Friday, September 9, 2016

SULLY (B)

Unpadded, unpretentious and unpandering, SULLY is a brisk and oddly- structured procedural focused on heroism, human instinct and harnessing the power to do your job under any circumstance.  Eastwood’s ping-pong structure may occasionally feel like he’s pulling numbered balls from a steel cage on game night at the old folk’s home but his brevity and occasional deft touches are admirable.  The whole is presented in a workman-like, matter-of-fact, bullet point fashion that’s fit to inform.  Its Hanks though who subtly sticks the landing as the titular character battling insecurities, second guesses and a devil of a 24-hour news cycle… More compelling than it is entertaining, this intimate glimpse of a man trapped by the hand of human instinct is still well worth the fare.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 26min.
Story:
Tom Hanks stars in this thrilling portrait of heroic airline pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, re-enacting his incredible successful emergency landing of an Airbus A320 full of passengers on the Hudson River.
Website: www.sully-movie.com

Friday, September 2, 2016

MORGAN (C+)

MORGAN is a genetic modification morality play that dabbles in an array of exciting genres (sci-fi, action, horror, thriller, drama) but ultimately drops the rock when it comes to making us really care about any of them…  Anyone can throw a few balls in the air – but it’s the juggling that makes things interesting.  This is an emotionally distant, surface-level, cold-hearted, arthouse action flick that raises a few noteworthy questions regarding man’s God-like reach vs. grasp – but never possesses the guts or know-how to adequately explore its inherently intriguing themes.  While its pace and tone remain applaudingly hypnotic and its female-focused leads shine on the acting front, this muddled sci-fi hybrid still finds a way to forge on with the marble-minded grace and perspirative perseverance of George McFly in search of a date to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.  Density, unfortunately, is not the only issue at hand here.  Still, with all its clunky misgivings, there’s enough tension-riddled juice at the core to place it at a just-above-average recommendation for the right audience.  Serviceable but shallow…and ultimately extremely forgettable, MORGAN plays better than it should based solely on its lack of early September competition and the lackluster summer that proceeded it.  It’s HER meets EX MACHINA meets BLADE RUNNER by way of THE TERMINATOR…  And what might make a decent watch for some, will bore others to tears.  Once is fine but it’s also enough.  Here’s hoping that MORGAN won’t be back.

Starring: Kate Mara, Anya-Taylor Joy, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Boyd Holbrook, Michelle Yeoh and Paul Giamatti
Directed by: Luke Scott
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr. 32min.
Story:
A corporate troubleshooter is sent to a remote, top-secret location, where she is to investigate and evaluate a terrifying accident. She learns the event was triggered by a seemingly innocent "human," who presents a mystery of both infinite promise and incalculable danger.
Website: www.foxmovies.com/movies/morgan

Thursday, August 11, 2016

PETE'S DRAGON (A-)

The BFD.  Disney once again comes up aces on their 2016 double-down, live-action remake campaign – turning PETE’S DRAGON in to the nostalgically tender ying to THE JUNGLE BOOK’s engagingly energetic yang.  It’s a brilliantly envisioned, wooded world of friendship, family and fun that benefits greatly from its genuinely heartfelt small town charm.  Subtle and substantial in all the right places, this boy-meets-dragon flick soars with some of the best of the year.  It’ll pull on your heart strings, tickle your funny bone and make you believe.  My family loved it and yours will too (my wife and I may or may not have shed a few tears.  May. It’s totally may – I wept like a baby.  There…happy?!).  This latest iteration of PETE’S DRAGON may stray from the song-heavy, cartoon dragon formula of the late 70’s original, but like that movie to you, this is sure to be a beloved classic your children will hold on to for years…

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Karl Urban, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence and Wes Bentley
Directed by: David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints)
Rated: PG
Running time: 1hr. 30min.
Story: A reimagining of Disney's cherished family film.

HELL OR HIGH WATER (A-)

A soon-to-become-familiar-face come Oscar nomination time, this dire straits dust bowl crime thriller brims with all sorts of mosey-along, modern day western machismo.  On top of its brilliantly hypnotic cinematography and intelligently searing dialogue, it boasts three brilliantly entrenched performances from Pine, Foster and Bridges – the latter of which will most definitely get nomination nods come awards season.  The West Texas atmosphere may be vast but this is an intimately told tale of brotherhood, justice and doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons…  Sporadically balanced with touches of violence and humor, this tense, cold-blooded character study ambles along with a confidently deft and wily fight-the-power charisma unique unto itself.  A grimy and unhinged snake in the boot to the mediocre summer movies that proceeded it, this is a 2016 high water mark for intriguingly grown up and original cinema.  A must see in every sense of the term.

Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Rated: R
Running time: 1hr. 42min.
Story: Texas brothers come together to rob branches of the bank threatening to foreclose on their family land. For them, the hold-ups are just part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that seemed to have been stolen from under them. Justice seems to be theirs, until they find themselves on the radar of Texas Ranger, Marcus looking for one last grand pursuit on the eve of his retirement.
Website: www.hellorhighwater.movie/#home

Friday, August 5, 2016

SUICIDE SQUAD (D)

Like a delicious looking pie manically shoved in your face or the sly, mid-sniff sting of acid from a phony lapel flower, this once hopeful savior to our sub-par summer of action is a spastically empty, chaotically obnoxious gesture of cinema.  It’s a looks-good-on-paper concept that lacks the balls-of-brass mentality or the keenly creative energy to be a welcomed outside-the-box bad boy.  Flat, forced and flailing to connect at almost every misguided turn (aside from, say, the initial 11-minute set-up), this flick could have possessed the galaxial giddiness of Guardians of the Galaxy or the deviant delightfulness of Deadpool...  Instead, it flops and flounders to find a suitable foothold in overly familiar men-in-tights territory.  So, the moment it stands up and misguidedly exclaims it’s the coolest kid in class is the exact time it becomes precisely not that thing.  It’s a rudderless vessel with nothing particularly interesting to say…  Aside from charismatically playful performances from both Robbie and Smith (and a Scarface-ian, semi-intriguing yet all-too-brief turn from Leto as the green-haired Clown Prince of Chaos), this belligerent bunch of baddies is almost exclusively gaudy eye-gouging style in lieu of sobering substance.  It’s a sloppily hyper-violent, forcefully underwritten, erratically edited and misogynistically mismanaged two-hour music video packed with aimless gunplay and zero tension.  It has roughly the sense of urgency as a snail would searching for salt. The enticing trailer held tons of promise but the proof is ultimately in the puddin’…  Sadly, I think the joke was on us.

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne and Jai Courtney
Directed by: David Ayer (END OF WATCH, FURY and TRAINING DAY)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 40mins.
Story: A group of super-villains who are given a shot at redemption by embarking on a heroic mission that will most likely mean the death of them all…

Website: www.suicidesquad.com

Thursday, July 28, 2016

JASON BOURNE (C+)

The Bourne Complacency.  As an avid fan of the original trilogy, color me supremely unimpressed at this nine-years-later dive back in to the memory loss mania of one Jason Bourne.  This time out, we’re pummeled with a newly-tangled web of globe-hopping, politically-charged, cyber-conspiratorial shenanigans.  And although the film boasts a bit of as-expected action and cat-and-mouse urgency, the mission at hand is convoluted and tedious only for the sake – it would appear – of being convoluted and tedious.  Aside from solid turns from Damon, Jones, Vikander and crew, there’s no emotional or intriguing point to jump in and effortlessly enjoy the ride.  This is a fairly uninspired spoon-fed throwback to better days of yore.  Rest assured, there’s plenty of running, walking, punching, running, typing, walking, falling, running, kicking, walking, typing, walking, running and so on – but it’s lost at the cost of a compelling story or a single reason to care.  Ironically, for a series known for spectacular car chase sequences, the ‘show stopper’ here feels forced and gratuitous, as if director Paul Greengrass checked his watch at the one-hour forty-minute mark and said, ‘Oh shit. We need a car chase in here before this thing ends’.  They got their car chase, but it’s a loudly monotonous, dulled-down, spacially-confined, mad dash experience – nothing more.  Although it plays like a meandering greatest hits album (with its fair share of misses), this latest Bourne installment will still sporadically entertain – it’s not the embarrassingly mismanaged spy spectacle that was last year’s Spectre (James Bond).  The drop in this JB’s quality, however, will leave you both shaken, stirred and hoping for a mild dose of amnesia to set it in quick.

Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander and Julia Stiles
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2hrs. 3mins.
Story: Years after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, former CIA assassin Jason Bourne resurfaces just as his former employers are implementing a new program aimed at hunting him down.

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