Wednesday, August 26, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - American Ultra

This is a very interesting movie that really deserves bigger and better audience.

American Ultra is a real nice late summer flick starring Jessie Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart.  Being fair, this movie has some of the same stuff as many other movies.  It's violent, and it's graphic at times.  Plus it takes on the CIA and demonizes them yet again, but that's nothing new in Hollywood. But it also has elements that you have never seen before, with a story that's original and fascinating and fun. 

AU is the story of rival factions of the CIA and their long rumored mind-control and mind altering programs with experimentation on real humans.  As the competition within the CIA heats up, what program will win out?  Who will be promoted, and at what cost will they go to, to finally make the perfect CIA agent.  One who can be unstoppable? 

Meet Mike (Eisenberg).   He is a late 20's stoner who doesn't even know he was an experiment years ago, and has no idea he is the last of the Ultra Program in the CIA.  He is capable of far more than he knows.  He lives with his stoner girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart).  But when the CIA decides to kill him and rid themselves of the final chapter of a seemingly failed program, Mike is "activated" and now becomes virtually invincible to those who would do him harm

AU is fast paced, and very funny at times. This movie is quick and tidy and even though this may not be exciting enough for a large chunk of the movie going public, this is a really entertaining movie.  This is very well written, and this story is original.  Eisneberg and Stewart have real nice chemistry on screen, and the supporting cast is very strong.  Yeah, this is kind of dopey at times, but so is virtually every other Eisenberg movie.  I found this to be refreshing, and a real escape from day to day life and from the cookie cutter big action blockbusters that everyone seems to flock to.

American Ultra. Yes, this is set up for more, but I'm not convinced we need more. This is fine, fun and well done.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


More classic TV shows coming to the big screen, and this week it's The Man From UNCLE.

It would appear that they may be trying to catch the same lightning from the same bottle as the Mission Impossible series has. But being honest, they did not.  And there is one basic reason why not. There is no star power here at all.

The Man From Uncle TV show from the 1960's was a very interesting concept that was very topical at the time.  The Cold War was going on between the United States and The Soviet Union.  There was insane distrust, and the world was seemingly on a course to nuclear war between the superpowers.  So a secret intelligence agency was formed with the "sort of" cooperation between Russia and the USA, called UNCLE. And there were two of the finest agents from each side working together to root out people worse than themselves to ensure only the Cold War  would continue, and not some wild card popping up threatening world "peace."

The agents were Napolean Solo from the USA and Illya Kuryakin, working together at a strange time in history. Great concept, but things are very different in the movie going public today. This movie is set in 1963, and even though it sets it up and explains it pretty well, you still have to have some Cold War knowledge to really get it. For the record, I liked this movie.  I thought it was pretty well done, and captured the TV show pretty darn well with it's overall presentation.  But there is no one to draw you in.  This stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as our agents, and sadly, they bring in no one.  And sadly again, neither does the premise on today's movie going public, thus the sad opening of 13 million.

But this is pretty good.   Yes, it is draggy in a few areas, and some of this story gets away from them a time or two, but this does have the Mission Impossible feel, and of course they all can track their roots back to James Bond movies.  This has a nice villain, a decent story and some real fun humor to ensure that this won't take itself too seriously. But does all this sound familiar?  Yes. They are simply late to the party. Very late. Been there, and done that.

The Man From UNCLE. For those who go to see it, it's a hit.  But there's not enough interest to save it.   

Friday, August 7, 2015


Please welcome the creepiest movie of the summer, or any summer. The new thriller, The Gift is here to totally creep you out.

And it does!  The Gift is a really terrific movie that finds your spine and gives it a twist like it hasn't had in a while. This movie is a great example of a story that understands what would be scary to you and capitalizes on it wonderfully.

This was written, directed and starred in by Joel Edgerton who's character Gordo, is nothing short of creepy and very authentic.  Gordo is a 40 ish year old single guy who stumbles across an old high school friend Simon (Jason Bateman).   Gordo is an exceptionally awkward veteran who decides to befriend Simon and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall), whether they like it or not.  He chronically shows up unannounced and leaves a series of basically inappropriate gifts on their doorstep.  But why?

Gordo seems to be hiding a secret or two, and so is Simon.  Why is Gordo stalking them? And why can't Simon get him to stop? And why does Robyn seem to have a great deal of empathy for Gordo? These are fair questions, and are all answered nicely in this very well written, and directed script.

This movie has something to say, and that is very refreshing in today's scary movie making.  Most, if not all don't.  This does not rely and any special effects, blood, gore or silly storytelling. This finds a plot theme, and goes with it.  And this is thoroughly topical for today's movie going public.  Plus, after you see this, you may wonder if you really do know your spouse, or the people they bring with them. (No one may ever get married again after seeing this)

The Gift puts you on a slow burn that is hard to turn off. You simmer for a while and wonder where its really going. You may have heard of a major twist in this, and there is one. But you may figure it out like I did, if you pay close attention. This is a movie where you shouldn't get up to buy anything, or hit the bathroom, as there are many nuances to it, and shouldn't be missed.

The Gift.  One of the really nice surprises so far in 2015.  Well, well done.


Here comes another movie series reboot, the Chevy Chase generational classic, Vacation.

To say that this probably shouldn't have been done would be an understatement.  Being honest, there are far worse movies than this out there.  This, overall is not very good but you and I have each seen worse.  Much worse. 

One of the main reasons this was needless is that the original from 1983 with Chase and crew, still stands up pretty well for what it is. The original Vacation has been enjoyed by a few generations now, and everyone seems to agree that it's still very funny no matter what age you are. This is simply an attempt to attract a new audience for this series, and ironically seems far more comfortable with the original one.  This, in the grand scheme of things did very poorly in it's opening weekend with a measly 14 million for an attempted money grab.

This version stars Ed Helms as Rusty. He is now the grown son from the original story and is just as big of buffoon as his dad was. And he is trekking his family across the country on a road trip to Wallyworld again.  Been here, and done that.  Being fair there are some decent laughs from time to time but not nearly enough to warrant this remake.

Easily the funniest moments stem from the movie lampooning itself.  They do make fun of the fact that there was an original and that is pretty funny. Also, there is some scene recreating from the original that have new twists and some of those are really funny.  Quick, but funny.  They also do create some funny new characters, especially the kids, and they help give this some new life.

But the big sellout just can't be avoided.  Any real originality on an old idea sells out to a large amount of nastiness and bathroom humor galore.  But even that is simply old and tired rehashed ideas from other movies that have been done to death.  And that directly flies in the face of the original which was loaded with so much originality, the very formula has been copied for 30 plus years.  This version is simply an old idea, that has no new ideas to offer.  I would have suggested that if they would have remastered the original from 1983, and stuck it back in theaters, they may have brought in about the same amount of money opening weekend.

Vacation. Funny in spots, but not enough to stand firmly on it's own.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - MIssion Impossible: Rogue Nation

They keep making Mission Impossible flicks, and we keep going.  And that's a good thing.

This franchise has been very good to Tom Cruise over the years and with good reason.  These are pretty darn good movies.  These are basically fun, and entertaining along with being relatively exciting and on target topically.  Being honest all of these movies in this franchise are about 20 minutes too long, including this one.  But it's not a deal breaker.

In this installment, the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) is under fire from the CIA.  They want the IMF disbanded and all of it's assets given to the CIA.  They maintain that the IMF has gone rogue and can no longer be trusted to work in the best interest of national security.  It's simply a power grab.
But the truth is, there is a rogue group out there causing world wide panic, and seem to be mirroring the IMF and other various intelligence agencies.  The IMF is catching the heat, and is ordered disbanded. But our hero Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is still out there at large, and is hell bent on crushing the terrorist organization despite the cease order, on his own and save the IMF.

This is a totally entertaining movie that is well written and borrows many elements from James Bond.  They have successfully created a very likeable hero in Hunt.  And in movie after movie they continue to be smart and develop really nice villains that give movies like this real legs.  This is full of incredible stunts, terrific chase scenes and action galore.

The supporting cast of Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin and  Rebecca Ferguson is really strong.   Ferguson especially is a great addition as she plays a real slick British Intelligence agent with incredible skills and a love thing for Hunt.  Hoping she returns in the movies ahead as they have left that door open.

The stunt you see on the trailer of Cruise hanging on the side of a flying airplane on the outside is absolutely amazing.  Seems all of these movies have their signature scene and this is theirs. Well done and totally enthralling.  A wonderful and driving authentic music soundtrack adds a lot as well and it's always great to hear one of TV's greatest theme songs updated every few years.

Mission Impossible:Rogue Nation. It's good!

Saturday, July 25, 2015


The new boxing drama, Southpaw is out this week with an all-star cast and a ton of buzz.

This is directed by one of the really hot directors these days in Hollywood, Antoine Fuqua, and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, and Rachel McAdams.  So everything seems to be in order for a really good movie.  And that is sort of true.

Southpaw a bit over two hours and being fair, about ninety minutes of this is thoroughly depressing and for the most part painfully slow. But being fair again, this movie does make a new move near the end, and does finish with an emotional flurry that saves this from being one of the biggest disappointments of the year. 

This is the fictional story of a boxer named Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal).  He is married to Maureen (McAdams).  He is the light heavyweight champion of the world and is a ticking time bomb mentally. His fighting style is self-destructive and so is his personality.   His short temper, fueled by his poor upbringing are his worst enemy in life, as well as his biggest asset in the ring. This combination leads him into a situation ends up with the death of his wife, and Billy becomes unglued. 

He looses everything.  All his money, possessions, his dignity and his young daughter to social services.  So, he must figure out how to get her back, and find his way back to the top, or at least to a normal life.  He hires an old goat of a boxing trainer Ted, (Whitaker), to help him find his way back. But will Ted do it? And will Billy accept the challenge?

There is a lot very underachieving about this flick.  This is very slow, and very dark and depressing for much of the first hour especially.  In fact, you may find yourself checking out of this early.  But if you hang with it, there is a nice finish.  This movie gets a real shot in the arm that it desperately needs from the introduction of Whitaker into it.  But that takes a while, in fact entirely too long. His character and his performance is without question the best thing in this movie. Most movies are better with him in it.

But the last thirty minutes is darn good, and very emotional that will speak directly to many patrons who go, who know nothing about boxing.  The relationship between our characters becomes very intense, especially between Billy and his daughter.  This is a more modern version of a Rocky type movie, with new camera techniques, and a solid soundtrack that features the likes of Eminem.  Somehow Fuqua finds a way to bore us and send us into the doldrums for most of this, but he also finds a way to pay us off handsomely at the end. 

Southpaw.  Add it all up, and it just is another movie that really should have been better than it is.

Friday, July 17, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW - Trainwreck

Lots of buzz about the new Amy Schumer written comedy, and Judd Apatow directed, Trainwreck.  

Have to admit, in an era when comedies have fallen by the wayside for the most part, this is a pretty darn funny and topical movie that will absolutely speak directly to a generation.  Although very edgy, this is done very well.

This is the story of Amy (Schumer).  She is a 30ish young professional woman living in New York City.  She comes from a broken home with a womanizing father, and she and her sister are left to go on with their lives.  Her sister has taken a more even path.  Getting married, and becoming a step mother, and also is having a baby of her own. Amy is a hard drinking, hard partying, extremely sexually active woman who pays little attention to who she sleeps with.  Amy has never really grown up, and relies on her extreme lifestyle for all of her enjoyment, and has little time for people or any real intimacy.

She meets Aaron (Bill Hader), who is a very talented doctor of the star athletes during an interview as she is writing an article on him. They hit is off, and end up sleeping together, and eventually dating. Problem is, Amy is not emotionally available to him and two worlds collide.  Aaron is grown up and Amy is not.  Can they work out their problems in this modern romantic comedy?  And yes, it's been a long time since When Harry Met Sally, or Sleepless in Seattle, but this is a great example of how good romantic comedies still can be if done properly.

This movie does a really nice job of addressing the issues and the pitfalls members of Schumer's age group have endured along the way. This is topical, and right on target.  This is a bit offensive at times to some, but overall they do a nice job of throttling back on the amount of raunchiness that I was sure was on the way.  Yes, this is edgy at times, and pushes an envelope or two, but nothing really blows by the line at 100 mph, and that's to its credit.  You do feel the whole time, they are checking themselves to make a different kind of movie.  Contemporary, but not too far gone.

Schumer is nice fresh face on the screen, and handles this first real starring role quite well. It's a long way from her standup as an actress, but it's still her.  You can feel though that this might be her new thing, and she may find future roles limiting and play the same character. There are a ton of cameos in this movie, including Lebron James who is entertaining in his small role.  Seeing him as we never have before. 

This is quite funny from start to finish. There is not a signature scene here like many comedies, this is just consistently entertaining.  It does grow a heart after a while, and allows are characters to be so, and not simply caricatures.  That was a great decision. You root for our stars, and find them generally likeable through their flaws. This is well written, and well done.

Trainwreck.  Not for everyone, but overall this is pretty fun stuff.