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   

Friday, July 18, 2014

SEX TAPE (D+)


Bottom Line: With the promise of a more raunchy bite inherently built in to its title, this toothlessly overpromising, studio comedy seems content on giving its audience the shaft.  It poignantly (but only briefly) probes in to a few comedic truths of being married with children – continually poking fun at the hardships of planning and keeping activities straight – but it never fully rises to the occasion of becoming as witty as it actually thinks it is…  There are a few laughs to be had (courtesy of the up-for-almost-everything goofiness of Jason Segel and Rob Lowe) but the rest is a painfully plodding pedestrian romp through a lazily scripted, poorly paced, paper-thin and virtually porn-free plot.  …and although size rarely matters (right?), this anemically 95-minute look at the perils of cloud computing should have been tighter, more planned out – instead, it hurriedly thrusts the viewer in to a recycled state of benchmark moments that played for more laughs when they first appeared in FATHER OF THE BRIDE and THE HANGOVER.  Even the blatant rip-offs are limply executed.  It’s occasionally funny, yes – but mostly flaccid, flat and forgettably dull.  Awkwardly unaware of its unoriginality, this SEX TAPE kinda blows…just not in the way that might make it a better movie.
 
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel and Rob Lowe
Directed by: Jake Kasdan (BAD TEACHER and WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY)
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio description: Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) are a married couple still very much in love, but ten years and two kids have cooled the passion. To get it back, they decide - why not? - to make a video of themselves trying out every position in THE JOY OF SEX in one marathon three-hour session. It seems like a great idea, until they discover that their most private video has gone public. In a panic, they begin a wild night of adventure - tracking down leads, roping in friends, duping Annie's boss - all to reclaim their video, their reputation, their sanity, and, most importantly, their marriage. (c) Sony
 
Official site: www.sonypictures.com/movies/sextape/

Thursday, July 17, 2014

PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE (D+)


Bottom Line: Continuing it’s fleecing of mass audiences by shilling this franchise off as a product of Pixar, Disney’s PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE is actually an improvement from its 2013 predecessor.  …of course, I gave the original an ‘F’ and it made my worst ten of that year - but it’s an improvement none-the-less.  With things like story, structure and smarts all tossed aside, the filmmakers were able to focus on crisp animation and lightly touched themes of courage and teamwork.  Add that to one action-packed, well-executed aerial fire brigade sequence and you’ve got roughly 22 minutes that aren’t a complete snoozefest.  I may have firmly planted my flag of hate in to the first one, but my entire family loved it…  This time out, however, the roles have been entirely reversed: My wife was insulted at the lack of imagination and character development, my four-year old was scarred of the fire scenes, my seven-year old asked to play games on my phone half way through and nine-year old didn’t even want to go… I thought they did a marginally better job this time out, but ‘marginally better’ does not a recommendation make.  This thing fails to fully engage with its audience.  While it may soar for a few brief moments, the rest is left taxiing on the tarmac of boredom.
 
Starring the voices of: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Fred Willard, Wes Studi, Teri Hatcher, Brad Garrett and Hal Holbrook
Directed by: Roberts Gannaway
Running time: 84 minutes
Studio description: Adventure flies higher than ever before in this sequel to Disney's Planes.
 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

TAMMY (F)


Bottom Line: You know you’re in trouble when Melissa McCarthy is the least interesting thing in a Melissa McCarthy movie.  Now that’s not to say there’s anything really interesting here - because there’s isn't...  This disjointed and directionless road trip flick is a meandering, muddled mess of recycled-from-better-movies jokes and clichéd Middle America jabs.  It’s a forced and commitment free ‘comedy’ fueled on Cheeto dust and room temperature beer.  McCarthy has proven her worth with the ability to shine (BRIDEMAIDS, THE HEAT) - here, however, she has the miraculous gift of retroactively making the awful IDENTITY THIEF seem marginally better…  Marginally.  This is a flat, boring, sluggishly dull and virtually humorless affair.  It’s the exact opposite of what the commercials and trailers have been selling audiences for the past few months.  Riddled with mindless story structure, ridiculous scenarios, negative character depth, chemistry-free romance, lazy direction, second rate screenwriting, painfully obvious fat jokes, a slew of lets-make-this-thing-seem-fresh missed opportunities and a weakheaded poignancy that's as gentle as a box of sharp sticks.  This flailing mood swing of a movie is an obnoxiously uneven bore from top to bottom.  The only true success TAMMY achieves is in becoming a great venue to play the ‘What else could I have done with the past 96 minutes’ game.  In all fairness – I must admit – the audience I saw it with did applaud at the end…  At this point, however, I’m willing to bet it’s because the screening was free and the longest hour and half of their life was finally over.
 
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Mark Duplass, Gary Cole, Allison Janney and Dan Aykroyd
Directed by: Ben Falcone
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio description: Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) is having a bad day. She's totaled her clunker car, gotten fired from her thankless job at a greasy burger joint and, instead of finding comfort at home, finds her husband getting comfortable with the neighbor in her own house. It's time to take her boom box and book it. The bad news is she's broke and without wheels. The worse news is her grandma, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), is her only option-with a car, cash, and an itch to see Niagara Falls. Not exactly the escape Tammy had in mind. But on the road, with grandma riding shot gun, it may be just what Tammy needs. (c) Warner Bros.
 
Official site: www.tammymovie.com

Thursday, June 12, 2014

22 JUMP STREET (B+)


Bottom Line: Slightly suffering, like its hilarious predecessor, from a zanily overstuffed third act – 22 JUMP STREET remains another film in a very short line of films (see: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 among others) that toes the line of outshining its introductory predecessor.  Mocking its inflated production budget, over-the-top antics and lack of imagination throughout – it understands that we understand that the whole concept is ridiculous.  It also gets that your butt is in the seat because you want to be entertained.  It’s a painfully simple formula that effortlessly serves up the goods: it’s bigger, it’s louder, it’s funnier!  Hill and Tatum – both giving it their all – are, once again, having an infectious blast.  It’s a hilariously high-octane, bromantically ballistic flick that – now that I really think about it – is better than the original.  The finale might be all over the map again, but the chaos is slightly more controlled and they keep the laughs coming a mile-a-minute instead of resting on an uninspired car chase sequence – I mean, there is a car chase sequence at the end here…but this time they also have a helicopter.  See, like I said – bigger.  Ambitiously goofy, self referentially sidesplitting and foolishly fun – it may not be groundbreaking cinema – but it’s sure to bust a gut.  Make the jump to a theater near you today!
 
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Ice Cube
Directed by: Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 JUMP STREEET, THE LEGO MOVIE and CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS)
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio description: After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) when they go deep undercover at a local college. But when Jenko meets a kindred spirit on the football team, and Schmidt infiltrates the bohemian art major scene, they begin to question their partnership. Now they don't have to just crack the case - they have to figure out if they can have a mature relationship. If these two overgrown adolescents can grow from freshmen into real men, college might be the best thing that ever happened to them. (c) Sony
 
Official site: www.22jumpstreetmovie.com