Sunday, November 13, 2016
9:14 pm est
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict
Cumberbatch) is the latest superhero to be added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Prior to becoming a superhero, he’s
a lot like Tony Stark: an arrogant genius who coasts through life on incredible talent without really pushing himself beyond
his comfort zone. Strange is a surgeon who gets in a car accident and loses use of his hands. He’s lucky that’s
all he loses after his car went over a steep cliff, but as a surgeon, he’s still devastated. He plunges into a downward
spiral where he goes broke and turns away his caring girlfriend (Rachel McAdams).
No doctors in the Western Hemisphere will help Strange, so he travels to Nepal to be treated by a mysterious Ancient
One (Tilda Swinton). She introduces him to a form of magic and subjects him to things he never thought possible, like separating
his spirit from his body and sending him hurling through the multiverse. He becomes her student, with her training him for
what he thinks is his own benefit, but is actually to make him a defender of the planet. A dangerous former student (Mads
Mikkelsen) is trying to steal all of the Earth’s time and is planning to turn it over to an evil outer space cloud monster
who will use it to achieve world domination.
I might not have gotten that last part quite right, but that part of the movie doesn’t make a lot of sense. Actually,
a great deal about this movie doesn’t make a lot of sense. This movie can’t turn around without introducing us
to something incredible. In a very short span of time, Strange learns about out-of-body experiences, the outer reaches of
the universe, the creation of matter with his mind, the culling of resources from parallel dimensions, a protective cloak
with a mind of its own, a portable prison of sorts, all manner of manipulating time and space, and a librarian who has apparently
never heard of Beyonce. Maybe a wunderkind like Strange can keep track of it all, but I couldn’t. And frankly the movie
can’t either. These concepts are thrown around haphazardly so we can get about five minutes of cool visuals, but they
don’t seem to have any long-term effects on our world.
That’s not to say that there’s not a lot about to like about this movie. Cumberbatch has finally found
a blockbuster leading role that suits him, and he has excellent chemistry with everybody. The humor mostly hits, outside of
tired Mister/Doctor confusion. And the aforementioned cool visuals are extraordinarily cool. The movie has a somewhat dull
color palate until that multiverse sequence and then wham! – you’re hit with the full spectrum. One of these parallel
universes sees Strange’s hand grow new hands out of his fingers, and then those hands grow hands, and those hands grow
hands. You might not think you’re freaked out by fingers, but trust me, you are. Then there’s a chase/fight scene
where the gravity is altered, so the characters run and fight up, down, all around, side to side, and many other directions.
I got nauseated by this disorienting sequence, but I appreciate the effort.
With pun absolutely intended, “Doctor Strange” is one of Marvel’s stranger movies. The film’s
ambition knows no bounds. Unfortunately, the film’s running time should have been a bound(ary). The film comes up with
amazing ideas faster than it can handle them, maybe a few should have been cut. I hate to ask a film to ease up on the creativity,
but taking more time to develop some of its higher concepts would have given this film some much-needed coherence. Still,
when this movie works, it works beautifully. I loved this movie when I could wrap my head around it. Doctor Strange could
probably use some kind of magic to literally wrap his head around it.
Two and a Half Stars out of Five
"Boo! A Madea Halloween"
9:14 pm est
Q: Why should you never perform for
Because they’re always saying “Boo!”
This movie gets a bunch of boos out
of me, and it’s not because I’m trying to scare it. Tyler Perry is back and he’s brought his alter ego Madea
with him. Get ready for 103 minutes of crass old lady jokes with delusions of wisdom.
The story is that Brian (Perry looking like himself) needs someone to look after his 17-year-old daughter Tiffany (Diamond
White) on Halloween night. She expressed interest in going to a party at a nearby fraternity, and of course Brian doesn’t
want her to go. But he also doesn’t want to rock the boat in their relationship, where he’s trying to be more
of a friend than a parent. Apparently he’s being guided by the one book in the world that thinks this approach to parenting
is a good idea. So he asks his Aunt Madea to babysit, and she brings along her brother Joe (Perry again, in horrible makeup
but at least not drag), his wife Hattie (Patrice Lovely, in one of the worst portrayals of an old lady I’ve ever seen),
and cousin Bam (Cassi Davis).
Shenanigans follow. Tiffany sneaks out of the house and Madea and her crew have to go to the frat party to track her
down. But the silly old people… they don’t know how to interact with the young people. And the flippant young
people… they don’t respect their elders and need to be put in their place. And this needs to be done by Madea
exposing herself for some reason. Elsewhere in the movie there are clown attacks, zombie attacks, murder scares, arrest scares,
candy stealing, prescription pot jokes aplenty, and all manner of PG-13 bathroom humor.
Aside from the jokes being plain unfunny and the characters’ actions being stupid, the movie suffers from pacing
issues. Perry, a playwright, clearly wrote some of these scenes with the stage in mind. Scenes in Brian’s living room
stretch on and on, because onstage you can have long conversations in a single setting because it’s necessary to keep
set changes to a minimum. But onscreen it just makes the movie drag, especially since nothing interesting is being said. Other
examples of the film’s staginess hurting it are the horrendous “they need to see it in the back” makeup
and of course the broad acting, which in person might be praised for being “energetic,” but here is just obnoxious.
you’ve ever seen one of these movies, you know that they’re never entirely about Madea and her antics. I’d
say “thankfully,” but the serious parts of this movie don’t fare any better. The supposed “heart”
of this movie is Brian’s relationship with Tiffany and how he should handle matters of discipline. The idea is that
Brian is too soft and Madea and Joe are advising him to be too harsh, and the best solution is somewhere in between. Of course
it lies somewhere in between, both sides are ridiculous extremes. Brian’s approach clearly isn’t working and Madea
and Joe cite examples that Hammurabi would consider abusive. So is it any wonder that none of this material comes off as insightful?
giving “Boo! A Madea Halloween” one star out of five. Please know that I don’t despise this movie the way
I despise some of the other movies I’ve given one star to this year. It’s too lightweight to get me that angry.
And at least I can take a little bit of solace in knowing that Perry had to be uncomfortable under all the makeup and prosthetics.
I just can’t think of a single thing this movie does right.
One Star out of Five.
"The Girl on the Train"
9:12 pm est
“The Girl on the Train”
is a mystery about a missing woman, based on a novel by Paula Hawkins. It was destined from day one to be compared to similar
adaptations like “Gone Girl” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Those films were supposed to be
in for a big awards push, but failed to secure Oscar nominations in any major category except Best Actress. Here too is a
film where I could see the lead actress claiming the sole Oscar nomination, though the film around her is perhaps too weak
to make her a true contender.
The story often switches narrators, but it mainly follows Rachel (Emily Blunt). She’s a trainwreck of a person,
a chaotic alcoholic who spends her days drinking and riding trains to a job she doesn’t have. She pauses only to obsess
over two couples. The first is somewhat understandable: her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his former mistress and now-wife
Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). They live in wedded bliss with the daughter Rachel always wanted. The other couple is more inexplicable:
Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) are neighbors of Tom and Anna who seem to have life all figured out. Although
Rachel only ever sees them through a train window, to her they represent stability and perfection.
Then one day Rachel sees Megan in
the arms of another man, her psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez). Rachel is so infuriated by this betrayal that she sets out to confront
Anna over Tom’s betrayal. She follows “Anna” into a tunnel, but it turns out she’s actually meeting
Megan for the first time. Then she blacks out for several hours. Then she wakes up covered in blood. Then she finds out that
Megan, who it turns out was a nanny for Tom and Anna, is missing. Who is responsible for Megan’s disappearance? Could
it really have been Rachel, who is prone to erratic behavior and alcohol-induced blackouts and who can’t remember what
happened in that tunnel?
From there, the film goes through all the paces that disappearance-based mysteries go through. Everybody has secrets,
everybody takes a turn being the most likely suspect. There’s a handful of twists, and then weirdly no twist when you’d
think there’s be one. I’m okay with the “perfect” characters turning out to be not so perfect, it
comes with the territory. But I was disappointed that the “interesting” characters weren’t so interesting.
The men are all drooling oafs in one form or another, The women are all annoyingly self-absorbed, but they fare a little better.
Anna tries to maintain a relationship with a man she knows she can’t trust because it started with him lying to his
wife. Megan is trying to make sense of the many mistakes she’s made in her life, including the worst mistake a mother
can make. And Rachel is just trying to make it through her pathetic life. Her semblance of sanity depends on the happiness
of others, and even that is quickly falling apart.
All of the performances are good in “The Girl on the Train,” better than the material deserves. The men
manage to breathe life into thankless roles and the women all garner sympathy for inconsiderate characters who seem to like
to fall back on the catchall justification of being “flawed.” Blunt in particular is compelling in every tearful
moment with a character who is unable to survive in polite society. It’s a shame that the mystery aspect of this movie
is so poorly done. I formed a theory about a third of the way through that turned out to be the solution; a twist that predictable
should have another layer or two on top of it. This movie is a step down from, say, “Gone Girl,” but I wouldn’t
label it an entirely useless knockoff.
Stars out of Five.
"Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children"
9:11 pm est
Hey kids, do you love “X-Men”
but were massively let down by “X-Men: Apocalypse”? Are you sick of knockoffs of “The Hunger Games”
and “Twilight” and yearn for the good old days of “Harry Potter” knockoffs? Do you hate wasting eight
hours of your day on pesky sleep and want to see imagery that will keep you up for weeks? “Miss Peregrine’s Home
for Peculiar Children” might be the movie for you. Then again, if you like movies that are original and coherent, this
might not be the movie for you.
American teenager Jake (Asa Butterfield) witnesses his globehopping grandfather (Terrence Stamp) suffer a bizarre death
that’s can’t be explained by standard forensics. He thinks that answers may lie at the Welsh children’s
home where his grandfather grew up. His psychologist (Allison Janney) encourages him to go there for closure if nothing else,
and his clueless father (Chris O’Dowd) reluctantly takes him. When he gets there, he’s stupefied to discover that
the home was bombed in 1943. But then he meets some of the children that lived with his grandfather. Not adult versions of
these children, but the actual children.
The children show him that the home is in fact still standing, provided he travels back in time to 1943. There he meets
prim and proper headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) who explains that the home is protected by a “time loop”
where everyone inside lives the same day over and over for their own protection. They need to be protected because the children
are “peculiars” who have special abilities that the world wouldn’t understand and would put them in danger,
the usual relationship superhumans have with regular humans in these movies. The powers are typical of this genre: one can
turn invisible, one can shoot fire, one is an Airbender, etc. The only one I found interesting was a kid with a collection
of hearts that he can insert into inanimate objects and make them come to life. Ironically, he mostly uses this incredible
life-giving ability to make things kill each other, the sick little freak.
The heart kid isn’t even the bad guy. That honor belongs to Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), an evil scientist
who discovers how to become immortal without having to live in a time loop. He just has to kill peculiar children and eat
their eyeballs. We see lots of eyeball-eating and empty eye sockets. Mr. Barron kidnaps Miss Peregrine and Jake has to lead
the Peculiar Children in an adventure to get her back. Turns out Mr. Barron isn’t that difficult of a villain because
he’s always wasting time boasting about how certain he is of victory. I’ve come to expect a degree of this trope
in movies, but this guy does it like 90% of the time.
The bad news is that “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is a dull, confusing movie in
most respects. The business with the time loops gets really nonsensical after a while and the movie doesn’t do anything
with its action or characters that you wouldn’t completely expect from this genre. The good news is that I actually
dug the freaky, disturbing visuals. This is a movie with characters that can scare people to death with their faces, and unlike
alleged horror movie “Blair Witch,” it actually has enough confidence to give us those faces. This movie was directed
by Tim Burton, and he’s a master of being scary and depraved in that fun way. But not every scene can rely on being
horrifying, and the movie lags in scenes where it can’t revel in style over substance.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
"The Magnificent Seven"
9:10 pm est
The new version of “The Magnificent
Seven” (a remake of a 1960 Western that I have not seen, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven
Samurai,” which I have) is one of those movies that starts off looking award-worthy, but gradually loses steam until
it’s nearly unwatchable by the end. There’s no one point where it really drops the ball, it just consistently
fails to capitalize on its impressive early scenes.
Those early scenes involve evil mining tycoon Bartholomew Brogue storming into the quaint town of Rose Creek and making
everyone an offer they can’t refuse: sign over their property for a measly $20 or be wiped off the face of the Earth.
He murders a few outspoken townspeople to prove his point. One woman (Haley Bennett), the widow of one of the victims, decides
that the town doesn’t need to placate Bogue, they need to eliminate him. She hires passing bounty hunter Sam Chisolm
(Denzel Washington) to assemble a team to go to war with Bogue.
Chisolm rustles together a ragtag posse. There’s talented slacker Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), war hero Goodnight
Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife-favorer Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), persuadable criminal Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Comanche
outcast Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and legendary tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio). Together, the Seven of
them can do Magnificent things, like wipe out the Bogue henchmen keeping an eye on Rose Creek. They let one go tell Bogue,
so in a few days he and an army of underlings can lay siege to the town.
have to question this strategy. Why let Bogue know that the town is going to fight back? Why not wait for him to come on his
own with minimal security? Or attack him at his house or somewhere en route? One Bogue henchman suggests that the Seven only
did so well initially because they had the element of surprise. Why not save that element of surprise for Bogue? Because it
wouldn’t allow for an appetite-whetting action sequence in the middle of the movie, that’s why.
Actually, the mid-movie action sequence is better than the grand finale. It’s the first
time we get to see the Seven in action as a unit, we don’t know quite what to expect, and the surprises and spontaneity
do make it more exciting. The Seven have good chemistry, whether they’re fighting, preparing, or just sitting around
eating dinner. All of these characters have to potential to be interesting, but the movie reduces most of them to interchangeable
honorable fighters who are good with occasional wisecracks. The only two who get any real development are Washington and Hawke,
and their arcs are entirely predictable.
Eventually we do get to
that big final action sequence and it’s a total mess. It’s impossible to tell Bogue’s men and armed townspeople
apart, so I constantly found myself asking “That guy who just got shot, good guy or bad guy?” Bogue has a “secret
weapon” that he should be using much earlier in the battle if not straight-up from the outset. Bad guys in the middle
of a shootout decide to gloat instead of getting the job done, which of course leads to the good guys making a comeback. At
least one death scene is ridiculously dragged out so the actor can ham it up. Worst of all is that faceless, uninteresting
characters spend so much time shooting at each other that it just gets boring.
There are good things about “That Magnificent Seven.” The settings are beautiful, with majestic sun-scorched
mountains everywhere. The banter and jokes are funny and the characters seem rich and riveting when we first meet them. But
the film does hardly anything to flesh them out once they’re introduced, and we care about them less and less as it
goes along. These Seven heroes may be “Magnificent,” but their movie sure isn’t.
Two Stars out of Five.
9:09 pm est
For better or worse, 1999’s
“The Blair Witch Project” pretty much invented the “found footage” style of filmmaking that we see
so often these days, usually in horror movies. The film made $140 million on a budget of $60,000 thanks to its unprecedented
style and a wily internet marketing campaign. This success led to a plethora of knockoffs, sometimes as fruitful as the “Paranormal
Activity” franchise, but often as useless as, say, “As Above/So Below.” Even though it’s obviously
a sequel (and not just a sequel in name only like 2000’s “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2”), I still consider
the new film “Blair Witch” to be one of those useless knockoffs.
The film follows James (James Allen McCune), the younger brother of the female filmmaker from the original film, as
he goes into the woods of Maryland to try and find out what happened to his sister all those years ago. He brings along his
girlfriend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid). Another couple invites themselves
along, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), who clearly have an ulterior motive. James is being more careful than
his sister. He has twice the crew, better cameras, GPS, and a nifty drone. Surely this means he won’t fall into the
same centuries-old trap his sister fell into, right?
Yeah, things go wrong. Equipment falters. Trees fall. The group gets lost and when they try to go home, they keep coming
upon the same landmarks. The sun refuses to come up. Lane and Talia go off on their own and when they return a few hours later,
they say they’ve been gone for days. Ashley gets a cut and it turns out to be *woo* a haunted cut *woo*. Those stick
figures from the first movie that we got sick of seeing all over pop culture in 1999 are back. This time they’re made
of impressively gnarled sticks, so they’re about as scary as sticks can be, but how much is that saying, really? And
of course the whole thing ends with the remaining characters trekking through a familiar house as we wonder if we’ll
finally get to see the Blair Witch.
90% of this movie can’t be scary to save its life. Yes, being lost in the woods at night is scary, and the original
film did an excellent job of capturing that disoriented feeling. It was what made that film work, more so than any of the
witch stuff. But that’s exactly why it doesn’t work in this movie, because we’ve seen it before, there’s
less of it, and this film doesn’t do anything new with it. Instead the movie relies on cheap jump scares like characters
entering the frame without warning and glitch-y static sounds from the camera. The film is content to cruise on the promise
that the Blair Witch’s face will scare you to death in and of itself. I’m not above being scared by faces (I’m
the only person I know who loses sleep over Bagul from “Sinister”), but I can assure you what we get in this film
Witch” is saved from a one-star rating by its ending, where the characters search the house. I’m not sure if it’s
the light from the camera or a botched paint job, but there’s a patchy white color throughout that makes everything
seem extra sharp and sudden. It’s a good setting for something scary to happen, too bad we don’t get anything
worthy of it. There is also a scene in the bowels of the house that makes for the only time it is acceptable to be freaked
out by this film. Nothing “happens” here either, but nothing has to, the setting does all the work. Settings aside,
this is nothing more than a dull found footage movie that proves that the magic of “The Blair Witch Project” can
never be duplicated.
One and a Half Stars
out of Five.
9:08 pm est
“Sully” tells the story
of eponymous pilot Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), who on January 15 2009, after a dual engine failure in midair, landed
a large passenger aircraft in the middle of the Hudson River. The landing was rough, unconventional, and controversial, but
it saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew on board. Though there were many heroes that day, including First Officer
Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), Sully was proclaimed the biggest hero of all.
The film officially takes place a few days after the incident, as Sully is being hailed a hero, but is also facing
an investigation from an inquiry board that seems unfairly antagonistic. He’s forced to relive the events of that day
several times, and we are shown the incident three times in flashbacks. The first is interrupted by a cut to air traffic control,
so we miss the most interesting parts. The second time is from the point of view of the passengers as they frightfully went
through the near-death experience. And the third time is from Sully and Skiles’ point of view in the cockpit. I would
have switched the second and third versions. Sully and Skiles are experts at keeping cool, which is certainly comforting,
but it doesn’t make for the best movie climax.
It’s that version where we see the passengers surviving and being rescued that makes for the most exciting sequence
in the movie. You are guaranteed to share in their fear and confusion. Knowing that everyone will be safe eventually doesn’t
so much detract from the suspense as it makes it more bearable. Actually, the impact is one of the less scary parts of this
sequence; maybe because it’s so quick, maybe because you’re probably over-prepared for its intensity. But the
really nerve-wracking part is what comes next, the passengers actually being rescued from the plane. They have to go out onto
the wings and a few inflatable surfaces that aren’t going to hold up for long, plus a few make the poor decision to
just swim for it. Oh, and the whole thing takes place in January, so hypothermia is also a factor.
Sadly, someone made the mistake of
thinking that this sequence alone doesn’t fill the film with enough danger. We are therefore subjected to a number of
dream sequences in which Sully loses control of the plane and it crashes into the buildings of New York City. This is a cheap
way of getting a reaction out of the audience, plus it makes this film’s release so close to 9/11 even more inappropriate.
By the way, there is one line of dialogue that compares the incident to 9/11, and I found it to be in poor taste.
Watching “Sully,” memories
of other Tom Hanks movies are bound to come up. His plane goes down, like in “Cast Away.” He guides his crew through
a crisis, like in “Captain Phillips.” He’s inserted awkwardly into historical footage, like in “Forrest
Gump.” That last one is an unwelcome distraction. We see the Hanks version of Sully being interviewed by the 2009 version
of David Letterman and boy is it clear that the scenes were filmed seven years apart. You wouldn’t think it would be
that hard to smoothly add him to such recent footage, but the task was apparently beyond this film’s capabilities.
I’ve been doing a lot of complaining
about “Sully,” but it’s actually quite a good movie. The parts that need to be done well are done well,
and Hanks is a workhorse as always. He’s able to find the right balance of calmness and urgency; a lesser actor would
likely overdo the former at the expense of the latter. This movie makes a few inexplicable, at times unforgiveable mistakes,
but overall it’s competent. Maybe focusing on its competence is boring, but like Sully himself, it needs to be given
credit for what it does right.
a Half Stars out of Five.
"Kubo and the Two Strings"
9:07 pm est
Here is the opening line for “Kubo
and the Two Strings”: “If you must blink, do it now.” That’s quite a claim that the forthcoming movie
will have a hard time backing up. But yeah, that statement describes this movie pretty well, for better or worse.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) lives in a small
Japanese village where he makes a living telling elaborate stories with even more elaborate origami puppets. He’s attacked
by his evil aunts (both Rooney Mara) and his magical mother (Charlize Theron) uses her last bit of strength to send him on
a quest to find his late father’s missing armor, which will help protect him from his evil grandfather (Ralph Fiennes).
Kubo is aided by a dour monkey (Theron) and a meatheaded beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who seem to have the hots for each other.
This movie is so crazy that a monkey falling in love with a beetle falls perfectly in line with everything else.
When this movie works, it really
works. The animation is beautiful, the painstaking stop-motion work by plucky studio Laika (“ParaNorman”) paying
off yet again. It ratchets up the intensity and darkness to a level not usually seen in a kids’ film, but is certainly
welcome. But that’s not to say it doesn’t also have its lighter, fun moments, and those work pretty well too.
The problem I have with “Kubo
and the Two Strings” is the same problem I had with “Inside Out” in that sometimes it’s so ambitious
that it can’t seem to keep up with the skewed rules of its own distorted world. Or maybe it does and I just blinked
and missed something. At any rate, this is still one of the most exciting and delightful films of the year.
9:06 pm est
Disney has had a lot of success lately with live-action versions of animated classics like “Cinderella”
and “The Jungle Book.” Now they’re trying to have success with a live-action version of a 1977 film that
was half animated and half live action. Actually, the dragon this time is computer generated, so it’s still a mix of
live action and animation.
The good news is that they get Elliot the dragon right. He’s flawlessly rendered, super funny and adorable, and
capable of a wide variety of emotions. How I wish the movie was complex enough to justify more of these emotions.
Instead, it’s a standard tale
of Pete (Oakes Fegley), a boy who has grown up with Elliot, meeting other humans for the first time in years and having to
prove the dragon is real. Then of course there’s the matter of what people will do with Elliot once they find out he’s
real. There’s also an expected subplot about Pete maybe having to leave the life he knows with Elliot to live with a
Dragon” feels incomplete; like Elliot has at least one more adventure in him than what we get. What we do get isn’t
“bad” exactly, apart from a villain (Karl Urban) who makes a bunch of stupid decisions just because he’s
the villain. I just wish this movie had more ambition befitting its awesome dragon.
Two Stars out of Five.
9:05 pm est
is what I like to call an “Is That So Hard?” movie. I ask that question not of the film, but of other films. In
many ways, this film is simple. 90% of it takes place in one setting. The number of cast members with more than one scene
can be counted on one hand. It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking with its story or storytelling. The technical aspects,
while I’m sure extremely difficult for a layman to perfect, can probably be accomplished by numerous industry professionals.
In other words, this isn’t a particularly “hard” movie to make. And yet, it’s one of the best movies
I’ve seen all year. Other movies surely have competent people working on them, why can’t they be as good as this
one? Is that so hard?
For plot, you’ve got three burglars breaking into the house of an unnamed blind man played by Stephen Lang. Lang
is one of those great underused veteran actors whose mere casting makes the movie all the more promising. The burglars are
Rocky (Jane Levy), the one who only steals to support her family; Alex (Dylan Minnette), the nerdy naysayer who always wants
to back out for fear of getting caught; and Money (Daniel Zovatto), the dumb violent one. It’s Money who brings a gun
along on the job, and he is the first to find out the hard way that they’ve messed with the wrong blind guy.
The best part of the film is the
middle, where the blind man and the burglars cat-and-mouse each other. The burglars want to get the blind man’s stockpile
of money and escape the house, though they might have to settle for just escaping. The burglars have a numbers advantage and
sight, while the blind man has heightened senses, a military background, a knowledge of the house, and one of the scariest
dogs in movie history. He can also turn off the lights and disorient the burglars, which raises the question of why he has
functioning light bulbs in the first place.
The breathless (aha!) intensity
of these scenes is excellent, but what I really like is how the movie makes it hard to decide who to root for. In a lesser
movie, this would be a bad thing, like the movie forgot to make its heroes likeable or its villains that bad. But here it
makes for twisted psychological warfare. It’s heartless and wrong to steal from a blind veteran, and it’s easy
to see why he’s reacting violently out of fear. But perhaps the breaking and entering warrants a less severe punishment
than what the blind man seems to have in store for the burglars. There’s a debate to be had until the blind man turns
into an unquestionable villain.
Thanks to a convoluted twist, the
third act of the movie becomes more violent and torturous. It’s here where Lang gets the majority of his dialogue (it’s
mostly of the strictly-functional “Who’s there?” variety up to that point) and he nails it as expected.
It’s also here where we get a moment destined to go down as an all-time cinematic gross-out champion. It’s horrifying
in a way not typically associated with horror films. But the trade-off is that the mystery and ambiguity are gone, and with
it a lot of the film’s intrigue and appeal.
Good for “Don’t
Breathe” for being a horror movie that earns its scares with a tense atmosphere and doesn’t rely too much on cheap
tactics like jump scares, freaky imagery, or sick violence. These horror staples are not absent, but they’re at least
minimal. And while it runs out of steam toward the end (especially after that gross-out scene, because you’ll be dwelling
on it the rest of the movie), that middle part makes it all worthwhile. If you’re up for an R-rated horror movie, breathe
this one in.
Two and a Half Stars out of Five
9:04 pm est
“War Dogs” tells the
story of two guys who use underhanded tactics to achieve the American Dream, live large, and destroy themselves. It is based
on a real-life incident that has not been brought to screen before, but still seems awfully familiar. The characters themselves
love “Scarface” and compare their story to it at every opportunity. It also has a lot in common with those narration-heavy
Scorsese mob movies like “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” Speaking of Scorsese, it’s hard not to compare
this film to “The Wolf of Wall Street” due to the subject matter and the fact that both movies star Jonah Hill.
I also see a lot of recent Best Picture nominee “The Big Short” in this movie because both were directed by filmmakers
known primarily for comedic work (frequent Will Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay did “The Big Short, here it’s
“The Hangover’s” Todd Phillips), and both are very funny, but both go into darker, more serious, and more
challenging territory than we’re used to seeing.
The film takes place in the mid-2000’s, when the U.S. government was spending trillions on the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. David Packouz (Miles Teller) has floundered around from one dead-end job to another, and he just learned he has
a baby coming. But then opportunity knocks in the form of his childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Hill). Efraim runs a small
business where he scoops up government contracts to sell things to the U.S. military. Sometimes it’s armor or surveillance
equipment, but mostly it’s guns and ammo. David joins and soon the two are making tens of thousands of dollars. Then
it’s hundreds of thousands. By the finale, they’re dealing with millions.
Of course, the path to wealth is not without its obstacles. The two twentysomethings don’t have the resources
to manufacture the merchandise, which means they have to get it from other people, often taking shortcuts and dealing with
shady characters. Sometimes this means putting their business and their lives in the hands of people they’ve never even
met, sometimes this means trusting people they know are bad news, like suspected terrorist Henry (Bradley Cooper).
Trade embargoes come up a number of times, forcing them to find ways of circumventing international law. And by “circumventing”
I mean “breaking.” But perhaps the biggest obstacle is the volatile personality of Efraim.
David spends the movie in awe of
his partner. At first, he’s in awe of what a genius he is. Then he’s in awe of how he always manages to succeed
despite how crazy and greedy he is. By the end, even though the two hate each other, he’s still sort of impressed at
what a magnificent scumbag he is. And it’s not just David, the movie itself is in awe of Efraim, making him the scenery-chewing
wildman who always dominates the scene. Critics are saying that Hill single-handedly carries the movie, and while Teller as
the spottily sympathetic narrator isn’t quite the weak link he’s being made out to be (the best scenes in the
movie involve the two characters playing off each other, and it takes both of them to do that), there’s not going to
be much debate over which character is more memorable.
“War Dogs” is being marketed as a comedy, and it’s hard to argue with that. Hill and Teller have
impeccable chemistry in their banter, and Hill’s madness is always enthralling. But don’t underestimate this movie
as a straight-up crime story. In that regard it’s a movie we’ve seen done before and done better with more well-developed
characters. Teller’s blank-canvas narrator seems hollow at times, there isn’t much to the supporting cast, and
even Hill’s instability gets predictable after a while. Still, this movie holds its own. Like the characters as businessmen,
the movie can’t really compete with the big boys that are classics, but it has enough pluck to pull out some noticeable
Two and a Half Stars out of Five.
9:02 pm est
If nothing else, there aren’t
a lot of movies like “Sausage Party.” I mean this both in terms of subject matter (grocery items decide they don’t
want to be eaten) and tone. It’s basically an R-rated kids’ movie. So much of it is cute and chipper and it’s
presented in a silly-looking animation style that screams “kid friendly.” But make no mistake, this is one of
the most vulgar animated movies of all time. If you can enjoy that vulgarity, great. If you don’t want to be subjected
to vulgarity, or have kids that you don’t want to be subjected to vulgarity, you’d best shop elsewhere.
The plot sees Frank the Sausage (Seth
Rogen) longing to be “chosen” by a customer along with his girlfriend Brenda Bun (Kristen Wiig). Almost every
product in the store equates being chosen with going to heaven. If Frank and Brenda get chosen together, it’s the equivalent
of getting married as they enter eternity. Needless to say, the film is not above making countless sausage-and-bun jokes.
Frank and Brenda get separated from their packages and go on an adventure to get into new ones. Along the way, Frank learns
the horrifying truth about what happens to food once it leaves the store and makes it his mission to save his friends, even
though they don’t want to believe that the faith they’ve always kept is a lie designed to keep them from panicking
over their inevitable fates.
It turns out that the film is a scathing critique of religion, about how people will believe what they want to believe,
even when confronted with evidence to the contrary, with the catchall justification of “faith.” But here’s
where the film’s logic breaks down: we don’t know what happens to the food after it’s violently prepared
or eaten. The characters believe in eternal life, but they’re unaware that it includes Earthly death. Every religion
has prominent figures who, at some point, had to leave their bodies, often violently. Death by itself is not evidence against
any respectable religion. Now if the characters were looking forward to being eaten, and then discovered that nothing was
waiting for them, then the film might be clearer on its point. …And I’ve just criticized the theology of a talking
The main attraction of the film is of course its humor. Just about every off-color joke that can be made about sausages,
buns, and a taco voiced by Salma Hayek is done here, though the sex jokes certainly aren’t limited to them. Swearing
invades almost every line of dialogue, and while the words are usually spoken with grace, there were a few times where I got
the impression that they were just added to remind us that these characters know swear words. There are ethnic jokes and stereotypes
aplenty, from a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton) to a Muslim flatbread (David Krumholtz) to a Native American whisky (Bill Hader)
to a black box of grits (Craig Robinson) to the taco again, to many others. Nick Kroll voices a villain, and I’m not
comfortable revealing what kind of product he is, but it was the nickname of his character on “Parks and Recreation.”
This being a Seth Rogen movie, you can probably imagine that there are a few pot jokes. There’s a celebration toward
the end that is frightfully raunchy
I recommend “Sausage Party” to the right audience - people who like boundary-pushing humor. If you don’t
think you’re the right audience for this movie, you probably aren’t. Me, I’m always up for a crude cartoon.
I loved the opening musical number and the shameless finale. The script is sharp and the cast has excellent chemistry and
timing. The jokes almost always land, and the ones that don’t are bad enough that you can laugh at how bad they are.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eat a breakfast sausage.
Three Stars out of Five.
9:00 pm est
Simply put, “Suicide Squad”
was my most anticipated movie of 2016. I’m a big fan of Batman, but I’m a bigger fan of his rogues gallery –
his collection of colorful recurring villains. “Suicide Squad” brings us not one, not two, but three of those
characters. We’ve got The Joker, one of the most iconic villains in all of pop culture, played by Academy Award winner
Jared Leto. We’ve got Harley Quinn, The Joker’s lover and complement, played by Margot Robbie, possibly my favorite
actress of her generation. We’ve also got reptile-themed strongman Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a lower-tier
threat who has nonetheless given Batman a few memorable outings. As if that wasn’t enough, the cast features box office
champion Will Smith and the incapable-of-doing-wrong Viola Davis. This movie would get five stars for its casting alone were
it not for the presence of “Robocop” washout Joel Kinnaman and notorious franchise-poisoner Jai Courtney.
The setup is that shady government
operative Amanda Waller (Davis) wants to set up a task force of extraordinary humans to combat extraordinary threats. After
all, this is the DC Expanded Universe, where General Zod and Doomsday have already run amok in two hugely disappointing films.
She wrangles together Croc, the psychopathic Quinn, expert marksman Deadshot (Smith), double-crossing stick-tosser Boomerang
(Courtney), human flamethrower Diablo (Jay Hernandez), slash-happy Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and alleged escapist Slipknot
(Adam Beach). All have done bad things, some want to be better people, most are interested in saving the world if it includes
them, and all want time off their prison sentences. That’s why they band together under Captain Rick Flag (Kinnaman)
to battle Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an ancient South American goddess possessing the body of Flag’s archeologist
girlfriend and trying to enslave the world.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not, given how much weight I’ve put on their shoulders), my biggest problems with the
movie have to do with Harley and The Joker. First of all, why is Harley on the team? The Suicide Squad specializes in straightforward
attacks where they can take out evil armies en masse. It makes sense to have members who can shoot, torch, and pummel a lot
of enemies at once. Harley is good at one-on-one fighting and her strange mindset might make her a good choice for specialized
missions that require her to get into enemies’ heads. But I don’t see why Waller would think she fits in with
this glorified assault team. As for The Joker, he needs to be the embodiment of craziness and chaos. There are hints of that
in scenes where he interacts with Harley, but too often he just seems like a standard gang leader with a clown theme. He also
has little relevance to the story outside of flashbacks. He makes a play to abduct Harley from the Squad, it fails, but we
know he’s not really gone. Batman villains simply do not die by disappearing in explosions.
My other complaints about “Suicide
Squad” are complaints I have too often about action movies. The action scenes are muddied, the editing unconvincingly
conceals weaknesses in the filmmakers’ abilities, the dialogue gets flat at times (they couldn’t come up with
something more creative for a key scene than “You hurt my friends!”?), the characters’ backstories are rushed
and their motivations are inconsistent. I am not going to complain about the presence of Jai Courtney and Joel Kinnaman, they’re
about as interesting as anyone else in this movie. Every now and then there’ll be a decent one-liner (the usually-dense
Croc gets some good ones) and I like that the movie wants to look like a cheesy carnival ride with neon everywhere, but this
movie blows nearly every opportunity, and it’s presented with so many. The sad thing is that despite its pretty thorough
awfulness, relatively speaking it’s actually the best movie from the joke that is the DC Extended Universe.
and a Half Stars out of Five
8:58 pm est
“Jason Bourne” gets off
on the wrong foot by having a lame title. I guess the idea was to recover from the flop that was “The Bourne Legacy”
by promising viewers that Jason Bourne would actually be involved in this one. But what it’s unofficially promising
to do is break from the hot streak of the first three “Bourne” movies. Fans of the franchise expect the movies
to be titled “The Bourne (something vaguely exciting)” Who cares if people like to make fun of these titles (“The
Bourne Colonoscopy”), they’re essential to the way people identify the franchise.
Matt Damon is back as Bourne, brought out of hiding after nearly a decade when his hacker friend Nicky (Julia Stiles)
digs up some information about the CIA program that turned him into a super-assassin only to erase his memory later. This
leads him on a global quest to find more answers, all while evading CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), rising CIA
star Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and an unnamed rival “Asset” (Vincent Cassel). Bourne learns more secrets
about his past, including some disturbing family history that makes his feud with The Asset even more personal.
For a movie whose title is simply
the name of the main character, Bourne himself has a surprisingly limited presence. I’ve been told he has somewhere
between twenty and forty lines of dialogue, and most of them aren’t terribly lengthy. At first I thought the movie was
trying to go for something impressively minimal with the character, but as it went along, I realized that it just forgot to
give him a personality. When the character was first robbed of his memories, it made sense. He didn’t know who he was
or how to feel. But by now he’s been cognizant of the last fourteen years. Even if he doesn’t have a grasp on
the man he was, there needs to be something relatable about the man he is.
The film is largely made up of the three CIA agents conducting operations and undermining each other as they squabble
over what’s to be done with Bourne. As usual for this series, the crusty older male agent (Jones) is the hard-headed
bad guy while the younger female agent (Vikander) is in more of a gray area where she’s open to betraying her superiors
in the name of helping Bourne. Cassel is just another boring assassin. You know he’s a bad guy because he kills anybody
in his way as opposed to Bourne, who just delivers those swift no-lasting-effects knockout blows.
And yet, for all this film does wrong
with its dull characters and overly familiar plot, it does action sequences, very, very right. The film is bookended with
two chase scenes that make the film worth seeing all by themselves. The first takes place during a revolt in Greece. The characters
go to a riot and a fight breaks out. The atmosphere is so violent that Bourne is able to just grab a guy’s Molotov cocktail
and the guy doesn’t care that much. Nobody thinks it’s unusual that the main characters are crashing cars and
starting fires. In fact, they’d look out of place if they weren’t. The second sequence is a car chase that turns
into a gutter brawl. The movie really hopes you like the sound of broken glass, crunching cars, punches, and whips. Luckily,
I can appreciate the nastiness of all those things.
I can see why a lot of people don’t like “Jason Bourne.” The characters are uninteresting, the twists
are typical of the franchise, and it seems like 90% of the movie is people getting into position for operations as opposed
to the operations themselves. But those cutting, inventive action sequences make it all worthwhile. Counting a quick gravitational
spot in the middle, I’d say there are two and a half great things about this movie.
Two and a Half Stars out of Five.
"Star Trek Beyond"
8:56 pm est
The “Star Trek” franchise
turns 50 this year and is celebrating with a new film. “Star Trek Beyond” is a mediocre outing that is memorable
for two reasons: it says a heartfelt goodbye to the iconic character of Spock following the 2015 death of Leonard Nimoy; and
it is the final “Trek” film to feature Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov following the 27-year-old actor’s death
last month. Spock will live on, played by Zachary Quinto, as both the Quinto version and Nimoy version were alive concurrently
thanks to some timeline-jumping, though Quinto’s version knows exactly how much time he has left. Chekov will still
be alive in future installments, because he grows up to be the Walter Koenig version of the character, but my understanding
is that the role will not be recast. To review: Spock dies and will continue, Chekov lives and will not continue.
For now at least, the main crew of
the starship “Enterprise” is fully assembled: the Quinto version of Spock, Chekov, Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty
(Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and of course Captain Kirk (Chris Pine). Both Kirk and Spock are considering
leaving the “Enterprise,” Kirk because he’s not happy with diplomatic work, and Spock because he wants to
do something more centered in Vulcan affairs. They lead the “Enterprise” in a rescue mission that sees them attacked
by the evil Krall (Idris Elba). Everybody is able to eject themselves to safety on Krall’s planet before the ship is
destroyed. They’re alive; but stranded, scattered, and being hunted.
Four “teams” emerge in the aftermath. McCoy tries to treat Spock following an injury. Kirk, Chekov, and
a fellow survivor named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) look through the wreckage for a weapon Krall wants. Scotty meets a local scavenger
named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) and they work to repair another crashed ship. Uhura, Sulu, and the rest of the crew are taken
prisoner by Krall. Krall spends most of the time as another boring, makeup-caked villain spouting cliché dialogue about
the uselessness of peace and unity. I was thinking about how Idris Elba was being wasted in the role the same way Oscar Isaac
was wasted as Apocalypse in the latest “X-Men” movie, but at least Elba is allowed to stretch a little toward
the end. It’s not enough to “save” the character for me, but he’s kept from being truly awful.
The film does well with its performance-based
scenes. All the actors have good chemistry and there’s a decent success rate with humor. The film can also boast excellent
special effects and the makeup on everyone except the villains (whose facial features are a bit helmet-y) is outstanding.
But the plot and action could be a lot smoother; I had a hard time following the story and characters on a number of occasions.
Also, I didn’t feel the characters were going through many interesting arcs. There’s no point in wondering if
Kirk and Spock are going to remain with Starfleet; Bones is just there to banter with Kirk and Spock (though the banter is
never bad); Scotty provides expected comic relief; and Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov serve little more than a strictly functional
purpose. I did like the new character of Jaylah, but even she is a pretty blatant hybrid of Rey from “Star Wars”
and Neytiri from “Avatar” (and yes, I’ll make the obvious joke that it should be Uhura who reminds me of
Trek Beyond” doesn’t do it for me. It has some funny moments, some visually impressive moments, and even some
good song choices, but overall it’s too choppy and predictable. There have been worse action movies this year, but it’s
not a must-see unless you’re a big fan of “Star Trek.” Then the film serves as an indispensable time capsule
for the immediate post-Nimoy, post-Yelchin era.
Stars out of Five.
8:55 pm est
The hoopla surrounding the remake
of “Ghostbusters” will be remembered more than the movie itself. Many fans were opposed to the idea of touching
the 1984 comedy classic. A small-but-unnerving section of these fans were opposed to the idea of remaking the film with female
leads. These idiots got so vocal that they seemed to speak for all detractors of the remake. This didn’t sit well with
other detractors, who wanted to bash the remake without seeming like sexist simpletons. Hating the movie became a thorny issue,
but so did praising it, because detractors on both sides believed that good reviews were just the critics’ way of sidestepping
I’d like to say that I respect everybody’s
honest opinion in the matter, but the truth is I don’t. Oh, I can respect opinions all over the spectrum for people
who see the movie and give it a chance. If you think this movie is great, I can’t say I share your enthusiasm, but I
respect that opinion. If you think this movie fails, I think you’re discounting a few good laughs, but I respect that
opinion. But if you think that this movie is already a failure simply because it exists or because it has four female comedic
powerhouses as its leads, then I resent your opinion.
the movie itself. Our team this time played by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. The first
three are college professors who get fired over their controversial paranormal beliefs, the latter is a subway attendant who
joins them when she’s confronted with undeniable evidence that ghosts exist. The team dons an arsenal of ghost-fighting
gizmos and set out to contain spirits set free by a creepy guy named Rowan (Neil Casey). Rowan is supposed to be an outcast
loser, but he’s no weirder than most people you’ll see walking down the street in NYC, myself included. The character
gets juicier once he starts inhabiting the body of the Ghostbusters’ idiot receptionist played by Chris Hemsworth, which
is a good thing because Hemsworth was not faring well with the dumb hunk jokes he was being given up to that point. By the
way, I think Rowan should at least consider ending his plan once he’s in Hemsworth’s body. Forget destroying the
city pal, you have the body of 2014’s Sexiest Man Alive, call it a day.
The film reunites Wiig and McCarthy with “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig. It has a lot of the same pluses
and minuses as that movie. The pluses mostly involve the chemistry among the leads in early scenes. Wiig and McCarthy are
proven, and McKinnon seems right at home. I was worried that Jones would rely too much on the hostile, excitable persona that
she’s created for herself on “SNL,” but she’s actually quite pleasant (perhaps unrealistically pleasant
compared with some of the people I’ve seen in her line of work). The minuses are largely a series of pacing issues.
Time spent on gratuitous ad-libbing could have been better spent developing minor characters or exploring the exciting supernatural
world that’s been created. Unique to this movie is a collection of cameos from the original film, conventional to the
point that I was able to predict exactly when one of them would show up.
it a wise idea to remake “Ghostbusters?” Not really. A lot of controversy was stirred up over a movie that is
funny in places, but is vastly inferior to the original. Of course, a lot of that controversy was stupid so it shouldn’t
matter, but it was a chore to endure for a movie this middling. I’m glad that in 2016 we have a decent female-centric
comedy where every other joke isn’t about how hard it is to get a man (which is what some thought this movie would be),
but this film needed another round of editing to be truly worthy of the iconic franchise.
Two Stars out of Five
"The Secret Life of Pets"
8:54 pm est
“The Secret Life of Pets”
is an animated kids’ movie where two dogs don’t like each other, but they find themselves stranded and in danger,
so they have to work together if they ever want to get home. Just like in “Toy Story.” And “Inside Out.”
And “The Good Dinosaur.” And “Finding Nemo.” And “Finding Dory.” But this one is also
about what non-humans do when humans aren’t around. Just like in “Toy Story.” And “The Lego Movie.”
And “The Brave Little Toaster.” And “Finding Nemo.” And “Finding Dory.” Yeah, there’s
not a lot of originality in this movie. But some of it is delivered well, I’ll give it that.
The plot sees terrier Max (Louis
C.K.) living a comfortable life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). His world is turned upside down when she brings home
a rescued beast of a dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Each dog feels threatened by the other, neither is good at sharing,
they end up stranded together. Max’s neighbors try to save the two. There’s his Pomeranian wannabe girlfriend
Gidget (Jenny Slate), wisecracking cat Chloe (Lake Bell), barking bulldog Mel (Bobby Moynihan), elongated wiener dog Buddy
(Hannibal Buress), reformed predator hawk Tiberius (Albert Brooks), and veteran Basset Hound Pops (Dana Carvey). Max and Duke,
for their part, get themselves in even more trouble by getting on the bad side of crazed hairless cat Ozone (Steve Coogan)
and human-hating bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart).
The biggest problem with this movie is that the two leads are badly miscast. Stonestreet is too obviously likeable
to play the hardened, just-got-out-of-prison Duke. But at least with him I can somewhat understand that his range is not limited
to the genial character he plays on “Modern Family.” Louis C.K, on the other hand, has spent decades crafting
a specific persona that is recognized across several mediums. He has made sure that we always think of him as a cynical schlub.
So it’s jarring when he tries to play the happy-go-lucky Max in early scenes. I can’t help but feel like his more
well-known persona is always poking through, even if he’s genuinely trying. It seems like there’s an episode of
his show being taped off-camera where the joke is that he’s been cast in this role that’s completely wrong for
him and there’s an annoying director telling him to be happier, without much success.
That’s not to say that the whole cast is wrong. I like Lake Bell as the smart-aleck cat. She perfectly captures
typical cat apathy (cat-pathy, if you will) along with cats’ tendency to freak out over the tiniest things. Albert Brooks
continues to impress in his string of dark roles as the initially-villainous Tiberius. Dana Carvey makes the most of his juiciest
role in years as Pops. And I can’t believe I’m about to type the following sentence: Kevin Hart is the best thing
about this movie. His broad, manic style that annoys me 95% of the time is a perfect fit for playing an animated villain.
And speaking of animation, there seems to be some extra effort put into his character’s facial expressions. He has this
way of trying to be vicious, but subconsciously he always reverts back to being human-pleasingly cute. It’s a delightful,
adorable, and surprisingly subtle creative choice.
There’s actually a lot to like about “The Secret Life of Pets,” but unfortunately there’s even
more to dislike. The miscast main characters weigh the movie down, the story and adventure are uninspired, and lazy humor
abounds. This is a movie that loves its bathroom gags, obvious pratfalls, and overeating jokes ripped off from “Garfield”
(though one overeating scene is funny on an unintended level if you know about an upcoming animated feature). As animated
animal movies go, this is inferior to “Finding Dory” and “Zootopia.” But as movies in this disappointing
summer season go, it’s not that bad.
Stars out of Five.
"The Legend of Tarzan"
8:53 pm est
One of my biggest problems with “The
Legend of Tarzan” is that it plays like a sequel to a movie that was never made. Don’t get me wrong, I’m
aware that we’ve had plenty of Tarzan movies before and that many of them cover his origin. But we’ve never had
a Tarzan movie in this continuity before, a Tarzan movie with Alexander Skarsgard as the ape-man and Margot Robbie as his
beloved Jane. This movie takes place after the couple has been married for a few years, after Tarzan has left the jungle to
settle down as a British aristocrat, and after he has begun to let his roots slip away from him. I would be much more inclined
to buy this movie as the kickstart to a franchise if it started with an impressionable Tarzan rather than a rusty Tarzan.
plot is that Tarzan is lured back to the Congo by an American envoy (Samuel L. Jackson) who needs someone with his jungle
prowess to help investigate rumors of illegal slave-taking. Also needing Tarzan in Africa is Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a
Belgian envoy who wants to deliver Tarzan to a bloodthirsty local chief (Djimon Hounsou) who will give him diamonds to save
the fledgling Belgian government. Rom follows the typical villain plan of kidnapping the hero’s wife, and Tarzan follows
the typical hero journey of going on an adventure to get her back, getting some help from his old animal friends along the
is disappointingly dull as the latest Tarzan. I’m guessing he was cast because of some vaguely ape-like facial features,
because it certainly wasn’t charm. Waltz and Hounsou play the same villains they always play, a sophisticated sociopath
and a growling brute, respectively. Ho hum. Jackson breathes some life into the sidekick, which is ironic because the movie
thinks it’s funny to repeatedly have him breathlessly catch up to the action because the 67-year-old isn’t in
peak physical condition. My favorite is Margot Robbie, who imbues Jane with an attitude that is maybe unfitting for a 19th century diplomat, but is welcome among this otherwise uninspired cast. Some will say
she’s playing little more than a glorified damsel in distress (despite a specific claim to the contrary), though there
were a few times where I felt like the bad guys were trapped on a riverboat with her instead of her with them.
The storytelling, dialogue, editing,
and special effects in this movie are all a mess. Much-needed scenes that establish the characters are relegated to unhelpful
flashbacks. It feels like we’re missing a scene where Tarzan gives the slip to his British escorts, ditto some kind
of setup for a line about hugging from the movie’s climax. Crude jokes are thrown about in an ill-advised attempt to
give this movie an edge. The action is choppy and hard to follow in the name of bloodlessness. And once again I have to complain
that the animals and set pieces are unconvincing CGI wisps.
There’s not much that “The Legend of Tarzan” does right outside of Margot Robbie, and even then I
can see the argument that her modern-sounding delivery is out of place. Every now and then there will be a funny line and
I suppose it’s hard not to root for African nature to get its deserved revenge on European colonizers. But it’s
hard to root for the movie itself. There’s no pressing need to reboot Tarzan right now and this movie adds nothing to
the classic character. With the update of “The Jungle Book” already being one of the biggest hits of the year,
I simply feel that I’ve had my fill of jungle men for a while.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
"Independance Day: Resurgence"
8:51 pm est
A sequel to the 1996 alien invasion
flick “Independence Day” has been batted around for years. It certainly made sense, the original climbed to #6
at the all-time domestic box office during its release. All that was needed for a sequel was a decent script and for Will
Smith to agree to step back into the role of Captain Steven Hiller. Who am I kidding? “Independence Day: Resurgence”
would have settled for a flimsy script as long as it got Will Smith. It ended up settling for a flimsy script and no Will
characters include Jeff Goldblum as scientist David Levinson, Judd Hirsh as his comic relief father, Bill Pullman as now-former
President Thomas Whitmore, Vivica A. Fox as Hiller’s widow, and Brent Spiner as comic relief scientist Brakish Okun.
Okun is the most surprising return since he appeared to be killed in the original. Returning-but-recast characters include
Jessie Usher as Hiller’s fighter-pilot stepson and Maika Monroe as Whitmore’s fighter-pilot daughter. New characters
include Liam Hemsworth, Travis Tope, and Angelbaby as more fighter pilots; Sela Ward as the new President; William Fichtner
as an over-pressured general; Charlotte Gainsbourg as a scientist and love interest for David; and my personal favorite, Deobia
Oparei as an alien-obsessed Congolese warlord. I love it when otherwise villainous characters step up in the name of saving
plot follows the expected format. The aliens from the first movie called for reinforcements, and they’re just now arriving.
Earth takes the new aliens lightly and pays a steep price. Minor battles are fought where we achieve minor victories, but
we also suffer heavy losses (outside of our heroes, of course). There are also a few times where we think we’ve won,
the aliens come out with a bigger advantage than ever. It all leads up to a doomsday scenario and a clock counting down to
the end of the world that’s going to get really close to zero.
Character interactions also go as expected. The fighter pilots rib each other and spout one-liners. A few made me laugh,
but none are as good as the best ones from the original. Colleagues (especially couples) bicker at first, then learn to work
together. The Hemsworth character doesn’t follow orders and he gets in trouble for it, but he saves the day because
he knows in his heart what to do. Loved ones are lost and their surviving family members need inspiration to continue. The
script seems like it was written to have a joke at this point, and an inspirational moment at that point without thought being
given ahead of time to what those lines and moments should actually be.
But the plot and dialogue aren’t the problem with the movie, relatively speaking. The real weakness is with the
action sequences. Remember the cool, impactful explosions from the first movie? Get ready to have those replaced with vague,
wispy fireballs. We see London getting ripped apart by “explosions,” but I feel like I could wave my hand and
they would dissipate. Elsewhere, dogfights are hard to follow because I couldn’t tell which characters (or even which
sides) where in which planes and key moments are so poorly-edited that I didn’t even realize characters were dead because
those moments were so underwhelming (only two deaths got any kind of reaction at my screening).
The original “Independence Day” is by no means a creative classic, but it’s better than the uninspired
mess that is “Independence Day: Resurgence.” This movie cannot make its characters or action interesting to save
its life. It was only made to hop on the bandwagon of reviving decades-old franchises, which has led to some impressive successes
lately. In fact, this movie lost in its opening weekend to another long-delayed follow-up in “Finding Dory,” which
beat it by $30 million in its second weekend. This “Resurgence” should have never taken place.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
8:50 pm est
Pixar has an excellent track record
when it comes to sequels, but for a minute there it looked like “Finding Dory” wasn’t going to work. The
aquatic adventure “Finding Nemo” came out all the way back in 2003; kids who grew up with it aren’t kids
anymore. Maybe they had… forgotten about it? Aside from that, blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) made a good sidekick
in the original, but was she really up for carrying a whole film by herself? No need for worrying, it doesn’t take long
to see that the film is a success on every level. You just have to look at the $9.2 million it made on Thursday night (on
its way to a record $136 million weekend) to know that the film is a commercial success, and you just have to watch Dory in
the first few minutes to know that it’s a creative one.
We first see Dory as a child in this movie, and whatever defenses you have against cuteness, she swims right past them.
Her eyes take up half of her body, and her words and actions are fittingly precious. She and her parents (Diane Keaton and
Eugene Levy) struggle together with her short-term memory loss, and they’re as admirable as can be. But Dory soon gets
separated and can’t find her way back. She grows up among strangers, fish with varying degrees of tolerance about her
disability. Eventually she aligns herself with clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks), and together they go looking for his son
Nemo, with Dory forgetting that she’s supposed to be looking for her own family.
Now it’s a year later and Dory is a member is Marlin’s family. Nemo (Hayden Rolence) is still in school
and Dory helps out as a teacher’s assistant. A lesson in migration teaches the class that animals have instincts that
lead them back to their families. Dory realizes that she must have a family, and slowly she starts regaining childhood memories.
She sets off to find them, and Marlin and Nemo tag along, forever indebted to their forgetful friend, but sure enough they
soon find themselves separated, trapped, and in danger.
The adventure leads them to a marine theme park, which at times resembles The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Disney’s
Epcot park. There they meet a colorful cast of supporting characters, including Hank the Octopus (Ed O’Neil), whose
secret shame is that he’s a septopus, and who wants nothing more than to be shipped to a facility in Cleveland. Then
there are whales Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey (Ty Burrell). She has vision problems and he allegedly has hearing problems.
They have to work together and push each other. A pair of sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West) are also scene-stealers,
especially when they’re fighting off a third sea lion who’s trying to usurp their favorite rock.
Pixar movies are known for working
some serious subject matter into their zaniness. This entry doesn’t contain as much loss as some other Pixar films (including
“Finding Nemo”), but it deals a lot with frustration. Characters often feel frustrated when dealing with Dory,
and Dory of course has to deal with the brunt of her memory loss. The frustration is captured in a sympathetic way, but the
characters’ determination to overcome their unique obstacles teaches kids a good lesson about having patience with people
who have disabilities, whether it be friends, family, strangers, or themselves.
The action and humor are exactly what you’d expect from a Pixar movie. Compared to most kids’ movies, they’re
excellent. Compared to other Pixar movies, they’re fine. I have a few nitpicks like how the gilled characters always
find a container of water handy and some gags that I think are inferior versions of gags from the first movie (the teacher
couldn’t come up with a more elaborate migration song?), but there’s a healthy amount of fun and creativity on
display. More than anything, “Finding Dory” is a heartfelt movie with some heartpumping moments and some hearty
Three Stars out of Five
"The Conjuring 2"
8:48 pm est
I didn’t really understand
the appeal of 2013’s “The Conjuring.” Or rather, I didn’t understand the appeal of “The Conjuring”
specifically. Okay, that clapping game was nice balance of silly and scary and the possessed doll Annabelle was effective
at ripping screams out of the audience’s larynx (I didn’t see her spinoff, but I heard bad things). But mostly
I saw it as just another haunted house movie. “The Conjuring 2” is pretty much the same way: some cheap scares,
some genuine scares, but little to make it better or even distinguishable from dozens of other horror films just like it.
catch up with paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as they finally investigate
The Amityville Horror. Lorraine takes an out-of-body trip around the house following in the killer’s footsteps. She
shoots people with an invisible gun in this sequence, which is almost entirely responsible for the R-rating in what is otherwise
a surprisingly tame horror movie. Toward the end, she sees the cause of the massacre: a demon dressed up like a nun. A few
days later, Ed paints a portrait of the demon nun. The nun continues to haunt Lorraine. This is the kind of movie where you
think, “Maybe get rid of the creepy portrait, Lorraine?”
Way over in England, another haunting is taking place. Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) was messing around with a spirit
board and now strange things are happening. She’s waking up in rooms she didn’t go to sleep. Toys and furniture
are moving around on their own. Ghastly faces are appearing out of nowhere telling her to get out of the house (confession:
this got an embarrassing vocal reaction out of me). And Janet is talking in the voice of a 72-year-old man who died in her
house. What’s her mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) to do? Reach out to every paranormal investigator she can find,
Warrens show up and spend the rest of the movie contending with the possessed Janet, the old man, and the demon nun. The film
does what it can to keep us guessing where they’ll pop up next. Sometimes they’ll jump into frame. Sometimes the
cameras will cut away to something else, and when it cuts back, the baddies will be there. Anything to be startling, because
that’s really all the film can do. The ghost and demon faces are scary for about a second, which is fine when we get
them for a second at a time. But when the camera lingers on them for an extended look, it becomes clear that they’re
film is based on a real-life incident, though it’s probably taking a few liberties because, well, it’s a ridiculous
horror movie with demons and so forth. It would be nice if there was a little more ambiguity as to who was really causing
all the spooky stuff. Was Janet crazy? Faking? Nope, we see the ghosts and demons, it must have been them. Though the film
is nice enough to stick to the actual body count.
“The Conjuring 2” does some things right. There’s a creative scene where Janet transforms into the
old man and back again in the course of a conversation, but the camera is on Ed and she’s just a blur in the background.
I like the comedy spots where kids, then adults, then “tougher” adults freak out over the strange goings-on. And
yes, I’m a sucker for some of those jump scares, even the cheap ones. If you’re in the mood for a haunted house
movie where things go bump in the night, “The Conjuring 2” is an okay choice, just not an outstanding one.
Two Stars out of Five.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows"
8:47 pm est
Should I even bother getting mad
at this movie for being garbage? The whole “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise has been garbage since the
80’s. The movies and cartoons have never strived to be anything more than toy commercials, and parents hate the toys
because they’re so violent. Expectations are so low that it’s virtually impossible for “Out of the Shadows”
to disappoint - it can only fall in line.
We indeed get the four Ninja Turtles: leader Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), tough one Raphael (Alan Ritchson), smart one
Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and alleged comic relief Michelangelo (Noel Fisher). They’re helped by their sewer rat mentor
Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), human reporter friend April O’Neil (Megan Fox), her buffoon former cameraman Vern (Will Arnett),
and new well-meaning cop Casey Jones (Stephen Amell).
a moment early in this movie where Jones is telling an outlandish-but-true story to a superior officer (Laura Linney) and
she doesn’t believe him. It’s no wonder she doesn’t believe him, Amell is channeling Mark Wahlberg in “The
Happening” with his performance. He has the demeanor of a clueless idiot, which is the closest thing he has to personality.
I thought I had a passing understanding of Ninja Turtles lore going into this movie, but I had never heard of the Casey Jones
character. My guess is that he always sort of faded into the background, which was the right call if this version is any indication.
Speaking of characters who basically fade into the background,
Shredder (Brandon Tee) is supposed to be the head villain of this universe, but he doesn’t do squat in this movie. He’s
broken out of prison by evil scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), gets aid from planet-conquering space alien Krang (Brad
Garrett) and creates two mutants to combat the Turtles; warthog Beebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and rhino Rocksteady (WWE superstar
Sheamus), but he can’t be bothered to do anything himself. The new villains aren’t the most effective opponents,
but at least they’re effective inconveniences, which is more than I can say for Shredder.
There’s a dime-a-dozen “saving the world” plot in play, but there’s also a storyline about
the Turtles discovering a serum that might turn them human. They disagree on whether or not to use it or even let each other
know about it. This leads to dissention between the brothers and they blow a major mission because of it. Or at least they’re
supposed to. This movie is so poorly thought-out that the writers forget to have them not get along on the mission. Leonardo
says “Nice teamwork” at the end of it and it took me a while to realize it was supposed to be sarcastic. It could
genuinely apply to the preceding sequence, even if they did come out on the losing end.
The movie is filled with CGI, from the Turtles themselves to the action sequences to food. The special effects are
about as lousy as everything else in this movie. They’re cheap, they’re unconvincing, they’re ugly, the
characters look weird at certain angles. The nicest thing I can say about them is that they’re consistent and plentiful,
so at times you get the impression you’re watching a cartoon. It’s not like the live-action sequences fare any
What can I say about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out
of the Shadows” that isn’t obvious to anyone halfway familiar with this franchise? The jokes aren’t funny,
the action isn’t thrilling, the script was clearly an afterthought, and the characters aren’t likeable. That last
one bothers me the most. The sullen Turtles lack the appeal of their cartoon counterparts, and the dull humans certainly aren’t
picking up the slack. I gave the 2014 “Ninja Turtles” movie one and a half stars out of five because Megan Fox
brought an ounce of charm to April, this movie is even devoid of that. I guess I was wrong, this movie is capable of disappointment.
One Star out of Five.
8:45 pm est
“X-Men: Apocalypse” is
a film that exists for no other reason than that it was time for another “X-Men” movie. Fans have been eager to
see a new film since “Days of Future Past” was one of the biggest hits of the franchise two years ago. That film
ended with the promise of the villain Apocalypse for the next movie, and we’re going to get that movie even if director
Bryan Singer can’t come up with anything to make it unique or appealing.
The film takes place in 1983, making it the third go-around for James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier, Jennifer
Lawrence as Mystique, and Michael Fassbender as Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr. A comment is made midway through the
movie about third films in a series always being the worst. I know the comment is supposed to be a knock at the Singer-less
“X-Men United,” but it is destined to go down as an unintentional prophecy about this film.
For this film, the X-Men must combat
a long-dormant Egyptian mutant called Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac). Good guys include Xavier, Mystique, Beast (Nicolas Hoult),
Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). And yes,
the face and claws of the franchise pops up for a surprisingly bloody cameo. Apocalypse enlists the help of Storm (Alexandra
Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and a freshly-angered Magneto. Battles are fought. Resilience is tested.
Half the world is destroyed. I say it’s a dumb idea to do the whole “destruction of world landmarks” bit
in movies set in the past, but apparently this movie feels otherwise.
Let me get my two compliments for this movie out of the way. Magneto’s arc is interesting and I like Quicksilver.
Magneto is provided early in the film with a quaint little cottage and a loving family. It’s entirely predictable that
he’s going to lose it all, but I was digging domestic Magneto while he lasted. And Fassbender is good at capturing the
character’s heartbreak, despair, and conflict. As for Quicksilver, he once again steals the movie with a zippy comedic
heroism sequence. Yeah, he did the same thing in the last movie, but two years later I’m up for another round. Plus
the last one wasn’t set to Eurythmics. Quicksilver also gets props for a scene late in the movie where he is the only
one of the X-Men to really take the fight to that putz Apocalypse.
Speaking of Apocalypse, he’s my biggest problem with the movie. He’s one of those poorly-motivated villains
who can’t decide if he wants to conquer the world or destroy it, so he’s basically going to destroy everything
and then conquer the rubble. Oscar Isaac is a terrific actor, but he’s being swallowed alive by makeup and can’t
do anything with his clichéd “humanity is weak” dialogue. There actually is a suggestion that something
fun might have been done with the character when he learns all about humanity by absorbing information from a TV. Maybe he
could think that TV is an accurate depiction of humanity. Maybe he could use some ill-fitting modern slang to try to communicate.
I’m not saying he needs to go full-blown Dr. Evil, just something to break up the monotonous doom and gloom from this
Apocalypse character is my biggest specific complaint about “X-Men: Apocalypse” But my biggest general complaint
is that we’ve seen this all before. Mutants fighting mutants, humans hating mutants, mutants not wanting to be mutants,
mutants accepting and embracing that they’re mutants and working up the courage to fight other mutants, all in an endless
cycle. This is the eighth “X-Men” movie (not counting “Deadpool”) and the fourth major comic book/superhero
movie (this time counting “Deadpool”) already this year. It needed to do something exceptional with its action
or dialogue besides being so exceptionally bland.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
"The Angry Birds Movie"
8:43 pm est
As a rule, movies based on video
games are always terrible. There isn’t a single one that could be considered a critical darling. “Wreck-it Ralph”
doesn’t count; it technically made up its derivative main characters. “The Angry Birds Movie” tries to buck
this trend by being based on game with a non-traditional format (a phone app as opposed to an arcade or console game) and
by featuring some impressive animation and decent voice work. It succeeds… in a way.
Red (Jason Sudeikis) is the only angry bird on the otherwise blissful Bird Island. But he’s only angry because
everyone is a jerk to him. I’m going to avoid the obvious what-caused-what joke in this movie overloaded with jokes
about fowl and what they hatch from. It’s actually a wonder there aren’t more angry birds, since everyone else
on the island is so mean and inconsiderate that you’d think they would anger each other. Red freaks out at a at a birthday
party and is forced to attend Anger Management Class. Wait, Red’s reputation has been defined by one trait his whole
life and he’s just now having to attend Anger Management? That’s a stretch even by this movie’s logic. Anger
Management is led by the aggressively peaceful Matilda (Maya Rudolph) and consists of the speedy Chuck (Josh Gad), the friendly-but-explosive
Bomb (Danny McBride) and the terrifying Terence (Sean Penn). Two-time Oscar winner Penn has only to grunt to make Terence
the most interesting character in the movie.
Class is broken up by the arrival to Bird Island of a colony of pigs, led by King Leonard (Bill Hader). The pigs instantly
win over most of the native birds, but Red doesn’t like them one bit. By which I mean he’s suspicious. But he
also just plain doesn’t like them. Everybody else dismisses him, because he doesn’t like anything. Still, Red
wonders what are the pigs planning with all those slingshots, trampolines, zip lines, and dynamite. He enlists the help of
Chuck and Bomb to seek out the mythical Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) for help. Alas, Mighty Eagle turns out to be a total
turkey. And Red makes it back to town just in time to see the pigs absconding with everybody’s eggs. The solution to
the problem is for everybody to get angry.
The film is ruled by immature humor. Do you or your kids like the idea of birds crashing into things? How about green
pigs bouncing around like idiots ? Jiggly dancing at every turn? Every bird, pig, and egg joke under the sun? You’ll
find it all here, even if you weren’t looking for it. Don’t worry about the humor always playing to the kids,
there are a few jokes thrown in for the adults. Still immature humor, just aimed at mature viewers.
So why did I say that “The
Angry Birds Movie” succeeds (…in a way)? Because in all honesty it is the best movie based on a video game ever
made. The animation is legitimately top notch and I can’t deny that I laughed a few times. There were many, many more
times where I groaned, but the laughs are there. Terence absolutely steals the movie and a surprisingly high percentage of
Bomb’s jokes land. I even laughed heartily at a throwaway line that wasn’t intended for the kids watching this
kids’ movie. Plus I kind of want to play the game now. I want to waste time seeing how much damage I can do launching
different kinds of birds at different kinds of pigs. It probably would have been a lot more fun than watching this movie.
It’s a very relative type of success.
and a Half Stars out of Five.
"Captain America: Civil War"
8:42 pm est
The highlight of “Captain America:
Civil War” is a six-on-six superhero-on-superhero battle. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call the sides Team
Captain America and Team Iron Man. Team Captain America consists of Captain America (Chris Evans), The Winter Soldier (Sebastian
Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Team Iron
Man consists of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson),
Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
Why is everybody fighting one another? The seeds are planted when U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt,
a carryover from the Incredible Hulk’s portion of the Marvel Universe) suggests that The Avengers operate under the
supervision of the United Nations. Iron Man believes in changing the team’s image from that of unsupervised vigilantes,
but Captain America is jaded by the corruption of S.H.I.E.L.D. and not ready to answer to another organization. Another factor
is The Winter Soldier. Captain America’s compromised best friend is apparently responsible for an attack on the United
Nations that kills Black Panther’s father (the man is the least-harmed explosion victim I’ve ever seen) and is
definitely responsible for an attack on the family of a member of Team Iron Man. But the biggest reason is that it’s
simply time to break up The Avengers.
There are twelve superheroes
in this movie. There were ten at the end of the last “Avengers” movie and this isn’t even an “Avengers”
movie because Thor and Hulk are sitting this one out. The team is getting too big. It needs to remain at a manageable number
as its ranks grow. Halving them here is a good way to do it, except that having both halves in the same movie somewhat defeats
the purpose. It’s no doubt exhausting to have to come up with something for every one of them to do. And unfortunately
it’s just as exhausting trying to keep up with all of them.
that the new characters are introduced inefficiently. We get Black Panther’s origin here, and it’s typical, but
quick. We’re spared another retelling of Spider-Man’s origin, the film correctly assumes that we already know
it. Ant-Man shows up with no more explanation than “Look who I brought along.” With too many characters bouncing
around, the brevity is appreciated.
The villain in this film is
Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). Who is Zemo? He’s nobody. Normally when I describe a villain that way, it’s because he’s
a stealthy, secretive type who doesn’t leave clues about his identity. But in this case, I say it because he’s
been treated like he doesn’t matter. He’s taking on cinema’s greatest team of superheroes, but he’ll
be the first to tell you he’s no supervillain. And yet his identity as a rando works very much to his advantage. This
kind of role is Bruhl’s specialty; initially dull, yet he gradually wins you over.
Thematically, “Captain America: Civil War” has a lot in common with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of
Justice.” Both films see their heroes struggle with tough decisions about how much power they should be allowed to have.
Both film see their heroes have to answer for collateral damage from their previous films. And of course both films see their
heroes fighting one another. This one will rightfully go down as the superior film, but the other was so miserable that this
one is superior just by being average. The action is decent but typical, even from a superhero vs. superhero standpoint (it’s
not like we haven’t seen some of these guys fight each other before). The storylines with Captain America, Winter Soldier,
Iron Man, and Zemo toward the end are compelling, but many of the supporting characters seem forced into the movie just so
the advertising can push the “all-star cast” aspect. This movie does superhero fallout better than “Batman
v. Superman,” but that doesn’t mean that it gets it quite right.
Two Stars out of Five.
8:40 pm est
For weeks, I was dying to see “Keanu.”
I’m a big fan of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and their sketch show “Key & Peele.” My family
loves those sketches where they play college football players with wacky names, and I personally am a huge fan of the sketch
where they play devil-hating old ladies. And Key and Peele weren’t even the main attraction. That honor belonged to
the title character, the cutest kitty cat in the whole wide world. Good news, Keanu the character lives up to the hype. “Keanu”
the movie does not.
The plot sees Rell (Peele) devastated by a breakup when Keanu the kitten inexplicably arrives at his door. Rell instantly
becomes obsessed with the kitkat, leaving him only to see a movie with his people-pleasing cousin Clarence (Key). While they’re
out, Rell’s house is ransacked and Keanu is catnapped. They discover that a local drug ring was behind the break-in,
and plot to pose as deadly guns-for-hire to get him back. The problem is that they aren’t naturally tough guys, and
they have a hard time passing themselves off as thugs.
Most of the humor revolves around the duo making awkward attempts to seem tough around the gang members. They’ll
use heavy profanity (and a certain racial epithet), recount dubious violent escapades, invent slang, and spin questionable
“street” wisdom. A lot of it takes the form of poorly-paced rambling. The movie could have been shorter, sweeter,
and probably funnier if these two were able to blurt out answers to expected questions. But we constantly have to watch them
stall for time while they search for answers that aren’t that funny. The answers themselves should tell that gang members
that they’re faking, but what should really give them away is the lack of confidence.
This is the kind of movie where the supporting characters have to be complete idiots to believe the main characters.
And then those characters seem less threatening because you know they can be so easily fooled. Say what you will about drug
runners and killers, but if they’re truly at the top of their game, they know how to read people. These characters fail
to read Clarence and Rell, so they must not be at the top of their game. Also, this movie has those annoying villains who
can’t help but draw out deadly confrontations, which of course leads to miraculous last-minute foiling by heroes who
do know how to use the element of surprise.
One gag that was definitely planned out in advance is one where Clarence convinces the gang members to become fans
of George Michael. It’s a little bit funny to see them fawning over such passé music, but I don’t buy that
they’ve never heard of George Michael. I could see the gag being that they think he’s a lame has-been until Clarence
convinces them otherwise, but he’s had more staying power in popular culture than the movie is giving him credit for.
By the way, I hope you’re a big George Michael fan yourself, because his music is all over this movie. I’d go
so far as to say that he has more of a presence than Keanu.
Keanu himself is just as adorable as advertised. I wish he was in the movie more, but I theorize that they had a specific
window of time in which to use the kitkat before he physically outgrew the part. The rest of the movie is a mess. Enough jokes
are thrown around that occasionally one will land (the gang makes a delivery to a drug-addled actress, who is at once more
than what she seems and exactly what she seems), but it’s not enough to make “Keanu” work overall. Your
time would be better spent online watching “Key & Peele” sketches, and of course the endless supply of cat
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
"The Huntsman: Winter's War"
8:38 pm est
When I see an unnecessary sequel,
I’ll often wonder what the studio was thinking. I’m not talking about the huge franchises where any kind of new
installment is basically a license to print money. I’m talking about unwanted sequels to movies that don’t have
a fan base clamoring for more. Obviously I can think of a few motivating factors – greed mixed with a lack of imagination
– but what makes studios think that they have a franchise on their hands when the first movie wasn’t exactly a
franchise-launcher? In the case of “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” I actually don’t have this question.
I know exactly what they were thinking.
2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” had decent box office ($155 million domestic), mostly because
of the Snow White name, but it wasn’t a very well-liked movie. The consensus seemed to be that Charlize Theron was great
as the villainous Queen Ravenna, Chris Hemsworth was barely passable as Eric the Huntsman, and Kristen Stewart was awful as
Snow White. There was a lot of negativity attached to Stewart because of her association with the oft-maligned “Twilight”
franchise and gossip about her having an affair with the film’s married director. “The Huntsman: Winter’s
War” makes the conscious decision to keep Hemsworth and Theron, but remove Stewart from the equation to see if the franchise
can succeed without its biggest albatross. Of course, it’s also losing the Snow White name, but it has a plan to pull
people in with something possibly even more appealing.
The new film serves as both prequel and sequel. We see Eric grow up in the kingdom of ice queen Freya (Emily Blunt),
sister of Queen Ravenna. Love is forbidden in Freya’s kingdom (because she has an icy heart, naturally), but Eric can’t
help falling in love with his fellow soldier Sara (Jessica Chastain). Freya catches the couple, and Eric sees Freya have Sara
killed before he himself is left for dead. But of course he survives to participate in “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
A new conflict arises when the evil Magic Mirror goes missing from the conspicuously-absent Snow White’s kingdom. Eric
is tasked with retrieving the mirror, and he gets help from an old flame, but guess who tries to freeze that flame away. Also,
the mirror is personified by Ravenna, power-hungry as ever.
As an action-adventure movie, the film is dull. There’s one memorable finish to a fight with a horned opponent
and the rest is all standard swords, sticks, arrows, and fire. The blows are rarely impactful and the subpar special effects
don’t help. Where the movie succeeds is as a romantic comedy. Hemsworth and Chastain have really good flirtatious chemistry
and it’s a shame Chastain hasn’t been used more in the film’s advertising. Also fun are Eric’s dwarf
sidekicks (Rob Brydon and Nick Frost). Eventually the band adds two female dwarfs (Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach) and
they make for two more cute couples whose bickering makes the film funnier than it has any right to be.
The equation for “The Huntsman:
Winter’s War” is “Snow White and the Huntsman” – Kristen Stewart + Jessica Chastain + Emily
Blunt and a lot of “Frozen”-style imagery. On paper, it’s a winning formula. In practice, it’s just
okay. The movie doesn’t succeed with the things that it’s pushing (the action, the ice, the disappointingly bland
villains), but it does succeed with some of the things it’s holding back (Chastain, the dwarfs, the humor in general).
I’d advise you to go into this movie expecting to laugh. Maybe you can laugh at things that are supposed to be funny,
maybe you can laugh at the things that aren’t (I think Hemsworth is going for a Scottish accent, but Crikey, he’s
not pulling it off). Just don’t go in expecting to be thrilled, or you’ll be left in the cold.
Two Stars out of Five
"The Jungle Book"
8:37 pm est
While Disney continues to put out
new hits like “Zootopia,” it’s also working hard to update its old hits. The live-action version of “Cinderella”
was one of the ten biggest movies of 2015. Even more impressive is that the new live-action version of “The Jungle Book”
opened to over $100 million this past weekend. It’s a commercially impressive trend. Creatively, Disney has yet to get
it quite right.
Jungle Book” centers around Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a human boy raised by animals in the jungles of India after the tiger
Shere Khan (Idris Elba) killed his father. A pack of wolves serves as his family, the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) as his
teacher. Shere Khan discovers that Mowgli is still in the jungle and vows to finish the job. Bagheera and the wolves decide
that Mowgli is best sent to live with a nearby human tribe, but Mowgli doesn’t want to leave his home. He’s offered
protection and tempted to stay by preying snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), friendly bear Baloo (Bill Murray), and monkey gang
leader King Louie (Christopher Walken). But they all want something from Mowgli, like fire (King Louie), food that he can
gather (Baloo), and him as food (Kaa).
Mowgli’s adventures make for okay entertainment. He’s able to get out of some tough spots by making impromptu
tools, which sets him apart from the other animals and is actually seen as a source of shame. I say they’re just jealous.
Otherwise, the action mostly consists of chases and animals wrestling with each other. Mowgli and Baloo have good chemistry,
and it’s fun to see them float down a river singing “The Bear Necessities.”
The Kaa and King Louie arcs are a bit more problematic. Kaa is in the story so briefly she barely registers, and
King Louie is all wrong in this version. My King Louie has a jolly and loveable demeanor that hides more sinister motives.
This King Louie is about twenty feet tall and is all about intimidation. He makes a few token attempts to be nice, but he’s
not fooling anybody. But at least we get an always-appreciated Christopher Walken musical number out of it. Oh, and pay close
attention to Mowgli when he enters King Louie’s palace. King Louie is a collector of human trinkets, and Mowgli examines
one that is Walken-approved.
The CGI animal effects aren’t terrible (love the fur!), but I have some issues with them. It’s to be expected
that the animals can talk, but the film makes the curious decision to have their lips move. It’s an unnatural, unnerving
effect. It would have been fine if everybody just understood each other’s thoughts through nonverbal communication and
we in the audience heard their voices. And some weird choices are made with the character designs. I’ve already touched
on the impossibly enormous King Louie, but what’s with Shere Khan not being the least bit scary? I know “pussycat”
is synonymous with being soft and non-threatening, but the term is not supposed to apply to this particular pussycat. Baloo,
Bagheera, all of the wolves, and a number of the other animals all look like they could take him in a fight.
I don’t blame families if they
like “The Jungle Book.” An admirable effort was made and it aspires to be more than a pandering “junk food”
movie. There are just a few too many detractions for me to ignore. If you haven’t seen “Zootopia” yet, your
priority should be that one, but this is an adequate choice for a family outing.
NOTE: Another problem I had with this movie is its ending, which is a joke. I don’t want to go into depth here
in the name of avoiding spoilers, but you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get my thoughts.
Two Stars out of Five
8:35 pm est
“The Boss” is a movie
that features a montage of a girl being dumped on an orphanage, Melissa McCarthy break-dancing, an extended mouth-spreader
gag, awkward flirting and dating, that gag you’ve seen in the trailers where McCarthy gets launched into a wall by a
sofa bed, a crude term for a female fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, a Girl Scout battle royal, a female chest-slapping fight,
an adult showing a child “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” a possible poisoning via puffer fish, an exaggerated take
on what a burglary will look like, Peter Dinklage in a katana fight, a gross makeout session, and lots and lots of profanity.
Some of these are good ideas for gags, some of them aren’t, but most of them aren’t as funny as they could be
none of them are connected to each other very well.
McCarthy stars as Michelle Darnell, millionaire businesswoman and celebrity mogul. In climbing to the top, she took
a few shortcuts like stabbing people in the back and dabbling in insider trading. She goes to prison and forfeits most of
her assets. She has nowhere to go upon release, and has to move in with her harried former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell)
and her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson). She discovers that Girl Scouts make millions of dollars a year selling cookies, that
Claire makes a killer brownie, and that most of the moms in Rachel’s troop are mean. She hatches a business plan: use
the Girl Scouts to sell Claire’s brownies and do it independently of the troop so the moms will regret being mean to
her. Her nemesis Renault (Dinklage) tries to stop her, even though he’s pretty much already won by ratting her out to
script for this movie needed to be a lot tighter, both in structure and in dialogue. Plot threads come and go without much
consequence (is it really that hard to keep aggressive Girl Scouts in your story?), and entire characters are wasted. Margo
Martindale plays a nun and the movie can’t think of a single funny thing for her to do. Kathy Bates plays McCarthy’s
mentor, and the character exists for no other reason than to get Kathy Bates into this movie. As for the dialogue, the actors
are given too much free reign to improvise, and the result is a lot of rambling that makes every scene feel too long.
Sometimes the unrestricted dialogue
ruins good gags, like with the slap-fight that needed to be more spontaneous or the potentially sweet relationship between
Claire and her initially-charming boyfriend (Tyler Labine) that gives way to grating clunkiness. Sometimes the dialogue makes
bad gags worse. The nickname for Cumberbatch fans isn’t funny the first time, and repeating it doesn’t make it
funnier, elsewhere it’s not funny to see McCarthy wearing a mouth-spreader or with her face paralyzed from puffer fish,
but the movie thinks it’s funny to keep her talking with her face contorted. And some gags don’t work for other
reasons, like how I simply don’t see how a couch bed could launch women into a wall. It’s not one of those Murphy
beds that folds down from the wall, it’s a couch bed, it can only collapse in on itself.
“The Boss” is directed by Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s real-life husband. Maybe that explains the film’s
poor pacing, he can’t bear to cut away from his love. They previously worked together on “Tammy,” a film
so miserable it makes this one much more bearable by comparison. Occasionally here a physical gag will work, like the opening
break-dancing or the bloodthirsty Girl Scouts, but still, almost everything spoken falls flat. “The Boss” is about
as much fun as having to go into work on a day off.
and a Half Stars out of Five.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2"
8:33 pm est
It’s hard to talk about “My
Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” without talking about how little demand there is for it in 2016. True, the 2002 original made
an astounding $241 million, setting a record for independent films and for movies that never had a weekend at #1 at the box
office. But that was 14 years ago, and the movie wrapped up nicely with Toula (Nia Vardalos, also the writer of the film)
getting married to her lover Ian (John Corbett) and having a daughter that they induct into Toula’s proud Greek family.
There wasn’t much need for a sequel, and there was definitely no need for the disastrous TV series “My Big Fat
Greek Life.” It looked like Vardalos was done in Hollywood, destined to go down as a one-hit wonder.
Promotion for the sequel was met
with heavy skepticism. Surely Vardalos was making a desperate cash grab to wring a few more pennies out of a franchise that
she couldn’t accept was long-dead. Is there really a demand for another round of Greek jokes and wedding jokes? Maybe
not, but this is a sweet movie and we can always do with a sweet movie.
One of the running gags of these movies is that Toula is always surrounded by her large family. With a cast this large,
there are going to be a bunch of little plot threads going everywhere, but there are three main ones. Toula wants to get the
spark back in her marriage to Ian. Toula’s teenage daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) is pulling away from the family
and thinking about going to college far away. And Toula’s father Gus (Michael Constantine) discovers that his marriage
to her mother Maria (Lainie Kazan) was never official, meaning that they have to get married all over again. Hence the need
for another Big Fat Greek Wedding.
The best thing about the movie is the chemistry among the family. Vardalos has not lost a step when it comes to writing
snappy dialogue; if anything she’s improved. The actors all bounce off each other nicely, consistently finding that
precious balance of familial affection and tame animosity. I like the scenes where the guys all try to out-macho each other.
The grandma (Bess Meisler) can get an easy laugh just by appearing in a scene. Young kids too, turn out to be surprising scene-stealers.
But this is not a great movie by
any stretch. Often the story will slip into romantic comedy cliché territory. Uh-oh, date night has gotten ruined yet
again. Oh dear, elderly relatives are making PG-13 sex references. Whoops, Toula’s a loveable klutz who gets hit in
the head with a stray volleyball (what high school gym in the world would actually laugh at her over this?). And the plot
is awfully overstuffed. A subplot about Gus’s long-lost brother could easily have been dropped, as could one about the
romantic life of Toula’s cousin Angelo (Joey Fatone). You can practically hear Vardalos outlining the script and thinking
“Hmmm, I need to give him a trait.”
Maybe it was smart for Vardalos to wait 14 years to do “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” If it arrived on the
heels of the original, it would have been called a disappointment (you can argue if the original was good enough to live up
to its own hype). But it seems to be comfortable with itself now that the pressure’s off. It’s an agreeable enough
movie that it’s a good choice for date night or family movie night or if you just want a break from blockbusters.
Two Stars out of Five.
"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"
8:32 pm est
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of
Justice” is the most anticipated superhero crossover movie since “The Avengers.” Actually, it might be even
more anticipated than “The Avengers.” Superman and Batman have starred in big-budget blockbusters since the 70’s
and 80’s, respectively (and smaller-scale movie serials and TV shows long before that), but who cared much about Iron
Man or Thor before the last decade? Expectations for this movie are extremely high, as is the potential for disappointment.
After all, this movie is directed by Zack Snyder, helmer of notorious Superman mark-misser “Man of Steel.” The
casting of bomb-prone Ben Affleck as Batman also sent fans into an uproar. It turns out that all of that worry and pessimism
was pretty much justified.
The movie starts out during the climactic battle from “Man of Steel” when a Metropolis-based Wayne Enterprises
building gets destroyed. Bruce Wayne (Affleck), separated from his Bat-gear, saves a few people in the rubble, but losses
are heavy. He’s obviously angry at Zod, but he’s mad at Superman (Henry Cavill) too. He’s the reason they’re
having this battle, he’s being too reckless, and is it really good for the planet to have someone as unstoppable as
him, even as a good guy? Superman spends a lot of time struggling with these questions himself, though he doesn’t spend
much time thinking about Batman. Maybe Batman’s ego is hurt by how little Superman thinks of him and that’s why
he hates Superman so much.
Batman vows to build a weapon to destroy
Superman that he may or may not have to use. He settles on stealing the one being built by fellow billionaire industrialist
Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who has discovered that Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite. Batman wants the weapon for himself
because it should only be in the hands of someone good like him instead of someone who probably wants to commit some sort
of unspecified evil like Luthor. Also trying to steal from Luthor is a mysterious woman (Gal Gadot) with different motivations.
It’s a poorly-kept secret who she is, but I’ll avoid spoilers.
A superhero movie is often only as good as its villain, and I have mixed feelings about Eisenberg as Luthor. I don’t
hate his twitchy delivery as much as some other critics, nor do I think he “ruins” a tense scene by interrupting
an important conversation between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. The argument is that there’s no reason he should be commenting
on a conversation between a billionaire playboy and a mild-mannered nobody reporter, but I say that he’s already figured
out that Henry Cavill with glasses is Superman and Ben Affleck’s chin without the mask is Batman. On the other hand,
he’s a villain with long hair, wild rambling, a disruptive nature, and a scheme that doesn’t seem to extend beyond
messing with our heroes. If the movie wanted to do this character so badly, why make him the megalomaniacal Lex Luthor and
not The Joker?
I’m not going to say that I feel “cheated”
by “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” We get Batman, we get Superman, and they tussle. It’s hard to get
invested in their fight because of how likely it is that they’ll eventually put aside their differences to go after
the real villain and his boring CGI monster, but the requirement for a fight scene is fulfilled. The second part of the title
is also present, mostly through hints and one debut. I would have preferred a few more debuts, but I was minimally satisfied.
Overall, however, this movie is a mess. The narrative is disjointed and character motivations are barely more developed than
“They’re so-and-so, they have to be like that.” We get the expected superhero shenanigans, but otherwise
this movie spends over two and a half hours not making sense.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
"The Divergent Series: Allegiant"
8:30 pm est
Last year, the “Hunger Games”
series went out with a relative whimper when “Mockingjay – Part 2” made $50 million less than any other
film in the franchise with “only” $281 million. It appeared that the “Movies Based on a Series of Young
Adult Novels About Teenagers in a Dystopian Future” fad might be over. So what does this mean for a franchise like “Divergent,”
considered by many to be “Hunger Games”-lite? If “Allegiant” is any indication, it means that the
filmmakers are surprisingly at peace with the knowledge that people are losing interest in these movies. In other words, the
film seems content to make a minimal effort.
When we last left this world, we learned that the enclosed city of Chicago was created to find Divergents, or people
who didn’t fit into any of the factions that made up the city’s society. Tris (Shailene Woodley), who was such
a Divergent, learned she was the key to saving humanity, which had all but completely destroyed itself outside the city. It
seemed to be time to see what was outside the walls. But this film opens with police forces shooing people back from the walls.
It turns out new city leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts) isn’t much better than the villainous leader she offed in the last
film. Tris, however, knows she needs to go out and make a difference, so she rounds up her friends and they escape the city.
it does look like the rest of humanity has indeed destroyed itself. Pollution has turned the surface a murky red with some
white cracks. I won’t lie, it made me hungry for bacon. The group is rescued by a team led by David (Jeff Daniels),
who runs an oasis of sorts that functions as one of humanity’s last cities. David is very welcoming to Tris, and he
does believe that she is the key to saving mankind, but her boyfriend Four (Theo James) thinks he’s up to something
more nefarious. Four seems to be the only student of the YA game, because yes, the guy in the nice suit who oversees a heavily-armed
complex with a ton of secrets is probably a bad guy.
The plot is standard for this kind of story. Characters struggle with the usual decisions about who to trust and when
it’s appropriate to risk their lives by going against the system (it’s almost always the right thing). The annoying
Peter (Miles Teller) fulfills his apparent obligation of switching sides at least once. Disappointingly, Tris falls instantly
in love with the idea of David’s team being the key to saving humanity, which causes her to turn a blind eye to evidence
to the contrary, and Four has to be the one to talk sense into her. Up to this point, the best thing about this series has
been the character of Tris and how she’s both strong and smart (and equally all those other faction-defining traits),
so having galvanized tough guy Four be smarter than her here throws off the character’s appeal and loses this movie
a lot of its charm.
that this was going to be a terribly charming movie anyway. The people behind “Allegiant” just aren’t trying
very hard. It’s bad enough that the characters and plot points are practically interchangeable with any number of YA
movies, but on top of that the special effects are horrendous. This movie has some of the worst green-screening I’ve
ever seen, and scenes where characters are enveloped by amber goo are just laughable (which, by the way, are the only laughs
in this self-important movie). I did like the deliberately-yucky surface right outside the wall, so about the only thing this
movie can do right is be ugly. The popularity of the “Divergent” franchise was clearly in decline before “Allegiant,”
but this film sends its appeal into a nosedive.
One and a
Half Stars out of Five
"10 Cloverfield Lane"
8:28 pm est
“10 Cloverfield Lane”
has been billed as a “spiritual successor” to 2008’s “Cloverfield.” This is an infuriating term
that conjures up images of either a glorified remake or an unrelated film trying to cash in on the “Cloverfield”
name. To be fair, it does somewhat fall into the latter category. From that perspective, it probably brings to mind “Book
of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” also a barely-related steady-cam successor to a shaky-cam original. This movie is better
than “Book of Shadows,” but that’s not much of an achievement. What is an achievement is that it’s
better than “Cloverfield.”
Gone is the grand scale of “Cloverfield.” You won’t see the decapitated heads of any national landmarks
rolling down the middle of a busy street here. Instead we get an underground bunker in rural Louisiana populated by three
people. Howard (John Goodman) is the owner and master of the shelter. Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) is a well-meaning neighbor
who forced himself inside at the last minute. And Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a young woman fleeing from her boyfriend
who got in a car accident near the shelter. Howard pulled her from the wreckage and brought her to the bunker right before
an attack on the planet left the surface uninhabitable.
As outlandish as it sounds, there’s evidence to back Howard up, not the least of which is confirmation from Emmett
and affected animals visibly rotting outside. But Howard’s a hard guy to trust. He may be a survival expert, but he
could do with some lessons in tact. He doesn’t have a clue how to be sensitive and reassuring to the scared Michelle,
whose head is swimming with questions and who woke up chained in an unfamiliar setting (for her own good, according to him).
Pretty much the best he can do is soften his voice to a whine, and that’s when he’s not being gruff or downright
threatening. He clearly has a screw loose, and may be the last person on Earth you’d want to have power over you, even
if he is one of the last people on Earth. It’s easy to dislike Howard, but more than that you’ll just really want
him to be wrong.
film is a very tense and suspenseful cramped-quarters movie. Michelle desperately wants to escape, even though she’s
constantly told that there’s nothing to escape to. But it’s just so tempting to want to get away from Howard,
who’s an unpleasant control freak at best and something much more dangerous at worst. He manages to turn a simple party
game into the scariest scene in the movie (but also the funniest). Mind games abound, and you’ll wonder just how long
these three will be able to tolerate each other. It gets to a point where it doesn’t seem to matter what’s outside,
anything has to be better than what’s inside. Of course, then there’s the matter of having to deal with what’s
end of the film is disappointing, not because there’s nothing to it (as one might suspect), but because it devolves
the film into the kind of hide-and-chase movie that we’ve all seen before. It might have done well to ditch the “Cloverfield”
association so there’s more of a mystery as to what’s really going on (then again, it would be admittedly harder
to get people interested in this movie without the franchise name recognition). But otherwise this is a tight low-budget thriller
that is one of the better low-budget thrillers I’ve seen in a while. Winstead is sympathetic, Goodman is terrifying,
and I wouldn’t mind seeing a follow-up involving the survivor(s) of this movie. Both “Cloverfield” films
do a good job of being unnerving, and while the first one does a better job of seeming spontaneous, “10 Cloverfield
Lane,” with its smarter script and more interesting characters, is the superior film.
Three Stars out of Five