Friday, July 31, 2015

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION (A-)

With a dash of the subtle heist mentality of the original, some of the showy recklessness of II, a touch of the political and personal intrigue of III and the go-for-broke, adrenaline-soaked action of Ghost Protocol (the fourth and still my favorite) this outing plays like a fuse-lit, cinematic love child.  A blockbuster that dutifully tips its hat to some of the elements that made this series tick, while embracing a richly detailed, globe hopping plot that’s densely reminiscent of recent James Bondian fare.  Its action is stylistically slick, its humor relaxingly disarming and its suspense boils over with all the fervor of an unwatched, $150 million-budgeted pot.  You’re on an efficient and effortlessly exciting ride for your life!  The story occasionally dabbles in convolutions – with, what seems like, five cats chasing seven mice looking for three pieces of cheese – but director Christopher McQuarrie conquers most of the math, tightly spins his plates and keeps much of the tension masterfully balanced with each and every fighting gasp for air.  With Cruise’s mega-watt charisma firmly in play and comfortably snug performances from Pegg, Rhames, Renner and Baldwin – the floor is open for relative newcomer, Rebecca Ferguson, to ignite the screen with a meaty, front-and-center, she-hero-in-the-making role (think Charlize Theron in this year’s Mad Max movie) that toes the line of making this the franchises’ Fury Rogue.  One of the best blockbusters of the summer, this is easily another Cruise and Co. mission worth accepting!

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson and Alex Baldwin
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie (JACK REACHER and THE WAY OF THE GUN)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2hr. 12min.
Story: With the IMF disbanded, and Ethan Hunt out in the cold, the team now faces off against a network of highly skilled special agents, the Syndicate. These highly trained operatives are hellbent on creating a new world order through an escalating series of terrorist attacks. Ethan gathers his team and joins forces with disavowed British agent Ilsa Faust, who may or may not be a member of this rogue nation, as the group faces their most impossible mission yet.
Official site: www.missionimpossible.com

Thursday, July 30, 2015

VACATION (B)



With nothing sacred these days, it should come as no surprise that a sequel/remake of the 1983 National Lampoon classic is being released this week.  Perhaps, like me, you shook your head… This is another flick (like last week’s Pixels) that’s getting trashed by critics – and this is yet another time where most of the critics have it all wrong.  Vacation is a goofily good-natured and foul-mouthed family adventure that never surpasses the 1983 original, but still has a crass-laden blast all its own…  It’s a fast-paced, crude, over-the-top, ridiculous series of cross-country pitfalls, pratfalls and pitstops that delivers tremendous laughter from start to finish.  Granted, you may not feel great for laughing at some of this stuff – but laugh you will.  We could all use a little low-hanging laughter with heart every now and then.  This movie delivers just that – and to all the critics who hated Vacation – you’re trippin’.
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth
Rated: R
Running time: 1hr. 39min.
Story: Following in his father’s footsteps and hoping for some much-needed family bonding, a grown-up Rusty Griswold surprises his wife and their two sons with a cross-country trip back to America’s “favorite family fun park,” Walley World.
Official site: www.vacationthemovie.com

Friday, July 24, 2015

PIXELS (B/B/A+/A+/A+)

Saying this is one of the more enjoyable films from Adam Sandler is like saying that was one of my favorite times someone punched me in the mouth…  Despite the predictably vitriolic, scathingly venom-laced scathing from a majority of self-impressed, note-taking, arm-folding critics, this Ghostbusters meets Wreck-It Ralph wannabe turns out to be a crowd-pleasing summer surprise.  Playing the same scene shuffling schlub we’re used to, Sandler forgoes his usual band of oddball buddies in lieu of a refreshing batch of solid actors (Monaghan, Gad, Dinklage, Bean and Cox) who seem game for almost anything – and that’s precisely where this film pays off.  With its clever premise, effective comedy (more often than not) and outlandishly (and purposely) outdated special effects, this becomes an easily accessible throwback to mousse-haired, acid-washed, neon-clad 80’s nostalgia.  It’s not a perfect movie and the thought of a POTUS’d Kevin James or Q*Bert’s pixilated pee may give you rightful room for pause, but push past the few existing negatives and you’ll find a movie that your whole family can enjoy!  My wife and I liked it a lot, my three boys (10, 8 and 5) loved it and the screening audience of (roughly) 300+ ate these shenanigans up with a giant spoon.  Classic video games from 1982 come to life and attack our planet and this is still, somehow, not Sandler’s most ridiculous film to date.  Chalk it up as yet another example of most critics being way too critical.  Pixels was totally tubular.
Starring:  Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Sean Bean and Brian Cox
Directed by: Chris Columbus

Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 46min.
Story: A group of kids in the 1980s saved the world thousands of times - at 25 cents a game in the video arcades. Now, they're going to have to do it for real. In Pixels, when intergalactic aliens discover video feeds of classic arcade games and misinterpret them as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth, using the video games as the models for their assaults. (C) Sony

Official site: www.facebook.com/pixelsmovie

Thursday, July 23, 2015

SOUTHPAW (B-)


Another boxing movie in the mix only gives Hollywood another shot to screw things up – because as we all know, the genre has already been expertly covered and explored in movies like Raging Bull, Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man and The Fighter, for example… And this time, were it not for Gyllenhaal’s commitedly brilliant performance, solid supporting turns from McAdams and Whitaker, some occasional in-the-ring intensity and a light, beating-heart bond between father and daughter this movie would have been down for the clichéd and by-the-numbers genre film count.  It’s a fairly predictable and broadly brush-stroked movie that’s often failed by the flatly simplistic script and gun-shy direction – a surface level flick that never fully gets its legs underneath itself and fails to truly dig deep into the drama and heartache at hand.  Get in the ring with someone better and you’re bound to perform better – but this lightweight effort behind the camera is no match for the heavyweight acting on the other side. Gyllenhaal delivers a knock-out performance that elevates these dark, gritty and melodramatic proceedings and makes it something that’s ultimately worth the watch.
Starring:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams and Oona Laurence
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Rated: R
Running time: 2hr. 3min.
Story: Southpaw tells the riveting story of Billy "The Great" Hope, reigning Junior Middleweight Boxing Champion of the World. Billy Hope seemingly has it all with an impressive career, a beautiful and loving wife, an adorable daughter and a lavish lifestyle. When tragedy strikes and his lifelong manager and friend leaves him behind, Hope hits rock bottom and turns to an unlikely savior at a run-down local gym: a retired fighter and trainer to the city's toughest amateur boxers. With his future riding on guidance and tenacity, Billy enters the hardest battle of his life as he struggles with redemption and to win back the trust of those he loves. (C) Weinstein

Official site: www.southpawfilm.com

Friday, July 17, 2015

ANT-MAN (B+)


MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE meets OCEAN’S ELEVEN by way of HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS in Marvel’s silliest titled film to date – which, for a new-to-the-party property, turns out to be one of its most light-footed, breezy and entertaining…  ANT-MAN is an efficiently slick, comedically sharp and excitingly action-packed addition to the ever-expanding marvel Cinematic Universe.  With their world’s bulky bullpen of big time heroes (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, et al) firmly in play, the diminutive size and scope of this future Avenger’s journey is actually quite refreshing.  It easily engages while effortlessly folding itself in to a much larger schematic blue print of things to come.  If you found yourself digging the zaniness of a talking raccoon in GAURDIANS OF THE GALAXY, the self-aware humor of IRON MAN, the parent/child dynamic of THOR or the fight-for-what’s-rightedness of CAPTAIN AMERICA, then you’re sure to enjoy what this bug’s life has in store.  And with slivered elements of action, comedy, science fiction, romance and familial bonding, it’s a bantamweight, multi-genre delight.  In fact, couple that with winning performances from Rudd, Douglas and Pena, and I’d say this is one of the easiest superhero films to recommend to the masses.  It’s not the best – just one I’m sure most people can easily wrap their head around and enjoy.  My two oldest boys (10 and 8), not surprisingly, loved it and double downed on A grades.  I now plan on taking them again, bringing our 5-year old and selling my wife on the idea that a movie called ANT-MAN isn’t just for nerds.  I’ve said many times before that size doesn’t matter – after the top-to-bottom, summer fun had with this flick, I’m starting to think it’s actually true.
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangaline Lily, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavalle and Michael Pena
Directed by: Peyton Reed (YES MAN, THE BREAK-UP and BRING IT ON)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 55min.
Story: Armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of towering threats. Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. -- (C) Marvel

Official site: www.facebook.com/antman

Friday, July 10, 2015

MINIONS (C-, C-, B+, A- and A+)

Just weeks ago, Pixar Animation’s INSIDE OUT showered audiences with brilliantly meaningful ideas on how we think, feel and grow via our core emotions of joy, anger, fear, sadness and disgust.  The prequel-ish spin-offedness of MINIONS, oddly, dabbles in similar emotional waters that are much shallower and not at all by design… Some of these emotions include, but are not limited to, Boredom and Disappointment. I may be split on the DESPICABLE ME franchise to date (loved the first one, disliked the second one), but I’ve always been able to grasp the attraction of these loyal, banana-yellow, Tic Tac-ian little critters.  They’re mischievous, caring, clumsy and funny. I get it.  But making an entire movie based solely on their dervish-whirling exploits quickly becomes a taxing chore of cinema watching… The gibberish-laden dialogue is tiresome, the lack of character depth uninvolving, the Sandra Bullock/Jon Hamm voice work is uninspired and the overall story is a chaotically uninteresting mess (whose climax is more-or-less ripped from 1977’s The Muppet Movie).  Another point of note, that most kids won’t be immediately affected by, is the violence.  Back in the day, Loony Tunes would strap a coyote on roller skates to an oversized firework and blow him up over some generic terrain – with MINIONS, we have a rocket-propelled human blow up in Space Shuttle Challenger fashion over England…  There’s plenty of explosions and weapon-play, a funeral scene, a police chase shoot out and a carriage chase with the queen that’s somewhat reminiscent of the Princess Diana tragedy.  The violence here is specific and plays more toward the real world. I love slapstick humor, but it’s taken too far at times in this flick.  With so much going on in this movie, it’s actually quite remarkable how dully routine these proceedings feel.  All this being said, your children are sure to love what they see… The best part for me was watching my 5-year old (A+) with his eyes glued to the screen, heartily laughing and giddily bopping on the edge of his seat throughout. My 10- and 8-year olds gave it a B+ and A-, respectively.  It’s worth mentioning that, as an adult, you should also experience Patience (because it’s not awful and not that long) as well as Gratefulness (that your children enjoyed this low hanging fruit humor as much as they did).  Always colorful and sporadically funny, MINIONS is a pandemically pratfall-y and charisma-free affair.  A movie for the whole family that only half of your family may love…

Starring the voices of: Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Allison Janney and Michael Keaton
Directed by: Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda (DESPICABLE ME and DESPICABLE ME 2)
Rated: PG
Running time: 1hr. 31min.
Story: The story of Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment's Minions begins at the dawn of time. Starting as single-celled yellow organisms, Minions evolve through the ages, perpetually serving the most despicable of masters. Continuously unsuccessful at keeping these masters-from T. rex to Napoleon-the Minions find themselves without someone to serve and fall into a deep depression. But one Minion named Kevin has a plan, and he-alongside teenage rebel Stuart and lovable little Bob-ventures out into the world to find a new evil boss for his brethren to follow. The trio embarks upon a thrilling journey that ultimately leads them to their next potential master, Scarlet Overkill (Academy Award (R) winner Sandra Bullock), the world's first-ever female super-villain. They travel from frigid Antarctica to 1960s New York City, ending in mod London, where they must face their biggest challenge to date: saving all of Minionkind...from annihilation. (c) Universal

Official site: www.minionsmovie.com

TERMINATOR GENISYS (D)

At the onset of this fifth installment, Terminator Genisys bumps shoulders with a ton of timeline scenarios from the first two films (aka the two good ones) that get your blood pumping – moments that resonate, that make you feel, that get you excited for what’s to come…  Once those initial 17 minutes are over, however, we’re left with nothing more than an emotionally hollow, distantly disheveled and ridiculously convoluted tale that seemingly tries to rewrite all the goodness that preceded it…  And if fish line-tangling the mythology weren’t bad enough, we’re presented with a poorly constructed story that makes little sense, lazy scriptwriting/uninspired direction that make no attempt to untangle the clumsy narrative and big budget special effects that we’ve seen a million times before (much of it within this series).  Worst of all (yes, there’s more), is the horrific casting of three of the four leading actors…  Rest assured, by playing to his current age, Schwarzenegger makes it out relatively unscathed – he was actually quite fun to watch.  The real iceberg(s) that ultimately sink this ship are the one-dimensionality of the villain (played by the talented Jason Clarke; his character issues speak more to the writing) and the seemingly talent-free environment created by Jai Courtney (exclusively never good in anything) and Emilia Clarke (supposedly great in Games of Thrones, but atrocious here).  Their chemistry is no deeper than a flipped over Frisbee collecting rain water. There may be enough sideways-to-the-future, wormhole, time travel antics in play to keep tempers at bay, but this type of clunky, clumsy, tired, empty and ill-planned stuff ensured that, like the Terminator himself, I didn’t feel a damn thing.  So, in reaching to retool the franchise in to relevancy, we’re left with nothing more than a big budget dud of a firework for the Fourth of July weekend.  You’ll be back, Arnold?  Yeah, don’t bother – I think we’re good.

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke and J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Alan Taylor (THOR: THE DARK WORLD)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1hr. 59min.
Story: When John Connor, leader of the human resistance, sends Sgt. Kyle Reese back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor and safeguard the future, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline. Now, Sgt. Reese finds himself in a new and unfamiliar version of the past, where he is faced with unlikely allies, including the Guardian, dangerous new enemies, and an unexpected new mission: To reset the future.

MAX (C+/B+)

This clumsily cobbled canine caper for kids is a respectfully ridiculous attempt to honor our fury soldiers both home and abroad.  …and when it’s not paying due tribute to these remarkable animals and their human counterparts, it’s doing a disservice to the audience with its overly multi-focused storytelling, lazy acting (not from the dogs) and semi-forced, pull-at-the-heart-strings patriotism.  As we’re dropped in to a cliché-riddled landscape of mish-mashed middle-America-isms, it’s quickly evident that this film will play stronger to the sensibilities of our children.  And although there’s nothing too intense on the big screen (a muted war scene, occasional gun play and a few dog fights – Jurassic Bark!), your younger children’s existing anxieties will no doubt dictate feelings toward the loss of a family member in this movie.  My non-dog loving ten-year old really enjoyed it (B+), especially the second act adventure as boy and dog learn to bond; my eight-year old – a dog lover – opted out when I explained the aforementioned loss of a brother that sets the story in motion; my five-year old isn’t interested in seeing anything until he sees Jurassic World.  So, this may be a family movie may that’s not quite accessible to the entire family…  There’s may be a thick ribbon of convoluted goofiness that runs through this movie, but there’s no denying that its genuine heart is buried in the right place.
 
Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Josh Wiggins, Lauren Graham, Robbie Amell and Jay Hernandez
Directed by: Boaz Yakin (REMEMBER THE TITANS)
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hr. 51min.
Story: A military dog from Afghanistan is adopted by his late handler's grieving family in the U.S., where his close bond with the soldier's brother leads to a life-altering revelation

 
Official site: www.max-themovie.com