Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Non-Spoiler review. I'm gonna do a more spoilery review in a few days.

Okay, lets get this out of the way. I've already seen it more than once, and I loved it more the second time. Granted, it's probably still only the the third best Star Wars film, but that's not a bad thing. It kills all of the prequels (there were prequels?) by a long shot. The Force Awakens might as well been called "The Faith Restored". Thank you JJ Abrams for being the Star Wars fan I thought you were.

I've heard this is a Star Wars movie that can be seen by someone that's never seen a Star War before and still enjoy it, and that's definitely true. The Force Awakens has a short learning curve.

I'll get the bad out of the way first. The main issue I had with the film is that it recycles a lot of plot points from previous Star Wars films, but I look at that as if you're gonna try to restore faith and recapture a lost audience, might as well start from a safe place. Even with the basic Star Wars plot, it leaves a lot of questions open where you can see potential places where the sequels may go. It's not completely obvious where the next films will go. My only other real disappointment in the film is that the score wasn't all that remarkable. It has the old Star Wars musical cues we all know, but I didn't hear anything new that blew me away.

On to the light side. The new characters are fantastic! I wasn't sure how the new guys would play, but they totally carry the movie and you care about each of them. They succeed in bringing a new generation of fans to the franchise. Finn is a great, funny, original character. Rey is the new, upgraded Leia for the next generation. Poe wasn't in the movie all that much, but he just became the Star Wars character I'd most like to have a beer with. Kylo Ren plays the intimidating, conflicted villain that the series needs. I can't wait to see what they all do in the rest of the series.

The action is great and the film is shot beautifully. If you're worried about JJ Abrams lense-flare, then worry not. It's non-existent. There's a lot of creative and interesting shots that we've never seen in a Star Wars movie before. None of the long, walking exposition shots to be found here, nor any of the shot/reverse-shot style of dialog. The film is paced beautifully. I don't think I took a breath the first 30 minutes of the movie either time I saw it.

It's easily the funniest Star Wars film as well. JJ Abrams nails the humor and character interaction. The dialog is a vast improvement over anything the the prequels. The stunted dialog and robotic behavior is completely gone! It's an emotional film, too! I got choked up a few times the first time I saw it, but even more so the second time when seeing my nephews react to it. This is the nostalgia I needed.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the Star Wars movie you're looking for. While derivative, it delivers the fun, action and humor fans craved. It successfully restores faith in the franchise, and gives it the kick in the pants it needed. This is fun for the whole family!

5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Yes, I'm grading on a curve. It's a flawed movie. I don't care!

Mind Blown!

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Martian (2015)

Just to get this out of the way, I haven't read the book, so there will be no comparisons or anything like that. This is a movie review. I can barely read in the first place. On a related note, I talked to a couple after seeing The Martian that was all too happy to tell everyone within earshot that Andy Weir was his cousin. I had to fight every fiber of my being to respond, "Who's that?" Seriously though, The Martian is the kind of movie that makes you want to read the book.

The Martian doesn't waste any time. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is stranded on Mars in the opening moments of the film. Since that's the whole premise of the film, might as well get it out of the way, right? No sense in building that up for 30 minutes when the trailer reveals this. Watney must figure out a way to make his supplies last and contact home. As said in the film, he sciences the shit out of it.

It made me happy to see a film where everyone is smart. Hell, the main character of the film is an astronaut-botanist. How geeky is that? Matt Damon might be the main character, but the hero of The Martian is Science. Anything that gets people interested in outer space and celebrates Science is already winning my book. Doesn't hurt when Neil deGrasse Tyson tweets that The Martian got "crucial science right." He did also say that it's still fantasy, but some of those comments seemed to in jest.

It's a testament to Matt Damon's acting and charisma that The Martian stays entertaining even when watching long stretches of just talking to himself, or doing repetitive tasks. Like many stranded films, it can be hard or tedious to watch a guy struggling to survive if you don't like the actor or can't root for the character.

The Martian is a good example of a great cast that isn't wasted. They exist in the Goldilocks zone where everyone's screentime and performances are just right. It's is also very funny with a lot of sharp dialog. I didn't realize Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) wrote the screenplay, so perhaps its humor shouldn't have surprised me as much. The script also does a good job of explaining everything just enough that it's not too complicated, so nobody will get lost. It's not bogged down with jargon or techno-babble.

I'm glad to see Ridley Scott knock one out of the park again. Feels like it's been a good decade since he really nailed a film, so it's nice to see him return to form. I was worried that he might have totally lost it

Funny, thrilling, and best of all, smart, The Martian hits on cylinders. This is one of the most entertaining films of the year, and you don't need to be a fan of the book to enjoy it. It's a must see!

5 (out of 5) Death Stars

The Walk (2015)

Do you ever get that weird feeling that goes right down to your bones when looking down at heights? It doesn't even matter if it's a picture or a video game, it's some automatic thing that you're just wired with. If you get that feeling, then be warned that a good 40 minutes of The Walk will do that to you.

The Walk is an interesting story about a real event, but it's unusually, and sometimes unnecessarily narrated by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing Philippe Petit, the man that actually walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers. It constantly breaks up the story and is an example of the movie telling you rather than showing you. This is especially unusual since The Walk hangs so much on the visual aspect of it. It's also a little weird to see so much narration to a story that's already has an Oscar winning documentary about it. If you want to know how Petit really felt about his walk, just watch Man on Wire on Netflix. It kind of makes the whole movie feel like overkill, only existing to show you how good the CG is.

The cast is good though, and I enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance. I didn't even find his accent annoying, and after a while I forgot I was watching JGL. He's done a pretty good job of doing roles that are different from film to film, rather than playing the same character over and over. The characters take a backseat to the real star of the film, the computer generated Twin Towers. It's done so well and they are shot so lovingly that much of The Walk feels like a tribute to them. Even the way Petit speaks about them seems like he's in love with them.

The final act of The Walk is what you're really waiting for, and it's a doozy. The effects and cinematography are both excellent. It's one of the few times where seeing something in IMAX 3D really felt worth it, as it adds that extra depth to the experience.

I found this to be an interesting contrast to what I saw in Everest. In Everest, I didn't have much sympathy for the characters, and thought what they were doing was nuts. I also thought Petit was nuts, but super ballsy, and oddly poetic. Perhaps it's because Petit considered himself an artist, and I connected with that on some level.

The Walk is a mixed bag of uneven drama, but great, thrilling visuals. I do think it's worth seeing on IMAX if available to you though. Also, if you haven't seen it yet, I'd really recommend you watch Man on Wire, which is a really great documentary about the real event.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice (2015)

Let's see what we have here. A movie about a guy with deep mental health issues, who's also a master at a game I've never been particularly interested in, or even played (honestly, I think I've played chess once in my life). Sounds perfect, right? Also, and maybe this is just me, or hasn't there already been a good amount of movies about Bobby Fisher? Well, fortunately Pawn Sacrifice a movie that's still interesting enough even if you know nothing about Bobby Fischer or chess.

As far as biopics go, it's pretty standard as far as how it's setup and plays out in the beginning. You get some glimpses of the man Fischer is going to become and the issues facing him, Where is gets interesting is once we advance a few years to where he's an adult trying to become the best chess player in the world. You get a view of a very disturbed man dealing with worsening mental health. An interesting thing they hint at, but don't dive into enough for my liking, is whether or his disturbed mind is what made him so great at chess, or does trying to master the game slowly drive you mad. Does it simply attract that type of person?

It's also a little frustrating to watch as his paranoia makes him harder to deal with and pin down. His friends try their best, but there's only so much they can do. Pawn Sacrifice also plays up the US vs. the Soviets at the height of the Cold War. It seems as if they weren't sure what kind of movie they wanted to make, so they just threw a little bit of everything in there. The film could have used some focus. Oddly enough, they spend almost no time at all explaining the game or the rules of these chess tournaments, but I get the feeling that's probably a good thing.

Tobey Maguire was pretty great. It may be his finest performance to date. I honestly can't thing of anything he's been better in. I also enjoyed Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg as part of Fischer's team, watching how they take different ways of dealing with Fischer, while playing off of each other. My only real disappointment is that Liev Schreiber didn't have a more prominent role. More Ray Donovan is always a good thing. I thought he nailed a Russian accent though.

Pawn Sacrifice is a well-made, well-acted film that doesn't tread any new ground as far as biopics go. While there are some interesting ideas and threads, it suffers from too many of them, and ultimately plays it safe with all of them. Not bad, but nothing you need to rush out and see.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Grandma (2015)

I guess calling it "Bad Grandma" would have been a little too obvious, and just a bit hackish. Actually, I wouldn't call her bad as much as I would call her surly. I'm sure we all know the cranky, outspoken grandparent, only it's funny to watch when they aren't yours. I'm already surly and cranky now, so I can only imagine how I'll be 30 years from now. There's a part of me that looks forward to the day when I stop giving a shit and just say whatever the hell I want.

Grandma is a good example of limited story telling. The film plays out over just a single day, but you get everything you need to know from the dialog and interaction. They don't waste time with pointless exposition or explaining all the relationships. It's all there on the screen if you pay attention (and it's not like it's hard to figure out). Depending on your political or religious views, the ultimate goal of this film might upset some of you, but I didn't have an issue with it. I wouldn't get hung up on that though, as the movie is funny and light.

Despite being a limited story, they don't rush things and the relatively short running time is tight and effective. It's refreshing to see a movie that doesn't pad it's runtime. Just put what what needs to be in the film, and if it ends up being just 88 minutes, then so be it. I wish more filmmakers would realize this. Grandma is the kind of movie where at the end, I wouldn't have minded seeing another ten minutes or so. I enjoyed watching the characters and how it all played out.

Lily Tomlin is great, and I'm already hearing Oscar buzz around her performance. I almost forgot we are approaching Oscar-bait season, but this isn't as in your face as maybe other offerings around this time of the year are. Tomlin really is fun to watch, and not just because of her general attitude. There's a wisdom there, but doesn't hammer you over the head with it. I also enjoyed an engaging performance from Julia Garner. She's a relative newcomer, but she has such a distinctive look that she's hard not to notice even in limited screentime. I can see her becoming the next indie queen and seems a likely candidate for playing the manic pixie dream girl type. Marcia Gay Harden is also great. They do an interesting thing with her character where they build her up, and you think she's going to be someone you're going to hate, but when you're finally introduced to her, she comes off as the most sympathetic and relatable. In a weaker movie she would have been a caricature of an overbearing mother. All of the characters in Grandma are more complex than on the surface and aren't perfect people. You know, like in reality.

Grandma is a funny, well-written and heartfelt character story that's driven by an Oscar worthy performance from Lily Tomlin. Since this is smaller release, most won't be able to see this in the theaters, but it's definitely worth checking out.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Everest (2015)

Beware of a movie that begins by telling you how difficult it is to climb Everest and how many people have died trying to do it. You actually want me to watch this movie, right? Throughout they continue to hammer home how dangerous it is and how things can go south quickly. Are you sure you want me to sit through this whole thing? Guess how the movie plays out?

Everest is rough to watch at times. You're seeing a group of people struggling with this feat, and then it continues to get worse and worse. It's no surprise that it's not going to end well for a lot of them. If you like seeing lots of people die or frozen solid, then this is for you. Joy and triumph are not words I'd use to describe Everest. I get the whole man against nature element, but I can't help but wonder why anyone bothers with such an extreme. Why not just do those Spartan Races, and I don't even like those things.

Ultimately. the biggest problem with the movie is that it's hard to feel sympathy for the characters. They never give much more motivation than, 'because it's there'. Nobody's making them do this. It's not like anyone's got a gun to their heads, and they are offered multiple times to turn around when it looks like it's going to be too risky. At the end, I was as cold as as Everest.

Just like how Black Mass shows you pictures of the real people involved, Everest does that too. Normally that helps me connect to the characters, but even seeing them I still couldn't. I also found it a little funny that the makers of the film weren't as concerned for nailing the look. Aside from being much better looking, most of the actors looked nothing like their counterparts. It's kind of irrelevant though, since most of the actors are unrecognizable through much of the film. If it's not their facial hair, then it's the layers and layers of clothing and facial covering obscuring their identity. I was usually confused as to who was who most of the time, unless they had a really distinctive voice. They could have cast a bunch of unknowns and gotten the same effect. Having said that, the performances are good even though it seems like a waste of a lot of big names. I thought Black Mass underutilized a great cast, but in Everest they are completely wasted. Jason Clarke and Josh Brolin stand out for the most part, but I think in her limited screen time I think the only performance I connected with was Keira Knightley's.

Great, great cinematography. Everest is a gorgeous film, even when it's at it's most perilous. I know there was some CG used, but it was used to good effect. I saw it on IMAX 3D. While IMAX was a good format for the film, the 3D did absolutely nothing for it. If you're gonna experience this on the big screen, opt for a larger format, but see if you can avoid 3D.

Everest is a great looking, well-made movie, but it's ultimately a downer. This is one of those movies you'll put in that category of a good movie that you'll never want to see again. I can't recommend anything above a matinee.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, September 25, 2015

Black Mass (2015)

Black Mass is one of those movies that I really look forward to. Even from the trailer, you can see it checks all of the boxes: movie about a real gangster, set in the 70's, a great cast and great actor diving deep into the main role. Black Mass delivers on all of this. Mostly...

Black Mass, from this point in the review will be abbreviated to BM, which will certainly not cause any confusion with anything else, starts off with great dialog and a compelling story. I had no familiarity with Whitey Bulger before seeing BM, but it took no time at all to get into it. The story builds and builds, but then due to the nature of how the real life events played out, it loses steam towards the end. I won't spoil it here, but if you're familiar with Whitey Bulger, you might already know what I'm referring to. It doesn't necessarily ruin the movie necessarily, but it's an unsatisfying climax.

Welcome back, Johnny Depp. We missed you. After a series of shitty movies and silly roles, it's nice to see Depp return to serious acting. He's freaking fantastic and unrecognizable at times. Colored contacts usually weird me out, but here they were used to great effect. It really made his performance of Bulger that much more chilling and creepy. Don't be surprised if gets nominated come awards time. Joel Edgerton is great as well (supporting actor nod?). Just when I thought The Gift was the best I've seen him, he takes it to another level here. Jesse Plemons also really surprised me at well. The cast overall is fantastic. It's so stacked that there just isn't enough time to dedicate to everyone. How often can you say that guys like Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon and Corey Stoll were underused?

BM also does one of my favorite things where at the end they show you pictures of the real people, and in some cases you'll see how much they really nailed the casting and look. They also use this to wrap up the loose ends to the story that they don't show you in the film.

Overall, Black Mass is an entertaining gangster drama and worth watching just for Johnny Depp's performance as Whitey Bulger. It's nothing you haven't seen before, but totally worth a matinee. If you wait for video, it would make a good double feature with The Departed or The Town.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Sicario (2015)

Has anyone been watching Narcos on Netflix lately? If so, Sicario will fit right in with all the talk of cartels and hitmen on that show. Sicario feels like a distant, spiritual sequel to Narcos.

Sicario starts off with a bang, literally, and never lets up on the tension. It's so tense that I realized towards the end that I was actually sweating in my seat a little bit. There's a sense of dread that permeates the film. This is accentuated by the haunting soundtrack. I couldn't help but feel that something awful was going to happen at any moment. In a lot of ways, especially with the body count, it's a horror film. It's scarier than most modern horror films anyway.

It's super dark, complex and plays with moral and legal ambiguity. Sicario toys with you. Until I realized Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) directed, I thought I was watching a David Fincher movie. He certainly seems on a similar career path as Fincher.

The cinematography is beautiful as well. There are multiple shots where you're just following these guys speed through the border and Juarez, and it's oddly hypnotic. Then, there's some of the best use of heat and night vision I've ever seen in a movie. I don't play a lot of first person shooters, but someone should make a video game out of this if it doesn't already exist.

The cast is great and you'd have a hard time finding better performances from Josh Brolin, Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro. I was hoping for a little more Full Metal Bitch from Blunt, but she plays a little more vulnerable here. Still, she gives a great performance. Del Toro just kills it though. From the moment he shows up on screen, you know there's something up with him. I'd love a sequel just to see what he's up to after the events of Sicario.

Sicario is one of the best movies of the year and one of the most intense movies I've seen in a long time. It really sticks with you, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. I can't recommend it highly enough. Put it on the top of your list of things to see in the theater. I can't think of anything wrong with it, so you know that means...

5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The End of the Tour (2015)

Here's another example of a movie I enjoyed despite not knowing anything about the it or the people involved. I didn't have anything better to do at 4:30 on a Saturday, so what the hell, right?

The End of the Tour is the adaptation of David Lipsky's book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which details a five day tour he took with David Foster Wallace while promoting his book Infinite Jest. I've only heard of Infinite Jest, but have never read it. The movie doesn't really go into the book though, so you don't really need to know anything about that. It's basically a road movie where Lipsky interviews Wallace and they talk about his feelings on life, women, fame and pop culture. I felt like a fly on the wall where I really wanted to join in on the conversation.

Despite no familiarity with Wallace or his work, ten minutes into the film I was sold. One of Lipsky and Wallace's first conversations hit me in a very close and personal way that actually made me think about how I'm living my life. It was that profound and in my head. It affected me so much that immediately after I got home from seeing the film I went on to Amazon and ordered a copy of Infinite Jest and Lipsky's book. I just liked the cut of their jib. I was then saddened to see that Wallace committed suicide back in 2008. The movie doesn't mention that, but it shouldn't have surprised me based on how much Wallace talked about his depression. Mentioning his suicide in the film would have taken away from what the film was really about.

Jason Segel nails it as David Foster Wallace, and it's easily his best performance as an actor. The physical resemblance is pretty spot on as well (check some side-by-sides of them on a Google image search). I've heard fans of DFW have been extremely critical of Segel's casting, but I hope they keep an open mind and still give the film a shot. I don't know anything about David Lipsky, but I enjoyed Jesse Eisenberg's performance. I like Eisenberg in roles like this. Their interaction feels very authentic and intimate.

The End of the Tour is a smart, funny, thought provoking and different movie. It's worth watching just for the performances, but it really made me think about my own life. This is a smaller release, so most will have to watch this once it hits video, but it's well worth the wait.

4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

When I see a two and a half hour biopic released in mid-August about a group I didn't follow when they were active, I worry if there's any way I can enjoy it. I think that's the challenge of any biopic, can you still enjoy it when not familiar with the subject? When N.W.A. came out I wasn't really into rap. I was still in my hair metal phase and only just starting to accept bands like Pearl Jam. I think the only rap albums I owned at the time was Run-D.M.C.'s Tougher Than Leather and a Fresh Prince album. I can remember being annoyed with my friends that would listen to Straight Outta Compton, and saying they were trying too hard to be cool. I've since gotten into rap, but I was definitely behind the times when it first hit the scene.

Fortunately, Straight Outta Compton can not only be enjoyed by those not familiar, it's simply a good movie. Biopics can be a little melodramatic, so the lack of it in Straight Outta Compton is something I really enjoyed about it. When these guys had had beef with anyone or anything, they channeled it in their music, and if that didn't settle it, then they'd get in a fight. I prefer that to passive-aggressive, whiny shit. I was also worried that this film might pander a little too much based on what I saw in the trailers, but fortunately it's limited to just those few scenes and is not a theme of the film. It's one thing to acknowledge their influence (which is undeniable at this point), but its' another to just have a movie actively kissing these guys asses. With the exception of Suge Knight, most everyone comes away looking pretty good.

The cast is really great and it's impressive that they were able to get people that looked so much like their counterparts without sacrificing acting skill. They even nailed some of the cameos and smaller roles. With the exception of Paul Giamatti, they are all relative unknowns, but you wouldn't know it. There isn't a weak performance from anyone, and it's saying a lot when the best performance in the film doesn't come from Giamatti. For me, the biggest surprise was that Ice Cube was played by O'Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube's actual son. Jackson Jr. can come away from this knowing he's clearly the better actor in the family.

I mentioned the length of the film, and it is a little long, but this is a time where it didn't feel like it was needlessly stretched out. They cover a lot of stuff and don't rush through it, so it doesn't feel overwhelming. I was also pretty invested in what was going on, so I wasn't bored at all. I think it helps that guys like Dre and Ice Cube are still in the public eye. Most biopics come out well after the subject has passed on, or their work isn't current. I can't seem to go a day without seeing another commercial for Beats by Dre or a trailer for another bad Ice Cube comedy. Hell, before Straight Outta Compton played, they showed a trailer for Ride Along 2Ride Along 2? I don't know anyone that saw the first. Anyway, I found it more interesting watching where these guys came from when you know where they are currently in their careers.

Straight Outta Compton lives up to the hype. Even thought this would have done well if released in a better month, it was a smart move to release this in mid-August. It's pretty much the only thing worth seeing right now, so it's easy to recommend, even to people aren't fans or aren't overly familiar with N.W.A. or it's members.

Oh, I just thought I add that I can't drive without hearing "Boyz-n-the-Hood" in my head now.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

I joked in a tweet that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may have been a good movie, but I was too distracted by Alicia Vikander's legs to notice. Even though I kid, there did seem to be an unusual focus on them. That could just be me though.

I actually did enjoy The Man from U.N.C.L.E. though. It's pretty straight forward and run-of-the-mill as far as spy films go. There's no twist or turn that you don't see coming from a mile away, and there's nothing special about any of the action. This is probably sounding more like reasons I didn't like it, but what made me enjoy it was a likable, charismatic cast and above average humor. It's not funny to the point where it's a spoof of the genre, but we've already had a few of those this year, so that's probably a good thing.

It's kind of ironic that this stars Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill when just a few years ago I remarked in another review (not The Lone Ranger) that Hammer would be an interesting choice for Superman, only to have Cavill announced as Superman shortly after. Now that I see them acting against each other, I still stand by my statement, and it's not just because Hammer is clearly taller. It did seem unusual to me to cast an American to play a Russian and a Brit to play an American. What's the real motivation behind casting people and them forcing them to do strained accents? Like Jared Harris. What the hell kind of accent was he trying to do?

As far as the rest of the cast goes, I could have used a lot more of the ladies. Alicia Vikander was cute and charming, but it would have been nice to see her fleshed out a bit. There's hints here and there, but they don't follow through. Elizabeth Debicki was one of the few things I liked in The Great Gatsby and I've been waiting to see what she was doing to do next, so I was disappointed to see her underused here. She tries to do her best and has this evil sexiness quality, but there's not much more to her than the cold villain with a generic motivation and undeveloped character. It's not her fault, it's simply an underwritten role.

A friend asked me after I mentioned seeing this if it felt like a Guy Ritchie movie. Unfortunately, it doesn't, and it's not even worth comparing this to things like Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. While there are a few moments in the film that I really enjoyed that did feel like authentic Guy Ritchie moments, this feels more like his Sherlock Holmes movies than his earlier films.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is enjoyable enough for a lazy Sunday matinee. It's slick looking and reasonably fun, but you'll forget you saw it an hour later. You won't miss anything if were to wait for rental. I've seen much worse this summer though, so you could do a lot worse during Dump Season.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Gift (2015)

I say this every year, if you know how movies are scheduled, then you know you shouldn't expect much out of movies released later in the Summer. I've affectionately called August and September "Dump Months", but I think I prefer the term "Dump Season". However, and this seems to be a growing trend, there's always a few surprises each year. The Gift is the first surprise of Dump Season.

I love a thriller that can surprise me without resorting to a real gimmick or twist. Unless the 'twist' in The Gift is that it plays out smarter and more realistically than most thrillers. I think the real message you'll come away with from The Gift is, "Who's the real bad guy?" That's about all I can say though without spoiling anything.

This is one of Jason Bateman's more nuanced performances. You'll watch him and go, oh he's just doing another version of his Arrested Development character, but you start noticing subtle things about his behavior. I can't objectively say anything about Rebecca Hall's performance since I'm in love with her.

The real winner here is Joel Edgerton. In addition to his creepy, yet sympathetic performance, he also wrote and directed the film. I've always enjoyed his acting, especially his perfect performances in Episode II and III, but if this is the kind of stuff we can look forward to from him, then he's gonna move to my short list of favorite actors.

There are a few slightly cheap jump scares, but they work here because the film does such a good job of building tension. With each jump scare, it would be followed by a wave of relieved laughter from the audience. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap when they can get you like that.

The Gift is one of the Summer's pleasant surprises and a satisfying suspense definitely worth seeing in the theater. It also makes for a good date movie if you want to see them jump and then keep getting closer to you whenever it gets tense. You're welcome.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Irrational Man (2015)

I was joking with a friend over the weekend that people won't realize when Woody Allen has passed on until we go more than a year or two without a new film. He just keeps going and going, like the Energizer Bunny of film. Allen seems to be on a streak similar to the San Francisco Giants though. He's only good every other year (or so). Unfortunately, Irrational Man keeps up that trend.

It's not that Irrational Man is bad in any significant way, it's just so meh. This is especially unfortunate since it wastes a pretty good performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who totally carries the movie. Emma Stone is also very charming, but outside of their two performances, there's just not much there.

The plot actually goes in a different direction that isn't spoiled by the trailers, so I appreciated that. Once that direction was revealed, I was extremely excited to see how it played out. It's probably the only joy I got out of the film. Only that it takes forever to actually get there. Irrational Man doesn't seem to be in any hurry to get on with it. At least it seems that way, since it's so slowly paced. At just 95 minutes, it felt at least 30 minutes longer. It doesn't help that it's not particularly funny or romantic.

That's really all I have to say about it. Irrational Man is very middle of the road as far as Woody Allen films go. Not his worst, but far from his best. Maybe if another director had been behind this I wouldn't have expected so much. Save it for rental, and even then I'd only recommend this to Woody Allen fans, or people that need to see all of his movies.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, August 7, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015)

Three strikes and you're out. Hang it up, Fox, and give it back to Marvel. You clearly don't know how to make a good Fantastic Four movie. This might be one of the most disappointing superhero films ever. Even with lowered expectations, this reboot of Fantastic Four still managed to come up short. It's so bad that even Stan Lee didn't do a cameo. It makes the first two Fantastic Four films look halfway decent in comparison.

On paper it has a lot going for it. I was optimistic that Chronicle's Josh Trank was directing, but whether his vision was off (I heard he had limited knowledge of the source material) or the studio interfered, it's just so lifeless and dour. I heard they did massive reshoots due to all the backlash (like Dr. Doom being a blogger, not from Latervia, and named Domashev), but even with all the reshoots the tone is all wrong. It's not just the tone, but entire film lacks the color the Fantastic Four should have.

It also had a great cast. Unfortunately, they are all misused. While Miles Teller and Kate Mara are a step up from Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba as Reed and Sue, they have zero chemistry together. They barely flirt and give you nothing to see how they'll eventually be husband and wife. Jamie Bell and Michael B. Jordan, while fine actors, don't compare to the fun that Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans had playing the same roles. There's no sense of family, and none of the bickering you'd expect. Everyone plays their role mopey or detached. Was anyone having fun at all?

We get yet another origin story. I like that it was grounded in science, but two thirds of the film (it's barely 100 minutes) is dedicated to showing the team working on computers, building stuff, and then eventually get their powers as if an afterthought. Oh, and how they handle Sue Storm will drive fans nuts. Once they get their powers, the story immediately jumps ahead a full year. Have they mastered them and are a successful team saving the world at this point? No, the government has stepped in and is training them as weapons, as if that trope hasn't been beaten to death. We only get one scene of them at the end working together. Doom is reintroduced as the bad guy and then resolved in like ten minutes. There's no threat or stakes at all.

Outside of The Thing (his look was probably the lone improvement over the original), the effects weren't all that impressive. The Human Torch looked okay, I suppose, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. Where this movie really failed was the look of Dr. Doom. He looked like a cross of that stupid computer monster in Superman 3 and someone on their way to a rave. It looks homemade, but I've seen better cosplay than this. His powers, origin and motivation are all off.

There's nothing about Fantastic Four that warrants seeing on the big screen. Any film that casts Chet Hanks in a role does not deserve to be seen. It's not a complete disaster, but it's still an overall failure. Save it for rental if you want to punish yourself. I don't actively root for films to bomb, but I really hope people don't go out and see this. Please don't encourage Fox to attempt this again.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Monday, August 3, 2015

Vacation (2015)

Saying that I was disappointed in Vacation is like saying I was disappointed in the Taco Bell I got at 2 AM on a Saturday. I wasn't expecting much. Even with lowered expectations and a beer before the movie (so, yes, I was in a good mood), I felt that Vacation was still a giant waste of time.

I guess I should start with the cast. I like Ed Helms a lot, but I don't think he was right for the role. He's too sincere when it would have been better to have someone a little darker or with more of a sarcastic edge. It also doesn't help that he looks nothing like an older Anthony Michael Hall. Yes, he's playing the same Rusty Griswold from the original Vacation. In fact, I don't know why they just didn't get Hall to play the role. I'm pretty sure he's available. Leslie Mann was better cast as the older Audrey, but she's only in one part of the movie. I didn't mind Chris Hemsworth's attempt at comedy, but I can't say the same for his attempt at a Texan accent. Lastly, it's a shame they didn't give Christina Applegate more to do as she seemed like the only person that was really into it.

Oh, there is a cameo by Chevy Chase, but it only served to show how little he has left in the tank. He as shaky and unfunny. Beverly D'Angelo still looked good though, but she has like two lines of dialog. Their entire scene felt added on just for nostalgia's sake.

The other big problem with Vacation is that it's just not that funny. There's a few chuckles, but nothing made me laugh out loud. The funniest part of the movie was the opening credits, which was just a montage of awkward, random family vacation photos. This isn't even something out of the script or story. I think most people will get the biggest kick out of the younger brother constantly bullying the older brother, but that's a one-note gag that plays out by about the halfway mark. Most of the other humor comes out of crude bodily humor, or awkward behavior or dialog.

Vacation features two of my biggest pet peeves in comedy, the guy that gets walked all over for most of the film (basically the same role Helms played in The Hangover), and jokes hinging around something that's impossible. Like, there's a scene where they hit a button on their fake car (which already has enough design flaws that there's no way it could possibly exist) that causes all of the windows to explode. Even the characters remark as to why that would happen, but just because you point out that fact in the movie doesn't make it funny. It's still stupid. They try to redo the famous Christie Brinkley scene where the punchline is that she's brutally killed in a head-on collision. Can someone explain to me how that's funny on any level?

There's really nothing more I can say about Vacation. It's definitely not worth seeing in the theater, and I'm having a hard time saying it's worth seeing at all. Just stick to the original and Christmas Vacation and forget that they even attempted another sequel.

1 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, July 31, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

Hard to believe we're on the fifth Mission: Impossible movie. It's harder to believe that they're any good still. What's with some of these action series getting better with each sequel? This shouldn't be happening.

Anyway, so what's Rogue Nation about? You know, typical spy crap. Some underground organization wants to do something, and it's up to the other underground organization to stop them. At least it's a little more grounded in that the villain's goal seems somewhat realistic and don't involve some crazy weapon of mass destruction thingy. There is a device everyone is after, but they practically call it a MacGuffin, as if to throw their hands up admit that it's meaningless. It's also nice when the villain is someone that the hero actively admits he's overmatched by. Raises the stakes a little bit.

The action scenes were solid, if a bit uninspired. It's entertaining, but nothing you haven't experienced before. However, there's a motorcycle chase that might be the best I've ever seen in terms of point-of-view and sense of speed. It appears Cruise did most of his stunts again and you have to applaud the guy for the dedication and willingness to put himself at risk. You know that airplane scene that you seen in all the commercials and trailers? That's the opening scene! It's not even relevant to the plot. Just some cool shit to start the movie with.

Rogue Nation brings back the primary cast from the Ghost Protocol (and other MI films), with the exception of Paula Patton, so there's continuity as far as that goes. You won't miss Paula Patton though, as the one thing most people will come away with is how badass Rebecca Ferguson is. A lot of people, myself included, praised Ghost Protocol for Patton's character being more than just window dressing, but Ferguson's blows her out of the water and it's not even close. She's tough, cunning and sexy. Other spy/action films should take note. Tom Cruise, is well, Tom Cruise. What else can you say about him at this point? Simon Pegg provides the comedy relief and I enjoyed that Rogue Nation had a sense of humor and it was peppered by funny moments.

Oh, and can Christopher McQuarrie just write or direct everything that Tom Cruise is in at this point? Yes, please!

While it's not quite as fun as Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation is still a solid entry in the series and holds up with the best of them. It feels like this has been kind of a weak Summer for action, so Rogue Nation was the nice kick-in-the-pants, adrenaline boost I've been looking for. Definitely worth checking out on the big screen.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dope (2015)

It's funny that a movie about a group of geeks fixated on 90's hip-hop culture are in a plot that also feels like something out of the 90's. You know, where a group of nerdy kids somehow get mixed up with the scary drug dealer and then spend the rest of the film trying to make everything right. It sounds kind of dumb when you look at it that way, but trust me, Dope is a much better and smarter movie than that.

Newcomer Shameik Moore carries the film as Malcom. He's an easily relatable character and you root for him from the first moment you see him. He's not a typical kid from "The Bottoms". He obsessed with 90's hip hop and culture, gets good grades, likes stuff like Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons, and plays in a punk band. Much of Malcom and friend's interests are deemed "white shit" (which I thought was hilarious) by the other kids at school, and they are picked on constantly for it.

Aside from Moore, the whole cast is great, particularly Blake Anderson and Zoe Kravitz. Anderson is mainly there for comedy relief, and he delivers, while Kravitz is a love interest for Malcom. This might be the sexiest I've seen Kravitz play before.

Without getting too much into the plot, I think the biggest takeaway point this film makes is that don't be too quick to make a snap judgement about a person because of their color or where they're from. When you lump someone in a group because of some characteristic, you sell them short. The narcissist in me points to when people label me a meathead cause I workout, but I'm probably one of the biggest geeks you'd ever meet. If you just judged me on my appearance, you'd never know that, just like if you just assumed a black teen from Inglewood was a punk or gangbanger, you'd also be wrong. This is a point Dope slams home at the end, and it's a better movie for it.

There's also some great editing, particularly when they 'rewind' to show you what happened to another group while they were away. It feels like something you seen before, but it just works better here.

While it's an extremely funny movie, director Rick Famuyiwa always manage to keep that threat of violence that exists in their world. More than a few times you are genuinely scared and concerned that these kids might not actually make it out of this mess. It gives the film a little more weight, where in lesser films like this you know that nothing is really going to happen to the characters.

Dope, simply put, is dope. This is one of those smaller films that's smart and funny, while giving you a different point of view. Highly worth a matinee, but at the time I'm writing this, I'm guessing it's likely going to be out of theaters for most of you.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)

I was a little leery of seeing Infinitely Polar Bear. If not given the right tone or touch, it could be too heavy or hard to watch. I'm also on the fence about Mark Ruffalo, it's not that I don't like him, but he has that thing where it looks and sounds like he's chewing on the inside of his lip and that puts me off a little bit. Maybe that's just me though.

The basic premise is that Mark Ruffalo's character is manic-depressive and has had several breakdowns. He tries to reclaim his life and family by attempting to take care of their two daughters while his wife, played by Zoe Saldana, goes to school to get her MBA. It's Mr. Mom, but with bi-polar disorder.

Fortunately, Infinitely Polar Bear has a much lighter tone than I expected. Much of time this feels like more of a dark comedy than a drama. This is in large part due to Mark Ruffalo's brilliant, complex and manic performance. I think this might be my favorite performance of his (even surpassing Begin Again). Just as great are his two daughters, played by Ashley Aufderheide and Imogene Wolodarsky (who happens to be director Maya Forbes' daughter). Both are newcomers, but you wouldn't know it as they are so fantastic. It's interesting to see such great performances from young actors. At times, they're the ones who are the adults and struggle with Ruffalo acting like a child. It can be hard to watch Ruffalo's character self-destruct and be a general mess. Their frustration is real, but so was their love and it really got to me emotionally by the end of the film. I also want to mention this is probably the best dramatic role I've seen Zoe Saldana in. The story is just the four of them, and they carry the film admirably.

While Polar Bear is rated R, it's mainly because of language. This is a time where I really don't see why it couldn't have been PG-13. Why? Because a movie goes over the quota for certain words? It's stupid, antiquated and I don't think this should affect that rating that much these days. It being rated R might discourage people from taking their kids, but I actually think this is something you should take your kids to see, provided they are mature enough.

Infinitely Polar Bear isn't depressing or a downer, and I actually think that most people will ultimately enjoy and have fun with it. Despite its lighter tone, it has its poignant moments and worth seeing just for the performances. I actually thought it was a good date movie. Infinitely worth a matinee.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Monday, July 27, 2015

Mr. Holmes (2015)

This is great example of how a movie might be slowly paced or not the most thrilling, but cast the right person as your lead and you'll still be fascinated.

Mr. Holmes is based on the book A Slight Trick of the Mind, where we catch up with Sherlock Holmes long into his retirement. I love the idea visiting a beloved fictional character in this kind of situation, and it's fun to see that realized. I can't think of too many examples of it in film, and I'm kind of surprised it isn't done more. Anyway, Holmes lives in a remote house with his housekeeper and her young son. The story mainly revolves around Holmes trying to document the final case that made him retire.

Holmes' memory is failing though, making this difficult, and the film does an effective job of flashing back to his younger self as things jog his memory. It was amazing to see McKellen play both versions of Holmes. One scene you'll see a feeble old man struggling with senility, then contrasted with his younger self at the height of his skills. I'm sure there was some creative makeup, or even some digital de-aging, in play, but it was all very convincing. If anything it serves as a reminder of how great of an actor Ian McKellen is. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a few nominations for Mr. Holmes. He's that good.

In the present time there's also a touching relationship as Holmes forms a bond with his maid's son. The son, played by Milo Parker, was very good and I believe this might be his first role. Without their relationship, I don't think I would have enjoyed this as much as I did.

As mentioned earlier, Mr. Holmes is a little slowly paced, and I couldn't help getting a little squirmy towards the end. That's the kind of story this is though. This isn't an action film or tightly wound mystery. Don't expect to see Robert Downey Jr. running around with Jude Law.

I'm glad Bill Condon is making films like Mr. Holmes again, if only to help me forget he was ever involved in the Twilight series. I can only imagine they must have drove a truckload of cash to his house to get him to do Twilight in the first place.

Overall, Mr. Holmes is wonderfully acted and an interesting story, but it's not exactly something you need to rush out and see in the theater if it's not playing around you. It is worth a matinee if it is though. It's a solid rental otherwise.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Self/less (2015)

Imagine a bit of a blend of The Sixth Day and The Island. That might not inspire confidence, and unfortunately this is a good example of an interesting idea and a cool setup, but then terribly executed.

Without going into it too much, the basic premise is that someone figured out how to transfer a mind into a new body, but it's only available to the ultra rich. Ben Kingsley plays a dying billionaire who takes advantage of this. He wakes up in Ryan Reynolds body and begins his 'new' life. Guess what? Things don't go as smoothly as advertised and then Reynolds runs around trying to figure out the truth behind it all.

At this point, Self/less abandons its premise and turns into a predictable action thriller. It's extremely disappointing in that the very sales pitch they give Kingsley's character is what would've someone like Einstein or Steve Jobs been able to do with another lifetime or two. However, the first thing they make Kingsley do is make is death public, so when he wakes up in Reynold's body, he has a completely different identity. It's not like he can continue his legacy, so what's the point of the sales pitch if you can't pick up exactly where you left off? He's allowed to set aside money, so it's not like he's broke, but as far as his business and relationships go, he's starting over from scratch. Imagine telling Steve Jobs he gets another lifetime, but he has to start another company or try to get a job at Apple and then have to work his way back up to the top. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. If he had really planned ahead, he would have arranged to have his new identity named his successor, but Self/less doesn't do that.

After getting his new body, Self/less initially plays out more like an early retirement (that was even his new body's backstory). He doesn't try to start another business. Instead he plays basketball, bangs a bunch of chicks, and eats peanut butter (his previous body was allergic). I get taking advantage of your youth again, but this doesn't seem like someone truly taking advantage of this new life and maxing out your potential. Seems like you'd get bored pretty quickly.

Another huge disappointment was to learn this was directed by Tarsem Singh. If you aren't familiar with his work, his previous films have all had a very striking visual style. Even if you didn't care for the story, at least you'd get something out of the look of the film. There's none of that here in Self/less, which makes me wonder why he was even involved in the project. It's too straightforward for him.

Outside of Natalie Martinez, I didn't get anything out of any of the performances. It's not that anyone is bad, but she's the only person you connect with on any level.

It's not completely terrible, but not really worth recommending. You might catch this on cable one day and not think it was that bad, but that's about the highest praise I can give it.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Trainwreck (2015)

Judd Apatow has a knack for making a movie about a character that really isn't the best person, but you end up sort of liking them anyway. Trainwreck's Amy is exactly that. She's not a wreck to the point where she's a sociopath or anything like that, but it quickly becomes clear how she's ill equipped for an adult relationship. You know that friend that can't never seem to get their shit together and not get out of their own way? That's Amy.

I had joked that if Cleveland had won the NBA Finals that I wouldn't see Trainwreck in the theater as I couldn't support a movie with LeBron James in it. Fortunately the Warriors won, so I could enjoy this movie without thinking about that. I did let out a slight 'boo' the first time he appeared. I couldn't help myself. He's actually pretty funny in the movie though, so he would've won me over anyway. In fact, some of the funniest scenes in the movie feature LeBron.

There are lots of cameos, some are of the blink and you'll miss them variety, but if you're up on your comedians, you should be able to spot them.

While Amy Schumer wrote this and it's being billed as a breakout performance for her, I didn't think she was all that great in this. I enjoy her standup and show much more. She's funny when she needs to be, but outside of one scene her performance lacked the depth and nuance that would have made her character more sympathetic.I spent a lot of the movie wondering way Bill Hader's character dated her as long as he did. Hader is great, but the best performance comes from Brie Larson. In her limited screen time, her performance had the emotional depth I wished Amy's had. I could have used a little more Colin Quinn, and I really enjoyed an almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton.

Like all Apatow films, it does run on a little too long. I'm not sure why he's so in love with making 2-plus-hour comedies, and he always seems to have that section where nothing funny happens for a significant period of time. Trainwreck is certainly funny, and I laughed a loud a lot, but the funny parts in the film didn't come at a quick enough pace, and more than a few landed with a thud.

Trainwreck isn't a perfect film, I can't even call it the best comedy of the summer, but it's entertaining and overall a fun watch. Definitely worth a matinee.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Spy (2015)

Here's a story. I actually 'watched' Spy a little over a month ago. The night it came out, in fact. Why didn't I write about it? I fell asleep about 15 minutes into it and woke up with about 5 minutes left. Not really a good place to write a review, right? It wasn't Spy's fault though. Normally I don't fall asleep during films, but the moral of the story is, don't go to an 11:30 PM screening on a work night when you're already pretty tired. I'm too old for this late screening shit.

Anyway, so I finally gave it a shot again over the weekend and I'm glad I did. I've been hard on Melissa McCarthy films recently, which is deserved because Tammy sucked and Identity Thief sucked worse. I was optimistic about Spy though since this was also a Paul Feig helmed film, and I hoped that their collaboration would work similarly as it did for Bridesmaids and The Heat. Spy is a genuinely funny film.

It seems that McCarthy is best when she's adlibbing and hurling insults, but she needs someone like Feig to reign it in and refine it. Some of the best moments of the film are when she's just berating the hell out of somebody. They even played on the way she's normally used in physical comedy and made it work. Whoever McCarthy's stunt double was, she kicked ass.

Surprisingly, one of the other funniest people in Spy is Jason Statham, who plays this hyper-macho version of every character he's ever played before. At every opportunity he spews an increasingly improbable list of feats and it's hysterical (he even throws in a direct reference to Crank). The whole cast is great really. Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, and especially Peter Serafinowicz.  This is the kind of film where you get the feeling that everyone got along and had a great time making the film. You can feel that in the chemistry of it all.

At it's heart, Spy is a pretty good spoof of the spy film genre, in general. It doesn't take itself too seriously, while occasionally taking jabs at some of the more ridiculous parts of spy films. There's even some good action sequences.

Spy's winding down it's theatrical run, but if you haven't seen it yet, and it's still playing near you, I highly recommend checking it out. Totally worth it.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ant-Man (2015)

One of the funnier Marvel films to date. I can see why James Gunn gave it such high praise. It's one of the lightest in tone of all their films. I laughed out loud during Ant-Man almost as much as I did during Guardians. It's a shame I saw this on such a small screen with only about 15 people.

Ant-Man is also another good example of great casting (something Marvel seems to keep nailing). If you don't cast someone as funny and charismatic as Paul Rudd in the lead, it's likely the whole film doesn't work. I'm a huge fan of Michael Pena and he worked great as additional comic relief. Evangeline Lilly was great as well. It's ironic that she's an actress that's actually athletic enough to pull off a superhero role, but yet still doesn't get to play one. It looks like she might get her chance soon though.

I'd say Ant-Man's biggest fault is that it's yet another origin story, and it's pretty formulaic as far as that goes. Also, in a lot of places it feels like it exists just to bridge some of the other Marvel films together. Fortunately, the bridging is done in an entertaining way, and some of the flashbacks and cameos made me geek out. Ant-Man doesn't require that you've seen all the other movies or are super familiar with the MCU. It's pretty accessible compared to some of the other MCU films.

I don't know the reasons why Edgar Wright left the project, and one can only imagine how this would have turned out had he stayed on. You can see his fingerprints on the final product in a few places.

I did see this in 3D, which of course, was a total waste of time and did nothing for the film. It was unfortunately my only option, but I advise you to skip it if possible. Visually the effects were good though.

There are two post-credit scenes, so get comfortable during the credits if you don't want to miss them.

Ant-Man isn't the strongest of Phase II, but it's one of the most fun. Those looking for some late summer entertainment won't be disappointed. Totally worth the price of admission.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Terminator: Genisys (2015)

In the simplest terms, it's not as bad or serious as the fourth, and not as cheesy as the third. The first 30 minutes or so of Genisys feel like a highlight reel of all the best and memorable moments of the Terminator franchise, but from a slightly different perspective. It's actually pretty fun.

Then, it transitions into a convoluted story regarding time travel and alternate timelines that only makes you cringe and scratch your head. I'm not sure we can expect much less at this point. They have to do something unusual to keep justifying this story continuing on. How many times has the resistance defeated Skynet at this point? Has any Terminator succeeded in killing the Connors in any timeline?

We're now on our, like, third version of Skynet's origin. At least this one has a lot of callbacks to T1 (or is it just T?) and T2, so it feels like more of a true sequel than the others. In fact, it pretty much totally ignores 3 and 4 entirely. I think most fans won't mind that. I'll admit that I had fun with 3 though. The fourth I can still do without.

The effects were good, especially when dealing with the older Terminator models. We've never seen a T-800 move around like this. However, there's a point where you see these things beating on each other, and I know they're tough, but you're like, "Shouldn't these things be pretty banged up by now?" We're dealing with movie physics though, so shut up, nerd!

The cast seemed like they were having fun, at least. Arnold is, of course, Arnold, and he plays this with the same dry sense of humor that he always has. It's just fun to see him where he belongs. Jason Clarke played a great line between heroic and creepy. I've been hard on Jai Courtney, but he was good as Kyle Reese, even a bit more charming than Michael Biehn (that's probably blasphemy of some kind). I'm sure most are going to watch this for Emilia Clarke (no relation to Jason), and she also does a great job. She was tough, but it would have been nice to see her buffed up a little bit. I'm surprised they didn't force her on Crossfit regime before filming. Anyway, the hierarchy of Sarah Connors goes like this:

1. Linda Hamilton
2. Emilia Clarke
3. Lena Headey

It's kind of interesting that the last two actresses that played Sarah Connor have been English. I guess there are a shortage of sandy blond actresses available to play a 20-something, Los Angeles native, to the point where they had to get a British brunette girl to play her. Go figure.

Watch out for a cameo from a Doctor...

Anyway, I don't want to spoil much, so I'd recommend it as a matinee to fans of the series. It's pretty mindless and harmless entertainment. It actually succeeds at being pretty funny at times. I enjoyed myself for the most part.

...oh, and don't leave when the credits start...

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ted 2 (2015)

I know this will be shocking to hear, but it's not as good as the first one. It's pretty much exactly what you think it is, a so-so follow up to the original. This is all going to come down to whether or not you even liked Ted, and how much of a Seth MacFarlane fan you are.

Comedy sequels are almost always a huge step down, both in the laughs and the story. However, I'll give them a little bit of credit for actually having a direction that feels like it actually came organically from the first, with Ted trying to prove that he's a person. Here's my problem with this though, this takes place in a world where nobody seems to care or be in awe of the fact that there's a living teddy bear. He walks down the street and nobody gives him a second glance. Before you say, "Yeah, but he's not actually there. It's special effects", I'll counter with, "That's why it's called acting, and the director should also be directing them to pretend they see him". When people talk to him, they act as if they have no idea who he is. This lack of attention to detail shows you how lazy it all is.

As you'd guess, pretty hit or miss on the laughs. I did laugh out loud more than a few times, even had a few sustained ones well after the gag was over. There are just as many cringe worthy moments though, like when it relies on people behaving or doing things that simply wouldn't happen in reality, which is a giant pet peeve of mine. I was also surprised at the lack of non-sequiturs for a Seth MacFarlane property.

It's also fairly racist. Don't get me wrong, you can make jokes about race and it not be racist, but there's too many times where the jokes are all at the expense of certain groups and nothing else. This is something that Seth MacFarlane doesn't seem to get. He's always tried to toe that line, but he's just not as clever as other guys doing the same thing. Like when South Park does it, there's always some underlying point to it all that's pretty smart. MacFarlane seems to do it simply for shock value, and because he knows he can get away with.

Despite all the laziness, the one thing that impressed me the most was how committed Mark Wahlberg is. Here's a guy that never really seemed like he has much of a sense of humor, especially about himself, or gift for physical comedy, but he's really going for it. I guess he's lightened up as he's gotten older.

Anyway, it's worth a matinee if you were a fan of the first, but this is likely not going to move the needle otherwise.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, June 19, 2015

Inside Out (2015)

This is old school Pixar right here! Like remember 15 years or so back when it seemed like every Pixar movie was near perfect? They were funny and hit all the right emotional notes. Inside Out feels like a return to that.

It's a very creative and inventive movie. I know just about every review is saying that, but it's really true. Throughout the film things would happen where you'd just go, "Ha, that's pretty clever!" Many of the film's biggest laughs come from these moments.

At it's heart it's a movie about feeling, and how emotions play off each other and are necessary, even the 'negative' ones. While it's ultimately not a sad movie, don't be surprised if you hear people crying at the end (I heard a bunch in the theater), if you aren't tearing up yourself (yeah, I did a little). It's very moving.

As you'd expect, the animation is great and the film is very colorful (although color is a big theme of the movie). I didn't see this in 3D, but this is the type of movie that wouldn't be hurt by that, so go for it if that's your only option.

Also, the voice cast is perfect! When you have Lewis Black as "Anger" and Phyllis Smith as "Sadness", that's about as spot on as you can get. Plus, Amy Poehler as "Joy", Bill Hader as "Fear", and Mindy Kaling as "Disgust". All of them are wonderful.

The only slight issue I had with the film is that it does drag a bit in the middle, but it recovers strongly.

Inside Out is the perfect example of the family film that will appeal to nearly everyone. There's as much in there for adults as there is for the kids. Expect this to be nominated for best animated film. I highly recommend this to everyone!

4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Jurassic World (2015)

The good news is that it's definitely the best Jurassic Park sequel. It's also, unfortunately, a recycled version of the original. How can you surpass the original Jurassic Park though? You can only hope to copy it well enough.

Jurassic World felt like more of a logical sequel to the vision of the original. There's a lot of direct references to the original, some very clever, in fact. It's basically fast forward 20 years, and despite their previous disasters, they went ahead and built a dinosaur resort on the original island anyway. I loved the design of the new park, too. Let's be honest, if they somehow did create a real Jurassic Park, I'd be saving every penny for my vacation there.

The effects were pretty good as you'd expect. A few times it had that too much CG look, especially on some of the night scenes. I was happy to see some of the new additions, but I was kind of hoping the look would be updated to account for the more current research and theories. This is kind of explained away with a few lines of dialog though, so that didn't bother me too much.

I enjoyed the cast. I was worried that Chris Pratt might have been miscast (I thought the role need a more serious, action type), but I thought he was okay in the role and I thought he had good chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard. It's more of an issue with the character(s) being really poorly written. It's not just the main characters either, like there's the older brother character that mopes around, not caring at all that he's on an island full of dinosaurs, ran by her aunt, at that. I couldn't buy that as realistic at all.

I think the biggest problem for me was that I wasn't invested in anything that was going on. I never was scared for any of the characters or concerned for their well being. You see enough of these types of movies and know that none of main characters are going to bite it, so that eliminates a lot of the tension. A few things bugged me here and there, like Bryce Dallas Howard running from a T-Rex in heels. Those must of been some super sturdy shoes in the first place considering they never broke despite all the running and falling around. There's a character death that's both unnecessarily brutal and unearned under normal movie rules. When I hear that Colin Trevorrow wanted to rewrite the script, you can really tell. It's very sloppy, and it's either due to scenes being cut out of the film or the script simply not developing things enough. Finally, there's a part at the end that really bugged me, but I can't really say why without spoiling it. Let's just say there's a huge safety concern considering the proximity of something that seems massively overlooked.

I have to say I was a little disappointed, but my expectations were super high. It's entertaining enough though, and I'd say it's still worth seeing in the theater.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Entourage (2015)

I've seen some reviews that claim you don't need to be an existing fan to enjoy the movie. As someone that's watched every season of Entourage, I'd have to say that's totally false. I can't see anyone that wasn't a fan of the show getting anything out of this (let alone having any desire to see it in the first place). What else would you expect? It's basically a four episode miniseries, and it hits the ground running. If you don't know who these characters are, or their relationships, you're going to be behind from the opening, and likely annoying your friends with questions throughout.

While I've watched every season of Entourage, I was never a huge fan. Most of the characters were so unlikeable, and situations they were in were so unrelatable, that it was hard for me to really get behind it. They seemed to know this as the film didn't seem to focus too much on any one character. I still didn't find it any more relatable though.

There are a few laughs here and there, but it was otherwise kind of meh overall. I never really thought that show was all that funny though. The movie seemed to hinge more on the cameos than clever writing.

That's really all I have to say about it. It's about as forgettable as any given episode, but if you're been really craving some new ones, then then film delivers on that. It's pretty much exactly what is advertised, so I'll give it credit for that. As said before, I'd only recommend this to fans of the show. I'd give it a pass otherwise.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Aloha (2015)

Have you ever fallen asleep during a movie, just for like 15 minutes, and then wake up and wonder if you've missed something significant? That's how a good portion of Aloha felt like. Hell, the first 15 minutes of the movie I was wondering if maybe I had missed something. Was I late to the movie?

I can see why Aloha has been getting beat up by the critics. It's so scattered and disjointed. Most of the movie I'm trying to tie things together that the movie should be doing. I have no problem with having to figure things out on your own, but this was a case where it was just too distracting. It felt like large chunks of the movie and character interaction was missing. Left on the editing floor perhaps?

It's also super melodramatic, which is magnified by the fact that you don't have a deep understanding of all the character relationships. It's all forced and felt rushed. It's like when they bring out your entree at that same time as your salad and appetizers. Don't force feed me everything at once.

This also had the distinction of have a fantastic cast, but somehow nearly everyone (except maybe for Rachel McAdams) felt miscast. It's a shame because I felt like the actors were trying, but the direction, or the script, or the editing really let them down. On the other hand, can you imagine Emma Stone or Rachel McAdams instead of Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire?

I will admit that I kind of liked the ending. It was surprisingly emotional, but in a better movie where I was more invested, it would have affected me more. I also really liked the music, but that doesn't give the story a pass.

Aloha is one of those films that feels a lot longer than it actually is. I thought I'd been watching the film for well over two hours by the time it was all over (it's a hour and 45 minutes).

It's not the kind of bad where you feel insulted or anything like that, it just doesn't work as well as you'd like. This is a rental. Maybe if we get a director's cut it might flow a little better, so hopefully we'll get something like that. Otherwise, watch The Descendants instead. It's a better movie set in Hawaii.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars

I'll See You in My Dreams (2015)

Here's a perfect example of a small, independent character drama with no real plot or story. That's not necessarily a bad thing though.

I'll See You in My Dreams is a relatively short film, just about 90 minutes, but it's because there's not much of a story to tell. Once the film establishes everything, it just seems to go in a loop of watching Blythe Danner's character hang out, drink, play cards with friends, get freaked out by a rat in her house, and then go on an occasional date with Sam Elliott.

The aforementioned Sam Elliott was one of my favorite things about the film. You know how you see an older character from time to time and say to yourself, "I wanna be like that when I grow up"? I was saying that about Sam Elliott in this film. The rest of the cast is great, but I could have used a little more Rhea Perlman. I need a little more Carla Tortelli in my life.

For a movie that's billed as a dramedy, there's a lot of downer moments. Hell, the opening scene is of Blythe Danner putting her dog to sleep. That's a cheery moment to begin a movie on, right? I even heard people crying. You want people crying during the opening scene?

This is the kind of movie that you start to forget right after seeing it. There's no big laughs, nothing that stands out. The only thing that really stuck with me is that they show you a picture of Blythe Danner when she was much younger and it's crazy how much the picture looked like Gwyneth Paltrow (Danner is her mother, if you didn't know).

I actually got the most entertainment out of the audience I saw this with. I was definitely at the Senior matinee showing. I don't know if it's because of hearing loss, but I've never heard a crowd collectively talk through a movie as much as they did. At one point when Sam Elliott asks Blythe Danner if he can go out with her again, a few rows behind me I hear an older lady yell, "Oh, hell yeah!" That was probably the biggest laugh of the film.

It's maybe little too cute for it's own good, but I'll See You in My Dreams is fairly entertaining, harmless and inoffensive. Save it for a rental. Decent date movie.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars