Dark Horse

Director: Louise Osmond
Sony Pictures Classics
In Theaters: 06.17

Who doesn’t love a rags-to-riches story, especially when that unbelievable tale didn’t come out of the mind of some writer in Hollywood but was, in fact, true? Such is the case with barmaid Jan Voxes and her wild idea to convince a group of locals, later known as The Alliance Partnership, to invest in breeding a championship racing horse. With the coalition in agreement, they set in motion the procurement of their potential equestrian moneymaker, Dream Alliance. While the initial bouts were not promising, the stallion proved to have as much heart as he did might. As the company makes astonishing accomplishments, they are soon challenged with a horrific tragedy, and only the strongest of fighters comes out on top. You can’t help but smile as these “village idiots” invade the sophisticated “sport of kings” and bring all us yahoo audience members along for the ride. The sheer joy and passion that Voxes has for her horse forces onlookers to shed a tear of sadness and joy in one blink. There are few films that jolt to the core and force us to stand up and cheer, but Osmond’s feel-good account is pure perfection that’ll have you not only on your feet but jumping up and down as well. To witness some investors who have spent millions (no joke, MILLIONS) of dollars into this sport and come out with nothing but a frown on their face, and then to see the common man take one lucky shot for all the marbles and actually come out on top, is absolutely priceless. Dark Horse was released two years ago at the Sundance Film Festival, and as I’ve said in the past, if that festival has proven anything, they know a well-crafted documentary more than anyone else in the business. –Jimmy Martin

The Nice Guys

Director: Shane Black
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 05.20

First off, can we please sincerely thank writer/director Shane Black for reigniting Robert Downey Jr.’s career with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? I just wanted to get that off my chest. When I heard that Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling were pairing up for a 1970s detective caper, I was intrigued. When I heard that Black was writing and directing said caper, I was excited. Black is one of the most talented writers working in Hollywood today. His cheeky one-liners are to die for. Don’t believe me? Watch The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Good Night and get back to me. The man has a gift. In this venture, Jackson Healy (Crowe) and Holland March (Gosling) form a unique and unusual team of private detectives. They are forced to work together and find a missing woman who may be the target of a murderous plot led by the government. Once again, Black proves his unique wittiness with clever lines of dialogue delivered brilliantly by the two leads. On the other hand, The Nice Guys stumbles quite a bit on deciding what type of genre it actually is attempting to be. Is it a buffoon comedy spoofing on the 1970s or a cold-hearted drama depicting actual consequences of our actions? Someone needs to tighten the shoelaces of this endeavor and make a decision. Simple editing could solve the issue. The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is wonderful and is a pairing I never would have thought to even try. However, even with two of Hollywood’s biggest names leading the charge, the brightest star comes in the form of the cinematography, set design and costume coordinator. Thanks to these accomplished individuals, audiences truly feel as though they are watching a film shot in the 1970s. It’s an incredible feat to witness. –Jimmy Martin

X-Men: Apocalypse

Director: Bryan Singer
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 05.27

After igniting the comic book movie genre in 2000 and delivering the most solid X-Men film to date in 2003, fans were excited to have director Bryan Singer return to the franchise two years ago for Days of Future Past. While his resurface was greeted with cheers, it may be time for the filmmaker to go dark for another decade. The plot is simple. The first mutant known to our world, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), is revived and disgusted that regular humans are in control, so everyone must die. That’s it. Obviously, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his superhuman students don’t want that to happen, so the mother of all fights must commence. The reasoning for my declaration for Singer’s departure is due to the fact that this entire production feels eerily too familiar to his last venture. All of the beats are the same, and the project feels stagnant. When Quicksilver (Evan Peters) steals the show and is once again the best scene (with a similar bit), there’s an issue there. Sure, I laughed. It’s a funny gag, but you can’t go back to the same well, back to back, without being called out for laziness. Singer actually tries to call out Brett Ratner, the director of X-Men: The Last Stand, with a line of dialogue that states that the third chapter in all film trilogies is the worst. Singer may want to speak those words to a mirror. As much as it sounds like I despised this movie, the opposite is the case. For the most part, I enjoyed it, but the franchise needs another overhaul or Singer needs to bow out and let new blood enjoy these characters. There’s possibility for great storytelling in this franchise, so let’s find someone to unearth. I think I’m just ready for an R-rated Old Man Logan tale. –Jimmy Martin

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Director: James Bobin
Disney
In Theaters: 05.27

Six years ago, I found it quite surprising that this film’s predecessor made more than a billion dollars at the box office. Granted, 67 percent of that was from foreign countries, but it still made me cock my head to the side and ponder. Director Tim Burton revealed a mesmerizing landscape, but, in the fashion of George Lucas and the Prequels, focused on technology rather than storytelling. This time around, director James Bobin attempts to rectify the issue with a time traveling tale that puts Alice (Mia Wasikowska) at the center of attention again as she attempts to save the Mad Hatter’s (Johnny Depp) life by changing the course of history that made the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) who she is today. I’ll put the honesty cards on the table and admit that any movie dabbling in time travel gets my juices flowing. There’s a flux capacitor tattooed on my leg, and I don’t mind watching Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Timecop every now and then. With that out in the open, I actually prefer Bobin’s journey to the original. Burton’s original landscape is still present, and there are some crafty effects offered with Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, Time. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Some strands of time feel clunky and unnecessary. With a running time of 113 minutes, Alice Through the Looking Glass could be easily brought down to 90–100 minutes and none would be the wiser. If you’re hoping for another elongated journey with Depp’s Hatter, don’t get your hopes up. The actor mainly lies in bed looking at death’s door rather than bobbling around, reminiscent of the original adventure. Once again, Carter is fantastic as the heartless member of the royal family, and Anne Hathaway is the perfect choice as her opposite-behaving sister. Do you think they’re acting, or does it just come naturally? –Jimmy Martin

Aquaman
Director: James Wan

Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 12.21.18

It hard to believe that we live in a world where millions upon millions of dollars are spent on large-scale superhero productions that now include a shrinking criminal who maintains his human strength, a high-school student with the ability to climb walls and, now, a burly drunkard who can communicate with the creatures of the sea. The idea of an Aquaman feature has been tossed around for years. The Geek Show Podcast, which I’m a panelist on, has been joking about a comedic interpretation starring Danny McBride as The King of the Seven Seas. It was even a large plot point in HBO’s series Entourage with James Cameron helming the fictitious project.

Well, fast-forward 13 years later, and a different James, James Wan (Furious 7, The Conjuring), has brought the outrageous concept to fruition. We’ve already met Jason Momoa’s interpretation of Arthur Curry in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and 2017’s Justice League. Now, the robust hero gets his own adventure as he battles his half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), for the seat at the throne with help from Mera (Amber Heard), a conflicted princess of Atlantis. In order to take command of the waters, a lost trident must be unearthed, all while avoiding the violent attacks of Black Manta.

To a certain degree, DC has managed to pull off what Marvel did in 2015 with Ant-Man and develop an entertaining adventure with absolutely ridiculous characters and absurd storylines. Aquaman is fun, but as I’ve said in the past, you have to modify your brain to sleep mode and enjoy the silliness, as it can be preposterously idiotic at others. No one walking into the theater should expect anything more than underwater soldiers riding sharks, seahorses and whales while engaged in heavy combat.

As in the other productions, Momoa stands before the camera, muscles and all, and does his damnedest to deliver his lines seriously. It doesn’t always work. If you saunter into this summer blockbuster (that for some reason was released in December) knowing that this outlandishness that will soon be projected before your retinas, then you will experience superhero nonsense to the fullest extent—nothing more, nothing less. The floodgates are now open to allow any character in the history of comic books to grace the silver screen, and this geek will be there with welcoming arms. –Jimmy Martin

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Roma
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Netflix
Online: 12.14

For those who don’t know, director Alfonso Cuarón is known for multiple large-scale Hollywood blockbusters, including Gravity, Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but with his latest project, he is minimizing the production level and developing a more personal and grounded expedition. As an experiment in memory and storytelling, Cuarón recalls his childhood and the major events that shaped his world as a youngster in early 1970s Mexico.

While the story focuses on a middle-class family and the trials and tribulations that the parents endure with separation and infidelity, the majority of the film follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the family’s housekeeper, as she copes with an unplanned pregnancy and a boyfriend who wants nothing to do with the situation. All while these personal events are occurring, major political and social happenings are exploding across the country.

Once again, Cuarón proves that he is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. Whether it’s a grand-scale production like Gravity or a fly-on-the-wall observatory project like Roma, the creativity and passion that flows on the screen is undeniable. The raw emotion packs a punch that’ll leave audiences with something to ponder on the drive home. Trust me, there are visuals embedded on the celluloid that cannot be unseen, but it’s reality— and sometimes reality needs to be seen. Speaking of visuals, Cuarón also offers an assortment of fantastic cinematography. For a first-time feature-length acting experience, Aparicio demonstrates her talents from harshly dramatic to genuinely sweet. Roma will definitely be a contender in the Foreign Language category this award season, and it would not be surprising for it to earn more than one accolade. This is definitely proof that Netflix is prepared to enter the arena of original films, and the rest of Hollywood should be primed for their arrival. –Jimmy Martin

Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate

Robin Hood
Director: Otto Bathurst

Lionsgate
In Theaters: 11.21

The narration at the beginning of this film orders audiences to forget what they know about the story of “Robin Hood.” This is a different telling of the widely known tale. With that said, the general foundation still exists in director Otto Bathurst’s reimagining of the humble thief who steals from the rich and gives—oh, you know the rest of it.

At the beginning of the story, Robin of Loxley (Taron Egerton) immediately falls in love with Marian (Eve Hewson), but, when he is sent off to war by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) and presumed dead, the saddened maiden moves on with her life. On the battlefront, Robin attempts to halt the unwarranted slaughter of captured prisoners by fellow comrades, which earns the respect of rival soldier Little John (Jamie Foxx).

As years pass, the two cross paths once again and concoct a plan to overthrow the corrupt government by robbing them blind and enticing the lower class to revolt against the tyranny. While there are still many similarities to the previous productions (honestly, how could it not?), the modernization comes in the form of Bathurst’s intense action sequences, which come across more like a current military operation rather than medieval combat. Egerton portrays an adequate hero (at least there is not a terrible Kevin Costner–style accent) because he comes across as the “everyman” whom audiences can relate to. Foxx adds the drama/redemption with the loss of his son and his determination to take down those responsible. The hindrance comes with multiple downtime scenes that lose interest and instill sheer boredom, and Hewson’s acting abilities do not meet those of her counterparts. The story is an origin tale, which ends with a nod to a certain sequel. After witnessing the project, I’m willing to take another spin with these characters and style of filmmaking. –Jimmy Martin

This time around, the boogeyman has been incarcerated for 40 years, but on that special night of Oct. 31, he makes his escape in search of the one who got away along with her daughter and granddaughter. Photo: Ryan Green

Halloween
Director: David Gordon Green

Universal
In Theatres: 10.19

Soon after graduating the sixth grade, I told my father that I could barely remember the school year because it went so fast. He said, “Wait until you get older. Life only starts moving faster.” He wasn’t kidding. Such is the case with the ongoing struggle between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle) that has now been going on for more than four decades. While the legendary John Carpenter helmed the original production, this rendition—which completely tosses out the incredibly terrible storylines of the sequels after the 1978 launch—is directed and cowritten by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and comedian Danny McBride. This time around, the boogeyman has been incarcerated for 40 years, but on that special night of Oct. 31, he makes his escape in search of the one who got away along with her daughter and granddaughter. Rather than tinkering with a more psychological thriller, Green sticks to the basic style of jump scares. However, times they are a-changing, because the level of violence that is considered acceptable nowadays has certainly been heightened. If there was a drinking game established for every neck broken and knife penetrating a victim’s skin, you’d pass out half way through the flick. If ultraviolent killings make you squeamish, you may want to sit this one out. Curtis definitely brings her game as a badass who has been waiting in the shadows for her revenge moment, but it’s Judy Greer who shows the audience a performance they have not seen from the nonstop busy actress. Was this chapter worth a 40-year pause? Honestly, I was hoping for more due to the waiting period, but the audience still gets a typical horror film with all of goofy tropes and irrational characters with abysmal decision-making skills.

The tragic, true story of addict Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) and his adoring yet perplexed father, David Sheff (Steve Carell) as the pair journey through the most awful situation of their lives. Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Beautiful Boy
Director: Felix Van Groeningen

Amazon Studios
In Theaters: 10.12

Before I jump into critiquing this heartfelt and heartbreaking tale of family, addiction and love, I want to say how excited I am, as a movie lover, that more studios are getting involved with the game of filmmaking. The more options there are, the more opportunities viewers may have to see a film that may have otherwise been overlooked. After having just witnessed the fourth rendition of A Star Is Born earlier this month, it appears that drug-and-alcohol addiction might be playing a major role in this year’s awards race. Director Felix Van Groeningen unveils the tragic, true story of addict Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) and his adoring yet perplexed father, David Sheff (Steve Carell) as the pair journey through the most awful situation of their lives. At one point, Nic appeared to have the world at his feet with a devoted family and college on the horizon, but after one addiction turns into another and continual lying becomes more profound, their typical family home is shattered. The soul of this production comes from the performances, and Chalamet continues to prove that he is an undeniable force in the acting community, even at his younger age—this actor isn’t leaving the silver screen anytime soon. On the other end of the spectrum, Carell also continues to showcase his ability to shine in dramas as well as comedies. I still have a difficult time watching the older performer become aggressively angry, because he is so beloved from his comedic sitcom days, but that is something I’m working on personally to overcome. The film does take a few too many liberties with the timeline of the happenings, which can sometimes confuse viewers as to whether or not the actions occurring are current or a flashback. With that acknowledged, the film is a great advocate for people dealing with dependences and for their supportive family members and friends. Hope is the ultimate goal of this account.