Film Review – “The Upside”

THE UPSIDE

Starring:  Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart and Nicole Kidman

Directed by:  Neil Burger

Rated: PG 13

Running time:  2 hrs 5 mins

I’m going to start right out and say that, when he first burst upon the movie scene, I found Kevin Hart to be no more than an even louder Chris Tucker.  He could be funny but he could also be annoying.  In 2016 I began to come around, impressed as I was with his performance opposite Dwayne Johnson in “Central Intelligence.”  This week, with his new film, “The Upside,” he may have finally won me over.

“The Upside” is the story of two very different men who learn to rely on each other.  Hart is Dell, a recently released convict trying to right by his son but not wanting to put the effort into what it takes.  Cranston is Philip, a once very active billionaire who is now a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair.  Dell tells his parole officer that he’s looking for work, but to prove it he needs to have paperwork signed by three prospective employers or it’s back to the hoosegow for him.  He accidentally wanders into an interview session where Philip is speaking to prospective care-givers.  Intrigued by Dell’s “I don’t have time, just sign this” attitude, he offers him the job.  And a heartfelt and funny adventure begins.

For those who aren’t aware, “The Upside” is a true story and is based on the 2011 French film “The Intouchables.”  It is a story of how people can change, whether they want to or not.  Dell finds himself going from the projects to the penthouse (literally), while Philip, who has been slowly withdrawing since the death of his wife, begins to discover the joys of living again.  Both actors give solid, moving performances, with just enough laughter to keep the story moving.  As Philip’s business assistant, Kidman is no-nonsense in her dealings with Dell, likening his position to a baseball game – three strikes and he’s out.

Director Burger keeps the story flowing nicely, hitting all of the right emotional notes.  A fine way to enter the new year!

Win Passes to the Kansas City Screening of “The Upside”

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at STX Entertainment to give (35) readers and their guests the chance to be among the first to see the new film “The Upside,” starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart.

All you have to do is click HERE.  The first (35) people to do so will receive a pass for (2) to attend the screening, which will be held on Wednesday, Jaunary 9, 2010 at the Cinemark Theatre in Merriam, Kansas.  The screening begins at 7:00 pm

This is a first come/first serve giveaway.  Once the (35) passes have been claimed, the giveaway has ended.  Good Luck!

Film Review: “Night School”

Starring: Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Rob Riggle
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 111 minutes
Universal Pictures

It’s difficult to digest a new Kevin Hart movie without first re-evaluating where one currently stands on the stand-up comedian turned actor. My opinion on him was actually quite positive after last year. His trademark high-pitch scream and short stature served the “Jumanji” sequel/reboot well and my prior frustrations with him melted away in “Captain Underpants.” But Hart is back to his old uninteresting shenanigans in “Night School.”

Teddy (Hart) believes he needs one thing to keep his life on track, a GED. The recently engaged man has lost his BBQ grill sales job and is hard-pressed to get an ideal replacement gig because he never completed high school. His fiancée, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke), is oblivious to the fact that Teddy is a high school drop out because he’s a decent liar. Despite their years of dating, he’s managed to convince her that he’s successful, and not drowning in debt or uneducated. However she did always know he sold grills for a living.

So to keep up this charade, he gets a minimum wage job, takes the bus daily after wrecking his car, and begins to attend night school. These are all things he doesn’t tell Lisa, despite their recent engagement and step forward in their relationship. Even when she does begin to suspect something is amiss; Teddy unflinchingly goes along with her suspicion that he’s getting cold feet about their marriage. If it seems like I’m focusing too much on Teddy, that’s because this movie focuses way too much on him and his night school cohorts.

It’s a really unfortunate fact, especially consider that the other star of this film is Tiffany Haddish, who plays Teddy’s night school teacher, Carrie. Haddish, who burst into the mainstream last year with “Girl’s Trip,” has some solid quips and one liners, but is relatively declawed in this film. Carrie also represents a strong female personality that fits well into the film’s mold about overcoming adversity, but there are a lot of scenes where Carrie’s persona and approach leaves a lot to be desired.

I actually wanted to like “Night School.” It began on a solid promise that Hart, Haddish, and the surrounding cast could unearth some unexpected comedy gold. There are chuckles to be had, but not enough, mainly due to the fact that “Night School” is stretched thin by its runtime and lack of comedic imagination. Even with two comedians that have more than proven to be a comedic force behind the mic and on-screen, “Night School” gets a failing grade.

Film Review: “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black
Directed By: Jake Kasdan
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 119 minutes
Sony Pictures Entertainment

In 2015 there was a collective gasp by 90’s kids after Sony confirmed long held rumors that the studio would be making a sequel to the much-beloved “Jumanji.” The 1995 film is just one of the many reasons Millennials fondly remember Robin Williams, so creating a sequel for it over two decades later for a new generation is no easy task, even if their the goal is to cash in on nostalgia.s

The new film picks up in 1996, where an unnamed boy is given the classic Jumanji board game by his father. He tosses it aside and proceeds to play a video game instead. Sensing its expiration date, the board game creates a video game cartridge for the unnamed boy to pop in. Tripping ahead 20 years later, we meet four teenagers, stuck in detention with a mundane task, and looking for an escape. That’s when the Jumanji video game rears its ugly head, with those iconic jungle drums, entrancing the high schoolers to plug it in.

Whereas the original brought the jungle to our realm, the new Jumanji transplants it’s victims into its realm. The teenagers take the form of video game avatars, played by the surprisingly charismatic and charming hodgepodge of Johnson, Gillan, Hart and Black. Their comedic strengths (except Gillan) are somewhat subdued so that there’s a lot more group improvisation and camaraderie so that no one overwhelms or steals a scene.

With five screenwriters, there are moments where “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” seems to understand video game clichés and utilizes them while at other times it seems to be written by a middle-aged man who believes video games are the death of creativity. In some ways you could say this movie suffers from the pitfalls of other video game movies where there’s not enough time to flesh out exposition and the action sequences suffer from rushed conflict resolution. But when the movie embraces video game tropes, it genuinely excels as popcorn entertainment and parody.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” benefits from a fun cast, willing to embody their absurd characters and the even more ridiculous plot. But that doesn’t mean the film isn’t without its flaws. The third act is weak, sometimes neglecting established plot points and making little use of the actual jungle. I’m also curious as to how well it’ll be received and understood by those who grew up without the film or are unaware of the previous flick. For those looking for a healthy dose of nostalgia, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a passable film, but it doesn’t make the case for a potential franchise or another sequel.

 

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Film Review: “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Starring the Voices Of: Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch and Ed Helms
Directed By: David Soren
Rated: PG
Running Time: 89 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

In 2013, 2012, 2005, 2004 and 2002, the “Captain Underpants” books made the American Library Association’s top 10 challenged books. This is a list usually reserved for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Chocolate War,” “Of Mice and Men” and other well-known books. Ironically, “Captain Underpants” place on the list isn’t for its potty humor, but for its insensitivity and because it supposedly encourages children to disobey authority. For fans of the book, or those who don’t see that as a bad thing, you’ll be happy to know the movie keeps that spirit intact.

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” begins with an introduction to George Beard (Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Middleditch). The two fourth graders love to pull pranks and share a creative disregard for their school principal, Benjamin Krupp (Helms). They’ve rebranded him in their comic book, “Captain Underpants,” as made him the title character. He faces off against foes who are also modeled off of other people at the school like annoying teachers, humorless dorks and evil toilets. But the comic hero comes to life when George uses a 3D hypno ring from a cereal box to escape Krupp’s ire. At the snap of their fingers, the stuffy principal dons the iconic white briefs that stretch above the belly button.

There’s an underlying charm to George and Harold’s antics because of how their friendship is birthed through a mutual love for the arts and immature humor. It’s hard not to root for a duo that pulls pranks after being oppressed for expressing themselves in imaginative and comedic ways. Sure it’s humor that makes a man-child giggle and an elementary school classroom roar with laughter, but it’s counterbalanced by witty subtlety. However, even the most juvenile minds might roll their eyes at some of the low hanging fruit “Captain Underpants” happily plucks.

There is some clever wordplay and sight gags for astute viewers. But the majority of fun is from the student and teacher caricatures populating Jerome Horowitz Elementary. Jordan Peele provides the unsavory voice of a teacher’s pet, Kristen Schaal adds a nasal flair to her trademark high pitch when voicing a bashful lunch lady and Nick Kroll uses a stereotypical German accent to voice the film’s ludicrous villain Professor Poopypants. There’s actually a decent reason why his name is so puerile.

Director David Soren plays with different visual styles and animation throughout to keep the eyes drawn to the screen. While the majority of animation is on par with other animated films, moments with sock puppets and sequences that feel like children’s crayon drawings coming to life add to George and Harold’s unique vision. Soren, however, isn’t able to do much with fight and action sequences in the final act that make it memorable.

For a movie about toilet humor, “Captain Underpants” never resorts to grossing out the audience for a cheap laugh and finds a surprising amount of emotional depth in its characters, even the ones that are the butt of the joke. “Captain Underpants” does spend a little bit too much time indulging in its own sophomoric humor when it could have been fine tuning its style a little bit more or focusing on parodying the superhero genre. But if “Captain Underpants” does want to play with the big boys of DC and Marvel, it certainly has the groundwork laid out.

Media Mikes 2016 Fall/Holiday Movie Preview

Labor Day has come and gone, and unless you’re dressing up as a ghost, you better not be wearing anything white! With the end of summer comes the beginning of fall and the start of Hollywood’s “Prestige Movie Push!”

We’ll take a look at what the studios hope are their best bets to fill the multiplexes and bring home the Oscars. Once again, a big thank you to our friends at Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) for some synopsis information. Opening dates noted are subject to change at the whim of the studios. Enjoy!

OCTOBER 7

THE 13th

Documentary
Directed by: Ava DuVernay

The director of “Selma” gives us an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.

OSCAR CHANCES: Will surely make the short list.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION

Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Nate Parker

Set against the antebellum South, the film follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself and his fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

OSCAR CHANCES: After last year’s #OSCARSOWHITE controversy, the early buzz on this film almost guaranteed a bounty of nominations. However, it was recently revealed that writer/director/star Nate Parker and his co-writer, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a fellow college student in 1999. Though Parker was not found guilty and Celestin had his conviction overturned, their alleged victim committed suicide. Not sure how this news will affect the Academy voters.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett and Justin Theroux
Directed by: Tate Taylor

In the film, being compared to “Gone Girl,” a recently divorced woman
takes the train to work every day and imagines the lives of a young couple she
sees every day. Things get weird when the young wife disappears.

OSCAR CHANCES: Blunt is already getting raves for her performance.


OCTOBER 13

MASCOTS

Starring: Christopher Guest, Parker Posey and Jane Lynch
Directed by: Christopher Guest

Simply described as “a look into the world of competitive mascots,” this is the latest opus from the great Christopher Guest. Sadly, unless I missed it, this is the first of Guest’s films that does not include Eugene Levy.

OSCAR CHANCES: Possible screenplay nod.

 

OCTOBER 14

THE ACCOUNTANT

Starring: Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons and Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

A forensic accountant un-cooks the books for illicit clients. What I like about the trailer is that Affleck seems to be a young genius. Maybe this is his chance to play Will Hunting?

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe.


KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?

Starring: Kevin Hart
Directed by: Leslie Small and Tim Story

Kevin Hart performs his comedy in front of 50,000 fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: No.


OCTOBER 21

AMERICAN PASTORAL

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning and Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Ewan McGregor

In 1968, a hardworking man, who’s been a staple in his quaint community for years, watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart as his daughter’s new radical political affiliation threatens to destroy their family. Based on the novel by Philip Roth.

OSCAR CHANCES: Adapted screenplay?

IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE

Starring: John Travolta, Ethan Hawke and Karen Gillan
Directed by: Ti West

A mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody cross-hairs of revenge. Ethan Hawke’s second western this season and John Travolta in a cowboy hat for the first time since “Urban Cowboy.” Yee-hah!

OSCAR CHANCES: Sadly Western’s very rarely get recognized.

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Edward Zwick

Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Director Zwick has helmed three of my favorite films (“About Last Night,” “Glory” and “Legends of the Fall” but only has an Oscar for co-producing “Shakespeare in Love.” It’s about time this man was recognized, though I don’t think it’s going to be for a Jack Reacher film.

A MONSTER CALLS

Starring: Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver
Directed by: J.A. Bayona

A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

TYLER PERRY’S BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN

Starring: Tyler Perry
Directed by: Tyler Perry

Madea winds up in the middle of mayhem when she spends a haunted Halloween fending off killers, paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls and zombies while keeping a watchful eye on a group of misbehaving teens. I’m scared.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m going to go out on a limb and say “no”

OCTOBER 28

INFERNO

Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Ron Howard

When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot. The second Felicity Jones film in as many weeks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Sorry, Tom, but your nomination this year is coming from “Sully”

 

NOVEMBER 4

BLEED FOR THIS

Starring: Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Ben Younger

The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash, which left him not knowing if he’d ever walk again, made one of sport’s most incredible comebacks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Robert DeNiro and Hillary Swank won Oscars for portraying boxers so never say never. Hell, Stallone got nominated…TWICE!

DOCTOR STRANGE

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by: Scott Derrickson

A neurosurgeon with a destroyed career sets out to repair his hands only to find himself protecting the world from inter-dimensional threats.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

HACKSAW RIDGE

Starring: Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington
Directed by: Mel Gibson

WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Mel doesn’t appear in this one but his dead-ringer son, Milo, does.

OSCAR CHANCES: Gibson (Mel, not Milo) already has an Oscar for directing so you never know. I’m sure people have forgotten what all of the hub-bub was about concerning him a few years ago.

LOVING

Starring: Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Back in the dark ages, Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. Apparently they had nothing better to do in Virginia at the time.

OSCAR CHANCES: Acting, picture.

TROLLS

Starring the voices of: Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake
Directed by: Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn

Remember those little plastic things with long hair that you used to put on the end of your pencil? When I was a kid we called them Kewpies but apparently they are Trolls and they have their own movie. Good for them!

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe best hairstyling?

NOVEMBER 11

ARRIVAL

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

OSCAR CHANCES: Picture, director, acting.

SHUT IN

Starring: Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay
Directed by: Farren Blackburn

A heart-pounding thriller about a widowed child psychologist who lives in an isolated existence in rural New England. Caught in a deadly winter storm, she must find a way to rescue a young boy before he disappears forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Unsure, but young Mr. Tremblay should have been nominated last year for “Room.”

USS INDIANAPOLIS: MEN OF COURAGE

Starring: Nicolas Cage and Tom Sizemore
Directed by: Mario Van Peebles

The harrowing true story of the crew of the USS Indianapolis, who were stranded in the Philippine Sea for five days after delivering the atomic weapons that would eventually end WWII. If you saw “Jaws,” this is the tale that Quint tells. Other “Jaws” related facts: this was the original idea for “Jaws 2.” Also: Mario Van Peebles starred in “Jaws the Revenge.”

OSCAR CHANCES: To me it looks like a “made for TV” movie. How about Emmy chances?


NOVEMBER 18

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

Starring: Hailiee Steinfeld, Blake Jenner and Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig

High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother. Is that weird? When I was in high-school I wanted to date my best friend’s older sister. Hopefully Stevie Nicks got some money from this.

OSCAR CHANCES: Nada

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jon Voight and Ezra Miller
Directed by: David Yates

The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards 70 years before Harry Potter reads his book in school. Even though Harry Potter and his pals are less than 20 years old it seems like they’ve been around forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, music (the great James Newton Howard)

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Starring: Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Affleck and Williams have been nominated in the past so I’m not ruling anything out.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Starring: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Tom Ford

An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. November is Amy Adams month.

OSCAR CHANCES: Across the board


NOVEMBER 23

ALLIED

Starring: Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war. Cotillard isn’t married so maybe we can look forward to reading about “Bradarion” soon.

OSCAR CHANCES: Pitt, Cotilliard and Zemeckis have been there before.

BAD SANTA 2

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Tony Cox
Directed by: Mark Waters

Fueled by cheap whiskey, greed and hatred, Willie teams up once again with his angry little sidekick, Marcus, to knock off a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve.

OSCAR CHANCES: I thought Billy Bob deserved a nod for the first film but I’m going to say no.

MOANA

Starring the voices of: Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk and Nicole Scherzinger
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams

A young woman uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated feature, original song

RULES DON’T APPLY

Starring: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins and Ed Harris
Directed by: Warren Beatty

An unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire who they work for. Beatty has been wanting to do a Howard Hughes-based film since the 1970s. Not sure if this is what he had in mind back then but, after a 15-year absence, it’s great to see him both in front of and behind the camera.

OSCAR CHANCES: Only two people have been nominated in the same year for acting, directing, writing and producing the best picture: Orson Welles and Warren Beatty. And Beatty did it TWICE!


NOVEMBER 25

LION

Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Garth Davis

A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

OSCAR CHANCES: Many


DECEMBER 2

LA LA LAND

Starring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
Directed by: Damien Chazelle

From the creator of “Whiplash” comes a film about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. And it’s a musical!

OSCAR CHANCES: Early film festival buzz say’s this may be the film to watch (both on screen and at awards time!)


DECEMBER 9

MISS SLOANE

Starring: Jessica Chastain
Directed by: John Madden

An ambitious lobbyist faces off against the powerful gun lobby in an attempt to pass gun control legislation.

OSCAR CHANCES: Actress. Madden directed the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love.”

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Starring: Jason Bateman and Jennifer Anniston
Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand.

OSCAR CHANCES: Zip

DECEMBER 16

COLLATERAL BEAUTY

Starring: Will Smith and Keira Knightley
Directed by: David Frankel

A tragic event sends a New York ad man on a downward spiral.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’ve already had to apologize to Will Smith twice for doubting he’d get nominated for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” There won’t be a third. Good luck Will.

FENCES

Starring: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis
Directed by: Denzel Washington

An African American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Based on the August Wilson play.

OSCAR CHANCES: YES!

THE FOUNDER

Starring: Michael Keaton and Patrick Wilson
Directed by: John Lee Hancock

The story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. You may look at your next hamburger differently. Keaton is said to be so good that they pulled the film from it’s original release date.

OSCAR CHANCES: Keaton

A KIND OF MURDER

Starring: Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel
Directed by: Andy Goddard

In 1960s New York, Walter Stackhouse is a successful architect married to the beautiful Clara who leads a seemingly perfect life. But his fascination with an unsolved murder leads him into a spiral of chaos as he is forced to play cat-and-mouse with a clever killer and an overambitious detective, while at the same time lusting after another woman. This will be a day of decisions for Patrick Wilson fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: Don’t see any

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

Starring: Felicity Jones, Jimmy Smits and Warwick Davis
Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Or, as I like to call it, “Episode 6.5” The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans to the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow. Holy crap! The Death Star, Leia’s family, Darth Vader AND Wicket the Ewok? I’m already in line!

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, make up.

DECEMBER 21

20th CENTURY WOMEN

Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Laura Wiggins
Directed by: Mike Mills

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.

OSCAR CHANCES: Can anyone tell me why Annette Bening hasn’t won an Oscar yet? Didn’t think so. Keep your fingers crossed.

ASSASSINS CREED

Starring: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Justin Kurzel

When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society. This synopsis seems so crazy considering the cast. I wonder if the two leads made the same mistake Bill Murray did when he thought “Garfield” had been written by one of the Coen brothers!

OSCAR CHANCES: Fassbender elevates everything he’s in so I’m not saying no!

PASSENGERS

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt
Directed by: Morten Tyldum

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early. It’s so weird to see Lawrence in a movie at the end of the year NOT directed by David O. Russell. Oh well, there’s always next year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, technical stuff

PATRIOTS DAY

Starring: Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Peter Berg

An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Sounds better than what I thought it was – knowing Wahlberg is a huge New England Patriot fan I thought it was about a day with Tom Brady. The third film by Wahlberg and director Berg and second this year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Oh yes.

SING

Starring the voices of: Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Garth Jennings

A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated film….maybe.

DECEMBER 25

GOLD

Starring: Matthew McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan

An unlikely pair venture to the Indonesian jungle in search of gold. When he was outrageously thin in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” McConaughey still looked good. In this one he’s bald and….dammit!

OSCAR CHANCES: No sir.

WHY HIM?

Starring: James Franco and Bryan Cranston
Directed by: John Hamburg.

A dad forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend. Based on a story by Jonah Hill. Somebody needed money.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m ashamed that I have to include those words with this film.

DECEMBER 28

PATERSON

Starring: Adam Driver
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet.

OSCAR CHANCES: Love Jarmusch. Maybe a witting nod.

Film Review: “The Secret Life of Pets

Starring the voices of: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart
Directed by: Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud
Rated: PG
Running time: 1 hour 30 mins
Universal

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

As a long time dog lover (and owner), I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I’ve been looking forward to this movie since I saw the first trailer last year. And while that trailer promised a fun look at what our doggies and kitties do when we leave the house, it’s not all fun and games. In fact, you can say it’s a dangerous jungle out there.

Meet Max (C.K.). A friendly dog who has lived with Katie (Ellie Kemper) since he was a pup. Life is good for Max, who spends his time with Katie snuggling and playing with his ball. His time without her is either spent watching the front door until she comes home or hanging out with his fellow pet friends in the neighborhood. However, things change when Katie brings home Duke (Stonestreet), a big shaggy mess of a dog she picks up at the pound. When Max and Duke find themselves on the run from Animal Control, they must join forces or face the consequences.

First the good stuff. “The Secret Life of Pets” is from the same studio that brought you the adorable Minions from the “Despicable Me” films, and the animation is amazing. One scene finds our two pups in water that looks so realistic you can feel the wetness. The characters are well voiced. Besides the two main mutts, Kevin Hart is perfectly cast as an evil bunny while Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks and Dana Carvey shine as well.

Now the bad stuff. Did you notice above when I referred to Kevin Hart as a EVIL bunny? That’s because he is. When Max and Duke find themselves underneath the street and in the sewers of New York City they come across a group made up of animals that have been flushed down the toilet. They are only accepted when they tell a gruesome story about how the killed their masters. KILLED THEIR MASTERS! I almost fell out of seat. Have we come to a point where it’s o.k. for a cute cartoon bunny to jokingly talk about murder in a PG rated film? And a fellow critic pointed out how weird it was that the soundtrack features the song “Bounce” by System of a Down which, depending on who you talk to, is either about drug use or an orgy. Jeesh!

Film Review: “Central Intelligence”

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Amy Ryan
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hour 54 mins
Warner Bros

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Film Review By Mike Smith

It’s 1996. The last day of high school. And two young men are about to have two very different experiences. For Calvin “the Golden Jet” Joyner, it’s a day spent receiving the accolades of your classmates as you are honored for your achievements in, well, pretty much everything. For Robbie Weirdict, it’s a final day of humiliation, as the portly youngster is tossed, naked, into the middle of the same assembly.

20 years later, Calvin (Hart) finds himself stuck in a job he doesn’t really love, spending more time on Facebook than work. When he gets a friend request from Bob Stone (Johnson), he hesitates at first then, like most people, accepts it. He soon learns that Bob is really Robbie and that he has changed quite a bit. When the two mismatched men reunite it’s an eye opening for both of them.

Funny as hell, with a sweet message built in, “Central Intelligence” is successful in part thanks to its genius casting, which makes Hart the Bud Abbott-like straight man while Johnson grabs the majority of the laughs. And what isn’t funny about a guy Johnson’s size who shows up everywhere wearing a fanny pack? It seems Bob may or may not be a rogue C.I.A. agent looking to sell weapons to the highest bidder. He enlists Calvin’s help in part because Calvin was the only person who seemed genuinely friendly to him in the past, while Calvin goes along because he still feels sorry for what Robbie went through in school.

Hart has learned to tone down his Chris Tucker-like screaming and gives a fine performance here. The supporting cast is just as good, including Ryan as the C.I.A. agent in charge of finding Bob and Danielle Nicolet as Calvin’s high school sweetheart and now wife. But the real star here is Johnson. Always a very likable performer, his comedic work here recalls his standout performance in 2005’s “Be Cool.” A gentle giant with a heart of gold, Bob Stone seems ready to greet the world each morning with a smile. It’s Bob that makes this film the best comedy of the summer so far.

 

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