Saturday, July 13, 2019

Movie Review: “Stuber”


Stuber

*** out of 5
93 minutes
Rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It’s always interesting when studios won’t screen a film for press. While Stuber has been screened multiple times, the alligator creature feature Crawl is getting a cold open. It speaks for itself to say that one of them is being far better received than the other. While both feature the types of mindless thrills we’ve come to expect from summer releases, Crawl has a handful of reviews (14), and stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile Stuber is being saddled with a middling 48%.

Stuber may be better than its online score, but it’s never as hilarious as it should be. At least stars Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista — with the help of ever-reliable indie favorite director Michael Dowse (What If, Goon, It’s All Gone Pete Tong, Fubar) — get way more mileage out of Tripper Clancy’s screenwriting debut than you’d think. It may not be big, but it’s definitely dumb, and thankfully, fun.

Vic Manning (Bautista) is hot on the heels of drug peddling Oka Tedjo (The Raid’s Iko Uwais) with his partner, Sara Morris (Karen Gillan), in tow. After a hotel brawl winds up with Sara getting shot, six months later Vic is still trying to catch Oka if it’s the last thing he does. And just wouldn’t you know it, Vic winds up catching a hot lead that could lead him straight to Oka.

Unfortunately, it’s all going down the same day he gets Lasik and can’t see. Now, Vic calls upon poor Uber drive Stu (Nanjiani) to get him where he needs to be by shouting neighborhoods at him, rather than actual addresses. Together, the two must pair up to bring down the nefarious heroine dealer to keep the street’s kids, and Vic’s daughter safe. All the while Stu — nicknamed “Stuber” by his bullying boss Richie (Jimmy Tatro) — learning his own life lessons about love, and self esteem, along the way.

If there’s one thing that really helps Stuber, it’s a scant runtime. Never wearing out its welcome, the film roars along at a near breakneck speed, earning plenty of laughs — while squeezing in a tiny bit of heart — among some hit-and-miss action sequences. Surprisingly, the offbeat fisticuffs is where the action works best. There’s a one-on-one between Vic and Stu at Stu’s sporting goods workplace that is hysterical, and another shootout set in an animal clinic. Even a car chase between Oka and Stu’s electric Nissan Leaf features the film’s biggest laugh involving Jaws and a mini propane tank.

Unfortunately, it’s when the action needs to count that it completely falls flat. Full of disorienting choreography, Michael Bay-styled quick cut editing, and some horrendous shaky cam, you never know what’s actually happening any time Vic and Oka go head to head. And when you’ve got a down and dirty fight between Drax and Rama, Dowse should be pulling out the stops. But the best filmed fight sequence is the one at Stu’s work, causing the stakes to never feel real.

For interested parties, you’ll come for the laughs, and that’s exactly where the film succeeds the most. Nanjiani is as dryly facetious as ever and Bautista gets some fantastic off the cuff reactions to the shenanigans he gets the two of them into. So while the action may not live up to the best, at least the laughs fly fast and furious. Stuber never tries to raise the bar, but at least keeps sailing along to its own beat. Just know going in that Stuber is comedy first and it’ll make for a fun way to get out of the heat and turn your brain off without feeling bad about it.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Movie Review: “Spider-Man: Far From Home”


Spider-Man: Far From Home

***** out of 5
129 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Columbia Pictures


Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not all villains are created equal. In the aftermath of Thanos’s “Snapture” — aka “The Snap” — is there any villain who could live up to Infinity War and Endgame? Therein lies the biggest hurdle for Spider-Man: Far From Home. With director Jon Watts returning — along with two of Homecoming’s writers (Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, also responsible for Ant-Man and the Wasp) — FFH winds up being a hilarious trip through Europe we didn’t know the MCU needed.

In Ixtenco, Mexico, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are investigating stories about a cyclone with a face when in swoops Quentin Beck (Jake Hyllenhaal) warning them that they don’t want any part of this. Back in New York, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his schoolmates — along with the whole other half of the planet who came back during “The Blip” after Iron Man reverses “The Snap” — are dealing with having been held back since they’re all the same age now as when they were turned to dust.

But the school year is over and it’s time to hit the trails for a summer trip to Europe. Peter has plans to woo MJ (Zendaya) atop the Eiffel Tower, but not before a group of monsters called The Elementals show up. Nick Fury has managed to track Peter down, bringing him up to speed, while hijacking their trip. Beck — dubbed Mysterio — has come from the multiverse and may be the only one who can stop the Elementals with only 48 hours until the most powerful monster arrives in Prague. And as Peter comes to terms with the loss of Tony Stark, the Avengers are in need of a new leader.

Taking inspiration from the classic National Lampoon Vacation series, the teens of Midtown High School are off on an adventure, with way more danger than they could have ever imagined. Watts has stepped up his game delivering even bigger action than Homecoming while keeping the same sensibilities. Spider-Man is always caught between doing what’s right as a superhero and making sure he keeps his friends safe. Even if he’s not above accidentally almost blowing up Brad.

Holland commands the role while being surrounded by a hilarious support group of actors. He still has major chemistry with Zendaya and it’s nice to see some other members of the troupe getting a piece of the romance pie. Watching Betty (Angourie Rice) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) fall in love on a plane ride is super cute and Happy (Jon Favreau) trying to keep Spidey’s “Peter Tingle” off his and Aunt May’s (Marisa Tomei) trail could make for an entire movie all its own.

But alas, we came here for our favorite neighborhood Spider-Man and while some may feel the villain is a little lackluster, it fits right into both the MCU needs and Spider-Man’s own comic history. It’s a fun twist getting played out and it’s very reminiscent of what Shane Black did in Iron Man 3. It’s nice to see Kevin Feige let some of the stories get a little wackier than others. I mean, a Spider-Man movie should honestly always be a comedy first. It’s also surprising to see Far From Home feature the most jaw-dropping MCU action scene yet.

Thankfully, Far From Home manages to be all of the above: fun, exciting, action-packed, hilarious, and even romantic. It’s pretty much everything we could want from a live action Spider-Man movie, even if it only manages to set up the next phase of MCU films at the very last second. Yes, stick around through the end credits for two that will blow you away. In the meantime, sit back and relax as Spider-Man: Far From Home swings in to save not just his classmates, but the summer as well.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Movie Review: “Yesterday”


Yesterday

**** out of 5
116 minutes
Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

No man knows how to make me feel like Richard Curtis. Ever since Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994, I’ve paid close attention to the man’s products. Through Mr. Bean, Blackadder, Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Boat That Rocked, and my two personal favorites Love Actually and About Time, the man knows how to make a rom-com. And a rom-com men can embrace, sometimes even more than its target audience.

Yesterday may feel like Curtis Lite in the rom-com arena, at least he’s able to get by with a little help from his friends. With director Danny Boyle — Curtis sadly stated he will never direct another film after About Time — at the helm, a winning big screen debut for Himesh Patel, and $10 million worth of Beatles songs in their arsenal, the sleeper feel good counter programming hit of the summer has arrived.

Jack Malick (Patel) just wants people to hear his music. His manager/best friend/unrequited love interest Ellie (Lily James) tries to make it happen. While most of his gigs are typically playing in front of merely handfuls of people, all that is about to change. One night, a freak solar flare causes the whole world to go dark for seconds, with Jack getting hit by a bus in the process.

After Jack wakes up, he slowly learns that absolutely no one has ever heard of The Beatles. Now, Jack embarks on a personal mission to bring their music back to the world while sorting out his own feelings toward Ellie, and trying to decide between love and fame. Meanwhile, two strangers seem to be hot on his tail, causing some serious guilt, but just can’t resist the temptation for stardom when Ed Sheeran, and big time producer Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), offer him a bounty of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

It’s been a dark time for myself and my colleagues these past two weeks with the passing of Big Movie Mouth Off’s Jimmy Martin — a show I was honored to have co-hosted on several occasions. Something as lighthearted and whimsical as Yesterday was more than welcome to say the least. While it may only offer a temporary diversion to our new harsh reality, it’s a fantastic two hours at the movies. Boyle may employ a few too many onscreen social media graphics — something that would have hilariously annoyed Jimmy — but he keeps the focus on the music, providing ample opportunities for Patel to belt out our favorite, classic, and even some possibly lesser known, Beatles tunes.

Yesterday may not find the depths Curtis has mined before — let’s just say the father/son twist of About Time was a particular suckerpunch — but he’s not working in that kind of wheelhouse here. Thankfully, Patel and James make a great couple to root for, McKinnon is a hilarious pseudo-villain, and the soundtrack is everything one could hope it to be. Featuring acoustic and rocking alternatives to what we’re used to hearing — “Help!” being a particular standout — Curtis and Boyle clearly wanted to just have a good time and so will you. Yesterday is a loving ode to the band everyone knows and sometimes, even when a film loses sight of what the studio wants you to think it’s about, it never loses focus of what it’s really trying to deliver: the music.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Movie Review: “Toy Story 4”


Toy Story 4

***** out of 5
100 minutes
Rated G
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It’s crazy to think that the first Toy Story was released 24 years ago. And with Disney and Pixar being no strangers to sequelitis, it’s something of a cinematic miracle to only now be getting Toy Story 4. With each new entry, they manage to improve both story wise, and technologically. Some astounding animation awaits with director Josh Cooley upping the ante yet again. Exploring the biggest cast of characters yet — while deepening and broadening their world — Disney and Pixar continue to prove that this is the one franchise they’ve keep from exhaustion.

Starting nine years in the past, Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is off to the rescue to save R.C. from being swept away in a storm. But not before his beloved Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts), along with her lamp and sheep (Billy/Goat/Gruff — voiced by Emily Davis), are carried off forever. Bo Peep tries to convince Woody to go with her, but Woody’s loyalty to Andy holds him back.

In the film’s present — about a year after Toy Story 3 — the toys are dealing with Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw) starting kindergarten. It doesn’t help that Woody keeps getting left in the closet with Bonnie declaring a new sheriff in town: Jessie. Nevertheless, Woody tags along to Bonnie’s orientation day to ensure everything goes smoothly. But just wouldn’t you know it, Bonnie constructs a new toy, Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), made out of trash, and brings him home to join the gang.

Forky doesn’t believe that he’s anything more than discarded junk and heavily questions why he’s alive. When Bonnie’s parents (voiced by Lori Alan and Jay Hernandez) whisk her — and a bunch of her favorite toys — away on a road trip, adventure comes calling. And just wouldn’t you know it, Woody quickly runs into Bo Peep at the Grand Basin Carnival Days, only to find out she’s has happily lived as a lost toy for the  last seven years.

Now, Woody has to call on Bo Peep — along with Canadian stuntman action figure Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves) and stuffed carnival prizes Ducky and Bunny (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) and Buzz’s (voiced by Tim Allen) “inner voice” — to save Forky from the creepy Gabby Gabby (voiced Christina Hendricks) who uses Forky as a ploy to make Woody’s voice box her own.

It’s extraordinary just how good each Toy Story is. We had no idea what we were in for back in 1995 and it’s amazing the powerhouse Pixar has become. Granted, there have been a few bumps (Brave), bruises (Cars 2), and even a flatout bomb (The Good Dinosaur) along the way. On their worst days, Pixar films are still typically better than most family flicks. With the exception being Disney’s own string of hits, of course.

Cooley — along with screenwriters Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom — keeps the action moving, the animation bedazzling, the jokes flying, heartstrings pulling, and life lessons learning from start to finish. The voice cast all perform admirably considering this is the fourth outing for most of them. Hanks and Allen are as chummy as ever, but it’s the new characters who steal the show. Forky is a slapstick extraordinaire, Gabby Gabby lends a surprisingly missing horror element with the help of her Benson ventriloquist doll henchmen, and Caboom is the most hilarious character Reeves has ever played.

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up, Toy Story 4 is another amazing addition to the franchise and exceeds expectations across the board.

Movie Review: “Men in Black: International”


Men in Black: International

*** 1/2 out of 5
114 minutes Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material
Columbia Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

In the age of reboots, remakes, and sequels, Men in Black: International has a lot working against it. While serving as both a sequel and reboot, this new MIB is really just more of the same. What that means to you will definitely make up your mind in a hurry. However, it still manages to at least provide what we’ve come to expect: fast paced and funny.

MIB:I may not have the blessing of Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones’s presence, but Tessa Thompson makes a fantastic lead. With Chris Hemsworth by her side, the two show they have just as much chemistry outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While director F. Gary Gray continues his streak of entertaining the masses without delivering anything new.

Molly (Thompson) has spent her entire life trying to track down the mysterious Men in Black. After tracking down a fallen spaceship, she follows them back to headquarters and walks right in, only to be swiftly found out, interrogated, and placed on a probationary period as a new trainee by Agent O (Emma Thompson). After all, she found them. Now, Molly has become Agent M and forces her way into Agent H’s (Hemsworth) assignment showing the alien Vungus (Kayvan Novak) a night out on the town. But not before Vungus is killed by the Alien Twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) and passes off what they were looking for to the only person Vungus trusts: M.

If there’s one thing this MIB entry has going for it, it’s nostalgia. Those of us who love the franchise will enjoy every minute of it. Even if screenwriters Matt Holloway and Art Marcum stick to a very tried and true formula. Agent M is a great replacement to fill Jay’s place and thankfully, Agent H never tries to make up for Kay. The jokes may feel few and far between, but watching Thompson and Hemsworth play off each other is always more fun than most character interactions. The two make a fantastic duo and keep the series geared up for more adventures.

As great as the leads are, the supporting cast steal the show. Emma Thompson is as dryly hilarious as she was in 3, but Kumail Nanjiani as the tiny alien Pawny looking for a queen to protect winds up being the best — and funniest — character in all four movies. Unfortunately, they aren’t all winners. Rebecca Ferguson is completely wasted in a former love-interest/pseudo-villain role. And Liam Neeson looks like he sleepwalked his way on set. The Men in Black films are always a safe bet and with Thompson making an admirable leap to lead, it should be interesting to see what further missions she may embark upon.

Movie Review: “Dark Phoenix”


Dark Phoenix

*** 1/2 out of 5
113 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Production troubles can wreak havoc on a film’s success before it even opens. In the case of the new X-Men entry, Dark Phoenix, everything from reshoots to internal studio scandals have already set the film’s reputation aflame. Don’t let the bad buzz turn you off, Dark Phoenix may not be the best X-Men entry, but it’s way better than both The Last Stand and Apocalypse.

With Simon Kinberg finally in the director’s chair — he’s had his hand in the series for years as writer/producer — he tries to send the end of the Fox X-Men series out with a bang and succeeds for the most part. Unfortunately, the series ends more anticlimactically than we hoped, but at least he does John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and Dave Cockrum’s beloved “Dark Phoenix Saga” proud.

With Apocalypse behind them — seriously, this entry never once references the last installment — and a new decade upon them, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is sending his X-Men crew to space to save the Endeavor from a cosmic flare. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) thinks Charles is starting to take too big of risks to enhance his ego, but he still defends he’s fighting for their own safety.

While in space, Raven, Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Scott/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Peter/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Kurt/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Jean Grey/Phoenix (Sophie Turner), barely escape with their lives, saving the crew of the Endeavor. In the process, Phoenix gets caught in the flare, turning her powers up to 11.

Now, an alien race has come to Earth to find the flare — actually a cosmic force — lead by Vuk (Jessica Chastain). These beings want to use the force to wipe out all existence and teraform the planet to repopulate with their own race. Now, Jean must learn to control her new powers causing her to become the X-Men’s greatest foe, leading to a showdown in the streets of New York, bringing out Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and his motley crew to either win Phoenix back, or risk losing her forever.

As much good as Bryan Singer brought to the X-Men franchise, he also brought along his own amount of bad — and controversy. After Matthew Vaughn rebooted the franchise fantastically with First Class, Singer returned after a 12 year hiatus with one of the best entries — Days of Future Past — only to crash and burn with the bloated Apocalypse. It’s a shame that this will be the last entry for the new timeline because Kinberg brings the series to a firmly grounded adventure.

Sophie Turner gives a wishy washy performance, but considering she’s spent most of her acting on Game of Thrones she shows a lot of promise here. The rest of the cast all slip back into their respective roles as expected and it was nice to see some genuine tension amongst some of the characters. Unfortunately, McAvoy is clearly tired of playing Xavier and almost makes a turn toward self parody. The worst offender is Jennifer Lawrence who puts in the same kind of performance she put in before her character gets awakened in Passengers, while the stand-out — as expected — is Fassbender. The man never disappoints.

The pace moves along nicely, even if the ending feels anticlimactic and never offers the emotional payoff you’re expecting. No ill will to Kinberg, the man got the short end of the stick directing the final entry before the Disney merger while fighting against glaring similarities of Captain Marvel, but by now, most people know what’s happened behind the scenes. The ending feels far more appropriate to the rest of the film. How it was originally intended to end would have felt way out of place.

While Dark Phoenix may not send the franchise out in a blinding glory, at least it’s everything we’d expect from an X-Men movie: humor, heart, a wonky timeline, and plenty of spectacle.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Movie Review: “Rocketman”


Rocketman

**** 1/2 out of 5
121 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Comparisons are going to be made between Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman — and I am, too. Both feature incredible performances, astounding soundtracks, the same director, and a gay centerpiece. For those paying attention, Rocketman is the better of the two films, and features a superior performance. As good as Rami Malek was at impersonating Freddie Mercury, it shows that’s all it was. Especially when comparing him to Taron Egerton’s complete embodiment of Elton John. The film soars — when it’s not edging toward cliche — and features some of the best renditions of Elton and Bernie Taupin’s greatest hits since they first graced the airwaves.

Elton has arrived … at A.A. and he’s here to tell everyone the story of how he made it from childhood to surviving celebrity status after abusing drugs and alcohol. And sex. And shopping. And bulimia. Starting with Young Reggie (Matthew Illesley), all he wants from his father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), is a hug. “Don’t be soft,” he tells him, and keep his hands off his record collection. His mum, Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), tries to be a decent mother, while his grandma Ivy (Gemma Jones) helps him with driving to the Royal Academy of Music to hone his skills as the err, piano man, we all know and love. But Elton has to also deal with his homosexuality as he falls in love with his manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), while Bernie (Jamie Bell) tries to keep his best friend from killing himself through his addiction to booze, sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

One of the biggest problems with Bohemian Rhapsody was its PG-13 rating and directors Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher merely skirting around Freddie’s sexuality. But make no mistake, Rocketman revels in everything gloriously Elton John and is never scared to pull out all the stops. The production design is top notch leaving nearly no Elton costume unturned. Flashy, heavily choreographed — “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) is a showstopper — hilarious, and heartfelt, Rocketman is the best biopic anyone could ever hope for in a film about Elton John.

If there’s one issue with the film, it’s the way it handles the daddy issues. It’s so on the nose it borders on parody. Thankfully, it’s whittled down to one scene and is over before it gets too painful — sadly, not in the way intended. But we came here for the show and Taron delivers marvelously. Considering Malek won Best Actor for Rhapsody, Egerton deserves two. Even Jamie Bell comes off far more likeable than normal. Fletcher has made the film he probably wishes he could have made after taking over Rhapsody, but it’s far more fitting here, considering the subject on hand.

Despite the subject matter, it’s all handled surprisingly lightly. It never gets too heavy handed or melodramatic and keeps the pace flying by. I don’t know if I would call it Best Picture worthy, but it’s far more than the other biopic that keeps getting mentioned. Rocketman is a total blast from start to finish and flies by at the seat of its pants. A good time for all is guaranteed and make sure to stick around the end credits to hear the Elton John/Egerton duet written just for the movie. It’s too bad “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” plays over the credits, it may have killed its chance at Best Song, but it’s still an incredible effort and a fantastic send off to a musical spectacular spectacular.