Don’t let the the plotline fool you, as Wonder is not an overly sappy family drama that aims for the lowest common denominator. For one, the picture, which is based on R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel, is directed by The Perks of Being a Wallflower filmmaker Stephen Chbosky. As with Perks, Chbosky approaches the material with insight, preferring to let this refreshingly intricate story (and not cloying emotion) lead the way.
The storyline centers on Auggie (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), a boy with a facial deformity who enters fifth grade. Home schooled and sheltered by his parents (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson) and older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie has a hard time fitting in thanks to a bullying classmate (Bryce Gheisar) and his friends. Slowly but surely, Auggie makes a couple of friends and gradually finds that school actually has its merits.
The tale may be predictable, but Chbosky frames his narrative by giving various characters their own moment in the film to shine. For example, Via has her very own subplot which deals with her own feelings of neglect (Vidovic, who does a stirring monologue in the picture, is a revelation). Noah Jupe, who plays Auggie’s best friend Jack, is also given his own section of the story which also bolsters the narrative. Roberts and Wilson, though they are the film’s A-list stars, are just a small part of the overall picture, as Tremblay’s excellent performance is ultimately the star of the picture.
Special features on the Blu-ray include a five-part documentary, three featurettes (a look at the making of the soundtrack, “What a Wonderful World”, “A Child’s Sense of Wonder”), audio commentary from Chbosky and Palacio, and a music video (“Brand New Eyes”). The DVD version comes with the commentary, music video, and the soundtrack featurette.
Click on the media bar below to hear Julia Roberts talk about one of the themes behind Wonder:
Director/writer Dean Devlin, best known for his Independence Day and Stargate screenplays, is behind the camera with the underrated disaster epic Geostorm. Recently released on Blu-ray and DVD, the picture had a worldwide gross of $220 million, but it should have received much more attention stateside (it reached just $33 million in receipts).
For one, Gerard Butler is an engaging protagonist as Jake Lawson, the creator of the network of satellites that has kept Earth from succumbing to natural disasters and the destructive effects of climate change. Lawson’s understandable aversion to authority leads to his eventual unemployment, but he’s needed three years later when a “geostorm” threatens the planet.
Jim Sturgess is Jake’s brother Max, a career driven climber in politics who’s tasked by his superior (Ed Harris) to enlist Jake for the latest mission, with Abbie Cornish starring as Max’s girlfriend (and agent) Sarah. Andy Garcia rounds out the A-list cast as the President, a man who, upon seeking reelection, may be a conspirator behind the latest satellite debacle.
Click on the media bar below to hear Butler talk about working with Geostorm co-star Jim Sturgess:
The Blu-ray comes with the featurettes “Wreaking Havoc,” “Search for Answers,” and “An International Event.” In the “Search for Answers” segment, Devlin added that he rifles through his first draft of a screenplay in a quick manner to give even more time for the succeeding drafts and edits. He also adds that Geostorm’s idea came from his own daughter, who asked him why there wasn’t a big machine to actually combat climate change.
During the latest episode of CinemAddicts, I expressed a few reservations about watching Scorched Earth. Upon first blush, the post-apocalyptic/Western mash-up seemed like a cheap B-movie that would end up as a huge waste of time.
The good news is that the film is directed by Peter Howitt, the director behind the excellent Gwyneth Patrow flick Sliding Doors, and Gina Carano, so memorable in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, serves as the lead. Along with Sliding Doors co-star John Hannah in the mix, the movie actually surpassed my low expectations.
Earth is now a wasteland where breathing clear air and drinking clean water is a luxury, as survivors need breathing masks and filtering systems simply to stay above ground. Attica Gage (Carano) is a no-nonsense bounty hunter who tracks down criminals simply for profit, refusing to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. Her biggest target is Jackson (a delightful, scenery chewing Ryan Robbins), a ruthless leader of cutthroats who’s lording over a fear ridden town. Attica eventually ingratiates herself into Jackson and his crew, hoping to find a moment to catch him off guard and compete her mission.
Hannah is Doc, Attica’s nurturing and sarcastic mentor who advises her not to steer clear of Jackson to no avail, and the story’s third act features the pair attempting to ride out of this destructive, one-horse town alive and kicking.
Howitt is clearly a fan of Westerns, and Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy is clearly an influence on this picture. Though it doesn’t have the narrative gravitas of a Leone flick, Scorched Earth has its share of solid action scenes (along with a refreshingly game Carano) to keep this boat afloat. As proven by Haywire and now Scorched Earth, Carano is more than capable of carrying her own film – hopefully there’s much more lead roles to come down the pike.
Scorched Earth, now playing in select theaters, is also available on Digital HD and On Demand.
Seen last month in the first rate suburban nightmare Mom and Dad, Nicolas Cage continues his run of excellent work with Looking Glass. Directed by River’s Edge filmmaker Tim Hunter, the feature centers on Ray and Maggie (Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney) a dysfunctional couple who buy a motel that’s housed in a mysterious, and possibly dangerous, small town.
The motel has a crawlspace that connects all of the rooms in the motel, and thanks to double sided mirrors Ray is able to explore his voyeuristic tendencies. Ray’s thrills are short-lived after a murder takes place on the property, and a sheriff (Marc Blucas) believes Ray might be the number one suspect!
Cage is at his unhinged best with Looking Glass, and Tunney (just like Blair in Mom and Dad) proves she’s more than up to the task to verbally spar with the actor (their scenes together are electric). Hunter infused Looking Glass with a graphic comic book, B-movie style aesthetic, and that pulpy flavor absolutely works with Looking Glass. Coming out February 16 in theaters, On Demand, and Digital HD, Looking Glass is a must see for Cage fans and, more importantly, devotees to well executed, if not lurid, thrillers.
Other films discussed on CinemAddicts is the Rebecca Hall/Dan Stevens relationship drama Permission and the punk rock feature Bomb City. Both open February 9. Take a listen below to the latest episode of CinemAddicts!
As proven with Miss Sloane,Jessica Chastain proves that she’s at home with rapid fire dialogue, and now she teams up with the master of that aesthetic with Oscar winning scribe Aaron Sorkin. His feature directing debut Molly’s Game is the true story of how skier Molly Bloom (Chastain) became the operator of a high stakes poker game in Los Angeles and New York. Also the author of a bestselling book based on her poker days, Bloom was also in trouble with the law, and Idris Elba co-stars as the lawyer who helps Bloom through the legal process. The picture features standout work from Chastain and hopefully she’ll be remembered come Oscar nominations time.
Also covered on the latest episode of CinemAddicts is Blame and American Folk, two indie January releases that also deliver Grade A narratives. Our divergent opinions on Call Me By Your Name (I loved it) is also covered on the show – take a listen below and feel free to comment!
In another era, John Hawkes (The Sessions, Four Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) would be a leading man who’d line them up at the local movie theater. But this isn’t the age of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, or even Gene Hackman, and if one doesn’t have “movie star” looks that person plies his trade as a character actor .
But Hawkes is one example of how character actors often have more presence than the actual star of the project, and it’s great to see him front and center in Small Town Crime. Directed by brothers Ian and Eshom Nelms, the feature focuses on an ex-cop named Mike Kendall (Hawkes) who has turned his life into a living hell thanks to his alcoholism. Drinking like a fish on a daily basis, Mike often wakes up with no idea of his location, and his decision to go behind the wheel while drunk should irritate many a viewer.
Mike may have affection for his adopted sister (Octavia Spencer) and her husband (Anthony Anderson), who’s also his drinking buddy, but they can’t stop his downward spiral. Upon the discovery of a dying woman who’s abandoned on a deserted road, Mike immediately rushes her to the hospital but to no avail. Determined to find her killer in hopes of actually rejoining the force, Mike gradually becomes reengaged with life, proving that when halfway sober he’s actually a great detective. Daniel Sunjata and Michael Vartan play cops who don’t want Mike anywhere near the investigation, with Robert Forster and Clifton Collins Jr. helping Mike out as the victim’s father and an all too confrontational pimp. Caity Lotz (Legends of Tomorrow) also stars a prostitute who may be hiding a thing or two from Kendall.
Fans of such neo-noirs like Blood Simple, where the hard boiled crime is slightly tempered by comedic undertones, should gravitate towards Small Town Crime. Running a lean and mean 91 minutes, the effective thriller is powered by a charismatic and memorable performance by Hawkes. Credit goes to the directors for filling out their narrative with a talented ensemble, but unfortunately their ultimate purpose is to service the narrative’s top dog. That’s a minor quibble, as it’s great to see Hawkes anchor his own film for once, and the Nelms brothers prove they have no trouble delivering an engaging narrative.
Small Town Crime may not reach the big stakes level of some of its cinematic influences, but that’s just fine. If you didn’t already know Hawkes is a star, then Small Town Crime should lead you in the right direction.
The film hits select theaters and On Demand January 19.