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.
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).
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+.
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.
“Now You See Me 2” is the follow-up to 2013’s surprise hit magician/crime caper that’s a pure guilty pleasure: a great ensemble combined with an interesting story that makes-up for its flaws with some fantastic visual tricks. Happy to say this sequel offers pretty much the same, satisfying results.
In fact, much of “Now You See Me 2” follows the successful formula of the original. Most of the cast is back, though there are a few additions, with Lizzy Caplan from Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” as the new, female Horseman, and Daniel Radcliffe as a businessman hiding from the public eye, but seeking involvement with the real “Eye” - That’s the organization the Robin Hood-esque Horseman illusionists (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and FBI agent Dylan Rhodes - with Mark Ruffalo back in that role) look to for inspiration for their mind-blowing stunts to expose financial criminals.
Like its predecessor, “Now You See Me 2” spans the globe, beginning in the US before heading to Macau, the Las Vegas of China, and finally London. And it’s important to pay close attention to the plot, which involves good guys becoming bad - and vice versa. Things gets a little too complex by the end - but this doesn’t keep you from enjoying what’s going on.
One of the weaknesses of the first “Now You See Me” was that there was more time devoted to Ruffalo’s Rhodes than the Horsemen. This time there’s a nice balance and appropriate time given to an effective subplot involving a significant event in the childhood of one of the illusionists. Magic acts often involve twins, and new-to-the-franchise director Jon M. Chu decided to give Harrelson’s character an identical twin (who’s also played by Harrelson). It’s tough getting used to.
The cast, which also includes the returns of Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, is fairly solid, though the real stars of the show, once again, are the magic tricks. A security checkpoint sequence involving one single playing card is a lot of fun. David Copperfield was a co-producer on this, and he inspired some of the mystifying illusions for both installments.
Hip, slick and full of flavor, “Now You See Me 2” is easy-breezy summer entertainment. I just hope the already-announced third installment of the series ups the ante a bit - because, once you know how a trick is done, the magic disappears.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Now You See Me 2” gets a B-.
“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” comes from Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island team. They were a breakout hit on “Saturday Night Live”, and now they’ve written, directed, produced and star in their first feature - a satirical spoof on the contemporary music culture.
And while there are some spot-on jabs at all kinds of aspects of the industry and the fame that comes with success, “Popstar” is amazingly tame. Sure, Samberg and his pals (and all the friends he includes in skits) get to use F-bombs, and other extremely profane and vulgar sexual and racial references here that they couldn't on SNL. But as far as making a legitimate, thought-provoking statement on what it means to be a superstar entertainer in the social-media obsessed, fluff-news-filled, 21st Century society in which they operate and we all live in, “Popstar” provides no unique point of view...and only some occasional laughs.
The focus of this 86-minute mock-umentary is the fictitious artist Conner4Real (played by Samberg). He was once a member of the boy band, The Style Boyz. But sudden success forced a break-up, and Conner's solo career shot him up to stardom thanks to breakout hit songs and an outlandish personality. Two dozen real-life celebrities have itty-bitty cameos in “Popstar”, including Carrie Underwood, Mariah Carey, Simon Cowell, Nas and Questlove. Many are featured early on describing how The Style Boyz, and specifically Conner, influenced their own musical careers. These clips aren't as funny as you’d hope.
The crux of the "plot" centers around the highly-anticipated release of Conner’s second solo album and preparations for his upcoming, global tour. We meet everyone on the singer's team - manager, publicist, crew, posse and even a personal chef who’s played by a real-life popstar, who Samberg's Connor was clearly based on.
You can tell, as “Popstar” unfolds, that The Lonely Island trio didn’t put much time or effort into crafting an actual story. This film has no arc. Instead, all their creative energy was devoted to comprising the lyrics of the dozen or so original songs Conner performs. The two best open and close the movie, featuring Adam Levine and Michael Bolton, respectively. Most of the others are disappointingly generic - straight out of the SNL playbook, only enhanced with profanity and tasteless sexual lyrics, which take no talent to write.
More than anything, what “Popstar” lacks is an edge. It’s afraid to take a stand, instead gently poking fun at the subject matter, refusing to offending anyone. The situations are mostly goofy, rarely sharp, and they go too far and on for too long, with pointless results (exceptions are scenes with Seal and Jimmy Fallon). And much of the dialogue lacks comedic bite. The most clever and memorable sequences in the entire film don't feature Sandberg on screen. They involve the genius casting of Will Arnett in a TV parody that include more wit and provide more laughs that the rest of the scenes in "Popstar" combined.
Overstuffed with material, and far from being as hysterical and innovative as it thinks it is, “Popstar” is slightly better than the average SNL skit, but that's not much of a complement.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” gets a C.
Not since Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook” has there been such a winning silver screen romance as Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in “Me Before You”. Author Jojo Moyes adapts her own 2012 novel, crafting a relationship story that’s packed with emotion. In a recent interview, Moyes said she wouldn’t be satisfied unless at least 70% of the audience in the theater was crying by the end. I don’t think she’s got anything to worry about.
While I can honestly say I was not in tears at any point during “Me Before You”, I was wholeheartedly enchanted and smitten by its charm and just as impressed by its levels of authenticity, sophistication and heart.
Clarke is known to millions for her powerful work on HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, which has earned her two Emmy nominations. But it’s this performance as Louisa Clark that should make her a big screen star. She’s totally believable in every scene as a bubbly 26-year-old Brit who’s completely happy with her average lifestyle. But when a longtime job at a café ends, Louisa finds herself in need of a new one - and she’ll take anything - even becoming a caretaker.
Will Traynor (Claflin, best known for his role as Finnick in “The Hunger Games” series) is a 31-year-old former successful businessman who was severely injured after being hit by a motorcycle two years ago. A quadriplegic, he’s in constant pain and has lost his will to continue living, giving his parents six more months - and then…
Not surprisingly, things don’t go smoothly for Louisa at the start. Will is angry, stubborn and sarcastic - not used to the bright exuberance she offers everyday (and all her outfits - including the bumblebee tights - are terrific). But it’s when these two begin to warm-up to each other that “Me Before You” really takes shape.
Louisa realizes that she can provide opportunities for Will to experience happiness once again. She represents people in life, if we're lucky enough to have them, who are eternally positive, and spread their optimism to others. For Louisa, when her outlook doesn't produce the desired results, it's difficult to accept - and leads to some challenging decisions. This script emphasizes loyalty, bravery, sacrifice and hope in ways large and small. And while "Me Before You" clearly belongs in the "romance" category, the love between these two characters is not the “head over heels” version usually depicted in the genre.
The dramatic climax is fairly tame. In fact, the tone throughout is one of restraint, with a grounded feel that allows it to have a much greater impact than, for example, the Nicholas Sparks adaptations. Thea Sharrock (who makes her feature-film directorial debut) pairs the narrative with a perfectly balanced and appropriate soundtrack.
The "controversy" that this film has ignited in some circles is totally unfounded. Moyes and Sharrock have combined to tell a beautiful story that is so anti-preachy that only people looking to make trouble could spin this genuine, refreshingly sweet and appropriately sensitive work of fiction into a political cause. But maybe it will get more people to see the film, which would be a good thing.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Me Before You” gets an A.
Less than two years after producer Michael Bay brought the Heroes in a Half-Shell back to the big screen with a blockbuster reboot, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are ready to come “Out of the Shadows”.
Unlike with the original, in which we had to wait more than 20 minutes for the first appearance of Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo, “TMNT: Out of the Shadows” begins with a sequence involving the Turtles - front and center - and at center court at Madison Square Garden. It’s been a year since they saved NYC from the evil Shredder, but because they’re giant talking turtles that the public will fear and not embrace, that credit has been given to TV news cameraman Vernon (played again by Will Arnett) - who’s enjoying his celebrity status.
News reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox is also back) informs the Turtles that mad scientist Baxter Stockman (played by Tyler Perry, yes - Madea herself - or ‘himself’) is working on a plan involving Shredder, including breaking him out of prison.
Soon the Turtles are facing Shredder’s wrath for the second time, along with two new henchmen: a giant mutant warthog and rhino, and an even greater foe who threatens to destroy the entire planet.
“Out of the Shadows” is a hit-and-miss sequel. Like the first film, the action scenes are well-executed, though the extensive finale is mindless and bloated. There are some clever moments in the script involving the Turtles, especially early on. But - as is the case in many second installments when the core team threatens to splinter over a disagreement - there’s an obvious lack of Turtle Power here. The energy falls-off when the four brothers aren’t working as one.
Once again Fox and Arnett seem like they’re having a lot of fun. And Perry gets the change of pace in the wardrobe and character department he must have been looking for by taking this role. But I do feel bad for Laura Linney. The respected actress is embarrassingly out of place as the no-nonsense NYC Police Chief.
There’s enough here - barely - to have a good time, but at a tad under two hours, “Out of the Shadows” is overstuffed and rather ordinary, something that should never be said about a movie involving large, crime-fighting reptiles.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” gets a C+.
Six long years ago, Tim Burton took us down the rabbit hole for his live-action version of Disney's 1951 animated adventure "Alice in Wonderland". It was the second highest-grossing movie of the year ($1 Billion+ worldwide), though not because of the quality of the film (many critics, including myself, thought it was extremely dull). "Alice" benefited heavily from being the first major 3D release after "Avatar". "Alice Through the Looking Glass" is based on Lewis Carroll's follow-up novel. But, as always, liberties are taken from page to screen, as this cinematic sequel is set more than three years after "Wonderland", not six months, as in Carroll's written work.
It's 1875 and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has just returned home after sailing around the world on an exploration expedition aboard her late father's ship. Complications arise when her financiers (led by a spurned suitor) threaten to take her mother's home away unless Alice signs-away the rights to the vessel, which would end her career as a ship captain. Stressed and unhappy, Alice is visited by an old friend, the blue butterfly Absolem (voiced by the late Alan Rickman), who invites her to walk into a mysterious mirror and soon she's back in Underland.
Alice immediately learns that The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp reprising his Golden Globe nominated role from the original) is not well, mourning his family members supposedly perished in a fire. But the Hatter has found reason to believe that's not true and they're still alive. He asks Alice to go on a quest to find his parents and siblings, and it's a race against time and Time - both the actual minutes and seconds and the person who controls it, named Time (Sacha Baron Cohen).
"Alice Through the Looking Glass" has the overall look and feel of a direct-to-TV, Disney Channel special more than a major theatrical release. This comes across in the over-the-top performances, James Bobin's direction (Burton is only a producer this time), dominated by in-your-face close-ups, and in the time travel scenes that are so engulfed in CGI and green screen it's impossible to take them seriously. The story is presented as complex, but when broken-down is rather basic, and like its predecessor, the script is stiff, stale and blatantly unfunny.
Also returning is Helena Bonham Carter as the evil Red Queen. She teams-up with Time to seek revenge on her sister, The White Queen (Anne Hathaway), for a childhood event that's revealed to have begun their longtime rivalry. Bonham Carter doesn't provide the comic relief that is intended and Hathaway doesn't get much to do at all. Colleen Atwood, who earned an Oscar for the first "Alice", crafted the costumes once again, and they're just as big and bold this time around. Expect honors for her come Awards Season.
But the only parts of "Alice Through the Looking Glass" that truly works are the themes and messages, which are handled well and nicely presented, even for the younger members of the audience to understand: consequences from not telling the truth, family requires loyalty, friendship relies on trust, and thoughts on time and learning from the past and using those lessons to improve one's present and future are all well-meaning and effective, though certainly not groundbreaking by any means.
Slightly more tolerable than the original, but still far from the entertainment experience it should be considering the material and a $170 million budget, On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Alice Through the Looking Glass" gets a C-.
Since the end of the original “X-Men” trilogy, this franchise has produced passable, but far from X-traordinary results in two “Wolverine” efforts and two origin chapters involving younger versions of Professor X, Magneto and Mystique. “Apocalypse”, No. 9 in the series, finishes the prequel trilogy with just about the same X-ecution.
Set in 1983, 10 years after the events of “Days of Future Past”, “X-Men: Apocalypse” sees Charles Xavier (reprised by James McAvoy) running his “School for Gifted Children” full-time, now in Westchester, NY. Erik (Michael Fassbender) is living in Russia, hiding his true Magneto identity as a husband, father and mild-mannered metal worker. And Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is also keeping a low profile. These characters are supposed to have aged a decade since the last film, but returning director Bryan Singer isn’t too concerned with that.
The old gang is forced back in the game when the first-ever Mutant, Apocalypse (played by an unrecognizable Oscar Isaac), is accidentally awakened after being buried underground in Egypt for thousands of years. He’s looking to become the King of the Mutants, wipe-out everything on Earth and start over. But he needs the Professor’s mental powers to complete his plan.
The complicated relationships between the members of the X-Men family are put to the test once again, including Raven and Hank (aka Beast). Lawrence and actor Nicholas Hoult split-up after a five-year relationship prior to filming “Apocalypse”, so it’s definitely interesting to watch their reunion scenes.
Fassbender is quite good, and his is the most compelling storyline in the film. There are also a few smart references and flashbacks to “First Class” and other “X-Men” movies, as well as a “surprise” (but unfortunately, over-publicized) cameo that provides some much-needed energy.
However, nearly every scene in “Apocalypse” drags and is way too talky. There are nearly two dozen characters directly involved, and Singer does a poor job weaving them together, creating an uncomfortable distance. Apocalypse is a weak, bland villain, and a “Sweet Dreams” scene involving Quicksilver, that combines slow-motion and fast-moving elements, has the arrogantly, unfunny tone of “X-Men” spinoff, “Deadpool” - and we don’t want to go there.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “X-Men: Apocalypse” gets a C.
"The Nice Guys" captures the rich flavor of the 70s, thanks to director Shane Black ("Iron Man 3"). He assembles a likable leading pair in Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who play incompetent private eyes Jackson Healy and Holland March. These longtime detectives partner-up to investigate the disappearance of a young girl involved in the crime and porno scenes of 1977 Hollywood. The script has its shares of surprises, is filled with energy and easy to follow.
But here's the problem - "The Nice Guys" juggles too many balls. It never feels satisfied with its current tone, so Black constantly shifts the focus between quirky, goofy humor, noisy blasts of stylized violence, minors in peril and serious moments of in-your-face murder. Meanwhile, hovering-over all of this, is Healy and March's relationship. Make no mistake, this is a buddy comedy - that also tries to be so much more.
The continuous attempts at laughs (including a dream sequence that includes an appearance by a giant bee) really bugged me, constantly taking me out of the moment, with the jarring dramatic elements, as a result, lacking in impact. If "The Nice Guys" had been played-out as a drama, infused with elements of disco flare, cool clothes, a hip soundtrack and subtle touches of humor it would've been much more successful.
March's 13-year-old daughter, Holly, is played by Australian native Angourie Rice in a star-making role. She shares a lot of screen time with veterans Crowe and Gosling and holds her own. Kim Basinger's character is pivotal to the plot, though she only appears in a couple of scenes.
"The Nice Guys" is a nice change of pace from what we're recently used to in the genre ("Ride Along 1/2, "The Other Guys", "The Heat") - and is more of a throwback to the effective cop buddy comedies made back in the 80s ("Midnight Run", "48 Hours", "Beverly Hills Cop", "Lethal Weapon 1/2"). But the mismatch of content never allows it to reaches its full potential. These Nice Guys don't finish last, but they don't win, either.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Nice Guys" gets a C+.
“Neighbors” was Universal’s highest-grossing movie of 2014, so it’s no surprise that the studio decided to ring the doorbell again. Like “22 Jump Street”, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” doesn’t hide the fact that it’s basically re-hashing the same plot. The difference: Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s second go-around as undercover cops was consistently funny while Seth Rogen and Zac Efron’s college sequel simply isn’t.
Even with its wildly ridiculous storyline, “Neighbors 2” is based in reality: In the U.S., Sororities are not allowed to throw parties. And since the release of the original “Neighbors”, Abercrombie & Fitch have gotten rid of their shirtless models.
Kicked-out of his friend’s house and not pleased with his job “demotion”, Teddy (Efron, who still spends much of the film without a shirt) gets desperate and decides to visit his old college frat house. His former neighbors, Mac and Kelly (played again by Rogen and Rose Byrne) are happily expecting their second daughter - and looking forward to moving into a new home in 30 days.
When Teddy realizes that a new college sorority, Kappa Nu (led by Chloe Grace Moretz’s Shelby) plans on renting his old Delta Si house, and throwing incredible parties to make enough money to pay the rent, Teddy decides to become their mentor. Of course, this doesn’t make Mac and Kelly happy, as they need a quiet neighborhood until they sell their house.
Cue a non-stop stream of revenge pranks, including the return of the airbags gag - and the results are much more deflated this time. The original “Neighbors” had a decent number of quality jokes and smart comical references amidst all the chaos. I chuckled less than half a dozen times during “Sorority Rising”, and half of those were thanks to a few celebrity cameos. Many scenes go on way too long, are awkwardly staged and have absolutely no purpose.
The five (!) writers (Rogen being one) relied on the wild college life for humor - but we’ve seen this in so many other movies - it’s not shocking and far from amusing. There’s also plenty of anti-sexism preaching, but it’s difficult to take seriously when squished between moments of babies playing with sex toys and teen girls in wet bikinis.
How about a legitimate twist in the story? Nah - Rogen and returning director Nicholas Stoller didn’t dare mess with success. “Neighbors 2” is this year’s biggest, most blatant money-grab. If you think you know what you’re in for, expect to be underwhelmed.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” gets a D.
Angry Birds is one of the most popular and successful apps of all-time. The game is energetic, wacky and completely addicting. With so many kids (and adults) attached to these characters, an animated feature film was a logical next step. Seven years after the game's inception, Rovio, the franchise’s Finland-based animation company, brings us "The Angry Birds Movie".
Bird Island is inhabited by a variety of species - all of which cannot fly. Jason Sudeikis is perfectly cast as the voice of Red. Abandoned as a child and made fun of in school for his large, black eyebrows, Red has never been able to fit in. And that’s made him pretty angry. Being a clown for family birthday parties is probably not the best job for him. Following a disorderly disturbance at one home, Red receives the worst sentence an angry bird could get - he must attend Anger Management class.
There he meets the fast-talking, even faster moving, and out-of-control bright yellow Chuck (voiced by Josh Gad) and the giant, black Bomb (Danny McBride), who's main issue is that he literally blows-up. One of the best things about “The Angry Birds Movie” is that each bird’s characteristics and specialties are taken directly from the game. And the script stays true to the main rivalry, presented to us much like an origin story of the game’s very first edition, when a colony of green pigs inhabits Bird Island and they begin to show interest in all the unhatched eggs in the village.
The first half hour of “The Angry Birds Movie” features some smart, edgy one-liners, especially from Red, a rare movie smart-aleck who’s surprisingly and instantly likable. Once the pigs arrive, the pacing becomes frenetic and never slows down. This is a slapstick-heavy animated adventure, with so many over-the-top and zany comedic moments and action sequences, especially in the second half, that kids, and adults, will likely feel overwhelmed and tired-out even before the “soaring” climactic battle sequence.
Gad, a household name for playing Olaf in “Frozen”, really doesn’t change his voice much here for Chuck, which is a little distracting. On the other hand, Bill Hader, who plays Leonard, the King of the pigs, provides a noticeably deeper toned voice than for his Flint Lockwood character from the “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” series. Both have their moments.
“The Angry Birds Movie” is colorful, flashy and often clever (bird and pig puns aplenty). It’s not on the same quality level as this year's other animated hits, “Zootopia” and “Kung Fu Panda 3”, but it’s undeniably fun and memorable, especially for those who have loved slingshotting and blowing-up these characters on their phones and iPads all these years.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Angry Birds Movie” gets a B-.
"Money Monster" is director Jodie Foster's first feature since the 2011 drama "The Beaver". And which element of that film was considered more controversial is still up for debate: Mel Gibson's character or the actual beaver puppet. Foster turns to more commercial fare for "Money Monster", admitting that because "it's a genre film [from] a mainstream studio" it's much "different" than the other movies she's made.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the arrogant host of the popular finance show, "Money Monster", on the fictional Financial News Network. Gates is clearly based on CNBC's Jim Cramer, the high-energy host of "Mad Money". Like Cramer, Gates uses props, sound effects, wacky graphics, video clips and a quick wit in his analysis of the daily stock market activity and in interviews with the movers and shakers of the business world.
But Gates even takes things further, including a show-opening production number, complete with a gold top hat and back-up dancers. A little awkward and uncomfortable to watch? Yes. Why does Gates do it? As a typical twenty-something Wall Street guy says while watching the show in a bar, "I like when he has the strippers." It's all about the ratings.
Julia Roberts teams with Clooney for the fourth time, here as "Money Monster" show producer and director Patty Fenn. Minutes into Friday afternoon's live show, a regular viewer and follower of Gates' advice, posing as a delivery guy, walks onto the set, fires a gun, and forces Gates to put on a vest strapped with explosives. And if Kyle Budwell's thumb comes-off the detonator (he's played by "Unbroken"'s Jack O'Connell) the bomb blast will kill everyone in the studio. The disgruntled and desperate investor just lost all his money on a Gates "sure thing" stock pick.
Through Gates's earpiece, Fenn must coach the host through this life-and-death situation, telling him to "just breathe" after he predicts "I'm gonna f***ing die." And there are plenty of f-bombs tossed-around by Gates, Budwell and others as the hostage situation unfolds. The bill from the FCC when it was all over must have been incredible.
Of course, if a live hostage event like this did happen in real-life, it'd immediately become must-watch TV. Foster does a good job of not only showing that development within the story, but creating that feeling for those in the theater. Yes, it's not difficult to see where things are going, but it's how we get there that keeps "Money Monster" gripping. The script takes some unexpected swerves, including a few surprises in the climax that leave a nice, gritty aftertaste. And for a film that plays-out in real-time, and with more than half of that time spent in one location (the TV studio), it's a major accomplishment that things never drag.
"Money Monster" is a details movie, from the "TV tricks" Gates uses to try to prevent Budwell from pulling the trigger, Budwell's unpredictable responses, and Fenn directing Gates, the NYPD and others, making critical decisions on the fly, as the situation plays out. In this "What If" situation, Gates isn't afraid to admit his faults, or take a bullet (both figuratively and possibly literally) in front of the tens of millions of people watching. He sticks to his brash persona even in crisis, as his investment program turns into Reality TV.
While these aren't career-best performances from Clooney and Roberts, what they do quite well is make you forget early on that you're watching two of the biggest movie stars in the world playing a host and director/producer. Not an easy task. Foster chooses to keep the focus on the three main characters. There is a lack of substance and detail in the actual stock decline/world of finance storyline. This is NOT "The Big Short" with the addition of a mad gunman. Instead, "Money Monster" is a tense, yet light-on-its-feet, modern thriller that's absolutely worth your investment.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Money Monster" gets a B+.
At just under two and a half hours, “Captain America: Civil War” is longer than any of the previous 12 films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that should come as no surprise considering the gigantic cast of characters that have been brought together. And it’s this star-power, not the action or the story, that provides “Civil War” with its wow factor.
After another international mission ends-up causing more harm than good, with multiple deaths of innocent civilians, The Avengers are brought-in for an evaluation. And the United Nations decides it’s time to reign-in the Superheroes, asking each member to sign the Sokovia Accords, which states that The Avengers can only spring into action when officially asked - no longer free to fight evil whenever and wherever they wish.
Some members are glad they’re finally being regulated - including Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr. received a reported $40 million to return as Tony Stark) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson back once again). But others, led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) aren’t happy with the agreement and refuse to sign. And this dispute between Cap and Tony quickly turns the longtime friends into frenemies. This thread - which side, ultimately, will be proven right - is what carries the plot.
The first 90 minutes or so of “Civil War” are pretty straightforward. There are some high-powered action sequences, but the camera moves and edits are so quick that these scenes are difficult to appreciate. And the tone is fairly serious - the one slight criticism I had for “The Winter Soldier”. But there are some strong moments, led by an excellent exchange between Downey, Jr. and Alfre Woodard, in a stirring cameo.
But once Captain America and Iron Man break-out their rolodexes and assemble their respective teams “Civil War” really gets cookin’. The six-on-six playground-style epic-scale brawl ALONE is worth the (inflated) price of admission. Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is a solid addition to the Marvel movie roster. Tom Holland is refreshingly appealing as the new Spider-Man. His start-up relationship with Stark as mentor works nicely. And Paul Rudd, who returns as Ant-Man, has some of the best lines and is way more likable in a “small” dose here than in his own film.
“Civil War” isn’t my favorite Marvel Studios installment. The “superheroes out of control” storyline certainly isn’t fresh (wasn’t that also at the core of “Batman v. Superman”?) But unlike with that DC disaster, the use of all the extra characters from the comic universe is done effectively and with a purpose this time. That’s one of probably a dozen things that make “Civil War” a much better film than “Dawn of Justice”.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Captain America: Civil War” gets a solid B.
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