Birds of a familiar feather flocking together for more of the same,… MoreBirds of a familiar feather flocking together for more of the same, the loud, colorful, but ultimately so-so sequel Rio 2 doesn't go south so much as stick to the same no-frills flight pattern. Stocked full of Brazilian nuts, the Amazon-set follow-up rightly tries upping the character count, "dramatic" ante, slapsticky gags, and adult-pleasing one-liners...but the end result still often feels like reheated leftovers. Of course, families with non-discerning children won't care much but this second helping is more of a deuce than the original, pushing in its chips on an Eco-themed Be Yourself theme that feels like it was culled from the deleted scenes from the cutting room floor of Happy Feet. Mind you, it's a visual feast for the eye and occasionally the ears but why not just re-watch the superior first go-round?
In this G-rated animated musical comedy, Blu (Eisenberg), Jewel (Hathaway) and their three kids get hurtled Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon where they go beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel (Jemaine Clement) and meet the most fearsome adversary of all: Jewel's father (Andy Garcia).
There's not a bad note among the celebrity pipes hired to give lip service to the fuss and feathers. Director Carlos Saldanha (the Ice Age series) and Blue Sky Studios definitely possess a gift for bringing funtastic characters to life and Rio 2 definitely boasts its share even if some returning faces literally and ridiculously get airlifted into the action. When a ballad by a poison tree frog emerges as the flick's standout moment, however, it might be time to put the ixnay on chapter 3.
Bottom line: Way to Keep it Rio
An occasionally white knuckle Draft worth not dodging, Kevin Costner's… MoreAn occasionally white knuckle Draft worth not dodging, Kevin Costner's latest seizes the Day for diehard sports fans. For a football flick, there's decidedly very little gridiron actionMoving the game from the backfield to the back offices, Draft Day plays out more like a political thriller with laughs and romance shoehorned in. The movie does most of this surprisingly well, juggling comedy, drama, and sports references in equal but awkward measure. Granted, many of the yuks and NFL worship get laid on too thick, but it's the clever machinations behind the trade negotiations that truly keep audiences invested...that and the MVP-worthy lead performance, that is. If only the movie didn't often feel like a Rah Rah advertisement for Monday Night Football.
In this PG-13-rated sports drama, general manager Sonny Weaver (Costner) has the opportunity to rebuild his team when he sacrifices all to trade for the number one pick (Chadwick Boseman) at the NFL Draft.
Kevin Costner made a name for himself with baseball flicks (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, For the Love of the Game) but he takes to this pigskin dramedy brilliantly. Rather than The Longest Yawn, he makes a somewhat decent flick outright enjoyable for moviegoers. Under the direction of veteran filmmaker Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), who makes split screen suddenly seem fresh and new, Draft Day is better than the material provided. Screenwriter is the kind of guy you'd want on your Pub Trivia team for sports statistical minutia alone but the sometimes predictable storytelling feels quite Screenwriting 101...until the ticking clock chess match of a climax recovers the story from any previous fumbles.
Bottom line: Any Driven Sunday
A lion in Winter, Spring, or any season for that matter, Captain… MoreA lion in Winter, Spring, or any season for that matter, Captain America soldiers on in an impressively smart, sleek, and superior sequel that's more of a superpsy thriller than superhero actioner. The First Avenger proved better than average though not by much. Of course, it held the dubious distinction of setting up a decades-spanning origin tale of a whitebread do-gooder who's never seen the rock star popularity of fellow Marvel-ous heroes Spider-Man or the X-Men. With so much story and, perhaps, not as much audience interest, director Joe Johnston carved out an impressively rollicking niche in pre-Avengers moviedom. The World War II backstory lain, Winter Soldier tells a much more modern tale that still respects the past by brilliantly playing on Cap's fish-out-of-water reluctant heroism with tongue firmly in cheek (see: Rogers walking through a Smithsonian exhibit on...well, him). All of this, however, gets delivered in the body of a fast-paced techno thriller with the white knuckle conspiratorial tone of a '70s spy caper.
In this PG-13-rated actioner, Steve Rogers (Evans) struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
Capping off a star-making series of performances as super soldier Steve Rogers, Chris Evans perfectly provides the pulse behind the action. Blond, blue-eyed, and chiseled, he looks the part of a white-hatted lunk but he genuinely shoulders the world as a superman-out-time. Providing whipsmart backup and whiplash moves, a knee-weakingly vampy Scarlet Johansson nearly makes moviegoers think this a double bill despite her supporting status. Without the razor-sharp precision of directors/brothers Anthony and Chris Russo, however, this flick would tinkle like a Spring shower rather than a storm you want to chase right into the eye of Avengers 2.
Bottom line: American Beauty
Like a Bottle Rocket off of Rushmore into Moonrise Kingdom, Wes… MoreLike a Bottle Rocket off of Rushmore into Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson's Royal, Fantastic, and - yes - Grand latest takes up residence in your mind's eye with nary of the Limited waterlogged whimsy of The Life Aquatic. In fact, it's his masterwork...thus far. Here, Anderson's not just pulling the strings on a curriculum, family tree, or scout troop of his own design, the writer/director integrates filmgoers seamlessly into a decades-spanning multi-layered story set in a completely credible fictitious nation. Who DOES that? Well, it's more of a question of: Who COULD do it? At first glance, with its patchwork of numerous A-List stars and minute details, Grand Budapest Hotel looks as dangerously over-indulgent as the way-too-whimsical Steve Zissou, which failed to tether filmgoers much - if at all - to reality. Anderson's charming verve, meticulously planned aesthetics, and vintage-sounding wordsmithing work best when he keeps at least one of your feet on the ground even when he's already stuck your head in the clouds. That's the beauty of this particular check-in, however. Even the most fantastical moments (and there are many) somehow feel lived-in and rooted in some kind of nostalgic familiarity.
In this R-rated comedy, Anderson presents the adventures of Gustave H (Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel in a war-torn European nation, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
As for the myriad of stars, they're not simply stunt-casted. Rather, every character and performance plays an integral part in Anderson's madcap mechanics. Fiennes, however, manages to wrap every viewer around his pinky-a high accolade given there's nothing close to resembling a low point in this talent roster. True, you could gripe that Saoirse Ronan has a hard time hiding her Irish brogue, but that's just nit-picking apart Anderson's most adult, maudlin, yet loveliest work yet.
Bottom line: Plaza Sweet
An ambitious, bullets and brawn, blood-splattered bust, Arnold… MoreAn ambitious, bullets and brawn, blood-splattered bust, Arnold Schwarzenegger's convoluted latest nonetheless ends up to be his best post-politico flick thanks to pure gall. Granted, calling the once and future Terminator's new project his 'recent best' is as empty an accolade as calling Peter Dinklage H'Wood's tallest short actor. Twisty rather than straight-ahead, Sabotage falls far from being a lyric-for-lyric interpretation of the Beastie Boys song...though that narrative may've made more sense in the long run. Instead, moviegoers get presented with a tangled web of dirty Feds, dirtier drug cartels, and Hard R violence verging dangerously close on NC-17. A glorified shoot-'em-up crammed with too much story, the script proves to be this project's most gratuitous saboteur. Just because a Who Done It angle gets worked in doesn't make it any less of a piece of action porn.
In this R-rated actioner, members of an elite DEA task force (Schwarzenegger, Worthington, et al) find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house.
For Schwarzenegger, it's been a long crawl back, littered with C-Grade actioners that get appreciably better (The Last Stand, Escape Plan). These days, he seems to turn out higher grade flicks while working amongst more of an ensemble (The Expendables and its sequel), which Sabotage bares out. In allowing his fellow players more scenery chewing moments, this H'Wood legend actually elevates the material because he's more thoughtful and restrained than in his other recent movies. Still, more was expected of David Ayer considering that this is the follow-up to his thinking man's buddy cop flick End of Watch. Like James Ellroy with less of a sense of humor, this writer/director made a name for himself crafting oblique LA cop conspiracy tales mired in blood and bad decisions (screenwriter, Training Day; writer/director, Street Kings) before giving critics an A-Ha moment with Watch. With Sabotage, however, he seems to be regressing back to Harsh-er Times.
Bottom line: True Sighs
This reviewer has words for Bad Words and they're mostly really good.… MoreThis reviewer has words for Bad Words and they're mostly really good. Oh, the comedy is not without its bell-ringing missteps but nonetheless ends up to be a solid continuation of the H'Wood trend of adults behaving badly-Bad Santa, Bad Teacher, and Bad Grandpa being the dubious - but often hysterical - pioneers. Littered with laugh-out-loud moments throughout its short running time, the movie succeeds chiefly because of the name above all others. Given that it's a directorial debut, however, this name - B-A-T-E-M-A-N - deserves more than an honorable mention.
In this R-rated comedy, a former spelling bee loser (Bateman) sets out to exact revenge by exploiting a loophole and attempting to win as an adult.
A former child actor who cut his teeth in the H'Wood sitcom trenches (Silver Spoons, The Hogan Family...Little House: A New Beginning), this actor re-captured the industry's attention and re-ignited his career as Michael Bluth on Fox's brilliant and irreverent cult hit sitcom Arrested Development. In raunchy comedies (Couples Retreat, Horrible Bosses), Oscar-baiting fare (Juno, Up in the Air), and summer blockbusters alike (Hancock, The Kingdom), he's certainly earned the equivalent of a Purple Heart in comedy. Thankfully, for his first helming gig, he chose the appropriate laugh-getter in Bad Words, screenwriter Andrew Dodge's foul-mouthed societal dust-up. True, the flick does cop out by un-Scrooging its curmudgeon, but it's done with such style and, ahem, character that it's definitely worth sitting a spell.
Bottom line: Bee Cool
Raising a flood of inspiration and ire, Darren Aronofsky's… MoreRaising a flood of inspiration and ire, Darren Aronofsky's mystical-meets-Biblical take on Noah engagingly goes from Requiem for a Fever Dream to Man's Black Swan Song in 2 hours and 20 minutes. But to what end? Of course, the Holy Book has always danced with mysticism...or vice versa. Look at The Bible with open eyes and it plays stranger than Tolkien's Lord of the Rings or Martin's Game of Thrones, an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in historical fiction with dragons and magic. So, it makes the sense that the man who made mind-bending but eye-popping hippie dippy phooey The Fountain would forego a straight ahead literal interpretation of a child's Bible story. Instead of 2 giraffe heads sticking out of a wooden boat captained by a robed man with a big bushy white beard, filmgoers get a morality tale drenched with fantastical elements for better and worse. It's a failing success. And a successful failure. But it's bold and gets big points for not playing it safe.
In this PG-13-rated adventure directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler), a man (Crowe) suffering visions of an apocalyptic deluge takes measures to protect his family (Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman) from the coming flood.
Like Cecil B. DeMille on peyote, Darren Aronofsky has an epic vision. Like Goldie Locks, sometimes he offers up aesthetics that are too hot, too cold, but does produce many that are JUST right. Fallen Angels reimagined as giant rock creatures might prove irksome to some but how is it any more unbelievable than a 1,000 year-old-man named Methusaleh? Thankfully, part of the 'just right' results from the casting. Biblical hero and villain, can't-take-your-eyes-off-of-his-badass-self Russell Crowe carries most of the weight to great effect. Emily Watson, however, steals away from her Harry Potter legacy with a gut-wrenchingly emotional turn.
Bottom line: Boat Trippy
Pulling the perfect strings to give moviegoers a hugely enjoyable… MorePulling the perfect strings to give moviegoers a hugely enjoyable sequel, the Muppets present a Most Wanted - and most worthy - follow-up to their big 2011 return. Granted, it's a sequel's job to up the ante so the best that can be said about this next chapter is that it nearly stands on equal ground with The Muppets--a high compliment indeed. It begins immediately after the last go-round, offering up whip-smart comedy, amazingly catchy tunes, and head-turning cameos at a more rapid fire clip than the Fozzy, er, forebear. What's remarkable is how everything - from tone to wit to performance - gets accomplished with the exact same tone, style, and handmade precision that Jim Henson laid down in the '70s. Ultimately, Muppets Most Wanted is a modern romp that oftentimes proves hilarious and toe-tapping because it's imbued with so much reverential nostalgia for Vaudeville and variety shows from the Golden Age of Televison.
In this PG-rated comedy adventure, the Muppets find themselves wrapped into a European jewel-heist caper headed by a Kermit the Frog look-alike and his dastardly sidekick (Gervais).
So many of the best lines elicit more roars from adults than kids even though the latter can't take their eyes off of these very unlikely felt stars. And speaking of stars, Ricky Gervais (just as unlikely a PG star given his acidic barbs lobbed while hosting the Golden Globe awards) kills it as their most frequent human counterpart, singing and dancing and equally plotting to the audience's delight. Tina Fey and Ty Burrell likewise provide great backup to some legendary puppets who brought their A-Game for the second time in a row for this, their second Great Muppet Caper.
Bottom line: The Great Muppet Capper
Better than The Twilight Saga but never as good as The Hunger Games,… MoreBetter than The Twilight Saga but never as good as The Hunger Games, Divergent is the latest YA fantasy adventure to make it to the big screen with all of the aplomb of a soggy paperback. Of course, this adaptation skews way closer to Games, presenting a dystopian near-wasteland where its government-fearing denizens live an almost Quaker-like existence until unrest causes...hey, wake up! Okay, granted, that other series got exponentially better with the sequel, Catching Fire. Divergent, however, wobbly stands on its own slight merits. The ideology and theocracy behind the plot points look about as paper thin as the script pages it was written on, probably a hold-over from the novels on which they were based, which were criticized for the same infraction. The story - though far from ground-breaking - moves along at a brisk and exciting pace thanks to a strong main character, beautifully realized.
In this PG-13-rated sci-fi adventure, Tris (Woodley) learns she's Divergent and won't fit in a world divided by factions based on virtues, so she infiltrates a war-like faction to discover what makes Divergents so expendable to society before it's too late.
Like a certain actress working from, er, in Hunger, Divergent works so well because of an amazing lead performance. Shailenne Woodley runs with the role and never stops, hitting all of the emotional marks and administering - and taking - beatings for 2+ hours. Without the stunning work of director Neil Burger, however, all would be for naught. Though the whole post-war district thing has gotten old, he manages to color outside the lines with enough verve and originality to warrant a sequel. Let's hope the inevitable follow-up aspires more to Catching Fire than catching Eclipse though.
Bottom line: Deftly Hollows
A wet dream for gear heads and a sometimes pleasant surprise for… MoreA wet dream for gear heads and a sometimes pleasant surprise for moviegoers, better-than- expected video game adaptation Need for Speed accelerates audiences toward - but doesn't exactly reach - awesomedom, not for lack of trying on behalf of a Breaking Badass performance and some high precision direction. Boys never grow up and this flick kinda sorta testifies to why they shouldn't. Yes, it's keenly absurd: How else but in a H'Wood car actioner would an out-of-state probated ex-con in a Shelby Cobra Mustang get air-lifted by an Apache helicopter mid-chase? Oh, it's not Shakespeare. It's an 8-figure video game directed in the spirit of the late great Hal Needham (Smokey & the Bandit, Cannonball Run).
In this PG-13-rated actioner, a street racing ex-con (Paul) who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross country race with revenge in mind.
Granted, Aaron Paul is much better than the material. His tears are real. He does things with the dialogue that come from an actual place--not fake like a plastic fender. Director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor), meanwhile, has an eye for detail and a great eye for capturing the piston-driving excitement of a chase flick. Sure, we've all seen the Fast & Furious race-capades. But this is something more finely tuned. It's not better story-wise, mind you, but it mostly justifies your WANT for speed.
Bottom line: An A-1 Day