Thursday, December 18, 2014

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (C+)

Bottom Line: Once again lacking the energy, depth and sheer cinematic prowess of its preceding Lord of the Rings trilogy (three books, three movies), this final chapter of The Hobbit series (one book, three movies) inefficiently attempts to wring a few remaining drops of creative juice from a virtually dry sponge.  There’s a definitive pattern at play here where roughly 37 solidly entertaining minutes of each of the three films could have been used to make one impressively epic flick (An Unexpected Desolation of the Five Armies?  …or maybe we just call it The Hobbit and leave it at that).  Either way, this was a sporadically rousing and always bloated exercise in giving a damn.  It’s overly produced, meanderingly mechanical and earnestly unengaging.  When we’re not knee deep in The Real Dwarves of Middle Earth drama, you might favor some of the action scenes – but there’s little else to truly admire…  If you’re invested in this drawn out series it makes sense to take a look – but we've been here and it kinda feels like were going back again and again…and again.  At least this time though it’s the last time.

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom
Directed by: Peter Jackson (THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hr. 24 min.
Studio description: From Academy Award (R)-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," the third in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Enraged, Smaug rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town. Obsessed above all else with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor tohoard it as Bilbo's frantic attempts to make him see reason drive the Hobbit towards a desperate and dangerous choice. But there are even greater dangers ahead. Unseen by any but the Wizard Gandalf, the great enemy Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide - unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance. (c) Warner Bros


Official site: www.thehobbit.com

ANNIE (B+/B+/A+/A+/A+)

Bottom Line: From colored ink-bleeding comics to Broadway to the big screen, America’s favorite little red-headed orphan has entertained families for decades – and I’m happy to say (despite the lambasting that most hard-headed, dead inside critics are giving it) this updated, urbanized version is no different!  Annie colorfully, confidently and whimsically bops into the jam-packed, holiday movie going season with a melodic spring in its step and a feel-good breezy charm on its sleeve.  A handful of catchy and memorable tunes plus an impressive cast that’s game for selling the candy-coated goods ensure that you and your family are in for a film built for fun.  It’s a toe-tapping, heart-warming and refreshingly fluffy experience that my family (a father, a mother and three sons ages 9-, 7- and 4-years old) enjoyed immensely!  Let the naysayer critics live the hard-knock life and get stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely – while we stick out our chin and grin and see this festive flick today (not tomorrow)!

Starring: Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale
Directed by: Will Gluck (FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, EASY A and FIRED UP)
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hr. 58 min.
Studio description: A Broadway classic that has delighted audiences for generations comes to the big screen with a new, contemporary vision.  Quvenzhan√© Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) stars as Annie, a young, happy foster kid who's also tough enough to make her way on the streets of New York in 2014. Originally left by her parents as a baby with the promise that they'd be back for her someday, it's been a hard knock life ever since with her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). But everything's about to change when the hard-nosed tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) - advised by his brilliant VP, Grace (Rose Byrne) and his shrewd and scheming campaign advisor, Guy (Bobby Cannavale) - makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in. Stacks believes he's her guardian angel, but Annie's self-assured nature and bright, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook on life just might mean it's the other way around. (c) Sony

Official site: www.annie-movie.com

Thursday, December 11, 2014

TOP FIVE (B+)

Bottom Line: Comedian Chris Rock reinvents the zeal in this comedically poignant, believably heartfelt and ruggedly bittersweet romantic comedy – a movie that efficiently examines the pleasures and pains of the entertainment industry.  As writer, director and star here, he’s surrounded himself with brilliant talent and effectively tidied up his on-stage persona for big screen audience consumption.  Masterfully jumping between past incidents and current predicaments, his ambitious efforts on both sides of the camera are a joy to watch as he navigates the Big Apple’s love/hate relationship with the Hollywood elite.  The dialogue is whip smart and the turbulent scenarios anxiously believable.  In this way, his rom/dram/com work is somewhat reminiscent of an urbanized Woody Allen (HOODy Allen?).  Mixed with the right amounts of cynicism and whimsy, TOP FIVE is easily one of the most intelligent, insightful and entertaining movies of the year.  Chris Rock…truly does do whatever another word for ‘kicks butt’ is.

Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Cedric the Entertainer, Sherri Shepherd and Kevin Hart
Directed by: Chris Rock
Rated: R
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio description: Written, directed by, and starring Chris Rock, TOP FIVE tells the story of New York City comedian-turned-film star Andre Allen, whose unexpected encounter with a journalist forces him to confront the comedy career-and the past-that he's left behind. (C) Paramount


Official site: www.topfivemovie.com

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (D)

Bottom Line: Train wrexodus!  In the form of this 142 minute, goofily envisioned yawnfest, Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator – good Lord this guy used to be brilliant!) adds another loathsome plague to the already existing biblical ten.  The story – nothing if not cinema reboot ready – is given tons of room to breathe but little in the way of creative oxygen as it plays things a little too safe and a little too uninteresting – with the occasional awkward flourish that’s sure to toe the line of the faithful.  Uninspired direction, uneven dialogue, underdeveloped, big name performances (Weaver and Kingsley are useless) and unbelievably cheesy special effects (for the most part) – this is a master class in how to effectively make an audience shrug their shoulders and forget your movie the second they get home…  Exodus: Gods and Kings doesn’t have the balls to be bonkers (like this year’s NOAH) nor the brains to be bold.  It may feature a solid turn from the guy who played The Dark Knight, but the grand scope of this movie is still nothing more than an epic Christian fail.

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Paul and Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Ridley Scott (ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, GLADIATOR and PROMETHEUS)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 142 minutes
Studio description: From acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Prometheus) comes the epic adventure "Exodus: Gods and Kings," the story of one man's daring courage to take on the might of an empire. Using state of the art visual effects and 3D immersion, Scott brings new life to the story of the defiant leader Moses (Christian Bale) as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues. (c) Fox


Thursday, November 20, 2014

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 (C-)

Bottom Line: A Civil BORE is brewing!  Strenuously stretching (roughly) 40 minutes of semi-memorable material into a two-hour shoulder shrug of a movie, this latest installment of Hunger Games is a fine looking yet forgettable mess.  There’s a tiny bit of character development, a few thin layers of story to consume and two fairly entertaining but all-too-short turns from Harrelson and Banks.  The rest is a directionless, depressingly dour and democracy-free, dystopian, wannabe death match.  Districts scramble, the President gloats and Katniss mopes around in a boy-crazy, shell-shocked daze – this is easily some of JLaw’s most uninteresting work.  This series that shined with its previous two installments has been (temporarily, hopefully) doused by Hollywood’s deep bucket of splitting-movies-in-half greed.  Now we get to wait another 12 months to see if Part Two catches fire.  Falling smack-dab in to the thralls of its main title, Mockingjay Part One is a side salad of a movie that fails to satiate those who’ve waited a year since the thrilling conclusion of its predecessor.  This film will indeed make you hungry for something more substantial – famished for something more thrilling and fun.

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam, Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (CONSTANTINE)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 125 minutes
Studio description: Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage. (c) Lionsgate


Official site: www.lionsgate.com

Thursday, November 13, 2014

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (B-)

Bottom Line: Can we all just agree to no longer trust critics (nay, any human) who didn’t find some level of enjoyment in the original Dumb and Dumber? That movie and all of its wackadoodle, go-for-broke, pre-teen absurdities thwacked audiences across the face (twenty years ago) with a snot-covered, flaming rubber chicken of fun. It’s simultaneously over-the-top and in-the-gutter sensibilities, I’m sure, caused many a moviegoer – the dead inside, un-fun ones – to collectively protest that the movie was indeed dumb. Right, because that’s actually in the title twice…so who’s the dumberer one now?! Carrey and Daniels are back and, character-wise, they haven’t missed a beat as they bounce off each other and their surroundings with endearingly demented dipshit abandon. They’re, once again, gloriously goofy and gut-bustingly grand…most of the time. There are, unfortunately, a few potholes along this road trip of raunch. It could have benefitted from a shorter running time – made the jokes come faster, make the movie feel tighter. There’s a flatness to some of it that’s borne of rusty direction and B-level actor’s clearly not knowing how to keep up with The Dumber Boys. The element of surprise is no longer there, as well – we’re expecting them to top each gag now and while this element of surprise played beautifully to the strength of the original it’s of little use here. We fold our arms, sit back in our chair and demand this film take us to the brink of pants wetting. Thing is that they often do top each gag in the sequel and the movie only really slows down when they try to recreate a gag from part one or introduce one of the flimsily motivated new characters (all of whom are out of their element here, save unspoilerish turns from Turner and Melvin). The simplicity of the recycled story exists only to set these maroons on the road and get them from point A to B by going through points D, M and U first. If you enjoyed the first you'll find some enjoyment here as well.  Do I love it?  No.  But I do like it...I like it a lot.


Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden, Rachel Melvin and Kathleen Turner
Directed by: Bobby and Peter Farrelly (DUMB AND DUMBER, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, STUCK ON YOU and KINGPIN)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio description: Twenty years after the dimwits set out on their first adventure, they head out in search of one of their long lost children in the hope of gaining a new kidney.
Official site: www.twitter.com/DumbTo

Thursday, November 6, 2014

BIG HERO 6 (C+/B/A-/A-/A+)

Bottom Line: More aptly titled How to Train Your Incredible (Marshmallow-y) Iron Giant, Disney’s latest animated film may convey a lot of things, but originality in story ain’t one of ‘em.  Like this week’s other highly anticipated and yet not-so-stellar sci-fi release, were presented a hodgepodge of ideas that have been explored in a myriad of other, better movies.  That’s not to say this Avengers-like flick isn’t worth the ride; it’s sure to please the family unit as a whole - my wife (B) and three boys (9yrs A-, 7yrs A- and 4 ½ A+) have looked at me sideways more than a dozen times since seeing it two-weeks ago – unable to comprehend me not loving it as much as they did… I’m quick to remind them, however, of recent, far superior offerings like The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Frozen.  They all agree that ‘yeah, this wasn’t as good as those…’  One point for dada (I’ll take it).  I’ll be the first to admit this forcefully giddy film does have a solid ribbon of humor humming through its engine – it’s energetically innovative and gorgeously animated as well.  Easy on the eyes – it’ll definitely make you smile. My biggest issue lies in the emotion, or lack thereof… They never capture the real punishment of loss (like Up, Finding Nemo or The Lion King) or the pure joy of friendship (like Iron Giant, How to Train Your Dragon or Aladdin).  They make the leap, but don’t quite stick the landing – it all feels to forced and, ultimately false.  You’re actually better off finding more soul in the beautifully heartfelt, six-minute short – FEAST – that precedes the film.  Everything else ultimately boils down to a fairly generic origin story that’ll quickly disappear in the minds of many at the mention of much better films, what the plans are for dinner or the sighting of a…SQUIRREL!  Classic animated movies immerse you in the story – this one makes you sit in the stands and enjoy from afar.  It’ll rake in a ton of dough at the box office and most will be pleased with the experience – but why settle for a Big Hero 6 when Disney’s recent efforts suggest we could’ve been getting another 10?

Starring the voices of: Ryan Potter, Daman Wayans Jr, Jamie Chung, Maya Rudolph,  Alan Tudyk, Genesis Rodriguez and James Cromwell
Directed by: Don Hall and Chris Williams
Rated: PG
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio description: An action-packed comedy-adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who learns to harness his genius-thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi and their like-minded friends: adrenaline junkie Go Go Tamago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to his closest companion-a robot named Baymax-and transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery. (C) Disney


Official site: www.movies.disney.com/big-hero-6

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

INTERSTELLAR (C+)

Bottom Line: Huge in scope and visually stunning, this 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Inception meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets Contact meets The Sixth Sense by way of Gravity hybrid is, unfortunately, ambitious-to-a-fault – a semi-derivative and slightly pretentious film that stomps its feet and demands to be taken serious. It’s a thick-as-molasses, sci-fi blockbuster that feels like Christopher Nolan added both entertaining and unnecessary layers to a carelessly mocked-up script penned by M. Night Shyamalan after M. Night swiped a doodled on cocktail napkin from the estate of the late Stanley Kubrick. McConaughey delivers a solid performance as a father driven to the stars and grounded by his family – a man ping-ponging between life altering choices for the greater good. There do exist a fair amount of interesting themes on parenting, technology, space travel and the theory of relativity – most of that overtly scientific, fifth dimensional, wormholian babble, however, is drowned out by an exorbitantly overlong running time and a violently overbearing IMAX-infused musical score (the kind of sound that’ll make your ears, jaw and bass-chattering teeth beg for the deep, cold silence of space). Big, bold, boisterous, bland and occasionally boring – this epic journey to infinity and beyond lacked a fully satisfying emotional core that kept it from being out of this world.

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Memento, Inception, Insomnia and The Prestige)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 169 minutes
Studio description: With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history; traveling beyond the galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars. © Paramount

Official site: www.interstellar.withgoogle.com

Friday, October 31, 2014

NIGHTCRAWLER (A)


Bottom Line: Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the year’s most mesmerizing performances in this giddily gory and gorgeously grimy gallop through the labyrinthian, after hours, crime-ridden streets of Los Angeles – as well as the dimly lit, stress tank production bays of local TV news.  Crime never pays… Unless of course you have a video camera and a police scanner.  Then it can pay handsomely.  All you have to do is arrive on the scene first and get the best coverage.  If it bleeds it leads – and anxious, ratings riddled news producer, Rene Russo (in a solid turn; also, still not ugly), is all too ready to get the scoop, save her job and push her integrity and ethics to the side.  NIGHTCRAWLER is a fiendishly fun and pulse-poundingly rich ride through these morally bankrupt worlds – and Gyllenhaal shines as the aggressively overbearing, self-motivating, pseudo-intellectual sociopath in search of his secret to success.  If you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket he goofishly and methodically pronounces!  This slick and seedy, noir-ish flick works as some sort of deadpan drama/action/comedy/thriller hybrid – something that moves at a breakneck, full throttle pace and yet still takes its time, meticulously unfolding for the city slicking rubberneckers to catch a good glimpse.  Thoroughly suspenseful, fully riveting.  A must see!

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Bill Paxton
Directed by: Dan Gilroy (directorial debut; wrote the screenplays for THE BOURNE LEGACY and REAL STEEL)
Rated: R
Running time: 117 minutes
Studio description: Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling -- where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou thrives. In the breakneck, ceaseless search for footage, he becomes the star of his own story. (c) Open Road

Official site: www.nightcrawlerfilm.com

Friday, October 24, 2014

BIRDMAN (A)

Bottom Line: Michael Keaton hits a stylistically twisted homerun without even using a bat, man…  Certain to garner a slew of nominations come Oscar time, BIRDMAN is a master class in storytelling – a darkly comedic examination of the search for relevancy at the cost of celebrity.  Soul searching ensues with dashes of purpose, legacy and public perception all played out to perfection. Playfully bizarre, dazzlingly layered, hilariously energetic and elegantly schizophrenic – this expertly crafted flick teasingly zigs and turbulently zags at its examination of artistic integrity, self realization and the ongoing battle between high art and blockbuster gold.  Its seemingly unedited, one-continuous-shot approach lends itself brilliantly to the freestyle jazz-like vibe of the film – a whirligig, center stage circus of complex human emotions given depth and life by career defining (and career echoing) performances from both Keaton and Edward Norton.  It should also be noted that Stone, Galifianakis, Riseborough, Ryan and Watts all give standout performances in their supporting roles.  In a (mostly) unanimous moment of critiquing clarity, BIRDMAN is indeed one of the must see movies of the year.  There’s something to enjoy here for both 'snob' and 'sheep'.  Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s…  Oh wait, it actually is a bird – and this BIRDMAN soars!
 
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Naomi Watts
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu (BIUTIFUL, BABEL, 21 GRAMS and AMORES PERROS)
Rated: R
Running time: 119 minutes
Studio description: BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) - famous for portraying an iconic superhero - as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. (c) Fox Searchlight
 
Official site: www.bridmanthemovie.com