Thursday, August 28, 2014

Movie Review: ‘The November Man’

** 1/2 out of 5
108 minutes
Relativity Media

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘The November Man’ on Blogcritics.

August has always been known as a Hollywood dump month. Lots of trash left for audiences to pick through while they wait for school and football to start again. This year we got lucky with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, which is still cleaning up nicely at the box office and has officially become the highest grossing film of the summer. But since then we’ve been bombarded with the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Into the Storm, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and If I Stay. And just when we thought the dust was beginning to settle, along comes Pierce Brosnan in the summer’s dopiest film yet: The November Man.

November Man, Pierce Brosnan, Olga KurylenkoBrosnan stars as CIA agent Pete Devereaux, whom we meet training his protégé Mason (Luke Bracey). Mason has an itchy trigger finger and an assassination attempt results in Pete taking a couple of hits and a dead child. Five years later, Pete is retired but is asked by his old CIA buddy Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) to help out the love of his life Natalia (Mediha Musliovic), who’s working undercover in Moscow under the sleazy Arkaday Federov (Lazar Ristovski). After Mason takes out Natalia, Pete sets himself on a mission to find out why she was killed, leading to a missing war refugee and a key witness named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) with super assassin Alexa (Amila Terzimehic) hot on their tails.

If it wasn’t for the fact that November Man is so pedestrian through most of its runtime, the Bad Boys finale could probably have been more forgivable. Unfortunately, director Roger Donaldson brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It also doesn’t help that writer Michael Finch is adapting Bill Granger’s novel There Are No Spies as a long-lost ’90s Brosnan-era Bond film. A few comparisons could be made to the Bourne franchise, but if you were to go that route, this would be The Bourne Lobotomy. Brosnan overacts every chance he gets, erupting into screams when he’s not breathing so heavily that he sounds like he’s having a heart attack. If he wants to keep making these kinds of films, he’ll need to invest in an inhaler, seriously.

November Man, Pierce Brosnan, Olga KurylenkoIf you do wind up seeing the film, just wait for the finale when shit gets real when you’ll be saying, “Ah, hell no,” and wanting to walk out. Unintentional hilarity prevails. For some reason, Relativity had already greenlit a sequel, even while The November Man sat at an astounding 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has since moved its way up to 33 percent, but considering most people didn’t even know the film is coming out and is bound for horrible word-of-mouth, The November Man makes for one lousy Labor Day weekend release. Just go see Guardians of the Galaxy again (or for the first time), or the 30thanniversary release of Ghostbusters if you want to see something this weekend. As for The November Man, move along people, there’s nothing to see here.

Photos courtesy Relativity Media

Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie Review: ‘If I Stay’

*** out of 5
106 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘If I Stay’ on Blogcritics.

For a film chock-full of music and band name-dropping, it’s a shame that director R.J. Cutler’s If I Stay is so tone deaf. And the pacing is also terminal. All jokes aside, adapting author Gayle Forman’s novel into a film looks like it was no easy task, so it’s a shame that Shauna Cross’ screenplay is such a structural mess coming after proving her girl-power sassiness with the hilarious derby girl comedy Whip It.

If I Stay, Chloë Grace Moretz, R.J. Cutler, Shauna Cross, Gayle Forman, Jamie Backley, Liana LiberatoAt least most of the cast helps keep the film from imploding, although some additional editing could have helped too, because the film is about 15 minutes too long. And just when you think it might be over, another flashback comes along full of cloying sentimentality making If I Stay only making you wish you could go.

If I Stay refers to the internal dilemma faced by teenager Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) after she winds up in a coma and deals with an out of body experience. Through her reflections and voice over we get to see every reason why she may want to stay alive. She has a loving and supportive mother and father, Denny and Kat (Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos), and younger brother Teddy (Jakob Davies).

Mia also has a boyfriend who swoops into her life in the form of rocker Adam (Jamie Backley) who falls in love with her the second he sees her geeking out on her cello. Her best friend Kim (Liana Liberato) spends lots of time with her wandering school halls, attending family dinners, and at local coffee shops. Mia and Adam’s love hits the skids when he finds out she auditioned to Juilliard and could move to New York. But everything gets put on hold after the car accident and Mia has to try to decide if she wants to live.

Cue the violins!

Watching If I Stay turns into a chore toward the final third of the film when you realize how repetitious everything is. With everything being told in flashback, there’s only so much sentimentality director Cutler can wring out of the concept, but it feels like he’s sitting next to you the whole time yelling, “You’re not feeling hard enough!” in your ear. And he directs every scene at full heartstring tugging capacity.

Thankfully, Moretz makes the film far more watchable than your typical angst-filled teen romance. She makes a likeable enough couple with Davies, and feels like real friends with Liberato. The parental scenes even feel more natural than usual, but even if Enos is slightly irritating. Unfortunately, things go south very quickly at a certain point and the film never recovers. What the filmmakers of If I Stay should have done was made a film that people will want to stay and watch. As it stands, it’s just another DOA August release.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Review: ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’

** 1/2 out of 5
102 minutes
Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use
Dimension Films

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ on Blogcritics.

When Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s theatrical adaptation of Miller’s Sin City graphic novels was released in 2005, it was one of the coolest comic book movies made. Nine years later, it still stands up to the best of them, with its use of stark black and white noir and hyper-stylized violence. After years of rumors and lots of talk, a sequel has finally been cobbled together in the form of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. As excited as fans were to get a sequel, does Dame live up to the wait? If you’re simply looking for more of the same then I suppose. Unfortunately, it’s also a case of too little too late.

Sin City, A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez, Frank MillerJust to be clear, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a prequel and a sequel. I didn’t know this going in and it never really specifies during the runtime. Our first clue that it’s part sequel is when Goldie (Jaime King) — who died in the first film — shows up alongside her twin sister Wendy (also King). This plot revolves around a few stories that don’t intertwine like they did last time. But there is a four-stage set up and then they’re all tied up individually.First we get to “catch up” with Marv (Mickey Rourke) who wakes up amongst a bunch of dead bodies and a case of amnesia.

Next we meet cocksure gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on a quest for revenge against Senator Roark (Powers Boothe); Dwight (Clive Owen in the first film, now played by Josh Brolin in a pre-facial reconstructive surgery plot) facing his demons after being sought out by ex-lover Ava Lord (Eva Green) with a case of ulterior motives. And finally, we’re reunited with stripper Nancy Callahan, with her own score to settle with Roark after the death of John Hartigan.

While there may be fewer storylines this time — and they are more streamlined — Miller’s script feels even more convoluted. The production also feels rushed with plenty of bloodshed but none of the perverse glee Rodriguez and Miller infused in the first Sin City. More of the usual suspects reappear — Rosario Dawson as Old Town’s Gail is given way more to do, along with the Manute character (now played by Dennis Haysbert with the passing of Michael Clark Duncan between productions) — but there’s also a slew of new characters to keep track of.

Sin City, A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez, Frank MillerJGL’s Johnny is a complete waste once you find out what happens to his character, and his visit to Dr. Kroenig (Christopher Lloyd) is nowhere near as fun as it could have been. Ray Liotta camps it up as a framed man who’s in love with a hooker (Juno Temple), and a couple of cops (Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven) are called in to investigate Dwight’s murder of Ava’s husband Damien (Marton Csokas). Even Miho returns to slice and dice with her swords but Devon Aoki has been replaced with Jamie Chung. Roarke is the only one who looks like he’s having fun and can clearly play Marv in his sleep.

With all the loose ends A Dame to Kill For leaves dangling, you’d think Rodriguez and Miller are hoping to have the same kind of success they had the first time. But I doubt we’ll be seeing a third installment anytime soon. I’ve noticed it seems as if fanboys are the only ones who even know this is coming out and the film is a huge bore. After only an hour you’d swear it was wrapping itself up but then you realize there’s still another 40 minutes to go! Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is too little too late, and if it takes another nine years to make a third entry, I doubt anyone will even remember Dame happened.

Photos courtesy Dimension Films

DVD Review: ‘Varsity Blood’

Article first published as DVD Review: ‘Varsity Blood’ on Blogcritics.

There’s nothing wrong with a director wearing his inspirations on his sleeve. It worked wonders for the Scream series, but writer/director Jake Helgren has gone and made his directorial debut Varsity Blood so straight-faced it’s ripe for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.

Unintentional comedy abounds. Plus, it doesn’t just nod at other, and far greater, horror films, it blatantly rips them off. I said out loud the final line of the movie before the main character could, which is the same last line from the original Friday the 13th. Now, any horror movie aficionado will know how it ends, so this would normally be a spoiler alert, but don’t they all end that way? Find out who’s picking off the poor jocks and cheerleaders on DVD August 19 from Image Entertainment.

Varsity BloodVarsity Blood sets up way too many lambs to slaughter, good luck following who’s who, how they’re related, or care if anyone finally bites the dust. As it stands, Hogeye High School is a day away from celebrating Halloween festivities, but someone has gone and killed Herman (Vincent Giovagnoli), the team mascot. Now, the killer is running around in the costume, but only has time to kill off one person before forcing us to spend another 40 minutes before the next kill.

Needless to say, of course, the killer shows up at an abandoned farmhouse party where no one has cell reception and characters spout out that they’ll be “Going to our graves remembering this night.” Well, at least they got that right. There’s also a subplot involving the death of the school principal’s daughter exactly one year ago, and if it weren’t for those “damn meddling kids” (I kid you not) the killer just may get away with his dubious plans.

Sadly, there’s no way you can’t guess who the killer is the first time you see him out of costume. Even while Varsity Blood sets up at least a dozen red herrings. It’s almost as if director Helgren watched the Scream films and wrote down all of the rules to making a horror movie on pieces of paper, tossed them on his bed, and rolled around in them. As if the actors weren’t bad enough already, they get to recite such “fantastic” lines as “She must be on her period or something.” That kind of absurdity sums up the entire film. Had it had a sense of humor, it might have worked, but considering how long it takes before anything finally happens, all we’re left with is a bore. Avoid at all costs no matter how much the DVD artwork may entice you.

Movie Review: ‘What If’

**** 1/2 out of 5
98 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including references throughout, partial nudity and language
CBS Films

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘What If’ (2014) on Blogcritics.

A note to the MPAA — who decided a title change was in for the U.S. distribution of the The F Word after its premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival — how is The F Word any worse than Meet the Fockers or Little Fockers? Apparently it’s okay to imply foul language in a big studio movie, but not independently. Thankfully, the film in question—now titled What If — will hopefully generate enough word-of-mouth buzz to help audiences find out that this is the best romantic-comedy since (500) Days of Summer.

What If, Danielle Radcliffe, Zoe KazanRemember that part in I Love You, Man when Paul Rudd says, “God I love that movie” in reference to The Devil Wears Prada? You’ll feel the same way walking out of the summer’s biggest surprise you probably haven’t heard of. Featuring two fantastic leads in Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, this is the date movie of the year so far.

Still suffering from his breakup over a year ago, Wallace (Radcliffe) meets Chantry (Kazan), the cousin of his best friend and college roommate Allan (Adam Driver) at a party. Wallace and Chantry hit it off right away. Wallace offers to walk Chantry home where she gives him her number, but makes sure he knows she has a boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall), and they can only be friends. Wallace accepts the challenge and the two spend a lot of time emailing back and forth when they’re not spending all their free time together.

Eventually, Chantry invites Wallace to have dinner with her, Ben, and her sister Dalia (Megan Park). As time passes, Ben gets called off to Dublin for work, leaving Chantry in Toronto to figure out her feelings about her relationship with Ben, and friendship with Wallace. Meanwhile, Wallace has to decide if he’s going to be stuck in the friend zone forever or make his move.

What If, Danielle Radcliffe, Zoe KazanWhat If has a lot to say about relationships and Elan Mastai’s screenplay wrings the truth out of every scenario. Even about relationships that start “dirty.” Sometimes you just can’t help it. Mastai has crafted one of the wittiest rom-com’s in years adapting T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi’s play, Toothpaste and Cigars. It’s PG-13 without being dumbed down and raunchy without being gross. It helps that the cast actually act like they’re all best friends and have great rapport. Radcliffe and Kazan have chemistry to spare with Radcliffe in particular completely shedding his Harry Potter shtick.

What If is just the kick in the ass the genre has needed, and it’s a shame that there’s not a whole lot of advertising going around because it’s going to only help the film wind up being one 2014’s best film’s you didn’t see. Director Michael Dowse keeps the film moving and there’s never a wrong turn emotionally. It’s always funny and earns its moments of sap. It’s also about time we had a couple to root for in one of these kinds of films. Do yourself a favor and seek out What If; it’s a charming and delightful film; that says a lot coming from a guy. I don’t mind these kinds of films when done right, and this is one of the best.

Photos courtesy CBS Films

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blu-ray Review: ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ – The Criterion Collection

Movie: **** 1/2
Video: *****
Audio: **** 1/2
Extras: ****

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ – The Criterion Collection on Blogcritics.

I suppose when approaching a review for Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, there’s at least one thing I should get out of the way: I have no interest in the political situations happening in the background. Politics in general don’t hold my attention, so let’s be clear that I see the film for what it is on the surface: a fantastic coming-of-age road trip comedy-drama. It’s not surprising to see Y Tu released on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection with Cuarón having just won Best Director earlier this year for Gravity. Now you can see what all the fuss is about — or revisit —the sex-filled misadventures of Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, and Maribel Verdú on August 19.

Y Tu Mamá También, Alfonso Cuaron, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, and Maribel VerdúSet against the backdrop of the end of a 71-year run of Mexican presidents from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, we follow the misspent youth of middle-class Julio (Bernal) and Tenoch (Luna), the son of a high ranking political official. The boys’ girlfriends have just left on a trip to Italy and have no idea what to do with their free time. Before they get too bored with their drugs and alcohol, they meet Luisa (Verdú), the unhappy wife of Tenoch’s cousin Jano (Juan Carlos Remolina) at a wedding. The boys proposition her to join them on a quest to find the fictitious beach known as “Heaven’s Mouth.” After a trip to the doctor and a call from her cheating husband, Luisa decides to set off with the two youths where they all discover more about themselves, and each other, than they planned.

Criterion has delivered a stunning 1080p transfer for Y Tu Mamá También on a 50GB disc, framed in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Grain is always present and thankfully never turns into noise in darker sequences. Blacks are spot on, never turning grey or blue. Detail is exact whether in facial detail, costume designs, cracked stucco, grains of sand, or grassy fields. Depth is exceptional with detail as far as the eye can see, no doubt thanks to Oscar-winner Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. The Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is no slouch either. Completely free of any anomalies, while front heavy, makes sure that every line of dialogue is crystal clear; something useful when a film is so dialogue heavy. Surrounds kick in when necessary, mostly in the busy Mexican traffic or a breeze coming off the beach. Criterion has even featured a brand new translation for the English subtitles. The disc comes region-locked “A.”

Y Tu Mamá También, Alfonso Cuaron, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, and Maribel VerdúY Tu doesn’t come filled to the gills with special features, but what is included makes sure we are getting quality over quantity. A two part documentary – “On Y Tu Mamá Tamién” includes a “Then” (10:51) and “Now” (40:53). “Then” features the cast and crew on set during the production, with Cuarón explaining the inspiration of his use of narration during the film thanks to Jean-Luc Godard and how he was tired of teen comedies being romanticized. “Now” is a newly assembled behind-the-scenes with the cast and crew revisiting the film, with Cuarón admitting that after A Little Princess and Great Expectations he considered himself a director-for-hire and decided it was time to finally film the idea he came up with his brother/co-writer Carlos and Lubezki. One of the best anecdotes is when Cuarón jokes that while it may have taken them 10 years to develop the script, it only took them one hour to get stuck in the writing process.

“The Making of the Film” (22:35) is a 2001 documentary narrated by the film’s narrator Daniel Giménez Cacho. Filled with even more production footage, Cacho’s narration is hilarious, making this one of the better features. Three “Deleted Scenes” (3:45) are included: “Manuela,” “Stoned,” and “Whistle.” Philosopher Slavoj Žižek gets his own feature (9:01) as he discusses Cuarón’s manipulation of foreground and background to comment on the film’s political and social context. Carlos Cuarón’s 2002 short film, You Owe Me One, is another hilarious addition depicting a Mexican family with plenty of skeletons in their closets. The short is in Spanish with English subtitles. And lastly, the film’s TV spot (:30) and trailer (2:24) round out the special features.

Y Tu Mamá También may be filled with more sex than even the American Pie series, but this is obviously way better than those. To even mention them in the same review is probably unwarranted, but there’s not much else stateside to compare it to. By now, everyone is probably interested in seeing all of Cuarón’s early work after the success of Gravity. But be warned, this is definitely not in the same camp — even less so for those only familiar with that and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I also haven’t even made mention that Y Tu was nominated for Best Screenplay; something Cuarón has finally made up for with his win for Best Director. Y Tu Mamá También is a must own Blu-ray featuring stellar audio/video and the typical plethora of Criterion special features.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Movie Review: ‘Septic Man’

 **** out of 5
83 minutes
Rated R for disturbing vile and gruesome images, violence and language
Starz Digital Media

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Septic Man’ on Blogcritics.

There have been some rumors about a remake of Troma’s original classic The Toxic Avenger. While fans will no doubt balk at the idea, I can see why Troma would want their famed character updated and made fresh again. A gore cult classic of the highest order, The Toxic Avenger is now 30 years old, so why not reboot it; they’re rebooting everything else in Hollywood, right?

Septic Man, Jason David Brown, Jesse Thomas Cook, Tony BurgessFor now, the closest we may get is Septic Man, from director Jesse Thomas Cook (Monster Brawl) and writer Tony Burgess (Pontypool). And while it may be receiving mixed reviews, I liked it for what it was: an origin tale wallowing in filth, never scared to wear its inspirations on its sleeves. Starz Digital Media is releasing the film on VOD August 12, in theaters August 15, and on DVD August 19.

Jack (Jason David Brown) is our titular hero, a sewage worker stuck in the middle of a water contamination crisis with the town’s water supply infested with everything from E. coli to Cryptosporidium. The Mayor (Stephen McHattie) has just ordered an evacuation, but Jack is approached by the mysterious Phil Prosser (Julian Richings) and offers Jack a down payment of $20,000 with another $180,000 paid after he figures out the origins of the contamination.

What Jack finds out is that a pair of brothers — Giant (Robert Maillet) and Lord Auch (Tim Burd) — have been dumping dead bodies into the water supply. Now, Jack is stuck down there with the bodies and is slowly transforming into a hideous beast while his pregnant wife Shelley (Molly Dunsworth) tries to find him.

Septic Man, Jason David Brown, Jesse Thomas Cook, Tony BurgessWhile never reaching the dizzyingly graphic heights of The Toxic Avenger — and never setting its sights on social commentary either — Septic Man definitely delivers what it promises: a gross night out at the movies. Septic Man definitely has plenty of yuks to go with the yucks. If you don’t need a shower after wallowing through the quick 85-minute runtime, then you may need to have your head examined. Icky is the best way to describe the happenings, but the gross outs never spoil the fun. You’ll never think of the term “blood bath” the same way again, and other peoples’ intestines sure come in handy in a fight for your life.

There’s been only one gore-filled film recently that falls in the same range of gross but fun as Septic Man, and that’s last year’s Evil Dead remake. Not to discourage moviegoers from seeing the film in theaters, but you may want to take this one in on VOD to have the comfort of your own bathroom in case you need to use it. You definitely won’t want to use a public restroom in the middle of this one. But it is worth seeking out for those who know what they’re getting into. Septic Man even comes with a theme song while ending on a note for future adventures. I for one would like to see what’s next for the new fecal mutant.

Photos courtesy Starz Digital Media

Movie Review: ‘Into the Storm’

** 1/2 out of 5
89 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Into the Storm’ (2014) on Blogcritics.

While the found footage genre has been beaten to death over the years, nothing will stand in the way of filmmakers trying to wring something new out of it. If there was ever an opportunity to scare the crap out of audiences, the found footage film documenting tornadoes, Into the Storm, seems like an easy fit. But leave it to the director of Final Destination 5 (Steven Quale) and the screenwriter of next week’s Step Up All In (Todd Garner) to make one as brain dead as possible. Not even aping from 1996’s Twister — or being screened in a deafening Dolby Atmos theater — is enough to make up for the ludicrous acts on display in Into the Storm.

Into the Storm, Richard Armitage, Steven QualeThe opening scene tries to set the right tone as four teens are sucked up into a tornado. The next day takes us to a long introduction as we meet our characters who may or may not live through the 89 minute runtime. A gang of tornado hunters — consisting of documentarian Pete (Matt Walsh), meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), and camera operators Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta), Lucas (Lee Whittaker), and Jacob (Jeremy Sumpter) — are trying to capture the eye of a storm on film.

Meanwhile, high school brothers Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress) are filming time capsule videos for a school project while their vice principal dad Gary (Richard Armitage) is busy trying to organize the graduation ceremony taking place that day. Soon enough, they’ll all be fighting for their lives as the worst line up of storms head toward their quiet town to wreak havoc the likes of which they’ve never seen.

Did I mention the Jackass-clone “Twista Hunterz” Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep)? Two asinine characters serving no purpose whatsoever amongst an already too large cast full of absolutely no one to root for in the wake of the special effects. Back before Scream, horror movie characters were not self-aware enough to realize what was happening around them; Into the Storm pits us right back into that type of characterization where no one seems to have even so much as read a pamphlet explaining “What to Do in Case of a Tornado.” Let alone that every character acts the exact opposite of how a real person would. A string of storms are headed to town? Why not head for a rundown paper mill to give something to collapse around our poor characters, which gives them any kind of goal besides their own survival?

Warner Bros. is opening the film up against the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot and only the second weekend of Guardians of the Galaxy making me think that at least one studio head already considers Into the Storm a wash. Judging by the mixed reactions of the two local screenings —  at my press screening the audience laughed inappropriately at the ludicrous carnage, while at an earlier word-of-mouth showing they were totally eating it up and getting mad at my friend for laughing — it’s obvious Into the Storm is facing an uphill battle. Considering most people probably own Twister on Blu-ray or DVD, they’re better off staying home watching that instead, as Into the Storm is merely a big budget SyFy version of it.

The whole film feels like a movie-length Final Destination opening disaster sequence, but thankfully, the final scene doesn’t wind up being one of the characters realizing it was all just a premonition. It would be even better if the audience could do just that to inform them of their unwise ticket purchase.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Movie Review: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

* out of 5
101 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ (2014) on Blogcritics.

If there was ever reason to go see Guardians of the Galaxy again this weekend, it’s the new live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For their fifth big screen adaptation they’ve brought along the worst offender of childhood plundering: Michael Bay. As if his own Transformers weren’t bad enough, Bay has his grubby fingerprints all over the Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird created comic characters now. Hold on to those precious memories you have of the ’80s cartoon series, kids — and the first two live-action films — because even listening to Vanilla Ice’s “Go Ninja, Go Ninja Go” ad naseum is better than any time spent watching director Jonathan Liebesman’s scatterbrained mess.

TMNTPic1In this incarnation of our beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, intrepid Channel 6 news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is hot on the trail of the Foot Clan menacing New York City. While biking home one night she witnesses first hand a vigilante putting a stop to an attack, but her boss (Whoopi Goldberg) won’t believe her story. Meanwhile, Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) order his number-two Karai (Minae Noji) to find the vigilantes leading to a subway hostage situation where — after 20 minutes! — our heroes in a half shell finally show up. April follows their escape route to the top of a building where she meets Leonardo (played by Pete Ploszek but voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher).

And just wouldn’t you know it, April realizes that these four hulked-out turtles all have the same names as the box turtles she had as pets at her scientist father’s lab. Coincidentally, Erich Sacks (William Fichtner) happens to be her late father’s lab partner who thought the turtles, and a rat named Splinter (Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), perished in a fire. Now, Sachs uses April to help Shredder find the turtles to use their mutagen blood to develop a vaccine to look like the city’s savior after a killer virus is unleashed on New York City, and only April O’Neil can save the day!

TMNTPic2Wait, what? Yes, this version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles winds up being the April O’Neil movie. As if casting Fox wasn’t insult enough to the character, they give her more screentime than any of our titular heroes. Fox is an abysmal actress who surely only accepted the role after Bay apologized for the way he reportedly treated her onset and gave her her own movie. Everyone else is completely wasted, although Will Arnett manages at least a few laughs which were probably improvised because none of his wit comes through in any of the rest of Josh Applebaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty’s screenplay. This is bottom-of-the-barrel Bay atrociousness on every level. Along with enough slow motion sequences that could have cut a half hour out of the runtime alone, you also get the expected Fox butt shot.

There’s absolutely nothing to salvage this dreck as it features such classically bad lines like: “I’ll drain all their blood even if it kills them.” And I have to mention the Mount Everest-sized mountain that resides just outside Manhattan along with a super-convenient subway system entrance at the bottom that’s just two miles outside the city? Yup, that sums up the films level of brains; it’s just too bad the filmmakers didn’t bring any brawns to the film. There’s also an abundance of pop-culture references that will fly over kids heads and just make their parents groan. The only thing left to say is just go see Guardians of the Galaxy, whether for the first time or second, or third. It’s still the best film of the summer, whereas Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is simply one of the worst of the summer and the year.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Movie Review: Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

***** out of 5
121 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Marvel Studios

Article first published as Movie Review: Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ on Blogcritics.

After slogging through the month of July (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes being the exception), summer has finally been saved! To put things short and sweet: Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie we’ve been waiting for.

Fans raised their eyebrows back in 2010 when Marvel President Kevin Feige announced that a big screen adaptation of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s comic series was headed for theaters. A collective sigh of hope was then heard when it was announced at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con that James Gunn would be writing and directing. With a cult following after writing Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake and his own fantastic creature-feature Slither, Gunn is really going to make a name for himself because Guardians of the Galaxy is not just one of the best films of the summer, but of the year so far.

Beginning in 1988, a young Peter Quill (Wyatt Oleff) sits in a hospital waiting room, listening to his “Awesome Mix No. 1” cassette tape before he’s brought in to say goodbye to his dying mother. After his mother passes, Peter runs out the hospital where he is abducted by a spaceship. 26 years later, Peter is now a scavenger, looking for an orb on the planet Morag. Korath (Djimon Hounsou) tries to get the orb from Peter — who keeps trying to make his nickname, err outlaw name, “Star-Lord” stick — but he escapes. Yondu (Michael Rooker) places a bounty on Peter which leads to Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the living-tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) to try and capture him for the reward.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) — adopted daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin), sister of Nebula (Karen Gillan) — wants the orb so she can sell it to The Collector (Benicio Del Toro). This will keep it out of the hands of Ronan (Lee Pace) who is unhappy about the peace treaty signed between the Xandarians and the Kree and wants to use the power of the orb to destroy Xandar. A tussle leads Peter, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot to be captured by Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly) of the Nova Corps. — led by Nova Prime (Glenn Close) — and imprisoned on the Kyln. Here, they join forces with Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who wants revenge on Ronan who killed his wife and daughter. Now, our band of misfits must unite to escape and put a stop to Ronan’s nefarious schemes to save the galaxy.

As you can see, there’s more plot than usual for a Marvel film. Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy is far more than simply Geek Nirvana. Marvel’s Phase Two films of their Marvel Cinematic Universe are continually raising the stakes and there’s plenty here that sets up next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, along with Phase Three. The Infinity Stones have finally been explained, even if an incident involving The Collector makes you wonder what’s happened to the aether given to him by Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) in the credit sequence of Thor: The Dark World. There’s also a loose strand left about who Peter’s father is.

With a sequel already announced for July 28, 2017, Marvel knows they have another hot property on their hands, and yes, Guardians is one of the best Marvel Studios films so far. Considering this is now the tenth film, Gunn — along with Marvel’s first female writer Nicole Perlman — has set out to make it stand above the rest. The most exciting part is finally getting new Marvel characters to cherish; even if every single one of them happens to be an antihero. Except maybe Groot, who totally steals the movie with hilarious childlike innocence.

Like every good adventure film, we get to hop across the galaxy to all kinds of different locations — including a trip to Knowhere — but Gunn also has made Guardians one of the most adult films in the Marvel canon. With moments of blissful raunchiness and enough pop-culture references to fill multiple films, this one is going to require multiple viewings to catch them all. J.J. Abrams could also take note because this is also one of the best not-Star Wars space films in years. It also features the best soundtrack outside of a Quentin Tarantino film.

Unfortunately, I cannot confirm a post-credit sequence but have heard there will be one attached once in full release; just another reason to see this one again, which I most definitely will. Is there anymore praise I could possibly heap upon Guardians of the Galaxy at this point? The cast is fantastic — with even Bautista barely passable playing the too-literal numbskull that is Drax — with Pratt truly stepping up and proving he can carry a film, something that will come in handy for next summer’s Jurassic World. All that’s really left to say is absolutely do not miss this trip with the Guardians of the Galaxy!

Photos courtesy Marvel Studios

Movie Review: ‘And So It Goes’

** out of 5
94 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements
Clarius Entertainment

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘And So It Goes’ on Blogcritics.

There was a time when director Rob Reiner used to make good movies — in the ’80s. Even the ’90s were better than his new millennium escapades. The last 20 years have not been kind to his directorial skills and he seems hell bent on proving this with his latest dramedy And So It Goes. A film so asinine, it literally couldn’t even keep my own mom’s interest for 90 minutes. And this is someone who used to watch Two and a Half Men and still finds Duck Dynasty entertaining. Let’s just say she’ll typically laugh at anything, but even she leaned over and called this one horrible about halfway through.

And So It Goes, Rob Reiner, Michael Douglas, Diane KeatonRealtor/widower Oren Little (Michael Douglas) who spends his time trying to sell his own home for more than $8 million — when he’s not being racist, sexist, or popping off rape jokes back at the office. He’s so embittered with life that he refuses to share the driveway of his fourplex to help out his pregnant neighbor. One day, Oren’s son Luke (Scott Shepherd) shows up to tell Oren that he’s going to prison for nine months and dumps his daughter Sarah (Sterling Jerins) in his lap. Oren’s widowed/lounge singing neighbor Leah (Diane Keaton) takes Sarah under her wing, who eventually starts getting called grandma. Now, Oren must learn how to take care of someone besides himself, and oh, if only wackiness had ensued.

And So It Goes pretty much sums up the whole movie. Writer Mark Andrus may have been nominated for co-writing As Good As It Gets, but now I can’t help but wonder if he only wrote the first draft with James L. Brooks rewriting the entire thing. Oren’s misogynistic/racist rants have the same feel as Melvin’s in AGAIG, but Douglas is no Jack Nicholson. This almost works as a companion piece, but were we ever asking for one? Not even Keaton can save this mess, as all she’s reduced to is histrionics. And Jerins is one of the most awkward child actors in recent memory. It doesn’t help that Reiner apparently doesn’t care if she breaks the fourth wall. I also swear even Keaton reads a few cue cards in one scene toward the end. Of course life lessons are learned and lives are turned around, but there’s never any reason for it to happen, except the clichéd screenplay forces everything.

When I saw Frances Sternhagen was in the film I had hopes that at least she would have some enjoyable moments, but her character is just as racist as Oren. She mistakes a potential homebuyer to be Oren’s groundskeeper. At one point, Oren tells Reiner’s character, “Don’t embarrass yourself” before he slips on a slip and slide. Oren may as well have been talking to Reiner about the film itself. Maybe it’s time for Reiner to officially throw in the towel. You’d never know this came from the same man who directed This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally…, Misery, A Few Good Men, and even The American President. Reiner is simply going through the motions here, making And So It Goes only feels like a literal title for his career.

Photo courtesy Clarius Entertainment