The Silver Bullet ~ The Predator

Synopsis: When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe’s most lethal hunters return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Release Date: September 14, 2018

Thoughts: The original Predator celebrated its 30th birthday last year and remains a sci-fi genre classic.  While the alien hunter has shown up in several sequels and a two crossovers with the Alien franchise, he hasn’t had a real strong showing since his first outing.  This first look at 2018’s The Predator hints of a retro-tinged early Fall frolic and I’m all for it.  Writer/director Shane Black (Iron Man 3) usually does well in balancing tone with large scale action sequence and there’s been good buzz building for The Predator during its long production phase.  Featuring a strong cast including Jacob Tremblay (Room), Sterling K. Brown (Black Panther), Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse), Boyd Holbrook (Logan), and Keegan-Michael Key (Tomorrowland) this holds more than a little promise of being the fun sequel this franchise has been sorely needing.

 

Movie Review ~ Hotel Transylvania 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Dracula and his friends try to bring out the monster in his half human, half vampire grandson in order to keep Mavis from leaving the hotel.

Stars: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Mel Brooks, Fran Drescher, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky

Rated: PG

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: As a kid growing up watching Saturday morning cartoons I was more drawn to the adventures of Scooby-Doo than some of the more younger-skewing fare.  The best of the best, though, was when the Scooby-Doo episode would be extra-long or even a full length feature ala Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf or my personal favorite Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School.  So when the original Hotel Transylvania was released in 2012 I wasn’t all that surprised that I warmed to its silly, spooky charms with little resistance from my inner critic.

Three years later the inevitable sequel is released and it’s one of those rare instances where a second outing inches slightly above its predecessor in the fun factor.  Yes, it’s pretty much a retread of the original film with the central message of “Be yourself” reiterated often throughout the trim 89 minutes, but it’s all in the delivery and that’s where the film really takes off.

To recap the first film, Dracula (Adam Sandler, Blended) runs a hotel that caters to all manners of ghouls, ghosts, & monsters and is overprotective of his growing daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez).  When human Jonathan (Andy Samberg, The To Do List) happens into the hotel lobby and catches the eye of Mavis, hilarity ensues as Dracula tries to keep the two lovebirds apart.

Picking up right when the original left off, the film opens with (spoiler alert!) the wedding of Mavis and Jonathan, followed by the birth of their firstborn son Dennis who sports the kind of luscious ginger curls that would make Little Orphan Annie salivate.  The Count becomes a doting grandpa, even as he grows more concerned by the day that little Dennis may not get his fangs and could be more human than monster.  So when Mavis and Jonathan take a trip to visit his family, the Count sets out to help the transformation along before it’s too late, bringing along friends Frankenstein’s Monster (Kevin James), the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key, Vacation, taking over for CeeLo Green), The Invisible Man (David Spade, Entourage), and the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi, Monsters University) on a throwback road trip for morbid support.

As was the case with our first stay in Hotel Transylvania, the gags come a mile a minute but there are less duds in this sequel.  It’s all good-natured (if slightly too scary) fun that has its heart in the right place.  It’s telling that Sandler seems to be more appealing and certainly livelier as an animated character than he has been lately with his string of ghastly live-action turkeys.  Across the board the voice talent is strong, with the exception of Megan Mullally (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) as Jonathan’s suburban mom.  Mullaly channels her alter ego from television’s Will and Grace for the hundredth time and even her brief appearance grates on the nerves.

For the slightly older set and adults that fondly remember those Saturday morning adventures with Scooby-Doo, Hotel Transylvania 2 may not be five star entertainment but it’s worth checking into.

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
:
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 ~ Tomorrowland

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

Stars: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Judy Greer, Tim McGraw, Hugh Laurie, Kathryn Hahn, Thomas Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Brad Bird

Rated: PG

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Just last year I made my first trip to Walt Disney World in Florida in over a decade and the area I was most looking forward to visiting in the Magic Kingdom was Tomorrowland, home to Space Mountain, the PeopleMover, and most importantly to me…the Carousel of Progress. Now, all you Disney fans out there you probably read that and thought. “Carousel of Progess? Nerd alert!” but I’ve always found that the ride documenting the advances in technology stirred a nostalgia within that superseded any feelings that the ride is dated (which it surely is).

So it was pretty exciting to hear the theme song for the ride, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” pop up in Tomorrowland within the first twenty minutes.   While the song is just one of several references to the various attractions from the section of the park that the film takes its name from the movie is more than just a big screen version of a theme park attraction and, like the imagination of the man that created it, it’s filled with lots of big ideas and strong ideals.

Admittedly not the slam dunk picture I wanted it to be, the large majority of Tomorrowland works both as a sturdy give-them-what-they-want blockbuster and as a throwback to the Disney studio films of yesteryear which showcases an ordinary person finding themselves in the middle of an extraordinary adventure.

Establishing two stories in quick succession, the movie begins at the 1964 World’s Fair where young inventor Frank Walker hopes to win a prize for his jet pack invention. When his creation is rejected by a weary adjudicator (Hugh Laurie) the young boy catches the attention of a mysterious little girl (Raffey Cassidy, Dark Shadows) who gives Frank a gift that unlocks a whole new world to him.

Flash forward to the present where teenager Casey (Britt Robertson, much more at home here than she was in The Longest Ride) is doing everything she can to keep her NASA employed father (TimMcGraw wearing his newest toupee) on the job even though the space program has been cancelled. Sneaking in at night to the retired launch site in Cape Canaveral, Casey is being watched by a face from the past, a presence that needs her help to save the world from destruction.

It’s at this point, about forty-five minutes in, that the film hits its peak potential and all the elements are working in its favor. There’s an air of mystery that’s kept afloat by the breakneck direction from Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and the script from Bird and Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, World War Z) doesn’t give away all of its secrets in one breath. Then it gets messy.

There’s an oddly wacky scene featuring Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers) and Keegan-Michael Key (turning in a performance for the second week in a row that generates zero laughs…last week it was Pitch Perfect 2) that feels spliced in from another Disney film…just one of several sequences/loose ends that are never fully explained or resolved. Where’s Casey’s mother? Judy Greer (Carrie) has a literally blink and you missed it cameo as Casey’s mom but is never mentioned again. There’s a band of square-jawed robo assassins hot on Casey’s trail but we never fully understand who exactly they’re taking orders from.

When an older Frank (George Clooney, The Monuments Men) meets up with Casey is when the movie that felt like it was about to sputter out shows more potential. It’s best to leave the rest of the film for you to discover on your own because Bird and Lindelof have snuck in a pretty good message underneath a bunch of handsome special effects and unexpected turns that occupy the final 1/3 of the film.

Surprisingly rated PG even though it’s quite scary (have fun explaining nuclear war to your kids!), this seems like a film that doesn’t quite know where its audience is. Disney clearly wanted to target the family folk but Bird/Lindelof have a script that’s decidedly more mature and could bore little tykes as the film approaches the end of its 130 minute run time. Still, it’s brainier than your average summer blockbuster and considering the caliber of people involved, it’s a marginal win at the end of the day.

Movie Review ~ Pitch Perfect 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a humiliating command performance at the Kennedy Center, the Barden Bellas enter an international competition that no American group has ever won in order to regain their status and right to perform.

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Alexis Knapp, Brittany Snow, Adam DeVine, Hailee Steinfeld, Ester Dean, Kelley Jakle, Hana Mae Lee, Katey Sagal, Anna Camp, Skylar Astin, Keegan-Michael Key, Flula Borg, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Ben Platt

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 115 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  What Pitch Perfect 2 has is a deadly case of sequelitis.  It’s a not-so-very-rare disease that most sequels succumb to and, sadly, it has no cure.  Now, it should be said that Pitch Perfect 2 doesn’t deserve to be chucked in the hazardous materials bin with the likes of Poltergeist II: The Other Side and The Hangover Part III but it deserves a good spanking for taking the sweet surprise fun of the original and turning it into a off-key and slack feature length ad for a variety of advertisers.

What made 2012’s Pitch Perfect so, well, perfect was that no one involved was expecting much from the modestly budgeted comedy…least of all its studio.  When early test screenings scored high with audiences, Universal launched a smart ad campaign and released the film slowly allowing that good ‘ole word-of-mouth to drive people into the theater.  The film exploded and, thanks to its (mostly) charming cast and skilled mash-up of the musical and college comedy genres, became a bona fide repeat viewing go-to for old and young, male and female.

A sequel seemed like a no-brainer and, true to form, that’s exactly what we get.  Returning screenwriter Kay Cannon hasn’t done much to move our characters along; merely letting a few of them graduate school or to new planes of maturity doesn’t exactly qualify as improving a character arc.  Cannon’s screenplay gives the film no purpose and commits the deadly sin of gathering up all the laughs from the previous film and just repeating them, sometimes verbatim.  Laughs that worked in small doses back in 2012 are piled high and frequently fall flat because they feel so been-there-done-that.  Worse, even more time is given to Adam DeVine (who I referred to in my original review as a Jack Black-alike…and at this point DeVine should be paying Black a percentage of his earnings) who pops up all too frequently to stink up the joint.

A co-star and producer of Pitch Perfect, Elizabeth Banks (Man on a Ledge) steps behind the camera for the first time as the director and while that may seem like an inspired choice, Banks can’t seem to find a rhythm to the overly episodic nature of the film.  With its garish lighting and questionable use of color it looks like a badly produced industrial training video and unspools at an awkwardly motionless pace.  Continuity between the two films is non-existent (Anna Kendrick’s character originally sported a canvas of tattoos that she seemingly had removed in the last three years) and there just seems to be an overall forced energy in the film.

What does help to qualify the film as only a near miss in my book are several engaging performances and a loud and clear message of female empowerment and positivity.

While Pitch Perfect really centered on grumpy Beca (Kendrick, Into the Woods) falling in with the all-female a capella group at her new college, the sequel doesn’t have one central character and that works in its favor.  Now, it’s an ensemble comedy that mostly gives equal time to several of the Barden Bellas that are going through some “stuff” while the group struggles to regain its reputation after an incident labeled by the press as Muffgate (to explain it would give more time to this idiotic plot device than necessary).

The breakout star of the first film, Rebel Wilson (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), is of course given more to do here and that’s a decision that has qualified success.  Too often she’s a Rebel without a cause as the actress lazily mumbles through some improvised shtick that probably was better than what the script had her saying.  Returning Bellas like Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee are joined by freshman Hailee Steinfeld (The Homesman) and all deliver exactly what’s expected of them…which is very little.  As for the men, Skylar Astin and Ben Platt are barely utilized because the film has no real place for them or any real reason to add them into the mix.  Each time they pop up it feels extraneous and more unnecessary than ever before.  A time-waster of a side-story features Keegan-Michael Key as Beca’s boss…these scenes could have been subtitled The Sound of Silence because the comedian’s jokes land with a thud.

Forced to fight for their survival at the World Championship, the Bellas go up against Das Sound Machine, led by Flula Borg & Birgitte Hjort Sørensen.  Looking like the Eurotrash villains from a stage musical of Die Hard, the members of DSM are supposed to be forces to be reckoned with but, as is the case with an alarming amount of the musical numbers, next to none of the performances are very exciting.  It’s only in the finale (with a surreally bizarre cameo by Robin Roberts) that some sparks are ignited with a song composed by Sia and Sam Smith Hailee Steinfeld’s character.  In Pitch Perfect the music seemed to be justified and had a pulsating verve that got your toes tapping but the song choices for the sequel are pretty bewildering and not memorable in the least.

A centerpiece of the original was the Riff Off, a battle of the bands of sorts that tests the best of the best.  There’s a repeat of that (of course) here and it happens to be one of the more inspired bits in the film.  Watching the Bellas battling the likes of DSM, the Treblemakers, and one totally random group (the biggest spoiler of the movie…if someone tells you who it is, they aren’t your real friend) is where the most joy in this rather joyless sequel is found.

I recognize that I’ll probably be in a minority of those that failed to fall into the orbit of Pitch Perfect 2 (and hey, I liked Hot Pursuit so clearly I’m operating on a different playing field currently) but if this is the sequel fans were waiting for I’m glad it did its job.  I just happened to find it off-key and resting too much on its well-earned laurels.  When Pitch Perfect 3 comes out (and trust me, it will), can I make a suggestion that it’s a prequel?

The Silver Bullet ~ Tomorrowland

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Synopsis: Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

Release Date:  May 22, 2015

Thoughts: Shrouded in secrecy for the duration of its filming, we’re a little over a month away from Disney opening the gates to Tomorrowland and after two trailers I’m still not quite sure what we’re in for.  Now, in this spoiler-ready climate we’re living in today I think that knowing less is better and I have faith that director Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, World War Z) have some magic up their talented sleeves.  With Hollywood heavyweight George Clooney (The Monuments Men) and rising star Britt Robertson (The Longest Ride, Cake) leading the pack, this stands a good chance at being the second boffo blockbuster of 2015 after the May 1st release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron.