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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

THE SHALLOWS (B)


Loosely employing an amalgamated hodge-podge of the summer movies and genres that directly proceeded it – The Conjuring (horror), Captain America (superheroes), Finding Dory (fish and stuff) – the not-wholly-unattractive Blake Lively takes a plunge with a great white appetite for destruction…  THE SHALLOWS is a hypnotically well made, pulse-pounding, nerve-wracking, survivalist, B-movie thrill ride.  A brisk, low-budget, female-centric respite from the larger pot-clanging movie boys of summer, it’s a film that (by its own titled admission) doesn’t have much story to tell: Girls goes surfing, girl gets bullied by shark, girl must fight to not be dinner.  Simple as that.  Not unlike a space obstacle-dodging Sandra Bullock, Lively delivers a fully engaging performance with equal parts fear and resolve.  Seriously, considering the trimmed down narrative and character attire she emerges as a strong, semi-layered character and not just a slab of blonde meat (well, to the shark she’s still just a slab of blonde meat).  And all of this grizzled simplicity plays out with top notch special effects and a complimentary tone that asks us to cautiously explore what we might do given the same nightmarish situations.  Plus it’s only 87 minutes so come on…  It may lack any sense of true depth, but THE SHALLOWS is still an efficiently chilling and effectively cheesy deep sea Gravity.

Starring: Blake Lively 
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (RUN ALL NIGHT, UNKNOWN and NON-STOP)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 27min.
Story: When Nancy goes surfing on a secluded beach, she finds herself on the feeding ground of a great white shark. Though she is stranded only 200 yards from shore, survival proves to be the ultimate test of wills, requiring all of Nancy's ingenuity, resourcefulness, and fortitude.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

FINDING DORY (B+)

Swimming in the near identical waters as its masterful 2003 predecessor, this no-less-effective-in-the-fun-department follow-up proves to be another winning entry in the Pixar Animation canon.  A deep sea adventure film fit for feisty children, fussy adults and every single person in between.  Again, as the title clearly, suggests, this is a search and (hopefully) rescue flick that follows the loyally marble-minded Dory as she engages in an ocean-spanning quest for home – wherever the heck that may be…  It touches on familiar themes surrounding friends and family, but also ventures into accessible depths of memory loss and the ability to surface and thrive when a disability might be pulling you down.  Additionally, we’re introduced to some wonderfully hilarious and no-less helpful characters along this near-epic journey.  As we’ve come to expect from Pixar (but don’t always necessarily receive), the visuals, score, dialogue, direction, voice casting and meticulous attention to detail are all first rate – definitely something that needs to be seen in IMAX 3D on the largest screen possible.  A testament to Pixar’s exemplary efforts in animation and storytelling, this little pearl is a vivid, lush and huggable ride that’s only kept from A-territory due to its similarity in story.  Both heartfelt and humorous, Finding Dory is a delightful dip in familiar waters that’s sure to delight the masses!

Starring the voices of: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba and Diane Keaton
Directed by: Andrew Stanton (FINDING NEMO, TOY STORY 1-3 and JOHN CARTER) and Angus MacLane
Rated: PG
Running time: 1hr. 40min.
Story:
Finding Dory reunites the friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the true meaning of family along the way…
Website: www.disney.com/finding-dory