Old Reviews 2016 (continued)

Image result for the darkness movie poster

Do you remember the time in the Brady Bunch series when the Bradys went to Hawaii, and Bobby found an ancient tiki and took it with him?  This tiki caused the entire Brady clan to suffer a run of bad luck, including nearly killing Greg when he wiped out on his surfboard, until they were able to return the tiki to its proper place.

The Darkness had the same plot.

Yes, I immediately realized that this story was taken from The Brady Bunch.  The only difference was there were five rocks instead of one tiki, and instead of bad luck, it brought forth evil ghosts (or something).  Heck, the boy in the movie even resembled Bobby Brady with his curly dark mop top of hair.

From there, every imaginable horror movie cliche was placed on display, from jump scares to the young child being the only one who can see the ghosts.  They did not miss a beat.

The only redeeming quality, in my opinion, for Gotham’s young Bruce Wayne (David Mazous) and Agents of SHIELD’s Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) to have appeared in this movie (which they both did) was that now they are both just one degree separated from Kevin Bacon.  Yep, “Ming-Na Wen was in The Darkness with…Kevin Bacon” is now a line you can use in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Kevin Bacon does the best he can.  So does young David Mazous (looking pretty young here.  Really, I had to sit in the theater for quite awhile as I tried to place his face).  Mazous played Michael, the young Autistic boy who takes the evil rocks from where he accidentally stumbled across them while his family was on vacation in the Grand Canyon (where we also see Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time in a completely unexplained cameo).

There were some potentially interesting ideas presented here, but as soon as things were brought up, they were forgotten.  Kevin Bacon’s character Peter seemed to have had an affair and might have a bit of a wandering eye, but it was never dealt with.  Peter’s wife Bronny (Radha Mitchell) had a drinking problem.  Peter and Bronny’s daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) had some kind of eating disorder as we see her force herself to vomit and store the vomit in Tupperware beneath her bed (ick).  None of these character traits or developments were ever handled again after they were revealed.  It was like they never happened.  None of them had anything to do with the plot of the movie.

Plus, there was a remarkably creepy performance put in by Paul Reiser as Peter’s boss.  I’m not sure what this guy’s deal was, but he was all over the place with his character. And he was married to Agent May.  That was just not right.

The ending brought in another well-worn haunted house cliche as Agent May had given Bronny (what kind of name is that, anyway?) the name of some kind of nondescript …errr…psychic (maybe) who helped her and Paul Reiser save their child years before. This woman psychic was, of course, Hispanic (Alma Martinez) and did not speak much English so they had her daughter along to translate.  We did not meet these two characters until deep into the third act, so any danger that they faced was completely wasted since we had no connection to them.  They were a raging stereotype.

The ending was predictable and came out of nowhere.  It was literally over in just a few scarce moments after the peak point.  Of course, it didn’t end soon enough.  It felt like it went on forever, despite only being 92 minutes.

You know there is trouble when a plotline from the Brady Bunch is remembered more fondly than this movie.

1 star

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Money Monster is the latest film to fall victim to the “too-much-shown-in-the-trailer” syndrome that has befallen many movies over the last few years.  Money Monster showed us every bit of this film in the trailer, and there were no remaining surprises for the audience.  However, despite the spoiler aspects of the trailer, I found myself liking this movie more than I thought I would.

George Clooney played Lee Gates, a cable tv host whose job it is to inform the public on stock tips from Wall Street.  He is shown as being very obnoxious and unlikable as a person and dramatically over the top as a host.  However, one day after a significant stock lost 800 million dollars from a “glitch,” Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) takes Lee hostage live on television, and he demanded to know why he lost his whole life savings on a stock that Lee had claimed was safer than a savings account.

Julia Roberts played Lee’s producer Patty Fenn, who was ready to leave Lee because of his consistent obnoxious behavior.  Patty spends most of the movie talking to Lee through an ear piece, keeping him calm and telling him what he needed to do.

When Money Monster focused on these three strong actors (Clooney, Roberts, O’Connell), the movie is really good.  There is a high level of tension and you connect with them.  However, there are too many scenes that do not involve these three and those really weigh down much of the movie.

There were also tonal troubles with Money Monster.  The attempts at humor felt very out of place, and seemed to be at the expense of O’Connell’s character.  These attempts really made him less threatening and more of a buffoon.  Clooney was also too much of a buffoon at the start of the movie, really only changing near the very end.  Even when he was leading O’Connell through the crowd outside of the studio, he had a self-serving reason for doing it.

I was actually more inspired by Lenny the cameraman (Lenny Venito).  This guy was shown to be a brave guy who claimed to be just doing his job despite continuing to follow this entire drama from start to finish.  I liked this character and I was sorry that Lee never once thought about him.

The film seemed to have a message to present about the evils of Wall Street, and the selfishness of the CEOs of these big corporations, but since the CEO character was so one note, there was very little that made me care about him.  He does not even show up until almost the third act, spending most of the first 2/3s of the film hiding on his jet.  The plot was needlessly convoluted as well.

Despite all of these negatives, the performances of the three main actors in Money Monster were able to elevate the conventional script and plot to be more than what it should have been.  Clooney was too much of the clown early, but he still was able to have some solid moments.  O’Connell was very good when the script wasn’t putting him down.  And Julia Roberts gave another very strong performance.  These actors saved a film that had already shown me everything I needed to know from a trailer.  Because of that, I can still recommend you see Money Monster.

3.5 stars

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Before I wrote this review, I went over to iTunes and purchased several of the songs from the soundtrack.  They were so entertaining and toe-tapping good that I just wanted to have them on my phone.

Sing Street was a brilliant film, filled with awesome music and characters who were real, full of heart and thoroughly entertaining.  I was completely engrossed with Sing Street.

The level of enjoyment I had for this movie was unexpected as the trailers never really appealed to me.  Sure there was some good music used in the trailer, but that wasn’t enough to really sell me on the film.  However, the actual execution of the movie was near perfect.

Taking place in the eighties on the isle of Ireland during the boom of music videos, teenager Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) was sent to a new school because of money troubles with his constantly fighting parents (Maria Doyle Kennedy and Aiden Gillen) and immediately became a target of both the other students and the head priest Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley).

It isn’t until Cosmo meets a beautiful, yet troubled girl Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who claims to be a model, that he finds his path.  Trying to impress her, Cosmo claimed to be in a band and offered her a role in their music video.  One problem… he did not have a band.

Cosmo and his friend Darren (Ben Carolan) head out to fill a band of other rejects.  Cosmo is lead through the world of rock and roll by his stoner brother Brendan (Jack Reynor).  The pair of brothers watching Duran Duran’s “Rio” video and claiming it to be “art” was a great scene.

The relationships in this movie are beautiful and complex.  Each character has problems that influences their decisions and their lives, but yet they have a real connection with one another.  The brotherly bond between Cosmo and Brendan was the backbone of this movie and Sing Street took the time to show the troubles the brothers had to deal with on a daily basis.  Music became not only a way to bond, but also a way to escape from the constant fighting of their parents.

The sweetness of the relationship with Cosmo and Raphina was also beautiful.  It was clear that Raphina was scared to let herself fully commit to anything more than some fun times while making music videos, despite the growing connection she was feeling with the year younger boy.  She had been damaged by the loss of her father and her mother’s mental illness, and she was typically keeping her emotional distance.  The music represented the way these two souls were able to connect despite their own frailties.

Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I loved the music.  Not only did I love the music by established artists such as Hall and Oates, M, Duran Duran, The Cure and Joe Jackson, but the songs performed by Sing Street, the name of Cosmo’s band, were also vibrant and entertaining.  “Drive it like you Stole it” is a particularly fun song.  As the boys write each song (to avoid being a cover band per instructions of Brendan), we see them recording different music videos, and the film takes the opportunity to parody several of the different clothing styles from the ’80s to a hilarious tee.  There is a magnificent “Back to the Future” inspired performance that truly steals the show.

Director and writer John Carney does a magnificent job bringing all of the side plots together to make a rich narrative without losing the focus on the main relationships of the film.  Everything is done so well that moments that could be silly or take you out of the story simply do not and work amazingly on their own.  There is heart galore throughout the entirety of Sing Street that I was very sorry to see it end.

Admittedly, a couple of the band members wound up short changed as characters, being regulated to playing instruments and backing vocals, but that is the only flaw that I would see in an otherwise magical coming of age film.

4.85 stars

Image result for green room movie poster

Green Room is a horror/thriller film written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, following his film Blue Ruin, and he creates an extremely tense and claustrophobic experience unlike most films that have been made.

Punk rockers vs. Neo-Nazis.

How could that go wrong?

Green Room is a horror/thriller film written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, following his film Blue Ruin, and he creates an extremely tense and claustrophobic experience unlike most films that have been made.

A punk rock group was preparing to finish their unsuccessful tour when they were unexpectedly booked in a backwoods bar in Oregon.  Heading to the gig, the band found themselves in the middle of a group of Nazis.  Worse yet, they witness a crime in a backroom. Barricading themselves in this little green room, the band attempts to come up with a way to escape and survive.

Things only get worse when the bar owner, played by Patrick Stewart, arrived.

There were many scenes in Green Room that were very uncomfortable to watch and that was great.  You were never sure what was going to happen next because anything was possible.

Now, I will say this.  The characters from the punk rock band were anything but smart.  They did many stupid things.  And there were very few of them that I wanted to root for.  Pat (Anton Yelchin) is one of the more likeable characters in the film, but even he was hardly displaying a lot of intelligence.  The other problem with these characters are that none of them are much more than one-dimensional beings.  There is not a lot of time spent on developing character traits (outside of finding out which bands the characters would want to be stranded on a deserted island with).  The lack of development is another reason why you don’t feel too connected to these people.

Still, there is a lot of tension created and there are some horrifying images on display.  The movie looks great and that helps with the horrors the film uses.

There are also several moments of really funny dark comedic moments that are still very disturbing.  You almost feel dirty laughing at the situation, but you can’t help yourself because it is funny.

The unfortunate situation these musicians found themselves in was really bad luck, but good luck for us.  We are never quite at ease in the theater, and that is a good thing.  And, sure the group of kids are as stupid as any other horror movie character, but that shouldn’t be a surprise.  It becomes a dark desire to see how these characters are going to die as much as hoping to see them survive.  Green Room messes with your nerves.

3.2 stars

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I had hated the trailers for this movie, and I was not looking forward to it.  Still, there were some pretty good reviews and word of mouth.  I was surprised at the level of the rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so I came into the film with the optimism of perhaps my judging of the trailers was misguide.

Did I mention stupid?

This was a horrendous movie with nothing funny and a group of unbelievably stupid people doing unbelievably stupid things.

The plot, as it was, was pretty similar to the first Neighbors movie (which, by the way, I liked quite a bit).  Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are now trying to sell their house when a brand new sorority,led by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) moved in next door to do something that sororities in the US are not allowed to do:  party.  This party-centric sorority threatened the sale of the house, which was in escrow.  In order to root out the party girls, Mac and Kelly turn to their former enemy Teddy (Zac Efron) for help.  Hi jinks ensue.

I hated this film.  Every instance between the “old people” and the sorority was ridiculous and forced.  There were at least three times in the movie where Mac and Kelly would only have had to call the police and the situation would have ended positively for them.  The entire sequence at the tailgating party was as stupid as it got.  No real person would act the way that these characters act and only the most inane people would make the decision that were made at this moment.  The entire time I was just wondering why they didn’t do certain things that make so much more sense.

I thought Seth Rogen was over the top and did nothing more than yell his lines.  He certainly was only playing Seth Rogen.  Rose Byrne seemed to take her acting cues from Rogen as she did exactly the same thing.

And while credibility being stretched in a comedy is not uncommon, this was just scene after scene of stupidity.

I will say that the only part of the film that I did not despise was the section involving Zac Efron and his old friend Pete (Dave Franco).  These scenes were interesting and gave us a deeper look into the character of Teddy, and how he has been unable to move on from the glory days of college and grow up.  However, this was, at best, a side plot line and accounted for a mere slice of the film.

Efron does have some comedy timing and he is not terrible in the film, but we are asked to believe such stupid things and believe that any character, no matter how inept or unintelligent that character may be, would choose to do them.

I may have giggled every once in awhile at a line of dialogue, but the “big laughs” really fell flat to me.

Then, the ending.  What can I say… there are half hour comedies that develop the ending better.  The switch of the characters was drastic and jarring.  Of course, by the end, I was just happy it was over.

Neighbors 2 is a sack of flaming poop laying on the front porch of your house, and that won’t change no matter how many times Zac Efron shows off his abs.

1 star

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We have had movies created from, among other things, comic books, amusement park rides, television shows and video games.  But his one may be the first film created from a phone app.  Angry Birds was a tremendous fad a few years ago.  You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about people playing Angry Birds, and, of course, Hollywood saw that and decided that this was the perfect opportunity to make some more money.

There is a problem, though.  They forgot to make a good movie.

Now, I have seen worse than Angry Birds, and my guess is that this film does not have me as its target audience.  Children may enjoy this movie.  I do wish that Hollywood would give the children of the movie viewing public something more interesting to watch.

And there really is no excuse for doing something that lacks as much substance as Angry Birds does.  I mean, we have seen animated films such as The Lion King, Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia, Inside Out, Toy Story, How to Train Your Dragon among many others that brings more than just surface storytelling to the screen.  Those animated movies can appeal to both the kids and their parents.  Angry Birds is truly short in this area.

Red (Jason Sudeikis) is an unhappy bird living on an island full of smiling, happy birds.  After an incident, Red is sentenced to anger management classes where he meets a couple of other birds, Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride).  Red is always snarky and unfriendly, truly wishing to be left alone.  However, when there is an arrival of green pigs from another island, it appears that Red is the only bird to have suspicions about the motives of the swine.

I don’t know why no one else saw the pigs as a threat as it could not have been more telegraphed.  A blind person could have seen that plot twist coming.

There are plenty of crass and low brow moments in Angry Birds, all of them playing to the lowest common denominator.  The entire eagle urinating gag that they showed in the trailer perfectly demonstrates the inane humor on display here.  If only the writers and creators of Angry Birds would have taken their story to higher levels, perhaps it would not have been so unfunny or dull.

Still, it was not the worst film I have seen.  The animation itself was actually pretty well done.  The voice acting was solid, though I am not sure that Jason Sudeikis was the proper choice for Red.

The movie’s message was also confusing, as it was implied that the anger was what was needed to be successful, but Red does make changes to his character at the end.  Didn’t you just tell me that they needed to be angry to ward off the evil pigs?  What do I believe???

It is really lacking in any substance, making this a very disposable and forgetful film, taking up the family movie dollar until it is time for Finding Dory.  Last year, Home (starring Jim Parsons) made a lot of money despite being a weak animated movie because it was released during a stretch when there were little choice for the family movie going experience.  Angry Birds could be tapping into that same concept.

2 stars

Image result for nice guys movie poster

Shane Black returns to the movie theater with his newest film, The Nice Guys, an unofficial sequel to Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  While this is not specifically a sequel per se, The Nice Guys fits well into a genre with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Ryan Gosling plays hard drinking private detective Holland March, who is struggling through his cases trying to provide for his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice).  March does this many times in unethical manners, taking advantage of his clients and their grief.  When enforcer for hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is sent to discourage March from pursuing a certain case, the two men realize that they can be doing more together than apart.

The chemistry between Gosling and Crowe is off the charts and these two drive the film with their banter and their interactions.  Seeing how these characters react and bumble their way through a plot that is quite complex is very enjoyable.  Ryan Gosling, especially, brings a lot to this role, highlighting the weaknesses of his character (alcoholism, crookedness, greed) while showing the love he has for his daughter.

Young Angourie Rice is wonderful in this role.  Black seems to like to have young kids play off of actors in his films, and Rice truly does an amazing job in her scenes with Gosling and Crowe.  She feels like an old soul inhabiting this young girl’s body and I never once found it annoying or forced.

The Nice Guys does have some laughs, but it is not a comedy.  If I had to categorize The Nice Guys, I would call it a noir with some laughs.  There were no real laugh out loud moments in the film, but there was an undercurrent of humor in the situations that made you feel as if this was meant to be satirical.

The setting is pretty cool too.  We see 1977 Los Angeles and the film really fits into that world.  The mystery involving the porn industry at the time plays well into the mood The Nice Guys wants to establish.  Everything about this movie makes you think that the film was actually made in this throwback era.  It feels like a film from the mid 70s in all areas.  That is another fine success.

In the end, I was really looking forward to The Nice Guys, but I found myself a little underwhelmed.  I still really liked the movie, but I did not love it as I thought I might.  There is no mistaking the Shane Black feel of the film, and the dialogue and storyline was all above average.  Great performances by the lead actors and a surprising performance by the young girl are littered throughout The Nice Guys.  Gosling and Crowe are great together.  And yet, all of those positive still did not reach the levels of enjoyment that I expected.  I wanted this one to knock it out of the park, but it only banged it off the center field fence.  Still very good though.

3.9 stars

Image result for pee wee's Big holiday movie poster

I can’t believe I am about to say this.

I watched Netflix’s new movie, Pee Wee’s Big Holiday, which stars Pee Wee Herman (aka Paul Reubens) as the titular character, returning Reubens to a character he made famous years before.

And I was unbelievably entertained by it.

Pee Wee Herman continued to live his life in Fairville, working as a cook in a diner, when actor Joe Manganiello shows up for a milk shake and the pair hit it off immediately.  Manganiello invites Pee Wee to his birthday party in New York City in five days.  The problem?  Pee Wee has never been outside of Fairville.  Deciding to take a chance, Pee Wee takes off on a cross country adventure to attempt to reach New York in time for his friend’s birthday.

I was never a fan of Pee Wee Herman.  I have never seen Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (a film directed by Tim Burton), nor was a viewer of the Saturday morning children’s program Pee Wee’s Playhouse, but I saw this film listed in Entertainment Weekly and I figured I would take a look at it.

And I found it glorious.

Oh sure.  It was stupid.  But that stupidity was a huge part of the charm.  Each stop on Pee Wee’s trip across the country became more outrageous than the last and I laughed at all of them.

I was extremely impressed with the ridiculousness of Joe Manganiello.  The actor from True Blood, appeared as Big Dick Richie in Magic Mike XXL and Flash Thompson in the Sam Raimi Spider-man movies showed such a joy for the role despite how strangely uncomfortable the connection between the characters may have been.

This was so much fun that I have immediately added Pee Wee’s Big Adventure to my list at Netflix.

Paul Reubens was amazing as Pee Wee Herman, despite being a 63-year old man.  He seemed like he hadn’t aged a day and he threw himself into each silly situation with zest and integrity.  He gives us a feeling of innocence, a trip back to our childhood.  Reubens, who is a talented actor (currently showing his skills as Oswald Cobblepot’s missing father on Gotham), really embodies the man-child Pee Wee Herman.  And watching him was a treat.

Admittedly, the movie was nothing new.  The humor was silly.  There was not much to the story. It was campy.  I still loved it.

I did not expect to like Netflix’s new movie so much, but I did.  I laughed.  I had a huge smile plastered on my face the entire time.  It was a great surprise.

3.9 stars

Image result for I saw the light y movie poster

I love Tom Hiddleston.  As Loki, he is, arguably, the best Marvel Cinematic villain we have gotten yet.  He is an exceptional actor.  I enjoyed his performance in the new Hank Williams biopic.  He lights up the screen.

However, he just did not feel right as Hank Williams.

I Saw the Light tells the story of Hank Williams and his initial attempt to reach the Grand Ole Opry.  He had many problems in his life, struggling with alcohol abuse, a wandering eye, and a conflict with his wife.  He still shows his brilliance in his song writing ability.

The problem with the film was the relationship between Hank Williams and his wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) was so inconsistent that it was off-putting.  One scene, the couple were happy and in love and then the next scene, they were fighting with no reason behind it.  They were divorcing and then they were back together and Audrey was pregnant.  Then they were fighting and rolling their eyes at one another.  It felt very disjointed as the scenes bounced back and forth.  It seemed as if they left several moments out of the film that could have made these scenes connect better together.

Hiddleston is very solid as Williams, though I did feel that he was miscast.  He admirably does his own singing and playing in the film and he does a very solid job of that.  Bradley Whitford and Cherry Jones are also solid contributors in the acting category for this film although Whitford’s black and white scenes suddenly jump into the story and comes out of nowhere.

The film is long and needed to be more concise, choosing to focus on other areas of the relationship to make this feel more consistent.  Why does Hank Williams drink so much?  Is it just because Audrey can’t sing very well?  Did they divorce over her lack of singing voice?  It seemed like it for a while.

There were good moments inside this film, most of them coming because of Tom Hiddleston and his overall greatness.  But despite this,  I Saw the Light is a basic biopic that is over long and boring, taking few chances in the manner the story is displayed or taking advantage of the strong cast to do something exceptional.

2.5 stars

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