Saturday, April 23, 2016

Movie Review: “Everybody Wants Some!!”

Everybody Wants Some!!

**** out of 5
117 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug use and some nudity
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at

No one has made a bigger career out of slackers than director Richard Linklater. Considering it was the title of his first film, it should come as no surprise. From there he’s brought us all kinds of tales of deadbeats — Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, and even Bad News Bears — the man just gets the laid back culture. But he’s not all slacker attitude. He’s also delivered one of the best romantic trilogies (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight) and dabbled in the studio system (The Newton Boys, School, and Bears), he’s also been nominated for five Oscars.. The man knows how to bring his indie sensibility no matter the project. And now, he’s returned to his roots in Everybody Wants Some!! which feels like a sequel to both Dazed and Boyhood.

It’s three days before first day of class for Jake (Blake Jenner) as he pulls up to his assigned frat house of fellow baseball players. Being a pitcher makes everyone instantly standoffish. His fellow ballplayers include an allotment of characters with Finnegan (Glen Powell), Plummer (Temple Baker), Dale (J. Quinton Johnson), Beuter (Will Brittain), McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), Roper (Ryan Guzman), and it wouldn’t be complete without a wildcard, Jay (Juston Street), and the token pothead, Willoughby (Wyatt Russell). It’s fall 1980 in Texas, and together, the team will make self discoveries, with Jake possibly learning a few love lessons in the form of Beverly (Zoey Deutch).

The film gets off to a rickety start as we meet all the characters, but it’s not hard to keep up with who’s who. Jenner makes a fantastic lead with a huge smile and charm to spare. The supporting characters all get their moments to shine — although the best belong to Powell, Johnson, and Hoechlin. The romantic subplot surprisingly plays a bigger part in the trailer than it does in the actual film, but Deutch — daughter of Lea Thompson and director Howard Deutch — manages to steal every scene she’s in. Linklater never misses an opportunity to mix highbrow with lowbrow philosophizing in his characters. Just because they’re jocks doesn’t mean they have to be dumb.

In the end, Everybody Wants Some!! may feel like just another slice-of-life picture, but by now you know you can always expect more from the reliable Linklater. It’s a nostalgic feel-good movie with some minor life lessons and huge laughs. Sometimes that’s all it takes and all we really need when we go to the movies. And on that front, Everybody towers in every category.

Movie Review: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”

The Huntsman: Winter's War

** 1/2 out of 5
114 minutes
Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

No one was clamoring for a sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, but we get one anyway. Four years later we’ve seen the star and director of the original dismissed, and the sequel no one asked for is now the pre/sequel no one is going to see. While it’s certainly not as bad as the RottenTomatoes score would suggest — currently sitting at 19 percent rotten — it’s definitely nothing to cheer about either. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan — frequent Gore Verbinski collaborator — has been brought in to try and keep the public’s interest despite the first film’s not so great box office take (only $155 million stateside) and a scatterbrained screenplay. As it stands, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a hodgepodge of a film suffering from an identity crisis.

Word has it that originally Huntsman was supposed to be an outright sequel. With the dismissal of Kristen Stewart, we jump back in time and are introduced to the conniving Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who has just killed the king and taken over yet another kingdom. Her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) finds out she’s pregnant, fathered by a man who’s already promised to another, but is convinced she will wind up with him since she’s having his child. Turns out, the man doesn’t take kindly to the the birth and kills it in a fire. Enraged, Freya discovers her evil powers revealing herself to be the mythical Ice Queen and kills the father.

Now, Freya has decided that since she cannot raise a child, she’ll raise an army instead and begins capturing children to train them into ruthless killers. Her one rule is that love is a sin and you will be killed if you fall under its spell. Two of her child warriors — Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) — have, of course, fallen in love and plan an escape. But just wouldn’t you know it, Freya finds out and has Sara killed before Eric’s eyes and he’s cast out onto his own.

Cut to seven years later and Snow White has defeated the evil Ravenna in the first film and has the precious gold mirror disposed of to keep it from causing anymore harm. But the mirror winds up missing, and now Eric the Huntsman — along with dwarfs Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith), and Doreena (Alexandra Roach) — and the not dead Sara, must find the mirror and defeat Freya. And oh holy moly does this movie have way too much going on for how boring it all is.

The prologue section sets things up with a rocky start while the middle of the film finds some legs and gets a lot of mileage out of some decent adventure sequences and much needed humor. Unfortunately, by the time the finale rolls in, and spoiler alert, Ravenna makes a return, the film has run its course and it becomes harder and harder to stay awake. Let alone care about anything happening on screen. You really have to give it up for Hemsworth & Co for keeping the middle section feeling so brisk, but my god, Theron and Blunt give such wooden and bored performances. You can practically smell the exhaust from the truck that dumped its load of money on their lawns to convince them to star in this.

Nicolas-Troyan does what he can with the screenplay — credited to Evan Spiliotopoulos (Disney direct-to-video extraordinaire) and Craig Mazin (“comedy” extraordinaire: Rocketman, Senseless, Scary Movies 3 and 4, Superhero Movie, The Hangover Parts II and III, and Identity Thief) — but it’s all for naught. The film is never thrilling enough, funny enough, although oddly dark enough, to satisfy even one demographic. It’s too violent for kids and never violent enough for adults. In a fight for its place among unnecessary pre/sequels, it’s never horrible, but it’s never really good either. And you always have a sense of déjà vu that you’ve seen almost every scene somewhere else. Whether it’s the precious mirror and its mind control, or the sight of a merry band of travelers floating down a river, it’s too familiar.

For those already interested, the audience I saw it with made it sound like there’s enough to warrant at least a matinee viewing, but don’t be surprised if you walk out at least mildly disappointed. You don’t even get a full shot of Hemsworth shirtless while canoodling in a hot spring. If the thought of that was enough to pique your interest, as I said, they can’t even get that right.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Movie Review: “The Jungle Book”

The Jungle Book

***** out of 5
105 minutes
Rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at

I haven’t been the biggest fan of Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated classics. The only failure has been Maleficent. Considering how much I love the 1967 animated The Jungle Book, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this remake. Considering it’s written by Justin Marks — whose only big screen credit has been Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li — all I had to count on was Jon Favreau’s direction. Favreau has a history with high flying adventure — the first two Iron Man films — and family-friendly — Elf and Zathura. People can say what they want about Cowboys & Aliens, but the man has yet to direct a bad film. And with The Jungle Book, his record remains untarnished.

Audiences know Rudyard Kipling’s classic story. This isn’t even the first time Disney has made a live-action effort — they also let The Mummy’s Stephen Sommers have a crack at it back in 1994. But boy how times have changed. Although the story may remain the same, we now get a tried and true adventure with Mowgli and friends thanks to tip top direction, superb voice casting, and spectacular special effects. Mowgli (portrayed beautifully by newcomer Neel Sethi) has been raised by wolves Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyon’o) and Akeela (Giancarlo Esposito) in the jungle.

But the return of Shere Khan (voiced by Idis Elba) forces them to set Mowgli on a path back to the man village. Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) leads him on his quest, but not before they get separated and Mowgli gets taken in by Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray). Baloo wants to keep Mowgli around to use his man tricks to score honey, while Bagheera knows he must get Mowgli to safety. And of course, the jungle is full of other dangers such as Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken) who still just wants man’s red flower.

You want adventure? Check. Humor? Check. A case of the feels? Check. Favreau and Marks even manage to throw in a few good jump scares as well. Yes, The Jungle Book is everything we could ask for in live-action adaptation and puts Cinderella to shame. While the target audiences may be a little different, it’s still a Disney movie which means it’s the same demographic: families. CinderellaMaleficent, and Alice in Wonderland may skew more female, this one is for everyone — even young and old alike. Who doesn’t want to head into the jungle and tag along with Mowgli on his adventures? To say how fantastic the film truly is, the screening I attended wasn’t shown in its correct aspect ratio, had a questionable 3D projection, and muddied sound, yet I still loved it!

On top of Favreau’s direction and Marks’ swinging screenplay, the voice cast are having a ball. You can tell they’re relishing bringing such beloved characters to life, even if Johannson may go a little underused with Kaa only appearing in one scene. Sethi, Kingsley, and Murray get a ton of mileage out of their rapport, even if computer-animated. And man, what CGI it is. Every character is so photo realistic it makes Life of Pi look antiquated. The only exception are the wolf cubs. I was initially worried that the animals were going to be talking, but it’s surprisingly believable. Never once do you question that you’re watching talking animals. We’ve come a long way from the days of Babe and Gordy.

Now a note to parents, The Jungle Book has never been known for not being violent. The whole plot revolves around a tiger trying to kill a child for pete’s sake. While it may be easier for kids to gloss over what’s happening onscreen, it obviously feels even more violent in live-action. Not to say the film should be rated PG-13, but there are some really good jump scares — especially featuring Shere Khan — and they could be even scarier in 3D or on a giant IMAX screen. That being said, Favreau and Marks do make sure to keep plenty of levity to the situation and never gets as dark as Batman v Superman. Bet you can guess which one is way more fun. “The Bare Necessities,” “Trust in Me,” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” even made their way in.

Suffice to say, The Jungle Book is never short on entertainment and will easily go down swinging as one of the year’s biggest crowd pleasers. And with the sequel already announced, I can’t wait to see where Favreau and company take us on Mowgli’s next adventure.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Movie Review: “The Boss”

The Boss

*** out of 5
99 minutes
Rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

Melissa McCarthy may have as many detractors as fans, but at least she’s usually reliable. Even under the direction of her husband Ben Falcone. The last time they were both responsible behind the camera, we wound up with the atrocity, Tammy. Thankfully, Falcone learned at least a few things from that debacle and the two — along with co-writer Steve Mallory — have made The Boss a far more watchable movie. While still not the laughfest we hope for, at least this one has a half-decent plot and some heart to make the crass go down a little easier.

In 1975, 5-year-old Michelle Darnell (Chandler Head) is returned to the orphanage. After Michelle is returned two more times at age 10 (Vivian Falcone) and 15 (Isabella Amara) before finally declaring that families are for suckers. Cut to the present and Michelle is a rich global phenomenon with her company overseen by single-mother/workaholic Claire (Kristen Bell) who finally grows the balls to ask for a raise. Meanwhile Michelle’s ex-lover/rival Renault (Peter Dinklage) wants revenge by getting  Michelle arrested for insider trading, all because he got passed over on a promotion.

Four months later, Michelle is out of prison and seeks sympathy from the one person who just may pity her enough to let her crash on the couch: Claire. After Michelle makes herself at home, Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) introduces her to Claire’s “holy shit” brownies. Michelle decides they should go into the baking business and Darnell’s Darlings is born. Little do they know, that Renault will stop at nothing to steal Michelle’s newfound empire.

For a comedy, there’s surprisingly way more plot than you’d expect. And therein lies part of the problem. Too many stretches with not a whole lot going on.. Characters interact and you can tell that something is supposed to be funny, but you simply stare at the screen and wait for something, anything to happen, before it finally does. And when it does, sometimes it’s gut busting, or at least worth laughing over. McCarthy could use some stronger comedic costars. Bell does what she can, but always gets overpowered while Dinklage gives another horrible comedic turn. He’s every bit as awful here as he was in Pixels where he was also the worst thing about that movie.

The worst thing about The Boss is that even running a scant 99 minutes, it feels way longer than that with too much padding. The dull stretches are like watching paint dry. They’re just going through the motions while we’re stuck waiting for Michelle to land another punchline. The R-rating is warranted, of course, but McCarthy isn’t just spouting f-bombs as if they’re the joke.

The Boss won’t go down as the worst McCarthy vehicle — Tammy is still the reigning champ — but keep expectations in check. With enough laughs to at least warrant a matinee, this is far from the hilarity levels of her Paul Feig glory days of Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. Fingers crossed they can keep the magic alive with this summer’s Ghostbusters! As for Falcone himself, at least his films are getting better. Best of luck on the next one, we just might finally be shouting “holy shit” ourselves.