American idling just short of excellence, the sometimes predicable but… MoreAmerican idling just short of excellence, the sometimes predicable but oftentimes impressive Beyond the Lights gives a Voice to an Idol truly worth hearing. Oh, you've kinda sorta heard this tune before...albeit, like a tune stuck in your head that you just can't quite place, by much different artists. Yes, moviegoers know where this mix-tape consisting of everything from The Bodyguard to Glitter is heading. The unique spin on the formula and performances prove so engaging, however, that you just don't care. Everything, from the faux music videos to procedural police work to strong supporting players, feels so legitimate that we're perfectly happy to get lulled into a trance by this hip hop-infused ballad.
In this PG-13-rated romantic drama, the pressures of fame push superstar singer Noni (Mbatha-Raw) on the edge, until she meets Kaz (Parker), a young cop who works to help her find the courage to develop her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be.
In making Gugu Mbatha-Raw the marquee player of Beyond the Lights, a star is born. Granted, she gives just as compelling and authentic a turn as an uncharacteristically black member of British aristocracy in Belle. Here, however, this hypnotically beautiful actress sings and talks such a brilliant game that you wonder how to possibly quantify such a ridiculously high level of talent into a quotient. Devious and alluring in the same breath, Minnie Driver earns the right to demand a supporting part in ANY flick she wants for the foreseeable future. Hats off to writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood for crafting such delicious roles for her and all involved.
Bottom line: XO Factor
A found footage thriller that should've gone lost during the… MoreA found footage thriller that should've gone lost during the development stage of production, The Pyramid schemes moviegoers into more paranormal inactivity. It's not even scary, dammit. Worse, audiences just saw similar - and, sadly, more frightening - goings-on in As Above, So Below, a trashy scarer that suddenly seems as A-Level as The Exorcist following a viewing of this creaky feature. In regards to it being a faux documentary, they don't even try. In one scene, all of the cameraman stand on a floor and suddenly there's a POV from the ceiling. Funny, it doesn't look like recently discovered footage from a documentary crew. It just looks like the cameramen have the shakes. Then, the camera turns on them...the only ones WITH bloody cameras. Yes, continuity ends up to be the scariest aggregate of The Pyramid...until CGI sphinxes get thrown into the mix, that is. These NES-quality pixelations convince no one that terror lurks in these cinematic catacombs. In fact, they invite many rounds of laughs instead.
In this R-rated horror flick, an archaeological team (Hinshaw, Buckley) attempts to unlock the secrets of a lost pyramid only to find themselves hunted by an insidious creature.
It truly becomes a pleasure watching these uninteresting characters get picked apart one by one. If only it happened faster. Even at a trim 90 minutes, the end of this horror-bull can't come fast enough. In what's perhaps the dumbest misstep of the movie, the producers cast a recognizable face in Denis O'Hare. Even though he doesn't equal the familiarity of, say, George Clooney, you definitely know the face which takes you light years away from suspending any disbelief for this cheap piece of Barnum.
Bottom line: Dumb of the Dragon Emperor
In trying to solve the remarkable equation behind the life and loves… MoreIn trying to solve the remarkable equation behind the life and loves of Stephen Hawking, director James Marsh's remarkable drama burns bright with a star-like intensity and brilliance not unlike the subject himself. In approaching such a monumental figure who's still very much alive and active in his field, all involved thankfully focused on a particular bent: his marriage. If the producers chose to quantify Hawking's theoretical computations behind black holes and the Big Bang, its doubtful the end result would prove nearly as elegant as his own book, A Brief History of Time, which presents his findings in more of a laymans fashion. Indeed, only the documentary format could come close to interpreting this cosmologists life's work, which the excellent film Brief History of Times makes clear. And that doc only succeeds because Hawking himself stars in it. Rather than present some fuzzy math in a whimsical manner like the flight of fanciful bio-pic A Beautiful Mind, Theory of Everything mostly grounds filmgoers in a home setting that points up the true wit and wisdom of this genius. Like that same Oscar winner, the direction proves polished but the story's less mawkishly sentimental. Of course, some science works itself in but this film mainly tries figuring out the mans human element. Marsh's time traveling drama doesn't always present smooth sailing, which is what makes it such a profound human viewing experience. In overcoming adversity and disability, he suffers, his wife suffers, and his family suffers. The audience is just along for the ride but the magnificently constructed trappings evoke some strong emotions be it laughing, crying, or thinking.
Smartly, this PG-13-rated bio-pic looks at the relationship between the famous ALS-stricken physicist (Redmayne) and his first wife, Jane (Jones).
In adapting Jane Hawking's memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, screenwriter Anthony McCarten beautifully presents a well-rounded and tight digest of a life and mind truly worth celebrating. Without believable performances to root viewers, however, all of this would be for naught. Eddie Redmayne's turn as Hawking defines transformative. To paraphrase Spencer Tracy, you never catch him acting, which makes his brilliant performance a lock for an Oscar nod and hopefully the prize itself. Likewise, Felicity Jones's awe-striking turn pulls you into Jane's world and holds you captive for a brief but altogether rewarding history of their romance.
Bottom line: A Most Beautiful Mind
Lean, loud, and laugh-filled, this intentionally silly flightless… MoreLean, loud, and laugh-filled, this intentionally silly flightless water fowl-up fires at a fast, funny, and unfuzzy clip. In taking these Madagascar fan favorite supporting players and giving them a solo adventure, DreamWorks Animation gambles big with a popular cash cow franchise. And wins. Smartly forsaking sentimental syrupiness for wiseacre comedy team, antics, this movie moves at a breakneck pace that keeps it from getting bogged down in a cartoon-killer called seriousness. Most flicks of this ilk wear their hearts on their sleeves, teaching the importance of family, friends, and working together. Oh, Penguins doles out these One-to-Grow-Ons by proxy but never affects a professorial lecturing tone. Mostly, it just serves to zing and zip gags and one-liners at the audience. Granted, not all of the jokes hit a bullseye but this spin-off surges ahead at such an accelerated pace that you don't have time to notice.
In this PG-rated animated spin-off of Madagascar, Skipper (McGrath), Kowalski (Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon) and Private (Christopher Knights) join forces with undercover organization The North Wind to stop a villainous doctor from destroying the world.
From writing to celebrity voices, DreamWorks Animation always assembles an impressive roster of talent and harmless madcap vehicle is no exception. This flick boasts the A-List pipes of Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC's Sherlock), John Malkovich (RED 2), Ken Jeong (The Hangover Part III), and Peter Stormare (NBC's The Blacklist). More than just stunt casting, these actors legitimately bring the funny.
Bottom line: Tux for All Occasions
In serving the same Bosses with material that's not nearly as strong,… MoreIn serving the same Bosses with material that's not nearly as strong, Horrible is the word for this redundant deuce. Business gets conducted in relatively the same manner with three bickering, potty mouthed friends seeking vengeance on some double dealing executives...only this time, they zero in on the same executive...oh, and they downgrade from murder to kidnapping. You see, Horrible Bosses succeeds because of its moxie. Put upon, low level wage slaves who turn to murder? It takes balls to pull off an unapologetically offensive comedy like that with raunchy laughs to spare. The only offensive aspect of Part 2 is its lack of originality and chutzpah. Unfortunately, this sequel sports the same basic premise and an R-rating but the sophomoric humor just isn't that funny.
In this R-rated follow-up to the 2011 hit comedy, Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) pull off an inept kidnapping scheme on the son (Chris Pine) of a slick investor (Christoph Waltz) who steals their business idea.
Like the painfully bad The Hangover Part II, the stars simply dial up their character's comic traits for comic effect to cover for the lack of uniqueness. In other words, dry terminally sarcastic Bateman, goodtime doofus Sudeikis, and explosively irascible and childlike Day turn their usual shtick up to an 11, which gets old really fast. Also, Kevin Spacey has no business being in this movie save for checking off a box called 'gratuitous cameo.' His screen time moves the story forward in no way. Jaimie Foxx and Jennifer Aniston at least color in some sort of plot point. Colin Farrell proves the smartest Bosses alum, sitting out this unnecessary and oftentimes unfunny sequel. The captain must go down with this sinking ship, however. In replacing original director Seth Gordon and, along with his writing partner John Morris (the equally unfunny Sex Drive, Shes Out of My League, Dumb and Dumber To), replacing the original Bosses screenwriters, director/co-writer Sean Anders flubs this recycling job.
Bottom line: 9 to Low 5
Drumming up an exhilarating and emotional rollercoaster of a drama,… MoreDrumming up an exhilarating and emotional rollercoaster of a drama, writer-director Damien Chazelle's blistering music-story plays so fast and furiously with the audiences sympathies that whiplash nearly occurs. If the Great Santini taught at Fame, it might look a lot like this. What price, greatness? That's a question that Whiplash nails down violently and profanely. On one hand, the teacher goes too far. On the other hand, the student gives a better performance. Anybody pushed by a mentor or who strives under their own worst critic themselves - surely relates. Its the authenticity of the acting and, by proxy to the performance, instrument playing that really makes you consider this price, however.
In this R-rated musical drama, a promising young drummer (Teller) enrolls at a cutthroat music conservatory where a driven instructor (Simmons) stops at nothing to realize the student's potential.
In an intentionally polarizing role that makes Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket come off like Pooh Bear, J.K. Simmons gives the greatest performance of his already great career and one of the best dramatic turns of the year. As a filmgoer, you bristle at his maniacal slave-driving. When hot-headed, blister-handed Miles Teller drums himself into a seemingly possessed absolute frenzy at the climax, however, you practically sweat and bleed along with him. Due every bit of recognition surely coming his way this awards season, this actor plays every note of Tim Simonec's amazing, original jazz songbook. Yes, what results from their hard work truly makes you think, but you'll be tapping your knee to keep time while the brain toils all the same. With such frenetic performances and an improvisational jazz influence, filmgoers might suspect that writer-director Damien Chazelle would mostly take a handheld approach. They'd be wrong. Smartly using stead-cam to capture the on-screen madness only keeps the explosive goings-on that much MORE in focus.
Bottom line: Ringo of Fire
Mostly satisfying the Hunger of moviegoers despite keeping its head in… MoreMostly satisfying the Hunger of moviegoers despite keeping its head in the Games too long, Mockingjay Part 1 nonetheless keeps the fires of excitement and contemplation burning toward the conclusion. Without question, many scenes in this third chapter thrill and engage to an amazing degree. These scenes also drag on too long, nearly losing their dramatic punch. After Harry Potter successfully extended its ending chapter into two parts, it suddenly seemed en vogue to split your finale like aces. For that franchise, an impressive 6 above average episodes into the action by that time, the extension of Deathly Hallows paid off in spades, story wise and box office wise (plus, when youre already capping it at 7 chapters, is the audience really going to mind an 8th?). In regards to The Twilight Saga, the series' material never proved very entertaining or thought-provoking so prolonging the brand hurt nothing in regards to quality because very little existed. The Hunger Games, however, had a good thing going, offering up a rare sequel that improved upon its forebear. Also, a trilogy provides a solid round three-act structure thats perfect for storytelling. Instead, Mockingjay could've provided a last hurrah full of awe-striking bite and might...but it gets stretched to an almost uninteresting level like a once-edgy tattoo on a person quickly becoming obese.
In this PG-13-rated sci-fi adventure, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) works to save Peeta (Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends.
The suspense as well as societal commentary and political intrigue continue to rouse but the narrative had no business (beyond cashing in, at least) padding what should've been a taut driven storyline like the last go-round. There are long points where we just stare at Katnis for an uncomfortably long period. At least, Jennifer Lawrence shows up for a good fight, leading a charged cast all on their A-Game. Their Part 1 is good but could've been great.
Bottom line: Hungry Ayes
Gagging moviegoers as it goes, second place sequel Dumb and Dumber To… MoreGagging moviegoers as it goes, second place sequel Dumb and Dumber To proves chock full o' bits...for fans' betterment and everybody else's worsening. Not surprisingly, this flick brings the dumbness. Surprisingly, it amounts to a few decent chuckles. Granted, it's very few, but why split Harrys? This deuce impressively follows up its forebear with near-perfection, seamlessly cut from the same poo-stained cloth, which is its blessing and curse. The broken mold, 1994's Dumb and Dumber, never induces the out and out hysterics of the writers'/directors' masterpiece, There's Something About Mary or even the knee-slapping gem in-between that and Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin. If you like Dumb and Dumber, however, you'll like this follow-up a lot...because it's practically the same movie. For the rest of moviegoers, however, it's the exact same yawn and dance recycled two decades later. To cement the do-over status of the flick even more, the story even works in some favorite moments from the original (unsurprising spoilers: the dog car rolls again and Lloyd utters some choice catchphrases). Retch. Rinse. Repeat.
In this PG-13-rated comedy set 20 years after the dimwits bungled their way through their first adventure, simpletons Lloyd (Carrey) and Harry (Daniels) head out in search of the latter's long lost daughter in the hopes of gaining a new kidney.
Castaway prequel aside (Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd), the Farrelly Brothers frustratingly already floundered at making a Dumb and Dumber sequel with The Three Stooges. Think about it: through several connected comedy bits, some knockabout best friend lamebrains make a mockery out of the upper class and anything qualifying as "the establishment." Harry and Lloyd are one Howard Brother short of being a classic comedy team...minus the classic comedy, of course. Appearances aside (Carrey looks 20 years dumber, er, younger while Daniels looks like an aging vaudevillian in need of hanging it up), the stars channel their inner stooge brilliantly. Still, what results ranks among the brothers' other sophomoric, second rate, comedies--Stuck on You, Osmosis Jones, and even another ill-fated Jim Carrey-starring vehicle, Me, Myself, and Irene.
Bottom line: Dumbed Thumbs Down
A timely tale of bravery bravely told, Rosewater's stylish tics and… MoreA timely tale of bravery bravely told, Rosewater's stylish tics and unbreakable sense of humor smell sweet even while charting some familiar waters. The film presents a very modern story that needs to be told. Though it ultimately (and thankfully) sides with the western world perspective, Rosewater gives a liberal view of Iranian life, painting a broader sympathetic portrait of Middle Eastern life than such other modern Arabia-set takes as Argo. Still, if you've seen any wronged detainee film, be it anything from Papillon to Hurricane, the story starts to feel like déjà viewing during the second act. This is not meant to slight the perilous unique ordeal of Barhari. Keeping this jailed journalist story within the context of modern media victim (a jokey segment Bahari does for The Daily Show, for instance, cements his dubious guilt in the minds of his captors) keeps things fresh, as does the style. Still, the overall story rings reminiscent of many other films, intentionally or not.
In this R-rated true story, journalist Maziar Bahari (Bernal) gets detained by Iranian forces who brutally interrogate him under suspicion that he is a spy.
Like the daunted but positive hero at the story's center, first time writer/director Jon Stewart flies in the face of authority. Oh, it's not like we haven't seen Twitter Tweets overlayed on buildings and over people in scenes of workaday life, imagined figures conversing with the main characters, and real news footage juxtaposed with our narrative, but he holds these tricks back until just the right moment, when they move the story forward and/or underlie a plot point that transitions to the next scene. Gael Garcia Bernal gives an achingly true performance, leading a magnificent cast reading from an ace adaptation of Bahari's memoir, Then They Came for Me.
Bottom line: Captive Audience Favorite
Daringly taking filmgoers on an ambitious flight of fancy, Alejandro… MoreDaringly taking filmgoers on an ambitious flight of fancy, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's brilliantly layered, acted, and staged bit of fuss and feathers surges the boundaries of filmmaking and filmgoing forward. As subtitles go, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance offers up a mouthful and mindful that's definitely less playful than Dr. Strangelove's How We Learned to Worrying and Love the Bomb. What results, however, proves nearly as ridiculous and engaging as Stanley Kubrick's 1964 comic masterpiece. Birdman might serve up the existential crisis of a man who may or may not be suffering a breakdown, but the film fails to provoke an ounce of sadness. Pity's another thing entirely. As funny as it is dazzling, the film keeps the audience amused as they unwittingly get whipped up into the director's imaginative frenzy. Birdman effortlessly whisks you into its intoxicating insanity because the story feels so real, the performances so true, and our own delicate bruised egos so exposed, just like characters themselves.
In this R-rated absurdist comedy, a washed-up actor known for playing an iconic superhero (Keaton) must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.
Stretching his creative wings after the mosaic patchwork dramas 21 Grams and Babel, Inarritu keeps the action flowing seemingly as one long take. The camera follows the characters walking and talking before turning to catch the next scene already in progress. In what must have taken a mind-boggling amount of preparation, the technical aspects of Inarritu's latest manner of filmmaking simply astound the viewer. Of course, it's hard to gauge how remarkable this feat is when you're marveling at the acting. Michael Keaton always demonstrates an innate gift for pulling off oft-kilter comedy, but his transformation here is absolutely hypnotic. He leads a brilliant cast likewise swept up into its exhilarating and bizarre ether.
Bottom line: Birdman Forever