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

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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”


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

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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: ***

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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

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”


*** 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

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

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

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.