Movie Review ~ Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Robert Knepper

Director: Edward Zwick

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: At one point in the outright terrible Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Tom Cruise says to a character, “That was really stupid.  Please don’t ever do that again.”  I think I speak for the entire movie-going public by saying, ‘Physician, heal thyself.”  While 2012’s Jack Reacher wasn’t the kind of sizable hit that had tongues wagging, I felt it was a quite entertaining action flick and a nice opportunity for Cruise to push beyond his clean-cut hero image and latch onto a character with some demons to deal with.  Though Cruise didn’t fit the description of the former US Military Police officer author Lee Child has featured in twenty novels over the last two decades, he won over most of his naysayers and with Cruise’s A-List status reestablished by a string of hits (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Edge of Tomorrow, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) a sequel was easily greenlit with Cruise serving as main producer.

Of all the novels that could have served as the inspiration for the sequel, it’s surprising that Cruise and company gravitated toward Never Go Back which is one of the newer novels in the Jack Reacher series.  Though well-reviewed, it finds Reacher far along in the arc Child has developed and its transition to the screen is seriously flawed under the pen of Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz, and director Edward Zwick.  The dialogue is dreadful and the plot about black market weaponry and drug trafficking is so non-existent that when it finally does circle back to Reacher and fugitive Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) out to clear both their names it’s treated more as a pee break opportunity than a climax.

Even worse, Reacher is identified as the possible father of a teenager (Danika Yarosh) and wouldn’t ya know it, when he gets involved the bad guys target his supposed offspring so she has to go on the run with her maybe-Daddy.  All the while, the trio are pursued by a horde of easily bested bad guys led by a man (Patrick Heusinger, Frances Ha) identified in the credits only as The Hunter.  There are a heap ton of ensemble players and all look more excited to be in a scene with Cruise than they do about playing poorly written throwaway roles.

In his last few movies, critics have singled out Cruise’s supporting players and leading ladies as highlights and I think he must have started taking that personally.  In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, everyone other than Cruise seems to have been selected because they are so out of their league with their megawatt star.  I’m stunned Cruise deigned to share screen time with Smulders who was barely a serviceable actress on television.  Getting every single one of her line readings wrong, her character whines about Reacher not respecting her as a woman who can hold her own…while wearing a short robe casually opened almost to the navel.  If there’s supposed to be chemistry between the two, the formula didn’t pan out because they look like people that grabbed for the same magazine in the dentist office and just continued to talk.

As Cruise’s daughter, Yarosh is giving me Anna Paquin meets Patricia Arquette, minus any of the talent or charm that brought both actresses Oscars.  Uncomfortably awkward and sullen for 90% of the film, you’re praying Reacher doesn’t end up being her dad lest she be guaranteed a spot in a future sequel.  I’m not quite sure what happened with Heusinger’s hitman, he’s supposed to be a highly trained special ops killer but is outwitted and outplayed by almost everyone he comes in contact with.  If he kills someone, it almost feels accidental because he’s so grossly unbelievable in the role.

Though Zwick had early success in his career with Glory and Legends of the Fall, this represents a career low for him (and Cruise, and everyone else).  Had Cruise not been in this and the Jack Reacher moniker been stripped, I could see the entire production being moved to a comeback vehicle for Jean Claude Van Damme and it making some decent money.  It’s so bad, I half expected Cruise to turn to look at the audience and yell “Suckers!” before starting over again with a different cast and script.

Edited poorly with no continuity of time and place to speak of, the movie feels like it was put in a blender and assembled in the dark as part of a community service project.  The only act of kindness that can happen for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is to have it wiped from our memory and Cruise be allowed a re-do.

Hasta La Vista…Summer (May)

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Hasta

We did it! We made it through another summer and while the outdoor heat wasn’t too bad (in Minnesota, at least) the box office was on fire.

I’ll admit that I indulged in summer fun a bit more than I should, distracting me from reviewing some key movies over the last three months so I wanted to take this opportunity to relive the summer of 2015, mentioning my thoughts on the movies that got away and analyzing the winners and losers by month and overall.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride read.

May

Though the summer movie season has traditionally been thought of as Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the past several years studios have marked early May as the start of the summer movie wars and 2015 was no different.

Kicking things off on May 1 was Avengers: Age of Ultron and, as expected, it was a boffo blockbuster that gave fans more Marvel fantasy fun. While it wasn’t as inventive as its predecessor and relied too much on jokey bits, the movie was everything a chartbuster should be: big, loud, worth another look.

Acting as a bit of counter-programming, the next week saw the release of two very different comedies, neither of which made much of a dent in the box office take of The Avengers. Critics gnashed their teeth at the Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara crime comedy Hot Pursuit but I didn’t mind it nearly as much as I thought I would. True, it set smart girl power flicks back a few years but it played well to the strengths of its leads and overall was fairly harmless. I hadn’t heard of The D Train before a screening but was pleasantly surprised how good it turned out to be, considering I’m no fan of Jack Black. The movie has several interesting twists that I didn’t see coming, proving that Black and co-star James Marsden will travel out of their comfort zones for a laugh.

Blythe Danner proved she was more than Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom in the lovely, if slight, I’ll See You in My Dreams. It may be too small a picture to land Danner on the end of the year awards list she deserves but the drama was a welcome change of pace so early in the summer.

Another early May drama was a wonderful adaptation of a classic novel…and one I forgot to review when I had the chance…here’s my brief take on it now…

                                         Movie Review ~ Far From the Madding Crowd
far_from_the_madding_crowd_ver2The Facts
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Synopsis: In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Juno Temple, Tom Sturridge
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 119 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s celebrated novel was a moving drama brimming with quietly powerful performances and lush cinematography. It’s a story that has been duplicated quite a lot over the years so one could be forgiven for feeling like we’ve seen this all before. Still, in the hands of director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) and led by stars Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis), Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone), & Michael Sheen (Admission) it stirred deep emotions that felt fresh. Special mention must be made to Craig Armstrong (The Great Gatsby) for his gorgeous score and Charlotte Bruus Christensen for her aforementioned picturesque cinematography. You missed this in the theater, I know you did…it’s out to rent/buy now and you should check it out pronto.

Around mid-May the summer bar of greatness was set with the arrival of Mad Max: Fury Road. The long in development fourth outing (and semi-reboot) of director George Miller’s apocalyptic hero was a movie lovers dream…pushing the boundaries of cinema and filmmaking into new places. A vicious, visceral experience, I can still feel the vibration in my bones from the robust film…a real winner.

The same week that Mad Max came back into our lives, a so-so sequel found its way to the top of the box office. Pitch Perfect 2 was a lazy film that’s as close to a standard cash grab as you could get without outright playing the original film and calling it a sequel. Uninspired and lacking the authenticity that made the first film so fun, it nevertheless made a song in receipts and a third film will be released in the next few years.

Tomorrowland and Poltergeist were the next two films to see the light of day and neither inspired moviegoers enough to gain any traction. Tomorrowland was actually the first film of the summer I saw twice…admittedly because I was curious about a new movie theater with reclining seats that I wanted to try out. As for the movie, the first half was an exciting adventure while the final act was a real mess.

I thought I’d hate the Poltergeist remake way more than I did…but I ended up just feeling bad for everyone involved because the whole thing was so inconsequential that I wished all of that energy had been directed into something of lasting value. While Sam Worthington made for a surprisingly sympathetic lead, the entire tone of the film was off and not even a few neat 3D effects could save it from being a waste.

May went out with a boom thanks to two wildly different films. If you asked me what I thought the prospects were for San Andreas before the screening I would have replied that Sia’s cover of California Dreamin’ would be the only good thing to come out of the action picture starring everyone’s favorite muscle with eyes, Dwayne Johnson. I still feel like Sia came out on top but the movie itself was a more than decent disaster epic, a little too long but made up for it with grand sequences of mayhem and destruction. Can’t imagine it will play nearly as well on a small screen but I wasn’t hating the film when the credits rolled.

A film I wasn’t too thrilled with at all was Aloha, Cameron Crowe’s own personal disaster flick. I still don’t know quite what to say about the movie because it was so dreadful that I’ve attempted to clear it from my memory. What I do remember was that it wasted its strong cast and exotic locale, as well as our time. Truly terrible.

STAY TUNED FOR JUNE, JULY, and AUGUST!

Movie Review ~ Avengers: Age of Ultron

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.

Stars: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Linda Cardellini, Mark Ruffalo, Andy Serkis, Thomas Kretschmann, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgård, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Delpy, Idris Elba, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Chris Hemsworth, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Claudia Kim

Director: Joss Whedon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Here’s the thing that I like most about a good smörgåsbord – there’s something for everyone. Hot food, cold food, deserts, salads…it’s all at your fingertips and you can have as much or as little as you like. When presented with so many options, the whole experience can be somewhat overwhelming…but once you’ve had the chance to survey the selections and try out some choice cuts, you usually wind up walking away feeling a sense of fulfillment.

If any movie of 2015 (or any film in recent memory, actually) can be likened to a smörgåsbord it most certainly is this hugely anticipated follow up to 2012’s The Avengers. Offering bigger thrills and higher stakes, it’s a gargantuan film that redefines the term blockbuster. Still, I have to be honest and say that while it’s an all-together overpowering outing from the get-go, it took me a good twenty minutes to acclimate myself to writer/director Joss Whedon’s awe-inspiring sequel.

Starting up in the middle of the kind of go-big-or-go-home battle usually reserved for the latter half of other would-be blockbusters (the first of five jumbo battle royales featured in the 2.5 hour film), there’s no time wasted in re-introducing our friendly group of superheroes. Most of the crusaders have solidly led the way in their own films (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America) while others have turned in noble supporting turns (Black Widow, Hawkeye, War Machine) in the same movies. Grouped together on screen, as The Avengers proved so impressively well, they can defeat schemes of world domination while rattling off Whedon’s quip-heavy banter.

Whedon knows his way around a clever turn of phrase but there’s a limit to how much witty repartee can be tossed at the audience before it begins to feel a little too astute for its own good. There seems to be an overly earnest need to kick things off on the right foot by giving us the greatest hits of Tony Stark, the master of delivering a one-liner, while storming the eastern European castle featured in the beginning battle. It’s just all a little much for this reviewer…but luckily Whedon and crew achieve a nice balance of fun and furious action in a plot that has a lot going on but never feels overstuffed.

While Avengers: Age of Ultron works in pieces as a stand-alone film, it will really pay off for the wise viewer that has already seen Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Solider, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Several familiar faces from these films pop up and, as was the case in the The Avengers, it’s nice to see how many cross over characters play a part in the action without it all feeling like a ComicCon version of The Love Boat.

What’s the plot you ask? Best to let you find that out yourself so as not to spoil some of Whedon’s more elaborate set-ups. What I can relay is that it involves a villainous bit of Stark created Artificial Intelligence named Ultron spectacularly voiced by James Spader (Mannequin) managing to inject humanity with a devious sarcasm into this completely CGI role – it’s hard to imagine anyone else giving voice to the destructive machine with such flair. Ultron has big plans for The Avengers and the world as a whole from the moment he comes online with the help of a familiar piece of sought-after power. Aided by a pair of powerful twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Elizabeth Olsen…both featured in last summer’s Godzilla) and a host of bad robots, Ultron keeps the hits coming right up until the grandest of grand finales of any large-scale action film I can recall. The only way it could have been bigger is if the theater set off fireworks at the end.

Returning to the fray are Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge), Chris Evans (Snowpiercer), Chris Hemsworth (Cabin in the Woods), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy), Paul Bettany (Mortdecai), and Samuel L. Jackson (RoboCop) and it’s worth noting that everyone seems happy to have their moment in the sun and then let their colleagues have their time to shine too.

Marvel is just on an unstoppable roll now and with the next Captain America film due in 2016, the next Thor film due in 2017, and the two part Avengers finale arriving in the two years after that there’s a whole lot more ground to cover. Let’s not forget the other Marvel films on the big and small screen that will surely play a part in future development deals.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is Whedon’s swan song in the director’s chair and he’s followed up an adrenaline blast of a first film with a layered and just as entertaining sequel that pushes ideas and characters forward. Make sure to see it on the biggest screen possible with the best sound (the 3D is optional…I wouldn’t think it’s a requirement) to truly max out your Avengers experience.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Synopsis: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to The Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.

Release Date:  May 1, 2015

Thoughts:  Summer 2014 isn’t quite a distant memory yet (though with the paltry offerings it very well should be) but audiences are already looking toward the treasures that 2015 has to offer.  First on most every “must-see” list is this sequel to the super-duper big time hit of 2012 Marvel’s The Avengers which sees the whole gang in front of behind the camera reunited to drum up some more box office gold for Walt Disney and Marvel Studios.  Like The Dark Knight, I wonder if the bar has been raised so far that the sequel won’t be able to reach the same heights…but never count dependable writer/director Joss Whedon out because it’s clear he knows what he’s doing.  The countdown to May 2015 has officially begun with this nifty little tease at what deadly force The Avengers are about to face…I know I’ll have that dang Pinocchio tune in my head for days now.

Movie Review ~ Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Georges St-Pierre, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones, Emily VanCamp

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 138 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Though it made the kind of money that would make most studio heads drool as they dreamt of summer homes and winter cabins, Captain America: The First Avenger was the second lowest grossing Marvel film released to date. That’s too bad because it’s probably one of my favorite entries thanks to its old school tone and the strength in which it stands on its own two feet. After joining the crew in The Avengers and popping up for a brief cameo in Thor: The Dark World, Captain America is back in his fourth appearance on the big screen and he’s better than ever.

Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger all were designed to set the stage for the mega-wattage hero orgy known as Marvel’s The Avengers. That gathering of multiple blockbuster figures appropriately blew the roof off the box office and was one of the best superhero films in history. Following the success of The Avengers, Marvel moved into Phase II of their series by releasing Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and now this sequel to the 2011 film as offshoot Guardians of the Galaxy preps for an August release and as Avengers: Age of Ultron continues to film with plans to release in 2015.

After being thawed out after a long nap in ice, 1940’s hero Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, The Iceman) is still adjusting to the modern era and a world with a different ideal than the one he’d left behind. While there are multiple references to previous (and future) Marvel franchise characters, like the recent Iron Man and Thor adventures this film is squarely Captain America’s to do whatever he wishes. Though at times you may wonder why Tony Stark doesn’t fly in to lend a helping hand, I liked that the films are allowed to stand on their own strong cast of characters and adventures.

Like the previous installment, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has an appealing story to launch its next chapter with. Touching on the age of spy technology that we find ourselves in, the plot of the film has Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Her, with a performance as stoic as her haircut) racing to stop plans to use S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own creations to wipe out citizens that may be a threat in the future…all the while avoiding corruption from within. Oh, and there’s also the matter of a steel armed assassin (the titular character) that wants them dead.

I’ll admit the film took a tad longer than I would have liked to grab me thanks to a been-there, done-that kind of prologue that impresses on a visual scale but suffers in comparison to the type of action sequences we’ve seen in previous films. No matter, once Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained) engages in a rip-roaring and bullet-ridden car chase you’ll forget about the iffy opening and get swept up in the adventure.

With a nice bag of tricks and more than a few twists to keep fans engaged, Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes good use of its lengthy running time by tapping into that Marvel magic of mythology that makes sense even though its patently ridiculous. Directors Anthony & Joe Russo (don’t be scared off when I tell you their previous film was the odious comedy You, Me, & Dupree in 2006) keep things moving thanks to a solid screenplay from returning writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and all the bells and whistles top of the line visual effects can bring.

Evans clearly spent every waking moment in the gym for the last several years because he’s reaching Hulk-like muscle proportions; nevertheless that same relatable all-American charm remains his biggest selling point. Johansson’s icy butt-kicker is no Girl Friday sidekick, though I wonder if she’ll ever have the same impossible to mess up hairstyle in consecutive movies. With Tommy Lee Jones not returning for this sequel (since his character was from the 40’s and this is new millennium all the way), there was an opening for another craggy faced grumpy looking Oscar winner and Robert Redford (All is Lost) fits the bill nicely. Though he isn’t required to do all that much, his presence lends a certain gravitas to his character. I’d tell you about a few more people in the film (like Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain, as a veteran that becomes an ally), but that would be spoiling some nice surprises.

As this is a Marvel film, make sure to stay through the entire end credit sequence. While there is an exciting major reveal several minutes into the cool closing credits, at the very end of the film you’ll find a short morsel that smoothes over a rough patch from earlier in the movie.

If the first film didn’t catch fire like other Marvel entries, I’m hoping that Avengers fever is high enough to get audiences to try out this second round with Captain America. It’s terrific popcorn entertainment and gives you a taste of summer blockbuster even as the cold weather clings to so much of our country.

Got something you think I should see?
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The Silver Bullet ~ Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Synopsis: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and teams up with Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, to battle a powerful yet shadowy enemy in present-day Washington, D.C.

Release Date: April 4, 2014

Thoughts: I was a big fan of the 2011 film that introduced Captain America into the Marvel universe.  A long time favorite hero of those that follow the comics, the movie delivered robust action and had an incredibly likable lead in Chris Evans…not to mention the best female character to date in any Marvel film (that’d be Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter).  After joining forces with his fellow superheroes in The Avengers, Captain America gets his own sequel but Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Hitchcock) is along for the ride.  Even with Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World coming up in November, I’m perhaps a tad more excited for the adventure this film has to offer.

The Silver Bullet ~ Delivery Man

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Synopsis: An affable underachiever finds out he’s fathered 533 children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years ago. Now he must decide whether or not to come forward when 142 of them file a lawsuit to reveal his identity.

Release Date:  November 22, 2013

Thoughts: If all goes as planned Vince Vaughn will have a nice little summer hit with the enjoyable The Internship, putting him in a good spot for audiences to welcome another comedy later in 2013 that’s a remake the well-received a 2011 Canadian film Starbuck.  Both movies were directed by the same guy (Ken Scott) that could pose a potential problem because history has shown that sometimes it’s easier to provide a shot-for-shot remake rather than truly remake the film from the bottom up.  From what I know of Starbuck, Vaughn may be the best man in Hollywood for the job and based on an appealing turn in The Internship I’m putting this one a little higher on my list.

The Silver Bullet ~ Safe Haven

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Synopsis: A young woman with a mysterious past lands in Southport, North Carolina where her bond with a widower forces her to confront the dark secret that haunts her

Release Date: February 14, 2013

Thoughts: You may be asking yourself…didn’t I already see this movie and wasn’t it called The Lucky One?  The answer is kinda yes and kinda no.  Last February saw the release of the Zac Efron movie adapted from a novel by Nicholas Sparks and one year later another Sparks romance is primed for release.  These are some of the most formulaic films ever made but the continued success at the box office makes them candy to studio executives targeting that elusive female movie goer.  After directing another Sparks adaptation (Dear John), director Lasse Hallström takes on another soapy Sparks story with the same cookie cutter people, places, and problems.