Happy Death Day

October 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Directed by: Christopher Landon (“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”)
Written by: Scott Lobdell (“Man of the House”)

For a self-aware slasher movie that features the main character reliving the same day over and over again after being brutally murdered by a mask-wearing killer, “Happy Death Day” takes too goddamn long to point out just how similar the whole endeavor is to the modern classic “Groundhog Day,” saving it for the epilogue. If this were a “Scream” movie, the Jamie Kennedy archetype would have connected the dots on that shit in the second act.

In spite of that egregious pop culture reference oversight, “Happy Death Day” manages to become a clever-enough horror movie that could have been truly great given another shot of creativity and the freedom of an R-rating.

The film begins (many times) with Tree (Jessica Rothe) waking up on her birthday with a nasty hangover in an unknown guy’s dorm room. Turns out he’s a nice guy named Carter (Israel Broussard) and she went home with him last night. Being a super mean sorority bitch, Tree orders him to never tell anyone what happened, and she begins her walk of shame through campus and back to her sorority house, encountering a leering goth, an environmental protester, and a guy she ghosted. As she rolls in, her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) offers her a homemade cupcake for her birthday—which Tree ruthlessly chunks into the garbage. Later she meets with a professor she’s having an affair with, nearly getting caught by his wife, and ignores multiple phone calls from her dad. By the time she’s going out alone for a party, her path takes her down a dimly-lit alleyway, where she’s stabbed to death by a killer wearing a mask of a toothy baby.

And then, just like that, she wakes up in Carter’s dorm again, forced to repeat the same day until she’s able to find her killer, all the while becoming a somewhat better person.

“Happy Death Day” shines when the film decides to have fun and go for laughs, which happens often—but not quite enough. Rothe turns in a wickedly bitchy performance that, again, could have been a gleefully campy classic had the studio chosen to shoot for an R-rating, throwing in more gore and some variety to its kills, a la “Edge of Tomorrow.” And though the movie doesn’t wear out its welcome at 96 minutes, some elaboration wouldn’t hurt, as several premises introduced during the movie—Tree’s mother’s death, that every time she comes back to life she carries internal physical scars from the kills—are introduced with little to no payoff. “Happy Death Day” works way more than it doesn’t, but maybe one, like with Tree, more go ‘round could have sharpened things up.

American Made

September 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen
Directed by: Doug Liman (“Edge of Tomorrow,” “The Bourne Identity”)
Written by: Gary Spinelli (“Stash House”)

Based (somewhat loosely) on a true story, “American Made” finds Tom Cruise finally returning to the type of role that gives him some vulnerability—something which has been sorely lacking in a decade filled with high-octane “Mission: Impossible” movies, the dull “Jack Reacher” series, and this year’s dreadful reboot of “The Mummy.”

Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA airline pilot who, in 1978, is bored of welcoming passengers to Bakersfield and Vancouver. While in Canada, he and other pilots run a low-level smuggling ring, bringing Cuban cigars into the United States for a few extra bucks. This attracts the attention of a CIA agent named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who plays into Seal’s boredom to recruit him to fly a twin-engine plane over communist training camps in Central America, snapping photos for Uncle Sam. Barry agrees, but doesn’t tell his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen), who pesters Barry for more money for their growing family. When he’s shut out of a raise by Schafer, Barry accepts an offer from the men who would become the Medellin drug cartel, led by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda), to smuggle cocaine into the United States for piles and piles of cash.

When Barry is arrested and thrown into a Colombian prison for drug smuggling, Schafer again comes to his aid with an offer: deliver guns to communist-fighting Contras in Nicaragua. Again, the cartel steps in and offers to buy the guns from Barry, who becomes obscenely wealthy from the smuggling, attracting the attention of the FBI, ATF, and several other law enforcement agencies.

Directed by Doug Liman, who previously helmed the under-appreciated (and poorly titled) Cruise sci-fi vehicle “Edge of Tomorrow,” “American Made” aspires for the breezy, comedy-drama feel of “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Big Short” and ends up mostly succeeding. There are times when the plot feels hacked up to get the running time just under two hours, with stunted characters like Jesse Plemons’ “look the other way” small town sheriff getting featured introductions and significant follow-up scenes only to end up with little to do afterward and the sudden fore fronting of one of Barry’s vague associates in the final act.

It’s a small quibble, really, and it doesn’t do much to detract from the enjoyment in finally seeing Tom Cruise really sink his gorgeous teeth into something for the first time since “Magnolia” or “Vanilla Sky.”

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

September 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “X-Men: First Class”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”) & Jane Goldman (“The Woman in Black”)

Look, I’m all for genre subversion—I’m no stick in the mud—but someone needs to step in and get the point across to director Matthew Vaughn that just doing that for the entire runtime of an action movie isn’t funny or entertaining without something, anything to back it up. It’s just not enough. Hey, great, your stuffy British secret agents in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and its sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” say “fuck” a lot, brutally eviscerate bad guys, and gleefully engage in anal sex in the throes of victory—that’s funny! I mean for a little while, sure—what about the story? You know, the thing that threads together all the high-velocity fight scenes?

Oh, for a story beat you’re going to go with a limp set piece that involves our hero, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), having to finger bang the bad guy’s innocent girlfriend at a music festival in order to plant a tracking device inside her vagina?

Hoo boy.

Anyway, “The Golden Circle” kicks off with Eggsy coming to blows with a former would-be Kingsman Charilie (Edward Holcroft)—now a bad guy with a robot arm—who tries to kill him in a high-speed car chase through London. Thanks to a piece of his cybernetic arm left behind to hack the system, villainous, ’50s-obsessed drug kingpin Poppy (Julianne Moore) is able to destroy every Kingsman save Eggsy and gadget-whiz Merlin (Mark Strong). Activating their doomsday protocol leads them to seek help from the Statesman, another covert operation based out of a Kentucky distillery. Led by Champ (Jeff Bridges), agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), the Statesman offer up their services to the Kingsman, and reveal that oh, by the way, they have Harry Hart (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s Kingsman mentor—thought to be dead after the first movie—in their care. See, they swooped in and saved him, but he has amnesia and thinks he’s a butterfly scientist. Of course, since his help will eventually be needed to take down Poppy (who’s kidnapped Elton John, playing himself), Harry will need to have his memory restored as quickly as possible.

Like most of Vaughn’s movies, “The Golden Circle” thinks it’s way more clever than it actually is, and comes across pretty icky at times. Whereas one of the final shots of the first film was a POV shot of Eggsy looking down at a princess’ bare ass—prior to the aforementioned, eh, anal sex—the sequel ups the creep factor by having the camera follow Eggsy’s finger down the woman’s body as he slips on a finger condom and slides his hand into her underwear and then changing to a shot of the interior of the woman’s—you know, forget it.

Besides shit like that, the movie wastes its new stars. Hallie Berry brings nothing, Jeff Bridges chews up a few lines and Channing Tatum, introduced in a puzzling yet southern-fried scene, sits out most of the movie, with the heavy lifting of the Statesman done by Pascal’s Whiskey, one of the few bright spots until the script decides to deal with him otherwise. But hey, at least Elton John gets a couple of funny moments.

Home Again

September 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky
Directed by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer (debut)
Written by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer (debut)

I guess there’s an audience for the kind of movie “Home Again” is—a fluffy tale of a rich white woman in her 40s who, while more than comfortably wealthy, is struggling to start some basic bitch-type job like design or decorating for other latte-and-wine-sipping women, who then encounters decent men so saccharine, the woman invents problems to have with them, turning the guy missing a dinner (due to life-changing career opportunities, no less!) into a betrayal tantamount to infidelity. Oh, and don’t forget the woman’s adorably plucky daughters and her no-nonsense mother!

That audience doesn’t include me. But if the large contingent of women in their late 30s to late 40s that showed up to the screening I attended and laughed at every hackneyed joke and hissed at every extremely mild bad thing a man did, well…who am I to judge?

Oh, yeah, a film critic.

Anyway, “Home Again” opens with a flashback montage narrated by Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) as she remembers her late father, a philandering, genius director of romantic comedies in the ‘70s who fell in love with his leading lady Lillian (Candice Bergen), a pairing which begat Alice. His immaculate Los Angeles bungalow is now Alice’s, and she uses the home as ground zero for a fresh start with her two daughters after her marriage to record executive Austen (Michael Sheen) and fleeing New York City.

While out celebrating her 40th (oh no!) birthday, Alice runs into three good-as-gold 20-something filmmakers (Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff), fresh off a hit short at SXSW out in L.A. to make it big—and due to sitcom-like circumstances, they all end up living in Alice’s opulent, well-furnished guest house. As the film chugs along to tinkly piano beats, Alexander’s director, Harry, falls for Alice and they begin a mildly naughty sexual relationship, while Rudnitsky’s writer, George, takes to Alice’s neurotic aspiring writer daughter, becoming her mentor. Meanwhile, Wolff’s actor character, Teddy, remains present in a lot of scenes without really doing anything. Conflict only arises artificially, though, when amazing career advancement opportunities come up for one character that mildly inconveniences another—Harry meeting with producers causes him to miss a dinner with Alice, George takes on a script polishing job, Teddy reads for a pilot, and Harry gets pissed because…I don’t know, he’s an auteur? Oh yeah, then Michael Sheen shows up to reclaim Alice from these young whippersnappers, and…eh.

Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, who herself is the daughter of romantic comedy directors Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, “Home Again” isn’t far off from her mother’s output—and weirdly ignorant of how actual one might be successful as a filmmaker in Hollywood. You know, if your parents aren’t successful filmmakers and give you a hand up in the business. And it’s also weird that you’d let three men–complete strangers, sort of a diet “Entourage” crew—shack up with you, as a single woman, with two elementary school age daughters just because your daffy old mom suggested you be a “patron of the arts.” There is no home in “Home Again,” at least not one that exists in any other world but the Meyers-Shyer family.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Colin Firth
Directed by: Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Lucy”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Taken,” “The Professional”)

These days, original sci-fi at the movies requires a pretty big buy-in. The stuff with less fantastical elements, like “The Martian” or “Edge of Tomorrow,” tends to satisfy adult audiences with gritty, somewhat-based-in-a-possible-reality plotting, while the more “out there” stuff—think “Jupiter Ascending” or “John Carter”—lands with a thud. That any major studio is still giving money to directors to chase these wild geese into non-profitability is, I suppose, something to applaud, and even though these filmmakers have amazing visions, the fact is that the movies are either achingly bad and/or no one seems to give a shit about them.

As a master of Eurotrash action, Luc Besson is no stranger to ambitious sci-fi. From the delightfully weird “The Fifth Element” from 20 years ago or the godawful “Lucy” from 2014, his movies are at least unique if not always, well, any good. His latest film, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” is clearly a passion project, based on a French-Belgian comic you’ve never heard of called “Valerian et Laureline.” Besson has put together a visually amazing, inventive world—too bad his characters can’t carry the load.

After a prologue featuring the evolution of the International Space Station into an orbiting monstrosity known as Alpha set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” “Valerian” diverts into a dreamy, sun-soaked day-in-the-life of a race of beach-dwelling aliens, who look like albino Na’vi from “Avatar,” wash their faces with pearls, and keep as pets colorful little creatures who eat and reproduce those same pearls. When destruction comes for their world in an intergalactic war they aren’t part of, one of the aliens sends a psychic signal out through the universe, rousing our hero Valerian (a sleepy, Keanu Reeves-sounding Dane DeHaan) from a slumber and some ill-defined almost-sex with his gorgeous partner, Laureline (bland, store-brand Emma Stone substitute Cara Delevingne). They’re both some sort of intergalactic special agents, tasked with stealing some artifacts from a Jabba the Hutt-ish crime lord in an interdimensional flea market and protecting the Commander (Colin Firth) as he tries to figure out just what the heck is going on with a surge of radiation in the core of Alpha.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a wonder of production design and fairly wondrous set pieces—nearly undone entirely by a pair of low-wattage leads and too-frequent diversions into goofy Looney Tunes-style cul de sacs.  The aforementioned heist in the market that spans dimensions—shoppers wander around an empty desert lot wearing goggles and transporter boxes on their hands so they can see and interact with vendors in a parallel dimension—is an amazingly batshit idea that makes me smile just thinking about it, and Besson (as usual) peppers it with weirdo military agents and obnoxious American tourists. But then, at some point, we have to get back to DeHaan and Delevingne and listen to them flatly spar about potentially getting married, despite no clear evidence of chemistry between the two. Later diversions include singer Rihanna as a shape-shifting stripper who helps Valerian rescue Laureline from what might as well be a giant stewpot in a sequence that climaxes with a cartoony eye-cross-only missing tweeting birds—none of which has fuck-all to do with the plot (that feels lifted from “Serenity” anyway). Luc Besson, you madman. If you could focus (and cast better) you’d be a modern-day cinema hero.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by: Jon Watts (“Cop Car”)
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein (“Horrbile Bosses”) & John Francis Daley (“Vacation”) and Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) & Christopher Ford (“Cop Car”) and Chris McKenna (“The LEGO Batman Movie”) & Erik Sommers (“The LEGO Batman Movie”)

No one wanted this, the third different Spider-Man film franchise from Sony in 15 years. Most of us liked the first two films starring Tobey Maguire from director Sam Raimi. I guess someone liked enough of Marc Webb’s first film in the 2012 reboot starring Andrew Garfield and a pre-Oscar Emma Stone to warrant the sequel that killed that franchise.

Spider-Man’s origin story, like Batman’s, should be etched in stone somewhere on a list called “Things We Never Need to See Depicted On Screen Again.”

But of course, in this golden age of comic book films, the most popular, kid-friendly hero can’t stay benched. Marvel came a-calling, offering Sony a deal they couldn’t refuse: let Spider-Man (which the studio has the film rights to) join Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and we’ll let you borrow elements for the MCU for stand-alone Spider-Man films, which sputtered out after “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” just as Marvel was kicking things into overdrive. This marriage begat the latest film featuring the wise-cracking web slinger, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Picking up just after the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which is recounted by Peter Parker (Tom Holland) via social media videos, “Homecoming” focuses on Peter’s high school life while he awaits another call from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to join up once again with the Avengers. Meanwhile, Peter dons his Stark-made Spidey suit—filled with tech, natch—to stop petty crime around New York. When Peter runs across some criminals using salvaged Chitauri tech, he inadvertently stumbles into the path of arms dealer Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a once-honest man driven to the underworld when the government and Stark muscle him out of the salvage business. All this while he’s trying to win the affection of cute older girl Liz (Laura Harrier).

I don’t know  that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the best Spider-Man movie—a distinction that still belongs to Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2”—but it’s certainly the most fun. The movie is a genuine laugh riot at times, shamelessly aping the ‘80s output of John Hughes to mine hilarity from teenage awkwardness. Holland’s Peter feels like the first real “teenaged” Spider-Man we’ve ever gotten, and his clumsy pining over Liz and his nerdy goings on with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are fun enough even without the web swinging. Alas, this is Marvel movie, though, and previous viewing of damn near everything that came before it, though not absolutely required, is highly advised. Though not as hefty a presence as marketing may have implied, Tony Stark hangs heavy over the film, especially in the suit, which at times makes Spider-Man seem more like a kid version of Iron Man that swings from webs instead of flying than the webhead everyone loves (also, where’s the spider sense, or the super strength?)

Still, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” almost improbably, delivers an essential, delightful version of a movie no one wanted in the first place.

Transformers: The Last Knight

June 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”) Written by: Art Marcum (“Iron Man”) & Matt Holloway (“Iron Man”) & Ken Nolan (“Black Hawk Down”) Every now and then, I take stock of all the entertainment properties I enjoyed as a child—or still enjoy screen-printed on a t-shirt—that are being made into well-meaning, if not always good, major motion pictures. All the Marvel stuff, some of the DC Comics stuff, Star Wars…it’s a fine time at the movies to be a fan of the geekier stuff. But then there’s Transformers. It just…it breaks my heart. We have well-made, coherent films where utterly ridiculous characters like Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon are treated with respect and written as real characters. Meanwhile, five films into Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series, every other fucking robot is either a racist stereotype, spends half their screen time robo-farting or some other bullshit. They even got original cartoon voice actor Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime, and seemingly half of his lines in the latest film, “Transformers: The Last Knight” are “I am Optimus Prime!” And I love Optimus Prime. “The Last Knight” opens in the days of King Arthur, where a drunken Merlin (Stanley Tucci!) begs a Transformer (they’ve been here the whole time!) for help in defeating a horde of invaders. He’s given a staff, which calls upon a metal dragon. Flash forward 1,600 years and, in accordance with the rest of this series, the movie picks and chooses which plot points from the previous four films to either embrace or outright ignore. Anyway, this time Chicago stays destroyed after the events of “Age of Extinction,” and the ruins are patrolled by the Transformers Response Force, since Transformers are now illegal. A young girl (Isabella Moner) is saved by Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) after a drone strike kills her Autobot pal. She stows away with him back to his junkyard in South Dakota, where a bunch of annoying Autobots, including Bumblebee and Grimlock, hang out. Meanwhile Optimus Prime continues his journey into deep space to confront his maker, Quintessa, to tell her to leave Earth alone. Like a chump, he immediately fucks that up and is brainwashed into becoming Nemesis Prime, now assisting Quintessa in her plan to bring Cybertron to Earth, which is actually Unicron (see the animated “Transformers: The Movie” from 1986) in order to revive Cybertron. The only thing that can stop this plan is the staff of Merlin, which can only be wielded by his last living ancestor, Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), and she’s being sought by Sir Emund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) and his psychotic robot butler Cogman, the last guard of the Witwiccans (UGH), a brotherhood of humans who have worked alongside Transformers for centuries—you know, because they were here all along. And that’s not even half of the junk shoved into this movie, which is bursting at the seams with so much utter bullshit you won’t even have time to catch your breath—dinosaur Transformers barfing up cars, horns emerging from the earth, a manservant droid shooting himself out of a torpedo tube to catch some fish for a pair of humans on a submarine OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING? If there are some redeeming factors in this garbage fire is that “The Last Knight” is not quite as blatantly racist and sexist as the previous entries, and it’s not quite as punishingly long. Otherwise…I just can’t deal with these anymore.

The Mummy

June 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman (“People Like Us”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”) & Christopher McQuarrie (“Edge of Tomorrow”) & Dylan Kussman (debut)

I have fond memories of 1999’s “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser. As a goofy knock-off Indiana Jones for the CGI age, the film opened weeks before “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and people were already camped out to buy tickets for that when I left my first screening of “The Mummy.” One of the friends I saw “The Mummy” with ducked out to wait in that very line. Oh, and the movie was fun, too—junky and shallow, sure, but fun. There’s even a pretty fun roller coaster based on it at Universal Studios!

Anyway, here we are 18 years later, and now a reboot/remake/secret sequel(?) of “The Mummy” is here, set in modern times to kick off a Universal Monsters cinematic series—dubbed the Dark Universe—which will allegedly feature an Avengers/Justice League-style team-up featuring the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman. And Universal is bringing the big guns to the fight, casting Tom Cruise as the lead, but unfortunately the movie wrapped around him is a mess.

Cruise plays Nick Morton, who the script would have us believe is a criminal U.S. soldier in Iraq, a tomb-robbing looter, stealing artifacts from historical sites with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) and selling them on the black market. When they deviate from a mission to check out a potential location to swipe antiquities from, Nick and Chris become pinned down by enemy gunfire. A last-second airstrike saves them, and opens up an ancient Egyptian tomb in the process—which clearly doesn’t belong in Iraq. Enter Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who along with Nick and Chris enter the tomb to explore it and, in the process, reactivate an ancient, too-evil-to-bury-in-Egypt mummy named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and she’s looking for a mate. Since he’s the one that released her, Nick becomes cursed, able to survive a plane crash and lots of brutal punishment at the hands of Ahmanet’s reanimated goons. He also becomes the target of Prodigium, a sort of magic-focus SHIELD led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), looking to rid the world of monsters.

First things first, this is a Tom Cruise movie, and he’s absolutely the wrong choice. The notion that we buy into Cruise playing a war criminal is ludicrous at first, and the script, credited to three writers and three more with “story by” credits, doesn’t ever seem to be comfortable committing to the notion of Cruise’s Nick being a real shitbag. There are flashes of humor, much of it on Jake Johnson’s capable shoulders, but the film stops dead when Dr. Jekyll (sigh) shows up to exposition the whole thing into a sarcophagus. At least the Brendan Fraser movies were fun. Universal would be wise to remember that.

Wonder Woman

June 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright
Directed by: Patty Jenkins (“Monster”)
Written by: Allan Heinberg (debut)

It took 76 years for Hollywood to come around to producing and releasing a full-length live-action motion picture featuring DC Comics’ Wonder Woman, easily the most famous female superhero of all—and one that recognizably stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Superman, Batman, and cross-company rival Spider-Man in the “everyone on planet Earth knows who this character is” pantheon.

So what the hell took so long? We’re up to six Spider-Man movies, eight Superman movies, and nine Batman movies since Wonder Woman first his comic books—not to mention the one Supergirl and one Catwoman film no one was asking for. Blame it on good old fashioned sexism or misogyny if you like, or waiting for the right cultural or financial climate or whatever other baloney studios use to justify not doing something, but after the entirety of Bob Dylan’s lifetime we finally have “Wonder Woman,” and the film manages to be both worth the wait and the redemption the critically-maligned DC Extended Universe so desperately needs.

Set after the events of 2016’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” we catch up with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) as she receives a delivery in her office at the Louvre in Paris: a briefcase containing a vintage photograph of Diana and a team of soldiers which she was seeking in “BvS.” Bruce Wayne tracked it down and returned it to her, triggering a flashback to Diana’s youth on the mystical, all-female island of Themyscira. There she trains to be a warrior under Antiope (Robin Wright) after protestations from her mother, Queen Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). When a WWI-era German plane breaches the island’s protective force field, Diana swims out to sea to save the pilot and British intelligence spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). His rescue, however, brings German soldiers—and the war—to the island. When told of the Great War by Trevor, Diana is convinced Ares, the god of war, is behind it all, and demands Trevor take her to the front to fight—and fulfill her destiny to destroy Ares and bring peace to the world.

Minus a junky, CGI-heavy final battle far too reminiscent of the worst qualities of DCEU steward Zack Snyder, “Wonder Woman” is a refreshingly smaller scale superhero origin story that doesn’t get bogged down in the typical traps of that very specific slice of the genre. Director Patty Jenkins coaxes a winning, badass performance out of Gadot, who wasn’t given much to do except save Batman’s ass in the character’s abridged big-screen debut last year. Diana is strong, sincere, and funny as the fish out of water in the modern world (well, the modern world of 100 years ago). Chris Pine also shines as Steve Trevor, a career soldier and sometimes smartass that’s ready to fall in step when he realizes Diana can more than take care of herself—and everyone around her.

“Wonder Woman” isn’t a perfect movie, but it hopefully marks the righting of the DC ship—and with it already angering dipshit men upset at women’s only screenings, consider me in love with this kick-ass Amazonian princess.

Baywatch

May 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses,” “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters”)
Written by: Damian Shannon (“Freddy vs. Jason”) & Mark Swift (“Friday the 13th”)

Somewhere in the world, there’s someone upset about the state of the industry of turning corny, old TV dramas into theatrical tongue-in-cheek raunchy comedies. A grown man is angry right now because “21 Jump Street” was turned into a hilarious meta-commentary on the ridiculousness of action movies and their sequels instead of a gritty reboot, or that “CHiPs” was made into, well, I don’t know because no one saw “CHiPs,” but it looked like it was supposed to be a comedy, too.

Anyway, now we’ve got a comedic reboot of “Baywatch” on our hands—once certifiably the most popular show in the world—and I imagine there are a few lost souls desiring an existential crisis-filled lifeguard movie highlighting the psychological rigors of saving people while you yourself are lost or some other horse shit, but nope. Instead, it’s kind of just as doofy as a normal “Baywatch” episode caught mid-transformation into a half-baked mess of a comedy drowning in weak dick and boobs jokes and not much else.

Borrowing loose characterizations from the syndicated cleavage- and slo-mo-filled TV show, “Baywatch” focuses on hotshot lifeguard Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his posse of crime fighting lifeguards, including no-nonsense Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and blonde bombshell CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach). Several spots have opened up on the squad, and just in time, too—the beach (now apparently somewhere other than Los Angeles, for tax reasons I guess) is being overrun with a new drug called Flakka and a ruthless realtor (Priyanka Chopra) is looking to gobble up beachfront real estate. Enter a trio of candidates: sometime dim-bulb disgraced Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron), sincere, dedicated Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and schlubby-but-determined Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass). Will they have what it takes to make the squad and save the beach? Yeah, of course.

Clearly modeled after the “Jump Street” films, “Baywatch” belly flops when it comes to effective satire and face plants into the sand when it comes to raunch. Forgive my crassness here, but some movies demand nudity, and a simple prosthetic penis won’t do the trick. The screenplay, which well-known script doctors of unsalvageable crap Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant have a story credit on, never decides what to do with its willing cast. Is Efron’s Ryan Lochte send-up the dumbest guy in the room, or the only guy who can see how weird it is that a bunch of lifeguards fancy themselves as crime fighters? Is Mitch a bullying alpha male or a too-sincere leader? Is CJ running in literal slow motion absurd humor, or a weak attempt at “Naked Gun” style parody? It’s all these things and more, but mostly it’s an awful misfire.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

May 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell
Directed by: James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”)
Written by: James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”)

The first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film was a gamble in 2014, and it paid off big for Marvel—even if they were stealthily hedging their bets by releasing it late in the summer and without a firm connection to their already-established Marvel Cinematic Universe. Filled with loveable dirtbag characters, sharp humor and enough classic rock needle drops to make Cameron Crowe jealous, writer/director James Gunn’s sci-fi comedy about a bunch of a-holes was a refreshing change of pace from the Earth-bound heroes Marvel built its franchise on.

Following the financial success of the first film, Marvel allowed Gunn to run with the series, and in the time-honored sequel tradition of “bigger and more” he turned out “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” which still delivers most of the stuff you loved about the first go-round, only this time with a lot more of it and somewhat less satisfaction.

After a prologue in 1980 Missouri featuring yet another old actor digitally de-aged (in this case, Kurt Russell) to fill in some of our heroes’ backstory, we jump ahead 34 years as the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Baustia as Drax, the voice of Bradley Cooper as Rocket, and the heavily-processed voice of Vin Diesel as adorable Baby Groot) are doing some work for hire (their price? Karen Gillen’s Nebula) protecting intergalactic batteries from a space monster for some gold-skinned alien beings called the Sovereign.

After they’ve succeeded, Rocket decides to swipe a few of the priceless batteries for himself, leading to the Sovereign forces giving chase and downing the Guardians’ ship on a remote planet. They’re saved from slaughter by a man riding an egg-shaped ship, named Ego (Russell), who reveals he’s Quill’s long-lost father and wants to show him where he came from. While Gamora and Drax join Quill, Rocket and Groot stay behind to repair the ship and keep watch over Nebula, only to be ambushed by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his band of Ravagers out to collect a bounty on Rocket for thieving from the Sovereign.

After a mutiny derails Yondu’s original plan, he teams up with Rocket, Baby Groot, and Nebula to save Peter (and the galaxy) from the secret plan Ego has in place for his son.

With a kitchen sink approach to characters, plot turns and yacht rock songs, “GOTG Vol. 2” often feels in danger of collapsing under the bloat, but ends up kept afloat mostly by the enjoyment of hanging out with these characters again and the sheer amount of laughs the screenplay doles out. The comedy MVP trophy for this outing is more than earned by Bautista’s hyper-literal Drax, who punctuates nearly every near-death experience with a hearty, infectious laugh. Like a delicious hamburger with so many toppings they spill out all over your shirt when you take a bite, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is often highly enjoyable, but next time around you’d like it all to hold together a little better.

The Fate of the Furious

April 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“Furious 7,” “Fast 5”)

I’ve run out of ways to express my bewilderment for “The Fast and the Furious” series, so, with the latest film, “The Fate of the Furious” fresh in my mind, I’m going to go back two years and re-purpose what I wrote about “Furious 7” because the exact same thoughts crossed my mind. Sue me:

“If nothing else, the evolution of the ‘Fast & Furious’ series over the past decade and a half from low-rent meathead car culture crime movies to globe-hopping meathead action movies is worthy of some gentle introspection. How did we, as moviegoers, let this happen? How did this series go from being the “Scarface” of those guys that put neon, spoilers and Japanese letters on their cars to being Michael Bay’s “Transformers” without the transforming robots? And wait. Is de facto family leader Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) any sort of law enforcement, or is he just a civilian badass called upon by the government to…drive fast cars to get criminals?”

I fully admit, I don’t know how to deal with these movies. They baffle me. But I’ll be damned if the ramped-up cartoonish action of “The Fate of the Furious” didn’t come closer than the shaves on the scalps of the leading men to winning me over than most of the previous entries in the series, “Fast Five” excluded.

While on their honeymoon in Cuba, portrayed here as an eternal, multi-ethnic party where lawlessness is trumped by honor, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) do the usual American touristy things, like wearing linen and engaging in high-stakes street races with the island nation’s famously old vehicles. During a stroll to a bodega, Dom stumbles up a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron), who shows Dom something on a cell phone that’s enough to get him to betray his family (be ready to hear that word a lot) and help her execute her confusing world-domination plan.

Reminder: 16 years ago Dom was a street-racing gearhead who ran stolen DVD players. Anyway.

When Special Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) recruits Dom and his team to help swipe an EMP (again?) in an off-the-books mission that could send Hobbs to prison, Dom makes his move and Hobbs gets locked up. While inside he meets up with “Furious 7’s” villain Deckard (Jason Statham) who, while he still hates Hobbs, turns out to be a good guy now so that when they both are inevitably freed, he joins the team. Which seems sudden, but whatever.

Now Hobbs, Deckard, and the rest (including Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and a “Game of Thrones” actress, Nathalie Emmanuel, who reprises her role as an unconvincing hacker) have to take down Dom before he gathers enough weapons to start World War III on Cipher’s behalf.

Dom’s betrayal, especially as the dull, monosyllabic patriarch of the film’s oft-grunted-about family, is pretty thin gruel that no true fan will buy for a second, and new director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) knows it. Instead, he chooses to showcase things like a ridiculous cartoon prison brawl involving a raging, Hulked-out Johnson (the real star of the franchise now, let’s face it) deflecting rubber bullets and punching guards through walls in his pursuit of a parkour-ing Statham or some batshit lunacy involving hacked cars remotely chasing down a motorcade and driving themselves out of a high rise parking garage to trap a Russian ambassador under piles of burning metal. By the time a few characters blasted their way into frame via jetpacks, I was damn near won over.

By the time Dom’s plot is wrapped up, though, and the movie ends with a rooftop barbecue, the stupidity overwhelms you again, and you forget about the entire franchise for another two years.

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