"Midnight Special” comes from “Mud” writer/director Jeff Nichols, who was clearly inspired by the sci-fi movies of his childhood when it came to crafting this script. And for the first hour or so, Nichols really makes you work to try to piece everything together. Normally that's a good sign of things to come.
Instead of a set-up, Nichols drops us right in the middle of a Texas Amber Alert. Eight-year-old Alton (played by “St. Vincent”’s Jaeden Lieberher) has been abducted by Roy (Michael Shannon). We’re not exactly sure why, or their relationship. Lucas (Joel Edgerton), a friend of Roy’s, is also involved.
We soon learn that young Alton has special abilities, and that he is the spiritual leader and prophet of a local cult, which the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been watching. Now, with Alton missing, both the cult leaders and the federal government want him, while his captors are trying to get him to a secret location for a major event. NSA investigator/interrogator, Sevier (Adam Driver, most recently seen - masked and unmasked - in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), is brought-in to try to help figure out the methods and the motives of the adductors. Kirsten Dunst plays Sarah, another important figure in Alton’s life and key player in his ultimate quest.
As "Midnight Special" was unfolding, a nagging thought developed in the back of my mind: “It can’t simply turn-out to be what I think it’s going to be.” But, sure enough, by the third act “revelation”, we get what was coming to us - and none of it is special (and I still don’t know how the title applies to anything in the movie).
Alton’s plight was intriguing enough early on, but once Sarah proposes a question to Roy with about a half-hour to go, I gave-up on the possibility of having any element of originality in the film's closing scenes. Driver’s character seems like he comes out of about a dozen other films in the sci-fi genre. And there's an obvious similarity between "Midnight Special" and an all-time classic movie (no spoiler here), and this new version comes-up way short.
At least Shannon, who’s been getting a lot of showcase roles lately (including “99 Homes”) gives a genuine performance. He is the only true bright spot in this otherwise complicated, but ultimately quite simple, disappointment.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Midnight Special” gets a C.
Relationships are complicated. In "Hello, My Name is Doris", Sally Field stars as the title sixty-something-year-old single woman who sports a wig extension, wears up to two pairs of glasses at once, and is clearly the oldest employee at her longtime NYC office job. Doris is mourning the recent death of her mother, and her brother and his wife think this is the perfect opportunity for the clutter-obsessed Doris to get rid of all the random (and heavily sentimental) items that fill her house and move to an apartment. What's holding Doris back is her lasting devotion to her mom, who dominated much of her life, even ruining a potential marriage some four decades earlier.
But Doris soon experiences a new sense of freedom from an instant attraction to a much younger co-worker. John (played by "New Girl"'s Max Greenfield), is an art director who was transferred from Malibu to the NY office. He's half Doris' age, but this doesn't discourage her one bit. However, at this point in the script, Doris unfortunately says "hello" to the "Cinematic Cliche Crush Path": she secretly obsesses over John (including daydreams that we see on screen); obviously he just sees her as a co-worker/new friend. But then their relationship strengthens, and even when road blocks enter the picture, Doris finds the motivation and strategy to keep things going.
"Hello, My Name is Doris" suffers from a story that is undeniably familiar. And yet - it's through Doris that we find ourselves not wanting her to fall into the trap that unrequited love can produce. Doris is quirky, honest and innocent beyond comprehension. She instantly embraces a motto from a self-help expert, who turns the word impossible into I'm Possible.
The Doris character is a lot to buy into, and several of her blatantly over-the-top and goofy scenes don't help. However, there are just as many realistic and on-point ones. Like someone in love for the very first time she keeps mementos, including a pencil from her initial, elevator encounter with John and uses Facebook (with the help of a friend's 13-year-old daughter) to learn his interests. She's eager to simply chat with him in the hallways about random topics. She completely, and wholeheartedly, lets this connection take over her life. And when pushed to the limit, she makes mistakes, but defends the type of person she is and stays true to herself even when things seem to have fallen apart.
"Hello, My Name is Doris" is not nearly as interesting, nor as funny, as it could've been. It's Field's performance that saves the film from being completely irrelevant. The veteran actress makes us care about Doris from the first scene to the last, even though we can see the triumphs and troubles of her situation coming from a mile away.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Hello, My Name is Doris" gets a C+.
It’s The Man of Steel vs. The Knight of Dark in the most anticipated “Summer Blockbuster Released in the Spring” of all-time. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” definitely has a nice ring to it and a star-studded cast that rivals Marvel’s “Avengers”. Problem is - there’s just nothing special about this film.
Nearly the first two-thirds of “BVS” are devoted to establishing the rivalry and building-up the anger between our two DC superheroes before their inevitable showdown. There’s just so much of this - dialogue, flashbacks, “he said-he said” - OK - you don’t like each other - let’s get it on! But no, we need more set-up. The only scene during this entire time that actually works takes place inside the Capitol Building - and Batman’s not even there!
Ben Affleck’s beefed-up Caped Crusader (the Bat Signal is noticeably plus-size) doesn’t come with much personality. He’s always got that stone-cold, kinda dopey Ben Affleck expression on his face. Henry Cavill’s second go-around as Clark Kent feels as stiff as the first. Amy Adams (nearly 10 years older than Cavill) slightly phone-booths it in this time as Lois Lane. Jesse Eisenberg tries to emulate Heath Ledger’s Joker in his manic take on the evil Lex Luthor and the results are more embarrassing than menacing.
But the biggest reason why “BVS“ doesn’t work (and this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering his less-than-“Super” work that came before this), is the vision of director Zack Snyder. He gives the comic book fans plenty of va-va-voom with the franchise introductions of Wonder Woman and a handful of other cameos. And he creates colossal sequences filled with CGI, tons of explosions and ear-bending NOISE.
But - ultimately - the Batman/Superman “no-cage match” is underwhelming - granted it’s much more appetizing than anything that comes before it - and the finale that follows is so uninteresting that even the movie character version of Anderson Cooper (who does some play-by-play commentary of the battle) makes it clear he doesn’t care who wins - he just wants to get back to reporting serious news.
And that’s the thing about “BVS” - it’s difficult to take this superhero movie seriously because of the constant slow-motion moments, the goofy dialogue, laughable sound effects and melodrama overdose. And the pivotal moment of the entire story comes down to - well - let’s just say “It’s all in a name“. Sadly - this film is an Epic failure.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” gets a D+.
"Miracles from Heaven" comes from the same studios behind 2014's emotionally effective faith-based, true-story family drama "Heaven is for Real". That film starred Greg Kinnear as a minister and father of a little boy who suffered a near-death experience and, once he recovered, claimed to have seen and talked with God. Much of the focus of that film was on the impact that revelation had on their family, the community and the national media.
On the surface, "Miracles from Heaven" seems very similar to "Heaven is for Real". It's also based on a true story, with a big-name star. Jennifer Garner plays Christy Beam, the mother/wife of a devout Christian family living in rural Texas. One of her three daughters, Annabelle (played by 12-year-old Kylie Rogers), gets a rare and incurable intestinal disease. Her agonizing, inspiring and powerful experiences while dealing with her illness dominate "Miracles from Heaven". The narrative also includes some religious elements, but, unlike with "Heaven is for Real", "Miracles" hardly spends any time on the "controversy" that comes from Anna's claim that she spoke with God. More than anything else, this is a story of faith.
"Miracles from Heaven" is one of the most intense movies I've seen in quite some time, proving that you don't need big-budget explosions or graphic fight scenes in order engage an audience. The combination of pain, frustration and drama on screen is compelling. Garner pours her heart into her role, portraying a mom who goes to every possible length to make sure that her daughter gets seen by the right doctors and is treated to their best care. There are so many scenes that are difficult to watch, particularly when Christy and her husband Kevin learn of Anna's condition. A conversation between Anna and another sick girl in their Boston Children's Hospital room is heartbreaking. And there's a phone conversation between Christy and a doctor, who explains how she'll get an appointment with a specialist, that is stunning in its power.
Mexican actor, writer and director Eugenio Derbez ("Instructions Not Included") is terrific as Dr. Nurko, the child-friendly doctor who treats Anna in Boston. He becomes just one "miracle" in the Beam family's life. Another is waitress Angela (played by Queen Latifah), who sees value in random customers Christy and Anna and befriends them. She offers to give these needy strangers a tour of Boston, including a visit to the Aquarium, whose beautiful creatures amaze Anna and enrich her spirit. Latifah's slightly over-the-top character is a little too Hollywood, taking you out of the moment a bit, but she is vital to the overall message.
If you know the real story of the Beam family going into "Miracles from Heaven", or have just seen the trailers, that's exactly what you get here. There are no twists or shockers. And the spiritual aspect of the film is very subtle compared to others in this genre. But all of that is OK. This film is about the determination of a mother, the courage of a little girl, and about finding light, and God, even in the most frustrating and challenging times. And the payoff, shown through a finale montage, is completely unexpected, smart and really affective. It may take some faith on your part to see "Miracles from Heaven" but, just as what happens to the characters in the film, that faith will be rewarded.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Miracles from Heaven" gets a B+.
I guess you could call this another version of “March Madness”. For the third year in a row, the third month of the year treats us to another installment in “The Divergent Series”. The popularity of this big screen adaptation of the teen action novel series has been dropping with each new chapter. This third edition, “Allegiant”, is the worst one yet.
Shailene Woodley’s Tris and boyfriend Four (Theo James) are STILL trying to make it out of Dystopian Chicago. About 20 minutes into “Allegiant”, they and a few members of their gang are finally able to scale the wall and see what life’s like out in the “real world”.
Tris and the others are quickly welcomed into the high-tech metropolis of the Purists, where Bureau head David (played by Jeff Daniels) recruits Tris, who’s the only “pure” member of the group - the rest are all “damaged” - to help him with a plan to make the entire country great again. That campaign slogan actually works as Tris falls for David’s propaganda, though Four is suspicious… And for good reason - as the “good guys” quickly learn that, even in the distant future - the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
There’s a point when a memory eliminating gas is introduced to the story. I kept hoping that management would start pumping it into the theater so I could forget my two hours watching “Allegiant”. There’s hardly anything interesting here: The script is below the basic standards for this genre and the dialogue is bland. The best line actually comes from a random bad guy. He and his fellow soldiers are ready to kill our protagonists, but instead he drops his gun and says, “Screw This! I’m Outta Here!” I wish I could’ve said the same thing - but instead I gave “Allegiant” a fighting chance to redeem itself with a suspenseful climax and exciting cliffhanger - since this is Part 1 of a two-part series finale. But director Robert Schwentke couldn’t even get that right.
Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer are back, but it’s Daniels who gets most of the screen time and NEVER STOPS TALKING! He wears the same suit throughout the entire movie, which hopefully means he got to do all his scenes in one day.
A couple of the action scenes do work. But if you weren’t invested in this franchise from the beginning, there’s no reason to start now. And if you saw the first two “Divergents” and hope No. 3 is a winner, you can safely wait next year’s finale and won’t really have missed anything.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Divergent Series: Allegiant” gets a D.
"The Young Messiah" is the latest in a series of successful faith-based films to hit theaters in recent years. This one comes from producer Chris Columbus ("The Help", "Night at the Museum") and is taken not only from Biblical text but is also based on Anne Rice's 2005 novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
Adam Greaves-Neal gives an effective performance as seven-year-old Jesus in this inside look at one year of Christ's childhood. He, Mary, Joseph and their extended family travel from Egypt back to Nazareth after Joseph's dream reveals that King Herod has died. Young Jesus has begun performing miracles (though he's not sure how or why), and he has many questions about who he really is. Mary and Joseph aren't ready to tell him everything, instead wanting to keep him safe and allow him to have a "normal" childhood. This character study and family dynamic provides much of the interest of "The Young Messiah".
A buzz has started about the miracle worker throughout the land. Once it reaches Herod's son, he orders Centurions to find Jesus and kill him. British actor Sean Bean (most recently seen in "The Martian") plays Severus, the Chief centurion. He was also involved in the slaying of all the newborn boys, ordered by Herod, seven years earlier when Jesus was born. Bean handles the unique and conflicted role quite well.
"The Young Messiah" takes this story and subject matter very seriously with dramatic and adult elements, including scenes of violence and torture. However, the narrative is straightforward and tame enough for children to follow and understand. The second half does drag a bit more than the first, and there's not much suspense generated from a climax that can only go one way. "The Young Messiah" is a solid, sophisticated and engaging portrayal of an aspect of the life of Jesus that we haven't see often on screen - through the bright eyes of innocence, wonder and ever-growing wisdom.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Young Messiah" gets a B.
J.J. Abrams produced, but didn't direct, 2008's "found footage"/handheld camera sci-fi thriller "Cloverfield". It is, however, the film that put his company, Bad Robot, on the movie map - and made us all unable to look at the Statue of Liberty the same way ever again. Eight years later, Abrams is producer of the carefully-crafted spinoff and franchise creator "10 Cloverfield Lane".
Paramount hadn't originally intended for this to be a continuation of the cult hit, as earlier titles of the project ranged from "The Cellar" to "Valencia" before the finalized name was announced to the masses only two months ago. Going in knowing the events of "Cloverfield" surround and shape this story does lower the suspense level a bit. But "10 Cloverfield Lane" still keeps you guessing, even when you think you've already figured everything out.
John Goodman has given showy performances recently in "Argo", "Flight", "Inside Llewyn Davis", "The Gambler" and "Trumbo". But his work in "10 Cloverfield Lane" is easily his most impressive in a long time. Goodman plays Howard, a survivalist who rescues (or so he claims) a young woman named Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) following a car accident. He brings her into his underground shelter because a surprise attack on the US by an unknown enemy has wiped-out much of the population. Emmet, a former handyman (John Gallagher, Jr.), is the third person now living in the shelter.
Howard believes the attack has made the air above too toxic for humans to breathe - and that he and these two strangers will be living in the shelter for at least a year or two. Michelle isn't convinced. She desperately wants to get out and contact her family, as well as her boyfriend (a cameo appearance by an A-lister like you've never seen him before). So the question is: Is Howard a savior or a maniacal wacko? Clues to back both options are sprinkled throughout the tight script.
Along with its mother movie, "10 Cloverfield Lane" features elements from "Room", "The Silence of the Lambs", last year's M. Night Shaymalan's thriller "The Visit", "Alien" and even "The Truman Show". But while it lacks in originality, "10 Cloverfield Lane" is saved by Goodman, whose dialogue delivery and quick changes in facial expressions and tone always keep us engaged in his character.
However, as intricate and appealing as this story is, there are slow and predictable chunks of the film that causes the mind to wander and anticipate what's to come - and that's a problem. The fact that the audience (if they saw "Cloverfield") knows more about their situation than the characters do hurts the impact of the final 20 minutes, and it allows all the prior events to be interpreted individually, resulting in a bunch of questions. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'm really interested enough to care about the answers to those questions.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "10 Cloverfield Lane" gets a C+.
Sony Pictures Animation is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its first feature, "Open Season", by continuing the franchise with the enjoyably amusing, direct-to-DVD fourth installment - "Open Season: Scared Silly".
Director David Feiss (the creator of "Cow and Chicken") was head of story on the original "Open Season". He nicely brings much of the high energy, and even some deleted plotlines, of that film, to "Scared Silly". Elliot the mule deer tells his grizzly bear buddy, Boog, a spooky campfire story about the Wailing Wompus Werewolf - which instantly gives Boog nightmares. Elliot's attempts to relieve Boog of his fears don't go exactly as planned, as the evil hunter Shaw (now a wildlife tour guide) convinces the town sheriff to re-open "Open Season" so he can kill the Werewolf (which may or may not be real)...and maybe a certain deer and bear as well.
"Open Season: Scared Silly" doesn't have the polish and sophistication of a big-budget theatrical release, but it makes up for it with a positive tone and screenplay freedom, which allows for some wild and entertaining scenes - including a very funny plane crash sequence and the performance of an operatic classic by the dachshund, Mr. Weenie, that must be seen to be believed.
"Scared Silly" is a little talky and geared primarily to a younger audience. But, as a big fan of the "Open Season" series for the past decade, I can't deny that I smiled early and often watching Boog, Elliot, and all their forest friends in this latest adventure.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Open Season: Scared Silly" gets a B-.
“Zootopia” is unlike any Disney animated movie I’ve ever seen. Going in I wondered, “what is it about this talking animal adventure that will make it stand out from all the others?” The answer: a seven-person story team that’s crafted an extremely human tale set in an incredible animated world.
“Zootopia” is actually a big-budget, live-action, high-intensity, crime drama in disguise. Disney is promoting it as an over-the-top comedy that’s fun for the whole family, but “Zootopia” isn’t for young kids - not because the content is inappropriate, but because young children simply won’t get the majority of the multi-layered messages and consistent political and social themes weaved throughout. Older kids and adults who like animation stories that have something to say will adore this film.
Every single scene in “Zootopia” feels real. Quickly we’re immersed in, and enchanted by, the life of plucky Judy Hopps (voiced by “Once Upon a Time”’s Ginnifer Goodwin), a country rabbit who’s lifelong goal has been to become the first bunny officer on the Zootopia Police Force. But her dreams of a Utopian-like world in the big city are quickly crushed, as the rigid buffalo - Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns her to parking ticket duty on her first day. And she learns that the “predators getting along with prey in perfect harmony” philosophy of Zootopia isn’t quite authentic, as a sly fox named Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman) tricks and humiliates her.
But Judy is determined not to become a victim - something she experienced as a young bunny. She’s tasked with solving a missing persons case, and so Judy decides to “hustle” Nick into helping her.
“Zootopia” has the cleanest look of any animated movie in recent memory. It’s colorful, but also raw and very authentic. And though some of the themes involving prejudice, societal distinctions, race and diversity are presented in blunt and obvious ways, it’s impressive that such heavy (and timely) material is included in this type of film.
The voice work is outstanding and the original song, “Try Everything”, performed by singer Shakira as Zootopia pop sensation “Gazelle”, has a lot of heart. There are some funny lines and memorable comedic moments, but it’s the drama and moving emotion in the script and characters that propels “Zootopia” to the top of its class.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Zootopia” gets an A-. It may try to say a little too much, but overall, it’s one of Disney’s best - and The First Great Movie of 2016.
The "Inspiring True Story Sports Movie" genre list just keeps growing with the addition of "Eddie the Eagle". Michael "Eddie" Edwards entered the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada as Britain's first representative in the Ski Jump competition. But how exactly did he get there? As is the case with most of the underdog sports world sagas, this film is all about the lengthy, mostly unknown journey leading-up to the main, well-known public events.
Though relatively modest in budget and scale, "Eddie the Eagle" is noticeably infused with Hollywood (and Australian) charm, thanks to Hugh Jackman, who plays Eddie's coach and former USA Ski Jump champion Bronson Peary. He's currently a down-and-out groundskeeper at a German Ski Jump training facility. But he decides to take an eager Eddie under his wing and help him try to qualify for the '88 Games. But here's the problem - Jackman's character is a complete fabrication - he never existed. This is tough to accept in a "based on a true story" movie.
As a child and into early adulthood, Eddie (played by "Kingsman" star Taron Egerton) dreamed of somehow becoming an Olympian. This storyline is very similar to Rudy Ruettiger's undeniable aspirations of playing football for Notre Dame (depicted in 1993's "Rudy", a member of the Inspirational Sports Movie Hall of Fame). Both young men were seeking their "moment", and with a lot of determination and heart, got to prove their worth to themselves, as well as make their fathers proud.
"Eddie the Eagle" has a consistently fun rhythm, supported by a perfect keyboard-heavy 80's score and soundtrack, which includes Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams" as the training montage tune, and Van Halen's "Jump". Egerton, who's in practically every scene, is quite likable. And Jackman, in his best role since Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables", adds some authenticity and genuine flare to his stereotypical character. The pair carry us through "Eddie the Eagle", which moves along at a relatively breezy pace.
It's too bad, with so much spirit, that "Eddie the Eagle" doesn't pack enough dramatic punch in the story department. It's traditional in every sense and, if downplayed a bit, could've been emotionally effective. Occasional moments of humor do work, along with a few nice touches, including a reference to The '88 Games' other unexpected media sensation, the Jamaican Bobsled Team. The visuals are surprisingly disappointing, bordering on corny, with only one, true wow moment late in the film. Christopher Walken and British staple Jim Broadbent make extended cameo appearances. This script could have used a little more cowbell.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Eddie the Eagle" gets a B-. It never soars, but keeps our interest and mostly succeeds in reaching its intended, wholesome goals.
True-life sports dramas have dominated movie screens in recent years. We've seen biopics on iconic boxers, golfers, horses, baseball, basketball, football, hockey and even cricket players. Now comes "Race", the story of legendary track and field star Jesse Owens. The title has multiple meanings as this two-hour, 15-minute saga not only focuses on Owens' life and historic feats at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, but on the racial tensions of the times, both in Germany and the United States.
Stephan James (in his first starring role following appearances in "Selma" and "When the Game Stands Tall") gives a breakout performance as Owens, who attended The Ohio State University in the early 1930s and became a champion under demanding coach Larry Snyder (a rare "dramatic" role for "SNL" vet Jason Sudeikis). Snyder's goal is to get Owens to the '36 Olympics and have him win gold, something he failed to do during his career as a star runner.
One parallel story in "Race" involves the U.S. Olympic Committee's decision whether or not to boycott the '36 Games because of the oppressive anti-Jewish and anti-Black policies of Hitler regime. William Hurt and Jeremy Irons play officials on opposing sides of the debate. Their boardroom scenes, interspersed throughout the first two-thirds of "Race", are so detached from the main storyline that it feels as if they belong in a completely different movie.
If you know about Owens' life and the '36 Games heading into "Race", the film doesn't provide much new insight. The narrative follows the typical sports movie formula by-the-book. However, I give director Stephen Hopkins credit for including an interesting subplot involving famed German director Leni Riefenstahl, who was commissioned by the Nazis to film the entire Olympics for a documentary that was supposed to become a propaganda film for the Nazi movement, but instead became a showcase for Owens. The tension between Riefenstahl and German propaganda leader Joseph Goebbels adds an interesting layer to "Race". Her nearly four-hour documentary, "Olympia", is regarded as one of the best documentaries ever made.
James is quite likable as Owens, but Sudeikis is a tough sell. I'm sure he hoped this would be a nice transition out of sketch shows and R-rated comedies, but his path to more serious roles is not going to be an easy one.
"Race" is certainly passable, but it's simply too basic and not nearly as inspiring as others in this genre, including "42", "The Express", "The Blind Side" and even the fictional "Rocky" spinoff "Creed". There was some legitimate thought put into the final scene - which is effective, albeit a little corny. If only the rest of "Race" had gotten the same amount of attention, it could have been a winner, instead of simply a contender.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Race" gets a C+. Bronze - not Gold.
For 18-35 year-old comic book, superhero, Marvel, “X-Men” and diehard Ryan Reynolds fans - “Deadpool” will likely be your movie of the year. The makers clearly set-out to make the ultimate R-rated “anti-superhero movie” superhero movie, packed with ultra-violence, raunchy humor and an unlikable lead character. And in that respect, they succeeded brilliantly. But for regular moviegoers who are looking for originality, suspense, and fun from this blockbuster action film, well…there’s none of that here.
About 30-seconds into an opening credits montage that features a cover of Reynolds’ “Sexiest Man Alive” issue of People Magazine, an obvious Green Lantern reference and ridiculous nicknames for the cast and crew, I knew it was going to be a long and bumpy ride. And if the Deadpool character had used that line at some point in the movie, there’s no doubt it would have been part of a tasteless sex joke.
There’s no escaping the fact that Deadpool is - as his arch-enemy in the story refers to him at one point - really, really annoying. He made me feel exactly like how (in their first film) a certain giant green ogre couldn’t stand a talking, singing, waffle-loving donkey. However, Shrek and Donkey grew to tolerate each other - and their dialogue was clever and timing impeccable. Deadpool is certainly no Donkey - but he is a jack***.
What’s his superpower? Sarcasm. And Reynolds proves that a little of that goes a long, long way. Pretty much every line Reynolds delivers is arrogant, irrelevant, smutty and - here’s the biggest sin - NOT FUNNY. In fact, co-star T.J. Miller has the funniest (or, I should say, only funny) scene in the movie - and it’s basically a throw-away joke.
But let’s take away the red suit and foul mouth and break down the actual story of “Deadpool”: Guy gets girl. Guy gets life-threatening disease. Guy goes through “superhero movie” procedure to try to save his life. Guy lives, but becomes deformed. Guy seeks revenge. Girl gets kidnapped by enemy. Guy must try to save her. We’ve only seen this a hundred times before. This comic book-basic script needed an infusion of SOMETHING - and a lot less Reynolds.
There’s also a closing credits scene, teasing “Deadpool 2”, which is already in production. You’ve been warned. As for whether this is better than Reynolds’ “Green Lantern”, I’m giving it the same grade, and for the same reason: I liked the makeup. On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Deadpool” gets a D-.
The Coen Brothers have crafted the latest in a recent string of movies about movies with “Hail, Caesar!” - a comedy designed around a major, fictitious Hollywood studio of the 1950s.
Josh Brolin is terrific as Eddie Mannix, the head of production of Capital Pictures. Dressed more like a detective that a studio big shot, Mannix is the man who makes sure that all the shoots are going smoothly, all the actors and directors are taken care of and that they’re properly represented in the press - even if that means drastically changing their images and personal lives.
The studio’s biggest production of the year is the biblical epic, “Hail, Caesar!” starring A-lister, Baird Whitlock (played by the current king of Hollywood George Clooney). But when Whitlock is kidnapped by a mysterious group called The Future, Mannix must find a way to get him back.
While the trailers and commercials lead you to believe otherwise, this plot development isn’t really what “Hail, Caesar!” is all about. This isn’t a “who kidnapped the big star?” film. In fact, this is the weakest part of the film, as it’s awkwardly presented, oddly executed and provides no legitimate payoff. There isn’t much deep meaning behind anything in “Hail, Caesar!”, though some of it is highly creative and entertaining.
Much of the movie focuses on the daily workings of a big-time movie studio and on Mannix, the man in charge of keeping all the balls in the air. The Coens weren’t afraid to devote chunks of time to lengthy production scenes - and most of them produce smiles and even some laughs. Ralph Fiennes is great in a small role as director Laurence Laurentz. And about halfway in, we head into Soundstage 8 for a memorable Channing Tatum-led sailors dance number. This scene gives us an indication of what, I think, the Coen Brothers were going for - for “Hail, Caesar!” to be both a farce and an homage to this period in cinema.
But their script is unfocused, surprisingly safe, and not as consistently clever as it thinks it is. As for Clooney, he's actually miscast - he’s about 10 years too old to play this goofy character. Scarlett Johansson, as the starlet of the aquatic movies, isn’t very convincing, either. And Jonah Hill (seen on the poster) and Frances McDormand are in just a single scene each.
Yes, some of the movies back in the 50s were lightweight and corny and may not have had much of a point. But just because this is a movie about those movies didn’t mean it had to follow that same formula.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Hail, Caesar!” gets a C+.
I look forward to checking-out The Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films every year. Normally, within the group of five, there are at least one or two standouts. However, that’s not the case this year. Instead, we have a lineup that is universally weak in story and largely unimpressive. Here are the Nominees:
"Bear Story" (Chile, 11 min.) - This short comes from Chile. It’s about a male bear who’s created a wind-up diorama of his tragic life with his wife and son. The soft animation works but the tale is slow and not nearly powerful enough. C+
"Prologue" (UK, 6 min.) - The animation is hand-drawn pencil and paper from the legendary Richard Williams. That, itself, is quite an achievement. But the thin Athens vs. Sparta battle story is so basic, and the outcome so meaningless, that it left me flat. C
"Sanjay's Super Team" (USA, 7 min.) - Pixar's nominee debuted in theaters with “The Good Dinosaur” back in November. It tells the (mostly) true story of little Sanjay who prefers watching his favorite superhero TV show to doing his Hindu rituals with his father. But he uses his imagination to bring these two worlds together. I didn’t love this the first time I saw it, but I actually appreciate it more after the second viewing, and out of this group of five, it’s by far the most positive, commercial and effective. B-
"We Can't Live Without Cosmos" (Russia, 16 min.) - The first half is largely comedic, as two life-long best friends go through rigorous training to qualify to become cosmonauts. There is a dramatic twist midway through, but I can’t say I was surprised by it or what happens next - and definitely not as emotionally invested as I wanted to be. B-
"World of Tomorrow" (USA, 17 min.) - It’s about a little girl named Emily who is contacted by a third-generation clone of herself, informing her of what is going to happen to society in the future. The sarcastic, quite dark humor is sharp, and this sci-fi satire does have a lot to say. But it could’ve been much stronger if it was shorter and tighter. B
And the four "Highly Commended" shorts shown are:
"Catch It" (France, 5 min.) - Meerkat mayhem ensues when they battle with a vulture for a delicious treat. Very basic and unimaginative, with a really goofy ending. D+
"If I Was God..." (Canada, 9 min.) - This tale of a grade-school boy and his science class frog is rough to watch. C-
"The Loneliest Stoplight" (USA, 6 min.) - For me, this is best short of the nine. Bill Plympton's comedic look at a stoplight (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is creative, quirky and memorable. B
"The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse" (France, 7 min.) - Not terrible, but it's a story we've seen before so many times (including in these Animated Shorts competition practically every year). C
Overall, On The Official LCJ Report Card, the "2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation" gets a C, the lowest grade I’ve given this program in the seven years I’ve been seeing/reviewing the animated shorts.
"Kung Fu Panda 3" is DreamWorks Animation's 32nd theatrical feature, but their first ever released in the month of January. A big-budget, high-quality animated film this early in the year is rare, and while this third chapter of Po the Panda, Master Shifu and the Furious Five doesn't quite live-up to the original, it's fast, furry-ous, and a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
At the tail end of 2011's "Kung Fu Panda 2", a message from "The Universe" was sent to Po's biological father, living in a far-off location, alerting him that "My son is alive." "KFP3" picks-up right from there...well, sort of...since father Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston) needs some time to journey from his hidden Panda village in the mountains to reunite with his long-lost son in China's Valley of Peace.
Meantime, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has asked Po (the always highly-energized Jack Black) to take-over as teacher of the Furious Five. Po has a difficult time handling his new responsibility, as well as mastering the art of Chi, which is the foundation of the group's ancient beliefs. But when an old enemy - the bull Kai (J.K. Simmons joins the voice cast), returns with plans to wipe-out all the masters and rule China, Po's teaching and spiritual skills are put to the ultimate test.
DreamWorks continues to raise the bar when it comes to visionary animation. The action sequences are well-staged and some of the more dramatic and symbolic moments feature characters surrounded by bright and beautiful visuals. And the creation of an entire village filled with pandas, each with its own, distinctive personality, is a major success. This is the aspect of "Kung Fu Panda 3" that kids will enjoy the most. Seeing Po playfully interacting with fellow pandas in this new environment provides many of the films memorable scenes.
Directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni deal with the elephant in the room head-on: Po now has two dads. Is Po's adoptive father, Mr. Ping, jealous of the new father - and vice versa? There are some effective moments involving family and relationship dynamics that feel authentic and aren't over-done, and they allow for this third installment to have a much more fun and consistently positive tone than "KFP2".
What "Kung Fu Panda 3" lacks is a gripping story arc. There are hardly any real surprises and the climax isn't as inspiring or motivating as it needed to be. The entire A-list voice ensemble is strong, and there are flashes of smart dialogue, a few solid running jokes and gags, particularly during scenes at the panda village. However, the final 20 minutes aren't po-werful enough and the script, as a whole, is a little too basic.
But, overall, this is an impressive-looking and entertaining addition to the series, and hopefully not the last we've seen of these characters and this saga on the big screen.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Kung Fu Panda 3" gets a B.
< Previous 1234567891011121314151617181920212223242526272829303132333435363738394041424344454647 Next >