Saturday, April 23, 2016

Movie Review: “Everybody Wants Some!!”


Everybody Wants Some!!

**** out of 5
117 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug use and some nudity
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

No one has made a bigger career out of slackers than director Richard Linklater. Considering it was the title of his first film, it should come as no surprise. From there he’s brought us all kinds of tales of deadbeats — Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, and even Bad News Bears — the man just gets the laid back culture. But he’s not all slacker attitude. He’s also delivered one of the best romantic trilogies (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight) and dabbled in the studio system (The Newton Boys, School, and Bears), he’s also been nominated for five Oscars.. The man knows how to bring his indie sensibility no matter the project. And now, he’s returned to his roots in Everybody Wants Some!! which feels like a sequel to both Dazed and Boyhood.

It’s three days before first day of class for Jake (Blake Jenner) as he pulls up to his assigned frat house of fellow baseball players. Being a pitcher makes everyone instantly standoffish. His fellow ballplayers include an allotment of characters with Finnegan (Glen Powell), Plummer (Temple Baker), Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), Beuter (Will Brittain), McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), Roper (Ryan Guzman), and it wouldn’t be complete without a wildcard, Jay (Juston Street), and the token pothead, Willoughby (Wyatt Russell). It’s fall 1980 in Texas, and together, the team will make self discoveries, with Jake possibly learning a few love lessons in the form of Beverly (Zoey Deutch).

The film gets off to a rickety start as we meet all the characters, but it’s not hard to keep up with who’s who. Jenner makes a fantastic lead with a huge smile and charm to spare. The supporting characters all get their moments to shine — although the best belong to Powell, Johnson, and Hoechlin. The romantic subplot surprisingly plays a bigger part in the trailer than it does in the actual film, but Deutch — daughter of Lea Thompson and director Howard Deutch — manages to steal every scene she’s in. Linklater never misses an opportunity to mix highbrow with lowbrow philosophizing in his characters. Just because they’re jocks doesn’t mean they have to be dumb.

In the end, Everybody Wants Some!! may feel like just another slice-of-life picture, but by now you know you can always expect more from the reliable Linklater. It’s a nostalgic feel-good movie with some minor life lessons and huge laughs. Sometimes that’s all it takes and all we really need when we go to the movies. And on that front, Everybody towers in every category.

Movie Review: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”


The Huntsman: Winter's War

** 1/2 out of 5
114 minutes
Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

No one was clamoring for a sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, but we get one anyway. Four years later we’ve seen the star and director of the original dismissed, and the sequel no one asked for is now the pre/sequel no one is going to see. While it’s certainly not as bad as the RottenTomatoes score would suggest — currently sitting at 19 percent rotten — it’s definitely nothing to cheer about either. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan — frequent Gore Verbinski collaborator — has been brought in to try and keep the public’s interest despite the first film’s not so great box office take (only $155 million stateside) and a scatterbrained screenplay. As it stands, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a hodgepodge of a film suffering from an identity crisis.

Word has it that originally Huntsman was supposed to be an outright sequel. With the dismissal of Kristen Stewart, we jump back in time and are introduced to the conniving Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who has just killed the king and taken over yet another kingdom. Her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) finds out she’s pregnant, fathered by a man who’s already promised to another, but is convinced she will wind up with him since she’s having his child. Turns out, the man doesn’t take kindly to the the birth and kills it in a fire. Enraged, Freya discovers her evil powers revealing herself to be the mythical Ice Queen and kills the father.

Now, Freya has decided that since she cannot raise a child, she’ll raise an army instead and begins capturing children to train them into ruthless killers. Her one rule is that love is a sin and you will be killed if you fall under its spell. Two of her child warriors — Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) — have, of course, fallen in love and plan an escape. But just wouldn’t you know it, Freya finds out and has Sara killed before Eric’s eyes and he’s cast out onto his own.

Cut to seven years later and Snow White has defeated the evil Ravenna in the first film and has the precious gold mirror disposed of to keep it from causing anymore harm. But the mirror winds up missing, and now Eric the Huntsman — along with dwarfs Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith), and Doreena (Alexandra Roach) — and the not dead Sara, must find the mirror and defeat Freya. And oh holy moly does this movie have way too much going on for how boring it all is.

The prologue section sets things up with a rocky start while the middle of the film finds some legs and gets a lot of mileage out of some decent adventure sequences and much needed humor. Unfortunately, by the time the finale rolls in, and spoiler alert, Ravenna makes a return, the film has run its course and it becomes harder and harder to stay awake. Let alone care about anything happening on screen. You really have to give it up for Hemsworth & Co for keeping the middle section feeling so brisk, but my god, Theron and Blunt give such wooden and bored performances. You can practically smell the exhaust from the truck that dumped its load of money on their lawns to convince them to star in this.

Nicolas-Troyan does what he can with the screenplay — credited to Evan Spiliotopoulos (Disney direct-to-video extraordinaire) and Craig Mazin (“comedy” extraordinaire: Rocketman, Senseless, Scary Movies 3 and 4, Superhero Movie, The Hangover Parts II and III, and Identity Thief) — but it’s all for naught. The film is never thrilling enough, funny enough, although oddly dark enough, to satisfy even one demographic. It’s too violent for kids and never violent enough for adults. In a fight for its place among unnecessary pre/sequels, it’s never horrible, but it’s never really good either. And you always have a sense of déjà vu that you’ve seen almost every scene somewhere else. Whether it’s the precious mirror and its mind control, or the sight of a merry band of travelers floating down a river, it’s too familiar.

For those already interested, the audience I saw it with made it sound like there’s enough to warrant at least a matinee viewing, but don’t be surprised if you walk out at least mildly disappointed. You don’t even get a full shot of Hemsworth shirtless while canoodling in a hot spring. If the thought of that was enough to pique your interest, as I said, they can’t even get that right.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Movie Review: “The Jungle Book”


The Jungle Book

***** out of 5
105 minutes
Rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

I haven’t been the biggest fan of Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated classics. The only failure has been Maleficent. Considering how much I love the 1967 animated The Jungle Book, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this remake. Considering it’s written by Justin Marks — whose only big screen credit has been Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li — all I had to count on was Jon Favreau’s direction. Favreau has a history with high flying adventure — the first two Iron Man films — and family-friendly — Elf and Zathura. People can say what they want about Cowboys & Aliens, but the man has yet to direct a bad film. And with The Jungle Book, his record remains untarnished.

Audiences know Rudyard Kipling’s classic story. This isn’t even the first time Disney has made a live-action effort — they also let The Mummy’s Stephen Sommers have a crack at it back in 1994. But boy how times have changed. Although the story may remain the same, we now get a tried and true adventure with Mowgli and friends thanks to tip top direction, superb voice casting, and spectacular special effects. Mowgli (portrayed beautifully by newcomer Neel Sethi) has been raised by wolves Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyon’o) and Akeela (Giancarlo Esposito) in the jungle.

But the return of Shere Khan (voiced by Idis Elba) forces them to set Mowgli on a path back to the man village. Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) leads him on his quest, but not before they get separated and Mowgli gets taken in by Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray). Baloo wants to keep Mowgli around to use his man tricks to score honey, while Bagheera knows he must get Mowgli to safety. And of course, the jungle is full of other dangers such as Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken) who still just wants man’s red flower.

You want adventure? Check. Humor? Check. A case of the feels? Check. Favreau and Marks even manage to throw in a few good jump scares as well. Yes, The Jungle Book is everything we could ask for in live-action adaptation and puts Cinderella to shame. While the target audiences may be a little different, it’s still a Disney movie which means it’s the same demographic: families. CinderellaMaleficent, and Alice in Wonderland may skew more female, this one is for everyone — even young and old alike. Who doesn’t want to head into the jungle and tag along with Mowgli on his adventures? To say how fantastic the film truly is, the screening I attended wasn’t shown in its correct aspect ratio, had a questionable 3D projection, and muddied sound, yet I still loved it!

On top of Favreau’s direction and Marks’ swinging screenplay, the voice cast are having a ball. You can tell they’re relishing bringing such beloved characters to life, even if Johannson may go a little underused with Kaa only appearing in one scene. Sethi, Kingsley, and Murray get a ton of mileage out of their rapport, even if computer-animated. And man, what CGI it is. Every character is so photo realistic it makes Life of Pi look antiquated. The only exception are the wolf cubs. I was initially worried that the animals were going to be talking, but it’s surprisingly believable. Never once do you question that you’re watching talking animals. We’ve come a long way from the days of Babe and Gordy.

Now a note to parents, The Jungle Book has never been known for not being violent. The whole plot revolves around a tiger trying to kill a child for pete’s sake. While it may be easier for kids to gloss over what’s happening onscreen, it obviously feels even more violent in live-action. Not to say the film should be rated PG-13, but there are some really good jump scares — especially featuring Shere Khan — and they could be even scarier in 3D or on a giant IMAX screen. That being said, Favreau and Marks do make sure to keep plenty of levity to the situation and never gets as dark as Batman v Superman. Bet you can guess which one is way more fun. “The Bare Necessities,” “Trust in Me,” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” even made their way in.

Suffice to say, The Jungle Book is never short on entertainment and will easily go down swinging as one of the year’s biggest crowd pleasers. And with the sequel already announced, I can’t wait to see where Favreau and company take us on Mowgli’s next adventure.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Movie Review: “The Boss”


The Boss

*** out of 5
99 minutes
Rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Melissa McCarthy may have as many detractors as fans, but at least she’s usually reliable. Even under the direction of her husband Ben Falcone. The last time they were both responsible behind the camera, we wound up with the atrocity, Tammy. Thankfully, Falcone learned at least a few things from that debacle and the two — along with co-writer Steve Mallory — have made The Boss a far more watchable movie. While still not the laughfest we hope for, at least this one has a half-decent plot and some heart to make the crass go down a little easier.

In 1975, 5-year-old Michelle Darnell (Chandler Head) is returned to the orphanage. After Michelle is returned two more times at age 10 (Vivian Falcone) and 15 (Isabella Amara) before finally declaring that families are for suckers. Cut to the present and Michelle is a rich global phenomenon with her company overseen by single-mother/workaholic Claire (Kristen Bell) who finally grows the balls to ask for a raise. Meanwhile Michelle’s ex-lover/rival Renault (Peter Dinklage) wants revenge by getting  Michelle arrested for insider trading, all because he got passed over on a promotion.

Four months later, Michelle is out of prison and seeks sympathy from the one person who just may pity her enough to let her crash on the couch: Claire. After Michelle makes herself at home, Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) introduces her to Claire’s “holy shit” brownies. Michelle decides they should go into the baking business and Darnell’s Darlings is born. Little do they know, that Renault will stop at nothing to steal Michelle’s newfound empire.

For a comedy, there’s surprisingly way more plot than you’d expect. And therein lies part of the problem. Too many stretches with not a whole lot going on.. Characters interact and you can tell that something is supposed to be funny, but you simply stare at the screen and wait for something, anything to happen, before it finally does. And when it does, sometimes it’s gut busting, or at least worth laughing over. McCarthy could use some stronger comedic costars. Bell does what she can, but always gets overpowered while Dinklage gives another horrible comedic turn. He’s every bit as awful here as he was in Pixels where he was also the worst thing about that movie.

The worst thing about The Boss is that even running a scant 99 minutes, it feels way longer than that with too much padding. The dull stretches are like watching paint dry. They’re just going through the motions while we’re stuck waiting for Michelle to land another punchline. The R-rating is warranted, of course, but McCarthy isn’t just spouting f-bombs as if they’re the joke.

The Boss won’t go down as the worst McCarthy vehicle — Tammy is still the reigning champ — but keep expectations in check. With enough laughs to at least warrant a matinee, this is far from the hilarity levels of her Paul Feig glory days of Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. Fingers crossed they can keep the magic alive with this summer’s Ghostbusters! As for Falcone himself, at least his films are getting better. Best of luck on the next one, we just might finally be shouting “holy shit” ourselves.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Movie Review: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

*** out of 5
151 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

I hate to be another bearer of bad news, but in case you haven’t heard, the rumors are true: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice doesn’t live up to the hype. After years of anticipation, there’s honestly no way BvS could have lived up to everyone’s expectations, but even director Zack Snyder is above what he’s delivered. Considering this is DC Comics’ bridge to kick off a series of standalone/mashup features — specifically Justice LeagueBvS pales in comparison to Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 2 which also served as setup for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

Filled to the bursting point, it makes me scared the film could have run another 30 minutes. Snyder has already confirmed the home video R-rated release will be the full cut. Hopefully what got cut is better than what wound up on screen. It’s not a complete bust, but even Superman’s biggest fans will leave feeling unfulfilled. Fanboys will no doubt be slinging mud from both camps of love it or hate it, while the rest of us — myself included — are stuck in the middle with an exhalation of meh once the credits roll.

While it actually never winds up being quite as bloated as I feared, screenwriters Chris Terrio (Ben Affleck friend and Oscar-winning writer of Argo) and David S. Goyer (co-writer of everything from Man of Steel to executive producer Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins) have pulled double duty writing two very different movies spliced into one. I wouldn’t be surprised if one writer was on Batman (Affleck) duty while the other was on Superman (Henry Cavill) patrol. And the winner is whomever contributed the most to bringing a familiar, yet ultimately different take, on Gotham’s caped crusader. My bet’s on Terrio since he’s co-writing Affleck’s solo outing with Affleck directing. That is the film I am now anxiously awaiting. Affleck delivers a fantastic Bruce Wayne/Batman and any time spent with the Dark Knight is time well spent.

Then Superman swoops in, dour as ever. You’d think it would be the other way around considering Batman is so much more menacing, but there’s very little warmth, or even fun, to be had in Metropolis this time around. It’s incredibly serious — with the exception of Laurence Fishburne’s return as The Daily Planet’s Perry White. Clark Kent never stops scowling, probably because everyone is questioning Superman after the destruction he caused in the last movie. Admittedly, he was just trying to save everyone from General Zod, but he still needs to stand up for Metropolis’ high death toll.

BvS also saddles both heroes with one of the worst villains in a long time. Jesse Eisenberg may have been a decent choice to portray Lex Luthor. Here, he just hams it up as the evil twin of Mark Zuckerberg. He’s never scary enough, nor even funny enough. Thankfully, we can still go back and watch the brilliant Gene Hackman — or even Kevin Spacey — give the scheming Lex his due. Not to mention that his nefarious plan makes absolutely zero sense and they don’t even bother to give him at least one line of dialogue to clear it up. There is no reason for Luthor to sic Superman on Batman whatsoever. Had Luthor maybe known for a second that Bruce wants to destroy the earth-wrecking alien, at least some motive could have come to light. But no, the most ludicrous reasoning ever is hatched and an even more ridiculous common bond winds up uniting them against Doomsday.

As it stands, the only real winner here will be DC, Warner Bros, and Affleck. Not even Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman — who almost steals the show were it not for her being so short shifted — manages to save the day. The only one escaping unscarred is Affleck who manages to make us root for Batman against Superman. It just goes to show which character really is best suited for the big screen. Jeremy Irons also manages to make the most of his screentime as Alfred, who is never seen as the loyal butler, but as co-conspirator/techie/mechanic.

In the end, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is two films fighting an inner struggle to satisfy two vastly different fan bases. The rest of us will simply shrug it off as we wait for Deadpool to hit Blu-ray, and we foam at the mouth in anticipation of wait for May to finally unleash the Marvel one-two punch of Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse. The final word here, is that Marvel is still king of the cinematic comicbook universes.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Movie Review: “The Divergent Series: Allegiant”


The Divergent Series: Allegiant

** out of 5
121 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity
Summit Entertainment

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first Divergent film, but I did like the second installment of Insurgent. It managed to have better special effects and built upon the world it established. While Veronica Roth never won me over with her franchise — and I had zero desire to check out the books — imagine my dismay walking out of the “third” installment proclaiming it the worst of the series.

Allegiant has more issues than just being part one of a two-part film. At least Allegiant manages to feel like a complete film — something The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 never managed to do. However, it’s all the good that can be said of Allegiant as returning director Robert Schwentke — and his hodgepodge of writers (Noah Oppenheimer, along with the team Adam Cooper and Bill Collage) — delivers one of the most dunderheaded young adult film entries yet.

Kicking off where Insurgent left off, our intrepid heroes — Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo “Not James Franco” James), Christina (Zoë Kravitz), and Tori (Maggie Q) — are dealing with the death of Jeanine while a new Chicago tries to figure out how to handle itself as Four’s mother Evelyn (Naomi Watts) takes over. The wall surrounding the city has been revealed to be nothing more than a facade, with the city itself an experiment conducted by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare run by its director David (Jeff Daniels). Eventually, Tris, Four, Christina, Tris’s brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and Peter (Miles Teller) make a break to see what’s beyond the wall. And of course they wind up in a fight for their lives against new threats and a burgeoning war with David wanting to reinstall the disbanded factions.

Everything about Allegiant is amateur — and that’s the best thing I can say about it. Filled with horrible performances, a disastrous script, and C-grade direction, there is nothing here to win over audience members who were on the fence and may cause fans to jump off the bandwagon. This is the kind of action movie that relies on slo-mo jeep jumps, villains who utter “uh oh” before getting blasted away, characters floating around in giant plasma jelly beans, heroes exclaiming “gadzooks,” and co-pilots jumping into the middle of a mid-air fight after the other pilot is taken out in a gunfight causing the plane to crash. Common sense is thrown out the window as it bounces from one melodramatic plot twist to the next.

Daniels gives one of the creepiest performances of the year as he explains that he’s watched Tris literally since birth and how excited he is that she made it to him so they can try to replicate her perfect jeans, err, genes. See, the rest of Chicago is “damaged” except for Tris, and now, David can use her DNA to create more perfect people. If any of this sounds disorderly, you’ve probably read the book. Having skimmed through the Wikipedia page, there have been some major changes. Good luck with this one fans, you’re just about the only ones who can give a glimmer of hope for a quality finale.

As for Schwentke & Co., the rest of us are out of luck. If history repeats itself — fingers crossed — this will make even less money than Insurgent (which made less than the original) and the final film — Ascendent — can finally put the whole series out to pasture where it belongs. Our only hope lies in the hands of new director Lee Toland Krieger with Schwentke dropping out to take a “breather” after shooting Insurgent and Allegiant back-to-back. There’s no doubt it was actually due to him dropping such a turd in Summit Entertainment’s lap. Maybe we will be the ones who can take a deep breath of relief if Krieger manages to send the finale out with a bang instead of a whimper. Fingers crossed, but don’t hold your breath.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Movie Review: “10 Cloverfield Lane”


10 Cloverfield Lane

***** out of 5
103 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Well, that didn’t take long. Just when it seemed as if Triple 9 had the early season all wrapped up as the year’s biggest thrill ride, 10 Cloverfield Lane shows up. From the masterminds at Bad Robot comes a film that’s familiar in title and theme, but even better and scarier than Cloverfield. That film still stands as one of the best found footage films since the birth of the genre, and now, is 10 Cloverfield Lane the sequel everyone’s been waiting for? I hate to break it to you, but this is not a sequel. While it does share some similarities and keen eyed fans will find ways to connect it to not just Cloverfield, but also J.J. Abrams’s own Super 8, this is a beast all its own. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

To try as hard as possible to avoid spoilers, this will be brief…

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has decided to leave her fiancé Ben. She packs a bag and leaves her engagement ring behind. After stopping for gas, she winds up in an accident and wakes up in a bunker, attached to an IV, and her leg chained to a pipe. Michelle was saved by Howard (John Goodman), who found her on the side of the road and brought her to safety. He tells her that everyone she knows is dead, and the world above has been wiped out by some kind of attack — possibly chemical. The two are not alone, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) is also stuck underground, but Michelle doesn’t trust Howard for a second and winds up in a fight for her life to discover the truth.

We’re going to be hard pressed to find a more nail biting thriller this year than 10 Cloverfield Lane. From start to finish, it’s non-stop intensity. This is a film that dares you to see how long you can hold your breath. In true Bad Robot fashion, we’re treated to realistic characters in the most dire situation, with the terror punctuated with natural moments of hilarity. Winstead, Goodman, and Gallagher deliver in spades, and even more so does director Dan Trachtenberg. It scares me to think that a director has made a debut film of this magnitude, but I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Screenwriters Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle (Oscar nominated writer/director of Whiplash) have carefully crafted a film that builds to a boiling point before delivering on its go-for-broke finale. There are, of course, a few things you could nitpick, like how Michelle and Emmett sure have access to a lot of weapons they could use against Howard. But these are characters more worried about figuring their way out of the situation, rather than simply slashing their way out. And in that regard, the film brilliantly sets up its dominoes before letting them fall. There is a twist, don’t you worry, and no matter what anyone says, it’s not a cheat. Best case scenario is to just go along for the ride, because a visit to 10 Cloverfield Lane is worth making.