Friday, May 1, 2015

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (A-)

The Bottom Line: Disney and Marvel deep dive in to a multi-layered, colorfully chaotic and action-heavy world of deadly domino effects and marvelously manicured mayhem!  …and director Joss Whedon, back for round two, does a miraculous job of spinning all the plates – the epic scope is mindboggling massive, the dialogue is welcomingly witty and the action is jawdroppingly joyful.  Each of the many characters are given an ample spotlight and some either make up for lost time from the original or pop a brief appearance for a tease at things to come (no spoilers…none).  In a lesser team’s hands, this would all be a mismanaged mish-mash of growls, grunts and twisted metal – but this is the summer big leagues and they do an exceedingly effective job of delivering exactly what you’d hope a movie of this size could…which is knocking it outta the friggin’ park!  Not only is the mission of stopping a crazed artificial intelligence-driven robot (a brilliantly voice-casted James Spader) from laying waste to humanity mightily resolved, but the table is strategically set for cold-hearted conflict in installments to come… Admittedly, the path is eerily familiar this time out with villainous motives never fully fleshed out and team members learning to work together as they’re pulled apart.  Plus, the sheer number of things happening at any one time coupled with a denseness of plot may leave some viewers hamstrung and wondering what this all means… Here, you ride with the minor convolutions or you die with ‘em – but if you’ve ever experienced any slice of this slick cinematic universe (or have your know-it-all 10-year old son with you; that was my strategy; this is now his favorite movie of all time) then this world is your fairly accessible and easy to navigate vibranium-coated oyster.  Avengers: Age of Ultron is pure energetic fun (whether you're familiar with all the characters or not) and burns bright on the entertaining potency of its humor, heart and super hero smack downs.  Never mind the few naysayers; this is an explosively juicy jumpstart to the big budget summer movie season… Time to assemble your crew!

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smolders, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and James Spader
Directed by: Joss Whedon (Marvel’s The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing and Serenity)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 150 minutes
Story: When Tony Stark jumpstarts a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth's Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as they battle to save the planet from destruction at the hands of the villainous Ultron.

Official site: www.facebook.com/avengers

Friday, April 24, 2015

THE AGE OF ADALINE (B+)

The Bottom Line: Goofy molecular science meets whimsical storybook fantasy in this decades-spanning, light-hearted chick-flick-on-steroids delight.  Saddled with immortality after a horrible car accident in the 1930’s, Blake Lively brings subtlety, sophistication and schoolmarm sexiness to her nuanced character – a woman who very rarely gets attached, plays her cards (read: gift) close to her vest and keeps moving on every 10 years…without ever truly moving forward.  Her male costars, Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones) and Harrison Ford, both add effective doses of humor and heart.  All three of these performances are terrific.  Plus, there’s a resounding innocence to the films message of letting go and giving in that’s both refreshing and effective.  Each reflective time period gives us more to learn and adds intriguing layers to our main character’s character.   Although it does dabble in melodrama, occasionally dips its toe in to schmaltz and only sort of skims the surface of what it might be like to never grow old – The Age of Adaline still maintains a timeless romantic charm that’s hard to resist.

Starring: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Ellen Burstyn and Harrison Ford
Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger (Celeste and Jesse Forever)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 109 minutes
Story: After miraculously remaining 29 years old for almost eight decades, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker) threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever. (C) Lionsgate

THE WATER DIVINER (B)

The Bottom Line: Part war film, part romance and part family reconciliation, Russell Crowe pulls double duty as both director and actor in this intriguingly graceful flick about love, loss, hope, grief and closure.  Although his freshman attempt at the helm may get clunky from time to time – nothing to jarring for general audiences, mind you – he still managed to deliver a gorgeously filmed (Australia and Turkey are the two main backdrops here) and competently effective flick about family.  Epic in scale, with a decidedly old fashioned flair – very little is out of place, over the top or in your face.  Every character evolution has depth and each scene is given time to unfold to its touching, brutal or even comical conclusion.  Crowe, as expected, does a marvelous job on the acting front as a purpose-driven man dealing with heartbreak and desperation.  His performance is as sincere and soft-hearted as it is stoic.  There are a few awkward directorial choices (uncomfortable close-ups and camera angles), a couple of meandering narrative hiccups and a heart that could have pounded louder for loved ones both lost and found…  But in the end, I was indeed entertained and full credit goes to Russell Crowe for working both sides of the camera to (almost) full effect.

BTMG side recommendation: As this movie deals with the 5-years hence aftermath of World War I’s Gallipoli Campaign, I highly recommend – at some point – checking out Peter Weir’s masterful Gallipoli (1981) starring Mel Gibson.

Starring: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney and Yilmaz Erdogan
Directed by: Russell Crowe
Rated: R
Running time: 111 minutes
Story: In 1919, Australian farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) goes in search of his three missing sons, last known to have fought against the Turks in the bloody Battle of Gallipoli. Arriving in Istanbul, he is thrust into a vastly different world, where he encounters others who have suffered their own losses in the conflict: Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), a strikingly beautiful but guarded hotelier raising a child alone; her young, spirited son, Orhan (Dylan Georgiades), who finds a friend in Connor; and Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdo?an), a Turkish officer who fought against Connor’s boys and who may be this father’s only hope. With seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his path, Connor must travel across the battle-scarred Turkish landscape to find the truth and his own peace.
Official site: www.thewaterdiviner.com

Friday, April 17, 2015

Disneynature's MONKEY KINGDOM (B+)

The Bottom Line: Following a finely tuned paint-by-numbers formula – that Disneynature films (African Cats, Bears, Oceans, Earth and Chimpanzee) has been perfecting since 2007 – Monkey Kingdom delivers a lively an engaging glimpse in to a (mostly) jovial group of South Asia jungle dwellers who eat, sleep, groom, play and stick to a very strict societal hierarchy.  These ready-for-primetime primates are chockfull of rich personalities that are colorfully enhanced by the witty and goofishly run-and-gun narrative stylings of Tina Fey.  Instead of the traditional, here’s-what-you-see-on-screen, Morgan Freeman-ish approach to wildlife documentaries, Fey apes the proceedings with a freshness, flair and fervor that adds character depth and in turn enlivens the film as a whole.  It may not be as deep or informative as its predecessors, but it’s definitely the most entertaining.  …and if Miss Fey is the soul that makes this movie hum, the intrinsic bond between mother and son is the 800-pound gorilla heart at the center.  As is the pattern with these films, certain liberties are taken to ramp up the tension or to enhance the frivolity – the inclusion of a cleverly edited turf war or a staged birthday party sugar spread may all be clearly manufactured, but they’re gracefully forced in place to service the story.  And it works.  An intriguing examination of social structures, familial ties and determination plus breathtaking imagery and a good natured sense of fun make this the must see monkey movie of the year.  My family loved it, yours will too!

Narrated by: Tina Fey
Directed by: Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
Rated: G
Running time: 81 minutes
Story: Maya’s world is forever changed when she welcomes her son, Kip, into her complicated extended family. Like all families, Maya’s has more than its share of colorful personalities—and she’s determined to give her son a leg up on the social ladder. When their longtime home at Castle Rock is taken over by powerful neighboring monkeys, Maya's whole family is forced to relocate, and she uses her street smarts and ingenuity to lead them to untapped resources amidst strange new creatures and unsettling surroundings. Ultimately, they will all have to work together to reclaim Castle Rock, where Maya can hopefully realize her dreams for her son’s future. [Disneynature]

Monday, April 6, 2015

FURIOUS 7 (C+)

The Bottom Line: Just when I thought I was in, they (try to) pull me back out.  A massive and virtually mindless mash-up of mind bogglingly over-the-top vehicular warfare and meandering muscle car machismo, Furious 7 is exactly what you might expect, but somehow a lot less – even though there’s a ton more jammed under the hood.  For the record, I wasn’t a fan of this series until 2011’s Fast Five (B+) and 2013’s Fast and Furious 6 (B) roared in to theaters and fused the series’ fast lane focus with a compelling and keenly more self-aware heist movie mentality.  These were slick flicks knowingly built on brain-bashing visuals, cheesy dialogue and richer, more compelling storylines…  A tad of that deserved good will has carried over here, but sometimes knowing you’re cheesy, over-the-top and basically the live-version equivalent of a Road Runner cartoon doesn’t make it okay to be cheesy, over-the-top and so darn meep meep-ish.  Biggest problem here is that the exciting revenge plotline teased at the end of episode 6 never really starts paying off...  Statham is in full-on goon mode, showing up wherever and whenever the script dictates, but he never gets the job done.  This movie is a teeth-gnashingly over-blown lesson in cinematic redundancy.  A lot of the intrigue has diminished here in lieu of non-stop mano-a-mano fist-a-cuffs, eardrum rattling gunplay and violently PG-13 vehicular warfare.  Some of it is efficiently fun, but most of it gets destructively sloppy and veers off the road of remotely interesting.  It’s a flick that would have benefitted greatly from a tighter, shorter running time and a stronger focus on cohesion of plots.  A race car movie that, oddly, needs a yield sign or two.  If you loved the whole series or only the last two installments (like me), don’t be surprised if you find yourself fidgeting in your seat or checking your watch from time-to-time.  The movie may be explosively chaotic but it definitely does drag.  The cast, as expected, are enthusiastically there to get the job done though: Diesel grumbles, Diggs complains, Rodriguez mopes, Ludicrous solves, Russell quips, Statham jabs, Johnson charms and the late Walker (with a touching tribute toward the end) adds a dose of gravitas to the proceedings that eerily reminds us of the movie’s muscle car mantra of Ride or Die.  There’s some globe-hopping James Bond meets The Avengers excitement to be had, but the tread has definitely started to wear a bit thin – here’s hoping there’s a suitable pit crew in place for part eight and nine.

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Michelle Rodriguez, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey, Jordana Brewster, Djimon Hounsou and Kurt Russell
Directed by: James Wan (The Conjuring and Insidious)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 140 minutes
Story: After Dominic Toretto and his crew helped take down Owen Shaw (Fast and Furious 6) – his brother, Deckard Shaw, seeks revenge.

Official site: www.furious7.com

Friday, March 27, 2015

GET HARD (B-)

The Bottom Line: One man’s brash is another man’s pleasure.  I guess it’s fairly easy to understand someone taking offense to the antics on display here – heck, even the title is something you’d whisper depending on who’s within earshot.  This, like most of Ferrell’s stuff, is an over-the-top bonanza of uptight critic fodder.  Negative reviews are swirling with aggressive adjectives regarding the movie’s handling of sexuality, racism, homophobia and at length discussions of prison rape (and by ‘at length’ I mean…well, I guess I mean a few different things).  If you’re looking for political correctness in a Will Ferrell movie then – well, then this must be your first Will Ferrell movie.  The Get Hard gang isn’t here to promote an anti-anything agenda, it’s not here to tackle social issues – it’s here to mine the inherent comedy that exists when an impending prison term is bestowed upon a white, wealthy, soft-bellied, Brillo-haired, country club-dwelling man of privilege.  Ferrell is once again tossed in to the know-it-all-who-really-knows-nothing mold while Hart plays the straight-laced but hood-bred opportunist looking to move on up (for the sake of his wife and daughter).  In addition to the straight into Compton scenarios, the verbal fumbling and physical tumbling, a majority of the laughs – of which there are many – are brought about by the pairing of these two comedic icons.  Each of their bob-and-weave improv stylings complements the other rather well.  So there’s the people who’ll roll with the line-toeing comedy and have a grand time, the people who will legitimately be offended (don’t go; totally understand) and the people who won’t be directly offended but figure it must offend someone so they’ll now be offended as well (don’t sit near ‘em).  Admittedly, the wafer-thin, wet paper bag story is only in play to set up this special brand of funny – it’s not ground breaking or life changing.  Its 110 minutes of so-so storytelling that unfortunately fizzles out in a rushed and unfocused fashion.  If it’s funny, I’ll laugh – and I laughed quite a bit.  Get Hard may go soft at the end, but it’s difficult to deny that Ferrell and Hart make for a rousing comedic duo.

Starring: Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart
Directed by: Etan Cohen (screenwriter for Men in Black III, Madagascar 2 and Idiocracy)
Rated: R
Running time: 110 minutes
Story: A wealthy investment bank manager is convicted of a crime he didn't commit and prepares for prison with help from the guy who washes his car.

Official site: www.gethardmovie.com

HOME (C+/B/B+/A)

The Bottom Line: A somewhat huggable, animated sci-fi invasion flick that scoots along with a ton of eye-popping color and a dash of zany nonsense, Dreamwork’s Home is a surefire hit for the kiddos in your clan (my three boys really enjoyed it; 10yrs B, 8yrs B+ and 5yrs A).  The movie means well with messages about standing up for yourself and taking chances, and yet it never truly tries reaching for the stars…  The 90 minutes invested will zip along and along the way you’ll be surprised to find a little heart beneath all the candy-colored hijinks.  Bottom line though is that we’ve seen much of this before, and that’s not all together a bad thing – I just with it was a more memorable thing.  This’ll easily make for a fun family flick but, ironically (or helpfully), the title tells you the best location in which to watch it…

Starring the voices of: Jim Parsons, Rihanna and Steve Martin
Directed by: Tim Johnson (Over the Hedge and Antz)
Rated: PG
Running time: 93 minutes
Story: When Oh, a loveable misfit from another planet, lands on Earth and finds himself on the run from his own people, he forms an unlikely friendship with an adventurous girl named Tip who is on a quest of her own. Through a series of comic adventures with Tip, Oh comes to understand that being different and making mistakes is all part of being human. And while he changes her planet and she changes his world, they discover the true meaning of the word HOME. (c) Fox

Official site: www.meettheboov.com

Friday, March 20, 2015

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT (D-)

The Bottom Line: Divergent, last year’s first installment to the lackluster books-turned-movies franchise, was my least favorite movie of 2014.  And although I entered this sequel with a huge, hard-to-budge chip on my shoulder – my expectation was that it couldn’t be as bad as the first one.  And it’s not.  But that’s like saying my broken left leg doesn’t hurt as bad as my broken right leg.  Both legs are broken and, like these movies (thus far), both broken legs suck.  Insurgent mindlessly mashes together copycat elements of The Hunger Games, Inception, The Maze Runner, The Matrix and Twilight – but in doing so carelessly jettisons an out-of-the-box mindset that made most of those films special or unique (I tease about Twilight being special and unique, by the way).  There are exactly three things that I’ll give Insurgent positive credit for: 1) it’s effective use of Miles Teller, who adds an energetic zing to his very few scenes (side note: go rent Whiplash…like now), 2) the ping-pongy, action-first narrative might be misshapen and rote but it still shields us from the nap-inducing world-building that plagued its predecessor and 3) the release of this flick puts us one movie closer to the end of this dreadful series.  This movie is lifelessly uninventive and woefully uninvolving.  It’s a hobbled together, awkwardly motivated glimpse in to a dystopian community that lacks in both intrigue and entertainment – and it cuts through its societal discord commentary as smoothly as a butter knife would a brick.  The story is meandering, the direction unfocused and the acting (again, aside from Miles Teller) is either lazy or unengaging…often both.  I’d normally offer up my wife’s take around this point but she (a lover of the books) has such a deep-seated hatred of the first film that she passed altogether on taking in the sequel.  I didn’t have a choice.  She did – and you do too.  Insurgent may be ‘better’ than Divergent – but it’s still remains an insufferable, insipid and insanely dull mess.

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Theo James, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Octavia Spencer
Directed by: Robert Schwentke (RED, Flightplan, The Time Traveler’s Wife and RIPD)
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 119 minutes
Story: THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT raises the stakes for Tris as she searches for allies and answers in the ruins of a futuristic Chicago. Tris (Woodley) and Four (James) are now fugitives on the run, hunted by Jeanine (Winslet), the leader of the power-hungry Erudite elite. Racing against time, they must find out what Tris's family sacrificed their lives to protect, and why the Erudite leaders will do anything to stop them. Haunted by her past choices but desperate to protect the ones she loves, Tris, with Four at her side, faces one impossible challenge after another as they unlock the truth about the past and ultimately the future of their world. (C) Lionsgate


Official site: www.thedivergentseries.com

CINDERELLA (B+/B+/B+)

The Bottom Line: So, um, apparently I’m a sucker for live-action Disney princess movies.  Damn you, director Kenneth Branagh!  With its simplistic yet timeless messages on hope, courage and kindness assuredly in place (and not beating you over the head with a cinder-coated fireplace shovel), this disarmingly charming belle of the ball is poised to rightfully do huge business and do for most 8-year old girls what The Hunger Games does for most 15-year old girls.  Now I don’t have daughters (so I have no idea what I’m talking about), but I do have hoop-shorts-wearing, Beats-by-Dre-listening, Madden-football-playing 10- and 8-year old boys who both really enjoyed it and gave it a B+ – so you do the box office math…  Branagh has respectfully and lovingly crafted a bare-bones, simplistically sincere, confidently charming and enchantingly dazzling film.  We may all very well know the story, but this regal recapturing gets a ton right from its efficient pace to its glorious costume design and art direction to the casting of Blanchett (the evil stepmother), Bonham-carter (the fairy godmother) and the oh-so-elegant and not-in-the-least-bit-ugly Lily James (Cinderella).  There’s not a huge amount of new ground being broken here, but it still remains a kind-hearted, handsome and huggably forthright film – a wonderfully whimsical delight for all ages.  Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Booyah!

Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham-Carter, Richard Madden and Stellan Skarsgard
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Hamlet, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dead Again)
Rated: PG
Running time: 115 minutes
Story: The story of Cinderella follows the fortunes of young Ella whose merchant father remarries following the tragic death of her mother. Keen to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother Lady Tremaine and her daughters Anastasia and Drisella into the family home. But, when Ella's father suddenly and unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Finally relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderella, Ella could easily begin to lose hope. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother's dying words and to "have courage and be kind." She will not give in to despair nor despise those who abuse her. And then there is the dashing stranger she meets in the woods. Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an employee at the Palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears as if her fortunes may be about to change when the Palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella's hopes of once again encountering the charming "Kit." Alas, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand as a kindly beggar woman steps forward and, armed with a pumpkin and a few mice, changes Cinderella's life forever. [Walt Disney Pictures]


Official site: www.movies.disney.com/cinderella 

RUN ALL NIGHT (B)

The Bottom Line: The age-old adage (that I’m actually I’m making up right now) is that if you’re let down with Liam Neeson’s latest action movie…just wait a month and see if his next one is any better…  On the surface, Run All Night looks like another one of his well-worn retreads where good battles evil and the life of a family member hangs in the balance.  Just under the surface though you’ll find…that that is actually the case – but with a slight twist. The twist, of course, is that this time out he’s actually delivered something pretty entertaining.  All wrapped up, it turns out to be Taken meets A Walk Among the Tombstones with a tinge of Road to Perdition – none of this is a bad thing.  The eye-for-an-eye setup is intriguing and welcomingly propels you through one gritty, bloodthirsty, down-and-dirty, pseudo-noirish, keep-moving-at-all-costs night in the Big Apple.  And both Neeson and Harris add a significant amount of cinematic heft to their roles while they toe the sympathetic hard-line of who has it worst.  You’ll get great acting, solid action and a nice tete-a-tete between these two icons that mimics (in a B-level sorta way) the much deeper and way more powerful Pacino/Deniro let’s-grab-a-cup-of-coffee scene from Heat.  This one, for the movie’s purposes, is still very effective and fun to watch.  This run through the city, however, is not without its fair share of pulled hammies – we’ve seen a lot of this stuff before, the direction could have been tighter and the intensity could have been ratcheted up had the movie truly enveloped a ticking clock scenario throughout.  Still, the movie finds a way to entertain and instead of Taken 4 we get taken for a fairly fun ride.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Common and Vincent D’Onofrio
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop and Unknown)
Rated: R
Running time: 114 minutes
Story: Brooklyn mobster and prolific hit man Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson), once known as “The Gravedigger,” has seen better days. Longtime best friend of mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), Jimmy, now 55, is haunted by the sins of his past—as well as a dogged police detective (Vincent D'Onofrio) who’s been one step behind Jimmy for 30 years. Lately, it seems Jimmy’s only solace can be found at the bottom of a whiskey glass. But when Jimmy’s estranged son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman), becomes a target, Jimmy must make a choice between the crime family he chose and the real family he abandoned long ago. With Mike on the run, Jimmy’s only penance for his past mistakes may be to keep his son from the same fate Jimmy is certain he’ll face himself. Now, with nowhere safe to turn, Jimmy just has one night to figure out exactly where his loyalties lie and to see if he can finally make things right.


Official site: www.runallnightmovie.com