Soul


There’s no doubt that Jamie Foxx has soul.

(2020) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Angela Bassett, Cora Champommier, Margo Hall, Daveed Diggs, Rhodessa Jones, Wes Studi, Sakina Jaffrey, Fortune Feimster, June Squibb, John Ratzenberger, Peggy Flood. Directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

 

Since its inception, Pixar has consistently turned out some of the most thought-provoking and imaginative animated features in history, winning multiple Oscars and changing the game forever. Once known for being one of the original computer-generated animation studios, they have completely redefined storytelling in the animated medium.

Not all of their films have been home runs, of course – no studio that has been around for nearly 30 years can be expected to be perfect every time out, but they have very few movies in their library that aren’t at least entertaining at worst and thought-provoking. Whether it is on the nature of toys and their relationship with our memories, to the emotions and how all of them are important to who we are, and including stories about a rat who longs to be a famous French chef and anthropomorphic cars, Pixar has something for everybody. Therefore, it is really saying something when I lead off a review of one of their pictures by saying it might be the best they’ve ever made.

 

Joe Gardner (Foxx) wants to be a jazz pianist with all his heart and soul. He has never gotten the big break he needs, though, and so has had to make ends meet by teaching music at a New York City high school. His mother (Rashad) wants him to give up on his dreams and deal with the reality that he needs to earn a living, and it looks like he might be doing that as his part-time gig at the school is aout to be turned full-time and permanent, complete with benefits and a pension, which is exactly what his mom wants for him.

But fate isn’t done with Joe. He gets and nails an audition with legendary saxophone player Dorothea Williams (Bassett). Finally, the big break he’s been praying for. As he makes an excited call home, he doesn’t notice the manhole cover that is ide open and falls in.

He hovers between life and death and his soul heads for the great beyond, but before he can head to his final destination, incensed at the thought of dying before he can make it, which he considers to be his destiny, he escapes the conveyer belt taking him to the great light and ends up in the great before – where souls go before they are born to adqure the personality traits that will stick with them after birth. Joe is given the stubborn soul-let 22 (Fey) to mentor. She is missing the spark that will fill out her check boxes and send her to Earth to become a person. The trouble is, 22 doesn’t want to leave. And Joe doesn’t want to stay – he needs to get back into his body before he misses the gig that he has been waiting his whole life to play.

As you can see, there are some pretty heavy concepts going on here. How do we become who we are? What happens to us when we die? Not exactly typical subjects for a kid flick, but Pixar regular Pete Docter (along with Kemp Powers, who wrote the acclaimed One Night in Miami which is just about to be released on Amazon Prime as I write this) makes it not only thought-provoking, but fun as well. In the Great Before, there are beings all named Jerry (voiced, by among others, by Rachel House, Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade) that resemble concept drawings in Picasso’s sketchbook; one of the mentors there calls human beings “meat suits.”

This is a gorgeously rendered film, as nearly all Pixar films are. The New York City here is so real you can almost smell the garbage; a rat hauls away a slice of pizza with the grease glistening on the pepperoni. It’s the details that make the film; the jazz tunes are written by John Batiste whose performance on the keyboard was filmed so that the animators could match Joe’s fingering to that of Batiste exactly.

Speaking of music, the score – by Oscar-winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – is lustrous and mind-bending, in my opinion one of the best scores ever to grace an animated feature. The movie also celebrates African-American culture without pandering, which Hollywood productions sometimes do.

Foxx, an Oscar winner himself, is simply outstanding as Joe. His performance is full of pathos and humor as he gives Joe a unique personality; stubborn and at the same time, giving. You root for Joe without thinking he’s too good to be true; there are definitely warts there, but Foxx makes him all too relatable. Perhaps his experience bringing Ray Charles to the screen stood him in good stead here. In any case, it should rank among Foxx’s best performances ever, which is something to crow about.

In a year that has tested all of us, this is a lovely reward for making it this far. It is the kind of movie that we can watch together as a family, whether we are actual relations or not. It is a movie that explores what it is to be human, and what it is to be more than human – to explore the nature of what a soul is. It’s a brilliant work and one of the year’s best fims, if not THE best.

REASONS TO SEE: Wildly inventive and one of Pixar’s all-time best. The score is the best ever for an animated feature. Foxx is absolutely awesome. Doesn’t overdo the sentimentality. Takes on some very difficult subjects without talking down.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending is a bit of a stretch.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first Pixar film to feature an African-American as the lead character.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Disney Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/11/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews; Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISONSHOPPING: Inside Out
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
Queer Japan

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Bumblebee


A girl and her bug.

(2018) Science Fiction (ParamountHailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Landeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, Pamela Adlon, Jason Drucker, Megyn Price, Rachel Crowther, Grey Griffin, Gracie Dzienny, Peter Cullen (voice), Len Cariou, Marcella Bragio, Steve Blum, Vanessa Ross, Glynn Turman, Kirk Bailey, Jon Bailey, Kevin Kent, Michael Masini, Fred Dryer, Mika Kubo. Directed by Travis Knight

 

After a decade of Michael Bay’s sturm und drang Transformers movies comes a different take in the franchise’s first spin-off…or is it prequel? I guess either appellation works.

With the Decepticons having overrun the Autobots in their ongoing war (if you don’t know what that sentence signifies, you should probably go no further and look for something else to rent), Bumblebee is sent by Optimus Prime (Cullen) to Earth to protect the human race. Unfortunately, he’s tailed by a couple of Decepticon warriors who basically kick the gears out of him, disabling his vocal functions and leaving him nearly dead. He makes like a VW Bug to hide from the evil robots, who are looking hard for him so they can find out where the Autobots are hiding and destroy them once and for all.

But teen Charlie (Steinfeld), mourning her late father, takes a liking to the Bug when she spies him in a scrapyard and decides to rebuild him. You can imagine her surprise when he rebuilds himself. The trouble is that those evil Decepticons have managed to convince the American government that Bumblebee is a threat and the gov’mint sends out iron-jawed Agent Burns (Cena) to locate the wayward Autobot and take him down. All that stands between the human race and total annihilation is a badly damaged robot and a plucky teenage girl. How much more 1987 could you get?

Quite a bit, judging from the wonderful soundtrack here. Still, this is a refreshing tonal change for the series which had fallen into self-parody with the last movie, Transformers: The Last Knight. While the movie starts out with a Bay-esque scene of mayhem and massive robot carnage, the movie abruptly shifts gears and becomes something of a buddy movie. Steinfeld is a very talented actress and not many could pull off doing a buddy movie with a car, but she does it pretty well, playing the 80s tomboy despite not having been born until the following decade.

But it’s the mayhem that most people buy tickets to these movies for, and there’s plenty of that. Knight, who has mostly worked with stop-motion animation with Laika, has a good sense of how to stage an action set piece but also has a good sense of balance with character development and plot. He even manages to inject a little pathos and humor into the mix, something Bay wasn’t known for.

REASONS TO SEE: Excellent action sequences. Steinfeld gives an affecting performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: A fair number of clichés are present.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of sci-fi action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steinfeld was born nine years after the movie was set, so she had to be taught how to use some of the props such as the Walkman.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Epix, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Sling TV, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/18/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews; Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big Hero 6
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Union Bridge

Mission: Impossible – Fallout


Proof positive that Tom Cruise is Peter Pan.

(2018) Spy Action (ParamountTom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Wes Bentley, Frederick Schmidt, Liang Yang, Kristoffer Joner, Wolf Blitzer, Raphael Actoque, Andrew Cazanave-Pin, Grahame Fox, Efion Jolly, Lolly Adefope, Alix Bénézech. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

 

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) returns in maybe the best, most kinetic and most edge-of-your seat action films of the M:I franchise. He and his intrepid team of IMF heroes – whittled down now to computer genius Luther (Rhames) and worry wart Benji (Pegg) – are tracking down stolen plutonium that has made its way into the hands of an absolutely bonkers terrorist group who thinks the only way that mankind can be saved is to suffer first. A lot.

Actually, the plot really isn’t all that important in a film like this; just give the guys an excuse to perform unbelievable stunts and you have a license to print money and yes, the stunts here are of the “No, he did not!!!!” variety that will leave you gape-mouthed with astonishment. If there’s one thing this franchise has always delivered on, it’s spectacular stunts.

In many ways, this is the best film of the franchise, tying together ends you didn’t even know were loose from other films. Add to the mix the regal Angela Bassett as a by-the-book CIA officer and Henry Cavill as an agent who’s an ends-justify-the-means kinda guy, and you’ve got a summer movie that you will want to watch year-round (and given its presence on Hulu and Amazon Prime, you can do just that).

Cruise, at 56, is at last starting to look middle-aged rather than the eternal young guy he’s been throughout the series. Rhames is also beginning to look like this might be his series swan song, or close to it. If this does turn out to be the last film in the franchise, it’s a marvelous way to go out. However, I wouldn’t bet my last dollar that we don’t see Ethan Hunt and cohorts at least one more time.

REASONS TO SEE: Incredible stunt sequences, as always. Might be the best film in the franchise, tying together a number of other films in the franchise in a nice bow.
REASONS TO AVOID: Cruise and Rhames are getting a little bit long in the tooth for this.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and plenty of action and violence, including some fairly intense sequences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cavill was offered the role via public Instagram post by director Christopher McQuarrie.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews: Metacritic: 86/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kingsman: The Secret Service
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Beyond the Law

New Releases for the Week of July 27, 2018


MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT      

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin, Michelle Monaghan. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

After a mission gone bad Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must race against time to stop a fanatic from plunging the world into chaos. Just another day at the office for ol’ Ethan.

See the trailer and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, IMAX 3D RPX, RPX 3D

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language)

Blindspotting

(CODEBLACK) Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Ethan Embry. Out of prison on probation, a young African-American man has to re-evaluate his friendship with his volatile best friend whose antics might just land him back behind bars. To make matters worse, he has also witnessed the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Cinemark Artegon, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references, and drug use)

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

(Amazon) Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black. The story of newspaper cartoonist John Callahan who after a near fatal car accident, is forced into treatment for alcohol abuse. He discovers a talent for drawing edgy and controversial cartoons that show the healing abilities of art and the triumph of the human will over adversity. This was one of this year’s Sundance Film Festival’s most acclaimed entries.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content, some nudity and alcohol abuse)

Hot Summer Nights

(A24) Timothée Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Alex Roe, Thomas Jane. Visiting his aunt on Cape Cod one sweltering summer before he is due to head off to college, a socially awkward young man gets involved with a townie in a business of selling weed to wealthy tourists. DirecTV subscribers have already had an opportunity to view this for about a month as it gets a brief limited theatrical release.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for drug content and language throughout, sexual references, and some strong violence)

Teen Titans GO! To the Movies

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Jimmy Kimmel. Five teenage superheroes dream of Hollywood stardom, a dream that is interrupted by a pesky supervillain who plans world domination. It’s tough to be a teenage superhero when NOBODY UNDERSTANDS YOU!!!!!!!!!

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for action and rude humor)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

The Catcher Was a Spy

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Damascus Cover
Eighth Grade
Happy Wedding
Junga
Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story
Sergio and Sergei

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Happy Wedding
Mohini

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Happy Wedding
The King

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Blindspotting
The Catcher Was a Spy
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story
Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Black Panther


King T’Challa surveys the kingdom of Wakanda that the world sees.

(2018) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Andy Serkis, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, David S. Lee, Nayibah Be, Isaach De Bankolé, Connie Chiume, Dorothy Steele, Danny Sapani, Sydelle Noel. Directed by Ryan Coogler

 

It is not accidental that Black Panther was released during Black History Month. It is a movie that has gone on to make history and brought huge crossover appeal to the segment of African-American audiences who aren’t necessarily going out to see superhero movies – although obviously a large chunk of them are. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is Shaft in spandex though – this is a superhero movie that is going to set the bar for superhero films that follow it.

T’Challa (Boseman), King of the African nation of Wakanda, also carries the mantle of the Black Panther, the protector of his country who is mystically endowed with superpowers. He inherits a country that is technologically advanced but has chosen to hide its true nature so that they don’t become targets. Their isolationism is a sticking point with Erik Killmonger (Jordan), nephew of the recently deceased King, who was raised in America after the murder of his father. He sees things from a much more global point of view and thinks Wakanda should be sharing their technology – particularly their weapons – to help oppressed people of color to rise up and throw off the yoke of colonialism.

There’s a lot more to the film than that but this is a short review. Sure, it’s got the eye candy and jaw-dropping action sequences we come to expect in a superhero film – and they are well done here, make no mistake about it – but also, they are not the be-all and end-all of Black Panther. Rather, they are a jumping off point to discuss more weighty matters – racial relations, colonialism, turning a blind eye to suffering, sexism – things not normally a part of the superhero film equation. It should also be mentioned that the Dora Milaje – the King’s army – are all women and  are the most badass fighting force to turn up in a superhero film ever, even more so than the Amazons of Wonder Woman.

It should also be mentioned that this might be the most talented ensemble ever in a superhero film. The crème de la crème of African-American actors do their thing on this film and none of them turn in anything less than their best. Gurira from The Walking Dead brings the badassery of Michonne and bringing onto the big screen and giving it an African twist. Nyong’o plays a spy and the ex of T’Challa and she plays a fine love interest. Whitaker lends gravitas to his role as T’Challa’s mentor. Best of all though is Wright as the king’s kid sister – a scientific genius responsible for many of the gadgets used in the film. She steals nearly every scene she’s in.

All in all, this is a movie that lives up to the hype and re-confirms that the superhero genre is not just for fanboys but for fans of all sorts. Just for the record, Black Panther isn’t a great superhero film because it has an African-American hero – it would be a great superhero film no matter who the lead was. Come to think of it, Black Panther isn’t just a great superhero film – it’s a great film period.

REASONS TO GO: This is a benchmark for all superhero films. Jordan and Boseman are both terrific in their roles. Coogler hits the director’s A list with his big and bold vision.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the CGI doesn’t quite work.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of violence, superhero and otherwise, as well as a rude gesture.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jordan has appeared in all three of the feature films directed by Coogler to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/6/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews: Metacritic: 88/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: King Lear
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
The Workshop

New Releases for the Week of February 16, 2018


BLACK PANTHER

(Disney/Marvel) Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis. Directed by Ryan Coogler

After the assassination of the King of the high-tech but isolationist African nation of Wakanda, his son T’Challa is set to inherit not only the throne but the mantle of the Black Panther, a super-powered protector of Wakanda. However enemies from both within and without want to see him lose both crown and claw. At stake is nothing less but the fate of the world.

See the trailer, a clip, an interview and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, Dolby Atmos, GDX, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, XD
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture)

Aiyaary

(Yash Raj) Anupam Kher, Sidharth Malhotra, Naseeruddin Shah, Rakul Preet Singh. Two police officers, close friends and in a mentor/protégé relationship, have a falling out. One has complete faith in the judicial and civic system of India; the other has lost that faith following a stint doing surveillance.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

Detective Chinatown 2

(Warner Brothers/Wanda) Wang Baoqiang, Liu Haoran, Michael Pitt, Rachel McPhee.  The investigation of the missing son of a Chinatown godfather turns into a murder investigation that threatens the peace in New York. Two bumbling detectives who have had some inexplicable success are put on the case.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for brief language)

Early Man

(Summit/Aardman) Starring the voices of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall. It is the dawn of the Bronze Age and the Stone Age cavemen are certainly going to go the way of the Cro-Magnon. Still, a group of hunter-gatherers – who have had a spectacular lack of success on anything bigger than a rabbit – are determined to fight back against their more advanced cousins. It is the ultimate showdown of city versus country.

See the trailer and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude humor and some action} 

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

(Sony Classics) Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave. Hollywood legend Gloria Grahame was in the twilight of her career when she took up a relationship with Peter Turner, a young Brit twenty years her junior. Not long afterwards she would also be fighting for her life against a particularly devastating strain of cancer.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and brief nudity)

Samson

(Pure Flix) Taylor James, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Zane, Rutger Hauer. The story of the legendary Hebrew strongman is told in greater detail here than the 1949 Victor Mature version.

See the trailer and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biblical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and battle sequences)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Awe!
The Music of Silence

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

1945
Awe!
Double Lover
The Female Brain
First We Take Brooklyn
Have a Nice Day
Honor Up
Manasuku Nachindi
Monkey King 3
Monster Hunt 2
Smoke and Mirrors: A History of Denial

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Awe!
Golden Exits
Idhi Naa Love Story
Manasuku Nachindi
Monster Hunt 2
Naachiyaar

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Awe!
Manasuku Nachindi

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Black Panther
Early Man
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

London Has Fallen


Gerard Butler is sick and tired of poor reviews.

Gerard Butler is sick and tired of poor reviews.

(2016) Action (Gramercy) Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Colin Salmon, Alon Aboutboul, Waleed Zuaiter, Adel Bencherif, Mehdi Dehbi, Shivani Ghai, Penny Downie, Deborah Grant, Nigel Whitmey, Andrew Pleavin, Julia Montgomery Brown, Elsa Mollien. Directed by Babak Najafi

What do you do when you’ve already foiled a hostile takeover of the White House? Why, for most of us it would be resting on our laurels. For any action hero worth his salt, that’s just the beginning.

But Mike Banning (Butler) has had enough. Despite the fact that he has the world’s best tough-guy name (just say it out loud over and over again – you’ll get what I mean), his wife (Mitchell) is having a rug rat and is due any day now. He wants to settle down and be a dad and a husband. He’s even writing out his resignation letter.

But when you’re a Secret Service Agent with a Special Forces background who goes jogging with the President every morning that’s not such an easy task. When the Prime Minister of Great Britain has a fatal heart attack, the world is coming to London to attend the funeral, and President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) is not one to miss the funeral of a world leader. So with Banning’s boss (Bassett) breathing down his neck to be in charge of the President’s security while he’s in London, he can’t really say no.

It’s a good thing he decides to go because bingo bango bongo five world leaders are assassinated and the President’s chopper is shot down by terrorists. Like most terrorists, they have an axe to grind with the United States, but unlike most terrorists they seem to be well organized, infiltrating nearly every stratum of security in Britain. Getting the President to the U.S. Embassy is job number one for Banning but he’ll have to negotiate the streets of London which are now overrun with bad guys impersonating cops, soldiers and Central Casting.

While I liked the predecessor Olympus Has Fallen just fine, this is a step backward from its predecessor. The first film was a wild ride in the vein of Die Hard; this one just dies hard. The action is on the pedantic side, never a good thing. Action junkies may end up yawning which is always a bad thing – there is a definite been there-done that feel to the action. I don’t expect them to reinvent the wheel but there needs to be a lot more passion invested than apparently was put in here.

The shame is that I have always really liked Gerard Butler as an actor and you can tell he’s really doing his best with a subpar script. Butler is one of those guys that you’d probably have a great time sharing a beer with and telling tall tales to in a pub. He’s what I call a working class actor; he’s not  the sort of guy who gets offered roles that win Oscars, but he gets the job done day in and day out and in the end comes off as a likable guy, even when he’s playing a real douchebag (as in Gods of Egypt). I think he doesn’t get the respect he deserves, either from critics or casting agents but that’s just me talking.

He has a decent supporting cast, but many of them are wasted in roles that feel like they mostly ended on the cutting room floor – Leo and Forster have both got Oscar nominations on their resumes but barely get a line or two in here. Morgan Freeman, maybe one of the most respected actors of this generation, has a little bit more to do but not by much; his role is essentially display dismay, frustration and once in awhile deliver a “we’re gonna kick your ass” zinger as is necessary in most action films. Like the previous one, there is a bit of a right wing dick swing vibe here as the President gets tough on terrorism directly – with a machine gun. Go, POTUS, Go!

I get that with most action movies you really don’t want to think about the plot too closely as there are often logical holes in them but there has to be at least a LITTLE bit of logic; most people understand that the President is protected by a virtual army and when he goes to a foreign country, he is literally surrounded at all times by Secret Service agents and if his helicopter was shot down in a friendly country like England, there would be a rescue operation already in place and scrambled even before the chopper hit the ground.

Still, even as mindless entertainment goes, there is a bit too much disbelief to suspend here. I’m one of those people who thinks that there is something noble about creating a vehicle for people to forget about their troubles for a couple of hours but this movie could have used a serious rewrite (and it got several, judging from the number of screenwriters credited) or more likely scrapping the project altogether. While I wouldn’t mind seeing the character Mike Banning again, I would rather see him in a much better movie than this. Check it out if mediocrity is your thing, but don’t make too much of an effort to do so.

REASONS TO GO: Some nifty action sequences. Butler is excessively likable.
REASONS TO STAY: Really hokey script. Lacks any sort of credibility and any sort of logic.
FAMILY VALUES: A ton of action, mayhem and violence and a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fredrick Bond was set to direct but dropped out due to creative differences.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/25/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 24% positive reviews. Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: White House Down
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: TBA

New Releases for the Week of March 4, 2016


ZootopiaZOOTOPIA

(Disney) Starring the voices of Jason Bateman, Ginnfer Goodwin, Idris Elba, Bonnie Hunt, J.K Simmons, Shakira, Alan Tudyk, Octavia Spencer. Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush

In a city populated by anthropomorphic mammals, a determined bunny means to prove herself on a police force of tougher, stronger animals. Her partner, a fast-talking scam artist who wants nothing more than to fly under the radar, is not amused by her ambitions. When she takes on a high-profile case, she drags her reluctant partner into the seedier side of Zootopia.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements, rude humor and action)

45 Years

(Sundance Selects) Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells. An English couple planning a big celebration for their 45th wedding anniversary is devastated when a secret from the husband’s past resurfaces. The revelation opens up old wounds that have been festering over time and creates a new dynamic within the couple that threaten the harmony they’ve worked all their lives to build. Rampling was nominated for an Oscar for her performance here; read the review for this tomorrow.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language and brief sexuality)

The Boy and the Beast

(FUNimation) Starring the voices of Eric Vale, John Swasey, Monica Rial, Bryn Apprill. A young orphan discovers an entire world of sentient beasts whose world co-exists next to ours. He is discovered by the enigmatic and somewhat eccentric Kumatetsu, who takes the young human child on as an apprentice. The unlikely pair grow to respect each other, learn from each other and eventually become friends. However when an evil threatens both worlds, the two will have to fight side by side to save both of their worlds…or die side by side.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Anime
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and language)

Boy and the World

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Vinicius Garcia, Felipe Zilse, Alé Abreu, Lu Horta. A young boy in rural Brazil finds his life shattered when his father leaves for the big city. Determined to find him and reunite his family, the boy sets out into a world much bigger than the one he’s known all his life. This Brazilian film was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG (for thematic material and images)

London Has Fallen

(Focus) Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett. In London for the funeral of the Prime Minister, the leaders of the western world are ambushed by a well-coordinated, well-financed terrorist group which aims to bring the West to its knees, particularly the United States. However, they didn’t reckon on a Secret Service agent who knows how to protect the president when the odds are against them.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

The Mermaid

(Sony/Momentum) Chao Deng, Jelly Lin, Show Luo, Yuqi Zhang. When a developer’s project threatens to destroy the civilization of mermaids and incidentally all marine life, one of the mermaids is dispatched to kill him. In fine Chinese film fashion, she falls in love with him instead which exposes a secret organization dedicating to destroying all mermaids. The two lovers will have to unite to save the day. The latest from Stephen Chow broke all Chinese box office records last year.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Martial Arts Fantasy
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: R (for some violence)

The Other Side of the Door

(20th Century Fox) Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sisto, Sofia Rosinsky, Javier Botet. A grief-stricken young mother mourns the loss of her son in a tragic accident on an idyllic Greek island. However, when she learns of a temple which may be a place where life and the afterlife meet, she goes there and against the warnings of others opens the door, releasing things into our world which shouldn’t be here and threatening the balance between life and death.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for some bloody violence)

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

(Paramount) Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina. Kim Barker is a woman trying to make it in journalism, which remains in many ways a man’s world. So when the opportunity to go to Afghanistan to cover the war comes up, she takes it despite being advised not to. This true story shows what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world doing a job that most men would be terrified to do.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images)

Chi-Raq


Lysistrata gets real.

Lysistrata gets real.

(2015) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, D.B. Sweeney, Dave Chappelle, Steve Harris, Harry Lennix, Anthony Fitzpatrick, Anya Engel-Adams, Ebony Joy, Erin Allen Kane, Michelle Mitchenor, Felicia Pearson, La La Anthony. Directed by Spike Lee

Violence in the streets has reached epidemic proportions, with homicides in the city of Chicago, one of America’s great cities, now higher than the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan of American soldiers. There is a war in the streets of Chicago, mainly being waged by street gangs, and the innocent are being caught in the crossfire as they often are in war. It’s so bad that the residents of the embattled South Side where much of the violence is centered have taken to calling their home town Chi-Raq, a merging of Chicago and Iraq which in their eyes the Windy City has become. They’re not wrong.

Director Spike Lee has turned his gaze towards the problem and has come up with a unique viewpoint. Adapting the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes and setting it in modern-day Chicago, Lee makes the bold move of putting the dialogue into rhyming couplets – just as Aristophanes did. Utilizing a narrator named Dolmedes (Jackson) who acts as kind of a, if you’ll excuse the expression, Greek chorus, he tells the tale of two warring gangs; the Spartans, who wear purple and who are led by the passionate Chi-Raq (Cannon), a rapper with a rap sheet, and the Trojans, who wear orange and are led by the humorless one-eyed Cyclops (Snipes).

After an attempt on Chi-Raq’s life misfires, leaving a member from each gang badly injured, Chi-Raq and Lysistrata go back to her crib and do what comes naturally. The fire they are making suddenly becomes a bit too hot; Cyclops has set fire to the apartment building in an attempt to flush out Chi-Raq but that, too, fails.

Lysistrata moves in with Miss Helen (Bassett) across the street, a woman who preaches non-violence and doesn’t approve of Lysistrata’s lifestyle or choice in men. Lysistrata at first is not real happy about Miss Helen’s criticism, but all that changes when a young girl, the daughter of Irene (Hudson), is caught in the crossfire during a gang shootout and is killed. Local preacher-activist Fr. Mike Corridan (Cusack) thunders from his pulpit and urges his flock to change their ways.

When Lysistrata hears of a Liberian activist named Leymah Gbowee who convinced the women of that war-torn country to withhold sex from their men until peace was declared – and it was – she realizes that something like that could work in Chicago too, but she’ll have to convince the ladies of the various gang members on both sides which is no easy task since there’s plenty of suspicion to go around on both sides. However, all the women are tired of going to funerals, tired of seeing their children murdered, tired of seeing their men murdered. It’s time to make a difference, and the women decide to do just that. Their sex strike spreads to the prostitutes and phone sex girls, then to other cities. Soon men around the world are suffering blue balls, and the women seem to have the upper hand. However, the men won’t take this lack of lying down…lying down.

This is Spike Lee returning to his roots as it were, creating a movie that’s both ambitious and ballsy. How many directors do you know would adapt an ancient Greek play, set the dialogue in rhyme and infuse it with a rap soundtrack? Not damn many. Okay, just one.

Lee can sometimes have the touch of an elephant when making a point, but few excel at satire better than he. This is overtly a musical, but not in a West Side Story kind of fashion. This is at times a rap video but I do believe that’s part of the satire. He has gone into this territory before, with his casts breaking into song and dance numbers, but there is still a subversive flavor about the way he does it.

Likewise the humor can be big and brawny, but it tends to be more successful when it’s rapier-like or playful. Lee is not above poking fun at African-American icons or at himself for that matter, but occasionally he misfires when going after broader targets, like the National Guard general who comes off as a cornpone Confederate. That sequence doesn’t work and will probably hit Southerners the same way minstrel shows hit African-Americans. I suppose though that there is a bit of justice in those type of reverse stereotypes.

There are plenty of powerful performances here but none better than Parris as Lysistrata. Lee has a history of celebrating the strength and pride of African-American women throughout his films, and Parris may be the best he’s ever had. Not only is she a drop-dead, make a preacher kick a hole in a stained glass window gorgeous, she carries the movie’s sensibilities without being strident. She is super sexy when she needs to be (which is often) but also gentle and nurturing when she is called to be (which isn’t often). It’s a nuanced performance that just reeks of star potential.

Already stars, Jackson and Cusack have some great moments as well. Jackson is jaunty as the narrator, showing up in loud, colorful suits and outrageous hats, looking like a cross between a pimp in a 70s Blaxploitation movie and a tap dancer from a Busby Berkeley musical. Jackson keeps it light, which makes the movie work a lot better than if the tone was darker. Cusack has a powerful moment when he delivers a sermon at the little girl’s funeral, preaching until he goes hoarse, reiterating to me why he’s one of my very favorite actors. Bassett provides gravitas, and Hudson shows that she continues to be one of the best actresses in Hollywood with her brief but emotionally powerful role as the murdered girl’s mother.

Like most of Lee’s movies, the soundtrack is the real deal. But while the soundtrack here is rap, the movie is pure jazz and the same can be said about Lee. Love him or hate him, admire his politics or despise them, he takes chances and does things his own way. Not everything works here – at times I feel like he’s borrowing too much from other sources and the movie can have a “seen that before” quality that you sometimes get from a Tarantino film when that director falls too deeply in love with his references. However, this is clearly Lee’s best work in decades, although not up to his very best films. However, this is a welcome return to form by a director who is an American treasure that is rarely considered as such by the Hollywood establishment.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performance by Parris. Vintage Spike Lee. Nifty soundtrack. Subversive sense of humor.
REASONS TO STAY: Overly self-conscious. Not subtle at all. Occasionally bombastic. Sinks into cliche from time to time.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of sexual content and sexual references, some nudity, a little bit of violence, drug use and a whole lot of crude language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: “Wake up” is both the first and last line of dialogue in the film; it is also the first and last line of dialogue in Do the Right Thing which also featured Snipes and Jackson.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/4/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Do the Right Thing
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II

New Releases for the Week of November 29, 2013


Frozen

FROZEN         

(Disney) Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idris Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds. Edie McClurg. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

In a kingdom of eternal winter, an optimistic and brave girl teams up with a rugged mountain man, his loyal reindeer and a bumbling snowman to take on the forces of magic that have locked it there. The trouble is that the evil witch holding the kingdom spellbound is her sister.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some action and mild rude humor)

Black Nativity

(Fox Searchlight) Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Latimore. A streetwise teenage Baltimore boy is forced to spend the holidays with his strict and devout relatives the Rev. Cobbs and his wife. Unwilling to live by the strict rules imposed by the pastor, he decides that he will return home to his mother, opening himself up for an unexpected Christmas miracle.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Holiday Drama (opens Wednesday)

Rating: PG (for thematic material, language and a menacing situation)

The Book Thief

(20th Century Fox) Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nelisse, Roger Allam. During the Second World War a spirited young girl is sent to live with a new family in Nazi Germany. In a place where books are routinely burned and ideas that conflict with official state policy are dangerous, she  finds courage in the immense power of words and books.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material) 

Bullett Raja

(Fox STAR) Saif Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Vidyut Jamwal, Jimmy Shergill. An ordinary man is pushed to the limit and turns to a life of crime. Now a powerful criminal, he declares war on Indian society in an effort to take down the corruption that forced him to the other side of the law.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Good Ol’ Freda

(Magnolia) Freda Kelly, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr. As a shy young teen in Liverpool, Freda Kelly was asked to work for a young local band with great aspirations. She became the secretary to the Beatles as well as their friend and confidante. This documentary tells her story set to the music of the Fab Four, offering a whole new perspective on the band that changed popular music – and world culture – forever.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for some thematic material and smoking)

Homefront

(Open Road) Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth. When a DEA agent’s wife passes away, he leaves the agency to settle down in a small town community to raise his daughter quietly and get past his own grief. Unfortunately the town he chooses is far from quiet or quaint and soon he finds himself in a war that he will have to go all out to win and keep his daughter safe.

See the trailer, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief sexuality)

Oldboy

(FilmDistrict) Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley. An ad executive and family man is kidnapped and held in a locked room for 20 years. In that time he discovers that his wife has been murdered and that he has been framed for the crime. When he is just as suddenly and as inexplicably released he goes on a quest to discover who imprisoned him and why. The more he discovers however, the more he realizes that his torment is far from over.

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language)

Philomena

(Weinstein) Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham. An elderly woman and a BBC reporter go on a journey to find her son who was conceived out of wedlock and given up for adoption to an American couple. Although she had signed a waiver promising never to look into her son’s whereabouts, she still feels that connection and defies the Catholic Church and convention to reunite with the baby she gave up so many years ago.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language)