Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

American Sniper

 Image: How would you like to have his job?


As always at this time of year, I'm rushing around like an idiot to see the last films of 2014. I'm chomping at the bit to get my "2014 Eagan Oscars" nominations wrapped up (I'm waiting on "Still Alice" and "Inherent Vice", because Corpus Christi, Texas thinks that Kirk Cameron's "Saving Christmas" was what we needed instead. Really.) But I should complete my award nominations in a week or two. So chill out.

"American Sniper" is based on the true story of Chris Kyle, the most lethal Sniper in U.S. Military history. Chris (Bradley Cooper) enlists after an attack on a U.S. Embassy, and is deployed to Iraq after 9/11, leaving his new wife, "Taya" (Sienna Miller) to cope back home. Chris has many successful kills in Iraq, but is haunted by the incredible toll the war has taken on himself and his fellow soldiers. 

Legendary Director Clint Eastwood nails what must be the feeling of being in a war zone, and watching "American Sniper" puts you directly in the action. The battle scenes are harrowing, and it kept me constantly on the edge of my seat, and incredibly sympathetic to our Soldiers in this terrifying position.

Oscar nominated Bradley Cooper gives an incredible performance (Between this, "Silver Linings Playbook", "American Hustle" and even "Guardians of the Galaxy", he may have had the best 3 year stretch of any actor around). Cooper is totally committed to his role, and completely believable in every scene. Sienna Miller has come a long way from the crapfest that was "G.I.Joe", and is terrific as well.

There are a few effects in "American Sniper" that don't feel finished, and the plot feels slightly predictable in certain moments (You know exactly which soldiers aren't going to make it, based on their sudden character moments). And I'm not certain how I feel about the focus on a rival Iraqi Sniper (Whether or not it's accurate, it feels more like a Hollywood version of a "Bad Guy").

But the deep power of "American Sniper" is when it focuses on this brave and complex soldier, and his sacrifices. The final scenes of his return home are truly powerful, and the film's truly great moments outweigh it's flaws. "American Sniper" is an important film. Maybe not truly great, but with greatness in it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Brutal War Violence.
 

Selma

 Image: He had a dream.


It takes a lot of nerve to attempt making a film about beloved historical figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Abraham Lincoln. Nelson Mandela. Richard Nixon.

"Selma" tells the amazing (And, at times, tragic) true story of the 1965 Civil Rights March from Selma, Alabama. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) wants to organize the peaceful civil protests in the segregated state, against sometimes violent opposition, which is backed by Alabama's racist Governor (Tim Roth).

King enlists the help of President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), who supports the cause, but wrestles with the political ramifications. King and his supporters try to rally others to the cause, which begins the march toward the end of segregation in the United States (And, according to some, led to the end of racism. It's all over, America! Woo Hoo!)

"Selma" does Martin Luther King Jr. proud, thanks to it's terrific script and it's brilliant cast. The power of these events come to life, in both inspirational and terrifying ways. Like Stephen Spielberg accomplished with "Lincoln", Director Ava DuVernay captures the story as if you're watching reality unfold, in a way that's easy for the viewer to access.

David Oyelowo is perfection as Dr. King. It's an astonishing, Oscar worthy performance (His final scene is acting perfection). Carmen Ejogo shines as Coretta Scott King, showing the fear and difficulty of being married to someone with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Tom Wikinson is superb as President Johnson (Some are complaining about possible inaccuracies. I can't say, but many white folk get their share of credit here, if you're losing any sleep over it). Tim Roth is realistically despicable as the bigoted Governor, and "Thug Rapper" Common (According to some at Fox News) is surprisingly good as Civil Rights leader James Bevel.

"Selma" leaves a strong impact in every scene, from the awe inspiring Civil Rights marches, to the meetings between Dr. King and President Johnson . The film's historical characters are what drives "Selma", and they are all given the important moments that help the viewer connect. "Selma" is a perfect example of the great film making that happened in 2014. It's Oscar time. And, for me, ulcer time. I've got to make my Eagan Oscar picks. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For The Harsh Realities Of Racism.

Unbroken

 Image: Louis Zamperini (1917-2014)


You have no idea how difficult it was for me to see "Unbroken". Not because I didn't want to see the true story of an American War Hero (And I am very proud my 11 year old sister wanted to see it as much as I did). The difficulty was in just getting a ticket on and around Christmas day. All of the showings were sold out, giving the praise to a hero that he clearly deserved.

"Unbroken" tells the story of American WWII hero Louis (Louie) Zamperini (Jack O' Connell). Louie was an Olympic champion runner (Competing before Hitler in the 1936 Olympics), who became a Bombardier for the Air Force. His plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean, leaving only Louie, "Phil" (Domhnall Gleeson) and "Mac" (Finn Wittrock) as survivors.

After 47 days in the Ocean, Louie and Phil (Mac passed away during the ordeal) are picked up by a Japanese War ship, and taken to separate P.O.W. camps. Louie is instantly disliked by a brutal Japanese Guard named "Bird" (Miyavi), mainly because of Louie's Olympic success.

Somehow Louie survives the torture and beatings, refusing to give in to Japanese orders of propaganda. He is finally released at the end of the War, and somehow manages to forgive his captors, as he visits Japan later in his life, and is even cheered as he runs a leg of the Olympic Torch Relay for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan.

What a life, and what a story! "Unbroken" is impossible not to be inspired by it, and every person my age and younger should know of his (And other War heroes) story. That doesn't mean the film doesn't have it's flaws. The narrative starts off a little uneven, as the story early on is often told in flashbacks. "Unbroken" picks up steam after the flashbacks end, and it focuses on Louie's tale of survival.

I hate saying this, but "Unbroken" does lay the sentimentality on a bit too thick (Unnecessarily. The reality is inspiring enough). But once the movie gets to the Prison Camp, "Unbroken" becomes enthralling, albeit, harder to watch because of the torture scenes.

Angelina Joile does a fine job as Director. The film is beautifully shot, and hits home emotionally. Jack O' Connell is excellent as Louie, in a very demanding, emotional role. And Miyavi is very good as the vicious Prison guard. Their scenes together are the film's most devastating.

"Unbroken" may not be the Oscar bait it was hoping to be, but it still hits home as a wonderful tribute to our Veterans, and to an ordinary man who became an extraordinary. It doesn't need to win awards to be extraordinary. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 for Intense Scenes Of War.

The Interview

 Image: Kim Jong-un blows.


As a patriotic American, I, James Eagan, decided to risk my life, and brave the threatening rhetoric of that bloated communist Dictator, Kim Jong-un, to bring you the review of an irresponsible, juvenile, over the top, and pretty damn funny Seth Rogan-James Franco movie.

"The Interview" stars Franco as talk show host "Dave Skylark", and Rogan as his friend (And the show's Producer) "Aaron Rapoport". Aaron doesn't feel the show is taken seriously, and learns that (Real) North Korean leader Kim Jong -un (Played by Randall Park. Mr. un was busy starving his own people) is a huge fan. 

They are able to score an exclusive interview with the little f*cker, but this attracts the attention of the C.I.A., where a beautiful C.I.A. Agent (Lizzy Caplan) convinces them to "Take Out" the Dictator. Which they agree to.... For America.... For Their careers.... And because she's hot.

In North Korea, Dave and Kim become buddies, bonding over Daddy issues, partying, women, and pot. But Aaron soon realizes they are being manipulated, and tries to keep Dave focused on the job at hand. Which is to kill the bastard, and make it look like an accident.

So this is what all the fuss was about! Some people just don't have a sense of humor, I guess. I mean, to be fair, we wouldn't be thrilled with a North Korean version of this scenario. But I'm pretty sure America wouldn't freak the Hell out and threaten World War III.

But as a comedy, "The Interview" is an absolute blast. It's so wrong, and yet it's plenty right. Not just because it's incredibly funny, but it's strangely smart. It's outlandish situations and gross out humor feels subversive, and the insane plot almost feels plausible, somehow.

Much credit for "The Interview" goes to the leads. Seth Rogan and James Franco are a riot, and (Of course), have great chemistry. You can tell they are great friends, and you almost believe they would actually volunteer to go and kill an international threat to America. Lizzy Caplan is very funny, and just too pretty (Oh, her eyes! I love her eyes!) But the shining performance may be Randall Park as the Dick-Tater. He is magnificent in a role that is both hilarious, and genuinely villainous (Just like the real Kim Jong-un).

Maybe the plot of "The Interview" is just too dangerous, and the humor can be too sophomoric to be taken very seriously. And that's the point. "The Interview" is just for good laughs, and should certainly not be worth it for any idiot to even consider losing any sleep over. So now, It feels pretty patriotic to watch the film, if for no other reason than to stick it to the pompous ass.

In a strange way, though the end of "The Interview" is absurdly violent, it has some real heart to it (I feel like a better American). So maybe they shouldn't have made "The Interview". On the other hand, Kim Jong-un can go f*ck himself. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gross Out Humor And For Setting Off An International Incident.

Into the Woods

 Image: "I know what I'll do. I'll win another Oscar!"


Disney has gone over to the dark side. "Into the Woods" is a twisted story, with adult themes that make you quite uncomfortable. Plenty of death, infidelity, implied child molestation. But it's Disney, so it's PG. And this is the watered down version!

"Into the Woods" brings together the beloved fairy tale stories that gave you nightmares in your youth. "The Baker" (James Corden) and his hot baker wife (Emily Blunt) want to have a son, but they had a curse placed on them by a Wicked Witch (Meryl Streep). But she agrees to lift the curse if they retrieve some items important to her (Not very unreasonable, right?) The items are a White Cow, a Red Coat, A Gold Slipper, and a Lock of Yellow Hair.

They depart into the woods, where other characters are having their own dilemmas. "Cinderella" (Anna Kendrick) wishes to go to the Prince's festival, dreaming of the Prince (Chris Pine),. but she runs away every night she goes. Meanwhile, "Jack" (Daniel Huddlestone), is instructed by her Mother (Tracy Ullman) to sell their beloved white Cow, and trades it to the Baker for some magic beans.

"Little Red Riding Hood" (Lilla Crawford) is off to her Grandmothers house, but she has to avoid the "Big Bad Pedophile, er, I mean, Wolf" (Johnny Depp). But the Witch is having her own problems with "Rapunzel" "MacKenzie Mauzy", trying to keep her inside her tower. Together, these stories all come together, in horrifying fashion.

"Into the Woods" is based on the Broadway musical, which works in it's favor at times, but leads to some noticeable flaws. The script has an odd story structure, such as the film explaining the story through narration, instead of showing the audience. Some story elements don't feel completely developed (Maybe because it's filmed like a play). But the film's look is so beautiful and unique, it adds to the atmosphere.

The performances are typical Disney high caliber. Meryl Streep is having a blast, and on her way to her 63rd Oscar nomination. Emily Blunt is her usual excellent and lovely self, Anna Kendrick is lovely with a lovely voice, James Corden (Some British Guy) is very good, and Chris Pine is funnier than I've ever seen him.

Considering they're acting with Meryl Streep, the child actors all hold their own. And it's great to See Johnny Depp back in top form, in a very memorable (Yet short lived) part.

The songs in "Into the Woods" are pretty catchy, and it's a very fun film to watch. Until the story is turned upside down in it's final act. I mean, some sh*t goes down! Gets real! The film's "Happily Ever After" doesn't happen quite the way you expect. The story gets a little out of structure, but I thought it was the most enjoyable part, and comes with the most dramatic moments.

"Into the Woods" is wickedly humorous and smart, and breathtaking to look at. Again, it's a little unstructured (Could be the Play's fault), but it's a perfectly solid diversion for the Holidays. And it has a good moral. Be careful what you wish for, or else crazy Meryl Streep will blind you, Chris Pine will attempt to seduce you, a female Giant will try to kill you. And the Big Bad Wolf will try to touch you in a way that your not comfortable with....And that's No good! 3 Stars. Rated PG For All That Creepy Stuff I Mentioned.

Big Eyes

 Image: "My, what big eyes you have"!


Merry Christmas! I hope you and yours got everything you wanted for the holidays. The only thing I didn't get for Xmas that I asked for was an Amy Adams of my very own. So getting to see "Big Eyes" on Christmas day was the next best thing.

From one of my personal favorite Directors, the weird and wonderful Tim Burton, "Big Eyes" is a bit of a departure for him. Based on a true and bizarre story, "Big Eyes" stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as Margaret and Walter Keane. Set In the 1950's, Margaret is a painter, who had just separated from her husband, and meets and marries Walter. Soon, Margaret's paintings are discovered by the public.

The problem is that Walter is a conniving bastard, convincing Margaret that no one will buy the paintings knowing a woman painted them. When the paintings become a huge success, the web of deceit becomes difficult to hide, and Margaret begins to stand up for the truth and herself.

"Big Eyes" has the typical Tim Burton whimsy, which at times doesn't mesh well with the real life story. But the story itself is so odd, it generally works in the film's favor. It's a surreal (And very funny) film, with a very surreal script. It's hard to believe that this actually happened (And that America was that sexist), but the film feels true, making fun of the so called "Social-Norms" of the times. 

The performances in "Big Eyes" are the true highlight of the film. Amy Adams is truly wonderful, sweet, and completely freakin' adorable, and thoroughly believable as she slowly gains her self confidence. Christoph Waltz is terrific once again. No one plays charming yet sinister like he does. Danny Huston (As a Journalist/Narrator) is very good, Krysten Ritter (As Adams best friend) is very cute, Jason Schwartzman (As a snobby Art Collector) is hilarious, and Terence Stamp (And his amazing Terence Stamp like face) is a delight as an Art Critic.

Tim Burton always gets Composer Danny Elfman for his films, and, as always, it's perfect. Burton's style and art is always a blast, creating yet another world you would like to be in. Yeah, his movies can be too "Tim Burton-ee", but "Big Eyes" is fun, clever and thoughtful. And on this Christmas Day, he's given us the gift of Amy Adams.... I mean me. She's mine. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Themes And For Really Big....Eyes.

Annie

 Image: Jamie Foxx teaches Annie how to flip people off like a real New Yorker.


Hey everybody, did you hear! We have a Black "Annie"! AAAAHHHH!!!! And we might have a black James Bond. AAAAHHHH!!!! Is there anyone stupid enough to have a problem with this? Yep, Rush Limbaugh does. Said some nonsense about if there's a black Annie or a black James Bond, thenKate Hudson gets to play Michelle Obama, or something. Yeah, Rush, way to help the racial discourse in the country. Democrats and Republicans alike can agree, Rush Limbaugh is a big, fat idiot.

That rant has nothing to do with "Black Annie" (Or, "Blannie"). The new, blacker "Annie" stars Quvenzhane Wallis as the little orphan "Annie", who lives in a foster home with a bunch of other little girls. Their Foster Mother, "Miss Hannigan" (Cameron Diaz) is controlling and manipulative, and only doing it for the money. The girls are living the hard knock life when Annie is rescued in traffic by "Will", a billionaire (Jamie Foxx), who is running for Mayor.

Will's campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale) convinces Will to take in Annie, believing it will help Will's campaign. Of course, Will becomes attached to Annie, who teaches Will that the sun will come out tomorrow, right after they finish protesting Police brutality in New York (Just trying trying to lighten the mood, people).

Bottom line, everybody knows the story, but the new "Annie" has a few twists to it. Yet all of them are predictable. At 118 minutes, the movie feels longer than it is. "Annie" isn't quite the disaster that some make it out to be, and has some moments here and there. Jaime Foxx gives the film a far better performance than it probably deserves. Quvenzhane Wallis is quite the little actress, with charm and adore-ibility to boot.

Rose Byrne (As Foxx's love interest) is also adorable (In a more, "Hubba-Hubba" kind of way). And Cameron Diaz and Bobby Cannavale seem content to ham it up, and are entertaining enough (I can't tell if Cannavale is enjoying himself too much, or he just doesn't give a crap).

"Annie" is full of musical numbers that feel kind of lazy and cheap (Nothing against the famous songs). It's the presentation that feels off, and the only decent singers really are Foxx And Wallis. The choreography is lame (There's a musical sequence in a hellicopter), and nothing about it is very convincing. "Annie" would have been better off without them. But, then it wouldn't be "Annie", I guess.

The film just drags along until the final 20 minutes, then just speeds it's way to the finish. I guess I just don't see the point of the remake in the first place. Maybe Rush Limbaugh was right. Other than the offensive, racist stuff. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Mild Language And For Child Abuse By Cameron Diaz.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

 Image: 6 films and well over 20 hours. That was exhausting.


That's it, man. No more "Bilbo". No more "Gandalf". No more hot Elves (Male or female. Well, they all look like chicks to me). It's the end of an era. And whether or not the journey of "The Hobbit" was as perfect as we wanted it to be, at least we're going to remember it.

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" begins with "Smaug the Dragon" (Benedict Cumberbatch) is off to decimate "Laketown", and everyone there with it. Only "Bard the Bowman" (Luke Evans) is able to stop him. Yep, kills him. Black arrow right to the Smaug's open underbelly. (Sorry I spoiled it, but it's in the first ten minutes).

Meanwhile, "Bilbo" (Martin Freeman), "Thorin (Richard Armitage), and the rest of their merry gang have finally reclaimed their homeland, and all of the gold and treasure with it. Sadly, other people want it as well, including the "Elvin King" (Lee Pace), and Bard, who is a little peeved that that Thorin is not honoring their agreement to help Bard's people.

Thorin (Who is going a little bonkers from Dragon sickness) refuses not only to give up any gold, he begins threatening war, and even becomes suspicious of his own men. "Gandalf" (Sir Ian Mckellen) is still being held captive by the Dark Lord, "Sauron" (Again, Benedict Cumberbatch), whose army of battle ready "Orcs", led by the dreaded "Azog the Defiler" (Manu Bennet), plan to wipe out everyone in their path. All of this leads to the epic battle between Humans, Dwarfs, Elves, Orcs, and whoever the Hell else wants to get in on the action.

Epic! "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" is a very fitting conclusion to "The Hobbit" trilogy, and the entire "Lord of the Rings" franchise as well. Though it may be the weakest of the whole franchise (It's "Return of the Jedi" of the series), it still brings everything to a very satisfying conclusion. It's incredibly exciting, with absolutely phenomenal battle sequences. (Yeah, it's CGI, but with a film this massive, you couldn't do it any other way).

"The Hobbit" films all have so much heart to them, and "The Battle of the Five Armies" is no exception. Director Peter Jackson's labor of love is meticulous, and it clearly shows in his presentation of the characters, and all of the actors are wonderful in their roles. Martin Freeman and Ian Mckellen are perfect, and have been throughout the series, while Richard Armitage is terrific In his multi layered role. Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom (As fan favorite,"Legolas") Evangeline Lilly (As a smoking hot Elf. If she can be in love with a Dwarf, I can be in love with an Elf), Manu Bennett (A real bad ass villain), Christopher Lee (As the soon to be corrupted "Saruman". That 92 year old kicks ass!),and Benedict Cumberbatch round out the truly perfect cast.

Despite this, I stand by my statement that "The Hobbit 3" is the weakest, in part because of the CGI (There is a few parts that just don't look real enough. An unavoidable flaw, I suppose). And I don't quite get the payoff in the relationship between Evangeline Lilly's "Tauriel", and Aiden Turner's "Kili the Dwarf". It also feels there were scenes cut that will probably be in the extended version, but that just makes me want to buy the Blu-Ray Extended Edition sooner.

Yet it's impossible not to get a little teary eyed ate the conclusion of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies:" I mean, this is the "Lord of the Rings" franchise! A great adventure, about love, honor and friendship. All that good stuff that gets to us. I get the debate that this could have been two movies instead of three (Maybe, but anyone who says it should have been just one is just plain wrong). It doesn't matter anymore. It was a memorable ride I was glad to have taken. I can't wait until I binge watch all six. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Frightening Images And Violence.
 

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

 Image: There's a joke about going into a bar here, or something.


Obviously, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" is completely unnecessary. I mean, it's not "Paul Blart 2". Or "Grown Ups 2". And I think they're making "Ride Along 2". The difference with the "Museum" movies is that they don't annoy the Hell out of me. 

"Secret of the Tomb" returns Ben Stiller as "Larry", a Security Guard at the Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits have all been coming to life at night. This time, he realizes that the tablet that brings them to life is running out of power. Larry enlists "Ankmenrah" (Rami Malek), a Pharoah at the Museum, to find his parents at the London Museum, who know how to stop the tablet from running out of power. 

Wow, what a plot, huh? The first half of "Night at the Museum 3" is bland, the jokes fall flat, and everything about it feels phoned in (Typical in second sequels). Fortunately, the story finally kicks in with some action and conflict. The jokes get better, the characters more likable, and at least the film finishes with a sweet ending that leaves the franchise on a decent note. Ben Stiller may just be cashing in here (Unlike in "Walter Mitty", where he really stretched), but he's likable enough. It's both wonderful and sad to see the late, great Robin Williams (It's making me sad just typing it), Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan are back for comic relief, and Sir Ben Kingsley (As the Pharoah's Papa) is funny and always welcome in any movie.

"Museum 3" is thoroughly inoffensive, and the idea of the history lesson for kids is always welcome. But we got all that from the first one. And the second one. The world really didn't need another "Museum" movie. They needed "The Interview". Screw Kim Jong-un. God, he really pisses me off....To be honest, I just needed some filler here....It's late. I haven't worked in a week....Got no girlfriend....At least tomorrow I get to review some possible Oscar films. "Night at the Museum" isn't going to get any. It's worth about 4 paragraphs. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Monkey Urine.

Top Five

 Image: You're right, Chris. White people be crazy.


I know Chris Rock is hilarious. Everybody knows. Then how come it's been so dang hard to find a movie for him in which he gets to be even close to as funny as he is capable of being. "Grown Ups" and "Grown Ups 2"?

"Top Five" stars The Chris Rock as "Andre", a famous comedic actor, who wants to be taken seriously, but is known most for his trilogy of films as "Hammy The Bear". He is being interviewed by "Chelsea" (Rosario Dawson),an entertainment reporter who is asking him personal questions about his life and career. She asks him, point blank, "Why aren't you funny anymore?"

Andre recounts his career and personal problems to Chelsea, his bad choices in life, and his upcoming marriage to a reality star (Gabrielle Union). Andre and Chelsea connect and flirt, and Andre is conflicted by the direction he must choose with his life.

This is funny Chris Rock. "Top Five" is hilarious. More importantly, it's smart. It's one of the best straight up comedies of the year, and has genuine depth in it's script and characters. "Top Five" is pretty dirty in it's humor, but it's laugh out loud funny in a "I know I shouldn't be laughing" kind of way. (A scene with Cedric the Entertainer may not suitable for print. But I defy you not to laugh.)

Chris Rock wrote and directed the excellent script, and is just as good in the film's deeper moments as he is at the comedy. He has great chemistry with Rosario Dawson, who is very good and incredibly cute as well. The rest of the recognizable cast (Including some great cameos) all blend seamlessly into the story, leading to some genuine surprises and a satisfying ending.

The moral of the story, Hollywood, is, just let Chris Rock be Chris Rock. "Top Five" finally showcases his talent and intelligence. And people won't go see it, because there are no Transformers or "Madea" in it . You all make me sick. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Unlawful Use Of Hot Sauce, And For Cedric the Entertainer's Unlawful Ejaculation.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

 Image: Yep. They could pass for Egyptian.


Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, it's a little weird seeing a bunch of white folks pretending to be Egyptian. Yeah, movies used to do that all the time, but you would think that Hollywood could have sold "Exodus: Gods and Kings" with a more ethnically diverse and believable cast. Then again, maybe it wouldn't make as much money. Eh, maybe it's our fault. Anyway, I'll try to review "Exodus" on it's own merits.

"Exodus" tells the story we all are supposed to know (If you don't, you missed Fox News in depth report). Back in the olden days, "Moses" (Christian Bale) is raised by Egyptian royalty, along with his Step Brother, "Ramesses" (Joel Edgerton). After the death of the Pharaoh (John Turturro), Ramesses becomes Pharaoh, and Moses becomes his General. It soon is revealed that Moses is of Hebrew decent, which complicates things a bit, due to the fact that the Hebrews have been enslaved (Must have made it tough around the holidays).

Moses is exiled, treks through the desert, and finds himself a hot wife. That's when God steps in, taking the form of a young boy. God Jr. tells Moses to go back and free his people, and to do it now, because of God's wrath and whatnot (NEVER disagree with "Old Testament God". He's hardcore, man!) That's when the fires, plagues and Locusts arrive, and Moses parts the Red Sea, letting his people go.

"Exodus: Gods and Kings" is the definition of a mixed bag. There are moments full of interesting ideas, even greatness. There are also highly questionable ideas that detract from the film. It's a beautiful movie to look at, with the kind of incredible cinematography you would expect from an epic. The visual effects are top notch (With very good 3-D), and the scope of the film is massive, giving it the feel of an important, epic classic.

Christian Bale is excellent as usual, though other actors, (Including the great Ben Kingsley, the great Sigourney Weaver, and that guy with no chin....Oh, yeah. Aaron Paul) just sort of pop up in moments where they're given nothing to do. Most characters are given no development at all. And Joel Edgerton is a bit more over the top, and he's not helped by his off putting makeup and skin color.

The story of "Exodus :Gods and Kings" is by the book, sprinkled with some odd plot choices (Like the "Baby God" thing. That's just weird. What's wrong with "Big Booming Voice God"? That's the God I know, love and fear!). The best moments are injected with some humanity, and the scenes with the Plague sent by God are genuinely scary, and at least have Moses ask some interesting questions (Like, "C'mon, God! This is kind of messed up!)

In the end, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" is dragged down too much by typical "Hollywoodism", but it at least doesn't pander to the already converted. "Exodus" is genuinely ambitious, even if that's the best compliment I can give it. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Fire And Brimstone.

Whiplash

 Image: "Do you know who I am? I'm the man whose gonna burn your house down! With the lemons!" 


I know it's an old "Portal 2" joke, but, c'mon! You know you wanted it! Because, no matter how many Oscars he may eventually win, J.K.Simmons will always be "Cave Johnson" to all of us (Or, if you like, "J. Jonah Jameson" from "Spiderman". Or, the Farmers Insurance guy.) But I'm serious about the Oscar thing.

"Whiplash" stars Miles Teller as "Andrew". He's a young music student, who has been accepted into the best music academy in America. In his advanced class, he meets his teacher, "Mr. Fletcher" (J.K.Simmons). Mr. Fletcher has a very absolute view of what he expects from his students. In short, the guy's a dick. Mr. Fletcher pushes Andrew to the point of obsession, leading Andrew to the brink. He decides he is willing to do anything to reach his goals, including shutting out his family and loved ones. 

"Whiplash" is the epitome of emotional stress. Even the viewer is exhausted by the emotional turmoil inflicted on Andrew. Miles Teller is terrific as the awkward and driven Andrew. You sympathize with Andrew, but worry he is capable of becoming just like Fletcher.

As Fletcher, J. K. Simmons is something to behold. His performance is scary and ferocious. Fletcher is beyond complicated, one minute supporting and calm, the next a complete monster. Simmons is thoroughly convincing and Oscar worthy in a role that is unforgettable.

Director Damien Chazelle shows a unique flair for creating an uncomfortable environment, with interesting views and angles that heighten the tension. And "Whiplash" has constant tension. The story is as interesting as it's two main characters, and they carry the film to it's dramatic (And terrifying) conclusion.

The only small complaint with "Whiplash" is with Andrew's rushed relationship with his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist), making it feel unnecessary (That's weird. I usually want LESS romantic subplot). Nevertheless, "Whiplash" is completely engrossing, with the scariest teacher you could ever have. Unless you were in my Kindergarten class. I'm talking to you, Miss Henry! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Very Inappropriate Language For An Educator.

Penguins of Madagascar 

 Image: Hey, they all look alike. Or is that racist?


Not all animated films have to be deep and meaningful (Like "How To Train Your Dragon 2"). How about just being fun and silly once in a while? "The Penguins of Madagascar" isn't trying to make you cry. Well, maybe with laughter.

"The Penguins of Madagascar" takes place soon after the last "Madagascar" film, This time, "Skipper" (Tom McGrath), "Kowalski" (Chris Miller), "Rico" (Conrad Vernon), and "Private" (Christopher Knights) have uncovered an evil plan, involving a mad scientist (John Malkovich), who is actually an Octopus (Named Dave) in disguise, who has a personal vendetta against all Penguins. Dave has created a serum, which he intends to unleash Penguin kind.

The four brave Penguins come across an animal task force, called "The North Wind", led by "Classified" (Benedict Cumberbatch), a Grey Wolf who, along with his team members "Short Fuse" (Ken Jeong), a Harp seal/Demolitions Expert , "Eva" (Annet Mahendru), a Snowy Owl/Intelligence Expert (Who Kowalski has a major crush on), and "Corporal" (Peter Stormare), a Polar Bear who loves cute and cuddly Penguins. North Wind wants to take down Dave in their own way, but this, of course, is a job for The Penguins.

"The Penguins" is completely silly, absolutely frenetic, and unabashedly wacky. And It's having a heck of a time doing it. That's all the film is trying to be. It just wants to make you laugh (Sometimes against your will), with it's countless puns and goofy sense of humor. The plot is simple and easy to follow, but it's the characters that make "The Penguins" enjoyable.

The Penguins themselves have always been scene stealers, and clearly deserved their own film. The Four Penguins have great chemistry, and their voice actors have always been hilarious together. Benedict Cumberbatch (And his awesome voice) is a great addition, and John Malkovich is having an absolute blast. They all clearly get the spirit of the film.

"The Penguins" animation is colorful and full of life. The film is literally, constantly moving, which is both a good and bad thing (It may be a bit too frenetic for some). But if you can handle it's constant pace, then "The Penguins" is a guaranteed laugh. Don't over-analyze it. Just laugh. It's not that difficult. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Adult Humor, Hoover Dam And Parker Posey.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

 Image: Jennifer Lawrence aims her arrow of love. Right at my heart.


"The Hunger Games" is way past the whole ""Teen Angst Love Story" bull crap angle. The films have proved themselves by now not to be lumped in with that genre. The franchise is one that critics and fans alike respect, for it's professionalism, intelligence and, especially, it's top notch cast. No other teen franchise can compare. The days of "Twilight" are over.

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" returns Jennifer Lawrence as "Katniss", who is now being pulled into being the face of the rebellion, (Or, the "Mockinjay", a symbol to rally behind). The leaders of the rebellion, "Coin" (Julianne Moore), and "Heavensbee" (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) are trying to spread word and recruit other to the cause.

Meanwhile, the evil "President Snow" (Donald Sutherland) is using violence to keep everyone in line, and is using ""Peeta" (Josh Hutcherson), by forcing him to say negative things about the rebellion. Worst of all, President Snow is using his executive powers to grant legal status to illegal immigrants. (That bastard!)

Yes, "Mockingjay Part 1" has been split into two movies, and we don't know how necessary it was (If at all) to do this, Though there's very little action here, "Mockinjay" is still as exciting and compelling as the other films. The film has amazing production value, and the script is strong, but because the story has been split into two films, some of the characters have been sidelined a bit (Though everyone gets at least one important scene).

All of the performances here are terrific. What more can I say about Jennifer Lawrence. Yes, she's absolutely smoking hot beyond reason. She's also one of the best actresses around, and Katniss is a wonderful character for young girls to look up to. Julianne Moore is a great addition to the franchise, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is superb (Though it's difficult to watch him knowing he's gone now),

Josh Hutcherson, Elizebeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson have smaller roles this time, but make the most of it. Hell, even Liam Hemsworth gives a pretty decent performance. But it's Donald Sutherland, who is so good at being so evil (How in the world has he never gotten an Oscar nomination?), that he has become the character you love to hate.

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1"ends abruptly, but it has done it's job well. which is to get you pumped up for next year's finale. After the great buildup of the first three films, I can't believe they will let us down. I'm a believer in the cause. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Jennifer Lawrence's Smoldering Intensity.

Dumb and Dumber To

 Image: "Spank harder, Harry. We'll go faster!"


I sort of remember watching "Dumb and Dumber". I know I've seen it. Yet so many people have told me how hilarious it was, it makes me wonder if we're talking about the same movie. All of the quotes they remember from it. I just don't get why "Dumb and Dumber" makes everyone so happy that there is finally a sequel.

"Dumb and Dumber To" takes place 20 years after the first film, reuniting the two dumbest people on earth, "Harry" (Jeff Daniels), and "Lloyd" (Jim Carrey). Harry finds out he needs a kidney transplant, and that he may have a grown daughter, "Penny" (Rachel Melvin). So Harry and Lloyd set out on another road trip, and get themselves involved in a murder plot, involving Penny's Mother (Laurie Holden) and Mom's assistant (Rob Riggle).

You can name countless comedies with the same silly plots and subplots. But the plot isn't nearly as important as being funny. And "Dumb and Dumber To" just isn't that funny. There's moments here and there, but not the belly laughs you want. It's more soft chuckles and mild laughter. Even for fans of the original, the idea has just worn out it's welcome.

Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels try their heart out, and they still have chemistry, but the script doesn't try nearly as hard, instead playing it safe. Nothing here feels original anymore. The "Bad Guys and Their Evil Plan" subplot was tired back in the 90's. Now it's just excruciating. Hell, I only showed up for the rumored Jennifer Lawrence cameo that wasn't there. Sh*t!

"Dumb and Dumber To" doesn't mean any harm, and the stars have their moments, but it's one joke stretched out way too long (About 109 minutes). And that joke came too late. 20 years too late. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Gross Out Humor And for No Jennifer Lawrence.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

 Image: "All right, Keaton. Time to feel my giant pecker!


You can tell by the title "Birdman Or ( The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)", and by the movie poster, and by the picture directly above, that this film is going to be rather....Well....Odd. But some of the best things in life are a little cooky. Like, for instance....Me! Cooky is edgy. Smart. Cool. Like "Birdman". And "Birdman" is ABSOLUTELY OUT OF IT'S FREAKING MIND!

"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)" tells the complex story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). He was an actor, most famous for playing a Super Hero, named "Birdman". His career is pretty washed up, but he gets the opportunity to direct and star in a Broadway play.

The show has numerous problems, complicated by his relationship with his estranged daughter, "Sam" (Emma Stone), his girlfriend, "Laura" (Andrea Riseborough), his star actor, "Mike" (Edward Norton), and Mike's "girlfriend" and co-star, "Lesley" (Naomi Watts). Last, but not least, Riggan is hearing the voice of "Birdman" in his head. Riggan must try to keep the show from collapsing. And he may, or may not, have super powers.

Bizarre. "Birdman" is truly bizarre. Brilliantly bizarre. Writer and Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is some kind of genius, because "Birdman" is as original a film as I've seen. Gonzalez somehow makes the film look like it is one, long, continuous shot. It's like you're watching a play, as each scene moves effortlessly (And literally) into the next.

The plot of "Birdman" is mesmerizing as you follow Riggan's troubled character. His "Reality" is a fascinating world, as is the inside Broadway scene. "Birdman" has fun poking at the entertainment world, pretentious critics (It's funny, because it's true!), and easily amused audiences.

"Birdman" is smart and hilarious, deep and thought-provoking. It has lot to say about pretty much everything, interspersed with Michael Keaton running around town in his underwear, or flying over New York City (The sight of which is the greatest sight you'll see at the movies this year).

All of this lunacy is backed up by an absolutely perfect cast. Michael Keaton gives the performance of a WAY underrated career. It will be criminal if he doesn't get his first Oscar nomination for this memorable performance. Edward Norton is terrific yet again, and Emma Stone gives her best ever performance. Naomi Watts is also superb, as is Andrea Riseborough and Zach Galifianakis (As Riggan's Lawyer and best friend).

Weird is wonderful, and so is "Birdman". Clearly one of the best movies of the year, and a true cinematic achievement. Don't let the sight of a guy dressed as a giant blue bird scare you off. 4 Stars. Rated R For Crude Humor, Foul Language, And For Edward Norton Jr. (You'll see what I mean).

Big Hero 6

 Image: "I'll call you The Pillsbury Dough Boy....Hoo-Hoo!"


Ah, the comfort of knowing that when you see a Disney Film, you're going to leave happy. O.K., so I'm not humming "Let it Go" after seeing "Big Hero 6". But I am going to rush out a to buy a "Baymax" plushy.

"Big Hero 6" begins with "Hiro" (Ryan Potter), a 14 year-old in future "San Fransokyo". The young genius spends his time winning illegal robot battles, while his older brother, "Tadashi" (Daniel Henney) tries to convince him to use his talents to study with him at the robotic labs in his university.

Hiro is convinced, and shows his new invention of micro-bots to the Professor (James Cromwell), but it also catches the attentions of a rival billionaire (Alan Tudyk). When a fire starts at the university, Tadashi is killed trying to save the Professor. Hiro is comforted by an inflatable Nurse/Robot invented by Tadashi, named Baymax (Scott Adsit).

When Hiro discovers that the fire was not an accident, and that his micro-bots were stolen by a masked villain, he and his college friends, "GoGo" (Jaime Chung), "Wasabi" (Damon Wayans Jr.), "Honey Lemon" (Genesis Rodriguez), and "Fred" (T.J. Miller) team up with Baymax to become "Big Hero 6", Super Heroes out to save the day.

This is one of those Disney films that have a few small flaws when it comes to the plot, but "Big Hero 6" is so dang lovable, that it's very easy to overlook the little details. The characters are easy to embrace, especially Baymax, who I guarantee will be the biggest selling Christmas present for kids (Maybe for adults, too) this year.

The voice work in "Big Hero 6" is perfect. Scott Adsit brings warmth and likability to his inflatable hero, Ryan Potter and Daniel Henney are convincing and touching as the brothers, Jaime Chung and Genesis Rodriguez are adorable, Damon Wayans Jr.is funnier here than in "Let's Be Cops", and T.J. Miller almost steals the movie as the hippie non-genius with a heart of gold.

"Big Hero 6" has typical Disney beauty (I swear they're getting even better. They're just showing off, now). The film is inventive and colorful, with unique character designs. Really, the only tiny gripe is that the eventual reveal of the villain is a little underdeveloped, which is a bit disappointing considering how heavy the subject matter actually gets (Big Hero 6 is kind of sad, really).

Minor complaints. It's Disney. Heart, humor and fun. "Big Hero 6" is a wonderful family film, with a new favorite Disney character to embrace and hug. Even if he is full of hot air. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Family Peril And Cuz' Disney Makes You Cry.

Interstellar

 Image: "Hey, this is way better than 'Failure To Launch'. All right, all right, all right!"


I admit, I'm not exactly an expert on Science or Physics, or stuff like that. So don't ask me if "Interstellar" is based on actual science, or a bunch of mumbo-jumbo Christopher Nolan pulled out of his ass. All I know is, Christopher Nolan seems a lot smarter than I am. He either is a Super-Genius Theoretical Physicist, or he has such an incredible imagination that he still makes me feel like a complete and utter dipshit. And a lot of other people who have seen "Interstellar" seem to feel the same way. And that's why they hate it.

"Interstellar" stars Matthew McConaughey as , "Cooper", a former NASA Test Pilot, who has retired to being a Farmer. The Earth has turned to dust, and we are slowly running out of food, so Cooper and his daughter (Mackenzie Foy) find an old, secret NASA facility, where Professor Brand (Michael Caine) tells Cooper that he has a plan for someone to lead an expedition into Space, into a Wormhole, which will lead them to another Galaxy, where there supposedly may be inhabitable planets.

You can't make this stuff up, can you? I can't reveal more as to not spoil the experience of "Interstellar". And this film is all about the experience. The film is pure movie magic. Not just visually, though that is a pure cinematic achievement in of itself. From the music to the visuals to the sound, "Interstellar" is exactly what the movie going experience is supposed to be about. The film is gorgeous to look at, with imaginative and surreal imagery. Film lovers should see "Interstellar" for all of this alone. Director Christopher Nolan is a genius, pure and simple.

Matthew McConaughey gives maybe an even better performance than his Oscar winning role in "Dallas Buyers Club". His character is one you desperately root for to succeed (He's not "Lou", from "Nightcrawler"). Anne Hathaway (As the Professor's daughter, who joins the mission) is excellent and typically adorable, Jessica Chastain (As Cooper's adult daughter. Too complicated to explain) is absolutely wonderful (Her scenes with McConaughey are heartbreaking). And, as a bonus, she's smokin' hot, too. The wonderful Michael Caine, Bill Irwin (As "TARS" the Robot, providing needed comic relief), and a couple surprise cameos round out the terrific cast.

I get that "Interstellar" is difficult to follow (I had trouble keeping up with it at times, too). But I am genuinely grateful that a film maker has put so much time, thought and care into his craft. Seriously, how little time was put into the plot's of "Brick Mansions", "Dracula Untold" and "Transformers 4"? It's up to each viewer to decide what to think of "Interstellar". I'm still thinking about it now. That's a good thing, isn't it? 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Intensity And For Moments Where You Think, "Wow! That Just Blew My Mind, Man!"

Nightcrawler

 Image: Fox News, Fair and Balanced.


Remember when I said that "Gone Girl" was the most disturbing and twisted movie of the year? Well, I've been proved wrong once again. Because "Nightcrawler" is seriously f*cked up.

"Nightcrawler" stars Jake Gyllenhaall as "Lou", a....Well, he's pretty much just a thief and a schmuck, living life on the seedy side of Los Angeles. He witnesses an gruesome accident, and the "Nightcrawlers" who film it, and sell the footage to the local news. And Lou thinks, "What a great way to make a living!" Lou buys a camcorder and recruits an assistant ,"Rick" (Riz Ahmed), and they begin pursuing anything revolting enough to sell to a local news station, headed by "Nina" (Rene Russo), who is almost as opportunistic as Lou.

Sound like great people, don't they? "Nightcrawler" is deeply cynical, probably somewhat realistic, and completely awesome. The suspense continues throughout. It's deeply unsettling, yet the story is so engrossing, that it's impossible to look away. How Director and Screenwriter Dan Gilroy pulls this feat off is a pretty impressive feat, considering how repulsive it's protagonist is.

Jake Gyllenhaal's "Lou" is a disgusting human being. He's a psychopath, but a fascinating one, and Gyllenhaal gives an Oscar worthy performance as a character you would like to forget, but never will. Rene Russo is nearly as compelling as well, in a role that is nearly as unsympathetic as Gyllenhaal's. And Riz Ahmed steals a bunch of scenes as the only character with a hint of a conscience.

There is a sort of odd sense of humor about "Nightcrawler", mainly because you see the world and events through Lou's eyes. His world is not a pretty place, but the script is so well written that you get everything there is to know about it. Enough to know that you never want to go there. Lou is so good with words, he almost tricks you into sympathizing with him.

Has anything I've said made you want to go see "Nightcrawler"? Than you may be just as f*cked up as Lou is. But, damn it, this is a great movie. One of the year's best. 4 Stars. Rated R Vulgar Language, And For The Most Revolting Imagery You Can Imagine.

St. Vincent 

 Above: It's time to repeal our child labor laws.


It doesn't matter what the movie is, because Bill Murray will make it better. If the script doesn't quite work, Bill Murray will improvise it anyway, so just sit back and give him the benefit of the doubt.

In "St. Vincent", Murray plays "Vincent", an older, crotchety and ill-mannered type, who gets aggravated when his new neighbor, "Maggie" (Melissa McCarthy), and her 12 year old son, "Oliver" (Jaeden Lieberher) cause damage to his property while moving in. After Oliver has an issue at school, Vincent agrees to babysit Oliver, for a price, due to his gambling debts. Of course, the two begin to bond, with Vincent taking Oliver to bars, the race track, etc. (Just like I will with my son). 

The plot of "St. Vincent" feels overly familiar, but is redeemed by it's sheer likability, it's humor, and the performances. The plot is sitcom-ish (Old, cranky guy learns and teaches life lessons to adorable kid), but it's well made and expertly performed by the cast.

Bill Murray is awesome. We already knew that, so the more opportunities to see him give a great performance like this, the better. Melissa McCarthy shows the talent I knew she had, but I'd had little to go on after having seen "Identity Thief", so it is great to see her show off her acting chops. And Jaeden Lieberher adds to the surprisingly long list of terrific child actors in a likable performance.

"St. Vincent" mixes it's humor and drama well enough, so that it never becomes too sappy. And Bill Murray wouldn't let that happen anyway, so it's a sweet crowd pleaser that allows it's great cast to shine past it's predictable moments. I mean, not every Bill Murray movie is going to be "Ghostbusters". 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Language, And Pregnant Ladies Of The Night.

John Wick

 Image: James will pay for his "47 Ronin" review!


Dude, I was so harsh on you! I laid it on pretty thick in my review for "47 Ronin". I said something like, "Keanu Reeves has absolutely no screen presence, whatsoever." And how boring he was as an actor or whatnot. Clearly, it was nothing personal. '47 Ronin" sucked anyway. But "John Wick" is all kinds of awesome.

"John Wick" stars Reeves in the title role, a former hit man, who had retired to domestic bliss with his beloved wife (Bridget Moynahan.) She passes away after a long illness, and leaves him a puppy as a way for John to cope and remember her.

John soon has a run in with a young punk (Alfie Allen), who is after John's car. When John tells him to go screw himself with a crooked broomstick, the little snot takes it personally. He and a couple of henchman break into John's house, beating him half to death, stealing his car, and killing his puppy. John Wick is the last guy you want to piss off, so he declares war on the hoodlums, bringing in the bad guy's Dad (Michael Nyqvist), who calls in a hit on John for two million dollars.

"John Wick" is ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome! The film is set in it's own, fascinating world, and Director Chad Stahelski (A former Stunt Coordinator) focuses on good old fashion choreography and stunt work, instead on the dreaded shaky cam and special effects. The action is brutal, but spectacular, and the story feels surprisingly original, in part because of this interesting world these characters live in.

Now for my heartfelt apology to Keanu. Hey, I liked you in "Speed", so I wasn't rooting against you. In "John Wick", Keanu is excellent, completely believable not only in the action scenes, but showing depth in a character that I both liked and understood. Michael Nyqvist is a terrific villain, maintaining a sinister presence, while adding plenty of humor as well. Willem Dafoe (As a friend of John Wick's) is his always enjoyable self, and Adrianne Palicki (As a Hit Woman sent to kill Wick) is totally bad ass and sexy (What a completely adorable contract killer.) 

No, "John Wick" is the least bit realistic, but it's not supposed to be. It's succeeds as a fun, straight up action movie. And, it makes me rethink how harsh I should be with the actors I'm reviewing. You never know when they will redeem themselves. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For All Kinds Of Brutal Violence.

The Book of Life

 Image: This scares the death out of me!


I think I would love to get inside Guillermo Del Toro's head, though I'm pretty sure I would be terrified of what I would find. The famed film maker creates these worlds that I want to explore and get lost in. He seems to have the same imagination that I'd like to think I have. Only Hollywood has discovered his genius. Sadly, they have yet to discover mine.

Produced by Del Toro, "The Book of Life" begins with a bunch of young students in detention. They are sent to a museum, where the tour guide (Christina Applegate) reads to them a story, called "The Book of Life." The story is about two best friends, "Manolo" (Diego Luna), and "Joaquin" (Channing Tatum), who are both in love with a childhood friend, "Maria" (Zoe Saldana).

Meanwhile, two "Spirits of the Dead" (Ron Perlman and Kate del Castillo), don't have anything better to do than to bet on which of the two friends will win Maria's heart. As Manolo and Maria grow closer, one spirit takes matters into his own hands, and tricks Manolo into getting himself killed. Manolo's spirit is sent to "The Land of the Remembered", where all remembered souls go. Manolo is not particularly happy with this situation, so he devises a way to get back to Maria before a group of bandits (Led by Dan Navarro) destroys everything Manolo holds dear.

"The Book of Life" is one of the most unique looking animated films I've seen. It's visually beautiful, with very creative character designs and vibrant colors. The movie is just a pleasure to look at. The story itself is a little safe, with a standard plot, and you pretty much know where it's all going. Yet it's still plenty enjoyable , despite it's lack of ambitious storytelling (The subplot with the Bandits and it's villain isn't very interesting or necessary.)

The voice cast of "The Book of Life" is fun, with Diego Luna showing plenty of likability, Zoe Saldana's voice is as adorable as she is, and Channing Tatum continues to surprise me how funny he is. Ron Perlman (Guillermo del Toro's good luck charm) is, as always, completely awesome.

Style over substance, "The Book of Life" works because of it's style and sense of fun. It's like a dream I came up with, but will never get any credit for. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Talk And images Of Death.

The Best of Me

 Image: " Uh-huh. Yeah. That's interesting. Uh-huh. Everything you say is right, honey."


Going to any Nicholas Sparks movie is just an awful experience. Yet ""The Best of Me" had to be the most awkward of them all. Imagine a young, swinging, single (Slightly lonely) dude showing up a couple of minutes late for a film full of young couples and groups of unhappily married women. Suddenly, all of their eyes are completely focused on you as they peer at you through the darkness. As I self consciously walked slowly to near the front of the theater (Much like a death row inmate, moments before his execution), I could sense how confused (And creeped out) they were....Thanks a whole Hell of a lot, Nicholas Sparks. Go f*ck yourself.

In "The Best of Me", a young couple (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato) fall in love, despite all the forces trying to keep them apart. And, like most 18 year olds, their love will stand the test of time. But this is a Nicholas Sparks movie, so, tragedy strikes, forcing the young man who looks like he's at least 30, into prison.

Cue 20 years later, the now grown woman (Michelle Monaghan) reunites with the now grown man who looks younger than his younger version (James Marsden.) Turns out, their love did not die. But they still must confront evil rednecks, and the husband she has no problem being unfaithful to.

Poor Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden. The both try so hard to make "The Best of Me" as watchable as possible, but they are outmatched by the undeniable fact that their film is a total piece of crap. Liana Liberato is cute to look at, but little else, and Luke Bracey is God awful, yet Hollywood seems to be insistent that I'm supposed to like him. Painfully sappy, incredibly boring, and thoroughly unlikable, "The Best of Me" sends some very strange and mixed messages to the women it's so clearly geared for (These two are pretty damn selfish. Should have been called "The Worst of Me".)

What else is terrible about "The Best of Me'? Luke Bracey and James Marsden look absolutely nothing alike. Both versions of the character are idiots. Like all Nicholas Sparks male characters, the only personality they have is to be the flawless guy coming to rescue the poor women in distress. As for the female character, she comes across as pretty much an awful human being (It's always about you being lost, and trying to find yourself, because you don't know who you are. Get over yourself!) And just because your husband drinks and pays little attention to you doesn't mean I'm supposed to root for you when you cheat on him. How 'bout some morals, people!

The rest of the characters are obnoxious and annoying, nothing but caricatures typical in a Spark's story. On the bright side, the ending is very enjoyable. It's not any good, mind you. It's just crashes down the fantasy world on top of the people who enjoy this stuff. It's a good, cold dose of reality. I have to get some form of enjoyment out of it. 1/2 Star. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, And Sweaty, Shirtless Men.

Fury

 Image: You're next, ISIS.


I just saw a dead guy get run over by a tank. Yep, his partially flattened corpse gets completely squished. Not a pleasant sight. "Fury" is THAT kind of war movie.

Set during the tail end of World War II, "Fury" follows Army Sgt. Collier (Brad Pitt), who commands an Army tank, nick named "Fury". He leads his men, including "Boyd" (Shia LeBeouf), "Grady" (Jon Bernthal), and "Trini" (Michael Peña), along with a new assistant driver, "Norman" (Logan Lerman), as they prepare to push into Nazi Germany. Norman has a difficult time with the realities of War, but the crew must stick together as they face ever increasing dangers as they head deeper into conflict.

"Fury" is pretty brutal, one of the more graphic war films I've seen. It feels like you're part of the battle, which is enhanced by the terrific sound editing. You can literally feel every shot fired in the movie. The battle scenes, and the characters emotions, are extremely raw, and it gives you the feeling you are right there in the middle of it all.

The actors are all very good, though some of the characters are too typical standard personality types. Brad Pitt is excellent as always, as is Logan Lerman (Who may be (Oscar nomination worthy.) Shia LeBeouf , Jon Bernthal and Michael Peña overcome their predictable characters to help make a very convincing crew.

Where many war films have a more "Rah-Rah" message to them, "Fury" is far darker in it's tone, even making the heroes unlikable at times. You root for them because they're heroic American Soldiers in a crappy situation, despite the fact that they're not always heroic. It doesn't feel as believable in a couple of tacked on scenes of redemption.

Despite the film's flaws, "Fury" is still powerful in it's realistic depiction of the complexities of War. It's like "The Monuments Men", if that film had been dark, violent and cynical. And I enjoyed them both for what they were. 3 Stars. Rated R For Brutal Violence And War Language.
 

The Judge

 Image: Sorry, guys. I'll be the judge of you.


"The Judge" may, or may not be a very good movie. I mean, how many flaws in a film can I overlook, just because I truly like everyone involved?

"The Judge" stars Robert Downey Jr. as "Hank", a big city lawyer, who tends to defend the guilty (Because innocent people can't afford him.) He gets a call that his mother has passed away, and returns to his old hometown that he has purposely distanced himself from.

He reunites with his family, and with his estranged Father, "Joseph", (Robert Duvall), who is a longtime local Judge. When a dead body is found in town, Joseph becomes the main suspect, due to the complex relationship he had with the victim. It's now up to Hank to defend his Dad in court, while going up against a big shot D.A. (Billy Bob Thornton.)

While I admit that I really enjoyed "The Judge", that doesn't mean it's a particularly great movie. It's totally clichéd, in ways that we've all seen before, and the plot has too many unnecessary plot points. "The Judge" should have been way shorter than it's nearly 2 1/2 hour running time.

But with this cast, "The Judge" can't possibly fail. Robert Downey Jr. is one of the great actors of this generation, and is completely on top of his game. Robert Duvall is freakin' Robert Duvall, one of the great actors in the history of the world, and he's still as sharp as a tack. Billy Bob Thornton is awesome (His quiet but important moment with Downey Jr. is a highlight of two great actors), and Vera Farmiga (As an old flame of Downey Jr's) is very good and absolutely adorable, though her subplot isn't needed at all. Every actor in "The Judge" brings their "A" game.

The cinematography of "The Judge" is genuinely beautiful, making the courtroom scenes burst with life (I love me a good courtroom scene.) And though there is a bit too much melodrama, "The Judge" does have some needed humor (Especially from Dax Shepard, as another lawyer.)

"The Judge" just lays it on too thick, designed in the end only to be a crowd pleaser. So some will hate "The Judge:" I'll just judge it for what it is. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Lawyer Language.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

 Image: Maybe we should have asked for the Carfax.


Everyone can sympathize with Alexander. Haven't you had one of those days where everything goes wrong? But it's only funny when it happens to someone else.

"Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" is about a day in the life of "Alexander" (Ed Oxenbould). He seems to have a lot of bad days, while the rest of his family usually has terrific days. Until one day, Alexander makes a wish that everybody else would have just one bad day themselves, so they know what it's like. And (Like all wishes), it comes true. Everyone in his family has a crappy day. Just like the rest of us.

"Alexander" is exactly the kind of movie you think it will be. It's cheesy, hokey and perfectly harmless. It's also perfectly geared toward it's young audience (Though there's a few more edgy jokes here than your typical Disney film.) There is enough funny moments here to get past occasional groaner, and it's plenty acceptable for a wide audience.

The film does an adequate job of imparting it's moral and lessons to it's audience ( Have faith in yourself to get through the bad days. Or as my Grandpa would have said, "Get your head out of your ass!"). The plot is a cliché to a fault, but nothing about "Alexander" is irritable enough to complain about.

The top notch cast is the best thing about "Alexander". Ed Oxenbould is excellent, and seems like a sweet kid. Steve Carell and Jennifer "She is one cute mama" Garner are predictably funny and top notch as the parents (They are completely game for the silly humor), while Dylan Mannette and Kerris Dorsey (As Alexander's brother and sister) are excellent as well. Their family has great chemistry, and makes it enjoyable to suffer through their bad day with them.

Predictable doesn't always mean bad, so just because I knew exactly what "Alexander" was before I walked in the theater, doesn't mean It was disappointing. Not memorable, but cute, disarming and professional..... There. Now James is finished with his long, sweaty, boring, crappy day. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Slightly Adult Humor That Won't Scar Your kids For Life.

Dracula Untold

 Image: Vlad The Impaler. Only, he didn't impale. And he did not have relations with that woman.


I imagine the studio that gave us "Dracula Untold", was sitting around the table, plotting to make a quick buck, yet only if they could put as little thought into it as possible. It has to be something that will hit all the right buttons. What's popular right now? Vampires. Simple script. All the usual character tropes. No thought put into it at all. Not too long, not too short. And we gotta' get the PG-13 rating, making it just dangerous to advertise it to the adults, but safe enough to bring in the kids. And with an ending vague enough to leave it open for sequels. Of course it's going to make a lot of money. 

"Dracula Untold"" tells the untold story that no one was asking for. About how "Vlad The Impaler" (Luke Evans) was actually an upstanding guy, who only wanted to protect his family, and give up his days of impaling people on wooden stakes. A misunderstood gent.

But the evil Sultan, "Mehmed II" (Dominic "I'm looking for a new agent" Cooper) wants one thousand young boys (Including Vlad's son) for his army, Vlad decides that the only way to defeat the Sultan is to get some of those Vampire powers, from some shadowy, monster dude (Charles Dance), who looks like can totally be trusted. Vlad then becomes "Dracula" (Or, basically a Vampire Superman), and wreaks havoc on the evil Sultan.

Here's a big shock! "Dracula Untold" isn't any good. It's terrible, but in a different way than what you might expect. Yes, it looks stupid. And it is, incredibly so. The worst thing about the film is why it exists in the first place. Did anyone want to know the "Untold" story of Dracula? About his love life, his family, and all the good deeds he did? In "Dracula Untold", he's Jesus, with fangs.

"Untold" is one massive plot hole. Dracula's powers have absolutely no consistency, whatsoever. The dialogue is atrocious and overly serious (The film is utterly humorless), and the film feels incredibly rushed. Yet, it's amazingly boring as well, thanks to it's painfully predictable plotline, and it's total lack of character development. In this way, "Dracula Untold" has accomplished an amazing feat. And the effects range from "Eh" to absolutely horrible. 

I feel bad more than anything for decent actors like Luke Evans. He's not bad, but he has no direction (Not surprising, considering the Director or The Writers have no Wikipedia page.) Dominic Cooper has to play yet another terrible villain, in another terrible movie (With "Need For Speed", it's not been a good year.) Honestly, the fact that "Untold" is such a bastardization of the book "Dracula" (Awesome book, by the way) is the least of this movie's problem.

"Dracula Untold" isn't a Dracula movie. It's a wannabe Superhero movie, with a bland character you couldn't care less about. Why do you have to ruin it by making Dracula a goody-goody two shoes? 0 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, A Little Blood, And Vampire Hickeys.

Annabelle

 Image: The perfect doll for every little girl. 


"The Conjuring" was way too cool to deserve such a lame prequel. "Annabelle" even messed up one of the creepiest ideas from "The Conjuring". Which makes you wonder why they even bothered with her in the first place.

"Annabelle" begins with a young couple (Annabelle "Annabelle?" Wallis and Ward Horton), who are expecting a child. The husband decides to impress his wife by giving her the most revolting doll ever created by man (And it hasn't even been possessed yet!)

When their house is broken into by cult members, a young girl named "Annabelle" is killed, and her spirit possesses the doll. And, as possessed dolls are wont to do, she causes a whole bunch of weird sh*t to happen. The couple decide to throw away the doll, and move into an apartment in the city.

After they have their baby, everything seems safe and sound. That's when the doll shows up in one of the boxes they open. So the mom's like, "Oh, let's just keep it! That's not at all creepy!" When all Hell breaks loose, creepy dead people begin to show up. Satan makes a surprise appearance, and a whole bunch of questions arise as to why none of this was ever mentioned in "The Conjuring".

Where "The Conjuring" was at least "Inspired" by a true story (True or not, it made for an excellent movie),"Annabelle" was clearly pulled out of someone's ass. The film is just another unoriginal horror movie. It feels lame and cheap, the actors are second rate, and the characters are so stupid, that you won't care less what happens to them (I was rooting for the doll.)

"Annabelle" herself is the best part of the film. At times, she is utilized well, but the shoddy plotting makes her feel unimportant to the story. By the end, Annabelle herself isn't even relevant, especially when you find out what is really going on. "Annabelle" dissolves into just another "Demonic Possession" movie. Satan wants your souls, people!

Proving it's cheapness, "Annabelle" relies on the easy jump scares and loud noises, that are the hallmark of crappy horror movies. So much for atmosphere and cleverness. How about obnoxious and annoying? It's kind of depressing that "Annabelle" is a bland and generic horror film, after discovering what a pleasant surprise "The Conjuring" turned out to be. That had good actors with characters you cared about. And it was genuinely scary. "Annabelle" is just banking on "The Conjuring's" likability. And that has to be the work of Satan. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Scary Faces And...........JUMP SCARES! AHHHH!

Gone Girl

 Image: Find Rosamund Pike immediately! Bring her to me!


"Gone Girl" is my first David Fincher film, and, WOW! What an experience! It's the kind of experience that will stick with you for a while (Are all of his movies this shocking?) Let's put it this way. If you're one of those people who hate romantic comedies, with the pat, happy endings, and the "Gag Me" dialogue, and the over simplistic characters....Well, then you are going to love this movie.

Based on the famous novel, "Gone Girl" begins with our "Loving" couple, "Nick" and "Amy" (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike), who fall in love and get married, just like in one of "Those" kinds of movies. And live happily ever after....Until five years later, Amy goes missing, vanishing into thin air.

Nick goes to the Police, and is portrayed sympathetically by the media, and, thus, the public as well (The Media gets kicked in the nuts here.) At least, until more evidence comes to light, suggesting Amy may have been murdered. That' s when the media turns on Nick, condemning him as guilty, and the public immediately follows suit. Not helping matters is Nick's inability to answer important questions about that night, and because of the fact that he has been hiding his own secrets. But we soon find out there is far more to the story than anyone could ever suspect.

"Gone Girl" is brilliant in it's complexity. Like the Media and public in the film, you sympathize with Nick early on, only growing to dislike him as it goes on. But the film plays with you and your emotions, and by the time it all comes to a head, you just don't know what to think. Somehow, Director David Fincher keeps the suspense taut throughout, despite the nearly 2 1/2 hour running time.

The screenplay of "Gone Girl" was written by the book's Author, Gillian Flynn, and many have said the film is as good as the book. The story is both accessible and complex. It's also completely disturbing. "Gone Girl" is very twisted, yet as shocking as it becomes, it was impossible for me to turn away.The dialogue is clever, and darkly funny, so much that the film could almost classify as a dark comedy. And that's a compliment.

"Gone Girl" has several career best performances, starting with Ben "Best Comeback Ever" Affleck, who is Oscar worthy, as is the absolutely gorgeous Rosamund Pike, who shines in the role of a lifetime. Odd as it sounds, Neil Patrick Harris is brilliantly weird (As an obsessive ex-boyfriend of Amy's), and, even odder, Tyler Perry (Yes, THAT Tyler freakin' Perry) is terrific and very funny as Nick's Lawyer (Makes me feel kinda' bad about always blasting everything he's ever done. Kind of.) Carrie Coon (As Nick's sister) is also excellent in a cast with no false notes (Fincher really knows how to direct his actors.)

I loved my first Fincher film. Smart, deep, and darkly funny, "Gone Girl" is the most beautifully disturbing piece of art I've seen this year. 4 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Adult Language and Content, Brief Nudity, And Possibly The Most Horrifying Use Of a Box Cutter You Can Imagine.

The Equalizer

 Image:After passing every background check, Denzel believes in using his gun legally and responsibly.


Remember when I said that Liam Neeson was the answer to the end of summer movie blues? That he was movie Viagra? Well that goes for Denzel Washington, too. He is the black Liam Neeson (That's not racist! Liam Neeson is the white Denzel!). It's not possible for Denzel to do bad work, and every film he is in immediately means that it's not garbage. Denzel Washington can not suck.

Based on a 1980's TV show I've never heard of that has little or nothing to do with this movie, "The Equalizer", Washington plays "Robert McCall", seemingly just your average guy, working at a hardware store. He seemingly lives a normal life, until he befriends an underage Prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz), who is beaten up by her Russian bosses.

Naturally, Denzel doesn't take too kindly to this, so he up and wastes their asses. This upsets the rest of the Russian Gangsters, so they send their own equalizer (Marton Csokas) to find out who Denzel is , and kill him. Turns out Denzel is a retired Special Forces Officer who just doesn't like it when bad guys hurt good people. Kinda' brings out the killer in him.

"The Equalizer" is basic and generic, full of the typical action silliness (I still don't think a nail gun can work that way), and "Cool guys don't look at explosions" scenes that are standard in action films. But when you've got a top notch actor and director, it becomes far more than it should have been.

Denzel is Denzel at the top of his game. At 59, he's remarkably believable as a lethal weapon, and carries the unoriginal script with the complete ease that comes with being Denzel Washington. Marton Csokas shines as the villain, in his biggest role yet (This guy has been in a lot of stuff you probably didn't know he was in), and Chloë Grace Moretz is always nice to see, though it's a little unsettling to see her in this kind of difficult role (She's too cute. I don't want to see her get hurt.)

The action scenes in "The Equalizer" are very well choreographed, but brutal (It's a very R rated film), but Director Antoine Fuqua adds style to the violence. He and Denzel clearly work well together, and make a really good action team. I am way behind on Denzel's filmography, and I don't know where "The Equalizer" would line up, but, like I said. Denzel is incapable of sucking. 3 Stars. Rated R For Very Brutal Violence And Very Brutal Language

The Boxtrolls

 Image: "Ahhh! We just got Trolled again!" (I apologize for this joke. It was a slow day.)


I am genuinely perplexed as to why an inventive film studio like "Laika" has had so much trouble finding an audience. "Coraline" and "ParaNorman" were really good family films (And dark. And slightly edgy). Maybe the studio "Name" isn't big enough, or they don't advertise it's lack of "Celebrity" voices. But if all you parents would tell their kids who the Hell Sir Ben Kingsley and Jared Harris are (For example), than maybe "Boxtrolls" gets the box-office it deserves.

"Boxtrolls" begins in the cheese obsessed town of "Cheesebridge", where a child is (Allegedly) abducted by these little underground critters, called "Boxtrolls" (Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum). The town exterminator, "Archibald Snatcher" (Sir Ben Kingsley), tells the town's leader (Jared Harris) that he will exterminate the trolls. In return, he will get to become part of the town elite, symbolized by the wearing of the "White Hats".

Flash forward 10 years later, the missing young boy (Issac Hempstead-Wright) has been raised by the Boxtrolls, and has been given the new name of "Eggs" (Because that's what it says on his box.) As time goes on, their numbers are dwindling one by one, due to the exterminator (Wow, this really is dark and edgy!) Eggs comes across the young daughter of the head of the White Hats (Elle Fanning), and she agrees to help put a stop to the exterminating, and convince the town that the Boxtrolls are not the monsters they're made out to be.

"The Boxtrolls" is a simpler story than "Coraline" or "ParaNorman", but it is still just as much fun. The film has plenty of charm, with bizarrely lovable characters. Coming from Laika, of course the film has stunning stop-motion animation. In fact, it may be the studio's best looking movie yet. Some of the sequences are an amazing achievement in stop-motion. The character design is unique and clever, even if most of the characters are actually pretty revolting to look at. (But in Stop-Motion, that's kind of the point.)

The voice work in "The Boxtrolls" is excellent. Issac Hempstead-Wright has a lot of charm, Elle Fanning is very good, and the great Jared Harris is just awesome. And it is wonderful to see some of the best professional voice actors like Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum get important roles like this , making their characters funny and adorable.

The scene stealers are "The Boxtrolls" villains. Sir Ben Kingsley may be the most awesome actor in the world, and here he is both menacing and hilarious. Nick Frost, Tracy Morgan and Richard Ayoade (As the bumbling henchmen) are possibly the funniest bumbling henchmen you will ever see on screen.

"The Boxtrolls" isn't quite as heartfelt and emotional as it's predecessors, but it still has plenty of moving moments. This is a wonderful family movie, and it would be a shame if it's even slightly overlooked. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Adult Humor And Themes, And Transvestite Humor.

The Maze Runner

 Image: And the Tea Party finally gets the border wall of their dreams.


Young adults get pretty much whatever they want from Hollywood these days. Every single young adult novel is going to get turned into a movie franchise. Some of them will make a small fortune, but most tend to fall flat on their face, so if I was smart, I'd give up this struggling film critic career, and churn out this crap right and left.

"The Maze Runner" is about this young adult (Dylan O'Brien), who winds up in a mysterious area that is completely walled off. He has no idea who he is, or how he got there. This odd world has lots of other young adult boys, and there seems to be no means of escape. Except, just maybe, through "The Maze".

Problem is, the doors to the maze closes every night, with anyone left stuck inside to be killed by the horrifying monsters that live inside. The boys must find a way out, and discover the reason they are there in the first place.

"The Maze Runner" follows much of the same formula as most other young adult novels/films, but it manages to avoid the genre's worst clichés. There's no love triangle, no hunky shirtless guy. The story wisely focuses on the adventure and mystery, and it's really not too bad, I guess.

The highlights of "The Maze Runner" are the special effects, which is visually pleasing. The world they're in is simple, but stunning, and the monsters are pretty badass (Part Slug, part Robot/Spider.) The acting is decent, and the young cast does just fine with the clunky script. The film needs to explain itself too much, though, and it never feels like the story is flowing naturally. Like "Divergent", the film exists solely to become a franchise.

The idea of "The Maze Runner" ls clever enough to have a few effective moments, but it never quite leads to anything original or interesting. And the final scene is just plain stupid. If they had left it out, it may have been a bit more recommendable. It wasn't near enough to make me look forward to next year's inevitable sequel. I better get started writing my young adult novel. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images And Way Too Many Young Adult Dudes.
 

A Walk Among The Tombstones

 Image: Liam Neeson does his taxes. Badass taxes. 


Late August and early September are lame. It's lame because I don't like football much, my vacations are over, and there aren't any really good movies coming out. Yet, here we have "Gone Girl", "The Box Trolls", "The Equalizer", and "Annabelle" opening in the next couple of weeks. And Liam Neeson starts it off by kicking September's ass.

In "A Walk Among the Tombstones", Neeson stars as "Matthew Scudder", a former NYPD Cop turned Private Investigator, who is hired by a drug trafficker (Dan Stevens) to find the two sickos (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) who brutally murdered the drug lord's wife.

During Scudder's investigation, he discovers that this was no random kidnapping. The two are serial killers, targeting the wives of drug dealers. Scudder soon realizes that the killings will continue, unless he is able to stop them.

"A Walk Among the Tombstones" is very heavy, and not always pleasant to watch. The dark subject matter is unrelenting (The film's look is grey, or almost grey, adding to the mood), and it's clearly not for everyone. It's also very well made, and incredibly suspenseful. I was on the edge of my seat towards the end, and I really didn't know quite how it would end.

The cinematography and score of 'Tombstones" genuinely adds to the tension (It's quiet menace is a stark contrast from the loud and obnoxious "No Good Deed"), and Liam Neeson is the perfect actor for this part. He plays one of his most intersting characters, and plays it perfectly. His scenes with a young boy (Brian "Astro" Bradley) he befriends feel natural, and the two share surprising chemistry. Their scenes have a sense of humor (Albeit dark) the film really needs. 

"Tombstones" villains are suitably scary, and feel realistic, though it does miss having any real female characters (It's a "Dude" movie), and I think the film could have used one, considering there is some brutal imagry involving women. The script should have been fleshed out more, but the film flows well, as it leads to it's relatively satsfying conclusion.

Leave it to Liam Neeson to have the answer to the end of summer movie blues. Liam Neeson is movie Viagra. He rises to the occasion. He stands firm. He....Ok, I'll stop now. 3 Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Violence And Imagery.
 

No Good Deal 2

 Image: "I'm here to shoot holes in the plot!"


What a publicity stunt. Say, your'e movie sucks, right? So how do you sucker the public into going to see it? Pull the film from being screened for critics, under the guise that there's a twist so big, you can't show anyone until opening day, so that the "Secret" won't be revealed. Thus turning a genuinely awfulfilm, into a mild hit. Pretty frickin' brilliant!

"No Good Deed" is about a psychopath (Idris Elba), who escapes from prison, and winds up at the house of a mother (Taraji P. Henson), alone at home with her kids on a dark, stormy night. She clearly has never seen one of these kinds of films, so she inexplicably lets him in, thus allowing this nut job to torment her for what seems an eternity, but is really less than an hour and a half.

The only reason for any of this is if there was some shocking twist that could somehow make it all worthwhile. But save yourself the trouble. "No Good Deed" is no good, and the twist serves no purpose to a film that has no real purpose anyway. The "Secret" feels completely tacked on, as if the writers knew this wasn't going anywhere, so they pulled the idea out of their butt in a desperate bid to salvage any chance at a good opening weekend (Mission accomplished!)

This is the epitome of a film that has actors who deserve so much better. Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson give "No Good Deed" the only chance it could have. The film doesn't deserve good performances, but they provide them just the same. It's the script that's the problem. "No Good Deed" has no character that acts rational. In fact, everyone's a complete idiot.

The score of "No Good Deed" is just as bad, constantly reminding us that it's supposed to be a thriller, but it's needlessly loud, and only serves to annoy. And though the film is less than an hour and a half, it drags on and on, where nothing is actually happening. "No Good Deed" is excruciating to sit through. Like Idris Elba's character, it just won't die.

"No Good Deed" is pointless, but kudos again to it's distributor, "Screen Gems", for bamboozling just enough of the public to make a substantial profit. Now please fade away with a 70% drop at the box office in it's second week. 1 Star. Rated PG-13 For Violence To Characters Too Stupid Enough To Know Any Better.

Dolphin Tale 2

 Image: The Japanese version of "Dolphin Tale 2" is a little more violent.


What a sweet vacation! The Colorado mountains really sharpened my focus. Made me refreshed to take on the grueling mission of reviewing sweet, tender films about Dolphins.

"Dolphin Tale 2" follows the continuing true story of a Dolphin, named "Winter", who had lost her tail, and was fitted with a prosthetic, allowing her to thrive, and win the hearts the hearts of everyone around her. After her older female companion dies, the Aquarium Winter resides at decides she needs another female to thrive. So, uh, they get her one.

Nothing complicated about "Dolphin Tale 2". Just a sweet, simple story about some amazing creatures (Which is kind of hard to screw up.) I'm not sure exactly how necessary it needed a sequel, but the qualities are there to make it worth your while. The Dolphins (Who play themselves, and are very convincing as Dolphins) are lovable, and certainly provide educational value to it's PG audience. And the Pelican (As the Pelican) is a goofy little guy who adds some laughs.

The adult actors (Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Sir Morgan Freeman) are all excellent, and the child actors are just fine, and they all help make "Dolphin Tale 2" very likable. Like the first film, it's inherent likability is enough to keep it from being too schmaltzy. There's nothing special, here, that you couldn't get from a documentary, except you wouldn't get to look at Ashley Judd. And you wouldn't get Morgan Freeman in a documentary (Oh, wait. You get Morgan Freeman in every documentary.)

The Dolphins are special, but "Dolphin Tale 2" is just cute and cuddly, and is a nice family movie for kids who like their Tuna "Dolphin Free". 3 Stars. Rated PG For Mild Dolphin Peril (Hey, I got through this without any "Porpoise" jokes!)

As Above/So Below

 Image: Death by Chocolate. 


Dude, I'm like on vacation right now man! Feeling kinda' mellow. There's vapors in the air and I'm feeling totally stoked right now. Man, do I go the munchies!. As you can probably guess I am in Colorado, But I'm not having that kind of fun. Think along the lines of wholesome, family kind of fun. So I really didn't feel like doing a review. But film critics are never really on vacation. 

"As Above/So Below" is an another found footage horror movie, so we all know how this is going to play out. Our plucky protagonist (Perdita Weeks) is searching the Philosopher's Stone (You know, before "He That Should Not Be Named" gets it). So she gets her team of soon to be dead friends to follow her into the catacombs of Paris. While down there, they find the seventh layer of Hell (That's nice. My mother was from Alabama). And from there everything plays out like every other found footage horror movie, with all the lazy jump scares and shaky cam to make you as nauseous as possible. 

The idea for "As Above/So Below" is pretty decent, and I think they actually could have done something clever with this. Sadly, it just dissolves into typical found footage laziness. This underground world they have created is ripe for interesting ideas, and could of been used for real atmosphere, but the film doesn't have interesting characters and wastes it's intriguing idea. It seems content on being a cheap money maker. 

As usual with most horror movies these days, "As Above/So Below" seems to get the idea that something random popping out of nowhere, accompanied by a loud noise, is scary. (No, Its not!) It's more annoying than anything. (Give us something new. Even the jump scares are failing to get us to jump anymore).

As you guys know, I can usually handle crazy shaky cam as much as the next guy. But "As Above/ So Below" is an exception, mainly because of the first person camera work, which is a terrible idea for a movie that is constantly on the move All of which lead to my debilitating motion sickness and headache (Bring your own Dramamine.)

Sorry for the delay in getting the review of "As Above/So Below" done. But even movie critics need down time. You know, Horseback riding in the Colorado mountains. In 65 degree weather .Feeding Grisly Bears and Moose. Now THAT'S a good movie! 1 1/2 stars. Rated R For Blood, Blood, And More Blood.

Boyhood

 Thank God for movie critics. If it weren't for movie critics, I would never have seen "Boyhood", because every critic in the world (Except, maybe, 2) said I had to. And, now, because of me, now you're going to see it. Because if you don't, then what the Hell am I doing this for?


"Boyhood" tells the story of a young boy named "Mason Jr." (Ellar Coltrane), after his parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) are divorced. The film follows Mason Jr. as he deals with his parents failed relationship, and all of the other events in his life as he grows into a young man.

Sounds boring, huh? WRONG! "Boyhood" is exciting, despite it's near 3 hour length, because it is such a cinematic achievement, and unlike anything I have ever seen. Amazingly, "Boyhood" was filmed over 12 years with the same actors, so you literally see Mason Jr. growing up before our eyes. It is an astonishing story that is deep and meaningful, and a miracle that it even got made at all. Writer and Director Richard Linklater has truly created a masterpiece.

"Boyhood" is seen and told through this young man's eyes. It sounds simple, but a lot happens in the 12 years of his life, as it does in all of our "Boyhood", I guess. The script is beautiful, from start to finish. In fact, I have never seen a film that feels so real. Ellar Coltrane is a revelation (He deserves some kind of honorary Oscar for this.) Coltrane is extremely likable, yet believably complex (As every young boy other than myself has been) I know this sounds a little mushy, but it's gift to be part of watching him grow up over 12 years. 

Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are truly wonderful, in roles that are almost impossible to fill. They are completely realistic and natural, so much that it feels at times as if were eavesdropping on a real family. Caroline Linklater (The older sister, and the Directors daughter), is terrific as well, showing genuine personality. The four of them are as convincing as any "Real" family I've seen.

Lastly, I truly believe that "Boyhood" is a film that every young person headed toward adulthood should see. I think that you will connect with it the way I did, as it made me nostalgic for my own "Boyhood" (In a way that, say, "Transformers" just couldn't do.) And I am genuinely grateful to be a film critic, because never in a million years would I have gone to see "Boyhood" otherwise. I never would have even considered it. And now I've made you think about it. Right? 4 Stars. Rated R For Language And A Lot Of Reality.

If I Stay

 Image: "So the Doctor says, 'No, Nurse, I told you to PRICK his BOIL!!!'


"If I Stay" tells the emotionally devastating story of a young girl who loses her parents in a horrific car accident, and details her struggle to survive the ordeal, as the rest of her family and friends rally to her side, helping her pull through by showing her that life is worth living...Nah, it's just another crappy teenage love story.

Chloë Grace Moretz stars as "Mia", a young girl with a perfect family and a perfect life, who is planning on going to Juliard on a music scholarship. And in movies, when everything seems perfect, that's when you know it's gonna' hit the fan.

Driving on an icy road with her parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) and little brother, they are in a devastating accident, killing her parents, and leaving Mia and her brother in a coma. Mia begins to have an out of body experience, reliving important events in her life, most of them involving her dreamboat, perfect boyfriend (Jamie Blackley).

"If I Stay" has quite a lot of promise. At times, the script follows through on it, but, like most young adult novels turned into films, it's more interested in pandering to what it thinks it's young audience wants to see. Which is, "Lovey-Dovey, Kissie-Huggie, Makes You Wanna' Gag" love story. And this one is as generic as it gets. The few times "If I Stay" succeeds is when it focuses on the more realistic family drama, and those who are begging her to stay.

Chloë Grace Moretz is terrific, and the kind of likable actress you don't want to see anything bad happen to, so you root for her and her character. Stacey Keach (As her Grandpa) has some wonderful moments, and Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard do fine work, but Jamie Blackley just comes across as whiny and annoying (How dare you gripe and complain at Chloë. You don't deserve her. Grow a pair!)

"If I Stay" means well, but the message gets completely lost in a typical Hollywood teen romance, especially In it's thoroughly ridiculous ending. The film is too unfocused and pandering, never living up to it's potential. Chloë and her character deserve better. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, And For Failing To Make Me Cry Even A Little

The Giver

 Image: "You Ever Seen a Grown Man Naked?"


Do you remember the good old days when it was just "Twilight" getting ripped off? Well, after "Divergent", it's yet another "The Hunger Games" rip off. This one at least has Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and 4 Oscars between them. "The Giver" won't be winning any.

Based on that book that you can't walk through "Barnes & Noble" without seeing (You know, the one with that old guy on the cover), "The Giver" is yet another futuristic "Utopian" society, where everything is awesome! There's no war, no hatred, no racism. And no religion, too (It's basically a John Lennon song). It's absolutely perfect....

Or is it! A young, sexy teenager (Brenton Thwaites) manages to keep his shirt on long enough to meet "The Giver" (Jeff Bridges), who is to teach him about the past of the human race, what is beyond, and what not. But the more the kid learns, the more he questions why society is the way it is. Which pisses off Meryl Streep, who is in charge of keeping things hunky dory, just the way it is. The young man naturally ignores listening to his elders, and instead decides to find a way to bring back what was lost from society. 

"The Giver" feels as if the studio took way too much control over it, taking away from what seemed to be the book's intent (Though I haven't read it), and turning into just another teen movie (A little better than "Divergent", not nearly as good as "The Hunger Games"). It feels watered down, and that's too bad, because it has a fascinating premise. Some of the scenes show real promise, and Director Phillip Noyce has a true knack for imagery and cinematography. "The Giver" is beautiful to look at, but doesn't explain itself. (Why did Meryl Streep even allow The Giver to exist, if he's going to cause this much of a headache? Gotta' be in the book).

Jeff "My Grandma was totally his babysitter. It's a long story" Bridges is perfect as always, bringing true emotion and much needed humor. Meryl Streep is frickin' Meryl Streep, and brings more to a one note character than any mere mortal of an actress. But the young cast doesn't really register, though Brenton Thwaites does have some nice moments with Bridges. And was that Taylor Swift? What the Hell!

Though "The Giver" underwhelms, the overall ideas and themes are there, but they're just not completely fleshed out. There is a fine movie in there somewhere. "The Giver" is not a bad movie. Not at all. It's just rushed, and leaves you feeling like it should have been more. At least now I know what that book with the old fart on the cover is about. I think I'll give it a look. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Dark Subject Matter,And Heavy Themes, Man.
 

Let's Be Cops

 Image: Hey that's my reaction to "Let's Be Cops".


Every bad movie has a Twitter campaign before it is released. It's their way of getting fake, positive feedback, without having to actually put any real effort into actual film critics to recommend it. Even the worst films of all time will always have someone to defend it. Judging by much of my audience while seeing "Let's Be Cops", those people are high. Seriously, they were high.

Two best loser friends (Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson), who have never accomplished anything in their life, one day get the wacky idea, "Hey, let's be Cops!". That's it.

"Let's Be Cops" is one joke, stretched over an hour and forty minutes. Which is pushing it, if it was funny. But it's not. What they do to fill in the gaps is more odd and uncomfortable, with actors who I know are better than this. Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson do have some chemistry, making some scenes better than they should have been. But the situations these "Cops" are put in are so stupid, it's impossible to suspend belief in any of it.

The tone of "Let's Be Cops" is uneven, jarringly so at times. The film veers from goofy and silly, to dark and violent, especially with stock villains these movies always seem to have. They are played straight, with no humor at all, leading to some genuinely uncomfortable moments. "Cops" would have worked better as a dark comedy, but it tries to have it both ways.

To it's credit, "Let's Be Cops" isn't painfully unfunny (Aside from the naked, fat guy, dragging his sweaty balls over Damon Wayans Jr.'s face. Man I hope he was well paid for this). Honestly, it's just boring and predictable. The film just can't carry it's "Let's Be Cops!" premise far enough for a sitcom, let alone an entire movie.

There is a crime in every "Cop" film, and here it's the criminal waste of Andy Garcia (As a bad guy), who deserves to have this expunged from his record. Yeah, Nina Dobrev (As the love interest. And the only reason my Dad volunteered to see this) is pretty, but is given nothing to do. But in "Let's Be Cops", nobody is. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Gross Out Situations, And For Naked, Sweaty Balls.

Step Up: All In

 Image: Fire woman, you're to blame.


"Step Up: All In" is the greatest film in the history of "Step Up" films. That is, until "Step Up 6: Smaug vs. Godzilla: The Dance of Death" (I would totally see that movie. You would too).

"Step Up 5" has the guy from the 4th one (Ryan Guzman), and the really cute girl from the second one with the sexy voice (Brianna Evigan). They are now leading a group of dancers from the other "Step Up" movies (At least, the ones who had better things to do than be in the greatest "Step Up" film ever!) to take part in the ultimate dance competition in Las Vegas, hosted by a Lady Gaga clone.

I really could just repeat the Wikipedia synopsis of the "Deep" and "Moving" plot. "All-stars from the previous STEP UP installments come together in glittering Las Vegas, battling for a victory that could define their dreams....And their careers." But that would be plagiarism.....Hey, that gives me an idea! I'm going to change the WIKIPEDIA synopsis of "Step Up: All In" to: Talking Dinosaurs with machine guns, duke it out with an Army of Android Nazi strippers, to claim the magical scepter of Cialis, and win the heart of the fair Maiden, Kat Deely (I'm actually thinking of doing it, unless someone beats me to the punch.)

Anyway, It's a "Step Up" movie, so it's bland and boring. And a step up (Tee hee) from the rest of the franchise, and that's the biggest compliment I can give "All In". The story and plot are predictable and stupid, the characters uninteresting, and the length much longer than it needs to be (Cialis....Tee Hee. Penis joke).

The acting in "Step Up 5", to be fair, is nowhere near as terrible as it usually is, and the dance sequences don't feel tacked on. In fact, the final dance battle is, actually, quite spectacular. It's really the only moment where the film embraces it's cheesiness. Too bad it took me an hour and thirty five minutes to get there, but the last "Step Up" movie was excruciating, so....Gotta' look on the bright side....Hmmm'....What else could I say....I could add another new WIKIPEDIA synopsis? 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Dirty Dancing and Excessive Midriff.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

 Image: This doesn't look out of place in New York.


I don't mind admitting that I'm a "TMNT" fan. I know the basic origin story, all the characters and villains, and what not. And I don't mind saying that I was a little excited when they announced they were rebooting the franchise in theaters. Then I got pretty nervous when I heard Michael Bay was producing. You know, the same Michael Bay who has taken the good name of "Transformers", and made a complete mockery of them? (Hey, let's make a "Transformers" movie, and make them supporting characters. Genius!) And now he's produced a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie. And made it about April, who has pretty much always been stupid and useless.... Sh*t! 

"TMNT" takes place, as always, in New York, where "The Shredder" (Tohoru Masamune) and his merry band of evil Military Ninjas who don't do Ninja stuff are terrorizing the city. Everyone's favorite stupid, useless reporter (Megan Fox), follows a lead on the "Foot Clan" (They're not even a clan, per se. I don't know what the Hell they are, really), and is rescued by some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

"Leonardo" (Played by Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), "Donatello" (Jeremy Howard), "Raphael" (Alan Ritchson), and "Michelangelo" (Noel Fisher), under orders from "Master Splinter" (Played by Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), must keep April safe, from Shredder, and "Evil Businessman/Stepson/Guy Who Was Originally Supposed To Play Shredder" (William Fichtner).

You've all heard, I'm sure, that the original script for "TMNT" (The one where the Turtles were gonna' be Aliens) was crap. Everyone said so. So they had to rewrite it again. And Again. And possibly again. Honestly, though it's probably not as bad as it could have been, "TMNT" is a complete mess. The story has been changed from it's origin in some important ways, but not in others, which makes what should be a simple story way more complicated than it has to be. This creates massive plot holes, and stupid conveniences.

"TMNT"'s pacing is frenetic and constantly moving. Instead of the common complaint of many films being too slow, this goes way too fast, leaving no time for character development, just unoriginal action sequences (Look, I know this a film about Teenage Turtles. Who are Mutant Ninjas. But I actually want to give a dang about the characters, O.K.!) The special effects are good, and the Turtles all look pretty realistic (That is to say, they look, fittingly, revolting. Especially Splinter. He looks gross!)

The Turtle actors capture their essential personality, (Particularly Mikey), despite not getting any real believable character moments, aside from a few tacked on moments. For a film about brotherhood, there isn't a lot of brotherhood in "TMNT". Megan Fox is given way too much to do, in a role that should have been much smaller. The character is the main character of the film, in a film that's supposed to be about the Ninja Turtles, and she's not quite up to the task. Will Arnett (As April's Cameraman) is surprisingly unfunny, and William Fichtner (Who at least is enjoying himself) is still kind of unnecessary, considering he isn't the main villain.

The real crime of "TMNT" is the lameness of the villain. The Shredder is supposed to be a twisted, sadistic, bad ass villain, but here he is given no personality, or even a reason to exist. His entire character feels so tacked on, it almost feels like they added him at the last second, making the film even more of a mess. Honestly, I don't know who "TMNT" was made for. The true fans will hate it, because of all the changes to it's story and characters. And newcomers will hate it, because they won't have a clue what the hell is going on. A movie about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has to be fun. They overcomplicated it, and sucked the fun right out of it. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence And A Little Language.

Get on Up

 Image: After a long day fighting crime, Black Superman is completely exhausted.


I told you after "42" that Chadwick Boseman was the real deal. James Eagan knows talent. That's why when James Eagan talks up "Should Be Oscar Nominees", the Academy should pay attention. Maybe James Eagan knows that Boseman, Ralph Fiennes and Andy Serkis are going to get the overdue nominations they deserve. And maybe James Eagan should stop talking like James Brown, and quit referring to himself in the third person.

"Get On Up" tells the story of legendary singer James Brown, "The Godfather of Soul". Brown (Chadwick Boseman) is shown going through the amazing highs, and the tragic lows (Some self inflicted) of his incredible life. The story jumps back and forth through flashbacks, as Brown becomes one of the most prolific performers in music history, yet sabotages his success at times, due to his personal demons.

The story telling structure of "Get On Up" is a little odd. The film flashes back in forth through the life of James Brown, making it somewhat confusing for the viewer to keep up. With that said, it's an interesting story of a fascinating man. Unlike "Jersey Boys", "Get On Up" captures why it's subject became a legend. The music and the music scenes are real achievements, and it's pretty much impossible not to shake what your mama gave you.

Again, I told you! Chadwick Boseman is a great actor, and this will be the film that gives him the recognition he deserves. I don't really need to know that much about James Brown to see that Boseman nails the part, dance moves and all. The wonderful Viola Davis is great as Brown's Mother, Nelsan Ellis (As Brown's put upon best friend) is terrific, Dan Akroyd (As Brown's Manager) is very good, and Octavia Spencer (As the younger Brown's caretaker) has some nice moments as well.

Director Tate Taylor (The Help) does a good job bringing James Brown to life, but some of the characters are a little too pat (Most of the white ones. But "Whitey" had it coming back then.) But when Chadwick Boseman/James Brown is onscreen, I feel good. I knew that I would. And I feel like a sex machine....No, I don't. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Language, Adult Situations, And For Making Me Get Up Off Of That Thing.

Guardians of the Galaxy

 Image: The Guardians of the Galaxy, clearly breaking their parole.


If "Marvel" can make a great film out of "Guardians of the Galaxy", they deserve to be in charge of Hollywood. A talking tree?A psychotic, gun toting Raccoon? Why the Hell not!?

"Peter Quill" (Chris Pratt) was abducted by Alien outlaws (Led by Michael Rooker) as a young boy , and is now an outlaw as well, calling himself "Star-Lord". He steals some kind of special "Orb", which is valued by a terrorist named "Ronan" (Lee Pace). A bounty is placed on Star-Lord's head, attracting the attention of the Bounty Hunters "Rocket Raccoon" (Voiced by Bradley Cooper) and "Groot" (Voiced by Vin Diesel)

Ronin sends "Gamora" (Zoe Saldana), who is the adopted daughter of "Thanos" (Josh Brolin), the "Big Kahuna" of all Evil in the Marvel universe, to retrieve the Orb, but Gamora has motives of her own. When Star-Lord, Rocket, Groot and Gamora are arrested, they meet "Drax the Destroyer" (Dave Bautista), who is bent on avenging the death of his family at the hands of Ronan.

The 5 new buddies team up to hand over the Orb to "The Collector" (Benicio Del Toro), but when they realize how destructive the Orb can be, they decide that it's their job to protect the Galaxy, and do whatever it takes to keep the Orb from falling into the wrong hands.

As excited as I get about the Marvel films, I had no idea what to expect with "Guardians of the Galaxy". This film could have ended up SO badly in the wrong hands, but I should have shown more faith. Guardians" is hilarious. It's an action movie that works as a full blown comedy, a very smart idea that is expertly directed by James Gunn. The special effects are "Marvel" great, and may be the most unique looking Marvel film.

Chris Pratt (Having an "MVP" year, with "The Lego Movie") is a perfect choice, adding to Marvel's list of actors making surprisingly awesome action heroes. Zoe Saldana is now number one on my "Hottest Green Woman" list, and is completely bad-ass. Dave Bautista is a surprise (And quite funny for a professional wrestler), while Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are the scene stealers, and are the heart of the movie.

Lee Pace is a complete bastard (That's a great compliment) as "Guardians" main villain, Benicio Del Toro leaves quite an impression in his few scenes, and I find myself oddly attracted to the bald, blue Karen Gillan (As Zoe Saldana's wicked step-sister). Finally, Josh Brolin gives a nice taste of things to come in the Marvel Future, and who we will soon find to be the worst person in the Universe.

If I was nitpicking, I was expecting bigger roles for great actors, such as Michael Rooker, Glen Close (As leader of the "Nova Corps", protecting the Universe), John C. Reily (As one of her captains, and Djimon Hounsou (As Ronin's loyal minion). With that said, they are memorable characters. And that's the greatest strength of "Guardians of the Galaxy. The characters are so much fun, with the actors absolutely loving their roles.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" makes a great addition to "Iron Man", "Captain America" and "Thor". "Galaxy" was the hard sell, so now I can relax and have total faith in every Marvel film through 2019. Just think, I can take my wife and kids to the last one....No, No....Sadly, I'll be going alone. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 Chaotic Violence, And Groot-tuitos Groot-ity.

Lucy

 Image: Just another Scarlett Johannsson picture to add to my collection.


"Hercules" knew it was stupid, And that made it, in an odd way, kind of smart. "Lucy", on the other hand, thinks it's incredibly smart. When, really, it's kind of stupid.

"Lucy" (Scarlett Johansson) is a young American girl, living in Taiwan. She is forced to work for a Drug Lord/Gangster (Choi Min-sik), who has some freaky, experimental drugs implanted in her stomach, When she is kicked in the stomach, this ruptures the bag of drugs in her lovely belly.

This turns her into a Jedi, basically. Lucy is able to unlock more and more of her brain, giving her all kinds of superpowers. Lucy finds Professor Morgan Freeman, who is an expert on brains, or something. She then must use all of her new powers to defeat the Drug Lord's minions. Though, by this point, these guys don't stand a chance in Hell, because, by now, she's like freakin' Yoda. If Yoda was smoking hot.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. Lucy ends up almost getting eaten by a Dinosaur. This doesn't make any sense to explain this to you, as it's pointless to explain "Lucy", at all. This movie is a complete mind f@#$. (And not in a good way) "Lucy" wants to think it's clever and thought provoking (A lot like "Transcendence". Only mercifully shorter), but the plot is borderline ridiculous, though Director Luc Besson clearly doesn't think so.

Scarlett Johannsson is sweet and fine and lovely as always, but her character isn't very interesting as the film goes on (She's pretty much just a Robot. A sexy, sexy Robot.) Morgan Freeman plays Morgan Freeman from "Transcendence". (I swear to God! It's the same character!) But, it's Morgan Freeman, so he gets a pass. As for the villain, Choi Min-sik has potential early on, but his character ends up pretty pathetic and useless as far as evil villains go. "Lucy" becomes so powerful, the villains don't even matter after a while.

Visually, the effects in "Lucy" are decent, though some things don't look quite right to me. There's a lot of psychedelic imagery, bright flashes and random colors (Do NOT watch "Lucy" stoned! Your head will literally explode and you will die.), but it does nothing to help connect you to the film. By the time it's over, you may not know what exactly to think about "Lucy" (It took me 3 days to come to terms with it.)

The more I think about it, the more I pick "Lucy" apart. And the less I care about it. You can have fun watching it, I suppose, if you don't think to much about it. Problem is, "Lucy" wants you to think. That spoils the fun. 2 Stars. Rated R For Violence, and Drugs That Turns You Into A Jedi.

Hercules

 Image: After brutally killing and scalping Simba, The Rock takes his rightful place as The Lion King.


"Hercules" is stupid. But doesn't it make you pretty smart to know , just exactly how stupid you are? By embracing your stupidity, you have shown surprising intelligence, therefore taking something completely ridiculous, and turning it into somethingquite enjoyable.

"This Other Hercules Movie" stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (He's still "Rock" to me. No use running away from it) as a different version of the "Herc" we all know. This time, he's a Mercenary, whose entire reputation is based on the Hercules legend (With all those Gods and stuff), even though it's all a bunch of hooey. He's hired by a King (John Hurt) to train the King's unready Army, in order to eventually take on a vicious Warlord, and also confront his troubled past as a Professional Wrestler.

This best thing about this version of "Hercules" is that it's not the Kellan Lutz version. Dwayne Johnson's version actually has a look that belongs in theaters, as opposed to the shouda' been straight to DVD travesty I sat through earlier this year. This film doesn't look spectacular, exactly, but the effects and action scenes are pretty good here. Most importantly, there is a sense of humor about it that is sorely needed. "Hercules" is actually, intentionally funny.

Dwayne Johnson always has a lot of personality, and it works well in this role. And he clearly looks like a guy who could be a Hercules (The Rock would annihilate Kellan Lutz. And then feast on his flesh.) Ian McShane (As a psychic member of Hercules' group) and John Hurt chew the scenery like there's no tomorrow, getting most of the humorous lines.

Aside from the fact that this is still just a stupid "Hercules" movie, there is no real logic in the plot, and it is entirely predictable throughout. The humor and action help make the film the definition of a fine summer escape. It's less "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", more "Fast and Furious". Not trying to be anything more than a stupid Hercules movie. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Hot Sweaty Muscle Violence.

Planes: Fire and Rescue

 Image: "Hi! I'm looking for Dane Cook's career."


Do you remember when Disney stopped making all those straight to DVD sequels, how happy we all were? "Planes" was supposed to be (And should have been) a straight to DVD movie, but Disney clearly has trouble making a profit. So out it went into theaters, with the already in production sequel ready for this summer. There....That ends my only gripe with Disney (Other than cancelling "Star Wars: The Clone Wars". I'm not ready to forgive just yet.) I'm sorry I had to be so stern with you, Disney. It hurts me more than it hurts you. You know Jamesie loves you.

"Planes: Fire and Rescue" finds "Dusty" (Dane Cook), the Crop Duster turned Racer, busts his gear box, and is no longer able to race. So he decides to help an old, volunteer Firefighter (Hal Holbrook) when a fire threatens their small town.

Dusty decides to get his certification to fight fires legally (Dang Government regulations), and goes to train with some professional firefighters (Led by Ed Harris.) Dusty must then risk busting his gear box again, in order to save the day, all while avoiding the advances of the psychotic, yet thoroughly adorable "Lil' Dipper" (Julie Bowen).

Hey, "Planes: Fire and Rescue" actually has a plot. And actual emotion and drama, all of which were missing from "Planes" (Which, considering Disney's high standards, was lame.) "Fire and Rescue" feels like a theatrical movie, instead of just an excuse to sell toys. The animation is good looking, and some of the new characters are kind of cute, especially Julie Bowen. (Her voice is freakin' adorable!) Ed Harris is always awesome, and the rest of the voice cast (John Michael Higgins, Hal Holbrook, and Curtis "Booger" Armstrong) are enjoyable, though Dane Cook still doesn't do anything for me.

Still, "Planes 2" fails to convince me that it's even necessary, really. The jokes are still mostly lame puns, and is clearly geared towards very little kids. Yeah, there is more story here than in the first film, but there's nothing remotely inventive here. The biggest flaw, I suppose, is that the franchise pales in comparison to the rest of Disney's epic history. Out of the hundreds of.... Well, Disney has made a lot of movies, and both "Planes" are way down on the list.

At the least, "Planes: Fire and Rescue" is tribute to our brave Fire Fighters, who have probably never gotten the film they deserve. They should make one with Ed Harris. But not Dane Cook. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Suggestive Plane Puns.

The Purge: Anarchy

 Image: "Welcome to the Church of Latter Day Psychopaths."


I said when the first "Purge" film came out, that it was a great idea for a movie. In fact, it might even make a better video game. You could play as the lone guy trying to survive for twelve hours, with random people trying to kill you. How come nobody has made that happen? I almost guarantee it would be better than the movies. Still, the "Purge" films really aren't bad, when compared to your typical "Horror" film. They're just not as good as they should be.

"The Purge: Anarchy" tells the tale of another unfortunate night in New America, where all crime has been made legal (Murder seems to be the crime of choice.) One man (Frank Grillo) is out that night on his own, personal mission, when he saves a woman and her daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul), who are being taken hostage by some bad guys.

He also comes across a young couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), who made the really sh*tty decision to go out that day, when their car breaks down. The group must survive the rest of the night from random purgers, rich lunatics, an angry old white guy, and a family feud that turns violent (That scene is just weird!)

Like I said, "The Purge: Anarchy" is a very interesting premise, and this film utilizes the idea better than in the first "Purge". This "Purge" sticks to being an action thriller, instead of dissolving into a generic, slasher flick like the last film. There are some lazy jump scares and typical stupid character decisions here, but when the film sticks to what it's trying to be, "Anarchy" works better.

To be fair, both "Purge" films are genuinely trying to be thought provoking, but they are diluted by the in-your-face violence. I don't think the film's creators are trying to glorify the violence, but, judging from the audience I saw the movie with, I don't think they get the message. It's all just a little too much gore for me.

Frank Grillo helps carry the film, making a complex protagonist interesting, and Carmen Ejogo is quite good as well, but the rest of the acting is scatter shot, ranging from bland to laughably over the top. And where "The Purge" had a fairly creepy villain, "Anarchy" is stuck with just some lame, old white guy.

"The Purge: Anarchy" shows some life for a sequel, and I give it credit for actually striving to be something meaningful and clever. There are moments that make me think they're on to something, but the movie never sees it through. Maybe next year. You know they're gonna keep purging 'till they get it right. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated G....Nah', This Is Really, Really Rated R. Nothing G About It.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

 Images: I would strongly advise giving this dude whatever he wants. Like an Oscar nomination.


"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" isn't just one of the best films of the year.(And it has to be the best "Planet of the Apes" film, for sure.) "Dawn" is a true cinematic achievement, at least in the technical department. Like "The Wizard of Oz, or "Fantasia", or "2001", or "Jack and Jill" (It takes a lot of effort to make complete and utter crap), "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is way ahead of it's time. And it will still make less then "Transformers". Son of a bitch.

Set about 10 years or so after "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", "Dawn" begins after the Simian flu has wiped out much of the human race. The Apes are thriving, led by "Caesar" (Andy Serkis), who has managed to forge a pretty good civilization for them (Reading, writing. Resisting the urge to fling poo at one another.)

That's when a small group of humans wander on to their turf. "Malcolm" (Jason Clarke) is trying to find their way to a Dam, so they can use the water for power. Malcolm believes they can co-exist with the Apes, but "Dreyfus" (Sir Gary Oldman) feels the Apes are just a bunch of overgrown Monkeys, and feels they should take it by force. Dreyfus agrees to give Malcolm a couple of days to work with Ceasar, or else.

But one of the Apes, "Koba" (Toby Kebbell) has a deep seated hatred for humans, and believes there can never be peace between them. Koba intends on starting war by any means necessary, even without verifying that the humans have weapons of mass destruction. Obviously, this is not going to lead to a happy ending for anyone.

I'm not exaggerating about the technical achievement praise. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is flawless to look at. Each hair, facial expression and movement looks and feels incredibly real. The motion capture performances are spectacular. It's officially time to start stumping for Andy Serkis to get him his f@#$ing Oscar nomintaion. This is true acting greatness, and it's a cop out for anyone to ignore it. Serkis gives such a physical performance, it's clear you are watching a real being, not an effect.

Toby Kebbell is amazing and menacing as the Ape villain, Jason Clarke continues a great stretch of recent performances, and Sir Gary Oldman (Who I have already gotten his long overdue Oscar nomination. You're welcome, Gary) is once again superb as a character that would have been just another stock villain in most other films (That goes for you, "Avatar.) The rest of the performances are all on target, as well. Considering there are so many Apes running around, "Dawn" is really a film about humanity. 

Unlike many other blockbusters, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" avoids their worst cliches, and says "No! Things aren't that simple! Things are a bit more complicated than the good Blue Aliens vs. the big bad military! (I'm really hung up on "Avatar" right now!) Neither side has evil intentions. It's just stupidity and selfishness that lead to lead to very poor decisions. "Dawn" has very real world consequences, and that makes the film scarier.

I can't find anything not to like about "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes". It's action packed, has deep, dramatic moments, and truly wonderful performances.The Academy will listen, Andy Serkis. They will listen....They've got to listen. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence and More Monkey Business.

Earth to Echo

 Image: The last known picture of the adorable "Echo", just before "The Great Echo Massacre of 2014".


Awww! Look at this tiny little Alien Robot kids movie, going up against all those big, bad blockbusters. Poor thing doesn't have a chance in Hell,does it? With the special effects, "Earth to Echo" must have cost a cool 2 grand or so.

A "Found Footage" movie, "Earth to Echo" follows 3 young boys (Teo Halm, Reese Hartwig and Brian "Astro" Bradley) who are about to lose their homes to make way for a massive freeway (Progress, right?) When their cell phones start acting funny, they discover a little Robot Alien, they name "Echo" (I'll bet that's what's causing my cell phone problems.) The boys invite their little girl friend (Ella Wahlestedt) to help "Echo" get back home, and, along the way, discover that the freeway project may have something to do with the little Alien. 

"Earth to Echo" is as slight as the previews looked, and the film is obviously a homage to "E.T.", (And countless movies like it), so it follows the same beat, only with the "Found Footage". That style is utilized pretty well, and the kids are actually kind of likable.

The effects are surprisingly good, and are blended seamlessly (Thanks to the "Found Footage". And the cheap budget), and "Echo" himself is quite adorable. Really, there's nothing bad to say about "Earth to Echo". Much like myself, it's sweet and harmless. And forgettable....Awww! 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For That Shaky Cam Stuff That Makes You Queasy.

Transformers: Age of Extinction 

 Image: "Me Grimlock No Like This Movie!"


I'm Done. That's it. No more hoping and wishing that Michael Bay is capable of making the "Transformers" film that we all deserve. Mark Wahlberg said this was going to be good. Mark Wahlberg lied to us. They may not get any worse. But they're not going to get any better. And I just don't care anymore.

Set a few years after the last "Transformers" that completely annihilated the city of Chicago, "Transformers: Age of Extinction" begins with big, bad government guy (Kelsey Grammer) ordering the murder of all of the Transformers, "Autobots" and" Decepticons" alike.

The remaining Autobots go into hiding, when an all-around, Sean Hannity approved, great American guy from Texas with a Boston accent (Mark Wahlberg) finds "Optimus Prime" (Voiced by Peter Cullen). The Government finds out, and sends the Feds to hunt down Wahlberg, his overly sexualized as usual by Michael Bay 17 year old daughter (Nicola Peltz. She's too young for this Michael. You're creepy, man!), and her Irish/Texan boyfriend (Jack Reynor).

A transformer Bounty Hunter named "Lockdown" (Voiced by Mark Ryan) is on their trail as well, so Optimus calls upon the rest of the Autobots, including "Bumblebee", "Drift" (Voiced by Ken Watanabe), "Hound" (Voiced by John Goodman), and "Crosshairs" (Voiced by John "Bite My Shiny Metal Ass" DiMaggio). 

Finally, a scientist creating his own Transformers (Stanley "Easily the best thing about this movie" Tucci), somehow recreates the evil "Megatron" as "Galvatron" (Voiced by Frank Welker), who begins to search for a doomsday weapon that would allow Galvatron to "Find his seed" (Yep. Galvatron needs to find his seed. Don't we all?) Oh, and "Transformers: Age of Extinction" has "Dinobots" who don't talk or have any personality at all.

Could you suck any worse, Michael Bay? He is not worthy of us "Transformers" geeks, clearly not understanding the fact that we want to see actual Transformers, not a bunch of boring humans reacting to them (4 films in, and he still doesn't get it!) Besides the fact that the film is nearly 3 hours long, Bay is unable to provide any structure at all. Plot points appear out of nowhere, and some great Transformers characters are completely wasted (Especially Galvatron. That's unacceptable.)

The comic relief in "Transformers 4" is abandoned (Or, incinerated) very early on, and from there on, the movie is long, boring and headache inducing. The great Stanley Tucci, is the only human character worth a damn. And, to be fair , Mark Wahlberg is a step up from Shia LaBeouf, but he's a little miscast. Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor continue the Michael Bay trademark of unlikable young characters in his films, Kelsey Grammer is at least enjoying himself, and Sophia Myles and Li Bingbing (As Stanley Tucci's business partners) are lovely, but given nothing to do. 

It's always great to hear Peter Cullen's voice (He's the only "Optimus Prime" for me), John Goodman is a nice addition, and the most fun character, and Mark Ryan is deliciously evil, though his character is criminally underused. Why he vanishes throughout the movie is just one of the many questions I have for Michael Bay that I know I'm never going to get an answer for.

The effects are a marvel to look at, but, as always, "Transformers" sidelines them for the far less interesting human characters. Every time something cool is about to happen, it's immediately taken away from us. Another plot point is shoehorned in, and another character just fades away into the background.

In the end, "Transformers: Age of Extinction" deserves the biggest insult I can give it. I just don't care anymore. Congratulations, Michael Bay. Do whatever the Hell you want with it. 1 Star. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Language, and Michael Bay's Continued Sexual Exploitation of Underage Girls.
 

Think Like a Man Too

 Image: Damn!!!!


O.K. I've had enough of Kevin Hart. He is a lot of fun, for a while. It's just that, after a while, I need a little break . He's so much energy, you just eventually crash. He's like 5 Hour Energy. Or, 5 Foot Energy.

In "Think Like A Man Too", Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara,, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence J, Romany Malco, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Gary Owen, Gabrielle Union, La La Anthony, and Kevin Hart and a million other people decend on Las Vegas. Because so and so is marrying what's her name, and what's his face is going to be the best man. Meanwhile, this guy and his woman are having problems, while that guy and that guy are doing their stuff.... 

I'm sorry, but there is way too much to get a handle on (And, be honest, even if you like the movie, you probably don't remember the characters name's, either.) "Think Like A Man Too" is just another "Best friends go to Vegas, and high jinks ensue" film, with a generic plot, and an unoriginal script. The characters aren't really developed, which is too bad considering the talented cast (I swear I've seen each one of them in something better.)

Like the film, Kevin Hart starts off amusing, but it literally wears you out as you go. He's like your hyperactive child, who is really fun to run around after, until the point where you want to have him sedated with an Elephant Tranquilizer. The rest of the cast seems to be having fun, as well, especially Dennis Haysbert (In an extended cameo), and Wendi McLendon-Covey, who is way too hot to be in as many bad movies this year (What can I say. I likey older, funny women.)

"Too" has funny moments here and there, but it's at least 25 minutes too long, and just keeps going until it just runs out of steam. It's cast deserves better than the lame script, but at least they got a Vegas vacation out of it. All I know is, when I finally get my Vegas vacation, it may be best to best to leave Kevin Hart behind. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Bawdy PG-13 Behavior.

Jersey Boys

 Image: The "One Direction" reunion concert.


I've heard Elvis songs. And The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I could hear one of their songs and know who it was. But The Four Seasons music was....Well, I knew the sound, but never really thought anything about it. Other than the lead singer sounded like he was being castrated by Edward Scissorhands. Sorry, dude sounds like a lady.

"Jersey Boys" is based on the Broadway musical, about the rise and fall of "The Four Seasons". "Frankie" (John Lloyd Young), "Bob" (Erich Bergen), "Nick" (Michael Lomenda), and "Tommy" (Vincent Piazza) become one of the most famous bands in America, meet lots of girls, blow lots of money, and, eventually break up, before getting back together for their induction into The Rock&Roll Hall Of Fame.

"Jersey Boys" is a standard rise and fall story, just with competent people behind it to make it watchable. The Director is Clint "Freakin'" Eastwood, so "Jersey Boys" wasn't going to suck. The problem with the film is it just doesn't have a lot of depth. It's a by-the-numbers account of a story that everyone has seen before. You'd better be a huge "The Four Seasons" fan to really care much about it. (Which the audience I was with must have been. They were cheering.)

The musical scenes are well sung and well directed, and the performers talented enough. The main cast (Some who were held over from the Broadway cast) is decent, though a bit awkward and overplayed at times. Luckily, the ever awesome Christopher Walken (As a mobster who looks out for the boys) is as awesome as ever.

I wish I had more to tell here. The direction is good and the music enjoyable, but "Jersey Boys" is pretty forgettable otherwise. We've all seen this movie before, so it doesn't give a film critic much to say....So.....How you all doin? Seen any good movies lately? 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

 Image: "Nananananananana Batman! Batman!"


"How To Train Your Dragon" was one of the first films that I reviewed, all the way back in 2010. Man, I remember it like it was 4 years ago. And did anyone 4 years ago think that DreamWorks would have become, at least, Pixar's equal. Seriously, can anyone really argue that?

"How To Train Your Dragon" picks up 5 years after the first "Dragon". "Hiccup" (Jay Baruchel) and his Dragon, "Toothless", have become inseparable, now that Vikings and Dragons are now living in peace. At least there is peace until they discover a Dragon trapper (Kit Harrington). He is working for a Dragon Hunter/Warlord/Nutcase, "Drago" (Djimon Hounsou), who is bent on taking over the world with his army of Dragons.

Hiccup and Toothless meet up with Hiccup's long lost Mama (Cate Blanchett), and they reunite with Hiccup's Papa (Gerard Butler) in order to stop Drago from taking their dragons, and creating a super army of Dragons.

The first "Dragon" was a wonderful film. Beautifully animated, memorable characters, and a sense of emotion that DreamWorks had not really shown previously. "Dragon 2" does what a great sequel should. It expands the story, in the way a great live action film does. "Dragon 2" feels important. The characters have all grown, and the breathtaking animation somehow shows that.

The voice work and characters are all thoroughly enjoyable. Jay Baruchel and Gerard Butler both give their best performances I've seen. Cate Blanchett is wonderful as always, Kit Harrington is a nice addition, Djimon Hounsou makes a nasty and crazy villain, and the rest of the cast (Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J.Miller and Kristen Wiig) is as impressive as any cast around.

Like with the first "Dragon", "How To Train Your Dragon 2" has many emotionally heavy moments that you don't see in most animated or kids films, but it handles them deftly. Honestly, "Dragon" is not really a kids film at all. It's a family film, meant for both kids and adults, treating them all with equal respect and intelligence. One of the best films of the year. The only downside is that "How To Train Your Dragon 2" may give me an ulcer, from trying to decide my "Eagan Oscars." You have no idea the pressure I'm under. 4 Stars. Rated PG for Violence And Scary Dragons.
 

22 Jump Street

 Image: "Say hello to my lil' friend!


"21 Jump Street" was lucky. I mean, it was good, too. And it clearly had some talented people behind it. And who knew Channing Tatum could be funny? But if "22 Jump Street" could be both good and funny, while keeping with almost the same identical plot? Well, then these guys are frickin' geniuses!

"22 Jump Street" begins with a hilarious recap of "21 Jump Street". Then, the sequel begins with "Schmidt" (Jonah Hill) and "Jenko" (Channing Tatum) screwing up a mission, allowing a vicious drug dealer (Peter Stormare) to get away.

Schmidt and Jenko are then reassigned by "Chief Hardy" (Nick Offerman) to do what they did in the first movie. They must work again for "Captain Dickson" (Ice Cube), who sends the two undercover to College, to find out who is selling a powerful, deadly drug that has killed a student. Unfortunately, their friendship has hit a rocky patch, leading them to question their partnership.

Amazing! "22 Jump Street" is basically a complete rehash of the first film, and yet it does a masterful job of poking fun at itself, and at sequels in general. "Jump Street" is clever enough to be a satire, rather than a spoof, getting funnier as the movie goes on. The film somehow gets even funnier after it's over, if you stay for the unbelievably brilliant end credit sequences (If you leave early, you'll never forgive yourself!)

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are perfect together. Who would have predicted 2 years ago that they would make the best comedy team since Bush/Cheney. (Or, if you like, Obama/Biden....Or, Cheney/Biden?) Their chemistry is spot-on, and they are as natural together as a long married couple. (Or, life partners). Ice Cube is awesome, getting to display the most epic meltdown I've seen on screen in a long time. Peter Stormare always gets to ham it up delightfully, and Jillian Bell gets a lot of laughs as a college student.

I know it should be considered a flaw that "22 Jump Street" is a retread of the first, but the writers and the cast know exactly what the film is and isn't, and they play the audience like a fiddle. "Jump Street" knows what we want, and it delivers consistently. Just because they're not going for any awards doesn't mean the film lacks intelligence. In fact, "22 Jump Street" may be the most intelligent movie ever with a scene showing an Octopus suctioning and squirting someone in the face, in the history of film. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R for Tons Of Language and Octopus Squirting.

The Fault in Our Stars

 Image: They are so cute together. Makes me wanna' puke.


Tears. Sadness. Depression. I know "The Fault In Our Stars" was supposed to make to make me feel all of these things. And, despite my hard core manliness, it did. (Damn my sensitive soul!) It also found a way to be uplifting.

"The Fault In Our Stars" is based on a book that everyone in America loved (I guess). Shailene Woodley stars as "Hazel", a 16 year old girl suffering from Cancer. Her parents (Laura Dern and Sam Trammell) push her to attend a support group, where she meets "Gus" (Ansel Algort), a Cancer survivor who lost his leg to the disease.

Gus is a true optimist, who sees the positive in life, and develops a deep connection with Hazel. They bond over their favorite books, and begin to fall in love. Her Doctors sign off on the two of them traveling to Amsterdam, in order to meet the Author (Willem Dafoe) of her favorite book.

I cannot explain any more, because I want you to experience the hurt and anguish for yourself. "The Fault In Our Stars" tells us that life sure can hurt, sometimes. But it also does make you care about these characters, and their ability to fight for their happiness. These two kids not only show true bravery, but are wonderfully likable people, played by two very talented young actors.

Shailene Woodley is absolutely superb. She is pretty much guaranteed, not only an "Eagan Oscar" nomination, but also a high ranking on my "Adorable" list. She and Jennifer Lawrence have to be the best young actresses in Hollywood. Ansel Algort is excellent as well, and the two of them have a sweet and believable chemistry. Laura Dern is terrific as the concerned and supportive Mother, Willem Dafoe is always great, and Nat Wolff (As Gus and Hazel's blind friend) steals every scene he's in.

"The Fault In Our Stars" is designed to tug at the heartstrings, and the film is a bit cloying at times. It's a film that tries to straddle that delicate line, and generally succeeds at not making us feel like we're just a bunch of crybabies. The script has real emotion, and the emotional situations almost always feel genuine. Because I would feel really pissed if I thought my sensitivity was being taken advantage of.

This is not generally my kind of movie, but "The Fault In Our Stars" is smart and brave, with performances that deserve to be remembered at the end of the year. Shailene Woodley, I am going to campaign for you....Not that I expect anything in return, but, if you'd like to talk about it, I'm here. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, And For Causing 20 year Old Men To Nearly Cry.

Edge of Tomorrow

 Image: Dang it. I couldn't find a picture of Emily Blunt.


If I may, I want to take a moment to say something personal. I lost my Grandpa the other day. He supported everything I ever wanted to do, and always encouraged me and my writing. Instead of telling kids to get off his damn lawn, he would tell everyone to follow their dreams, the way he followed his (He, however, had not seen a film in theaters since the Clinton administration.) So, in honor of his memory, I want to encourage all of you to do the same. Follow Your Bliss! Or he'll come back and kick your butt!

But I gotta' job to do. In "Edge of Tomorrow", the world has been attacked by vicious and unstoppable Aliens, who are slowly annihilating humanity. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) has been drafted (Against his will) as the Military plans an assault on the "Mimics".

The assault goes horribly wrong, and everyone is killed, including Major Cage. The End....No, actually, Cage awakens, destined to repeat the same day, over and over. In trying to figure out a way to actually survive one of the "Resets", he saves the life of "Rita" (Emily "John Krasinsksi is way luckier than I am" Blunt), a lethal soldier, who tells him that the same thing has happened to her. The two of them must continue the resets, learning as they go the ways to defeat the Mimics.

"Edge of Tomorrow" is a complete surprise. I was not expecting to love this movie, but this is an incredibly clever film. "Tomorrow" is a blockbuster with a brain. Everything about it is original, from the brilliant premise, to it's memorable characters. The script is full of humor and excitement, and keeps you on your toes. "Tomorrow" has a neat flow to it, pacing itself to it's nail-biting conclusion.

The special effects, cinematography and music are great, and the Aliens have a unique design and impressive abilities. But the best part about "Edge of Tomorrow" is the two leads. They are absolutely wonderful together, with Tom Cruise giving my favorite performance (Well, other than "Tropic Thunder". Who knew he was that funny?) of a pretty impressive career. Emily Blunt not only gets to play a believably "Bad Ass" character, but she still maintains her breathtaking loveliness (And wildly sexy accent). Their growing relationship is extremely appealing.

The always fun Bill Paxton (As Cruise's Platoon Sergeant) and Brendan Gleeson (As a Commander, and a jackass) have small parts, but are a blast, just like the film. And that's the best way to describe "Edge of Tomorrow". It's a non-stop blast, that makes me more intelligent for having seen it. And it's a continuation to a great start of the movie summer. Reliving the days of "Brick Mansions" and "Winters Tale" are finally over. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Intense Action and Gooey Alien Blood.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

 Image: Seth MacFarlane is shooting blanks with Charlize Theron.


I know I shouldn't compare "A Million Ways to Die in the West" to "Ted", but it's kind of hard not to. "Ted" was the naughtiest, funniest, and most heartwarming movie about a talking Teddy Bear ever made, so my expectations were maybe a little unrealistic.

Seth MacFarlane stars as a wimpy Sheep Farmer named "Albert", back in the old west. He somehow manages to have a beautiful girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried), until he loses her to Neil Patrick Harris (And his awesome mustache) after backing out of a duel. 

Albert soon befriends another beautiful, yet mysterious woman, named "Anna" (Charlize Theron), who agrees to help Albert win back his girl, by teaching him to stand up for himself. Meanwhile, Anna's outlaw husband (Liam Neeson), is coming to town, and he doesn't take too kindly to his woman getting close to the guy who voiced "Ted".

I was expecting "A Million Ways" to be brilliant, and, while there are some brilliant moments, the film ends up being a bit of a let down. It's not a bad film, it just doesn't come nearly close enough to the potential of it's idea and it's cast. There's just too much wasted opportunity. And (As much as I love "Family Guy" and "American Dad") it goes overboard with the sophomoric humor and fart jokes (And I'm a man who loves a good fart joke).

The plot goes a little haywire (Especially in the final 30 minutes), making "A Million Ways to Die in the West" overlong. But the movie does find ways to make me crack up, especially Neil Patrick Harris and his mustache. He steals the film in every scene he's in. The songs are a riot (Alan Jackson's theme song should get an Oscar nomination) and the cameos can be pretty inspired.

Seth MacFarlane is a likable lead, though he lacks leading man material. Charlize Theron gets a chance to be really funny, but as funny as Sarah Silverman (As a Christian Prostitute. Don't ask.) and Giovanni Ribisi (As her boyfriend) are, their scenes together just kind of come and go inconsistently. It is great, though, to see Liam Neeson having so much fun.

Maybe it was just my expectations being so high, but "A Million Ways to Die in the West" was supposed to be a classic. And it ended up being, just, fine. And a fine comedy can leave me a little depressed. I need laughter that leaves me holding my bladder in, not checking my watch to see how much time is left. Oh, well. At least "American Dad" is on now. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For....Well, It's Not For Anyone Too Young Or Too Old.

Maleficent

 Image: "She's EEEEEEEVIIIIIIL!!!"


"Sleeping Beauty" was one of, if not my, favorite Disney Films ever made, and "Maleficent" was probably my favorite villain. Especially when she turns into the Dragon. What an incredible sequence, and an animated achievement that still holds up today. Which is why I was going to be really pissed off if they butchered the new live-action version. Don't mess with my childhood, man.

The live-action version of "Maleficent" stars Angelina Joile as "The Mistress of All Evil" herself. In the beginning, as a young girl, she was a nice, sweet and kind Fairy, when she meets a young human boy, named "Stefan". They become best friends, and get a little lovey dovey with each other.

As time goes on, Maleficent becomes the protector of a magical realm, called "The Moors", where all the magical creatures live. Meanwhile, Stefan (Now played by Sharlto Copley) becomes very ambitious, with designs on becoming King. So much so, that he drugs her, rips off her wings, and shatters her heart into tiny pieces. This sets Maleficent on her path towards evil.

Some time later, the new King's daughter is born, and that's the part when Maleficent puts the curse on the baby girl named "Aurora". When Aurora turns 15, the curse will make her prick her finger on a spinning wheel, causing her to fall into a deep sleep, in which she will never awaken from without true love's first kiss (But you already knew THAT part of the story.)

So the King sends her away with the 3 little Fairies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville), who raise her secretly (And pretty poorly, I might add.) Strangely, Maleficent grows attached to Aurora (Elle Fanning), and even becomes a sort of Mother figure to her. She realizes the error of her ways, and tries to reverse the curse, and not turn into a Dragon.

This is a pretty clever spin on the story of "Maleficent", told from a kinder, gentler, and more complex version of the character. The twist on the tale keeps it interesting, and Disney gives it a more modern take, one that will make kids (And young girls, especially) very entertained.

Angelina Joile is absolutely perfect in the role. She looks and acts the part, adding great emotion and humor (And she looks hot AND scary!) Elle Fanning is very well cast as the precocious Princess, and Sharlto Copley has proven his chops before when playing Bat Sh*t crazy. The most humorous lines come from Sam Riley (As Maleficent's shape shifting Minion.)

"Maleficent" is not without significant problems. Robert Stromberg is a first time Director, and it shows. The pacing feels off, and the story is told in a way that doesn't always resonate. The visuals, while beautiful, don't always jell, especially with the CGI Fairies (Think Jeff Bridges in "Tron:Legacy", if he were a Fairy with a giant head.)

Honestly, when I left the theater, I felt disappointed. I was expecting something brilliant. Yet "Maleficent" may be the masterpiece that children want. And I think that's good enough for me. A conflicted 3 Stars. Rated PG For The Dark, Foreboding Evil, Lurking Just Beneath The Surface.

Blended

 Image: Drew Barrymore, Adam Sandler, and Earth, Wind & Fire.


Thats it, Sandler. The final straw. You can't say I haven't given you chances. I watched you destroy Al Pacino's dignity. I've seen a Deer urinate on you. But now you've gone and put the nail in the coffin. If you can't find a way to make it work with someone as adorable as Drew Barrymore....Well then you have lost any and all usefulness. Go home. Or stay on vacation. That's all "Blended" was for him, anyway.

"Blended" stars Adam Sandler as "Jim", a widowed father who goes on a horrible date with "Lauren" (Drew Barrymore, a girl impossible to have a bad date with.) Her friend, "Jen" (Wendi McLendon-Covey) cancels a vacation to Africa with her now ex boyfriend, so she gives the trip to Lauren, who takes her two sons with her.

Meanwhile, Jen's ex boyfriend turns out to be Jim's boss, and he inexplicably gives his trip to Jim and his three daughters. That's when the hilarity ensues, the kids all learn valuable lessons, the romance touches your heart. Oh, Terry Crews pops up randomly to sing about becoming "Blended"....And CGI Rhino's hump each others brains out, in this heartwarming, family comedy.

Adam Sandler isn't funny anymore. Or, at the least, he clearly doesn't care anymore if WE think he's funny anymore. ""Blended" is bland, and extremely bloated (117 minutes of Sandler? You gotta' be f*cking kidding me!) Cheap and easy, nothing works here. Of course, Sandler doesn't give a crap, so why should we? If he wanted to take a vacation to Africa with Drew Barrymore, great. Just show us the 5 minute home video and some pictures.

So why do I care? Drew Barrymore, that's why! She easily is the only thing in "Blended" that works at all. She deserves SO much better than this. She has charm and likability, in a film that just doesn't have any. Wendi McLendon-Covey is underused, but has the occasional funny moment, and the first or second time Terry Crews drops by, it's just fine, but they should have quit at that point. The kids have no real role, other than to be hyperactive.

The last 25 minutes of "Blended" is 25 minutes to much, and somehow manages to make Joel McHale (As Drew Barrymore's ex-husband) unfunny. I swear, the film seems like it will never end. At least "Blended" shares a terrible message about how Sandler's tomboy daughter (Bella Thorne), needs to pretty to be accepted. Way to go, Adam! You're even a terrible movie father!

Let's see....I've already mentioned the humping CGI Rhinos....I don't think I need to continue. I've seen the box-office for "Blended", and clearly the rest of America is starting to see this schlock for what it really is. Easy, lazy money machines. I would so much rather just take a vacation to Africa myself....With Drew Barrymore. 1 Star. Rated PG-13, Though I Would NEVER Take Anyone Under The Age Of....You Know What? Just Don't Take Anyone.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

 Image: "Spear and Magic Helmet!!!!!"


"X-Men: Days of Future Past" could have been an absolute disaster in lesser hands. There are so many characters, so much story, so much plot, that this is one of those films that will be almost impossible to explain. But since I know how unacceptable this would be to geeks and fan boys (And I'm one of them), I won't skimp on the details. This movie could only be explained by a geek. 

Here goes. Sometime in the near future, the world has been nearly annihilated by evil Robots, called "Sentinels". "Professor X" (Patrick Stewart) and "Magneto" (Ian McKellen) devise a plan to stop the war with the Sentinels from ever happening in the first place. They get "Kitty Pryde" (Ellen Page) to send "Wolverine" (Hugh Jackman) back in time, to the 1970's, so he can get help from the young Professor X and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.)

The X-Men have to stop "Mystique" (Jennifer Lawrence-Eagan....Someday) from killing the creator of the Sentinels (Peter Dinklage). Because, you see, killing him would set off the chain of events that would start the war and end civilization (See, it's not THAT complicated.) 

All of this not only comes together to become the best of all the "X-Men" films, but "Days of Future Past" somehow manages to fixes the flaws of the weaker "X-Men" films. (You all know which ones they are. "X-Men 3" and "X-Men Origins:Wolverine.) "Days" brings the events and characters together to a satisfying conclusion, and keeps you thoroughly entertained the whole time.

The character and story development is emotional and rings true, and you feel deeply for the characters, both main and supporting. That is a very difficult thing to pull off, but Director Bryan Singer does a masterful job of holding everything together.

The cast is flawless all the way through. Hugh Jackman is perfect as always (Seriously, the guy has never been anything but, in anything I've ever seen), James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are possibly Oscar worthy, and have an amazing character connection, which follows through seamlessly to Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian Mckellen (It's easy to believe they are best friends in real life.)

Peter Dinklage is excellent as the bad guy (A great, complicated villain), Jennifer Lawrence deserves the spinoff they are talking about (And she looks AMAZING in blue!), and Evan Peters is a scene stealer as the super-speedy "Quicksilver", and has the most memorable scene in the movie.

The effects are great, and the script is as thoughtful as any, so-called, "Important" movie. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is a legitimately great film, and feels like a really important movie. So what if it's about Mutants? This is no mere "Popcorn" movie. This is a smart Super Hero movie with a lot to say. Super Hero films have come a long, long way. It's time for the Oscars to start recognizing. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, and For Hugh Jackman's Chiseled, Muscular Booty. (I preferred Jennifer Lawrence's Blue Booty, Personally.)
 

Million Dollar Arm

 Image: "That wicked googly went right into his wicket!"


Damn you, Disney! Once again, you've taken a story that I would normally not like, fill it with cheese and sappiness, and somehow make it likable. Mickey, you are some kind of Sorcerer.

"Million Dollar Arm" tells the true story of a Sports Agent (Jon Hamm) and his business partner (Aasif Mandvi), who get the idea to look for a Cricket player from India, whose talent could translate into an American baseball pitcher. They find two Cricket players (Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma) with some wicked spin on their googly, and bring them to America, along with a local baseball fanatic (Pitobash.)

They begin training in America, under the watchful eye of a Pitching Coach (Bill Paxton), who tries to help the young men realize their dream of making it in the big leagues. Meanwhile, Jon Hamm has the hots for his neighbor (Lake Bell), which has nothing to do with baseball, or the main plot in general.

My sharply honed film critics should have sniffed my nose up at "Million Dollar Arm", but I should know by now that Disney isn't going to screw it up. In fact, Disney gets as much mileage as they could out of the formulaic plot. There aren't any twist and turns you don't see coming, but the film is plenty charming, and the cast brings more than enough likability to it.

Jon Hamm may have the chops to become a leading man, carrying his first starring role in a film with ease. Suraj Sharma (Who was great in "Life of Pi") and Madhur Mittal are first rate and believable as pitchers (At least with good editing), and Lake Bell is cute, and has enough romantic chemistry with Hamm to keep me from gagging. Pitobash provide some winning comic relief, Bill Paxton does a great Bill Paxton, and the great Alan Arkin ( As a Baseball Scout) does an even better Alan Arkin. 

"Million Dollar Arm" is too safe in every way, following the formula and refusing to take any real risk, but it's genial nature and warm characters make the film a pleasant diversion from your typical summer fare. Godzilla doesn't trample on the Baseball players, there are vicious Dildo attacks, and nobody "Hails HYDRA". Except probably Bill Paxton. 3 Stars. Rated PG for Graphic Googly

Godzilla

 Image: "Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!"


The original "Godzilla" was a serious drama. But out of the hundreds or so "Godzilla" films over the years, almost all of them have been a little cheesy, and not meant to be taken seriously (I'm talking to you, Roland Emmerich.) The other thing about Godzilla is, are we supposed to be rooting against him? I know he's destroying cities, taking innocent lives, but, it's not really his fault. He's just a really big guy. And an animal....Like John Goodman.

But this "Godzilla" is for real, man! A Nuclear Plant supervisor (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife (Juliette Binoche) during a nuclear accident in Japan. 15 years or so later, his Navy Officer son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) returns to Japan to reunite with Dad. Dad believes that the accident was not really an accident, and is trying to prove it.

Two Scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) finally tell them the truth, that a prehistoric monster they call "MUTO" was responsible, that it has been growing even bigger, and is ready to go on a rampage. It's desire is (Like all of ours) to mate with a female "MUTO", and their lovemaking would have catastrophic consequences for the world (Think Mayor Rob Ford and the Mother from "Honey Boo Boo".)

Their presence awakens the king of all monsters, "Godzilla" (Sir God Zilla), who has been hiding deep in the ocean depths. Godzilla needs to assert himself as the ultimate monster, to keep the balance of nature. Meanwhile, the hapless, pathetic, tiny humans must try to find a way to destroy them all, as the monsters wreak havoc on civilization.

This is how my awesome imagination always thought how "Godzilla" should be. This Godzilla has real depth, and the perfect atmosphere. Some fans have complained that there isn't enough action, or Godzilla, in the film, but I liked that the film is more about what you don't see, making his eventual appearance all the more cool.

The effects are spectacular. "Godzilla" looks perfect, just like a Godzilla should look. (So, he's a little fat. He's probably a stress eater.) The two "Muto's" are genuinely terrifying, and the monsters destruction is eerie to look at. The acting is generally good, with Bryan Cranston, (Despite limited screen time) giving a predictably terrific performance, and Ken Watanabe helps make his character extremely interesting. 

The lead characters drain a little energy from "Godzilla". Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the very cute Elizabeth Olsen play characters who just don't hold near as much interest as a giant, scaly monster could hold. In the end, the film hinges on Godzilla and the other 2 monsters, and their epic final battle is one for the ages. It's a pure crowd pleaser. Considering Godzilla's past film history, this was very therapeutic for those of us who need Godzilla in our lives. I think we all have a little Godzilla inside of us. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Wanton Destruction and Monster Mayhem.
 

Neighbors

 Image: "I will bring you down, baby. I will bring you down to Chinatown!"


When I go back to college, I think I should join a Fraternity. I could work at the soup kitchen, feed the homeless. Help little old ladies across the street. Donate my blood. Provide counseling to Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Solange....Nah! Screw that. I'll could just get drunk off my ass like everyone else. 

"Neighbors" stars Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne as "Mac" and "Kelly", a married couple, with a young daughter, and a new Fraternity next door. The frat house is led by "Teddy" (Zac Efron), who, with his best friend, "Pete", revel in all the excess a Frat house could possibly imagine. Mac and Kelly want the new neighbors to keep the noise down, but don't want to come across as all "LAME-O", so they try getting high while partying together.

It doesn't take long, however, before the "Old" married couple complain to the Police, breaking, as Teddy calls it, the "Code of Honor". Of course you know, this means war! The two sides begin a tit for tat of practical jokes, that escalate into some dangerously freaky territory.

"Neighbors" is some pretty wild sh*t, but, c'mon. You know you laughed when the baby put the condom in his mouth. You laughed when Seth Rogan "Milked" Rose Byrne. And you know you REALLY laughed when Rogan and Zac Efron had their epic "Dildo" fight. If none of this is your cup of tea, well than I would skip "Neighbors". I found it pretty dang funny.

Seth Rogan is very good, showing some maturity as a comic actor (Yes, even with the Dildo scene), and Zac Efron is shockingly funny in what could be a breakthrough role for him. But the real surprise is Rose Byrne, who is a riot in a role that is usually way underwritten (Like, for example, in almost every Adam Sandler movie). She gets to say and do things beautiful actresses don't usually get to do in movies. And Dave Franco shows real promise in a part that could have been wasted. "Neighbors" is, believe it or not, well written and kind of deep. The "Mature" couple are not always right, and the Frat boys are not always wrong.

There isn't that much plot, and some plot points have little resolution to them. And Rogan really raised the bar with "This is the End", so "Neighbors" doesn't quite reach those comic heights. But it has plenty of laughs, has excellent performances, and Dildo sales will skyrocket, helping the economy. "Neighbors" is a win/win for everybody. 3 Stars. Rated R For Every Naughty Thing Anyone Has Ever Thought About Doing.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

 Image: "Do it, Monkey! Do it or I'll I'll spank you!"


Let me just say this and get it over with. "Legends of Oz" is the worst animated film since "Delgo". But I already knew that , when I saw the trailer and poster, way back in 2012. Back when this was called "Dorothy of Oz". So, clearly the studio knew this was going to be terrible. And while we're at it, anyone who was hating on "Oz: The Great and Powerful" needs to apologize.

Supposedly set right after the classic "The Wizard of Oz", (Although the setting looks strangely like modern times,) "Dorothy" (Lea Michele) is taken back to Oz by the now super intelligent "Scarecrow" (Dan Akroyd), the now overly emotional "Tin Man" (Kelsey Grammer), and the now muscle bound moronic Lion (Jim Belushi). They say Dorothy is the only one who can stop the Wicked Witch of the West's Brother, "The Jester" (Martin Short), who has taken over Oz with a evil magic scepter.

So, logic dictates that Dorothy team up with "Fat Owl", (Fat Oliver Platt) "Captain Marshmallow Pun" (Hugh Dancy), "The China Princess" (Megan Hilti), and "Treebeard" (Patrick Stewart) to defeat the evil Jester, and save Oz. Again.... Oh, and "Toto" is in it. And a punk rock, flying Monkey.

Anyone associated with the classic "The Wizard of Oz" is rolling in their grave. "Legends of Oz" is just....Well, it's about as bad as "Delgo" (The low bar for any recent animated film. It's a clinical fact.) You've seen the previews. The animation is deplorable, and actually painful to the eyes. It looks dirt cheap, and yet has some strange detail that makes it about the creepiest thing I've ever seen. "Legends" is downright painful to watch. (Probably why no children will, have, or should go see it.)

A lot of talent is wasted here, with characters with no real personality, as they fade back and forth into the background. I do like Lea Michele's singing voice, but her character isn't the slightest bit interesting. The rest of the cast has been great before, so shame on "Legends of Oz" for wasting them. (Martin Short screeches every line at the screen.) The plot makes no sense, and the songs (By Bryan Adams?) are horribly out of place ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow"? No. A song about rocking out to candy? Hell Yeah!)

Loud and obnoxious, "Legends of Oz" thinks that screaming and making lots of noise will hold the kids interest. But they have all seen "Frozen", and "The Lego Movie", and pretty much every Disney movie since 1938, so you really can't fool them anymore. It's lazy and unfinished. Like every bad film in 2014. Why can't you be more like 2012? 1/2 Star. Rated PG For Terrifying Animation That Will Haunt Your Nightmares.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

 Image: I'd like to introduce you to "Meth Head Smurf"


I think we've heard enough complaints about the "Re-Booting" of Spider-Man. Yeah, it was too soon. But it's done. Let it go....Let it go....Can't hold it back anymore. "The Amazing Spider-Man" stands on it's own as a good (Not great) movie, fun with some very noticeable flaws. Unfortunately, some of those flaws have transferred to the sequel. Fortunately, the good and even great moments make the re-boot worthwhile.

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" begins about a couple of years after the first. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has graduated high school, with his WAY out of his league girlfriend, "Gwen" (Emma Stone. Emma, I'm serious. Call me.) He's still fighting crime as Spider-Man, doing whatever a spider can, when Peter's old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns. Harry's Dad, Norman (Chris Cooper) has passed away, leaving his evil organization to Harry's control.

Further complicating Peter's life is "Max" (Jaime Foxx), a lonely electrical engineer at Oscorp who idolizes Spider-Man. He suffers a horrible accident, involving mutated, Electric Eels and becomes "Electro". Max begins to get the attention he's always craved. It also turns him into a raging psychopath. Meanwhile, Peter is still trying to find out what happened to his parents, which all revolves around Oscorp and their secret plans.

And all that plot is a relevant complaint by critics about "The Amazing Spider-Man 2". There is too much juggling of characters and plot. Electro's entire subplot could have been cut out, and it would have saved the film about 40 minutes. It's just not relevant to the rest of the story. The mystery of Peter's parents could have, and should have been resolved in the first movie (Since we all already knew happened to them.)

Yet "Spidey 2" has plenty of quality to it. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are great together, with a very strong chemistry. Their roamntic sub-plot is still the strength of the franchise. Director Marc Webb (Seriously, Webb? I still love it!) brings great visual style, (And actually uses the much hated "Slow-Mo" to great effect), making "Spider-Man 2" a great film to look at.

Dane DaHaan brings a lot of personality to his conflicted character, Sally Field (As Peter's Aunt) is wonderful as always, Paul Giamatti (As a Russian Mobster destined to become a Super Villain) is having a blast, and Chris Cooper brings a powerful presence (Despite only being in one scene).

But the shocking contradiction in "Spider-Man 2" is how great Jaime Foxx is as Electro. His character is truly unneeded, and yet he is a memorable character. Foxx is perfect in the role, bringing both sympathy and menace, creating a truly great villain. His scenes, while unnecessary, are also the highlights of the film. See? Weird, right?

The final 15 minutes are exciting, adding even more anticipation for what's coming next in "The Amazing Spider-Man 3". And, "The Sinister Six" spin-off. (Yep, there's more. 6 villains in 1 movie? I'm a Super Geek!) I give it a conflicted 3 1/2 stars. So, despite the flaws, the good things outweigh the bad. And the great outweigh the good . Rated PG-13 for Spider-Man Using His Spidey Sense To Be Naughty.

The Other Woman

 Image: Oh yeah...We know where this is going...Boom Chicka Boom Bow!


Ugh! Chick Flicks! The mortal enemy of the (Straight) movie critic. No matter how open minded I try to be going in, there's just no getting around it. I just can't get in touch with my feminine side. Yep. Just too manly, I guess.

"The Other Women" stars Cameron Diaz as "Carly", who is happily dating the perfect guy (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Everything is hunky dory, until she discovers that he is married to "Kate" (Leslie Mann). The two girls, instead of just breaking up with him, or asking Kate's hunky brother (Taylor Kinney) to beat the crap out of the guy, or, just maturely moving on with their lives, decide to get even. They find yet another mistress (Kate Upton), and the three girls connive, bond, dance to "Girls Just Wanna' Have Fun", and talk about their feelings. Fully clothed.

For a film about female empowerment, "The Other Woman" isn't empowering at all. (Maybe because it was directed by a man. A very horny man.) The three girls seem way to desperate and, frankly, need to get a life. They act like they're in a parody of a "Chick Flick". And Kate Upton clearly is there to show off her majestic mushy melons. The script is atrocious, and jaw droppingly unfunny. It feels as if there are no real jokes here. Just embarrassing situations.

Leslie Mann and her cuteness fares best (Really the only reason for the 1/2 Star), Cameron Diaz is better than this, and Kate Upton is lovely, but she has to know there are only two big reasons why she's here. And poor Nicky Manaj (As Diaz's sassy Secretary), poor girl is trying her heart out, but what did they put her here for? But worst of all is Nikolaj....Oh, the "Game of Thrones" guy. He is now proud owner of the "Worst Performance of the Year" (His "Breakdown" scene is epically bad.) 

Ladies, I swear I want to like these kind of films, but I genuinely don't understand why any of you would find any of this entertaining. "The Other Woman" drags on and on, with no redeeming value towards female empowerment that I can see. It isn't, however, the worst film of the week. Thank you, RZA. 1/2 a Star. Rated PG-13 for Kate Upton's Luscious Lady Lumps.

Brick Mansions

 Image: "I cut you! I cut you so bad....You going to wish I didn't cut you so bad!"


Trust me. The last thing I want to do is trash one of the late Paul Walker's final films. I always liked him, and he seemed like a heck of a nice guy. I'm guessing he'd want me to be honest. Painfully honest.

Set in scenic Detroit, WAY in the future (Around 2018. Why not 2015?), "Brick Mansions" stars Walker as a Cop, determined to avenge his father's death. Detroit has been separated into two areas, rich and poor, referred to as "Brick Mansions".

Run by a vicious Drug Lord (RZA), Brick Mansions is a Hell Hole, where all the rapists, pimps and prostitutes can run free. RZA has a "Super Bomb", which he has stolen from the Military, and strapped it to a rocket with the intention of blowing up Detroit. With help from "Extreme Pepé Le Pew " (David Belle), Paul Walker must break into Brick Mansions, stop Rza, and save Detroit, all without any help from the films writers, director, producers, etc.

It may be surprising to see 0 Stars for "Brick Mansions". "Surely, James", you ask, "There must be some mistake". But I don't make mistakes (Other than that "Transformers 3" review. I'd like that one back.) This film is abysmal. "Brick Mansions" is a special kind of stupid. There is no real plot or characterization. Only constant action scenes, with unnecessary slow mo, and sloppy and choppy editing. This all combines to make a very unpleasant viewing experience. It hurts to watch "Brick Mansions".

Many scenes are laughable and obnoxious (Particularly a cat fight, between a evil prostitute and a sexy waitress. It's not even funny.) Paul Walker and David Belle don't have anything to add to this absurdity, but RZA is, well....Ugh. Words cannot do it justice. To be fair, the plot is so inane, the characters and the actors have no chance. All of this leads to a plot twist I saw coming in the first scene, and what has to be the most baffling and jaw droppingly asinine ending to a film I've ever seen (It makes "Winters Tale" look intelligent.) It's infuriatingly bad.

"Brick Mansions" is so bad, it doesn't even deserve a mock review. This is the kind of movie that could be used as an example by some who feel that cinema has gone to pot. In fact, only filmgoers in Colorado and Washington state could enjoy it. 0 Stars. And I stand by it. Rated PG-13 for RZA.

Heaven is For Real

 Image: "Is this the bad man who touched you?


I feel I should apologize for the above attempt at humor. But, C'mon! That's what it looks like, right? You know you laughed. So you're going straight to Hell with me. But no one in "Heaven is for Real" is going to Hell. Not that it's good, really. But not that it's bad, either. It's sort of, O.K.. I guess. Dang it! I don't know. Let's just get this over with.

"Heaven is for Real" is the (True?) story of a young boy (Connor Corum), who nearly dies, but comes back claiming that he saw Heaven, and Jesus, and all of your favorite cartoon characters (I'm just playing. Jesus has a sense of humor.) His Father (Greg Kinnear) is a small town Pastor, and been struggling with his faith a bit, so he's not sure what to believe.

He soon becomes convinced by his son's conviction (And his nausea inducing preciousness), and the town folk debate and struggle with what all of this means.

"Heaven is for Real" is actually not quite as bad as the previews seemed to me. In fact, there is some real professionalism here, with some really good performances, and it has far more depth to it than, say, "Son of God". The message of faith feels more based in reality, though it does have it's occasional contradictions (The scenes of the boy's visions of Heaven are heavy handed, and dilute the film's message a bit.)

Greg Kinnear is excellent and likable as always, giving "Heaven is for Real" some real heart. Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church and Margo Martindale all bring their "A" game. But....(And I feel Bad about this) Connor Corum is a cute kid, but his dialogue is cringe inducing. Kind of made me want to puke, to be honest.

The production values are better than I expected. In fact, other than the performances, everything about "Heaven is for Real" is perfectly mediocre. Pleasant and nice, but nothing more. But nothing less, really. It's just fine. I guess....Maybe....Perhaps. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG, But Probably Fine For Most Kids.

Transcendence

 Image: "I'm here to apologize for "The Lone Ranger".


It's not your fault.... Johnny....It's not your fault....Ok, "The Lone Ranger" was your fault. But "Transcendence" is not your fault.

"Transcendence" stars Depp as Dr. Will Caster, an Artificial Intelligence researcher, who, along with his Wife (Rebecca Hall), are developing a controversial experiment where a computer would be able to think and relate as a human. But a group of extremists believe this is amoral, and one of their nut bags shoots the Doctor, lacing the bullet with a radiation that is slowly killing him.

The Doctors' Wife and his best friend (Paul "I'm the luckiest bastard on the face of the Earth 'cuz I'm married to Jennifer Connelly" Bettany) want to save him, so they use a whole bunch of mumbo jumbo and, presto, Dr. Will's mind is saved inside the super computer. Or do they? Or don't they. As I said, mumbo jumbo.

Predictably, Johnny Depp becomes more powerful than you can possibly imagine, the world begins to fear him, and all the important questions about the ethical dilemma of A.I. technology and humanity pretend to be answered.

Morgan Freeman is in "Transcendence". And they don't know what to do with him. And "Transcendence" has no idea what to do with this complex a plot. The biggest dilemma here is not ethical. It's just too pretentious, and not clever enough to cover up it's massive plot holes. "Transcendence" believes that it's incredibly clever, and that the viewer is thinking about the ramifications of it's questions. All I could think about is how aggravating the film's inconstancies were. Very disappointing, considering the talent here.

At least Johnny Depp isn't pretending to be a "Native American Jack Sparrow" again. But the plot basically sticks him in a computer for much of the film, and he really can't show off his chops (Man, I miss "Rango".) The rest of the great cast (Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany and Cillian Murphy) are completely wasted. But Kate Mara (As the most troublesome extremist. Or, she's Avril Lavigne. I couldn't tell) is badly miscast, and that whole subplot is nothing but silliness.

"Transcendence" is Academy Award winning Cinematographer Wally Pfister's first Directing job, so the film has visual flair, but the movie never comes close to it's potential, concluding with a climax that I could see from miles away. How could they turn such an interesting idea and an interesting cast, into something so boring and lifeless. Like "Transcendence", I'm going to explore my humanity. I'm going to put this film out of my misery. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 for Poppycock.

Bears

 Image: "Bear suits are funny....And Bears as well."


Disney Nature took a year off of making animal documentaries. Maybe the Bears aren't as cooperative as Chimpanzees or African Cats. Or, maybe it's that these educational and entertaining docs somehow don't bring in the audience that other "Educational" films do. Like "Identity Thief" or "Ride Along".

But if you like Bears (And learnin' stuff), you'll love "Bears", which follows a Mother Grizzly Bear in Alaska named "Skye" (Her Mother's choice. Dad wanted to eat her.) Skye has two adorable cubs, "Scout" and "Amber". After hibernation, they must forage for food, chase Salmon, avoid a sneaky Wolf, and other bigger, more aggressive Bears, all while being terrorized by Ted Nugent.

Narrated wonderfully by John C. Reilly, "Bears" is another beautiful and heartfelt addition by Disney Nature. The footage they have captured is breathtaking, making you feel like you are walking alongside these amazing creatures. It's almost as if these cute, majestic animals wouldn't rip your head off and devour your carcass as soon as look at you.

Seriously, "Bears" does show you (In a "G Rated Disney" way) the realism of nature. (In case you didn't know, animals tend to fight and eat each other. A lot.) It's impossible not to get attached to these Bears, and see their personalities. Especially the Mama Bear, who will do anything to love and protect her cubs. (I once heard a Preacher say that Animals have no soul, and, therefore, won't go to Heaven. He was full of crap.)

"Bears" is flawless, with a great and likable narration by John C. Reilly. (He would have made a great Bear.) And only Disney can make these film with such humor and soul. And it makes me want my own Bear. 4 Stars. Rated G.

Rio 2

 Image: "I've had a cock-a-too in my day!"


My sister is wrong. I'm never going to be too old for G Rated movies. In fact, I'm never going to grow up at all (Except when I have to go to Rated R films.) I mean, how great will it be when I pick up my 6 kids from my 3 ex-wives, throw them in the mini hover van, and take them to see "Rio 8"?

"Rio 2" is perfectly geared toward my future little ones. "Blu" (Jesse Eisenberg) and "Jewel" (Anne Hathaway) are breeding like rabbits, with 3 little blue Macaws (Rachel Crow, Amandla Stenberg, and Pierce Gagnon) to keep out of trouble. They soon discover that there are more of their kind, deep in the Amazon, and the family goes to look for them.

Once there, Jewel finds her Dad (Andy Garcia), and wants to raise the kids in the Amazon, so Blu has to find a way to become the first Jewish (Or, "Bluish". Eh!) Macaw to survive in the wild. Unfortunately, their enemy "Nigel" (Jemaine Clement) and his love struck, Frog Minion (Kristin Chenoweth) has followed them and is heck bent on killing Blu (Because he saw "Now You See Me").

Meanwhile, George Lopez, Jaime Foxx and will i. Am show up, looking for talent for a talent show. Not just because they are the most marketable characters for toys, but also because George Lopez isn't in enough animated films. And, meanwhile again, Blu's original owner, "Linda" (Leslie Mann), discovers an illegal logging operation in the Amazon.

Yeah, that's all a bit too much plot for a G rated kids film, but it does add a nice, simple environmental message. "Rio 2" is a simple and safe movie. Too safe and simple when compared to such recent classics as "Frozen" and "The Lego Movie". But the animation is absolutely beautiful and colorful, and the voice work is terrific once again.

Jemaine Clement and Kristin Chenoweth steal the film, adding by far the most humor in "Rio 2" (Chenoweth's Poison Dart Frog, "Gabi", may be the cutest character design I've ever seen.) The rest of the large cast is excellent, and the characters are very likable. "Rio 2" isn't memorable enough for repeated viewing, but it's not like you'll leave unhappy. Short, simple, cute and fun. Parents wont mind sitting through it, and my future 7 little kids will love it. 3 Stars. Rated G.

Draft Day

 Image: They must know what they're doing, because their arms are crossed.


I liked "Draft Day". I didn't understand what was going on. But I liked it. As much as my Dad has tried to make me a football fan, I just never have gotten into it. I know it's exciting to most people, but I can't help it. It all looks kind of boring. Just a bunch of really large men, running, shouting, throwing a ball made out of Pig. Slappin' each other on the ass and beating each other half to death. Me, I prefer a good book, by a warm fire.

But "Draft Day", I enjoyed. Kevin Costner stars as "Sonny", the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns (My Dad says that is a real professional football team, not a character on "Family Guy"). The Browns have been perennial losers for years, and Sonny is on the hot seat. He thinks there is a chance to draft the top College prospect, and tries to find a way to either make the deal, without it blowing up in his face, and displeasing the arrogant team owner (Frank Langella.).

I had no idea it was so complicated and stressful just picking the best football players (Now I know why my Dad gets so nervous when he's picking his fantasy teams. But I do enjoy spending his winnings.) Yet though I didn't understand the details, "Draft Day" is a crowd pleaser. The acting and characters are all fun to watch, and it is kind of exciting to watch the characters banter back and forth, though you know exactly where the plot is headed. "Draft Day" is extremely predictable. (You know who's going to win in the end.)

I don't know much about the "Old" Kevin Costner (Though my Dad says I have to see "Field of Dreams,) but I really enjoy the "New" Costner. He has the right kind of charisma for the role, and he always seems like a guy you would like to know. Jennifer Garner (As Sonny's girlfriend) is, as always, completely winning and lovely. Dennis Leary (As the stressed out Coach) and Frank Langella get the best and funniest lines, and Chadwick Boseman (As a prized College football player) shows once again why he is one of my favorite young actors around.

And, yes, "Draft Day" has enough hokey-ness and predictability to turn off some viewers, but it's humor and interesting characters help to balance it out. As long as you know what to expect, "Draft Day" is an enjoyable piece of fluff. It still doesn't make me want to get a fantasy team. Unless Jennifer Garner is on it. And Jennifer Lawrence. And Scarlett Johannson. And Emma Watson. Now THAT'S a fantasy team! 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 for One "F-Bomb" and Lots of Yelling and Carrying on About Football.

Bad Words

 Image: "Yeah!!! Kids suck!!!"


As painful as it is to admit, I have to admit that my Dad was right about something. He insisted that Jason Bateman is really, really funny. Where all I had to go on was that piece of crap "Identity Thief". Yet, inexplicably, "Identity Thief" made over $100 million. "Bad Words" has made about $5 million......I have nothing else to add. Seriously. It took me 10 minutes, but I really couldn't think of anything else to add...."Identity Thief" made over $100 MILLION! That happened, America. And we let it happen.

"Bad Words" stars Bateman as "Guy", a 40 year old dude with, well, some serious issues. He decides to use a little known loop hole to compete in a national Spelling Bee....Again, I have nothing else to add here. But only because it would give away to much info. The important thing is whether or not it's funny.

"Bad Words" isn't just funny. It's hilarious. Hilarious in a "This is SO wrong that maybe I shouldn't be laughing" kind of way. Bateman's character is so inappropriate, and the situations so uncomfortable, that, well, it had better be funny. Because otherwise it would just be wrong.The film somehow manages to have some heart, and it does make a good point about overzealous, overbearing parents, and what dicks they are. 

Jason Bateman (Who also Directed) is excellent, somehow maintaining a likability despite being rude, mean spirited, and just downright horrible. 10 year old Rohan Chand is outstanding as the spelling bee student who tries to befriend Bateman. (Warning: The situations this kid is put in may make you question why someone didn't call social services. I'm not kidding.)

Again, thank God "Bad Words" is funny, because it's also borderline in poor taste. This is not a film for everybody. Just those of us with a F@#$ED up sense of humor. That's probably why it's only made about $5 million. But that doesn't explain why "Identity Thief" made....You know what, don't even get me started. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R for Absolutely Everything. But Mostly Bad Words. Lots and Lots of Bad, Bad Words.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 Image: Captain America goes Grunge. 

Super Hero movies have gotten far more complex over the years. Not only are there more characters that are integral to the plot, the characters and plots themselves have far more depth. The good guys are a little more tortured, the bad guys a bit more complex. Even Captain America himself is conflicted. 

There's a lot more going on in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" than meets the eye. "Steve Rogers/Captain America" (Chris Evans) is working with "S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Nick Fury" (Samuel L. "Mother F@#$ing" Jackson). "Black Widow" (Scarlett Johansson) has been assisting the Captain, but he grows to dislike the secrecy of S.H.I.E.L.D., and their lack of transparency (He's more of a "Rand Paul" kind of guy.) 

When Nick Fury is attacked by "The Winter Soldier" (Sebastian Stan), the world's most deadly assassin, events conspire to make Captain America a fugitive when S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised. He, his new buddy "Sam" A.K.A "The Falcon" (Anthony Mackie), and Black Widow must find out what the Hell is going on. 

You might ask yourself the same question, if you didn't see "Captain America", or, any of the "Marvel" films before "The Winter Soldier". As I said before, there is a lot of plot here. But it's complexity only amplifies the stakes, giving the film an emotional heft that you wouldn't expect from a movie with people wearing Halloween outfits.

Chris Evans couldn't be better, giving Captain America real layers of character. Scarlett Johansson has developed her character into one that could easily carry her own film. The fact that she is O.M.G SO SMOKING HOT!!!....Well that's just a bonus. Anthony Mackie is a great addition and Samuel L. Jackson is Samuel L. Jackson cool. Sebastian Stan may be the most terrifying villain in Marvel films, and the great Robert Redford is awesome as a Senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official.

"The Winter Soldier" is expertly directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the visual effects are top notch, and the script has plenty of humor, making the characters all the more likable and easy to care about. Many critics feel the need to lower their rating for "These Kind" of films, but there just isn't any real flaw in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier". It only enhances the excitement for the next "Avengers" movie. And, as always, stay for the post credit scene. It's like Crack for geeks like me. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 for A Bit More Comic Book Violence Than Normal.

Noah

 Image: "On my command, UNLEASH HELL!"


Remember that time, when I was saying that it's time they made a "Biblical" film that wasn't just preaching to the converted? Leave it to Director Darren Aronosfsky, a visionary filmmaker, who has not only succeeded at making an interesting film, but one that has pissed off half of Religious folks in America.

This is Aronofsky's take on that story from that book many of us have heard of. "Noah" (Russell Crowe) has visions and dreams of "The Creator" (God), showing him that the Big Guy feels it's time to destroy civilization, because people had forsaken him. So he commands Noah, his hot wife, "Naameh" (Jennifer Connelly), their 3 children, and "Hermoine" from Harry Potter (Emma Watson), to build a massive "Ark" to survive the oncoming flood, taking two of every animal with them (For Procreation, not food. They're Vegatarians.... Hippies!)

Noah receives help from "The Watchers", fallen Angels who were turned into stone giants, who protect him from an evil King (Ray Winstone). The King clearly doesn't like Noah disobeying his every command, and tries to commandeer the Ark when he finds out what is going to happen. This leads to the greatest CGI flood in the history of cinema, turning "Noah" into an epic action flick.

I guess I get what the religious complaints are with "Noah". To a small degree. "Noah" is just a different interpretation of the Biblical story. And it's complexity, and It's humanity, make it far more interesting than a strictly devout movie. I felt far more connected to these characters (Warts and all), than to any Biblical character I saw in "Son of God"

The cinematography is absolutely beautiful, and the CGI in "Noah" is, at times, spectacular (Save for the CGI animals, which don't look real at all). "Noah" has great performances throughout. Russell Crowe brings both sympathy and frightening realism (His Noah is a troubled soul. Wouldn't you be?). Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson are far more like "Real" women than other religious films have portrayed, while Ray Winstone is powerful in a scene-chewing role, though his presence in the final act feels unnecessary. And Sir Anthony Hopkins is wonderful as always, as Noah's Grandfather.

In a very long film, "Noah" could have used some trimming here and there, but this is a good, interesting movie, despite it's flaws. And you don't have to be true believer to get it's message of humanity, and it's reminder of the responsibility we have with our God-given free will. I'll take The Pope's blessing over Glenn Beck's any day. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For The Whole, "God Is Wiping Out Humanity" Thing.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

 Image: "Keep up the good work, and I'll see to it....That you become a bell MAN!"


I'll admit, I have become such a huge Wes Anderson fan, that I am using any influence I have to let everyone know what they have been missing. Based on early box-office receipts, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" could be the breakthrough I've been hoping for.

Bear with me on the plot. It's worth it. An author (Tom Wilkinson) is telling the story about his early life (Played by Jude Law), when he was staying at The Grand Budapest Hotel, in the (Fictional. Putin can't invade this one) country of Zubrowska. He meets the Hotel's owner (F. Murray Abraham), who tells him HIS story (Played by Tony Revolori) of when he was a young "Lobby Boy" at the Hotel, back in it's glory days.

War is about to erupt in Zubrowska, though the hotel's Concierge, "Gustave" (Ralph Fiennes) only seems to care about the hotel, and romancing the older women who are staying there. One of the ladies (Tilda Swinton) is found dead under mysterious circumstances. In her will, she left a valuable painting to Gustave, creating many enemies for Gustave. When Gustave is framed for murder, he and his new friend the lobby boy, try to prove Gustave's innocence, all while their entire world is on the verge of destruction.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" is well worth it's complexity, and, yes, quirkiness. Like Wes Anderson's previous classic "Moonrise kingdom", "Hotel" is whip smart, incredibly deep, and righteously funny. The film has a dark (And a bit tragic) element to it, but the story is real and meaningful. Anderson somehow finds a way to mix a broad comedic element throughout a story with such heavy undertones. The characters can be quirky, and the world a fantasy, but in Anderson's world, it's all incredibly meaningful.

"Hotel" isn't just a great cast: It's great actors giving rich, layered performances. Is it too early to give Ralph Fiennes an Oscar nomination? He is beyond superb, funny and heartbreaking. 17 year-old Tony Revolori is a revelation, and everyone in the star studded cast (Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tom Wikinson, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Mathieu Amalric, and many more surprises) absolutely nails it. They bring this amazingly beautiful world to life.

As you've probably from the film's previews, the art design is unlike anything found on screen, (Of all the movie "Worlds" I've ever seen, THIS is where I would live) and the score is memorable. If I'm making "The Grand Budapest Hotel" sound perfect, it is. Please give it a chance. You'll be a smarter person when you leave the theater. The only downside is that Hollywood will probably forget all about it during Awards season. Best film of the year, so far. 4 Stars. Rated R for Strong Language and Violent Images.
 

Divergent

 Image: "Do you want me to take my shirt off now?"


Thank God, there seems to be no more "Twilight" clones around. We....We're safe now. So how 'bout a "Hunger Games" clone?

"Divergent" is set (Of course) in the Post-Apocalyptic future (Is there any other kind?), after "The War". The world has been separated into 5 different factions (I don't have the energy to explain any of this). Basically, all the children have to take a test to determine what they are best suited for. When "Tris" (Shailene Woodley) takes the test, her results show she is "Divergent" (Meaning she doesn't fit into any category. Nor do I. I am also Divergent. Accept it.)

This is not acceptable to this new society, so Tris decides to join the strongest faction to avoid detection. She is trained by "Four" (Theo James) and "Raging Jackass" (Jai Courtney).... You know what, I'm having trouble explaining what the f@#$ is going on here. Tris learns to fight, Kate Winslet is evil, and tries to control all the factions, and all of this means nothing until it will all make sense in the sequel.

For a story about being who you really are without having to conform, it's odd that "Divergent" conforms so much to every other "Teenage Girl/Heroine" story around. "Divergent" too obviously wants to be "The Hunger Games", but isn't as clever or competent, or near as entertaining as the "Hunger" franchise is. The script is mostly exposition, taking way too long in explaining it's premise and it's world. "Divergent" is competent, but boring.

This is not the fault of the cast. Shailene Woodley is excellent (And quite adorable) in carrying "Divergent". Theo James is much better than most of the "Shirtless" guys in these kind of films, and has real chemistry with Woodley. And 12 time Academy Award winner, and smoking hot Kate Winslet does all she can with a role that's not really fleshed out. But someone please stop putting Jai Courtney in movies, because he's yet to be very interesting yet.

"Divergent" has potential for excitement, and all the elements are there. Thankfully, there aren't nearly the stupid, cloying moments here, as in "Twilight" or :Mortal Instruments". There is, however, the inevitable "Shirtless Guy" sequence that the young girls squee for, but don't do anything for me. If there's a compelling story here, we're going to have to wait for part two. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 for Violence and Squee.

The Muppets: Most Wanted

 Image: "I don't care what she says. Miss Piggy's contract calls for nudity!"


The Muppets will never go out of style. From the original "The Muppet Movie", to "The Great Muppet Caper", to "Miss Piggy Does Dallas", The Muppets have made me laugh. They are just characters that resonate with adults and children equally (My Dad and I still do a running "Statler and Woldorf" routine. Doh' Ho Ho Ho Ho!) So it was a wonderful surprise when "The Muppets" was so well received by the critics (I gave it 4 stars), that they had to make a sequel. It's a Hollywood law.

"Muppets Most Wanted" starts only seconds after "The Muppets" ended. The old gang is back together (Damn you if I have to tell you their names!), and they go on a world tour, put together by their evil tour manager, "Dominic Badguy" (Ricky Gervais). He is secretly working for the world's most dangerous Frog, "Constantine", who replaces our beloved Kermit as part of an elaborate plot to steal the Crown Jewels.

Meanwhile, Kermit is mistaken for Constantine, and is sent to a Siberian prison (Those are the worst prisons. Trust me.) The only upside is that the Warden (Tina Fey) has the hots for some green lovin'. His only hope, unfortunately, is the bumbling combination of Sam the Eagle (With the C.I.A.) and a French Inspector (Ty Burrell), who, like all French people, insist on taking a vacation every 5 minutes.

No, "Muppets Most Wanted" isn't quite the classic that "The Muppets" was, but it wisely concentrates mostly on belly laughs (Though it does have plenty of heart, and a good message). "Wanted" is hilarious, with all of your favorite Muppets given a chance to shine (My personal favorite is "Animal". Or "Gonzo". Or "Beaker". Or "Fozzy". You get the point.) And "Walter" (Introduced in the last film) is a great, permanent Muppet addition.

Constantine, is very funny (And a legitimate baddie. He's kind of terrifying!), and, as always, the Muppet films always get great performances from their, uh, humans. Ricky Gervais has great rapport with Constantine, Tina Fey is a scene-stealer, and Ty Burrell is so funny with Sam the Eagle, I demand a spin-off film following their exploits. The countless cameos are all a riot (Everyone wants to be in the Muppets), and the songs are predictably pitch perfect.

There's no real flaw here. "Muppets Most Wanted" doesn't have the emotional depth as "The Muppets". But it's not trying to ."The Muppets" brought us back by celebrating it's nostalgia. "Wanted" is just trying to make us laugh and keep us happy. I feel our world is a better place with The Muppets. Others, however, feel we need more "Teenage Girl in Oppressive Futuristic Society With Shirtless Guy" films. Doh' Ho Ho Ho Ho! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG for Crude Humor and Gratuitous Muppet Nudity.

Tyler Perry's The Single Mom's Club

 Image: They're smiling, so they are not seeing a "Madea" movie.


And now, the winner of "The Best Film of the Week" IS: A Tyler Perry movie. Something that I swear I never thought I would ever hear myself saying. Tyler Perry would like to thank me, and "Need for Speed", for being so God awful that it makes "The Single Mom's Club" look almost watchable in comparison. Congratulations, Tyler! You did it!

Produced, written and directed by "Madea" himself, Tyler Perry's "The Single Mom's Club" is, obviously, about 5 single mothers. "May" (Nia Long) is raising her son, without her drug addicted ex-husband. "Hillary" (Amy Smart), has a bunch of kids, but knows little about them, "Lytia" (Coco Brown) is big and sassy, the kind you find in every Tyler Perry film, "Jan" (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is the wisecracking hot "Cougar", and "Esparanza" (Zulay Henao), is the spicy Latina. 

Each of the girls struggle with their kids and exes, so they start the "Single Mom's Club", so they can bond by laughing and crying and loving and partying. And then Tyler Perry himself shows up (As a smooth ladies man. Yep, you ladies like you some of that "Tyler Perry" lovin', I guess.)

This sounds like a "Lifetime" movie, and that's exactly how it plays. "The Single Mom's" is, uh, "Chick Porn" (At least that's what I would call it). It's harmless enough, and mercifully has little melodrama (No one gets AIDS. Thank's Tyler!) But it's still bland and instantly forgettable. It's saving grace is some of the performances. Nia Long is always cute and good, Amy Smart is adorable, and Wendi McLendon-Covey is my kind of "Older" woman (She could be my "Cougar" anyday!). "Club" really comes to life when Terry Crews (As the love interest of the big, sassy lady) is around . The man needs more screen time.

As for Tyler Perry himself, his character (And acting) is clearly the weakest part of the film (Other than his writing, directing, etc.) The fact that he sees himself as a guy suave enough to land someone as pretty as Nia Long is laughable, and clearly a vanity role to fuel his ego (Seriously, he always finds a way to piss me off.) The dialogue is designed to make girls go "AWWWW!" and guys go "BLEHHHH!" Yep, "The Single Mom's" club is THAT movie.

And this fact is the only reason for a guy to see a film like "The Single Mom's Club". I had 5 or 6 lovely ladies who sat next to me (In a packed theater) whom I got a chance to chat with. And clearly thought I was adorable. Or, sad for me, that I was alone, watching a Tyler Perry romantic comedy. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 for Adult Humor, and Naughty Sex Jokes for Girls.

Need For Speed

 Image: FATALITY!.......oops, Wrong game.....


I can enjoy mindless fun as much as the next guy. So long as its...well...fun. Or as long as it doesn't feel as self important as a war film. Lets put it this way.If your making "Fast and Furious" look like an intelligent look on the socio-economic devastation on the poor working class in the inner city and the decay of society as whole.......Then congratulations. You suck. 

The....uh...Plot, if you could call it that, in "Need For Speed", follows a man who's face and head do not match the rest of his body (Aaron Paul) who's little buddy (Harrison Gilbertson) gets blown to smithereens when racing against a guy named "Dino" (Dominic Cooper). "Guy With Weird Face" gets imprisoned for 2 years, gets released on parole and vows vengeance (Even though it was really just as much his and his friend's irresponsibility in the first place). 

So "Weird Headed Guy" gets his team of rebels without causes. Or jobs, probably. Or valid driver's licences, at this point. He breaks parole to enter a race run by "Beetlejuice" (Michael Keaton), breaks every driving law imaginable, , getting innocent bystanders, babies, pets, homeless people, and police severely hurt in the process. Our lovable heroes, everyone. 

"Need For Speed" does have rather impressive car chase stunts. For about 3 minutes, Then it gets tedious, boring, and honestly, painfully on my eyes, ears, and butt. "Speed" goes on forever. 135 minutes is too long for most action movies, Especially one this loud and repetitive. The dialogue grated against my eardrums, lowering my IQ to single digit levels. Me Hurt To Think.

The actors have no chance because the characters are so obnoxious. (There's "Cocky Hero", "Spunky Love Interest", "Wacky Black Guy", "Other Guy Who Doesn't Do Anything" and "Duhhhhhhhh"). Poor Aaron Paul and his weird head (The man has no chin! Its not his fault.) The worst aspect about "Need For Speed" is it's belief that its cooler than Steve McQueen. It fails when its trying to be humorous, And fails even worse when its trying to be serious. Miserably. 

"Need For Speed" once again sets the bar lower even lower for video game based movies. Its nothing but carnage and mayhem disguised as art. Its a poser! 1/2 star. Rated PG-13 for Blatant Disregard For Human Life.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

 Image: "I get 10 MPG with this bad boy! "


Family movies continue to be king this time of year. And not only because of the lack of quality films Hollywood drops the first few months. I've often wondered why the only ones worth watching are geared towards the family audience. You would think that adults would demand something watchable between January and April, but clearly they have spent all of their money on Christmas and back taxes and Obamacare.

For the rest of us, there's "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" (Which, ironically, is based on characters from a cartoon from the olden days.1960's I think). Mr.Peabody (Ty Burrell) is the smartest Dog in the Universe, who adopted a young boy named Sherman (Max Charles). Mr.Peabody invented a time machine, called the "WABAC", and takes Sherman back in time through history.

They witness the French Revolution, meet George Washington, watch Jackie Robinson break the color barrier in Baseball, and learn who really won the "Bush V. Gore" Presidential election. On Sherman's first day of school., he gets into a fight with a young girl named "Penny"(Ariel Winter), so a Child Services rep (Allison Janney) threatens to take him away from Mr. Peabody.

When Mr. Peabody invites the girl and her parents (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann) over for dinner, Sherman takes Penny in the time machine, and accidentally loses her in long ago Egypt. So Mr. Peabody and Sherman race against time to get Penny back, causing all sorts of mayhem in the process. You know. With the whole "Space-Time Continuum" thingy.

I didn't really know anything about "Mr. Peabody and Sherman", but the film makes me want check out the original cartoon. The characters are colorful, as is the animation (Expected now from "DreamWorks), and the voice work is superb. Ty Burrell is excellent and very funny, and makes a great team with both the main children in the film. Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci (As Leo Da Vinnci, apparently a decent artist) and, especially the hilarious Patrick Warburton (As that King who tried to deliver some Trojans in a horse, or something) make a fun supporting cast.

The film is a wonderful history lesson for all of you who fell asleep during class. "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" is a very smart film, which probably answers my question from earlier. Most family films are very smart ("Freebirds" and "Smurfs" and "Chipmunks" excluded). The script has cleverness, humor and heart, making it a film for everyone. Unless you are stupid. Then,you get "Winters Tale" Enjoy. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG for Wit and Mirth.

Son of God

 Image: "Dude, Where's my Jesus?"


Trust me. I really don't want to dislike any film. Especially one about Jesus. Touchy subject, for starters (I understand not everyone's a fan). I am a fan of his work. That is to say, I feel it's important to tell you that I, myself, am a Christian. But not a Biblical one (You know what I mean?). And I do think a lot of stories from the Bible could make fascinating movies. But once again, they seemed to have missed the mark.

"Son of God" is really just the "Jesus" scenes from last year's TV miniseries, "The Bible". It, of course, follows the life of Jesus (Diogo Morgado), from birth to death, to rebirth. And if any of you don't know what happens in between, well then, God help you.

Setting aside the fact that "Son of God" really isn't a movie, per se, the biggest problem is that the film seems only geared towards the already converted and Biblically absolute. And that's fine for them. Clearly the makers of "Son of God" made the movie about Jesus they were trying to make. They just didn't make one for the rest of us.

The performances are both wooden and a little over the top, and these historical (Or fictional. To each his own) figures aren't given any real personality. They don't seem like anything more than caricatures straight out of, well.... The Bible. "Son of God" doesn't have personality or, strangely, humanity. I don't know any more now than I did before. And I wanted to.

"Son of God" does attempt to explain why Jesus became so worshiped, and also why his enemies were so scared he would make their beliefs obsolete (Although the evil laughter at his Crucifixion, I could have done without). And to the makers of future Religious films, please stop pandering to only devout Christian audiences. Many of us are very open to embrace a film like this. Don't just preach to the converted. (Seriously, "Veggie Tales" knows how to do it!)

It makes me sad, honestly, to say it. "Son of God" just isn't a quality enough film to recommend. The Book was better. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 for All That Biblical Stuff.

Non-Stop

 Image: So they put their hands up. Like the ceiling can't hold them. Like the ceiling can't hold them.


There are a few important facts we all have to deal with in real life. Physics. Gravity. Logic.... "Non-Stop" doesn't have any of these things. But it does have Liam Neeson. And he's way more important than any of that crap

So Liam Neeson is an Air Marshall on a non stop flight to London. He is going through some personal problems, and needs something to take his mind off of things, other than the pretty woman (Julianne Moore) sitting next to him. That's when he gets a text message from someone, stating that the texter will kill someone onboard every twenty minutes, unless they get $15 Million. So Liam Neeson does what Liam Neeson does. He kicks the ass of everyone on the plane. Well, the bad guys anyway.

I can't say anymore, because Liam Neeson will kill me, but the plot really isn't believable, anyway. It's how well these action movies sell it that matters, and "Non-Stop" is probably as good as it could be for something that could never actually happen this way in real life. "Non-Stop" is so well delivered, that I didn't think about how preposterous it was until AFTER the film was over.

Liam Neeson is just better than everyone else that tries this shtick. He's a great actor, AND a great action star, and adds the perfect combination of gravitas, Irishness, and ability to kill bad people. Julianne Moore is always great, and Michelle Dockery (As a very cute and helpful stewardess) fleshes out some character to her role, though a few other actors are wasted here (Especially my pick for an "Eagan Oscar" for Best Supporting Actress in 2013, Lupita Nyong'o).

"Non_Stop" is, well, non stop intensity, and a little claustrophobic (If you have a fear of flying, this movie will freak you the Hell out). There's the inevitable plot twist in the end, which fits a little too neatly, and fails to explain the film's plot holes. But, admit it. Liam Neeson is who we all want to be when we're 61. He doesn't have to make any sense. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 for Making Me Want To Question The FAA That This Stuff Could Actually Happen.

Pompeii

 Image: "I have 24 hours to save Pompeii!"


"Pompeii", is clearly the greatest film I've ever seen. Out of the three films I've seen this week. Does not sucking make it a pleasant surprise?

You all heard about that Volcano that erupted in Pompeii, Italy, way back in 79 A.D.? The film "Pompeii" tells the probably almost completely true tale of a young boy named "Milo", who sees his entire family slaughtered by Senator Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), and sold into slavery. Now a grown man (Kit Harrington), he is a Gladiator who befriends a fellow slave (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje),though they still kind of want to kill each other in glorious battle.

They are taken to Pompeii, where it takes Milo about 2 minutes to fall in love with a city ruler's daughter (Emily Browning). She be crazy about him too, but Jack Bauer loves her as well, so he plots to kill Milo. This leads to sweaty Gladiator fights, back stabbings and betrayals, and the screen's most passionate love story since "Winters Tale" (Minus Will Smith as "Satan"). Oh, and a big-ass Volcano, about to wipe them all off the face of the Earth.

There's nothing very interesting or enjoyable about "Pompeii", except for the solid special effects. The Volcano is the star of the movie. The eruption, and the chaos that ensues, provides the only standout moments of the film. It's disaster porn at it's best, and looks great in 3-D.

The acting is hit and miss. Kit Harrington makes for a solid, if uninteresting, Gladiator, and Emily Browning is cute as the love interest, but Adewale Akinnuyoe, by far, steals the film, providing the only fun and interesting character (The film should have put him as the lead character). But poor Kiefer Sutherland has to be one of the biggest miscasts I've ever seen. Seeing him here in general is kind of an embarrassment.

At least Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Director of such beloved classics as "Resident Evil", "The Three Musketeers" and "Alien vs. Predator") tried to make something special. Clearly there's a lot of effort here, but "Pompeii" doesn't deserve anything more than a nice pat on the back. At least you tried. And you failed. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Gladiator Violence, and For Emily Browning Not Getting Naked For Once.

Winter's Tale

 Image: Guess which one is the bad guy?


A woman farted in my face in the movie theater as I was leaving "A Winters Tale".

I'm not trying to be gross here. I'm telling you all this because it may be the perfect metaphor to explain what I have just witnessed. "Winters Tale" is nothing but a big ol' fart to the face.

O.K. Here's the plot. Colin Farrell plays an Irishman with terrible hair in New York, circa 1916. He's on the run from his boss (Russell Crowe), because he doesn't want to be part of Russell Crowe's evil gang. Why? Because, of course. Russell Crowe is a Demon. But Colin Farrell escapes on a magical Flying Winged Horse. That he names, "Horse". We good so far?

Then Colin Farrell meets the most beautiful girl dying of Tuberculosis you'll ever see (Jessica Brown Findlay), and they fall madly in love after about two minutes. And then, she dies. So Russell Crowe consults with his boss, The Fresh Prince of Darkness (AKA "Lucifer"). Played by Will Smith. Yep. Will Smith. As Lucifer. Boss of Demon Russell Crowe (Sweet Jesus! I couldn't make this sh*t up!) 

Anyhoo, Russell Crowe thinks he has killed Colin Farrell, but instead, Colin Farrell survives, but has a raging case of Amnesia. He does age, however, extremely well, and wonders the city for about 100 years, where he meets Jennifer Connelly and her daughter. Who has Cancer. So Colin Farrell must regain his memory, and save the dying girl, before Demon Russell Crowe tries to kill Colin Farrell and his magical Flying Winged Horse once and for all.

A company called "Weed Road Pictures" helped to bring us "Winter's Tale". And there must have been a Hell of a lot of weed used in creating this monstrosity. Everyone involved had to have been higher than a kite to even conceive this. This plot is just a jumbled mess. And it doesn't help that the script and the dialogue don't make a lick of sense. It's that bad. Pretentious schlock. 

I mean, "Winter's Tale" has 3 Oscar winners and a 2 time nominee. How could they possibly fail this miserably? Colin Farrell....I like you, man, but, C'mon! Russell Crowe and his "They're After Me Lucky Charm's!" accent is depressing to watch, and Jennifer Connelly gets only about 10 or 11 lines in the entire film. None of the fine actors here escape unscathed. 

One mere short review cannot do this travesty justice, so I am announcing my first ever "Spoiler Filled Review", filled with a complete rundown of why "Winters Tale" fails so spectacularly. In the worst ways possible. Trust me, people. I'm doing this for your own good. Because I love you. 0 Stars. Rated PG-13 for Adult Situations, and Demons and Lucifer and Lucky Charms.

Robocop

 Image: "Robocop" always wears protection.


Yet another remake of a film I haven't seen before, I don't have to worry about being biased against the new version of "Robocop". I can either love it or hate it. Or find it mildly entertaining.

Taking place about 15 years in the future, every country in the world has Robots as peacekeepers. Except America. (Maybe because it's a really stupid idea. Have they never seen a Sci-Fi movie before?) So evil CEO guy (Michael Keaton) decides that the U.S.A shouldn't be left out of the fun. But since the Government won't go along with it (See, the Government can be trusted!) he decides to put a human being into a robot.

Fortunately for him, a hero Policeman (Joel Kinnaman) has been blown to smithereens, but is hanging on for dear life. And Gary Oldman is there to put him back togerther again, creating "Robocop", who will be trained to be the ultimate law enforcement weapon. But it's hard to be a loving husband and father when your emotions and personality have been stripped away, complicating his marriage with the Missus (Abbie Cornish), and his quality time with little Robocop Jr. 

So it's fitting that the lead in "Robocop" is too wooden of an actor doesn't have much personality to begin with. But the title character in "Robocop" is underwritten anyway, which is a major problem for a film about trying to keep your humanity and emotions.

The rest of the characters compensate well, with yet another typically terrific Gary Oldman performance. Jackie Earl Haley (As Robocop"s trainer) is excellent, Michael Keaton is having the most fun he's had in years, and Abbie Cornish is quite lovely, though she really gets little to do in the film but grieve. The scene-stealing comes from Samuel L. Jackson, who revels in his role as a political pundit who loves America, Reagan and Robots.(He's clearly supposed to be a Right-Winger). 

"Robocop" has enough humor to keep the main character and his "Problems" from bogging down the movie. "Robocop" himself may be lifeless, but there is enough action and decent (Maybe a little "Fake-ish") special effects to recommend it . "Robocop" himself just needed a personality infusion. You'd think they could do that in the future. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Being Way Less Violent Than The Original.

The Monuments Men

 Image: (From bottom right, counter clockwise) Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and MAAAATTTT DAAAAAAMON!


In the wise words of that great philosopher, Agent Coulson, said in "The Avengers": "People might just need a little old-fashioned". Agent Coulson would have approved of "The Monuments Men".

Featuring a cast as about as impressive as Hollywood can get, "The Monuments Men" tells the amazing true story of, uh, "The Monuments Men" . During WWII (World War 2, for you high school dropouts), 8 men (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Dimitri Leonidas) take on the dangerous and thankless mission of stopping Hitler and the Nazis from stealing and/or destroying the worlds most priceless art.

Damon receives help from a French Resistance beauty (Cate Blanchett) to investigate where the stolen art is hidden, so the Monuments Men separate into teams and risk their lives to track down the valuables, capture Hitler, and stuff a cloth in his mouth, pouring water down his throat to simulate the sensation of drowning. Well....Really just to get the priceless art back.

I know we may have expected a masterpiece with this cast and this intriguing a story, but "The Monuments Men" is more of a throwback to a different era. It's proudly old-fashion, and (For the most part) isn't like the typical War film we usually get today (This 'aint "Lone Survivor). "The Monuments Men" treats it's subject earnestly, though the tonal shift between humor, and, well, the fact that it's war and we're fighting the Nazi's, is a little uneven.

George Clooney directed the film, as well, and he gets the setting and the characters right (Though there's not a lot of setup for character development). Basically, "The Monuments Men" is exactly what most critics have described it, except the critics forgot to sit back and have fun. Yeah, it's a little corny, but the cast (Who all get their moments to shine) keeps things rolling, and there was never a moment that I wasn't interested in what would happen next.

I love the golden age of "Classic" films. "The Monuments Men" isn't a classic, and maybe a movie with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett is supposed to be (As long as Bill Murray does "Ghostbusters 3", I'm content). But it is a true, old-fashioned crowd pleaser, and an important history lesson to boot. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 for Mostly Off-Screen War and Violence.

The Lego Movie

 Image: "WHERE IS IT!!!"


I loved my Lego's as much as any kid. But I don't remember them being this much fun. And now I don't have anyone telling me to clean them up.

Easily the most pleasant surprise I've had at the movies in a long time. "The Lego Movie" tells the tale of a everyday Lego named "Emmet" (Chris Pratt), who always follows his instructions, dutifully listens and follows everything "President Buisiness" (Will Ferrell) tells him. President Buisiness controls this Lego world, but Emmet stumbles upon the "Piece of Resistance", who is trying to stop the President, or, "Lord" Buisiness, who is bent on Lego domination.

Emmet is told by "Wyldstyle" (Elizabeth Banks) and the Wizard like "Vitruvius" (Morgan Freeman), that prophecy states that Emmet is "The Special", and destined to thwart the plans of Lord Buisiness. If Emmet wasn't such a blithering idiot.

You need to experience "The Lego Movie" without any more details. Just let your imagination take over like you would if you were playing with yourself. In your room. With Lego's. Maybe this is just the withdrawal from not seeing any great movies for almost two months talking, but "The Lego Movie" is genius. Far more than just an idea to sell some toys (Though it's a pretty freakin' good one), it's incredibly creative, hilarious, and thoughtful.

The animation is wonderful, bringing to life these toys in such an original, exciting way, that the only way to describe it is genius. The voice work is terrific, and each actor deserves their due. Chris Pratt is as likable as can be, Elizabeth Banks is adorable, Liam Neeson (As "Bad cop/Good Cop") is a riot, Will Arnett is maybe the best "Batman" ever (And I really mean that!), Morgan Freeman is, well, as Morgan Freeman as ever, and everyone else (Nick Offerman, Alison Brie and Charlie Day) is a blast. And to top it off, Will Ferrell is absolutely wonderful, as good as he's ever been.

"The Lego Movie" builds to a surprising twist and a lovely and very touching conclusion. The film has a great lesson for both kids and parents. Basically, you can't ask for anything more from any film, let alone a "Kids" film, which is why it's a smash at the Box-Office. "The Lego Movie" is a perfect movie for all ages. Hey, I'm an adult now. And I'm going out to buy $500 worth of Lego's. 4 Stars. Rated PG for A Few Jokes That Little Kids Won't Get But Will Make Adults Feel Really Smart.
 

That Awkward Moment

 Image: Our three heroes, having yet another sincere discussion about their penises. 


"That Awkward Moment" isn't just a movie. The REAL awkward moment was in the movie theater, when I discovered that I was one of only three dudes in the theater, surrounded by women who clearly knew that this was a chick flick. But the previews clearly suggested that this was a romantic comedy for guys. Lies....ALL LIES!!!!

The film follows the three best friends that anyone could have, "Jason" (Zac Efron), "Daniel" (Miles Teller), and "Mikey" (Michael B. Jordan), and their issues with the opposite sex. Mikey is getting divorced, so the three make a bet to see who can go the longest without getting into a serious relationship (Because this happens with guys all the time).

Of course, in Rom-Com land, things don't go according to plan. Jason meets "Ellie" (Imogen Poots), who changes not just his mind....But his heart. "Daniel" has a secret girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis), who he has hidden from the guys, but has told her that he has told them. And Mikey secretly is trying to get back together with his ex.

I HATE romantic comedies! "That Awkward Moment" has everything I hate about the genre. Thinking it's way funnier and more clever than it actually is? Check. The unnecessary lies and deceit that will inevitably be found out ? Check. The mopey montage when the characters find out the all of the lies and deceit? Check. Boy does overly sappy and stupid romantic gesture to woo back the girl? God help me, check. Cue cheesy soundtrack. Roll credits. Falsely hope sitting through this garbage will get you to second base with the girl who dragged you here? Check mate!

"That Awkward Moment" throws together plot points of twenty other Rom-Com's, and all of them are terrible. It''s too bad, because the three actors are all just fine, making due with the doo-doo their working with. There is just nothing for them to do but try to be funny, and there is nothing more, well, awkward than that. The final act is where all the terrible cliches happen, when the whole plot crashes and burns. Realism and consequence doesn't exist. Only love and happy endings. Bleh! 

Do you remember the film "Just Friends" ? (A good romantic comedy) Where Ryan Reynolds is forced to sit through "The Notebook", and everyone is crying, or pretending to cry? Except for me and the two other dudes. OH...MY...GOD...! 1 Star. Rated R for Zac Efron's Bare Derriere, and For More Penis Jokes Then You Can, uh, Shake a Stick At.

I, Frankenstein

 Image: "PUCKER UP, LOVER BOY!"


Admit it. No one who went to see "I, Frankenstein" thought it was going to be any good. For starters, the film is called, "I, Frankenstein". Frankenstein's Monster fighting Demons, assisted by Gargoyles. Sounds like a real January winner. Oh, well. It could be worse.....

It's worse. "I, Frankenstein" stars Aaron "I deserve SO much better than this" Eckhart as Frankenstein's Monster, a collection of body parts from incredibly buff corpses (They worked out a lot in 1795). He is attacked by Demons, and saved by a bunch of hypocritical, self-righteous Gargoyles (Led by Miranda Otto), who names him "Adam".

But Adam tells them to piss off, and takes on the Demons on his own, battling them through the centuries. In present day he tracks down an evil, Demon Prince, disguised as an evil businessman (Bill Nighy), who is using a hot Scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) to create his own version of the perfect "Monster".

I watched "I, Frankenstein", and I just described the plot, but I swear to God I don't understand any of it. Frankenstein battle Evil Demon Prince, Frankenstein want to make whoopie with hot Scientist, Evil Demon want to create evil Demon Army, and self-righteous Gargoyles won't stay the f@#$ out of everyone's business.

Sounds dreadful, right. Yet "I, Frankenstein" does succeed at being even worse than imaginable. After describing the plot, I'm not sure what else too add, but, suffice to say, there is no story structure, but plenty of atrocious dialogue. It's baffling why a good actor like Aaron Eckhart would take this thankless role, and, bless his heart, he looks like he's trying, but It's just not worth it.

The rest of the cast looks like they're ready to move on with the rest of their lives. Even the great Bill Nighy is helpless to salvage "I, Frankenstein", which, for good measure, also has terrible makeup and lousy effects. And all of this is made even worse by headache inducing 3-D. 

Yet, somehow I still find the strength to question all of the plot holes. Where are all the people in this town that is being destroyed by exploding Demons and Gargoyles? Why is the hot Scientist (And some old guy she works with) the only non-Demons working at this giant, evil company? And most importantly, why am I still caring? January is almost over, and "I, Frankenstein" is horrendous. Moving on. 1/2 a Star. Rated PG-13 for Campy Violence.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

 Image: A helmet-less Chris Pine, providing a bad example to today's susceptible youth.


Is it OK if I feel bad for a movie? "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is the first decent film to come out this year, and it gets pretty much bypassed by other film openings this week, and will probably be forgotten before the end of the month. And that's the saddest thing that can happen to a movie. Like an unwanted, Chris Pine-like puppy.

And the movie Isn't half bad to boot. Based on the Tom Clancy character from earlier, more successful movies, "Shadow Recruit" stars Chris Pine as Jack Ryan, who joined the Marines after 9/11 and, after being wounded in battle, is recruited to the CIA by Kevin Costner. Ryan is assigned to be a Wolf of Wall Street, looking for odd transactions that may be terrorist related.

Jack's is living a quiet life with his girlfriend (Keira Knightly), but when someone tries to kill him, he realizes that he is in far deeper than he ever imagined. He discovers a plot by a Russian investor (Kenneth Branagh) that could destroy the American economy....And then, the world! Except Russia. They would be just fine.

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is a pretty standard and generic action film, but it is well made, by a good Director (Kenneth Branagh, again), with a good cast. "Shadow Recruit" has some nice action scenes, and just enough excitement to last for near 2 hours.

I don't quite get why Chris Pine has struggled to find an audience outside of "Star Trek". He is a solid action star with some personality, and Kevin Costner adds some coolness, and is perfectly cast. Kenneth Branagh is having a lot of fun, giving his villain a lot of depth, and Keira Knightly is cute and has some good moments as Pine's girlfriend, though her American accent slips from time to time.

So in our annual month of crap at the movies, we've got something actually decent to go see in "Shadow Recruit". It's not too late to rectify this. This week, let's choose "Better Than Mediocrity"! 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 for Very "PG-13" Violence.

The Nut Job

  Image: "Girl you're an animal (Heh-Heh-Heh!) Baby, it's in your nature!" 


Here's the bad news: It's still January. The good news: "The Nut Job" is better than "The Legend of Hercules". And though very few of these early season films are ever particularly good, I still have to work even harder to make the review interesting enough for you to not be doing something else. Like already breaking one of your New Year's resolutions (Not watching Internet Porn,Etc....)

Speaking of "Nut Jobs", "The Nut Job" is the first animated film of 2014, and stars Will Arnett as "Surly", who lives in a park, and is pretty much a surly loner, except for his mute, Rat friend. After a botched attempt to steal someones nuts, Surly accidentally obliterates the food supply for all of the other wild creatures in the park.

The leader of the park, a Raccoon named "Raccoon" (Liam Neeson) banishes Surly into the city, where he finds a Nut Store, and gets the idea to break in and steal their nuts. A female Squirrel (Katherine Heigl) sees his nuts, and convinces Surly to agree to share his nuts The store is actually a front for Gangsters (Led by Stephen Lang), who have an overly elaborate plan to tunnel under the Bank next door and steal the money, leaving nothing but their nuts behind. And, it turns out that Raccoon is an evil tyrant, and that he is sending his "Mole" (Jeff Dunham) to do ruin everything for Surly.

That is a lot of plot for an 86 minute kids animated film, and that is just too much to keep "The Nut Job" interesting. The Mob subplot is unnecessary, especially when you already have a main villain, and enough action and characters to keep track of as it is. The script is typical for this time of year, with bland characters, predictable situations, and more fart and nut jokes than a 5th grade boys sleepover. (Yeah, I know I make them too, but, c'mon).

The voice work isn't half bad. Will Arnett has an awesome speaking voice as does Liam Neeson (Who is pretty menacing for a kids film), and Maya Rudolph (As an adorable Pug) is sweet, but Katherine Heigl is kind of bland, and Brendan Fraser is torture (As a would-be hero). They are all better served in a better animated movie, which, as always, we will have to wait for the good stuff later this year.

The animation is solid, and "The Nut Job" has a decent message for kids, but it's too boring and forgettable unless you are little, or have little taste. Is "Frozen" still in theaters? 2 Stars. Rated PG for Penis Innuendos and Gangam Style (It's in the credits, and kind of funny).

The Legend of Hercules

 Image: "Hi I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such films as: "The Erotic Adventures of Hercules" 


Happy 2014, people. Yet Another January where Hollywood tells us to go f@#$ ourselves. Don't get me wrong, 2013 was a wonderful year, filled not with just fun movies, but great and important movies. But, just as you enjoy and devour your delicious holiday meals, at some point you gotta' release all the sh*t.

Our first entry into the 2014 "Razzies" is "The Legend of Hercules", starring "THE" Kellan Lutz as the Son of a Zeus (He doesn't know he's a Son of a Zeus until later). He is living a semi comfortable life with his Mother (Roxanne McKee) who is only 5 years older than him, his evil Father/Tyrant/King (Scott Atkins), who is only 9 years older than him (It's true. Look it up on Wikipedia!), and his evil Brother, "Loki" (Liam Garrigan).

Hercules also finds time for his hot, Model girlfriend, but she is being forced to marry the evil Brother. So the evil king sends Hercules on a doomed mission, where he is forced into Slavery and presumed dead. He then finds a good Liam (Liam McIntyre), who helps Hercules get back home, win back his girlfriend, defeat the Evil King, save the kingdom, and waste $70 million of "Summit Entertainment's" money.

Yep. $70 Million. "Hercules" looks bad enough to have cost only $10 Million, with terrible special effects, terrible costumes, terrible sets.... Terrible makeup....I mean,EVERYTHING is just terrible. In fact it's worse than terrible. "Hercules" gets everything wrong.

And I haven't even mentioned the acting. Kellan Lutz is....Look, I'm sure Mr. Lutz is a nice guy, but he's more wooden than Pinochio's pecker. Scott Atkins seems to believe that grimacing, growling and scowling won't make him look like he's taking a massive crap. The rest of the cast is...........................................

With an atrocious script, and a general look that is uglier than Kellan Lutz's junk after the Steroids wear off, "The Legend of Hercules" helps define January films. Worse than you could possibly imagine. 0 Stars. Rated PG-13 for Beard Stabbing and For Kellan Lutz's Man- Boobs.

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