Movie Review ~ Last Flag Flying


The Facts
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Synopsis: Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.

Stars: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Yul Vazquez, Kate Easton, J. Quinton Johnson, Cicely Tyson

Director: Richard Linklater

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: It’s not lost on this reviewer that the director behind the tin-eared Last Flag Flying is Richard Linklater.  Linklater has built a career on authentic sounding/feeling movies like Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, not to mention his career high of Boyhood.  Following that up with the enjoyable Everybody Wants Some! which was seen as a spiritual sequel to his earlier Dazed and Confused, Linklater seemed like he was entering a mid-career golden zone of easy-going character driven films.

So you’ll forgive me for being pretty surprised that he’s at the helm of Last Flag Flying, a phony baloney film that not only wastes two good actors (and one mediocre one) but your valuable holiday time as well.   A kinda-sorta sequel to 1973’s The Last Detail (which, full disclosure, I have not seen), this is a long trip with a short premise and it all goes nowhere.  I’m usually fairly forgiving with movies that limp out of the gate if they can finish strong but this one falls flat from the very beginning and never gets back up again.

On a cold night in 2003, a Larry Shepherd enters a dive bar in Virginia.  The man (Steve Carell, Freeheld) strikes up a conversation with Sal, the guy behind the bar (Bryan Cranston, Godzilla) and reveals himself to be an old Vietnam war buddy the bartender hasn’t seen in decades.  With lingering guilt over a crime Sal was involved with that Larry took the fall for, Sal agrees to accompany Larry on a day trip to a church nearby.  That’s where they meet up with former comrade in arms Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne, Passengers), who has transformed from a war-time wild man to a man of the cloth.

Larry has tracked down these two men because he recently lost not only his wife to a long-term illness but has just learned his son was killed in the Iraq war.  Would these men accompany Larry as he buries his son in Arlington Cemetery, you know, for old times sake?  Mueller was also involved with the indiscretion that saw Larry serving time in custody and while Larry doesn’t explicitly say the two men owe him one, the suggestion is that this small favor is something they can do to right a past wrong and clear their conscience.  It also helps Mueller’s wife forces him to go.

Thus begins a road trip that stretches across multiple states and forms of transportation as the three men bring the fallen solider home to his final rest.  Along the way old war wounds are opened and the guys must come to terms with what they did and how that changed the course of everything they’ve done since they returned to the states.  There’s even a chance for some small redemption with a stop to visit with the mother (Cicely Tyson, Alex Cross, excellent with limited screen time) of a soldier killed in Vietnam.

All of this should have panned out to a rewarding experience, but the movie is so faux in thought, word, and deed that I never warmed to anyone or anything on screen.  I never once bought that the three leads were former military, nor that they would ever in a million years be friends.  I know war makes friends out of enemies but there’s no authenticity in the performances or in the script from Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan.  While Fishburne is the most believable, he’s also the one least invested in the movie.  Carell continues to be an actor with interesting depths but struggles with a role that asks him to emote in all the wrong ways.  As usual, the actor that has the greatest trouble is poor Cranston who proves again that he’s an actor probably best suited for television.  Cranston’s performance (much like his hammy Oscar-nominated performance in Trumbo) is all hot air and booming voice; when you place it aside Fishburne and Carell who are trying to find their own arcs he just crumbles under the pressure.  It’s a memorably forgettable performance in a movie that’s equally a huge write-off.

I can think of a half-dozen actors that could have pulled these roles off better but at the heart of the movie’s problems is a meandering script and poor pacing – that falls squarely on Linklater’s shoulders.  There’s a kernel of an appealing movie at play but before we’d even reached the halfway mark I was waving the white flag of distress.  Skip it… Now it’s time for me to go seek out The Last Detail.

Movie Review ~ Passengers

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Morton Tyldum

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: It’s hard to believe it now, but just a few short months ago there were whispers in Hollywood that Passengers, this sci-fi romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, might be a late-breaking entry up for award consideration.  Now it’s clear that those “insiders” were people stumping for Sony because while it isn’t quite the train wreck most people will tell you it is, it’s certainly a disappointment when you consider the people behind it.

This is one of those “looked good on paper” sort of affairs.  Two of the hottest stars (literally and box-office-y) working in Hollywood right now team up with an Oscar nominated director for a big-budget two-hander set aboard a spaceship traveling to a new world.  While I can admit the concept driving the action is fairly intriguing, it’s a bit of a puzzlement as to why many big names have been orbiting around the pedestrian script from Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) for some time.  Revolutionary material this is not and in many ways it’s a big step backward for at least one of its stars.

According to Passengers, in the future it will be possible to survive on different planets and Earth will see a sizable number of its inhabitants emigrate to a new solar system.  Sure, it will take over a hundred years, you’ll never see your loved ones again, and if you can’t afford the ticket you’ll be little more than an indentured servant for the span of your life…but what an adventure! As the movie opens, a meteor shower damages the massive ship and causes one of the transport pods to trigger an early wake-up call for Jim (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World).

Noticing he’s the only one up and about, Jim learns of the pod malfunction and that he’s still 90 years from his destination with no way to get back to sleep.  He spends his days exploring the ship, practicing his free-throw, mastering a Dance Dance Revolution-style video game, and commiserating with an android bartender (Michael Sheen, Admission).  After a year, though, Jim is lonely and that’s when he catches sight of Aurora (Lawrence, Joy), a sleeping passenger he gets to know through her introductory videos prepared pre-flight.

Keeping spoilers at bay, I’ll just say that Aurora is roused as well and bonds with Jim in and out of the bedroom.  For a while, things are in breezy rom-com territory before reality sets in when Jim has to come clean about a Big Secret that threatens his relationship with Aurora and the other passengers as well.  Maybe another passenger wakes up and maybe there’s a recognizable star that shows up for literally 12 seconds near the very end but that’s for me to know and you to find out…if you want.

Passengers plays well, fueled by the chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence.  The only problem is the chemistry is more brother-sister than boyfriend-girlfriend and that’s just the tip of the creepy iceberg when all is said and done.  Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) tries to sidestep some fundamental moral dilemmas of the characters by distracting audiences with plenty of skin from his leads (Pratt’s two rump shots elicited quite the murmur of approval from the guests at my screening) and forcing us to see what a perfect match the two are.

Things really go awry in the last 1/3 when Passengers morphs into an effects heavy action film.  Lawrence is reduced to a damsel in distress, a far cry from the take charge women of steel she’s been playing (and receiving Oscar nominations for) recently.  Pratt fares better, only because the blue-collar guy he’s playing isn’t too far outside of his wheelhouse.  I kept wanting Sheen to play a bigger role in the action and come out from behind the bar or do something (anything) that would keep the film from being so earthbound and ordinary.

While its nowhere near the level of sophistication it should be, Passengers isn’t a complete turkey.  Aside from the appeal of Pratt/Lawrence, there’s some fine effects work but one too many slow camera pans of the ship inside and out.  When the characters stare into the vast blackness of space tethered by a single rope as they float, I got a little spooked/excited at what could happen if they broke free from their safety net.  Same goes for the movie – it never breaks free from its constraints.

The Silver Bullet ~ Passengers

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Synopsis: A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

Release Date:  December 21, 2016

Thoughts: It’s okay if you watch this first trailer for Passengers and feel like you’ve been to this space rodeo before.  Peppered with hints of Gravity and The Martian with a little old (Sunday) school Adam and Eve business, our initial look at the late December release feels promising.  I mean, two hotter than Hades A-list stars with their choice of scripts wouldn’t sign up for this without it having some thrust, right?  I’m counting on blind faith that Chris Pratt (Jurassic World) and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) have chosen wisely.  Under the direction of Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) from a Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) script that’s been orbiting Hollywood stars since 2007, Passengers could pure rocket fuel at the box office if these heavy hitters bring their A game.  As for me…it’s set in space so…I’m in.

The Silver Bullet ~ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Comic-Con Trailer)

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Synopsis: Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’ most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs

Release Date: March 25, 2016

Thoughts: As I mentioned in my review of the first teaser for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice I wasn’t a huge fan of Man of Steel and was pretty reticent that we needed another Batman entry so soon after Christopher Nolan’s quite satisfying trilogy wrapped up. Well, an extended trailer released at the 2015 Comic-Con convention in San Diego has got my attention and while I’m still iffy on this sequel to a sub-par Superman reboot there’s a growing kernel of anticipation for this one that I can’t totally ignore. Like the recent preview for Suicide Squad, I was a little taken aback that the trailer was so long but while it shows audiences what they can expect from the March 2016 release, thankfully not every plot development has been laid out for us. Give it a look…I think, like me, you’ll like what you see.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Synopsis: On the heels of the worldwide success of Man of Steel director Zack Snyder is bringing together the two greatest Super Heroes of all time – Batman and Superman for the first time on the big screen.

Release Date:  March 25, 2016

Thoughts:  I still think 1979’s Superman: The Movie is one of the best all around “comic-book” origin movies to be made and I was more than willing to give director Zack Snyder’s reboot a fair chance.  After all, look what Christopher Nolan did with his reinvention of Batman in three films about the caped crusader.  Sadly, Superman’s return in 2013 was a glum bummer, and a movie that took way too long to come out (how can a new Star Wars movie be filmed and come out in a little over a year but Snyder takes almost three years for his meal to cook?).  Disappointments aside, the film made good on its franchise starter nature at the box office yet it’s a little surprising that Warner Brothers decided that the sequel should merge its flying superhero with The Dark Knight – the poor guy was enjoying a well-deserved retirement.  Feeling the heat from Marvel’s unstoppable films, I’m sure that DC Comics was more than happy to bring their Justice League dreams to light…why else would this Superman sequel feature not only the Man of Steel and Batman but Wonder Woman and Aquaman as well?  I hope the film isn’t merely a bridge to a bigger idea, but from the looks of this impressive teaser Snyder may be borrowing a page from Nolan and going ultra-dark.

Movie Review ~ Ride Along

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Fast-talking security guard Ben joins his cop brother-in-law James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela, James’ sister.

Stars: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Tim Story

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Throughout the latter half of Ride Along I’ll admit to being totally zoned out and not paying attention.  Random thoughts kept floating through my mind….

Ride Along is asleep at the wheel.

Ride Along needs a jump start.

Ride Along?  More like Move Along. Nothing To See Here.

Where to begin with this one?

The buddy-cop comedy genre has taken a bit of a beating lately with 2013’s The Heat the latest casualty of writers that don’t know from funny and stars that trust those same writers to do a lot of the work for them.  On paper, I’m sure Ice Cube and Kevin Hart looked like a good combo to put together but in the poison pen of four (count ‘em FOUR!) screenwriters there’s less goodwill toward funny men and more musty cop jokes than you cake shake of box of powdered doughnuts at.

I’m not a huge fan of Kevin Hart to begin with which could have played a role in my feeling about the teeny-weeny comic’s manic energy threatening to vaporize everything left in his wake.  With many scenes winding up feeling like an extended set from his B-side comedy routines, Hart doesn’t have the instincts of the similarly wired Eddie Murphy at his age.  Murphy at least had several moments of silence in each of his films but Hart is non-stop – I halfway wondered if he kept on going so the editor would have trouble cutting away from him.

As Ben, a going nowhere security guard that spends his off work hours playing interactive videogames in a tony loft apartment he shares with his stunning girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, Sparkle), Hart hits the ground running.   Though it’s never explained what Angela does, it has to be a high paying job in order for the two to afford the kind of rent the spacious brick faced dwelling would demand…because Hart’s low paying job isn’t cutting it.  He finds out he’s been accepted to the police academy and decides to kill two birds with one stone and impress Angela’s wary brother James (Ice Cube) who happens to be a hard-scrabble cop himself.  Make nice with the brother and get some advice…a good plan

James, on the other hand, sees an opportune moment as well…he can get Ben off his back and out of his sister’s life by giving him the kind of ride along he’ll never forget.  Over the course of the day they ride around Atlanta, assigned to 126’s…the most annoying cases no cop wants.  Each run in Hart has with a goofy cuckoo gets less and less funny…and it only makes him try harder and louder.

Ride Along has one scene in my new favorite movie location: The PG-13 strip club where no one is naked, everyone wants to get into, and women in bikinis have hundreds of one dollar bills stuffed in their get-ups.  Actually, the filmmakers don’t even fill their club inside with a lot of people…it looks like the kind of crowd that was recruited from a local dentist office.

Due to the fact that the one joke premise of James terrorizing Ben on a day long look into the life of a cop can’t last forever, the brilliant screenwriters toss in a taxing crime case for James that just happens to see a development on the very day that he’s potential brother in law is accompanying him.  Early on we see that a mysterious figure named Omar is involved with something really big (could be guns, money, drugs…who knows, I forgot) but since no one has seen him, no one can locate him.

The only thing they have to go on is a picture of Omar in the eighth grade…at which point director Tim Story makes the brilliant move of panning to a picture that looks so much like Laurence Fishburne (Man of Steel) that it’s not a spoiler to say…well…guess who plays Omar?  It’s these kind of dunderhead, “we’ll help you figure it out” hand-holding moments that make Ride Along not only not funny but mildly insulting as well.  The comedy is shoved in your face and then your good will is tossed aside until the film needs you to laugh again.

If Kevin Hart wanted to make a cop film about a guy going to the police academy…why not attach himself to the Police Academy remake that’s been talked about for years?  This movie is just incredibly lame, half-hearted, and clearly aimed to make a quick buck and pave the way for a sequel (it’s already been announced) rather than having any strong ambition to just make something funny.

The Silver Bullet ~ Ride Along

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Synopsis: Fast-talking security guard Ben joins his cop brother-in-law James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela, James’ sister.

Release Date:  January 17, 2014

Thoughts: Though the mismatched buddy cop formula has been done to death in countless films (most recently in 21 Jump Street), I guess there’s always room for one more.  The unlikely combo here finds Kevin Hart (Grudge Match) trying to impress his fiancé’s policeman brother (Ice Cube) by spending some time with him on the job.  While I find that a little of Hart goes a long way, this seems to be a nice fit for the wise-cracking comedian and one that will play nicely against Ice-T’s more deadpan style.  I’m not expecting much from this one and that’s usually the best way to go into a formula film…because you may wind up liking it more than you thought you would.  Here’s hoping.

Movie Review ~ Man of Steel

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe, Michael Kelly, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff

Director: Zack Snyder

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 143 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I love 1978’s Superman: The Movie.  I figured I’d get that out of the way off the bat so you know where I’m coming from.  Richard Donner’s big budget epic was bolstered by the tagline: “You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly”…and audiences did…in droves.  Capturing the all-American charm of one Clark Kent aka Superman, Donner’s film successfully moved characters that had long lived on the pages of comic books and a television show to the silver screen with impressive results. 

So perhaps it was a bit too much to hope that 2013’s Man of Steel could provide some of that same magic in kicking off yet another reboot of the superhero with a giant S on his chest.  The trouble is that this updated hero is too aloof, too troubled a searching soul to mine any joy out of the proceedings.  It’s a chilly film with precious little in the way of true blue charm and moxie.  Instead, it’s largely a showcase for director Zack Snyder (Sucker Punch, Watchmen) to puff his special effects chest out and screenwriter David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) to put a Bruce Wayne-style glum-ness on the picture. 

Perhaps that solemnity also comes courtesy of producer Christopher Nolan who successfully reshaped the Batman franchise into a lean and mean money making machine.  What worked for Nolan and Goyer on the Batman films unfortunately doesn’t work here and mores the pity because several other key elements of the film are strikingly on point.

Take Henry Cavill for instance.  The Brit is possessing of a well toned eight pack to go along with his All-American features and cheekbones that could cut kryptonite.  The script never allows him to emerge too far from his gloomy gus hole but there are moments especially near the end where we can see a glint in Cavill’s eye that brings a little Christopher Reeve to mind.  In his newly redesigned suit, which does look better than the near neon colors in previous Superman films, Cavill is a convincing hero that has real potential.

I also found a lot to like about Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as refreshingly earthy incarnations of Jonathan and Martha Kent, Superman’s earth bound adoptive parents that provide stability even when his powers threaten to overwhelm their found child.  Most of their performances are relegated to flashbacks and much of the film is presented in a non-linear fashion as Clark wanders from job to job, only moving on when his powers put him in danger of being discovered. 

Costner has some of the best scenes in the film as he alternatively counsels his son and quietly fears for him if the outside world knew what he can do.   I’ve often found Costner to be too mannered of an actor, always holding back what he’s really feeling but here he’s given nice material that helps him shine. 

The same can’t be said for poor Amy Adams (The Master) who is terribly miscast as ace reporter Lois Lane.  Though it’s well documented she has auditioned/lobbied for this role on three occasions, it’s a shame she didn’t do more with the role when she finally got a crack at it.  I missed the plucky verve that Margot Kidder to the role and it’s something I’m disappointed Adams didn’t tap into more – that being said she’s light years more interesting than Kate Bosworth was in 2006’s Superman Returns.

I’m still not totally sure how I feel about Michael Shannon (The Iceman) as Superman’s main nemesis Captain Zod.  Talking out of the side of his mouth and sounding like he has a Lifesaver he wants to keep under his tongue, Shannon is an unlikely choice for the role and even wearing a costume that looks like a hand me down from KISS he manages to give the character more depth than was probably necessary.  Russell Crowe’s (Les Miserables) Jor-El can’t hold a candle to the “I can’t believe this works as well as it does” casting of Marlon Brando in Donner’s film but there’s a solid whiff of nobility given off by Crowe…and thank the Lord he doesn’t sing in this one.

Snyder is known for putting a rich visual spin on his films and that’s what almost saved his disastrous Sucker Punch from being totally relegated to the waste bin.  In Man of Steel the special effects gets the better of him though with too much of the film looking more cartoony than visually impressive.  Sure, the flying sequences are solidly entertaining and some of the larger action sequences (including a much too long go-for-broke finale) look mighty fine but it only adds to a strange hollowness to the entire film.

I may be a bigger fan of Superman than any other comic book character so I was very much looking forward to seeing where the next generation of Superman movies will take us.  This wasn’t the movie I really wanted to see and that’s a bummer…but then I remember that I wasn’t totally taken with Batman Begins either when I first saw it.  Time will tell if Cavill and company will find a way to truly take flight in their next outing but it’s possible that with more focus on the good and less on the glum a better franchise starter will emerge.

The Silver Bullet ~ Man of Steel – Trailer 2

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Synopsis: An alien infant is raised on Earth, and grows up with superhuman abilities. He sets out to use these abilities to guard his adopted world.

Release Date: June 14, 2013

Thoughts: As a huge fan of the original Superman and a nicely developed origin story, this new trailer for June’s surefire blockbuster delivers the goods with a taste to whet the whistle of rabid Superman fans and even the most casual of movie-goers.  After the modest morsel of a teaser, I was already excited for what lies ahead in Man of Steel.  I only hope that director Zack Snyder can restrain himself enough to let the story tell itself rather than bombard us with his trademark eye-popping visuals. Not that there isn’t a place for that…but with a Superman reboot I want to see the humanity more than just impressive flying effects. With The Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan on board as a producer, I think we’re in good hands.