Concussion

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks
Directed by: Peter Landesman (“Parkland”)
Written by: Peter Landesman (“Parkland”)

It’s been seven years since actor Will Smith has taken on a full-fledged dramatic role. Although his last, 2008’s “Seven Pounds,” was a complete misfire, Smith has proven in past films like “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Ali” that he is more than capable of carrying the weight. He reiterates his talent with a genuine performance as real-life forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was the first person to uncover the alarming truth behind brain damage suffered by professional football players. Directed and written by Peter Landesman (“Parkland”), there is much to be desired when it comes to the emotional impact of the screenplay itself, but Smith brings out the best in this Hollywood-ized exposé on the NFL and is completely believable as the good doctor. Landesman, however, misses an opportunity to delve deeper into the football culture and explore why sports entertainment trumped science for so long.

Joy

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell (“American Hustle”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)

After the success of the half-great “Silver Linings Playbook” and the terribly overrated “American Hustle,” filmmaker David O. Russell again calls on his reliable acting twosome, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, for the least accessible of their films together. Based on the true-life story of entrepreneur Joy Mangano (Lawrence), the single mother who invented such products as the Miracle Mop, Russell’s film is dragged down by a confusing tone, but makes up for it with a satisfying look at the way Mangano built her business empire from the ground up. Although it’s obvious Russell would like Lawrence’s Mangano to emerge as the female version of Michael Corleone, there’s simply not enough unforced conflict to create a true sense of struggle. Where the film is most convincing is during the QVC portions of the story. Who knew ordering a set of Huggable Hangers on TV could be so exciting?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

December 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games”)
Written by: Peter Craig (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”) and Danny Strong (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”)

In a trend that is growing increasbingly popular amongst financially successful film franchises, Hollywood is starting to split up final installments of films into separate parts. While the Harry Potter franchise could argue that with so much story to tell, splitting up was a necessity, many moviegoers see it as a way for studios to essentially print their own money by extending a franchise that they know eager fans will flock to see. With a film as uneventful and unnecessary as “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2,” its clear that Lionsgate and company are veering towards the latter.

After the events of “Mockingjay Part 1,” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) continues to be the face of the rebellion against the capital of Panem. While trying to rally people against the oppressive leadership, Katniss fights to earn the trust back over Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who still feels the effects of being brainwashed.

At over two hours long, the story and plot of “Mockingjay Part 2” meanders as much as the characters do, resulting in the most boring final installment of a film in recent years. Not only does it take forever to get going, but the stakes never seem high, even though the audience is constantly reminded that they are. Worse, when something of consequence like a character death happens, it is glossed over and any reaction feels completely unearned. Then again, pretty much any character could have croaked and nothing would have been felt due to their paper-thin designs and arcs.

There’s some good visual candy and a few exciting battle sequences, but the film seems far more interested in making clunky political messages than telling a satisfying character story. Even moments that are meant to be shocking and twisty are predictable and lack any sort of punch. Part of that can be contributed to the drab tone established early on and you can practically feel the film dragging its feet the whole time.

It’s easy to understand why Lawrence was so game to return to the franchise that helped turn her into a household name megastar. Somewhere in this film series is a strong female character for a younger generation to lock into. Unfortunately, it is hidden and buried between dumb political allegory, a ridiculous, pointless love triangle, and perhaps worst of all, a series of 4 films that only has 1 installment that is actually good. There’s no denying that “The Hunger Games” franchise was a smashing success in the hearts of diehard audiences and Lionsgate’s accountants. It’s just a shame that this derivative journey ended with something that felt like a pure cash grab.

Inside Out

June 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
Directed by: Pete Docter (“Up”) and Rolando Del Carmen (debut)
Written by: Pete Docter (“Up”), Meg LeFauve (debut) and Josh Cooley (debut)

In its most thematically rich film of the last few years, Pixar Animation Studios returns to form with “Inside Out,” a lively and heartfelt movie that proves the studio probably workshops much bigger ideas than casting Larry the Cable Guy as a rusty old pick up. While “Inside Out” might be a bit too complex narratively for the youngest of moviegoers (“Eternal Sunshine” for kindergarteners, perhaps?), there is still enough silliness mixed with the more serious issues to push this Pixar project ahead of schlock like “Cars” or overrated Oscar winners like “Brave.”

In “Inside Out,” Pixar veteran director/writer Pete Docter (“Up”) and newbie screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley dive deep into the thoughts and emotions of a child by bringing each of these emotions to life through a cast of colorful characters. They may not be as memorable as those in the “Toy Story” franchise, but Pixar does a great job in “Inside Out” casting the voices of the five lead roles – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). By anthropomorphizing each emotion, “Inside Out” cleverly attempts to explain just how a child’s mind functions without getting too caught up in the psychological intricacies.

Here, we follow a young girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), who is uprooted by her parents and moved to San Francisco when her father gets new job. Depressed about having to leave all her friends behind, we watch from the inside of Riley’s head as she comes to terms with her new life and how her five main emotions (joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust) control her mood and personality in her new environment. When Joy and Sadness are accidentally lost inside Riley’s subconscious, the two emotions must find their way back to the “Control Room” where they can help Riley manage her feelings. Along the way, they must confront Riley’s memories, some of which are fading as she transforms from little girl to young lady.

Much like “Toy Story” and the idea that all childish things must be put away once we reach a certain age, “Inside Out” captures that same kind of emotion that will give older kids the chance to think about the way they react to certain things in their own lives.  There is a message here about how emotion isn’t monotone that is important for moviegoers of all ages. It’s nice to see Pixar finding that sweet spot between entertainment and inspiration again.

Focus

February 27, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro
Directed by: Glen Ficarra & John Requa (“Crazy, Stupid Love”)
Written by: Glen Ficarra & John Requa (“I Love You, Phillip Morris”)

I’m a sucker for slick con man talk. I don’t mean to imply I’ve been conned by a professional any higher up the food chain than a fast-talking carny bruising my ego enough to convince me to spend 15 bucks trying to win some knock-off Scooby-Doo plush toy, just that I love the names the con men use for their grifts in movies. Take the “Ocean’s 11/12/13” films, with their “Two Jethros” and their “Susan B. Anthony” and their “Looky-loo with a bundle of joy;” every last utterance invokes world-building that may or may not make much sense, but I’d sure like to learn more about it. “Focus” may not have the breezy swagger Soderbergh infused into the celeb-heavy “Ocean’s” series, but it’s a self-assured caper that doesn’t let one too many turns derail the chemistry of its leads.

After scheming his way into a reservation at a tony restaurant, long time con man Nicky (Will Smith) runs across the beautiful Jess (Margot Robbie) running a con of her own. After her attempts to swindle Nicky are thwarted, she becomes his protégé and lover, joining a confederation of con men in New Orleans, running a massive criminal operation pickpocketing, skimming, and hustling all the suckers in town for the non-branded movie version of the Super Bowl. Nicky breaks off contact with Jess after the score, only to run into her three years later in Buenos Aires while working for her racecar owner boyfriend Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). His emotions thrown for a loop, Nicky must work the con and convince Jess he’s changed to win her back.

Written and directed by the team behind the wonderful “Crazy, Stupid Love,” Glen Ficarra and John Requa,  “Focus” also suffers some of the same setbacks their previous film, namely an effortlessness that doesn’t seem to carry any danger for the characters dancing close to disaster. The tightly choreographed theft on display in New Orleans comes with little threat of danger, despite the grift totaling more than $1 million and being right under the noses of hundreds of thousands of people. And like the Emma Stone reveal in “Crazy, Stupid Love,” there’s another unnecessary twist at the end of the film that only serves to render scenes that came before it pointless or nonsensical. In spite of that, though, the movie star version of Will Smith the world fell in love with 20 years ago is back, finally, after the dismal “After Earth,” and Margot Robbie exudes the energy and sexiness of a young Cameron Diaz. When the two stars are on camera together, especially in a tension-filled high stakes gambling sequence featuring veteran character actor B.D. Wong, you can’t focus on anything but the chemistry.