Film Review: “The Book Club”

BOOK CLUB
Starring:  Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen
Directed by:  Bill Holderman
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hrs 44 mins
Paramount

Our Score: 4 out of 5 (stars!)

Between them they have 13 Academy Award nominations and 4 Oscars.  THEY are Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen and together they form the members of Paramount’s latest comedy, “The Book Club.”

Keaton plays Diane, recently widowed.  Fonda is Vivian, a wealthy hotel owner who refuses to sleep with men, meaning she’ll have sex but she won’t stay the night.  Bergen is Sharon, a Federal Judge whose husband (Ed Begley, Jr) left her 18 years ago and continues to date much younger women.  Steenburgen is Carol, married to the recently retired Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) who seems to have lost all interest in everything but his old motorcycle.  Each month this quartet of ladies meets and discusses a book they have recently read, an appointment they started in the 70s with Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying.”  Feeling like the last few months entries have been lifeless, Vivian decides to spice up things by introducing the “50 Shades of Grey” series to their reading tables.  And spice things up it does.

There is nothing more enjoyable than seeing professionals at the top of their craft and “The Book Club” does not disappoint.

The film takes an honest, but humorous, look at love after 60.  It’s not all roses and champagne.  As the book begins to stir their desires, the three single women meet similar aged men who have refused to let age slow them down.  Diane meets a handsome airline pilot (Andy Garcia).  Vivian rekindles an old romance with Arthur (Don Johnson) while Sharon explores the world of on-line dating with both Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn.  The story has its great share of laughs but also some emotional times of reflection, all driven by a true all-star cast.

FYI, the four leading ladies also have between them 38 Golden Globe nominations (14 wins) and 12 Emmy nods (5 wins).  They should have called this film the Golden Girls.

Film Review: “Deadpool 2”

DEADPOOL 2
Starring:  Ryan Reynolds, Morena Bacarin and Josh Brolin
Directed by:  David Leitch
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hrs 59 mins
20th Century Fox

Every once in a while a film comes along that not only bends the rules, but breaks them.  Such a film was “Deadpool.”  Is there any way the sequel can live up to that introduction?  Yes indeedy.

Ryan Reynolds continues his journey as the foul-mouthed, yet sensitive, Wade Wilson, better known to us moviegoers as Deadpool.  In this chapter he firmly puts tongue in cheek as he tries his best to learn the meaning of the word family.

Along the way he pokes fun at so many pop culture references that I literally lost count.  The Justice League.  “The Goonies.”  A still simmering anger with anything to do with Wolverine.  His sarcasm is razor fine and cuts just as easily.  A running gag where a line from the film “Frozen” sounds suspiciously like “Papa Can You Hear Me” from the film, “Yentl” is reigned in enough so it actually makes you laugh no matter how many times you hear it.  And the added humor that Josh Brolin is Barbra Streisands’s step-son only makes the gag even funnier.

Brolin, fresh off his gig in “The Avengers: Infiniti Wars,” plays Cable, a time-traveling mutant that’s as buff as his “Avengers” alter ego Thanos.  Brolin gives the role a sense of drama but isn’t above having a little fun himself.  If I’m sounding a little evasive here, it’s because the film company has asked reviewers not to give away too much of the film.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Like its predecessor, “Deadpool 2” is one of the best comic book films ever.

Cannes Film Festival Review: “Astro”

ASTRO

 

Starring: Gary Daniels, Courtney Akbar and Michael Pare’

Directed by: Asif Akbar

Rated: Not Rated

Running time: 1 hour 45 mins

Avail Films

 

A young woman (Courtney Akbar) sits alone in her room as Christmas approaches.   She wonders aloud if she will ever see her father again.  She is greeted by a flash and is approached by a creature that calls herself “Vivian” (Max Wasa).  She informs the daughter that she is there to “show her the way.”

We are not alone.

That is the message we quickly learn in director Asif Akbar’s latest film, “Astro.”

The film begins with radio broadcasts, as well as newspaper accounts, of the various incidents reported in the late 1940s in Roswell, New Mexico.  For years, Roswell has either been looked upon as either a tourist trap or the place where the government is hiding SOMETHING!  We are privy to an examination of a “creature,” under the guidance of billionaire space enthusiast Alexander Biggs (Marshal Hilton).  When a DNA test of the creature reveals the name of a long lost friend, Biggs realizes that his thoughts and hopes about extraterrestrials may finally be coming true.

An entertaining film, “Astro” benefits from a strong cast and firm direction.  I am a huge fan of Mr. Akbar’s 2012 documentary, “Top Priority:  The Terror Within,” a film in which he took on the government after learning of a major security breach along the border, and his approach to this story is almost the same.  His use of close-ups gives one the impression one is watching a documentary, which puts the viewer more into the story that is unfolding on screen.

The cast are also “all in” on the story, with nary a false note in sight.   Mr. Hilton is slickly smooth, channeling a cross between Jeremy Irons and Charles Dance.  Mr. Daniels and Ms. Akbar are a devoted father/daughter team, one whose bond seems genuine.  And, to be honest, I’ve always liked Michael Pare’, so it’s always a pleasure to see him on the big screen.

The script, by Mr. Akbar and Bernard Selling, adds enough humor to keep the story light and the musical score, by Erick Schroder, sets the tone for the entire film.  If there is a fault in the film, it is its budget.  The special effects, while passible, do have a homemade quality to them.  Nothing horrible, but when you release your film at the same time as the new “Avengers” or “Solo” is in theatres, you’d have to understand the criticism.

That being said, like “Close Encounters” before it, the questions need to be answered!”

 

Film Review: “Avengers: Infinity War”

Starring: Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr.
Directed By: Anthony and Joe Russo
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 149 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I can’t fathom the immense pressure the creators, directors, writers, producers and studio had going into “Infinity War.” Marvel has spent the past decade crafting content that not only stands on its own two feet, but was meticulously building towards this moment. Since Thanos first reared his ugly purple head in a post-credits scene in the first “Avengers,” fans knew that this monumental occasion was eventually going to happen. With lofty expectations, I’m happy to report that “Infinity War” delivers on nearly every level.

I usually type out a short summary or try to set-up the plot at some point early on in my reviews, but I feel like it’s a moot talking point because if you’ve kept up with the Marvel movies or have a good idea of what’s going on in them, you don’t need me to paint a picture about the Infinity Stones, the Infinity Gauntlet or the fight to save the universe. But I also know you don’t need me spoiling anything, so I’ll stay quiet on the specifics. However, I will say that it only takes the first five minutes of the film for “Infinity War” to knock viewers right in the jaw and set the tone.

Getting every character in one film, give or take a few, is an impressive feat on its own. But what’s cleverly done by Marvel’s creative crew is dividing our favorite heroes into different groups to tackle different tasks. The film pairs similar personalities that bounce or conflict well with each other. It also keeps the movie from being inordinate and having too many egos talking about the same thing or over each other, something that “Age of Ultron” ultimately suffered from. So there’s the possibility that fans of certain characters might be disappointed by the lack of screen time for their favorite hero or character.

That being said, Marvel’s gotten a lot better recently at villain building and Thanos (Brolin) may be the pinnacle. Not only is he fierce and overwhelmingly magnetic in his scenes, he’s a sadistic joy to watch stomping around the scene as he articulates his thoughts on death and the balance it creates. There’s also this shocking amount of softness to the character that we’ve rarely seen before with any other Marvel bad guy, except for maybe the one in “Black Panther.” While most of Marvel’s villains have been evil for the sake of being evil or because of their own vanity, Thanos seems genuine in his wickedness, because he’s not only a conqueror, but views himself as the universe’s scales of justice.

There’s a surprising amount of emotion and laughs mixed into the film’s bleakness and knockdown fights. “Infinity War” is never crushed under the utter weight of its own ambitions, serving up a worthy spectacle for audiences along with a captivating storyline that feels rich in content, but never bloated. This ambitious project, 10 years in the making, is not to be missed, but also raises the stakes even higher for when the Avengers assemble again in 2019.

Film Review: “I Feel Pretty”

I FEEL PRETTY
Starring:  Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams and Lauren Hutton
Directed by:  Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hrs 50 mins
STX Entertainment

 

Do you ever look in the mirror and wonder?  Why is my nose this way?  Why is my chin that way?  Do other people think I’m pretty?  Or handsome?  They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which Amy Schumer learns with a vengeance, in “I Feel Pretty.”

Renee Bennett (Schumer) is a fun girl.  But she’s insecure.  She’s a little more “curvy” than some women and, while attractive, doesn’t see herself as pretty.  Some of this self-doubt comes from the fact that she works in the online department of one of the world’s largest makeup companies, whose spokesperson/owner (Williams) is the cover girl.  Renee spends her free time with her friends Vivian (Aidy Bryant) and Jane (Busy Phillips) and, while the three aren’t setting any records with attracting men, they enjoy being together.  One night, while watching the movie “Big,” Renee jokingly wishes she were beautiful.  The next day, at a SPIN class, she falls and hits her head.  When she comes to, she looks in a mirror and smiles.  She IS beautiful.

Though I’m still trying to figure out the message (Beauty is on the inside?  Be careful of what you wish for?  Be happy with who you are?) the film is trying to send, I found “I Feel Pretty” to be a funny film with a little bit of heart.  Now that she’s “pretty,” Renee has the courage to apply for a job as receptionist of her company, a job she’s noticed is normally filled by amazingly beautiful women.  Instead of being the woman who feels she’s five pounds too heavy, she sees herself as one of the beautiful people, giving herself the self-confidence she needs to not only get the job but flirt with the handsome brother of her boss.  But soon she is self-absorbed with the idea of her beauty, abandoning her friends and climbing the social ladder.  She doesn’t realize that it’s not her perceived looks that are getting her places, it’s her confidence in herself, and this is what impresses.

The film is well cast, with Schumer striking all the right notes.  This is not the raunchy Amy Schumer you may be familiar with.  This version is a little tamer, but still fun loving.  A scene where she impulsively enters a bikini contest, hiking her shorts and t-shirt up to expose her stomach, undulating to the music, is a moment of pure freedom.  Williams, with a Jennifer Tilly-esque voice, is also well cast as a woman whose beauty doesn’t allow others to see how intelligent she is.  Rory Scovel is Ethan, a man Renee meets “cute” at a coffee shop who falls in love with Renee the way she is, not the way she sees herself.  And, my God, how is it that 74 year old Lauren Hutton is as beautiful today as she was when I was a teenager??

 

Directors/screenwriters Kohn and Silverstein, who previously gave us “Never Been Kissed” and “He’s Just Not That Into You,” do a fine job keeping the story moving in their feature directorial debut.  I appreciate the fact that, even when she looks into a mirror, Schumer sees what we see – Amy Schumer – and not some high cheekboned model.  Both Renee, and Schumer, are just fine the way they are.

Film Review: “Super Troopers 2”

Starring: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske
Directed By: Jay Chandrasekhar
Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Sometimes you shouldn’t give the fans what they want. But the Broken Lizard comedy troupe put themselves in no-win situation by teasing for years and years that they were working on a “Super Troopers” sequel. It became a reality for thousands when they started an Indiegogo fundraising campaign. By the end, they had doubled their original crowdfunding target goal. Now that the sequel has arrived, some of those 54,609 backers might keep their wallets in their pocket next time Broken Lizard comes around.

“Super Troopers 2” isn’t a complete misfire, nor is it devoid of joy or humor. So in some regards, it’s the best case scenario for a comedy sequel that comes 17 years after its predecessors and nearly a decade after the last Broken Lizard film. The way the crew gets into this film’s main plot is a bit odd and unnecessarily lengthy. When we last saw the former Vermont state troopers, Thorny (Chandrasekhar), Foster (Soter), Mac (Lemme), Rabbit (Stolhanske) and Farva (Heffernan), they had quickly shifted into their new roles as immature local police officers. This film begins with the exposition that they’ve been fired and relegated to mediocrity as lumberjacks or home construction workers.

But a new opportunity arises when a border dispute between the U.S. and Canada reveals that Vermont’s border actually stretches farther North, encompasses a small Canadian town. So the five disgraced troopers are brought in by their former Captain, John O’Hagen (Brian Cox), to set up a new patrol station and make sure the town transition is smooth. It’s a complicated and unnecessary set-up, only meant as vessel for cheap Canadian jokes, north of the border sight gags and some bad accents.

As I said, the movie isn’t completely devoid of chuckles. I was pleased to see that the film didn’t pull an “Airplane II: The Sequel” and simply rehash every quotable joke from the first film. They can’t help but regurgitate some of the more memorable jokes, like them saying “meow” and Farva’s “liter of Cola” bit, but they’re so minuscule compared to the deluge of jokes this film throws at you. You’re likely to forget how the writers were along the way. But because the jokes are so relentless, when the film does pump the brakes a little, a lot of the film’s weaker elements blossom.

The first film felt like a cast of goofballs carrying out their wildest pranks in a reality where law and order is still a thing. This film seems to live in an alternate universe where common sense and international law doesn’t exist, as if it’s a fan-made film. There are certain elements that feel more like Indiegogo requests rather than natural comedic beats for these characters. The original also had a semi-realistic plot with a passable villain while this one feels cartoonish and intentionally over-the-top. Within that 17 year timespan, the Broken Lizard game may have lost touch of what made their characters originally loveable to more than just the stoner crowd.

A good comedy sequel isn’t impossible to make. In some regards, it can be better by embracing what works best and improving upon the film’s previous faults. But because “Super Troopers” is inherently a cult classic, it could never really live up to that status. The sequel feels more like “Anchorman 2” or “Ghostbusters 2.” While “Super Troopers 2” may scratch that itch fans have been feeling for over a decade and a half, that itch won’t go away because of how unfulfilling this film is when compared to the original. Even if you enjoy yourself, you won’t be quoting this film 17 years from now or asking for “Super Troopers 3.”

Film Review “Aardvark”

Directed by: Brian Shoaf
Starring: Zachary Quinto and Jenny Slate, Jon Hamm, Sheila Vand
Production company: Great Point Media
Rated PG-13

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

“Aardvark” is not a film that I would normally watch. I was draw to the film simply from it’s cast including Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), Zachary Quinto (“Star Trek”) and Jenny Slate (SNL, “Obvious Child”). The acting in the film is really superb. I really only know Jenny Slate from her voice work including the new “Muppet Babies”, “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “The Secret Live Of Pets”, so this was a very different film for her. It is a straight blown drama. The whole cast was fantastic and I really dug the film for the first half and then it took a nice dive in the second act and closed out disappointing for me.

Here is the film’s official premise: “Aardvark” follows Josh Norman, a troubled man who has lived in the shadow of his brother Craig for so long he starts seeing that shadow everywhere. After experiencing a series of hallucinations involving Craig – an actor, and the star of a popular TV drama – Josh places himself in the care of Emily, a young therapist. Emily is forced to wade deeper and deeper into Josh’s imaginary world, and along the way forms her own obsession with his famous brother. While Emily and Craig explore a potentially disastrous attraction, Josh begins a relationship with a young woman, Hannah, who might be his soul mate – if only he could be sure she exists.

During the film there are these really interesting hallucination sequences that Quinto’s character experiences. I found myself mesmerized to see what was going to happen next. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who really want to see this but I appreciate where the film went. It was hopefully but I didn’t like the ending and I wanted more fleshed out with Quinto’s character. This is a little art house film that will play very well in those markets I am sure. It has the trendy cast and that art festival feeling to it. I didn’t hate it but I don’t see myself watching it ever again.

Film Review “Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare”

Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto. Landon Liboiron
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 100 minutes

Our Score: 1 out of 5 stars

Blumhouse Productions has been busting out some really solid horror films recently including last year’s “Get Out” and “Split”. “Truth or Dare” is not one of them. I was just telling my wife that I feel like horror is taking the turn again like it did back in 1996 when “Scream” came out and horror became popular mainstream again. I feel like that is happening with the enormous success of films like “IT” and “A Quiet Place”. “Truth or Dare” is bland, boring and not scary at all.

The film stars Lucy Hale from “Pretty Little Liars” and Tyler Posey from “Teen Wolf’. The premise is exactly what you would expect from the film’s title. It features a group of idiotic kids that decide to place “a harmless game” of Truth or Dare only to find out that it is much more deadly! Insert evil laugh here!! Wahhhhaaaa. The friends quickly realize that they can’t tell a lie or refuse the dare as they find themselves deeper in the game than expected. Bored? I am.

As I am writing this I am starting to think that I may be getting too old for these teen slashers. For teens and young adults, this might be your jam because it carries the cheapest scares and packs a “pretty” young cast of kids from various TV shows. Listen, I don’t blame Blumhouse for releasing this movie. It is a smart strategic move. It cost $3.5 million dollars and will easily make 3x that in North American box office alone. Go see “A Quiet Place” instead, it is a movie that requires you to be quiet, patient and wait for a real scare.

Film Review: “Rampage”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Malin Akerman
Directed By: Brad Peyton
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 107 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

I remember several quarter eating games from my childhood. Most of them were first-person shooters like “House of the Dead” and “Carnevil” where it didn’t matter how good you were or if you were a sharpshooter, the game was designed to kill you so you’d have to keep pumping in change. Most other games that I would spend endless hours playing at the arcade were fun for a five-year-old boy to play, but inherently dumb because of its repeating pattern and repetitiveness. There were side-scrollers like “X-Men” and smash and destroy games like “Rampage.”

21st century video games are championed for interactive gameplay and in-depth storytelling. The games of the late 80’s and early 90’s could be crowned as mindless time wasters. That’s “Rampage” in a nutshell. How they made a movie out of that is genuinely impressive. One, because it should be towards the bottom of the list for potential big screen adaptations and second, there’s honestly not much to adapt other than the idea of giant monsters smashing buildings, something that’s already been done multiple times.

“Rampage” is like a melting pot of any Kaiju film, “Mighty Joe Young” and that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson charm we’ve become accustomed to over the past decade. Johnson plays beefy anthropologist Davis Okoye, who relates more to primates than he does his human co-workers at a San Diego wildlife sanctuary. The introverted scientist can fly helicopters, has a military background, and communicates with a massive albino silverback gorilla, named George, like it’s his frat brother.

The movie quickly picks up steam when George is infected with an experimental gas. The mutating fumes are from the remnants of a company space station that was experimenting with DNA. The gas acts like a steroid to all of George’s senses, turning him into a monstrous creature overnight. He’s bigger, stronger and angrier. He’s not the only creature to get hit with a dose of plot as several other canisters of this harmful gas have landed in rural Wyoming and some Florida swamplands, infecting a wolf and crocodile.

“Rampage” is a tad too long, padding it’s runtime with a lot of unnecessary character backgrounds, silly exposition, and a quick shoehorned message about poaching. It doesn’t help that the show stopping fight between all the monsters, in downtown Chicago, feels like it takes forever to get to. The pace that it moves at feels more like a painful tease rather than an actual build-up. Johnson, like he is in most of the other sub-par films he stars in, does give an otherwise limp noodle script a bit of life.

While in 2017, we learned he’s vulnerable to a complete inadequate script (“Baywatch), 2018 seems to prove once again he can do a lot with very little. While everyone merely acts scared of the CGI monstrosity that is George, Johnson brings some warmth to a cold creature and seems to be genuinely interacting with it. Johnson, along with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Naomie Harris, provide a likeable trio of heroes looking to save lives and the life of George. But after watching scores of service men and women die while civilians flee in terror in the final act, shouldn’t George be lumped in the same category as Superman in “Man of Steel?”

When it wants to be light-hearted, “Rampage” is quite fun, but when it wants to be dark with jump scares, and scenes of death and destruction, it’s off putting to the overall vibe the movie’s trying to establish with George and his nurturing human savior, Davis. There’s fun to be had in “Rampage” as long as you understand that this is a bad movie. But just like the old “Rampage” arcade game I played in my youth, I don’t necessarily feel like I should ever revisit this one or reflect on it as anything more than a cash grab.

Film Review: “Chappaquiddick”

Starring:  Jason Clarke, Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan
Directed by:  John Curran
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hrs 46 mins
Apex Entertainment

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Before I begin I’m going to share something.  I was born in 1960 and the Kennedy family were royalty in our house.  One of the few times I can remember my father crying was the day JFK was assassinated and I can remember my mother doing the same thing in 1968 when Bobby was killed.  My first presidential election was 1980 and I worked tirelessly for Ted Kennedy’s campaign.  So I kind of go into anything related to the Kennedy legend with a very wary eye.  I’m so glad that “Chappaquiddick” did not disappoint.

July 18, 1969.  While the world waits as Apollo 11 heads towards the moon, the mood is festive on Chappaquiddick Island, a spur of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.  It’s a reunion of sorts for the Boiler Room Girls, a dedicated group of young women that campaigned long and hard for Robert Kennedy in 1968.  Joining the women are several members of RFK’s campaign staff, including his younger brother, Ted (Clarke).  As the film’s opening montage tells us, the Kennedy boys, from oldest brother Joe – a Navy pilot who died in World War II, John – our 35th President and Bobby, who died before he could accomplish the great deeds he set out to do, had all died young, leaving Ted to carry the family mantle.  It is something he is reluctant to do, but he is also contemplating running for President in 1972.

Also at the party is pretty Mary Joe Kopechne (Kate Mara), one of Bobby’s strongest supporters.  She and Ted talk for a while and then the two leave the party, get into Ted’s car, and drive away.  Hours later, Ted will return alone and on foot.  He will tell those who greet him “I’m not going to be President.”

A solid film that keeps you guessing on the facts, “Chappaquiddick” is an unbiased attempt to tell the story everyone thinks they know.  The story is helped along by solid direction and a cast that embodies more than imitates the characters.  Clarke does a fine job as Kennedy, nailing the mannerisms and accent perfectly.  As Kennedy cousin (and family fixer) Joseph Gargan (from the Fitzgerald side of the family) Ed Helms gives a fine dramatic performance.  Also so nice to see Jim Gaffigan, who was so great in “Chuck,” continue his journey to dramatic actor as family friend Paul Markham.  And Bruce Dern, in a role that’s almost wordless, is still stern and tough as family patriarch Joseph Kennedy.

The Dike Bridge

As an added bonus, if you’re a fan of the film “Jaws” – and if you’ve ever read my stuff you know it’s my favorite film – you’ll get to see a lot of Edgartown exactly as it appears in the film.  Even the real life area doctor, Robert Nevin, who played the town doctor in the film, rates a mention.

Finally, and this is just a mention, but I’ve been to Chappaquiddick and I’ve driven over the Dike Bridge.  Sober.  In broad daylight.  It’s still pretty narrow if you ask me.  If you don’t believe me, give it a look yourself.  And while you’re there, stop and pay your respects at the grave of Pipit, the dog from “Jaws.”

Pipits Grave. I wasn’t kidding.

Film Review: “Blockers”

 

BLOCKERS

Starring: Leslie Mann, John Cena and Kathryn Newton

Directed by: Kay Cannon

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hrs 42 mins

Universal

 

Ah, prom night. A night of magic, music and, if you are three very anticipatory young girls, the night you plan on losing your virginity. Unless your parents find out that is.

 

We first meet Julie (Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam(antha) (Gideon Adlon) as they arrive for the first day of kindergarten. Though the girls are nervous, they aren’t as upset as their parents. Julie’s mom, Lisa (Mann) is a single mom who has devoted her life to her child. Kayla’s pop Mitchell (Cena) is a sports-loving guy who isn’t afraid to show emotions. And Sam’s dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) is never afraid to take a drink, no matter the time of the day. The girls become best pals and before you know it, they’re now seniors in high school preparing for the prom, graduation and college. And sex.

 

A funny film that doesn’t treat the youngsters like, well….youngsters, “Blockers” is the female version of “Porkys” without Buela Balbricker. The young ladies decision is not made in haste. They each have a reason to “go all the way.” One is love. Another is curiosity. And the third is a litmus test. You see, one of them is a lesbian and is afraid to act on her feelings. I won’t give away anything more but I will say that the people behind “Love, Simon” could have surely taken some pointers in dealing with the way her feelings and sexual curiosities are handled.

 

The fun part here are the parents, especially pro wrestler Cena, who is hilarious as he is large. Mann is also strong as the mother who is afraid to let her child leave and Barinholtz as a father trying to reconnect with a daughter he clearly underestimated.

 

The film is well paced and the supporting cast, especially the three “lucky” boys, keep the film moving as well.  If I had any qualm with the film it was the constant reminders of other Universal films that kept showing up on screen.  From movie posters (“16 Candles,” “Love Actually”) on the wall to just random mentions of, among others, “American Beauty” and the “Fast and the Furious” series, it was a little heavy handed to me.  Still, the film is definitely worth a trip to the local cinema this weekend.

Film Review: “Isle of Dogs”

Starring the Voices Of: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin and Edward Norton
Directed By: Wes Anderson
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 101 minutes
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Since bursting on to the scene in the mid-90s, Wes Anderson has had a steady and solid film catalogue. Even his average movie has an enchanting whimsical nature to it and is never visually boring. He may have a few blemishes, but none of his films had me believing the film was a complete misfire. So there shouldn’t be any kind of flirting on my end with you, the reader, on whether or not I enjoyed “Isle of Dogs,” because I did.

In Anderson’s alternate universe, a dog-flu virus has spread throughout the population, and not just the canine one. The solution, by authoritarian leader Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), is to have all dogs banished to Trash Island. The isle is a culmination of man-made disasters, mankind’s carelessness with experimentation, and of course, trash. Making his way onto the island, via a small makeshift aircraft, is Atari (Rankin), who’s looking for his guard dog, Spot.

Helpining Atari around the island is Chief (Cranston), Rex (Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum); a pack made up of alpha dogs with their own individual quirks. Like most Anderson films, the cast is filled with a who’s who of Hollywood’s past and present. Some of the surprising ones are Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber and Yoko Ono. While each voice may not seem recognizable at first, their character certainly brings a flash in the pan of joy, humor or bite to the scene they’re in.

While Trash Island is its own visual character, the nearby Japanese city of Megasaki looks like a tourist greeting card. It may be off putting to some viewers because there are no subtitles for our Japanese characters. Sometimes we only understand the human characters because of stylish visual storying telling, or an English translator for the moments of broadcast news (which seems odd that a Japanese TV station would have an English translator, but I could easily be wrong about that). I can’t speak to the authenticity some of the film’s culturally significant moments or the settings, having never grown up in Japan and having a basic American public school system understanding of the island nation.

Even though the stop-motion animation screams “kid’s movie,” it’s not. The deliberate peculiarities in the film add to its charm or help build the sinister undertones running beneath Kobayashi’s leadership. The film’s subtlety mainly makes remarks about unity and loyalty, and how both of those can be good to the extreme, but on the same scope, be used to pursue evil endeavors. As to whether or not that message has been adapted to fit a more contemporary narrative, instead of a universal one, is unseen.

Visually, “Isle of Dogs” is one of Anderson’s best. Narratively, it’s sometimes deflating, but still overwhelmingly charming and loveable. The film’s sentimentality and warmth is thoroughly earned. On a basic level, “Isle of Dogs” is Anderson’s straightforward love letter to man’s best friend. Some of the individual tics for each of the characters are something dog current and former dog owners will pick up on. Even cat lovers might find something to smile at by the time the film ends.

Film Review: “All I Wish”

 

ALL I WISH

Starring:  Sharon Stone, Tony Goldwyn and Ellen Burstyn

Directed by:  Susan Walter

Rated:  Not rated

Running time:  1 hrs 34 mins

Cinetel Films

 

 

Birthdays.  Every year it’s the one day where everyone treats you nice and you’re allowed to make a wish for your future.  But for Senna (Stone) those wishes never seem to come true.

 

The morning of her 46th birthday finds Senna in bed with a much younger man.  The phone rings, as it has for many years, as Senna’s mother (Burstyn) wants to be the first to wish her a happy birthday.  This will be the highpoint of her day.  A buyer for an upscale boutique, she angers the owner with her choices and is fired.  She then goes to her party, where she meets an attractive lawyer (Goldwyn) who has been invited to meet a woman by a mutual friend.  As he goes on about the blind dates known shortcomings, Senna soon realizes he was there to meet her.  They do part friendly but Senna’s day ends on a sad note.

 

For the next seven years, we drop in on Senna and her friends on this most special day.  We see that she has been able to grow some each year, though she still has a lot to wish for.  Love.  Success.  Making her mother happy.   Quite a list.

 

A very sweet romantic comedy, “All I Wish” is helped by it’s fine casting.  When most people think of Sharon Stone, they think of her as the tough broad from “Basic Instinct” and “Casino.”  But she is also a very gifted comedienne, and she brings that tough to her portrayal of Senna.  Goldwyn is also charming as the man who is in search of his soulmate.  He also gives the worse karaoke performance ever captured on film.  So bad, in fact, that it makes Cameron Diaz in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” sound like Cher.  And you can never go wrong when you have Ellen Burstyn in your cast.  Her appearances are brief but very welcome.

 

The script, from first time director Susan Walter, is strong and her direction keeps the film moving with very little slow spots.  A fine freshman debut.

 

“All I Wish” is currently in theatres and is also available on Video on Demand.,

4DX Experience & Film Review “Ready Player One”

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 140 minutes

Film: 4.5 out of 5 stars
4DX Experience: 3.5 out of 5 stars
3D: 4 out of 5 stars

“Ready Player One” is easily my most anticipated film of the year. There was a lot riding on this film for me and a lot of anticipation. This is one of the first times that I have read the book before seeing the movie. I never read one of the “Harry Potter” or “The Lord of the Rings” books to date. Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” is one of the best books that I have read (not only once but multiple times). The audio book read by “Star Trek: The Next Generation” star Wil Wheaton is highly recommended. That being said, the movie is MEGA different from the book. I am honestly cool with it because I see how and why most changes were made and I am really happy with the film adaptation. In fact, I would say that is my favorite film that I have seen this year…and I say this because as of writing I have already seen the film twice, once in 2D and once in 3D with 4DX experience, which are two very different ways to experience this film. This is a film that gets better with each follow up viewing and I can’t wait to see it again!

I am just so excited and I can’t hold it in anymore, so let’s just start with how much pop culture is filled in this film. BEWARE, this paragraph ONLY has a few Easter Egg SPOILERS, but then again a few are from the trailers. There are nearly 100 Easter Eggs already that already have been found in this film. Some are super hidden and blink and you miss and some are just in your face awesome like visiting The Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” and getting to relive a few scenes with newly created CG footage. This shit was downright terrifying. “The Shining” is easily my favorite horror film of all time and this really left me saying “WOW!” A few of the brief ones that I literally almost lunged out of my chair were Battletoads, Spawn, the RV from “Spaceballs”, Jason Voorhees, the new live-action Ninja turtles, the ship from “Firefly”, Serenity and reference to “Pilotwings”. I really enjoyed the ability to watch the film and just stare in amazement as to how many amazing cameos their were. I felt the same way about “Wreck-it Ralph” when I first saw it and still to today. I am always looking for something new and I have a feeling I will be doing the same with “Ready Player One”,

Here is the film’s official premise: From filmmaker Steven Spielberg comes the action adventure “Ready Player One,” based on Ernest Cline’s bestseller of the same name, which has become a worldwide phenomenon.   In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place.  The only time Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days.  In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone—the only limits are your own imagination.  The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir.  When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends—called the High Five—are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS.

Ok, so let’s talk about the different ways, I have experienced this film. First I saw it in 2D on a decent size screen. Let’s end this quick, this is NOT the way to see this movie. This needs to be experienced in IMAX or on the biggest screen possible. Second time, I saw this film it was in 4DX, which is the ultimate movie going experience with motion seats, environmental & water effects. I went with a friend who has never been to 4DX and he said that this was the perfect way to experience this film. I enjoyed the 4DX experience for “Ready Player One” but I didn’t love it. I felt like it was absolutely perfect for a few scenes like the race to the first key, which was like being in a long-ass rollercoaster ride. I enjoyed the 4DX experience for “Pacific Rim: Uprising” much more it just felt like it was always moving. With “Ready Player One” it was more every once in a while I remembered I was in a 4DX experience and I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong. The 3D definitely added to the experience. When they dived into the Oasis, the 3D depth really kicked in and blew me away.

The cast I have to admit was an odd to me, since I am not that aware of the young stars Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke. I enjoyed their avatar characters and the motion capture used to achieve their performances. I also dug Ben Mendelsohn as the baddie. T.J. Miller appeared as avatar only, no real life character (probably due to harassment issues) but he was useless in the movie. Simon Pegg popped up for a minute here and there but definitely delivered the film’s heart as did Mark Rylance, who just blew it out of the park. I hated that he beat Slyvester Stallone (nominated for “Creed”) for Best Supporting Actor in 2015 for his role in “Bridge of Spies” and then even more after “The BFG” but he was simply amazing as James Halliday! Spielberg was smart for bringing he onto this film. He made me smile every time he spoke.

Let’s get on the topic of the director, Steven Spielberg. I originally thought that this film was not right for him as a director. But after seeing the film twice now, I know it was not ruined and he did a real solid job at trying to deliver the most exciting and satisfying adaption he could for the fans. He even threw in nodes to his own films like “Jurassic Park”. He really captured that nostalgic feeling for me. As we are watching the action unfold in “Ready Player One”, the score switches to cues from “Back to the Future” and you get chills up and down following by the audience screaming “Whoa!!!” That is a great feeling in a movie theater and that is how you know when you have a winner on your hands.

I know I haven’t gone into too much detail about how this is different from the book, cause honestly I really don’t care. The movie is different and I still liked it a lot. I also love the book, which is extremely detailed and dives more deep into the pop culture world. I personally learned so much from the book about tons of film, music and TV references. The film is a slimmed down working of the book. The process finding the keys and the opening of the gates are the biggest change that I recall. I know there are a few other major events that doesn’t carry through in the movie but I appreciate how they molded the world in the book into a fun and exciting popcorn flick!  Like I said, I have a feeling that I am not going to stop at two viewings of this film. It’s very likely I will be seeing this at least once more in the theaters, definitely IMAX 3D and seeking out some more Easter Eggs!

4DX Experience Review “Pacific Rim: Uprising”

Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Zhang Jin and Charlie Day
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 111 minutes

4DX: 4 out of 5 stars
Film: 3 out of 5 stars

Since I was a kid, I have always been a fan of the Kaiju films like “Godzilla”, “Ultraman” and even “Power Rangers”. I loved the first “Pacific Rim”, especially in 3D. The action sequences are outstanding, especially in the water. Unfortunately, my excitement for the sequel has been next to nothing. I blame it on the studio because I am not the only one either. My friend told me because I posted about seeing it, it was the first time he even knew it was coming out (and he LOVED the first film). I see that as a missed opportunity for this film. I called this one a bomb before even seeing it based on how it was being marketed and I wasn’t wrong. Listen, I want to see more films like this in theaters, so I definitely say support it otherwise films “Godzilla” and “King Kong” won’t get made but I would have just liked a little more effort in this film and less trying to setup a new “Cinematic Universe” to make a new franchise.

I was excited to find out that “Pacific Rim: Uprising” was playing in the 4DX experience in one of its ten theaters across the country in Orlando FL. This made the movie feel like a two hour rollercoaster ride. I didn’t love the movie but with the 4DX experience I like it more overall. The fog is my only complaint since it was just one machine in the front of the theater and didn’t add anything. The motion chairs were moving non-stop and I was exhausted by the end of the movie for sure! If you get a chance to see this film and have a way to see it in 4DX I would definitely recommend that experience for sure.

Here is the long winded official premise: John Boyega stars as the rebellious Jake Pentecost, a once-promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity’s victory against the monstrous “Kaiju.” Jake has since abandoned his training only to become caught up in a criminal underworld. But when an even more unstoppable threat is unleashed to tear through our cities and bring the world to its knees, he is given one last chance to live up to his father’s legacy by his estranged sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi)-who is leading a brave new generation of pilots that have grown up in the shadow of war. As they seek justice for the fallen, their only hope is to unite together in a global uprising against the forces of extinction. Jake is joined by gifted rival pilot Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and 15-year-old Jaeger hacker Amara (Cailee Spaeny), as the heroes of the PPDC become the only family he has left. Rising up to become the most powerful defense force to ever walk the earth, they will set course for a spectacular all-new adventure on a towering scale.

John Boyega gets a chance to shine outside of the “Star Wars” gang but ends up getting lost in the confusion and doesn’t really have a strong arc and no love interest, which I felt he needed. I do not understand why people like Scott Eastwood. I think he is a terrible actor and I roll my eyes every time he is on the screen trying to be tough. there are three returning talent from the first film including Rinko Kikuchi (for 10 seconds), Burn Gorman and Charlie Day. I really dug having Burn and Charlie day back! They made the film more enjoyable to watch. I didn’t like how the rest of the cast was made up with teenagers, it felt like I was watching a Nickelodeon

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” was definitely a different kind of movie from the first. The first kicked off in an epic battle and then filled you in as time went on and I dug that. The sequel starts explaining way too much in the beginning and takes a while to get going. The sequel doesn’t have the heart or the visuals to match the first film but ends up being a fun popcorn flick. Just keep your expectations low and don’t expect it to be like the first film. If their is more films, I want more Charlie Day for sure! Luckily for the 4FX experience which really enhanced my experience watching this film, I ended up leaving the theater excited for more to come. I can’t help it I am sucker for giant monsters and robots!!

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