Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde (R)

Charlize Theron, James McAvoy and John Goodman star in the spy VS. spy thill ride that plays more like a John Wick film than anything else you’ve seen recently. Sure there is double-crossing and some plot tension going on here that all takes place just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but what you really get for your ticket price is Charlize Theron wiping out scores of foes in serious gun play, knife play and hand to hand combat while the soundtrack plays the MTV hits of the 80’s. If that period of time rings a bell with you, you’ll feel right at home here.

Theron covers the gambit from looking like a top model to looking like she barely survived a bare knuckle bar fight with Mike Tyson. She also finds time to have hot sex with another female spy on the side. It’s always nice to see a little camaraderie among the female spies out there. Not since Basic Instinct have we had such a rich, violent, action packed adventure featuring a woman star onscreen.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



Spider-Man - Homecoming (PG-13)

Marvel Comics Studio gives us yet another version of the now tired series of Spider-Man movies. Tom Holland (II) stars as the young new web-spinning hero and Michael Keaton plays the Vulture, the latest villain to fight Spider-Man. Keaton is believable and shines in this otherwise made for TV movie.

Actor Tom Holland was a real gamble. He’s young (he can finally drink this year) and small framed with the voice of a middle school kid. Think back to all the best films you’ve ever seen about high school and the fine actors were more mature than real high school kids, and thank god for that. Holland actually seems like a 15-year-old high school kid with real insecurities, painfully obvious shortcomings, and the inability to drive a car much less run around in a souped up Spider-Man suit. He’s a Spider-Boy who shouldn’t yet have a license to wear the suit. It’s like watching a trick-or-treater who refused to take off his costume the next day.

Painful. Watching him gets old immediately.

Then there’s his best friend in the world who is mega-smart, but like a two-year-old, has the complete inability to keep anything secret. Anything. Ever. He blurts out secrets like a caged parrot. Incessantly. No matter how serious it is. Even in the middle of class.

Only in the mind of a Hollywood writer.

And then there’s the tacked on love interest. Every hero needs a love interest. But there is zero chemistry here. None. No real interplay whatsoever. If there was any reason for this high school debate-team Senior girl to hook up with this Junior loser (and I mean loser in the worst possible sense) it must have been left on the cutting room floor because we never see how on earth that could ever happen.

Only in the mind of a Hollywood writer.

The ending battle in the sky is cartoon clown-show nonsense. You’ll be shaking your head and saying to yourself, “Whatever. Just finish this crash and let’s move on.” Or something like that.

What a disaster. And unfortunately it will make gobs of money so we can expect more of it.

And for god’s sake, don’t wait for the final credits to finish rolling so you can see the extra ending. They are out of clever ideas. They’ll literally just laugh at you for thinking they would go to all that effort.

- Wait For HBO




Baby Driver (R)

A young man (called Baby) suffers tinnitus after a devastating loss when he was a child. He wears headphones jacked into his multitude of full iPods in order to drown out the constant hum and set the soundtrack of his daily life, whether simply walking down the street or driving a getaway car (in expert racing fashion) in much the same way as the Transporter genre of films. Except here the music on the soundtrack is literally playing in Baby’s headphones.

He drives a multitude of very colorful thieves from the heist locations to the mastermind’s hideout where they lay low and divvy up the money. Spacey plays the cold mastermind and has that role down to an eerie science.

With the likes of Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx you know you are going to get great characters onscreen, but the other less known actors and actresses here easily stand toe to toe with the veterans. Lily James plays a cute waitress named “Debora” that seems to the viewer like she just stepped out of a time machine from a 1950’s diner. It works. You want more of that vibe, and they give it to you.

The bandits Baby has to work with are ruthless penitentiary level thugs that have little patience for a silent baby faced kid, much less one literally named “Baby.” He obviously doesn’t belong so the tension is usually thick whenever Baby is in the presence of thugs. Be aware that the onscreen violence quickly pushes the movie to its R rating. This is no-nonsense, guns blazing robberies with frequent attempted escapes from the law.

Eisa Gonzalez plays a pretty thug named “Darling” who is one half of what could be called a Bonnie and Clyde relationship. The top notch, ruthless performance and chemistry of this duo could make for a great separate film on its own. Good stuff. Directors Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron (not affiliated with this film) have taken notice of Gonzalez and will feature her in their upcoming film, “Alita: Battle Angel.” Regardless of how that film turns out we need to see more from her.

This movie is filled from start to finish with great acting and rich character development. The action is non-stop, the editing is crisp, clean and clever and the soundtrack is pumping with hits covering many decades. Summer is here and thus far this is the best film of 2017.

- See it on "The Big Screen"




It Comes At Night (R)

Joel Edgerton stars with a group of utterly forgettable other actors in possibly the worst film of 2017, and it’s only June!

The critics (who overwhelmingly loved this movie) must have been under a spell and mistyped their label of “Horror” when categorizing this film. Perhaps they can’t categorize a film under the label “Horrible” but I certainly can.

It Comes At Night is not a Horror movie . . . it’s a Horrible movie.

Here’s a sentence that correctly uses the word “scary” when describing this movie.

It Comes At Night is so awful, it’s scary.

The all too familiar theme has a group of people hiding in a fortified home in the woods after a mysterious plague apparently wiped out humanity. Every other movie you’ve ever seen with that set-up was better and scarier than this one. Every one. Even TV shows on this theme - that we can watch for free.

A visitor suddenly shows up in the middle of the night, pounding on the only door into the house. This is the only scene (very early in the film) that shows promise. Something pounding loudly on a door is the highlight of this film . . . and it happens once.

For some reason zombies were implied for those heading to the theater along with a promise that this movie is terrifying. More than one critic said this film is terrifying. How old are those critics? Nine?

It Comes At Night is not terrifying, it’s terrible.

The characters are not folks anyone would be sympathetic with, the scares never really materialize, and unfortunately the climatic ending never materializes either. As the house lights came up, the movie patrons were all looking at each other with bemused looks on their faces. How on earth were we all hoodwinked into sitting through this movie?

It Comes At Night sucks. Avoid it like the plague it loosely dangles in front of us.

- Avoid!



The Fate of the Furious (PG-13)

Yes, the Fast & Furious franchise is still alive and well even if the implausibility knob is fully engaged at 10 throughout. But that’s to be expected whenever this band of high-revving drivers sets out (once again) to literally Save the World.

Kurt Russell (acting since 1963) can still carry his scenes, Charlize Theron shows everyone she can totally own any hot villain scenes, and then there’s Tyrese Gibson who shows us he’s still a no-talent clown.

If you think they couldn’t possibly outdo the outlandish scenes and effects of the last one, rest assured they spent the moola and the writers were given plenty of rope. Like the film T3 - Rise of The Machines, here we have another scene using the same weak plot device where 100 parked cars of all current makes and models suddenly start on their own to become auto-driving vehicles that perform with Blue Angels precision in a choreographed ballet of movement through the city streets of New York. It’s cartoonish in its delivery and insults the intelligence of an audience that shows up for these films mostly because they know a thing or two about cars.

Sometimes it’s best not to know too much about the plot of a film before you enter the theater. This is one of those instances. If you like the series then see it immediately and become as baffled as the onscreen team when Dom (Vin Diesel) suddenly betrays his team and goes rogue early on in this 2 1/4 hour film.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Kong Skull

Kong: Skull Island (PG-13)

Kong is back and thankfully Hollywood changed up the story enough to breathe new life into the old story we’ve all grown up with. This is not your father’s King Kong show.

This time it’s a quest to find and examine a strange hidden island just after the Vietnam war ends (before the Russians find it and explore it). With a military escort, a small band of scientists head off to the island to see what’s really lurking there.

John Goodman plays the head of the exploratory group while Samuel L. Jackson plays the hard ass colonel who hates the fact that the war (any war) is over. Tom Hiddleston plays the black ops tracker, which you seem to need in any movie like this. Brie Larson stars as a combat photographer. There are other big stars as well but it’s best not to mention them as they are nice surprises as the story unfolds. If you read other reviews, I’m sure they revealed too much already.

It’s always fun to see movies featuring the 70’s to revisit all the old tech of the day. Kodak black and white film, clunky cameras, slide projectors and junky record players. You’d have to visit a dump or stop by a millennial's apartment to see that stuff today. For those old enough to remember the hits of the early 70s, the soundtrack is killer. Very similar to Apocalypse Now in both feel and vibe. It works well as the helicopters take off from the aircraft carrier toward a massive storm that no fixed-winged aircraft nor helicopter would dare enter, but it makes for great moviemaking. Once through the storm that protects the island from the rest of the world, they enter a world very reminiscent of Jurassic Park. But since this is 1975, none of them have seen Jurassic Park yet so they have no clue what they are in for even after their first encounter with ginormous animals that shouldn't exist.

The least plausible moment has to be the inept flying skills of every single military helicopter pilot in the film. Shame to portray such professionals as the Keystone Kops of aviation experts.

But all that aside, they meet Kong and other wicked animals as well. You’ll be on the edge of your seat and will have no idea where it’s headed at any point in time. That is certainly refreshing in today’s world of Hollywood retreads.

- See it on "The Big Screen"




Arrival (PG-13)

“Flimsy reveal.”

That’s what I thought to myself at end of the critically acclaimed film, Arrival. Not sure why the critics are all gushing over this film about 12 alien ships that hover 30’ above multiple continents without revealing why there are there. The movie is as methodical as it is slow, and full of dreamy flashback nonsense between the scenes of linguists and scientists playing word charades with these creatures behind their protective glass.

That last sentence was a mouthful, and they spend nearly two hours milking that last sentence for all it’s worth. And the inside of those awesome ships is the most bland set piece in alien movie history. Basically a white movie screen - exactly like the one you sit in front of to watch this lame film, but without the theater’s 100 seats, wall sconce lighting, fancy carpeting and painted walls. No, this ship has none of that. Just a white space behind glass, and nothing else. If you think I’m kidding, look at the photo used for this review.

Can’t give away the reveal, but you likely won’t be impressed - if you stay awake long enough to finish it while sitting on your comfortable sofa. This is one to watch at home . . . if you really want to.

- Wait For HBO




The Accountant (R)

I’m sure that the top 10,000 scientists, researchers and accountants in the world all use computer spreadsheets when analyzing large amounts of complex data spanning 15 years. Einstein would’ve done the same if computers had been around in his day. But if you are making a Hollywood movie it’s time to have the modern otherworldly accountant spend the night writing out his findings (in the form of simple digits) all over the walls and massive glass doors of the conference room, to the point of exhausting numerous magic markers, to visually impress all those that see it.

Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, that otherworldly accountant who began life as an autistic child who was a savant with numbers. The kind of numerical genius that puts together a hundred piece puzzle within minutes, backwards, with the flat gray backing of the pieces upward and the picture of the puzzle facing down toward the table. He is so world renowned at uncooking books that the most ruthless cartels around the world hire him to find out where their money is really going.

If that were not enough, he was also brought up to focus on firearm marksmanship and physically taking down bad guys. And with his autistic bend, head shots don’t faze him - like a human version of a Terminator. That DNA is what you call Hollywood gold.

Anna Kendrick comes in as the female interest. I suppose she has made her mark with the Perfect Pitch movies and has newfound clout in Hollywood. I’ve never seen the Perfect Pitch movies but she doesn’t do much of anything special here so I’ll just blame it on poor casting for this role.

Affleck plays the role of savant accountant well, and the film is engaging. But by the third and final act it seems apparent that the story is so overly complex that we have long scenes of dialogue between characters simply to explain things to themselves as well as the viewing audience. JK Simmons plays a Treasury Crime Enforcement official who has such a long and twisted story to tell that we have to watch that scene multiple times as he retells it in the background. It’s a time constraint, weak script cheat that makes the film less fluid than it should be.

In the end it’s a bit of a mess. But as a rental - it would work.

- Wait For DVD


Deep Water

Deepwater Horizon (PG-13)

Stars Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich and Kate Hudson.

We all remember the 2010 story of the massive accident and subsequent oil spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Some may even remember the images shown on TV of the platform burning. What no one on land saw, and what no one would want to experience in person is what happens at the moment when it all goes wrong. Like the slow motion death grip when the train just starts to come off the tracks around a bend. Like the feeling you get when working at Chernobyl as you realize the gauges and dials are starting to get away from you. Those are moments that few people experience - and live to tell about it.

No doubt Hollywood salivated over this particular oil rig disaster opportunity for years. The whole event was a slow train wreck just itching for a film adaptation. There is no theater big and loud enough to properly depict the reality of what the people on that rig saw, heard and felt that day. But the resulting effort is why a theater is the best way to see this film.

Forget the political side of the story. Hollywood needs a villain to a fault. It’s easy to paint BP as the bad guys, but the reality is that Transocean was just as liable as BP for the long list of mistakes and shortcomings that day. And the polluting oil spill tragedy is another movie for another time. The paying audience is in it for the experience of being on a massive oil platform in the middle of the ocean. What’s that like? And from the comfort of our air-conditioned theater seats, we want to know what it was like to be on that one platform on that unfortunate day when all hell broke loose as ungodly amounts of oil and methane gas accidentally surged upward, unrerstricted, from the seabed nearly a mile below, only to be ignited by machinery to create a fiery bomb from hell.

It will shock you. And it’s not over in an instant. The Horizon was a massive platform (it was 36 hours before it sank). As the oil continued to surge, the fires and explosions spread to new areas of the rig. It’s a white knuckle ride and a show worth experiencing in the biggest, baddest theater in your town.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



Don’t breathe (R)

The plot is a terrific idea for what should be a great movie. But for the Jay Leno fans out there, this movie will likely remind them of a segment Jay used to do on the Tonight Show called, “Stupid Criminals.”

The film has no real stars which is actually an asset for a story like this, set in downtrodden Detroit where some punk kids ransack houses by urinating on the floor, breaking things, and stealing whatever they can carry. Hollywood likes to make sure everyone in the audience knows who the real villains are so there is no gray area if any villains are severely punished or killed off. These kids steer clear of taking large amounts of cash as that would put them into a higher felony category. Whatever.

But for one last score the punks decide to hit the home of a blind Iraq war veteran who supposedly won a lawsuit when his daughter was killed, so he’s sitting on mega-thousands in cash. Why he would keep a mountain of cash in his slum-like house in a totally abandoned slum neighborhood instead of depositing the settlement check in a bank is just one of a mountain of questions. Moving on . . .

So these punks know full well that they are dealing with a blind man who can hear perfectly well, yet they make as much noise as drunken college kids coming home after a frat party. They can’t keep their mouths shut, footsteps quiet, or act at all as if they understand the situation in any way. Sure, it ratchets up the suspense, but only because you’re watching three retards trying unsuccessfully to be quiet while robbing a house with the owner home. Once the blind man confronts the intruders you would think they would snap to their senses and begin to understand the dynamics around them. When I was only six years old I fully understood how to be quiet when playing hide and seek, and I wasn't even hiding from someone that wanted to shoot me to death if found. Factor in the fact that I can see and the seeker can’t and it turns into a boring game where they never, ever find me!

These idiots have no concept of how to stay quiet, work as a team, throw something at the blind guy (anything, a fork, a lamp . . . here, let’s grab this sofa and toss it on him - he can’t see!) nor attack him whenever he’s preoccupied with other tasks like boarding up a window. Ever watch a blind guy noisily trying to board up a window to keep you in the house? Perhaps that’s a good time to attack him, huh?

When the blind man flips the breaker to bring the house to total darkness to even the odds, this band of idiots actually starts calling out to one another like a simpleton game of Marco Polo where the guy that’s “it” is armed with a gun and will shoot at anything that makes a sound. Even funnier, the punks must have forgotten to take their Ritalin because they refuse to stay put and instead stumble around with hands extended in the darkness, knocking things over and generally making more noise than at any other time in the house. Abbot and Costello would think this silly scene was a comedy written just for them and they were trying to avoid running into The Wolfman.

There are some great Cujo style jumps scares, but you’ll likely spend most of the movie putting yourself in their position and thinking about how you would easily survive the situation. And as you watch the screen you’ll think back to the Jay Leno days.

Stupid Criminals.

- Wait For DVD


Star Trek Beyond (PG-13)

Fans have yet another reason to venture back to the movie theater this summer to catch the latest in the Star Trek franchise. The same cast is back and again they quickly fall for a trap and are all but doomed. You’ve seen the Enterprise damaged in battles all too often before (shields are now down to 20%? So what’s new?) but nothing like this. Krall (angry villain) had obviously studied the Enterprise carefully in advance. If he had just directed his weapons at the Enterprise bridge instead of everywhere else the film would have been 10 minutes and he’d have won! Seems he’s cut from that same line of Bond villain cloth.

There’s no need for any further plot description. If you like Star Trek movies it’s exactly what you pay to see. Captain Kirk and his crew will beat the insurmountable odds by the skin of their teeth, otherwise the franchise would be over . . . and that can't happen.

Note that as in past Trek films it’s always very convenient when they find themselves stranded on a planet that has perfectly breathable air, spring-like comfortable weather from a nice yellow star that is just the right distance and magnitude away, never too bright or too dim, with an atmosphere that is apparently disease-free and a gravitation that seems downright earth-like, with no indigenous insects or wild animals to worry about whatsoever. Amazing!

And for the first time ever the crew has seatbelts on the bridge, and they happily wear them for safety reasons. The funniest part is that the seatbelts are on a vintage Federation spacecraft which begs the question why they abandoned seatbelts on the newer ships?

But none of this matters a lick. If you like the cast in the current generation Trek films, this is right up your fun-adventure alley.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



Marauders (R)

Bruce Willis stars as a bank mogul in a crime drama mix of military rescue missions gone wrong, wild bank heists and FBI vs. local cop tensions. A lot going on here and there are so many characters in play that you’ll need the equivalent of a baseball team roster sheet to follow all the names and players. Good luck with that. I’m still not sure exactly how everything pieced together.

Willis is in surprisingly few scenes, but there is a lot of great acting here from everyone else. Couple that with some robbery scenes like you’ve never seen before and it will make for a solid rental.

Some items stood out:
This movie is set in today’s world yet there is a lot of BlackBerry use going on. Watching someone listen to voicemails in a string one-at-a-time like it’s 2006 brings back painful, archaic memories. Does BlackBerry still not have Visual Voicemail? Good grief.

It’s like a tropical storm downpour throughout most of the outdoor shots which is strange for Cincinnati.

Like a lot of movies in this genre, the well-trained bad guys fire hundreds of rounds of automatic gunfire that would go through a car and yet there are very few casualties in the lobby of a bank building.

In the end Hollywood decided to send this movie straight to video. It's worth a rental.

- Wait For DVD



Our Kind of Traitor (R)

A married couple on their honeymoon finds themselves trapped between helping a Russian mob money launderer save his family and assisting England’s MI6 at the same time. The first scene would lead you to believe this will be a raunchy, violent film about the Russian mob. But instead you’ll find yourself engrossed in the steady if slow paced building of the suspense right up to the end.

The couple is a little too cold toward each other to be newlyweds (feels more like an arranged marriage) which is not a part of the story but certainly detracts from the believability on screen. Not that any of it is believable once you leave the theater and dissect it, but as a movie it works. Only in the movies can people with steady jobs suddenly leave for week-long vacations. He’s a college professor and she’s a lawyer. Those vocations don’t really allow much spur of the moment flexibility. You could argue that in Europe it’s more likely, but even the Russian mob is suspicious of their frequent vacations.

As with the married couple, the less you know about what is going on the better the film will play out.

Also of note - we all know the Crosby, Stills and Nash song Marrakesh Express but this is the first time most of us will now identify Marrakesh with a location in a movie.

- Wait For DVD




10 Cloverfield Lane (PG-13)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman star as bomb shelter survivors who have escaped certain death. At least that’s what Michelle (Winstead) is told over and over again once she regains consciousness after a car accident and finds herself chained to a wall in a bomb shelter. Even once freed from her chains, what if anything really lurks outside the bomb shelter doors? Was she really saved from doomsday or just merely captured for twisted reasons?

As with many suspense movies, the less you know going in, the better. The whole point of the movie is guessing what is a lie and what is fact. And as with any movie, any odd item shown to the audience, especially if an actor spends any precious film time describing it, that item will be an important part of the final act. (Jaws - “Be careful with those scuba tanks!!”)

However there is a critical line of dialogue that many may miss when watching this movie, and it may cause the viewer to feel the ending shows unrealistic human behavior. During a quiet discussion Michelle reveals that throughout her life when things get stressful, she runs. It’s a character trait that has always plagued her.

There are times when a smart person would just hunker down. Not Michelle. Like a Geico commercial, “If you’re Michelle - you run. It’s what you do!”

Now the ending won’t seem ridiculous.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



The Witch (R)

It was no fun being a pilgrim in the 1600s. That’s the first thing you will take away from this authentic but glacially-paced movie from newbie writer/director Robert Eggers. It’s not really a very scary tale with the most haunting theme being the Old-English 1600s vernacular that left “thine ears” unsure of the dialogue muttered by this bible reciting family of seven.

After being banished for religious reasons from the safety of their colonial plantation the family heads out on their own to find a new place to live. They choose a spot but the crops fail with winter approaching and as the theatrical trailer shows, their newborn son disappears into the woods. So we all become worried about what’s in those woods.

At one point the teenage daughter taunts her little sister by admitting she’s a witch who will do terrible things to her and anyone else she wants. It’s fine to kid around in today’s world (in some countries) but it’s a ridiculous scene for the 1600s when everyone feared being labeled a witch. Witches were quickly and mercilessly tortured and killed. To believe that any girl or woman would even kid about that in a world of Puritans where everyone had their religious knobs turned up to 11 is downright silly.

The final movie payoff is as weak as most films written by another writer, M. Night Shyamalan.

You decide to watch this movie it will be a godsend to use the subtitles feature on your TV so you can translate 1600 Puritan English.

- Wait For HBO



Deadpool (R)

If you were to put Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero idea in a blender with the Spider-Man idea and added 3 heaping tablespoons of powdered “bad taste & foul mouth” you would have a glassful of Deadpool. Whether or not you could sip on that flavor for 1:40 minutes there is certainly wall-to-wall action going on at all times.

Ryan Reynolds stars as the wiseacre Marvel Comic Deadpool mercenary who is transformed into an ugly monster of a man that heals immediately no matter what awful things happen to him. The only downside to his incredible healing powers is that he’s ugly. Kind of a weak downside (there are a LOT of ugly people in the world who have zero superpowers) and that’s likely why few people have ever heard of the “Deadpool Marvel guy.”

As in Last Action Hero, people onscreen know they are in a movie and they talk to the audience as they go about their business. Odd, but it works well enough here. Reynolds skewers a lot of notable celebrities including himself with a seemingly endless supply of Hollywood lines to make us chuckle. Three quarters of them work and about a quarter of them leave the theater full of awkward silence that a TV sitcom laugh track usually fills.

It’s definitely not one for the kids, unless you’re a parent who has kids who swear freely at the dinner table or they listen as you do. From the audience in attendance around us there are apparently a lot of those families these days. No one walked out with their young children.

- Wait For DVD



Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (PG-13)

This final chapter in this series is certainly better than Mockingjay Part 1, and it does tie the story up in a dark but otherwise satisfying way. And since they filmed this series of movies all at once we even get to see more acting by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Unlike the previous Mockingjay film there is plenty of action and expensive effects to keep the interest high throughout the 2:15 runtime. The fact that Katniss seems to have an endless supply of arrows in her quiver, many of which seem to explode on impact, certainly helps the film. And then there are the eyeless, sharp toothed, tunnel dwelling humanoids that we have seen in films before, but always seem effective. If you have seen the other Hunger Games movies you pretty much know what to expect. And you’ll see the shocking finale scene coming a mile away.

Some final notes:
Elizabeth Banks is wearing some crazy-unique decorative eyelashes that I expect Lady Gaga (or Elton John) to be sporting onstage ASAP.

In the Good News/Bad News department - Apparently in the distant future, TV images will magically pop up over any table in any room whenever a special bulletin or commercial is broadcast. But unfotunately the picture quality will be far worse than televsions of the 1960’s.

Just more proof that those 4K TVs are a bad bet.

- See it on "The Big Screen"

Bond 2015

Spectre (PG-13)

Daniel Craig is back as James Bond, another in a list of recent “agents” at the box-office that suddenly have to make themselves relevant in a world that no longer seems to need secret agents. After sitting through the long series of previews for upcoming movies shown before this film, Hollywood is now officially out of new ideas. Or perhaps the young screenwriters working today simply don’t realize their ideas have already been made into films - twice before.

We all know what to expect with Bond films - martinis, exotic locations, exotic cars, unbelievable breathtaking stunts and sultry women who love to have sex with anyone wearing a holster or a black patch over one scarred eye. This film delivers the goods, but it would seem the Editor Union was on strike when this film was in the works. This film has a runtime of 2 hr. 30 min. and feels like 3 hours. A long 3 hours. The image I selected above is not action packed for a reason. Most of the movie is filled with dark slowly developing scenes like the one above. As long as you know that going in, you can make sure you are well rested before entering the theater.

This is a movie that you would not want to sit through twice. How many 007 films can you name that you wouldn’t watch twice?

- Wait For DVD


MI Bike 1

MI Bike 2

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation (PG-13)

Ethan (Tom Cruise) is back as the leader of the IMF in another installment of Mission Impossible. This time Alex Baldwin joins the cast as the head of the CIA that manages to dissolve the IMF organization (just like the IMF was dissolved in the MI Ghost Protocol film). Now it’s up to Ethan to prove his theories about a Syndicate Organization are true (as a rogue agent) to make the IMF relevant again.

But that’s just storyline to get us into the theater to watch what we paid for in any Mission Impossible or Bond film. Stunts, wild chases through the streets, hot women who tend to fight, and witty lines spoken all around. They got most of it right. Holding onto the side of a cargo plane as it takes off is a hell of a stunt. The motorcycle chase scene alone is worth the price of admission. Rebecca Ferguson is really hot and fights like an agile, pissed off biker chick. And there are some funny lines, but too much of a Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz attempt at humor (blame Simon Pegg for that) which doesn’t belong in the film.

This is a solid summer blockbuster that deserves whatever attendance records it breaks and whatever millions of summer dollars it rakes in. One glaring error I have to mention - If you are behind bullet proof glass and shoot your gun point blank at it, the bullet comes back your way really fast. If you shoot 5 bullets at it, 5 bullets come back your way really fast. And you are dumb enough to unload your clip hoping for a different outcome, the whole clip of bullets will still come back your way - really fast.

Perhaps someone needed to point out this detail to the director who seems to live in a world where all guns shoot Hollywood blanks and nothing ever ricochets back.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Ant Man

Ant Man (PG 13)

Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas Star in the latest Marvel Studios film, Ant Man. Scott Lang (Rudd) is a master thief who takes on an impossible task in a special suit that shrinks him down molecularly into ant size, but conveniently still with the strength of a full grown man. He attempts this craziness so that he can avoid more prison time to be with his young daughter as she grows up.

For this mission he needs to thwart a sinister business man who has a rival ant man suit (Yellow Jacket) in his huge corporate building that is protected with a lot of security features. Scott first needs to train in the ant suit and this is where the film struggles. (See photo above.)

The effects are solid but they try too hard to put too many ANTics into the film. In one short scene he runs (in ant sized form) out of a quickly filling tub of water in his apartment, to end up falling on the floor - smashing down through the floor of the apartment into a booming disco (really?) right onto a spinning vinyl record (really??) where he spins off to the floor where he dodges the quickly shuffling monster disco feet of the crowd dancing all around him - until he ends up smashing his way into another living room where a vacuum cleaner sucks him into the bag, and . . . what cartoon planet is this supposed to be?

It’s supposed to be present day earth.

Oh, and he can talk to ants too, so reinforcements are never far away. I became ANTsy by the second half but the pint-sized children sitting around us seemed to enjoy it well enough.

- Wait for DVD (if you are a big Marvel fan)



Jurassic World (PG-13)

Those who have seen the Spielberg classic films will understand that he lets a scene play out for full effect. However long it takes. In real life there are awkward pauses and there are natural pauses. Spielberg always embraced the natural pause and natural flow of casual conversation. It’s what gives his movies a life that other films lack. Whether it’s the scenes around a kitchen table in Jaws or the young kids around the kitchen table in ET. You needn’t rush each shot to the next one or you’ll risk a cookie cutter action film. Alas, Spielberg was the producer of this film, not the director.

Budding director Colin Trevorrow doesn’t subscribe to Spielberg’s methods as the scenes in Jurassic World quickly dance from one scene to another before they can gel enough to bring the audience fully into the fold. With only one independent film to speak of under his belt (Safety Not Guaranteed) it’s anyone’s guess how Mr. Trevorrow was given the reins to this high profile sequel.

There is one scene (the first helicopter ride) where we get a taste of the flavor of the first Jurassic Park film. There was hope at that point that this movie could rise to the blockbuster occasion. But it quickly looses that strategic pacing and instead paints by the numbers methodically forward.

The acting can’t be faulted. Everyone onscreen does what it takes with the lines they are given and the big budget dinos are certainly convincing. I’ve never seen actress Bryce Dallas Howard in anything else. It’s almost unfair that she is the daughter of Ron Howard. How awful would it have been to go up against her in acting class? She plays the part well as the all-too-busy operations manager of the park. But director Trevorrow should be heavily fined for continuing to film all of her scenes (five months of filming) while she continually runs away from dinosaurs in high heels, even when running through the dense, muddy jungle! If you think I’m exaggerating, take another peek at the photo heading up this review. Sexy, hell yeah . . . but given this very specific situation she could sure use a Nike swoop on those kicks.

At some point one would think that while eating dinner, or laying awake in bed, as most stressed directors do, or while talking to one of the hundred women around him on the sets, or perhaps teased by his wife - at some point in time during months of shooting, the director would ask himself (or be asked by someone over the age of eleven) if it is in any way plausible that a woman not wearing a cape would be able to pull off such an olympic exercise as running and hiking in jungle terrain in heels for 24 hours. With a Rolodex full of Hollywood writers, who we can only assume are the best screenwriters on the planet, at your fingertips, with Spielberg as your producer, surely someone could have come up with a way to rewrite a couple lines in the script so she could change out of her high heels!

I’m talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in stiff fines. No one in the theater was fooled by it. Not for a second. It’s certainly the least plausible part of the entire story, and we’re talking about engineered living dinosaurs in a theme park on a distant island.

Is it as good as the original? No, and perhaps there will never be a dinosaur theme park film that will rise to Spielberg’s original. But if you enjoy the theme of engineered dinosaurs gone wrong, this one puts enough of a twist on the story to keep you interested enough for a theater visit.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Time Lapse

Time Lapse (Unrated)

If the Polaroid company ever tried to make a time machine, perhaps this would have been the first proof of concept prototype.

Three friends, Finn (Matt O'Leary), Jasper (George Finn), and Callie (Danielle Panabaker) find out about a machine in the apartment across the street that takes photos (of their living room) every day. The Poloroid pictures it spits out (sorry Kodak, you can’t seem to catch a break!) show a snapshot 24 hours into the future. That offers a sort of time-space-continuum opportunity that the group decides to exploit.

That’s all you need (and want) to know about the plot before watching the film.

Of the long list of quibbles (not the least of which is whether the method used to gain money is even sound) is that these kids have never heard of curtains! But there’s no need to pick this film apart. There’s a time machine of sorts at the film’s core. If that’s believable then little else is really out of place. It’s best to just go along with it and “people watch” as these three souls wrangle with the inevitable roadblocks as they appear.

I’m sure greed has made a lot of folks go off the rails a bit, but there’s a line for 99% of humanity and I think these folks cross it multiple times. But the film will certainly keep you on the edge of your seat for the full running time and keep you guessing until the final frame. Afterward you will try to dissect the events you’ve seen in an attempt to figure out if any of their methods used would be even remotely possible.

- Wait For DVD


Ex Mach

Ex Machina (R)

I digitally removed the film’s tag line from the movie poster above as it gives away too much about the plot. If you want to be sure not to have the movie spoiled for you, going to the theater right away might be the biggest reason to pay full price to see it instead of waiting for DVD. It will make a great rental.

The story involves a young software coder working for the largest internet company in the world who wins a competition to spend a week at their CEOs hidden camp to witness breakthrough artificial intelligence technology. What he finds there is certainly incredible and far more than he bargained for. He finds the CEO to be both brash and tough to be around. Brash like other legendary CEOs we have all read and heard about throughout our lives. But it’s the A.I. behind the glass that drives the young coder (and the viewer) to anticipate the next day.

Ex Machina is one of those movies where it’s best if you are as much in the dark as the young coder who arrives by helicopter to the secluded research facility. It’s a story that will keep you guessing until the last frame. And you’ll likely continue to think about the film afterward.

- Wait For DVD



Fast & Furious 7 (PG-13)

Paul Walker takes his last ride with his crew in the postponed release of Fast & Furious 7.

The team is reassembled and ready to ignore all the laws of physics for the full 2 hr. 20 min. running time. If you’re looking for an action film to pass the time this film certainly delivers. Films over two hours better deliver some action - and this keeps it coming. And they spent the money. The scenes in Dubai are something only mountains of Hollywood cash and hundreds of computer effect masters could pull off.

The cast is all back and although Tyrese Gibson offers little more than silly banter, like a worthless stooge (he wants to be Chris Tucker when he grows up) the rest of the actors show up to do their part.

We are used to seeing fight scenes where solid blows to the head are shaken off in a way that would make Muhammad Ali roll his eyes, but once cars start backing out of a cargo plane at altitude, laws of nature and any common sense get tossed aside and everyone on screen becomes a totally indestructible superhero. The occasional scratch, sure. But so much as a fracture? Hollywood writers have never heard of a fracture. The Marvel Comics lawyers should be asking for royalty payments of some kind. There is little difference between the Avengers movies and this latest F&F team - except for the colorful spandex uniforms.

So what is this film about? Exactly the same plot as the Avengers movie - the assembled team of superheroes has to save the world. Really.

It’s somehow odd to watch Paul Walker (who died before the film was completed) smiling on the screen, unaware of his impending fiery death - in a speeding race car no less. As with Brandon Lee, who died on the set of “The Crow” and Heath Ledger who died right after he finished his scenes for “The Dark Knight” Batman film, it adds a strange twist when viewing these films. We end up watching the last work of a deceased actor in the prime of their careers with the omniscient knowledge that they will die soon after they complete one of their scenes.

Hollywood did a tasteful job of acknowledging Walker’s importance to the franchise at the end of the film. If you were a fan of the previous F&F films, you’ll enjoy this ride as well.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



Blackhat (R)

Director Michael Mann is once again behind the camera in this terrorist computer hacker thriller Blackhat. Mann was executive producer of the original Miami Vice TV series from 1984-1990. As a director he developed a slower pace, visually colorful style with such films as Thief (1981), Manhunter (1986), Heat (1995), Collateral (2004) and Miami Vice (2006). Each of these films has the same distinct Mann feel to them.

The feel is certainly there with this film as well, and had it been released a decade ago perhaps the slow pacing would not be a factor. But in today’s world of fast paced, cleverly edited, get to the point TV and film it’s hard for us to jump back to a time where movies touted as thrillers simply meandered along to their climax.

We spend most of the film in China, where our group of good hackers are searching for bad hackers who have wrecked havoc on a Chinese nuclear plant. Of course the FBI and NSA are involved in the hunt and in a fine movie twist, it is imperative that an infamous evil hacker named Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) is released from a US federal prison to join the good hacker team - as it was his original raw code that enabled the bad hackers to take down that nuclear site. Thus, he’s the only person who could possibly crack the case. I’m sure that scene made 1,300 of the top FBI and NSA coders (along with 1,300 or so top Chinese code experts) shake their heads in disbelief.

A Chinese computer savvy brother and sister team (who have done no prison time) work with GPS ankle bracelet tracked Hathaway to locate the sinister hacker foes. If Chris Hemsworth is the heartthrob draw for the women in the audience, Chinese actress Tang Wei is the eye candy for the guys. Though as the photo above shows, she’s mostly disheveled throughout the film.

As with most Michael Mann films, the gunplay is loud and realistic. Automatic rounds rip through empty ship containers with ease and when shots hit their mark it knocks the deceased souls on their asses. These scenes are well done but there are long stretches of technical chitchat with too many CGI animations of molecular level travel of keystroke data over Internet lines between them.

The scenery is colorful and the actors are competent but if you are expecting a white water rafting trip, this plot is a lazy river with too few exciting rapids to keep you interested. Blackhat will make for a fine $1 rental.

- Wait For DVD



Interstellar (PG-13)

Matthew McConaughey, Michael Kane, Anne Hathaway (and other surprise actors) try to save planet earth in the latest space thriller called Interstellar.

McConaughey and his team set out to save our rapidly dying planet with a Plan A and a Plan B to choose from. It takes these astronauts years to make the journey to their hypothetical destination and for the viewers, the film has a lengthly running time of nearly 3 hours. It’s a tale that might have played better on TV as a three part miniseries.

Not that it’s a boring movie. The film features the best (exhilarating!) water landing in movie history, even if it is followed by head-shaking ridiculous actions immediately afterword. C’mon man!! The distant destinations do keep you interested but there is a lot of SPACE between them. Alas, the film also features the silliest ambulatory design of all time for futuristic robots. Makes the rickety tripod alien pods in Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds film look downright sturdy by comparison. There’s a good reason why no animal has three legs. What was the director thinking? Did his 10-year-old son come up with the robot design and he felt obligated to use it? The robot in the 60’s TV show Lost in Space had a more believable design. And that’s not good.

The ending is “out of this world” too, so keep your expectations low. It was said you need to see this movie in IMAX to get the full effect. After seeing it in IMAX, I disagree.

- Wait For DVD


John Wick

John Wick (R)

Keanu Reeves stars as John Wick, a retired hit-man with a reputation for being worse than the boogyman - he’s the guy you hire when you want to KILL the boogyman. So it’s good that he’s retired.

But that all changes when some Russian Mob thugs mistakenly take him for an ordinary citizen and subsequently beat him down and steal his vintage car. There is more to that storyline but it is better left unsaid for this review. The Russian mafia boss quickly finds out that John Wick had been accidentally targeted by his rambunctious son and he immediately realizes that a very focused sleeping giant has been awakened. Knowing there is no stopping John Wick, he prepares those around him to expect the worst.

John Wick is definitely a no-nonsense bad-ass and the movie rips along at a loud aggressive pace that goes by quickly with a lot of physical action and more kill shots to the head than one could count. It was an interesting choice to cast Keanu Reeves as the lead. Perhaps Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, Jason Statham and The Rock were unavailable as they would have been obvious first choices for this role. But Keanu pulls it off fine and his cardboard personality plays into his focused march of mayhem.

With costars John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe and Dean Winters (the guy that actually plays “Mayhem” in the Allstate commercials) each star can hold their own so the acting is solid.

It’s certainly not a date movie, but if dark action-revenge movies excite you, this one is a must see.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Girl Gone

Girl Gone (R)

Just as summer comes to a close Hollywood releases the blockbuster movie version of the hit novel Girl Gone starring Ben Affleck as the husband who comes home to find his beautiful wife missing (gone) with circumstances that leads him to believe she was taken with a struggle. Rosamund Pike plays the “famous writer” wife that disappears. We get to know more about her story and their relationship in flashbacks.

The more the cops investigate the more the suspicion points to the husband as the killer. As the cops, neighbors and rest of the country rally against the husband’s obvious guilt, you’ll spend most of the movie deciding whether this heavily flawed husband is really innocent or guilty as charged.

It’s certainly not a new idea for a story but it’s well done here. There are plenty of plot twists in this 2 hr. 25 min. movie and it supposedly follows the long novel very closely. Any more info would simply spoil the film. Whether or not the story would hold water in real life (doubtful) the actors do a tremendous job with their characters.

If you don’t see this one in the theater you’ll likely overhear the final guilt/innocent outcome on the street long before it hits rental status. Since thats the whole crux of the movie - that would be a shame.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



Lucy (R)

Morgan Freeman stars in his 10,000th film of 2014. He’s a great actor who has basically played himself in virtually every movie he’s made. He’s not a particularly versatile actor, but a fine one.

He nails his role here (yet again as he always does) this time as a professor who knows more than he could ever imagine when he meets Lucy (played by Scarlett Johansson). The Korean mafia surgically implants a bag of a newly synthesized drug into her belly for her to mule into the US. After she takes an unfortunate beating (most unfortunate for the mafia thug doing the beating) the drug pouch ruptures inside her and as the drug races into her bloodstream it causes a roomful of Hollywood writers to go nuts with their imaginations.

The movie set-up just prior to this drug rupture is first-rate. Everything is believable and the movie is solid as a rock. Once the bag ruptures you need to imagine every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie you have ever seen and prepare yourself for a ride like that. Total Recall would be a good reference.

If Schwarzenegger was starring in the film instead of Scarlett Johansson people would be less likely to question the ridiculous antics that ensue. If you just sit back and enjoy it, it’s a great action movie that you could watch several times.

In the selected photo above, Lucy has just made her hair turn black in one second while walking through the airport - just by wishing it to turn black. In Total Recall shape shifters tried to get through security with head/face changes in a matter of seconds. Either you question it or you enjoy the ride. Up to you.


In this photo she shows her no-nonsense Schwarzenegger flair for getting things done but with better hair and make-up. It works surprisingly well.

The director spends the last 15 minutes taking us on a journey through time and space, doing things and going into areas that we simple humans can’t possibly understand or comprehend, but we’re not supposed to comprehend it. Hard to say how silly it might be 80 years from now, but it seems silly today. And as pointed out early in the film, that’s the point.

If you told someone back in 1915 that in their lifetime they would be able to watch a baseball game taking place live in NY while sitting in their own living room, in Kansas, for free, in their underwear, they would have laughed at you. That whole idea would be inconceivable to their 1915 era brain. Perhaps what happens here is not so impossible, but you’ll still laugh - with your 2014 era brain.

The ending of the film reminded me of a mix of two movies that coincidentally both came out in 1983. Brainstorm and Videodrome. If you saw those movies you’ll know where this film is headed toward the end.

It’s wacky. But so are most Schwarzenegger films. Scarlett Johansson pulls off “wacky” for this film.

- See it on "The Big Screen"



Gravity (PG-13)

Sandra Bullock keeps looking at her big wristwatch in the latest space film, Gravity. Unfortunately, you’ll be glancing at your watch too! This Sandra Bullock/George Clooney space movie has been an instant hit at the box office. That doesn’t mean it’s a great movie, but it’s certainly a box office hit.

As with any movie that was shot with 3-D in mind (from the start as opposed to a post-production, low quality afterthought) there are far too many “things” coming toward the screen in inordinate proportions. And it’s really those exaggerated effects coupled with a few preposterous scenes that really take away from this film.

The movie opens with astronauts spacewalking to repair the Hubble telescope. The scene is surreal and it really does give you the full effect of being in space with them. The banter between astronauts and Mission control is surely more Hollywood than your typical professional NASA quips but it’s enjoyable enough. Then suddenly things take a worrisome turn when an ailing Russian satellite is blown up by the Russians which creates a fast-moving debris field (space junk - kind of like this movie itself) that’s suddenly circling the earth. When you are spacewalking in a thin manmade spacesuit, the word that comes to mind when fast moving particles of any kind are headed your way is, “Yikes!”

For some reason NASA is unable to accurately track this debris field and with NASA’s shockingly frequent shortcomings over the past decade, that might not be the far-fetched part of this movie. Either way NASA finally calculates the debris cloud accurately and discovers that our cast of characters are right in the way! Keep in mind that space junk like this travels at thousands of miles an hour as it circles the Earth.

When the entire crew hears the sudden code red alert from mission control, the mission leader (played by George Clooney) tells everyone to immediately get into the shuttle for cover. But Sandra Bullock seems to dilly-dally as if she wants to see the last play of the football game before coming to dinner. If you were to chat with any first-year astronaut trainee they would tell you that oncoming space junk would probably be the number one fear when space walking.

Without going into too much plot detail I’ll simply point out two absurdities (of many) that really brings the film to its knees - and then I’ll tell you the really bad news. The space junk orbits the earth every 90 minutes which gives Hollywood the ticking time bomb plot device they thrive on to keep movies interesting. When certain astronauts are able to survive the incredibly fast shotgun blast of space junk as it demolishes, shreds, pulverizes and disintegrates all of the satellites and NASA aircraft in the area (as the astronauts are holding onto said structures) some space-suited people are left virtually unscathed with nary a deadly pinhole in their suit! This repeats itself every 90 minutes so surviving each episode over and over would be odds on the order of thirteen-gazillion to one . . . give or take. It would work in a Superman movie, but none of these astronauts are revealed to us as Superman. Not even in the credits. This movie makes “Diehard” look like a documentary.

The second item that everyone should know is that water abides by the law of surface tension. If you pull water out of a glass in space it will stay together in a single globule, adhering to itself like a blob. With no gravity the water doesn’t "drip or drop" anywhere. And when people cry or sweat in gravity-free space the water droplets will adhere to their skin like glue (surface tension) not fall off conveniently toward the camera for a cool theater 3-D effect. It’s bad enough Hollywood is still pushing this 3D nonsense, but don’t pitch us cartoon physics to oversell your 3D snake-oil.

And now for the bad news - Sandra Bullock has made some terrific films in the past so I can see why she was cast as the lead for this film. But the sad truth is that Sandra Bullock is no Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks can simply mosey around on a quiet deserted island with no ticking time bomb nor any Hollywood soundtrack playing in the background and audiences are mesmerized for hours. That’s no easy feat and there are very few actors that can pull that off.

Sandra Bullock cannot pull that off, and they even gave her an ear shattering soundtrack to help the cause. She needs a supporting cast or you quickly lose interest. She was trapped in space in the same way Tom Hanks was trapped on a desert island. Yet I’d bet no one wanted to go to sleep as they watched Tom Hanks work out the solution to his problem. No such luck with Bullock. You’ll be glancing at your watch. She can’t carry a movie by herself.

And it’s a shame.

- Wait For DVD



Man of Steel (PG-13)

It’s been seven years since Hollywood released a Superman movie. That means there’s a whole new audience of teens that have never paid to see Superman at the theater. That’s the only reason to re-release a new version of this film - it offers nothing for the older crowd who have seen much better renditions of the Superman saga.

Henry Cavill (who?) takes over the Clark Kent role. He’s surrounded by well known better actors like Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Diane Lane (Kent’s mother), Kevin Costner (Father), Russell Crowe (biological father), Laurence Fishburne and Michael Shannon. Diane Lane and Costner really shine as Clark Kent’s surrogate parents, and that’s the only strength of the film. Unfortunately the movie skims over the adolescent years that were so engaging in the earlier films. When we do see flashbacks of the early years, they are too heavily laden with teenage angst and silly CGI.

The movie is far too dark for it’s own good. The whole thing feels like a big chunk of Kryptonite was left in the script office and it made everyone weak. I’m guessing a vast majority of the moviegoers didn’t go in with the intent of being brought DOWN by the movie. The Five for Fighting song “Superman” was an interesting take on the dark side of being Superman, but don’t take that lyric and run with it for 2 1/2 hours!

Lois Lane is just a low level reporter, but somehow she gets enough street cred virtually overnight that the US Military suddenly has her running point on the missions to save earth. Amazing!! I don’t understand it but, AMAZING!!

The sound techs certainly had fun as the movie is loud as hell. Kids no doubt dig the CGI, but as I’ve mentioned with the Transformer films, watching indestructible robots or indestructible men from other planets fight each other gets old immediately. If they can toss each other through multiple steel girder and concrete high rise buildings in a single toss, that leaves little else for us to watch. Tossing the indestructible guy forty times isn’t any better than when we saw him tossed around the first two times. We get it - he’s indestructible. It’s just a total waste of time to repeat the exact same gesture over and over with the same outcome. More importantly, how are their clothes able to withstand such punishment? You can’t even wrinkle that cape. I’m sure Levis and Nike are interested.

And when the final battle resolves itself, and the indestructible bad guy is finally terminated (which is good because you are tired of glancing at your wristwatch) you will simply shake your head and say, “So that’s it? 2 1/2 hours of my time and he kills him like that? Is this a WWF match? Did I actually pay money for this garbage?”

Or something like that.

- Wait For HBO


Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 (PG-13)

Tony Stark dons the red suit once again to take down a diabolical terrorist. I predicated after the first Iron Man film that his buddy (played at the time by Terrence Howard) would become his crime fighting sidekick. They switched to replacement buddy (played by Don Cheadle) with a red, white & blue suit of his own! How quaint. It’s just like a Lethal Weapon 14 release. Even funnier about my 2008 prediction that Iron Man sequels would be Lethal Weapon wannabes is that the Director for this sequel is Shane Black, who wrote the script for Lethal Weapon. Hollywood is as predictable as the sunrise.

The Iron Man suits are a big problem for this movie. With Jedi-Master-like powers, Stark no longer has to “put on” a suit. The suit flies to him - in pieces. More on this insanity later.

Gwyneth Paltrow gets some suit time too, because from this movie we now know that pretty much anyone in the shape of a human (one size fits all!) can have the suit fly to and attach to them and suddenly be a masterful fighter. Forget about all the extensive and sometimes hilarious training that Stark had to endure before he could work the original suit. Like putting on a baseball cap, pretty much anyone can do it with immediate style. Boy is that made-up new wrinkle a load off the minds of the Hollywood writers. Now ANYTHING is possible with this franchise. Even the ridiculously impossible.

And now that Tony Stark has met a young boy, who knows - the suit may come in tween sizes next year!

Can’t wait.

As a long-time movie-goer I’ll admit it’s exciting to watch a superhero take down bad guys, but there needs to be some ground rules so we know how far to suspend our beliefs as we enter the theater. If the rules are casually tossed out the window like a chewing gum wrapper, the movie-going experience quickly loses its appeal and turns into nothing more than Saturday morning cartoons minus the overflowing bowl of Cap’n Crunch.

Superman wears a cape and can really fly. He has a lot of abnormal abilities that would allow him to win every event at the Olympics - because he comes from another planet. He’s not really a human being in the Earth sense. If you know that going in, it all makes perfect sense.

Batman wears a cape too, but that’s where the physical traits end. He’s not from another planet and cannot possibly fly without one of his expensive gadgets to propel him through the air. Batman is not faster than a speeding bullet, nor able to leap a tall building in a single bound.

Ground rules are important.

You can suspend your beliefs to accommodate the Incredible Hulk theme or Thor’s activities, and even stretch your imagination when ancient Chinese warriors leap through the treetops like squirrels. But Tony Stark is just a regular American human being in a high tech suit. He’s never even been bitten by a radioactive spider. That suit cannot make him indestructible like Superman or the Hulk. Just because he’s part of the Marvel Comic franchise, the writers can’t just lazily use that badge to write ANYTHING into the script. The laws of physics don’t allow for physical punishment, or stopping on a dime from high speed flight. Not only does a car crash quickly reveal the horrible trauma to the human body with a sudden stop, but Air force pilots can’t even take the punishment from a high G acrobatic training flight in a Raptor jet without suffering trauma!

The bigger problem with this movie is that it’s not set in the distant future where any of the on-screen activities could even be remotely possible. Not even Star Trek attempts this nonsense. The cartoon-like idea that 12 separate non-aerodynamic shaped pieces of his suit could individually rocket themselves 300 miles to auto-assemble onto his body like Transformer pieces is outlandishly absurd. Any script writer involved in that scene should be immediately exiled to the Hanna-Barbera studios. And if you think there are only two suits working this silly side show, oh how foolish that would be. By the end of the film you’ll be laughing at the expended dixie cup numbers of suits.

I don’t even want to delve into the human villains that are really fire breathing, refuse to die Terminator IV characters. Did they walk onto the wrong set? What’s going on here?

The movie ends in a flurry of CGI busy work while the stars just kind of watch the acton, like us. Who’s running this show? Oh yeah, Jarvis is conrolling the action. How boring that nugget is.

The 2 hr. 15 min. movie will feel like 2 hr. 15 min. and it takes its time building to the action. And then it’s a Superman movie. I just wish they’d tell us it’s a Superman movie on the marquee.

The earlier Iron Man films had interesting extra footage after the extensive end credits. This film adds two additional long scrolling screens of digital effects credits, in fine print with only comas between each name as the block text fills the full width of the theater screen. Life is good if you’re a Hollywood digital animator.

And sure enough, it ends with extra footage. Footage that acknowledges that they made you look. You’ll feel like a fool for waiting for it.

Can’t decide whether to see it in 3D or not? Don’t worry, it’s playing in Stink-o-Vision in theaters everywhere.

- Wait For DVD (on a rainy Wednesday night)


Warm Bodies


Warm Bodies (PG-13)

A zombie named R seems to have a pretty good sense of humor and a love of 80’s music (on vinyl, no less). When not listening to music he spends an inordinate amount of time (for a zombie) thinking about life. He’s a zombie Misfit Toy in this latest story of a new world of apocalyptic zombies.

There are of course non-zombie humans living on the “other side of the tracks,” a protective wall actually, but you get the basic Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story, Avatar formula. As with all these stories, the two sides don’t coexist well. In the end of these famous stories both sides still don’t coexist well even after the boy and girl from each side find love, but I degrees.

In this story the romance starts after an unlikely mission-gone-wrong scene has R leading a pretty military scout named Julie (Teresa Palmer) away from the flesh-eating carnage, whereupon he protects her for a few days while she’s on the wrong side of the tracks. Keep in mind R still has flesh eating blood on his face from his recent meal (Julie’s boyfriend). Why on earth this military trained daughter of the resistance General (John Malkovich) doesn’t immediately try to escape from this obviously deranged human-eating-zombie is just one of many questions that arise. If an obviously rabid dog with foam running out of his mouth or a wild grizzly bear seemed kind of friendly toward you, only an idiot would spend much quality time alone with either, much less go to sleep around them.

I can’t be certain but throughout the film I tried to catch R and the other zombies blinking. Quite early on I noticed they didn’t blink at all. If that was really the director’s intention, that attention to detail was well done.

But plot holes abound. You have to shoot the zombies in the head to kill them (again), but the much meaner skeleton end-stage zombies seem to go down if simply hit with a mini-airport cargo cart. Pretty much any gunshot to the body ruins the day for the skeleton guys. That’s all too convenient.

Then there is the unexplained goo that R smears like Indian warpaint on one of Julie’s cheeks to keep other zombies from smelling her “live” dinner bell flesh. What is it, where does it so conveniently come from, and how on earth could it possibly work? It’s nothing more than a weak plot device which lowered this film to made for TV levels. As a TNT or FX Channel exclusive movie, it would be a home run. For $10, not so much.

Thankfully with a 90 minute running time the movie doesn’t drag on as long as it otherwise could have. Teresa Palmer can act and is easy on the eyes so this high profile film should launch her into more top movies. John Malkovich must have been bored or lost a bet with someone to want this small unremarkable role.

In the end, the symbol that grabs the attention of the zombies and changes the outcome of the story is pretty weak. It’s certainly a different take on zombie movies, but doesn’t really provide us with the fertile comedy we were expecting from the well edited trailer.

- Wait For DVD



Rise of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13)

A new generation of kids are going to the movies - time for those dirty stinking apes to appear on theater screens again.

This version stands on its own . You don’t have to know anything about the other six “Plant of the Apes” movies that have rolled out since the original in 1968. In this version a genetic engineer has an experiment go horrible wrong and decides to bring home a genetically engineered chimp from the chaos at the lab. The chimp’s name is Caesar and his destiny is to lead all apes to freedom.

Unfortunately, before that can happen we have to spend a hour or so with a pretty shallow bunch of humans. The cops in this film are pretty much of the Keystone variety as well.

The effects are well done. The apes are not totally Discovery Channel lifelike, but most scenes are close enough to keep you from thinking about it much. The pacing is just quick enough that you won’t get bored, but there’s less action that you will expect going in.

With the dose of serum running through his veins, Caesar’s brain develops like an Einstein chimp. It doesn’t stop with him - the problem spreads to other apes. But the bigger problem here is that the movie Apes suffer from the same silly Hollywood physics nonsense of the Spider Man movies. Just because you are given special enhanced qualities does not make your flesh and bones suddenly able to survive falls from three story buildings or enable your body to survive a leap though solid walls and laminated glass windows. Superman was from another planet and the Terminator was a machine - these Einstein apes are still bound by Earthly laws of flesh and bones physics. But you’d never know it from their Superman (or impossibly cartoonish) death defying antics.

But the kids won’t question any of it, and I expect this franchise to thrive for another film or two - one of which will no doubt be in 3D and totally suck.

When the movie ends you may say to yourself that the Apes have only taken San Francisco. Surely they would be defeated as soon as the US Army rolled in. Stay seated when the credits roll and you see the bigger picture of what happens next. This leads us to the inevitable sequels to come.

- Wait For DVD




Cowboys 2

Cowboys & Aliens (PG-23)

{Top photo shows a typical dirty soul in a dusty Western mining town in the 1800’s. Bottom photo shows eye candy actress plopped into various scenes after shower, hair and make-up session.}

It’s a bit more cowboys than aliens, but it still makes for an enjoyable summer movie with a fresh premise.

Daniel Craig is perfectly cast as the bad-ass (think Clint Eastwood) who arrives into a post gold rush town in 1875. Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) runs the town with an iron fist of fear. Seems he has all the cattle in his possession which makes him the richest dude around. Dolarhyde’s loser son rolls into town to cause a ruckus and that’s when “the stranger” (Craig) shows the town what he’s all about.

But the problem is that this stranger doesn’t really know who he is or how he got to “them there parts.” And he has this strange metal bracelet locked on his left wrist that only people in “our parts” would recognize as an alien device of some sort.

The set piece story is purposely dark as this is a dying town in the middle of nowhere, the stranger has been roughed up enough to require stitches, the Dolarhyde’s are mean-spirited, which makes the townspeople weary. And that’s before the aliens show up and put a hurtin’ on the local non-deserving townsfolk. So this film was in desperate need of eye candy.

Cue Olivia Wilde who plays one of the townswomen who takes up an interest in this newcomer when he enters the town bar. She’s not drinking (patron), not serving drinks (waitress) and not sweeping floors so he immediately assumes she’s working for the bar as a prostitute. But she’s not a harlot and no one in town seems to take notice of her in this dead, boring gold town. Unlikely as hell, and she’s horribly out of place in this 1800’s period piece. But thank goodness she’s there, as she’s the only onscreen ray of sunshine in this otherwise dark, ominous film.

This is a period in history where the Indians were bad guys as well. But we all know that once invaders from another world come to earth, everyone has to join forces against the foes.

I’m not sure the reaction of the early settlers were very realistic when they see their first flying machines in the sky. And when the machines fire upon them, the townsfolk seem even less horrified than people would be in today’s world.

But that’s Hollywood.

It’s worth a trip to the theater, but will make a great rental as well.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Super 8

Super 8 (PG-13)

The photo above shows a group of talented child actors in the film “Super 8.” Elle Fanning has an edge with a sister named Dakota Fanning, but they are all surprisingly good in this Sci-Fi thriller.

The group sets out to shoot a low budget Super 8 home movie back in the 1970’s when a lot of families had such Kodak film cameras. In those early days, video cameras were only used by TV networks. After midnight they set out to film a scene for their zombie movie by the local train station. As fate would have it they witness a horrific train crash.

The reason for the train derailment defies all logic as well as basic physics (people from the midwest who know all about long 80+ car freight trains and accidents will laugh) but once the chain of events gets the train off the tracks, it’s a hell of a catastrophic ride of worst case scenario derailments. The theater rumbles like a 70’s rock concert and the visuals are quite stunning.

The toppled over Super 8 camera the kids were using continues to film and records the event. Only after watching the developed movie film do they see there is more to the accident than a simple train crash.

You’re not supposed to know anything more than what I have covered, so I’ll end the description there. It’s a thrill movie where the kids drive the story, much like Spielberg’s kid driven films, and it’s well worth a view.

As the credits roll, stay seated. This is one film where the movie continues by showing us the completed Super 8 zombie movie that the kids shot. Those that immediately get up to leave the theater will then stand in the aisles for a few extra minutes as they watch the ending.

Note on JJ Abrams - the director.
It seems we’ll always be able to tell when a movie was directed by newcomer Abrams. He loves lens glare.

From the earliest days of moviemaking, nighttime shots of oncoming car headlights reveal a double glare that looks like four headlights moving across the frame as the car approaches. If you’ve ever noticed it you know that as the years go by directors have shot at angles that minimize this unwanted side effect.

But not Abrams. He embraces it.

As I mentioned with his 2009 “Star Trek” movie (see my earlier review of that film) Abrams seems to like shiny objects reflecting off the lens of his camera. This is especially true in the first quarter of “Super 8” and with the ending shot. Spielberg produced this film and one would think that “the pro” would take the new director aside and give him a few pointers.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Unknown (PG-13)

Let’s cut right to the chase - If you think this is a follow up to Liam Neeson’s breakout hard-guy hit “Taken” you’re in for for a real let down.

The photo above was carefully chosen so as not to ruin the movie. The film is overly complex and figuring out the answers before finishing the movie would be impossible without first examining the film’s large array of photos and behind the scenes clips before seeing the film.

Liam Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a bioengineer who arrives with his loving wife in Berlin for a week-long world conference full of scientific movers and shakers. But his briefcase doesn’t make it into their airport cab to the hotel, so he grabs another cab back to the airport to retrieve it. Before he can get there his cab suffers a horrific crash. He’s saved but hospitalized in a coma for a few days.

The bump on his head brings on a type of very selective amnesia that only exists in Hollywood script medical books. He can remember everyone’s telephone number but not who he really is? That’s the major puzzle the viewer and Martin Harris has to deal with. But without such maladies we’d miss out on some really good movies.

The sudden most frustrating part of his life is that no one seems to recognize him anymore. The most baffling part is that his wife no longer recognizes him either. How is that possible in a non sci-fi movie?

The major problem with the film is that it sags deeply in the middle (picture a hammock) with a plot seemingly so unsolvable that everyone gives up guessing and wonders where this thing is going? The scenes mirror a Bond film in their outrageous suspension of belief. Everyone in the film has the uncanny ability to drive like a Formula One racer, and the cars seem to rebuild themselves after every impact.

Diane Kruger won’t get the credit she deserves in saving the film during the sagging middle. She plays the Berlin local who helps Dr. Harris solve his impossible problem. Her scenes are strong and could prove that Liam Neeson can’t carry a film single-handedly in a way that someone like Schwarzenegger or Tom Hanks can.

The final revelation does bring the entire premise into reality, which seems impossible during the film. But this movie will be best when rented, where you can hit Pause at the sagging middle to fix yourself a sandwich before continuing the ride.

- Wait For DVD


Paranormal 2

Paranormal Activity 2 (R)

The first one was much better.

No one knew what to expect when the first of this series hit the movie screens in 2007. The original was shot in one week on a budget of $11,000 and turned out to be one of the creepiest movies ever made. You would think a boatload of cash and Hollywood backing would produce an even creepier sequel. The sequel isn’t awful, it’s just not as effective as the original.

It seems the script was so short on storyline and scary events that the film makers decided (or were told) to pad the movie so they could end up with the bare minimum Hollywood release length of an hour and a half. The padding they employ here is boring live feeds from scores of hidden cameras that were installed by the family after a strange break-in involving a lot of overturned furniture but no theft. So we are left sitting in a darkened movie theater gazing at long repetitive footage of the backyard pool in the middle of the night as a recorder time code ticks off the hour and seconds on the lower right corner of the screen. We get scenes of the empty kitchen at midnight, or the nursery as the baby sleeps. Sure, we get it - police surveillance involves days of boring observation followed by the occasional rush of the chase. But we movie goers pay money to see more of the chase and less of the surveillance.

Those that saw the original know there will be on-screen events coming that will make the film worth the painful, monotonous build up. Whether or not the payoff is worth the one hour wait will be up to the individual viewer.

The film stars no one, and is well acted overall. But it’s so slow moving that your mind may wander enough that you find yourself nitpicking the film with your free time. Some of my observations:

Anyone who is familiar with dogs knows that when their owners return home, the dog becomes absolutely giddy with excitement, uncontrollably wagging their tail and jumping like they haven’t seen a human in six months. And that happens if you just forgot you car keys and have been out of the house for only 60 seconds. No such reaction here by their loyal German Shepherd. A police investigator's first question to this family would likely be, “Is this really your dog, or did you just find him?” It's all too obvious that this Hollywood actor film dog has no connection with this family whatsoever.

So as a casual viewer you find yourself examining each scene to locate the dog's trainer off camera signaling what to do.

Lastly, more than any other other scary movie I can think of, if you ever find yourself in a kitchen where suddenly every cabinet door and drawer violently bursts open all at once with a loud explosion as if a 747 just hit the house - whether or not a jet just hit the house - the last thought in your mind would be to stick around.

Note: Just as with the original film, at the end of the movie the screen stays black for a long, long time, giving the audience a cue that there is more footage coming. It’s a fake tease as only credits await those that sit patiently in the dark. So look for the nearest exit and stumble your way out of the theater immediately.

- Wait For HBO


Easy A

Easy A (PG-13)

It takes a lot of guts to release a movie like this and even more guts to play the lead actress in this role.

Emma Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a nobody in high school who suddenly becomes the talk of the entire school when a simple false rumor takes on Tweet and Facebook legs. She soon pretends to be the high school harlot to help select geeky boys boost their reputations all the while getting paid for it and “noticed” for the first time in her life. In the wrong hands this film would have wound up like the other 63 dreadful high school movies that are impossible to sit through.

What we have here is one terrific film.

There are a lot of stars here, and cameos by even more familiar faces, but they all are secondary to Emma Stone who is on camera for nearly the full 90 minutes. I’d never seen her in anything else so I had no preconceptions. Much like Tom Hanks, somehow she manages to hold the attention of the audience by simply taking us through her daily routine. The writing is smart in a “Juno” meets “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” kind of way, but the writing here ups the ante even further into MIT professor levels. Even highbrow comedian Dennis Miller would be impressed. There are so many zingers you’ll need to pay close attention to catch them all, especially if the audience is laughing out loud.

The subject matter is edgy with frank sex talk and religious smearing. However, it is dealt with in such a light and smart manner by the actors that only the most sensitive people in the audience would truly be offended. Thin-skinned religious folks with no sense of humor should probably skip it.

For the rest of us, it’s a must see.

- See it on "The Big Screen"

Let Me In

Let Me In (R)

If you recently made friends with a vampire, would you dare let them affectionately kiss you on the neck?

That’s the kind of questions that pop into your head when you see the the latest American vampire movie called, “Let Me In.”

I reviewed the Swedish version of this film back in 2008 (see review on page #3) and won’t rehash it here as it’s the same movie with different actors. But for those that didn’t go to an inner city art house to see the foreign original subtitled film, “Let The Right One In,” now is you chance to see the English remake at your local theater. Furthermore, the remake doesn’t suck (no pun intended).

It’s unfortunate that people have to spend years casting, directing and editing to make the exact same movie over again all because of a language barrier. Seems like a waste of collaborative effort, but it happens. Here we get the rare treat where both the foreign original and U.S. remake are worth seeing. Two other successful foreign remakes from the past come immediately to mind: “The Ring” starring Naomi Watts (based on “Ringu” from Japan) and “Point of No Return” starring Bridget Fonda (based on the French film “La Femme Nikita”). The foreign versions tend to be grittier but all the above films are worth seeing.

The original “Let The Right One In” was more of a psychological thriller than a horror movie. The remake retains the original screenplay and slow pacing but adds gore which pushes it a bit more into the horror category. Still, it’s the psychological tension between the characters that drives the film forward. Because the movie follows the original film very closely you gain nothing by seeing both versions. Both films are well acted by actors you’ve never heard of. If you want to know which version you should see, here are the minor differences, other than the obvious subtitle use:

The Swedish version is a bit darker and the ending less bloody but more graphic than the U.S. version.

The U.S. version keeps the camera running longer for the few scenes of death with buckets of flowing blood, but also has some added CGI effects used on the vampire girl that are a little hokey as if the budget was really low.

It's a toss up but both are well worth renting.

- Wait For DVD



Alice in Wonderland (PG)

The always quirky Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s all new version of the classic story, “Alice in Wonderland.” It’s not the book version, so other than the familiar characters that show up, don’t bother comparing one story to another.

But it works. The ½ animated, ½ live story is engaging and the acting is top notch - with the exception of Anne Hathaway playing the White Queen. Her scenes never quite work, but that’s a small quibble with the film.

Now, about the 3D visuals. James Cameron intended “Avatar” to be 3D from the start. Burton’s film was digitally turned into a 3D film - post production - to ride the 3D coattails of “Avatar.” It shows. The visual 3D experience of “Alice in Wonderland” is exactly the same as the 3D movies of 1988. Not awful, but not great either. Kind of like theme park video quality. Certainly not worth paying $13.25 a ticket.

Which brings me to the lowest point. To add insult to injury, the Cinemark theater chain tries to get everyone to recycle their 3D glasses into a cardboard recycle box as they exit the theater. Wait a minute, you charged each of us $13.25 for a movie ticket with a pair of 3D glasses! I paid for the glasses, and I’d rather break them in half and toss them into the trash rather than to give you a chance to resell them again. If you want them back, Cinemark, stop charging us $3 extra for them at the gate. What a scam this whole 3D scheme is.

It won’t last.

- Wait For DVD


Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart (R)

Country music singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is down on his luck and struggling to get by as he tours the bowling alleys of the South. His apprentice, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) has hit the big time, which only adds to Blake’s anguish as he continues playing the dives. Musicians in the audience will sympathize with the difference between the line of luxury tour busses the famous travel in, and the run down vehicles used by the struggling artists.

Blake has a running gig in Houston (when not on the road) at a bar that’s run by friend Wayne Kramer (Robert Duvall). Some good banter there, as Bridges and Duvall are some of the best actors working today.

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Jean, a local reporter who gets romantically involved with Blake. She’s a divorcee with a young boy, so when Blake shows an immediate affinity to her son, the bond between the three grows quickly.

Bridges delivers great witty lines, and the sound check scene at the outdoor amphitheater will bring a wide grin to any musician who has ever taken a stage in real life. But if you’re looking for a feel-good movie, “this ain’t it,” as a country boy would say. “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” staring Bridges and Michelle Pfeiffer, was no feel good movie either, but it was an intriguing, throughly enjoyable road film and a much better choice overall if you’re looking for a “musician’s life on the road,” love story, genre movie. “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones would be a better choice as well. Hell, even “Selena,” starring Jennifer Lopez is a better road/love story choice, and everyone knows she dies in the end! So does Janis Joplin (Bette Midler) in the road/love story film, “The Rose.”

All better films.

Since “Crazy Heart” is a country music movie, it tends to follow the stereotypical storyline of:
I need a cigarette
My dog died
My (3rd) wife left me
Give me another cigarette
The dishes are dirty
I lost touch with my son
I’m out of money
I drink too much
Truck won’t start
Time for another cigarette

The star power is certainly here in spades, and no one will want to walk out of the theater. Nevertheless, what we were all hoping for was that uplifting moment that Hollywood is so famous for. The credits finished. Still waiting.

The movie’s just not strong enough, nor does it have a killer song that would allow it to survive without a big uplifting moment.

- Wait For HBO


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My Personal Rating System is as follows:

See it on "The Big Screen" .  .  .  . (Best of the bunch)
Wait for video/DVD 
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  . (Not a bad movie, but not worth $15)
Wait for HBO release  .  .  .  .  .  .  . (Not worth renting)
Avoid!  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 
(Not worth your time - period.)

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- Reviews by Jim Ramsey
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