After seeing 2010’s “Despicable Me” the first of several times, I knew that supervillain turned superdad Gru’s little yellow assistants, the Minions, were destined to star in their own movie. Five years later, “Minions” puts the title characters front and center. Unfortunately, the film falls short on the fun meter.
“Minions” is a prequel to “Despicable Me”. As narrator Geoffrey Rush explains, “Minions have been on this planet far longer than humans have”. And over thousands of years, they have served under numerous masters - all of them dying in “epic fail” fashion…because of the Minions. By the time we reach 1968, the setting for this story, the Minions are bored, living alone in an icy cave. But a trio of heroes decide to change that: Kevin, Stuart and Bob decide to venture back out into the world to find a new, evil boss for the group to follow.
Eventually, the trio meets-up with Scarlet Overkill, who, at the time, is the #1 villain on the planet. She’s voiced by Sandra Bullock. They all end-up in jolly ol’ England, where Overkill asks the Minions to do her a favor…or else.
Unfortunately, the Overkill character suffers from “just that“, as she’s involved way too much in this “Minions” story. She’s the main human, but very one-note, and doesn’t provide laughs or add to the fun in any way when on-screen. She’s a major let-down compared to Gru from the previous films. In fact, her husband, the hippie-vibe Herb, is a much better character, voiced by an almost unrecognizable Jon Hamm.
The strength of “Minions”, not surprisingly, comes from the Minions themselves. They’re caught-up in many over-the-top and entertaining hijinks and poke fun at targeted material in just the right way. The film nicely goes back and forth between the adventures of Kevin, Stuart and Bob and the laugh-out-loud escapades of the other Minions waiting at home.
Michael Keaton and Allison Janney provide some more laughs as the parents of a unique family who befriends the trio on their journey. And there are some clever touches and references to the original “Despicable Me”. However, a couple of the story elements are surprisingly weak and far-fetched, including an extensive, action-filled finale.
For some reason, the filmmakers didn’t feel confident enough to make a 90-minute all-Minions movie, which could have included three or four satirical, supporting supervillains from all-over the globe. The Minions do shine here, but not bright (yellow) enough.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Minions” gets a B-.
“Terminator Genisys” is the fifth installment in the now-31-year-old-franchise. The main reason why this sequel hoped to erase 2009’s “Terminator Salvation” from the minds of most diehard fans is that ARNOLD is back! But I actually liked “Salvation” and now even more after experiencing “Genisys”, which is dull, dry and disappointing.
Schwarzenegger receives top-billing, but at no point in “Genisys” is his Guardian character (he’s not listed as a Terminator) the main focus. Yes, he’s part of most of the action scenes, does the time traveling thing and delivers some corny one-liners, but nothing, including the much talked about motion-capture stunt double aimed to look like a younger version of Arnold, is worth getting excited about.
In this version Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thirty”) plays John Connor. It’s 2029 and he and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney of “A Good Day to Die Hard”) are finally about to take-down Skynet. But problems arise when a time travel device produces the younger Arnold, and John realizes that his mother - Sarah Connor (“Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke) must be rescued. So he sends Kyle back to 1984, but Sarah’s all good because of middle-aged Schwarzenegger, who’s been protecting her since she was 9.
So then THEY decide, based on visions into the future, that they can prevent Judgment Day from ever happening by destroying Skynet (which is being passed-off on humans as “Genisys” - a digital sync service) before it goes on line. So it’s back to the year 2017, where Kyle and Sarah meet-up with the gray-haired Arnold. This is also where a detective played by Oscar winner J.K. Simmons enters the picture. He’s been trying to figure-out this case for the past 30-years - I had a hard time staying interested in this film for 2-hours.
“Terminator Genisys” bounces around with the past, present and future, and plays fast and loose with logic - and yet this is a very straightforward film with nothing new to offer in terms of story and character development. And the only real “twist”, which is basic and unimaginative, will likely upset diehard fans of the series.
The visual effects, once a highlight of this series, are uninspired and the action scenes don’t produce a single “wow” moment. And I still can’t believe that it takes Kyle and Sarah basically the entire movie to realize that bullets will NOT stop the T-1000s. Didn’t we learn that in “Terminator 2”? But was that before or after “Genisys” - or both? Frankly, I’m just happy to have survived this mess. And if there is a “Terminator 6” - I can confidently say…“I WON’T be baaaack.”
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Terminator Genisys” gets a D.
Six months after their release of "American Sniper", Warner Bros. is out with a family-friendly war-themed (of sorts) film, as a Marine service dog returns from battle and has trouble adjusting to homelife in "Max". As the opening credits reveal, K-9s have been used in the military since WWI.
Max, a Malinois Shepherd, was the companion of Marine Kyle Wincott. While on a tour in Afghanistan, Kyle is killed in a firefight. Max can't cope without his dear friend, so he's given to the Wincott family - father and former Marine Ray (played by Thomas Haden Church), mother Pamela (Lauren Graham) and Kyle's younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins), who Max takes a liking to. Justin normally spends his time playing war video games (and sells bootleg copies), but that now changes as he decides to take care of Max and become his new human companion.
Justin's stereotypical best friend Chuy and his equally annoying cousin Carmen assist Justin in training Max. Many of these scenes play-out in cyclic fashion without much point or advancing of the story. The focus of "Max" early on is about Justin and his parents grieving over the loss of Kyle and the growing bond between Justin and Max. But the tone changes drastically in the second hour when the plot turns into a doggie version of "Mission: Impossible", complete with chase scenes, kidnappings, arms deals and Max having to fight a pair of evil Pit Bulls. Unfortunately, all of this is too predictable and far-"fetched" to be effective.
Wiggins is solid, and it's nice that veterans Church and Graham don't phone-in their performances. We learn at the end of the film that more than two dozen military service dogs and their handlers have been killed in the line of duty since 2003. At times within the story, director Boaz Yakin ("Remember the Titans") does a nice job honoring service men, women and animals. This isn't Hallmark Hall of Fame-level corny. However, an edgier, more compelling script would have helped "Max" rise about its level of "Mediocre in Show".
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Max" gets a C.
On Friday, November 15, 2013, San Francisco was transformed into Gotham City as five-year-old leukemia patient Miles Scott became Batkid for the day. He and Batman saved citizens from danger and defeated their arch-enemies The Riddler and The Penguin. The day, which began as a simple request to The Make-A-Wish Foundation, turned into one of the biggest events in that organization's history, truly going above and beyond in making Miles' wish of becoming his all-time favorite superhero come true.
As the documentary "Batkid Begins" details, 21st century word-of-mouth, a.k.a. social media, played a major part in this becoming one of the most inspiring and memorable stories of 2013. Thousands of people poured into SF that day from all over the world to help make this day as special as possible for Miles and his family. And millions, including Hollywood celebrities, actors who have played Batman over the years, and President Obama, joined via Twitter and Facebook.
In the first half of "Batkid Begins" (which is being distributed Warner Bros., the studio behind the big screen Batman franchise) focuses on all the efforts it took to make Batkid Day a reality. It's presented in a TV news special style, including interviews with officials of Make-A-Wish, the SF police department, the mayor's office, and the key people who would play the characters in this elaborate real-life action story. Credit goes to those smart enough to capture all of this on camera at the time it was happening. Without this footage an effective documentary would have been impossible. We also learn a little about Miles' parents, who, like everyone else, quickly become overwhelmed by the explosion of publicity their son is generating.
Everything presented involving the build-up to the big day is interesting, including how "Dark Knight" composer Hans Zimmer lended a hand, writing Batkid theme music. Sadly, the facts, details and snipits of dialogue from all those involved come at us in such rapid-fire fashion that, often, I wished the pacing would slow way down, allowing the filmmakers to spend more time delving deeper into certain important and interesting aspects of this unique story.
The second half of the film chronicleis the day itself, with footage of all of Miles' amazing adventures. There are moments that will surprise you, make you smile, and tear-up as it all comes together in a remarkable way. Again, the authentic video in crucial, and we get every angle and clear audio from young Miles and all the participants, including actual news media footage and interviews and shots of the tremendous crowds of strangers who packed the streets and venues to show their suppoprt for this young cancer victim. We see that it took so many superheroes to make Miles dream come true.
The ending of "Batkid Begins" does present some questions, especially after hearing a few candid comments. How did this day really impact Miles? Did it mean more to the city of San Francisco? Did Make-A-Wish go too far? A potential financial controversy is swept away rather quickly. I would've been fine with sitting through another 20 minutes or so and having these issues analyzed and disected, but that isn't the movie director Dana Nachman wanted to make. This is simply designed to be a "feel good" film about a little Caped Crusader who inspired the world to come together for one, special day.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Batkid Begins" gets a B.
Julia Roberts is producing and plans on starring in a fictionalized, Hollywood version of the Batkid story, which will reportedly focus on events following Batkid Day. Since we learn late in "Batkid Begins" that Miles' parents shut-down the media circus and their son's appearances shortly after his big day, it'll be interesting to see what Roberts can do to advance this story and top this very effective, if overly simple, documentary.
"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is the film adaptation of the popular YA novel. The movie won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Clearly, those voting groups were made up of diehard indie lovers who easily embrace quirky. However, when you look at "Me and Earl" as a movie and not a demonstration of low budget, arthouse filmmaking, it comes off as an all-too cliche and cookie-cutter summer dramedy.
Thomas Mann (who co-starred with Victoria Justice in the worst movie of 2012 - "Fun Size") plays Greg. He's a high school senior looking to finish-out his high school career doing what he's always done - flying under the radar, staying out of trouble, and getting along with, but not getting close to, every stereotypical group of students. The only friend (or "co-worker" as Greg puts it because he doesn't want to admit he has a legitimate friend) is Earl. Their "thing" is making film parodies of classsic Hollywood's movies, though they do it in secret and don't show their films to anyone.
Greg's life changes when he learns a girl in his school named Rachel has been diagnosed with Leukemia. Greg and Rachel hardly know each other, but Greg's mother insists that Greg visit Rachel so she has some company during this difficult time (Greg is far too selfish to think of doing this himself). A friendship forms between the two, but as narrator Greg informs us on multiple occasions, this is far from a typical romance and they are not boyfriend and girlfriend. In the Hollywood version, these teens fall for each other and learn lessons about life and love until she dies.
Thankfully this story avoids that predicatable path. But sadly, it goes in a different, but equally disappointing direction. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon bluntly borrows from indie king Wes Anderson throughout the entire film, particularly in the quirky heavy first half, packing "Me and Earl" with weird camera angles, snipits of stop-motion animation and on the screen titles. This movie suffers from "Too Cute for its Own Good Indie Disease." Gomez-Rejon also forces way too many attempts at humor into the story, especially from over-the-top supporting cast members Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon.
Greg and Earl's movies (including knock-offs of "A Clockwork Orange" and "Midnight Cowboy") got me thinking of Michel Gondry's 2008 indie comedy "Be Kind Rewind", in which Jack Black and Mos Def made their own versions of such classics as "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Ghostbusters". The parodies actually had more purpose and relevance in that film. Here they're simply a plot device.
"Me and Earl" is a difficult film to enjoy mainly because, for the first 95% of the movie, Greg is a really unlikable character. It's his story, but it's impossible to feel anything for him. And as Rachel deals with her chemo treatments, it's impossible not to feel sorry for her. But the script provides no emotional suprises or impact. Cancer is a touchy subject to tackle on film, and there are a few very appropraitely serious scenes that deal with the challenges and frustrations of the disease. These are really the only effective moments of "Me and Earl", which lacks the power and insight of last year's entry in the Teen Dying of Cancer genre - "The Fault in Our Stars".
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" gets a C-.
“Ted” was “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane’s first feature film, co-writing and directing the tale of a foul-mouthed teddy bear who comes to life. Saying the film was a success is an understatement, so it’s no surprise that - 3 years later - we have “Ted 2”. What is surprising is that this sequel is so much funnier than the original.
MacFarlane jumps right into “Ted 2” with the wedding of Ted and grocery store co-worker Tami-Lynn. This is followed-up with an elaborate opening credits Busby-Berkeley musical production number that sets the tone - and put the biggest smile on my face. The story then flashes forward about a year, and Ted and Tami-Lynn are struggling with their marriage. They decide that the only way it can be saved is by having a baby.
Now, obviously, Ted cannot be the biological father to a child, and efforts to find a donor to fill that role don’t exactly go smoothly, so the couple turns to adoption. However, those plans hit a roadblock when Ted is determined by the state of Massachusetts NOT to be a real person, but rather “property”. So Ted and best friend Johnny (Mark Wahlberg returns) decide to sue the government for the bear’s civil rights, and rookie lawyer Samantha Jackson (played by Amanda Seyfried) is picked to take the case.
“Ted 2” is easily one of the top five comedies I’ve ever seen. In fact it’s really two movies: The legitimate story, filled with clever dialogue and nice tie-ins to the original. And then there are dozens of brief comedy bits that MacFarlane inserts throughout the film that are consistently outrageous and hysterical. SO MUCH is thrown at the screen and nearly all of it works. Yes, most of the jokes and scenes are offensive and filled with drug use and f-bombs, but together, the random references, props, insults and physical gags, raise “Ted 2” to the level of ridiculously entertaining.
The courtroom scenes are hilarious and the escapade at a fertility clinic may have you in tears from laughing so hard. Tack on appearances by some A-list stars, including the great Morgan Freeman - and what can you say? There are also unforgettable celebrity cameos and vignettes, again many that have absolutely nothing to do with the core story, but it doesn’t matter. This is one of those films that, 20-years from now, people will be recreating scenes and quoting lines. There’s Ted and John’s version of the “Law & Order” theme song, a trip they take to a comedy club, a “Jurassic Park” tribute, and I’ll never be able to hear the name “F. Scott Fitzgerald” again without laughing. In fact, I can’t remember the last comedy that made me laugh this hard and this often.
MacFarlane proves, once again, that he can pretty much get away with anything as long as audiences think it’s funny. If you thought “Ted” was wild, “Ted 2” tops it in every way. This is clearly the frontrunner for funniest film of 2015.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Ted 2” gets an A-.
The indie drama "Dope" was one of the darlings of this year's Sundance Film Festival. Open Road, best known for distributing the animated comedy "The Nut Job" and the excellent Jake Ghyllenhaal thriller "Nightcrawler", won the multi-studio bidding war. Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa ("Our Family Wedding") collaborated with the powerhouse production team of Pharrell Williams, Sean Combs and Forest Whitaker (who also serves as the film's narrator) for this hip-hop influenced coming-of-age tale.
"Dope" doesn't break any new ground when it comes to story. Malcolm (played by Shameik Moore - a name you'll likely be hearing more of in the years to come) is a Black high school senior living with a single mother in crime-heavy, drug-dominated Inglewood, CA. He and his best friends Jib ("The Grand Budapest Hotel"'s Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Clersey Clemons) are really into the 90s hip hop music culture. The three have a band called Awreeoh. Malcolm considers himself a geek, since he's a straight A-student, with no criminal record or bad habits. He's looking to get into Harvard, though the odds are stacked against him.
But Malcolm's life and prospects change drastically when he meets a pretty girl, does someone a favor and unwittingly gets caught-up in a situation that literally involves dope (illegal drugs), plus gang members, drug money and another pretty girl. He quickly finds himself in way over his head and has to use that straight-A brain to outsmart everyone and survive.
"Dope" relies early and often on coincidences (some a bit far-fetched) in order to move the story along. You get a pretty good idea early on how most things are going to play-out so it's tough to become emotionally invested in Malcolm's caper or the shenanigans that take place during a lengthy middle chunk.
What makes the film work is Moore's very likable presence on screen. He and Zoe Kravitz (daughter of rocker Lenny, who's building-up a nice film resume), as love-interest Nakia, give the two strongest performances. And "Dope", for a relatively small-budget indie, has a very impressive look, is technically solid, and includes a nice mix of original music and great 90s hip-hop tracks. Famuyiwa also uses some fun techniques, such as rewinding and flash-forwarding of events, split-screens, graphics, and some cool transitions. All of these add flare to what could've been just another forgettable effort in the genre. And there's actually a solid final scene, rare in movies these days.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Dope" gets a C+.
Disney/Pixar's "Inside Out" is director Pete Docter's follow-up to his Oscar-winning "Up", which featured the most emotional opening scene in Pixar history. "Inside Out" is all about our emotions, and while I laughed at times, this film also desperately wants you to cry, but falls short in achieving that reaction. It's good, but far from Pixar's best effort.
Amy Poehler leads the voice cast as Joy. She's the main emotion inside the head of young Riley. Joy and the four other emotions: Anger (the perfectly cast comedian Lewis Black), Fear ("SNL"'s Bill Hader), Disgust and Sadness (voiced by Mindy Kaling and Phyllis Smith from "The Office"), have been with Riley since her birth and control her every action from the control center in her mind. And things can get pretty hectic in there when they all want to make Riley feel a certain way at the same time. Docter has called these five emotions Pixar's version of the Seven Dwarfs.
Riley is a care-free 11-year-old who loves her family, friends and playing hockey. But now she and her parents (Kyle McLaughlin and Diane Lane) are moving from Minnesota to San Francisco for dad's work. Riley is cautiously optimistic about the move, even though many of her emotions are not looking forward to it. Joy tries to keep everyone positive. Poehler took inspiration from Tom Hanks' voice work as Woody, the motivational leader in the "Toy Story" films.
But when Sadness accidentally touches one of the core memories that Riley has stored inside her mind, it sets off a firestorm of uncontrollable emotions on the outside, and pretty soon, Joy and Sadness are literally sucked-out of headquarters and taken to the vast Long Term Memory section of Riley's mind. The rest of "Inside Out" focuses on Joy and Sadness trying to get back to HQ and straighten things out, while Riley has to deal with the other emotions - Anger, Fear and Disgust - which are turning her life upside down.
Docter and his team came-up with a mind-blowing amount of inventive ideas to incorporate into this imagination-filled adventure. There's an incredible amount of attention to detail, resulting in some funny one-liners, gags and running jokes, but the scope does get a little overwhelming. "Inside Out" is one of Pixar's most vibrant and beautiful-looking animated films, even going beyond traditional CG animation in one very clever and memorable scene.
Every Pixar film has that one, heart-tugging scene that everybody remembers, whether it's Nemo's mother dying, Anton Ego's speech in "Ratatouille" or Andy saying goodbye to his toys in "Toy Story 3". There is one near the end of "Inside Out" involving Joy and a character called Bing Bong (voiced by Richard Kind). This element of the story, and particularly that scene, is the only one that truly worked on me emotionally. Otherwise, the pyschological examinations of Riley's mind and her parallel journey with Joy come-off as in-your-face and (dare I say) "emotionally manipulative".
While the concept of "Inside Out" is unique, the story itself is fairly straightforward and the core messages, which Pixar is known for, are underwhelming and off-balance. I left the theater entertained but also wondering what it is this film is trying to say about its very tricky subject matter.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Inside Out" gets a B.
The Pixar animated short that preceeds "Inside Out" is the romantic musical "Lava", about singing volcanoes. Disney and Pixar have been on a recent streak of love story shorts that are way too simple and lack any creative or emotional punch. You can add this to that list.
In 1993, four little words, an iconic John Williams score and some mind-blowing visuals changed cinema forever, as the late Richard Attenborough welcomed us to Jurassic Park. Now, 22 years later, original director Steven Spielberg hands the reigns of the "dinos on the loose" franchise over to Colin Trevorrow for "Jurassic World", which covers similar ground as "Jurassic Park", with just enough additional bite.
The Jurassic World theme park is larger and wilder than the ill-fated Park, and marketing head Claire (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is supervising a new "attraction" in the form of the biggest and baddest dino yet - a genetically modified hybrid. The exact makeup of this creature is top secret, but it's safe to state that this one's a bit tempermental.
Chris Pratt (who shined last summer as Star-Lord in "Guardians of the Galaxy") is more stiff here in a one-note role as Owen. He's a Velociraptor trainer who's brought-in to inspect the new hybrid's containment facility when...things begin to go horribly wrong. And in a matter of minutes - and this shouldn't come as a surprise since this is a "Jurassic Park" movie - all of the employees and 20,000+ visitors are in danger - as this dino mash-up escapes into the park.
Fortunately, "Jurassic World" doesn't spend a lot of time on set-up, insread diving into full panic mode within the first half hour. The best scenes of chaos involve the flying dinosaurs attacking park patrons. A few shots serve as a nice homage to Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds", with that same look and feel of pure terror. It's here, and in a few other places, when "Jurassic World" generates some legitimate suspense. Yes, the dinos do scream and stomp and kill and eat people, but the script doesn't provide any of those "jump-out-of-your-seat" surprises that this genre - right or wrong - is known for.
Trevorrow relies more on solid action than thrills, with the excitement level never reaching that of the original. The Indominus rex is revealed very early on in, somewhat unusual for these modern "monster" movies (and a dramatic change from what Spielberg did with his title character in "Jaws" 40 years ago). This eliminates any audience anticipation. But Trevorrow does deserve credit for the amped-up special effects, some nice references to the original, giving the film an overall old-fashioned vibe (by focusing on two young brothers), using a funny Jimmy Fallon cameo, and adding enough flare to get one of the biggest film franchises of this era back on track.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Jurassic World" gets a B-.
“Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” director Paul Feig has returned for a third go-around with the Academy Award nominated star of those blockbuster comedies - Melissa McCarthy. “Spy” is a slick, sophisticated, very solid action comedy.
McCarthy is CIA analyst Susan Cooper. For years, Cooper has been the voice inside the earpiece of suave secret agent Bradley Fine (played by Jude Law). But desperate times can call for desperate measures. Defense head Elaine Crocker (a mostly straightforward Allison Janney) learns that Rayna Boynaov (Rose Byrne) is going to give a terrorist organization a nuclear bomb that will be set off in New York City. Boynaov knows all of the regular agents who could be assigned to the case - except for Cooper, who volunteers to go out into the field for the first time and be a real spy.
But Cooper has to tackle more than this mission - traveling around the globe to try to defeat Boynaov. She’s also got to deal with the competition - veteran fellow-agent, and quite the overachiever, Rick Ford (played by a scene-stealing Jason Statham). Ford proudly informs Cooper that he’s basically survived everything imaginable in his years as a spy. Feig, who also penned this script, is at his best when Statham’s on screen, poking fun at the spy movie genre, while, at the same time, completely immersing himself in it.
“Spy”, which does feature a James Bond-like opening sequence complete with the obligatory loud song, is the textbook example of an action comedy. There are some big laughs, but most come early, with sharp humor only sprinkled throughout the second half in between the car, motorcycle and helicopter chases, shootouts (the body count is surprisingly high) and physical fighting.
The film is a lengthy two hours, and the plot does take a few too many swerves, with each more predictable than the last. But the reason most people will want to see this is McCarthy, and she delivers not only in the comedy department but also proves that she can handle the action. Feig, who Statham recently called “The Scorsese of Comedy”, gives McCarthy plenty of moments to shine. She bounces back nicely from last Summer’s disappointing “Tammy” and may have finally found that elusive franchise she and her agents have been looking for.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Spy” gets a B.
"Jerry Maguire" writer/director Cameron Crowe returns to the genre that elevated him to stardom: the romantic dramedy. "Aloha" boasts one of the most impressive casts of the year, and isn't nearly as emotionally manipulative as Crowe's last film, 2011's "We Bought a Zoo" with Matt Damon. But with a dialogue-heavy script that runs around in all-too-familiar circles, "Aloha" lacks the charm and authenticity of a great, summer silver screen romance.
Bradley Cooper leads the star-studded ensemble as Brian Gilcrest. He's a military contractor who returns to Hawaii to complete a secret (and unnecessarily complicated) mission that involves launching a privately funded satellite into space. Gilcrest reunites with his old girlfriend Tracy (played by Rachel McAdams) in the same scene that he's introduced to Air Force pilot Alison Ng (it's pronounced like "ring" but without the "ri"). She's been assigned to keep watch over Gilcrest over the five days as he takes care of business. Oh, and to probably fall in love with him, too. But maybe he'll get back together with Tracy, who's married with two kids, but isn't really happy. It's this triangle that's at the heart of "Aloha".
The first half hour or so is as messy as a luau in a hurricane, with confusing plot developments and several cringe-worthy moments, including Gilcrest secretly listening in on a private phone conversation and later howling like a wolf out his car window. And most the of early scenes involving Cooper, McAdams and Stone are clumsy and unconvincing. If "Aloha" had continued on this way I would have completely agreed with former Sony head Amy Pascal's opinion of the film, which she called "ridiculous" in one of the numerous leaked emails that were part of the now-infamous hacking scandal.
But once Stone's character is allowed to calm down and not be so manic, the scenes between her and Cooper begin to work and Crowe's vision starts to come together. Going into a movie like this, you hope that there are those genuine moments around the beginning and ending of relationships. I bought into that aspect of "Aloha", even the re-hashing of the past relationship between the Cooper and McAdams characters, which goes deeper than we originally think.
The supporting cast is a mixed bag. Heavyweights Bill Murray (who briefly shows off his dance moves) and Alec Baldwin are underused. And John Krasinski and Danny McBride are simply here to add a few more recognizable names to the poster. But the spiritual cultural elements do add some authenticity, and Crowe does have a few strong moments, most notably an effective final scene in which Cooper gets to show what a great actor he is.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Aloha" gets a C. Or, in other words, on a scale of 1-100, "Aloha" gets a Hawaii Five-0.
Over the last 10 years, Dwayne Johnson has starred in nearly 20 movies. The former WWE wrestler turned mega media star with that million dollar-smile is out to save the day once again - this time from the mother of all earthquakes in “San Andreas”.
Johnson plays Ray, Chief of the Los Angeles Fire & Rescue department. He’s got has a teen daughter named Blake (“Percy Jackson”’s Alexandra Daddario) and a soon-to-be ex-wife Emma (played by Carla Gugino - this is now her third film with Johnson following "Race to Witch Mountain" and "Faster"). She’s getting ready to move-in with the new man in her life man. Well…maybe not.
There’s a parallel, equally important story involving Paul Giamatti’s Professor Lawrence, a seismologist working to come-up with a way to predict earthquakes. Giamatti, one of our best actors working today, elevates what could’ve been just a typical supporting role, pouring his heart and soul into the part. After a 7.1 magnitude quake hits southern Nevada, destroying, among other things, the Hoover Dam, Lawrence and his team determine that an even more powerful quake is coming very soon - The Biggie - along the San Andreas fault line of southern California. And he needs to prepare everyone in LA and especially San Francisco.
Ray and Emma become separated from Blake during the San Andreas quake, and so they must work together to find their daughter, who’s wandering San Fran with a few new friends. The events they have to deal with get crazier as the movie goes on, until finally you’re asking yourself: “How in the world did that just happen?” But - amazingly - practically every situation - even the coincidences - work.
“San Andreas” is one of the wildest movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s pretty much two hours of non-stop destruction, with brief patches of character dialogue thrown in. And the effects are so good that this is the year’s first lock for an Academy Award nomination in the Visual Effects category.
And yet, “San Andreas” is also largely grounded and surprisingly sophisticated for a big-budget summer blockbuster. Director Brad Peyton (this is his follow-up to "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island", which also starred Johnson) even takes a risk with a subplot that’s quite heavy for a typical action film. In fact, “San Andreas” is far from your average action movie. Sure, we can allow ourselves to be entertained by a fictitious film that features giant buildings crashing on top of each other and a giant tsunami encapsulating the crumbling Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve seen several natural disasters around the world in recent years, and that a tragic event such as this could happen at any moment, that gives “San Andreas” more legitimacy than I expected. Even Johnson’s typical “over-the-top” one-liners don’t seem so “over the top”.
I’m not really sure. But I can say I had a hard time finding “fault” with any of it.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "San Andreas" gets a B+.
The latest sci-fi adventure from "The Incredibles" director Brad Bird is Disney's "Tomorrowland", which is very loosely based on the theme park attraction. Outside of a brief and flat-out awful narration tactic at the start of the film, star George Clooney is missing for the first 45 minutes. His Frank Walker character is introduced to us as a boy, or as I call him, Lil' Clooney), a young inventor who takes his jet pack invention to the 1964 New York World's Fair. Frank meets a mysterious young girl and ends-up riding the classic ride "It's a Small World" (there's some inside marketing for you), and is soon transported to Tomorrowland - a wondrous place between the present and the future where anything is possible.
The story then shifts to present day, where teenager Casey ("The Longest Ride"'s Britt Robertson) is arrested and when she's released from jail recevives a Tomorrowland pin. When she touches it, she's physically transported to this strange place, in brief flashes that only she can experience.
Eventually, following a "Men in Black"-esque stretch involving Casey and the mysterious girl, Athena, from 1964 (who hasn't aged a day), Casey makes it to Frank Walker's house. He's now an adult (and Clooney). Clearly he's no longer in Tomorrowland, for complicated reasons yet to be explained, but these three end-up having to return to Tomorrowland, for more complicated reasons that I won't explain, to - literally - save the world.
"Tomorrowland" features an original story, though it's far from unique. Bird not only directed and produced it, but also co-wrote the script, which includes a few nice touches such as "Iron Giant" and "Incredibles" figures in a sci-fi store Casey visits. Some of the themes, particularly in the homestretch, are fairly heavy for a PG Disney movie. There are no legitimate surprises, and sadly only one element (the relationship between Frank and Athena, seen in both flashbacks and their present-day reunion) actually works, albeit on the low side of the emotion spectrum and slightly creepy.
Clooney himself gives a few solid speeches, though I felt like he was copycatting his own death bed performance from "The Descendants" in a late crying scene. Just about everyone else overacts, and the soundtrack is way too intrusive. The showstoppers of "Tomorrowland", by far, are the visual effects. A sequence involving the Eiffel Tower will blow you away. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for just about everything else.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Tomorrowland" gets a disappointing C.
“Pitch Perfect” only made $65 million back in 2012, but a cult “Girl Power” following along with the growth in popularity of stars Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson helped convince Universal that they were A Ca-ready for “Pitch Perfect 2”.
Elizabeth Banks, who reprises her role as A Cappella competition co-commentator Gail, also directs this sequel, which is bigger and slightly better than the original. Once again there are no huge laughs - but several entertaining song renditions, some solid performances and a few genuine surprises help “Pitch Perfect 2” avoid hitting the low notes.
After a performance for the President and Mrs. Obama goes horribly wrong, (the First Couple is actually shown more than once) the Barden University Bellas are suspended and face termination unless they can win the World A Cappella Championship, which no U.S. group has ever done. Among the teams they’ll have to defeat is the German group Das Sound Machine - easily the frontrunners for the title.
That’s pretty much the plot, and so, at just under two hours, “Pitch Perfect 2” is longer than it needed to be. A song battle featuring David Cross as emcee and members of the Green Bay Packers belting-out pop tunes, along with a Bellas bonding retreat (the perfect setting for some over-the-top antics from Wilson), are drawn-out and don’t advance the story much.
The strongest element of “PP2” is a subplot involving Beca (Kendrick) secretly interning at a recording studio. Keegan Michael Key puts a more grounded spin on the typical demanding music producer role (and has some of the film’s best lines). And a scene involving him, Kendrick and none other than Snoop Dogg, who’s in a booth working on his upcoming Christmas album, is my favorite of the entire movie.
Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”, “Ender’s Game”) is a nice addition to the cast as Emily, the newest Bella. Kendrick’s original song “Cups”, from the first film, became a pop hit. This time, it’s Steinfeld and Kendrick’s “Flashlight” that you’ll likely be hearing everywhere.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Pitch Perfect 2” gets a B-. In a summer packed with action films, this light and fun version of escapism is a nice alternative.
Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon and "Modern Family"'s Sofia Vergara team-up for the action comedy "Hot Pursuit". It's such a cliche considering the title, but this really is one hot mess.
Witherspoon, complete with an annoying southern accent, plays Cooper, a Texas police officer. She's a plucky, non-stop talker who hasn't been out in the field since she tazed (and set on fire) the son of a mayor over a wacky misunderstanding. But now she's been asked to escort the wife of a drug trial witness to Dallas so she can also testify.
Things get complicated fast when Cooper and a fellow officer arrive at the mansion of Mr. and Mrs. Riva and within minutes, two different sets of gunmen show-up and open fire. Cooper barely escapes with the loud and flamboyant Mrs. Riva (played by Vergara). They're now on the run - wanted by the bad guys and the bad cops. Will this unlikely pair make it to Dallas by morning without getting caught and killed? Of course, with a premise like this, it's not going to be easy.
"Hot Pursuit" is directed by "The Proposal"'s Anne Fletcher. I wasn't a huge fan of that 2009 rom-com, but I'd sit through it a couple more times before going anywhere near this film again. The first half does have a handful of random, chuckle-worthy one-liners. But then the over-the-top gags and goofy situations start piling-up, including a guy shooting-off his own finger and Witherspoon then giving a dog the Heimlich because she thought he swallowed it.
As terrible as that scene is, nothing comes close to the escapade on a senior citizen tour bus, which is so flat-out ridiculous that I'm stunned the writers thought people would actually find it entertaining. At least "Hot Pursuit" is only 87 minutes, though it would've simply been a half-hour sitcom pilot if not for all the tiresome, double-crossing/triple-crossing, "Let me explain" scenes.
Vergara can be very funny in small doses on TV, but here proves she can't handle a co-leading film role. As for Witherspoon, going from career-high work in "Wild" to an embarrassing role like this is a shame. However, she does provide the true gem of the film in the closing credits outtakes. She delivers a line, but that take can't be used because a crew member quickly tells her she has to check something. Witherspoon responds, "God, I was giving the performance of a lifetime" and sarcastically laughs out loud. I did the same thing.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Hot Pursuit" gets a D.
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