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01 July 2016
10 Best Performances of 1st-Half of 2016  - Movie Reviews for Kids

Believe it or not, we're already into the second half of the year. 2016 is flying by. As always, January-June has produced its fair share of clunkers, but there have been some shining, powerful films as well. On the acting front, work from some Hollywood heavyweights and rising stars is well-worth recognizing. In alphabetical order (5 males and 5 females) here are my picks for The 10 Best Performances of The First Half of 2016:

Josh Brolin - "Hail, Caesar!"
As 1950s movie studio fixer Eddie Mannix, Brolin was the glue that held this Coen Bros. comedy together.

Emilia Clarke - "Me Before You"
In the year's best film to date, the "Game of Thrones" star packs a tremendous wallop of emotion into the role of caretaker Louisa Clark.

Taron Egerton - "Eddie the Eagle"
The "Kingsman" actor is quite believable as the real-life Olympic ski jumper and has nice rapport with Hugh Jackman, who plays his (fictionalized) coach.

Jennifer Garner - "Miracles from Heaven"
As the mom of a special little girl, Garner embodies the passion all parents feel about children - and never loses her faith.

John Goodman - "10 Cloverfield Lane"
As a monster (of sorts) in the sci-fi spinoff, this impressive performance has gotten the most early Awards Season online buzz.

Ginnifer Goodwin - "Zootopia"
In my universe, voice performances count just as much as live-action ones. And Goodwin's range as bunny Judy Hopps is incredible.

Angourie Rice - "The Nice Guys"
The 15-year-old Aussie actress holds her own opposite Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in the 70s crime caper.

Susan Sarandon - "The Meddler"
Career-best work as the mourning and complicated Marnie - the cinematic version of writer/director Lorene Scafaria's mom in her tribute indie.

Michael Shannon - "Elvis & Nixon"
In the most overlooked film of '16 so far, Shannon's work as The King of Rock 'N Roll is funny, honest and thought-provoking.

J.K. Simmons - "The Meddler"
A much calmer role than his Fletcher in "Whiplash", the Oscar winner is effectively sweet and charming as Marnie's guitar-playing love interest, Zipper.

Honorable Mentions: Michael Fassbender ("X-Men: Apocalypse"), Sally Field ("Hello, My Name is Doris"), Jake Gyllenhaal ("Demolition"), Stephan James ("Race")

In Theaters

Independence Day: Resurgence (PG-13) D-

Independence Day: Resurgence (PG-13) D- - Movie Reviews for Kids

I watched 1996's blockbuster "Independence Day" for the first time just a few weeks ago to prep myself for the "Resurgence". When "ID" came-out 20 years ago, Will Smith was establishing himself as "The World's Biggest Movie Star", a career move the two-time Oscar nominee recently admitted he now regrets making. But unlike his fellow cast members and director Roland Emmerich, Smith decided not to return for the sequel, opting for "Concussion" and "Suicide Squad" instead. While he likely would've been a strong presence alongside returnees Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch and Vivica A. Fox, Smith made a very smart decision. "Independence Day: Resurgence" is easily one of the most mindless, pointless movie sequels of all-time.

The one sentence plot summary: The Aliens are Back - and the world must be saved...again. This time they arrive on a ship that, as Goldblum's scientist David Levinson (one of the heroes of the original) notes, is "bigger than the last one". And their timing is impecable: it's the 4th of July - exactly two decades after Round One. Apparently, our Reconstructionist Period following the first war was evolutionary and revolutionary, as the world has established a highly-efficient, futuristic society, in which all people and nations get along peacefully (talk about Science Fiction). And the U.S. is in charge of the intergalactic defense system, which is supposed to prevent any new visits by space invaders. That was money well spent.

Emmerich aims for a "Star Wars"/"Star Trek" vibe with a youthful new crew of fighter pilots taking to the skies to battle the aliens. They're led by Jake (Liam Hemsworth from "The Hunger Games") and Dylan (Jessie T. Usher), the son of Smith's character. The young guns work together with veterans from the first attack, including ailing former President Whitmore (Pullman), who remarks, "We always knew they were coming back".

For two hours we watch as the world, once again, is crumbled into a trillion pieces. The effects actually look less believable now than they did in '96 (those visuals won an Oscar). The alien creatures are so traditionally, disgustingly typical, making one wonder why they haven't evolved in 20 years. A scene in which the Queen chases a school bus full of children in the middle of the desert is one of the most memorable of 2016 so far - for all the wrong reasons.

One tiny element I enjoyed was having Hirsch back as Julius, David's father. In the original "ID", the scientist credits his dad for coming-up with the idea that saves the world. So Julius wrote a book called, How I Saved the World - and he's very proud of his accomplishments, though the book isn't exactly a best-seller at the senior center.

Otherwise, I can't say I enjoyed any part of "Independence Day: Resurgence". The dialogue is extremely cheesy, a couple of goofy male supporting characters are completely unnecessary, and it's impossible to get emotionally attached to anyone. Also, in an attempt to lay the foundation for the next "ID", Emmerich spends much of the movie killing-off main characters. No spoilers, but let's just say this was not a good time to be a parent.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Independence Day: Resurgence" gets a D-. Thankfully, we all have the freedom to choose which movies we go to see. Stand-up and celebrate that freedom - by avoiding this disaster.

The Shallows (PG-13) C

The Shallows (PG-13) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

In 1975, a young director named Steven Spielberg created a phenomenon - and the idea of the “Summer Blockbuster”, with a film about a Great White with an appetite for swimmers. Now, 41 years later, Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who’s done three Liam Neeson action/thrillers in a row - with another on the way) has made a Shark Attack movie for a new generation. But not even having blonde bombshell Blake Lively in the lead role can rescue “The Shallows” from the Jaws of mediocrity.

Lively plays Nancy, a surfer and former medical student who travels to Mexico from her family home in Texas to find the favorite beach of her mother, who recently died of cancer. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, and several slow-motion surfing montages early-on are quite effective.

But soon - paradise turns into peril. While she’s in the water alone, a shark pulls Nancy under and nearly chomps-off one of her legs. She’s able to swim to a temporary safety spot - the surface of a large, dying whale - but she’s losing a lot of blood and desperately needs help. With no food, a swimsuit as the only item of clothing, and no ability to contact anyone, Nancy is forced to match wits with the shark, which is circling, waiting to strike again…with the shore - and her cell phone - only 200 yards away.

There are only around a dozen credited cast members in “The Shallows” and most have very minor roles. My two personal favorites are “Drunken Man” (and, boy, does he earn that title) and “Sully ‘Steven’ Seagull”. That’s right - when Nancy makes it onto a rock, she’s befriended by a bird who was also injured by the shark. Yeah - it’s as corny as it sounds.

However, without Senor Seagull, “The Shallows” would’ve been even shorter than its breezy 87-minute runtime. The best moments come in the second half hour, with Lively’s physically-demanding performance on full display. And there are a few decent surprise shark appearances (no dramatic John Williams music required).

But this is a very simple Point A to Point B story, providing little in the way of fresh meat to the formula and hardly any bite. Someone, during the making of “The Shallows”, needed to stand-up and say “I think we’re gonna need a better script”.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Shallows” gets a Sea (C).

Central Intelligence (PG-13) D+

Central Intelligence (PG-13) D+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

I'm not sure what the problem is: Kevin Hart is a very funny guy. He's a great storyteller in his stand-up comedy routines. He's highly entertaining on his talk show appearances. But when it comes to movies, while Hart is a box office draw and an incredible marketer, the results continue to be very disappointing. A lot has to do with the fact that the roles he's taken have given him NOTHING to do.

He's played the same wisecracking sidekick/partner in nearly all of his films: "Think Like a Man", "Ride Along 1&2", "Get Hard", "Grudge Match", "Top Five" (which was little more than a cameo) and even "The Wedding Ringer" (in which he received top billing). And in "Central Intelligence" we get more of the same - with similar, mediocre results. 

Dwayne Johnson is also extremely talented. Thanks to some spot-on roles in both action and family films in recent years he's been able to make people forget he once was a WWE star - and has become a legitimate movie star. But, to be honest, Johnson seems to play the same character in most of his movies, as well. He's the good guy ladies man with the million-dollar smile and physique, who can also kick some serious butt.

And there's no arguing that these guys are two of the hardest working celebrities in show business, with multiple projects going on at all times - that they are constantly promoting on their multiple platforms. But all that hard work and promotion goes to waste when it's spent on something like "Central Intelligence".

This spy action comedy isn't the dullest movie of 2016 so far, only because the two leads keep you hoping throughout the course of the two hours that some big laughs are coming. It's not crude or offensive, staying away from the current "adult" action comedy genre. The one word that best describes "Central Intelligence" is FLAT. 

It's clear from their first of many long, drawn-out present-day scenes (following a decent flashback set-up) that Johnson and Hart just don't gel on screen. The large tough guy/short funny guy combo that likely sold this film in the pitch meeting fails miserably. These two are paired-up again in next year's "Jumanji" reboot, which also stars Jack Black. I'm less than optimistic.

Another major problem here is the script, which is messy, overly complicated and highly based on coincidence. It takes nearly half the movie to get to the point where Bob (Johnson) officially reveals to former high school classmate and current accountant Calvin (Hart) that he's in the CIA. But Bob may not really be who he says he is, and there are several third-party sources (in the form of paper-thin characters played by Amy Ryan, Jason Bateman and Aaron Paul) who interfere with Calvin and Bob's plans to retrieve satellite codes to prevent a nuclear attack.

Johnson's Bob is extremely annoying, regardless of whether you believe he's actually an agent. Hart only has a couple of decent lines reacting to the situation he's been placed in, and his shtick gets old quickly. "Central Intelligence" is packed with multiple scenes containing huge stretches of Johnson and Hart simply talking to each other which produce absolutely NO LAUGHS. It appears that much of the dialogue may have been ad-libbed, which would account for the lack of humor. The action scenes are mildly entertaining, but provide no suspense, and the many attempts at spoofing the spy genre are far from original.

A surprise cameo in the finale is welcome, but the scene itself is way too goofy. And this film, once again, proves my theory that when directors (in this case Rawson Marshall Thurber ("Dodgeball", "We're the Millers") know they've made an unfunny comedy, they add bloopers to the closing credits in an attempt to have the audience to go home laughing about something. Here we get three minutes of Hart and Johnson slapping each other - but we feel the pain.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Central Intelligence" gets a D+.

Finding Dory (PG) B

Finding Dory (PG) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

2003’s “Finding Nemo” is a Pixar classic. Fans knows it inside and out - from the jarring opening scene to “Just Keep Swimming”. Now, 13 years later, director Andrew Stanton dives back under the sea to tell a new tale - “Finding Dory” -  which is better that it could’ve been, but not nearly as inspired or inspiring as the original.

Set one year after the events of “Nemo”, “Dory” begins with the very basic set-up: the short-term memory loss blue tang fish (voiced again by Ellen DeGeneres) remembering her parents for the first time in a long time, and deciding to set-out to look for them.

She’s joined, at the start, by Nemo and, reluctantly, his dad Marlin, who states, “Crossing the ocean should only be done once.” Albert Brooks has some of the best lines in the script, expressing his feelings towards being part of another epic adventure and his sometimes strained relationship with Dory.

The trio ends-up at a marine life aquarium center in California, where we’re introduced to a host of new characters, including a septopus named Hank, Bailey the Beluga Whale, and a whale shark named Destiny. The story unfolds through its main character, as she remembers bits and pieces of her youth with mom and dad (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). The flashback scenes are pitch-perfect on the emotional scale, making “Dory” Pixar’s most moving film since “Toy Story 3”.

However, “Dory” does drag in spots, with Thomas Newman’s familiar and friendly score soothing your way back into the momentum. Having Dory placed center stage, she’s allowed to exude her bubbly personality, but the character doesn’t have as much of an overwhelming presence as in “Nemo”, and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, an extravagant, over-the-top finale forces “Finding Dory” to lose some of its charm. This climax wasn’t Pixar’s original concept, and you can tell. Their first idea - set in a Sea World-esque theme park - was scrapped following the release of the documentary “Blackfish”.

The title “Finding Dory” isn’t as simple to interpret as “Finding Nemo”, as Dory not only seeks to find her family, but also herself. When the film, with its solid voice work and visual splendor, stays on target, it works as an acceptable companion to its cherished predecessor.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Finding Dory” gets a B.

Pixar's latest short, "Piper", about a baby sandpiper and his mother, uses the same excellent nature/background animation techniques as "The Good Dinosaur", but its story is so simple and underdeveloped that it is instantly forgettable. 

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"Finding Dory" review

What's Next?
  • "The Legend of Tarzan" - Today
  • "The BFG" - Today
  • "The Secret Life of Pets" - July 8
  • "Mike & Dave/Wedding" - July 8
  • "The Infiltrator" - July 13
  • "Ghostbusters" - July 15
Best @ the Box Office
  1. "Finding Dory"  $73.2M
  2. "Independence Day 2"  $41.6
  3. "Central Intelligence"  $18.4
  4. "The Shallows"  $16.7
  5. "Free State of Jones"  $7.8
  6. "The Conjuring 2"  $7.7
  7. "Now You See Me 2"  $5.7
  8. "X-Men: Apocalypse"  $2.5
  9. "Ninja Turtles: Shadows"  $2.4
  10. "Alice/Looking Glass"  $2.1
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LCJ and Ken Jeong

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