Friday, August 21, 2015

AMERICAN ULTRA (C-)


Jason Bourne meets Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski (aka: The Bourne HIGHdentity).  In concept, this seems like a terrific hybrid pairing of genres.  In execution, however, American Ultra is a slack lazy attempt to simultaneously make audiences laugh galore and squirm by gore.  It’s a Frankenstein-ian patchwork of granularly geek-tastic notebook doodles.  Ideas that seemingly popped in to the filmmaker’s head while, hopefully, under the influence of reefer madness.  There are some laughs, a few modestly intriguing concepts and a couple of not-so-obnoxious lead performances – but that all quickly caves under the girth of an overbearing action premise that loses its way in a cannabis-induced haze of misdirection and obnoxiously meandering shifts in tone.  It’s funny then it’s not, it sweet, then its super violent.  It’s as if this paranoia-laced premise was designed to simply impress the people that made it…  American Ultra is absolutely in love with how creatively out-of-the-box it thinks it is.  It’s not a bad movie – occasionally the quirk works – I just gave up on giving a damn.  Not unlike Eisenberg’s slack-jawed slacker, the movie feels riddled with anxiety about what it is and what it wants to be…  After the blood-splattered Cheeto dust settles, you’ll find you have the munchies for a much better movie.  I’d puff-puff-pass on this one…
 
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Tony Hale, John Leguizamo, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins and Bill Pullman
Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh (PROJECT X)
Rated: R
Running time: 1hr. 39min.
Story: American Ultra is a fast-paced action comedy about Mike (Eisenberg), a seemingly hapless and unmotivated stoner whose small-town life with his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe (Stewart), is suddenly turned upside down. Unbeknownst to him, Mike is actually a highly trained, lethal sleeper agent. In the blink of an eye, as his secret past comes back to haunt him, Mike is thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation and is forced to summon his inner action-hero in order to survive. (C) Lionsgate
 
Official site: www.americanultrathemovie.com

Friday, August 14, 2015

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (B+)

Witness the strength and influence of street knowledge in director F. Gary Gray’s near-masterful and fascinatingly raw depiction of N.W.A. and their meteoric and legacy-leaving rise to stardom.  A pulse-pounding, thought-provoking and head-bopping origin story, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON tells an intricately and compellingly woven tale of forged friendships, brotherly bonds, societal acceptance and freedom of speech – all with heart, humor and great deal of hubris.  Minor setbacks here include some clich├ęd melodrama (which is inherent to the biopic genre in general) – as well as glossing the protagonists as a relatively clean-nosed band of brothers that only held a mirror to their surroundings, put pen to paper and dropped some sick beats…  Their explicit lyrics lead me to believe otherwise (perhaps wrongly, perhaps I’m outta line).  Outside of those minor issues, this is a perfectly cast (like seriously, this relatively unknown cast is superb), tightly directed, engagingly written piece of controversial, must-see cinema.  This is not a movie to be watched, it’s a movie to be experienced.  You may not agree with their explicit, demeaning and extremely violent approach, but there’s no denying its potent relevancy in the 80’s, 90’s and even today.

Starring: O’shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr and Paul Giamatti
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (FRIDAY, THE NEGOTIATOR and THE ITALIAN JOB)
Rated: R
Running time: 2hrs. 27min.
Story: In the mid-1980s, the streets of Compton, California, were some of the most dangerous in the country. When five young men translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. Following the meteoric rise and fall of N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton tells the astonishing story of how these youngsters revolutionized music and pop culture forever the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war. -- (C) Universal Pictures

Saturday, August 8, 2015

FANTASTIC FOUR (D-)

This cosmically clunky and laboriously lunk-headed attempt to ride the outer rim coattails of the Marvel Universe is a dull, dreary and virtually action-free affair.  It’s so bad, in fact, I found myself longing – well, maybe not longing – for the cheesy idiocy of the 2005/2007 Jessica Alba/Chris Evans versions.  Those movies may have also sucked, but at least they celebrated familial bonds, made sophomoric sense and moved forward with a goofily misguided and child-like charm.  Mostly.  This reboot is an incohesive, nonsensical, criminally underwritten and lazily directed movie that has almost no reason to exist…because nothing ever really happens.  It’s a half-baked, slipshod effort to repackage a popular-in-paper-form superhero property and shove it down the audiences’ collective throats.  You want fries with that?!  Here’s more garbage to force down the other garbage you just consumed…  A few interesting ideas regarding the militarization of superheroes may exist, but those moments are fleeting and disappear quicker than a single fast-food napkin through the open window of a freeway bound car. Plus, the one scene that shows a glimmer of gloomy hope turns out to be way too violent and bloody to mesh with all that came before and after it -- It was the first thing my 8-year old mentioned as we left the theater (and it should be noted that he loves everything, but didn't care for this at all).  Ultimately, we’re given nothing more than a talented group of young actors walking directionless through a field of upturned rake heads – where at every turn they’re thwacked in the knees, face and/or groin by handles of pointless dialogue, dull science and quizzical scenarios that all, literally, lead to planet zero.  With all this said, you could still do worse – you could fall through an uncovered manhole on your way to the theater.  Or wait, that might actually be a good thing…  The jury’s still out on that, but I’ll gladly sustain that the Fantastic Four is a flat, rhythmless and convoluted mess that lacks a general sense of wonder and possesses no desire to engage.  It’s a fantastic bore.

Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell
Directed by: Josh Trank (CHONICLE)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 46min.
Story: This contemporary re-imagining of Marvel's original and longest-running superhero team, centers on four young outsiders who teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe, which alters their physical form in shocking ways. Their lives irrevocably upended, the team must learn to harness their daunting new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy. (C) Fox

Official site: www.fantasticfourmovie.com

Friday, July 31, 2015

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION (A-)

With a dash of the subtle heist mentality of the original, some of the showy recklessness of II, a touch of the political and personal intrigue of III and the go-for-broke, adrenaline-soaked action of Ghost Protocol (the fourth and still my favorite) this outing plays like a fuse-lit, cinematic love child.  A blockbuster that dutifully tips its hat to some of the elements that made this series tick, while embracing a richly detailed, globe hopping plot that’s densely reminiscent of recent James Bondian fare.  Its action is stylistically slick, its humor relaxingly disarming and its suspense boils over with all the fervor of an unwatched, $150 million-budgeted pot.  You’re on an efficient and effortlessly exciting ride for your life!  The story occasionally dabbles in convolutions – with, what seems like, five cats chasing seven mice looking for three pieces of cheese – but director Christopher McQuarrie conquers most of the math, tightly spins his plates and keeps much of the tension masterfully balanced with each and every fighting gasp for air.  With Cruise’s mega-watt charisma firmly in play and comfortably snug performances from Pegg, Rhames, Renner and Baldwin – the floor is open for relative newcomer, Rebecca Ferguson, to ignite the screen with a meaty, front-and-center, she-hero-in-the-making role (think Charlize Theron in this year’s Mad Max movie) that toes the line of making this the franchises’ Fury Rogue.  One of the best blockbusters of the summer, this is easily another Cruise and Co. mission worth accepting!

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson and Alex Baldwin
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie (JACK REACHER and THE WAY OF THE GUN)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2hr. 12min.
Story: With the IMF disbanded, and Ethan Hunt out in the cold, the team now faces off against a network of highly skilled special agents, the Syndicate. These highly trained operatives are hellbent on creating a new world order through an escalating series of terrorist attacks. Ethan gathers his team and joins forces with disavowed British agent Ilsa Faust, who may or may not be a member of this rogue nation, as the group faces their most impossible mission yet.
Official site: www.missionimpossible.com

Thursday, July 30, 2015

VACATION (B)



With nothing sacred these days, it should come as no surprise that a sequel/remake of the 1983 National Lampoon classic is being released this week.  Perhaps, like me, you shook your head… This is another flick (like last week’s Pixels) that’s getting trashed by critics – and this is yet another time where most of the critics have it all wrong.  Vacation is a goofily good-natured and foul-mouthed family adventure that never surpasses the 1983 original, but still has a crass-laden blast all its own…  It’s a fast-paced, crude, over-the-top, ridiculous series of cross-country pitfalls, pratfalls and pitstops that delivers tremendous laughter from start to finish.  Granted, you may not feel great for laughing at some of this stuff – but laugh you will.  We could all use a little low-hanging laughter with heart every now and then.  This movie delivers just that – and to all the critics who hated Vacation – you’re trippin’.
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth
Rated: R
Running time: 1hr. 39min.
Story: Following in his father’s footsteps and hoping for some much-needed family bonding, a grown-up Rusty Griswold surprises his wife and their two sons with a cross-country trip back to America’s “favorite family fun park,” Walley World.
Official site: www.vacationthemovie.com