The Silver Bullet ~ Get on Up

get_on_up

Synopsis: A chronicle of James Brown’s rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history.

Release Date: August 1, 2014

Thoughts:  One of my earliest musical memories is my dad owning the soundtrack to Rocky IV on vinyl and playing it while he went through his workout. Though Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” may be the most closely associated with the third sequel of Sylvester Stallone’s popular franchise, the song I always dropped the needle on was James Brown’s horn heavy whopper “Living in America” and its remained a personal favorite ever since.

Though The Godfather of Soul has been gone for nearly eight years, a biopic of his life is just now making its way to the big screen in a late summer slot. Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help) and featuring Chadwick Boseman (Draft Day) as James Brown I’m wondering why the previews I’ve seen so far haven’t made me as excited for this film as I think I should be. In addition to Boseman, Taylor has hot screenwriters Jez & Jon-Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow), a fine group of actors like Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station), Viola Davis (Prisoners), and Dan Aykroyd (This is My Life), and has the music not to mention the real-life drama to produce what should be a slam-dunk. Yet I’m left feeling that this will be a surface dwelling account of Brown’s rise to stardom and the troubles of the drug and legal kind won’t be lingered on for long.

I hope I’m wrong because done right, this could be the kind of music biography that gets the crowd on its feet.

Movie Review ~ Transformers: Age of Extinction

3

transformers_age_of_extinction_ver20

The Facts:

Synopsis: An automobile mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down the Autobots – and a paranoid government official – on them.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, Li Bingbing, T.J. Miller, Han Geng, Titus Welliver, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio, Mark Ryan, Robert Foxworth, Reno Wilson

Director: Michael Bay

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 165 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Check out my interview with stars Jack Reynor & Nicola Peltz here

Review: In the days that have passed since taking in Transformers: Age of Extinction I’ve been slightly amused by all the critics flapping their gums about how big, dumb, loud, and long director Michael Bay’s fourth film in the Transformers franchise is. My response to that is: What else were you expecting? I mean, if the series had shifted to the hands of a new director as was originally rumored, I could see some validity in the outcry that the series truly was just fodder for deafening explosions and nonsensical action sequences.

This is Michael Bay we’re talking about here and he’s delivered exactly what he was hired to do. Now, I’m not saying that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the kind of movie you should get down on your knees and thank your lucky stars for because it only barely passes the litmus test of summer blockbuster. I’m just asking that you consider the franchise in question as well as considering the director behind the camera.

If I tell you that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the best of the series so far I’d imagine you’d take that with a grain of salt because the first three were so tremendously dumb that they’d make instructional videos on sealing an envelope look like NASA training material. Featuring the increasingly unlikable Shia LeBeouf and a parade of actors culled from the covers of GQ and Maxim magazines, the original trilogy were all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This fourth film seeks to reboot the franchise…or at least take it in a new direction. Major points are given off the bat for jettisoning LeBeouf and the walking mannequins in favor of, well, similar looking actors that always appear to be fresh from the gym and tanning beds. That they are all a notable improvement over any of the previous cast members should say something significant about the casting department over at Paramount.

Though you may scoff at Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor) playing a goofy Texas inventor that obviously spends an equal amount of time lifting weights as submitting patents, the actor acquits himself nicely by rising above Ehren Kruger’s willy-nilly script and applying the appropriate amount of muscle in tandem with a surprising pep in his step. This may be Wahlberg’s most big budget, high-profile film to date and even if he winds up being another chess piece in Michael Bay’s endgame, he comes out mostly unscathed.

Though they aren’t technically replacing anyone, Nicola Peltz (TV’s Bates Motel) and Jack Reynor (Delivery Man) are obviously filling in for the archetypes vacated by LeBeouf and Megan Fox. It’s nice to report that both are engaging presences and that spunky Peltz is given way more to do than Reynor’s rally car driver whose character seems to only be good at shifting gears at the right moment. Stanley Tucci (Jack the Giant Slayer) pops up with another character in his canon that’s more about the outer appearance than anything going on under the skin. Too much time is spent with Tucci, just another way the film manages to waste quite a lot of the early momentum it builds.

Pacing has never really been of much concern to Bay (nor is his ongoing rampant misogyny) but here he really needed to let go of at least 45 minutes of material. The film has so many endings culminating in one of the longest finales I’ve ever witnessed outside of when I still watched American Idol. Compounded with the deafening sound design and above average use of 3D effects audiences will most likely be seen exiting the theater nearly comatose from overstimulation.

While most critics are giving Bay crap about the film, I’d like to publicly state that I found his previous film (Pain & Gain) to be even more of a punishing experience…and that film didn’t even have Dinobots! Look, Transformers has always been and will always be a series made up of a lot of hollow parts. Transformers: Age of Extinction doesn’t add any meat to the bones of the franchise but it’s a helluva lot better than its predecessors and delivers true bang for your buck.

Just please…don’t ask it to be something it’s not.

Q & A: Nicola Peltz & Jack Reynor from Transformers: Age of Extinction

Anytime a new face pops up in a long running franchise there’s bound to be some raised eyebrows and a slightly standoffish nature between the audience and the newbie to see how well they’re going to fit in.  Though the Transformers series has historically not been all that concerned with the human actors onscreen, previous stars Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox undoubtedly earned Hollywood clout for their work in the series…though both had highly publicized fallouts with either their director (Fox) or studio heads (LeBeouf, who didn’t make nice with Dreamworks honcho Steven Spielberg) that put a damper on their future with the series. Fox was replaced after the second film and LeBeouf didn’t continue on after the last installment.

When the time came for the inevitable fourth entry (Transformers: Age of Extinction, out June 27) and not having an established series regular to move on with, director Michael Bay (Pain & Gain) and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (the US remake of The Ring) chose a different direction.  They haven’t necessarily hit the reboot button or scrapped the established mythology of the previous three films but instead have shifted the focus forward in time, allowing a whole new cast of characters to be introduced.

The star of the film is Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor) but I recently had a chance to sit down with fresh faces Nicola Peltz (star of TV’s Bates Motel) and Jack Reynor (Delivery Man) for a Q & A to get their thoughts on coming into an established series, some favorite moments, and what they bring to the table.  With a friendly poise and down to earth air surrounding them, it appears that Peltz and Reynor won’t merely be LeBeouf and Fox 2.0.

Q: Transformers is a beloved series.  Did you feel any pressure to live up to what it has become as a franchise?
Nicola Peltz: Well we’re playing different characters and not replacing anyone.  So there’s no pressure to live up anyone that’s come before us.  Living in a house with brothers obsessed with Transformers, being a huge fan of the series myself, and also growing up a fan of Michael Bay just being able to audition was a big thing. Then getting on set and working with such talented people was so exciting for me.

Q: What’s at stake for your characters in this film?  What do your characters stand to lose if they fail?
NP:  Our lives!  (laughs)  These are normal, relatable people put into a crazy situation.  In the film I get separated from my dad and being a 17 year old girl that’s pretty scary.  To not be with her dad and in this situation is intimidating and she’s scared she could lose her life.  Also, she has to worry about the lives of her family and boyfriend.
Jack Reynor: My character is a young Irish guy who’s landed in Texas and has an incredible ability to race rally cars.  It gives him confidence in himself and gives him the ability to assume his position in that world.  Throughout the course of the film he’s just trying to find his place, prove who he is, and what he’s worth.  At the same time, his relationship with Nicola’s character helps her become more independent and grow in a very healthy way.

Q: Nicola, with a lot of strong female leads in entertainment and film today, does your character Tessa continue that trend? The Transformers series has been known to be more of a guy film so what do you think will bring the female audiences in to see this?
NP: Well, I grew up with six brothers so I was always into the guy movies and action films.  But Tessa is really relatable to a lot of girls: her dad is overprotective and is in a no-dating household so I get all of that.  She’s a tough girl and I think that a lot of girls will be really into it…I know I am.  Did I sell you? (laughs)
You’ll see at the beginning of the film that she lives a normal life before she’s thrust into an extraordinary situation.  She’s definitely a tough girl having been raised on a farm.  She does get her but kicked a lot…A LOT.  But she has her moments.
JR: I think she’s a bit more of a badass than any of the other franchises around at the moment. She’s less the sensitive wilting flower and more of a badass.  She’s going out with an Irish race car driver (Reynor’s character) so she better be…

Q: What scene did you enjoy shooting the most?
NP: Well, Jack and I have the same favorite scene.  If you’ve seen the trailer there’s a shot of Mark, Jack, and myself running through this huge explosion.  That was real and we found out about four minutes we got on set.  We had no idea.  We get on set and see all these explosives and twelve cameras and were like, ‘What is going on?”  Michael (Bay) does like to add random scenes so we were very confused.  He tells us ‘You’re going to have to run from here to here in 4.6 seconds, okay?  And don’t mess it up because we can only do it once.” We had a practice run and then we just did it…it was so exciting because your adrenaline is going crazy.

Q: Jack, coming off of independent films like What Richard Did and Macbeth, can you talk about the differences between doing small budget films and such a monumental blockbuster film like Transformers: Age of Extinction?
JR: Well, for me at least independent films and a film like Transformers are not all that different in terms of my approach to a character and a performance.  You still have to try your best to suspend your disbelief and draw on your imagination and emotions.  You invoke certain thoughts for yourself to invest in your character.  The real difference is with a movie of this budget and scale there’s so many more people around all the time. The effects are so heavy and the wait time between shots is substantially longer.  People ask the question all the time “What’s it like to star opposite a giant imaginary robot” and I think that it’s not so different from any other film you try to do…and it’s just an extension of that.  With Mark (Wahlberg), Michael (Bay), Stanley (Tucci) and others on set they’ve taught us how to relate to the industry and how the industry relates to us.  Which is an important thing to learn at this stage in our careers.

Q: Transformers: Age of Extinction is a much different animal than the work you’ve done in the past.  Have you found that your life has changed with the added exposure that comes from being in the fourth Transformers movie?
NP: No, my life not at all.  I still walk around and no one really cares.
JR: For both of us on a personal level, things haven’t changed an awful lot as of yet.  I’m from Ireland so everyone back home is excited that an Irish guy is part of a massive franchise like this.  We don’t have Irish characters in movies like this ever, it’s the first time we’ve seen an Irish guy as part of a large supporting role in a film like this.  That’s a really great thing.
In our professional lives, both of us have noticed that we’re in a position now that we can potentially finance projects we want to make ourselves and we have a lot more freedom/leeway in what we want to do.  It’s afforded us a lot of opportunities in the industry and we’re both trying to take full advantage of that.

Q: In an interview with IndieLondon magazine, Mark Wahlberg was quoted as saying that with the release of the film “Jack and Nicola’s lives are going to change quite a bit when it comes out. And that’s something that you’re either going to be able to deal with or it’s going to become a problem.”  We’ve heard you mention in interviews what a hard-working professional Wahlberg is but can you speak specifically as to his influences on you as a mentor/father figure as you enter huge celebrity?
JR: Mark really led from the front.  To be able to observe him in that environment was something very beneficial to us both.  It helped us develop a healthy work ethic in this industry.  At the end of the day, it’s about your own individual experience in the industry and the kind of person you are and what you want for yourself.  There are a lot of people our age in the industry that I perceive are in it for the wrong reasons…there in it for a profile, for fame, for the self-glorification of it all.  That’s certainly not why Nicola or I are in this business.  We’re both here to create characters and relate things that are important for society and to make fun movies.  Movies that help people transcend the issues in their lives…even for two hours.  When it comes to how we’ll relate to our rising profiles, we’re both very grounded people and we have great support groups in our friends and families.  I live in Dublin and I’m not going to leave.  I’ll carry on my life as normally as I can.  This is one part of my life but there’s a lot more in my life than this that I have to give just as much time to, if not more.
NP: The people you surround yourself with are really really important.  My mom is always telling if I ever get out of line, or I start getting upset when things don’t go my way, or if I lose the joy in it she’ll pull the plug on acting.  When you have a passion for acting like I do, you tend you ignore the external aspects.  Celebrities lose their privacy but there are worse things going on in the world than that.  We’re so lucky that we get to do what we love to do.
JR: I’m uncomfortable with the word and label celebrity…
NP: I’m saying that you see celebrities that lose their privacy and get upset.  I can understand that, for sure, but there are definitely other worse things going on in the world.
JR: At the end of the day, celebrity is not something Nicola or I are interested in chasing down.  It’s about being actors first and foremost.  That’s where our love is and our passion for the industry lies.  As long as that remains important to us we’ll be fine and I think we’ll be quite successful.   Once you lose sight of that and why you got into the industry in the first place that’s when the trouble starts.  Hopefully Nicola and I will be supported enough and grounded enough in ourselves that it won’t be an issue we have to face.

The Silver Bullet ~ Kill the Messenger

1

kill_the_messenger

Synopsis: Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb, a reporter becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign after he exposes the CIA’s role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California.

Release Date:  October 10, 2014

Thoughts: Though it reeks of Jeremy Renner continuing his neverending quest for Oscar glory, there’s little doubt that the real life story serving as the basis for Kill the Messenger has potential to be a pivotal moment in his career.  Look, we all know that Renner (The Bourne Legacy, American Hustle) can act with the best of them…but I feel the actor is taking himself a bit too seriously at this point.  Working with director Michael Cuesta to bring journalist Gary Webb’s life to the big screen, Renner makes a good impression in this first trailer…though it does feel like we’ve seen this exact same story told several times each decade .

The Silver Bullet ~ Willow Creek

1

willow_creek_ver2

Synopsis: From celebrated director Bobcat Goldthwait comes this edge of your seat horror that will make you think twice before going into the woods.

Release Date:  TBA 2014

Thoughts: Man, you can’t keep a Bigfoot down.  Though the legendary mystery has entertained many a youngster surrounding a campfire and inspired countless reality series hunting the big guy down, for me Bigfoot will always be best represented in the 80s comedy Harry and the Hendersons.  Director Bobcat Goldthwait directs this horror yarn and seems to be aiming for a more casual method of storytelling that might just maximize the tension while minimizing the goofball nature of the myth as a whole.  Though remembered first and foremost from his warbly voiced antics as an actor, as a director Goldthwait has put together several interesting films over the years.  I’ll track this one down.

Movie Review ~ Jersey Boys

jersey_boys_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons.

Stars: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken

Director: Clint Eastwood

Rated: R

Running Length: 135 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: When it was first announced that the Tony Award winning smash hit Broadway show Jersey Boys would be making the transition from stage musical to movie musical, it seemed like a fairly logical move. The show was still driving audiences crazy on Broadway, on tour, in Vegas, Canada, London, and other international locations and was fueled by genuine nostalgia and a highly cinematic staging that made you feel like you were living the show right along with the stars onstage.

Though it briefly fell into the directorial lap of Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2), when he eventually backed out suddenly Oscar winning director Clint Eastwood set his sights on the property and soon The Man with No Name was lensing the adaptation in his typical economical style. I actually thought Eastwood was a good and not so obvious choice to helm the picture, an actor’s director that could help find balance between the trappings of a stage-bound musical structure and the free-range fantasy film can afford. This was a flashy show that seemed pre-packaged to make a very entertaining film.

So what the hell happened?

Honestly, I was pretty shell shocked just five minutes into the film because I could see some of the trepidation that has been steadily growing as the film neared release was coming true. In the weeks leading up to the screening, I couldn’t believe that Warner Brothers assembled such an average looking trailer and was failing to promote the film that had a pretty decent pedigree behind it. Why would they dump the film smack dab in the middle of summer when everything about the film version of Jersey Boys felt like a late fall release?

Well…like their utter failure two years ago with Rock of Ages, Warner Brothers knew they had a total turkey on their hands and wanted it to go away as fast as possible. However, what Rock of Ages had that Jersey Boys doesn’t were name stars filling out the various roles and not the newcomers that Eastwood has assembled. With many cast members (and three of the title men) culled from various productions of the show worldwide, the cast more than acquits themselves with the music (more on that in a moment) but their green-ness shows when the music stops and actual acting is required.

We have to start with the music. I’m hoping that an extended cut of Jersey Boys is released on BluRay…and that this alternate version will have, oh, I don’ t know MUSIC in it. Eastwood has taken a big bona fide smash Broadway musical and turned it into a biopic drama with musical moments. Now, I’m not saying he had to just film what was onstage…but he had free range to go big and instead he strips the music out almost entirely and instead focuses on the men themselves. Understanding that in any adaptation certain concessions have to be made, what exists in Eastwood’s Jersey Boys is not even a mild representation of what audiences lose their minds for nightly at productions around the world.

Screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice adapted their own musical script, sadly dropping many of the magical moments and retaining all the problems…like the ill-advised direct to camera address that lands like a thud. This is partly because it’s not used with the consistently or the panache of its Broadway counterpart and also because it remains a cheap narrative trick slyly designed to help keep a fast moving show zipping along. Eastwood lets absolutely all of the air out of the film pretty much from the get go…including removing any underscore. Without music, we’re left to really get a listen to the hokey dialogue and comically bad accents. All the men are basically giving their take on Robert DeNiro and all women are trying to out Marisa Tomei each other. Example: “Yo ah soch ah lu-sah” Translation: “You are such a loser.” Time flies by and occasionally a character will interject what year it is or a title card will help audiences get their bearings…until the film mystically starts going backwards in time. You’ll need a roadmap to keep track of it all…but you probably won’t care.

I’ve seen the stage show twice and only really liked it the second time around when I stood back and saw it for what it was: a high class jukebox musical that was rough around the edges like the men at the center of the story they were trying to tell. Most of the music sprung from performance, not from the gut of a hackneyed emotional outburst. There were moments of true magic as all the pieces fit into place and the The Four Seasons unleashed songs like Sherry, Big Girls, Walk Like a Man, Dawn, Rag Doll…it was thrilling. Most of these winning set-ups still exist in the film version but have arrived without any verve or showmanship…making it all one big heaping bore.

All of this may have been more tolerable had Eastwood went against his gut instinct and cast his film a different way. I appreciate he wanted to go with stage actors who could sing the music live and already had a working knowledge of the material but though they are in step on the familiar Four Seasons choreography, not a one of them seems to be on the same page with each other.

John Lloyd Young won a Tony Award for playing Frankie Valli onstage but the awards will stop there based on his dreadfully desperate attempt at dramatic range here. I went back after the film and watched some of Valli’s performances from back in the day and nowhere did I see Valli make the kind of pained faces Young does as he strains to hit Valli’s effortless high notes. Further stymied by a wig from the Scott Baio line of near-mullets, Young’s overly emotive squinty singing style comes across like he’s wearing 20 pairs of too small underoos with a bright light constantly being shined directly into his face.

With their supposed lead letting them down in a big way, the remaining Seasons aren’t nearly as bad but have their own dull hang-ups that keep them from working out in the end. Erich Bergen’s habit of looking into the camera with a knowing gaze made me feel like he was auditioning for The Office, not playing the golden boy songwriter that gave Valli his greatest hits, Michael Lomenda looks like Goofy and sounds like him often too as the dopey bassist. Vincent Piazza is the only one of the four not previously involved with the production…but too often he comes across like he’s playing a deleted scene cut out of Goodfellas.

Christopher Walken (The Dead Zone) is the biggest name you’ll see onscreen and while Brickman and Elice have significantly expanded his small time mobster role there are times when Walken is literally standing around with nothing to do on screen. Twenty (thirty?) years ago I could easily see Walken taking on the tough guy role played by Piazza but here he becomes another casualty of Eastwood’s lackadaisical approach.

When the film flashes forward to the early 90s you’d be advised to hold on to your hat because you’re going to see some jaw-droppingly bad make-up on display. I’ve seen better old-age make-up on a grade school production of Driving Miss Daisy. It’s the embarrassing capper on an embarrassing experience. But wait…Eastwood saves the best/worst for last by truncating the penultimate showstopper of a finale in favor of a drab mega mix and fully realized production number that is both totally random and wildly inappropriate. And the final shots of the film must be designed to play over applause…but our audience sat in stunned silence. It’s truly one for the head slapper record books.

The one thing the film has going for it (and trust me, it’s one thing only) is that the design team has crafted an impeccable looking film. Production designer James J. Murakami gets every precise detail down pat and Deborah Hopper’s costumes are period perfect…not that they don’t feature some truly awful fashion trends most would rather forget completely. Were you to watch the film on mute (and without hardly any music…you usually are) you’d see how richly designed the film is.

Earning points for being well sung and immaculately designed, there’s little else to recommend about Eastwood’s tuneless (literally) attempt at bringing the Jersey Boys to the big screen. Now little more than your run of the mill entertainment biopic, audiences are strongly advised to wait until the show comes through your town and seeing the story as it really deserves to be told.

 

Movie Review ~ How to Train Your Dragon 2

how_to_train_your_dragon_two_ver7

The Facts:

Synopsis: When Hiccup and Toothless discover an ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace.

Stars: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Kit Harington, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Honsou, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig

Director: Dean DeBlois

Rated: PG

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: While How to Train Your Dragon reached massive audiences in 2010, it failed to reach me until a few months into its run when I caught it on a double bill at an IMAX theater.  To get to the film I wanted to see (Hubble 3D) I had to see the animated adventures of a Viking lad making friends with a dragon, the sworn enemy of his people.  Hardly looking forward to it, I ended up being dazzled at what the folks at DreamWorks Animation had dreamed up and impressed that they had strong material (a series of books written by Cressida Cowell) as a jumping off point.

I failed to re-watch the original before going into the second film so it took me a while to re-assimilate myself with the characters.  This was made more difficult because everyone has grown up a lot in the three years since we last saw Hiccup, his dragon Toothless, and the rough and tumble friends, family, and other breeds of dragon that now comfortably share their beautifully rendered coastal village.

Wasting hardly a second in its running length, we’re soon trailing Hiccup and Toothless as they avoid capture by a band of roving dragon pirates and discover a new world of dragons living in a crystalline ice cave guarded by a mysterious figure known as the Dragon Rider.  Keeping this review as spoiler free as possible, I’ll only say that the voice of the Dragon Rider is provided by a recent Oscar winner smelling of blue jasmine.  When a sinister foe appears and threatens to destroy the peaceful harmony Hiccup and his kin have formed with the dragons, it’s all hands on deck for a dramatic showdown that will change everything moving forward.

Though rated PG, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is, like the recently released Maleficent, ever so slightly too scary for young children.  Some events transpire that parents may not feel ready to discuss with their children yet but I applaud the filmmakers for handing some delicate moments with sensitivity that doesn’t feel like hand-holding.  Surprisingly, I found myself choking up a bit through several passages in the film that masterfully tug at your heartstrings.

While the computer animation and 3D effects are the dependably stunning work that DreamWorks is known for, the voices assembled are a bit of a hodge podge.  Eternally squeaky sounding Jay Baruchel (This is the End) doesn’t feel quite right for the role…his character has grown in stature but obviously is in his third year of puberty.  Striking a similar dissonant chord is America Ferrera (End of Watch) whose rich tone feels too old for her spunky heroine.  Though the rest barely can be classified as cameos, it was nice to hear the new and returning ensemble talents of Gerard Butler (Olympus Has Fallen), Kit Harington (Pompeii), Djimon Honsou(Guardians of the Galaxy), Craig Ferguson(Brave), Jonah Hill(Django Unchained), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass 2),  and Kristen Wiig (Girl Most Likely)

What makes How to Train Your Dragon 2 such a success, ultimately, is a maturity not often found in a “family film”.  Yes, it’s stunning in its style and lavish in its spectacle but it has a strong heart beating under its dragon armor that it embraces fully.  I don’t imagine this will be the last of the series so I’m hoping that further adventures will be handled with the same care.

Movie Review ~ 22 Jump Street

twenty_two_jump_street_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt and Jenko when they go deep undercover at a local college.

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, The Lucas Brothers

Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 112 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: If 2012’s reboot of 21 Jump Street taught us anything, it’s that star Channing Tatum was more than just a hunka hunka man meat only good for action shoot ‘em ups and making men everywhere feel their time in the gym that week was inadequate.  In fact, Tatum’s 2012 was one for the record books with the release of back-to-back-to-back hits The Vow, 21 Jump Street, and Magic Mike.  He became a true A-lister overnight due in no small part to his solid comic chops as one half of a detective duo tasked with going back to high school to uncover a drug ring.

What 21 Jump Street didn’t have was the overall stamina to make it to the finish line before petering out in the laughs department.  Though Tatum and co-star Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street, This is the End) had that rare chemistry that registered high on the believability scale, they couldn’t overcome the weaknesses in the script (Hill co-wrote it so he has only himself to blame) that saw the final third disintegrate into routine comedy territory.

Artistic merits aside, the film was a box office success landing in a prime hitless spring season before the onslaught of summer blockbusters took over every screen at the local multiplex.  So it’s two years later and the stars have aligned again to get the very in-demand Tatum and Hill back together again for a sequel that changes addresses but little else…and fully embraces its sameness in a way that makes it (mostly) okay.

Teased at the end of the first film, buddy cops Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) are sent to college by their commanding officer (Ice Cube, Ride Along) to track down another drug ring responsible for the death of a young college beauty.  Our re-introduction to the characters starts off rocky but finds a nice rhythm once the script starts poking fun at sequels in a manner more intelligent that you’d find in, say, a Hot Shots! installment but no less silly.  Tatum even gets the chance to take a well deserved dig at last summer’s non-starter White House Down…which I still say is better than the similarly themed Olympus Has Fallen.

Everything about the film feels familiar but it’s never boring…even when directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller seem to have reached the end about 80 minutes in.  While it still loses steam near the true end of the action, it finds its fresh second wind and pushes forward toward an entertaining climax and riotous extended end credit sequence which is alone worth the price of your ticket.

While Tatum still has the potential to have a long career in both action and comedic roles, at times he overshoots his capabilities and some false notes are struck.  Co-writing the script again, Hill doesn’t keep all the good stuff for himself…in fact his material is some of the weakest in the whole shebang, especially a hardly believable love affair with a co-ed (Amber Stevens) that’s only returned to when the story runs out of other ideas.

Sequels can be a mixed bag because almost always they’re driven by money hungry studio execs and stars out for a quick buck to cash in on.  While 22 Jump Street most certainly was born out of love of profit, it’s nice to see that all returning parties were onboard to share the comedic wealth with audiences as well.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Rover

rover

Synopsis: A loner tracks the gang who stole his car from a desolate town in the Australian outback with the forced assistance of a wounded guy left behind in the wake of the theft.

Release Date: June 20, 2014

Thoughts: Australian director David Michôd made quite the splash back in 2010 with the release of two films, Hesher and Animal Kingdom, the latter especially gaining traction with critics and Academy voters who nominated Jacki Weaver (Stoker, Silver Linings Playbook) for Best Supporting Actress.  Michôd’s newest offering looks to be a dark as night tale told in the broad daylight following two desperate men, Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3) and Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga: Break Dawn), brought together by chance blazing a trail of violence across the Australian Outback.  Good buzz precedes this film and I’m always interested in films from Down Under because they like to break all kinds of rules of cinema.

The Silver Bullet ~ A Walk Among the Tombstones

walk_among_the_tombstones

Synopsis: Private investigator Matthew Scudder is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.

Release Date: September 19, 2014

Thoughts: I saw the poster for this adaptation of Lawrence Block’s bestselling series of novels before I took in the trailer below and felt a tad dejected.  Here we go again with another gristle and knuckle rock ‘em sock ‘em film from Liam Neeson (Non-Stop, A Million Ways to Die in the West, The Grey) and it would be light on logic and heavy on Neeson trying his best to whisper in a basso profundo.  Then I dug a little deeper and watched the preview and while I’m still not holding my breath this will help reestablish Neeson as more than a strong arm action hero this grim looking thriller may have the one element so many of his films don’t…smarts.