“The Little Death,” an Australian sex comedy that takes its title from the French idiom for orgasm, bops around between various couples exploring their fetishes and fantasies. There are a few laughs but a lot more jarring tonal shifts, as well as an unpleasant streak of sexual assault. My RogerEbert.com review.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.
Running time: 94 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.
Here’s the main difference between me and my 5-year-old son. I mean, clearly, there are many, including the fact that someday soon he’ll be able to reach items on the high shelves in the kitchen without a step ladder. But this latest one lies in the way we each reacted to “Inside Out,” the new animated epic from Pixar, which takes place mainly within the mind of an 11-year-old girl.
Nicolas’ favorite part was when the girl’s sense of Fear (voiced by Bill Hader) runs around screaming with his butt ablaze, courtesy of a blast of fire from her Anger (Lewis Black). He also liked when Joy (Amy Poehler) was playfully talking to herself. “Joy is funny,” the budding film critic added. My favorite part was … everything else. The ambition. The intelligence. The complexity. The performances. The poignancy. Director and co-writer Pete Docter’s film is as beautiful as it is profound, lively as it is meaningful.
This is a movie that dares to explore existential crises, in the middle of the summer, in an animated movie that’s aimed at the whole family. And damned if it doesn’t pull it off. Like the best Pixar movies — “Up,” “The Incredibles” and my personal favorite, “WALL-E” — it functions quite powerfully on multiple levels at once. And similar to “Ratatouille,” in a lot of ways “Inside Out” isn’t really for kids primarily, even though the figure at its center, Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), is on the brink of adolescence, with all the recognizable angst that accompanies this shift.
Children will certainly respond to the movie’s spry energy, vibrant colors and clever humor. The script from Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley is one of the more substantive ones yet in a Pixar film — and don’t forget, Docter previously directed and co-wrote “Monsters Inc.” and “Up” — but it’s also very, very funny, often in a slapsticky way. Er go, the butt on fire.
A little bit on the premise, in case this all sounds a tad confusing and abstract. Riley has just moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan). This would be a difficult transition to make at any time in your childhood, but especially now. Eleven is such an awkward age — such a jumble of extreme emotions — which “Inside Out” keenly understands and demonstrates by going inside her brain to show us what she’s thinking or feeling at any particular moment. Besides Joy, Anger and Fear, there’s Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith).
When Riley was a little girl, her experiences and memories were all so clear-cut, they were color-coded. The happy ones, like scoring her first hockey goal, remain in the infrastructure of her brain as orbs that glow a bright yellow; the unpleasant ones, like being forced to eat broccoli as an infant, radiate a dark green. And the feelings themselves were reliable in their consistency. Joy always has been perky and resilient and glass-half-full (and Poehler does nimble voice work in playing a character that’s the pixellated manifestation of her irresistible demeanor).
But lately, the blue and bespectacled Sadness has come to the fore, between the move and all the disconcerting changes occurring both around her and inside her. Reminiscent of Eeyore in the “Winnie the Pooh” realm, Sadness is dryly hilarious — so pathetic and so sweet — and so often, the voice of reason. She’s the one who’s willing to speak the raw truth in an uncomfortable situation. And Smith, with her vulnerable and beautifully nuanced performance, ends up being the movie’s unexpected MVP.
From here, “Inside Out” follows how Riley — and the many sides of her — adapt, or don’t. Her journey features many inspired, light moments, from the physical manifestation of a brain freeze while you’re enjoying a cold treat to an annoying TV jingle that gets stuck in your head. But it has plenty of dramatic ones, too, including the relationship Riley’s emotions have with her long-lost imaginary friend, Bing Bong, voiced heartbreakingly by Richard Kind. (Seriously, “Inside Out” rivals “Toy Story 3” for the kind of ugly crying it’ll provoke in you.)
It may meander a tad in the literal labyrinth of Riley’s mind as these figures struggle to work together to help her restore her shattered sense of self. But mostly, “Inside Out” remains sharp with some really sophisticated notions about the nature of memories — which ones we hold onto, where they sit in the brain, how long we keep them, how they shape our personalities and even how they help us forge relationships. It might sound dull or even didactic, but this being a Pixar film, “Inside Out” brings these concepts brilliantly to life.
If my son can begin to grasp the idea that happiness and sadness can co-exist within the same moment — but also cackle so hard at a bit of physical comedy that his face turns red and the veins pop out on his neck — then we’re onto something truly memorable here.
You may think you know the strange directions in which this deliciously uncomfortable comedy is headed — and then it takes a detour or adds a twist or doesn’t go there at all. Not naming any names, but I can imagine having a version of this kind of night with some L.A. parents I know. Please enjoy my RogerEbert.com review of “The Overnight.”
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.
Running time: 123 minutes.
Two stars out of four.
It’s silly of me, right? I have this notion that a big, splashy blockbuster should provide characters and story lines that matter, that engage us, so that there are actual stakes and not just a lot of noisy stomping. Theoretically, we should care whether or not someone is going to get eaten by a genetically engineered, 50-foot-tall dinosaur. We shouldn’t be distracted by flimsy subplots, or the unlikely (and ungainly) sight of a grown woman running for her life through the jungle in high heels.
And yet, this is what “Jurassic World” gives us, in between some admittedly spectacular visuals.
I know what you’re thinking: “It’s not meant to be an Oscar winner.” “It’s a popcorn movie.” “Why can’t you just shut off your brain and have a good time?” Also: “You suck.”
All of the above are probably true. And yet, I had a hard time connecting with “Jurassic World” and its cardboard characters making poor choices over and over again. It simultaneously tries to cram in too much without giving us enough in the way of substance.
I was a big fan of director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow’s first feature, 2012’s “Safety Not Guaranteed,” an indie, sci-fi dramedy in which the time travel element actually worked. (It also made Mark Duplass surprisingly sexy for the first time.) Trevorrow is doing his best Spielberg impression here, and he creates a couple of thrilling set pieces — his pterodactyl attack, for example, is at once exciting and horrifying and a lovely little Hitchcock homage. But I’m not sure he was ready for a behemoth of a film like this just yet.
Let’s get to the plot real quickly, and a few thoughts, then call it a day. “Jurassic World” made nearly $209 million in its first weekend for the biggest domestic opening of all time. Clearly, you saw it and you know what happens. Nevertheless, let us trudge on.
A bunch of people, who didn’t learn from the travesties that occurred during the original “Jurassic Park” from 1993 and its two sequels, have developed yet another family-friendly dino playland on an island off the coast of Costa Rica under the guidance (and considerable financial support) of billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan).
Among his chief employees is velociraptor wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt), who is ruggedly confident and wears leather vests with zero irony. The one truly astonishing element of “Jurassic World” is that it manages to make Pratt boring. He’s the hottest and most charismatic star on the planet right now, and he’s on a huge roll following last year’s “The Lego Movie” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Here, he certainly rises to the physical challenges but he’s strangely understated, stuck as he is in a one-note role. It is an enormous bummer.
Pratt is also stuck in a half-baked romantic subplot with Bryce Dallas Howard, who co-stars as Claire, an all-business operations executive. (Her sleek bob says it all.) They had one date, and now he keeps trying to flirt with her. The banter in the script — from Trevorrow, “Safety Not Guaranteed” writer Derek Connolly and the husband-and-wife team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver — isn’t exactly the snappiest. And — spoiler! — when Owen and Claire finally do kiss after a sequence of great panic, it feels forced and hollow.
But Claire has been too busy for him, or for anything outside of work. Like a cliched rom-com heroine, she’s married to her job (for which her sister, played by Judy Greer, shames her). Claire is also busy on this particular day tending to her visiting nephews, sullen teenager Zach (Nick Robinson) and his perky moppet of a younger brother, Gray (Ty Simpkins). A subplot about the kids’ parents divorcing is brought up and then dropped — as if placing them in massive peril repeatedly ostensibly weren’t enough to garner our sympathy.
Then there’s another whole subplot featuring Vincent D’Onofrio as a private military contractor who wants to take Owen’s well-trained velociraptors and turn them into a lucrative fighting force. As if the humans-are-so-arrogant theme running through the whole series weren’t completely obvious yet, this really hammers it home, and it turns the formidable, versatile D’Onofrio into a swaggering, Texas stereotype.
These people and thousands of others find themselves under attack when the park’s latest attraction, a five-story-high dino hybrid known as the Indominus Rex, escapes after being raised in isolation for years. (This is incredibly violent for a PG-13 movie, by the way — something to think about if you’re pondering bringing young kids.) But the park gets a spike in attendance every time something new is developed, and under the watch of mad scientist Henry Wu (BD Wong), this is the biggest creature yet. It’s got more teeth, a brilliant mind and the ability to camouflage itself — all to “up the ‘wow’ factor,” as Claire puts it, with catastrophic consequences.
So basically, “Jurassic World” is a big-budget indictment of corporate greed, jammed with product placement for Samsung and Mercedes-Benz and Beats by Dre and Coca-Cola. But given the record-shattering opening the movie had, I’d say everyone involved had their cake, ate it too and went back for seconds.
The Madame Bovary of this “Madame Bovary” could be Betty Draper. She could be a reality-show housewife or the mom waiting in front of you in an SUV in the pickup line at school. My mixed review of this beautiful but emotionally detached take on Gustave Flaubert’s great novel, at RogerEbert.com.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content, nudity and some drug use.
Running time: 105 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.
The title sequence for the “Entourage” movie is undoubtedly its high point. Glossily shot and smoothly edited with Jane’s Addiction’s “Superhero” blasting in the background, it’s an expanded version of what we saw at the start of the HBO series for eight seasons, with cast and crew members’ names emblazoned across various Los Angeles landmarks. But more care has been taken this time: Costume designer Olivia Miles’ name appears in the signature, red-and-blue lettering on the ivy wall at Fred Segal, for example, while music supervisor Scott Vener’s pops up in neon lights above the front door at Amoeba Records.
It gets you pumped, and it suggests you’re in for an exhilarating, stylish ride. But then it’s all downhill from there.
“Entourage” the movie is essentially an extended version of “Entourage” the TV show. Now, if you loved “Entourage” the TV show, this is probably thrilling news. But if you never watched the show, or only watched it in pieces, or stopped watching it once Vincent Chase and his buddies became obnoxious examples of everything that’s wrong with this town, then you will surely find this exercise pointless.
Four years after the show he created went off the air, writer-director Doug Ellin returns with nothing new or worthwhile. He only offers us an amped-up version of the series which plays for a longer period of time on a much larger screen. Movie star Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his childhood pals — manager E (Kevin Connolly), driver Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and half-brother Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) — are no longer the lovable underdogs they were when they arrived in L.A. from Queens in 2004. They remain the same vapid, douchey assholes they’ve been since they became deeply entrenched in the most glamorous and superficial elements of the industry.
The larger format doesn’t necessarily mean a richer experience is in store. Far from it. These guys learn nothing, they don’t change, they have no arc and they are never truly challenged. I’m sorry, I take that back — it’s possible that Vince may not get the extra $7 million he needs to complete his $100 million directorial debut, a high-tech take on the legend of Jekyll and Hyde in which he also stars as a hot, hoodie-wearing DJ with glowing eyes.
“Hyde,” as it’s called, looks terrible, by the way, from the brief moments we get to see. But the fact that the few characters who’ve seen the whole thing declare it a masterpiece makes me wonder whether Ellin intended all of this as satire in the first place, and not just a gratuitous wallow in rich-white-dude luxury. Could Ellin possibly have more in mind besides hot chicks in bikinis, bashes on yachts in Ibiza, glittering hilltop mansions and leisurely drives around Beverly Hills in expensive convertibles? Could he be making a statement about the capriciousness of Hollywood and the perils of wretched excess? Perhaps I’m giving him too much credit.
The plot — strung together as it is between cameos from celebrities as random as Andrew Dice Clay, Jessica Alba, Warren Buffett, T.I. and Armie Hammer — begins with Vince partying it up with his pals because he’s gotten has marriage annulled after just nine days. When the phone rings, it’s Ari (Jeremy Piven), his former agent who’s now a studio head. (They never name the studio but much of “Entourage” was clearly shot on the Warner Bros. lot.) His newfound power hasn’t quelled his famous temper — Ari’s blowups actually provide the few moments of genuine humor and energy here — but it does give him the clout to give Vince his dream starring role.
Vince also insists on directing, however — something he has no idea how to do, and something we don’t even see him do here, even though there is a finished product for interested parties to salivate over. But in order for Vince to put the final touches on “Hyde,” Ari must go to a Texas billionaire investor (Billy Bob Thornton as a twangy, quirky stereotype) and beg for more money. His response is to send his no-good son, Travis (a skeevy Haley Joel Osment), to L.A. to sniff around and see if it’s worthwhile. This leads to a preposterous would-be love triangle between Vince, Travis and Emily Ratajkowski, a model-actress best known for the “Blurred Lines” video, playing a version of herself.
Her entire raison d’etre is to look gorgeous in tight dresses and make Vince feel better about himself when he’s feeling low — although Grenier’s range is so limited and the character remains so handsomely bland, it’s hard to tell when he’s feeling anything besides pleased to be here. Then again, nearly all the women in this movie are shrews, nags or half-naked ornamentation.
The supporting characters who are afforded slightly more personality get subplots which are no more compelling. E tries to juggle various hot women who want to sleep with him while tending to his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Turtle flirts awkwardly with MMA superstar Ronda Rousey and enjoys the spoils of the high-end tequila brand he developed with Mark Cuban. And Drama hopes that his four scenes in “Hyde” will finally make him a superstar himself.
There are no real stakes, though. Long before Mark Wahlberg — the original inspiration for “Entourage” — shows up with his real-life entourage to pimp out not one but two side projects, it’s clear that these Teflon bros will just continue coasting through life, enjoying being mindlessly awesome.
“Insidious: Chapter 3” is shockingly good — especially for the third movie in a horror franchise. Rather than repeating himself, writer, co-star and first-time director Leigh Whannell sets this one up as a prequel, and puts the exceedingly bad-ass Lin Shaye front and center. It’s got several serious jumps but also a significant emotional undercurrent. My RogerEbert.com review.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language.
Running time: 114 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.
The question isn’t whether “San Andreas” is ridiculous — of course it is, it’s a disaster epic about earthquakes devastating California — but rather, how effective is that ridiculousness? Oddly, the answer is: not very.
For a big, splashy summer blockbuster about destruction and carnage starring Dwayne Johnson, “San Andreas” is surprisingly dull. There’s a repetitive, relentless sameness to the action without much scale or suspense. A massive quake rocks the Hoover Dam or downtown Los Angeles or middle-of-nowhere Central Valley or the streets of San Francisco. Buildings topple, concrete and glass rain from the sky and frightened masses flee in terror. Then a series of aftershocks starts the process all over again. Then the quakes trigger a tsunami, which levels everything once more.
But director Brad Peyton rarely builds to these moments to maximize their potential tension. A powerful image like a gigantic wave flipping over a loaded cargo ship, snapping the Golden Gate Bridge in two as if it were made of Legos, doesn’t wow us as much as it should. It’s just one more event within a litany of mayhem.
Peyton, who previously directed Johnson in 2012’s mediocre “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” smothers all the action in thick, glossy globs of CGI to such an extent that there’s an emotional disconnect. We are detached from the stakes here; the fact that millions of people probably die and major U.S. cities are decimated feels like an afterthought, like collateral damage. The Big One, which we in Los Angeles have prepared for our entire lives, basically serves as a catalyst for Johnson’s character to reconcile with his estranged wife and become a family once more with their 19-year-old daughter.
The normally charismatic Johnson is stuck in a ruggedly stoic role as Ray Gaines, a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot. At the film’s start, it’s clear he couldn’t be more capable or commanding at work, but his home life is a wreck. His wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), has just served him divorce papers as she prepares to move into the Beverly Hills mansion of her new boyfriend, a slick and insanely wealthy architect named Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). Ray had been looking forward to driving his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), up the coast to college, but Daniel takes over that part of Ray’s life, too, by offering to fly her there instead in his private jet.
Even before the first hints of a rumble, it’s clear that the earth ripping apart will bring them all back together. But first, Ray must commandeer various vehicles in order to swoop in as Super Dad. It’s like “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” only with a catastrophic body count. First stop is the roof of a Los Angeles high rise, where Emma had been lunching at a luxurious restaurant with Daniel’s disapproving sister (a barely-there Kylie Minogue). (Peyton does stage a long and impressive tracking shot through the shaky chaos here, though.) Then, the two head north as a team to find Blake, who’s trapped in a limo inside the collapsed parking garage at Daniel’s San Francisco corporate headquarters. (So much for his skyscrapers being structurally sound).
But as Paul Giamatiti points out as Caltech seismologist Lawrence Hayes — the lone voice of reason and a welcome source of beautifully understated melodrama — the only thing to do in a situation like this is pray. Giamatti is the only person here who finds any subtext in “Lost” co-showrunner Carlton Cuse’s script, giving his rather unimaginative lines more gravitas and camp than they deserve.
Speaking of camp, Johnson gets one brief, shining opportunity to showcase his comic abilities when he unleashes a groaner of a pun in the middle of AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants’ home, even as the city is collapsing all around him. “San Andreas” actually could have used more of that instinct. If nothing else, acknowledging its own over-the-top nature provides a much-needed variance in tone.
Mostly though, this guy is all business. There’s never any concern that Ray won’t save the day. He’s The Rock. He’s a behemoth. Although, in his quest to rescue Emma and Blake, he allows untold thousands to perish, even though it’s, like, his job to help people. This being a PG-13 movie that aims to appeal to the widest possible audience, “San Andreas” couldn’t be bothered with realistic stuff like suffering.
But the film does deserve credit for the strong female characters it offers in Emma and Blake. Thanks to all those years they spent with a quick-thinking and resourceful firefighter in the family, they not only know how to keep themselves alive but rescue others, as well. A pair of British brothers (Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson) not only survive thanks to Blake but also learn some first aid and emergency response tips.
Folks in the audience can learn a little something, too. For example: The perfectly coifed television reporter (Archie Panjabi) who’d been interviewing Giamatti’s character dashes for the doorway at the first seismic shift. He tells her not to do that — to get underneath a sturdy table or desk and hold on tight instead. So ultimately, this mindless spectacle is most effective in its traces of realism. How groundbreaking is that?
Cameron Crowe’s latest, “Aloha,” is so baffling that I’m not even going to bother trying to explain the plot to you here. But it definitely shows the signs of massive re-editing, and not in a good way. Maybe a great film is hidden in there somewhere. We’ll have to wait for the director’s cut to find out. ‘Til then, here’s my RogerEbert.com review.
Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language.
Running time: 114 minutes.
Two and a half stars out of four.
Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.
A perky group of college a cappella singers suffers an embarrassing on-stage mishap, then fights to redeem itself and regain its former glory. Along the way, there’s a little romance, a lot of trash talk, an impromptu sing-off with rival groups, some bawdy moments from a brash supporting player and plenty of clueless commentary courtesy of an announcing duo that also serves as the film’s Greek chorus.
Yes, “Pitch Perfect 2” is pretty much the exact same movie as “Pitch Perfect.” In theory, this is great if you loved the original film, which became a sleeper hit in 2012. I loved the first “Pitch Perfect” so much, I gave it three and a half stars out of four, but much of what I loved about it was how refreshing it felt. It was cheeky and snarky and it pulled off the tricky feat of making us fall in love with the very thing it was making fun of. Its earnestness and exuberance were infectious in equal measure.
There is no single moment here that matches the ingenuity of Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” audition, no song that brings you to the verge of tears with its sheer beauty like her spontaneous shower duet with Brittany Snow to David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium.” The best scene in the entire movie is a rip-off of the best scene from the first movie: a riff-off with various other singing groups, filled with inspired cameos and organized by a delightfully odd David Cross.
“Pitch Perfect 2” has plenty of laughs scattered throughout, but it also struggles to regain that balance and that sense of breeziness. It runs out of steam somewhere in the middle and probably could have been a good, solid 20 minutes shorter. Making her feature directing debut, co-star and producer Elizabeth Banks stages the production numbers in brisk and entertaining fashion — it’s just the actual, cohesive story in between that tends to bog things down. (As in the first film, Kay Cannon wrote the script; mercifully, there seem to be fewer made-up words with aca- in front of them.)
One of the main problems with “Pitch Perfect 2” is that it marginalizes its star, the infinitely talented and adorable Kendrick. Beca’s arc from reluctant performer to driving creative force gave the first film momentum, and her romance with the charismatic Skylar Astin from the all-male a cappella group the Treblemakers provided a nice spark. She had attitude. She had an edge about her, which was a great change of pace for Kendrick compared to the good-girl, Type-A characters she’d mostly played. Here, she’s reduced to a supporting figure, and Astin is an afterthought in just a handful of scenes.
Rebel Wilson is the film’s star this time. Granted, “Pitch Perfect 2” remains an ensemble — and an ever-expanding one, at that — but Wilson was such a scene stealer last time as a brassy Aussie who nicknamed herself Fat Amy that she’s been given even more room to work her inappropriate comic shtick. As enjoyable as Wilson can be, she’s also rather one-note, and a little of her goes a long way.
Speaking of notes, the songs that the Barden Bellas and their competitors sing are even more polished and overproduced than ever, to the point that there’s an emotional disconnect. But things don’t go so well off the top. As reigning national a cappella champs, the Bellas have the honor of performing for President Obama and the first lady. But a wardrobe malfunction during a complicated maneuver by Fat Amy — which comes to be known as Muffgate, in an unfortunate bit of female body shaming — makes the ladies a laughingstock and costs them their title. (Once again, Banks and John Michael Higgins crop up as a Christopher Guest mockumentary-style broadcasting team to provide perspective through satirically sexist and racist remarks. Some of these are hilarious; others land with a thud.)
But! Through a loophole, the Bellas are still allowed to represent the United States at the world championships in Copenhagen. There, they will face a juggernaut German group called Das Sound Machine, which essentially consists of about 20 people doing that “Sprockets” bit from “Saturday Night Live” as they sing songs like “Insane in Ze Membrane.” Their leader is a gorgeous, blonde Teutonic stereotype (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) who repeatedly gets Beca giddy and tongue-tied.
Insecurity and skittishness, however, are not what this character is about. And so it’s also odd to see Beca scurrying off to a secret internship at a record company because she’s afraid to tell the Bellas and let them down — even though, you know, she and the other ladies are seniors now and should be thinking about their futures. (Then again, Bella co-leader Chloe, played once again by an enthusiastic Snow, has stayed in college for seven years because she’s so afraid of the real world.) The presence of comedian Keegan-Michael Key as Beca’s demanding but ultimately enlightening boss significantly improves this subplot, though.
But wait, there’s more. As part of Wilson’s larger role here, she also gets a more significant romance with Adam DeVine as the Treblemakers’ cocky former leader, including a bombastic duet which is pretty amusing. All the other supporting players from the first “Pitch Perfect” are back, including Hana Mae Lee with her absurd and nearly silent asides (a bit that was funnier the first time). And there’s a new recruit in freshman Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a singer-songwriter and legacy whose mother (Katey Sagal in a barely-there part) was a legendary Bella more than 30 years ago.
Clearly, the stage is being set for “Pitch Perfect 3” — whether the world needs it or not.