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

THE WATER DIVINER (B)

The Bottom Line: Part war film, part romance and part family reconciliation, Russell Crowe pulls double duty as both director and actor in this intriguingly graceful flick about love, loss, hope, grief and closure.  Although his freshman attempt at the helm may get clunky from time to time – nothing to jarring for general audiences, mind you – he still managed to deliver a gorgeously filmed (Australia and Turkey are the two main backdrops here) and competently effective flick about family.  Epic in scale, with a decidedly old fashioned flair – very little is out of place, over the top or in your face.  Every character evolution has depth and each scene is given time to unfold to its touching, brutal or even comical conclusion.  Crowe, as expected, does a marvelous job on the acting front as a purpose-driven man dealing with heartbreak and desperation.  His performance is as sincere and soft-hearted as it is stoic.  There are a few awkward directorial choices (uncomfortable close-ups and camera angles), a couple of meandering narrative hiccups and a heart that could have pounded louder for loved ones both lost and found…  But in the end, I was indeed entertained and full credit goes to Russell Crowe for working both sides of the camera to (almost) full effect.

BTMG side recommendation: As this movie deals with the 5-years hence aftermath of World War I’s Gallipoli Campaign, I highly recommend – at some point – checking out Peter Weir’s masterful Gallipoli (1981) starring Mel Gibson.

Starring: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney and Yilmaz Erdogan
Directed by: Russell Crowe
Rated: R
Running time: 111 minutes
Story: In 1919, Australian farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) goes in search of his three missing sons, last known to have fought against the Turks in the bloody Battle of Gallipoli. Arriving in Istanbul, he is thrust into a vastly different world, where he encounters others who have suffered their own losses in the conflict: Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), a strikingly beautiful but guarded hotelier raising a child alone; her young, spirited son, Orhan (Dylan Georgiades), who finds a friend in Connor; and Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdo?an), a Turkish officer who fought against Connor’s boys and who may be this father’s only hope. With seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his path, Connor must travel across the battle-scarred Turkish landscape to find the truth and his own peace.
Official site: www.thewaterdiviner.com

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