Thursday, September 18, 2014

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (B)

Bottom Line: Jason Bateman anchors an extremely talented cast in this depressingly fluffy yet still somewhat effective family dramedy.  It’s an all too common case of the actors being above the material but still being professional enough to deliver the best product they can…  For a cinematic touchstone, think of THE FAMILY STONE meeting AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY and having that union documented by some of the most average, vanilla-like sitcom writers in Hollywood.  That’s not a terrible thing (I know, it sounds pretty terrible) – yes, it coulda been better – but it never really breaks any new ground.  Someone just died, someone is going through a divorce, someone is in an empty marriage, someone can’t have kids, someone is cheating on someone else, someone will never grow up…  You get the idea.  There’s so much comedic misery under one family roof I’m pretty sure the filmmakers toyed with the idea of adding computer-generated rain clouds over everyone’s head.  With all the negativity swirling about however, this still remains a decently hearted, good natured flick.  It ultimately embraces hope and letting go in time for its surface-level themes on family, parenthood and siblingship to take hold.  Bateman, Fey, Driver, Fonda, Stole, Shepard and Byrne – pro’s that they are – also deliver the requisite amount of laughs to make this a riotous slam dunk for the right audience. 

Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Timothy Olyphant, Rose Byrne and Jane Fonda
Directed by: Shawn Levy (THE INTERNSHIP, REAL STEEL, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, DATE NIGHT and NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 1 & 2)
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio description: Based on the hilarious and poignant best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper.  
(c) Warner Bros

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (B)

Bottom Line: I know the trailers have been selling this like it’s basically TAKEN 3 – but it’s not – and anyone expecting the level of action a TAKEN 3 might deliver will be sorely disappointed…which they fully deserve for even wanting a TAKEN 3 movie in the first place.  Based on the popular series of books from author Lawrence Block, this is a hard-nosed, wearily gritty and deliberately disciplined piece of slow-burn, detective story-noir cinema.  Seemingly the best he’s been in years, Liam Neeson – as an eight years sober, cop-turned-loner detective, confidently shuffles us through a no frills storyline of danger, drugs and grizzly abductions  - a no man’s land of corruption inhabited by kingpins, crypt-keepers and street-living kids.  Light on gun-play and perhaps a tad too long, this is nevertheless an extremely violent and fairly enthralling, character-driven, low-key story that coasts on the always-at-the-ready stoicism of its A-list star.  This isn’t another below average, no brain Neeson action flick – TOMBSTONES digs a little deeper.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens and David Harbour
Directed by: Scott Frank (wrote and directed THE LOOKOUT; wrote DEAD AGAIN, MALICE, GET SHORTY, OUT OF SIGHT, MINORITY REPORT and THE WOLVERINE)
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio description: Based on Lawrence Block's bestselling series of mystery novels, A Walk among the Tombstones stars Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder, an ex-NYPD cop who now works as an unlicensed private investigator operating just outside the law. When Scudder reluctantly agrees to help a heroin trafficker (Dan Stevens) hunt down the men who kidnapped and then brutally murdered his wife, the PI learns that this is not the first time these men have committed this sort of twisted crime...nor will it be the last. Blurring the lines between right and wrong, Scudder races to track the deviants through the backstreets of New York City before they kill again. (C) Universal


THE GUEST (B)

Bottom Line: Purposely throwing back to the low budget, churn-em-and-burn-em slasher flicks of the 80’s, this hilariously (and knowingly) cheesy home invasion B-movie thriller is a breath of fresh, post-summer blockbuster, pre-Oscar season air.  Devilishly serious in its intent and downright quirky in its execution, this bare bones and bonkers thrill ride soars on the charismatic and Bradley Cooper-esque wings of Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey).  Without his involvement, this would have easily played like a lazy and unwarranted DRIVE meets FRIDAY THE 13th meets THE LOST BOYS by way of THE BOURNE IDENTITY wannabe.  He’s gets it and is never afraid to let us in on the joke as well…  Plus, the ham-fisted over-acting, under-written script, thinly plotted twists and super-synthesized soundtrack all gloriously lend themselves to the thick-as-molasses, 80’s action/horror vibe.  It’ll turn some on, it’ll turn others off.  Decisively familiar and still deliciously unique, THE GUEST is a move worth letting in.

Starring: Dan Stevens, Brendan Meyer and Maika Monroe
Directed by: Simon Barrett (YOU’RE NEXT)
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio description: A tense, action-packed and unpredictable film like everything and nothing you've ever seen before. (c) Picturehouse


Official site: www.theguestmovie.com

Friday, September 12, 2014

THE DROP (B)

Bottom Line: This slice of decidedly slow-burn cinema is a the bleakly depressed, working class second cousin to the flash, glitz and grit of, say, a movie like GOODFELLAS. Where the latter continually bobs, weaves and walks confident and cocky in its execution, the scope and setting of THE DROP is happily slouched atop a bar stool – half empty pint in front of it, Giants game on the TV. This is its blissful state of no-rush being. It’s a punch-drunk petty crime caper with little sense of urgency. …and in lieu of a thoroughly compelling storyline (it’s not bad, just familiar), the focus here is primarily on characters. Powder keg shades of Tony Soprano effectively creep into Gandolfini’s (his final film role) tired, glory-day-remembering performance and Tom Hardy is phenomenally riveting as the Brooklyn-raised barkeep that may or may not be smarter than his soft spoken, mumbling, methodically routine character might let on… With a snail pace that may prove tiresome for some, the first two-thirds deliberately lumber along but introduce some thoroughly intriguing, bitterly cold characters – as well as a tension-fueled finale that almost completely makes up for the meandering that proceeded it… A solid entry in to the American mob canon (primarily due to Hardy’s performance), this purposely distant flick is a should-see-at-some-point for lovers of the genre and a must-see-now for fans of great acting.


Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace and Matthais Schoenaerts
Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam (BULLHEAD)
Running time: 106 minutes
Studio description: THE DROP follows lonely bartender Bob Saginowski through a covert scheme of funneling cash to local gangsters - "money drops" in the underworld of Brooklyn bars. Under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv, Bob finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood's past. (C) Fox Searchlight

Official site: www.foxsearchlight.com/thedrop

Friday, August 15, 2014

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (B)


Bottom Line: I get what Stallone has been trying to do with this franchise – bring in a crew of well-known actors, character artists, cinema strongmen – turn on the camera, blow stuff up and the story will virtually write itself.  His efforts have been hit or miss (mostly miss) the past two outings – so no reason to think this would be any more enjoyable, right?  That’s what I thought until Sly himself wrapped my brain around a well written and surprisingly enjoyable little action flick that pits Rambo, Indiana Jones, Blade, The Terminator, Zorro and Frasier Crane (?!) against one particularly snarly William Wallace/Martin Riggs.  They got my attention, and along the way delivered a boots-to-the-ground, kick-to-the-pants, testosterone-powered adventure that (for the most part) had me (shockingly) smiling from ear-to-ear for the better part of two-hours.  Playing out like some maniacally insane, moderately gritty, gung-ho inbred offspring of a BLACK HAWK DOWN and powerless AVENGERS love tryst, this make-war-not-love, summer season bookender fires heavily on most of its geriatricly roided-out cylinders.  The edge may have been softened considerably with the removal of blood (to easily warrant a more consumer friendly, PG-13 rating) and the middle might droop with a little too much time focused on the recruitment of fresh-faced, newbies – but this movie still finds an agreeable groove and hums along at a brisk pace.  Agile and efficient, this is an energetically action-packed, cheerfully gut-busting, stoically gun-toting cavalcade of action stars doing what they do best.  THE EXPENDABLES 3 is a brilliantly and ballistically buffoonish blast that should leave you begging for 4.
 
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz and Kelsey Grammer
Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Running time: 126 minutes
Studio description: In THE EXPENDABLES 3, Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the team come face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney. Stonebanks subsequently became a ruthless arms trader and someone who Barney was forced to kill... or so he thought. Stonebanks, who eluded death once before, now is making it his mission to end The Expendables -- but Barney has other plans. Barney decides that he has to fight old blood with new blood, and brings in a new era of Expendables team members, recruiting individuals who are younger, faster and more tech-savvy. The latest mission becomes a clash of classic old-school style versus high-tech expertise in the Expendables' most personal battle yet. (C) Lionsgate
 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (B-/A+/B/A+)


Bottom Line: Negative reviews for this updated reboot should be a dime a dozen this weekend – awkwardly misguided attempts for subtitle-loving, art-house pandering know-it-all’s to cool you on a movie you’re not even excited to see in the first place.  Granted, a portion of their pan might actually be legitimate…  They’re sure to mention the lack of a compelling story, the hurried atmosphere and paper-thin world building.  Some might even spend too much time on the not-at-all-ugly Megan Fox and her inability to move her career in an upward – or even forward – direction (I’m pretty sure Turtles is a step or two back from Transformers right?  Right?!).  There’ll most definitely be talk of the movie’s tone; quite literally moving like the tortoise as well as the hare - bouncing from light-hearted moments to deadly serious situations with all the grace of a parental-basement-living, Comic-con obsessed, 32-year old trying to teach an actual turtle the traditional art of nunchuckary.  Spoiler alert!  This movie has a few issues.  But overshadowing all the inevitable critic hate is the fact that this movie is inherently built not for them, but for fathers and their young sons (#TargetAudience) or even someone with an open mind…  In that regard – in that context – it actually makes for an easily digestible, fairly entertaining time at the movies!  This slightly tweaked origin story of the heroes in a half shell brings quite a bit of explosive action, plenty of laughs and should saddle you with a pleasantly surprising it-was-actually-kinda-fun vibe.  And to top it all off, we’re treated to first rate special effects that supremely individualize each of the four shell dwellers and bring them to wisecracking, bone crunching life.  You can waste your breath nitpicking, or you can spend quality time with your mini-you (or by yourself) and experience the same kind of joy that once overtook you when you were that age.  The boys absolutely loved it, each throwing an A+ its way before the credits started to roll.  My buddy, the dad, was as shocked and impressed as I was…  Not blown away because we both saw the delightfully wacky and much more fulfilling GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (A-) a few days prior, but definitely impressed.  Energetic and entertaining – for the right audience, you’re assured one SHELL of a good time!  …and yes, I just went there…
 
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett and William Fichtner
Directed by: Johnathan Liebesman (WRATH OF THE TITANS and BATTLE: LOS ANGELES)
Running time: 101 minutes
Studio description: The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles must work with fearless reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) and her wise-cracking cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) to save the city and unravel Shredder's diabolical plan. (C) Paramount
 

INTO THE STORM (D)


Bottom Line: In what can only be described as an unintentional effort to make 1996’s TWISTER look Shakespearean by comparison, this natural disaster flick (that nobody asked for) twists and shouts its way to theaters. If you like natural disaster flicks, then wait about 30 minutes after it starts because that time is carelessly earmarked for introductions to a handful of characters we’ll forget about the second they’re not on screen.  People we hope to never see again.  The filmmakers want you invested in this community but seemed oblivious to the need of investing in a competent screenwriter.  Yes, there are impressive, digitally designed tornadoes and chaos, but people also speak – and that’s when the most damage is done…  The overboard special effects may impress at times but the direction is second rate, the writing is lazy and the story as a whole ultimately does a disservice to people who have actually had to endure such a horrific tragedy (last scene of the movie, you’ll see what I mean – but hopefully you won’t).  And as if this all wasn’t enough, the studio decided that their hopes for a summer blockbuster behemoth were best rested on the shoulders of a virtually talent-free, junior high level-like squad of thespians.  Seriously, if I didn’t know better, I’d say this is one of the best comedies of the year.  It may be good for a few unintentional laughs and some whiz-bang special effects, but it’s flat, dull and thoroughly unengaging.  Don’t go INTO THE STORM this weekend, go into another theater – preferably one showing something that’s worth your time and money.  Not at all in the way intended, this BOREnado flick pretty much sucks...and blows.
 
Starring: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies and Matt Walsh
Directed by: Steven Quale (FINAL DESTINATION 5)
Running time: 89 minutes
Studio description: In the span of a single day, the town of Silverton is ravaged by an unprecedented onslaught of tornadoes. The entire town is at the mercy of the erratic and deadly cyclones, even as storm trackers predict the worst is yet to come. Most people seek shelter, while others run towards the vortex, testing how far a storm chaser will go for that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Told through the eyes and lenses of professional storm chasers, thrill-seeking amateurs, and courageous townspeople, "Into the Storm" throws you directly into the eye of the storm to experience Mother Nature at her most extreme. (C) Warner Bros
 
Official site: www.intothestormmovie.com

Thursday, July 31, 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (A-)


Bottom Line: If STAR WARS was considered a space opera, then this free wheelin’ flick – delivered riotously with a mindfully reckless abandon – is a joyfully smarmy, breezily charismatic and intergallactically goofy fantasy space jam session.  You’ll definitely feel the force of that aforementioned classic (among others like the latest STAR TREK reboot, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, MEN IN BLACK, SERENITY, et al)  – an evil empire, bounty hunters, aliens…you know, spaceships and stuff…  GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY respectfully embraces those films and manages to create a universe that’s welcoming and uniquely its own.  …and if it’s super hits of the 70’s, awesome mix tape, damn-I-love-this-song soundtrack doesn’t win you over (I feel sorry for you if it doesn’t), then it’s perfectly cast band of rabble-rousers will – with Pratt and Cooper (as the gun totting, talking ‘raccoon’) delivering the bantha’s share of jokes and general wise-assery.  It’s a great cast, and they’re all clearly having a frat-like, kegger-fueled, star blazing blast!  The story itself is fairly wafer thin and yet still convoluted (some guy wants to rule the galaxy, some other people wanna stop him), but that’s not the point.  This is a character and action driven piece that demands to be seen on the big screen…  The rowdiness may be lightly woven in to the fabric of THE AVENGERS universe, but this is largely a ‘superhero’-free affair.  No hammers, no shields, no suits of iron.  It’ll all come crashing together someday – so sit back, buckle in and enjoy this really fun first course.  Aside from a few sporadic curse words that are almost entirely lost amidst the mayhem, this is a perfect family flick built on heart, trust, honor, friendship and a whole lotta butt kicking!  Go see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY today and get hooked on the feeling that this just might be the most fun you’ll have at the theater all year!
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, David Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Kren Gillan, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Djimon Hounsou and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel
Directed by: James Gunn (SUPER and SLITHER)
Running time: 121 minutes
Studio description: From Marvel, the studio that brought you the global blockbuster franchises of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, comes a new team-the Guardians of the Galaxy. An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits-Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand-with the galaxy's fate in the balance. (C) Walt Disney

Official site: www.marvel.com/guardians

Thursday, July 24, 2014

HERCULES (C+)


Bottom Line: Confident in its muscle-bound ability to entertain without (unfortunately) breaking new ground, HERCULES is an under-promise, over-deliver kind of flick…  It’s a mindless, popcorn munching, mythological mosh pit of sweaty action, occasional self-awareness and loads of cheese.  For months, this has been my least anticipated movie of the summer – maybe the year – but with a stoically cast Johnson, a solidly placed supporting squad and a few interesting twists-on-the-myth it manages, for the most part again, to shoulder that boulder of negativity.  The story may be a bit too thin and it’ll never fully live up to its God-like moniker, but it still possesses serviceable PG-level battles, a fittingly flighty B-movie script and a self-deprecating slyness that makes it worth a trip to the matinee.  The trailers should have done an adequate job of lowering your expectations – keep ‘em there and you just might walk out pleasantly surprised.  This movie never truly rocks, but it sure as heck rolls right along…
 
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Joseph Fiennes, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt and Ian McShane
Directed by: Brett Ratner (RUSH HOUR 1, 2, 3, RED DRAGON, TOWER HEIST, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and THE FAMILY MAN)
Running time: 120 minutes
Studio description: Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures' film HERCULES, starring Dwayne Johnson, bows on July 25th. Based on Radical Comics' Hercules by Steve Moore, this ensemble-action film is a revisionist take on the classic myth, HERCULES. The epic action film also stars Golden Globe Winner Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan and Academy Award (R)-nominee John Hurt. (C) Paramount
 
Official site: www.mightyhercules.com

 

LUCY (D)


Bottom Line: Boldly claiming that we only use 10% of our brain, this sporadically rambunctious and emotionally distant flick begs to ask whether the people who made it had access to even that much…  Aside from an intriguing start and boldly time-warping, creation-of-the-universe third act, this tale of a party-girl-turned-power-grid is mostly an incoherent and disjointed mess throughout the middle.  It’s just not that exciting or awe-inspiring – and Johansson (only decent here, not her fault) is an emotionless, head-twitching, blank-starred, all-absorbing, goofily powered, super computer under the skin.  It’s an uninterestingly clichéd game of Taiwanese gangster cat and drug-fueled, nothing-can-stop-her mouse.  There’s no sense of direction, no establishment of universe and absolutely no tension. At just under 90 minutes, it’s fairly easy to play along.  There’s some briskness, some brawn and a whole lotta bloat.  And the ‘creativity’ is cobbled from better movies like THE MATRIX, LIMITLESS, THE BOURNE IDENTITY, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and THE TREE OF LIFE.  …one of the main things keeping this patch-worked ship from a modestly smooth sail is its anchor-like apt comparison to Johnny Depp’s dreadfully dull, what-exactly-is-the-human-mind-capable-of TRASCENDENCE.  Ironically, everything here plays out like the over-amped, chocolate conveyor belt from Lucille Ball’s 1952 sitcom (‘Job Switching’; season 2, episode 1) – there’s a few delicious bites at first, but in order to just keep up you shove it all in and you spit it all out.  I (did not) love LUCY.
 
Starring: Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Luc Besson (LA FEMME NIKITA, LEON THE PROFESSIONAL and THE FIFTH ELEMENT
Running time: 89 minutes
Studio description: From La Femme Nikita and The Professional to The Fifth Element, writer/director Luc Besson has created some of the toughest, most memorable female action heroes in cinematic history. Now, Besson directs Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, an action-thriller that tracks a woman accidentally caught in a dark deal who turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic. (C) Universal
 
Official site: www.lucymovie.com