Thursday, July 13, 2017

Movie Review: “Wish Upon”


Wish Upon

** out of 5
90 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic elements and language
Broad Green Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Horror movies can get away with a lot when they’re fun. I’ll be the first to admit, the Final Destination franchise is one of the dumbest out there, but they are such a good time, who cares? In the case of Wish Upon, it descends into a level of so-bad-it’s-good hilarity, something I’m sure director John R. Leonetti (Annabelle) and screenwriter Barbara Marshall did not intend. And speaking of Final Destination, Wish Upon is sadly just a bad PG-13 rated carbon copy of those films. Something no one wants, nor would ever wish for.

For teenage Clare (Joey King), high school is a bitch. Still having nightmares over her mom’s (Elisabeth Röhm) suicide 12 years ago, she makes it through the day thanks to a little help from her friends June (Shannon Purser) and Meredith (Sydney Park). It doesn’t help that her deadbeat dad Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe) keeps dumpster diving across the street from her high school. One day, while Jonathan is out scavenging, he comes across a sealed box covered in Chinese writing and brings it home to Clare. What Clare soon discovers is that the box makes her wishes come true, but doesn’t realize until it’s too late that they are granted with dire consequences.

I wish I could I could say that the unintentional hilarity was reason enough to bare witness to Wish Upon in theaters, but this is a spectacular case of a film that should have gone direct-to-video. Marshall’s screenplay feels extremely outdated. Every death is laughably executed making Leonetti’s Annabelle look Oscar worthy. This is far funnier than Baywatch. The acting is mediocre at best. Except Phillippe, who completely steals the show as Sax Dad. That may be worth the price of admission alone — along with the very last scene. I dare you not to laugh out loud.

Wish Upon is a disaster from start to finish. It may not be bad enough to wish upon your worst enemy, but it’s not worth trekking out to see in theaters. However, I can see it winding up being a favorite among teen girls gathering at slumber parties to yell at the screen. Faint praise at best, but it is unintentionally hilarious enough it could wind up being a new cult classic. Now that’s a scary thought!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Movie Review: “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Spider-Man: Homecoming

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

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com



An amazing thing happened to the Marvel Cinematic Universe last year when Sony Pictures finally played ball with Disney and allowed Spider-Man to join the fight. Captain America: Civil War not only brought to life one of Marvel’s best story lines, but it also showed that as fans, we can have our cake and eat it too. And what sweet cake it is. Director Jon Watts — being yet another low budget director handed the keys to the castle — was a left field choice, considering he’s only directed a horror movie (Clown) and a thriller (Cop Car). But it was a brilliant choice in that he knows how to keep a film grounded, thus making Spider-Man: Homecoming the best Spider-Man ever.

In this issue of Spider-Man, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is working with his crew cleaning up after the New York attack in The Avengers, but not before the U.S. Department of Damage Control — led by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) — swoops in, putting Adrian and his men out of work. Eight years have gone by and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is reliving the glory days of when he took a super secret trip to Germany with the Avengers. Two months later, Peter is stuck on hiatus, waiting for his call to become an Avenger.

With Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) on speed dial, Peter lives out his teenage life attending high school, being geeky with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), pining over Liz (Laura Harrier), and keeping his friendly neighborhood antics under Aunt May’s (Marisa Tomei) nose.

Everything seems to be going perfectly well, but little does Peter know that Adrian has been developing high tech weapons from leftover pieces of Chitauri technology. Spider-Man is hot on the case, while a new supervillain, The Vulture, lurks about selling his weapons on the street. Peter tries to warn Tony, but keeps getting brushed off because he’s only a kid. Soon enough, The Vulture turns things personal, and Peter must take the fight into his own hands in order to keep everyone he loves safe.

Watts’s Spider-Man has a lot going for it — most of all, the comedy. This is hands down the funniest Marvel movie to date. But don’t worry, there’s also plenty of web-slinging action to go along with the teen angst. Watts nails the teen high school movie angle. It certainly helps to have cast Holland who just might be one of the best casting choices since Downey put on the Iron Man suit almost 10 years ago. With his cat-like reflexes, snarky wit, and athleticism, Holland was born to play both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. No offense to Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield, but this is the Spider-Man we’ve been waiting for.

And so is the film itself. Filled with spectacular — yet surprisingly not too over-the-top — action sequences, characters we adore, jokes aplenty, and even a thrilling score courtesy of Michael Giacchino, Spider-Man: Homecoming proves that the title works on multiple layers. With this being high school set, there is a homecoming dance, but what it really stands for is Spider-Man’s return to where he belongs: right in the middle of the MCU. Make no mistake, the MCU currents run strong and deep throughout Homecoming, and it works all the better for it. While some have complained about how hard Marvel tries to weave the films into each other, it works in spades here. Is this the best Marvel movie to date? It’s hard to say. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and make the declaration, but it’s without a doubt one of the best. However, it is absolutely the best Spider-Man film yet, and I can’t wait to see where the Sony/Marvel team take it from here.

Blu-ray Review: “Railroad Tigers”

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

Article first published on Blogcritics.

If anyone can at least claim consistency with his performances, it’s Jackie Chan. His films on the other hand, are definitely hit-or-miss. One thing that’s not hard to believe is that the man has 136 acting credits on IMDB and can still kick some butt when he wants to. With only the most subtle signs of slowing down, Chan brings his hilariously elegant kung fu shenanigans to director Ding Sheng’s Railroad Tigers with all of his trademark charisma — and son — in tow. It may not be his best work, but it is one of his best films in quite a few years.

It’s 1941 and Japan has expanded its occupation to Southeast Asia. A railway in East China has become an important transportation route for Japan, but railroad worker Ma Yuan (Chan) has decided that he’s had enough of the Japanese tyranny. Along with a ragtag group of coworkers — including his son and daughter — they embark on a quest to blow up a bridge, stop the Japanese, and become known as the freedom fighters “Railroad Tigers.”

Well Go USA continues to bring their 50GB-disc A game after years of slapping what could have been excellent transfer on single-sided 25GB discs. Railroad Tigers is no exception. Full of razor-sharp detail with scenes featuring some amazing depth, the time period is brought to life in all its dust and glory. Fast moving scenes never suffer from judder, blacks never crush, colors never bleed, contrast is realistic, while skin tones are completely natural. Banding also never rears its ugly head. Even the individual character title cards don’t suffer from aliasing.

The Mandarin DTS:X track (DTS-HD 7.1 for those of us without the additional speaker setup) is exceptional as well. With some fun moments of full surround speaker usage, it puts you right in the middle of the action. Trains blow by with exact directionality, while dialogue is never drowned out. Moments of heavy bass will also give your equipment a good workout. Music and sound is put to full use as well. Additional audio tracks include Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0, English 5.1 DTS and 2.0 Dolby Digital, and a DTS:X headphone feature. English subtitles are included.

In traditional Well Go USA fashion, the special features can be accessed individually, but are a play all affair once started. Included is a “Director’s Featurette” (2:53), “The Dangers of Shooting” (2:37), a good length “The Making of” (21:21), “VFX Featurette” (3:55), “The Characters” (3:11), along with the “Trailer” (1:17), and “International Trailer” (1:06). Trailers for Kung Fu Yoga (another Chan vehicle), Operation Mekong, and Cold War II follow the special features and are also front-loaded upon disc start up. They really want you to know these are available!

Railroad Tigers may not attempt to be the be-all-end-all Chan film, the man is far removed from his glory days of the ’80s and ’90s. But, it’s a lot of fun for those who still get a kick out of watching Chan work his magic. And it’s always interesting to watch the Jackie Chan Stunt Team come up with new ways for him to stay at the top of his game. Thankfully, Railroad Tigers features excellent video and spectacular audio, even if the film itself is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. With an elongated behind-the-scenes featurette and the aforementioned A/V, Railroad Tigers is a great addition to Chan’s legacy. It may not be a new classic, but it gets the job done. And sometimes, that’s all you can hope for.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Movie Review: “Despicable Me 3”


Despicable Me 3

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

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Third time is not always the charm. Toy Story 3 is a pure anomaly. Not even Cars 3 could keep itself from being an exercise in tedium as we very slowly watched the last of the milk run dry. Another failed third entry is Shrek the Third. Thankfully, Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me 3 is nowhere near as bad as Shrek 3, but it is much more enjoyable than Cars 3. The best news is that it’s way better than the Minions movie. Faint praise, I know, but at least it holds your interest for a good hour before it delves into boredom.

In what is hopefully the final Despicable chapter, we catch up with Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) as they continue fighting crime for the Anti-Villain League (AVL). Together, they foil supervillain Balthazar Bratt’s (voiced by Trey Parker) attempt to steal the world’s largest diamond. But it’s not long before Balthazar manages to snatch it anyway causing Gru and Lucy to get fired from the AVL by the new director Valerie Da Vinci (voiced by Jenny Slate). As fate would have it, Gru finds out that he has a rich, long-lost brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell). Now, Gru finds himself swept up in Dru’s fortune and schemes to become a supervillain, tempting Gru back to his old ways.

There could still be hope for the Despicable Me franchise. It just depends on whether they take the time to craft a worthy sequel. Even Despicable Me 2 was better than the first one. And anything would be better than a Minions 2. That may be why I feel so let down. It thinks it can just coast along on the goodwill of the first two, but Dru is an obnoxious addition and there’s not enough time with Gru’s merry band of adopted daughters — Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), and Agnes (voiced by Nev Scharrel).

Not even Wiig is given much to do aside from play second fiddle, along with everyone else, to the Minions characters. While hilarious in small doses, they’re now relegated to punchlines and cheap visual gags. Bottom line, they are for kids only. And I suppose that serves a purpose on its own. But it’s all far too bawdy for adults who like their animated features to have as much brains on screen as it took to animate the ones and zeroes that put them there. All we’re left with is an extra weak entry in what could have been another pretty good trilogy of family films. This one is for the die hard fans only. For the rest of us, it’s been there, seen that. It doesn’t help that The Lego Batman Movie is on home video. I suppose for us, at least, we can opt to stay home and relax and just stay out of their way.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Movie Review: “Baby Driver”


Baby Driver

***** out of 5
113 minutes
Rated R for violence and language throughout
TriStar Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It may not mean as much to some, but I pride myself on being an Edgar Wright fan before it was cool. While Shaun of the Dead may have put him in the public eye here across the pond, it was Spaced I discovered first. With each film better the last — maybe not quite so much when comparing Scott Pilgrim vs the World and The World’s End (Scott Pilgrim is by far better) — it comes as no surprise to find Baby Driver being his best yet. Working without the aide of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, or Jessica Hynes, Baby Driver is all Wright, and I was interested to see how he could possibly top his previous films.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) works for kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) as a getaway driver. Doc never uses the same crew twice so he’s constantly mixing with a different array of criminals. In the opening scene, Baby’s driving for Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González), and Griff (Jon Bernthal). Griff doesn’t trust Baby since he’s only being used as a driver. But Doc knows Baby is the best there is, even if he’s reliant on earbuds, eclectic music, and sunglasses. Baby works for Doc paying off a debt after Doc caught him stealing from him, but Baby wants out so he can drive away and be with local diner waitress Debora (Lily James). While Baby may be thinking he can escape, Doc makes sure he knows he’s never out, pitting him against both the hot headed Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Debora’s safety after a heist goes awry.

Baby Driver is not only Wright’s best film so far, but one of the year’s best films as well. Full of his trademark wit and style, he never puts style over substance. His script is chock full of verbal wordplay, loveable characters, and incredible action. The opening car chase and a late-in-the-game foot chase are jaw dropping. And it’s all set to the year’s best soundtrack. Wright has finally been set free by Sony and he’s giving Quentin Tarantino a true run for his money. It doesn’t hurt that Baby Driver feels like the funniest film Tarantino hasn’t made yet, but I can only imagine what could happen if the two got together — not counting Wright’s faux trailer Don’t! featured in Grindhouse — but I would die to see the end results.

Baby Driver is one of those films that deserves all the praise. I am dying to see this one again and hopefully it can see a bigger audience than just Wright fanboys; myself included. Summer films don’t get much better than Baby Driver. It demands to be seen in the loudest theater possible to fully allow the intoxicating use of music to wash over you. It’s also the kind of action film that screams “watch me in a theater dammit!” and you’d be a fool to let this one pass you by. Between Shaun, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, and The World’s End, I was never worried Scott Pilgrim would be as good as it got for Wright. But now, he has single handedly proven that he’s every bit as good playing in the movie sandbox all by himself — if not better. Baby Driver is full octane entertainment that cannot be missed.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Movie Review: “The Book of Henry”


The Book of Henry

*** 1/2
105 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Focus Features

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

After having been handed over the keys to the park with Jurassic World, everyone wondered what director Colin Trevorrow would do next. Considering his only other film was the hilariously heartfelt indie Safety Not Guaranteed, it came as no surprise that he was called up to direct Episode IX for the Star Wars series. As if Steven Spielberg’s shoes weren’t big enough to fill, now he’s traveling to a galaxy far far away. It makes sense for Trevorrow to stop and do what he does best along the way with The Book of Henry — a family drama filled with quirky and loveable characters and a whole lot of story.

Eleven-year-old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher, soon to be “Stuttering” Bill in It) is not your average youngster. He’s a genius, spending his time keeping his fellow students grounded during class, concocting contraptions, all while keeping his single mom Susan’s (Naomi Watts) affairs in order. After his dad left, it’s been just Henry, Susan, and little Peter (Jacob Tremblay) surviving the perils of growing up — with Susan having plenty of her own to do as well. At night, Henry catches on that something isn’t right next door and suspects Glenn (Dean Norris) of abusing his step-daughter Christina (Maddie Ziegler). He starts hatching a plan to rescue Christina, with his most outlandish scheme yet. But, life gets in the way and Henry winds up having to pass along his little red notebook full of plans in Susan’s hands, to save Christina from an unspeakable truth.

I’m not sure why other critics are bashing The Book of Henry as hard as they are. The performances may not be everyone’s best — Watts is as good as ever and Sarah Silverman, as Susan’s brash coworker continues to prove she’s more than a foul-mouthed comedienne. Some have complained that Gregg Hurwitz’s screenplay has dreams of grandeur and tries to pull off too many things in too short of time. Everything fell right into place for me. While there is only one surprise right smack dab in the middle, sometimes it’s OK for a film to play things a little safe. Sometimes we like to know where the road is leading and are perfectly fine with it, so long as that path works. For some it won’t.

The film is never cloying — it certainly helps that Trevorrow brought along his John Williams-in-training/JW composer Michael Giacchino. Any other composer would have wound up making the film feel way more heavy handed. Even if a suggested romance between Susan and Henry’s doc, Dr. David Daniels (Lee Pace), comes off as forced. Thankfully, The Book of Henry never feels like a Lifetime movie, another trapping it could have easily fallen into. For anyone already looking for a breather from the summer fare, The Book of Henry may not be life changing, but at least it’s entertaining. And that right there has been few and far between this year so we better grasp onto something like The Book of Henry while we can, especially as we slide ever deeper into summer.

Movie Review: “47 Meters Down”

47 Meters Down

**** out of 5
89 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language 
Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

When it comes to shark movies, we all know nothing will ever beat Jaws. It’s not just a fantastic film, it’s a rare example of a perfect film. With that in mind, expectations must be kept in check when diving into a film such as 47 Meters Down. Let’s face it, a film starring Mandy Moore and Claire Holt as sisters trapped at the bottom of the ocean surrounded by sharks was never going to be Oscar bait. Thankfully, co-writer/director Johannes Roberts knows this and keeps it from becoming being just another bucket of chum.

Lisa (Moore) and Kate (Holt) are on vacation in Mexico with Lisa trying to recoup from a breakup while Kate has come to party. After Lisa confesses to Kate about the breakup, Kate takes her out for a night on the town. While clubbing, they meet Louis (Yani Gellman) and Benjamin (Santiago Segura) who offer to take them out cage diving with great whites. What better way for Lisa to get payback at her boyfriend than sending him pics of a death defying stunt, right? Unfortunately for them, Captain Taylor’s (Matthew Modine) cage line breaks and now Lisa and Kate are stuck 47 meters down, surrounded by sharks, and only have an hour of air left!

Leave it to critics to try to keep audiences away from 47 Meters Down. It plays to the audience everything they could possibly want in an 89-minute shark survival flick. People in peril, blood in the water, and plenty of sequences to make you squirm in your seat. Is Holt the best actress? Not even close? Were the actresses miscast in their roles? You betcha! While it would have called for some rewrites had the roles been reversed, it’s a little odd to see Moore in such a damsel in distress role. But she’s come such a long way from her teen pop star days that she gets the job done and never comes off as annoying as other actresses could have.

Johannes and co-writer Ernest Riera have concocted a film that’s way better than direct-to-video — it’s originally-scheduled format. While some are trying to rake it over the coals, it probably would have been completely embraced under the other format. With more realistic than usual sharks, a tight runtime, and a breakneck pace, just about the only thing that goes awry is the ending. The film should end a few minutes before it actually does. It would have a far better ending for the tone Johannes was going for. Instead of a twisted Tales From the Crypt/Twilight Zone type of ending, we get a standard Hollywood-test-screened-to-death-ending.

But fear not, it’s never enough to ruin the fun. 47 Meters Down is the type of film that screams my name and I ate up every minute of it. Those going in with the right attitude will have a whole lot of fun. Everyone else can settle for what passes as “sharkainment” these days with the Sharknado series. While that may be dumb and fun, it’s stupid and basic. For the rest of us, 47 Meters Down gives us enough to chew on while we wait for Shark Week to start and reminds us why some are still scared to go in the water.

Movie Review: “Cars 3”


Cars 3

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

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com


To say I hold Pixar Animation Studios to a higher standard than other studio is an understatement. I have a dog named Pixar Animation after all. So it always comes with great sadness when I find the studio phoning it in. And when it comes to the Cars franchise, it’s more palpable than ever. Studio head John Lasseter unleashed the flailing series way back in 2006 — yes, it’s now been more than 10 years since the original! — and even it sputtered right out of the gate. While it was able to make a chunk of change at the box office, it never sparked with critics. But it has gone on to a never-ending win with merchandising. This is truly Pixar’s cash cow, but with Cars 3, the teat has finally been milked bone dry.

Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is still a leading champion in the world of car racing. But with his glory days starting to fall behind him, he’s starting to become overshadowed by the newer, flashier, speedier cars. Yes, the noobs have taken over the pit stops and McQueen is feeling growing pains more than ever. Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer) is paving the way for a new age of high-tech automobiles and needs to find a way to stay ahead. Soon enough, McQueen winds up in a wreck and back in Radiator Springs where he has to learn that he’s still got some life left in him yet. Then he’s off to the Rust-eze Racing Center where he’ll train with the newest cars in the game, under the tutelage of Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo).

McQueen’s catchphrase “Ka-chow” can officially be replaced with “Ka-ching!” The Cars world exists solely for Disney and Pixar to make money. And while yes, that is the point of all franchises, it’s just disheartening that no one — most of all new director Brian Fee — has put any thought into the screenplay. Endless scenes of vehicles sitting/standing talking to each other is not entertaining. At least not when it took three writers — Kiel Murray, Mike Rich, and Pixar stalwart Bob Peterson — to come up with a story barely good enough for home video. And then proceed to pad it out with a barrage of montages, training sequences, and flashbacks. There’s maybe an hour of worthy material stretched to the smallest youngster’s patience breaking point.

Considering there’s somehow been two Planes spinoffs is nothing short of a miracle. It just goes to show that when it comes to Disney, if they release it, audiences will come. Unfortunately, this may not be the last we see of Lightning McQueen and his Radiator Springs pals — or the always grating Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) who continues to be the Jar Jar Binks of Pixar. The Pixar completist in me knows this will one day wind up sitting on a shelf alongside the rest of their movies. All I can do is hope that their next — the already gorgeous-looking Coco — can prove that Cars 3 is just another blip on the radar until their next.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Movie Review: “The Mummy”


The Mummy

**** 1/2
110 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It’s always interesting to find yourself going against the grain. On one hand, there’s this weekend’s It Comes at Night sitting at 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. Then, there’s the first installment of Universal Pictures’ “Dark Universe” franchise starter The Mummy, currently at a dismal 17 percent. Considering Stephen Sommers’s reboot came out 17 years ago, it’s fine for Universal to try to launch their own Marvel-style universe. And if Alex Kurtzman’s Mummy is how things are going to kick off — Dracula Untold is no longer canon — then I can’t wait to see where they take their classic monsters from here.

In ancient Egypt, Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) is angry over losing her place in line to the throne after the birth of her brother. She quickly dispatches her entire family and attempts to unleash a curse upon herself, only to be mummified and buried alive before being able to complete the spell. In present day London, a tomb of knights has been discovered and taken control of by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Meanwhile, back in Iraq, soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson) call in an airstrike to save their hide, only to discover Ahmanet’s ancient tomb. In swoops Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) who uses Nick to get Ahmanet on her way back to London. Along the way, Chris is turned into a zombie, the cargo plane crashes, and Nick becomes cursed. Now, everyone must band together to stop an ancient evil from rising to power, turning herself and Nick into immortal Gods, unleashing hell upon earth.

Considering how subjective films can be, I hate to say that I honestly had way more fun with The Mummy than I thought I would. While heavily relying on CGI, I love my Universal monster movies way too much for it to get in the way. Gleeful is one word to use as I watched the new Dark Universe begin to unfold. Oh sure, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde barely resonates — the fight between him and Nick ends exactly as you’d expect considering this is all franchise building — but there’s plenty of time for us to get to him better. Possibly even see how some of his trinkets wound up in his possession at Prodigium.

Every studio is looking to cash in on the Marvel Cinematic Universe approach, and so far, no one has been able to play catch up. If anyone could make it smoother than DC has, it’s Universal. With the Invisible Man (Johnny Depp), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Javier Bardem) already cast — and some hairy rumors swirling around Dwayne Johnson as the Wolfman — it’ll be refreshing for horror fans to get new makeups of their favorite classics. While some may balk at this new version of The Mummy, there’s plenty to enjoy. This is summer popcorn entertainment at its finest. While the zombies could have been a little more enjoyable without being completely CGI, there’s just something extra fun about this Mummy surrounding herself with an army of the undead.

The best thing to do is to sit back and let the excess wash over you. There’s no shame is having a blast at the movies and that’s exactly what The Mummy sets out to do. In this day and age, it would be harder to try to do classic versions of these characters, so why not try to make them more modern? There’s always room for flashbacks, right? With The Mummy being the first step Universal needed after Dracula’s demise, I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Movie Review: “It Comes at Night”


It Comes at Night

** 1/2 out of 5
91 mins
Rated R for violence, disturbing images, and language
A24

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com


When it comes to horror, what you don’t see is usually scarier than what you do. But what if what you don’t see never existed in the first place? If that sounds off putting, make sure you steer clear of It Comes at Night. Following in the footsteps of overrated horror offerings like It Follows, It Comes at Night writer/director Trey Edward Shults puts on a smoke and mirrors act. Relying on horror tropes, Shults merely tries to pull the wool over your eyes in the finale with a lame gimmick he mistakes for metaphor and then cuts to credits.

Deep in the woods, a family of three — Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) — hiding from the dystopian, disease-infested world around them. Something is outside trying to get in, or at least that’s what Paul wants everyone to believe. And one day, something finally does in the form of Will (Christopher Abbott) who claims to have broken in looking for provisions for his own family. Paul needs to know if Will is telling the truth so Paul and Will bring his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their child Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to the home in the woods. Now, they’re about to all learn that sometimes it’s not what’s outside that you should be afraid of.

Anyone paying attention to the aspect ratio will be sorely disappointed by the time the film ends. Shults thinks his movie is smarter than it is while falling prey to the worst case of misadvertising ever. Without diving into huge spoilers, the title is incredibly misleading. So too is the marketing campaign. I’m sure you can guess what that means.

I have to give Shults credit for trying. For 80 minutes the film puts audiences through the wringer. It’s just too bad the Hollywood machine has gotten so bad with endings lately. The cast is solid, with Edgerton leading the way through a frenzied nightmare scenario. But nothing makes up for the sour taste the climax leaves in your mouth. The studio should have just released the first 80 minutes as a stand alone movie or encouraged Shults to keep going. Unfortunately, It Comes at Night never lives up to the hype.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Movie Review: “Wonder Woman”


Wonder Woman

**** out of  5
141 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content 
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

To say the deck has been stacked against Wonder Woman is an understatement. Never being treated to her own big screen adventure, Gal Gadot stole the show when she was introduced as the beloved Diana in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Almost the best part of the movie — Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman was equally impressive — her solo outing garnered major attention after Warner Bros. and DC brought in director Patty Jenkins.

So, not only is Wonder Woman getting her first Hollywood blockbuster, but a woman was getting the chance to direct a huge franchise film as well. Now that the dust has settled and the film has finally been seen, the hype was even bigger. Does it live up to the monumental expectations of comicbook fans? Wonder Woman delivers. If not without a few caveats.

Beginning in the established DC Cinematic Universe, Diana is delivered a package from Wayne Enterprises. Inside is a copy of the original photo Wayne discovers in BvS of Diana during World War I. Bruce has included a note stating that he hopes to one day hear her story, which, of course, means the movie can begin! Diana lives peacefully on her invisible home island Themyscira, where she longs to learn how to fight alongside her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). Much to the chagrin of her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).

Diana chooses to spend her child/teen years under Antiope’s tutelage, until one day, fate comes calling in the form of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). As a spy, Steve has stolen the notebook of Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), aka Dr. Poison, aka Germany’s number one baddie, working on a powerful gas alongside the nefarious Ludendorff (Danny Huston). Together, they plan to unleash hell upon their enemies. But not if Diana, Steve, Steve’s secretary Etta (Lucy Davis), and Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) can stop them first. It wouldn’t be an adventure without a colorfully rowdy set of helping hands including Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).

Make no mistake, Wonder Woman is by far the best DC Comics film outside the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s perfect. It may manage to hit all the right buttons along the way, but director Jenkins, and screenwriter Allan Heinberg, clearly had no idea how to live up to the first two hours. Full of fantastic camaraderie, the cast play off each other whether on the mythical island or in dingy old England. But then along comes the finale and Zack Snyder’s — producer/story credit — fingerprints shine brighter than ever.

Thankfully, the overuse of CGI in the last 20 minutes isn’t quite enough to kill the buzz, but it sure does make you wish they’d spent just a tiny bit longer working out the screenplay. Sneaking in a last minute plot twist definitely doesn’t help either. However, Wonder Woman strikes the perfect balance of fun, wit, brains, and brawn to help carry it to the finish line. It also helps that Gadot is spectacular and proves the drought of female led superhero movies is all too real. Wonder Woman may have its share of imperfections, but there’s no lasso of truth necessary to say that it’s the real deal. The first really really good summer film has finally arrived. Now let’s see how Warner Bros. and DC follow up with the rest of their Justice League films. They’re finally on the right track, let’s just hope they can follow through on what they promise here.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Movie Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

*** out of 5
129 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

If there’s one thing the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have in common it’s excess. Even the  newest one — while being the shortest so far — is as bloated and convoluted as the rest. Disney was smart to bring in two talented seafaring directors with Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg after the far better Kon-Tiki, and at least they gave it a good shot. Unfortunately, it’s Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay that bogs down Dead Men Tell No Tales. With characters we barely care about, they squeeze in a few old, familiar faces just to remind us they were in previous movies — and to make sure they continue their royalty checks. Johnny Depp may be able to play Captain Jack Sparrow in his sleep, but it’s starting to look like he literally is.

Young Henry Turner (Lewis McGowan) has rowed out to sea, tied himself to a rock and jumped into the ocean. Lucky for him, his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), is awaiting aboard the Flying Dutchman. Will is not excited to see his son, but Henry vows to save him from his curse. Nine years later, Henry (Brenton Thwaites) works aboard a British Royal Navy warship which is chasing a pirate ship. Henry realizes they are sailing into the Devil’s Triangle, but it’s too late. The undead attack — led by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) — and the crew of ghosts leave Henry to tell the tale for dead men tell no tales.

Now we’re introduced to Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), accused of being a witch and always on the run from the law. Turns out, knowing too much about astronomy is means of witchcraft and she’s been sentenced to death. Before she knows it, fate steps in for Carina and Henry and they’re off in search for the Trident of Poseidon to save poor dad. Along the way, they stumble across Captain Jack in the midst of a bank robbery and then they’re all off on another adventure with Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) being forced into helping Salazar find Jack to kill him.

It may sound like faint praise considering the bombastic Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, but compared to the almost home video feel of On Stranger Tides, Dead Men Tell No Tales is definitely the best Pirates film since Curse of the Black Pearl. Directors Rønning and Sandberg at least try to give the film an epic feel, but even at a mere 129 minutes, it’s still a pretty big bore. Thwaites and Scodelario make a pretty good pairing, but they still only come across as Orlando/Keira Knightley Lite. And I already told you that Depp is sleepwalking his way through another episode of cash cow milking. At least he’s better here than he his return as the Mad Hatter in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

The effects are as top notch as always, which is where the film has the most credibility. Salazar’s spectral crew are the best part of the film. Super creepy. But not even a bout with zombie sharks was enough to leave me enthralled. As always, there’s way too much going on and Dead Men Tell No Tales is every bit as confusing as the last four entries. The series has never been the smartest of blockbusters, but audiences should be given a little more substance than CGI. Summer is off to a rickety start, hopefully things get better from here. I had high hopes for this year’s season, but this is not setting the bar off very high. The fact that there’s a post-credit scene only worries me as it inclines there are more adventures afoot. Guess we’ll have to see how the film does overseas. If the half empty free screening was any indication, we may be ready to see the series walk the plank.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Movie Review: “Baywatch”


Baywatch

*** out of 5
116 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Have you heard the one about the two-hour dick joke? Oh, you don’t want to? Well then I can assure you Baywatch is not for you. For anyone else, there is some fun to be had, even if director Seth Gordon careens wildly from tone to tone. Never knowing whether to take the material seriously or not — it shouldn’t — the film yearns to be another Jump Street, but only winds up merely better than CHIPS. The cast may be  having more fun than the audience, but the few laughs to be had are few and far between.

Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) loves his beach of Emerald Bay, Florida more than anything. Aside from your safety. He takes his role as lead lifeguard very seriously and expects nothing but the best from his fellow crew. Leave it to newbie Matt Brody (Zac Efron) to throw a wrench in his spokes the day of tryouts for new recruits. Mitch hates Brody’s two gold medal-winning former Olympian’s entitlement thrust on him by Captain Thorne (Ron Huebel). Mitch has his eyes on the enthusiastic, but out-of-shape Ronnie (Jon Bass) who has a crush on lifeguard C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach), and over achiever Summer (Alexandra Daddario).

The three new recruits have arrived just in time for drugs to wash up on Mitch’s beloved beaches with all signs pointing to Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), owner of the Huntley Club, who’s been buying up local real estate as a what Mitch assumes is a front for drug smuggling. Now, the motley crew must band together to prove Mitch’s hunch, while trying not to step on the toes of local cop Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and keeping the Captain off his back.

Considering the amount of funny folks behind the scenes of Baywatch — the director, story creditors Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant from Reno 911, producer Ivan Reitman, the reliable cast — the film should be way funnier than it is. The biggest culprit is Damian Shannon and Mark Swift’s tone deaf screenplay. The pair’s biggest celluloid contributions are Freddy vs Jason and the Friday the 13th reboot. Both are far more entertaining than this. Abruptly shifting from over the top to melodramatic, the cast can barely keep up. Gordon can hardly make an exciting action sequence, and a lot of the joke build up falls flat on its face.

The cast is the best part and do their best with what they’re given, but this feels like one of the most scripted comedy in years. Not a good thing. While there are moments when the cast improvs a little, there’s a lot of time wasted on plot. Even Rohrbach is hilarious in spurts. The saddest part is that they don’t even truly embrace the R rating. The only reason for the rating is an overindulgence of f-bombs and a scene involving a corpse and its penis.

It’s too bad Baywatch didn’t go full throttle and capture the hilarious start — the opening scene is by far the funniest — so don’t let the moment get you too excited. It may not be a complete failure, but it never tries to be anything better than what we get. Let’s put it this way, there’s a character named Brody who spends a lot of time on the beach and in the water, and there’s not one Jaws joke. Even The Fate of the Furious let Johnson make a Jaws joke. When it comes time to sink or swim, Baywatch flails for safety, but at least it’s never dead in the water.

4K Blu-ray Review: “3:10 to Yuma”

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

Article first published on Blogcritics.org

It’s an anniversary year for both James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma as well as the 1957 original. With the remake celebrating its 10th year, it’s fitting for Lionsgate to release it in 4K rather than simply slapping an anniversary title on the cover with no real upgrades. It’s nice to see the film holds up so well after 10 years. It helps with it being a western because the genre never feels like a product of its time. Maybe with Blazing Saddles as the exception. But with Mangold in the hot seat again and Logan heading to home video next week, it’s even less shocking to see the 4K disc hitting shelves. And while the image quality isn’t exactly head and shoulders above the now also 10-year-old Blu-ray, it offers enough of an upgrade for those worried about a double dip.

Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, 3:10 to Yuma tells the sweeping story of Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a father trying to wrestle with his son William (Logan Lerman) on the cusp of manhood. Events are set into motion when the nefarious Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) offers Dan his herd of missing cows in exchange for Dan’s horses after Tucker (Kevin Durand) set Dan’s barns on fire and gives Dan one week to make good on money owed. Turns out, Ben stole some money and killed some folk and the local law has tracked him down to take him to Contention where they’re going to throw him on the titular train ride to his imminent hanging. Suffice to say, Ben isn’t going down without a fight.

Originally mastered at 2K and 10 years ago, it’s no surprise that 3:10 to Yuma isn’t the knockout it should be. Upscaled to 4K, the film certainly has the advantage of being shot on film offering plenty of detail — that is when Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography is in focus. There’s no need to adjust your sharpness settings, the same soft focus permeated the Blu-ray release also. The new transfer excels in blacks and HDR. The blackest blacks make the night sequences feel more realistic while it does take a slight hit on shadow details. As for the HDR, the film feels hotter than ever. If you can’t feel the heat blistering off the cast then you need to do some setting tweaks. On the downside, there is some slight blooming off the cast’s faces. The gorgeous vistas are even more sweeping than ever now, even if the soft focus can cause some of trees and various landscapes to look less than razor sharp.

Back when 3:10 was released on Blu-ray, it came with a rip roaring Uncompressed 7.1 track. While still not having been able to upgrade my sound system to take full advantage of the new DTS:X track, the upgraded 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is still every bit as spectacular as it always has been. 3:10 was a demo disc 10 years ago and it’s still every bit as impressive. Featuring even better ambiance and prioritization, no one will be disappointed if they aren’t able to hear it at its full potential.


In a rare instance, Lionsgate has ported over all of the special features from the Blu-ray aside from the trailer. Considering the inclusion of the Blu-ray, this could have been skipped giving the film even more room to breathe. It is nice to see at least one studio putting forth an effort in the extras department. A few of the better features are Mangold’s “Audio Commentary,” a picture-in-picture feature titled “Inside Yuma,” a collection of “Deleted Scenes,” and I can’t help but love “3:10 to Score” spotlighting Marco Beltrami’s score.

3:10 to Yuma may not be one of the best westerns ever made, but it’s absolutely one of the best modern westerns. Considering how bad even Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven wound up, it just makes me realize that not many directors truly understand what makes them tick any more. At least we still have the classics — which this now qualifies as — to fall back on. Featuring a worthy 4K upgrade — if even more so on the audio front — Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma manages to stand tall among the more questionable 4K additions. With Logan right around the corner, it’s nice to have one of Mangold’s earlier efforts back in the spotlight to prove that he’s always been known for delivering stellar entertainment. 3:10 is a no brainer and videophiles will be more than  happy to add this one to our ever expanding 4K collections.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Movie Review: “Alien: Covenant”


Alien: Covenant

**** out of 5
122 minutes
Rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Ridley Scott took an interesting gamble with the release of Prometheus. Instantly divisive, the film was full of huge ideas while surrounding them with some admittedly boneheaded characters. All sci-fi/horror films can be prone to this, so the best approach was ideas first, characters second to get the most enjoyment out of it. With that being said, Scott has taken an even bigger gamble by slapping the official Alien title upon Alien: Covenant.

Beginning with a prologue featuring our new favorite synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) waxing poetic with his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), we skip to the year 2104. A colony ship — the Covenant — is headed to a remote planet when a solar shockwave awakens the crew. Forty-seven colonists wind up dead, along with the Captain, Branson (James Franco). Among the crew are Branson’s wife Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the new Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) and wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo), the ship’s pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) and his wife Faris (Amy Seimetz), along with plenty of other fodder for slaughter. Also on the mission is another synthetic named Walter (also played by Fassbender). A ghost transmission leads them off course to an Earth-like planet where all hell breaks loose as they all soon learn that they are not alone.

To issue a warning upfront, Covenant is way more a Prometheus sequel than it is an Alien prequel. But with Scott having already announced another entry, therein lies the biggest stumbling block: middle child syndrome. All Covenant wants is to find where it fits in and, unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait at least a couple years before we finally find out. As it stands, Scott — and new writers John Logan and Dante Harper — has somehow managed to plant even bigger ideas this time around, even if it only creates more questions than answers. Hopefully, Scott isn’t digging himself into a hole as he tries to marriage the new mythology to the existing Alien universe. The beauty of the original series was it’s simplicity of the xenomorphs picking everyone off one by one. It was the ultimate game of cat and mouse between prey and the hunted. All of this grand backstory is starting to feel even more unnecessary. While it’s amazing to be back in the Alien universe with Scott at the helm, he better find a way to merge the two series together and come up with an epic endgame to make it pay off.

For those of us trusting in Scott’s masterplan — myself included — I say sit back and enjoy the ride. While Alien Covenant may be one of the most predictable — at least as far as tension and scares go — it’s still filled with plenty of reason to go along for the ride. Hopefully, audiences aren’t turned off by the fact that it feels way more Prometheus than Alien so that it can make plenty of money to provide Scott the freedom to take us on another trip. Just because the next entry has been announced doesn’t mean Fox can’t yank it from their slate whenever they want. Covenant may not be the best entry — that claim will undoubtedly always belong to the original — but for now, it’s safe to kick the tires and light the fires.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Movie Review: “Snatched”


Snatched

*** 1/2 out of 5
90 minutes
Rated R for crude sexual content, brief nudity, and language throughout
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Amy Schumer (Trainwreck) may have her share of detractors, but Goldie Hawn is a downright national treasure. Pairing them as mother/daughter — and opening Mother’s Day weekend — in Snatched was a brilliant move casting wise. It’s too bad Katie Dippold’s (The Heat, Ghostbusters) screenplay isn’t as inspired. With director Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Wackness, 50/50, Warm Bodies, and The Night Before) at the helm, there should have been more coherency at play. What we get instead is something that feels more like a forgotten ’80s action comedy — something along the lines of Volunteers — where it veers wildly through inconsistent tones. It never knows if it is a wacky adventure or serious mother/daughter vehicle? No one seems to know, so it’s a good thing it’s still hilarious.

Emily (Schumer) is a having a horrible day. She’s been fired from her job and her boyfriend Michael (Randall Park) has broken up with her to go on tour with his band just before they’re supposed to leave on a trip to South America. In order to not lose out on her non-refundable getaway, she talks her mom, Linda (Hawn) into joining. Soon enough, Emily thinks she’s going to hook up with James (Tom Bateman), but instead winds up kidnapped with Linda and the two are on their own to try to find a way home. Meanwhile, they’re being hunted down by the nefarious Morgado (Óscar Jaenada) with only an agoraphobic sibling at home, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), annoying the U.S. government trying to get some help.

Aside from the scattershot tone shifts, Snatched is every bit as raucous as you’d expect from a Schumer vehicle. It’s a good thing she continues to surround herself with a hilarious supporting cast and a director who understands that sometimes it’s the little things that can be funniest. Plenty of verbal wordplay is at hand such as Emily asking her mom to help her put the fun back in non-refundable or Linda not hearing “welcome” correctly. Thankfully it doesn’t rely on xenophobic jokes and the women manage to become better people, no matter how forced it feels by the end.

Schumer and Hawn make a fantastic mother/daughter duo and with Schumer working on a vehicle for her to play sister opposite Jennifer Lawrence, I am crossing my fingers she brings back Hawn to play mother again. I’m ecstatic to see Hawn on the screen after 15 years and she’s still as winning as ever. Snatched may not be a slam dunk as a whole, but it never tries to be the best comedy ever. Once it finally settles into its shenanigans it starts to pick up the pace. It may have no idea how it wants to end and finally just settles on the most obvious, but the adventure is worth the laughs and this mother’s day, at least audiences weren’t assaulted with a Mother’s Day 2. That in itself may be the biggest blessing of all.

Movie Review: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”


King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

** out of 5
126 minutes 
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language
Warner Bros. Pictures


Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

In the wastelands of Hollywood reboots, remakes, and reimaginings, Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword certainly falls at the bottom of the heap. I figured this could go either way once Ritchie was attached, but I had higher hopes when I saw he had a hand in the screenplay. Maybe that’s where things went awry. While Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur tried its hand at being too realistic, Ritchie takes the exact opposite approach.

This version of the legend infuses itself with horrible acting, bad CGI, no sense of fun, a plodding pace, and a cameo from The Little Mermaid’s Ursula and her Ladies of the Lake. Warner Bros. has a catastrophe on their hands, and judging by a pretty empty theater during the screening I attended, I cannot fathom who this King Arthur was made for. It’s too caught up in the supernatural for hardcore Arthur fans and too boring for anyone else with a pulse to make it out without catching a few zzzs before the credits finally roll.

While it feels convoluted, it’s really quite simple. Uther (Eric Bana) has just defeated the evil Mages — that’s magician, wizard, or sorcerer to you and me — and tries to allow his wife Elsa (Katie McGrath) and Young Arthur (Zac and Oliver Barker) to escape. Just wouldn’t you know it, the Mage Supreme winds up killing Arthur’s mum and pa and he is swept away to be raised by the common folk. Meanwhile, Uther’s brother Vortigen (Jude Law) has taken the thrown after Uther is slayed by the same Mage who killed mommy dearest, but the tide has lowered revealing a magic sword in the stone sending everyone into a frenzy to pull it from it’s resting place.

Once Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is finally old enough to realize his destiny, he sets out to claim his rightful place as King with his band of merry men, err, Knights of the Eventual Round Table — Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Back Lack (Neil Maskell), Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Percival (Craig McGinlay), Kung Fu George (Tom Wu), oh, and Bill! (Aidan Gillen) — and a Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) of his own in tow.

If there’s one thing made clear, it’s that Disney is still the winner of the King Arthur adaptations. With no Merlin or sense of humor in sight — at least not after the first half hour — all audiences are left with are A Knight’s Tale outcasts with just enough rapport to make you wish the film was about them and not the boring Hunnam’s version of Arthur. There are so many issues with the film, most of them spoilery, so it’s really hard to tell where to lay blame for this fiasco. There apparently is an audience for the film based on some of my colleagues’ reactions. This King Arthur is not just one of the worst, it’s also one of Guy Ritchie’s worst. And this is the man who made Swept Away and Revolver! That should be just about all you need to know to make anyone fear stepping foot into a theater showing this waste of two hours. You can’t blame Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for its imminent demise, the film is every bit as bad as it looks, if not worse.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

***** out of 5
136 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive
Marvel Studios

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Ant-Man and Doctor Strange raised eyebrows when they were announced. But it was Guardians of the Galaxy that had its work cut out for it the most. Spotlighting a talking tree and a lovably maniacal raccoon, co-writer/director James Gunn had more to prove than anyone. We wound up with one of Marvel’s best entries to their Cinematic Universe — the MCU in geekspeak. A ragtag group of losers — Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) words, not mine — wound up saving the universe and proving that Marvel could mine gold out of the most offbeat titles imaginable.

Now, here comes Vol. 2 with an even bigger scope, bigger laughs, and bigger heart. Anyone worried about Gunn dishing up a case of sequelitis can rest their fears. Vol. 2 is one Marvel’s best films.

Kicking off in Missouri, Earth, 1980, we are whisked back in time to meet Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) and Ego (a spectacularly CGI-ed Kurt Russell). The two are madly in love and Ego takes her into the forest to show her something. Cut to 34 years later and we’re thrust into the Guardians’ latest shenanigan to protect a power source for the Sovereign, lead by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). Soon enough, they’re on the run from the Sovereign and are rescued by what Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) refers to as a one-inch man.

Peter and Rocket manage to crash land on Berhert where they’re followed by their mystery savior who just so happens to be Ego, Peter’s father. Now, Ego has taken Peter — along with Rocket, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Nebula (Karen Gillan) — to his planet, where Peter must come to terms with his heritage as part Celestial, while Ego’s resident Empath, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), harbors a secret. Oh, and Yondu (Michael Rooker) is also on the hunt for the Guardians and dealing with his own discretions and outcasting from the Ravagers.

Drax and Baby Groot completely steal the show this time around. Yondu and Ego also bring plenty of life to the galaxy. Don’t get me wrong, the entire cast is great, but Bautista, and Sean Gunn (brother of James and On-Set Rocket), are true showstoppers. The special effects are as amazing as we’ve come to expect — and even bigger with alternating aspect ratios returning for the IMAX version — but Gunn has clearly been entrusted to deliver the film he wanted to make. Loopy, goofy, full of heart, and gut-bustingly hysterical — with just a dash of gallows humor for good measure, he is, after all, cut from the Troma cloth — no one will leave dissatisfied.

Yes, there is the expected now-annoying Stan Lee cameo, and there are five end-credit scenes — the very last not worth the wait — but Vol. 2 is overstuffed in the best possible ways. The soundtrack is every bit as awesome as Vol. 1, even if not necessarily at first listen. The villain this outing — no spoilers here — is way better than Lee Pace’s Ronan, and while Thanos never makes an appearance, he’s still talked about quite a bit, foreshadowing some characters’ involvement with upcoming Marvel releases. It’s a great start to the year for Marvel.  Next up we have Spider-man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok to look forward to. For now, the Guardians are here to kick off the summer movie season in spectacular style.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Movie Review: “Free Fire”


Free Fire

** 1/2 out of 5
90 minutes
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

With how many film festivals there are throughout the year, many of the movies shown are never seen again. If it packs a good enough cast and a high profile producer, chances are better than others. In the case of Ben Wheatley’s wheezy action-comedy Free Fire, the cast is trying to have a good time, but there’s always something missing. There’s no spark to blast it into full fun mode, instead, it limps along most of the time, much like a lot of the characters caught in the crosshairs.

The plot is simple: a ragtag group of different level low lifes have gathered at an abandoned warehouse. Ord (Armie Hammer), has brought everyone together so that Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay) can sell firearms to Frank (Michael Smiley), Justine (Brie Larson), and Chris (Cillian Murphy). Turns out, Vernon has brought along a helping hand in the form of Harry (Jack Reynor) who beat up one of Frank’s crew — Stevo (Sam Riley) — the night before. Soon enough, ulterior motives pit everyone in a firefight, with no one to empathize with, in a fight to the finish.

Free Fire is striving to be the new Reservoir Dogs. Trouble is, Wheatley doesn’t have Quentin Tarantino’s flair for character and dialogue, leaving plenty of limp jokes flopping alongside disorientingly choreographed action. Sometimes a film can have too much action — as odd as it may seem to say — and this is where Free Fire makes its biggest mistake. It takes too long to get going, with no connection to the characters by the time bullets start flying, leaving you bored. If it weren’t for the likes of Larson, Hammer, and Reynor, we’d have absolutely no one to root for. Especially since Copley keeps proving that a little bit of him goes a long way. Ever since District 9 he’s just become more and more obnoxious and comes across as a name brand version of Rhys Darby. The difference is, Darby is always likeable.

The film also shouldn’t feel as long as it does when it’s merely 90 minutes, but long stretches of just yelling at each other takes its toll on your patience. And just when it feels like the action may start heating up, another pacing misfire makes shows how much runtime is left.

Wheatley made quite a name for himself after Sightseers premiered at Cannes back in 2012, but if this is all he has to offer five years and two films later, then he’s still got a long road ahead of him to live up to the hype. In fact, I just realized A Field in England was another style over substance episode for Wheatley. At least Free Fire is nowhere near as boring and unapologetically confusing as that one. So maybe he has learned a lesson or two. Hopefully, he’s learned a couple more here. Just because your film caught the eye of Martin Scorsese and he gave you money to put his name in the credits and help with distribution, doesn’t mean it was a worthy investment.

Free Fire is a misfire of a film that could have been so much fun. Instead it’s simply firing blanks.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Movie Review: “The Fate of the Furious”


The Fate of the Furious

**** out of 5
136 minutes
Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language
Universal Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

If there’s any franchise embracing its evolving lunacy, it’s The Fast and the Furious. With a new director comes new levels of redonkulous. With the passing of the baton from Justin Lin to James Wan and now F. Gary Gray, the series continues to show no signs of waning. Everything just keeps getting bigger, crazier, and even more physics-defying. It’s exactly what we fans want and The Fate of the Furious — or as it should be titled: The F8 of the Furious — delivers in spades.

If you want convoluted, never fear, writer Chris Morgan — singlehandedly responsible for the “screenplays” since Tokyo Drift (part 3) — has you covered! A cold opening finds Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) honeymooning in Havana — finding time to win a car race while driving backwards and the car on fire, no less. Soon enough, the maniacal Cipher (Charlize Theron) inspires Dom to turn his back on the family for reasons only he’s allowed to know.

Treason erupts after the crew — Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Parker (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) — are brought together by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to collect an EMP in Berlin. After Dom makes off with the device, Hobbs is captured and thrown in prison where Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new righthand man Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) try to recruit him to go after Dom who is working for Cipher. The two are on the hunt for — wait for it — nuclear launch codes from the Russians. Meanwhile, the prison stint forces Hobbs to work alongside his archnemesis Deckard (Jason Statham).

The Fate of the Furious is turn your brain off and ramp your testosterone levels to 11 entertainment of the highest order. One liners abound while each action sequence tries to outdo the previous. With the passing of Paul Walker, you would think that having fewer characters would help Morgan keep the shenanigans a little tighter. Instead, everything is bloated to a standard two hour-plus runtime with some major characters making surprise appearances. One of which is so unnecessary you forget they were even in the movie until you try to remember what happens to them.

I was a little worried with Gray taking the reins to be honest. The man has made some horrible films in the past — Be Cool and Law Abiding Citizen being the worst offenders — but this is at least his fourth best film yet. Straight Outta Compton and Friday are his best. But looking over his IMDB page you’ll see he’s at least worked with some of the crew before. And the gang’s mostly all here! It’s still horrible about Walker and his presence is missed. The beating heart has clearly been ripped from the center. All things considered, at least they found a way to keep the franchise moving along. This one ends on a cliffhanger which is no surprise since at least two more have already been announced.

Fans will find everything they love in fine form. Although, the two who work best together are The Rock and Statham. They seem to be the only ones in the cast who know how to fight and every time they’re onscreen together you can sense they’re having a raucous time working together. This should not come as a shock considering the highly publicized feud between Johnson and Diesel. But with Statham back in Transporter mode, facing off against The Rock and his ever-expanding biceps, you almost wish the film completely centered around them. As it stands, fans will revel in every gloriously nuckin’ futs minute.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Movie Review: “Gifted”


Gifted

**** 1/2
101 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It may be only April, but it’s been a pretty good year for film so far. Irregardless — a fantastic joke from the movie — leave it to director Marc Webb (both Amazing Spider-mans and (500) Days of Summer) to blast spring with a breath of fresh air anyway. Working with Tom Flynn’s touching and hilarious screenplay, along with the perfect duo of Chris Evans and 10-year-old Mckenna Grace, Gifted manages to be heartwarming without being sappy and full of laughs without having to dumb things down.

Frank Adler (Evans) lives a simple life. He repairs boats while homeschooling his niece Mary (Grace). But today is different: it’s Mary’s first day of first grade in the public school system. Against her will, Mary trudges onto the bus and is carried away where she meets her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate), who Mary instantly doesn’t like because she’s already proven herself lightyears ahead of her classmates. Soon enough, her intellect is found out — Mary’s mother was a genius, and so is she — and the Principal offers to pull strings to get Mary into a school for gifted children. Turns out, Mary isn’t the only one who’s smarter than they look and Frank winds up in a custody battle with his estranged mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan).

It’s films as good as Gifted where it’s hard to heap on the praise. However, if there are a few things that don’t necessarily work, it’s the casting of Slate and Octavia Spencer in what amount to throwaway roles. It’s a good thing Spencer is so damn likable no matter how small the screentime. Unfortunately, Slate gets the short stick and has the weakest character of the whole movie. But not even these extremely minor things can get in the way of Webb working his indie magic, making good on his acclaim after (500). If you need some real praise, take it from my wife. There’s a scene featuring Frank and Mary having a discussion silhouetted against a sunset where she turned to me and said, “If I wasn’t already pregnant, that would make me pregnant.” Gifted makes for a fantastic night at the movies where you can sit back, laugh, and feel all the feels.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Movie Review: “Going in Style”


Going in Style

** 1/2 out of 5
96 minutes
Rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material


Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

It took Zach Braff a good three years after the premiere of Scrubs to show us what he could on the big screen with Garden State. An instant independent classic, it’s a good thing we didn’t hold our breath waiting for his next directorial effort. A decade later, Wish I Was Here finally arrived, and no one — except Braff’s biggest fans, our own Luke Hickman especially — even knew it existed.

We didn’t have to wait as long between projects for Going in Style to arrive, unfortunately, he’s brought us another entry in grumpy old men acting cartoonish. Here we find the exceptional cast of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin bumbling their way through Theodore Melfi’s (St. Vincent, Hidden Figures) cliched script, acting buffoonish for the sake of a laugh.

Joe (Caine) is visiting his bank to confront the swindling Chuck (Josh Pais) after receiving a foreclosure notice on his home. A bank robbery erupts and Joe gets the idea that he should rob them too. He sets out to recruit his long time chums Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) to convince them that they need to set things right after finding out that their pension plans will be dissolved to pay off their work’s debt after sending the steel mill’s jobs overseas. Now, they’re out for revenge, but it won’t be without the help of Joe’s lowlife ex-son-in-law’s acquaintance Jesus (John Ortiz).

Braff obviously wants the film to have a laid back appeal to it, but there’s only so much the cast can do. While the main trio is as loveable as ever, Braff has brought in the likes of Christopher Lloyd — hopefully playing much more senile than in real life at just 78 — and Ann Margaret — an all too obvious Grumpy Old Men reference — to try to keep the shenanigans fresh. But all we’re left with is the cast grumbling about how old they are and how hard it is to move. You would expect them to be yelling at kids to get off their lawn aside from the fact that they live in New York City and there’s nothing but sidewalks and busy streets.

It’s a shame that the film isn’t funnier because the cast could have been a breath of fresh air with the onslaught of summer inching closer and closer. Braff at least seems to know what his audience wants and it’s the aforementioned “hilarity” of his cast exuding “look at how old we are, aren’t we hilarious?” with every take. Melfi also seems to know his niche for what older audience members are looking for, and I suppose even they need to turn their brain off once in awhile. It’s just all such a shame that everything is played either way too broad or too subdued at the drop of a hat. One thing’s for sure, no one involved is Going in Style by the time the credits roll. Proceed with caution and you could have some fun, but it tries too hard while never trying hard enough.