Movie Review ~ Spider-Man: Homecoming


The Facts
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Synopsis: Several months after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man.

Stars: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Zendaya Coleman, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: Another Spider-Man restage?  Really?  A big collective groan was heard from fanboys and girls around the world when Sony decided to reboot their prized web-slinger back in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man.  That film and its 2014 sequel (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), while solidifying the rising popularity of stars Andrew Garfield and Emma stone, never fully justified its back to the drawing board feel.  So when Marvel Studios came to Sony with an offer to join creative forces and bring Spidey into the Marvel universe where he belonged, it was an offer they really had no right to refuse.  Still, with a new superhero movie seemingly released every other week, did the world need to get to know Spider-Man all over again?

The answer, dear friendly neighborhood readers, was a resounding yes.  Spider-Man: Homecoming is just the reenergizing kick in the pants Marvel was needing after a string of well received but oddly bland sequels (Avengers: Age of Ultron) and iffy first outings (Doctor Strange, Ant-Man).  Best of all, it’s so tonally different than the original trilogy and recent two entries that it should keep fans of that canon at bay.  Even better news, it’s not an origin story!

If you missed either The Avengers, its sequel, or Captain America: Civil War like my movie mate did, you may be a little lost in the first moments of this new Spidey adventure.  The brief prologue recaps Spider-Man’s introduction to The Avengers in Civil War from his wide-eyed teenage perspective and quickly brings you up to speed while setting the whiz-bang pace at the same time.  It also lays the groundwork for why it’s main bad guy went so rogue.

After his brief foray into the superhero big leagues, Peter Parker (Tom Holland, The Impossible) gets grounded by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., The Judge, looking guiltier than ever at continuing to collect a paycheck) and put under the watchful eye of Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, Entourage) who quickly loses interest in the teen.  Not one to let his new heroic muscles go unstretched, Peter sets about “saving” residents of his Queens borough neighborhood, whether they like it or not.  Often causing more trouble than preventing it, Peter stumbles upon a group of thugs led by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, Need for Speed), all of whom are clearly up to no good.

A disgruntled former blue-collar union man, Toomes has used his skills and a few alien power sources he’s scrounged together to fashion a set of wings (complimented by a bad ass bomber jacket) that take him sky high.  As Peter gets closer to finding out the truth behind Toomes/The Vulture, he comes up against not only his most powerful villain yet but runs afoul of his ally Stark in the process.

At 133 minutes, there’s a lot to cram in and thankfully the large handful of credited screenwriters have decided to forgo retelling how Peter got his powers and waste little time with introductions.  This being a summer tentpole film for Sony and Marvel and in the wake of the critical and financial success of DC Comics stellar Wonder Woman, a lot was riding on this entry.  Those studio exces can breathe a sigh of relief because from the nicely drawn characters to several impressive action sequences, this is a film that constantly and consistently delivers the goods.

Director Jon Watts (Clown) joins a curious list of “out of the box” choices to direct a movie of this size.  Known for his work in independent films, it’s obvious from the small details Watts adds into the film (like including a bit of Japanese war history on the wall of an otherwise innocuous school official, giving even a minor character a backstory) that he was the right choice for the job.  It’s a fast, funny film that felt unpredictable even though it’s part of the most predictable genre being produced today.

Nailing down the perfect star to play Peter Parker was no small task but Sony struck gold with Holland who, though 21, feels like the first actor to successfully play a believable 15-year-old.  With Holland’s dance training (he was Billy Elliot in the London stage show) and his well-documented tremendous athleticism, he’s able to bring the character forward rather than get lost within the costume and pristine visual effects.  Sharing the screen with scenery chewers like Downey Jr. and Keaton isn’t for the faint of heart but Holland more than holds his own.

Speaking of Keaton, it’s such fun to see him play a bad guy. With his devilish grin and arched eyebrows, he gives Toomes a pulse along with ample brainwaves.  I always respond to villains that aren’t out to take over the world but to reclaim what they think was taken from them and Toomes joins a long list of Spider-Man foes that have personal reasons for going bad. Zendaya Coleman, Marisa Tomei (Love the Coopers), Jacob Batalon, and Laura Harrier round out the cast and all (but especially Batalon) make for a strong support system for Peter and the film.

With a few unexpected twists (there’s at least two reveals I didn’t see coming) and edge of your seat thrills that are sure to inspire furious popcorn munching, Spider-Man: Homecoming is worth your time and your attention.  If your Spidey senses aren’t tingling from the opening logos played over the old-school title tune, they will be once Holland and company get down to business.  This being a Marvel movie, you gotta stay until the very end for one of the more meta post credit sequences to date.

Movie Review ~ Sausage Party

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A sausage strives to discover the truth about his existence

Stars: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Salma Hayek, Edward Norton, David Krumholtz, Nick Kroll, Michael Cera, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Anders Holm, Paul Rudd, Danny McBride

Director: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: The team behind Sausage Party are funny guys…no, really, they are.  The trouble is, they have trouble with starring in movies that are actually…y’know…funny.  At least to me.  Saying this animated R-rated raunch fest is from the team that made 2013’s This is the End didn’t exactly inspire me to be counting down the days to its release.  If anything, it made me dread the day I had to sit in a theater and listen to Seth Rogen play a foul-mouthed but well-meaning hot dog looking to become one with a bun voiced by Kristen Wiig.

Maybe it was a wise choice for the folks behind the Sausage Party screening to give everyone over 21 a free drink because when the movie started my belly was warm with a concoction called Meat Juice (Jägermeister, Grapefruit Juice, Orange Juice, Soda, and Lime…overall as gross as it sounds) and I was feeling a nice little buzz.  It weakened my defenses, I think, because not only did I laugh harder than I thought I would but I wound up enjoying it for all of its surreally filthy fun.

It doesn’t take long for the first F-bomb to be dropped as a grocery store and its products awake for another day in paradise. In a 4th of July display, a package of hot dogs sits next to a bag of buns and wiener Frank (Rogen, The Guilt Trip) waxes vulgar of what he’d like to do to bun Brenda (Wiig, Ghostbusters). Anatomical questions aside, you just have to go with the fact that these food products are horned up, crude, and disarmingly pleasant even when spouting nasty thoughts.  I mean, when the main villain is a douche (literally) you have to step back and remember that you signed up for this one and love it for all its gross out rough edges.

Written by Rogen and three of his collaborators, the film becomes a journey of food understanding its place in the great circle of life and taking a stand against the “gods” (humans) that aren’t coming in to save them but to devour them.  Trust me, it will make your look at everything from bubble gum to toilet paper in a different light.  You’ll still use them…but once you’ve seen a face on a used prophylactic you just can’t return to the real world unscathed.

Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan have brought together a most impressive list of voice talent too.  In addition to Rogen & Wiig, there’s Salma Hayek (Savages), Edward Norton (The Grand Budapest Hotel), David Krumholtz (Hail, Caesar!), Nick Kroll (Vacation), Michael Cera, James Franco (Homefront), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Craig Robinson (Get On Up), Bill Hader (Inside Out), Anders Holm (The Intern), Paul Rudd (Wanderlust), and Danny McBride (Aloha).

A good 10 minutes too long, the film, um, climaxes with an orgy so grotesquely dirty that it makes the one in Caligula look like a trip down the yellow brick road.  That bravado in going so low is what made me respect the film and its creators because it takes more than a rude mind to get to the places that this one does.  It goes without saying that if you’re a parent and you bring your child to this you are absolutely terrible but adults looking for a summer comedy that actually provides laughs have found a feast.

Movie Review ~ Ghostbusters (2016)

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop an otherworldly threat.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, , Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong, Andy Garcia, Charles Dance, Michael Kenneth Williams

Director: Paul Feig

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3.5/10)

Review: I feel like every review of this female-led reboot of Ghostbusters should start out with a few honest admissions just to make sure we’re all on a level playing field.  To admit a bias or pre-conceived notion is not only helpful in understanding where someone is coming from but it allows readers to trust that their friendly neighborhood movie critic is a straight-shooter.  So…here we go.

  1. I’m not a huge fan of the original Ghostbusters from 1985 and even less so of its goofy 1989 sequel. Watching the film again last year for its 30th anniversary, I was struck by how slow the it was.  Enlivened by, ahem, spirited performances from Sigourney Weaver (Working Girl) and Rick Moranis (Parenthood), it just didn’t have the same effect on me it did when I first saw it as a five-year old.
  2. I am a huge fan of Kristen Wiig (The Martian) and have even almost forgiven her for that dreadful 2013 entry Girl Most Likely, which happened to land on the top of my Worst of the Year List.
  3. Though she almost lost me for life with Tammy, I’m converting back to being pretty fond of Melissa McCarthy thanks to her stellar turn in Spy and holding back just enough in The Boss.
  4. In my book, Leslie Jones (Trainwreck) can do no wrong and I’m waiting for her to headline of movie of her own.
  5. Kate McKinnon (Sisters) is the unquestionable VIP of the current cast of Saturday Night Live and I perk up every time she appears on that show.
  6. I had zero qualms about this film, its cast, its trailers, or its marketing.  I was looking forward to it.
  7. I went in rooting for it, choosing to brush aside the early bad buzz as the slime fueled so-called “Ghost Bros” jumped to tear it down at every turn.

And the most honest admission of all…

  1. This is not a great film or even, sad to say, a very good film. Is it watchable?  Yeah, for the most part.  Is it funny? Sporadically but it flops more than it flies. It’s not the worst reboot we’ve seen but it may be the most disappointing because the potential was there for something great.  How the extremely talented roster of Wiig, McCarthy, Jones, and McKinnon wound up teaming on something so flat, awkward, and stupid is the biggest mystery of the summer.

While a pre-credit opening feels like a nice nod to the original film, it’s saddled with a heap of clunker jokes that don’t inspire any laughter, much less any kind of confidence in what’s to come. Wiig is back to playing her favorite character…Awkward Lady in Heels but this time she’s added a stylishly bad haircut with bangs to cap off the look.  Her tenure-seeking professor is reluctantly brought back into the paranormal antics of her former colleague played by McCarthy.  McCarthy is eerily restrained here, like she’s been given a tranquilizer that renders her potty mouth squeaky clean and her boisterous comedic timing nonexistent.  While she does manage to fit in a few funny bits of physical comedy, this is McCarthy is full pod-person mode.  When she stares down a ghost and says “Aw, shoot!” my heart broke a little for the actress I’m positive had a profanity-rific alternate take for the same scene.

McCarthy’s character has teamed up with an eccentric nuclear engineer (McKinnon) to continue her study of the supernatural and drags Wiig back into the mix when they discover a crop of ghost sightings that may be brought on by a sinister force.  McKinnon is full-on Looney Tunes and what she’s doing may be just odd enough to distract you from the larger problems of the script from The Heat collaborators Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, it winds up being a performance extracted from another movie all together.  It’s a shame because for her first stab at mainstream popularity Feig has allowed McKinnon too much room to play and the movie suffers greatly from it.

By the time Jones shows up as a subway worker with a knack for NYC history, it just seemed too little too late. Even though Jones gets the best moments of the movie (most of which you’ve already seen in the trailer) she, like McCarthy, feels held back by an invisible force field.  Perhaps these magnetic ladies just repelled when they were brought together because while the film had some impressively rendered special effects, there’s little magic or chemistry to be had.

Evidently scared of alienating its male ticket-buyers, Sony decided to plop Chris Hemsworth (Vacation) on the poster with the four leads and that’s a bit of a puzzlement.  While Hemsworth has a substantial role as the dumber than mud bit of receptionist eye candy, he’s barely required to do more than struggle through a series of painfully unfunny scenes and lead a host of extras to a badly cut dance sequence that plays over the end credits.  Hemsworth, bless his Australian heart, has absolutely no comic timing and it left me wondering if the role wasn’t written with Channing Tatum in mind.

It’s no spoiler to say that most of the cast from the ’85 film pop up at some point playing different roles, even the late Harold Ramis makes a blink and you’ll miss it appearance.  While these appearances trigger some nostalgia, the actors are plopped into roles that don’t seem respectfully tailored for them in the least.  It’s like they told director Feig when they could show up and just took whatever part was available that day.  Surprisingly, Annie Potts gets one of the biggest audience reactions while Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson) makes a frightfully terrible presence in his two scenes.

Ghostbusters has taken a lot of early heat for what is perceived as male bashing.  True, every male in the film (living or dead) is portrayed as a combination of dumb and misogynistic, morally reprehensible slugs that just get in the way of these female Ghostbusters.  Hemsworth is seen as such a piece of meat it’s amazing he wasn’t covered in steak sauce.  So yeah, the men aren’t shown in the best of light but who cares?  Women are treated far worse in film and I guess some credit should go to Feig for making a career out of putting actresses in the power positions of his movies.

I can only imagine what this could have been had it not been so stripped of the kind of slam-dunk laughs that all parties involved could probably find in their sleep.  It was never going to be a profanity laced R-rated wonderment, not when there were kids to pander to and adults to not offend.  So instead of Feig and company truly rebooting the franchise and doing something new, this female Ghostbusters has just as many fart jokes, bad humor, and, for those that stay until the very end, a “God I hope they greenlight a sequel” desperation as any other male-driven studio film that gets released.

Movie Review ~ The Shallows

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.

Stars: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 87 minutes

Trailer Review: Here & Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Summer is in full swing and mere days after the 41st anniversary of Jaws, another big shark movie is making its way to your cinematic shores. Long regulated to schlocky SyFy Channel movies and its own week of programming on the Discovery Channel in late June, sharks just don’t get the kind of love they deserve. Here’s a perfect predator that we can easily stay away from if we didn’t love the ocean waters so much…but again and again we venture underwater with the threat of winding up a tasty snack for a mammoth fish.

As another Sharknado looms large on the horizon and with memories of the fun but ultimately forgettable shark flicks The Reef and Bait 3D on the brain, I had high hopes that The Shallows would deliver. It’s first trailer presented a nice tease while subsequent marketing materials disappointingly spilled some of the secrets that lurked beneath the surface. Feeling like I’d seen the whole movie in its final 2 ½ minute trailer I went into the screening less enthused but still curious.

The good news is that The Shallows is a competent, well-made, suspenseful thriller…as long as no one is talking. Which leads to the bad news. The script from Anthony Jaswinski has a solid set-up but so much awkward exposition that it takes a bigger bite out of our enjoyment than a great white shark ever could. For once, backstories don’t really matter at all to the forward motion of the plot but still Jaswinski feels the need to add extra characters and tangents that, had they been excised, would have left the film 10 minutes shorter and tighter overall.

But let’s party down a bit that the production values are high enough that not only do we get gorgeous underwater photography (for those of us remaining landlocked this summer) but an exceedingly believable gigantic swimming nemesis intent on chomping down on a nubile surfer chick. Said chick is Nancy (Blake Lively, Savages) and she’s come to a secluded beach in Tijuana Mexico as a tribute to her late mother who first visited the same beach while pregnant with her. Alone save for two local guys catching waves, she takes the day to remember her mom, think about her future, and surf the dangerous waters.

As the guys depart for the day, Nancy takes one last ride and that’s where her trouble starts and your nail-biting will commence. Getting too close to a whale carcass floating nearby, Nancy is struck by a Great White shark that doesn’t like anyone messing with his mealtime. Stranded on a rock that eventually will be submerged as the tide comes in, Nancy has to fight to stay afloat and out of the jaws of a very intelligent super predator.

Lively is the entire movie and the actress is engaging and engaged with the material, selling the stilted dialogue as best she can and doing it in bikini bottoms and half a wet-suit. Stuck without any weapons 200 yards from shore, she becomes incredibly resourceful as she plots her way off the rock while avoiding several shark attacks that get bolder with each passing hour. At 87 minutes, the film somehow manages to get more people into the water to become shark bait but sags ever so slightly whenever the shark’s presence isn’t felt.

When the shark is onscreen the suspense is well maintained by director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop) who elicits some genuine surprise jolts when Lively’s fishy co-star swims into frame. A tense final act leads to a finale that, I must admit, was supremely satisfying and well-earned. An epilogue hastily filmed less than two months ago feels unnecessary and doesn’t send you out on the thrilling high note it could have had it called it quits at the true climax of the film.

On the way out of the screening my movie-going companion jokingly asked me if I thought The Shallows was better than Jaws. I didn’t dignify that with a response then, nor will I here…but I can easily recommend The Shallows for the shark-loving film goer.

Hasta La Vista…Summer (July)

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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!

Hasta La Vista…Summer (May)

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Hasta

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

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

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

May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAY TUNED FOR JUNE, JULY, and AUGUST!

The Silver Bullet ~ Aloha

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Synopsis: A celebrated military contractor returns to the site of his greatest career triumphs and re-connects with a long-ago love while unexpectedly falling for the hard-charging Air Force watchdog assigned to him.

Release Date: May 29, 2015

Thoughts: Had I not known before seeing this first look at Aloha who wrote and directed it, I can honestly say that I would have said to myself “Wow, this looks like a Cameron Crowe film…” and that says something about the type of movie Crowe is known for making. For his eighth film (and first in four years after the disappointing We Bought a Zoo), Crowe appears to have returned to the type of storytelling that first put him on the map.  In the first trailer for Aloha you can tell that he’s created real people, not some focus-group tested summary of average humans. And what about that cast? Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) and Emma Stone () are Oscar nominated red hot A-Listers with stars in an unparalleled ascent, joined by the likes of Rachel McAdams (The Vow), John Krasinksi (Big Miracle), Alec Baldwin (Still Alice), and the always interesting (if eternally grumpy) Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom). Originally referred to as The Untitled Hawaii Project, then Deep Tiki (shudder to think!) before blessedly settling into its current Hawaiian moniker, this could easily wind up in the saccharine melodrama bin…but I get the feeling Crowe has a warm welcome waiting for audiences.           

Movie Review ~ Sex Tape

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The Facts:

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

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

Director: Jake Kasdan

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Silver Bullet ~ Captain Phillips

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Synopsis: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

Release Date:  October 11, 2013

Thoughts: Maybe it’s just me but I think that at nearly three minutes this trailer is way too long and is heavy on giving away some major plot points right off the bat.  True, if you read the description or are familiar with the true life story you know what you’re getting into and what the resolution was but there’s something to be said for keeping your cards close to the chest.  Director Paul Greengrass (United 93) has the proven experience to be the right guy to helm a picture like this but I’m not yet sold on Tom Hanks (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Cloud Atlas, Splash) in a role that looks to be chosen mostly for Oscar potential (same goes for his other 2013 film, Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks).  Reservations aside, the final moments of this trailer did make me sit forward in my seat a little bit more…here’s hoping when Captain Phillips is released in October that it’s not waterlogged.

The Silver Bullet ~ Grown Ups 2

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Synopsis: After moving his family back to his hometown to be with his friends and their kids, Lenny finds out that between old bullies, new bullies, schizo bus drivers, drunk cops on skis, and 400 costumed party crashers sometimes crazy follows you.

Release Date:  July 12, 2013

Thoughts: Grudgingly, I’ll admit that when I caught the original Grown Ups at a second-run movie theater I liked it more than I thought I would.  A few years later, I’m confident that I’m over these types of lame-brained comedies from lame-brains Adam Sandler, David Spade, and director Dennis Dugan (other stars Kevin James and Chris Rock get a pass…for now).  This summer releasing sequel looks like more of the same antics so chances are I’ll wait on this one to see if lightning can strike twice at the discount movie houses.