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

Friday, June 17, 2016

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (B-)

Riddled with as many clichés as it is bullets, this narrow-minded actioner has exactly one intelligent thing working in its favor – the brilliant pairing of Johnson and Hart.  These two lively actors – at opposing ends of the male specimen spectrum – play, to some extent, against type and prove that in the right hands even you’re-too-big/you’re-too-little, low-hanging fruit comedy can become gold.  Somewhere, in the shallow waters of the script, lies a trite tale of a CIA operative trying to save the word days before his 20 year high school reunion and…  You know what?  Who cares?!  Usually in the absence of solid storytelling I’d wage an adjective-laden assault on a film – my very own D- or even F-Day, if you will.  The effortless charm and winning chemistry between these two, however, is just too hard to dismiss.  Johnson brings a nice dose of sympathy to his goofily gung-ho, awkwardly obsessed character while Hart finds tremendous success dialing back his yippy, in-your-face antics from a shrilling ten to a toeing-the-line yet nicely balanced seven (a seven that seems to fit his character’s prissily uptight accountant like a glove).  Additionally, you’ll more than likely delight in a few high-profile, highly effective cameos.  Putting the depthless and drowsy spy vs. spy vs. spy shenanigans aside (which I don’t usually do), it’s nearly impossible not to share a myriad of laughs while giving this one a sit.  Might be a good weekend to wedge yourself between a Rock and Hart place.

Starring: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber (DODGEBALL and WE’RE THE MILLERS)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 54min.
Story: The story follows a one-time bullied geek, Bob, who grew up to be a lethal CIA agent, coming home for his high school reunion. Claiming to be on a top-secret case, he enlists the help of former "big man on campus," Calvin, now an accountant who misses his glory days. But before the staid numbers-cruncher realizes what he's getting into, it's too late to get out, as his increasingly unpredictable new friend drags him through a world of shoot-outs, double-crosses and espionage that could get them both killed in more ways than Calvin can count.
Website: www.centralintelligencemovie.com

Friday, June 10, 2016

WARCRAFT (C+)

Certain to unite parent’s basement-dwelling gamers and code-crunching crackpots the world over, this Lord of the Rings-meets-Avatar-by way of-Braveheart hodgepodge brazenly bumbles its way to the big screen with oafishly misguided self-delight.  Based on the 1994 online, multiplayer, adventure game and its many iterations (that I’ve never played), it’s sure to please a majority of its rabid, built-in fan base – despite It’s many critical detractors (seriously, most critics hate it) having their way with it like a puncture-wounded and broomstick bruised cinematic piñata.   To be fair, it is a somewhat shallow, occasionally cheesy and often manufacturedly-muddled mythological mess – overstuffed with lethargic lore in an unveiled attempt to create some type of fan boy-drooling franchise. All that aside – which admittedly is hard to put aside – I found myself somewhat intrigued by a few of the performances, the epic battles, the thunderous score and it’s dazzlingly life-like special effects.  That stuff worked for me more often than not, but I can see it totally not working for others.  …and by the end, with an obvious set-up for part two hanging in the balance I was ultimately a tad intrigued by what’s to come.  Easy to dismantle on the grounds of it being goofily derivative, Warcraft still possessed a bizarrely ambitious frivolity that kept some of my interest for some of its running time – just not quite enough for me to find it anything more than a just above average Orcian outing.    

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Robert Kazinsky and Paula Patton
Directed by: Duncan Jones (MOON and SOURCE CODE)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 40min.
Story: The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: Orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people and their home. So begins a spectacular saga of power and sacrifice in which war has many faces, and everyone fights for something.

Website: www.warcraftmovie.com

Friday, June 3, 2016

POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING (B)


I almost never stopped always laughing.  Almost.  SNL alum, Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island comedy crew (Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer) – creators of SNL Digital Shorts for Jack Sparrow, I’m on a Boat and D*** in a Box (to name a few) bring us this mockumentary documenting the rise and fall of a fictional music icon.  It’s a goofily vulgar lampooning of modern day pop and its many colorful personalities.  Powered purely on the pitfall force of misguided egocentricity, Popstar boasts a number of brilliant moments that never fully gel to make it a comedy for the ages.  It’s got its fair share of great, good and semi-flat moments.  It’s also quite hard to watch without pondering how exquisitely writer/director/actor Christopher Guest and his dead-pan band of brothers created the original mock-music masterpiece This is Spinal Tap.  Where Popstar always seems to be written to support it’s often times tonally toe-tapping and hilariously knee-slapping soundtrack, Spinal Tap’s jams seem born of and inherent to the story they were trying to tell.  Spinal Tap feels always organic while Popstar feels occasionally forced.  Don’t get me wrong, Popstar is still funny as hell.  It’s more often than not a brilliantly boisterous blitzkrieg of buffoonery – a film that lands a cavalcade of sardonic jabs and uppercuts.  But when it’s not being witty it’s usually being flat – sometimes desperately trying to manufacturer the slightest bit of connective tissue in its scant, sub-90 minute running time.  Destined, one would think, to become a popular hit among the university set (but possibly never a cult classic), Popstar – with its solid laughs, many cameos and impressive satirical swipe at the industry – should rise fairly high up the charts. 

Starring: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows and Chris Redd
Directed by: Jorma Taccone (MACGRUBER) and Akiva Schaffer (HOT ROD and THE WATCH) 
Rated: R
Running time: 1hr. 26min.
Story: Go behind the scenes as singer/rapper Conner4Real (Samberg) faces a crisis of popularity after his sophomore album flops, leaving his fans, sycophants and rivals all wondering what to do when he's no longer the dopest star of all.