Thursday, June 18, 2015

INSIDE OUT (A-/A-/A/A/A)

The Bottom Line: Colorful, clever and complex, Disney/Pixar’s latest is a whimsically told story about five brain command-centered emotions (Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness) guiding a prepubescent girl’s actions, feelings and memories as her family embarks on a life-altering move to the coast.  With their return to comparatively rock-solid form here, the animation studio with the mostest delivers a sophisticatedly fresh, slyly subtle and genuinely gentle piece of cinema for the enjoyment of all ages – the littlest of the littles may not fully understand the humor and subtext at hand, but they’ll enjoy the adventure nonetheless.  My entire family loved it, including my five-year old son.  This is an extremely high-concept film where energy, laughs and bright colors easily fill the something-went-over-my-head voids that I’m sure toddlers, pre-teens and parents alike are to experience, perhaps, to varying degrees…  Be forewarned that we’re not thrown in to typically tame, instantly relatable/understandable Pixar terrain here (like, say, the ocean, a restaurant, the future, a toy box, a scream factory run by monsters, etc.) – the first third of the movie requires a find-your-bearings type of brain as fluffy characters are introduced and the elaborate world-building is in full swing.  Vividly charming, this montage of managed memories deals with many effective themes on family, friendship and fun and digs deep to explore the nature of how a mixed bag of emotions can help prepare you and your children for some of life’s many challenges.  It’s a simplistically intricate tale with heartfelt resolutions that definitely warrants multiple viewings.  Above all else, these five co-mingling cranial custodians of cute are a hoot.  This may not be my favorite* Pixar film, but INSIDE OUT represents a high-water mark for unbridled, free-flow, outside-the-box creativity in popular animation and is destined to be a beloved classic.
Starring the voices of: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy  Kaling, Phyllis Smith and Lewis Black
Directed by: Pete Docter (UP and MONSTERS, INC.) and Ronnie del Carmen
Rated: PG
Running time: 112 minutes
Story: Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it's no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions - Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley's mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley's main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school. -- Pixar

Friday, June 12, 2015

JURASSIC WORLD (B+/A/A)

The Bottom Line: Bigger, stronger, faster and yet still not quite as crisp as the ’93 original, Jurassic World is a satisfyingly solid summer joy ride that delivers bronto burger-sized thrills! In the 22 years that have passed since the nightmare-inducing events of John Hammond’s initial vision, Isla Nublar has become a bustling and fully operational family theme park island of prehistoric pleasures.  This place has it all – including an on-the-loose, genetically cross-bred monster (not T-Rex) bent on domination and destruction. Vividly crafted for near-maximum big screen crowd-pleasing, Jurassic World is an engagingly energetic beast that moves with raptor-like velocity…  It employs engaging action, stunning visuals, swooning score and a myriad of ulteriorly-motivated subplots that almost all seamlessly converge in to a digitized cold-blooded orgy of flesh, bone, tails, teeth, claws, scales and so on…  Yes, we’ve traveled much of this path before, but with Chris Pratt’s cocksure swagger and charm at the helm, what was once old feels new again – or at least considerably freshened up. One could easily argue that the entire premise and many poor character choices are as goofy as a T-Rex reaching for his wallet, but with its grand doses of energized chaos (my 10- and 8-year old boys claim it didn’t scare them at all), the film still finds time for knowingly nostalgic throwback nods to good ol’ fashioned tension, humor and heart. It’s nothing if not supremely self-aware that sometimes bigger-stronger-faster doesn’t necessarily equate to better – but it can still comfortably hover around pretty darn fun. Easy on brains with an extra helping of brawn – this is one lean, mean popcorn-munching machine that delights at almost every single turn! Hold on to your butts, indeed!

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, BD Wong, Ty Simpkins, Omar Sy and Vincent D’Onofrio
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed)
Rated: R
Running time: 123 minutes
Story: Steven Spielberg returns to executive produce the long-awaited next installment of his groundbreaking Jurassic Park series, Jurassic World. Colin Trevorrow directs the epic action-adventure based on characters created by Michael Crichton. The screenplay is by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly & Trevorrow, and the story is by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver. Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley join the team as producers. (C) Universal

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

ENTOURAGE (B)

The Bottom Line:  Stars!  They’re just like us…except they’re not, ever – like seriously, not at all.  An extension of the popular eight-season HBO series (2004-2011), Entourage is a romanticized, snarky, tinsel town four-buddy bromance fueled by sex, power, wealth, fame, ambition and brotherhood.  And like the series that preceded it, this movie is a surface level look behind the Hollywood curtain – a world where hot-head derogatory agents throw fits, Victoria’s Secret-ready beach babes roam topless and supportive yes-men friends ride coattails.  It’s the big screen west coast, boy band ying to Sex and the City’s Manhattan cattily snobby yang (Flix and the City, Pecs and the City – I don’t know, there’s a pun in there somewhere – I’ll keep digging).  In addition to the entire cast being summoned back – take special note of Jeremy Piven who is a serpentine-like fireball revelation in the role of Ari Gold (he won three Emmys and a Golden Globe for playing this character on television) – they’ve also brought back the show’s penchant for never raising the stakes too high.  In that respect, the movie doesn’t play very cinematically – instead, it feels like a three episode, greatest hits mish-mash with plenty of laughs, a few flat misses, a ton of cameos and a decidedly glossier budget.  I can totally understand easily offended newbies being turned off by the vulgarity, nudity and extravagant douche-baggery on display – if you’re open to tons of crassness and the frenzied celebration of excess (or a fan of the show like me) then this’ll be a welcome visit with new/good friends.  Not friends you’d want to spend too much time with…but friends nonetheless.  Outside of not completely upping the narrative ante, Entourage nearly met my expectations: It was breezily over-the-top, entertaining and fun.  Open the pages of a supermarket check-out magazine and you’ll experience much of the same.  It’s US Weekly: The Movie.

Starring: Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osment
Directed by: Doug Ellin (series creator)
Rated: R
Running time: 105 minutes
Story: Entourage," the much-anticipated big-screen version of the award-winning hit HBO series, reunites the show's original cast, led by Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven. Movie star Vincent Chase (Grenier), together with his boys, Eric (Connolly), Turtle (Ferrara) and Johnny (Dillon), are back...and back in business with super agent-turned-studio head Ari Gold (Piven). Some of their ambitions have changed, but the bond between them remains strong as they navigate the capricious and often cutthroat world of Hollywood. (C) WB

Official site: www.entouragemovie.com

Thursday, May 28, 2015

ALOHA (B)

The Bottom Line: Amidst cries of Hollywood ‘whitewashing’ (based on the poster and trailer alone because no one had actually seen the movie yet; ugh) and a cowering studio that has no idea how to effectively market their latest product (double ugh), writer/director Cameron Crowe’s Aloha washes ashore this weekend in a fairly unceremonious fashion.  Shame too because it’s actually quite good, or at least the stuff that works is exceptionally assembled and on display.  Not only does it celebrate the rich culture of the island, but it effectively examines the power of communication, the potential of second chances and the pluses & perils of getting steamrolled by the future.  Aloha also wears an extremely large heart on its sleeve that’s almost impossible to resist – Cooper, Stone, McAdams and Krazinski bring each of their characters to life and love in ways we might all be able to identify.  And like Crowe’s 1996 masterwork, Jerry Maguire, it’s another tale of lone-wolfing that suggests we’re better off running with our own chosen pack.  Everyone could use a cheerleader, someone to believe in us…  Not everything is peaches and cream here though. There’s a subplot at play, concerning Cooper’s loosely defined profession and his links with the military, US Space Program and an eccentric billionaire that tends to run amuck – like awkwardly so.  It could be laziness, poorly written or edited – I’m still not sure.  But it works to the point of hurried confusion as we hit the home stretch and attempts to incoherently push the entire film of its tracks.  Thankfully, however, we’re jolted out of that messy quagmire and back in to character depth for a strong finish.  Despite a few narrative woes – the terrific acting, strong emotional core, eclectic soundtrack and respectful cultural tone help wrap this movie in an easy-breezy island vibe that makes it easy to recommend.  Others may turn up their nose to the title alone, but they had me at Aloha.

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Danny McBride and Bill Murray
Directed by: Cameron Crowe (Say Anything…, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and We Bought a Zoo)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 120 minutes
Story: A celebrated military contractor returns to the site of his greatest career triumphs – the US Space program in Honolulu, Hawaii – and reconnects with a long-ago love while unexpectedly falling for the hard-charging Air Force watchdog assigned to him…

Official site: www.sonypictures.com/movies/aloha

Thursday, May 21, 2015

TOMORROWLAND (C+/D+/A-/B+/Too Scary)

The Bottom Line: Sporadically wondrous, occasionally exhilarating and ultimately fairly empty despite all of its nostalgic bloat – Tomorrowland is a sleek look at the world-of-the-future that invests more in style than it does in actual substance.  Roughly half the movie (the first half) treats us to dazzling images of yesteryear, some intriguing adventure and a general sense of young-viewer wonder…  When the movie is focused and on-point it works really well at either transporting you to another time or drawing you in to the drama at hand.  The set-up is solid, building hope for things to come…  When it’s not working (the second half, basically), the film only scratches the surface of its way-too-many-messages.  It’s always big, bold and ambitious, but can never stop flexing in front of the mirror.  It always seems too enamored with what it thinks it’s accomplished at any given point.  It’s a movie in love with itself.  Additionally, the intensity level throughout helps ensure that this ‘family film’ might not be for the entire family – as my 5-year old awoke that evening with nightmares of its many robot bludgeonings (appreciate that one, Mouse House – thanks).  Just past the halfway mark, the story goes hectically sideways and things become so convoluted that it actually becomes a tedious chore just trying to keep up with the Interstellar-for-Kids interdimensionality and preachy vibe of the many messages of hope, innovation and the power of positive thinking. …and in the attempt to straighten this chaotic ship, the poorly envisioned villain is given a laborious speech that does nothing but push us further down the rabbit hole (it was at this point my wife looked at me for the ninth time and rolled her eyes; she wasn’t a fan – gave it a D+).  Above and beyond all this hecticly uneven forward momentum lies the fact that Britt Robertson was fine, George Clooney was just okay (kinda miscast) and like a once progressive man made of tin, the movie has very little heart or emotion.  This is a movie custom built for 8- to 12-year old boys (my two oldest, 8- and 10-years old really loved/liked it and handed out an A- and B+ respectively) and may even bring out the child in many of you…  If you can grasp that feeling of wonderment, hold on tight – because if half of this movie feels like you’re hugging a giant teddy bear then the other half is like trying to spoon a refrigerator.

Starring: George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie
Directed by: Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol)
Rated: PG
Running time: 107 minutes
Story: From Disney comes two-time Oscar (R) winner Brad Bird's riveting, mystery adventure "Tomorrowland," starring Academy Award (R) winner George Clooney. Bound by a shared destiny, former boy-genius Frank (Clooney), jaded by disillusionment, and Casey (Britt Robertson), a bright, optimistic teen bursting with scientific curiosity, embark on a danger-filled mission to unearth the secrets of an enigmatic place somewhere in time and space known only as "Tomorrowland." What they must do there changes the world-and them-forever. Featuring a screenplay by "Lost" writer and co-creator Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird, from a story by Lindelof & Bird & Jeff Jensen, "Tomorrowland" promises to take audiences on a thrill ride of nonstop adventures through new dimensions that have only been dreamed of.(C) Walt Disney

Friday, May 15, 2015

PITCH PERFECT 2 (B+)

The Bottom Line: Gleefully good-hearted and engagingly goofy, this follow-up to the 2012 hit is the first comedy of the year that fully delivers on the promise of laughter!  Elizabeth Banks (directing her first feature length film) does a tremendous job of herding her aca-cats (Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailey Steinfeld, et al), while showcasing a wonderfully collaborative, teamwork-focused atmosphere and giving her main players their chance to shine.  Admittedly, the original is a better told tale – a solid, well-structured movie.  In lieu of the script bolt-tightening here, we’re offered a slightly looser, more joyfully zany romp.  Like its predecessor though, the campiness of this A capella battle royal world is embraced.  If you’re looking for a riotous, toe-tapping, aca-tastic good time, this spirited flick will definitely scratch that pitch!

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailey Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Adam DeVine, Keegan Michael Key, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Elizabeth Banks
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 114 minutes
Story: After a humiliating command performance at Lincoln Center, the Barden Bellas enter an international competition that no American group has ever won in order to regain their status and right to perform.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (A+)

The Bottom Line: In delivering what is unarguably one of the gutsiest, full-throttle, bat-out-of-hell blockbusters of our time, maniacal director George Miller adds an aggressively glorious installment of hope, rebirth and redemption to his legendary Mad Max trilogy.  Not much has changed in the this post-apocalyptic, diesel-fueled, wasteland western - maniacs try to lead, the masses try to survive and everyone thirsts for 'guzzaline', bullets and/or water.  This is a very simple, bare bones, get-from-point-A-to-point-B story that doesn't require a working knowledge of its predecessors (although I'd highly recommend them all).  Whether you're a diehard of- or newbie to the series, this film will gleefully chew you up and spit you out - then realize it's not done with you, toss you back and in and chew you up some more.  As the titular Max, the always brilliant Tom Hardy stoically fills the iconic and pre-nutball shoes of Mel Gibson through limited dialogue and a series of cognitive grunts.  He's always adding complexity to his flight-or-flight, do-the-right-thing, reluctant moral compass.  The other side of the heart-and-soul coin gives us Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, the mechanical-armed, laser-focused, girl power powder keg that moves propels the movie forward.  In owning this front-and-center role and amplifying the grand feminist nature of this film, Theron ends up doing for Mad Max movies what Sigourney Weaver did for the Alien franchise.  Her performance here is award worthy.  Along with potent sides of outback weirdos and buffed-up baddies, Hardy and Theron are absolutely fantastic!  Relying heavily on its pride for practical effects (as supposed to the computer-generated kind), this is a gorgeously choreographed demolition derby of masterful, go-for-broke direction, vibrant cinematography, audacious production design and A-level acting...  It's a gritty, intense and rampantly raw road rage rodeo of kinetic action and gloriously graphic vehicular carnage.  It'll blow your mind, drop you jaw and inspire your awe.  Easily one of the most fully immersive and visceral cinema-going experiences I've ever had, I'm convinced that THIS is the reason they build movie theaters in the first place...  It's nothing short of a Mad Masterpiece!  Sit tight, take hold, Fury Road!

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Hugh Keays-Byrne
Directed by: George Miller (Mad Max, The Road Warrior, The Witches of Eastwick, Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet)
Rated: R
Running time: 120 minutes
Story: In the furthest reaches of our planet, in a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, and everyone is fighting for the necessities of life, there are two rebels who just might be able to restore order—Max (Tom Hardy), a man of action and few words, who seeks peace of mind following the loss of his wife and child in the aftermath of the chaos, and Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a woman of action who believes her path to survival may be achieved if she can make it across the desert back to her childhood homeland.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

HOT PURSUIT (D-)

The Bottom Line: Hitting screens with all the grace of a drunken monkey driving a steamroller, this disarmingly dimwitted duo-on-the-run ‘comedy’ is poised, rightfully, to go down in box office flames.  Let’s throw the main focus (read: blame) on the stars: Reese Witherspoon – yes THAT Reese Witherspoon – the one that was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar a few months back (and has actually won one as well).  She read the script – which is in not funny – and decided to not only star in but produce this shrillingly forgettable flick. Her tight-lipped, flat-footed, Texas-twangy police officer is goofy and unintentionally unlikeable.  Sophia Vergara (or is it Viagra?!) must have moved forward solely on the direction of cranking her Modern Family character up to eleven – leaving it there – and occasionally jacking it up to twelve. Both characters have the type of headache-inducing verbal cadence that shatters glass, scatters pigeons at a park or feels like you’re getting Morse code tattered across your forehead with a stiletto heel (worn by that monkey mentioned above).  These two talented-in-almost-everything-else actresses have zero chemistry together.  Hot Pursuit may be a career low point for both.  The rest of the story is disjointedly cobbled together through uninspired direction, lazy writing and repetitively unfunny, blindfolded whack-a-mole joke telling about age, height and social proclivities.  There is literally nothing new brought to the table as it aspires to be some Midnight Run meets Thelma and Louise knock-off.  As is the case with most advanced screenings, a portion of the audience experienced a laugh or two here, an awkward guffaw there – but you can easily chalk that up to the experience costing them no money.  More than the single laugh I let out, however, I think I most appreciated the diminutive 87 minute run time.  It’s short enough to not be completely offensive.  …It’s not COMPLETELY offensive, just mostly.  I haven’t seen them yet (they can’t be any worse), but save your money for Pitch Perfect 2 or Mad Max: Fury Road next week.  The word ‘Pursuit’ is clearly present in the film’s title, but this is a hot something else altogether…  

Starring: Reese Witherspoon and Sophia Vergara
Directed by: Anne Fletcher (The Guilt Trip, The Proposal, 27 Dresses and Step Up)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 87 minutes
Story: In "Hot Pursuit," an uptight and by-the-book cop tries to protect the sexy and outgoing widow of a drug boss as they race through Texas, pursued by crooked cops and murderous gunmen. -- (C) New Line


Official site: www.hotpursuitmovie.com

Friday, May 1, 2015

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (A-)

The Bottom Line: Disney and Marvel deep dive in to a multi-layered, colorfully chaotic and action-heavy world of deadly domino effects and marvelously manicured mayhem!  …and director Joss Whedon, back for round two, does a miraculous job of spinning all the plates – the epic scope is mindboggling massive, the dialogue is welcomingly witty and the action is jawdroppingly joyful.  Each of the many characters are given an ample spotlight and some either make up for lost time from the original or pop a brief appearance for a tease at things to come (no spoilers…none).  In a lesser team’s hands, this would all be a mismanaged mish-mash of growls, grunts and twisted metal – but this is the summer big leagues and they do an exceedingly effective job of delivering exactly what you’d hope a movie of this size could…which is knocking it outta the friggin’ park!  Not only is the mission of stopping a crazed artificial intelligence-driven robot (a brilliantly voice-casted James Spader) from laying waste to humanity mightily resolved, but the table is strategically set for cold-hearted conflict in installments to come… Admittedly, the path is eerily familiar this time out with villainous motives never fully fleshed out and team members learning to work together as they’re pulled apart.  Plus, the sheer number of things happening at any one time coupled with a denseness of plot may leave some viewers hamstrung and wondering what this all means… Here, you ride with the minor convolutions or you die with ‘em – but if you’ve ever experienced any slice of this slick cinematic universe (or have your know-it-all 10-year old son with you; that was my strategy; this is now his favorite movie of all time) then this world is your fairly accessible and easy to navigate vibranium-coated oyster.  Avengers: Age of Ultron is pure energetic fun (whether you're familiar with all the characters or not) and burns bright on the entertaining potency of its humor, heart and super hero smack downs.  Never mind the few naysayers; this is an explosively juicy jumpstart to the big budget summer movie season… Time to assemble your crew!

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smolders, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and James Spader
Directed by: Joss Whedon (Marvel’s The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing and Serenity)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 150 minutes
Story: When Tony Stark jumpstarts a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth's Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as they battle to save the planet from destruction at the hands of the villainous Ultron.

Official site: www.facebook.com/avengers

Friday, April 24, 2015

THE AGE OF ADALINE (B+)

The Bottom Line: Goofy molecular science meets whimsical storybook fantasy in this decades-spanning, light-hearted chick-flick-on-steroids delight.  Saddled with immortality after a horrible car accident in the 1930’s, Blake Lively brings subtlety, sophistication and schoolmarm sexiness to her nuanced character – a woman who very rarely gets attached, plays her cards (read: gift) close to her vest and keeps moving on every 10 years…without ever truly moving forward.  Her male costars, Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones) and Harrison Ford, both add effective doses of humor and heart.  All three of these performances are terrific.  Plus, there’s a resounding innocence to the films message of letting go and giving in that’s both refreshing and effective.  Each reflective time period gives us more to learn and adds intriguing layers to our main character’s character.   Although it does dabble in melodrama, occasionally dips its toe in to schmaltz and only sort of skims the surface of what it might be like to never grow old – The Age of Adaline still maintains a timeless romantic charm that’s hard to resist.

Starring: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Ellen Burstyn and Harrison Ford
Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger (Celeste and Jesse Forever)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 109 minutes
Story: After miraculously remaining 29 years old for almost eight decades, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker) threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever. (C) Lionsgate