Saturday, October 12, 2019

Movie Review: “The Addams Family”


The Addams Family

**** 1/2 out of 5
87 minutes
Rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action
United Artists Releasing

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky, ooky, animated. While one of these things is not like the other, the new film from directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (both directors of Shrek 2, Monsters vs. Aliens, and Sausage Party) prove The Addams Family work in any format. While they’ve been animated before on television, this is the first animated film to be released theatrically. For those keeping track, it’s been 26 years since the goth-like family was last on the big screen, and it’s fantastic to have them back!

I seem to be in a minority here — not one adult who attended the screening with me liked it — as it sounds like some audience members have a major misconception regarding the entire enterprise. Yes, the Matt Lieberman screenplay doesn’t exactly offer up anything new, but at least the characters remain the same.

Wedding bells are ringing for Gomez (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (voiced by Charlize Theron). But just as they say “I do,” the townsfolk show up to wage war and drive them out. The newlyweds hit the road in search of the worst place they can settle down in, winding up in New Jersey — a nod to Charles Addams’ hometown. And while they find an abandoned haunted asylum to call all their own — after Thing runs down escaped mental patient Lurch (voiced by co-director Conrad Vernon) — 13 years later we catch up with the rest of the clan: Wednesday (voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard).

The rest of the family are soon on their way to join them for Pugsley’s Mazurka, including Uncle Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll), cousin It (voiced by Snoop Dogg), and Grandma (voiced by Better Midler). And wouldn’t you know it, the fog surrounding their home has lifted as the marsh is drained by reality TV host/interior designer Margaux Needler (voiced by Allison Janney). Now the Addams’ have to deal with the new town of “Assimilation” below. Things go from bad to worse when Wednesday enrolls in middle school and befriends Margaux’s estranged daughter Parker (voiced by Elsie Fisher), while Margaux hatches a diabolical plot of her own to turn the town against the Addams clan.

Growing up I loved the original TV series, and the Barry Sonnenfeld classics even more. While Addams Family Values may have been the epitome of what Charles Addams’ creation could be, this is a fantastic reboot, ushering the family back into the spotlight — even if straddled with a PG rating. Double entendres and twisted visuals reign supreme with the voice cast relishing every line. Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, and Christina Ricci may have left their mark on their characters, but it’s easier to separate the new versions with this animated one.

Directors Tiernan and Vernon make sure they kick things off with a gag a minute, although things do start to slow down as the plot starts to take over in the third act. There was also a missed opportunity of truncating Wednesday’s time at middle school with too much attention focused on the Assimilation shenanigans. A film about The Addams Family should be about them, we didn’t come here to see what the neighbors were up to. Stillt, Addams fans will be snapping their fingers with glee by the time the end credits roll. And while this first entry may play things a little safer than expected, I can’t wait to see where it goes from here!

Movie Review: “Gemini Man”


Gemini Man

*** out of 5
117 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

There’s a lot to be said about nature vs. nurture. Unfortunately, for Ang Lee’s new action-thriller Gemini Man, its trio of writers — David “Game of Thrones” Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke — are convinced that a clone will be exactly the same regardless of differences in upbringing and personal experiences. While it may work to beat out their been-there-done-that plot mechanics, it completely deflates the emotional impact of the finale.

These kinds of introspective character arcs may not be new to Lee’s films, it comes across as extra silly when the studio is trying to market the film as a “Will Smith vs. Will Smith” action spectacle. While it may feature some fantastic bursts of action, the pace is all over the map with too many monologues padding out the runtime. Which is a shame, because Smith has more chemistry with co-star Mary Elizabeth Winstead than himself.

Henry Brogan (Smith) is the best government assassin in the biz and all he wants to do is retire. But just wouldn’t you know it, he’s just been informed by his friend Jack (Douglas Hodge) that his last target was an innocent man. Now, his old handler Clay (Clive Owen) unleashes project “GEMINI” to bring him down leaving Henry on the lam with fellow agents Danny (Winstead) and Baron (Benedict Wong) helping to save all their rears. What they don’t know, is that GEMINI consists of Henry’s younger, far more lethal clone Junior (a deaged Smith), who will stop at nothing to take Henry down. At least so long as his feelings don’t manage to get in the way.

Gemini Man is reported to be a technological breakthrough, by those who happened to see it at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles premiere. Lee — and cinematographer Dion Beebe — have shot the film in 4K 3D at 120 frames per second (fps). And the marketing is pushing for audiences to experience it in what they’re calling “3D+” and I’m sure it looks amazing. Unfortunately for most, only 14 theaters in the entire country are equipped to come even close, but can only show it in 2K 3D at 120fps — as reported by Polygon.com. And, if you’re lucky, you might be able to find it playing in 2D at 60fps, but don’t hold your breath.

Why studios continue to allow these blockbusters to be made when most of the world won’t even be able to see them as intended is beyond me. Until theaters can catch up, maybe it’s not quite time to be testing the boundaries of filmmaking. Plus, most moviegoers hate watching high frame rate (HFR). I was able to see the first two Hobbit films in HFR and loved every second of them in the format, but it is a very polarizing experience. To try to make something as mainstream as a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action spectacular makes even less sense. But if anyone happens to see it properly, feel free to comment back with any thoughts.

As for the film itself? It’s been great to have Smith back on screen again this year. He never fails to deliver with his endless charm and charisma whether he’s slathered in blue CGI or playing a 30 year younger version of himself. With Winstead kicking ass by his side, the two play off each other very well, and it’s nice to see them even crack wise about whether the two of them should/could wind up together in the end. (Spoiler alert: they don’t!) But that should be seen as a sigh of relief and not a true spoiler.

Unfortunately, they’re saddled with a lackluster screenplay that’s so very by-the-books-’90s — which makes sense since the screenplay has been in development hell since as far back as 1997. Considering it’s a product of the ’90s, it’s understandable to see Bruckheimer producing. The best advice is to check your brain at the door which leaves room for some fun to be had. Just never stop to think about the shenanigans for too long or it’ll ruin things faster than a 2D 24fps presentation.

Movie Review: “Abominable”


Abominable

** 1/2 out of 5
97 minutes
Rated PG for some action and mild rude humor
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It’s been a bumpy road for Dreamworks Animation since their inception. While their franchises may be a long list of highly-recognized titles, there’s been more than a few missteps. The last two Shrek films were atrocious, and even the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy capper came off as trite and never lived up to the first two.

When it comes to their new co-China production, Abominable, it manages to be both super sweet and super dumb. Writer/director Jill Culton — who ironically cut her teeth at Pixar working on Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Monsters, Inc. at different levels — mines simplicity and convenience while adhering to clichéd family film character arcs and conventions.

Teenage Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) does what she can to keep herself busy and away from her mom and grandma Nai Nai (voiced by Michelle Wong and Tsai Chin, respectively). One night, a chance encounter with an escaped Yeti on the roof of Yi’s Shanghai apartment building, gives her the chance to head off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Together with her neighbor friends Jin (voiced by Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai), the trio embark to take their new furry friend back home to Mount Everest with entrepreneur Burnish (voiced by Eddie Izzard) and his zoologist researcher Dr. Zara (voiced by Sarah Paulson) hot on their tails.

Abominable is prime kid fare. Not to slight youngsters, but there’s just no amount of nuance for adults to get beyond its simplistic nature. A few dumber bits include a villain’s big reveal as they whip off their glasses while shaking their hair out behind them while Peng gets stuck playing Captain Obvious for those not able to keep up with what’s happening onscreen.

And then there’s the Yeti’s magical powers which allow him to use nature to get them out of every tight spot. If they used these powers appropriately, the film wouldn’t even exist. He could have just simply whisked himself back to his mountain top home and the rest of us wouldn’t have had to sit through the movie.

At least Abominable mostly lives up to the visual quality we’ve come to expect from Dreamworks and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is quite good, when it’s not being overshadowed by some ridiculous soundtrack choices. Abominable is a harmless time waster that, thankfully, never lives up to its title.

Movie Review: “Ad Astra”

Ad Astra

** 1/2 out of 5
123 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language
20th Century Fox


Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

I saw Ad Astra a week ago and have already forgotten about it. This Brad Pitt sci-fi “thriller” has all the ingredients to build hype: Oscar buzz for Pitt’s performance, titillating trailers, and positive word-of-mouth. But sometimes, as good as the ingredients may be, the end product just doesn’t turn out for the best. And aside from the emotionally hypocritical finale, there are some very odd subplots that indicate the original screenplay may have been very different.

In the near future, “The Surge” has been wreaking havoc on Earth causing worldwide devastation and catastrophic loss of life. Turns out, self destructive/compartmentalist astronaut Roy McBride’s (Pitt) father’s “Lima Project” — astronaut Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) — may be responsible. Now, Roy is on the mission of his life as he heads to Neptune — with some pit stops along the way (read: Mad Max space pirates and raging space monkeys). There he hopes to reunite with his father who went missing 16 years ago, save mankind, and put his daddy issues to rest.

The advertising for Ad Astra is quite misleading. The film itself jumps tones like the Fonz over a shark. It doesn’t help that director James Gray — who also cowrote with Ethan Gross — keeps the film plodding along at a glacial pace. Pitt is always a pleasure to watch, but coming off the heels of his amazing turn in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the Oscar buzz makes me fear it’s going to be another one of those years where the right actor gets nominated for the wrong film.

Rarely exciting, emotionally stunted, but at least occasionally interesting — a separate film centered around those out of place subplots would be most welcome — Ad Astra may feature a few beautifully shot sequences, but it never manages to live up to expectations.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Movie Review: “Ready or Not”


Ready or Not

**** 1/2 out of 5
95 minutes
Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use
Fox Searchlight

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Sometimes going into a movie blind can be wonderful. When that movie finally manages to deliver on its ending, it makes it even better. Endings have been a very sore subject for modern horror. They leave on a sour note and never deliver the goods. Such is not the case with the new horror comedy, Ready or Not. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (aka Radio Silence, V/H/S) set up the scenario in the first scene, and carry through to the big finale. With a likeable cast, and an ending that’s best not spoiled, a new cult classic is on the rise.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is about to marry the love of her life, Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien). Heir to the Le Domas gaming empire, Alex is far more worried about their impending nuptials than Grace. He propositions her with an out, offering for them to run for the hills once they’ve wed, but Grace is all in. Little does she know, come midnight, the family will gather in the game room where Grace draws a card to play hide and seek. Now, she comes face-to-face with the realization that the Le Domas plan to hunt and kill her, in a time honored tradition of the utmost satanic superstition.

Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett make the most of Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy’s wicked screenplay. Even if the tone can sometimes feel a little scattershot. There are times where things are played completely straight and the film starts to take itself too seriously before jarringly coming back to the hilarious black comedy tone that works best. Weaving makes for a fantastic newlywed up to her neck in piling bodies, while everyone else — particularly Adam Brody and Andie McDowell as Alex’s brother and mother — get a few chances to try to steal the spotlight.

Blood and hilarity are par for the course — it’s particularly hilarious who the first few people to die are, and how. And the story keeps hinting at some pretty over-the-top plot mechanics. Lucky for us, as soon as it looks like the directors are about to pull their punches, the action kicks into hyperdrive and saves the day. There’s also a nail hit right on the head involving Nat Faxon as a customer service agent named Justin that could be used in many customer service training videos if it weren’t for the expletives.

At a scant 95 minutes, the film also doesn’t wear out its welcome. Here’s hoping Disney keeps allowing Fox Searchlight to deliver on the quality we’ve come to expect after 25 years. Ready or Not, this is one horror comedy that deserves to be seen in a theater full of fellow gorehounds that completely delivers on all counts. Just make sure to not ruin the ending.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Movie Review: “Good Boys”


Good Boys

**** 1/2 out of 5
89 minutes
Rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout - all involving tweens
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Audiences love rambunctious kids. Perhaps it’s the waxing nostalgia of youth. With the 23rd season of South Park upon us — and Superbad released more than a decade ago — we were bound to find out what tweens were up these days. And while it doesn’t take the super realistic approach of Eighth Grade, co-writer/director Gene Stupnitsky — along with writing partner in crime Lee Eisenberg — still manage to hit quite a few nails on the head. With Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Jonah Hill are on board as producers, it should clue you in that the characters in Good Boys can only try to live up to the title. But it also should prepare you for the level of raunch and heart only they can serve.

Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon), are the “bean bag boys.” Because they have bean bags, duh! The epitome of BFFs, the trio are soon up to their necks in misadventures. All they want to do is learn how to kiss a girl — after being invited to a party by the school’s most popular kid, Soren (Izaac Wang) — with Max having his eye on his schoolgirl crush Brixlee (Millie Davis). But soon enough, Max’s dad’s (Will Forte) drone is captured by Hannah (Molly Gordon) and Lily (Midori Francis) when they get caught spying on them. Now, the boys are holding Hannah’s bag hostage, but quickly learn there’s MDMA in it and the girls want to make a swap. Meanwhile our intrepid trio just want to get the drone home before Max’s dad gets back from his business trip. And make it to the party on time!

Stupnitsky and Eisenberg may be best known for their work on The Office, but they’ve more than made up for the amusing — but lackluster — Bad Teacher. The cast displays all the awkward idiosyncrasies that come with being tweens — they repeatedly tell everyone they’re not kids. And as hilarious as the youngsters may be, even the adults get plenty of chances to steal the spotlight. From Stephen Merchant as an is-he-or-isn’t-he pedophile, to Sam Richardson’s exhausted Officer Sacks.

But the real spotlight thieves are Lil Rey Howery and Retta as Lucas’ divorcing parents. An entire spin-off movie is more than welcome! Your capacity for debauchery will let you decide if Good Boys is for you, or not. It’s Superbad turned up to 11, but thankfully has way more heart than you’d expect, and never dives into American Pie territory. Max just wants to kiss a girl, and something as sweet and innocent as that may be wrapped up in hilarious filth, the message still comes through just fine.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Movie Review: “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”


Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

**** out of 5
Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references.
111 minutes
CBS Films

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

When your movie is called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, it better be is scary. With Guillermo del Toro shepherding the production, hopes were skyhigh. Then came the quick teasers scattered throughout the Super Bowl and it appeared they’d hit the nail on the head. At least it looked like a movie based on Alvin Schwartz’s beloved “children’s” books. Stephen Gammell’s creepy AF illustrations had come to life and looked scary as hell.

Unfortunately, the movie never completely lives up to its name. Creepy in moments, hilarious in others, but never shocking or unsettling. And while bumping the film up to an R rating wouldn’t have necessarily helped — there’s plenty of gruesomeness on display — Del Toro and director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Trollhunters) have at least delivered a slick, fast-paced exercise in ’80s “Steven Spielberg Presents” nostalgia.

It’s 1968 in Mill Valley, Pennsylvania and Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and her best friends Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) head out for one last night of trick or treating before they’re officially too old. A prank on school bully Tommy (Austin Abrams) goes south, interrupting Tommy’s “date” with Chuck’s sister Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn).

After seeking refuge in Ramón’s (Michael Garza) car at the drive in, they all wind up at the local haunted Bellows house. Things turn from bad to worse after Stella takes a book home — belonging to Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) — cursing them all to face fate as the stories and monsters in Sarah’s book become real and looking for all of them.

A sense of adventure and humor go a long way to keep the Scary Stories moving along. There are enough Scary Stories to tell, but at almost two hours, it’s maybe just a tad too long for its own good. Thankfully, the Spielberg vibe makes the film a lot of fun and the cast have great rapport and you feel for the kids safety, even if Dan and Kevin Hageman’s screenplay is a bit episodic.

Øvredal employs his monsters to great effect with plenty of practicality lending a physical sense of threat. Where Scary Stories could have been overstuffed with CGI — and I’m sure there’s still plenty — it’s used to enhance scenes, rather than the scenes rely on them. There’s also a surprising lack of big boo moments, which is a nice change of pace. This Scary Stories lends itself more to the suspense/thriller genre than outright horror. Something that’s not usually found with youth-geared horror movies.

An air of mystery gives a Scooby Doo atmosphere — even if the denouement has been played out a million times. But, hopefully the audience sets its anticipation correctly and doesn’t go in expecting a hardcore horror flick. The Spielberg touch keeps the film from taking itself too seriously, even if The Jangly Man will wind up being one of the creepiest visuals of the year.

From stew to chimneys, to corn fields and restrooms, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has plenty of fun up its sleeve and even ends with room for a sequel. Here’s to hoping the weekend proves the audience remains for Schwartz and Gammell’s twisted tales and can get even scarier from here. Hopefully it unites fans who read the books as kids since it gives us the ultimate opportunity to pass them along to scare a whole new generation.