Saturday, August 29, 2015

No Escape / **½ (R)


Jack Dwyer: Owen Wilson
Annie Dwyer: Lake Bell
Lucy Dwyer: Sterling Jerins
Beeze Dwyer: Claire Geare
Hammond: Pierce Brosnan
Kenny Roger: Sahajak Boonthanakit

The Weinstein Company presents a movie directed by John Erick Dowdle. Written by John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle. Running time: 103 min. Rated R (for strong violence including a sexual assault, and for language).

“No Escape” is somewhat of an anomaly in today’s movie market. It’s a throwback to the films of the 70s in the way it doesn’t adhere to the current politics about making movies. It’s an original story, a thriller that doesn’t draw from a “true story” about actual people who live through an actual harrowing world event. It involves a fairly big name Hollywood actor working well outside of the genre stereotypes and the niche he’s built for himself. And, it’s the first foray outside the horror genre by its writing/directing team, the Brothers Dowdle.

That’s not to say it’s above pandering to its audience with Hollywood cliché. In fact, the screenplay is the major drawback of this otherwise fairly well-made film. It doesn’t have the grit and grime of a 70s screenplay, even though it should. It handles its audience with kid gloves and its characters as archetypes, missing out on that real-life feel this story deserves. Yet, it’s still somewhat refreshing to see a movie that isn’t rooted in some sort of comic book or well-established film franchise after the Summer of the Sequel/Reboot that we all just endured. I wasn’t all that displeased with most of the franchise entries this summer, but there’s something of a relief that comes with watching a film that has all of its story and mythology contained within its individual running time.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jurassic World / *** (PG-13)


Owen: Chris Pratt
Claire: Bryce Dallas Howard
Gray: Ty Simpkins
Zach: Nick Robinson
Hoskins: Vincent D’Onofrio
Simon Masrani: Irrfan Khan
Lowery: Jake Johnson
Vivian: Lauren Lapkus
Barry: Omar Sy
Dr. Henry Wu: B.D. Wong

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Colin Trevorrow. Written by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connelly, Based on concepts created by Michael Crichton. Running time: 124 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of science fiction violence and peril).

The whole concept behind Hollywood sequel making is counter to the notion of criticism. While a critic tries to guide and educate an audience on what will entertain and enlighten them, the purpose of a sequel is generally to make money off of fulfilling an expectation of the exact same approach to the exact same effect as the previous—or best—film in a franchise. So it is left to the critic to merely report whether the filmmakers have achieved a repeated effect or have failed. When you get a tent pole film like “Jurassic Park” that is filled with spectacle and thoughts, it becomes problematic for the studios, which inexplicably feel the need to reproduce the spectacle but rarely the insight.

Spectacle minus the insight was certainly the problem with the previous two movies in the “Jurassic” franchise. In fact, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic Park III” were so lacking in any sort of science fiction themes and insight that the latest in the series—the long-awaited reboot “Jurassic World”—totally ignores the existence of the second and third films. In doing so it returns the story to the roots of its science fiction foundation. Once again the characters are dealing with the themes of the original film about the dangers of playing God with science, the impossibility of containing nature and even some new ideas about the need of some humans to push every scientific development toward weaponization.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Straight Outta Compton / *** (R)


O’Shea “Ice-Cube” Jackson: O’Shea Jackson, Jr.
Andre “Dr. Dre” Young: Corey Hawkins
Eric “Eazy-E” Wright: Jason Mitchell
Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby: Neil Brown, Jr.
Lorenzo “MC Ren” Patterson: Aldis Hodge
Tracy “The D.O.C.” Curry: Marion Yates, Jr.
Suge Knight: R. Marcos Taylor
Tomica: Carra Patterson
Kim: Alexandra Shipp
Jerry Heller: Paul Giamatti

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by F. Gary Gray. Written by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff and S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus. Running time: 147 min. Rated R (for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence and drug use).

Despite the conservative political push of the 80’s lead by the Reagan White House, that decade was a particularly progressive time in which to grow up. As a child of the 80’s, I was heavily influenced by pop culture and heavily invested in the politics centered around it, more so than I even realized at the time. Tipper Gore’s heralding of the Parental Advisory label that was adopted by the recording industry seemed a tumultuous event in the eyes of a wide-eyed, music-obsessed prepubescent. Later, the banning of 2 Live Crew’s controversial “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” album was a neon sign of the times that most certainly were a-changin’ despite the wishes and desires of the conservative right. In the middle of all of this, heading the charge was a rap group from Compton, California that managed to bridge the gap between many of our diverse cultures in this country by introducing, not just the black community to gangsta rap, but the entire country with their debut album “Straight Outta Compton”.

Sadly, almost 30 years after N.W.A’s seminal album began the tide of change by exposing to the world what much of the black experience in America was like, we still find ourselves struggling with the same issues of misunderstanding the racial divide and dealing with the same issues of racism that were at the heart of what inspired those musicians at that time. Perhaps it is fitting then that now is the time that we finally get to see a movie chronicling the struggles of those musicians in a film that shares its name with their debut album. “Straight Outta Compton” brings to fruition many years of work by the two most successful members of that group, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, to bring their story to the silver screen. As such, it doesn’t seem the harshest examination by the men it is mostly about, but it is an intriguing and entertaining document on one of the most influential bands in modern music.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Spy / ***½ (R)



Susan Cooper: Melissa McCarthy
Rayna Boyanov: Rose Byrne
Rick Ford: Jason Statham
Nancy B. Artingstall: Miranda Hart
Sergio De Luca: Bobby Cannavale
Aldo: Peter Serafinowicz
Karen Walker: Morena Baccarin
Elaine Crocker: Allison Janney
Bradley Fine: Jude Law

20th Century Fox presents a film written and directed by Paul Feig. Running time: 120 min. Rated R (for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content include brief graphic nudity).

Daniel Craig will have one more movie as James Bond left on his contract after the new Bond film “Spectre” is released this fall. After Bond 25, should Craig or the Bond producers decide to go in different directions, it will be time once again to consider a new Bond. Jude Law might very well be in the running, as I believe he was when Craig was cast in the role. He’s handsome, charming, has a dreamy smile, and yet he can be deftly serious and people are willing to let it slide when he uses a woman or two to get what he wants. These are all traits of his character, Bradley Fine, in the new movie “Spy”. The catch is that although Fine is a successful spy for the CIA, he is not the spy of which the title refers.

No, comedic character actress Melissa McCarthy plays the spy of the film’s title. You see the movie is a send up of a sort of spy flicks like the James Bond series. Even more so the movie is an overt criticism of the ideology and clichés of the spy genre and of Hollywood in general. McCarthy is plump and short and funny and everything that a serious action movie heroine is not. And yet, considering all of that, I would hesitate to call “Spy” a spoof of the super spy genre. The opening credit sequence and song could very well pass for an actual James Bond credit sequence. Director Paul Feig and McCarthy approach the movie with a sincerity that would make it an almost plausible spy action/comedy thriller if it weren’t so openly criticizing its own inspirations.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

San Andreas / *** (PG-13)


Ray: Dwayne Johnson
Emma: Carla Gugino
Blake: Alexandra Daddario
Lawrence: Paul Giamatti
Ben: Hugo Johnstone-Burt
Serena: Archie Panjabi
Ollie: Art Parkinson
Daniel: Ioan Gruffud

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Brad Peyton. Written by Carlton Cuse and Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore. Running time: 114 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language).

The disaster flick is a cinematic summer pastime that goes back even further than Spielberg’s supposed creation of the summer blockbuster with his movie “Jaws”. In fact, the 70s were known for a large number of Hollywood disaster pictures. We love disaster flicks. They’re usually bloated, overblown excuses for ridiculous action sequences populated by too many stars—including the ones that have been nominated for Best Picture Oscars—but we can’t stay away from them.

It’s been a few years since the last big budget disaster flick. No, “Sharknado” doesn’t count. I’m talking about theatrical releases and big budgets here. Roland Emmerich ruled the modern disaster flick with movies like “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow”, but he left a hole when he submitted his sworn last disaster flick “2012”, depicting the supposed end of the world predicted by the end of the Mayan calendar.  Director Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: Mysterious Island”) has filled that hole by placing a big giant hole in the middle of California in the new film “San Andreas”.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 / *** (PG-13)


Beca: Anna Kendrick
Fat Amy: Rebel Wilson
Emily: Hailee Steinfeld
Chloe: Brittany Snow
Jesse: Skylar Astin
Bumper: Adam DeVine
Kommissar: Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Pieter Krämer: Flula Borg
John: John Michael Higgins
Gail: Elizabeth Banks

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Elizabeth Banks. Written by Kay Cannon. Running time: 115 min. Rated PG-13 (for innuendo and language).

So when “Pitch Perfect” was released in theaters in 2012, I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in thinking, “Yeah, a movie about a cappella singing competitions? I’ll catch it at home if it gets good reviews.” The movie only made a little over $5 million on its opening weekend. Not exactly breaking the box office. Then people started talking about it, and word of mouth was that it was worth the admission price. By the end of the year it had netted over $68 million at the U.S. box office and was a huge hit on home video formats. A $5 million opening weekend isn’t supposed to do that.

With its snappy dialogue, great musical numbers and the introduction of Rebel Wilson as a fresh face in comedy, a “Pitch Perfect” sequel became inevitable. So here it is three years later, the girls who make up the musical group The Bellas are three years older, and the audience gets pretty much the same treatment for their encore. That’s what we’re paying for, so that isn’t a complaint. As a critic, it leaves little to discuss beyond the plot, but I enjoyed myself, so I’ll give it another whirl too.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Poltergeist / ** (PG-13)


Eric Bowen: Sam Rockwell
Amy Bowen: Rosemarie DeWitt
Kendra Bowen: Saxon Sharbino
Griffin Bowen: Kyle Catlett
Madison Bowen: Kennedi Clements
Carrigan Burke: Jared Harris
Dr. Brooke Powell: Jane Adams
Boyd: Nicholas Braun
Sophie: Susan Heyward

20th Century Fox and MGM present a film directed by Gil Kenan. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire. Based on the 1982 screenplay by Steven Spielberg. Running time: 93 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense frightening images, brief suggestive material, and some language).

There are some who are calling the present period in cinematic history the Golden Age of Independent Horror. It is true that there have been a good deal of innovative horror films released over the past decade. We’ve seen the rise of Spanish and Korean horror masters, like Guillermo del Toro and Joon-ho Bong. “Saw” changed the horror landscape forever. The first “Paranormal Activity” was original and genuinely frightening. And even as recently as this year we’ve seen innovative horror films like “It Follows”. Perhaps, however, horror directors are getting a little full of themselves and are forgetting the basics of filmmaking as they apply to horror.