Thursday, November 20, 2014

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 (C-)

Bottom Line: A Civil BORE is brewing!  Strenuously stretching (roughly) 40 minutes of semi-memorable material into a two-hour shoulder shrug of a movie, this latest installment of Hunger Games is a fine looking yet forgettable mess.  There’s a tiny bit of character development, a few thin layers of story to consume and two fairly entertaining but all-too-short turns from Harrelson and Banks.  The rest is a directionless, depressingly dour and democracy-free, dystopian, wannabe death match.  Districts scramble, the President gloats and Katniss mopes around in a boy-crazy, shell-shocked daze – this is easily some of JLaw’s most uninteresting work.  This series that shined with its previous two installments has been (temporarily, hopefully) doused by Hollywood’s deep bucket of splitting-movies-in-half greed.  Now we get to wait another 12 months to see if Part Two catches fire.  Falling smack-dab in to the thralls of its main title, Mockingjay Part One is a side salad of a movie that fails to satiate those who’ve waited a year since the thrilling conclusion of its predecessor.  This film will indeed make you hungry for something more substantial – famished for something more thrilling and fun.

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam, Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (CONSTANTINE)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 125 minutes
Studio description: Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage. (c) Lionsgate


Official site: www.lionsgate.com

Thursday, November 13, 2014

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (B-)

Bottom Line: Can we all just agree to no longer trust critics (nay, any human) who didn’t find some level of enjoyment in the original Dumb and Dumber? That movie and all of its wackadoodle, go-for-broke, pre-teen absurdities thwacked audiences across the face (twenty years ago) with a snot-covered, flaming rubber chicken of fun. It’s simultaneously over-the-top and in-the-gutter sensibilities, I’m sure, caused many a moviegoer – the dead inside, un-fun ones – to collectively protest that the movie was indeed dumb. Right, because that’s actually in the title twice…so who’s the dumberer one now?! Carrey and Daniels are back and, character-wise, they haven’t missed a beat as they bounce off each other and their surroundings with endearingly demented dipshit abandon. They’re, once again, gloriously goofy and gut-bustingly grand…most of the time. There are, unfortunately, a few potholes along this road trip of raunch. It could have benefitted from a shorter running time – made the jokes come faster, make the movie feel tighter. There’s a flatness to some of it that’s borne of rusty direction and B-level actor’s clearly not knowing how to keep up with The Dumber Boys. The element of surprise is no longer there, as well – we’re expecting them to top each gag now and while this element of surprise played beautifully to the strength of the original it’s of little use here. We fold our arms, sit back in our chair and demand this film take us to the brink of pants wetting. Thing is that they often do top each gag in the sequel and the movie only really slows down when they try to recreate a gag from part one or introduce one of the flimsily motivated new characters (all of whom are out of their element here, save unspoilerish turns from Turner and Melvin). The simplicity of the recycled story exists only to set these maroons on the road and get them from point A to B by going through points D, M and U first. If you enjoyed the first you'll find some enjoyment here as well.  Do I love it?  No.  But I do like it...I like it a lot.


Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden, Rachel Melvin and Kathleen Turner
Directed by: Bobby and Peter Farrelly (DUMB AND DUMBER, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, STUCK ON YOU and KINGPIN)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 109 minutes
Studio description: Twenty years after the dimwits set out on their first adventure, they head out in search of one of their long lost children in the hope of gaining a new kidney.
Official site: www.twitter.com/DumbTo

Thursday, November 6, 2014

BIG HERO 6 (C+/B/A-/A-/A+)

Bottom Line: More aptly titled How to Train Your Incredible (Marshmallow-y) Iron Giant, Disney’s latest animated film may convey a lot of things, but originality in story ain’t one of ‘em.  Like this week’s other highly anticipated and yet not-so-stellar sci-fi release, were presented a hodgepodge of ideas that have been explored in a myriad of other, better movies.  That’s not to say this Avengers-like flick isn’t worth the ride; it’s sure to please the family unit as a whole - my wife (B) and three boys (9yrs A-, 7yrs A- and 4 ½ A+) have looked at me sideways more than a dozen times since seeing it two-weeks ago – unable to comprehend me not loving it as much as they did… I’m quick to remind them, however, of recent, far superior offerings like The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Frozen.  They all agree that ‘yeah, this wasn’t as good as those…’  One point for dada (I’ll take it).  I’ll be the first to admit this forcefully giddy film does have a solid ribbon of humor humming through its engine – it’s energetically innovative and gorgeously animated as well.  Easy on the eyes – it’ll definitely make you smile. My biggest issue lies in the emotion, or lack thereof… They never capture the real punishment of loss (like Up, Finding Nemo or The Lion King) or the pure joy of friendship (like Iron Giant, How to Train Your Dragon or Aladdin).  They make the leap, but don’t quite stick the landing – it all feels to forced and, ultimately false.  You’re actually better off finding more soul in the beautifully heartfelt, six-minute short – FEAST – that precedes the film.  Everything else ultimately boils down to a fairly generic origin story that’ll quickly disappear in the minds of many at the mention of much better films, what the plans are for dinner or the sighting of a…SQUIRREL!  Classic animated movies immerse you in the story – this one makes you sit in the stands and enjoy from afar.  It’ll rake in a ton of dough at the box office and most will be pleased with the experience – but why settle for a Big Hero 6 when Disney’s recent efforts suggest we could’ve been getting another 10?

Starring the voices of: Ryan Potter, Daman Wayans Jr, Jamie Chung, Maya Rudolph,  Alan Tudyk, Genesis Rodriguez and James Cromwell
Directed by: Don Hall and Chris Williams
Rated: PG
Running time: 93 minutes
Studio description: An action-packed comedy-adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who learns to harness his genius-thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi and their like-minded friends: adrenaline junkie Go Go Tamago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to his closest companion-a robot named Baymax-and transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery. (C) Disney


Official site: www.movies.disney.com/big-hero-6

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

INTERSTELLAR (C+)

Bottom Line: Huge in scope and visually stunning, this 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Inception meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets Contact meets The Sixth Sense by way of Gravity hybrid is, unfortunately, ambitious-to-a-fault – a semi-derivative and slightly pretentious film that stomps its feet and demands to be taken serious. It’s a thick-as-molasses, sci-fi blockbuster that feels like Christopher Nolan added both entertaining and unnecessary layers to a carelessly mocked-up script penned by M. Night Shyamalan after M. Night swiped a doodled on cocktail napkin from the estate of the late Stanley Kubrick. McConaughey delivers a solid performance as a father driven to the stars and grounded by his family – a man ping-ponging between life altering choices for the greater good. There do exist a fair amount of interesting themes on parenting, technology, space travel and the theory of relativity – most of that overtly scientific, fifth dimensional, wormholian babble, however, is drowned out by an exorbitantly overlong running time and a violently overbearing IMAX-infused musical score (the kind of sound that’ll make your ears, jaw and bass-chattering teeth beg for the deep, cold silence of space). Big, bold, boisterous, bland and occasionally boring – this epic journey to infinity and beyond lacked a fully satisfying emotional core that kept it from being out of this world.

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Memento, Inception, Insomnia and The Prestige)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 169 minutes
Studio description: With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history; traveling beyond the galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars. © Paramount

Official site: www.interstellar.withgoogle.com

Friday, October 31, 2014

NIGHTCRAWLER (A)


Bottom Line: Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the year’s most mesmerizing performances in this giddily gory and gorgeously grimy gallop through the labyrinthian, after hours, crime-ridden streets of Los Angeles – as well as the dimly lit, stress tank production bays of local TV news.  Crime never pays… Unless of course you have a video camera and a police scanner.  Then it can pay handsomely.  All you have to do is arrive on the scene first and get the best coverage.  If it bleeds it leads – and anxious, ratings riddled news producer, Rene Russo (in a solid turn; also, still not ugly), is all too ready to get the scoop, save her job and push her integrity and ethics to the side.  NIGHTCRAWLER is a fiendishly fun and pulse-poundingly rich ride through these morally bankrupt worlds – and Gyllenhaal shines as the aggressively overbearing, self-motivating, pseudo-intellectual sociopath in search of his secret to success.  If you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket he goofishly and methodically pronounces!  This slick and seedy, noir-ish flick works as some sort of deadpan drama/action/comedy/thriller hybrid – something that moves at a breakneck, full throttle pace and yet still takes its time, meticulously unfolding for the city slicking rubberneckers to catch a good glimpse.  Thoroughly suspenseful, fully riveting.  A must see!

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Bill Paxton
Directed by: Dan Gilroy (directorial debut; wrote the screenplays for THE BOURNE LEGACY and REAL STEEL)
Rated: R
Running time: 117 minutes
Studio description: Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling -- where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou thrives. In the breakneck, ceaseless search for footage, he becomes the star of his own story. (c) Open Road

Official site: www.nightcrawlerfilm.com

Friday, October 24, 2014

BIRDMAN (A)

Bottom Line: Michael Keaton hits a stylistically twisted homerun without even using a bat, man…  Certain to garner a slew of nominations come Oscar time, BIRDMAN is a master class in storytelling – a darkly comedic examination of the search for relevancy at the cost of celebrity.  Soul searching ensues with dashes of purpose, legacy and public perception all played out to perfection. Playfully bizarre, dazzlingly layered, hilariously energetic and elegantly schizophrenic – this expertly crafted flick teasingly zigs and turbulently zags at its examination of artistic integrity, self realization and the ongoing battle between high art and blockbuster gold.  Its seemingly unedited, one-continuous-shot approach lends itself brilliantly to the freestyle jazz-like vibe of the film – a whirligig, center stage circus of complex human emotions given depth and life by career defining (and career echoing) performances from both Keaton and Edward Norton.  It should also be noted that Stone, Galifianakis, Riseborough, Ryan and Watts all give standout performances in their supporting roles.  In a (mostly) unanimous moment of critiquing clarity, BIRDMAN is indeed one of the must see movies of the year.  There’s something to enjoy here for both 'snob' and 'sheep'.  Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s…  Oh wait, it actually is a bird – and this BIRDMAN soars!
 
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Naomi Watts
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu (BIUTIFUL, BABEL, 21 GRAMS and AMORES PERROS)
Rated: R
Running time: 119 minutes
Studio description: BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) - famous for portraying an iconic superhero - as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. (c) Fox Searchlight
 
Official site: www.bridmanthemovie.com

JOHN WICK (B-)


Bottom Line: Keanu Reeves delivers the butt kicking goods in this stylistically gritty, testosterone-fueled flick.  It’s a relatively excellent adventure made moderately bogus journey due to the overall lack of story and character depth.  But, come to think of it, the Russians piss him off – so…  The motives here are fairly flimsy but set forth a course for destruction that’s so singularly focused you’ll willingly light the fuse, take a step or two back and watch the bare bones, head cracking action unfold.  The acting is solid, the comic book/video game action is fluidly swift and the dialogue is sparse yet shockingly and creatively on point.  At just over 90 minutes, though, the story still feels a little overplayed.  I’d still happily watch Keanu reprise the role should the box office take here warrant a sequel.  It’s more fun than you might expect.  If you’re purposely looking for bloody style over substance, no other movie this year can hold a candle to JOHN WICK.

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alfie Allen, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Rated: R
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio description: An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him. With New York City as his bullet-riddled playground, JOHN WICK (Keanu Reeves) is a fresh and stylized take on the "assassin genre". (C) Lionsgate
Official site: www.johnwickthemovie.com 

Friday, October 10, 2014

THE JUDGE (B)

Bottom Line: This pleasantly clichéd, small town courtroom/family dramedy gets bailed out of mediocrity from two familiar yet winning performances from the Robert D’s.  Downey Jr. (the sharp-witted slickster) and Duvall (the cantankerously crotchety curmudgeon) are a thrill to watch as they bombastically bond on screen.  It may be a tad predictable and the way-too-many endings lend themselves to an overlong running time, but buried just beneath this kitchen sink approach to storytelling lies a beautifully filmed, competently directed and wholly heartfelt tale of fathers, family, honor and letting go of the past.  It’s a quirky, clever and emotionally charged flick that worked more often than not – it’s just, again, too darn long.  Many critics will predictably dread THE JUDGE, so you’ll just have to object to their out-of-touch tastes, take a stand and witness if for yourself.  This is a good natured movie that should easily appeal to mass audiences…
 
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thornton
Directed by: David Dobkin (WEDDING CRASHERS and MR. WOODCOCK)
Rated: R
Running time: 142 minutes
Studio description: Robert Downey Jr. stars as big city lawyer Hank Palmer, who returns to his childhood home where his estranged father, the town's judge (Robert Duvall), is suspected of murder. He sets out to discover the truth and along the way reconnects with the family he walked away from years before. -- (C) Warner Bros.
Official site: www.thejudgemovie.com 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

GONE GIRL (B+)


Bottom Line: Director David Fincher (FIGHT CLUB, THE SOCIAL NETWORK) delivers a meticulously wicked tale on modern marriage and the meddling media.  A gut punch of a film that fiendishly swoons and squirms viewers through a nightmare scenario as if told through the generically dreamlike pages of US magazine.  It’s a ready-for-cable-news-network nail-biter that’ll have you switching alliances with all the grace of a square-wheeled baby stroller.  A few inconsistent, surface-level touches and all too abrupt ending that I understood but was less than pleased with may be keeping this from A grade status - but it’s tension-headache inducing suspense, brilliant direction, superb acting across the board, razor-sharp Reznor score, charbroiled charm and sinister sense of humor makes this an easy-to-recommend success.  A movie that’ll easily have a shot at making my top ten list come December…  Having not read the insanely popular novel from author Gillian Flynn (who also adapted it for the screen), I can honestly say I saw nothing coming – no tells, no giveaways – it’s an accessibly twisted story that should have you talking for days and, possibly, sleeping with one eye open for weeks.  Sure to brew up oodles of distrust between genders, this suburbia slasher flick still remains the most weirdly perverse must-see date night movie of the year.  Get GONE!
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris
Directed by: David Fincher (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, FIGHT CLUB, SE7EN, ZODIAC, THE GAME and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO)
Running time: 145 minutes
Studio description: On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne reports that his beautiful wife, Amy, has gone missing.  Under pressure from the police and growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble.  Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? © Fox
Official site: www.gonegirlmovie.com

Friday, September 26, 2014

THE EQUALIZER (C+)

Bottom Line: Uncomfortably packed with a slew of 80’s-esque action movie clichés and cheeseball slow-mo antics, this overlong and yet occasionally fun flick scoots by on the charm and badass-itude of its always charismatic A-list star.  A friendly, hardworking man who minds his own business until bad business crosses the path of those who’ve been wronged, Denzel’s Robert McCall is a man with an entire movie on his shoulders – a movie that, without his swagger and Jason Bournian presence, would be forgotten the second it ended and you rushed for the restroom.  He’s a methodically focused, mysteriously skillful sledgehammer of swift Hulk-like justice with an affable, Bruce Banner manner and pleasant daytime demeanor.  And aside from a sadistically (and entertainingly) prim-and-proper villain, the movie only really comes to life when Denzel’s rampaging Robin Hood is talking trash or taking it out.  Drug lords, henchmen, street thugs, dirty cops and Russian pimps don’t stand a chance…  Running over two-hours, however, the seams on this overstuffed flick tend to burst from lazy writing where nonsensical setups never pay off and way too many ends are left loose…  Add to it a load of self indulgently loopy directorial choices that never truly shed interesting light on our main character and your left with a whole lot of empty cinematic calories.  This mystery man may be able to take on the East Coast hub of the Russian mafia, but keeping this movie from being anything better than barely above average is a task he’s not just equal to…

Starring: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz, Marton Csokas, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN)
Running time: 131 minutes
Studio description: In The Equalizer, Denzel Washington plays McCall, a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when McCall meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can't stand idly by - he has to help her. Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened. If someone has a problem, if the odds are stacked against them, if they have nowhere else to turn, McCall will help. He is The Equalizer. (c) Sony

Official site: www.equalizerthemovie.com