Friday, March 25, 2016

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

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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

Article first published at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 18, 2016

Movie Review: “The Divergent Series: Allegiant”

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

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

Article first published at

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Movie Review: “10 Cloverfield Lane”

10 Cloverfield Lane

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

Article first published at

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 4, 2016

Movie Review: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

*** 1/2
112 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at

Tina Fey may not be what you’d call a high profile star, but she certainly has her fans — myself included. With her whip smart brand of sarcasm, Fey has been a comedic powerhouse ever since she joined Saturday Night Live all the way back in 1998. While her big screen endeavors may not reach the heights of the small screen, she sure seems bound and determined to stay in the Hollywood game. I’m sure she can thank the success of Mean Girls — which she scripted — because she’s only had two roles of note outside of that: Baby Mama and Date Night.

I was a tiny bit worried seeing her return to another R-rated film, but thankfully, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is no Sisters. Fey stars as journalist Kim Baker — basing her character off the film’s non-fictional source Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, written by Kim Barker (no, that’s not a typo).

Kim decides to step up at work and leaves the safety of writing news copy to become a war correspondent during Operation Enduring Freedom. She’s almost forced into as she’s part of the small group of employees who are unmarried and childless. Now Kim is a stranger in an even stranger land and a little out of her league as she tries to keep her station interested enough about an unnecessary war on its last leg. Along the way she develops relationships with fellow reporters Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), and the most awkward of all with Attorney General Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) who wants to be more than friends.

If there’s anyone as familiar with Fey’s strengths better than herself, it’s screenwriter Robert Carlock. After working together on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, multiple Golden Globes award shows, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock, they know what works best for her strengths. Thankfully, Fey also has two directors — Glenn Ficarra and John Requa — behind the camera who know their way around mixing comedy and drama. It may lean more toward the comedy, but WTF does try to make real characters out of these people — even if they’re all fictionalized versions of their real-life counterparts. Fey may be making her first film with them, but they’ve surrounded her with actors they’ve worked with before: Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa and Margot Robbie in Focus.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot does run just a tad too long, and there may never be any real surprises, but it’s fun to see someone so far out of their element on screen. Uncomfortable situations always make for damn fine comedy, and there’s nothing comfortable about being propositioned by a beardy Molina. The rest of the cast are all keeping up the pace even if Ficarra and Requa start to lag behind. At one point, Baker is told by her new boss that people aren’t tuning in anymore, and unfortunately, after a while, audiences may find themselves tuning out here as well.

Thankfully, Fey & Co. keep the jokes flying and the characters empathetic enough to hold our interests through to the end credits. But exactly who that target audience is remains questionable. As it stands, anyone interested in checking it out — or if you happen to be a big Fey fan — at least she doesn’t make a joke of herself here, as she did in Sisters. Keep expectations in check — this is not the wacky comedy the marketing team at Paramount is trying to make you think it is — and you should walk out with a smile on your face.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Movie Review: “London Has Fallen”

London Has Fallen

** out of 5
99 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout
Gramercy Pictures

Article first published at

Olympus Has Fallen was a big surprise when it came out three years ago. With Antoine Fuqua in the director’s chair, and Gerard Butler playing a John McClane clone, the White House was saved and the President lived to lead another day. While no one was clamoring for a sequel, with the same writers back, you would think London Has Fallen — Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt — should have been better than this.

Because all we get is the age old story of a sequel that fails to live up to the original. It’s really sad in this case considering it didn’t have to reach very high to at least be entertaining. Olympus may have felt like the film A Good Day to Die Hard should have been, but London doesn’t feel like a true sequel to its own original. Somewhere in the last three years, the spirit of Olympus has fallen. And it’s no surprise Fuqua didn’t return — no one else should have either.

Kicking off with a muddled timeline, we catch up with President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) still chummy as ever. Mike is settling into domesticated life with his pregnant wife Leah (Radha Mitchell), and considering resigning. Meanwhile, the President has just gotten the call that the Prime Minister of England has suffered a heart attack and the two are off to London for the most over-protected funeral ever. Along for the ride is Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) where they get sucked into a terrorist attack that cripples London with Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) doing what he can to help from back in the States.

When it comes to action movies, we don’t need a whole lot of plot. An inciting incident is all we need to kick off any amount of big, dumb, fun. Unfortunately, London takes a full half hour before there is any action whatsoever, making you wonder if this even is an action movie. Then, we get a reasonably well-executed first action sequence, but from there, the film plunders the bottom of the ’80s action barrel throwing every cliché it can at the screen. Anyone who can’t figure out who’s behind the attack has never seen a movie before or may have fallen asleep — which viewers are bound to do.

Poor Butler is stuck starring in yet another boneheaded action film that feels every bit as long as Gods of Egypt: eternal. I will admit, after that first big action scene, I thought maybe we were in for another exciting treat. I was willing to suspend my disbelief. Until it kept getting stretched thinner by the minute. This is the kind of action film where a character may hilarious exclaim, “Get to the chopper,” but then when the hero goes running down a tight hallway with multiple baddies shooting at him, the character doesn’t get hit.

Probably the only positive thing to say about London Has Fallen is that at least it’s not as bad as Gods of Egypt. But that’s like trying to say one turd smells better than another. A turd is still a turd. The cast are playing their characters as straight as an arrow which only makes the film feel unintentionally funny. But even that only lasts so long.

Movie Review: “Zootopia”


***** out of 5
108 minutes
Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action
Walt Disney Animation Studios

Article first published at

If Zootopia is a sign of how 2016 is going to play out for animated features, it’s going to be an amazing year. Hats off to Disney for delivering what will undoubtedly wind up as one of the year’s most heralded animated films, and one of the best films of the year so far. Possibly too smart for most, but never too dumb for the rest, directors Byron Howard (Tangled and Bolt) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph, Futurama, The Critic, and The Simpsons) — along with co-director Jared Bush — deliver a fully-realized animated endeavor.

Everyone knows it’s always been predators vs. prey, but in Zootopia, the animals have evolved into anthropomorphic extensions of our everyday life. In Bunny Burrow, young Judy Hopps (voiced by Della Saba), dreams of something more than growing up to be a carrot farmer. Her parents, Bonnie and Stu (voiced by Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake), try everything they can to keep her expectations in check. But after a scuffle with Gideon Grey (a fox), it just makes her even more empowered and, as an adult (voiced by Ginnfer Goodwin), joins the Zootopia police academy to become the first bunny cop ever.

Moving to the big city, she’s ready for her first day, and gets assigned meter maid. Lucky for her, she runs into the sly Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) — her arch nemesis: a fox — she hustles him into helping her when the two stumbleupon what’s really behind the 14 missing mammal cases that Chief Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba) assigned to everyone else. And just wouldn’t you know it, the case is bigger than she ever dreamed and may even reach as far up as involving Mayor Lionheart (voiced by J.K. Simmons)! Now, Judy has 48 hours to solve the case or hand over her badge.

For anyone who thinks Zootopia looks like just another run-of-the-mill Disney outing, boy are you in for a treat. This is a slick neo-noir throwback disguised as a family-friendly kid flick. Not that it isn’t family friendly — obviously it is — but this one is for the rest of us in the crowd: the adults. While there may be plenty of fluffy, loveable characters kids will demand to be bought — I admit, there is quite a bit of merchandise I want myself — there is an overwhelming essence to the film that makes this exactly that: a film.

Far more than just something to keep kids occupied, adults are bound to enjoy this even more than whatever youngster they bring with them. Case in point, what other animated film is daring enough to squeeze in a Breaking Bad reference? They even find time to spoof their own films that haven’t even been released yet. Chock full of clever wordplay, character arches, visual gags, and movie spoofs, this is the smartest and funniest animated film since Inside Out. Zootopia is a smashing success all around, and I can’t wait to see it again!

And a quick round of applause to the directors and writers for daring to wrap their film around a message about not just believing in yourself — because what animated film isn’t about that — but also around such hot button topics as female empowerment, police brutality, and the dangers of profiling. Never bashing the viewer over the head, it’s great to see a movie where it just wants everyone to get along. There’s no better place to plant the seed than in something the young will watch multiple times. And considering they’re bound to watch Zootopia over and over again, maybe this will be one lesson they’ll actually pay attention to.

Movie Review: “Risen”


** out of 5
107 minutes
Rated PG-13 for Biblical violence including some disturbing images
Columbia Pictures

Article first published at

Biblical films are nothing new in Hollywood. And when done well, they can draw in even the most secular viewer — unless there’s nothing to offer but the same old story. Not all of them can be classics like The Ten Commandments, and even with Ridley Scott’s atheist approach to Exodus, it stayed true to the source material. Unfortunately, we are also given heavy-handed films that are stuck in cinematic limbo between utterly terrible and at least visually stunning. With co-writer/director Kevin Reynold’s Risen, all we’re given is the same story with no reason to care for its existence — at least outside the film’s obvious niche.

In 33 A.D., Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is a Roman warrior charged with keeping the peace between with the Jews in the Judaean desert. Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) has just been crucified and the people are insistent that he will rise again. Clavius ensures the prefect Pilate (Peter Firth) that Yeshua’s body will never see the light of day. Until Clavius’s guards let down their defense and the body winds up missing. The Jews are now awaiting the rise of their new Messiah, and Clavius — along with young Lucius (Tom Felton) — are tasked with locating the body before an uprising is upon them.

All religion aside, any film can get away with its story with the right director working his magic. Unfortunately for Risen, the film is in the hands of Reynolds whose credits include Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and a couple debacles: The Count of Monte Cristo and Waterworld. It should come as no surprise that Risen features a plodding pace and is mercilessly boring. And he filled the film with Razzie-worthy performers set within the most drab Roman Empire ever put on film.

Plus, it’s not like you don’t know how the story is going to end — spoiler alert: Yeshua rises and Clavius has no choice but to become a believer. But what about the rest of us? Non-believers will find absolutely no reason to see the film, but therein lies the film’s biggest mistake, ostracizing everyone outside the demographic. But I would never assume that was the intent to begin with.
Risen is by the numbers, for the numbers, the fact that you already clicked on the review probably means you at least have an inkling of interest. But the fact of the matter is, this is one of the most boring films I’ve sat through