Thursday, February 26, 2015

FOCUS (B)

The Quick Fix: Finally, Will’s movin’ on up like George and Wheezy…
The Bottom Line: Not long ago, it was Will Smith’s world and we were pretty darn lucky to be living in it (most of the time; Seven Pounds and After Earth, I’m lookin’ at you).  Big budgets, high concepts, good times – a lot of us were more than happy to get jiggy with our freshest of box office princes.  The good news with his latest release is our Will of old – the charismatic charmer, the men-wanna-be-him-ladies-wanna-be-with-him movie star – is back in relatively full force.  Focus may lack some of the depth and organic, free-flow zing of more masterful con-man material (The Sting, Catch Me if You Can, Ocean’s Eleven, Matchstick Men, etc) but it still has a modicum of slyness and works on its own glitzy, chemistry-rich and fast paced terms.  Effectively dropping you in to the whirlwind world of high-profile con-artistry, it’s an efficiently slick and lightheartedly carefree double-cross ride that rarely takes itself to serious.  Seriously, just see it, have fun – it’s not hard to do.  Plus, Smith and the not-at-all ugly and pretty darn talented, Margot Robbie, have a cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow chemistry that fuels the picture to its flimsily farfetched yet still somewhat fulfilling finale.  Although not his best work to date, I’ll gladly take this stylistic fluff over another wild wild mess.

Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, BD Wong and Gerald McRaney
Directed by: John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (Crazy Stupid Love and I Love You Phillip Morris)
Rated: R (for language, some sexual content and brief violence)
Running time: 105 minutes
Story: Nicky (Will Smith) is a seasoned master of misdirection who becomes romantically involved with novice con artist Jess (Margot Robbie). As he’s teaching her the tricks of the trade, she gets too close for comfort and he abruptly breaks it off. Three years later, the former flame—now an accomplished femme fatale—shows up in Buenos Aires in the middle of the high stakes racecar circuit. In the midst of Nicky’s latest, very dangerous scheme, she throws his plans for a loop…and the consummate con man off his game. [Warner Bros.]


Official site: www.focusmovie.com

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2015 OSCAR PICKS

 

It’s Saturday and you don’t have time to read explanations as to why I've made the picks I've made in each category – you need a ballot filled out and you need an Oscar pool win.  I've seen most of the movies represented here (aside from the shorts and the foreign stuff; they tend to not be my bag – whaddaya gonna do; I’m not a complete movie nerd) and have followed all the precursor awards.  For the most part, I know of what I speak or vote. The Best Picture (Birdman v. Boyhood), Best Director (Birdman v. Boyhood) and Best Actor (Redmayne v. Keaton) make for a heated two-horse race…

Keep in mind Birdman was my favorite flick of 2014 and I JUST watched it again last night – still love it – so I’m going strong with the superhero-turned-stage actor story in all three of the aforementioned categories.

Another factor to take in to consideration is the fact that I loathed Boyhood.  If you’re not a critic, carve out a few days and give it watch – you’ll quickly understand why…

Here are my grid picks (click to enlarge). Good luck and Happy Oscaring!



Friday, February 20, 2015

MCFARLAND USA (B/A/A)

The Quick Fix: An uplifting, culturally resonant film for the whole family!
The Bottom Line: Based on a true story, this high school cross country culture clash should prove to be another solid sports hit for both Disney (Remember the Titans, Miracle and The Rookie) and Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and Tin Cup).  Like chocolate and peanut butter, it’s a wonder these two properties never teamed up sooner…  You’d have to try really hard to not like this movie or, at the very least, walk away without gleaning a positive vibe.  It may have formulaic, underdog-like fringes – but Costner delivers a soulfully steadfast performance and it’s themes on work ethic, character, family, community and acceptance all resonate and are handled with compassion and understanding.  So much so, that my 10- and 8-year old sons (fans of athletics in general) ended up loving it, handing out double-down A’s and then asking more questions in regards to the cultural aspect of the film than the sport itself.  McFarland, USA may be a movie about runners but there’s enough warmth, humor and spirit to help you and your family cross the finish line in inspirational fashion.

Starring: Kevin Costner and Maria Bello
Directed by: Niki Caro (Whale Rider and North Country)
Rated: PG (for thematic material, some violence and language)
Running time: 129 minutes
Story: From Disney comes MCFARLAND, the true against-all-odds story of the 1987 McFarland high school cross country team in an economically challenged community. (C) Disney

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 (D)

The Quick Fix: Sux Capacitor.
The Bottom Line: Making its 2010 predecessor seem Shakespearian by comparison, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (yes, I actually went and saw it) is a classic example of a sixty-second movie trailer containing every last ounce of humor the 93-minute movie would allow.  Take a dry beach towel…now try and wring water out of said beach towel.  Yup, that’s this flick.  Admittedly, the semi-focused 80’s time trip of the original played right in to my cultural wheelhouse (Walkmans, acid wash jeans, wine coolers, Vuarnet’s, et al) and allowed me quite a few memorable laughs – it was a fun, if not classic, trip back in time.  Ten minutes in to this flat and lifeless ‘crapsterpiece’ and it becomes immediately evident why John Cusack refused to make the return trip.  Aside from a sparse smattering of chuckles and laughs, this is a lazily obnoxious, meanderingly disjointed, alcohol-fueled, bong water-logged mess.  In the end it's as if a wild haired director looked at his wide eyed actors and simply said ‘Script?  Where we’re going we don’t need – a script’.  My only hope at this point is for a third film to be greenlit so they can travel back in time and undo the dull damage they created here with part two... 

Starring: Craig Robinson, Steve Corddry, Clark Duke and Adam Scott
Directed by: Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine and About Last Night)
Rated: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, drug use and some violence)
Running time: 93 minutes
Story: When Lou finds himself in trouble, Nick and Jacob fire up the hot tub time machine in an attempt to get back to the past. But they inadvertently land in the future with Adam Jr. Now they have to alter the future in order to save the past - which is really the present.
Official site: www.hottubtimemachine2.com

Friday, February 13, 2015

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (D/C-)

The Quick Fix: Lukewarm, lifeless and limp
The Bottom Line: Fifty Shades of Oy Vey…  Thrusting it’s way in to theaters with all the sexiness of a TV Land rerun of Three’s Company (Chrissy Snow excluded, of course), Fifty Shades of Grey dares to dangle its poorly written, intrigue-free, lazily plotted jewels in the face of many a moviegoer this weekend.  Granted, household washing machines may receive a brief yet well deserved respite for two-short hours, but in terms of entertainment – this much-hyped, sub-soap opera soaked melodrama just ain’t where it’s at…  The opening scenes are shockingly efficient in creating a light air of mystery and cuddly awkwardness as the cold, confident and charisma-free Christian Grey attempts to penetrate the clumsy naiveté of Anastasia Steele (a somewhat solid turn from Dakota Johnson) – but that only lasts for about 11 minutes.  The remainder of the movie (149 minutes) is a poorly managed mish-mash of deathly hollow dialogue, dour relationship building, and dreadfully dull sex scenes.  That’s right, the main event – the reason people are even in the theater in the first place – is devoid of a creatively naughty imagination.  It’s all lukewarm, lifeless and limp.  My wife, a reader of the first two books (three total; with movie sequels to follow) until she couldn’t stand the sixth-grade level writing, shrugged her shoulders at the end of the movie – she then got about as in depth as the blandness would allow by stating ‘it is what it is’ and gave it a C-.  It’s hard for me to get behind this stale, soft core sleep-inducer because it’s not even laughably bad…  It just lays there.  In the event things become too hard to handle, a safe word is required for the submissive member of a masochistic relationship – in retrospect, it would have been nice for filmgoers to receive that word as well…because in the end, we’re the ones who are actually getting the shaft.
Starring: James Dornan and Dakota Johnson
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Rated: R (for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language)
Running time: 111 minutes
Story: E.L. James' kinky best-seller gets the big screen treatment with this Universal Pictures/Focus Features co-production. The steamy tale details a masochistic relationship between a college student and a businessman, whose desires for extreme intimacy pen from secrets in his past.


Official site: www.fiftyshadesmovie.com

Friday, February 6, 2015

JUPITER ASCENDING (D)

The Quick Fix: A vivid yet forgetfully unimaginative mess…
The Bottom Line: The Wachowski siblings deliver a brightly-colored, vividly convoluted and boldly uninteresting tale of deep space royalty stock market speculation, toilet scrubbing queens incarnate and dog-men do-gooders with jogger-motion jet boots.  Yes, all of that goofy sounding stuff is at play here plus a ton of ridiculous dialogue, jarringly lazy editing, a general lack of intrigue in story and three main stars (Tatum, Kunis and Redmayne) that all seem painfully unaware of the pseudo-absurdity that surrounds them…  Jupiter Ascending is the woodshed-born, ugly duckling spawn of an aggressively derivative Fifty Shades of Grey-like tryst between The Phantom Menace, John Carter, Dune, The Fifth Element, Flash Gordon and The Wizard of Oz.  …a movie that continually demands your attention and immediately punishes you for trying to give a damn.  Admittedly, some of this soulless sci-fi space opera storytelling may be energetically bonkers enough to work on hard core genre fans (or people who have never seen a sci-fi movie before…like, ever) – but my bet is most will find it a laughably goofy, politically hollow and thoroughly exhaustive exercise in numbing the butt and mind.  Overpowering and underwhelming – try passing out sometime on a fully-loaded, backed-by-the-city, 4th of July fireworks barge with a lit cigarette dangling from your lips – your eventual awakening and chaotic confusion should roughly be the same experience you’ll have while watching this flick…

Starring: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean
Directed by: Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy, Bound and Cloud Atlas)
Rated: PG-13 (for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity)
Running time: 125 minutes
Story: From the streets of Chicago to the far-flung galaxies whirling through space, "Jupiter Ascending" tells the story of Jupiter Jones, who was born under a night sky, with signs predicting she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people's houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine, a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along-her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos. (C) Warner Bros

Official site: www.jupiterascending.com

Thursday, January 29, 2015

BLACK SEA (B)

The Quick Fix: Intimate, intriguing and intense
The Bottom Line: Examining the depths to which greed can take a man, this wholly immersive submarine treasure hunt is a welcome addition to January’s stale slate of sucky cinema…  It may not quite navigate the deeper waters of superior sub films, but it still finds a way to feel fresh, efficient and engaging in its own right.  Jude Law delivers a riveting and commandingly gruff performance as a scorned captain hell-bent on retrieving rumored booty on the sea bed – and his rag-tag, shipmate skeleton crew (admittedly, all written fairly surface level) are perfectly cast and add varied levels of tension and trust aboard their rusted-out, well-past-it’s-prime undersea vessel.  You’ll be swept away by the ruggedly gritty, tension-riddled, claustrophobically old school vibe this flick oozes…  It’s a thoroughly engaging ride!  It’s may not be in the same league as The Hunt for Red October, Das Boot or Crimson Tide (to name a few of the greats) – but I’d still find it hard to fathom someone not enjoying this well made deep sea thriller.

Starring: Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall and Scoot McNairy
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and STATE OF PLAY)
Rated: R (for language throughout, some graphic images and violence)
Running time: 115 minutes
Studio description: A rogue submarine captain pulls together a misfit crew to go after a sunken treasure rumored to be lost in the depths of the Black Sea. As greed and desperation take control onboard their claustrophobic vessel, the increasing uncertainty of the mission causes the men to turn on each other to fight for their own survival. (C) Focus


Friday, January 23, 2015

THE BOY NEXT DOOR (F)

The Quick Fix: Predictable, flat and decidedly unsexy…
The Bottom Line: Words are essentially wasted on this bottom-of-the-barrel, basement-dwelling, barely-legal, reverse Fatal Attraction borefest....  It’s straight up garbage, and at this rate I’m afraid I’ll have my worst of 2015 list ready by mid-February.  J-Lo’s stale cookies crumble in this formulaically manufactured, awkwardly familiar, ridiculously scripted, poorly acted and horrendously directed pseudo-stalker wannabe.  A movie that’s so blandly awful, that it’s not even campy fun – you’ll laugh, but you’ll be surprised at how little once you realize how seriously everyone seems to be taking themselves. This mess wouldn’t even tip the scales on a guilty pleasure weigh-in.  There is that neighborly steamy romp in the sheets that everyone (no one?) keeps talking about – but it’s a flaccid, forced and flimsy plot device that turns out to be about as sexy as turning your back to the crowd, wrapping your arms around your shoulder blades and moving your head around like your making out with someone.  I think we’ve finally found out how low J can go…  You want abusively sexy – hold out for 50 Shades of Grey.  You want methodically menacing – go rent 2014’s The Guest.  This Fly Girl rarely makes a good movie so, instead, watch her make the talk show rounds gushing how good this movie is – because that, my friends, is the best acting she’s done in years!

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett and Kristin Chenoweth
Directed by: Rob Cohen (ALEX CROSS, STEALTH, XXX, DRAGONHEART and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS)
Rated: R (for violence, sexual content/nudity and language)
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio description: A psychological thriller that explores a forbidden attraction that goes much too far. (C) Universal


Thursday, January 15, 2015

AMERICAN SNIPER (B+)

The Quick Fix: Powerful, personal and provocative.
The Bottom Line: At 84, director Clint Eastwood has rolled up his sleeves, dug his hands in to the dry Iraqi sand and pulled out an efficient, taught and edge-of-your-seat nail-biter that’s sure to please crowds nationwide.  As evidenced in the brilliance of it's trailers and marketing, it’s an action-packed and emotionally charged tug-of-war.  Intense and draining in equal measures.  …and Bradley Cooper – wow – Bradley Cooper.  This guy delivers one of his best performances to date (see also Silver Linings Playbook) by entrenching himself and portraying a collected, quiet and honorable man of duty.  A man out of step with home life who struggles deeply when not deployed overseas to protect American soldiers which, in turn, protects his country and family.  To him, they were brothers – to them he was a hero.  Eastwood and Cooper, together, drum up every last ounce of humanity so that actions and feelings are never vaguely presented – they’re delivered with fiendish force and gritty gusto.  We may be dipped in to broadly brushed yet tough-to-avoid melodrama at home (a huge issue it seems with naysaying critics who don’t know no better) – but it all helps to solidify the urgency and tension with each new tour.  This true life, modern day, military warfare western effectively conveys the good, the bad and the ugly of  war – who better to serve it up raw than our greatest living cowboy himself…

Starring: Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino and Mystic River)
Rated: R (for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references)
Running time: 134 minutes
Studio description: U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms. His pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and, as stories of his courageous exploits spread, he earns the nickname "Legend." However, his reputation is also growing behind enemy lines, putting a price on his head and making him a prime target of insurgents. Despite the danger, as well as the toll on his family at home, Chris serves through four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq, becoming emblematic of the SEAL creed to "leave no man behind." But upon returning home, Chris finds that it is the war he can't leave behind. (C) Warner Bros


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

BLACKHAT (F)

The Quick Fix: Uninspired, uninteresting and unbelievable. 
The Bottom Line: Blackhat is the cinematic equivalent of standing over your company’s IT person as they methodically tap, click and navigate their way through your computer’s problem du jour.  You follow for a few seconds, get completely lost and suddenly a rousing game of smartphone Subway Surfers sounds like a more compelling option…  Heat, The Insider, Collateral, Last of the Mohicans - director Michael Mann has brought us some powder keg moving pictures (some of my favorites); so here I stand/sit disappointingly telling you that this time he has delivered a downright dud.  A formulaically flat, disjointed, chemistry-free and uncompelling flick about computer hacking, cybercrime and the digital age – an unintentionally laughable film that follows a collaborative group of globe-hopping digital do-gooders following a narratively anorexic and coaxialy confusing bread crumb trail to the bad guys…  We’re treated to a few scant scenes of manic Mann-in-action that give the movie a fleeting crackle but nothing ever truly pops…ever.  Thinly scripted, lazily acted and poorly executed – Chris Hemsworth may shine as the Avenger’s God of Thunder, but here he’s reduced to the mighty bore.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Wei Tang, Leehom Wang and John Ortiz
Directed by: Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, The Insider and Last of the Mohicans)
Rated: R (for violence and some language)
Running time: 133 minutes
Studio description: Set within the world of global cybercrime, Legendary's Blackhat follows a furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners as they hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.


Official site: www.blackhatthemovie.com