Friday, July 22, 2016

STAR TREK BEYOND (A-)

A slick, stylish action-slap to the senses, STAR TREK BEYOND is easily one of the better films of this 2016 summer.  It’s an explosively rousing, high-flying, deep space adventure that effortlessly builds out the expanded and yet still adjacent universe brilliantly presented in the 2009 reboot.  With its to-perfect-for-words cast all firmly aligned, an unstoppably compelling energy, a broad range of kooky characters and a dynamically witty script dripping with all sorts of heavy sci-fi goodness, this is a summer blockbuster not to be missed (regardless of your affinity for all things Trekian).  Some may find fault with the lack of clarity on the villainous motivations front or the whiz-bang, fast and furious editing pyrotechnics on display, but these are minor nebulas in a vast cinematic universe of awesomeness.  What makes this raucous crowd-pleaser soar is its insistence on pushing Kirk and company to the forefront while they figure things out using equal doses of heart, humor, trust and teamwork.  It possesses a big budget scope while retaining the scaled-down, nuts-and-bolts intimacy of the classic TV show.  It’s a back to basics approach that works in spades.  Charismatically well-balanced and confidentially energetic, Star Trek Beyond is a popcorn-munching blast from top to bottom. 

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Simon Pegg and Idris Elba
Directed by: Justin Lin (FAST FIVE, FAST & FURIOUS 6 and BETTER LUCK TOMORROW)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2hrs

Story: Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise encounter an alien warrior race when marooned on a distant planet...
Website: www.startrekmovie.com 

Friday, July 15, 2016

GHOSTBUSTERS (B)

With a lackluster set of trailers preceding its release and an internet packed with parent’s basement-dwelling dweebs trashing it sight unseen, the deck has most definitely been stacked against this curiously conceived all-gal remake...  I think we can all agree, however, that the initial marketing efforts left a lot to be desired (read: sucked). The original, with all its sardonic wit and gloriously mid-80’s grit, is easily one of my favorite movies of all time – and to loosely quote that paranormal comedy masterpiece, ‘Yes, it’s true these mom-does-my-laundry hater trolls have no d*ck’.  Ghostbusters (2016) may not be changing the game, but its leagues more entertaining than you might expect.  It’s a more-than-worthy, non-canon installment that leaps many of its near-insurmountable hurdles with ease.  McCarthy, Wiig, SNL’s Jones and McKinnon (and Chris Hemsworth as the hilariously offbeat and not-quite-token hunk) join forces to create an exuberantly comedic adventure.  This is a tremendously talented tribe with a well-deserved spotlight being thrown Kate McKinnon’s way – she’s a not ready for prime time player who, thanks to her goofily funky performance here, finds herself ready to shed the ‘not ready for’ portion of said moniker.  A few flaws do keep it from sum-sum-summertime perfection: it occasionally lacks a sense of urgency, the villain isn’t particularly compelling and the third act becomes ocularly cumbersome with its overuse of special effects.  These may be unforgivable speedbumps to some, but roll with the infectious fun factor and you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised.  Plus, there’s a comfortable ribbon of nostalgia that courses through these slimed-up proceedings that’s hard to resist.  Not only would I happily see this flick again, I’d shell out hard-earned dough to see a sequel and threequel (because that’s where it seems to be heading).  Seemingly down for the count before seeing the projector-awakened light of day, Ghostbusters (2016) is a popcorn-fueled, crowd-pleasing, summer box office treat!

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth
Directed by: Paul Feig (Spy, The Heat and Bridesmaids)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 56min.
Story: A remake/revamp of the 1984 classic.

Website: www.ghostbusters.com

Friday, July 8, 2016

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (C+/B+/B+)

Lifting its leg on screens everywhere this weekend, The Secret Life of Pets is the highly anticipated and colorfully animated look at what happens behind our closed doors when we’re not around…  It’s Pets Gone Wild – except not in the wild, in the jungle of the Big Apple.  With high caliber voice talent and an animation house (Illumination Entertainment) known for its high-energy success with the Despicable Me franchise – it’s a shame that this flick almost exclusively sticks to the same chaos-riddled game plan as its big screen brothers and sisters (while copying a proven formula from a far superior entertainment group). Aside from some cuddly characters and its opening 11 minutes (that actually do deliver on the inspired premise of its trailer and title), The Secret Life of Pets is a blatant rip-off of the initial adventures of Woody and Buzz – but this time with mostly dogs, so let’s call it Chew-Toy Story.  The screwball and disproportionate animation is lackluster and not completely easy on the eyes, the message is commonplace and rushed (been done to death in far better films) and the whole thing – once the critters ditch their digs for the city – becomes an unimaginative and spastically unoriginal mess.  And it’s all cobbled together with a shovel-to-the-face subtlety that makes the Minions look like…well, the Minions are still the Minions and vastly more annoying than these obnoxiously adventurous fussy fur balls.  They do, however, somehow – a tad late unfortunately – manage to reign things in and bring a little warmth to the finale.  It’s this precise point of the film that’s sure to wrap most pet owners in a blanket of mind-erasing comfort that virtually makes the many faults of the film disappear.  With two B+’s at the ready, my youngest boys (ages 6 and 9) seemed to enjoy it – but when those two don’t tell me a particular movie (after just having seen the movie) is the best they’ve seen all year…then something is definitely amiss.  For the record, they preferred Zootopia, Finding Dory and Kung Fu Panda to this…  The Secret Life of Pets may very well be burying the box office champion bone in their backyard this weekend – but come Monday, they’ll never find it again.  Forgettable animal hi-jinks at its most average.

Starring the voices of: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate and Kevin Hart
Directed by: Chris Renaud (Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2 and Minions) and Yarrow Cheney
Rated: PG
Running time: 1hr 30min
Story: Taking place in a Manhattan apartment building, Max's life as a favorite pet is turned upside down, when his owner brings home a sloppy mongrel named Duke. They have to put their quarrels behind, when they find out that an adorable white bunny named Snowball is building an army of abandoned pets determined to take revenge on all happy-owned pets and their owners.
Website: www.thesecretlifeofpets.com


Friday, July 1, 2016

THE BFG (C+)

A master class in raising the mo-cap (or performance capture) bar on animation, The BFG is at times a technical marvel – pushing the boundaries of what cinema can offer…  Here, thanks to the marriage of art and actor, you’ll believe giants do indeed exist.  Much of that credit deservedly falls to the feet of actor Mark Rylance – 2015 best Supporting Actor nominee for his brilliantly subdued work in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies.  In THE BFG, he’s equally amazing.  Based on the popular children’s book from author Roald Dahl, Spielberg has, however, created quite the unbalanced affair.  Of course his attention to detail is second-to-none: production values, the look, the sound, the special effects – this is no less than a beautiful movie up on the screen…  It even flirts with wonderment and whimsy at times.  With this much goodness flittering about though, THE BFG always felt like it was keeping me at arm’s length – I never bought in to the emotion of it all and I was never wrapped in that (often complained about by most critics, but rarely me) Spielbergian blanket of warm fuzzies. I was left out in the cold.  Look, I still attentively watched this film from one of my favorite directors and suspect many will find much to enjoy… But with little heart, less soul, no real sense of urgency and a story so erratic it’s like watching a cat chase a laser light, I can only squeeze so much water from the sponge of adoration…  Mildly entertaining, mostly eccentric and always aggressively sluggish, THE BFG could possibly be the #1 children’s movie of the year that will put most children to sleep.

Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill and Jemaine Clement
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG
Running time: 1hr 55min
Story: A young girl befriends a giant in this story based on the popular children’s book.

Website: www.disney.movies.com/the-bfg

Thursday, June 23, 2016

THE SHALLOWS (B)


Loosely employing an amalgamated hodge-podge of the summer movies and genres that directly proceeded it – The Conjuring (horror), Captain America (superheroes), Finding Dory (fish and stuff) – the not-wholly-unattractive Blake Lively takes a plunge with a great white appetite for destruction…  THE SHALLOWS is a hypnotically well made, pulse-pounding, nerve-wracking, survivalist, B-movie thrill ride.  A brisk, low-budget, female-centric respite from the larger pot-clanging movie boys of summer, it’s a film that (by its own titled admission) doesn’t have much story to tell: Girls goes surfing, girl gets bullied by shark, girl must fight to not be dinner.  Simple as that.  Not unlike a space obstacle-dodging Sandra Bullock, Lively delivers a fully engaging performance with equal parts fear and resolve.  Seriously, considering the trimmed down narrative and character attire she emerges as a strong, semi-layered character and not just a slab of blonde meat (well, to the shark she’s still just a slab of blonde meat).  And all of this grizzled simplicity plays out with top notch special effects and a complimentary tone that asks us to cautiously explore what we might do given the same nightmarish situations.  Plus it’s only 87 minutes so come on…  It may lack any sense of true depth, but THE SHALLOWS is still an efficiently chilling and effectively cheesy deep sea Gravity.

Starring: Blake Lively 
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (RUN ALL NIGHT, UNKNOWN and NON-STOP)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 27min.
Story: When Nancy goes surfing on a secluded beach, she finds herself on the feeding ground of a great white shark. Though she is stranded only 200 yards from shore, survival proves to be the ultimate test of wills, requiring all of Nancy's ingenuity, resourcefulness, and fortitude.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

FINDING DORY (B+)

Swimming in the near identical waters as its masterful 2003 predecessor, this no-less-effective-in-the-fun-department follow-up proves to be another winning entry in the Pixar Animation canon.  A deep sea adventure film fit for feisty children, fussy adults and every single person in between.  Again, as the title clearly, suggests, this is a search and (hopefully) rescue flick that follows the loyally marble-minded Dory as she engages in an ocean-spanning quest for home – wherever the heck that may be…  It touches on familiar themes surrounding friends and family, but also ventures into accessible depths of memory loss and the ability to surface and thrive when a disability might be pulling you down.  Additionally, we’re introduced to some wonderfully hilarious and no-less helpful characters along this near-epic journey.  As we’ve come to expect from Pixar (but don’t always necessarily receive), the visuals, score, dialogue, direction, voice casting and meticulous attention to detail are all first rate – definitely something that needs to be seen in IMAX 3D on the largest screen possible.  A testament to Pixar’s exemplary efforts in animation and storytelling, this little pearl is a vivid, lush and huggable ride that’s only kept from A-territory due to its similarity in story.  Both heartfelt and humorous, Finding Dory is a delightful dip in familiar waters that’s sure to delight the masses!

Starring the voices of: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba and Diane Keaton
Directed by: Andrew Stanton (FINDING NEMO, TOY STORY 1-3 and JOHN CARTER) and Angus MacLane
Rated: PG
Running time: 1hr. 40min.
Story:
Finding Dory reunites the friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the true meaning of family along the way…
Website: www.disney.com/finding-dory

Friday, June 17, 2016

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (B-)

Riddled with as many clichés as it is bullets, this narrow-minded actioner has exactly one intelligent thing working in its favor – the brilliant pairing of Johnson and Hart.  These two lively actors – at opposing ends of the male specimen spectrum – play, to some extent, against type and prove that in the right hands even you’re-too-big/you’re-too-little, low-hanging fruit comedy can become gold.  Somewhere, in the shallow waters of the script, lies a trite tale of a CIA operative trying to save the word days before his 20 year high school reunion and…  You know what?  Who cares?!  Usually in the absence of solid storytelling I’d wage an adjective-laden assault on a film – my very own D- or even F-Day, if you will.  The effortless charm and winning chemistry between these two, however, is just too hard to dismiss.  Johnson brings a nice dose of sympathy to his goofily gung-ho, awkwardly obsessed character while Hart finds tremendous success dialing back his yippy, in-your-face antics from a shrilling ten to a toeing-the-line yet nicely balanced seven (a seven that seems to fit his character’s prissily uptight accountant like a glove).  Additionally, you’ll more than likely delight in a few high-profile, highly effective cameos.  Putting the depthless and drowsy spy vs. spy vs. spy shenanigans aside (which I don’t usually do), it’s nearly impossible not to share a myriad of laughs while giving this one a sit.  Might be a good weekend to wedge yourself between a Rock and Hart place.

Starring: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber (DODGEBALL and WE’RE THE MILLERS)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 54min.
Story: The story follows a one-time bullied geek, Bob, who grew up to be a lethal CIA agent, coming home for his high school reunion. Claiming to be on a top-secret case, he enlists the help of former "big man on campus," Calvin, now an accountant who misses his glory days. But before the staid numbers-cruncher realizes what he's getting into, it's too late to get out, as his increasingly unpredictable new friend drags him through a world of shoot-outs, double-crosses and espionage that could get them both killed in more ways than Calvin can count.
Website: www.centralintelligencemovie.com

Friday, June 10, 2016

WARCRAFT (C+)

Certain to unite parent’s basement-dwelling gamers and code-crunching crackpots the world over, this Lord of the Rings-meets-Avatar-by way of-Braveheart hodgepodge brazenly bumbles its way to the big screen with oafishly misguided self-delight.  Based on the 1994 online, multiplayer, adventure game and its many iterations (that I’ve never played), it’s sure to please a majority of its rabid, built-in fan base – despite It’s many critical detractors (seriously, most critics hate it) having their way with it like a puncture-wounded and broomstick bruised cinematic piñata.   To be fair, it is a somewhat shallow, occasionally cheesy and often manufacturedly-muddled mythological mess – overstuffed with lethargic lore in an unveiled attempt to create some type of fan boy-drooling franchise. All that aside – which admittedly is hard to put aside – I found myself somewhat intrigued by a few of the performances, the epic battles, the thunderous score and it’s dazzlingly life-like special effects.  That stuff worked for me more often than not, but I can see it totally not working for others.  …and by the end, with an obvious set-up for part two hanging in the balance I was ultimately a tad intrigued by what’s to come.  Easy to dismantle on the grounds of it being goofily derivative, Warcraft still possessed a bizarrely ambitious frivolity that kept some of my interest for some of its running time – just not quite enough for me to find it anything more than a just above average Orcian outing.    

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Robert Kazinsky and Paula Patton
Directed by: Duncan Jones (MOON and SOURCE CODE)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 40min.
Story: The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: Orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people and their home. So begins a spectacular saga of power and sacrifice in which war has many faces, and everyone fights for something.

Website: www.warcraftmovie.com