Thursday, November 12, 2015


I do not own the above image.  Copyright Clarius Entertainment.  All Rights Reserved.

            As of late, faith-based films have been coming out for Christians to have a reason to go to the movies.  In recent years, such successes have included GOD’S NOT DEAD, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL and this fall’s WAR ROOM.  One sub-genre of these movies is the Christian sports movie, specifically football-centric movies.  There has already been one such movie this fall (WOODLAWN) that has been a moderate success.  This weekend, another movie appears in theatres as a wide release with a little bit of mainstream prestige behind it.  This is my first foray into the Christian movie genre and if the rest of them are like MY ALL AMERICAN, I may skip the rest.
            MY ALL AMERICAN follows the true story of Freddie Steinmark (Wittrock), a star running back/safety at a small-ish school in Colorado.  Freddie wants to follow every Catholic athlete’s dream: play football for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (sound familiar?).  Considered too small for that major program, Freddie, along with “rival” turned best friend Bobby Mitchell (Terrell), are offered scholarships to play for the University of Texas by not-yet-legendary coach Darrell Royal (Eckhart).  Joining them in Austin is the girl of Freddie’s dreams, Linda (Bolger).
            After a little bit of back & forth with myself over the past week, I have decided to not spoil the movie outright.  This despite the fact that it is my belief that no one, not even the most passionate Longhorn fan, should see this movie.  This movie is awful.  Really, really awful.  And not laughably awful either.  The dialogue is awful.  Each line is so short & so on-the-nose precise that they read like they’re from a 2nd grader’s reading book.  You could probably count the number of six-letter words that aren’t proper nouns with your fingers.  The story is even straighter & simpler, showing its hand in the first conversation of the movie during the opening scene where a magazine interview takes place that serves as the bookends to the movie.  If you don’t see the end of this movie coming after that first scene, I’ll assume you’ve never seen a movie before.
            What’s most shocking about that is that writer/director Angelo Pizzo has actually written two really good sports movies, HOOSIERS and RUDY.  Watching MY ALL-AMERICAN I wondered often if those two movies actually were any good.  Think of all the pre-game pep talks in HOOSIERS.  MY ALL-AMERICAN features the opposite: speeches that would have made me take off my uniform & go back to the dorms to study for Monday’s Chemistry exam.  Pizzo also has very little idea what he’s doing behind the camera.  Football can look beautiful on screen but that’s not the case here.  Most scenes are barely distinguishable from the Friday Night Lights TV show.  Some shots of the Colorado farmland look decent but most scenes that involve actors moving are uninspiring.  This movie needed Pizzo’s friend & collaborator David Anspaugh’s touch badly.
            It almost appears that the actors know that the material just isn’t up to par.  Aaron Eckhart looks lost and he’s the one giving the speeches.  He looks like he’s biding time before he can fire his agent after each take.  Robin Tunney is absolutely wasted as Freddie’s mother.  The lone bright spot is the chemistry between Finn Wittrock & Sarah Bolger as the love birds at the center of the movie.  You’d swear they are actually an item in real life.  The rest of the actors are people I’ve never seen/noticed before in my years of watching movies & television and something tells me that I’ll see very few of them again.
            MY ALL-AMERICAN features so little real conflict between two human characters there were times where I was wondering if the movie actually took place in the fictional town of Pleasantville.  So many little details are set up but not a single one is followed through.  It’s mentioned quite early that Freddie’s dad is strict about practicing at home but that’s brushed aside just as quickly without issue.  Bobby is set up as the guy whose size & attitude is going to shove Freddie down the depth chart.  But after one practice, they’re BFFs.  At spring practice & training camp, a potential quarterback controversy could break the team apart but is resolved in a dumb scene where a character drops his pants.  The movie plays everything safer than a winning team in prevent defense on the final drive of the game.
            But how does the movie play as a Christian movie?  For even that audience, the movie sucks.  The only time Freddie’s faith is openly talked about is after Bobby finds out his older brother was killed in Vietnam.  And even then, it’s for maybe a minute & is so memorable, I can’t remember a damn thing Freddie says.  That will teach me to forget a pen & paper at these screenings.  But it’s in a single scene during the final 15 minutes where the movie fails the most in this aspect.  Something happens to the main character where his faith appears to have failed him in the most unimaginable way.  It is here at this moment that he should need his Catholic belief the most.  It is mentioned or hinted at that Freddie is a devout Catholic who goes to mass every day, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink and probably hasn’t slept with his girlfriend.  But during this one particular scene, the words “God” or “faith” are never mentioned between the two of them.  In fact, Freddie’s religion is barely mentioned in the final half of this 115 minute slog.
            MY ALL-AMERICAN is a faith-based rip-off of BRIAN’S SONG.  The script features hardly a scene or even word of dialogue that would appear in any decent movie.  Angelo Pizzo is way over his head on this one, leaving every actor, crew member & ticket buyer out to dry.  To paraphrase what I’ve said many times before: Christians, you deserve better.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Man Crates presents Scary Movie Survival Kit

I do not own the above image.  Copyright  All Rights Reserved.

            A few weeks ago, I received an email from a company called Man Crates.  What is Man Crates you ask?  Man Crates is a company that delivers manlygifts in manly wooden crates to manly men who have to open them with manly crow bars.  How awesome is that?  Answer: Very.  Back to the email, she asked me what I thought someone would need in Man Crate Scary Movie Survival Kit.  And I, a person willing to do anything to garner attention from anyone, decided to write this.
            When thinking about this, I first remind myself that everything comes in a crate.  I’ve seen a few of these pieces where the writer has a car in his/her kit.  The shipping on that crate would cost more than the car itself.  I also thought about how you would carry the contents of the crate.  Now, I’m assuming there will be only 4 people in your group (You, the girl/guy you have a crush on, your nerdy best friend and that stereotypical black friend who won’t make it to Act III no matter how hard they try) so you have a fair amount of carrying power.  Alright, here we go.

Road Atlas
            It’s a dark, stormy, foggy night and you’re out with friends.  You get lost & your GPS isn’t charged.  What are you to do?  Do what everyone else did prior to 2005: read a map.  Done.  You’ll never find that creepy house on that road that you’ve been on before.

Enough Flashlights for Everyone
            Ok.  That didn’t work because your school stopped teaching geography ten years ago.  You are at that creepy house.  No phone, no lights, no motorcar, not a single luxury.  Having enough flashlights for everyone will allow you to investigate the house quicker, if you must.  The flashlights also come in handy to get out of the woods after outrunning that pesky chainsaw welding creep.

Garlic Necklaces
            Their immediate use is to ward off vampires.  Their secondary use is for the garlic mashed potatoes at the dinner celebrating the survival of the night.

A Gun with a Box of Silver Bullets
            You never know when to run into a werewolf.  Or, if the guy packing your crate has a sense of humor, you’ll get a case of Coors Light.  Either way, you’ll survive the confrontation with the werewolf.

A Week of Military Style Rations
            You never know how long you will be on the run from a psychopath, vampire, werewolf or whatever creature Stephen King has chasing you.  At the same time, you have a backpack with limited space & weight capabilities.  Those military-style meals remedy both issues.  Plus, your soon-to-be girlfriend will still find the meals too fattening, leaving more rations for you!

Roadside Emergency Kit
            Like I said earlier, a car is too big to get in a crate.  But you know what isn’t?  Jumper cables, a tire gauge and a basic first aid kit.  You are in a horror movie.  You are already provided a car.  A some point, however, it WILL break down.  Be prepared.

Caffeine Gum
            You thank my wife for this one.  You have to find a way to kill time & stay awake on those long nights keeping watch.  Caffeine gum is the best of both worlds.

            I’m sure there’s a thing or two I’m missing from the crate that would 1) be useful & 2) fit.  If you can think of anything, leave it in the comments, contact me on Twitter (@AlmostFlmCritic) or call me at 867-5309.  But make sure you don’t forget to use Man Crates for all your man’s wooden crate needs.  Now, I wonder what a man would need in a wooden crate for Thanksgiving to survive a dinner with the in-laws.  Boy, that’s just as terrifying…

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I do not own the above image.  Copyright Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

            I understand the movies that get the most criticism these days are movies based on true stories.  Most recently, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON caught flack for not telling the entire truth about certain aspects of a few characters’ relationships with women.  But can a movie rely too much on the real life details of an event?
            EVEREST is in fact based on real events in the spring of 1996.  From the limited research I’ve done, most of the movie is factually accurate.  That’s all well & good: wanting to pay homage to those who perished on that mountain top.  The problem with EVEREST is that the story itself isn’t that compelling to begin with.  Combine that with the fact that one of the people in the group featured in the movie is a famous outdoors journalist who I know is still alive as I write this review, all tension is gone.  Not just a smidgen, all of it.  Knowing a character is or is not going to die right off the bat doesn’t automatically ruin a movie-going experience.  But since EVEREST is a survival/disaster movie, the driving force is the suspense from wondering who is going to live to see the end credits.  Once I learned that character’s identity, the movie lost me.
            It also didn’t help that I didn’t really care about any of the characters.  Screenwriters William Nicholson (GLADIATOR, LES MISERABLES) and Simon Beaufoy (THE FULL MONTY, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) do not allow us to view the characters as interesting individuals.  There are just too many characters to get a read on any of them, apart from getting motivations as to why a few of them are climbing Mt. Everest.  This is a shame because this is a cast to die for.  I can’t remember the last movie with five Oscar nominees (Gyllenhaal, Hawkes, Brolin, Watson, Knightley) that failed this poorly to engage me.  Of the five main, named women in the movie, two of them (Knightly & Wright, especially) are relegated to the thankless “worried wife at home” role.
            That’s not to say the movie couldn’t win me back.  This was a big budget disaster movie, which meant the movie should at least look nice.  And, for the most part, it did.  It just didn’t blow me away.  Don’t get me wrong, I was astonished at how real the mountain looked.  The problem was Mt. Everest only looked terrifying once in a 5 minute scene early on where a character almost falls to his/her death on a rickety ladder while crossing an ice crevasse.  That is also the only time the 3D works.  [Note: Normally, I wouldn’t criticize a movie as a whole based on 3D effects.  EVEREST, however, is a special case where the movie was released for one week in only IMAX 3D, making the 3D intentionally part of the theatrical experience & fair game for criticism.]  The rest of the time, the 3D has a net zero effect at best and is excruciating to look at its worst.  3D has worked in the hands of master filmmakers but Baltasar Kormákur (CONTRABAND, 2 GUNS) is not one of them.
            EVEREST is almost half an hour too long & too boring for its own good.  It takes about 75 minutes for the disastrous storm to put the group in any type of real peril.  And once the problems start, the writers don’t force the characters into action in any meaningful way.  All we see for the final 45 minutes is some melodrama through a walkie talkie and climbers freezing to death or going crazy & falling off the mountain.  That’s right.  I’m sorry to spoil the movie like that but four climbers freeze to death while two others fall victim to high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) in almost unintentionally comedic fashion.  Again, no tension, no suspense; they just stop breathing or jump off the screen.  A great movie could be made about a tragic trek up a mountain.  Basically, EVEREST should have been GRAVITY in the Himalayas.
            EVEREST had so much potential.  A true story that tugged at the heartstrings in more ways than one.  A breathtaking setting upon which great visuals could be created.  A cast any great director dreams of at their disposal.  But EVEREST lacked what was most important: a competent director for the material and a screenplay that created any sort of characters to build on & one that created any speck of tension, suspense or entertainment.  For 120 minutes, you get almost nothing.  What a shame.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

2015 Catch Up: GET HARD

I do not own the above image.  Copyright Gary Sanchez Productions. All Rights Reserved.

            For years now, I’ve been hearing that Kevin Hart is among the best, or is THE best, standup comedian working right now.  I have also heard that one of his major influences, Chris Rock, is way up there in the pantheon of comedy as well.  The key phrases here are “been hearing” and “have also heard” because, admittedly, I have not listened to any of their routines as my comedy playlist contains people like Eddie Izzard & the late George Carlin.  Anyhoo, I have heard from many, many people to focus on Chris Rock’s legendary standup sets & ignore his not-so-legendary movie career with such highlights as POOTIE TANG, BAD COMPANY and HEAD OF STATE.  If he’s not careful, Kevin Hart could follow down the same path with such gems as LITTLE FOCKERS, RIDE ALONG and a duo of 2015 duds: the reprehensible THE WEDDING RINGER (if that isn’t on “top” of my Worst of 2015 list, I’d be shocked) and the not-much-better GET HARD.
            Hedge fund manager James King (Ferrell) has the life of a king.  He has just been made partner at Barrow Funds.  He is engaged to the beautiful, young Alissa (Brie), the daughter of his boss Martin (Nelson).  But it all comes crashing down after he is sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin for fraud & embezzlement.  To prepare for life behind bars, King hires his go-to car washer Darnell Lewis (Hart) to help him “get hard”.  In return, Lewis hopes to move his wife & daughter out of the rough neighborhood they are stuck in.
            In the right hands, GET HARD could have been a commentary about race relations or income inequality, as the opening credits attempt to show us with the shots of people of various classes going to work from the white financial advisor in a convertible, to the Latina waitress waiting for a bus, to the homeless black man begging for money in the middle of the street.  In fact, the best moments of the movie come when James & Darnell visit Darnell’s drug-dealer cousin Russell & his associates.  It is here where writer/director Etan Cohen (TROPIC THUNDER & MEN IN BLACK 3) is somewhat successful in comparing the legitimate business of hedge funds to the illegal practice of drug dealing.  Listening to these gangbangers discuss the difference between Traditional & Roth IRAs elicited the biggest laugh out of me.  Ferrell’s interaction with the drug gang overall was mildly fascinating as was, to a lesser extent, a confrontation with some white supremacists.
            The majority of the movie, however, is not nearly this clever.  In fact, apart from the scenes I describe above, which constitute about 5 scenes or approximately 12 minutes of runtime, the final 85 minutes of the 100 minute movie mainly focuses on one juvenile theme: the fear of getting raped in prison.  That is the first thing discussed in King’s & Lewis’ negotiations.  Not the loss of freedom.  Not the general relationships between King, his future inmates & the guards.  Nope.  King is solely focused on his desire to (and pardon my French) “not become someone’s bitch.”  Quite a few scenes stand out for all the wrong reasons.  First, the two turn King’s mansion into a miniature prison, including transforming his wine cellar into a prison cell and creating shivs out of random household items that can fit in Ferrell’s rectum.  Also, in King’s tennis court turned prison yard, Hart role plays a possible interaction with Ferrell that includes Hart sometimes playing an effeminate black caricature.  There is a third scene at an outdoor gay restaurant that so homophobic that I hesitate to go any further without asking me to apologize to myself for typing such filth.
            Ferrell & Hart try their very best to make this misguided adventure work.  But the story originally conceived by co-writers and Key & Peele showrunners Jay Martel & Ian Roberts is so thin with its offensive premise and cardboard villains.  Director Cohen doesn’t have eye for the final confrontation including a ludicrous fight scene with the villain’s main thugs.  The supporting actors, especially Brie & Nelson, are wasted.  Although, rapper T.I. has better comedic chops as Russell than Tyrese Gibson does in the FURIOUS franchise.
            It is clear to me that Kevin Hart has all the talent in the world.  He tries in GET HARD.  The material is just not on his level.  What he needs is another supporting role in a Judd Apatow movie or in a stoner-esque comedy from Seth Rogen or Jason Segel.  Maybe next summer’s CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be the one that sends him into the stratosphere.  Until then, we have RIDE ALONG 2 on the horizon.  Grrrrrrrrrreeeeeaaaaat…


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Film Review: VACATION

I do not own the above image.  Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures.  All rights reserved.

            Going to the movies should be a comforting experience.  An air-conditioned, dark room with a flickering light flying above you.  A comfy seat to sit in with popcorn in your lap & a drink in the cup holder to your right.  The horny teenagers seated in front of you not caring if you see them about to go at it.
            But what if the experience isn’t satisfying?  What if the movie projected by the light from above is a dud?  What if the movie is a remake/reboot/sequel/shameless cash grab of a funny 30 year old movie?  What if the jokes…weren’t funny?!?!
            Budget airline pilot Rusty Griswald (Helms) wants to take his family on a GREAT vacation.  Instead of going to the cabin like they’ve done every year, Rusty plans to relive the trip of a lifetime from childhood: Walley World.  Renting a car & dragging his wife Debbie (Applegate) and their two boys along for the ride in a goofy rental car.  Along the way, they have detours at Deb’s sorority, Rusty’s sister's ranch and Four Corners National Park.  And not a single moment is enjoyable, funny or touching.
            If you’ve been alive & own a television the past three weeks, you’ve been seeing ads for VACATION.  One in particular features a throwback to the scene in the 1983 original where Christie Brinkley drives alongside the Griswold station wagon in a red convertible & flirts with Clark that led to a fascinating & humorous subplot.  Today, it’s still a red convertible but the young lady is a random blonde & the scene ends with her running head on into a semi truck.  That scene is the perfect representation of everything wrong with this movie and the reboot/remake culture in the film industry in general.  Writers/first-time directors John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein have such reverence for the original that they know exactly how to hit the nostalgia chords in its fans by making specific references.  But the references add nothing to the very weak story.
            VACATION is not about the Griswold family trying to enjoy a road trip vacation.  The movie centers on the boring relationship of Rusty & Debbie.  The family goes from set piece to set piece but the story always centers on Debbie complaining about how her life & marriage has gone limp and leaves the boys as two of the many forgettable side characters.  And the only people more bored than Debbie with their marriage are the paying customers in the movie theatre.  Daley & Goldstein, after all the references to the original, don’t understand what made the original beloved: a family’s ability to bond over the trials & tribulations of a road trip family vacation.  Instead, we get Debbie whining in private to the oblivious Rusty.  Good times!
            How do you make Leslie Mann unfunny?  How do Chevy Chase & Beverly D’Angelo appear in a movie together & not make me chuckle?  I’ve laughed at Christina Applegate in the past.  I’ve howled at Ed Helms too.  So much comedic talent like Charlie Day, Ron Livingston & Keegan-Michael Key in supporting roles are wasted as none of their characters or any character for that matter are the least bit funny or interesting.  All blame for this movie’s failure lies at the feet of Daley & Goldstein as writers.  A majority of the humor is of the sophomoric variety with scenes involving puking, swimming in raw sewage and the misunderstanding of sex terms.  They set out to make an ‘R’-rated movie but didn’t use the rating to its full potential.  All they did was add expletives to childish PG-13 situations to appease the 10 & 13-year-olds next to me.  The Estate of John Hughes should have sued for making a movie this juvenile with his baby.

            VACATION is a lifeless, joyless exercise in stupid: Stupid characters, stupid situations, and stupid “humor” for stupid ticket buyers.  I’m waiting for the day when an audience will revolt against a movie that insults their intelligence.  VACATION should have been a movie for those who saw the original on cable at age 7 in 1986 and has his first night out in a while with his wife w/o the kids.  Instead, the movie was made for his kids.  And the movie is too stupid for its target audience.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I do not own the above photo.  Copyright Skydance Productions.  All Rights Reserved.

            I’ve been attending preview screenings for almost four years now in Pittsburgh.  I’ve seen some wonderful things in that time.  At my first screening, the audience sang along to “The Rainbow Connection” during THE MUPPETS.  I saw a middle aged guy freak out after being told he had to leave a screening of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMEN.  I’ve also witnessed some bizarre & depressing things, especially lately.  I’ve seen 250+ people leave in dead silence after THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.  I’ve listened to people laugh their asses off during THE OTHER WOMAN.  But Monday night, my screening of TERMINATOR GENISYS featured the most mind-boggling thing I’ve witnessed at one of these: a vast majority of the audience gave the biggest applause I’ve heard at one of these screenings.  I knew three people in the audience who didn’t cheer: Barb Vancheri of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, my wife and myself.
            TERMINATOR GENISYS, the fifth in a series of films based on the characters created in 1984 by James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd, features yet another attempt to bilk the public of its hard earned money telling the story of how John Connor (Jason Clarke) is supposed to save mankind with the help of his mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) & her guardian Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney).  This time around Alan Taylor of THOR: THE DARK WORLD fame is in the director’s chair with a script co-written by the writer of LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER, ALEXANDER and SHUTTER ISLAND Laeta Kalogridis and the writer/director of DRIVE ANGRY 3D Patrick Lussier.  The only credit I will give them is bringing back Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800.  He is the lone pure bright spot of the $155 million proceedings.
            What the three veteran filmmakers have created here is less an intriguing story furthering the legend of John Connor and more of a reboot that contains more fan service than original thought. (If you do not want any of the callbacks spoiled, skip to the next paragraph)  Throughout the 126 minute runtime, there are numerous references to the slightest details from the previous movies that add nothing to the story that is being told in this movie.  For instance, the T-1000 makes an appearance as an Asian police officer, I assume to give the appearance of racial diversity in the movies.  He gets two boring action scenes then disappears.  So much for that.  Numerous shots from the previous movies are replicated from the first two installments.  But the big tip off to the nostalgia factor this movie wanted to create was with Miles Dyson.  Miles Dyson, originally played by Joe Morton, is the CEO of Cyberdyne and was responsible for the technology that creates Skynet.  Dyson, not played by Morton, appears in two scenes that allow him to play no part in moving the plot forward before never being mentioned again.  The guy seated next to my wife would have been really helpful for this paragraph since he alerted his girlfriend to every single reference to the previous movies quite loudly during the movie.
            TERMINATOR GENISYS feels like an attempt to do what 2009’s STAR TREK did: reinvigorate the franchise while twisting the mythology of the series.  But GENISYS failed miserably because Kalogridis & Lussier wrote a hesitant (and childish) screenplay.  J.J. Abrams & crew didn’t hold back by going big, going bold &, most importantly, going quickly by changing a major piece of Star Trek canon in the opening five minutes.  GENISYS, on the other hand, spends about 15 minutes pretty much recapping the entire John Connor/Kyle Reese War against Skynet and their machines for us in one the movie’s many short & meaningless action pieces.  When Reese is sent into the past to protect Sarah Connor, a simple, silly action occurs that causes a ripple effect throughout time and canon.  This action creates numerous convoluted deviations from the original canon and a “twist” so absurd & infuriating that I’d swear it was written for a movie in 2001 after the success of THE SIXTH SENSE.  Additionally, the “twist” unintentionally rips off a major plot point from one of its own predecessors.  This turn of events and the anticipation of what other absurd ideas Taylor, Kalogridis & Lussier could pull out of the asses while high off of them prevented me from being bored to death.  In a way, yes, the movie was fleetingly “so bad, it’s good” but not nearly enough for any sort of recommendation.  I do recommend, however, running out of the theatre once the credits start rolling.  Otherwise, you will be treated to one of the worst post-credit scenes, rivaling the scene at the end of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND.
            TERMINATOR GENISYS is the most expensive piece of fan fiction ever created.  Fan fiction created by nine year olds who have only seen the first two TERMINATOR movies as aired on FXX with its tame dialogue, action scenes and lack of any real excitement.  It’s a little comforting seeing Arnold on screen again.  I just hope he (and the preview audience I saw it with) make (and see) better movies.  I won’t be holding my breath.  Just my applause.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Almost Coherent Ramblings #1: INSIDE OUT turns me INSIDE OUT

            A few weeks ago, I talked about my relationship with movies dating back to age 15.  The greatest friendship I have (other than the one with the girl I wake up next to every morning) is one with the glowing image that flies over my head in the dark.  As I sit there, it is my hope that every movie I see is special.  And the most consistently special movies are the ones made by the guys with the overexcited desk lamp, Pixar.
            I remember Woody & Buzz learning to not just co-exist but become best buds at age 10.  A young fish went missing at 16.  At 19, I fought alongside a family of superheroes.  I saw a rat’s culinary dreams come true at age 21.  I sat in awe as two robots fell in love at 22, an old man live out his dreams at 23, and cried like a baby seeing Woody & Buzz live on in a kid’s imagination at 24.
            Simply put, Pixar had a track record of creating animated masterpieces on a fairly consistent basis.  Their last three movies, CARS 2, BRAVE and MONSTERS U, left much to be desired.  After those two sub-par sequels and a disastrous original idea, Pixar needed a needed a shot in the arm.  It appeared that they found one in INSIDE OUT, a story about our emotions with Amy Poehler in the lead & Pete Docter in the director’s chair.  All is well & good now, right?  Right…?
            INSIDE OUT follows Riley, a happy little girl who finds Joy in everything, especially ice hockey.  But after a move from Minnesota to San Francisco, her other emotions, Sadness, Fear, Disgust & Anger, start getting a work out.  Can Joy straighten things out?
            As I sat there watching the 94 minute movie, I had each one of these emotions come over me, most at inopportune times.  First, there was the unrelenting joy that came over me during the pre-show commercials.  Every single one of those memories above washed over me as I looked over the crowd and saw the audience members of all ages, evenly divided among those older & younger than I as we eagerly awaited for that moment when we were placed under Pixar’s spell.  And for 20 minutes or so, I felt that as I watched the opening montage and the setup of the first act.
            Then, something strange happened.  When the movie kicks into its second act, Disgust took over.  Disgust at the direction the main plot was taking.  Why in the world would you make the centerpiece of the movie about feelings & memories a mostly physical endeavor?  Disgust slowly moved over as Anger sat at the controls as the movie kept in the same director.  Why have movie about the mind that continues to stay outside it and get more & more needlessly complicated?
            I thought all hope was lost until…the heroic Sadness tries to save the day, with a little help from Joy.  INSIDE OUT ends with a final five minutes so perfect that it feels like it was stolen from another movie.  An ending that mixes sorrow & hope perfectly, like Pixar has done before.
            As the credits rolled and the credit cookies had played, Sadness & Fear began piloting my state of mind and continues to this very moment.  I fear, with the current movie landscape, that movies have passed me by.  With all the negative or mixed reviews I’ve been giving lately, I wonder if it’s time to stop caring so much.  Stop trying to get my hopes up.  Stop trying to get others to listen.
            But I can’t.  Why?  Because of the little moments that Joy takes over, sometimes accompanies by Sadness.  Where would I be without seeing WALL-E & Eve dance in space with the help of a fire hydrant?  Or having not flipped through Elle Fredrickson’s scrapbook?  And what would I do without having seen Riley grow up in 4 minutes?

            To put it simply, to be human is to feel.  And, for me, the best place I can feel anything is in a darkened theatre with those beautiful images projected on screen.  And while Pixar didn’t fully do it this time, I’ll keep going back.  Why?  Because of the Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust & Anger I feel with every movie I see.  I love it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


I do not own the above image.  Copyright Warner Brothers Pictures.  All Rights Reserved

            Film & television have had a complicated relationship.  When TV began to hit the mainstream in the early 1950s, some in the film industry thought the end of the theatrical experience because people will opt to stay home.  Luckily, the quality of movies got people out.  Then came the ways to watch movies at home: BetaMax, VHS, VideoDisc & LaserDisc.  The question soon became: “Are people willing to stay home & wait 6-9 months for movies?”  Luckily, most weren’t.  Soon, studios learned to coexist with television, with revenues from home video sales & cable rights boosting their bottomline.  With this, also began the seeping in of television shows rebooted onto the silver screen.  I clearly remember seeing THE FLINTSTONES at my hometown drive-in.  I also remember theatrical runs for THE BRADY BUNCH, GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE and INSPECTOR GADGET when I was young and rolling my eyes at BEWITCHED, LAND OF THE LOST and I SPY film adaptations.
            Which leads us to ENTOURAGE, the film adaptation of the hit HBO series from the life/mind of Mark Wahlburg, which ran for 8 seasons.  The show/film follows 4 guys from from Queens who hope to/succeed in making it big in Hollywood.  You have the good-looking actor Vincent (Grenier), his BFF/manager Eric (Connolly), buddy/driver Turtle (Ferrara), half-brother Johnny Drama (Dillion), and frantic & tortured agent Ari Gold (Piven).
            My journey with these guy began on June 4th, 20…15 at about 7pm, approximately one hour before I saw the movie down the street from my apartment.  From that half hour of research, I deduced that I would be seeing nothing but 5 assholes doing douchy things because they are young, white, rich men.  And the movie didn’t disappoint…in that regard.  The movie still kind of stunk.  Pretty bad.
            Anyway, movie picks up right where the show left off.  The boys celebrate on Vince’s yacht, drinking to his impending divorce of his 9 day-old marriage.  Vince then gets a call from Ari about making a movie at his studio.  Vince agrees with one condition: he directs it.  The movie then sends us to 8 months into the future to present day (which makes no sense considering the show ended in September 2011).  The film is unfinished & overbudget, Eric is about to become a dad to a child whose parents are no longer together, Turtle falls for Ronda Rousey, and Drama continues his quest to emerge from his brother’s shadow.  Meanwhile, Ari is stuck in the middle trying to balance his personal & professional lives as the studio gets nervous about the movie with the financier (Thornton) & his son (Osment) breathing down his neck while keeping the “Happy wife (& child), happy life” mantra alive.
            Of the five “gentlemen”, only Ari Gold is a real character.  The times Piven goes batshit insane provide the lone bits of real entertainment.  Gold is so frantic & biting that it’s amazing that he didn’t explode or have his nose broken.  One thing I did find odd about Piven’s lines were the dozen or so times he references pop culture.  All but one of those references from the Hindenburg to WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT to FORREST GUMP were over 20 years old.  They got a slight reaction out of me but the rest of the audience, almost all of them around my age, barely chuckled.  I understand that most of the movie references are age appropriate for Ari’s formative years, but considering the job he has and ENTOURAGE’s target demographic, you’d think writer/director/producer/caterer/intern/douchebag Doug Ellin would added a few HUNGER GAMES or AVENGERS jokes.  I got a little bit of laughter from Johnny Drama if only because he reminds me of Ronnie “The Limo Driver” Mund from the Howard Stern Show.  I wonder if he wears Mambo.  Hey now!
            The other three, on the other hand, are worthless.  First, Vincent Chase is a bore of a character and Adrian Grenier is horrible actor.  Vince’s role in this movie is to beg to save his movie/career half-assedly and hang out with the equally boring Emily Ratajkowski.  There is no joy to watching him on screen.  Even less enjoyable (and more misogynistic) is E’s storyline.  E has a pregnant on/off/on/off girlfriend that’s he wants to help out while dating someone else.  When that ends, E has a one night stand that night.  This storyline produces a scene so awkwardly anti-woman that I expected a Wet T-Shirt Contest to begin during the scene.  Finally, Turtle’s main purpose is to hit on Ronda Rousey.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Rousey is put to much better use here than in FURIOUS 7.  Just another subplot that begins & ends like a typical, half-hour sitcom subplot.
            The rest of the movie is based on how much you love celeb cameos or how young, rich Texans are entitled assholes.  Every time a sports or music star appeared the audience lost it.  Not a single one of them did something memorable or noteworthy, like a Seltzer/Freiberg “comedy”.  And Haley Joel Osment gets to live the Hollywood life as the spoiled son of Billy Bob Thornton.  Other than a scene in a hotel room, neither get to do anything.
            ENTOURAGE is the guys’ night out movie they’ve been waiting for.  And just like the girls’ night out movie this summer, PITCH PERFECT 2, it stinks.  Thanks to Ari Gold, it’s a little better.  But, bros, you deserve better?  Well, better than this.  Maybe.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Review: SPY

I do not own the above image.  Copyright 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

            Can a movie be just funny with little to nothing of quality behind it?  That is the argument I got myself into with myself in the three weeks since seeing SPY.  I’ve been racking my brain for a movie that is so funny that the shortcomings of the story and look of the movie can be overlooked.  And for the two plus hours of writing this review, I can’t think of a movie like SPY.  SPY feels like the best vulgar sitcom on television that just leaves you wanting more and better.
            Susan Cooper (McCarthy) loves her job most days.  She is the eyes, ears, radar and conscience for superspy Bradley Fine (Law).  After Bradley is murdered by a super villain Tihomir Boyanov’s just-as-evil daughter Rayna (Byrne), Susan’s worst day of her career turns into the best when her superior (Janney) is forced to send her out into the field to avenge his death, much to the chagrin of the agency’s best spy Rick Ford (Statham).
            Let me just get this out there before I appear to contradict myself in the next 500 or so words: I did in fact laugh during this movie about a dozen times.  There are really, really good jokes spread out over the two hour runtime.  The best jokes are the ones that poke fun at the many spy movie clichés we have become so familiar with in the numerous James Bond movies and their imitators.  McCarthy can throw out the one-liners like the best of the best in Hollywood.  Personally, I’ve missed the charm Jude Law brings to the screen.  And Statham shows that he is no one-trick, action-centric pony with his timing & line delivery.
            SPY’s problems are two fold.  First, the humor.  As much as I laughed, the audience laughed at least 2.5 times as much, which is my problem, not writer/director Paul Feig’s.  But there were a minimum of 15 major attempts at jokes that didn’t result in a chuckle from the preview audience.  How can a comedy be classified as “good” if it is only successful 60% of the time?  Another issue with the humor was the subject matter.
            Remember how I said the best jokes were the ones that poked fun at the spy movies clichés?  Well, those were maybe 25% of the jokes.  A majority of the comedy stems from what is quickly becoming a cliché in the Melissa McCarthy filmography: her appearance.  The occasional quip about her weight, age, beauty (or lack thereof) or physique is fine.  But Feig (or the actors, if this were improv) loads so many of these one-liners, which feels like 60% of the jokes & many of them in rapid succession, that SPY ceases to be funny and starts to feel mean-spirited.  Statham’s character in particular goes overboard.  Rick Ford should have been this totally outlandish James Bond-type character.  Instead, too often, he’s just an asshole.
            Where SPY really loses its way is in the antagonist department.  Feig deserves credit for making the audience hate Rayna.  We should all hate anyone who kills Jude Law.  Where the movie falls apart are the constant reminders that Rayna isn’t the center of the operation.  That distinction belongs to Sergio De Luca (Cannavale).  De Luca is frequently referenced throughout the movie but we only get to spend time with him in the final 20 minutes or so.  If a villain is going to be hyped as much as De Luca is, he better be worth the wait.  Unfortuately, De Luca is nothing but a commanding, all-bark-but-no-bite ringleader who steals the spotlight by being the center of the uneventful climax.  Cannavale plays De Luca so straight & wooden you’d swear a cardboard cutout were on-screen.
            I’m asked many times by many people if it is possible for me to just sit back and enjoy movies.  When SPY was funny, I laughed.  But when I (or the audience) don’t laugh, you have to find something to pay attention to.  And if the story underneath the comedy is lacking despite the great first act, your mind tends to wander.  And wondering I was.  Wondering just how high McCarthy’s star can go.  Wondering if the script could have used another rewrite to tighten the humor & the second half of the movie.  Wondering if I am wrong about this movie.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I do not own the above image.  Copyright Warner Bros./New Line Pictures.  All Rights Reserved

            Growing up in Southwestern Pennsylvania, there was only one way to see a movie: at a drive-in movie theatre.  If you were lucky, your town’s drive-in didn’t close in the mid 1980’s, sold to make way for farmland or a shopping center.  My town was lucky.  The Skyview Twin Drive-In is still there, 2 miles from my parents house.  For the first half of my life, my parents would take me there about once every two weeks, usually to see the big, effects-driven blockbusters.
            Two in particular that I remember seeing in their opening weeks were INDEPENDENCE DAY and GODZILLA, both were directed by Roland Emmerich.  Both were hyped in commercials for their action scenes, achieved using the best computers money could buy.  Unfortunately, the one thing they didn’t use computers for was a script.  This brings me to today, where I see a familiar name in the disaster movie world shows up in the end credits of SAN ANDREAS: Toby Emmerich.  So it came to no surprise why my reaction to this movie was what it was. (Note: Toby & Roland are not related.)
            SAN ANDREAS follows the fractured Gaines family during a once-every-150-years earthquake as they race against nature to find each other.  But writer Carlton Cuse (Lost co-creator) and director Brad Peyton don’t really care about the characters all that much.  Ray (The Rock) and Emma (Gugino) are in the middle of a divorce; not that you can tell, there is little friction between them in the one argument they have.  Their (living) daughter Blake (Daddario) seems fine with the fact that her mother is running into the arms of successful architect Daniel Riddick (Gruffund).  I guess she just loves lounging around by the giant, in-ground pool in the backyard.
            There is unintentional comedy thanks to the plight of the soon-to-be ex-spouses.  But to get the hilarity, you have to go to the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind then turn left.  I also hope you don’t mind me spoiling this part of the movie but it has to be fully described to be believed.  Mr. & Mrs. The Rock are playing out the disaster movie version of PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES.  In order to get to their daughter, Ray has to fly his helicopter to rescue Emma on a crumbling skyscraper in LA, crash into the Bakersfield Mall, hotwire a pickup truck, give the pickup to a senior couple in exchange for directions to an airfield, fly a small, parachuting training plane to San Francisco, tandem-jump into AT&T Bank Stadium, save dozens in an aftershock, borrow a rescue boat, only to be almost pulverized by a tidal wave before entering the final leg of their journey.
            Their daughter, on the other hand, is stuck as the basic damsel in distress before becoming the tough, young woman to the face of adversity, while attached to the dull love interest Ben & his ineffective comic relief little brother Ollie, both of whom are visiting from the UK for a reason I still don’t comprehend.  Another problem here is that every single thing they run into becomes convenient.  “We need a landline to tell our family we are alive.  Look!  An electronics store is around the corner!”  “Hey!  An abandoned fire truck that hasn’t been ransacked.  Let’s load up on medical supplies in case one of us gets a stabbed by a falling window.”  “Oh no!  The floor we are on in this in-construction building is flooding!  Quick, let’s go the stairwell we just came up that used to be blocked but isn’t anymore and go up three floors to safety!”  It’s moments like these that makes this movie almost too bad for its own good.
            Everything we learn about the earthquake is through Professor Lawrence (Giamatti).  His purpose is to discover the phenomenon, predict what happens next and alert the media (and the audience) what they are going to experience next.  Apart from the first earthquake at the Hoover Dam, Giamatti was relegated to staying in his office, occasionally visiting the Cal Tech media studio to be on the news or hiding underneath his desk every time the camera (sorry, earth) shook.  This I didn’t mind because he also wasn’t the bumbling comic relief like previous disaster movie scientists.
            But there were plenty of little things that I did mind.  The special effects aren’t that special.  Falling building hitting other buildings causing them to fall and the destruction of the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge by earthquake & tsunami, respectively, which are nothing you haven’t seen happen before to the White House or Statue of Liberty.  There are numerous, half-assed shots of random extras embracing each other or praying together that add nothing to the proceedings since they only appear in a single shot.  Some of the main actors appear lost while uttering the bland, redundant dialogue against an occasionally obvious green screen.  A minority has to die first, but at least he isn’t black this time.  Progress!  Another surprise: Emma’s boyfriend is an a$$hole, who gets a comeuppance he doesn’t deserve because of how little it has to do with the central family and is, frankly, a cop out to get a cheap cheer from the crowd.  He should have been thrown off his precious building by The Rock in full costume.  3-D still sucks.  And don’t get me started on the tasteless opening scene.
            SAN ANDREAS feels like the younger step-brother to Roland Emmerich’s disaster porn movies of the mid-to-late 1990s.  The movie is lifeless in story & character but overstuffed in the underwhelming special effects department.  In a world where superhero movies understand story is at least slightly important and movies like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD use real, practical effects to tell a complex story, movies like this have no place in the summer blockbuster landscape anymore.  Good riddance and don’t let the door digitally collapse on you on the way out.