Movie Reviews

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Nerve (PG-13) C

Nerve (PG-13) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Nerve" is based on a 2012 novel by Jeanne Ryan. And that makes perfect sense. There's a heroine at the center of a Hunger Games-esque, high-tech reality game called Nerve, which is, essentially, an extreme version of Truth or Dare, with teen and 20-year-old contestants tackling various challenges in hopes of winning cash, gaining followers and becoming internet celebrities. However, Nerve is also the ultimate game of "Press Your Luck", with the Whammy being Death. As the dollar amounts increase, the dares get more and more dangerous.

The concept is intriguing, but as the movie unfolds, it’s impossible not to think how illogical it all is. No one is allowed to tell the Police about Nerve or else they're considered a snitch, which has its own set of consequences. Nerve has supposedly gone on for years, with tens of thousands of "Watchers" and "Players" across the country, and during that time, no one in authority OF ANY KIND has found-out about the game? That’s simply ridiculous.

Plus, practically every high school and college student (along with some adults bored at work) watches Nerve on their device of choice - basically doing NOTHING ELSE with their lives - and yet no one on any of the OTHER Social Media Platforms: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat are talking about it? We all know - in the real world - there are no secrets online.

Those are big flaws when it comes to the Nerve game. And there are just as many problems with "Nerve" the movie. Emma Roberts plays Vee, a high school senior who’s looking to go to college at CalArts, though her mom (played by Juliette Lewis) wants her to stay home. Vee's best friend, the "ambitious" Sydney, is really into Nerve, hoping to earn a lot of money and become “insta-famous”.

Accused of being boring, Vee decides to try Nerve, and she’s quickly teamed-up with motorcycle-riding fellow player Ian (Dave Franco). They take to the streets of New York City, executing the “dares” they’re presented with, which start innocent and quickly become life-threatening. "Nerve" does give equal time to exploring the three side effects of the game: the impact on the players, the bystanders who proudly record the action on their phones, and those who think they're all absolutely insane. With the lengthiest PG-13 MPAA rating explanation of any movie this year, the title should've been "Nerve - or Kids: Don't Try This At Home".

Roberts and Franco do make a cute couple. And there are some minor elements that work. During a scene in which Vee is recording herself trying on a flashy, $4,000 green dress in a department store changing room, comments from Watchers appear on the side of the screen. Some complement or criticize the dress, others do the same about Vee's body in offensive and improper ways. The scene sums-up today's Social Media behavior to a tee. And the growing tension between Vee and Sydney doesn't feel forced.

But, while "Nerve" is the most "Modern" movie of 2016 (filled with tech, pop music, and flashy graphics), it isn't suspenseful enough to be exciting nor groundbreaking enough to be thought-provoking. The lessons the film is supposed to teach us, presented blatantly in a few climactic speeches, are obvious and pretty corny.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Nerve" gets a C.

Ice Age: Collision Course (PG) D+

Ice Age: Collision Course (PG) D+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

If ever there was an animated franchise that's been milked for all it's worth, it's "Ice Age" (though I'm not sure if you could actually milk Wooly Mammoths). What began as a noble and heartfelt, Oscar-nominated original back in 2002 (the first feature from Blue Sky Studios) is now four sequels, three shorts and two TV specials deep. "The Meltdown" ('06) and "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" ('09) were satisfying follow-ups, but 2012's "Continental Drift" proved the series had lost its edge. Now, "Collision Course" leaves no doubt that "Ice Age" is worthy of cinematic extinction.

The most, or rather, only, amusing element in "Collision Course" are the Scrat vignettes. This time, our acorn-loving saber-tooth squirrel has gotten himself "lost in space", and, as we learn from narration by scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, has caused an asteroid to head straight towards Earth. The decision by the writers to bring back Buck, a great character from "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (voiced by Simon Pegg), was smart, but he, and practically everything in the movie, is too much to handle this time.

As for the plot - it's Buck who informs all the others (Manny, Sid, Diego, etc., etc., etc.) that the asteroid will end life as they know it unless they find a way to stop it. And there's a theme about dealing with change, as Manny and and Ellie's daughter Peaches is getting married and moving out. It's all as basic as that. 

Of course, Mammoths, Ground Sloths and Saber-Tooth Tigers (et al) no longer exist. But, even though "Collision Course" is promoted as "The Defining Chapter" of this saga, unfortunately FOX doesn't stick to history, though I wish they had. Frankly, it's the only humane thing to do at this point in the series.

While "IA5" is expected to underperform in the US, it's already a monster overseas, just like its predecessors. That's the reason Blue Sky keeps investing time and energy into churning-out new chapters of the franchise. It's a bit of a surprise that the focus hasn't shifted to turning this into a TV series. The "Collision Course" script is worthy of a 22-minute cable/web treatment and the show would likely be very popular.

In a "nutshell": "Collision Course" is colorful and cheery, with rambunctious, non-stop, off-the-wall energy for 90 minutes. The dialogue is dull and there are fifteen-minute stretches without a single chuckle. New additions to the voice cast: Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jessie J, Adam DeVine, Nick Offerman, and even Kelly Ripa's TV ex, Michael Strahan don't raise the entertainment level an inch. 

A five year-old girl sitting in the row behind me loved all the action and hijinks. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, older than her will find themselves rooting for the asteroid.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Ice Age: Collision Course" gets a D+.

Star Trek Beyond (PG-13) B-

Star Trek Beyond (PG-13) B- - Movie Reviews for Kids

After a successful “Star Trek” reboot in 2009 and an even stronger 2013 sequel, J.J. Abrams handed control of the Starship Enterprise over to “Fast & Furious” director Justin Lin - who has now destroyed it, in more ways than one. Literally, the Enterprise gets demolished early in “Star Trek Beyond” - which features dazzling visuals and elaborate action scenes, but also, 50 years after the iconic TV series began, the big screen franchise has become, well, ordinary.

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the rest of the crew are back. While on year three of their five-year mission, the gang runs into some trouble and a new foe in Krall (played by an unrecognizable Idris Elba). He and his army separate the Starfleet members, who must work their way back together throughout much of the movie if they have any hope of saving mankind. Simon Pegg, who returns as Scotty, co-wrote the script, and he infuses some quirky humor that’s hit and miss.

Kirk (played again by Chris Pine) remarks at the start of the film that he’s tired of the same ol’ routine - that the voyages are getting “episodic”. The “Star Trek” TV series really was episodic, with a good vs. evil, rescue mission plot every week, garnished with new aliens and situations to keep things interesting and fun. But what really kept millions of viewers coming back to the show and turning it into a cultural phenomenon? The core characters.

Abrams’ first two films took us deeper, with a serious, character-study approach, and some real drama and emotion. “Star Trek Beyond”, on the other hand, has the blatant feel of an extended TV episode. It’s also the most “commercial” entry of the new incarnation. This isn’t just an action movie, it’s an all-action movie, with Lin hardly making any effort to take it “beyond” the level of his “Fast & Furious” style.

Trekkies will no-doubt enjoy the non-stop action. And, don’t get me wrong, “Beyond” is far from a bad movie. The likable cast members bring their A-games, the makeup is spectacular and the effects are worthy. And there are some nice references to the Star Trek legacy, along with appropriate acknowledgements to the late Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin in the closing credits. But what hooked me about this new vision of “Star Trek” was that it didn’t need to succumb to the formalities of other blockbusters in this genre in order to prosper. It was the hip, cool outcast in the galaxy. “Star Trek Beyond” diminishes the franchise by boldly going where practically every other sci-fi series has gone before.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Star Trek Beyond” gets a B-.

Cafe Society (PG-13) C-

Cafe Society (PG-13) C- - Movie Reviews for Kids

Woody Allen's five films prior to "Cafe Society" included a couple of Oscar winners ("Midnight in Paris", "Blue Jasmine"), a guilty pleasure ("Irrational Man"), a mixed bag ("Magic in the Moonlight") and a bit of a disaster ("To Rome with Love"). This latest all-star, romantic dramedy is the first Allen movie distributed by Lionsgate and Amazon, with the online giant already agreeing to finance Allen's 2017 project for a reported $25 million. That decision was likely based on early box office results and not on the quality of "Cafe Society", which is on the weak side of the Allen spectrum.

Woody tries to suck us into the visual splendor of the 1930s, both in New York City, and particularly, Hollywood, but never quite succeeds. So it's up to story and performances to make this a winner, and neither are up to the challenge. Allen narrate this tale (sadly, at 80, the signature tone and tenor of his voice are all but gone), introducing us to a bulked-up Steve Carell as big-time Tinseltown movie studio agent Phil Stern. I've enjoyed Carell's dramatic roles over the years, and while his work as antagonists in "The Way, Way Back" and "Foxcatcher" was spot-on, he's not as convincing here.

Phil's timid, quirky nephew, Bobby (played by Jesse Eisenberg) has moved from The Big Apple to Hollywood hoping to land a job at his uncle's agency. He becomes Phil's assistant and immediately falls for Vonnie, Phil's personal secretary. Kristen Stewart reunites with Eisenberg for the third time, following "Adventureland" (2009) and last year's awful action comedy "American Ultra", and while they don't give career-best performances, their connection feels natural.

A love triangle (an Allen staple) soon develops that eventually changes shape, as a City Hall PR woman (played by Blake Lively) enters the picture. Her character's name will likely make your eyes rolls (as it did mine), with Allen, the writer, getting too cute for the movie's good. At one point Bobby states, "Love is a comedy, from a sadistic writer". This may be an attempt by Allen to salute himself, but unfortunately this script doesn't have the bite, irony or evil streak to live-up to that tribute. It's simply another in a series of Woody Allen's overly-crafted, fantasy romances.

"Cafe Society" also includes a few off-the-tracks subplots involving Bobby's gangster brother and his quirky, Jewish parents. Nothing new here. These elements, along with everything else in the tidy 95-minutes, faii to provide the charm that's always a part of Allen's best movies. Lively and Parker Posey (so good in "Irrational Man") are wasted in throwaway roles.

Not until the final moments of "Cafe Society" do we actually get a few things to contemplate, thanks to an authentic scene which touches on life, love and loss. It also got me wondering why Woody didn't put as much thought and care into the rest of this film. 

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Cafe Society" gets a C-.

Ghostbusters (PG-13) B

Ghostbusters (PG-13) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

When Hollywood said - “We Need Another Reboot” - Who Did They Call? Ghostbusters! Paul Feig (of "Bridesmaids" and "Spy") is the co-writer and director behind this female-led modern re-telling of the “Ghostbusters” story. And - I know the HATERS aren’t going to like hearing it - but this is a worthwhile fresh take on the original, complete with memorable moments and plenty of laughs.

Melissa McCarthy plays Abby - a longtime scientist who studies paranormal activity (the “real” stuff - not the movies). Kristen Wiig’s Erin is Abby’s longtime friend. They co-authored a “ghost” book together back in the day. After years apart they reunite following word that an old NYC mansion is haunted. Abby’s new partner, Jillian (played by “SNL” shining star Kate McKinnon) is a high-tech, gadget inventor and builder. A fourth member of their team, Patty (Leslie Jones), quits her job with the MTA after she’s spooked by a ghost hiding underground on the subway tracks.

They soon learn that there’s a lunatic behind these ghost sightings, who’s planning to open a portal to the “other world”, allowing the dead to return to the city and seek their revenge. And things get a little more complicated when the ladies hire a receptionist for their new headquarters. It's Chris Hemsworth in a role we’ve never seen him attempt before and one he pulls-off magically.

While the script never acknowledges that the other Ghostbusters ever existed, there are plenty of homages to the original film, including the theme song and cameos by both actors and CGI characters that will be appreciated by diehards (with an open mind). Dan Aykroyd’s bit is my favorite, while Bill Murray’s doesn’t work as well. Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold also include several intentional references to the overwhelming negative backlash this remake has been getting since it was first announced.

But even though the film is two hours (the closing credits, thanks to a ton of bonus scenes, run close to 15 minutes) and it isn’t a classic, “Ghostbusters” is consistently fun and genuinely works for a new generation of fans, while pleasing the old ones who will give it a chance. The four ladies are great together, each bringing their own, smart style of comedy, which fits nicely amidst all the action and laugh-out-loud running gags.

Those who have a problem with this new “Ghostbusters”, after having seen it, clearly aren’t looking at it as a stand-alone movie. And those who decide to avoid it, simply on PRINCIPLE, are missing-out on one of the better legitimate comedies in recent years.

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

The Infiltrator (R) B+

The Infiltrator (R) B+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

Bryan Cranston continues his winning streak with "The Infiltrator" - a film which proves that a true story crime thriller doesn't need shoot 'em-up scenes every 10 minutes to keep you hooked.

It's 1985. The War on Drugs is the hot-button political issue and Cranston's undercover U.S. Customs agent Bob Mazur decides to take-on one, final assignment. He becomes Bob Musella, a hot-shot businessman/money launderer, in an effort to take down everyone involved in Pablo Escobar's powerful Medellin drug cartel. The operation involves fake identities, fake friendships and even a fake fiancee, Kathy (played by Diane Kruger). John Leguizamo, as Bob's partner, Emir, does take you out of the moment early on, but you quickly warm-up to him and, following a slow set-up, the film starts to cook.

"The Infiltrator" is based on Mazur's own book, and he was also an Executive Producer on the film (along with Cranston), a big reason why the script has such an authentic feel. There's very little action, and yet, a high level of suspense throughout. There's such a refreshing ease and calmness to "The Infiltrator", as Bob gets in deeper and deeper, and his life, and those of everyone around him, become more and more in jeopardy. This tone makes the brief jolts of violence incredibly captivating and powerful. A restaurant scene involving Bob, his real wife, an associate, a waiter and a birthday/anniversary cake is one of the best of the year.

Cranston, as usual, is great. He's in practically every scene, and we go on this exhilarating/nightmare ride with him every step of the way. He realizes too late that he may have gotten in a little too deep this time, making the "What's Happened Since" wrap-up at the end of the film all the more fascinating. And a possible relationship between Bob and Kathy, which in lesser hands would have been a distraction, is handled perfectly and keeps you guessing to the end.

Benjamin Bratt seems to be getting typecast in these drug cartel movies, but he delivers the goods. Amy Ryan plays the similar tough CIA chief character as she did in "Central Intelligence" (not for laughs here). And Olympia Dukakis (rarely seen on screen since her Oscar-winning performance in "Moonstruck") is memorable as Bob's Aunt Vicky, who gets to play a small, but important role in undercover charade.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Infiltrator" gets a B+. Seek it out.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (R) B-

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (R) B- - Movie Reviews for Kids

So, hear me out: In this year of superhero saturation, sequels that didn't need to be made (and no one wanted to see) and talking animated animals, "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" is one of the best times I've had at the movies. Surprised, right? Yeah, you're not alone. I expected "Mike and Dave" to be yet another ridiculous, unfunny, raunch-fest R-rated comedy. Instead, it's a better-that-expected and quite entertaining piece of Summertime movie escapism.

As is texted on screen during the opening credits, "M and D" is "Based on a True Story...Sort Of". The real-life Mike and Dave Stangle, as portrayed by Adam Devine ("Modern Family", "The Intern") and Zac Efron, did post an ad on Craigslist looking for dates to a family wedding. The actual wedding was a cousin's, being held in Saratoga Springs, NY. In the film, the Stangles need dates for their sister Jeanie's wedding in Hawaii. And practically everything else in the script is also pure fiction - but it doesn't matter, because most of it works.

The brothers say "How You Doin'?" to Wendy Williams, pitching their date search on her show. Alice (played by Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) are a couple of twentysomething party girls, not the type Mike and Dave are looking for (to make their parents and sis happy). But when they see Mike and Dave on TV, they come-up with a plan to fake being "nice girls" to get the free trip. And it works! Soon the girls win over the guys and they're all off to paradise. What could go wrong? 

The script, from the pair of "Neighbors" writers, includes lots of opportunities for big laughs, not just from over-the-top stunts and sexual content, but also some quick one-liners and facial expressions from the cast that poke fun at other rom-coms, including "Wedding Crashers". There are some crude, tasteless scenes in the second half that degrade the film's quality, but that's now the norm with this genre. Thankfully, the entire movie isn't packed with them (as so many "adult" comedies are). 

I honestly had a smile on my face throughout most of "Mike and Dave", watching four likeable actors (along with some well-written supporting characters) banter-off each other with genuine ease. Devine's star-power keeps rising, Plaza's trademark brand of sarcasm is on full display, and Efron and Kendrick's scenes together are surprisingly and legitimately sweet.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" gets a B-. It's certainly not the best, nor the smartest comedy of 2016, but in terms of expectations, it may be the biggest overachiever.

The Secret Life of Pets (PG) C-

The Secret Life of Pets (PG) C- - Movie Reviews for Kids

Pixar’s breakthrough concept 21 years ago: What do toys do all day while their owners go to school or work? The latest feature from Illumination Entertainment, the creators of “Despicable Me”, poses the similar question: What do pets do all day while their owners are away from home?

The answer is revealed early on in “The Secret Life of Pets”, through a three-minute montage that’s been shown to us in the previews for a year. That set-up produces the funniest results in the film, because what follows it, sadly, is an extremely traditional, unimaginative story.

Max the Jack Russell Terrier (voiced by comedian Louis C.K.) has been best buddies with his owner Katie since he was rescued as a pup. But when Katie brings home another dog - the Newfoundland Duke (“Modern Family”’s Eric Stonestreet), their relationship gets-off to a rocky start.

During an outdoor escapade, Max and Duke are captured by NYC Animal Control, and so their neighborhood pet friends, including several other dogs, a cat, a parakeet, a guinea pig and a hawk that sounds an awful lot like Marlin the Clownfish (oh yeah - that’s because he’s also voiced by Albert Brooks), come-up with a plan to rescue them.

Max and Duke eventually meet-up with a group of sewer pets who were abandoned by their former owners, led by a bunny named Snowball. While Kevin Hart tries to infuse his unique style of comedic timing and humor (a family-friendly version, of course) into the white, fluffy character - it just doesn’t work as well as the filmmakers had hoped.

“The Secret Life of Pets” has a very scattered pace: the dialogue scenes are  dry and humorless and the action and chase sequences are mindlessly manic (complete with supposedly funny but instead tacky placements such as a poster of Illumination’s upcoming animal music competition film “Sing” on the back of a bus). The screenplay is slapstick-heavy, with subplots that feel like fillers just to get the thin concept to a feature-length. A dream sequence involving hundreds of singing sausages is as bizarre as it sounds - though it’s the most memorable and creative element of the entire film.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Secret Life of Pets” gets a C-. There’s a new Minions short that precedes “Pets”, titled “Mower Minions”. It provides more laughs - in four minutes - than in the entire 90-minute movie that follows.

The BFG (PG) C+

The BFG (PG) C+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

I remember reading author Roald Dahl's book, The BFG, in elementary school. Like many of Dahl's stories, including James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox (all of which received terrific film adaptations), this tale was full of whimsy and wonder, with charming illustrations. Now The Big Friendly Giant has squeezed himself onto the Silver Screen in director Steven Spielberg's first-ever Disney movie.

The iconic filmmaker read chapters of The BFG to his kids when they were young and knew that this was a story destined to be told cinematically. He needed two key components: the perfect actors for his two lead characters. Spielberg cast Mark Rylance, who recently won an Oscar for their last collaboration, the Cold War drama "Bridge of Spies", to play The BFG. Rylance uses motion-capture technology to make his character a literal, towering giant, and the effects are some of the best I've seen in a film to date. And Spielberg also hand-picked Ruby Barnhill, who turns 12 this month, as young Sophie, who is taken from her orphanage one evening by The BFG and brought to his cave in Giant Country.

The BFG is a dream-catcher. He goes into an underground fortress (one of the film's more visually-striking sequences) and collects colorful sparkles that he stores in jars. He then travels to various locations and allows the dreams to flutter into the children and adults while they're sleeping. Sophie forms a genuine relationship with The BFG, and the two devise plans to avoid and eventually defeat the nine mean giants who roam the land and enjoy eating humans.

Yes, "The BFG" sounds rather tame in the narrative department. And it is. But that's not the main issue with the film. It's the extremely tepid pace that makes the first hour-plus a real challenge to endure as every situation, conversation and encounter feels like it's happening in slow-motion. Spielberg's decision to make everything so drawn-out will likely put most audience members over the age of 10 into nap mode. And even later in the film, when Sophie and The BFG do encounter some danger, there's no true feeling of suspense or dramatic tension.

It's only in the final act, when Sophie (Barnhill reminds me a lot of Mara Wilson from 1996's "Matilda", another Dahl book-turned-movie) asks her new friend to "be brave", that "The BFG" finally gets cooking. There's a very quirky and amusing 20-minute stretch that infuses some life into the otherwise highly monotone script.

The BFG was published in 1982, the same year Spielberg's "E.T." was released. Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall co-produced that masterpiece with Spielberg and reunite with him on this film. But the same spirit of adventure isn't quite there. The story is set in the 80s (though only one line of dialogue alludes to the time period). Life before the internet, cell phones and "Dora the Explorer" may seem too dull even for fans of the book.

"The BFG" does have its share of Spielberg touches, such as the foreshadowing of Sophie looking into a dollhouse in the opening scene, and a dream sequence brought to life using shadows and a curtain. There are also some sweet messages about the importance of dreams and having a vivid imagination. Barnhill's debut is impressive. She's authentic and delightful alongside Rylance, and the final scene is quite strong. However, because of its overall lack of energy, "The BFG" comes-up short in its effort to become a family classic. 

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The BFG" gets a C+.

The Legend of Tarzan (PG-13) C-

The Legend of Tarzan (PG-13) C- - Movie Reviews for Kids

It was the Summer of ‘99. I wasn’t even a year old when my parents took me to the Drive-Ins to see my first movie - Disney’s animated version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan”. 17 summers later, families can, once again, park their cars in front of giant outdoor screens and watch The Lord of the Jungle in action…though there are better ways to spend a nice July evening - like seeing a better movie!

There’s a set-up to get everyone unfamiliar with the Tarzan story up to speed, but it just takes way too long. “The Legend of Tarzan” is set AFTER the whole “Me Tarzan/You Jane” phase of their relationship. Here they’re an old married couple. Alexander Skarsgard (from HBO’s “True Blood”) plays John Clayton, who early on yells at - but not in the iconic way quite yet - lawyer and politician George Washington Williams (played by Samuel L. Jackson) for calling him Tarzan. It’s the late 1880s and Clayton and Jane (Margot Robbie) have been living in London for the past decade as aristocrats.

But the jungle is calling John back, so he and Jane return to their African home, along with Williams as their loyal, comic-relief companion, supposedly on an invitation from the King of Belgium, who’s buying-up much of the Congo. Hollywood’s go-to villain these days - Christoph Waltz - plays Leon Rom, a shady businessman who’s actually the one luring Tarzan back to the wild - so he can hand him over to one of his former enemies.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is directed by David Yates, who helmed the Harry Potter “Deathly Hallows” finale and is doing the upcoming “Fantastic Beasts” spinoff. Yates stages this Tarzan story with slow-motion action sequences, plenty of flashbacks and lots of close-ups. The script does take a fresh angle, but the results are rarely enticing.

I realize the film is set in the 1880s, but it feels so old-fashioned and by-the-numbers. Tarzan must rescue his damsel in distress (Robbie is tied-up on a boat for half the movie) - and other than a few impressive “swinging” sequences, “The Legend of Tarzan” isn’t fun enough to qualify as a summer popcorn adventure.

The one, unique element in the film, without question, is Jackson. He did make me laugh at times, with a couple of trademark one-liners and over-the-top facial expressions. And his jet-black hair makes him look 30-years younger than his actual age of 67. That’s about the only thing “youthful” in this way too basic attempt to advance the Tarzan saga.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Legend of Tarzan” gets a C-.

Independence Day: Resurgence (PG-13) D-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shallows (PG-13) C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Intelligence (PG-13) D+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Dory (PG) B

Finding Dory (PG) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now You See Me 2 (PG-13) B-

Now You See Me 2 (PG-13) B- - Movie Reviews for Kids

“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-.


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