Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart in a buddy comedy should equal gold. But with "Get Hard" the result is the exact opposite. In fact, even though it attempts to play it tough with a Hard-R tone, it's actually quite light and wimpy - often not even trying to make us laugh.
The premise itself is pretty weak: Ferrell plays James King, a multi-millionaire stock market tycoon who's arrested for fraud and sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison. He knows he won't survive behind bars, so he hires Darnell (played by Hart) who's been cleaning his car for two years, to teach him how to be tough so he can defend himself against other inmates.
Why Darnell?: Because he's Black, and because James is racist, he assumes that Darnell has been to prison before. Of course he hasn't - but he makes believe he has because he needs the $30,000 James is paying him so he can move his wife and daughter out of the bad neighborhood they live in.
"Get Hard" was screened at the SXSW Film Festival, and Etan Cohen (the writer of "Tropic Thunder" and "Men in Black 3", who makes his feature film directorial debut here) was blasted in a Q&A for all of the racist and homophobic jokes, stereotypes and profiling in the film.
And while all of that is true, his biggest crime is that nothing in "Get Hard" is remotely funny. The credits say a screenplay was written, but I find it hard to believe. Each scene is staged in a surprisingly straight-forward fashion, and Ferrell and Hart seem to be ad-libbing all of their lines. Ferrell's proven by now he isn't funny without a script, and Hart has nothing to play-off of. I kept waiting for a great exchange - and then gave-up.
"Get Hard" is charged with multiple crimes including a bland storyline, invisible direction, offensive material, and stealing millions of dollars from moviegoers all over the country. Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Hart should think long and hard about the next projects they take.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Get Hard" gets an F.
"Divergent", released exactly a year ago, was based on the first installment of a popular tween/teen book series about a female heroine in a post-apocalyptic world. Similarities were immediately made to "The Hunger Games", with "Divergent" having copycat concepts and lackluster big screen results in comparison. Interestingly, Lionsgate, which recently bought Summit Entertainment, is now the distributor of both franchises.
The star power for "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" has been ramped-up - with new cast members Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer and Daniel Dae Kim adding a little bite. And, thankfully, it is shorter than its predecessor by 20 minutes. There's also more energy this time with a few solid action scenes. But, once again, the overall pacing is very slow, and so the mediocre story is so stretched-out simply to fill time.
Kate Winslet is back as the evil Jeanine. She talks often in "Insurgent" about how coincidental and ironic it is that Tris (Shailene Woodley) is, once again, the main Divergent making her life miserable. Of course she is - she's the main character in the story! And there's plenty of hoopla involving the five Factions, the up-and-down romance of Tris and Four (who reveals that his name isn't really a number - which hilariously comes as a big shock to Tris), and the subplots with Tris' shy brother Caleb (played by Ansel Elgort, who Woodley fell in love with in "The Fault in Our Stars") and the good guy who may have become a bad guy, Peter (played by Miles Teller, who Woodley fell in love with in "The Spectacular Now").
The main storyline in "Insurgent" is that Jeanine needs Tris to open a box for her that contains an important message about the collapsing Faction system. But - another shocker - the box contains a "surprise" - except it's really no surprise as everyone knows how this is going to end (it's a sci-fi/futuristic version of a prequel to "Pandora's Box").
What is surprising is that "Insurgent" plays-out like a series ender. But unfortunately...it's not. There are two more films: Parts 1 and 2 of "Allegiant" are set for March releases over the next two years.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" gets a C-. And that may be a little "Indulgent".
"Run All Night" is the fourth action/thriller starring Liam Neeson to be released in the last 13 months. Jaume-Collet Serra directed Neeson 2011's underrated gem "Unknown" and last year's "Non-Stop". Both of those films provided intrigue, suspense and engaging storylines worthy of your full attention from the first frame to the last.
"Run All Night" is clearly the weakest of Serra's three colaborations with Neeson. The story, which is given away in the commercials and trailers, is played in a straightforward and unspectacular fashion. It's not a dull action film, but it doesn't provide the bite it should considering the star-power and resumes.
As it turns out "Run All Night" would've worked better had the main focus been the confrontation between old best friends turned bitter enemies - Jimmy Conlon (played by Neeson) and Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Their scenes together, including a pivotal one in an NYC restaurant, provide the tension and satisfaction that's lacking everywhere else.
But, instead, the main story centers on Jimmy's fractured relationship with his son Mike. "RoboCop"'s Joel Kinnaman doesn't provide much screen presence opposite Neeson. 99% of "Run All Night" takes place over the course of 16 hours, and it feels like it, especially in the first half. We spend an evening with Jimmy & Mike as they attempt to outrun Shawn and his henchmen, along with Detective Harding (a very good Vincent D'Onofrio) and the NYPD. Interestingly, most of "running" done on this night is via driving, not actual running.
The main supporting character in the mix is a hitman played by Common. I was expecting this guy to have some more layers, but a scene in which he and Neeson duke it out in a burning apartment complex is pretty entertaining. And, there's an uncredited cameo from a veteran Oscar-nominated actor late in the film that provides a little spark.
"Run All Night" is strong in the second half, but really needed a couple of legitimate twists to elevate the all-too-simple script. Neeson does his best to convince us he's a bad guy, but I kept waiting for him, at some point, to save everybody. I guess I'll have to wait until his next action role for that. Chances are I won't have to wait very long.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Run All Night" gets a C+.
Disney's animated "Cinderella" was released in 1950. Now, 65 years later, as part of The Mouse House's current trend of remaking/reimagining classics from the vault (which will continue over the next few years with new versions of "The Jungle Book", "Pete's Dragon" and "Beauty and the Beast"), veteran director Kenneth Branagh brings to life the latest live-action interpretation of the glass slipper story.
If this was the first version of "Cinderella" ever made, or if it's the first you've ever seen (which would most likely apply to a little one), it will blow you away. Branagh is able to take a tale most of us know by heart and transform it into a genuine drama and sweeping romance, that's both grand and sincere, much like Cinderella herself. Lily James ("Downton Abbey") gives a star-making performance opposite the excellent Cate Blanchett, who really sinks her teeth into the role of the evil Stepmother (Blanchett receives top-billing but doesn't have as much screen time as you might expect). And Richard Madden ("Game of Thrones") is quite good as the much more down-to-Earth than dashing Prince.
The screenplay, by Chris Weitz, who's come a long way since writing 2007's "The Golden Compass", is packed with emotional storylines and serious themes. The abuse Ella endures is pretty intense and, in true Disney fashion, death plays a big part in the story. The PG rating is deserved. This is a mature "Cinderella", clearly intended for an "older" young audience. 6-9 year-old girls going to the theater in their bright blue dresses with their moms may not enjoy this film (though they will enjoy seeing Anna and Elsa in the "Frozen Fever" short that plays before the feature). This "Cinderella" is not a comedy (though there are a few lighter moments) and it's not a musical (updated renditions of two of the classic songs from the animated version are saved for the end credits). This is essentially a romantic drama.
The only time Branagh delves into "whimsical" territory is when Cinderella meets her Fairy Godmother (played by Helena Bonham Carter, who is also the narrator) and she uses her magical powers to turn a pumpkin into the coach, a goose into a driver, etc. This sequence is far different in tone from the rest of the film. I wouldn't be surprised if Branagh is criticized for not making a "fun" "Cinderella", especially for the young female target audience. However, I contend that this "Cinderella" can be appreciated by all ages, thanks, first and foremost, to James' fresh, pure and lively portrayal of a character who, in most other versions, is pretty dull.
"Cinderella" is filled with beautiful, and rather large, costumes, gorgeous set design (there's an extravagant and effervescent ballroom sequence) and a lovely score. And with a talented director and cast behind this bold and almost completely anti-fairy tale approach, it's the most impressive film of 2015. I felt more than satisfied when the clock finally struck Midnight.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Cinderella" gets an A-.
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is a 2012, Golden Globe-nominated dramedy with an all-star cast of veteran actors playing seniors looking to re-live their youth and re-charge their lives by traveling to India and staying at a newly built, but poorly constructed hotel. It was solidly entertaining, but a little overrated and rather depressing, all of which made the news that a sequel was in the works rather surprising.
Yes, the original was a surprise box office hit, but a concept like this, specifically for an older audience, doesn't usually result in a second go-around. I had fairly low expectations going into "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (which will be a strong contender for the longest title of the year honor). Thankfully, with a warm, authentic script, a lighter story that still deals with some heavy themes, and an excellent ensemble cast in top form, this return visit is a much more enjoyable experience.
The plot of "The Second..." is overwhelming. There are at least half a dozen storylines going on all at once. Most of them involve past, present, or potential romances between and among the residents from the first film, with a few newcomers tossed in. But the focal point is the upcoming wedding of hotel owner Sonny (a much less annoying Dev Patel than in the original) and his fiancee Suniana. Sonny also has his sights set on opening a second hotel in town. After a meeting he attends with Muriel (the great Maggie Smith) in San Diego with a possible investor, the chances for expansion are looking better. However, complications quickly arise.
Meantime, Evelyn (Judi Dench) has been freelancing for a fabrics company, but gets an offer to work for them full-time. Longtime friend and now tour guide Douglas (Bill Nighy) wants to marry Evelyn, but she, at the age of 79, still isn't ready to commit. Another resident's companion is having an affair, another can't decide between the two men who have asked for her hand in marriage. And, if all of that wasn't enough, Richard Gere shows-up to the hotel as a writer Guy Chambers. He immediately falls for Sonny's mom, who wants nothing to do with him.
The best thing about "The Second..." is the more positivity and spirit that was missing from in the original. There are some genuinely funny moments, and plenty of sarcastic one-liners about getting old and dying. Smith received a SAG Awards Best Supporting Actress nomination for the first "Marigold Hotel", but she actually gives a more effective and meaningful performance here. And while much of the film is completely predictable, real emotion does come from the final act, which has a lot to say about life and love.
Should we expect "The Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"? Probably not. But you've got to give a lot of credit to returning director John Madden, who proved that, for once, it was completely worthwhile to make a sequel to a film that really didn't need one.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" gets a B.
"Chappie" is the latest sci-fi effort from "District 9" and "Elysium" director Neill Blomkamp. Is it sappy? Yes. Does it make you happy? No. Is it, overall, crappy? Unfortunately, yes. But "Chappie" goes way beyond these slightly above-average, yet obvious puns. In an attempt to sum-up what I watched for two hours, I quote one of the film's many bad guys - the evil Vincent, played by Hugh Jackman: "What in the name of the Lord?" I thought "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" might hold the title of Most Bizarre Movie of 2015, at least for awhile. But we already have a new "Champpieon".
Set in the not-too distant future, "Chappie" begins with a cameo from CNN's Anderson Cooper, which means this newsman will be keeping his job for a few more years. He explains, in specific sci-fi movie detail, how a South African weapons corporation, is manufacturing droid police officers, which the city of Johannesburg is successfully using to lower the crime rate.
Deon ("Slumdog Millionaire"'s Dev Patel) is the genius creator of the droids. Jackman's Vincent is the jealous co-worker whose own creation, a giant robot moose - I mean his giant robot named "The Moose" (though the first idea would have been more fun) has been rejected in favor of Deon's smaller, more "human-like" peace-keepers. Everything gets complicated when Deon secretly gives one of the robots true artificial intelligence, with full human characteristics and feelings, and the ability to think and react. He is given the name Chappie (and is voiced by Sharlto Copley). The CG effects used for Chappie are the only impressive elements of the entire film.
And, in a matter of days, Chappie goes from being a baby, to an artist, to a gangster, to a tech wiz, to a fighting machine, to a hero. But there's no story to support any of these changes or make us care about the fate of this metal marvel.
"Chappie" is filled with over-acting performances on steroids. It seemed like Jackman, Patel and Sigourney Weaver, who plays their boss, did all their scenes in one take. You can almost hear Blomkamp saying "Got it. Let's move on". And the violence is heavy. While not as gruesome as "Elysium", there's an average of at least one attempt and/or successful killing every minute. But body count does not equal excitement, as most of the action is as dull as Chappie's monotone voice - the exception being an office scene late in the film which proves that cubicles will not protect you from a robot on a rampage.
"Chappie" attempts to be a fresh sci-fi adventure heavy on social commentary. It also tries to be an underdog story of survival, a gangsta film, a family drama, a revenge thriller and so much more. Blomkamp tries to do and say way too much, and the result is a muddled mess. But what annoyed me above all, was the constant 3rd-person dialogue used by Chappie - "Chappie will help", "Chappie wants to go home." I believe these were also uttered: "Chappie gonna mess you up", "Chappie feels bad for everyone who sat through this movie", and, sadly, "Chappie doesn't give refunds".
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Chappie" gets a D.
Will Smith hasn't starred in a movie since 2013's sci-fi disaster "After Earth", a Smith family affair that also involved son Jaden as co-star and wife Jada as co-producer. Oh, and M. Night Shyamalan was the director. And...it laid an egg.
If Smith believed, after reading the script for "Focus", that this could be his big comeback film, then he needs to get his eyes checked. While it's not on the level of "bomb" (or "After Earth") as I was fearing, "Focus" is completely underwhelming, with an average plot that is rarely unpredictable, a big problem for a film about con artists.
Smith plays con king Nicky. One night in NYC he unexpectedly meets Jess, a low-level con (played by "The Wolf of Wall Street"'s Margot Robbie). Jess tells Nicky that she wants to become as big and successful in the con business as he is, and that she'll do anything to become his apprentice. This includes becoming his partner in crime (and in bed) in New Orleans, during the week of a fictitious professional football league championship game (clearly the NFL wanted nothing to do with this production).
In one of the few standout scenes, Nicky, who's also a compulsive gambler (or is that just part of the act?) takes things a little too far with a high-roller in his luxury box in the stadium, all the while slowly reeling Jess, and us, in. More suspense comes from this nearly 10-minute sequence than in all of Mark Wahlberg's remake of "The Gambler". Unfortunately, there are interesting twists and turns that are necessary in con/caper films to keep you guessing and playing along.
After Nicky and Jess' relationship takes an interesting turn, they reunite in Buenos Aires for more misadventures that take up the entire second half of "Focus", which is much slower than the first. This section is less about the cons and crimes, and more about the romantic ups and down of the Smith and Robbie characters. For only a few brief moments did I believe these two could be a real couple. There's hardly any chemistry between the actors.
But at least they're now comfortably acquainted with each other, as they're teaming-up again for next year's "Suicide Squad". It's an appropriate title, since that's where it appears Smith's career is headed. However, that film and this December's NFL drama "Concussion", could get the former #1 Box Office draw back onto Hollywood's A-List. In the meantime, "Focus" only serves to make the prospects of a successful comeback even more unclear.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Focus" gets a C.
"McFarland, USA" is the latest "Based on a True Story" sports drama from the studio king of the genre, Disney. This time, the Mouse House employees had to go all the way back to 1987 to find their latest inspirational, underdog story. And, after using baseball, football, basketball, hockey, horse racing, golf, bobsledding, and even cricket with last year's "Million Dollar Arm", I do give Disney credit for daring to greenlight a script about one of the least popular sports: High School cross country running.
Does "McFarland, USA" follow the traditional, predictable Disney sports movie formula? Absolutely. Fish-out-of-water high school football coach Jim White (played by sports movie king Kevin Costner) moves with his wife (Maria Bello) and two daughters to the small, Mexican-American migrant worker town of McFarland, CA and decides to start a cross country team at the school after noticing four kids in his gym class who excel at running.
A total of seven boys join the team. Some must pick in the fields before school and after practice. Together they, along with Coach Blanco, must work together, and overcome many hurdles, in order to become a successful team and maybe, just maybe...CHAMPIONS!
"McFarland, USA" is packed with all the sports story swerves you'd expect - no respect from opponents, troubles at home, the fight against incredible odds. However, unlike the dull and corny "Arm", thanks to authentic performances (particularly from a very good Costner) and a grounded, not-too-overly sentimental approach, "McFarland, USA" is largely able to rise above a formulaic script. The film actually kept my interest for nearly the entire time. It doesn't demand a 100% emotional investment, nor does it provide the excitement of other sports dramas, such as "Secretariat", but it's solid, serious and satisfying family drama that paces itself nicely and gets to the finish line with its head held high.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "McFarland, USA" gets a B-. But you've got wonder what's left for Disney in the "based on a true story sports drama" front? With cross country off the list, can bowling, synchronized swimming or field hockey be next in line? I bet the studio's crack staff of researchers are already hard at work.
I did not see the original "Hot Tub Time Machine", which was released in 2010, but a lot people did and many consider it a modern cult classic comedy. Now, a whopping five years later, we get the just plainly ridiculous "Hot Tub Time Machine 2", which joins the list of "Taken 3" and (while it could turn out to be a good film) "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" as 2015 sequels that had no business being made.
The star of the original, John Cusack, is out (though there are a few images of him) and "Parks and Recreation"'s Adam Scott is in as Cusack's character's son, Adam. The trio who took that fateful dip with Cusack in the first film, Lou, Nick and Jacob (played by Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke) get back into the tub, to try to go back in time to prevent Lou from being murdered, but instead are sent to the future.
With a wild premise like this there are really no rules, so the possibilities for gags and crazy storylines are limitless. Unfortunately, "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" is simply a hot mess. The only genuine laughs come from occasional exchanges between the characters insulting each other, along with some basic, but still funny, movie and TV show references. The "Nick Webber Strut", performed by Robinson, is the film's only solid running joke.
The time travel aspects of the story are overly complicated - maybe on purpose - but it doesn't work. And a heavy reliance on over-the-top sexual humor drags the viewing experience into the gutter. With only a Dixie cup's worth of comedy in this entire hot tub, director Steve Pink chooses to go the all-too predictable route, filling the remainder of the movie with scenes of sex, drugs and alcohol, which continuously take the storyline down the drain. No doubt many people, upon leaving the theater, will be wishing they could step into a time machine of their own to go back a few hours and rethink their decision to see "HTTM2". It's an SNL skit on steroids: funny/wacky premise, a few clever moments, but goes way too far and for way too long.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" gets a C-.
In 2011 Colin Firth won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in "The King's Speech", which included many memorable scenes. Now, four years later, Firth stars in "Kingsman: The Secret Service", director Matthew Vaughn's follow-up to "X-Men: First Class". "Kingsman" does provide Firth with the opportunity to appear in, quite possibly, the most memorable scene of his long, successful career. It's also his worst.
Vaughn attempts to have fun by breaking plenty of rules of the action genre, mostly with a ridiculously high level of violence, purely for shock value. I can almost guarantee the body count in this film will be higher than in any other action film this year, maybe any film period. In fact, if Vaughn ever writes a book about the making of "Kingsman", it would certainly be titled "How to Get Away with a Ton of Movie Murders".
The script is loosely based on a series of comics published from 2012-2013. And it shows. Unfortunately, the over-the-top visual style is more appropriate for the page. Watching someone, literally, get sliced in half, from head to toe, and then split apart, probably looked real cool in the comics. On screen it just seems silly. And even though the source material is recent, a lot of "Kingsman" is surprisingly dated, including the plan by quirky evil villain Valentine (played by Samuel L. Jackson, with a baseball cap, a lisp, and a love for Big Macs) to save the planet from global warming. Not a lot of imagination there.
The Kingsman secret agents, of course, must stop Valentine. But long before we get there, a young street punk named Eggsy (played by Taron Egerton) gets recruited by Firth's veteran, well-tailored, Kingsman agent, Harry, to join the program. Eggsy must first go through a series of tests with other fellow candidates. Much like we've seen over and over in films including "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent", this process takes way too long before reaching its obvious conclusion. And as for that career-low scene involving Firth - let's just say you'll know it when you see it.
The main problem with "Kingsman" is that it doesn't know what it wants to be: A modern take on the classic British Spy movie (a.k.a. the Bond films)? An anti-British spy movie, tweaking the old formula? Or, the way Vaughn should have gone: a satire of the classic British spy movie, which it does a nice job with in certain spots. I do give Vaughn credit for being able to keep our interest for most of the 2+ hours. However, by the time we get to the slow-motion, exploding heads, accompanied by full orchestra, it's clear Vaughn is out of ideas and is simply throwing everything he can at the screen, just hoping something will stick.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" gets a C.
"Jupiter Ascending" is the latest sci-fi/adventure from The Wachowskis. Since their "Matrix" trilogy wrapped-up in 2003, they haven't had much success. 2008's "Speed Racer" was forecasted as a summer blockbuster and instead ended-up a complete car-wreck. 2012's visionary "Cloud Atlas" was interesting, but not the Best Picture contender everyone expected, nor a box office hit (even with Tom Hanks!)
And now they've officially earned their third strike in a row with the dull, completely unoriginal and highly mainstream "Jupiter Ascending". This was originally set to be released last July, but got pushed back to Feb. '15 because they said the special effects weren't going to be done in time. This could be true, but also a nice excuse which allowed the film to escape the hot spotlight of a summertime flop and, instead, be sent-off to the wasteland of quickly forgotten wintertime films. Problem is, "Jupiter Ascending" is so bad, I'm going to have a hard time forgetting it.
Channing Tatum, who had a very good 2014, with "22 Jump Street" and "Foxcatcher", doesn't look like he was having much fun playing Caine, the spliced part-Wolf/part-Human. Mila Kunis (who I swear waved at me while she was backing into her driveway in suburban Hollywood neighborhood I was visiting last month) plays Jupiter Jones, born shortly after her Russian astronomer father died while trying to save his prized telescope. She cleans houses for a living, but it turns out that, genetically, she the Queen of the Universe, or something like that. She's never been stung by a bee because, as stated by Sean Bean's military-man Stinger, bees don't sting royalty. I wonder if Prince William would agree.
For reasons too complex to explain in writing (though the Wachowskis somehow did in order to form a screenplay), Jupiter is targeted by two brothers who rule the universe, controlling the planets and harvesting those who live on them so they can live forever. But if Jupiter is alive, she controls all. So one brother wants her dead and the other wants to marry her, and then kill her. Either way, things don't look too promising for the reluctant queen. However, she's got Tatum's Caine to protect her, first here on Earth, and then in the cheesy space locations where all these ridiculous characters and creatures exist.
Eddie Redmayne is a co-frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar for his excellent performance as Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything". But he gives an embarrassing performance as Balem, the brother who controls Earth and wants Jupiter dead. The only saving grace for Redmayne is that he's nearly unrecognizable and he doesn't have a lot of screen time so he could be saved from "The Norbit Effect", named for another Eddie - Eddie Murphy - whose performance in that disaster cost him an Oscar for "Dreamgirls".
"Jupiter Ascending" is more than two hours, much of it devoted to dialogue-free, monotonous action scenes, accompanied by such an annoyingly loud score that it's difficult to take any of the battles seriously. The story itself is predictable, yet confusing, but most of all, completely pointless. As for the effects - the talking alligators are pretty good, but only in comparison to Katy Perry's singing sharks.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Jupiter Ascending" gets a D-.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? If you don't know the answer to that question by now, you've been living under a certain sea star's rock. SpongeBob SquarePants has been a worldwide cultural phenomenon since his debut on Nickelodeon in 1999. In 2004, the sea creatures of Bikini Bottom went from TV screens to movie screens with "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie", in which Krusty Krab owner Mr. Krabs' arch-rival, Plankton, finally stole the Krabby Patty formula. SpongeBob and best friend Patrick then went on an epic adventure (complete with an iconic David Hasselhoff cameo) to get back King Neptune's crown and save the day.
A little more than 10 years later, the heroic sponge and co. have returned to theaters for "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water". It's difficult to call this a sequel because it isn't a direct, next chapter in this film series. Rather, this is simply a new installment in this very unique franchise, but one aimed at a fresh target audience.
Those who grew-up with SpongeBob in its prime, and were six or seven years old when the '04 movie was released (including yours truly) have remained loyal fans of the show and have been anxious to finally get a second feature. "Sponge Out of Water" is an amusing, largely entertaining and memorable film. However, it's clear director Paul Tibbitt (a staple of the TV series from the beginning) and screenwriters Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel ("Kung Fu Panda") didn't make this movie for the diehard fans of the show, who are certainly expecting non-stop laughs.
There are only about half a dozen great one-liners and a couple of laugh-out-loud exchanges and gags in the entire 90 minutes. In comparison, most of the 11-minute TV episodes include more than that. In the "funny" department, and only here, does "Sponge Out of Water" underwhelm. This is a very different film from the original, and in many ways a departure in scale and tone from the show, because it's directly aimed at the new generation of fans - 6-12 year-olds - who will be thrilled to watch new, unpredictable escapades involving some of their favorite cartoon characters.
The storyline doesn't stretch too-far outside the SpongeBob wheelhouse: Plankton still wants to get his hands (?) on that Secret Formula (again, forget about anything that happened in the original film), but when he tries to take it, literally, out of SpongeBob's hands, it magically disappears. So Plankton and SpongeBob actually have to work together as a team (the film's core theme) to try to get the formula back.
But, after a post-apocalyptic stretch in which Bikini Bottom is in a state of chaos because there are no Krabby Patties, and a time-travel sequence involving a very strange, talking dolphin, a Squidward-sauras and a wacky Pharrell Williams song, SpongeBob, Patrick, Sandy, Mr. Krabs, Squidward and Plankton eventually make it into our world (as the trailers have revealed). The animation bravely changes from hand-drawn to CGI and these guys have to take down the pirate Burger Beard (played by Antonio Banderas), the evil mastermind behind all of this madness.
"Sponge Out of Water" is quite ambitious in mixing multiple genres and multiple styles of animation together into one crazy and wildly bizarre action film for kids. Young audience members will mostly remember the final 20 minutes, which involves an aquatic version of "The Avengers" and provides some fun moments.
In order to enjoy watching "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water", you've really just got to go with it, whether it's Burger Beard talking to some sidekick, comic relief seagulls, the odd interactions with the human beach goers, and even a late-in-the-film rap battle. This may be one of the most creative movies released all year. Banderas said in a recent interview that everything about the world of SpongeBob is "surreal", and that's why the characters and the show have remained so popular for 16 years. Surreal perfectly describes this newest film, which I'm sure will not be the last. And as someone who's been a fan for nearly my entire life, I will continue to watch the show and look forward to what's coming next from the superstar sponge and his pals.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" gets a B+.
Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose") is nominated again this year in the Best Actress category for her raw and consistently believable performance as Sandra, a wife and mother of two, fighting to keep her job in the Belgian drama "Two Days, One Night".
That's all the time Sandra has to find and persuade 16 co-workers at a solar panel company that they should turn-down their bonuses and, instead, vote for Sandra to keep her job. It isn't going to be easy, since Sandra is just coming back to work after time away battling depression. And many of her co-workers simply can't afford to pass-up their 1000 Euro bonuses, because they have to take care of their own, struggling families.
At just 95 minutes, "Two Days, One Night" moves-along quickly. There are no major subplots (though at times we feel that something is coming), so the story is just as simple as my plot synopsis. It becomes obvious early in the film that some of the workers will support Sandra and others will not. Nonetheless, the movie is an interesting study of a desperate, possibly unstable woman, pushed to do things she does not want to do.
And it's Cotillard's work that elevates the straightforward screenplay. We experience her pain (both physical and mental) and frustration. Her character feels just as bad (if not worse) having to ask others not to take their bonuses as she does for the tough situation she is in.
Other movies have delved into this topic, but none so directly as "Two Days, One Night", in which we get the portrayal of a woman, who despite her flaws, has the strength and courage to fight for and, ultimately, do what's right, even if it's not what's right for her.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Two Days, One Night" gets a B-. It's no surprise that Cotillard's nomination is the film's only Oscar recognition, but her performance alone makes it worth seeing.
This year's group of five Oscar nominees in the Best Animated Short Film category is the strongest I've ever seen, so coming-up with a clear frontrunner is not easy. Here are the Nominees:
"The Bigger Picture" (8 min., UK) - The style is groundbreaking, with a mix of life-size claymation figures and set pieces, as well as paintings. The story is heavy - two brothers taking care of their elderly, and eventually dying mother. Authentic to a tee, but rather depressing. B-
"The Dam Keeper" (18 min., USA) - This is my favorite of the group. Brought to life with more than 8,000 paintings, the story centers around a grade-school pig who has a very important job - taking care of the dam that protects the town. Pig is also bullied at school for being dirty. But that all changes when he's befriended by a new student, Fox. With some raw and surprisingly powerful scenes, including a shockingly serious turn in the second half, this is daring and often brilliant. A-
"Feast" (6 min., USA) - It's the most widely-seen of the group since Disney debuted it in theaters before "Big Hero 6". This is about a dog named Winston who loves human food, and his owner who begins a human relationship that directly effects Winston's eating habits. It's a little simple, but charming, sweet and satisfying, though I would've chopped-out an unnecessary extended ending. B-
"Me and My Moulton" - (13 min., Canada & Norway) - A Moulton is a unique style bicycle. And even though it's in the title. this isn't exactly what the short focuses on. Rather, it's about a middle-daughter of a quirky family, who's living, what she believes, is an imperfect life. The animation is light and bright and there are some clever moments. But it's the serious and surprisingly deep themes that stand out. B
"A Single Life" - (2 min., Netherlands) - All I will delve into about this CGI short is that a woman receives a record of a song called "A Single Life". She begins to play it, and what happens next is rather unique and a little bizarre, but original, funny and quite memorable. B
And the four "Highly Commended" shorts shown are:
"Sweet Cocoon" - (6 min., France) - All-too-predictable story, low-level animation and a terrible ending. C-
"Footprints" - (4 min., USA) - Bill Plympton's latest has a decent concept but a disappointing payoff. C
"Duet" - (4 min., USA) - Legendary Disney artist Bill Keane's beautiful love story. B+
"Bus Story" - (11 min., Canada) - Solid tale of a quirky bus driver in a small town. C+
On The Official LCJ Report Card, the "2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation", overall, gets a B. Seek it out at a nearby theater before Oscar Night on Sunday, February 22nd. And my prediction for which short film will win The Oscar will be announced, along with my picks in all the other categories, in mid-February.
The trailers that The Weinstein Company released for "Paddington" were noisy and slapstick-heavy, making this family adventure, based on the iconic children's book character, appear to be dreadful. They also decided to push the US opening date back from Christmas Day to the middle of January, normally a move made when a studio realizes that their film is dreadful.
But then I started noticing something amazing: glowing reviews for "Paddington" began to pop-up everywhere online, from both the US and the UK. And then the film received two BAFTA nominations (the British equivalent of The Oscars), including one for Best Adapted Screenplay. All of them made me begin to wonder - "Can it really be that good?" Well, to my pleasant surprise, "Paddington" is that good, indeed.
Paul King, a British indie writer and TV director who never helmed a "commercial" film before, deserves much of the credit. I'm sure offers for new projects are already pouring in for King, whose unique and magical vision shines throughout "Paddington". Numerous imaginative scenes involving such things as a life-size doll house of the Brown home that comes to life, toys of all shapes and sizes and an recurring calypso band supply a "live" soundtrack could easily have come from the minds of Wes Anderson or Tim Burton, but King makes every bold element on display his own.
The opening scenes take us deep in the jungles of Peru, where we are supplied, via newsreel footage, with Paddington Bear's backstory: A British explorer discovered the rare domesticated bear species and told the bears he encountered they would be welcome as friends if they ever visited England. Following a Disney-esque event, Paddington's aunt sends the young bear (voiced by "Skyfall"'s Ben Whishaw) off alone to London, to find a new family, complete with that famous "Please take care of this bear" tag.
The Brown family notices the bear at the Paddington train station (that's how he gets his name) and decides to take him in for the night. Mr. Brown (played by "Downton Abbey"'s Hugh Bonneville) wants Paddington to immediately be taken to the authorities, while Mrs. Brown (Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins) thinks their new visitor might benefit their two children and add some much-needed life to their home.
Similar to the animated character of Captain DuBois in "Madagascar 3", Nicole Kidman plays an evil taxidermist named Millicent who learns that Paddington is in London and wants to make him the masterpiece of her extensive collection. Kidman, thankfully, plays it relatively straight-forward.
"Paddington" doesn't rely much on big laughs in order to satisfy its audience. There are a few quality one-liners, such as a narrator stating "There are 107 ways Londoners say 'It's raining'", as well as a well done running joke involving the marmalade sandwich Paddington keeps in his hat and some pigeons. There are a couple of slapstick scenes (which are amusing enough), but they are far from dominant in the story.
Many of Britain's finest came-out to be a part of this adventure: "Doctor Who", Peter Capaldi, plays the Browns' neighbor, Jim Broadbent is an antique shop owner, Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton voice Paddington's aunt and uncle, and Julie Walters plays the Browns' wise housekeeper. They, along with the young actors who play the Brown children, all deliver at the right tone for this fable.
The CGI work of the Paddington character is excellent and Whishaw's voice work is a perfect fit. Originally, Colin Firth was picked to be the voice of Paddington, but late in production, the casting switch was made. This turned out to be a great decision, as Firth's distinctive voice would have been too identifiable and mature for the young, mischievous bear.
Overall, this is a crowning achievement, and one of the best adaptations of children's story to a live-action film in recent memory. It has the perfect balance of humor, hijinks and heart.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Paddington" gets an A-. To paraphrase a line from one of Paddington's distant relatives: "It's smarter than the average bear movie".
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