Film Review: “King Cohen”

KING COHEN

Starring:  Larry Cohen, J.J. Abrams and Michael Moriarty

Directed by:  Steve Mitchell

Rated:  Not Rated

Running time:  1 hour 49 mins

Darkstar Pictures

 

As a teenager there were two film trailers shown on television that not only scared the hell out of me, but that I still remember vividly to this day.  One was for the film “Magic,” featuring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margaret and a dummy named Fats, who would look into the camera and recite, “Hocus, pocus…we take her to bed.  “Magic” is fun.  YOU’RE DEAD!”  The other one began like this:  “There’s only one thing wrong with the Davis baby.  IT’S ALIVE!”

 

“King Cohen” is an excellent documentary about filmmaker Larry Cohen, whose films, including “It’s Alive!,” “The Stuff”  and “Q” have a devoted following of fans, including such successful directors as J.J Abrams, John Landis and Martin Scorcese.  All three of these men face the camera and expound on the effect Cohen has had on their own projects.  Abrams recalls a time when he was fifteen years old and running into Cohen on a Los Angeles street.  Cohen was lost and the young man pointed him in the right direction.  Decades later, when the two meet again, Cohen remembers Abrams as the kid who gave him directions.

 

Cohen grew up like many people in show business…wanting to be in show business.  He broke into television in the 1960s, writing for such shows as “Surfside Six,” “The Fugitive” and “Branded.”  Occasionally Cohen was ahead of the times.  A script he wrote for the show “Naked City” was turned down for being to “rough” for the times.  30 years later, Cohen sold the script to “N.Y.P.D. Blue.”

 

The film looks at the various films in Cohen’s career, with Cohen and others talking about his filmmaking process.  Cohen was often a true guerilla filmmaker, often putting a cameraman up on a fire escape and filming the passerby’s reactions.  For one film, he required a parade of 5,000 New York City.  To get the shot, he dressed Andy Kaufman up as a cop and had him join the rest of the boys in blue in marching across the city.  While filming a film dealing with J. Edgar Hoover in Washington D.C., Cohen learns the address where the former F.B.I. director lived and films a few scenes on the front lawn.

 

This film covers pretty much Cohen’s filmography, focusing more on the most popular films, especially “Q” and “The Stuff.”  Interviews with fellow filmmakers, crew members and actors such as Michael Moriarty and Eric Roberts gives the viewer every possible look at Cohen’s process.

 

All in all, “King Cohen” is one of the best documentaries about Hollywood to come down the pike in a very long time.  Now, if I could only get that Davis baby out of my head!

Film Review “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”

Directed by: Ol Parker
Starring: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Andy García, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters, Cher, Meryl Streep
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 114 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Earlier this year I heard word that “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” was coming out and I thought to myself that it was a sequel that really no one asked for nor did it seem necessary…but the trailer was a lot of fun, so I was excited. The cast is all back along with some new great faces (more on that below). I really just enjoyed this movie a lot. It had tons of laughs followed up by some really solid drama (bring the tissues). I loved the balance of the two. Listen, I am not a huge ABBA fan but those songs seems to win me over and performed by these amazingly talented people makes it hard not to enjoy! I have a feeling that I will be seeing this film again soon in the theaters again perhaps if they have a Sing-a-long version (if you are reading this Universal) 😉

Let’s just talk about the cast, this film brought back EVERYONE! Amanda Seyfried looks better than ever, WOW, and her voice was on point. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters were amazing together again. I just love their characters. Pierce Brosnan was sweet in the film and really gave some heart. It’s looks like he was trying really hard, so I am throwing him a bone here. Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård were very funny again and added a lot of heart. Cher still has it let me tell you and she looks fantastic! Meryl Streep delivers a very emotional song and I really enjoyed her being back as she was. Some new faces Lily James and Andy Garcia were fantastic as well. Andy Garcia steals the show for me personally. Lily James though was simply perfect as a younger Donna. Her voice is extraordinary and she really nailed that carefree spirit and made you want to be like her (except for the three random hook-ups). I loved her in “Cinderella” and she is even more amazing in this!

Like I mentioned at first I thought this would be unnecessary, put I feel like the sequel does have some extra life in it that I didn’t expect. It takes place tn years after the first “Mamma Mia!” (which grossed more than $600 million around the world). In the film, we return to the Greek island of Kalokairi, where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) running planning a grand re-opening of Donna’s (Meryl Streep) villa, who had past away a year prior. She finds herself thinking about her relationships and her future. With the arrival of friends and family to support they guide her through the opening event. Plenty of surprises along the way including an appear from Sophie’s grandmother played perfectly by Cher. The story intertwins with a flashback of Donna when she is young and how Sophie was led to be born, which also connects with Sophie today.

Let’s not forget the music now. “Mamma Mia” wouldn’t be “Mamma Mia” without the songs of ABBA. There is a decently balanced combo of new songs mixed with a few songs redone from the first film. At first, I really wasn’t too keen on hearing the same songs again but they were really well done, specifically “I Have A Dream” by Lily James. When you think about “Mamma Mia” though, I would want to hear “Dancing Queen” and songs like that, so this movie does not disappoint at all. This is a fun movie that has a really good heart and even though a little cheesy but you leave the theater smiling (and a little teary).

Film Review “Leave No Trace”

Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie
Directed by: Debra Granik
Rated: PG
Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins
Bleecker Street

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Has another star been born thanks to director/writer Debra Granik? While watching the powerful performance delivered by New Zealand-born actress Thomasin McKenzie in the new drama “Leave No Trace,” it is impossible to not think about what Granik once pulled out of a relatively unknown young actress named Jennifer Lawrence. It is perhaps an unfair comparison considering that Lawrence received the first of her four Oscar nominations for her role as a tough, teenage Ozarks girl in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone.” However, McKenzie, whose previous experience has primarily consisted of TV work, has, at roughly the same age as Lawrence was eight years ago, provided something that is special to watch on the silver screen. Through her eyes alone she projects her character’s tough, determined nature which she also reveals is just a façade masking a 13-year-old girl’s desperation to please a father traumatized by war.

The present-day setting for “Leave No Trace” is a heavily forested park on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Widowed veteran Will (Ben Foster, Hell or High Water, The Messenger) and his daughter, Tom (McKenzie) live an isolated existence in the often damp and rainy woods. They survive by scavenging for food that nature provides them with only a few creature comforts of modern society. Will drills her on hiding techniques by making sure she leaves no trace of where she is at. Occasionally, they walk into Portland where he checks into a Veterans Administration hospital to get medications he later sells to other struggling vets to buy necessities for their life in the woods.

Their existence is changed forever when they are discovered by park rangers and law enforcement. Each is subsequently given a series of tests with social services questioning if she has ever been violated by her father. The system gives them a second chance to have a conventional life together as they are placed in a residence on tree/horse farm where Will is given a job. This new sense of normalcy is too much for Will as he cannot bring himself to be a part of society. The opposite happens with Tom whose introduction to a life outside of the one with her damaged father sparks a sense of curiosity within her and a desire to be a part of something more. This puts them on a collision course that will test the bonds of their relationship.

Based upon the 2009 book “My Abandonment” by American novelist Peter Rock, “Leave No Trace,” which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, is a moving work of genuine sadness that will pull at the heartstrings of anyone who has a heart. McKenzie is a revelation of such proportions that it is hard to think of another young actress who has demonstrated this level of promise since Lawrence. Her delivery is flawless as she brilliantly plays a young girl who has been forced to grow up faster than anyone her age ever should. There is a certain sense of tragedy about her, yet you can tell it has also forged an iron determination within her.

I would be negligent if I did not mention Foster who once again demonstrates how skillful of actor he has become in recent years. Pain leaks out of every pour in Foster’s skin as his character is so consumed by PTSD from combat that he is putting Tom in danger every day they are on the run without thinking about what he is doing. Unfortunately, like someone from a Greek tragedy Will is man who has fallen so far and is so broken that he simply cannot be fixed again. Foster does not have a lot of extensive dialogue to recite but his quiet moments speak volumes.

Although her story lacks the complexity of “Winter’s Bone,” Granik, who co-wrote the screenplay with Anne Rosellini, also a producer and writer on “Winter’s Bone,” has created something that will haunt you for a while after leaving the theater.

Film Review: “Skyscraper”

 

SKYSCRAPER

Starring:  Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell and Roland Moller

Directed by:  Rawson Marshall Thurber

Rated:  PG 13

Running time:  1 hour 42 mins

Universal

 

I can hear the studio pitch now.  “What if we combined “The Towering Inferno” with “Die Hard” and have the Rock play Bruce Willis, Paul Newman AND Steve McQueen rolled into one character?”  My answer?  “Hell yeah!”

 

When we first meet FBI Hostage Rescue Team Leader Will Sawyer (Johnson), he is leading his group in trying to arrange the surrender of a man who is also holding his young son.  Thinking he has resolved the situation, Will and his team are badly injured when the man, feigning surrender, detonates a bomb.  Waking up in the hospital, he is comforted by the reassuring face and words of trauma nurse Sarah (Campbell).

 

Jump ahead several years.  Will and Sarah are now married, with two young children.  They are in Hong Kong where Will, now a safety and security assessor, has been summoned to go over the world’s tallest building.  Without his O.K., the buildings lavish owner cannot get the 200-plus story building insured.  Things go well until Will is attacked by a mysterious person trying to get a computer tablet he possesses that gives him access to ALL of the building’s security protocols.  It seems someone doesn’t want the building to open.  EVER!

 

Full of some amazing set-pieces and some serious “jump in your seat” moments, “Skyscraper” is a film that rides capably on the back of Dwayne Johnson.  Will possesses both Willis’ John McClain’s personality while also embodying the caring about of the situation that Newman’s architect and McQueen’s fire chief did in “The Towering Inferno.”  But while the latter film’s destruction was due to an accident, “Skyscraper” deals with a nasty man by the name of Kores Botha (Moller).  He’s not as smooth as Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, but he is as vicious.

 

The cast does a fine job in dealing with the situations around them, and I’m giving Johnson extra credit because, due to opening bomb explosion, Will is missing a leg, having to move about the building (and do some extraordinary stunt work) on a prosthetic leg.  And yes, while I realize it’s all CGI, Johnson moves and reacts as if he really is standing precariously on a piece of molded metal.  The story moves smoothly and represents a graduation to a new genre’ for writer/director Thurber, best known for creating the “Terry Tate, Linebacker” series of commercials as well as the film “Dodgeball:  A True Underdog Story.”  The film moves on and the action flows.  A definite hit for the hot days of July.

Film Review: “Eating Animals”

Starring: Natalie Portman
Directed by: Christopher Dillon Quinn
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins
IFC Films

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

After having reviewed movies for almost 20 years, it is a challenge to think of a work that has had more of a personal connection to yours truly than the new anti-factory farming documentary “Eating Animals,” with Academy Award-winner Natalie Portman providing its narration. For you see, even though I may be a mild-mannered film critic I have also been a family farmer my entire life, as has eight generations before me. “Eating Animals” doesn’t take aim on family farmers necessarily, but it most certainly shows what the effects of industrial farming has had on them since its skyrocketing growth beginning in the 1970s. The gross mistreatment of the animals we eat on our dinner plate is sickening to watch, but “Eating Animals” makes a valid point that it is nevertheless a dirty little secret everyone already knows yet chooses not to think about.

Director Christopher Dillon Quinn, who based his documentary on the 2009 novel of the same name by American author Jonathan Safran Foer, introduces us to a turkey farmer in Lindsborg, Kansas who is resorting to old practices of raising birds because of his disdain with genetically modified turkeys. Other farmers in the swine, dairy, beef, and fowl industries are also highlighted to demonstrate the difficulties they face trying to remain on their own. Quinn also examines the risks whistle blowers within the factory farm industry take when they try to shed light on the darkness. This latter point is punctuated with the enlightening and disturbing fact that several states have passed “Ag Gag” laws that essentially prohibit and punish whistle blowers.

Overall, there is nothing revolutionary about what “Eating Animals” has to say about family farms. It’s a tradition/business that has been vanishing at an alarming rate for a few decades now. Quinn wants to lay a lot of this at the feet of corporations like Tyson, who have indeed had a negative impact on farming communities that once thrived when small farmers cooperated with one another. Now the farmers who work under contract for a company like Tyson, according to “Eating Animals,” are prohibited from helping each other and are treated like indentured servants. However, there are many more factors that have led to the demise of family farming that is left out of Quinn’s documentary.

Farms were lost during the 1970s not simply because of the explosion of prepackaged frozen dinners, as the film implies was a part of the problem, but because interest rates rose so high during the latter part of the decade that some farmers went into bankruptcy thanks to the loans they took out on their land. Quinn also ignores the fact that because of the rising costs of land, equipment, and seed/feed, most young people cannot afford go into the business if they don’t inherit the land outright. (It’s no coincidence that the farmers he interviews are middle-aged men.) There’s also a lack of desire among increasing numbers of young people to put in the long hours that it requires 24/7, 365 to maintain a farm and make it successful. Not to mention that farming is one of the most dangerous jobs to have considering the equipment that’s used and what larger farm animals can do.

In a back-handed way, “Eating Animals” does slam farmers for the ones being responsible for the disappearance of a large, freshwater lake in California. No mention is made of the historic draught the Bear Flag Republic has endured over the past several years or the fact that without irrigation, crops and animals in many parts of that state could not thrive. Quinn’s effort also mentions animal feed laced with anti-biotics and how it has contributed to the rise of superbugs. Unfortunately for him this is not the case anymore as the use of antibiotics in feed was eliminated effective January 1, 2017. The real problem, and it’s not discussed enough, is the explosion in the world’s population over the past 50 years. The consequential soaring demand, in part manufactured by corporations like Tyson with clever marketing, is what has put extreme pressure on the farming industry and helped propel the rapid growth of factory or industrialized farming.

Quinn does a nice job of exploring some of the ecological consequences of the swine and fowl confinement houses in the Carolinas, and the horrific distortions of what nature had intended when it comes to the animals we eat. The images of animals being treated cruelly at these confinement houses is stomach churning to say the least and may very well turn some folks who watch this film into vegetarians. While “Eating Animals” is a solid documentary, it still fails to give this topic the thorough examination it requires and leaves out a lot of details it should have included.

Film Review “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 118 minutes

Mike G’s Score: 4 out of 5 stars

I was a huge fan of the first “Ant-Man” film. I thought Paul Rudd nailed it and brought something different to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Personally, I don’t think anyone would have expected the first film to have done well to warrant a sequel but here we are. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is solid follow-up, It’s funnier and even though it lacks a solid villain (big shoes to fill after Thanos in Infinity War), it is a ton of fun! I can also see this film growing on me more, as the wife and I have been quoting it already!

The best part of this film is easily the cast. I love Paul Rudd as Ant-Man he is funny as hell and has some great laugh out loud moments in this film. Michael Peña easily steals the whole show. He is funny as hell! Marvel get this guy a freaking suit for “Ant-Man 3”!!! I am glad to see that David Dastmalchian is back as well. He has a few lines in the film that we’ve been quoting like “Baba-Yaga!” Once you see the movie you will get it. It’s a riot! Randall Park really deserves some props too man. I was howling at some of he’s scenes.

I loved Hannah John-Kamen, who played the villain Ghost as an actress but the character wasn’t great to be the main villain, maybe side kick. Laurence Fishburne is always great to see but he didn’t really have much of a major impact on the film and seemed out of place a bit. Just going to warn you, not a spoiler but Michelle Pfeiffer isn’t in the film much but she does rule when she is in it! Let’s not forgot about Hank Pym! Michael Douglas gets a nice boost in screen time in the sequel and get a few of the scene stealing lines as well.

Official Premise: From the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes “Ant Man and the Wasp,” a new chapter featuring heroes with the astonishing ability to shrink. In the aftermath of “Captain America: Civil War,” Scott Lang grapples with the consequences of his choices as both a Super Hero and a father. As he struggles to rebalance his home life with his responsibilities as Ant-Man, he’s confronted by Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym with an urgent new mission. Scott must once again put on the suit and learn to fight alongside the Wasp as the team works together to uncover secrets from the past.

The visual effects are solid and I really enjoyed the depth the 3D added to the film (as I also did in the first “Ant-Man”). The shrunken scenes are pretty amazing and the quantum realm was visually amazing! I really like how the film was tied back into “Captain America: Civil War” and I loved how it connected back to “Avengers: Infinity Wars”, no spoilers but stay through the first post credit scene for sure! Your not going to want to miss it! “Ant-Man and the Wasp” might not be the best entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but it was fun as hell and I can’t wait to see it again!

 

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Film Review: “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Pena
Directed By: Peyton Reed
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 125 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

There should be a dark cloud hanging over “Ant-Man and the Wasp” after the events in the previous “Avengers” film, but there isn’t. The events in Marvel’s follow-up film take place several years after “Captain America: Civil War” and just before “Infinity War.” Because of that, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” doesn’t ever really take itself too seriously and concludes as a decent dose of sloppy Summer fun.

Two years after “Civil War,” Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd) is under house arrest while Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope/Wasp (Lilly) are on the run. Scott is recruited by Hank and Hope after Scott experiences an odd dream involving Hope’s long lost mother, and Hank’s wife. The answer to her whereabouts lies somewhere in the Quantum Realm. If this all sounds a little confusing, it may be because you didn’t watch the first “Ant-Man” or because you don’t remember much from it. Either way, it’s still a messy script.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels like it was written by five people (which it was), directed by someone who ignored that script, and then edited by someone who was on the first day of their job. The film supposedly takes place in a two-day span, but the time jumps and editing make it feel like it’s longer in some moments and shorter in others. There’s also a lot of quick edits that make you feel like you’re missing out on a big chunks of film. It’s most likely an attempt to shorten the film’s runtime.

The previous “Ant-Man” was supposed to be Edgar Wright’s singular vision, but Disney monkeyed with that vision making it a little foggy. That fog lingers into this film as other writers try to keep previously established characters in a film that feels like it’d be better suited as a spectator to Marvel’s cinematic universe. Instead of piling on even more, I have to reassert that I still had a lot of fun and believe this is still a decent film.

This film is like a palate cleanser after the dark end to “Infinity War.” Rudd, in the role of dad and hero, is undeniably likable as he charms both the good and bad guys. Even though superheroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor are supposed to be outsiders, Rudd’s Ant-Man feels more like the stranger in a strange land. He quips about the absurdity on screen and seems oblivious to the scope of it all. When Rudd talks about world-building elements of the cinematic universe, it feels unnatural. Rudd works best when he gets to crack a joke and highlight the humanity of Scott.

I could be accused of being a homer because I like Rudd (from my hometown area) and how Ant-Man fits into the world’s narrative. I wouldn’t expect him to fight Thanos one-on-one and I honestly wouldn’t want him to. This film is more catered to Rudd’s strengths and it shows as his charisma rubs off on others in the film. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is like a side story to the main event. Maybe once Disney realizes Ant-Man doesn’t have to fit in to their ever-growing univserse, he can evolve in a story that doesn’t feel overwhelmed and entangled by everyone else’s problems.

Film Review “Mountain”

Starring: Willem Dafoe
Directed by: Jennifer Peedom
Rated: PG
Running Time: 1 hr 14 mins
Greenwich

Our Score: 2.5 out 5 stars

This beautifully-shot Australian documentary attempts to explore why humanity has chosen over the last century or so to start climbing the tallest mountains in the world. Or at least this appears to be the only tangible theme to “Mountain” other than it being a work of eye candy that belongs on the National Geographic Channel. Director Jennifer Peedom’s (“Sherpa”) film doesn’t begin like documentary as we watch, in black and white, members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra tuning up their instruments and Willem Dafoe prepping before a microphone. Then suddenly we are thrust into some of the most wonderful cinematography you will ever see as we fly like Superman across breathtaking mountaintops.

From grandiose passages of British writer Robert Macfarlane’s 2003 book “Mountains of the Mind,” Dafoe speculates about what strange force from within the mountains changed humanity from fearing them to trying to conquer them. All the while we continue to see one shot of a mountain after another, often with a mountaineer dressed in a red or other brightly colored shirt to stand out in contrast to the natural background.

There is some expected exposition of Mt. Everest, the king of mountains, but generally what see are nameless geographical features from all over the world. It’s not just climbers, though, that puts us on the edge of our seats as they put their lives on the line in the name of trying to feel alive. There are skiers and snowboarders dropped from helicopters trying to stay ahead of avalanches they themselves create; tightrope walkers balancing themselves across gaping canyons; bicyclists jumping off cliffs; and let us not forget those that glide through the air at high rates of speed like flying squirrels. To Peedom’s credit, we do see some of the negative consequences these thrill seekers inflict upon themselves.

It’s a challenge to label “Mountain” as a documentary because there isn’t much to it that provokes conversation or opinions about the subject matter after the credits start to roll. Nor are we educated about the subject of mountains other than they are beautiful and some people like to risk their lives for them. The music is wonderfully played, especially the “Winter” portion of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s masterful “Four Seasons.” Dafoe’s narration is okay, but Macfarlane’s descriptions are borderline ridiculous with their grandiosity. In the end, “Mountain” is more style than substance.

Film Review: “Uncle Drew”

Starring:  Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery and Shaquille O’Neal
Directed by:  Charles Stone III
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hour 43 mins
Lionsgate

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Lew Alcindor.  Nate Archibald.  Wilt Chamberlain.  Dr. J.

All of these basketball legends got their start by playing in Rucker Park in New York City.  But they all pale in comparison to the greatest streetball player ever…Uncle Drew.

Our story begins on the famous basketball court as it is being prepared for the 50th Anniversary Tournament.  Dax (Howery) is the coach of a team entered and he’s got a secret weapon – a big man named Casper (Aaron Gordon).  Dax goes out of his way to let Casper know he is loved, not wanting to lose him to a flashier (or better) coach.  Dax was, at one time, a promising basketball player, but an incident during a championship game, when a potential game-winning shot was blocked, his round-ball Karma hasn’t been very good.  And it gets worse when his girlfriend kicks him out and Casper runs to a team coached by Mookie (an obnoxious Nick Kroll).  At his wits end, Dax has a chance run-in with the infamous Uncle Drew.  He convinces him to get his original team together to play for chance to be the champs.  Go Moneys!

I don’t know why, but basketball players make good actors.  Michael Jordan in “Space Jam.”  Ray Allen in “He Got Game.”  Kareem Abdul Jabbar in “Airplane.”  Lebron James in “Trainwreck.”  Now you can add to the list current Boston Celtic Kyrie Irving.  Playing a character 40-plus years older than he is, Irving gives a strong, soulful performance.  And he is joined by fellow former superstars Chris Webber, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Aloysius Miller (for some reason, whenever I speak of Reggie Miller I like using his full name), Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie.  On the non-athletic side Howery, who was so good as the TSA employed pal in “Get Out,” continues his good performance streak here.

But the film is about more than basketball.  It’s about family and friendship, and when those values are discussed the film jumps to another level.  And basketball fans in the know will enjoy the humor (C. Webb’s character is reminded often that there are no “time outs” left, Shaq gets to call a fellow teammate that hogs the ball “Kobe”).  What I found funniest was that, even though past great players like Michael Jordan are referred to often, there is not one mention of Irving’s former teammate, Lebron James.  An error of omission or a quiet dig?  Either way, it’s funny.

Film Review: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Rafe Spall
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 128 minutes
Universal Pictures

You can only keep the dinosaurs in the park for so long. That might be the one takeaway the creators of the latest “Jurassic Park” film, “Fallen Kingdom,” took from “Lost World” and “Jurassic Park III.” Instead of doing something unique or different though, the writers and director of “Fallen Kingdom,” did what their predecessors did, create another forgettable, mundane entry into the franchise.

The tongue-in-cheek joy of “Jurassic World” is gone. “Fallen Kingdom” is devoid of fun from the get-go as the film begins with the U.S. Senate debating whether or not to save the dinosaurs from an impending volcanic eruption on the island which has been abandoned for three years after the events of the previous film. The one lone voice of common sense in this movie, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) tells Congress that nature is correcting man’s mistake by killing the dinosaurs. He urges Congress to let them die. I agree, but no one wants to watch a five-minute dinosaur film.

Congress rightfully decides to let dinosaurs die. That doesn’t sit right with Claire (Howard), the former operations manager of Jurassic World turned activist. She meets with Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and his right-hand man Eli (Spall) to do something about it. The plan that’s hatched is to save a few dinosaurs from each species and take them to a refuge. Of course they’ll need the help of former dino trainer Owen (Pratt), whose expertise will help them catch and save the most dangerous of dinosaurs, the Velociraptor.

The movie spends the first act of the film with old and new characters having dry expositional dialogue that makes you wonder who and what is going on with the Lockwood estate, and most importantly, why you should care. The movie tries to answer some of those questions, but by the end, you still don’t care and you still don’t know what’s going on with the Lockwood estate and some of the film’s new introductory characters. I have to be vague as to not spoil key elements of the film’s final act, but even then I’m a bit confused as to what I could potentially be spoiling.

The film treats the audience like a Marvel movie crowd, expecting us to have kept track of every idiosyncratic character, name, place and word. At times I felt like I had forgotten to study for an exam and that I was failing miserably with each supposed revelation during the film’s runtime. I’m lucky I wasn’t the only one after the screening who didn’t know who was who or what had supposedly transpired between different characters.

As for the dinosaurs, they’re average. There are moments of fun, but they’re few and far between. There’s also a few moments where they’re not as menacing as they have been in the past. It’s mainly because there’s no fear that any of our main heroes or their companions will die. Once you understand that, you’ll know that every scumbag you encounter in this film will meet his or her end. There are a lot more horror movie elements like long drawn out silences before a loud jump scare or a character lurking through the dark intently listening for any bump or bite in the night.

“Fallen Kingdom” is a massive disappointment after the wildly exciting “Jurassic World.” Unlike its predecessor, it’s humorless, boring and lacking any genuine emotion. Three years ago I was optimistic about the future of this franchise, but now I believe it should go extinct.

Film Review: “Tag”

Starring: Ed Helms, Jake Johnson and Hannibal Buress
Directed By: Jeff Tomsic
Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

“Tag” shouldn’t be as fun as it is. Movies based on games (video or board) don’t necessarily have a great track record. Everything from “Super Mario Bros.” to “Battleship” are shining examples of how Hollywood has no problems picking the low hanging fruit in an effort to make a quick buck. There are only a few films that do an admirable or passable job, like “Clue” and “Rampage” (although my only caveat to “Rampage” is that I have to be in the mood for mindless garbage). So I’m a little shocked to say that “Tag” can join the handful of outliers.

Since nine-years-old, Hogan (Helms), Bob (Jon Hamm), Chilli (Johnson), Kevin (Buress) and Jerry (Jeremy Renner) have been playing tag. About 30 years later, during the month of May, the five adults throw decorum out the window and play the game without respect for one’s personal space, job, or therapy session. However, after all these years, Jerry has managed to avoid ever being the one who is ‘it’. The elusive Jerry overanalyzes every situation he’s in to the point where he’s like a trained assassin when it comes to playing the game, spotting his friends out in public when they’re trying to tag him, mentally mapping out scenarios, or predicting what his friends will do several moves ahead of their plans to ensnare him.

So Hogan, Bob, Chilli and Kevin all agree to team up to finally tag Jerry, as he’s about to get married and quit playing the game altogether. Upon my own first glance at the plot, and a watch of the trailer, I would have easily dismissed this movie as a lazy attempt comedy. But there are several moments that are legitimately funny because of the maximum effort on screen by Helms, Johnson, Buress and Ham. Renner plays his character with an incredible seriousness, effectively being the straight guy of the film in an outlandish scenario. He mainly elicits laughs by calculating escape routes and situations like a computer program.

Buress, who should be in a lot more comedies, steals the scenes he’s in with irreverent observations, and what I imagine is off-script improv that feels fitting, but unstructured to the overall narrative of the film. His character’s persona could actually be fitting in any other comedy, regardless of the film’s circumstances. Ilsa Fisher, playing Anna, the wife of Helms’ character, is equally funny as an essential part of the troupe, taking the game more seriously than anyone else in the film, even Jerry.

“Tag” is one of those ideas that seems like it was destined for failure on its first pitch. A movie about this simplistic juvenile game that we all played as children, where we sometimes made up rules on the spot or ultimately yelled at each other over the inane rules we had just made up, sounds like terrible fodder for summer audiences. But there is a bit of credence to “Tag” because it’s based on a Wall Street Journal article about a group of actual friends who’ve spent one month, over the past couple of decades, playing a game of cross-country tag. “Tag” had the potential of falling short or living up to the calamity of its origin story, much like 2016’s “War Dogs,” but it instead exceeded my set expectations.

There’s a lot of manic energy in “Tag,” sometimes culminating into some funny chase sequences and absurd action pieces. Even moments of subdued silliness play well as our characters come to question the ethics of the game, like when they’re about to waterboard someone who isn’t a part of the game. Those moments of moral questioning also prevent our characters from being viewed as mean-spirited and soulless during their antics. “Tag” shouldn’t work, but it does, thanks to a sometimes witty, yet immature script, and a cast where everyone brings their own unique brand of comedy.

 

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Film Review “Incredibles 2”

Directed by: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 118 minutes

Film Score: 3 out of 5 stars

When I saw the first “Incredibles” movie, I really wasn’t blown away. I know there are some extreme people that saw that it is one of Pixar’s best but I never and still don’t see it even after 14 years. It’s obvious a sequel is here but even though “Incredibles 2” is a smart movie that not only has a message but improves from the first film…yet I was left unsatisfied luckily my expectation were low. I will say that “Incredibles 2” is definitely an action packed movie. I just wish it was more fun. I wanted to laugh more for sure. I just didn’t feel like the cast was having fun. “Incredibles 2” runs nearly two hours, which is a lot for kids to stick with. My little one left the theater yawning (as did I). Second act definitely picks up some steam but too late I felt.

Official Premise: “In “Incredibles 2,” Helen (voice of Holly Hunter) is called on to lead a campaign to bring Supers back, while Bob (voice of Craig T. Nelson) navigates the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life at home with Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell), Dash (voice of Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack—whose super powers are about to be discovered. Their mission is derailed, however, when a new villain emerges with a brilliant and dangerous plot that threatens everything. But the Parrs don’t shy away from a challenge, especially with Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) by their side. That’s what makes this family so Incredible.”

I just don’t see the fascination with these characters. I don’t like them, especially not in this movie. Mr. Incredible is a major egomaniac. I really didn’t like him in this movie, I know he is trying to be funny having “a men” taking care of his children while mommy is out working. I get it, the roles are reversed for the time that this film is timed in. It doesn’t make it any better that he is jealous of his wife’s success and honestly gives me a real bad taste throughout most of his scenes. I am glad that Elastic Girl gets a chance to shine this movie, even if it has a social commentary within it and it ended up being my favorite part of the film. I felt like it added an extra level to the typical superhero male driven story.

Frozone was used a little more this time but at the same time even less it felt like. I didn’t enjoy looking at (the Acid reflux guy was disgusting) or listening to any of the new characters that were introduced outside of Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener). These two nailed their roles for sure. I liked them but the other “supers” weren’t super at all. Jack-Jack definitely steals the show, no question. He is funny and super cute. Loved his powers for sure. There is a great bit with Edna and Jack-Jack that was a riot. So in closing, I am not a huge fan of “The Incredibles”, I enjoyed the sequel but it is not a favorite of mine. It is probably not something I can watch over and over again like we have with “Inside Out” or “Wreck-it Ralph”. But if you are a huge fan of the first movie, this will definitely leave you satisfied and wanting more.

Film Review: Hotel Artemis”

Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown and Sofia Boutella
Directed By: Drew Pearce
Rated: R
Running Time: 94 minutes
Global Road Entertainment

Sometimes a movie feels and looks interesting, but it isn’t. That gorgeous outer shell, sometimes in the set design or on the face of its familiar and likable characters, inherently lacks a soul. “Hotel Artemis” is a movie that wants to be loved and adored by its viewing audience. It repeatedly tells and shows the audience that it’s grimy and noir, futuristic and relevant, funny and heartfelt, but it never really proves it’s any of those things.

Jodie Foster (who’s shockingly been absent from the silver screen for five years) plays Jean, a nurse running to and fro throughout the Hotel Artemis, a safe haven for criminals in 2028 Los Angeles. She’s assisted by the bulky and intimidating, yet soft on the inside, Everest (Dave Bautista). The two-person staff somehow operates the multi-room establishment, as they patch up wounds, remove bullets, and use 3D printers to create new organs for criminals from all walks of life.

“Hotel Artemis” shrivels up in the shadow of other, much better, films that it’s seemingly ripping off of. One can’t help but think of the Continental from “John Wick” throughout much of the film’s runtime. I was also reminded of several other grindhouse, dystopian future, and sci-fi films with more developed characters and fleshed out concepts. The film takes place in one night, with the backdrop being riots throughout the city over privatized water and a company hoarding what’s left. That actually sounds more interesting than Nurse Jean’s predicaments.

“Hotel Artemis” is so busy; it manages to glide over some of its storytelling faults, but not all of them. The film lags in certain moments, like ham-fisted exposition delivery in dialogue or lingering on its own visual aesthetics. It succeeds in banter between criminals within the hospital’s confines and slowly peeling back what makes Nurse Jean tick. Even as my mind drifted away from the premise, the movie had this knack for reeling me back in.

The acting talent brought in for this movie is impressive, but they feel like they’re playing down to the material or that they’re simply miscast. Charlie Day plays an all-talk arms dealer that should be replicating his naturally funny and manic strengths, while Sterling K. Brown, who’s shown his dramatic chops on TV, seems neutered in his range for this film. However, others, like Sofia Boutella, play well to their French femme fatale role and Bautista seems at home playing Drax-lite.

Director/writer Drew Pearce, who’s worked on “Iron Man 3” and a “Mission: Impossible” movie, seems a bit incapable of bringing it altogether. Instead of stirring all the film’s themes and ideas into a cohesive vision, he mainly paints everything in messy broad strokes that’s sometimes difficult to digest and unfortunately forgettable. There are a few things that work in “Hotel Artemis,” and in much better hands, it would have been an unforgettable film.

Film Review “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Directed by: Morgan Neville
Starring: Fred Rogers
Distributed by: Focus Features
Running time: 93 minutes

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor,  Would you be mine? , Could you be mine?” In the 1980’s these lyrics to the opening song in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, started my day as a kid! This is a show that I watched ALWAYS! I loved “Mister Rogers Neighborhood”. He was a very special person and there isn’t anyone else around like him today. I feel like the world would be a better place if people really cared about others. I mean really cared. We are way to skeptical people these days and times when “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” first debuted people looked to him, like myself, as a role model. They listened to him and trusted what he said. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a fantastic trip back into the world of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. Get your tissue box ready cause this one is guaranteed to hit those heart strings!

Director Morgan Leville, knows best for his His Oscar winning 2014 film, “20 Feet From Stardom”, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. He is back and this time focusing on a legend that perhaps doesn’t get the recognition that he deserves. This film is also quite an eye-opener. It makes you think about the world and how it’s changed and what we can do to help the future for our children. This documentary will actually make you wish you lived in a time when things were simpler. Daily, Mister Rogers would make sure to tell everyone watching how special they are for just being them! Now what is wrong with that?!. With all the hate and disgust coming out of the media and the world today, I don’t know how Mister Rogers would have fit in today’s world…but I wish his influences were recognized more. The film showcases a big part in the history of PBS and Fred Rogers, when he testified before Congress in order to get funding. If he wouldn’t have stood up for what he believed in and left his heart on the table exclaiming how he help kids and how he feels like he is an important part of their lives things would be much different since ended up getting the funding and changed children’s TV forever.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a tight feature, running around 90 minutes. It goes fast and leaves you with happy tears leaving the theater. The documentary brings to light various issues that the show dealt with rather it be protesting or hiding sexuality of the co-cast and showcased some pranking on set during the production. I never knew that side since I was a young kid. The film has a slight edge to it, so I wouldn’t show this to kids. This is a documentary for adults, who were influenced in their life by Fred Rogers and the important work that he did. I really enjoyed getting to meet some of the cast from the show in the present and what they have been up to. There are tons of great archive footage as well with great interviews and behind-the-scenes content with Fred Rogers. One thing I take away from this movie is that I will be sure to try everything I can to keep his spirit alive with my own family and moving on! Good see this movie ASAP and remember to bring those tissues!

Film Review: “Oceans 8”

OCEAN’S 8

Starring:  Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hathaway

Directed by:  Gary Ross

Rated:  PG 13

Running time:  1 hour 50 mins

Warner Bros

We are introduced to Debbie Ocean (Bullock) as she is being released from prison, having done five years for a crime she claims she didn’t commit (she was set up).  Sadly, we soon learn that Debbie was NOT rehabilitated, as she cons her way into everything from cosmetics to a swanky hotel room.  She also takes the time to stop at her brother Danny’s grave, letting the audience know in the first 10 minutes not to look for that assumed George Clooney cameo.  As soon as she’s settled she begins putting into place a plan that she has been perfecting for three years.  And she only needs seven people to help her.

 

Slow and plodding at the beginning, with a mostly satisfying conclusion, “Ocean’s 8” boasts an amazing cast of women with their own amazing list of accomplishments,  Between the eight members of the “gang” are four Oscars, two Emmys, eight Grammys, six Golden Globes and five BAFTAs.  Sadly none of them brought them to work with them, as the plot progresses so slowly that seeing one of the ladies flash their trophies might have added some excitement to the proceedings.

 

In a nutshell, Debbie has decided to steal a $150 million necklace at the annual Met Gala.  She then rounds up a smorgasbord of like-minded associates…everyone from Rhianna’s surveillance expert to Mandy Kaling’s diamond expert.  The actresses are fine in their roles, but, despite attempts to give them some kind of personality, they’re all very similar in delivery and demeanor.  Which makes this film pale against Clooney’s “Ocean” trilogy.  Heck, even the great 60s version with Frank Sinatra was more fun.  The difference is that those films had set characters that did not act the same.  This film could have used the comedy duo of Casey Affleck and Scott Caan or the blustery antics of Bernie Mac.  Gary Ross is a fine director who knows how to keep the action moving, but here his script has conspired against him.

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