Hasta La Vista…Summer (August)

arnold-terminator-almostdidnotstarHasta
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.

August

Traditionally, August is the month when the wind-down begins.  It never has any of the big tent pole pictures featured earlier in the summer and it can be a time when studios try to burn off some troubled pictures or try to skillfully position a sleeper hit. This August for sure had its share of high and low points, much like the summer that it capped off.  I was still in frolic mode so didn’t get to as many reviews as I had wanted but sitting here now, in still sunny September, it’s time to review the movies I missed!

                                                Movie Review ~ Shaun the Sheep Movie
shaun_the_sheep_ver2The Facts
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Synopsis: When Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he bargained for. A mix up with the Farmer, a caravan and a very steep hill lead them all to the Big City and it’s up to Shaun and the flock to return everyone safely to the green grass of home.
Stars: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman, Simon Greenall, Emma Tate
Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
Rated: PG
Running Length: 85 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I’m not saying that the U.S. doesn’t churn out a fine slate of family friendly films…but there’s a certain aura around the British imports that seem to work time and time again.  Like Paddington earlier this year, Shaun the Sheep Movie was an unexpected delight, 85 minutes of smart comedy that’s deep enough for adults to not need a lobotomy to enjoy and zany enough to keep the attention of young tykes.  Remarkable when you consider there’s not any dialogue in the movie aside from some rumbles and grumbles from human and animal characters, it’s a big screen adventure adapted from a popular television show.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was surprisingly entertained and quite impressed by the stop-motion animation.  The film didn’t have great marketing so it slipped by most people but if it’s at your bargain movie theater, pack those kids up in your minivan and get to it…or treat yourself to a solo show.

 

                                                            Movie Review ~ Dark Places
dark_placesThe Facts
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Synopsis: Libby Day was only seven years old when her family was brutally murdered in their rural Kansas farmhouse. Twenty-five years later, she agrees to revisit the crime and uncovers the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night.
Stars: Charlize Theron, Drea de Matteo, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Chloe Grace Moretz, Corey Stoll, Sterling Jerins, Tye Sheridan, Shannon Kook
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Rated: R
Running Length: 113 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: With the huge success of Gillian Flynn’s third novel Gone Girl and seeing how fast the movie rights were snapped up, it’s only natural that her other two other books would take a similar path.  Dark Places is the first of these to hit theaters (Sharp Objects is arriving as a television movie) and it shows one of two things, either the third time was the charm for Flynn or something was lost in translation.  Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book but I’m inclined to think that it’s the fault of the screenwriter because there are so many hazardous movie mistakes only a Hollywood writer could make.  Though the mystery of a decades old killing spree coming back to haunt the sole survivor is initially intriguing, it quickly dissolves into a sticky mess that makes less sense the more secrets are revealed.  It also doesn’t help that it’s badly miscast, with the usually impressive Charlize Theron relying on her ever-present trucker hat to do most of the acting for her…or maybe to hide her embarrassment at being looped into this turkey.  Though it boasts a cast that typically gets the job done, no one quite seems to know what they’re doing…as if they hadn’t read the book before undertaking their scenes.  The only worthwhile performance is Christina Hendricks as Theron’s murdered mom, bringing some dignity to a role that, as written, doesn’t earn it.

 

                                                           Movie Review ~ Fantastic Four
fantastic_four_ver3The Facts
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Synopsis: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelson, Reg E. Cathey
Director: Josh Trank
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: Well, what can I saw bout the Fantastic Four that hasn’t been said (loudly) already?  Is it a lousy movie? Yeah, probably. Could it have been better? After two attempts to bring these characters to the big screen I’m not sure we’ll ever get a decent adaptation. What went so wrong? If you believe the outspoken director, it was studio interference that took his movie from a rich origin story to an overstuffed thundercloud of action movie clichés and fairly terrible special effects.  If you are to believe the studio, it was that director Josh Trank (who debuted with the surprise hit Chronicle) disconnected from the material, a development that was costing time and money.  Watching the film with this knowledge you can see the moment that something went awry.  Because the thing is, the first 20-30 minutes of Fantastic Four is quite good, sensitive even.  It’s a slow start and, let’s face it, audiences these days don’t want a slow start.  They want their action and they want it now. The studio was happy to oblige and when it becomes a standard summer superhero movie my interest took a nosedive and it became a waiting game of the good guys defeating the bad guys so I could go home.  I think the colossal outcry from fans and critics was a little on the dramatic side, even for a superhero film, but it’s not wholly unwarranted.

 

                                                           Movie Review ~ Ricki and the Flash
ricki_and_the_flashThe Facts
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Synopsis: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family.
Stars: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald, Rick Springfield
Director: Jonathan Demme
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 102 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: So we’ve all long agreed to the fact that Meryl Streep can do no wrong.  You can love her for it or hate her for it, but she never fails to impressive me with each new role she takes on.  From starring in The Iron Lady to taking a supporting role (cameo, really) in The Homesman, Streep seems to take a role if it speaks to her, no matter the size or commitment.  It’s not hard to see why she was attracted to the rough rocker Ricki with her tattoos and braided hair, here was another opportunity for Streep to strip away the classical actress aura and go barefoot into the wild.  She’s ably aided by Diablo Cody’s middling script, Jonathan Demme’s careful direction, and a supporting cast that don’t just play second fiddle to Streep’s lead guitar. I think there’s one too many musical numbers allowed to play longer than they should and Cody’s dialogue doesn’t have the snap that it used to.  The whole thing is worth it though for a stellar scene between Streep and Audra McDonald, the new wife of Streep’s ex-husband.  A sparring match spoken with calm and some care, the two women have an electricity between them that the film needed more of.  It falls apart swiftly in its second half, but it’s not a totally out of tune affair.

 

                                             Movie Review ~ The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
man_from_uncle_ver2The Facts
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Synopsis: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.
Stars: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant
Director: Guy Ritchie
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 116 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: I never watched the television series on which this cool-as-can-be spy movie was based on but I’m pretty sure there weren’t the same amount of homoerotic jokes during the weekly adventures of Solo and Kuryakin.  While I feel that director Guy Ritchie relied a bit too heavily on his similar experience at the helm of two Sherlock Holmes films, he brings his A game to this big screen adaption, sparing no expense when it came to production design.  And that’s a good thing because though it’s never truly predictable, the plot is pretty thin.  So it’s up to Ritchie and his cast to sell the film and they are more than up for the challenge.  Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) is perfectly cast as the smooth Solo and he’s well matched with Armie Hammer’s (Mirror Mirror) simmering Kuryakin.  The two trade barbs rich with double entendre while protecting Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) from falling into the hands of a sinister villainess (the scene stealing Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gastby).  The film looks and sounds amazing, here’s hoping costume designer Joanna Johnston gets an Oscar nomination for her impeccable suits and stunning dresses.

 

                                                         Movie Review ~ End of the Tour
end_of_the_tourThe Facts
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Synopsis: The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer, Anna Chlumsky, Mickey Sumner
Director: James Ponsoldt
Rated: R
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I never thought I’d say the words “potential Oscar nominee Jason Segel” in a work of non-fiction…but then again I didn’t think two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill was possible either and look what happened there.  Yes, Segel’s work as tormented writer David Foster Wallace is worthy of acclaim as the actor digs deep within and bypasses his comedic instincts to find the truth of the man behind the epic novel Infinite Jest.  Jesse Eisenberg (who also pops up in American Ultra) turns in strong work as well, though he’s really just a prop for Segel to react off of.  Their five day road trip interview for Rolling Stone is the basis for the movie and it leads the men and the audience into interesting territory.  It’s a movie you watch once, appreciate, then file away as something you can recommend to people and feel like you’ve done them a favor.  One thing that must be said…Eisenberg needs to learn how to smoke a cigarette.  Here and in American Ultra he looks a child does when they are mimicking their parent.  Many things about Eisenberg annoy me and this is just another thing to add to the list.

                                             Movie Review ~ The Diary of a Teenage Girl
diary_of_a_teenage_girl_ver2The Facts
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Synopsis: A teen artist living in 1970s San Francisco enters into an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.
Stars: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig
Director: Marielle Heller
Rated: R
Running Length: 102 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: It’s nice to go into a movie with only a basic logline and a list of the actors featured.  I didn’t know what to expect from The Diary of a Teenage Girl but whatever I thought, the movie surprised me in the best ways.  The story of a young girl’s sexual awakening in San Francisco is gloriously set in the mid ‘70s, an era of freedom and discovery.  While some may be off put by the relationship between an older man and an underage girl (star-in-the-making Bel Powley is older than she looks, thankfully), they’d be missing the point of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical graphic novel on which the film is based.  It’s a frank flick that frequently finds its actors in the buff but doesn’t feel gratuitous because these characters are coming into themselves, marveling at a new experience they never knew existed.  I appreciated that the film pulled no punches in showing nudity and discussing sexual situations and director Marielle Heller shows respect for all people involved.  It’s a bold film with animated sequences, a killer soundtrack, and splendid performances.

The dog days of summer brought three other notable releases to theaters, though I’m guessing by the poor box office returns of two of them that the studios (and actors) wish the films had just quietly gone away.

I hadn’t heard a thing about American Ultra until two weeks before it was due to arrive, strange considering it starred Kirsten Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg.  The two aren’t serious box office draws but they do have a fanbase that might have helped build more buzz for the stoner comedy.  Not that it would have made the film any better because at its best it was a mildly diverting mix of comedy and gratuitous violence and at its worst it was a merely the thing you watched because you’d seen everything else at the theater and wanted some time in the air conditioning.  It’s bad when you don’t know what the movie is about, but it’s worse when it feels like the filmmakers don’t have a clue either.

I’ve gone on record as no fan of director Noah Baumbach and very on the fence for actress Greta Gerwig so I wasn’t at all looking forward to their latest collaboration, Mistress America.  Once again, the universe has a way of loving to see me humbled and I emerged from the screening not only in a damn fine mood but the desire to see it again.  That rarely happens with any movie, let alone a Baumbach/Gerwig joint so that should tell you something about the quality of this movie that is firmly in a New York state of mind.  Sure, it has its share of problems but they don’t ultimately detract from the overall enjoyment the film brings.

Finally, there’s the sad, sad case of We Are Your Friends, Zac Efron’s latest attempt to be a serious dramatic actor.  While I think it’s Efron’s best dramatic performance to date and didn’t totally hate the film, audiences sure did and it became the third biggest box office failure of all time…pretty stunning considering how many other bad movies have been released and made at least a few million during its opening weekend.  I think the film got a bum rap and just was released at the wrong time, but it should hopefully send a message to Efron that he needs to spend some time figuring out exactly where his place is in Hollywood because he is, like his character here, totally lost.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT!  THE SUMMER OF 2015!

CHECK OUT MAY & JUNE & JULY

Movie Review ~ Sex Tape

sex_tape_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: To spice up their marriage, a couple decides to make a sex tape. It seems like a great idea – until they discover that their most private video is no longer private.

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe 

Director: Jake Kasdan

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I think most audiences would be forgiven if they heard the title of Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel’s new comedy and write it off as another inane foul-mouthed raunch fest, the kind of flick both actors have been involved with in the past; she in There’s Something About Mary and The Sweetest Thing, he in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  And, to some extent, they wouldn’t be wrong to assume that.  Sex Tape IS an inane foul-mouthed raunch fest but it’s also surprisingly sprightly, moving fast through 94 minutes that showcase the best, um, assets of its leads.

Not wasting any time, Sex Tape opens on mommy blogger Diaz (going for another hit in 2014 after April’s The Other Woman) fondly recalling her early years meeting, sleeping with, and marrying her college boyfriend (Segel, The Five-Year Engagement).  These early scenes are heavy on the sexcapades as Diaz and Segel (looking like plastic automatons after being digitally smoothed out to look decades younger/thinner) try out every position in the book as they discover each other and fall in love.

Surprise surprise, like the similar in style (but totally wretched) This is 40 the movie lets us know that getting older ain’t that fun, kids put a cramp in romance, and sex becomes something you schedule between PTA meetings and soccer practice.  What sets Sex Tape apart from Judd Apatow’s lame-o exploration of a mid-life relationship crisis is that the central couple decides to do something about it rather than complain to their friends how unhappy they are.

One night after a few drinks and a failed attempt at a roller-skating role-playing fantasy (showcasing that Diaz doesn’t need any digital help in the body-ody-ody department) they decide to film themselves going through every position in The Joy of Sex.  The next morning they’re hung-over and ready to get back to their kids and careers, largely forgetting their naughty filmmaking session.  Through some questionable and quickly explained away tech developments, their iPad filmed home movie gets sent to all the linked iPads in their network (Segel’s character likes to give away iPads as gifts…must be nice to be so cash solvent and Apple sponsored).  When a mysterious text reveals the gaffe, Segel and Diaz set out find the texter and to recover all the gifted iPads which houses their taped tryst just a click away.

I’m not sure a full 90 minutes was needed to tell this tale and obviously the filmmakers didn’t either because so much extra material is loaded in to pad the proceedings that the movie quickly loses its way once Diaz and Segel embark on their reconnaissance mission.  Along the way they pick up their best friends (the annoying duo of Rob Corddry, Warm Bodies & Ellie Kemper, 21 Jump Street), stop by for a lengthy con to get an iPad back from Diaz’s potential boss (a dreadfully miscast Rob Lowe, way too in on the joke), and break into the headquarters of an adult site with an owner brought to cameo-ed life by a one-time A-lister.

The entire film feels like it was made in someone’s backyard with many shots taking place in front of a green screen or standard set piece lifted from the Desperate Housewives backlot.  There’s also a fair amount of very long scenes for a comedy, I counted at least three scenes where the camera just cuts between Segel and Diaz bickering for minutes on end.  Even though the film mostly breezes by, these are the scenes you’ll be checking your watches in and wondering why director Jake Kasdan didn’t do something more creative.

What saves the film are Diaz and Segel’s willingness to play along with it all.  Both actors aren’t afraid to bare some skin and poke fun at themselves and what’s more, I actually believed they were this couple with these children living this life.  The sophomoric material is beneath everyone involved but it’s the commitment to it that makes the performances work so well.  I’m not sure which of the endings I liked the best (the film climaxes several times) but it ends on a pleasing note of sweetness that’s fairly rare for this genre of lewd comedies.

I’ve seen much worse comedies this year (Blended, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and the Typhoid Mary of summer, Tammy) and don’t have a problem suggesting Sex Tape for a matinee viewing based on performances that rise above the material.

The Silver Bullet ~ Sex Tape

sex_tape

Synopsis: A married couple wakes up to discover that the sex tape they made the evening before has gone missing, leading to a frantic search for its whereabouts.

Release Date: July 25, 2014

Thoughts: Aside from it being a little more than mildly amusing that Cameron Diaz (The Other Woman) and Jason Segel (The Five Year Engagement) have graduated to roles as suburban parents, this very NSFW trailer for their summer romp Sex Tape looks like the type of raunchy fun both actors have excelled at in their careers. Diaz and Segel have made a few bids for more serious work, but this is clearly where their talent lies so this seems like a good fit for both of them. I’m a little over this type of ribald humor, feeling that it’s been done (and better) in other films but if a balance can be struck between foul-mouthed comedy and honestly hysterical moments this could be a much needed slam-dunk for the two actors.

Movie Review ~ This Is The End

this_is_the_end_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.

Stars: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill

Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

Rated: R

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The Red-Band trailer for This Is The End was tough to get through – don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problem with crude language or content but I always appreciate something of substance to back it up with and I wasn’t sure that the rest of This Is The End would be able to support the foul-mouthed tangents that would surely come with the film.  So I was pretty apprehensive going into a screening of the new film from Evan Goldberg and star Seth Rogen because I didn’t want to be the only one not laughing for two hours.

Turns out, I laughed a lot in the film though a day later I feel kinda bad about it.  Playing like the longest Funny or Die Video ever, This Is The End has moments of comedic glory that are pinned between vile nonsensical tangents (a two minute discussion over who defaced James Franco’s Penthouse Magazine  goes on precisely one minute and fifty-eight seconds too long),  questionable special effects, and an entire set-up that flames out long before the credits roll.

The first twenty minutes of the film are so very meta with Seth Rogen picking up visiting friend Jay Baruchel at the airport ready for a weekend together.  Seth brings Jay over to James Franco’s housewarming party where they meet Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and a host of other famous faces from the same circle these actors travel in (if you’re a fan of Freaks and Geeks you’ll be in heaven).  Everyone is playing themselves (or a movie version of themselves) and there’s some laughs to be had from seeing how certain actors behave when they aren’t in front of the camera.  Warning: fans of Michael Cera better brace themselves for a few visuals they won’t be able to un-see.  Another warning: if 90’s boy bands give you hives you’d better taken your allergy medicine because there’s a great cameo at the end that was pretty hysterical.

After those first twenty minutes, an apocalypse happens…literally.  Now, holed up in James Franco’s fortress of a house, Rogen, Baruchel, Robinson, Hill, and Danny McBride must band/bond together to face the end of days together.  Along the way they get a visit from Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), perform an exorcism on Hill, and wax poetic about everything from Milky Way’s to the trust between friends.

There’s a lot of big ideas and interesting moments in the film but it’s all covered with a frat-boy slime that starts to wear thin pretty fast.  Fans of the actors will find a lot to like here and any/all weed jokes are covered – including a home movie filmed sequel to Pineapple Express that for some may be worth the price of admission.

Still, there’s something to be said for a little bit of restraint and I couldn’t get over the notion that this would have been a lot funnier if it were a viral video making the rounds (not surprising this was based on a short viral video…go figure!) rather than a full length feature that can’t quite make it over the finish line.  That may all sound like I’m being a big ‘ole fuddy-duddy and I probably am.  Like I said, I guffawed with the best of them and found a lot of the more offensive material to be laughably over-the-top.  With The Hangover Part III releasing in May, June’s This Is The End may be exactly what Dr. Feelgood ordered for moviegoers that need some extra party time this summer.