Sunday, August 28, 2016
Sunday, August 14, 2016
“Sausage Party” is as filthy as you would expect a movie called “Sausage Party” to be. At first it’s a tad jarring to see a bunch of animated characters who are everyday food items like honey mustard, ketchup, sausages, and hog dog buns to be using the f word every five seconds. Initially it seems like the screenwriters were more interested in overly vulgar dialogue than creating a good story but once you really get into “Sausage Party’s” plot and its delightfully controversial ultimate message (there is no God!) it’s much easier to sit back and ride this R-rated train of profanity and hilarious debauchery all the way to its shocking climax. It's like a cracked-out version of "Toy Story."
A majority of “Sausage Party” takes place in a supermarket. All the food items have human features and talk to one another, though to the humans they appear as everyday inanimate objects. These food items believe that humans are like Gods who “choose” them, take them home, and eventually end up in “The Great Beyond.” Of course we all know what happens to food that gets bought from the supermarket. The film follows a foul-mouthed sausage voiced by Seth Rogen named Frank (what else?) who lives in a package with a bunch of others sausages including Carl (Jonah Hill) and the slightly deformed Barry (Michael Cera). Frank has dreams of being “chosen” and going to the Great Beyond with his girlfriend Brenda Bunson (she’s a hot dog bun and she’s voiced by Kristen Wiig). One bad thing leads to another and Frank and Brenda find themselves knocked out of a shopping cart, determined to get back to their shelves before the big red, white, and blue sale begins the next day.
On their adventure back Frank and Brenda meet lots of interesting characters on the way. There’s the Jewish bagel named Sammy Bagel Jr (Edward Norton) who has a rivalry with Kareem Abdul Lavash who’s a Middle Eastern flatbread voiced by David Krumholtz. Then there’s Teresa del Taco, a lesbian taco shell who’s totally crushing on Brenda. And in one of the film’s weirdest and funniest bits a wad of gum takes the form of Stephen Hawking complete with electronic voice and wheelchair. It’s only appropriate in a movie like this that the main villain literally be a douche named Douche (The League’s Nick Kroll) who’s hell-bent on revenge after his nozzle gets bent. There are plenty of clever and witty and borderline offensive characters based on various races, ethnicities, and stereotypes. They leave no one left to be offended. It’s pretty glorious. Not to mention the completely shocking NSFW ending that almost got the film an NC-17 rating. Seriously.
Pardon the pun, but even though the film started off a little rocky for me, “Sausage Party” eventually grew on me. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who were responsible for the delightfully depraved “This is the End” and co-writers Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir offer an ultimately witty script fully realized by directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. The computer animation is appropriately crude and the film probably overstays its welcome a bit but it eventually won me over. It’s utterly ridiculous in all the right places and actually has something to say about this world in-between all the vulgarity, drug references, and raunchy humor. Sure, some of this humor is a little too on the nose but as long as you’re willing to go along for the ride it won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. GRADE: B
Saturday, August 06, 2016
“Suicide Squad” has been bashed so much for the past week I don’t feel the need to keep it going. Though, at the same time it can’t quite be defended. It’s not really a great movie, but when you look back at other not-so-great super hero adaptations (ie “Green Lantern”) you realize it’s entertaining to a certain point and nowhere near as bad as many claim. Hot off the controversially received “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” Warner Bros has given us their latest attempt to cash-in on what those Marvel geniuses have been working on for nearly a decade. It’s certainly something you can’t build overnight. “Suicide Squad” is at least an attempt to give us something a little different from the DC world and at least it’s one not directed by Zack Snyder. Initially visually appealing, with an obvious but enjoyable soundtrack, “Suicide Squad” is entertaining enough, and even though it's basically a mess and generally underwhelming, it does feature a few decent performances by actors who should have had their own movies before this ultimately convoluted film made it to the big screen.
“We’re bad guys,” the clown-faced Harley Quinn says at one point, and that’s true though the movie tries so hard to make them likable you feel like your own morals are being compromised. But she’s so charming! And she is. It’s because she’s played by Margot Robbie, who has been destined for stardom since her breakout role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” just a few years ago. Even if I don’t quite get her character – or why the corrupt intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) would want her non meta-human skills for this group of meta-human criminals, but more on that later – Robbie fits so nicely into the role she could have easily headlined her own film. The fact that her onscreen lover Joker (Jared Leto) is so oddly not thought out (is he just a clown-faced Scarface or what?) feels like a gross miscalculation. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Leto’s performance, I just don’t get this version of the character or how he really fits into this story (he’s not even part of the Suicide Squad). I don't even remember him making a joke.
The only other character that was interesting was played by Will Smith – a gifted actor, who gets extra points for sitting out Independence Day Resurgence earlier this summer. He plays Deadshot who by my calculations feels like DC’s version of Deadpool. Maybe it’s because their names are so similar and the fact that they’re both guns for hire? Deadshot, who has a disturbingly good aim, is basically a serial killer but he has a young daughter who he doesn't get to see anymore since he was captured by Batman (Ben Affleck returns). There are a bunch of other sorted characters—portrayed by a decidedly diverse cast of actors—which the movie takes nearly 45 minutes to explain in one of the longest sequences of exposition in cinematic history; and yet you don’t really get to know any of them. Harley Quinn and Deadshot are the only ones worth caring about and the filmmakers know it.
Remember I mentioned Viola Davis? She’s here on a break from teaching law students how to get away with murder to form a secret squad of bad guys for… doing stuff? Some evil enchantress figures into it somehow and causes some kind of mass chaos in Midway City which is supposedly DC’s version of Chicago. In exchange for basically being forced into this “Suicide Squad” the prisoners are granted shorter prison sentences. The second half of the movie is watching these bad guys let loose on a nearly devastated and desolate city as they try to catch the really, really bad guy.
There are fun songs that blare on the soundtrack and there is a cool candy-coated color scheme that director David Ayer initially presents which is pleasing to the ears and eyes but the movie is mostly just bombastic. The movie moves along swiftly for the most part but I imagine most film goers who aren’t into comic book movies will be bored endlessly. I’ve certainly built up my tolerance for these films so I got through it mostly unscathed. The whole thing certainly feels like a disappointment compared to its catchy marketing. The tone is somewhat odd; parts are funny, parts are overwhelmingly dark. Was this supposed to be the darker DC version of “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Perhaps its biggest problem is another case of too many cooks in the kitchen, or perhaps “Suicide Squad” just wasn’t the best direction to go in post “Batman v Superman.” I’m sure there’s a lighthearted and fun superhero movie in the DC cinematic universe somewhere. “Suicide Squad” certainly isn’t it. GRADE: C+
Sunday, July 24, 2016
I’m now at my all-time record of most Star Trek films seen by me. I count 4, which includes all three of the rebooted series, and one “Wrath of Kahn” (thought by many as the original series’ highpoint). For the record, I couldn't quite make it through "The Motion Picture, "The Voyage Home," or "Generations." It’s actually possible that the latest entry “Star Trek Beyond” could actually be the best of the bunch. The first movie did an amazing job of making a somewhat unappealing thing very appealing to a lot of people. The second movie was just as fun (if not more so) but still angered a lot of those avid “Trekkies.” This third film, while seemingly upping the ante on action and spectacle according to the trailers, is actually a really fun rescue mission movie. The plot is simple enough which gives plenty of time to devote to the characters who we’ve gotten to know over the past few films. This Justin Lin-directed “Star Trek Beyond” is engaging and purely fun, escapist entertainment. And best of all you don’t even need to be a Trekkie to decipher any of it.
Things haven’t been too prosperous for the crew of the USS Enterprise since the events of the last film. The film opens as Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) laments about taking an Admiral position on the space station known as Yorktown, with intentions to promote Spock (Zachary Quinto) to captain of the Enterprise. Spock is stressed about learning about his older self having passed away (and he and Urhura (Zoe Saldana) have amicably split up). the Enterprise is soon back off to work, this time on a rescue mission to help a survivor from a rescue pod. Not to anger too many nerds out there: not surprisingly, “IT’S A TRAP!” The Enterprise is completely ambushed and left nonfunctional in a truly nail-biting action sequence. The crew is left mostly stranded and separated from each other and they must attempt to rescue a majority of the Enterprise crew from the evil clutches of the villainous Krall (Idris Elba). The MVP of “Star Trek Beyond” is also a new addition, her name is Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) and this black and white streaked lady is a really great addition to an already enjoyable romp.
“Star Trek Beyond” promises all of the action, fun, and spectacle promised by the relaunch of this series way back in 2009. There’s not much exploration here for the real fans but it’s probably for the best because this is an exciting movie that hardly lets up. Fast & Furious director Justin Lin has taken the reigns from JJ Abrams, who was too busy directing another nerdfest known as “The Force Awakens.” At first Lin seems like a strange choice until you realize what a visual delight “Beyond” truly is. There’s a real sense of camaraderie amongst the Enterprise crew with plenty of enjoyable family/workplace dynamics which makes sense since he did the same with the “crew” from the Fast & Furious films.
The script also feels refreshing and on point which is probably because it was co-written by Scotty himself Simon Pegg and Doug Jung (who also plays Sulu’s husband). And even if the plot remains slightly dark, there’s plenty of humor to be had here. The banter between Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban) is of particular delight. As always, the film features state of the art visual effects and production design, not to mention a fun soundtrack as well. I’m not sure how much fans of the original show and movie series will enjoy this latest entry, but I certainly found it to be a trek worth taking. GRADE: A-
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Most people are scared of the dark. It’s a reason why so many scary movies are set at night. The new movie “Lights Out” truly understands this concept and plays it for all its worth. After all, there’s nothing scarier than being attacked in your own home by an entity that exists in the darkness. Sure it seems easy to just turn on the lights, but the movie finds fun and creative ways to keep those lights off and scare the bejesus out its audience who probably expected yet another dumb PG-13 horror crapfest. A crapfest this is not: it’s a truly effective scary movie that has a lot to say about serious subject matters like fragmented families and mental illness. The film features a truly clever and well-executed concept and winning performances. And it has plenty of scares up both sleeves.
I should have suspected that when I found out Maria Bello was in “Lights Out” that it was a good sign. The actress has had her fair share of duds but she’s talented and severely underrated. She plays grief extremely well (just see “Prisoners”) and her take on mental illness is on full display here. She’s Sophie and her young son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) lives with her. Sophie is estranged from her oldest daughter Rebecca (Theresa Palmer) who herself is hesitant to make her relationship official with Bret (Alexander DiPersia) a guy she’s been seeing for several months. After a fairly recent family tragedy, Martin’s been having trouble in school; he keeps falling asleep in class and doesn’t seem to be getting much sleep at home. He has his reasons: a creepy silhouetted woman keeps showing up at night in his bedroom when the lights turn off. Even Rebecca begins seeing the disturbing apparition. And it turns out that Sophie has some of her own, not so crazy, secrets which are affecting her children.
“Lights Out” is practically brilliant when compared to most modern studio horror movies. Like “The Conjuring” films, “Lights Out” offers up much more than just fun scares. There is dramatic weight to the story and fully realized characters that only help make the movie scarier. After all a movie can only be truly scary when you actually care about the people you’re watching. Many horror aficionados might rightfully see some comparisons to the recent Australian thriller “The Babadook;” both films deal with subjects of mental instability, grief, the relationship between mother and child, and both feature creepy shadowy figures who wreak havoc on the main characters.
Even removing the scare factor, the storyline is actually pretty fascinating and well-developed. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer, whose writing credits also include the remakes of “A Nightmare onElm Street” and “The Thing,” and “Final Destination 5,” finally gets to make something that feels like his own; though it’s based on first time feature director David F. Sandberg’s short film of the same name. What a delightful debut it is. He gets terrific performances from his actors; Bateman gives an almost flawless child performance while veteran Bello has truly brought her A-game. Palmer is incredible likable here and her onscreen romance with DiPersia is realistic and palpable. These are all people you want to root for.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Remember back in the day when the most controversial movies were about Jesus or shoving sticks of butter in odd places? Now it's about comedies involving characters busting ghosts. Oh the horrors of someone's childhood memories being reworked for a quick buck. 1984's “Ghostbusters” was, and remains, a popular movie choice for a lot of the movie-loving public. The franchise was already technically ruined by the much-maligned sequel. And people are being thrown a completely new version featuring some of the funniest ladies in Hollywood. So what's the problem? Sure this remake doesn't really NEED to exist but neither does Ben-Hur, The Fly, The Thing, Ocean's Eleven, or The Departed – and they turned out just fine (We can conveniently ignore the fact that Ben-Hur is getting remade yet again this August). So how is this new “Ghostbusters?” It's a comic delight from start to finish, with a completely game and hilarious cast, fantastic visual effects, and some of the most fun 3D work I've ever seen. Ever. In other words, it's a blast.”
We can all drop the term reboot when it comes to the new “Ghostbusters.” If this isn't a sheer remake then I don't know what one is. This new entry follows best friends and scientists Abby (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin (Kristen Wiig) as they hesitantly team up with fellow scientist colleague Jillian Holtzmann (Saturday Night Live's current MVP Kate McKinnon) and MTA worker Patty (Leslie Jones, also of SNL) to form a group of paranormal experts to help rid New York City of recent ghostsly apparitions. It turns out ghosts are in fact real and there seems to be a human responsible for the uptick in paranormal activity. The ladies rent out the space about a Chinese takeout place and hire Kevin, a hunky but dumb as dirt male receptionist whose only qualifications are his Ken doll good looks. He's played to the hilt by Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, who is unsurprisingly good at playing stupid. The guy is certainly an underrated comedic talent.
The film is directed by Paul Feig who is mostly known for his comedies starting Melissa McCarthy. For the record, the original film was directed by Ivan Reitman who was at the time mostly known for his comedies starring Bill Murray. Is this new version as good as or better than the original? That is besides the point. On it's own terms, it's often hilarious and has a nice visual style. Anyone who found the pacing of “Bridesmaids” to be a tad slow should have no complaints here. Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold seem to know exactly what they're doing and what they hope to accomplish from a female-driven fantasy comedy. The smart script addresses the real-life controversies surrounding the film in clever ways and smartly addresses the silliness that is a team of people who bust ghosts for a living. Let's not forget that hilarious “Jaws” reference.
The films visusal's are true treat. The special effects are flashy and colorful. Sure it may not be as scary as the 1984 film but I always wasn't an adult when I saw it. The emphasis here is more on the comedy elements which makes sense because these four women are absolutely hilarious. But even if this is more of a comedy, the film's visuals are a real delight, including some of the most impressive 3D work I've ever seen on the big screen. In the IMAX 3D version things fly right out of the frame itself and over the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen giving the whole thing an extra dimension that is extremely cool.
“Ghostbusters” is a real treat in what many have considered a lukewarm summer movie season. It's a film that proves that just because it's a remake doesn't mean it can't be a blast anyways. If you're a fan of any of these ladies or this series you'd be doing yourself a favor to check out “Ghostbusters.” See it out of sheer curiosity, and stay because along with “Captain America Civil War,” it's the most fun movie of the summer. GRADE: A-
Monday, July 04, 2016
King Kong.” Is it altogether “necessary?” Probably not, but at least the spirit of the character and the sense of adventure are alive and well in this big budget extravaganza.
This new Tarzan adventure saves the origin story to flashbacks and instead takes place after Tarzan (Skarsgård) has already assimilated back into regular society. He goes by his birth name John Clayton III, drinks tea and is married to his beloved Jane (Margot Robbie). The film's main plot revolves around the evil Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), on behalf of the king of Belgium, trying to exchange the jungle man known as Tarzan to an African tribe in exchange for valuable diamonds. John agrees to visit is African home and those he remembers from his past, reluctantly letting Jane tag along until the homecoming becomes an unexpected rescue mission. Soon John must become the vine-swinging Tarzan once again and restore order to the jungle.
Is “The Legend of Tarzan” silly? Of course it is; it's about a man raised by gorillas who swings from vines. There's a reason why that scene from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was so negatively received; people swinging from vines is a silly concept in the modern film age. That doesn't mean that this new Tarzan is a heck of a lot of fun. It's like a fun safari adventure that reminded me a lot of Peter Jackson's “King Kong” remake. Sure the visual affects aren't all that amazing but they get the job done. This isn't up to the level of “The Jungle Book” which had Oscar-worthy CGI animals.
The actors here were pretty decent. Skarsgård is fine in the title role and he certainly looks the part. His Tarzan is a man of few words (of which are written by co-writers Adam Cozad and Hustle & Flow's Craig Brewer) and I believed him and Jane were in love. Robbie is set to become a household name any day now. Waltz choose the scenery as another over-the-top, but entertaining villain. And Samuel L. Jackson feels predictably out-of-place as George Washington Williams but he's certainly adds the requisite comic relief. Director David Yates, who spent half a decade directing the latter Harry Potter movies, feels right at home here. The movie's African accented music score from Rupert Gregson-Williams is a standout here. The film flows nicely, I'd be lying if I didn't get caught up in the story as predicable as most of it is.
“The Legend of Tarzan” is just a fun throwback adventure. It sort of reminds me of a fun 90s adventure with modern effects. The actors are good, the direction is fine, and the story movies along and isn't overly complicated. I can't account for how much the story aligns with the original source material but it feels like a proper modern live action version of the character. Sure there aren't any fun songs here like the Disney classic but it all goes down smoothly; for a fun diverting adventure you could do a lot worse. GRADE: B
Sunday, July 03, 2016
Is it just me or is “The Purge” film series basically just the action horror version of “The Hunger Games?” Both series are about corrupt future societies in which people murder each other once a year. Anywho, “The Purge: Election Year” continues the tradition of presenting a new night of the annual Purge, a night in which all crime, including murder, is legal. This third entry, however, is more overtly political, literally. The corrupt New Founding Fathers of America have now also made it legal to murder political leaders of all levels which doesn't bode well for a Presidential candidate who vows to end the annual night of murder if she's elected president. It's not a coincidence that this film is being released just months before our own Presidential election (or on the 4th of July weekend). The horror genre has never been known for being exactly subtle when it comes to social and political commentary.
The third entry in this wildly interesting, if sometimes flawed, series is probably equal to the second entry in terms of quality. It's certainly much more like the previous entry, than the home invasion thriller concept employed in the first film. “Anarchy” felt much more like an 80s John Carpenter action thriller than a stander horror film, while this third entry takes a foray into the political thriller genre.
The movie initially sets up two stories that eventually converge. We're introduced to presidential hopeful Senator Charlie Roan (Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell) who wants to end the Purge. Her entire family was murdered eighteen years earlier and has dedicated her life to making sure the annual night of murder ends for good. These films have always shown that while the American government claims this night has made the economy better and the yearly murder rate drop significantly (as people can “purge” their bad thoughts legally every year), the annual night of chaos is actually a way to cleanse the country of low income people who tend to be the targets each year. The film also focuses on a convenience store owner named Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), his employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and friend and EMT worker Laney (Betty Gabriel). Joe has decided to haul up in his store and protect it as his Purge insurance rates have inexplicably skyrocketed.
Things turn bad for Senator Roan (and her head of security Leo – Frank Grillo from the last film) when the NFFA announce that politicians are no longer immune from the horrors of the Purge. And let's not forget the borderline psychotic and Roan's political rival Minster Owens (Kyle Secor) who continues to support the Purge. The film then turns into a political thriller as allies becomes enemies and Roan is forced to run for her life on the deadliest night of the year.
“The Purge: Election Year” is a perfectly serviceable edition to this fascinating film series. I'm constantly impressed with the places writer and director James DeMonaco is taking this series, even if nothing in this third entry is outright frightening or particularly scary. It's atmospheric and creepy for sure with no shortage of crazy people in scary masks doing truly messed up things. You pretty much know what you're getting into when you see a Purge movie and it meets expectations while saying something about society. I certainly admire it more than I actually love it but the sheer amount of creativity going on here is definitely admirable. GRADE: B
Saturday, June 25, 2016
The Goldblum is Off the Rose: “Independence Day Resurgence” is the Lackluster Sequel You Were Expecting
Is it safe for someone to admit that their preferred 1996 summer blockbuster of choice was not, in fact, “Independence Day?” I always preferred “Twister.” There’s nothing wrong with “Independence Day;” it is certainly a big budget fun alien invasion movie in the style of a 1970s Irwin Allen disaster flick. And let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s not really a very good movie. It makes sense then that I felt completely underwhelmed by “Independence Day: Resurgence.” My dislike of it has nothing to do with any kind of Star Wars prequel fanboy hate whatsoever. When it comes right down to it, “ID4-2” is frankly dull, incompetent, and just plain stupid.
No one really goes out of their way to praise the body of work of director Roland Emmerich. The guy is mostly known for his large scale on-screen disasters, some of them good: “2012” was goofy fun, as was “The Day After Tomorrow” but his 1998 version of “Godzilla” was a disaster in more ways than one. I’d be lying if I said “The Patriot” wasn’t my favorite of his films. “Independence Day: Resurgence” is a definite low for the filmmaker in a career filled with lows. While his films are nowhere near as terrible or utterly bombastic as say, Michael Bay's, there is a glaring sheen of incompetence in this latest effort.
“ID4 2” takes place twenty years after the events of the first movie and the world has moved on. They’ve rebuilt bigger and better than ever, while even harvesting a lot of the advanced technology brought to Earth by those pesky aliens. This world doesn’t feel like the same world from the last movie, it feels way too advanced and unrealistic. The United States now has a female president played by Sela Ward who spends the entire movie doing her best Hillary with regrettably slicked back hair look. She’s not the only one who needs a makeover, former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) has some serious post-traumatic stress issues and is in serious need of a hairbrush. His daughter Patricia is all grown up and played by It Follows’ Maika Monroe. She’s with hotshot military pilot Jake (Liam Hemsworth) because movies like this need love interests obviously. Will Smith is nowhere to be found so we have his son Dylan (Jessie T. Usher) filling in. That wacky scientist Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) is back, somehow surviving a twenty year comma, waking up to his life partner (John Storey), which was an unexpected twist in a film otherwise riddled with clichés. Indie actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, playing a scientist, looks mostly confused throughout the film as if she either lost a bet or mistakenly got lost getting back to Lars von Trier’s set. Most of the actors look pretty bored.
Oh, and don’t even make me try to describe the film’s plot. The aliens actually aren’t done attacking Earth and send a mothership down to kill everyone, again. And again no one listens to Jeff Goldblum (or his father). Characters inexplicably die, or end up not dying in confusing ways. The action scenes are so shoddily filmed and terribly jumbled together that I felt like I was trying to decipher some three year old’s abstract drawing. There’s no real sense of time and place; characters are on the moon one minute and then on Earth the next without much explanation and in the meantime I generally lost interest. Especially in the lame attempts at humor from the film’s five screenwriters who I’ll give a break to by not actually naming them. Oh and the visual effects are just plain terrible considering the film’s budget was twice as big as the first film. And that movie won a freaking Oscar for its visual effects (over “Twister” I might add).
So yeah “Independence Day: Resurgence” is bad. I didn’t like it. It’s not a good sequel. But you know what? It doesn’t profoundly change or affect my life in any way and it’s very possibly that a lot of people out there will find it fun and enjoyable. I’m still sticking with “Twister.” GRADE: D+
Friday, June 24, 2016
An easy way to describe “The Shallows” would be “it's 'Jaws' meets 'Gravity,'” but that would be somewhat inaccurate; those were Oscar-winning movies after all and this is a movie from the guy who directed Paris Hilton in “House of Wax.” But actually, “The Shallows” is a fun little shark thriller even if it's a B-movie through and through, which happens to be exactly how I take my fun little shark thrillers. Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra is the master of the “efficient little thriller” subgenre having made other “efficient little thrillers” like “Non-Stop” the efficient little airplane thriller and “Orphan” the efficient little psycho kid thriller and he's right at home with “The Shallows.” Even if the film doesn't remotely pretend to know anything about actual Great White Shark behavior, "The Shallows" is a completely watchable and suspenseful thrill ride that makes efficient use of its 86 minute run time.
There's not really much to say about the plot of “The Shallows” except that it's essentially about a woman who becomes trapped on some rocks while a hungry shark circles around her. The film's script attempts to give us a well-formed principle female character in Nancy (Blake Lively) who decides to find the unnamed beach in some unnamed foreign country that her late mother used to frequent. A Spanish-speaking man drops Nancy off, where she meets two other surfers, who, besides a drunk man, are really the only other characters in the film. But that doesn't matter, this is the story of woman vs. beast. I haven't seen a woman so pissed off at a shark since “Jaws the Revenge.”
It's no surprise that shortly after catching some waves, Nancy gets attacked by a shark and refuses to leave the area because it's been feeding on a floating whale carcass. The shark also has some kind of hook lodged into its mouth which makes me think that's reason enough for us to think that's why the shark wants to badly to eat every human being in sight. This is not a Shark Week documentary; it's a shark thriller so we can easily forgive it's lack of scientific shark knowledge and feel ok with just being scared for Nancy every time she's forced to enter the water in attempt to get to shore. She's basically stuck on the rocks with her bleeding leg, her wits, and an injured seagull who I guess is supposed to be her Wilson stand-in. She's also conveniently a former medical student which helps.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
As far as unnecessary sequels go, “Finding Dory” is actually pretty darn good. Nothing will ever match the sheer joy of the first film but this follow-up certainly makes its mark in the glorious Pixar cannon. It obviously loses some originality points for being somewhat familiar and can't match the obviously far-out antics of last year's masterpiece “Inside Out.” But why should it? In a time when sequels are so common it's a breath of fresh air just to have one that is simply great – even if it never really needed to be made in the first place. Luckily, this underwater world created by the geniuses at Pixar is brimming with enough new colorful characters and smart gags that make “Finding Nemo” one of the better “Pixar-lite” entries.
“Finding Nemo” was essentially an underwater road trip movie. Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) was searching the open Australian Ocean for his lost son Nemo and hesitantly teamed up with lovable blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who suffers from short term memory loss. In case you were living under an underwater rock all those years ago, Nemo was found and they all lived happily ever after. Now, taking place a year after the events of the first movie, Dory has a revelation and realizes that she has a family and may knew where to find them. This takes her, Marlin, and Nemo on a crazy adventure across the ocean in and around the Marine Life Institute which involves the voice of Sigourney Weaver in what is one of the movie's best running gags.
There are plenty of new colorful characters involved here. There's a pair of captive whales voiced by It's Always Sunny's Kaitlin Olson and Modern Family's Ty Burrell. The one who really steals the show this time is a disgruntled octopus who's named Hank voiced by Ed O'Neill. There are some truly inspired bits here as Dory, Marlin, and Nemo find themselves hoping from body to water to body of water throughout the institute trying to figure out where Dory's parents are. There's one bit involving an unfortunate stop in a kids' touch tank that is hilariously rendered by those clever Pixar people (including co-directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane).
“Finding Dory” may feel like a movie that doesn't need to exist, but the filmmakers have gone out of their way to assure you why it does: it's a sheer delight on every level. Like the first film, it is filled with clever humor, fun characters, a great Thomas Newman score, jaw-dropping animation, and a lot of heart. The movie also has a voice – it has a positive message about those who have disabilities – which is not entirely lost on those just looking for a fun time. It's a movie that will have you initially questioning it's existence and proving in the end that Pixar can pretty much do no wrong, because “Finding Dory” is oh so right. GRADE: A-
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Simply put, “The Conjuring 2” will not only restore your faith in movie sequels but in the studio horror film, as well. Most horror fans have had to turn to the little seen indie flicks that show up on demand or in art house theaters. Horror films put out by major studios tend to be PG-13 cash grabs and nothing more. And horror fans are lucky if they get one great horror film amongst what usually ends up being an entire series full of mediocre entries. How “The Conjuring” series has hit two home runs so far is an achievement in and of itself. The success of this film (as with the first) remains due to top-notch acting from great actors (and two of the most appealing horror movie lead characters ever created and some of the best acting the genre has seen since “The Exorcist”), sharp and interesting direction (from James Wan returning to horror form after his fantastic “Furious Seven” detour), and a solid script. Yes, as strange as it sounds, even horror films can be just plain great films, and thankfully “The Conjuring 2” gives horror sequels a good name.
If one needed to instantly compare “The Conjuring 2” to the original I’d say it’s maybe a notch lower just because, as great as it is on its own, you’ve seen these characters in situations like this before. It is a sequel after all so it instantly lacks the uniqueness of the first time around. However, this sequel does everything right. You could say it follows the formula of the first but it also adds much depth and drama to the previous entry as well. After being called to consult on the infamous Amityville case, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, both delightfully wonderful) are called upon overseas in England where a single mother is having disturbances in her house that are affecting her children. One disturbed child in particular, Janet (Madison Wolfe, who gives one of the most impressive child horror film performances ever), has become increasingly unstable as it’s apparent that some evil entity is causing her to practically become possessed.
Like the first film, the movie’s plot isn’t simply a haunting or a possession. It’s sort of a weird combination of both. The family’s mother played by A.I. Artificial Intelligence’s Frances O’Conner, is completely at wit’s end but the Warrens – dealing with their own familial issues – promise to only observe and help only if the case is particularly troublesome. The film’s script from Chad & Carey Hayes (along with Wan and David Leslie Johnson) interestingly deals with the concept of skepticism. In movies like this these cases are always assumed to be real – but for once the storyline approaches the subject of whether what’s going could be in fact a hoax.
“The Conjuring 2” features top notch production values all around. Wan’s direction is simply suburb. He doesn’t just rely on jump scares (though they’re there and they are, in fact, actually scary) but real frights, choosing to let scenes play out in almost unbearable suspense. The cinematography is particularly wild from the always reliable Don Burgess and matches nicely with Joseph Bishara’s creepy score.
Tuesday, June 07, 2016
Nothing can quite top the experience of seeing “Borat” for the first time. Its mockumentary format was nothing particularly new (see This is Spinal Tap and the rest of Christopher Guest’s oeuvre) but it’s appealing mix of wacky character interacting with unsuspecting real-life people was something so funny, shocking, and downright outrageous that no other mockumentary could barely touch it. With the glut of fairly recent concert films and other musician-led documentaries on the rise (due to the popularity of reality television, I believe) it only seemed natural that another musician focused mockumentary was going to be unleashed on the public. Who better to do it than former SNL funnyman and digital short maestro Andy Samberg? He and his Lonely Island pals Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone take on everyone from Justin Bieber to Justin Timberlake in a film stuffed with enough cameos to fill an entire season of “Will & Grace.” It’s mostly a success due to the always game Samberg and his buddies though you can’t help but feel the film is a few years too late and doesn’t quite feel as fresh and original as it thinks it is.
“Popstar” ultimately feels like a really long Digital Short, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does sort of feel padded even though it clocks in under 90 minutes. However, the film is pretty funny from start to finish. Samberg is Conner Friel who’s part of pop boy band The Style Boyz. Obviously things to end up working out so he starts his solo career as Conner4Real which goes great after his first album Thriller, Also is a hit but his second album bombs. The film follows him as his entire career implodes even with the help of his manager (Tim Meadows) and his publicist (Sara Silverman). It is sort of refreshing knowing that his downward spiral isn’t caused by drugs as is the case with most famous people but rather the fact that it turns out he’s a terrible song writer without his two former band mates (one of which becomes a farmer and the other remains with Conner as his DJ).
The success of the film (aka how much you find it funny) will depend on how well you know the many famous people who make cameos. There are a bunch of really good and clever ones which I won’t spoil here. Though, those actors who are actually playing characters don’t really get all that much to do. Maya Rudolph and Joan Cusack’s bits are criminally short. Much of the humor comes from mocking the entire music industry and how obsessed with celebrity culture we have become as a society. One of my favorite bits include several scenes mocking the annoyingly popular “TMZ” show in which a bunch of people sit around an office sipping from travel mugs as they mock the stupid stuff famous people do.
All of the songs, most of which feature rap, are actually decent and are generally pretty funny. I imagine the soundtrack would be a fun listen with the right friends and the right road trip. I also love how far Shaffer, Taccone, (who both co-wrote and directed) and particularly Samberg (who also co-wrote) are willing to go in the name of comedy. Sure it relies heavily on typically raunchy gross out humor but there’s something timeless about potty humor isn’t there? You also get a sense that even if this trio is making a mockery of the music industry you can tell they utterly respect it.
“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is just as ridiculous as its title suggests. Samberg doesn’t quite reach the comedic heights of Sacha Baron Cohen and he certainly owes a lot to the mockumentaries of the past but “Popstar” is delightfully un-PC and is certainly worth visiting particularly if you’re a fan of the Andy Samberg brand of absurdist musical mockery. GRADE: B
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Those who complain that Hollywood no longer makes outstanding movies geared towards adults haven't seen “The Nice Guys.” How does one even describe “The Nice Guys?” It's buddy comedy. It's a film noir. It's a trashy porn-themed crime drama. It's even a cute story about a father and daughter. By my count that's four films for the price of one. And it's worth every penny.
Russell Crowe feels like a far cry from his usual epic action fair here in this story about two private hires who team up to solve the suspicious death of a porn star in seedy 1970s LA. The film is dripping with personality, style, and a deliciously absurd sense of humor. And no wonder because it comes from Shane Black the director of cult favorite “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and Marvel actioner “Iron Man 3.”
Crowe is joined onscreen by Ryan Gosling who is such popular movie star it's hard to remember how much of a standout actor he really is. He's perfectly cast here as Holland March a boozy private investigator who comes face to face with enforcer Jackson Healy (Crowe) who insists March stop investigating the disappearance of a woman named Amelia. But since this is seedy 1970s LA there are bad guys everywhere and soon they have to reluctantly team up to solve a crazy mystery involving amateur pornography and the auto industry.
This is one of those movies where the script practically drips with originality and yet you see the cinematic nods that have heavily influenced it. Black (and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi) have crafted such a fun, demented script full of surprises and colorful characters. The direction is solid; Black keeps things moving and you never quite know where things are going. I never lived in LA let alone in the 1970s but the film feels authentic; especially John Ottman's swanky 70s-esque score. The chemistry between the actors, especially Crowe and Gosling, is simply dynamite. And as dark and violent as the film can be there is a surprising sweetness to it in the form of the relationship between Gosling and his onscreen daughter played wonderfully by Angourie Rice.
“The Nice Guys” was truly a delight from start to finish. It has a fun, twisted plot, fantastic performances by actors playing memorable characters, and stylish direction from the always reliable Shane Black. This is the summer movie that adults will love, especially those sick of sequels, reboots, and caped crusaders (though I'm personally not quite sick of any of those). GRADE: A-