The Silver Bullet ~ Lights Out (2016)

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Synopsis: A woman is haunted by a creature that only appears when the lights go out.

Release Date:  July 22, 2016

Thoughts: Boy, horror maestro James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) sure wants to keep your summer scary.  A month after the release of Wan’s The Conjuring 2 comes Lights Out, a Wan-produced feature length adaptation of a scary as all get out short film. I know that any trailer editor worth their salt can make even the lamest of fright flicks seem like a Grand Guignol spectacle of shrieks, but this first look at Lights Out sent a nice layer of shivers up and down my spine.  Starring Teresa Palmer (The Choice), Maria Bello (Prisoners), and Billy Burke (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), this one could be a nice bit of mid-summer frightening fun.

Movie Review ~ My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A Portokalos family secret brings the beloved characters back together for an even bigger and Greeker wedding.

Stars: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone, John Stamos, Rita Wilson, Louis Mandylor, Gia Carides, Elena Kampouris

Director: Kirk Jones

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I actually did something I don’t normally do when preparing for seeing My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2…I didn’t go back and watch the first one until after I had seen the sequel.  It had been well over a decade since I’d seen the out-of-nowhere-blockbuster original (and yes, I saw it twice in the theaters) and since there was such a huge gap between the two films I wanted to see what going into this one a little foggy on details would be like.

It’s been fourteen years since My Big Fat Greek Wedding became the little indie that could, produced for $6 million dollars it wound up grossing around $368 million after the international box office returns were factored in. The film set all sorts of box office records, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and inspired a host of similar titles to get the greenlight…as well as an ill-advised sitcom adaptation starring most of the stars of the movie that didn’t make it past a half dozen episodes.  While writer/star Nia Vardalos would show up here and there in awfully familiar romantic comedies over the years, she never tapped into the same kind of fame.

Though it picks up fourteen years after the first film, somehow Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett, The Boy Next Door) are the parents of a high school senior, Paris (Elena Kampouris, Labor Day).  Paris is at the age when everything her family does embarrasses her…which would be understandable with a normal family but in the Portokalos family where one goes, dozens follow.  As Paris weighs college choices that could either keep her close or let her roam free, Toula and Ian confront certain realities about how the spark they once had seems to have dimmed at bit.

Next door (the Portokalos family seems to occupy the houses on a complete city block), Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan, Pixels) are shocked to discover that their marriage license was never officially signed by the priest…so they’ve been living in sin for the past half-decade.  Maria sees this as an opportunity to get Gus to give her the wedding she never had before they came to America so another big fat Greek wedding is orchestrated.

Look, good art this ain’t nor does it try to be.  It’s very much in the same spirit as the original and it doesn’t reek of a desperate cash grab had this arrived two years after the first film.  It has the feeling that producer Rita Wilson and Vardalos were out to lunch reminiscing about the old days and Vardalos jokingly pitched another film that seemed to make sense after a few mimosas.  Sure the story is thin and formulaic, hitting the same beats as the original and Vardalos has made an unwise choice in straying from the central family focus to other marginal familial side-stories (including rather lamely outing one of the relatives as gay) that just weigh down the running time.

I was surprised at how many cast members, down to the smallest part, returned from the original.  People who were little more than background extras in the first one pop up in more visible roles in the sequel and that creates a certain pleasant continuity that you don’t really see that often.  Vardalos and Corbett are able to recapture that same charm that made them appealing while the tough looking Constantine easily wins you over with his tender heart.  Kazan has unfortunately had a great deal of plastic surgery over the years and looks like a jack-o-lantern and Andrea Martin steals the movie whenever she’s onscreen.  Producer Rita Wilson pops up with John Stamos for two of the most awkwardly shoe-horned-in cameos in recent memory.

The film doesn’t put up much of a fight and nor should you.  It’s harmless entertainment, much less obnoxious than I thought it would be.  It’s actually kind sweet when you get right down to it and it’s not short on showing some genuine heart and soul.  There are far worse films you could spend your money and time on…including several that Vardalos starred in after My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll find the same sort of enjoyment in this one.

The Silver Bullet ~ The LEGO Batman Movie

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Synopsis: A spin-off featuring LEGO Batman from the The LEGO Movie.

Release Date: February 10, 2017

Thoughts: I know I’m in the minority but I found 2014’s The LEGO Movie to be an absolute nightmare.  It was loud, obnoxious, and seen in 3D it came close to giving me a full on seizure.  Just not my cup of animation tea, thank you very much.  Popular enough to warrant not only a sequel in 2018, it also is getting a 2017 spin-off featuring Batman…because audiences are experiencing a serious Bat-drought, right?  Arriving on the eve of the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, this first teaser is a puzzlement, filled with the kind of drawn-out jokes that lead me to believe I’m going to have serious issues with this one as well.  Am I too old for this?  Am I too snobby?  What am I not getting about these LEGO movies? (Don’t tell me, I don’t care.)

The Silver Bullet ~ Bridget Jones’s Baby

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Synopsis: The continuing adventures of British publishing executive Bridget Jones as she enters her 40s.

Release Date:  September 16, 2016

Thoughts: Though it (wisely) eschews the plot from Helen Fielding’s third Bridget book, it does feel a bit like the Bridget Jones train has been at the station for perhaps a tad too long.  I guess I’ll choose to believe that it’s been so long since the disastrous 2004 sequel to 2001’s splendid Bridget Jones’s Diary audiences will likely be more than ready to spend some time with our titular character and her many romantic entanglements.  Thankfully, returning stars Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight) look positively charming and new addition Patrick Dempsey (X) should make a believable foe for Firth in the quest for Bridget’s affections.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Shallows

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Synopsis: When Nancy is attacked by a great white shark while surfing alone, she is stranded just a short distance from shore. Though she is only 200 yards from her survival, getting there proves the ultimate contest of wills

Release Date: June 24, 2016

Thoughts: So Jaws is my favorite movie…if you’ve spent any time with me or read this site often that’s no shocker.  I’ll also tell you that one of my guilty pleasures that I’m more than a little ashamed of is a fondness for cheesy shark flicks with bad special effects and even worse acting. As shown by The Reef and Bait 3D, the good ones are few and far between so The Shallows represents something of a wave of excitement in my shark fanboy heart. It’s got an appealing lead in Blake Lively (Savages) and its helmed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop) who knows his way around crafting an audience pleasing vehicle.  For me, it’s all going to come down to the shark and while it’s too much to hope for more practical effects than CGI, I’d hope that it’s prime summer release date by a major Hollywood studio bodes well for its quality.

Movie Review ~ Hello, My Name is Doris

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A self-help seminar inspires a sixty-something woman to romantically pursue her younger co-worker.

Stars: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani, Peter Gallagher, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tyne Daly, Beth Behrs

Director: Michael Showalter

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Some people watch scary movies peeking out from behind their hands covering their eyes. I do the same thing for movies with socially awkward people trying and failing to be heard. There’s something inherently not enjoyable about seeing a person already uncomfortable in their own skin being put through an emotional ringer. For the masochists out there that love a good grimace, you need look no further than Hello, My Name is Doris, a whiffle of a dramedy that ultimately finds success in its lead performers.

Sally Field is Doris, a data processer at a hip New York ad agency that has kept her around for politically correct reasons rather than necessity. Mourning the recent loss of her mother and avoiding the urges of her brother and his wife to sell their family home, she finds a ray of sunshine when John Fremont (Max Greenfield, The Big Short) joins the company. Newly relocated from Malibu, John is everything Doris is not…young, current, and confident. Doris develops a fixation on John and daydreams about him saying sweet words before locking her in a passionate embrace.

There’s more to the story thought, with a hoarding subplot that seeks to explain a little more about why Doris acts and reacts the way she does. Her friends (Tyne Daly, Caroline Aaron) chalk up the obsession to another wild fantasy Doris has dreamed up, before realizing too late that she’s doing more damage to herself in the process. When John starts dating another woman, Doris drinks away her sorrows and innocently sets into motion events that lead to an inevitable denouement.

You’ll wince through a lot of the movie; only because it’s hard to see a character so clueless learn such difficult lessons late in life. Shielded somewhat from the outside world and dreams of romance after caring for her mother for so many years, Doris sees John as a chance to reclaim some of the years she’s lost but can’t see that they’re on two different journeys running parallel to each other.

As usual Field (Steel Magnolias) is a treat, coloring Doris in a way that makes you feel for her even when she’s making a wrong move. I feel like every character in the film has at least one moment where they have a ‘poor Doris’ look on their face and Field earns those melancholy stares. Her best moments come near the end of the film, especially in one dialogue-free scene where the buttoned up woman literally lets her hair down and sees herself for the first time as she really is underneath all of her accessories.

Field is well matched by the appealing Greenfield, who manages to take a role that could have been your standard unattainable dreamboat and show some nuance to him as well with writer/director Michael Showalter (adapting this from a short film by Laura Terruso) making sure that John isn’t the image of perfection. At one point John tells Doris that he worries he’s boring…and you can see it’s a genuine fear of his. Because like Doris, he just wants to be noticed for who he is.

At 95 minutes, the film is well-paced and ever so slightly rough around its independent edges. More thought seems to have gone into Doris’s thrift store wardrobe and headscarves than continuity. Like Doris, it’s a bit thrown together and flat out drops certain central characters without much fanfare. A rather impressive roster of familiar faces pepper the supporting cast but their appearances are so brief that they become even more inconsequential to a film that only wants to focus (rightfully so) on the leads.

If you can muscle through an hour and a half of squirming uncomfortably every time Doris rocks out to electronic dance music or is caught embarrassingly daydreaming of romantic interludes, this might be the movie for you. It’s surely worth it for the performances Field and Greenfield turn in…but it’s not an easy watch.

Movie Review ~ The Divergent Series: Allegiant

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: After the earth-shattering revelations of Insurgent, Tris must escape with Four beyond the wall that encircles Chicago to finally discover the shocking truth of what lies behind it.

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, Jeff Daniels, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Keiynan Lonsdale, Jonny Weston, Mekhi Phifer, Daniel Dae Kim, Nadia Hilker, Bill Skarsgård

Director: Robert Schwentke

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  When Divergent was released in 2014, the hope was that it would be Summit Entertainment’s answer to The Hunger Games gauntlet thrown down by Lionsgate, a rival studio.  It wasn’t.  Actually, Divergent was so airless that when its sequel (Insurgent) rolled out a year later I didn’t even bother to see it.  What’s the point of continuing on with a series if the audience doesn’t really care about characters played by actors that don’t seem to care themselves about anything more than their paychecks and the perks of an international press tour.

In preparing for Allegiant, I went back and re-watched Divergent to see if my original feelings held up.  Boy, did they ever.  I still find Divergent to be a major bore, peppered with blank performances, spotty special effects, and a plot so convolutedly serpentine that it winds up feeling like it’s being made up on the fly and not adapted from the first in a series of bestsellers by Veronica Roth.  I continue to have a major problem with the violence towards women, grimacing each time the film finds our heroine getting beaten about the head and face by a male peer.

Since I’m never one to skimp on my homework, I gave Insurgent an overdue spin and to my surprise found it more than marginally better than its predecessor.  It’s still hopelessly devoid of point and general interest but with a new director (Robert Schwentke) and better special effects, the overall feeling of the series as a whole was that it was finding its footing (though I don’t feel like a series should ever need to take an entire first chapter to work out the kinks).

So going into Allegiant I was ready to see it improve upon the previous entry.  With the same director returning along with its cast made up of representatives of young Hollywood supported by several Oscar nominated/winning veterans there was surely hope to be had.

Wrong.  So very wrong.

First off is that Allegiant continues the unfortunate trend of studios with dollar-signs in their eyes and opting to split the final installment into two movies.  It worked for Harry Potter, it kinda worked for Twilight, and it definitely worked for The Hunger Games…but Allegiant is not destined to be put into any marginally successfully category because it’s actually the worst entry yet.  Instead of besting Insurgent, it falls far behind Divergent thanks to uninspired performances, downright lousy special effects, and the cold hard truth that the whole series is not about anything.

If you haven’t seen Insurgent yet, you best stop reading now because it’s impossible to discuss this one without letting a few spoilers slide by.

Jeanine is dead.  And Kate Winslet must have been so happy she wasn’t contractually obligated (like Ashley Judd seems to be) to appear in installments after her character was shot down by Evelyn (Naomi Watts, The Impossible, acting like her life depended on it in a brunette wig).  The message received at the end of Insurgent suggests that outside the wall that surrounds Chicago is a population waiting for the divergents to appear.  With the faction system breaking down and naysayers unlawfully executed, it’s more important than ever to scale the massive wall and hope that what’s outside is better than what’s inside.

When her brother (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars) is lined up to be next on the chopping block, Tris (Shailene Woodley, The Descendants) and Four (Theo James) escape with him and their friends (Zoe Kravitz, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, and Maggie Q), literally walking up the wall through an electrified fence.  Before going over the wall, the screenwriters trim the escapees by one in a most unceremonious fashion…losing one of the more interesting characters is a bummer for us but good for them because they’re spared from what happens next.

Outside the wall is a wasteland, a fleshy red landscape irrigated by a red rain.  Why?  The film never says…probably because it just looks good and goes with the costume design. Salvation comes when the group is rescued and brought to what used to be Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, though it’s been redesigned to look like the first pass of architectural model by a grade school student with no eye for functionality.  Ruled by David (Jeff Daniels, The Martian, with sad eyes that tells us he can see his career fading) who’s focused on separating the “pure” from the “damaged”, a divide arises between Tris and her friends that will call into question their, um, allegiance.

To say more would be giving the wafer thin plot more time than it deserves.  It’s just a bridge between Insurgent and 2017’s Ascendant so really what’s the point of catching this one in the theaters?  It’s a waste of time and everyone onboard seems to know it.  Schwentke is coasting in his director’s chair…so much so that he decided to jump ship and not come back to finish the series.  The special effects look like they were from a computer game you’d play between commercial breaks of a new episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the acting is absolutely dreadful.

Woodley has been someone I’ve kept an eye on for a while now but instead of getting more acclimated to her heroine role, she seems more uncomfortable than ever.  A solid dramatic actress she may be but an action star she’s not and never will be.  With her huge saucer eyes and dirty blond bob, she doesn’t even look the part.  James fares better as her love interest and brawn of the group, but the two have precious chemistry to suggest that we should care whether they wind up together or not.  Watts, Daniels, and Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) feign attentiveness while Teller hams it up with one-liners that rarely drew much of a reaction from the nearly 500 audience members I saw this with.  And I can’t even go there with the dreadful extras that have been assembled.  All of them look like they’ve been recruited from a pep rally in a juvenile detention center.

As I was leaving the theater I was walking behind a major fan of the series that was shaking her head and exclaiming that the filmmakers totally ruined the series with this one…so you don’t just have to take my non-fan word for it that Allegiant is a lousy waste of space.

The Silver Bullet ~ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Synopsis: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Release Date:  September 30, 2016

Thoughts: Usually when you see a preview of an upcoming Tim Burton film you have to squint hard to see the calling cards of the director that gave us more than a few memorable movie moments.  Now favoring creating CGI worlds instead of practical sets (I get it, it’s less expensive…and less impressive), the director comes back from the disappointing drama of Big Eyes with this adaptation of the novel by Ransom Riggs.  Re-teaming with Eva Green, his Dark Shadows leading lady, Burton seems like the perfect fit for this piece and I was certainly enticed to see more after this long-ish tease.  Still six months from theaters, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children could be a fine return to form for Burton if he resists going overboard on the CGI landscapes.

Movie Review ~ Eye in the Sky

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

Stars: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox, Aisha Takow

Director: Gavin Hood

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: The woman sitting in front of me at the screening for Eye in the Sky was having a devil of a time sitting still.  Normally, I’d look upon such fidgety fumbling with eye-rolling exhaustion but in this case I’m giving her a pass…because I was having the same problem.  Don’t mistake my squirming as a sign of boredom, though, because this is a nicely riveting bit of entertainment, a good option for discerning adults that don’t need their political dramas balanced with comedy (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, also worth a watch) or excessive violence (London Has Fallen, which isn’t worth anything).

The script from Guy Hibbert brings together several stakeholders in the current war on terror during a mission centered in Kenya.  Using cutting-edge, advanced technology, several high-priority targets have been identified holed up in a compound in the African republic, generating a firestorm of controversy as members of the military and government clash over important moral questions about acceptable collateral damage and how to come out unscathed in the public eye while still accomplishing their mission.

It all sounds denser than it actually is but understand that I’m only giving you a very general plot overview.  To say more would give away some of the key turns the film makes and would rob the film of its genuine suspense.

Plot details aside, I can tell you the film works so well thanks to nigh-perfect casting.  Helen Mirren (Trumbo) is a Colonel in the British military energized by finally locating a British ex-pat turned radical terrorist she’s been tracking for some time.  Leading an international team sent in to capture the terrorist and her compatriots, Powell soon sees her mission changed that raises some strong moral questions her lesser ranking colleagues seem more willing to ask than she is.  Operating out of a one-room central command, Mirren carries the bulk of the film on her shoulders and is more than up for the task…though I had to chuckle seeing her tromping around in combat boots, army fatigues, and a snappy beret.

Interacting with Mirren are two drone pilots in Nevada (Aaron Paul, Need for Speed and Phoebe Fox), a British Lieutenant acting as a political liaison (the late, great Alan Rickman, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, in a mighty fine performance), and an operative on the ground in Kenya (Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips).

The elvish Paul wears his heart a bit too on his sleeve as the pilot unwilling to pull the trigger on dropping a bomb until he knows for sure what the overall damage will be.  While the performance tends to be a bit on the teary side, Paul’s a fine enough actor to sell it and he’s aided nicely by Fox.  Rickman does a lot of the heavy lifting in the political arena, turning what could be strenuous speechifying into compelling arguments.  For a film that’s highly politicized, it never seems to take a side which turns out to be a benefit as the film progresses toward an ending that’s inevitable but honest.

Director Gavin Hood (who appears in the film as Paul’s commanding officer) keeps the film taut right up until its conclusion, never cheating the audience with a tidy wrap-up.  Which brings me back to the aforementioned woman wringing her hands and covering her eyes during several key high-tension scenes that pepper the final half of the movie.  I was right with her on the edge of my seat, pained at the perceived delays in action and stressing out over the indecisions of the decision makers…and you will be too.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Florence Foster Jenkins (Trailer #2)

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Synopsis: The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.

Release Date:  May 6, 2016

Thoughts: I’m not prone to posting more than one column dedicated to my thoughts on a preview for a film but I’m making an exception in the case of Florence Foster Jenkins.  This full trailer arrives on the heels of a nice little teaser and gives audiences more to anticipate in this true-life story of a socialite singer who drew thunderous crowds…even though she couldn’t carry a tune with both hands.  I already know that I’m going to like Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) as the deluded dame but I think the real interest here will be around Hugh Grant (Cloud Atlas) who seems to be coming into his second act as an older leading man.  Gone is the foppy haired charming stutterer and in its place is an actor that’s been taking on note-perfect roles as of late.  Directed by Stephen Frears (Philomena), this looks like a pleasant treat.