Improbably giving audiences John Irving's World-view without throwing… MoreImprobably giving audiences John Irving's World-view without throwing the baby out with the bath water, this adaptation According-ly keeps the eccentric zaniness and melancholy of the source material while providing a stage for a some young soon-to-be-film-stars to shine. This slipshod digest of Irving's sprawling career-defining 1978 novel somehow manages an impossible feat: condensing themes of love, sex, violence, and death into a humorous concoction that goes down despite the bizarre texture. Like so many great works of American literature, Garp isn't an ideal choice for motion picture material simply because the scope of the tome goes far beyond the reach of a screen. Consider the fact that Garp gets conceived when his mother rapes a dying airman or the girl who has her tongue cut out by her rapists or countless Irving-isms that get worked into the fray (wrestling, bears, gender roles). Taken on their own, any one of these themes may seem off-putting but, taken together, the whole she-bang might seem like a lesson in lunacy without Irving's winning prose to frame it all. Someway somehow, the sorrow and sanguine make for a somewhat enjoyable - but highly oft-kilter - filmgoing experience.
For the first time on Blu-Ray: In this R-rated dramedy based on the John Irving novel, T.S. Garp (Williams) tries to establish himself as a "serious" writer while living a life of adventure in the shadow of his domineering mother Jenny (Glenn Close), who writes a feminist manifesto at an opportune time and finds herself as a magnet for all manner of distressed women.
Trying to break away from the sitcom shtick of Mork & Mindy, Robin Williams succeeds wonderfully as the title character, giving gravitas to an odd bird and foreshadowing the more serious career to come (The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting). Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid and The Sting director George Roy Hill, meanwhile, makes the madness serviceable as entertainment. As faithful as possible, this filmic World isn't as approachable as Irving's Cider House Rules but it's never less than absolutely fascinating.
Bottom line: Cider House Ruse
An okay party awesomely DJ-ed, Zac Efron's latest drops some… MoreAn okay party awesomely DJ-ed, Zac Efron's latest drops some block-rocking beats so far as a soundtrack but misses the mark so far as drama by sampling too many other underdog tales. You've seen similar stories countless times before, just not set in the world of Los Angeles MCs. It spotlights as small (and, sadly, forgettable) a microcosm as arm wrestling in Over the Top or skateboarding in Gleaming the Cube, but such meticulous loving care gets afforded the specific craftsmanship that the flick manages to break even. One vervy sequence finds our protagonist losing his earphones and rooting out the natural sounds of the San Fernando Valley before recording and appropriating them into a mega-mix. It seems like small stuff but this process and his philosophy behind beats-per-second elevate the goings-on above Below Average status. Given that his low class friends keep this possible breakout star from making his mark a la Good Will Hunting and a back-stabbing romance threaten his future a la Wedding Crashers, this proves to be no small feat of elevation.
In this R-rated drama, aspiring DJ Cole Carter (Efron) finds himself caught between a forbidden romance with the girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski) of his mentor (Bentley) and the expectations of his friends in his attempts to find the path in life that leads to fame and fortune.
Zac Efron, long due breakout success of his own following High School Musical and 17 Again, is in fine form but clearly isn't the star. Once the soundtrack takes over, it's nearly impossible not to step into the ebb and flow of the beat. The soundtrack, boasting cuts from EDM artists including Justice, Tchami, Will Sparks, Dom Dolla, Hayden James, The Magician, Years & Years, AlunaGeorge, Klingande, Seinabo Sey, Gryffin, Deorro, Carnage, Bro Safari and The Americanos, makes the only noise truly worth hearing in this already forgotten distraction.
Bottom line: Dub Misstep
Despite a narrow world view and thinly developed characters, Owen… MoreDespite a narrow world view and thinly developed characters, Owen Wilson's latest smartly keeps the action moving behind an original and timely story. Granted, this script will never win Best Screenplay. The characters emerge as paper dolls, spouting exposition on plane rides and hotel stays before deadly bedlam ensure. Bringing the audience up to speed on the story's background graciously happens quickly, however. Once the gunplay and killing comes into play, the thrill factor rarely lets up. With tensions rising in certain Asian countries as if they're on a bus schedule, the whole she-bang seems more than plausible, though the goings-on boast as much one-note resonance as a Fox News headline.
In this R-rated thriller, an American family (Wilson, Bell) in their new overseas home find themselves caught in the middle of a coup, so they frantically look for a safe escape in an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed.
The important thing is: Wilson, under appreciated since demonstrating some stellar action chops in Behind Enemy Lines, believably delivers as an Everyman pushed to the Straw Dogs limits kind-of-guy. Meanwhile, Lake Bell almost gets relegated to scream queen status but this phenomenal actress exhibits enough kick ass moments of her own to break though the stereotype. Little matters for these poor souls when Pierce Brosnan hits the screen. This former Bond owns every inch of digital he's in and more.
Bottom line: Behind Enemy Lame
Coming Straight at filmgoers with a blazingly energetic street story… MoreComing Straight at filmgoers with a blazingly energetic street story so naturally told that it feels like all involved are freestyling, Straight Outta Compton instantaneously earns the A-level audience respect already afforded such hard-bitten music tales as The Buddy Holly Story, Ray and Walk the Line. Importantly, this hip hop hooray boasts the input of founding members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, who serve as producers on the film. Some of the minor facts might get disputed, but no one denies the powerful lure of this Horatio Alger rap battle. Regardless of minutia, this Compton narrative comes complete with warts and all, documenting deadly criminal ties, high-stakes in-fighting, family tragedy and dirty-dealing record labels. It also charts a look into an important moment in music history and puts forth one of the greatest beat-rocking soundtracks in recent memory.
In this R-rated bio-pic, the rap group N.W.A. emerges from the streets of Compton, California, in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes hip-hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood.
This film's success owes much to the director, however. F. Gary Gray, who helmed some classic hip hop videos by the likes of both Cube and Dre, amassed an impressive roster of hits in H'Wood since breaking out with Friday (The Negotiator, Law Abiding Citizen). Any man who directed Cube's "It Was a Good Day" AND an ace remake of The Italian Job certainly possesses the assured skills to document this epic journey and he doesn't disappoint. Backed with a screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, he confidently presents a glossy film that never glosses over the human struggle and inherent drama at its core. There's a great degree of edginess in Straight Outta Compton even when the audience's strings feel like they're being pulled. Thankfully, Gray presents an amazing cast including Cube's real-life son and film newcomer Jackson as well as Hawkins (Non-Stop), Jason Mitchell (Broken City) and Paul Giamatti (Sideways). Even with decent reviews, the Biggie Smalls bio-pic Notorious failed to turn the box office into a "Gangster's Paradise." Straight Outta Compton looks to be course-correcting the hip hop bio to blockbuster status. And rightly so.
Bottom line: Rapper's Delight
More Ultra light than The Long Kiss Goodnight, this American tale… MoreMore Ultra light than The Long Kiss Goodnight, this American tale rotates between action and comedy but just isn't edgy enough to kill it in either genre despite an interesting premise. Imagine a story that centers around an anxiety-ridden, marijuana-clouded ne'er-do-well who - unbeknownst to himself and nearly everybody around him - secretly proves to be a Candidate of the Manchurian kind, possessing ninja-like killing skills and top-shelf government training. Then, forget about half of that scenario because THAT movie never really arrives. Instead, moviegoers get American Ultra, the story of a pseudo-Lebowski that's anything but Big. The script by Max Landis (Chronicle) lights up some promising ideas but fails to take the audience to any real highs, choosing instead to snuff out any potential by filling the screenplay with formulaic tropes. When the "twists" get revealed, the already-in-the-know audience feels as if they've been lying in wait since Act 1 to yell "surprise" at a blissfully ho-hum plot point.
In this R-rated action-comedy, a small-town stoner (Eisenberg) gets marked as a liability and targeted for extermination, but it turns out that he's a sleeper agent who's too well trained for them to handle.
Under the not-so-assured direction of Nima Nourizadeh (Project X), the supposedly funny lines get laid on as thick as an '80s sitcom while the fight sequences get handled in a slapdash manner as lazy as the stoner at the center of this slice of Pineapple Excess. Unfortunately, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart actually hold a good degree of chemistry. Ultimately, the only other thing of value they hold is 99 pages of rolling papers, as that's the best that can be made of this half-baked script in its current form.
Bottom line: Bourne Obscenity
Following more along the lines of the semi-decent band romp Eddie &… MoreFollowing more along the lines of the semi-decent band romp Eddie & the Cruisers than the rocking classic song "Bennie & the Jets," familiar-sounding performance piece Ricki and the Flash oftentimes feels like a cover of a cover artist. There come times when this fractured family tale feels fresh and revealing, but mostly when Ricki spars with her daughter. This derives from the chemistry way more than storytelling, however. You see, Meryl Streep and her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer provide the dynamic so - because both are also excellent actors as well as blood relatives - the emotion reaches almost palpable heights.
In this PG-13-rated drama, a musician (Streep) who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family (Gummer, Kevin Kline).
The script also hits some high notes thanks to the sharp wit of Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult). Oh, the goings-on prove predictable for the most part but the acid-tongued zingers keep things interesting. Lastly, while Streep's singing won't wow the Grammy committee, her spirited stage presence and the camaraderie among her band sell the title act extremely well, especially some of the flick's stand-out scenes between her and partner Rick Springfield. As an overall singer, he may wish that he had "Jessie's Girl," but - considering they play broke, middle-aged cover bandmates working L.A. dive bars - they fit the bill. If only the film aimed higher than the aspirations of the leads.
Bottom line: Ricki Do Lose that Number
A '60s spy update that doesn't completely leave audiences crying… MoreA '60s spy update that doesn't completely leave audiences crying UNCLE, this Man-ly flag-smashing adventure might get by on style but a similar concentration on character and story would have given this caper an absolute license to kill. Ironically, most '60s (James Bond, Mission: Impossible) and '70s (James Bond, Bourne) espionage actioners go dark and modern these days. Guy Ritchie, however, chooses to pull a 180 and go cheeky and retro. What should play out like Mad Men as written by John Le Carre plays out like a slightly cooler Avengers. And no, this does not reference the Marvel Studios super-group but the bungled John Steed and Emma Peele spy romp of 1998, also a '60s TV spy re-do. What the movie lacks is chemistry. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer exhibit the grit and spit but the sometimes formulaic screenplay forces them to tell more than show, often fizzling the buddy quotient of this buddy dramedy. Some amazing set design and set pieces dot this landscape though. One scene in particular sees Solo enjoying a late night snack soundtracked by the Italian version of AM Gold before reluctantly choosing to save Kuryakin's life by launching a delivery truck atop a police boat.
In this PG-13-rated 1960s-set spy caper, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.
Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes borrows the loose framework of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's seminal sleuth series but takes a much edgier and grittier approach so far as presentation. His The Man from UNCLE tries the same while channeling '60s spy capers but ends up aping these dated adventures too much. His former producer Matthew Vaughn nails the edgy but cheeky secret agent tone much better with Kingsmen: The Secret Service. Though they give it their all, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer often end up to be Bland and Blander. They're character types--not characters. Alicia Vikander, meanwhile, brilliantly pulls the rug out from under them, deserving top honors (and better roles) by far. It passes muster in an age when Skyfall and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation play A-Level games, but not by much.
Bottom line: Spies Like Ugh
Neither Fantastic nor Four-star, the latest comic book movie reboot to… MoreNeither Fantastic nor Four-star, the latest comic book movie reboot to hit cinema screens sometimes makes for interesting viewing, but ultimately lacks the X-factor or Avengers initiative necessary to make it out-and-out Marvel-ous. Like Batman Begins, this re-do tries anchoring the particulars of the Fantastic Four's origin tale in reality. The problem is: The particulars of this specific comic book title simply prove too fantastical to present as believable. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight saga involves a rich, psychologically-scarred vigilante with no super powers, but this much different hero property involves a human Stretch Armstrong, a man made of rock, a racer who spontaneously bursts into flame and an invisible woman. No amount of taking a naturalistic approach is going to convince popcorn-munching moviegoers that a computer programmer gets sub-atomic powers from the fourth dimension or that somebody actually names their kid "Victor Von Doom." Worse, an inordinate amount of time gets spent laying this groundwork to make the mechanics behind the titular foursome seem plausible. Unfortunately, this doesn't amount to a great deal of entertainment value in the long run ... and it definitely feels like a long run. For a movie so interested in plausibility, however, the last act reeks of blockbuster schlock. From predictable deaths to shoehorning in superhero catchphrases to the big bad confrontation, it follows some familiar gamma rays down a rote rabbit hole. Worse, it nearly negates the interesting build-up that precedes it. Why flirt with realism at the outset if you're just going to turn cornball near the end? Marvel Studios exhibits a genius knack for straddling the comic-al and true blue spectrums in their projects, tongue always in cheek. Fantastic Four just goes from one extreme to the other in what's more of a flame-out than flame-on.
In this PG-13-rated adaptation of the classic Marvel comic book, four young scientists (Teller, Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell) achieve superhuman abilities through a teleportation experiment gone haywire and return to a world in need of their new-found abilities.
Though the director usually goes down with the ship, Josh Trank (who already made a believable, albeit dark, superhero tale with Chronicle) at least takes a interesting approach. He spends ample time with these characters and high falutin' ideas, which makes the third act's descent into cheese seem more like studio tinkering than his own temporary lapse of reason. Moviegoers deserve to see his complete vision, especially considering the spot-on performances that result from his ace casting. Considering the believability factor of the first act, it won't be superb but it will doubtlessly not silver surf into complete oblivion like this fantastic mess.
Bottom line: It's Blubbering Time
An unnerving Hitchcockian tale for the modern age, The Gift takes a… MoreAn unnerving Hitchcockian tale for the modern age, The Gift takes a simple thread and spins a twisty web that you keeps you guessing until you're tangled within. What the film presents is a paranoid puzzler involving some compelling, very flawed characters that never get clearly drawn until the very end. Oh, you might see some plot points coming but the ultimate reveal stays well beyond the audience's grasp until the shocking final scenes. It's a suspenseful mystery, yes, but the suspense arises from figuring out the people - more than the situations - involved. In fact, The Gift proves to be way more character than action-driven. A seemingly perfect marriage unravels because of the inner workings of the players, not the game. Thankfully, these players boast some A-grade skills.
In this R-rated thriller, a young married couple's (Bateman, Hall) lives get thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance (Joel Edgerton) from the husband's past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years.
Working out of his usual wheelhouse genre (comedies like Horrible Bosses and Fox's Arrested Development), Jason Bateman keeps his same familiar persona of sarcastic smart guy, but fits into this thinking man's thriller letter perfectly. The beguiling Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3, Transcendence) remains the heart of the piece and holds your heart in her hands even when you question her integrity. Writer-producer-director-actor Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty) emerges as the white-hot star here, however, Gift-ing filmgoers with an atmospheric who-done-what that only gives answers when you get down to what truly makes the victims tick.
Bottom line: Keeps on Giving
Before indulging in the star-studded prequel series now available on… MoreBefore indulging in the star-studded prequel series now available on Netflix, revisit the offbeat laugh-riot that started it all. Written by Michael Showalter from MTV's sketch comedy series The State, this '80s-set comedy cast such (then) relatively unknown actors as Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks and Christopher Meloni. In fact, when the cameras started rolling, the film's biggest stars included Janeane Garofalo (Reality Bites) and David Hyde Pierce (NBC's Frasier). The end result of this talented bunch banding together starts out parodying camp comedies such as 1979's Meatballs and 1993's Indian Summer, while skewering teen sex dramas such as 1982's The Last American Virgin before going off in an absurd and downright hilariously bonkers direction all of its own.
In this R-rated comedy set on the last day of camp in the hot summer of 1981, a group of counselors (Garofalo, et al) try to complete their unfinished business before the day ends.
Off-putting at first because you don't expect it, the movie's sense of humor proves to be a slow reveal. The craziness kicks in more and more as the story progresses. Indeed, when this comedy begins, Wet Hot American Summer feels little more than a harmless send-up. Once the training wheels come off, however, it's a runaway train of left field sight gags and bizarre character arcs that take the audience in an uproariously daffy wild ride. Give yourself over to it and you'll be laughing at some of the jokes a week later - that's a promise. Thankfully, the flick slowly amassed such a groundswell of fan adulation through home video and downloads that it became a cult classic. Now is the time to belly laugh and see why.
Bottom line: American Standard