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20 October 2014
The Following Preview is for a Film Opening Next Week - Movie Reviews for Kids

I used to love movie trailers. But that was before the studios decided to turn them into mini-movies which give away way too much of the film. And now we're getting multiple trailers of the same movie, making things even worse. I've been complaining about this problem for years now, and the situation is not getting any better. Studio marketing departments see trailers as a great way to generate buzz and sell tickets, and they've recently begun using some new strategies, which you may or may not have noticed.

It wasn't that long ago that when you went to the movies there would only be three or four trailers, all of them usually in the same genre, relating to the film you were about to see. And these "previews" would be for movies opening weeks, even months, in the future. But now that's changed. These days, when it comes to trailers, anything goes.

The number of trailers now shown has doubled, even tripled in some parts of the country. I've been "treated" to as many as 10 on more than one occasion. At an average of two and a half minutes each, that could mean up to 25 extra minutes tacked-on to the time spent in your seat before the feature begins.

And there doesn't seem to be any rules anymore concerning genre. I've seen trailers for big, intense action films prior to family movies, and romantic comedy previews in front of dramas. The "Annabelle" trailer did not go over well with the 60+ year-old Denzel Washington crowd at "The Equalizer" screening I was at earlier this month. Theater chains used to be careful about this. Not anymore.

And another new trend is showing trailers for movies that are coming out the following week. This never happened in the past. At the screening of "Fury" I attended last week there was a trailer for the Keanu Reeves action film "John Wick", which opens this week. So much for planning ahead.

It seems that studios and theaters have simply thrown away the rule book. They'll show practically any trailer for any film before any movie in hopes of getting even one new person interested in seeing that film.

I hope we never get to a time when there will be clips for "The Pyramid" prior to "Penguins of Madagascar", but the way things are going nothing would surprise me. If I wasn't so concerned about getting my ideal seat, I'd consider waiting outside in the lobby and only enter the theater after all the trailers were over. And that's sad...because I used to love movie trailers.

In Theaters

St. Vincent (PG-13) B-

St. Vincent (PG-13) B- - Movie Reviews for Kids

Comedy is Bill Murray's forte. From "Ghostbusters" to "Groundhog Day" and even "Garfield", Murray has made us laugh for decades. In 2003, he took a dramatic turn in "Lost in Translation", which earned him an Oscar nomination. Now, as a cranky old man in "St. Vincent" - his most buzzed-about role in over a decade - Murray proves that he can deliver the right mix of comedy and drama in this sweet, satisfying film.

Murray's Vincent lives with his cat in a small house in Brooklyn. He drinks, smokes, and regularly heads over to Belmont Park to bet the horses in hopes of hitting it big and fixing his financial problems. Vincent's crankiness grows with the arrival of his new next-door neighbors: Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her young son Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). Maggie is going through a separation with her husband and has left him to start fresh with her son. She's a hospital tech and works long hours, often into the evening. So she needs an after school "babysitter" for Oliver and Vincent needs the $11 an hour, so he becomes the guy. The relationship between this unlikely pair is the heart and soul of the film.

And "St. Vincent" does have heart, and a little soul, but it's hurt by a story that's way too simple. Cliche situations and characters dominate the script, which includes very few surprises. This is a movie that's solely dependent on the performances, and Murray is in top form, though I don't see him getting much awards attention because the film itself is very light. He and Lieberher are a likeable pair as characters and actors. The 11 year old has great screen presence and holds his own with the veteran cast. McCarthy, known for her outrageous, over-the-top roles, tones it way down here and is genuinely believable as the overwhelmed, frustrated and caring mother. And the always hilarious Chris O'Dowd ("Bridesmaids", "The Sapphires") has some shining moments as Oliver's Catholic elementary school teacher.

There are some subplots involving supporting characters that don't work nearly as well. Naomi Watts plays Vincent's "companion", a pregnant "Lady of the Night", complete with a not-so-convincing Russian accent. And Terrence Howard pops-in for a few scenes, as part of an unnecessary storyline.

"St. Vincent" starts promising with some big laughs and clever moments. It then flattens out, taking on a more conventional "dramedy" tone before an effective and sentimental conclusion. We're left with an overall message about people not always being what they seem, and that's fine, though I was expecting something a little stronger.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "St. Vincent" gets a B-.

The Book of Life (PG) C+

The Book of Life (PG) C+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

"The Book of Life" is Reel FX Animation Studios' follow-up to last year's Thanksgiving-themed comedy "Free Birds". Here the studio takes-on a different holiday with the help of producer Guillermo del Toro and visionary director Jorge Gutierrez, as "The Book of Life" breathes new life into the Mexican fiesta - The Day of the Dead.

Gutierrez uses a clever device - having the story not only narrated, but designed around a group of school kids visiting a museum. Mary Beth, their tour guide (voiced by Christina Applegate) takes them to a special section of the museum where she unveils the The Book of Life, and proceeds to tell them the epic saga of three childhood friends living in Mexico - two boys and a girl. Young Manolo and Joaquin are both in love with the lovely Maria. When she is forced by her father to attend boarding school in Spain, the boys promise to wait for her to return.

The rulers of the two afterlife worlds - the kind and beautiful La Muerte of The Land of the Remembered (home of the dead who the living still think about) and the evil Xibalba of The Land of the Forgotten (for those who die and are forgotten), make a wager on which boy will end-up marrying Maria when she comes back home.

Years later Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) has become a proud and powerful soldier, as his father once was, willing to protect the small town from invaders. Manolo (Diego Luna) has also followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a bullfighter. But his true passion is music. When Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana) finally returns, she is pressured into making a choice between the two suitors. But things get complicated when Xibalba, worried he's about to lose the bet, decides to interfere, sending Manolo on a wild journey that tests his courage and determination to win Maria's hand.

"The Book of Life" is a comedy, a spiritual adventure, and a musical. But above all, it's a love story. The film moves along at such a frantic pace that, at times, it's difficult to keep-up with all the dialogue and the frenetic action. There are a lot of attempts at humor, including plenty of goofy characters and situations. Much of it doesn't work, but there are a few bright spots, including the students, who pop in and out throughout the film and Ice Cube, who appears late as the mighty Candle Maker.

By far the best thing about "The Book of Life" is the remarkably gorgeous CGI. You could argue that "The Book of Life" has now written its own chapter in The Book of Beautiful Movie Animation. The characters in this "story within a story" are designed as marionette puppet-like toy figures, each with a specific look that makes it unique, vibrant and extremely fun, especially for a young audience. And The Land of the Remembered is a visual wonderland of fantastic images and brilliant colors. And there are several basic but very sweet and effective songs.

"The Book of Life" is rated PG for some mild action/violence and dramatic elements, mostly dealing with the concepts of death and the afterlife in inventive and appropriate ways. While the script isn't on the same level as the best of Pixar, DreamWorks, or Sony Animation, the film has a big heart, providing a look at this culture and its emphasis on family and true love. This is a solid, a pre-Halloween choice for families and a must for anyone who wants to see how imagination and talent can produce the next great accomplishment in the animation art form.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Book of Life" gets a C+.

Fury (R) B

Fury (R) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Fury" is one of the bloodiest, saddest, and most authentic-looking war movies in recent years. Director David Ayer ("End of Watch") holds nothing back in depicting the gritty ugliness of WWII through a five man tank platoon assisting the Allies in finishing-off the Nazis in 1945 Germany.

Brad Pitt, who won his first Academy Award earlier this year as a producer of Best Picture winner "12 Years a Slave", stars as Captain Don "Wardaddy" Collier. He leads a crew of skilled soldiers: Boyd (Shia LaBeouf), Trini (Michael Pena), and Grady (Jon Bernthal from "The Wolf of Wall Street"). Their fifth member has just been killed in battle as the story begins. He's replaced by a new recruit named Norman ("Percy Jackson"'s Logan Lerman), who was trained for a desk job, not to kill Germans. But that's exactly what he's now forced to do under the direction of a leader he initially despises, but will learn to follow as he and his "band of brothers" try to play a major role in helping end the war as soon as possible.

Ayer, who also wrote the script, takes time in building the tension and suspense, first allowing us to get to know these characters. Pitt's Collier is a complex man. He leads the others with confidence and wastes no time turning a frightened Norman into a soldier who will shoot Nazis on sight. However, there are moments when the captain is shown away from the action, reflecting on everything that's taking place, possibly questioning his methods and the madness of it all. We see, simply through his facial expressions, that none of this is easy for him.

"Fury" is two hours and 15 minutes, which gives each scene the space to develop. But it feels shorter, and only drags briefly during the extended scene involving the soldiers and two German women they encounter in a town they've just secured that, while long, shows a brief glimpse of humanity during this period of evil and chaos before reality returns. It's a difficult scene to watch, with some heartbreaking moments, and features Lerman's best work. He and Pitt are the centerpieces of the film, and they share some moving exchanges. The script includes some religious themes and symbolism, which adds to its strong emotional strength. Eventually we get a typical Hollywood showdown ending, pitting the five Americans against a group of three hundred German soldiers. Fortunately, Ayer is able to pull-off a conclusion that's anything but phony.

For intense violence, including many disturbing images and strong language, "Fury" is easily one of the hardest R-rated action films of 2014. It's also a far departure from Sony's other 2014 WWII drama, "The Monuments Men". That film's tone was way too light for the subject matter. "Fury" is right on target: mature, straightforward and meaningful.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Fury" gets a B. For once, I suggest you leave the theater when the closing credits begin because they feature a series of grim, bizarre images of the war, in blood-red, with music out of a horror movie. They convey a tone which would have been much more appropriate for the beginning of the movie than the end.

Whiplash (R) B+

Whiplash (R) B+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Whiplash" is one of the great indie triumphs of the year. It is exhilarating and suspenseful - daring and dark, with two scintillating performances. Miles Teller ("The Spectacular Now") plays Andrew Neyman, a percussion student at the fictional and prestigious Schaffer School of Music in NYC. In his first semester at the school, Andrew is quickly noticed by the school's top teacher, Mr. Fletcher, who is also the conductor of Schaffer's most important group - the competition jazz band. Fletcher decides to bring Andrew into his class.

Andrew has no idea what he's getting himself into. Initially, he, and the audience, think that Fletcher is simply strict. But what long-time character actor J.K. Simmons ("Juno", "The Closer") slowly and shockingly unveils is a persona of Fletcher as a man who is obsessed with the power and control he has over his students - physically, mentally, and emotionally abusing them with his relentless demands of perfection. He is ruthless in his words and actions, instilling fear in every member of the band, who know that if they screw-up they're out, and their dreams of a career in music could be shattered. And Fletcher decides to push Andrew - hard, escalating as the film progresses, to the breaking point. Their relationship is made up of Blood, Sweat, and Tears...and then some.

But yet, this is not simply the story of a bully teacher and his student. Writer/director Damien Chazelle makes sure to portray Andrew not as a victim, but a willing participant. He is extremely ambitious and cocky. He wants to become one of the all-time greats, and believes he has the talent and drive to get there. He dumps a new girlfriend, has no social life, except for occasional trips to the movies with his dad (the totally authentic Paul Reiser), who can see what's happening to his son, but is helpless to stop it.

As "Whiplash" turns into a high-stakes battle between teacher and pupil it's impossible to take your eyes off the screen. The jazz music performed by the band (which, in some ways, is a character in the story) is tremendous. There are elements of the story that push the believability of Andrew's obsession a little too far, but overall, how Chazelle is able to craft a psychological thriller out of this simple, off-beat premise, is one of the best cinematic accomplishments of the year.

And, above it all, it's the work of Simmons and Teller that make "Whiplash" a must-see. Teller does most of the on-camera drumming himself, while also handling a highly emotional dramatic role. As for Simmons - this is one of those roles that actors, especially those who never enjoyed the spotlight, can only dream of. It's amazing that the 59-year old will likely go from being the Farmers' Insurance TV commercial guy to an Oscar nominee a few months from now. He captivates the screen like a lion, ferociously feasting on his prey. The final 30 minutes of "Whiplash" is a powerhouse jammed with amazing music, intriguing mind games, and superb surprises. It's no wonder this film won both the Audience Award and Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. As an encore, a Best Picture nomination is not out of the question.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Whiplash" gets a B+.

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"Gone Girl" review

What's Next?
Best @ the Box Office
  1. Fury $23.5M
  2. Gone Girl  $17.8
  3. The Book of Life $17.0
  4. Alexander/Very Bad Day $12.0
  5. The Best of Me  $10.2
  6. Dracula Untold  $9.9
  7. The Judge  $7.94
  8. Annabelle  $7.93
  9. The Equalizer  $5.5
  10. The Maze Runner  $4.5
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