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 (C-)


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

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (A)

Bottom Line: Daring to soar where most sequels only dream, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 is that rare beast that comes dangerously close to besting its magnificent predecessor.  And in some respects, it actually does…  The art of motion picture animation has advanced over the past few years – so we’ve got a cleaner, crisper tale on our hands this time out – easy to watch, pleasing to the eye.  The story of an impending dragon army corralled by the evil Drago is thrilling – with wonderful yet familiar themes of friendship, family and duty all at play.  We’re also introduced to a few new inhabitants that all fit in nicely within the established wonderland of K9-like dragons and their Viking counterparts.  The character design involved it breathtakingly brilliant!  This follow up is an expertly written, colorfully created and stoically stupendous blast – a marvelous treat for the eyes, ears and heart.  Action and suspense thrive at every turn and its comedic beats, blossoming from the situations at hand, are never forced. Our heroes have grown both in body and mind and the bond with their neighborly dragons has never been stronger – in that respect, an argument could be made that the whimsical element of discovery is missing.  Best to avoid the shallow troll that rides the wings of that belief…  This is a movie with heart and soul to spare – an excitingly high-flying, family adventure that my family fell in love with…  Now yours can too!
 
Starring the voices of: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Cristopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, Kit Harrington, Cate Blanchett and Djimon Hounsou
Directed by: Dean DeBlois (HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, LILO & STITCH and MULAN)
Running time: 105 minutes
Studio description: DreamWorks Animation returns to the world of dragons and Vikings in this sequel to their successful 2010 outing How to Train Your Dragon. The original film followed the exploits of a Viking chief's son, who must capture a dragon in order to mark his passage into manhood and prove his worthiness to the tribe.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

EDGE OF TOMORROW (A-)


Bottom Line:  Giving this predominately uptight, unmemorable summer movie season a much needed swift kick in the pants, EDGE OF TOMORROW is an electrifying and gung-ho big screen experience.  You could argue that Tom Cruise’s latest effort in the sci-fi genre is one of the reasons they even build movie theaters in the first place – pack a dark room full of people, light the cinematic fuse and let the sparks fly!  Best way to sell this movie?  Its THE MATRIX meets GROUNDHOG DAY…meets SAVING PRIVATE RYAN…meets STARSHIP TROOPERS...meets SOURCE CODE…meets INDEPENDENCE DAY…meets DISTRICT 9.  Yes, we’ve seen a lot of this before, but never quite like this!  Call it thrillingly and freshly derivative.  The back-and-forth editing is perfectly orchestrated for maximum thrills and mind-numbing reveals.  And the workhorse-like effort of the two leads: Cruise remarkably molds his smarmy, wink-and-a-crooked-smile, candy ass slick with a battle-weary, laser-focused, tight-rope-walking toughness - while a beautifully and believably butt kicking Blunt effectively ascends the ladder of one-handed poster holding, action queen geekdom (would love to see her in a well written ALIENS sequel).  They both shine here and make you want to actually take this journey again and again…and again.  It’s a witty, sharp, energetically explosive, adrenaline pushing, no holds barred, action-packed thrill ride – with top notch production (direction, cinematography, visual effects, sound, etc) from top to bottom.  Some of what you see may seem overly familiar, but that’s kind of the point – they’re embracing it here and forming something exhilaratingly fun.  Oh, and the reason it’s called EDGE OF TOMORROW?  Because that’s exactly when you should see it!
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson
Directed by: Doug Liman (THE BOURNE IDENTITY, SWINGERS, GO and MR. AND MRS. SMITH
Running time: 114 minutes
Studio description: The epic action of "Edge of Tomorrow" unfolds in a near future in which an alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop-forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again...and again. But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). And, as Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.(C) Warner Bros

Friday, May 30, 2014

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (C-)


Bottom Line:  There’s a snake in this boot, indeed.  Feeling more like a million minutes, this sporadically amusing, gross-out, raunch-on-the-ranch western well overstays its weary-eyed, canyon-wandering welcome.  You’ll laugh – there are some funny parts, but funny parts do not a good movie make…  Had this rambunctiously disjointed flick actually stuck to its guns in terms of title/concept/idea and lost 30+ minutes to the cutting room floor, it all might have worked out for everyone.  Instead we get an underutilized cast of big name talent, a forcefully unbelievable romance and a misguidingly shoehorned-in old west story devoid of any laughter.  Commit to the comedy and we might have had a classic on our hands.  I love this type of humor when done with a tad of continuity – here it’s a scattershot approach to storytelling that never gels.  Yes, okay, you will laugh.  There are a handful of gut-busting scenes that work, and when it fires on those horse-drawn pistons you’ll find yourself pleased as punch.  When it’s not, however, you might be bored to death.  Hey, a million and one ways to die in the…  Oh, never mind. 
 
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman and Liam Neeson
Directed by: Seth MacFarlane (TED and creator of THE FAMILY GUY)
Running time: 116 minutes
Studio description: Seth MacFarlane directs, produces, co-writes and plays the role of the cowardly sheep farmer Albert in A Million Ways to Die in the West. After Albert backs out of a gunfight, his fickle girlfriend leaves him for another man. When a mysterious and beautiful woman rides into town, she helps him find his courage and they begin to fall in love. But when her husband, a notorious outlaw, arrives seeking revenge, the farmer must put his newfound courage to the test.
 
Official site: www.amillionways.com

MALEFICENT (D+)


Bottom Line:  MalefiCANT.  This emotionless, flat and uninvolving hodgepodge of disconnected storytelling, aimless character development and overproduced visual spectacle may keep you spellbound with how little it actually has to offer…  Jolie ambitiously displays a sinister yet understanding darkness in a few scenes that adequately capture the true spirit of Disney villainy – but that gets old pretty fast…  And soon your left with nothing more than dazzlingly recycled visuals from a candy-colored, computer generated tar-and-feather fight between OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, AVATAR and ALICE IN WONDERLAND.  Ironically, this tale of Sleeping Beauty will more than likely put parents in a state of slumber – while younger viewers either embrace the faux-majesty or cower in fear of the nightmare-inducing imagery.  Cold and distant, this tonally misguided fairy tale should leave you feeling anything but enchanted.
 
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley and Elle Fanning
Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Running time: 97 minutes
Studio description: "Maleficent" explores the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the classic "Sleeping Beauty" and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king's newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of the seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy. Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever. (c) Walt Disney Pictures