31 Days to Scare ~ Halloween Kills

The Facts:

Synopsis: The nightmare isn’t over as unstoppable killer Michael Myers escapes from Laurie Strode’s trap to continue his ritual bloodbath. Injured and taken to the hospital, Laurie fights through the pain as she inspires residents of Haddonfield, Ill., to rise up against Myers.

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Thomas Mann, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, Charles Cyphers, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney, Robert Longstreet

Director: David Gordon Green

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  The release of a new Halloween film in 2018 that reset the timeline for the rocky franchise was a refreshing inhale of breath for both cast, creatives, and audiences alike.  Trapped for years with characters that were connected by blood (more like lazy screenwriting) and a once-human killer that grew more supernaturally inhuman with each passing chapter, the series was in terminal status when director David Gordon Green (Our Brand is Crisis) and actor Danny McBride teamed up with Blumhouse Productions and convinced original star Jamie Lee Curtis to return to the role she created.  Also snagging John Carpenter to come along and give his blessing helped get the longtime fans on board as well.  The well-received and ambitiously thoughtful effort was a revitalized movie that didn’t completely reinvent the concept of the reboot, but it laid groundwork that continuations to an original story were possible, especially with the involvement of those that were there when it all began. 

Perhaps you can believe the story now that Green and McBride originally pitched their first round of Halloween as a two-parter but later thought it best to see how a standalone installment would work instead, but there was a sweet finality in the ending of the 2018 film that didn’t feel like a wide enough door was kept open for what has led to the far less impressive goop that is Halloween Kills.  The first of two movies shot back-to-back in 2019 and originally intended to be released in 2020, this middle chapter of trilogy of films from Green and McBride picks up almost precisely where the previous film left off, on a Halloween night 40 years after Michael Myers (Nick Castle in some scenes, James Jude Courtney in the more physical ones) went on a killing spree in Haddonfield, IL. 

With Michael apparently trapped in survivor Laurie Strode’s (Curtis, Knives Out) compound which she set on fire with the help of her daughter Karen (Judy Greer, Lady of the Manor) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak, Son), the three Strode women head to the hospital to tend to their wounds.  Never count out the Haddonfield Fire Department, though, who have raced to the scene and find Myers very much alive and blazing mad.  As Myers begins to slash his way through Haddonfield, reports of the murders that took place earlier in the evening have gotten back to Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall, Live by Night), Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards, The Watcher in the Woods), and Marian Chambers (Nancy Stephens, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later) who are holding their yearly survivor’s celebration at a local bar.  Like Laurie, they’ve chosen to deal with their own trauma of that night in their own way but unlike Laurie have found comfort in sharing that experience with others.  With news of Myers return, the three instinctively jump into action and rally a group of townspeople along with them.  Now it’s just a matter of finding Myers and stopping him again.  But where is he going and who might he be looking for?

That’s the tidiest description of messy plot slapped together by Green, McBride, and Scott Teems and I was a little taken aback by how much the three had abandoned the subtleties introduced in their first outing.  Whereas the reintroduction of the Laurie character felt like an interesting way to look at a lifetime of living with PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and paranoia, the people we meet in the sequel are enigmas with only names that sound vaguely familiar to us.  Sure, we know who Tommy Doyle is but other that that…who is he?  As played by Hall, he’s someone harboring a lot of shame over lack of action even though he was a child when he was attacked while Laurie was babysitting him.  Same goes for Lindsey, though Richards doesn’t crank up the angst meter as far as Hall does.  We don’t have the luxury of being reacquainted with these faces from the past before they’re called on to take center stage…and they definitely are because the stars of the last film are curiously absent for quite a lot of Halloween Kills.

Of all the callbacks, I doubt anyone wanted to be thinking of Curtis being stuck in a hospital bed for much of 1981’s Halloween II but that’s where she’s confined to for lots of Halloween Kills.  When she does amble about, she’s not at full Laurie strength so whatever vengeance Curtis came back with in Halloween is a bit hollow here.  That’s at least better than what poor Greer gets, though.  Relegated to the role of “he’s coming for her!” paranoid protector, Greer is adrift and robbed of the modicum of found strength afforded to her at the end of the last movie.  The only Strode that continues to show potential is Matichak and while Allyson has a number of insanely unwise choices, she roars to life just as the movie is on life support in the final act.

As for the main attraction?  Well, what can I say?  I mean, Michael Myers has returned to his gruesome killing methods that reached a Grand Guignol peak in the two Rob Zombie barf-y films.  Murder is here for the sake of murder, and I have to wonder what kind of pleasure is to be derived from a filmmaker including a scene where a mortally wounded victim watches helplessly as their dying (or even already deceased) significant other is slowly stabbed by a multitude of knives by Myers.  Why?  The two characters have no bearing on the plot, the scene comes right after an insanely bloody murder scene, and it’s followed by more murder.  Myers kills a huge number of people in vicious, heinous (pointless) ways and even as an ardent fan of horror movies I wanted to tap out…this was no fun, no fun at all. (Side note, the amount of couples that die at the hands of Myers in this one is almost laughable…I guess the screenwriters didn’t want to leave anyone partner-less and in mourning.)

I’m not entirely sure why Green, McBride, and Teems decided to go in this direction.  The first film focused on Laurie and examined her trauma – this was interesting material to explore in a mainstream horror movie and a franchise not known for its sensitivity to such matters.  In Halloween Kills, they’ve shifted from Laure’s grief to a larger view of how the town has suffered.  This is another nook with great potential, but it’s wasted on appalling displays of grunting vigilante justice and toxic mob mentality as the ruling authority.  In that way, the movie becomes more obnoxious than disappointing.

I mentioned this script is very bad, right? At times, I wondered if the actors were just improvising dialogue because the number of times the phrase “Evil Dies Tonight!” is used is mind-boggling.  Eventually turning into a greeting of sorts from one character to another, I started silently saying under my breath “…next year.” knowing the true finale of the night he came back home wasn’t going to finish up until October 2022 with Halloween Ends.  After a head-shakingly crazy finale, I can’t even imagine how Green and company are going to keep this one going until the break of dawn.  Hasn’t Haddonfield suffered enough? After Halloween Kills, haven’t we?

Movie Review ~ Wrath of Man


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A mysterious and wild-eyed new cash truck security guard surprises his coworkers during a heist in which he unexpectedly unleashes precision skills. The crew is left wondering who he is and where he came from. Soon, the marksman’s ultimate motive becomes clear as he takes dramatic and irrevocable steps to settle a score.

Stars: Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett, Scott Eastwood, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Laz Alonso, DeObia Oparei, Niamh Algar, Eddie Marsan, Rob Delaney

Director: Guy Ritchie

Rated: R

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Ever since his smash bang debut feature Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was released in 1998 and made him a hot ticket in Hollywood (not to mention catching the eye of future ex-wife Madonna), director Guy Ritchie has gone through various stages of an identity crisis.  While his follow-up two years later, Snatch, delivered the goods with a bigger budget and the star power of Brad Pitt, he stumbled hard teaming up with his then-wife for the messy vanity project Swept Away before firing off two other crime capers seen as pale imitations of his earlier work.  Finally giving himself over to the studio machine, he was behind the monumentally successful (but strangely forgettable) Sherlock Holmes films and the less seen but far better update of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Things were looking grim after his King Arthur movie tanked and even a surprising foray into Disney musicals with the Aladdin remake was also met with middling reviews and marginal box office.  Then, in 2019 it seemed like the Ritchie that showed such a knack for knotty narratives was back (not to mention his eye for luxe style) with The Gentlemen, an impressive but slight crimedy (crime+comedy…did I create a new genre?).  Though not exactly up to pace, it at least showed Ritchie was limbering up to get back in the race with material he obviously displayed a greater interest in spending time with.

I find that I get a little tense when approaching American remakes of foreign films, especially by established directors that have their choice of unproduced screenplays by new writers.  Why take the time to re-do the work of another artist?  You’re just asking to be compared to that earlier work.  Seeing that Ritchie’s newest was a remake of the 2004 French thriller Le Convoyeur, I wondered if Ritchie was stepping back into old habits.  As it turns out, Wrath of Man is Ritchie’s best film in ages, a lean, (very) mean, muscled grunt of a revenge thriller that will have audiences on the edge of their seats.

Before its moody opening credits sequence (oh, how I love a title sequence!), Wrath of Man opens on the robbery of an armored truck gone wrong, a scene viewers see played out from a static position that limits what we can take in.  It’s the first of many ways Ritchie and his co-screenwriters Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson (adapting the original script from Nicolas Boukhrief and Éric Besnard) work with cinematographer Alan Stewart (Mary Poppins Returns) to point us in the direction they want us to go, which may not always tell the whole truth.  It’s not cheating, mind you, but it’s a form of misdirection for the moment that helps keep the larger secrets of the film hidden longer. 

Sometime later, a man (Jason Statham, The Meg) arrives as the Fortico armored truck company to apply for an open position as a driver/guard for the cash deliveries and deposits across the Los Angeles area.  This is the same company who had the guards held up in the prologue and are still on high alert after the guards wound up dead.  Needing to fill an empty space on their roster, hiring manager Terry (Eddie Marsan, The Virtuoso) appears to think the new recruit is perfect for the job, but we can tell he isn’t entirely convinced he’s the one to hire.  Passing all the background checks and meeting the requirements for the job, he joins the elite squad anyway and is paired with Bullet (Holt McCallany, Greenland) a senior guard with the company.  All the guards are gifted their own nicknames and soon the quiet new employee earns the moniker, H, “as in Jesus H.” 

H isn’t on the job long before a routine run with Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later) turns into a tense stand-off between the two men and an array of armed men wanting their deposits.  H’s response to this situation (spoiler alert: he’s a man of hidden talents) impresses the higher ups at Fortico but raises suspicion within the team that there’s more to H than meets the eye.  Everyone has a right to be somewhat concerned because H is there for more than a paycheck and through a series of detours in the narrative that folds the movie around like a pretzel it becomes brutally clear he’s shown up for something no money can buy…payback. 

To say more would spoil that pretzel plot which is baked to near perfection by Ritchie and his rough and tumble gang of amped up actors.  While the pieces start to naturally fall into place with a casual meter, they never present themselves as a workmanlike schedule of beats to hit.  There are some genuine surprises throughout the film and even if the biggest one is almost shockingly delivered as a throwaway line, I found that to almost be kind of amazing, too, because the film clearly thinks it has something better up its sleeves…and it does.

Continuing their decades long working relationship, Statham and Ritchie make a great team and if this represents Ritchie’s best work in years it’s also Statham’s most mature acting on screen to date.  Affording him the opportunity to remain an action heavy while showing range simultaneously, it’s a perfect role for the actor that has been known to make a trove of films that seem interchangeable playing characters indistinguishable from the next.  He receives some nice back-up from the always underrated McCallany as his guide into Fortico and while I’m not entirely persuaded with Hartnett turning up as a gruff and rough big-talker, I was convinced he’d go pale when faced with real life danger.  I’ll opt out of saying how they figure into the plot, but Andy Garcia (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar), Jeffrey Donovan (Lucy in the Sky) and Scott Eastwood (Texas Chainsaw 3D), round out the top-notch supporting cast.  Mostly a male-dominated roster, the few women in the picture are wives that float into the frame to kiss their husbands goodbye on their way to work or cry over the loss of a loved one, but the lone female working at Fortico (Niamh Algar, The Shadow of Violence) is shown as just one of the guys but hops into bed with H after he barely blinks at her.  Strong female roles have never been Ritchie’s most dependable suit and that’s one of the film’s blatant weaknesses.

Now working on a television adaptation of The Gentlemen (smart move), another thriller with Hartnett, Aubrey Plaza, and Hugh Grant (interesting), and a likely sequel to Aladdin (please, no), Ritchie seems to be back in the groove of things.  Films like Wrath of Man are exactly the tone and temperament he excels at and knows when to pull back on.  There were a number of times I noticed acts of violence that could have been shown in greater detail were either omitted or quickly cut away from, giving the viewer the general idea because he’s engineered the film to paint that picture already in our mind.  Combine that with Statham’s blistering performance and Ritchie’s typically interesting song selections and you have a brawler bit of entertainment.

Movie Review ~ Whitney


The Facts
:

Synopsis: An in-depth look at the life and music of Whitney Houston.

Stars: Whitney Houston

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: When I was young and MTV was just starting, I remember asking a friend’s sister to record this one video from an artist I just loved because I wanted to be able to watch it whenever I wanted. I even used a tape recorder to nab a sound recording so I could listen to it on the go. The song? How Will I Know. The artist? Whitney Houston. It was the start of a life-long devotion to the singer and sometimes actress, one that didn’t end with her tragic death at 48 on February 11, 2012.  Before she died and even after she was gone, rumors about drug use, sexual abuse, and destructive behavior swirled around the artist leaving many to believe the lies without knowing the truth.

In the new documentary Whitney, director Kevin Macdonald (How I Live Now) explores Houston’s meteoric rise and untimely fall through an introspective lens. Though he’s become more well known for Hollywood films, Macdonald got his start with documentary filmmaking and has kept to his roots throughout the years. It’s Macdonald’s experience with this genre and his piqued interest in the subject that propels Whitney from being a standard biography to an electric showcase of the dark side of fame.  Seeing the previews for Whitney I expected to come out of the film sad but never expected to come out as mad as I did. Here’s another tale of a talent surrounded by people that loved her for what she gave them but turned a blind eye to her cries for help. Not wanting to upset their meal ticket, it’s clear that family, friends, and co-workers were unwilling to tell the troubled performer no and largely sat idly by as she imploded.

An interesting technique Macdonald uses is to give viewers a snapshot of what was going on in the world at various points throughout Houston’s career. Interspersed with family photos and videos are television ads of the day and news clips from key events. It’s not exactly a revolutionary method but it helps set the scene quickly and distinctly. Through the years we get a better idea of what kind of impact Houston had on pop culture and how, after her public battle with drugs, she eventually became a joke to the very people that once sang her praises.

As she was growing up in New Jersey, Macdonald interviews those that knew Nippy (Houston’s nickname) and could tell at an early age that she possessed something special. Raised by her civil servant father and groomed by her famous mother (Cissy Houston, a singer), Houston was exactly the kind of fresh face and powerful voice that the music industry didn’t even know they needed. Shepherded by Clive Davis at Arista records, Macdonald boldly moves the action far forward, jumping from the popularity of her first album and skipping over the next several years as Houston cements herself as a gigantic star.  Going beyond the music, Macdonald shins a light on secrets within the Houston family and goes into uncomfortable detail in how everything in Houston’s upbringing wasn’t as rosy as her PR team made it out to be.

A telling sign of how fame can affect family and friends, many of the subjects interviewed get “employee” added to their onscreen relationship credit over time. Eventually, everyone that she was close to got on her payroll which caused great conflicts of interest between the star and those she trusted. Were they giving her advice as a friend or as an employee? Did they have her best interest as a person in mind or were they just looking the other way to keep getting a paycheck.  Thankfully, Macdonald doesn’t fall on either side of this issue but keeps Whitney as objective as possible. This viewer surely made his own conclusions but the filmmaker lets the words of Houston and those that knew her tell the story…and lets some of them dig their own grave. In frank and honest interviews, people admit to, among other things, providing Houston with drugs, knowing about sexual abuse within Houston’s extended family, and worrying about her parenting of daughter Bobbi Kristina. Houston’s notorious ex-husband Bobby Brown pops up and does himself no favors while the brief time we sepnd with Houston’s mother tells us all we need to know about the fire in their bellies that fueled their dreams of success.

While Macdonald covers a lot of bases (including the rumors about Houston’s sexuality) he never fully ties up any loose ends. There are several items that are introduced but never truly explored, a sign the film could have been a lot longer had Macdonald been free from the constraints of a theatrical running length. My hope is that any excised footage or interviews are made available on a home release or that a longer version is compiled at a later time. There’s just too much to cover in two hours and, while it’s all fascinating, too many of the fairly important pieces to  a much deeper puzzle are left in the box.

Let’s just face facts, Whitney Houston was one of the best singers in history and to lose her so early was an outright tragedy. Could her death have been prevented? Was there something more someone could have done? Sadly, the answer is yes and while Whitney doesn’t try to answer all the questions audiences may come with, it does provide stunning evidence that many people let her down.

The Silver Bullet ~ Halloween (2018)

Synopsis: Laurie Strode comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

Release Date: October 19, 2018

Thoughts: Michael Myers has sure been around the block. After the tremendous success of the 1978 original Halloween there were seven sequels of varying quality (#2, #4, and #7 are tops in my book) and then the icky remake and even ickier sequel from shock rocker Rob Zombie.  There were rumors another movie was going to materialize but no one expected the franchise to do an about face and effectively wipe the slate clean – which is exactly what’s happening with 2018’s all new Halloween. Treating the sequels as if they never happened, director David Gordon Green (Our Brand is Crisis) directs a script he co-wrote with Danny McBride (This is the End) starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Terror Train) and has the blessing of original director John Carpenter.  This first look is pretty creepy…but perhaps shows a tad too much for my taste – I’d have preferred it to show less so we expect more.  Knowing the fates of several characters already lessens some of the impact – but I’m counting on all involved to have a few tricks ‘n treats up their sleeves.

The Silver Bullet ~ The 9th Life of Louis Drax

-The-9th-Life-Of-Louis-Drax-Poster-the-ninth-life-of-louis-drax-39726647-486-720

Synopsis: A psychologist begins working with a young boy who has suffered a near-fatal fall and finds himself drawn into a mystery that tests the boundaries of fantasy and reality.

Release Date: September 2, 2016

Thoughts: French director Alexandre Aja is known for his more, ahem, extreme work (High Tension, Mirrors, Piranha 3D, Horns), so I was more than a little surprised his name was attached to this big-screen adaptation of Liz Jensen’s 2005 novel.  I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for characters to be dispatched of in a most grisly fashion but perhaps The 9th Life of Louis Drax is an attempt to show Aja’s softer side.  Focused on a comatose boy and the secret as to why he’s in his current state, this September release might be a nice return for the carefully constructed mystery genre that’s been dormant for far too long in my book.  Starring Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey), Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold), Aaron Paul (Need for Speed), Barbara Hershey (Insidious: Chapter 2), and Oliver Platt (Flatliners), if Aja can withhold the bloodletting and let the story take center stage he may just have a winner on his hands.

Hasta La Vista…Summer (July)

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.

JulyI just wasn’t prepared for July. It hit me like a ton of bricks, a wave of cinematic excursions that made my head spin. So many movies were released that it was hard to keep track from week to week what was arriving and what was still waiting for its release date. As you can see below, I had a lot of catching-up to do

The month began with the disappointment of Terminator Genisys. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger but it for sure wasn’t the muddled misfire that was supposed to reboot this franchise. Badly cast with shoddy special effects, this was supposed to be the beginning of something but should likely be the end (though it did do well overseas so we may yet get another one of these in a few years).

A few summers back I lamented how bad the original Magic Mike was. Trading eye candy entertainment for any semblance of watchable narrative, it was another dud (for me) from Steven Soderbergh. So you’d understand why I wasn’t keen on Magic Mike XXL because I felt we’d already been there done that. Much to my delight, the sequel was much better than its predecessor, maintaining the fun frivolity of the world of male strippers while injecting some personality into the proceedings. Quite possible the biggest surprise of the summer for me.

I learned a lot from the wise documentary Amy, chronicling the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, the singer with the bluesy voice and broken butterfly backstory. She had a lot to overcome and the film made a compelling argument that she would still be here today had she had a better support system.

Though I loved the Minions in the Despicable Me films, I didn’t care for their solo outing with its half-baked story and less that inspired vocal work. It felt like a quick cash-grab and it looks like it accomplished its goal. Hopefully next time they’ll come back with a better story and more convincing actors.

The found footage horror movie had its death knell with The Gallows, a brainless exercise in tedium peppered with cheap scares and lousy acting. Could have (and should have) been much better.

Now we approach a stretch where I checked out for a bit – but I’m atoning for it now with these mini-reviews.

                                                        Movie Review ~ Batkid Begins
batkid_begins_the_wish_heard_around_the_world_ver2The Facts
:
Synopsis: On one day, in one city, the world comes together to grant one 5-year-old cancer patient his wish. Batkid Begins looks at the ‘why’ of this flash phenomenon.
Stars: Miles Scott
Director: Dana Nachman
Rated: PG
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Can I admit something to you and not have you hate me?  When I first saw the media frenzy around this back in 2013 I remember rolling my eyes are the saccharine nature of the whole endeavor.  Why would an entire city be brought to a screeching halt because of one kid’s wish to be Batman for a day?  Well, the documentary Batkid Begins showed me why and by the end I was feeling like a lout for my initial feelings and wiping away the happy tears the film easily brings forth from the viewer.  Following the planning and execution by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to give a 5 year old leukemia survivor the day of his dreams, viewers get a glimpse at what goes into even the smallest wish granted by the organization.  While it at times comes off like a big advertisement, it’s heart is most certainly in the right place and I found myself getting choked up with each good deed and promise fulfilled by a host of people involved in making the day come off without a hitch. An audience-pleasing winner.

                                                        Movie Review ~ The Overnight
overnight_ver2The Facts
:
Synopsis: A family “playdate” becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on.
Stars: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche
Director: Patrick Brice
Rated: R
Running Length: 79 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: There and gone in an instant, The Overnight is a film better suited for home viewing anyway.  A couple (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) new to the area meet Jason Schwartzman at a local playground where both of their children are playing.  Their kids have hit it off so Schwartzmann invites the family over for more fun, but when the kids go to bed Schwartzman and his wife Judith Godrèche have more interesting games to play for the unsuspecting couple.  Saying more would spoil the fun but it’s an adults only evening with oodles of twists and turns as both couples bare their secrets (and their bodies) before the night is over.  Already famous for its full frontal shots of Schwartzman and Scott (sorry, both are wearing prosthetics), at 79 minutes the movie is short but does start to feel long in the middle section.  It helps immensely that all four actors are competent and comfortable with the material…the story doesn’t hold back and neither do they.

                                                              Movie Review ~ Ant-Man
ant_man_ver3The Facts
:
Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, con-man Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.
Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, David Dastmalchian, T.I. , Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Martin Donovan, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Gregg Turkington, Abby Ryder Fortson
Director: Peyton Reed
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 117 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Early troubles with the start of production with Ant-Man and some seriously questionable teasers/trailers didn’t get me very excited for this mid-summer superhero movie.  I think Marvel was hoping that Ant-Man would score along the lines of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy but it’s sadly missing the humor that made Guardians so much fun.  It’s not a total wash though because for every 10 minutes of standard origin-story developments, there’s a solid 5 minutes of exciting action sequences to wake audiences up from their slumber.  I know that with an origin story you need to cover a lot of ground and Ant-Man, to its additional credit, doesn’t waste much time in getting to the goods…but it’s a cheap-o undertaking and one that feels like a second-string entry in Marvel’s blockbuster universe.  Paul Rudd makes for a surprisingly solid action lead as does Corey Stoll as Rudd’s nemesis, but Evangeline Lilly labors too much under her severe wig (that seems to change lengths multiple times, in the middle of scenes) and isn’t a good enough actress to carry some weighty responsibilities.  A decent entry as far as Marvel films go…but I’m not clamoring for a sequel any time soon.

                                                         Movie Review ~ Irrational Man
irrational_manThe Facts
:
Synopsis: A tormented philosophy professor finds a will to live when he commits an existential act.
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem, Ethan Phillips, Sophie von Haselberg
Director: Woody Allen
Rated: R
Running Length: 96 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: It happens every year and every year you never quite know what to expect.  I’m speaking, of course, of the annual Woody Allen release and like many of the directors works, it’s a hit or miss affair.  I’m constantly in awe that Allen has churned out a film a year (sometimes two a year) for the last three decades and even the really bad ones aren’t as terrible as the other dreck dumped on us during the summer.  Last year Magic in the Moonlight was dismissed as too slight even for Allen but I enjoyed its frothy charm…something that was missing from the more serious-minded Irrational Man.  As a boozy professor that gets into hot water in his New England college town, Joaquin Phoenix was perhaps the wrong choice because the actor plagues himself far too much for Allen’s light material. At least co-star Emma Stone helps keep Phoenix from the quicksand of his own creation but she can’t be in every scene and it’s when Phoenix is on his own that the film goes slack.  Then there’s Parker Posey who I’m becoming convinced is simply not of this earth and doesn’t try to hide it anymore.  Bizarre line readings and the tendency to let her mouth hang open are only the tip of Posey’s strange acting iceberg. Very much in line with the dark humor of Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Irrational Man should hold your interest for a time but it’s quickie ending feels like Allen was ready to move on to his next film rather than put a period at the end things.

                                                            Movie Review ~ Trainwreck
trainwreckThe Facts
:
Synopsis: Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy.
Stars: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser, LeBron James, Method Man
Director: Judd Apatow
Rated: R
Running Length: 125 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: One of the true success stories of the summer has to have been Amy Schumer, not so much for writing and starring in Trainwreck but the collective impact she’s had on the comedy scene.  Unapologetic in her crassness and wise in her observations, Schumer is a comic moving like a shooting star and it’s nice to report that I think she’s a pretty decent actress as well. As much as I enjoy Schumer I was nervous that she was attaching herself to director Judd Apatow because Apatow, as we all know, has a way of turning in muddled work.  Unfortunately, Apatow’s influence led the film to be about 20 minutes longer than it needed to be and ultimately overstaying its welcome.  I don’t care what anyone says about the appearance of LeBron James as a bona fide supporting player, his entire storyline should have been excised and the film wouldn’t have suffered at all.  The problems get worse because Apatow likes to cast non-actors in his film and put in cameos when you least expect it…to the detriment of the flow of the narrative.  He stumbles badly in several places here but is saved by Schumer and Bill Hader as the opposites attract duo that confidently lead the film.  Special mention must, again, be made to Tilda Swinton for disappearing within her role as Schumer’s glam yet grim boss.  Worth it for Schumer, Swinton, and Hader…but watch it at home so you can fast forward through the slow Apatow-ish parts.

                                                           Movie Review ~ Mr. Holmes
mr_holmes_ver2The Facts
:
Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.
Stars: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Philip Davis, Milo Parker
Director: Bill Condon
Rated: PG
Running Length: 104 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  In reality, I probably should have given Mr. Holmes a more thorough review than I’m about to give here…but I have a feeling I’ll have a chance to discuss it more over the next few months because if all is right with the world Ian McKellen will find himself nominated in a few Best Actor categories during the end of the year awards round-up.  McKellen plays an aged Sherlock Holmes living in the country, attended to by a no-nonsense housekeeper (Laura Linney) and entertained by her young son. There’s actually three Holmes on display here as the present Holmes recalls two previous cases he was involved with that had an impact on his life.  With a smart script from Jeffrey Hatcher adapted from a popular novel, it’s directed with a mellow grandeur by Bill Condon.  Condon and McKellen scored before with the fascinating Gods and Monsters and here’s hoping they go the distance with this one too.  An interesting tidbit, at one point Holmes ventures out to see a Sherlock Holmes movie…and the actor playing Holmes on screen (Nicholas Rowe) played the detective in 1986’s fun frolic Young Sherlock Holmes.

                                                            Movie Review ~ Paper Towns
paper_townsThe Facts
:
Synopsis: A young man and his friends embark upon the road trip of their lives to find the missing girl next door.
Stars: Nat Wolff, Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith
Director: Jake Schreir
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 109 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  After The Fault in Our Stars became a runaway hit last summer movie studios were looking for the next big alt-teen romance that could lure YA audiences away from summer action flicks.  Turns out they didn’t have to look far because Paper Towns was adapted from the novel by the same author as The Fault in Our Stars.  While Paper Towns doesn’t center around a disease that threatens to tear our lovebirds apart, it has its own mystery about it as Nat Wolff goes looking for his recently vanished neighbor (Cara Delevingne) that he’s been enamored with (or more like fascinated by) since they were children.  Following the clues she seemingly left for him, Wolff and his friends embark on a journey of discovery where they Learn Life Lessons.  The film kept my interest for most of the running length and it’s only in the final passages when all is explained does it feel a little like a letdown.  Still, there’s a smart air of riskiness that elevates the film and more often than not it lands on the good side of taking that risky step.

 

                                                                 Movie Review ~ Pixels
pixelsThe Facts
:
Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games.
Stars: Adam Sandler, Brian Cox, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad
Director: Chris Columbus
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: A movie where everyone involved should hang their head in shame.  There’s actually some semblance of a good idea here with aliens attacking earth with classic arcade games but unfortunately it gets trampled by Adam Sandler’s lazy acting, Kevin James bad acting, and Josh Gad’s awful everything.  Michelle Monaghan looks positively embarrassed to be sharing scenes (especially romantic ones) with Sandler and only Peter Dinklage comes out relatively unscathed in a campy, mullet wearing performance.  For fans of ‘80s nostalgia there are some pleasant diversions as video game characters pop up in (supposedly) comical ways and I think that director Chirs Columbus really did give the material a chance to be something interesting…but Sandler and his crew suck the life out of everything and are so devoid of any vested interest that you wonder why you should care at all either.

                                                            Movie Review ~ Southpaw
southpaw_ver2The Facts
:
Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track.
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Clare Foley, Miguel Gomez, Victor Ortiz, Rita Ora, Naomie Harris
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Rated: R
Running Length: 123 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: By now, we know that Jake Gyllenhaal is a smart actor.  With role after role from Prisoners to Nightcrawler to End of Watch we’ve seen that he’s up for most any challenge and likes to dive deep into his roles.  So it’s not surprising that he was drawn to this tale of redemption concerning a famous boxer at the top of his game dealt a series of terrible blows (in more ways than one) and his eventual path back to himself. What is surprising is that while the performances are very good you can’t get away from the fact that the story feels recycled and originally intended for a different set of lower string stars.  I’m always on the fence regarding Forest Whitaker but as the wise boxing manager that grudgingly comes to Gyllenhaal’s aid, the actor reminds us why he so deserved his Best Actor Oscar for The Last King of Scotland.  Also turning in a great performance in Rachel McAdams (The Vow) as Gyllenhaal’s high school sweetheart, mother of his daughter, and the only one that seems to have his best interest at heart.

Southpaw was also at the center of some controversy that arose this summer about movie trailers that give away too much of the film.  If you have seen the trailer for Southpaw you know what I’m talking about…if you haven’t, please go into the movie blind.  I had a faint idea what the spoiler was and even that made the first ¼ of the film much less involving.  Worth it for the performances but gets knocked out by an also-ran plot.

                                                              Movie Review ~ Samba
samba_ver7The Facts
:
Synopsis: Samba migrated to France ten years ago from Senegal, and has since been plugging away at various lowly jobs. Alice is a senior executive who has recently undergone a burn-out. Both struggle to get out of their dead-end lives. Samba’s willing to do whatever it takes to get working papers, while Alice tries to get her life back on track until fate draws them together.
Stars: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin, Isaka Sawadogo
Director: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Rated: R
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: Of all the movies I’m talking about in this wrap-up this is one I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’ve never heard of.  And you couldn’t be blamed because this barely made a blip on the usually forgiving art-house circuit.  From the star and directors of 2012’s dynamite The Intouchables comes this story of an immigrant man living in France who crosses paths with a burned out executive when the man is discovered to be an illegal alien.  Omar Sy (Jurassic World) and Charlotte Gainsbourg don’t have that much chemistry but in a weird way it works for the oddball romance that develops over the course of the film.  I never could get a real feel if the movie was a comedy, drama, or something in between…and neither could most of the people involved.  Slightly recommended but only if the plot or stars appeal to you.

That almost did it for July…but there was still one weekend to go!  Moving up several months from its planned December release, the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise had its brains in the right place but at times forgot to bring its brawn.  I still prefer Ghost Protocol to Rogue Nation but as long as star Tom Cruise keeps making these films interesting I’ll keep accepting future missions. Here’s hoping he brings along Rebecca Ferguson again because finally there is a female that is every bit a match to Cruise’s daring agent.

I wasn’t sold at all when I heard that Warner Brothers was planning on remaking National Lampoon’s Vacation but as time went on I heard more that it was more of a sequel than a reboot (resequel?) and I started coming around to the idea of a new Vacation.  I enjoyed Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as the hapless couple traveling cross-country with their children…but audiences and most critics didn’t.  It wasn’t a great movie and was probably too crude to be part of your Vacation marathons…but I have to say the worst part about it was when original stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo showed up.  Still, I’m hoping it made enough money to warrant a holiday themed sequel.  In any event…it’s a damn sight better than European Vacation.

Wow – July didn’t skimp on variety, did it?  Arguably the hottest month for releases, it carried over the promise of May and June and laid a path for August to do quite well…but could it top the three months that came before it?

STAY TUNED FOR AUGUST

CHECK OUT MAY & JUNE!

The Silver Bullet ~ Mr. Holmes

mr_holmes

Synopsis: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.

Release Date:  July 17, 2015

Thoughts: Let’s get excited for this one, shall we?  Though Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge) made a lovely Sherlock Holmes in two less than lovely big screen outings and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) has put his quirky stamp on the legendary detective via the BBC series, I’m quite interested to see Ian McKellan (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) give his take on an elderly Holmes.  McKellan re-teaming with his Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) is exciting enough but this early tease at July’s Mr. Holmes hints at a fine effort and I’m waiting with bated breath for the full trailer.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Music of the Heart

music_of_the_heart

The Facts:

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

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

Director: Wes Craven

Rated: PG

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-Day Mini ~ The Grifters

The Facts:

Synopsis: A small-time conman has torn loyalties between his estranged mother and new girlfriend–both of whom are high-stakes grifters with their own angles to play.

Stars: Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening, Pat Hingle

Director: Stephen Frears

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  In 1990 Angelica Huston played two very bad women.  In The Witches, Huston was delightfully over the top as the Grand High Witch that can’t stand children and while she doesn’t play a witch in The Grifters, her lack of a moral compass is just as chilling.  The performance rightfully earned her an Oscar nomination alongside Best Supporting Actress nominee Annette Bening in the movie that really put her on the map.  They are the mother and girlfriend of a two-bit con artist played well by John Cusack in this dark comedy noir by UK director Stephen Frears.  The three actors work some interesting cons along the way, with Bening in particular using her considerable assets to almost walk away with the movie.  Still, anytime Huston is on screen she rules the roost with her platinum hair and scheming plans.  With Donald E. Westlake adapting the slick film from a novel by Jim Thompson, this is a treasure chest of double crosses, dead bodies, and one very scary sack of oranges.