Friday, May 27, 2016

Movie Review: “Alice Through the Looking Glass”

Alice Through the Looking Glass

** 1/2 out of 5
113 minutes
Rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some language
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at

With the success of their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise waning after At World’s End, and audiences having no interest in their Haunted Mansion, it was only a matter of time before Disney started in on their cash cows. Now we’re stuck with all these live-action editions of their animated classics. While they can’t all be The Jungle Book, Cinderella wasn’t a disaster, but the less said about Maleficent the better.

Six years ago they brought in Tim Burton to bring us a live-action sequel to their 1951 animated feature. After Alice in Wonderland managed to rake in over $1 billion worldwide, a sequel was inevitable. However, after six years, and no Burton returning, we’re left with just another case of too little too late in the ever growing list of undeserving sequels with Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Since Alice (Mia Wasikowska) last fell down the rabbit hole, she’s been acting captain aboard her father’s ship, the Wonder. While in London, Hamish (Leo Bill) is still feeling scorned after Alice turned down his proposal and instantly turns the tables on her when she offers up her own. Turns out, Alice’s mother Helen (Lindsay Duncan) has sold Alice’s shares of the company, along with putting her house up for collateral, so Hamish demands Alice turn over the Wonder in exchange for Helen keeping her home.

Before you can say “muchness,” Alice is back in Wonderland, trying to find Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) so she can save the kingdom from Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter) once again, and save the Hatter’s (Johnny Depp) family from the Jabberwocky in a race against time and sibling rivalry between Iracebeth and Mirana (Anne Hathaway).

As long as that synopsis may be, that is a lot of paraphrasing. There is way too much going on in Linda Woolverton’s return to Lewis Carroll’s beloved curious Wonderland. Without the guidance of Burton at the helm, Depp has no one to rein him in. Throughout the entire film he speaks with some kind of new accent, or lisp, which is likely to drive most viewers mad themselves. Thankfully, Wasikowska and the supporting cast — particularly Cohen — manage to inject some fun to the shenanigans, as the film employs its time travel twist. The plot is a literal race against time, but runs at full throttle from the first frame creating exhaustion instead of exhilaration.

New director James Bobin (The Muppets/Most Wanted, Flight of the Conchords, and even Cohen’s own Da Ali G Show) does manage to create some fantastic visuals, unfortunately, you’re going to be too bored to care about anything going on by the time it’s over. If it took six years to come up with this, imagine what a third entry may be like if they waited another few years. We’ll have to see how audiences react I suppose. But if the kids who accompanied me are of any indication, it should please them well enough. It’s definitely the adults who might not like it as much.

While packed with some fantastic visuals, it’s all undercut with Depp’s most phoned-in performance yet, making barely any reason to return to Wonderland. If Disney can’t come up with anything better than this, it might as well be the last.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

DVD Review: ‘Scream: The TV Series’ — The Complete First Season

If there was any TV show announcement I faced with glee and fear, it was MTV’s Scream: The TV Series. Wes Craven’s first Scream slashed its way deep into my heart when it came out in December 1996 — I still can’t believe it’s celebrating its 20th birthday this year. But it struck at the right time when horror movies were getting a really bad rap and whatever quality there could be was sorely lacking. Then along came the Craven/Kevin Williamson team up that reinvigorated the genre and gave filmmakers a whole new template to work with. Granted, Williamson’s own were the best, but had it not been for Scream, we never would have had I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Valentine, nor Scream 2 or 3.

So, how was MTV going to capture that lightning in a bottle again — especially so far after its expiration date. Not even Scream 4 could relaunch the series the way the Weinsteins (Harvey and Bob) hoped back in 2011. Imagine my surprise when MTV posted the opening scene where young high schooler Nina (Bella Thorne) is our first victim in an amazing update of the Drew Barrymore opening. From there, the mystery gets deeper as the teens and citizens of Lakewood fall into a mystery involving cyberbullying and the possible return of the infamous deformed killer thought dead for years.

Who is stalking poor innocent Emma (Willa Fitzgerald)? The red herrings pile up as fast as the body count. Could it be the jilted filmmaker Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus)? Resident serial killer/horror movie expert Noah (John Karna)? The football jocks Jake (Tom Maden) or Will (Connor Weil) — who also happens to be Emma’s ex? Or how Kieran (Amadeus Serafini) is the son of Sheriff Clark Hudson (Jason Wiles) and the new kid in town? And Sheriff Clark who just  happens to have on again/off again relationship with Emma’s mother Maggie (Tracy Middendorf) — who seems to harboring a dark secret? It could also be the blasted nosy podcaster Piper Shaw (Amelia Rose Blaire) investigating the murders Serial-style. Or it could be the creep English teacher Seth Branson (Bobby Campo) who is wooing Emma’s best friend Brooke (Carlson Young).

All bets are off for the poor town of Lakewood as the masked killer stalks his prey with his trusty voice changer and menacing texts.

Scream: The TV Series – Season One doesn’t come jam packed with special features, but they do get you excited for season two’s premiere coming up on May 30. Here’s what we do get: first is the obligatory “Gag Reel” (2:52) showing the cast having a lot of fun on set. Next is a collection of “Deleted Scenes” from various episodes: Episode 5: “Plan B” (0:53); Episode 6: “Brooke Investigates the Freezer” (1:35) and “Shooting Range” (1:05); Episode 8: “Maggie & Sheriff Hudson Make Up” (0:35); and Episode 9: “Noah at Work” (0:20), “Piper and Emma Take a Ride” (0:22), and “Brooke Makes Up Her Mind” (0:43). All of them are so short they could have been left in, but absolutely none of them add anything to the bulk of the show. A promotional gallery breaks down all the characters with the cast: “The Fool” (0:35), “The Sex Object” (0:47), “The Innocent” (0:40), “The Scholar” (0:42), “The Jock” (0:38), “The Loner” (0:39), “Killer Predictions” (1:29), “Am I Next?” (1:10), and finally, “Behind the Scenes of ‘The Killer Party’” (1:46) which is the original promo spot for season one.

MTV really did manage to find a way to take the Scream template and stretch it out over the course of 10 episodes. I just hope they’ve managed to do even better with season two. The mystery was engaging enough to keep the convoluted plotting moving along and the cast is clearly having a blast — even if some of them may not be the best actors. But c’mon, this is a horror show on MTV, how good did we expect the acting to be, right? Thankfully, the three standouts are our main characters — Emma, Noah, and Audrey — Emma makes for the quintessential final girl, while both Audrey and Noah make fantastic replacements for movies’ dearly departed Randy.

Considering they didn’t know if there was going to be a second season, the finale provides enough closure that, had this been a standalone, it would have served as a great addition to the Scream legacy. With the passing of Craven last August who was serving as an executive producer, maybe they could find a way to bring in the original creator: Kevin Williamson. They managed to get Ti West to direct an episode, why not the man who started it all? Fingers crossed that season two can live up to season one, MTV delivered a killer first season and May 30 can’t get here soon enough!

Article first published on Blogcritics.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Movie Review: “The Nice Guys"

The Nice Guys

**** 1/2 out of 5
116 minutes
Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

Not many directors are entrusted to make the kind of film they want to. Studio interference runs rampant in Hollywood so it’s some kind of miracle that Shane Black has been blessed with such freedom, including his latest project The Nice Guys. Having been writing since way back when he sold his first script at the tender age of 24 for a little movie called Lethal Weapon, the man has been churning out the hits for nearly 30 years. Not to mention, giving me plenty of “Christmas” movies to watch every year. And while you could say he falls victim to his own trappings at times, they’re spectacular tropes that work every time. With that said, how does his junior outing fare stacked up against the likes of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3? It lives up to expectations and then some.

It’s 1977 in Los Angeles and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is on the job. While never wanting to take the time to become a professional dick, he still manages to be the dick you want on your side. On the flip side of that, Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is probably the “world’s worst detective” as his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) so elegantly puts it. And in true Johnny Gossamer fashion, their two current cases quickly become one. Healy and March are looking for the daughter of Judith Kuttner (Kim Basinger) — who happens to work for the Department of Justice — Amelia (Margaret Qualley). And a twisted tale begins to unravel involving everything from the porn industry to the New York mob and only March and Healy have what it takes to put all the pieces together and stuff.

The Nice Guys is classic Black. You’ve got two guys who don’t like each other, the wise beyond her years adolescent, a labyrinthine plot, snappy dialogue, a nice little conspiracy tying it all together, and — wait for it — a splash of Christmas. Gosling and Russell make the perfect odd couple and they also play off the young Rice hilariously. This is the funniest Gosling has ever been. The man has spectacular physical timing and can take a pratfall with the best of them. Crowe is either wearing a fat suit or may have let himself go for the part, but this is the most likeable he’s been in a long. Even Keith David manages to score some huge laughs. The Nice Guys is one of the best comedies of the year, but with Shane Black at the helm it comes as absolutely no surprise. There are two comedies opening this weekend, but this is the one you shouldn’t miss.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Movie Review: “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

** 1/2 out of 5
92 minutes
Rated R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying
Universal Pictures

Article first published at

Some may be tired of Seth Rogen’s schtick, not me. However, I will admit that even though he may have a direct line to my funny bone, not everything he’s in is gold. While it is nice to see him stretch his acting chops once in awhile — Steve Jobs, 50/50, even Funny People — most of us are more than willing to sit through his latest raunch fest. When the first Neighbors was released, everyone was worried about his pairing up with High School Musical alum Zac Efron. What we got was a hilarious rivalry gone wild. And $270 million worldwide later, we’re stuck with one of the more forced comedy sequels in awhile.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising may not live up to Rogen’s most hard up fans. Director Nicholas Stoller brings none of the heart the first one surprisingly had, making up for it with as many bodily functions as possible. And while a bag of dicks joke can be amusing, there are scenes that either don’t live up to their potential or get dragged out until they stop being funny.

The Radners, Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), are trying to sell their house. Finally in escrow, wouldn’t you know it, but a sorority has just moved in next door. College coeds Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie “Sister of Jonah Hill” Feldstein), are baffled that sororities (or is that sororititties) are not allowed to have parties, only fraternities. So they decide to rent the former Delta Psi Beta and create their own sorority: Kappa Nu.

The girls get a helping hand from Teddy Sanders (Efron) who’s having an existential crisis after brothers Pete (Dave Franco) gets engaged and Teddy is asked to move out. With nowhere to go, he takes Kappa Nu under his wing and moves in with the sisters. Now, Mac and Kelly are facing an even bigger challenge as they have to keep their potential buyers from finding out they’re about to move in next door to an even worse situation than the first time around.

I had high hopes for the film considering the original cast was returning, along with director Stoller. Stoller has managed to deliver two stellar comedies that couldn’t be more different from each other — Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets — but none of the charm can be found here. While there are plenty of laughs — mostly of the guilty kind, just wait till you hear Rogen’s Jewish pregnancy quip, oy vey! — the film feels way too thin to exist. And judging by the turnout at the press screening, there will never be a Neighbors 3.

Not that we should be surprised by the law of diminishing returns, right? The first film ended on a nice enough note that we saw everyone winding up exactly where they should be. Thankfully, this one ends on an even more concrete note, tying up loose ends. Unfortunately, that means we spend the rest of the scant runtime with too much sisterhood — which would be fine if we cared for any of these girls for a second — and not enough parenthood. Rogen, Byrne, and Efron feel shoehorned into their own movie. Meanwhile, Ike Barinholtz and Carla Gallo — as the Radners’ best friends Jimmy and Paula — are overused.

Only Efron seems to love being back as the bad boy Teddy. Endlessly smug with charm to spare, if there is a third movie, we need to leave the Radners alone and give Teddy his own movie. If this is the best they could come up with for a direct sequel, I won’t be surprised if the wishful-thinking franchise finds its way to the direct-to-video arena where Universal is well known for churning out as many sequels as they can. Sorority Rising is the sequel no one asked for and no one put any real thought into. Those who already want to see it will enjoy it enough, but as for the theatrical Neighbors misadventures, this first sequel will undoubtedly be the last.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Movie Review: “X-Men: Apocalypse”

X-Men: Apocalypse

*** 1/2 out of 5
144 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images
20th Century Fox

Article first published at

Unintentional irony abounds in Bryan Singer’s latest X-Men: Apocalypse. While he — along with screenwriter Simon Kinberg — may take a few jabs at the series, but Apocalypse also falls prey to similar gimmicks of previous X-Men films. When you make a movie that’s not any better than its predecessors, you should never attack another entry. Walking out of a theater showing Return of the Jedi, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) makes a joke that the third entry is always the worst. While this quip is obviously pointed at Brett Ratner’s franchise killing The Last Stand, you could almost say the same for Apocalypse. That’s at least in comparison to Matthew Vaughn’s reinvigorating reboot, First Class, and Singer’s own fantastic follow-up, Days of Future Past. Apocalypse tries very hard to live up to both of them, but seems perfectly fine with not making a better movie. All we wind up with is a huge case of been there done that.

Apocalypse kicks off in 1300 BC, Cairo, Egypt. The first mutant, En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), is attacked as he’s about to transfer himself to a new body. Forced into slumber for thousands of years, he awakens to find the world overrun by the weaker race: humans. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) is dealing with the split of the team after the events in Days of Future Past, running his School for Gifted Youngsters. A few new recruits are brought to the fold in teenage Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) by his brother Alex/Havok (Lucas Till).

Meanwhile, Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is forced out of hiding following the death of his wife and daughter when the police try to bring him in after he’s spotted saving the life of a factory worker. So dissatisfied with the world, Apocalypse recruits his four horsemen to aide him in his end of days: Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel/Archangel (Ben Hardy), and Magneto. Now, the band must get back together, along with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to stop Apocalypse from living up to his name.

For anyone who felt overwhelmed with the number of characters in Captain America: Civil War, there’s even more here. And considering some of them never even get the chance to use their superpowers — here’s looking at you Jubilee (Lana Condor) — you start to question why they’re even in the movie. It’s the exact same effect that The Last Stand suffered. Least surprising, the best part is the return of Quicksilver for another jaw dropping set piece. When you can barely top your own previous film, it may be time to let another director step in. And as much as I would love to see Vaughn return, I’d rather have him right where he is: directing his own Kingsman sequel.

Deja vu plays a huge part of the viewing experience here, as some of the plot points become a little repetitious. A colleague even created a drinking game during the screening where anytime you see Professor X about to cry or Apocalypse’s eyes go white you take a shot. You’d be passed out well before the credits roll. And speaking of which, why bother showing us the film almost three weeks early if we aren’t going to get to see the end credit stinger? It’s pretty obvious they wanted to get reviews out early to compete with Civil War, but I’m afraid Fox’s plan may have backfired. It’s biggest failure is in casting one of the best actors working today as your villain and then completely underutilizing him. He’s never as menacing as he should be, and we all know exactly how the finale is going to play out because the film never takes any risks. At least fans finally get a money shot they’ve waited 20 years for. Hint: Phoenix.

It may sound like I didn’t like the film — like the big Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) cameo that was already spoiled by the final trailer — but there is still a lot to love. X-Men: Apocalypse has plenty of razzle dazzle and gee whiz effects to keep the film easy on the eyes as the pace moves at a breakneck speed. You are never bored. However, it never manages to be the great film it should be, and simply winds up being a merely another good X-Men film, sitting more in line with Singer’s first two outings, rather than trying to one up First Class and Days of Future Past. A matinee won’t be the worst way to spend this trip with our favorite mutants, but it is disheartening when even Deadpool was a way better X-Men movie than this.

Movie Review: “Money Monster”

Money Monster

** 1/2 out of 5
98 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence
Sony Pictures

Article first published at
When you have Jodie Foster in the director’s chair and George Clooney and Julia Roberts starring, there’s a good chance it will be a fantastic time at the movies. Unfortunately, with Money Monster, it’s is not the case. A drowsy 40-minute setup is a long time to wait for a film to finally pick up the pace, and that’s exactly what happens here. Considering it took three writers to come up with the screenplay — Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf — you’d think Foster would have been able to ensure someone put some shine on it. But all we’re left with is another movie about big business and bigger money leaving the audience out in the cold.

Lee Gates (Clooney) is the star of a Mad Money-type TV show where he gives advice on what’s occurring in the stock market. The show may be ridiculous, but Gates and his director, Patty Fenn (Roberts), know how to put on a good show. What Gates doesn’t know, is that Patty took a new job across the street and that he’s in for the worst day of his life. The hot topic of the day is the $800 million dollars Walt Camby’s Ibis just lost. Now, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) has snuck on set to make Gates pay for the $60,000 bath he just took on Gates’ hot tip. Armed with a gun, and forcing Gates to wear a homemade bomb vest, Kyle is out for blood and wants to make sure Ibis pays for his bad luck.

Money Monster isn’t all bad. It’s just not very good either. It just takes a long time for the film to finally kick into a higher gear, but spends so much of it sputtering along that we never care about Kyle’s plight. Foster does what she can with the material, injecting some much needed humorous twists — Kyle’s baby mama is the funniest — but it’s all too little too late because why would anyone watching care that Kyle decided to flush all his money down the toilet? And why would we care about Gates’ life?

Thankfully, the performances are as good as you’d expect — Clooney and Roberts still have a little chemistry leftover from their Ocean’s adventures — although, we never once care about anything that’s happening. It’s just one man not wanting to take responsibility for his own actions. There’s no reason to sit through the film unless you’re a huge Clooney/Roberts fan. Do those people even go to the theater anymore? When’s the last time either of them managed to open big? Not even Foster can make a reasonable excuse to head out for this one. She’s never been the best director, but she does inject a little excitement during the second half of the film.

By then you’ll probably have fallen asleep. It’s not a total misfire, but not really worth checking out either.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Movie Review: “Captain America: Civil War”

Captain America: Civil War

***** out of 5
146 minutes
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.
Marvel Studios

Article first published at

It’s hard to believe that in less than a decade we’re now on our 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And Marvel Studios also has four television series that interconnect: Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones. If there’s one studio who knows what they’re doing, it’s Marvel. After launching with Iron Man back in 2008, we are now on phase three and with the third Captain America film, Civil War is undoubtedly the best yet.

While this may be Cap 3, it feels more like Avengers 2.5, packed with everyone from the Marvel movies—sans Hulk and Thor who will be tag teaming in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. Make no mistake, the Russo brothers (Joe and Anthony) are two of the best directors working within the MCU and Civil War raises the stakes for everything that’s lead up to this point and where it goes from here.

Flashing back to 1991, Civil War kicks off with our favorite Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) crashing a car and stealing a case of super soldier serum from the trunk. In the present, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is chasing after Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in Lagos to stop him from stealing a biological weapon. Unfortunately, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) accidentally blows up an office building when Crossbones reveals he was trying to blow up Cap. Now, the United Nations has decided to step in and make the Avengers face their collateral damage after the attacks on New York, Washington D.C., Sokovia, and now Wakanda.

All of the Avengers are asked to give up their freedom by signing the Sokovia Accords. Surprisingly, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is spearheading their “resignations” while Cap is worried about what happens when they want the Avengers to go somewhere they shouldn’t, or won’t let them help where they should. A rift divides the Avengers after a Vienna conference is attacked and King T’Chaka (John Kani) is killed, with all signs pointing to Bucky with the King’s son T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) vowing revenge. Meanwhile, Cap is trying to keep Bucky sheltered, convinced he was framed, with the mysterious Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) poking around in Bucky’s past.

Considering how many characters and subplots are juggled around in Civil War it’s a wonder nothing gets lost. Never does the film feel convoluted and every character gets a chance to shine. The big airport battle is a wonder to behold. It’s pure spectacle on every level. The scene was also shot in 65mm and is just breathtaking. Let alone that considering we already have Cap, Iron Man, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Winter Soldier, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch, and even Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) all fighting for screen time, the most amazing thing is that Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Panther, and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) are the real standouts. They each steal every scene they’re in.

The Russo brothers deserve a standing ovation for crafting Marvel’s biggest film to date, it certainly helps that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do Mark Millar’s storyline absolute justice. Audiences will feel the spark to pick a side — I stand on Team Cap — but both Rogers and Stark throw convincing arguments. Brühl is the only one who doesn’t quite get his chance to shine, but in the end his character winds up being a more than satisfying Macguffin.

The stage is set for what’s to come, and Civil War manages to tear down everything that’s come before it. It all may just be another stepping stone on our way to the big throwdown with Thanos, but my god what a wonderful stone this is. Civil War is everything you could want in a Marvel film, summer blockbuster, or just a good old fashioned time at the movies. It may not be comfortable to watch mom and dad fight, but what a spectacular fight it is.