2013 is a break-out year for actor Benedict Cumberbatch. As if his playing (you know who) in "Star Trek Into Darkness" wasn't enough, he also has roles in Awards Season contenders "12 Years a Slave", "August: Osage County", and "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug". And there was some early buzz surrounding Cumberbatch's work as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in "The Fifth Estate". He's by far the best thing in the film, but his performance is not nomination worthy and can't save this near-disaster.
Bill Condon is best known for directing the final two "Twilight" installments - "Breaking Dawn Pts. 1 and 2". If that fact alone isn't enough to destroy a resume he now has to add this misguided attempt to tell the WikiLeaks story to his credits. Condon uses a variety of visual tactics - computer graphics, news footage, and some unnecessary fantasy sequences to try get the audience hooked. None of it works.
Assange and WikiLeaks partner Daniel Berg (played by "Rush"'s Daniel Bruhl) dominate the entire first hour. I quickly got tired of watching them type feverishly on their laptops, sending messages to each other. Assange recruits Berg to help him turn his idea of creating a place where people could leak critical information about wrongdoings going on around the world into a powerful and effective website. The film also examines the relationship between these two men, who start out with similar goals but then start to see things differently.
The main problem with "The Fifth Estate" is the dull script that's based on not one, but two books. There are a few effective scenes, but not nearly enough. "Jobs", another "start-up of a tech-based company" film from earlier this year, featured stronger performances and better storylines. Here we watch as Julian and Daniel go through their ups and downs over the first few years of the company, but at no point does Condon establish enough tension for us to care about the characters and their fates. The only "dramatic" moments come when laptop lids are slammed in frustration. At one point I became so uninterested in what was going on that I decided to pay attention to a (what would normally be distracting) spider that had somehow crawled onto the lens of the projector, and therefore appeared faintly giant on the screen. He also soon got bored and headed elsewhere.
Oscar nominees Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci lead the supporting cast as White House officials. They appear about halfway through and I was hoping could save the day. Unfortunately they're in only three scenes together (fortunate for them). Anthony Mackie ("The Hurt Locker") also has what amounts to a little more than a cameo.
"The Fifth Estate" is rated R for some language and a few violent moments. It's appropriate for teens and up. There is one thing that makes this film stand-out: it features the weirdest epilogue I've ever seen, ending with a scene in which a character completely and intentionally discredits the entire movie. Simply bizarre.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Fifth Estate" gets a C-. The WikiLeaks story is interesting and maybe, in the right hands, it could have been turned into a compelling and important film. But this isn't that.
The late James Gandolfini shines in the romantic comedy "Enough Said", which is the next-to-last film of his outstanding career and one that belongs near the top of his acting credits. Gandolfini stars as Albert opposite Julia-Louis Dreyfus's Eva. They are both divorced, middle-aged parents of daughters who will soon be heading off to college. Albert runs a museum of Television history (what a great job!) and Eva is a masseuse. They meet at a party, soon begin to date and quickly form a quirky relationship, playfully bouncing-off each other with funny, often sarcastic, one-liners.
In the meantime, Eva gets a new client, a poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener) and she messes-up her potential love connection with Albert. Explaining how would give away too much, and some of what happens is "movie coincidence", but I bought it. Credit goes to screenwriter/director Nicole Holofcner for delivering a believable script out of a somewhat hard to believe situation.
Gandolfini, best known for his iconic role as tough, mob boss Tony Soprano, is simply excellent. Dreyfus is also very good. Their chemistry together on screen is natural and magical. We're drawn into Eva and Albert's world and get to know them as friends, connecting with them just as they are connecting with each other.
This is a dialogue-driven comedy. There aren't many laugh-out-loud moments, but several scenes filled with lively conversations and clever lines delivered with perfect comedic timing by not only Gandolfini and Dreyfus, but Eva's married friends played by Toni Collette and Ben Falcone. And there's a very effective subplot, one not normally explored in films such as this, involving the relationship between Eva, her daughter Ellen, and Ellen's best friend Chloe. The final ten minutes include some of the best scenes of any film this year.
"Enough Said" is rated PG-13 for some adult language and situations. It's appropriate for teens and up but is geared for an older audience. It's a must-see for Gandolfini's nomination-worthy performance, but that's only one of a long list of reasons you should seek out this film.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Enough Said" gets an A-.
Over the past few months I've probably seen the second trailer for "Captain Phillips" 50 times. No exaggeration. Every scene, every line is engraved in my mind. It's too bad the trailer gives away far too much, but that's true of practically all of them. In the case of "Captain Phillips", since it is based on a true story, most people know how the story ends. This film is all about the journey and not the outcome.
So the challenge for director Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Ultimatum") was to come-up with a way to grab and hold the audience with a compelling telling of a familiar story: the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. "Captain Phillips" will be compared to last year's Oscar winners "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty", as all three chronicle real-life historical events involving missions and peril, each from a slightly different perspective.
It helps that Greengrass has two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks playing his title character. Hanks is at his career best as Capt. Richard Phillips, a role that will likely earn him his 6th Oscar nomination.
"Captain Phillips" starts-out a little slow as we are introduced to the two men who will soon come face-to-face on the high seas. Phillips and his wife Andrea (played by Catherine Keener in a three minute cameo) live in a nice home Vermont and have a couple of kids. She doesn't like the fact that her husband has to leave and go on long trips transporting cargo, but Richard explains that this is his job. He's also well aware of "a potential piracy situation" on this mission along the African coast.
Greengrass then takes us to Somalia, which couldn't be more different from New England. The Somali people live in terrible conditions. Poverty is all they know. And so they depend on hijacking ships and holding them for ransom in order to survive. Several men are selected to go a new mission and their target turns out to be Phillips' ship. Four, in one small motorboat, make it to the Maersk Alabama. The men who play these Somali pirates are all first time Somali actors, including Barkhad Abdi, who delivers a stands-out performance as the group's leader. Abdi has revealed that the soon-to-be iconic "Look at me" exchange between himself and Hanks, in which he utters the line, "I'm the Captain now" was completely ad-libbed. This will be the clip we'll be seeing throughout awards season, as Abdi is discussed as a Supporting Actor nomination contender, an honor he absolutely deserves.
While practically all of "Captain Phillips" takes place on the open water, Greengrass shoots the film extremely tight, a technique that adds to the tension and keeps us riveted throughout. We are placed on that ship and in the middle of this life-and-death situation, and stay there for all 2+ hours. The camerawork is quite impressive. And the early action scenes when the pirates attack and take over the ship are well staged and executed.
There's a section about halfway through "Captain Phillips" when things drags a bit. It's no fault of screenwriter Billy Ray's, who needed to include this lull since it's critical to the overall story, and Phillips book (with Stephan Talty), "A Captain's Duty", on which the script is based. This section just doesn't have the bite of the rest of the film. However, with about twenty minutes to go, things crank-up again on the way to a dramatic climax and conclusion. The final few minutes are a showcase for Hanks, a cherry on top of an already stellar performance. Credit goes to Greengrass for not only his direction, but for keeping these scenes in the movie.
"Captain Phillips" is rated PG-13 for the action/violence, including some blood, language, drug use and peril. It's appropriate for teens and up. Unlike "Argo" (my favorite film of 2012), "Captain Phillips" wasn't an "edge of the seat" experience for me. This is an intense film, but with subtle emotional results. However, it's one of the best crafted films of the year and Hanks makes it a must-see.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Captain Phillips" gets a B.
When I saw the first trailer for "Gravity", I knew this was going to be one of the movie events of 2013: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts in trouble in space, along with some amazing visuals. And the film doesn't disappoint. "Gravity" is a heart-pounding adventure, set in a unique location.
Bullock's Ryan Stone is a medical engineer on her first trip to space. For Clooney's Matt Kowalski, this is his final mission working 372 miles above the Earth - the end of a long career as a shuttle astronaut. They, and a third colleague, are on the space shuttle Explorer. From the first minute of the film director Alfonso Cuaron pulls us into the story with incredible visuals, as Stone and Kowalski are attempting to make some simple repairs to the shuttle. Mission Control (voiced appropriately by "Apollo 13"'s Ed Harris) is also part of the conversation, with Kowalski telling stories and cracking jokes in an attempt to make the inexperienced Stone feel more at ease.
But then things begin to go terribly wrong. Satellite debris is on its way, so the astronauts need to get inside the shuttle. But they don't make it to safety in time, and for the rest of the film, we watch intently as these two struggle for survival, in hopes that they can make it back home alive.
"Gravity" has a very limited story and, at 90 minutes, is much shorter than most current major studio films. But Cuaron ("Children of Men"), who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-edited the film, packs every minute with action, suspense, drama, and some heart-pounding moments. Emotions run high for the astronauts and for the audience. I saw "Gravity" in IMAX 3D, which I highly recommend. It's a space movie for crying out loud - that's what IMAX was made for! And Cuaron delivers on his promise with incredible camerawork. Obviously, the phrase "shot on location" is no where to be seen in the closing credits, but you wouldn't know it. There are several astonishing visuals during the very intense action scenes. A few early close-up shots of Clooney and Bullock do scream Green Screen, but other than that the look is quite authentic.
As for the performances, Bullock is excellent, certainly worthy of another Oscar nomination. Last November, when "Gravity" was originally scheduled to be released, Warner Bros. predicted that Bullock would land another Best Actress honor for her role. We've still got a long way to go this Awards Season, but nonetheless, Bullock brings depth and emotion to Stone without it ever feeling forced. Clooney basically plays Clooney in an astronaut suit. His Kowalski is suave, intelligent, full of himself, but also caring and honorable.
"Gravity" is rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, language, disturbing images, and a whole lot of peril. It's appropriate for teens and up. Outside of a few twists and the amazing visuals, I can't say I was "wowed" by it. At no point while watching "Gravity" did I ever think that I was watching the Best Picture of the Year, or even a contender for that honor. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe the story is just too simple. Even so, this is a highly enjoyable film. Very good, but not "Out of this World".
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Gravity" gets a B+.
The tagline for "Rush" is "Everyone's Driven by Something". I was driven to see Ron Howard's latest because of the very promising trailer (even though it gives away too much). "Rush" has a good cast, a well-respected director and an Oscar nominated screenwriter - Peter Morgan. And I was driven by something during the film: I was driven CRAZY by the constant blathering of race announcers.
Howard's decision to rely so much on announcer voice over (make that corny announcer voice over) in telling this true story of rival Formula One drivers James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) was a BIG mistake. The commentator audio consistently takes you out of the moment, and Howard uses the technique throughout the entire movie. For some reason, (maybe because he felt general movie audiences don't know much about auto racing) Howard has the announcers stating the obvious and often repeating the same facts over and over. This dumbing-down of an already straight-forward story drains the enjoyment out of the film.
On the plus side, the camerawork in "Rush" is impressive. The racing scenes are visually compelling. And from the start, Howard captures the look and feel of the 1970's, perfectly placing us in that time. Morgan's screenplay is solid. Interestingly, it includes parallel elements from his "Frost/Nixon" script. That film, which Howard also directed, was packed with much more drama and suspense. I went into "Rush" knowing very little of the real-life story of these two men and their famous battle in '76 for the Formula One championship. I thought that was going to be an advantage, but the only true excitement comes in the final few minutes of the movie's final race.
Hemsworth, best known as "Thor", the God of Thunder, gives his best acting performance to date as the playboy Hunt. Bruhl is also very believable in the more demanding role as the serious and determined Lauda. Their confrontation scenes make for the film's best moments. Olivia Wilde has a little more than a cameo as famous British model Suzy Miller, who becomes James' wife, but then leaves him to marry actor Richard Burton and break-up his relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. Apparently this was a huge scandal at the time. I can only imagine how the TV and radio announcers described that. Let's hope Howard doesn't make a movie about it so we won't have to find out.
"Rush" is rated R for some adult content, nudity, language, drug use and disturbing accident images. It's appropriate for teens and up. I believe there was hope that "Rush" could have been in the race for a Best Picture Oscar nomination. But I think I can safely announce that the film, and it's director, will not be in contention to take the checkered flag for this effort.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Rush" gets a C+.
In 2009, Sony Pictures Animation's adaptation of the classic children's story, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, was served-up to moviegoers, complete with an updated twist. Actually, it was a major overhaul. In fact, the only thing the popular book and the movie script had in common was the title. But the energetic food-fest about a young inventor with big dreams became a huge hit for the studio, grossing $243M worldwide which, naturally, called for a sequel.
This latest addition to the menu, "Cloudy 2", offers-up a new adventure for scientist Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), weather girl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), Baby Brent (Andy Samberg), Flint's father Tim (James Caan), officer Earl (Terry Crews, who takes over for Mr. T) and the lovable monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris). In the original, food fell from the sky. This time the food comes alive!
Following a brief recap of the previous film (which I normally hate, but didn't bother me here), the plot picks-up right where it left off: The gang has just saved the island of Swallow Falls (and the entire world) by shutting down Flint's Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator, which turned water into food, but got a little out of control. However, all the giant pizzas, burgers, pancakes, etc. are still on the island. A company named Live Corp., led by Flint's TV idol, CEO genius-scientist Chester V (Will Forte), volunteers to do the clean-up job of the island. Chester V is a cross between tech giants Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, as he tries to be hip, complete with sneakers and orange vest, and The Simpsons' Mr. Burns in the way he treat his thousands of employees like dirt.
The residents of Swallow Falls must evacuate their homes while the clean-up takes place and move to San Fran Jose, CA (nice joke). Chester V convinces Flint to give up his plans to start his own company and join him at Live Corp. But the entire gang will soon have to return to the island to stop the "foodimals" from possibly escaping and taking over the world.
Right now (and with apologizes to Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks) Sony Pictures Animation is the most consistent of all the major animation studios when it comes to delivering amazing looking films with stories and scripts to match. And they've done it again with "Cloudy 2". The SPA animators are allowed the freedom to break all the rules - especially when it comes to movements of the human characters. The pace of the action is practically out-of-control but it's balanced nicely by some quiet, thoughtful moments that you may not even realize are there. And at it's heart is a story simple enough for kids to follow and enjoy, jammed with jokes and clever references for adults. Credit to directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn for being able to mix all these ingredients together and produce something deliciously wacky and unique.
The food creatures in "Cloudy 2" have great names such as Cheespider, Meatballrus, Hippotatomus and Shrimpanzee. The creative meetings must have been hilarious. And the breakout star turns-out a young strawberry named Berry. The animation itself achieves all three Bs: bright, bold and breathtaking. There's an amazing scene, when the characters first return to the island, that's an awe-inspiring homage to "Jurassic Park". Chester V is a solid new character, though he's in the film a little too much. There aren't a lot of surprises in the script, but when there are Watermelophants, a Tacodile Supreme on the loose and a Leek in the boat to keep everyone busy, that's okay.
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" is rated PG for some mild rude humor. It's appropriate for kids 7 and up. "Cloudy 2" doesn't provide the laugh-out-loud moments of this summer's, "Despicable Me 2", the year's funniest animated film so far. But like an extra large ice cream cone, it keeps you smiling from start to finish. And sprinkled in for the kids (and adults) are some important lessons about loyalty, respect and friendship.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" gets a B+. Definitely see it, but be sure to eat first or you'll be sitting through the entire movie dying for a Tacodile Supreme.
Academy Award nominee Hugh Jackman is being marketed as the star of "Prisoners". Jackman plays the father of one of two abducted children in this mystery/crime/thriller. But it's Jake Gyllenhaal who receives most of the screen time as the intense, straight-forward detective in charge of solving the case and saving the kids.
"Prisoners" immediately grabs you, and for the first hour my eyes were completely glued to the screen, as the panic, chaos, and determination to find the two young girls takes hold of their families, the police and the community.
The parents (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, and Maria Bello who plays the wife of Jackman's carpenter Keller Dover) assist in the search for several days, while the police (led by Gyllenhaal's Detective Loki) investigate possible suspects, including Alex (Paul Dano), who lives with his aunt (played by Melissa Leo). The kids had been playing on an RV that Dano was driving a few hours before they went missing. The early scenes of the search and the investigation are heart-pounding.
However, director Denis Villeneuve can't keep-up the high level of suspense for the second and third acts, when the story really starts to drag. My mind began to wander after having to watch practically the same scenes over and over. The majority of the "twists" are underwhelming - I figured out where all the clues were leading to before the detective (who had a perfect record in solving cases). That's not a good sign. "Prisoners" starts-out like an interesting episode of "CSI", but then turns into a dull episode of "Dateline".
The best thing about "Prisoners" is the ensemble cast. When on screen, Jackman is very believable as a desperate father willing to do anything to get his child back. Gyllenhaal is solid, and Howard, Davis, and Bello all have their showcase scenes. Dano and Leo are also quite good.
"Prisoners" is rated R for language and some intense violence, including disturbing images and scenes of torture. I wasn't surprised to see a few older audience members leave halfway through. Even though it's effective on many levels, "Prisoners" never "wows". This script could've gone in so many other (better) directions. There are a few quality scenes, but the plot has some holes and moments which stretch logic. Overall, it just doesn't provide the emotional impact you'd expect from a potential Oscar contender.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Prisoners" gets a B-.
Making a dark comedy based on one family's life on the run from the mob: Interesting. Casting Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones as the two main characters: Genius. Having Martin Scorsese as executive producer of the film that not only references the great director but works his classic movie, "Goodfellas" (which starred De Niro) into the plot: Clever. "The Family" is exactly what you'd hope it could be - smart, funny and entertaining.
De Niro stars as Fred Blake, who is really Giovanni Manzoni, a former Brooklyn mafia boss who testified against 'the family'. He's married to Michelle Pfeiffer's Maggie, and they have two teenagers, Belle and Warren. They're living under the Witness Protection Program and have just been moved to Normandy, France. The mob bosses who Fred put in prison are trying to find and kill him. Jones leads a small group of FBI agents whose job it is to keep The Blakes alive and out of trouble, which is easier said than done.
"The Family" continues the current trend of adult action comedies. And there's plenty of both here, though it's the amount of beatings, stabbings, shootings and killings, complete with a whole lot of blood, that will likely surprise audiences.
At the same time, "The Family" suffers from a bad case of predictability. Director Luc Besson, who also co-wrote the screenplay, which is based on the book Malavita (the film's original title), doesn't do much of anything fresh with this very basic plot. And the structure is rather uneven, going from lengthy scenes involving conversations between De Niro and the neighbors, De Niro and Jones, and even De Niro and himself (as narration while writing his memoirs), to moments of jarring violence. The script does keep you wondering what's coming next. And the minor characters, including the two agents who are watching the family 24/7 and a local priest, are well written.
As for the performances, the showcase scenes are designed for De Niro and Jones, and they don't disappoint. You have to think these two had a ball working together. Other than dealing with an issue involving the neighborhood grocery store Pfeiffer plays it rather straight. One of the bright spots in the cast is "Glee"'s Dianna Agron as Belle. At 27, she not only pulls-off the role of a high school student who's learned a lot from her father when it comes to protecting herself, but is also quite good in a few emotional moments.
"The Family" is rated R for all the violence, a trunk full of F-bombs, and other adult content. It's appropriate for mid-teens and up.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Family" gets a B. I enjoyed spending time with The Blakes. I just wouldn't want them moving-in across the street.
Vin Diesel is best known for the hugely-successful "Fast & Furious" movies. One of his other breakout roles was introduced in 2000's "Pitch Black": Richard B. Riddick. A sequel, "The Chronicles of Riddick", followed in 2004. And now, nine years later, the cult character has returned in the definitively titled - "Riddick". There have been a lot of bad films released so far in 2013 (even though we've just started the Fall Movie Season). This is one of the worst.
For the first half hour of "Riddick" I thought Diesel was going to be the only actor in the film. During this time he's alone on a mysterious yellow planet (which he sees as purple without his signature goggles), wandering around and battling scorpion/lizard creatures, along with his CGI K-9 companion. That's right, the wild dog that he almost kills, but decides to turn into a pet, isn't even real. Then two groups of bounty hunters show-up and dominate the screen time for the next 30 minutes. Their goal is to capture and kill Riddick. Explaining why would give this plot more respect than it deserves. There's a hunt and then - guess what - they learn that they must work together if any of them want to survive. I consider the fact that I survived these two hours of uninspired movie-making a major accomplishment.
"Riddick" is a lock to snag a few LCJ Movie Awards nominations at the end of the year. One is "The 'Total Recall' (2012 version) Award for Most Colorful Language in an Action Movie". There are so many F-bombs, often coming back-to-back-to-back, that it's impossible to keep track. The other is for "Worst Special Effects". Not only is the CGI K-9 an embarrassment but the hover-cycle rides are comical. I think the reason the film is shot so dark is to try to cover-up the amateur-looking effects.
I'll admit, a couple of the action scenes work and Diesel does deliver a few good lines. But the film is agonizingly slow, there are too many characters who talk far too much, and did I mention the CGI dog?! "Riddick" is rated R for all the language, violence, some disturbing images and brief nudity. It's appropriate for older teens and up.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Riddick" gets a D. In short, it's "Riddick-ulous".
Apparently Diesel wants to continue to make other movies in between the "Fast & Furious" chapters. But the fact that those films are coming more "fast and furious" than ever, he probably doesn't have to (which would be a blessing, though we'll make an exception for "Guardians of the Galaxy").
Believe it or not, the Hanna-Barbera animated series, "Top Cat", ran for only one season on ABC, from 1962-63. But fifty years later, the classic cartoon returns with the release of "Top Cat: The Movie", which is finally available on DVD. However, this big screen version, which was first released in Mexico in 2011, then in the UK last year, isn't anywhere near as good as "the most tip top" original.
TC, Benny, Choo Choo, Brain, Spook, and Fancy-Fancy still live in that New York City alley with the garbage cans and telephone pole. As voice actor Jason Harris (who plays many of the characters) told me, the style of the film is still very much the 60's, even though it's set in modern day.
Officer Dibble is up for a promotion - Chief of Police of NYC. But, instead the job goes to Strickland (voiced by Rob Schneider). He's obsessed with three things: money, security cameras, and himself. He promises to make the streets of New York safer, but his technological achievements (including creating robots to replace all the police officers) go a little too far, to the point where he's controlling everything in the entire city.
Meantime, Top Cat is sent to Dog Jail by Strickland for a crime he didn't commit. There he interacts with many K-9s (including one voiced by Danny Trejo). TC's old gang (and a possible new love interest) have to come up with a plan to free him and stop Strickland.
One of the strengths of "Top Cat: The Movie" is the interesting style of animation. The characters are hand-drawn and given a bit of an updated look. However, the backgrounds: buildings, cars and surroundings are all CGI. And while the characters' voices don't sound the same a half century later, they're not bad.
The trademark of Top Cat and company was the gang's hijinks, and we get some of that in the decent first half hour. Unfortunately, the story goes downhill from there. The script has a few laughs, including nods to the TV series, but it's way too simple and straight-forward. As with other recent animated films, when a memorable team is separated, the story quickly falls apart. That's exactly what happens about halfway through. Soon, "Top Cat: The Movie" becomes silly and quite average, on the level of most Saturday morning cartoons.
It's rated PG for some mild cartoon violence. Very young kids might be entertained, but those who fondly remember the TV series may want to pass on this version to avoid having those memories spoiled.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Top Cat: The Movie" gets a C.
"In a World..." was the iconic opening line spoken by late movie trailer voice-over pioneer Don LaFontaine. Actress Lake Bell ("No Strings Attached", "It's Complicated") uses that piece of dialogue as the basis for her feature film directorial debut of the same name. She also wrote the screenplay (a winner at Sundance) and stars in this fictionalized look at the movie trailer and commercial voice over industry in Hollywood, with some authentic elements.
Bell plays Carol. She's the daughter of one of the most famous voice-over actors, Sam Soto. Carol is currently a vocal coach but trying to pursue voice-over work as a career. However, her father despises this. He doesn't think anyone will ever want to hear a female voice behind a trailer or TV ad telling people to go see the movie or buy the product. Carol is disappointed that her father won't support her, but that's not stopping her. She continues to work harder and book more TV and movie trailer spots. But she faces some tough male competition for other opportunities (including the voice of the "quadrilogy" film series - based on a huge book series - "The Amazon Games").
"In a World..." starts-out as an interesting and likeable look at the voice-over game. There's some archival footage of interviews with LaFontaine used in the opening credits. Someone should make a documentary about him and his profession. That would be fascinating. And it's nice that Bell uses the Golden Trailer Awards, a real awards show that honors movie trailers, TV spots, posters, and more every year, in her climactic scene.
However, about a half hour in, "In a World..." turns into a predictable romantic comedy. Carol falls for another voiceover artist who's trying to make it big, while her sister has some relationship issues of her own. Rob Corddry gives the most dramatic performance in an otherwise pure comedic career as Carol's sister's boyfriend. These unnecessary elements were likely added in to fill the 90 min. runtime.
And then, with about 20 minutes to go, "In a World..." gets back on the right track. The "father vs. daughter" storyline works well and is a unique hook to keep you engaged to the end. There are some very funny lines and situations that pun Hollywood and the pop culture industry. Eva Longoria, Jeff Garlin and Cameron Diaz even get in on the act playing themselves. More of this would've helped. Geena Davis and Nick Offerman ("Parks and Rec") are part of the supporting cast.
"In a World..." is rated R for some language and adult references. It's a solid, enjoyable film that you should seek out when it hits your local theater.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "In a World..." gets a B-.
Most critics destroyed "Getaway". And I'll admit that it is one of those films that's cheesy, way over-the-top, with logic taking a back seat to the action. But if you go along for the ride, as I did, it can also be a whole lot of fun.
Ethan Hawke stars as former racecar driver Brent Magna (come on, even his name is fun) who's wife is kidnapped by bad guys. He then receives a phone call from a mysterious man named "The Voice" (played by Jon Voight), who instructs Brent to do whatever he tells him to do or he'll never see his wife alive again. He first steals a Ford Shelby Mustang Super Snake, which he'll be using to follow instructions in hopes of saving his wife. Then Selena Gomez shows-up as "The Kid" (we never learn her real name) and she ends-up joining Brent on a wild, high-speed night around the city of Sofia, Bulgaria, as he races to complete tasks, which consist mostly of crashing into and destroying as many police cars as possible.
We began the summer with a Christmas movie ("Iron Man 3") and we end the summer with one too. The soundtrack for "Getaway" is primarily devoted to classics like "Jingle Bell Rock" because the film is set during the holiday season. If you've ever wanted to see a sports car speed through a park filled with Christmas decorations and holiday revelers, this is the film for you.
"Getaway" is an ideal end of the summer popcorn flick. There's a reason it's being released in late August. It's a one-man "Fast & Furious", though not nearly as enjoyable as those films. The pure destruction is impressive, as there's a chase scene filled with crashes every few minutes. And while the script has holes large enough to drive a truck through, the stunt work and choreography is quite impressive (including a great chase at the end of the film done in one, continuous shot). There's tons of property damage, mountains of broken glass, and insane crashes that will make you laugh-out-loud.
And that's exactly what "Getaway" is designed to do. It's pure escapism. Hawke and Gomez exchange bad dialogue, her ability to tap into the electronics of the car is ridiculous, and how come the Mustang never gets a flat tire? You know what - if questions like that are going to bother you - don't see this movie. But, frankly, I was having too much of a good time to worry about stuff like that.
"Getaway" is rated PG-13 for the action/violence and adult language (a lot of S-bombs from Gomez - good thing she's not living in The House of Mouse anymore) and is appropriate for kids 12 and up. It's not Shakespeare (nor does it try to be - or not to be), but it is worth taking for a spin.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Getaway" gets a B-.
First there was Hannah Montana. Next came The Jonas Brothers, followed by the late Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. All of these artists have been the subjects of recent concert documentaries (or "con/docs" as I like to call them). The latest on this evergrowing list is the British boyband One Direction. When I heard about a year ago that Sony was making this film, I thought "Are they still going to be popular by the time this film comes out?" Amazingly, they are.
However, director Morgan Spurlock, the same guy who ate all that McDonald's food nearly 10 years ago so he could make an important and memorable movie ("Super Size Me"), took the group's title a little too literally for this project, going in only "one direction" for "This Is Us". It's tough to call this film a documentary because there's no arc, no conflict, nothing revealed and nothing learned. "This Is Us" is basically a concert film with some interviews tossed in, made solely for diehard fans.
The film starts strong, as we are introduced to the singers: Liam, Niall, Harry, Louis and Zayn, and see how they all came together on the UK version of TV show "The X-Factor", with the help of judge Simon Cowell (also an executive producer on this film). Cowell also appears briefly, in a straight-on camera shot, sitting at a desk in his typical black shirt with a spot of tea next to him. We also get a few cameo appearances backstage at Madison Square Garden from comedian Chris Rock and director Martin Scorsese, who seemed starstruck when meeting the band with his granddaughter. "I bring her stuff, she brings me stuff." I think the 1D members and I were thinking the same thing, "What the heck is he talking about?"
Then come the musical numbers. An unfortunate decision Spurlock made was to include too many songs. After the third or fourth time seeing the lads pouring out their affections to thousands of screaming girls with another of their sappy pop tunes, they completely lost me. The occasional glitzy, 3D effects popping out of the screen don't help either. In between these concert clips is the typical backstage, tour bus, and real-life footage from the band's sold-out 2012 world tour.
One of the main problems with "This Is Us" is, because there are five guys, the attention and screen time gets spread-out. When alone on camera the singers do say a few interesting things about their incredible lives. But most of the time we get them all together, talking with each other, and a lot of it seems staged and rather awkward. You never feel connected to any of them as individuals.
"Katy Perry: Part of Me", "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" and "Michael Jackson's This Is It" all, in some ways, included real drama, which made those movies worth seeing even for those who aren't fans of the performers. You don't get any of that here. Instead, it's basically five young men having the time of their lives, supported by millions of adoring fans. They're shown as nice, humble kids with supportive families. And I'm sure it's all true. But it just doesn't make for a compelling movie.
"One Direction: This Is Us" is rated PG for some language and the obligatory shots of the boys with their shirts off and a few times in their undies. Tween/teen girls will likely flood theaters, sing along with the songs, and laugh and giggle at the boys' goofy antics. For them, it's a B+. However, if you're not a 1D fanatic there is absolutely no reason to see this film.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "One Direction: This Is Us" gets a C. I expected more from Spurlock than this.
I can't end this review without including the story of how I nearly met Spurlock a year and a half ago. I was at an office building in LA, on the phone, about to go up on an elevator. Spurlock was standing near the elevator texting on his phone. Sadly, I couldn't get off of my call in time to talk to him before the elevator went up. Maybe someday I'll bump into him ordering a McRib, listening to 1D or texting someone about his next film.
The trailer for "Closed Circuit" leads you to believe that this is going to be an action/suspense thriller about hidden cameras and the fact that we're being watched at all times. But after seeing the film, I want my money back. It turns out that's not what "Closed Circuit" is about AT ALL! There are no action scenes (other than a two-second, minor car crash), no suspense, no thrills and the hidden cameras take a backseat to a dry, straight-forward crime drama (and that's even a stretch).
Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall play Martin and Claudia. They're two London lawyers chosen to defend a terrorist believed to be the mastermind behind a 2012 bombing that killed 120 people. But they must stay separated from at each other at all times throughout the process because of all the classified secrets involved in the trial. That shouldn't be too difficult, right? Except that they're ex-lovers (which no one else, apparently, knows about).
As he gets into examining the evidence Martin realizes that there's more to his client than he's being told, and the information puts both himself and Claudia in jeopardy. At that point you expect "Closed Circuit" to play-out like a "Bourne" film - with chases and double-agents and exciting fight scenes. But we get none of that. The only similarity between this film and any of the "Bourne" movies is an appearance by Julia Stiles, who has a small role as a reporter for The New York Times.
The first hour of "Closed Circuit" is somewhat solid and there's potential for it to play-out as a respectable thriller. But I just kept waiting for something interesting or exciting to happen. Nothing ever does. There are no twists or surprises. The storyline simply goes in one direction for a long time and then fizzles-out. It's almost as if, in the editing room, the filmmakers realized "we've got nothing". The script is full of holes, and don't even get me started on the final scene, which actually takes place in the future (Sept. 2013).
Bana and Hall are good together and add a little energy to an otherwise dull screenplay by Steven Knight ("Eastern Promises"). Jim Broadbent leads the supporting cast. His Attorney General character is both obvious and useless.
"Closed Circuit" is rated R for language and brief violence. And I mean brief. Blink of an eye and you'll miss it. And that's also what will happen to this film. It will slip out of theaters within a week or two and be forgotten just as quickly.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Closed Circuit" gets a C-.
"The Spectacular Now" stars Miles Teller as Sutter, an 18-year-old high school senior whose philosophy is to live in the moment/live in the "Now". While I can relate to that, Sutter isn't taking his "Now" too seriously. He works at a clothing store, but doesn't care much about academics or his future. He likes to drink, party and score with the ladies.
After one of his "wild" evenings, Sutter meets Aimee (played by "The Descendants"' Shailene Woodley). She's one of the more quiet, unpopular girls at school (a little hard to believe), who's never had a boyfriend. That quickly changes when Sutter enters the picture. However, "The Spectacular Now" is not one of those perfect, Cinderella stories. The rest of the film chronicles the ups and downs of Sutter and Aimee's relationship, along with their family issues and college plans.
Going in, I was expecting "The Spectacular Now" to be more powerful than it actually is. You simply sit back and watch this story play-out, but never get emotionally invested in what's going on. And that's because it's all too simple and familiar. There's only one minor twist in the entire film, and it isn't handled in a very realistic way. Elements of the film are authentic, while others don't make a lot of sense. The blatant use of alcohol by Sutter and Aimee at school functions (they don't even try to hide it) would never be possible at any high school in the country.
Teller and Woodley share their screentime together well and each has a few effective scenes. The main problem is that the script, by "(500) Days of Summer" writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on the 2008 book by Tim Tharp, isn't unique or powerful enough to capture us and place us "in the moment" with these characters. We've seen many of these plotlines before, done in much more interesting ways. Let's hope my senior year in high school includes more surprises than this film provides.
The supporting cast includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Sutter's older sister, Jennifer Jason Leigh as his struggling mother, and Kyle Chandler as Sutter's father, who he hasn't seen in 10 years. Everyone is solid. Earlier this summer, "The Way, Way Back" told a different kind of teen "coming of age story". While I didn't love that film either, it has a little more heart and a few strong, memorable performances (Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell) that make it the pick out of these two.
"The Spectacular Now" is rated R for language, alcohol use and adult content. It's appropriate for older teens and up. This film looks good and is passable entertainment but, unfortunately, it doesn't come close to living-up to it's title.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Spectacular Now" gets a C+.
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