedict Cumberbatch as the master mystic in order to sell tickets. Many online are still murmuring about the controversy regarding Tilda Swinton as the alternative version of previously Tibetan character but the general public will be more focused on the surreal CGI splendor. Babies and little kids will want to avoid the magical combat and drag their parents to see Trolls. Oh what fun they will have! Justin Timberlake livened up the summer with "Can't Stop The Feeling!", the top track from this animated movie, but I don't believe he and Anna Kendrick will be able to carry this lame picture. The story sounds weak (two trolls must save a town of trolls!) and we must never forget that the Dreamworks dummies teased this film with their cast doing the Nae Nae. For the older folk that want something darker and depressing, Mel Gibson returns to the directing chair for Hacksaw Ridge. Set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival in a couple of days, the war drama tells the real life story of Desmond Doss, a medic in World War II who was a conscientious objector yet later awarded for his actions during combat. Sounds very much like Sergeant York to me, except the lead role is played by a more handsomer man (Andrew Garfield). However, if I want a true life story on film this weekend, I would rather be someone in New York and Los Angeles, who get the first chance to see Loving. Jeff Nichols' has received nothing but praise so far for his dramatization about the American legal fight for interracial marriage, making him two for two this year, and it surely will be one of the top contenders for the Oscars come next year.

November 11 has four new wide releases but they all will likely lose at the box office to the second weekend returns for the new Marvel movie. Two of them are coming out solely for awards consideration, the most obvious of them being Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. This film has been a bit of sore in my stomach ever since the release of its trailer, mainly because everything is spelled right out: a young man (the virtually unknown Joe Alwyn) is sent over to Iraq, experiences trauma, and celebrated as a hero once he returns to the States, with his grand finale being at the Super Bowl's halftime show. What else will make me want to see this? I would rather gladly pay a day one ticket to see Arrival, the newest feature from Denis Villeneuve. Amy Adams plays a linguist that is hired by the U.S. government to be the main communicator between them and the alien spacecraft that has descended upon the world. Very Spielbergian but will likely be a bit more darker in tone. African-American audiences will hopefully recover from the horrors of Tyler Perry in order to flock towards Almost Christmas. Usually around this time frame we get a white-bread family comedy filled with smiling white people (paging I Love The Coopers), so it's nice to have some change in the air. Most likely to die this weekend is Shut In, an European produced thriller featuring Naomi Watts as a child psychologist trying to fight a ghost boy. Yikes. If there's one European produced thriller to see this weekend, it is Elle, the latest from Paul Verhoeven. Only coming to art theaters before its eventual rollout, the dark drama has Isabelle Huppert as video game company CEO who's brutally attacked during a home invasion but doesn't report it, only to then personally track down the perpetrator and toy with him.

November 18 will be the weekend where America goes out to see Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. I am not a fan of the world of Harry Potter, though I did love the theme park, and I'm especially not a fan of Eddie Redmayne. I know that the rest of the nation loves the former more so than the latter and are willing to watch two hours of Redmayne and crew trying to save the world from a briefcase full of dangerous magical monsters. My only other option this weekend is The Edge of Seventeen, which sounds like terrible indie-riffic tripe. Hailee Steinfield stars as a Daria-wannabe who's not yet a woman and has some squabbles with her crazy family. Expect high levels of teenage angst. The art theaters get to be bequeathed with Manchester By The Sea, the new film from Kenneth Lonergan, which means that every critic is already shining up a four star review. Amazon Studios paid $10 million for it at this year's Sundance and see Oscar gold in the family drama that develops between a young kid (Lucas Hedges) and his uncle-turned-parental guardian (Casey Affleck).

November 23 is the big Thanksgiving Weekend Showdown. Too bad it will only be a fight between a retaining film and one new release, as Disney is sure to give Warner Bros a run for their money with their latest from Walt Disney Animation, Moana. Newcomer Auli'i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson star as a tribal princess and a demigod respectively as the put-upon duo head to a mysterious island to do battle with an evil being. Disney execs are really crossing their fingers that this ends up being another Frozen for them and not another disappointment like Pixar's The Good Dinosaur last year. Bad Santa 2 is a movie no one really asked for. Billy Bob Thornton returns to continue his awful behavior as a mall Santa Claus to dwindling returns. Robert Zemeckis continues his trek to return to everyone's good graces with Allied, a WWII drama where international spies Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard fall in love. Too bad it sounds like a relic from the 90's. Speaking of old relics, Warren Beatty writes, directs, and stars in Rules Don't Apply. The showbiz drama has Beatty playing billionaire/filmmaker Howard Hughes, who seeks to intervene between a developing romance between two of his contracted employees. Talk about pure Oscar bait.

December 2 continues its annual trend of being a throwaway weekend. Keep Watching has Bella Thorne trying to turn the tables on some home invaders and save her fractured family. That is all. Blumhouse and new partner WWE Studios compels us to see Incarnate, an Exorcist rip-off starring Aaron Eckhart and strangely directed by Brad Peyton, the guy who made the fun popcorn flick San Andreas. Halle Berry stars in Kidnap, a simple "give me back my son!" parental thriller that was previously lost in the shuffle during the Relativity Media shakeup. Given its plot, it's best to keep it hidden from sight. Nothing to really to sink your teeth into with these wide releases but those in the big cities get to have the first look at La La Land. Damien Chazelle follows up Whiplash with another musical drama but without all the sadism. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone team up once again to play two Los Angeles dreamers, him a jazz singer, her an aspiring actress, as they sing and dance their way into each other's hearts. Sounds delightful.

December 9 also has nothing of real value to offer up for winter audiences. Office Christmas Party looks to gobble up a good chunk of money, as T.J. Miller, Jason Bateman, and Kate McKinnon unleash an epic display of holiday debauchery, much to the chagrin of boss Jennifer Aniston. The film has some comedic power behind it, with Josh Gordon & Will Speck (Blazes of Glory) directing it and a story by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore (Bad Moms) but I'm as excited for it as I am for Bad Santa 2. John Madden's Miss Sloane also oddly is given a wide release. It stars the always talented and lovely Jessica Chastain but it's a drama about a woman getting into the dirty fight over gun control. Oscar voters will really be the only ones interested in it, as the majority of the public will frown on seeing it amid all the holiday parties and shopping.

December 16 is the day Star Wars: Rogue One wipes everyone out. I have nothing more to add to this in-between sequel/stand alone film because everyone will be checking out Felicity Jones in her trek to acquire the plans of the Death Star. Collateral Beauty is for those that hate sci-fi action but they will likely regret this poor decision-making at the cinema. The drama has Will Smith navigating through some personal trauma with his real-life friends and his new mysterious friends. Once you realize it's directed by the guy who gave us The Devil Wheres Prada and written by the guy of many Kevin James comedies, your chances of this being good quickly evaporate. Why see that awards bait when another awards bait is around the corner and receiving better early buzz. The Founder was moved from August to this weekend solely in order for Michael Keaton to have a better chance at scoring an Oscar nomination. Given the pedigree behind and in front of the camera, and its controversial look at the creation of McDonald's, the risk is sure to pay off.

December 21 is the start of a very mad rush of new movies. Every single studio wants to get some of that sweet Christmas weekend money or deliver their biggest Oscar hopeful. Guaranteed to be in second place will be Sing, the latest from Illumination Entertainment and Universal Studios. After an unbearable year-long promotional campaign, we can finally see what's all the hubbub about a bunch of anthropomorphized animals competing in a singing contest. 20th Century Fox hopes everyone played the Ubisoft video games, or really likes a rugged Michael Fassbender, in order to go out and pay to see Assassin's Creed. However, video game fans and critics are already well aware that most of the film is centered around the modern day sci-fi drama and not the historic backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. In other words, more talking and technobabble and less action heroics. Sony proves to be a sci-fi contender with their film Passengers, the newest film from (groan) Oscar nominated director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game). Hollywood movie stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star as two people aboard an ark-like spaceship, who are prematurely awakened from their hyper-sleep pods and are now the only ones able to prevent the extinction of the human race. Sony is double-downing on the star power for this, as no footage has been shown just yet. As for the third (!) sci-fi film this weekend, The Space Between Us will be the real loser of the bunch, as everyone by now has seen the spoiler-filled trailer for its space love story. Peter Berg reappears this movie season with the limited release of Patriots Day, the big drama about the Boston Marathon Bombing and the quick manhunt for its perpetrators. Sure to do well once it expands in January.

December 23 gives us only one new release, hoping that parents will want to see a critically acclaimed family feature that doesn't involve animated animals. Similar to the surprise reception to Pete's Dragon in August, Focus Features wants to blow everyone's minds with A Monster Calls. J. A. Bayona makes his welcomed return to movies with a fantastical look at a young boy coming to grips with his dying mother and befriending a giant tree creature who helps grow up. Originally set to come out during the Halloween season, it was moved to this date so it can wow audiences and be a serious awards contender.

December 25 is Christmas Day and what better way to celebrate it than to go see a movie. Gullible families looking to relieve the stress of presents and parties will flock for Why Him?, where Bryan Cranston tries to kick his baby girl's new fiancee, internet billionaire James Franco, to the curb before he infects the rest of the family with his dopey charm. I would say this is just a reverse version of Meet The Parents but upon closer inspection, it is from John Hamburg, the guy who wrote the entire Parents trilogy. Holy self-plagiarism, Batman! I would rather check out Fences, the first film adaptation of an August Wilson play. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama has Denzel Washington directing and starring as Troy Maxson, a former Negro League baseball player coming to terms with her new life. Largely a reprise of the 2010 Broadway production, it is just great to finally see August Wilson given a bigger spotlight. Syriana writer-director Stephen Gaghan returns after 11 years away from the camera to give us Gold. Matthew McConaughey stars as a guy looking for, what else, gold in the jungles of Borneo. 2016 has been a very bad year for McConaughey in terms of live-action fare so hopefully this will be the exception. And we conclude this season overview with the film that rocked this year's Cannes: Toni Erdmann. The three-hour comedy, yes you heard that right, about a tired woman and her prank-loving father was the big winner with audiences and critics at Cannes, despite walking away with no awards from the snooty judges. Sony Pictures Classics wishes for you to fall in love with it as well.

My Top Picks of Fall 2016

1. Star Wars: Rogue One
2. La La Land
3. Elle
4. Moana
5. The Girl On The Train
6. The Accountant
7. A Monster Calls
8. Doctor Strange
9. The Founder
10. Arrival

Of course, there are some films not mentioned here or included because I frankly had a hard time determining their release time frame. The biggest example of this Shin Godzilla, which is coming out some time in October. Also, there is a possibility that any of the featured films will later be delayed.

I hope your movie experiences will be as good as mine, but probably less cynical.