Saturday, July 23, 2016

Movie Review: “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie”


Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

**** out of 5
90 minutes
Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use
Fox Searchlight

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Giving any TV show the feature film is a risky endeavor no matter the original material. But that doesn’t stop Hollywood from giving it the age old try. For every Star Trek or 21 Jump Street there’s a Bewitched and Lost in Space. Thankfully, Jennifer Saunders — the brilliantly twisted creator — has given Absolutely Fabulous a welcome return, along with a healthy injection of botox. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie may not be the most absolutely hilarious film of the year, but have no fear sweetie darlings, as fans we couldn’t ask for a better movie treatment. Director Mandie Fletcher — director of three episodes — made sure to make the film feel like a real movie, all while letting Saunders and co-star Joanna Lumley continue doing what they do best.

With the TV show having been off the air since 2012, we’re thrust right back into the alcohol and nibblies madness as our beloved Edina Monsoon (Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Lumley) hit a runway show and wake up as “fabulous” as ever. We get to play catchup as the two recover with Edina’s daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha), always the wet blanket, and her daughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) around the breakfast nook. Mo (Bo) and Marshall (Christopher Ryan) drop by where we learn Marshall can’t continue to pay alimony because he’s having sexual reassignment surgery. Meanwhile, Edina has written a memoir in hopes of an advance for her dwindling funds. But, as luck may have it, Kate Moss (playing herself) has just announced she’s left her PR firm giving Edina and Patsy the bright idea to try to snag her as their newest/biggest client yet. Unfortunately, they take poor, young Lola with them as bait, when Edina accidentally knocks Kate off a balcony, into the Thames, turning her into a pariah. Now, the two are on the run to avoid manslaughter charges, where they wind up in the south of France, with everyone hot on their heels.

Considering the original show only consisted of six seasons and a few specials, it’s very clear that Saunders and Lumley adore their creations. A comedic tour de force paves the way for huge laughs, with a scant 90-minute runtime ensuring they never wear out their welcome. The zingers fly fast and furious — although Lumley’s bumbling does start to run out of gas — but the two give the film their all, and I would welcome back another feature at any point. Fletcher keeps the pace running at full throttle, even while letting Saunders’s screenplay find a few moments for some character pathos. But we didn’t come for the feels, we came for the fun, right darlings? And everything is in order for the sake of fanservice, even if mainstream audiences might find themselves in the dark if they’ve never seen the show before. Although, they won’t be the ones seeking out showtimes, so for the rest of us, let’s pop the champagne and enjoy another riotous outing with our beloved Eddie and Patsy and hope we don’t have to wait another four years for more misadventures. Cheers sweetie darlings!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Movie Review: “Lights Out”


Lights Out

** out of 5
81 movies
Rated PG-13 for terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

With so many really good full-length films based on horror shorts — The Babadook, The Evil Dead, Mama, Trick ’r Treat, The Grudge/Ju-On, Saw — there’s bound to be a few duds — Darkness Falls is one of the worst. But there’s a new crowning achievement for bad horror — in spite of its rating on RottenTomatoes. And what’s really sad is that the original Lights Out short is truly scary. Alas, something was lost in translation when David F. Sandberg got the greenlight from producer James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious), and it seems to lie solely with Eric Heisserer’s screenplay. It doesn’t help that he has no idea how to direct his cast, no matter how well he thinks he’s edited together the next scare sequence.

Paul (Billy Burke) is working late, making phone calls trying to find help for his sick wife Sophie (Maria Bello). Also working late is Esther (Lotta Losten) who sees someone standing in the shadows whenever she turns the lights out. Sure enough, Paul is viciously attacked and killed, leaving poor Sophie to face her demons alone, while wreaking havoc on her son Martin’s (Gabriel Bateman) sleep. After falling asleep in class for the last time, a social worker gets involved and Martin’s estranged sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) offers to help. She assures Martin that their mother is off her meds, until he mentions that mom has a nightly visitor named Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey). Rebecca has dealt with Diana before and before you can say “Scooby Scooby Doo, where are you?”, Rebecca and her boytoy Bret (Alexander DiPersia), are hot on mom’s case to put a stop to Diana’s family torment.

I’ve suffered through my share of horrible horror movies over the years, but this is by far one of the worst theatrical releases in years. Lights Out is only the second horror movie released this year — if you don’t count The Shallows — but it sure puts a sour taste in your mouth. Considering Wan delivered the goods with The Conjuring 2, he wasn’t able to pull another rabbit out of his hat here. Back in 2014 he delivered the one-two punch of the first Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2 all by himself within months. Yet Lights Out is just awful. Full of boring characters played by obviously bored actors, it doesn’t help that Heisserer — no stranger to horror after A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5, and The Thing — is clearly not capable of whipping up an original screenplay. The closest thing to one before was Final Destination 5, and as much as people may complain about that entry, at least he managed to pump some fun into the series.

If you really want to know how bad Lights Out is, let’s put it this way: my wife may be able to handle a good scary movie, but even she stopped jumping after the first big boo. And the only reason we even jumped at that one was because whoever was sitting behind us screamed like someone had been personally attacked. Good thing this one isn’t in 3D, we may have had to call the individual an ambulance. And therein lies the film’s biggest hindrance: its PG-13 rating. The film is sure to scare the pants off of someone, but anyone who’s seen any horror movie before will know exactly what’s coming way before it finally does. And you would hope that at a mere 81 minutes it would at least fly by. But this thing is a huge snooze fest with one of the lamest villains ever. There’s also no rhyme or reason to where it is or how it got there.

I will give Sandberg credit for a pretty cool idea, even if he butchers extending it to feature length. There’s also a scene involving Diana and a gun that is pretty neat. But there’s no denouement, no real climax, and for how much sleuthing Rebecca does, there’s absolutely no explanation whatsoever. The film just simply ends. It’s another long line of bad horror that was cheap to make and will make a killing opening weekend ensuring an even worse sequel, before it winds up on Netflix where you at least are only out your time. However, sometimes that’s the worst thing you can waste on a bad movie of any kind. Lights Out will go down as not just one of the year’s worst horror films, but as one of the worst period. If you were thinking of seeing this one alone, don’t. Literally. Do not see this movie.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Movie Review: “Ghostbusters”


Ghostbusters

***** out of 5
116 minutes
Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor
Columbia Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Ever since Paul Feig (BridesmaidsThe HeatSpy) announced his Ghostbusters reboot, the internet trolls have become an unstoppable force of nature. But have any of them even seen the movie? I have, and so have a lot of other people. And I also have yet to hear anyone complain about it. Ungrateful little yuppie larva. Feig has taken a franchise that killed itself all the way back in 1989 and rebooted it in classic style. We have memorable characters, hilarious jokes, spectacular special effects, and delivery of one of the best reboots ever committed to film. I find it most ironic that those larva Ray Stantz was talking about are the exact same trolls trying to bash a film they haven’t even seen. So, as the age old question asks, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!

It’s present day New York and a poor tour guide (Zach Woods) at the reportedly haunted Aldridge Mansion is about to find out the hard way that the rumors are true after he’s attacked by the ghostly Gertrude (Bess Rous). At Columbia, the mansion’s owner, Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley Jr.), approaches scientist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) about a book she pretends to have never written. She’s trying to rid herself of its association to earn tenure at the university. This puts her back in touch with her old high school friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) who’s listed the book all over Amazon to earn some side money. Unwittingly, Erin joins Abby — and her lab engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) — to investigate Aldridge Mansion where they, of course, make first contact with a ghost.

After Abby puts the clip on YouTube, Erin has no choice but to find a new job, and the three decide to go into business for themselves. Unbeknownst to them, creepy hotel clerk Rowan (Neil Casey) is unleashing ghosts upon the city in an attempt to cause a ghostpocalypse and rid the earth of all humans. Now, the three ghost busting women are joined by forceful MTA employee Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who take on Rowan’s case, to figure out what his end game is before the mayor (Andy Garcia) and his assistant, Jennifer Lynch (Cecily Strong), can put a stop to their paranormal trappings.

Considering everyone was so fearful that the film would be too much of a remake — it still is — this is exactly how you do a reboot. Flipping plenty of the original film’s plotting on its ear, and stuffing it full of cameos, everyone has come back — aside from Rick Moranis — and, of course, Harold Ramis (RIP). Feig made everything old new again. Anyone who thinks the original cannot be touched has yet to bare witness to this updated Ghostbusters. It was a bit surreal to write the title down on my notepad before the film started — and I was just as hesitant as the next person. Let’s face it, Feig shouldered a huge responsibility here — but if you aren’t laughing hysterically from the first few lines of dialogue, you might as well walk out.

Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold (The Heat) invest the story with all new characters and a brand new story. It was very interesting to be introduced to the idea of Ley Lines and the way it’s used in the film reminds me heavily of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, bringing a huge smile to my face. And they’ve also squeezed in one of the best Jaws — my all-time favorite movie — jokes I’ve heard in a move in a long time. Some may complain that the villain isn’t good enough, or that the ending was a little too simple. I can tell you this, Rowan is a fantastic villain, let alone the fact that he infiltrates the body of one of the film’s funniest characters — Chris Hemsworth’s hysterical Kevin — for the grand finale. That is before he takes on an even bigger manifestation that could take out the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man with one punch. Don’t worry, Stay Puft also manages to squeeze himself in for a cameo as well. And while we’re on the subject, as funny as Bill Murray’s may be, it’s honestly Aykroyd who’s the funniest.

Zip up your jumpsuits, strap on your proton packs, light em up, sit back and relax, and just let the summer’s best film wash over you with the nostalgia. Let the trolls spout their hate on the internet while the rest of us get out and have some fun. C’mon out guys, it’s OK to live a little. You’re the only one ruining your childhood. After all these years, it must be getting pretty stuffy in that basement of yours. Ghostbusters is nothing short of the original. While Ivan Reitman’s film will always hold a soft spot in my heart since it was the original, there’s no way they could do an outright sequel at this point. A reboot was the only way to go and Feig & Co. completely nail it.

Movie Review: “The Infiltrator”


The Infiltrator

*** 1/2
127 minutes
Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material
Broad Green Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

At this point, who hasn’t seen a movie about a cop/CIA/FBI agent getting in too deep while undercover? When it’s based around fact, it can get a little scarier — no disrespect to films like The Departed. And if there’s going to be any subject prone to thrills, it’s one man’s journey to take down infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. Robert Mazur’s novel The Infiltrator has been adapted by Ellen Brown Furman into an intense screenplay, directed with mostly precision from Lincoln Lawyer’s own Brad Furman. With a commanding performance from Bryan Cranston, the menace feels all too real, even if a few editing touch ups could have made this one of the year’s most thrilling films.

In Tampa 1985, U.S. Customs special agent Mazur (Cranston) is undercover at a bowling alley when a faulty wire nearly gets him caught. Thanks to some leads brought to his attention from his co-worker Emir Abreu’s (John Leguizamo) informant, the two dive in to take Escobar down. But not without a few hiccups along the way of course. Dealing with the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) is one thing, but a trip to a strip club causes a slip of tongue and Mazur — posing under the alias of “Bob Musella” — winds up with a fiancĂ©e, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), and has to deal with threats both at home and in the line of fire. Mostly with his new friend, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), one of Escobar’s cartel board members.

Tension runs high through most of the runtime, but even at 127 minutes, it starts to feel long winded. It’s a surprise considering there are three credited editors: Luis Carballar, Jeff McEvoy, and David Rosenbloom. At least 20 minutes could have easily been excised. A cool technique comes from Joshua Reis’s cinematography and Furman’s decision to color-correct the whole film to make it look like it was shot on 16mm film stock.

The cast all perform marvelously, something that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Cranston has always gone back and forth from the big to small screen effortlessly, and Leguizamo always looks like he’s having fun. Kruger may feel underused, but it’s nothing compared to Amy Ryan’s portrayal of Bonni Tischler. She had more to do in Central Intelligence than she does here, although she does get some much needed laughs. Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis even slips in for a few scenes, undoubtedly just so they can make a joke about Aunt Vicky giving an “Oscar caliber” performance when she comes face-to-face with Alcaino — a situation that seems way out of place and is never explained.

In the end, there have been better and worse biopics over the last few years, but The Infiltrator was clearly made more for the acting than the story. It only feels like a shame in the end, because everything points at this being one of the year’s best, instead it’s simply middling.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blu-ray Review: “Hail, Caesar!”

Movie: **** 1/2 out of 5
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: ****
Extras: ** 1/2

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

As fantastic filmmakers as Joel and Ethan Coen are, some may find a few of their films incidental, but is there really such a thing when it comes to the Coen brothers? They can’t all be Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, or even True Grit, but there’s always something larger looming about a Coen brothers’ film. Even their fluff pieces are way better than most other directors’ serious outings. Try and tell me Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, or Burn After Reading aren’t hilarious. So, where exactly does their ode to old Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! fall? More in line with the latter, but it ain’t no slouch either.

At Capitol Pictures, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the man with the plan. A studio fixer, he’s always around to keep the well-oiled machine running no matter what cog gets thrown in the wheel. His latest conundrum is the disappearance of their biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who is being held for ransom by “The Future.” Meanwhile, he’s tackling everything else thrown in his path from covering up the husbandless star DeeAnna Moran’s (Scarlett Johansson) pregnancy to director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) dealings with cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) to the endless barrage of twin columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton on double duty) trying to find a scoop on Whitlock’s extracurricular activities. All this while facing a possible career change for the sake of his family.

Hail, Caesar! farces up Blu-ray with a spectacular transfer. Would we expect anything less coming from the Coens and cinematographer Roger Deakins? Of course not. Presented in 1.85:1, everything about this 35mm shoot shines in hi-def. From the extravagantly detailed costumes to the cast’s hair and makeup. There does seem to be some post color grading giving a lot of scenes a bronzed appearance, but it’s surely so that the tone of the film comes through in the filmmaking and not just the screenplay. Blacks are nice and inky, with just a hint of occasional intentional crush, but there’s nary another anomaly to be found. No aliasing or banding here, folks.

While the 5.1 DTS-HD track may be front heavy — with the dialogue crisp — it does find time for some expert surround use. Panning also comes in handy during some of the more frenetic scenes — like Channing Tatum’s big dance number — and the bass gets to rattle the walls when a submarine makes an appearance. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish, with additional audio in French and Spanish 5.1 DTS.

Considering the subject matter, it’s a little surprising that the special features department comes up sparse. Everything is typical EPK covering everything from the characters and screenplay: “The Stars Align” (11:34), to the sets and costumes: “An Era of Glamour” (6:22), and a look at the film’s old school charm: “Magic of a Bygone Era” (6:01). It’s clear everyone loves and adores the Coen brothers — don’t we all — so it’s a little ironic to hear Brolin talk about how people love special features because they give you a little glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes. “A little glimpse” certainly fits the bill here. Not even the trailer is included, but it does come in a DVD/Digital Copy combo pack.

Hail, Caesar! may feel like a case of Coen-lite, but it’s still one of the year’s funniest comedies. Packed with some of the best dialogue spoken by many of today’s top stars, there’s not much to dislike here. The film can feel a little long in the tooth, but most of the film flies by. This will likely go down as one of the year’s best films you didn’t see. But, now that it’s out on Blu-ray, here’s your chance to play catch up. Hail, Caesar! is another winning addition to the rapidly growing arsenal of why the Coen brothers continue to be two of the most rightfully lauded filmmakers today.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Movie Review: “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”


Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

**** out of 5
98 minutes
Rated R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some graphic nudity
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Directing your feature film debut must be pretty scary. A potential summer comedy blockbuster? Even scarier. Lucky for Jake Szymanski, he’s been working in the game — even if doing shorts for FunnyorDie.com — for eight years, picking up some friends along the way. Working with some big names — Will Ferrell, Zac Efron, Kevin Bacon, Camilla Belle, Denise Richards, Kelly Brook, Paris Hilton, and Rebecca Black — it should come as no surprise that he can wring laughs out of just about anyone. So when you get the chance to fly to Hawaii with Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick, and Aubrey Plaza to make a sweet and sour bromantic comedy, who wouldn’t jump at the chance? And thanks to the so-crazy-they’re-true stories of the Strangle brothers as their jumping board, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates sets out to be the comedy event of July.

Mike (Devine) and Dave (Efron) are brothers who may love each other just as much as they love to party. They never bring a plus one to an event because their goal is to find a plus one there. However, they’ve just been given a familial ultimatum and can only attend their sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawaii if they bring dates. Alice (Kendrick) and Tatiana (Plaza) are two good-for-nothing besties who can’t even hold a job as bar waitresses before Alice decides to table dance whenever her jam comes on because she’s still not over getting left at the alter. So when Mike and Dave announce on TV that they need wedding dates, the girls jump at the chance to cash in on a free vacay. Mahalo ensues!

Considering the amount of comedic talent involved both on-screen and off, things could easily have gone awry. Thankfully, Szymanski keeps the pace chugging along from start to finish, with writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien proving that they did not put forth all their efforts into this summer’s earlier Neighbors 2 and the original. Where Neighbors 2 was sorely lacking in the hilarity department, Cohen and O’Brien more than make up for it here. And the cast is feeling it, too. Even the supporting cast gets just as many shenanigans to defile themselves as the leads. Stephen Root makes for the perfect lovably brash father, Alice Wetterlund gets to play Mike and Tatiana against each other as Mike’s bisexual cousin, and Beard gets to bare it all while tripping on MDMA (psst, ecstasy).

It may seem all fun and games, but they do make some last ditch efforts to squeeze in a few tenderhearted moments. But it never gets in the way of the fun. And it’s a whole lotta fun! Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates may not be a bonafide classic, but it never lets up on its goal of entertaining the audience. Even if all it takes for this guy are a few choice shots of the cast riding through Jurassic Park filming locations. Mike and Dave may need wedding dates, but this is one invitation you’ll definitely want to accept. And feel free to bring along a plus one.

Movie Review: “The Secret Life of Pets”


The Secret Life of Pets

**** out of 5
90 minutes
Rated PG for action and some rude humor
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

While I highly enjoyed Despicable Me and its sequel, it was high time that Illumination Entertainment make a really good movie. While the less said the better when it comes to Hop, The Lorax, and Minions, The Secret Life of Pets feels like a masterpiece. While it’s not a better movie than either Finding Dory or Zootopia, it maintains its high energy for the entire runtime and provides just as many laughs and feels as its Disney counterparts. It only took them five films to get going, but if their December release, Sing, is anywhere near as good, Illumination could be gearing up to give at least Dreamworks a run for their money.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t wondered what their pets do all day, or anytime they’re left alone for that matter. Here, we get swept up on the misadventures of Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) who adores his owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper). But their life gets the rug pulled out from under them when Katie brings home the ginormous Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). Duke is a bully and will do anything he can to keep his new home, while Max would do just about anything to get Duke thrown back to the pound.

One fateful day in the park, Duke tries to get rid of Max once and for all. But they both wind up lost and now, it’s up to the rest of their friends — Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate), Tiberius (Albert Brooks), Chloe (Lake Bell), Pops (Dana Carvey), Buddy (Hannibal Buress) and Mel (Bobby Moynihan) — to bring their four-legged besties home. That is, if they can keep themselves safe from the revolution of the “Underbelly of Flushed Pets” lead by cute as a button bunny Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart) who wants to kill all humans.

Directors Yarrow Cheney (making his feature-length debut) and Chris Renaud (both Despicables, The Lorax) make a beeline for the funny bone and never let up. Yes, being a movie about pets there are bound to be a few gross-out gags, but we all know animals poop and pee on your stuff. The more miraculous aspect is that screenwriting duo Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (the “brilliant” minds behind such films as Bubble Boy, The Santa Clause 2, Horton Hears a Who!, College Road Trip, both Despicables, Hop, and The Lorax) have finally honed in an honest to goodness screenplay. It never treats the audience like idiots and never sinks too lowbrow to turn off staunchy adults.

Every pet gets a chance to shine, although I do wish there had been more of Buddy, the wiener dog — I own two after all. But they all serve a purpose to the plot and keep the momentum going. The voice cast are having a lot of fun serving up their one-liners with some of them even playing against type. Slate in particular is known as being so brash she managed to get fired from Saturday Night Live after one show. Here she gives Gidget a heart and soul to go along with her bubbling crush on Max. And Brooks relishes his chance to play a pseudo-villain, threatening to eat every creature he encounters which is a far cry from his return as Marlin the clownfish last month.

Just about the only warning to give when it comes to The Secret Life of Pets is to make sure you don’t get to the theater too early. There is a short, Minion Mowers, that is one of the worst five minutes you’ll suffer through this whole summer. Jam packed with just about everything wrong with the characters, I fear whomever finds this a winning way to start any movie — let alone one of the three best animated films of the year. Here’s your warning to show up late, but do make sure you don’t miss one second of The Secret Life of Pets, because it’ll make you howl with laughter and just may make you get a little misty eyed as well.