Friday, April 17, 2015

Disneynature's MONKEY KINGDOM (B+)

The Bottom Line: Following a finely tuned paint-by-numbers formula – that Disneynature films (African Cats, Bears, Oceans, Earth and Chimpanzee) has been perfecting since 2007 – Monkey Kingdom delivers a lively an engaging glimpse in to a (mostly) jovial group of South Asia jungle dwellers who eat, sleep, groom, play and stick to a very strict societal hierarchy.  These ready-for-primetime primates are chockfull of rich personalities that are colorfully enhanced by the witty and goofishly run-and-gun narrative stylings of Tina Fey.  Instead of the traditional, here’s-what-you-see-on-screen, Morgan Freeman-ish approach to wildlife documentaries, Fey apes the proceedings with a freshness, flair and fervor that adds character depth and in turn enlivens the film as a whole.  It may not be as deep or informative as its predecessors, but it’s definitely the most entertaining.  …and if Miss Fey is the soul that makes this movie hum, the intrinsic bond between mother and son is the 800-pound gorilla heart at the center.  As is the pattern with these films, certain liberties are taken to ramp up the tension or to enhance the frivolity – the inclusion of a cleverly edited turf war or a staged birthday party sugar spread may all be clearly manufactured, but they’re gracefully forced in place to service the story.  And it works.  An intriguing examination of social structures, familial ties and determination plus breathtaking imagery and a good natured sense of fun make this the must see monkey movie of the year.  My family loved it, yours will too!

Narrated by: Tina Fey
Directed by: Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
Rated: G
Running time: 81 minutes
Story: Maya’s world is forever changed when she welcomes her son, Kip, into her complicated extended family. Like all families, Maya’s has more than its share of colorful personalities—and she’s determined to give her son a leg up on the social ladder. When their longtime home at Castle Rock is taken over by powerful neighboring monkeys, Maya's whole family is forced to relocate, and she uses her street smarts and ingenuity to lead them to untapped resources amidst strange new creatures and unsettling surroundings. Ultimately, they will all have to work together to reclaim Castle Rock, where Maya can hopefully realize her dreams for her son’s future. [Disneynature]

Monday, April 6, 2015

FURIOUS 7 (C+)

The Bottom Line: Just when I thought I was in, they (try to) pull me back out.  A massive and virtually mindless mash-up of mind bogglingly over-the-top vehicular warfare and meandering muscle car machismo, Furious 7 is exactly what you might expect, but somehow a lot less – even though there’s a ton more jammed under the hood.  For the record, I wasn’t a fan of this series until 2011’s Fast Five (B+) and 2013’s Fast and Furious 6 (B) roared in to theaters and fused the series’ fast lane focus with a compelling and keenly more self-aware heist movie mentality.  These were slick flicks knowingly built on brain-bashing visuals, cheesy dialogue and richer, more compelling storylines…  A tad of that deserved good will has carried over here, but sometimes knowing you’re cheesy, over-the-top and basically the live-version equivalent of a Road Runner cartoon doesn’t make it okay to be cheesy, over-the-top and so darn meep meep-ish.  Biggest problem here is that the exciting revenge plotline teased at the end of episode 6 never really starts paying off...  Statham is in full-on goon mode, showing up wherever and whenever the script dictates, but he never gets the job done.  This movie is a teeth-gnashingly over-blown lesson in cinematic redundancy.  A lot of the intrigue has diminished here in lieu of non-stop mano-a-mano fist-a-cuffs, eardrum rattling gunplay and violently PG-13 vehicular warfare.  Some of it is efficiently fun, but most of it gets destructively sloppy and veers off the road of remotely interesting.  It’s a flick that would have benefitted greatly from a tighter, shorter running time and a stronger focus on cohesion of plots.  A race car movie that, oddly, needs a yield sign or two.  If you loved the whole series or only the last two installments (like me), don’t be surprised if you find yourself fidgeting in your seat or checking your watch from time-to-time.  The movie may be explosively chaotic but it definitely does drag.  The cast, as expected, are enthusiastically there to get the job done though: Diesel grumbles, Diggs complains, Rodriguez mopes, Ludicrous solves, Russell quips, Statham jabs, Johnson charms and the late Walker (with a touching tribute toward the end) adds a dose of gravitas to the proceedings that eerily reminds us of the movie’s muscle car mantra of Ride or Die.  There’s some globe-hopping James Bond meets The Avengers excitement to be had, but the tread has definitely started to wear a bit thin – here’s hoping there’s a suitable pit crew in place for part eight and nine.

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Michelle Rodriguez, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey, Jordana Brewster, Djimon Hounsou and Kurt Russell
Directed by: James Wan (The Conjuring and Insidious)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 140 minutes
Story: After Dominic Toretto and his crew helped take down Owen Shaw (Fast and Furious 6) – his brother, Deckard Shaw, seeks revenge.

Official site: www.furious7.com

Friday, March 27, 2015

GET HARD (B-)

The Bottom Line: One man’s brash is another man’s pleasure.  I guess it’s fairly easy to understand someone taking offense to the antics on display here – heck, even the title is something you’d whisper depending on who’s within earshot.  This, like most of Ferrell’s stuff, is an over-the-top bonanza of uptight critic fodder.  Negative reviews are swirling with aggressive adjectives regarding the movie’s handling of sexuality, racism, homophobia and at length discussions of prison rape (and by ‘at length’ I mean…well, I guess I mean a few different things).  If you’re looking for political correctness in a Will Ferrell movie then – well, then this must be your first Will Ferrell movie.  The Get Hard gang isn’t here to promote an anti-anything agenda, it’s not here to tackle social issues – it’s here to mine the inherent comedy that exists when an impending prison term is bestowed upon a white, wealthy, soft-bellied, Brillo-haired, country club-dwelling man of privilege.  Ferrell is once again tossed in to the know-it-all-who-really-knows-nothing mold while Hart plays the straight-laced but hood-bred opportunist looking to move on up (for the sake of his wife and daughter).  In addition to the straight into Compton scenarios, the verbal fumbling and physical tumbling, a majority of the laughs – of which there are many – are brought about by the pairing of these two comedic icons.  Each of their bob-and-weave improv stylings complements the other rather well.  So there’s the people who’ll roll with the line-toeing comedy and have a grand time, the people who will legitimately be offended (don’t go; totally understand) and the people who won’t be directly offended but figure it must offend someone so they’ll now be offended as well (don’t sit near ‘em).  Admittedly, the wafer-thin, wet paper bag story is only in play to set up this special brand of funny – it’s not ground breaking or life changing.  Its 110 minutes of so-so storytelling that unfortunately fizzles out in a rushed and unfocused fashion.  If it’s funny, I’ll laugh – and I laughed quite a bit.  Get Hard may go soft at the end, but it’s difficult to deny that Ferrell and Hart make for a rousing comedic duo.

Starring: Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart
Directed by: Etan Cohen (screenwriter for Men in Black III, Madagascar 2 and Idiocracy)
Rated: R
Running time: 110 minutes
Story: A wealthy investment bank manager is convicted of a crime he didn't commit and prepares for prison with help from the guy who washes his car.

Official site: www.gethardmovie.com

HOME (C+/B/B+/A)

The Bottom Line: A somewhat huggable, animated sci-fi invasion flick that scoots along with a ton of eye-popping color and a dash of zany nonsense, Dreamwork’s Home is a surefire hit for the kiddos in your clan (my three boys really enjoyed it; 10yrs B, 8yrs B+ and 5yrs A).  The movie means well with messages about standing up for yourself and taking chances, and yet it never truly tries reaching for the stars…  The 90 minutes invested will zip along and along the way you’ll be surprised to find a little heart beneath all the candy-colored hijinks.  Bottom line though is that we’ve seen much of this before, and that’s not all together a bad thing – I just with it was a more memorable thing.  This’ll easily make for a fun family flick but, ironically (or helpfully), the title tells you the best location in which to watch it…

Starring the voices of: Jim Parsons, Rihanna and Steve Martin
Directed by: Tim Johnson (Over the Hedge and Antz)
Rated: PG
Running time: 93 minutes
Story: When Oh, a loveable misfit from another planet, lands on Earth and finds himself on the run from his own people, he forms an unlikely friendship with an adventurous girl named Tip who is on a quest of her own. Through a series of comic adventures with Tip, Oh comes to understand that being different and making mistakes is all part of being human. And while he changes her planet and she changes his world, they discover the true meaning of the word HOME. (c) Fox

Official site: www.meettheboov.com

Friday, March 20, 2015

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT (D-)

The Bottom Line: Divergent, last year’s first installment to the lackluster books-turned-movies franchise, was my least favorite movie of 2014.  And although I entered this sequel with a huge, hard-to-budge chip on my shoulder – my expectation was that it couldn’t be as bad as the first one.  And it’s not.  But that’s like saying my broken left leg doesn’t hurt as bad as my broken right leg.  Both legs are broken and, like these movies (thus far), both broken legs suck.  Insurgent mindlessly mashes together copycat elements of The Hunger Games, Inception, The Maze Runner, The Matrix and Twilight – but in doing so carelessly jettisons an out-of-the-box mindset that made most of those films special or unique (I tease about Twilight being special and unique, by the way).  There are exactly three things that I’ll give Insurgent positive credit for: 1) it’s effective use of Miles Teller, who adds an energetic zing to his very few scenes (side note: go rent Whiplash…like now), 2) the ping-pongy, action-first narrative might be misshapen and rote but it still shields us from the nap-inducing world-building that plagued its predecessor and 3) the release of this flick puts us one movie closer to the end of this dreadful series.  This movie is lifelessly uninventive and woefully uninvolving.  It’s a hobbled together, awkwardly motivated glimpse in to a dystopian community that lacks in both intrigue and entertainment – and it cuts through its societal discord commentary as smoothly as a butter knife would a brick.  The story is meandering, the direction unfocused and the acting (again, aside from Miles Teller) is either lazy or unengaging…often both.  I’d normally offer up my wife’s take around this point but she (a lover of the books) has such a deep-seated hatred of the first film that she passed altogether on taking in the sequel.  I didn’t have a choice.  She did – and you do too.  Insurgent may be ‘better’ than Divergent – but it’s still remains an insufferable, insipid and insanely dull mess.

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Theo James, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Octavia Spencer
Directed by: Robert Schwentke (RED, Flightplan, The Time Traveler’s Wife and RIPD)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 119 minutes
Story: THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT raises the stakes for Tris as she searches for allies and answers in the ruins of a futuristic Chicago. Tris (Woodley) and Four (James) are now fugitives on the run, hunted by Jeanine (Winslet), the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite. Racing against time, they must find out what Tris's family sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. Haunted by her past choices but desperate to protect the ones she loves, Tris, with Four at her side, faces one impossible challenge after another as they unlock the truth about the past and ultimately the future of their world. (C) Lionsgate


Official site: www.thedivergentseries.com

CINDERELLA (B+/B+/B+)

The Bottom Line: So, um, apparently I’m a sucker for live-action Disney princess movies.  Damn you, director Kenneth Branagh!  With its simplistic yet timeless messages on hope, courage and kindness assuredly in place (and not beating you over the head with a cinder-coated fireplace shovel), this disarmingly charming belle of the ball is poised to rightfully do huge business and do for most 8-year old girls what The Hunger Games does for most 15-year old girls.  Now I don’t have daughters (so I have no idea what I’m talking about), but I do have hoop-shorts-wearing, Beats-by-Dre-listening, Madden-football-playing 10- and 8-year old boys who both really enjoyed it and gave it a B+ – so you do the box office math…  Branagh has respectfully and lovingly crafted a bare-bones, simplistically sincere, confidently charming and enchantingly dazzling film.  We may all very well know the story, but this regal recapturing gets a ton right from its efficient pace to its glorious costume design and art direction to the casting of Blanchett (the evil stepmother), Bonham-carter (the fairy godmother) and the oh-so-elegant and not-in-the-least-bit-ugly Lily James (Cinderella).  There’s not a huge amount of new ground being broken here, but it still remains a kind-hearted, handsome and huggably forthright film – a wonderfully whimsical delight for all ages.  Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Booyah!

Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham-Carter, Richard Madden and Stellan Skarsgard
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Hamlet, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dead Again)
Rated: PG
Running time: 115 minutes
Story: The story of Cinderella follows the fortunes of young Ella whose merchant father remarries following the tragic death of her mother. Keen to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother Lady Tremaine and her daughters Anastasia and Drisella into the family home. But, when Ella's father suddenly and unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Finally relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderella, Ella could easily begin to lose hope. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother's dying words and to "have courage and be kind." She will not give in to despair nor despise those who abuse her. And then there is the dashing stranger she meets in the woods. Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an employee at the Palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears as if her fortunes may be about to change when the Palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella's hopes of once again encountering the charming "Kit." Alas, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand as a kindly beggar woman steps forward and, armed with a pumpkin and a few mice, changes Cinderella's life forever. [Walt Disney Pictures]


Official site: www.movies.disney.com/cinderella 

RUN ALL NIGHT (B)

The Bottom Line: The age-old adage (that I’m actually I’m making up right now) is that if you’re let down with Liam Neeson’s latest action movie…just wait a month and see if his next one is any better…  On the surface, Run All Night looks like another one of his well-worn retreads where good battles evil and the life of a family member hangs in the balance.  Just under the surface though you’ll find…that that is actually the case – but with a slight twist. The twist, of course, is that this time out he’s actually delivered something pretty entertaining.  All wrapped up, it turns out to be Taken meets A Walk Among the Tombstones with a tinge of Road to Perdition – none of this is a bad thing.  The eye-for-an-eye setup is intriguing and welcomingly propels you through one gritty, bloodthirsty, down-and-dirty, pseudo-noirish, keep-moving-at-all-costs night in the Big Apple.  And both Neeson and Harris add a significant amount of cinematic heft to their roles while they toe the sympathetic hard-line of who has it worst.  You’ll get great acting, solid action and a nice tete-a-tete between these two icons that mimics (in a B-level sorta way) the much deeper and way more powerful Pacino/Deniro let’s-grab-a-cup-of-coffee scene from Heat.  This one, for the movie’s purposes, is still very effective and fun to watch.  This run through the city, however, is not without its fair share of pulled hammies – we’ve seen a lot of this stuff before, the direction could have been tighter and the intensity could have been ratcheted up had the movie truly enveloped a ticking clock scenario throughout.  Still, the movie finds a way to entertain and instead of Taken 4 we get taken for a fairly fun ride.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Common and Vincent D’Onofrio
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop and Unknown)
Rated: R
Running time: 114 minutes
Story: Brooklyn mobster and prolific hit man Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson), once known as “The Gravedigger,” has seen better days. Longtime best friend of mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), Jimmy, now 55, is haunted by the sins of his past—as well as a dogged police detective (Vincent D'Onofrio) who’s been one step behind Jimmy for 30 years. Lately, it seems Jimmy’s only solace can be found at the bottom of a whiskey glass. But when Jimmy’s estranged son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), becomes a target, Jimmy must make a choice between the crime family he chose and the real family he abandoned long ago. With Mike on the run, Jimmy’s only penance for his past mistakes may be to keep his son from the same fate Jimmy is certain he’ll face himself. Now, with nowhere safe to turn, Jimmy just has one night to figure out exactly where his loyalties lie and to see if he can finally make things right.


Official site: www.runallnightmovie.com

Friday, March 6, 2015

CHAPPiE (C+)

The Bottom Line: Short Circuit meets Robocop in this visually bombastic, narratively schizophrenic flick about a reprogrammed robot fresh-mindedly learning about the societal scrapheap around him via his ‘adoptive’ Johannesburg, hip hop gang-banger parents. Yes, everything you just read there is true – I’m assuming you’re either in or out at this point.  This is a tale of two movies.  The first half (or first movie; aka the better movie) provides a barrage of goodwill via the endearingly beautiful CG design, intimately human-like movements and provocatively nuanced voice work of the titular character.  Sharlto Copley caringly breathes a great deal of life and childlike wonderment in to the motion-capture of CHAPPiE and it’s fairly wonderful to watch it all unfold.  Additionally, a cartoonishly khaki-clad Jackman effectively chews scenery and our titanium toddler finds a beating heart in a few well played motherly love scenes (that were, admittedly, far superior when I first saw them in Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence). Then the second half shows up and hits like a spade shovel to the head – where warmth and intrigue are jettisoned by an overreliance on unfocused, heavy metal warfare.  It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, but not for the reasons you’d think.  It’s not complicated; it’s just not that interesting.  Bullets fly, characters scuttle, people yell and there’s some ridiculous dialogue that dares to give meaning to all the mayhem.  It doesn’t.  It all comes across as forced, flat and fairly forgettable no matter how many saucepan-depth ideas on coddling, culture and consciousness are hurled in to the mix.  The entire second half wraps us in redundancy and, like the man of tin himself, ends up heartless and hollow.  This movie’s not as bad as many critics are leading you to believe, but you’ll have to dig for the goods – so just remember that with this robot movie…some assembly is definitely required.

Starring: Charlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yolandi Visser, Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp (District 9 and Elysium)
Rated: R (for violence, language and brief nudity)
Running time: 114 minutes
Story: In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force. But now, the people are fighting back. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. As powerful, destructive forces start to see Chappie as a danger to mankind and order, they will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo and ensure that Chappie is the last of his kind. (C) Sony

Official site: www.chappie-movie.com

Thursday, February 26, 2015

FOCUS (B)

The Quick Fix: Finally, Will’s movin’ on up like George and Wheezy…
The Bottom Line: Not long ago, it was Will Smith’s world and we were pretty darn lucky to be living in it (most of the time; Seven Pounds and After Earth, I’m lookin’ at you).  Big budgets, high concepts, good times – a lot of us were more than happy to get jiggy with our freshest of box office princes.  The good news with his latest release is our Will of old – the charismatic charmer, the men-wanna-be-him-ladies-wanna-be-with-him movie star – is back in relatively full force.  Focus may lack some of the depth and organic, free-flow zing of more masterful con-man material (The Sting, Catch Me if You Can, Ocean’s Eleven, Matchstick Men, etc) but it still has a modicum of slyness and works on its own glitzy, chemistry-rich and fast paced terms.  Effectively dropping you in to the whirlwind world of high-profile con-artistry, it’s an efficiently slick and lightheartedly carefree double-cross ride that rarely takes itself to serious.  Seriously, just see it, have fun – it’s not hard to do.  Plus, Smith and the not-at-all ugly and pretty darn talented, Margot Robbie, have a cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow chemistry that fuels the picture to its flimsily farfetched yet still somewhat fulfilling finale.  Although not his best work to date, I’ll gladly take this stylistic fluff over another wild wild mess.

Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, BD Wong and Gerald McRaney
Directed by: John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (Crazy Stupid Love and I Love You Phillip Morris)
Rated: R (for language, some sexual content and brief violence)
Running time: 105 minutes
Story: Nicky (Will Smith) is a seasoned master of misdirection who becomes romantically involved with novice con artist Jess (Margot Robbie). As he’s teaching her the tricks of the trade, she gets too close for comfort and he abruptly breaks it off. Three years later, the former flame—now an accomplished femme fatale—shows up in Buenos Aires in the middle of the high stakes racecar circuit. In the midst of Nicky’s latest, very dangerous scheme, she throws his plans for a loop…and the consummate con man off his game. [Warner Bros.]


Official site: www.focusmovie.com

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2015 OSCAR PICKS

 

It’s Saturday and you don’t have time to read explanations as to why I've made the picks I've made in each category – you need a ballot filled out and you need an Oscar pool win.  I've seen most of the movies represented here (aside from the shorts and the foreign stuff; they tend to not be my bag – whaddaya gonna do; I’m not a complete movie nerd) and have followed all the precursor awards.  For the most part, I know of what I speak or vote. The Best Picture (Birdman v. Boyhood), Best Director (Birdman v. Boyhood) and Best Actor (Redmayne v. Keaton) make for a heated two-horse race…

Keep in mind Birdman was my favorite flick of 2014 and I JUST watched it again last night – still love it – so I’m going strong with the superhero-turned-stage actor story in all three of the aforementioned categories.

Another factor to take in to consideration is the fact that I loathed Boyhood.  If you’re not a critic, carve out a few days and give it watch – you’ll quickly understand why…

Here are my grid picks (click to enlarge). Good luck and Happy Oscaring!