Movie Review ~ Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Three scouts, on the eve of their last camp-out, discover the true meaning of friendship when they attempt to save their town from a zombie outbreak.

Stars: Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, Cloris Leachman, David Koechner, Halston Sage, Patrick Schwarzenegger

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Before the screening I attended of Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse there was a more than five minute headache of a tie-in music video from DJ Dillon Francis.  Like a bad acid trip brought to life as a Nickelodeon cartoon in order to punish the wicked, the nonsensical bit of dead brain cell material had me eyeing the exit with a longing to run.  At its conclusion, I braced myself for impact for the feature presentation I assumed would be more of the same bizarre antics.

The good news is that the movie was better than I expected it to be, the great news is that you won’t have to sit through the heinous pre-show nuisance I was subjected to.  Make no mistake that Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse breaks zero new ground and comes off as a Frankenstein monster, a movie cobbled together from random bits and pieces of other films that no doubt had a great influence on the filmmakers.

Equal parts Superbad and Shaun of the Dead, the movie strikes while the zombie iron is hot with its tale of three scouts and an Amazonian stripper, ahem, cocktail waitress that battle an outbreak of the walking dead in their small California town.  It’s that rare movie that actually gets better as it lumbers onward, with each new bit of blood and gore introduced providing repulsion and metered hilarity.

It’s fitting the humor is so sophomoric seeing that our three scouts are nearing the end of their sophomore year of high school.  Ben (Tye Sheridan, Mud) and Carter (Logan Miller, The Bling Ring) have outgrown their scout days, preferring to focus on surviving high school instead of surviving in the wild. They’ve made a pact to tell their buddy Augie (Joey Morgan) and Scout Leader Rogers (David Koechner, Krampus) that their next campout will be their last, but any plans for a kumbaya send-off are interrupted when flesh eating fiends start to chase them down.

The old archetypes are present from top to bottom.  Ben is a the good kid, Carter is the horny kid, Augie is the roly poly kid that his friends are secretly embarrassed of, there’s also a slutty girl, a girl people think it slutty but really has a heart of gold (Sarah Dumont, Don Jon), a virginal beauty (Halston Sage, Goosebumps), a mean jock (Patrick Schwarzenegger), a cranky old lady (Cloris Leachman, The Wedding Ringer, chewing the scenery as if it were her last meal), and a Britney Spears loving derelict (oh, if only more movies featured this stock character, right?).

Under the serviceable direction of Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones), the movie hums along at a decent pace, and at 93 minutes it takes it’s time to introduce the characters more than adequately before the bloodshed starts.  The special effects are appropriately gory with slow-mo shots of zombie heads exploding and, in one case, a zombie phallus being stretched like a rubber band. Throw in a few shots of zombie boobs and you’ve completed the cinematic dreams of every randy teenage boy that finds their way into the R-rated film.

While it doesn’t attempt to reinvent the genre, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse just wants to have a little fun and I think it gets the job done without hurting anyone.  Your tolerance for crude humor and zombie mayhem may be tested at times but taken for what it is, the film works almost in spite of itself.

Movie Review ~ The Wedding Ringer

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Two weeks shy of his wedding, a socially awkward guy enters into a charade by hiring the owner of a company that provides best men for grooms in need.

Stars: Josh Gad, Kevin Hart, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Cloris Leachman, Jenifer Lewis,  Olivia Thirlby, Mimi Rogers, Ken Howard

Director: Jeremy Garelick

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review: I suppose it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement to say that this new Kevin Hart and Josh Gad comedy isn’t nearly as bad as it looks.  The kind of raunchy bro-fest film a critic dreads an impending screening of, I wasn’t prepared to enjoy it as much as I did.

Well, enjoy is maybe too strong of a word…let’s go with tolerate.  What we have here is a C-grade script given the B-movie treatment thanks in no small part to an A-list star.  Yes, I’m finally giving Hart (Ride Along) his due because the role was tailor made for his talents and the comedian delivers the least annoying performances of his skyrocketing career.

In an opening scene before the studio logo is even displayed (interesting choice), we meet roly poly Doug (Gad, Frozen, Thanks for Sharing) as he goes down a list of casual male acquaintances in the hunt for a best man for his nuptials to Gretchen (Cuoco-Sweeting) less than two weeks away.  Moving around in his youth left him no time to make real friends so here he finds himself about to get married with no family to speak of and without any groomsmen.

Enter Jimmy (Hart), who runs a company that provides his best man services for a price.  Doug hires Jimmy to be his stand-up guy and Jimmy organizes a group of groomsmen that, as Doug puts it, “look like the cast of The Goonies grew up and became rapists.”  From there it’s a ribald mix of frat boy humor involving peanut butter on genitals, a rowdy old vs. young game of muddy tackle football, and in the film’s most hilarious sequence, a grandmother (Cloris Leachman, The Croods) in flames.

Don’t worry if all this raises some major flags in your movie-ometer…it’s certainly no prize of a film.  The basic premise is ludicrous and the movie hammers home the kind of clichéd gender stereotypes usually reserved for in-class demonstrations illustrating how far we’ve come as a society (Men don’t cry! Women have feelings!), and a romantic subplot for Hart seems to be there only because they found an actress as short as Hart is.  Even so, I found myself engaged by Hart’s energy (he’s less screechy and ADD-ish here than ever) and entertained by the proceedings though I knew I had no real right to.

It’s important to note that the usually exasperating Gad is toned down here.  Even if the actor is subjected to one too many injuries to the face or crotch, Gad doesn’t let the role morph into one big fat joke.  I’ve never watched Cuoco-Sweeting on The Big Bang Theory so can’t speak much to her historically but let’s just say her work here screams “TV Actress On The Big Screen”.

Not great, not awful, but pleasing when it stays away from the vulgar and gross out teen boy shenanigans that form its core, The Wedding Ringer doesn’t aspire to be anything more than what it is…and that worked just fine for me.

Movie Review ~ The Croods

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The Facts
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Synopsis: After their cave is destroyed, a caveman family must trek through an unfamiliar fantastical world with the help of an inventive boy.

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman

Director: Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco

Rated: PG

Running Length: 98 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I decided against seeing The Croods in the theater because when it was released last March I didn’t feel like I could stomach another frenetic computer animated comedy…much less one that features a character voiced by Nicolas Cage (Valley Girl) at his most manic.  If the film hadn’t been nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, it’s highly likely I never would have seen this prehistoric family comedy…and that would have been my misfortune.

Surprisingly, this was a fast-paced but skillfully well balanced blend of comedy and adventure painted with a palette of bright colors and warm earth tones that ranks as one of the best animated films I’ve seen in recent years.  Though the plot and its developments are fairly familiar, they’re given a nice spit shine from screenwriters Chris Sanders, Kirk De Miccio, and Monty Python’s John Cleese.

Cage is the voice of a caveman daddy that is overprotective of his small clan, never letting his children out of his sight long enough for anything bad to happen to them though he’d just as soon his mother in law played by, who else, Cloris Leachman took a night walk all by herself.  With the ground shaking more often and the arrival of a boy (Ryan Reynolds, Turbo) that catches the eye of his there’s-gotta-be-something-better-than-this-cave daughter (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man) the family dynamic shifts just as the tectonic plates get moving.  Now the family that sticks together needs to dig in to survive and make it to higher ground.

Earning its PG rating for several scary sequences, this probably isn’t one to take very small children to but if your kid can handle it this is one you’ll probably find yourself responding positively to as well.  Even the adult humor doesn’t totally go over the heads of little ones, making it possible for tykes and adults to laugh at the same joke but for different reasons.

Overall, this was a pleasant surprise of a film and one that I’ve added to my collection for repeat viewings.  Now that computer generated films for families are becoming more standard and easy to produce (see the middling The Nut Job as an example) it’s nice to see the rare occurrence of a family friendly film that may not break new ground but manages to build a nice house on top of work that has come before it.

 

Mid-Day Mini ~ Music of the Heart

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Story of a schoolteacher’s struggle to teach violin to inner-city Harlem kids.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan, Angela Bassett, Cloris Leachman

Director: Wes Craven

Rated: PG

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  In 1999, most movie-goers who heard that Streep was starring in a new Wes Craven film might have thought she was taking the lead in a Scream sequel but they would be surprised to see that it was Craven stepping outside of his comfort zone. 

The Oscar nominated documentary Small Wonders was the inspiration for the feature length story of single mom in NYC who takes a job as a music teacher with an inner-city school.   At first her unorthodox ways and strict program don’t sit well with the students, parents, and school officials but faster than you can say To Sir, With Love she changes minds and hearts one bow string at a time. 

Though Streep (who earned her 12th Oscar nomination for the role) is excellent as always, the movie seems a bit too easy for the actress.  Now, I enjoy it when Streep colors outside the lines in films like She-Devil, Still of the Night, Death Becomes Her, etc but I just can’t help but feel there wasn’t a huge challenge in the work being done here.  Maybe it’s because the role was originally written for Madonna (don’t cry for her, Argentina…she nabbed Evita, a role Streep had wanted to play for a decade) or maybe it’s that the story is light as a feather.

Craven directs the drama with a cursory style…he had long wanted the chance to direct a serious picture and negotiated the option to helm this in exchange for a few more blood and guts films for the studio.  It’s a serviceable effort that undoubtedly got more notice because of Streep’s presence.  Bringing up the supporting roles are a surprisingly strong turn for singer Estefan and less surprising work from Quinn and Bassett as characters that only pop up to slow things down.

I’d strongly recommend the documentary this is based on (if you rent the DVD the doc is included as a valued extra) and see how the feature film compares to the real life people that made Music of the Heart possible.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gambit

Synopsis: An art curator decides to seek revenge on his abusive boss by conning him into buying a fake Monet, but his plan requires the help of an eccentric and unpredictable Texas rodeo queen.

Release Date:  TBA

Thoughts: With a script from the Cohen Brothers that’s adapted from a late 60’s British caper film (starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine) and a game cast, this looks like a slyly fun movie that might just end up to be a harmless blip on the radar for all involved.  Early word on the film is that it’s a marzipan treat that will be pleasing to view but nothing much more than that.  Sometimes, that’s OK…as long as everyone is on the same page.  Cameron Diaz will never be a real leading lady in my book but Colin Firth seems to be on his game here.  Never count out Alan Rickman as he likes to keep things fresh and fun.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Croods

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Synopsis: The world’s very first prehistoric family goes on a road trip to an uncharted and fantastical world.

Release Date:  March 22, 2013

Thoughts:  I guess I kinda liked it better when it was called The Flintstones.  Well ok, the family of Neanderthals featured in The Croods may be a little pre-Flinstonian time but there’s a strange déjà vu feeling about this that doesn’t hold much appeal.  Even the vocal presence of Cage is annoying, proving that being heard and not seen can’t save his plummeting star status.  The one thing that may tip the scales on this one is a script with contirubtions from John Cleese and (aside from Cage) a nice voice cast with Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, and Cloris Leachman.