Post Date Feb 5 — Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Movie Review“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”: It’s “Pride and Prejudice” … with zombies. The “Pride and Prejudice” parts work fine. It’s the zombie bits that are a problem. My review.

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Post Date Jan 29 — Fifty Shades of Black

Fifty Shades of Black Movie ReviewI’m not saying it’s good. But this Marlon Wayans spoof of “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t quite as terrible as you might expect. And it may have something substantive to say, in between all the prosthetic penises and pop-culture references. My review.

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Post Date Jan 24

The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave Movie ReviewSony Pictures
Rated PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying.
Running time: 112 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.

“The 5th Wave” plays like a Wayans-brothers spoof of movies based on dystopian Young Adult novels. Seriously, it could have been called “YA Movie” the way it wallows in all the overly familiar tropes of the genre. Theaters could offer checklists at the door to allow us to play along and at least have a little fun with it.

Let’s see, we have:

— An apocalypse that decimates the planet (this time, aliens are to blame).

— A plucky teenage girl who dares to think for herself and defy the odds (Chloe Grace Moretz).

— Two hunky potential suitors competing for her affections (Nick Robinson and Alex Roe).

— Adults in control who are clearly untrustworthy, played by serious actors to give the film some semblance of heft (Liev Schreiber and Maria Bello).

— An intense training ritual in which kids learn how to become killers, complete with hand-to-hand combat and firing-range exercises.

— A maze. Seriously, there’s a maze of concrete corridors these kids must navigate in order to escape.

If this sounds familiar to you  — if you’ve seen any or all of the movies in the “Hunger Games,” “Divergent” or “Maze Runner” series — then you know exactly what you’re in for with “The 5th Wave.” There’s even an ending to suggest hopes for a franchise of its own. Rick Yancey, who wrote the book “The 5th Wave,” also wrote a sequel, “The Infinite Sea.” The third installment in the trilogy, “The Last Star,” is due out later this year. Because they all come in trilogies. That’s something you should be familiar with by now, too.

Having said that, Moretz is game for all the physical and psychological mayhem that come her character’s way, and she clearly aims to add depth to this person which might not have existed on the page. Director J Blakeson, working from a script credited to some heavy-hitting veteran writers (Akiva Goldsman, Susannah Grant and Jeff Pinkner), quickly establishes that Moretz’s Cassie used to be a pretty average teenage girl in an idyllic Ohio town: soccer practice, keggers, a wisecracking best friend, an adorable younger brother (Zackary Arthur) and loving parents (Ron Livingston and Maggie Siff).

But then … the aliens come. Who are they? What do they want? Doesn’t matter, although context might provide some actual tension and fear. Just know that they arrive, hover and wreak havoc in a series of waves: a devastating electromagnetic pulse, followed by earthquakes and tsunamis (with tidal wave effects that look pretty cheesy), then an avian flu, then snipers, I think …? People get shot.

(My 6-year-old son, who’s sitting next to me as I write this, just asked: “Why are there five waves? Why don’t the aliens just do it all in one?” It’s a legitimate question.)

Anyway, the fifth wave is coming. And the military (which suspiciously has working vehicles and dramatic overhead lighting out of “Dr. Strangelove”) needs children to help fight the battle. The cute football player Cassie had a crush on before the arrival of The Others, as the aliens become known, is among their most promising soldiers: Robinson’s Ben Parish, whose code name is Zombie. The group’s other bad-ass is a fierce young woman known as Ringer (Maika Monroe from the great “It Follows”), who somehow finds time each day to apply thick, black eyeliner, even though the world could end at any moment.

Cassie’s story runs parallel as she struggles to find her brother, Sam, whom the military has taken to an air force base for tiny soldier training. For a regular and rather sheltered girl, she figures out how to use a high-powered rifle and hide in the wilderness pretty quickly. (And her hair always looks amazing.) She also happens to get rescued by the handsomest farm boy imaginable: Roe’s Evan Walker. There are many moments in “The 5th Wave” that made me and my fellow critics giggle from the back row of the theater, but the one that made us cackle hysterically occurred when Cassie stumbled upon Evan enjoying an early-morning bath in the river. As she surreptitiously spies on him from behind a tree, he turns around to reveal ridiculously sculpted pecs and abs. Amid all the alien-hiding and girl-rescuing, Evan clearly found time to hit the gym.

The true enemy here isn’t too difficult to discern. The massively versatile Schreiber, who improves every film in which he appears, can’t do much with his under-written role as the commanding colonel calling the shots. But perhaps we’ll learn more about him — and come to truly fear him — in the inevitable sequel.

Post Date Jan 22 — The Boy

The Boy Movie ReviewJanuary continues unabated with “The Boy,” a horror movie which was not shown to critics before opening day. It’s about a young woman who takes a job as a nanny for an 8-year-old boy at a towering, Gothic estate in the English countryside, only to find out that the boy isn’t really a boy at all, but rather a doll whom the parents treat like an actual boy. Sounds super creepy, right? It’s actually pretty silly. My review.

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Post Date Jan 15 — In the Shadow of Women

In the Shadow of Women Movie ReviewMy first review of 2016 is of “In the Shadow of Women,” the latest from French New Wave veteran Philippe Garrel. Given that it’s January, I’d say I lucked out big-time. Garrel may not be saying anything terribly new about infidelity, but he’s saying it in lush black and white and with strong performances. Enjoy.

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Post Date Dec 20

Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Movie ReviewWalt Disney Pictures.
PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.
Running time: 135 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.

You guys have all seen “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” by now, right? So I can go ahead and wallow in all the spoilers?

Actually, I wouldn’t dream of it. Not here, at least. (If you’re interested in a spoiler discussion after you’ve seen the movie, though, feel free to hop on over to our What the Flick?! review.) But I did want to write a little something, just because I loved the movie so much and I’ve had such a good time over the past few days talking about it with folks — those who had and hadn’t seen it alike.

I had the pleasure of bringing Nicolas (who’s 6) with me to a screening on Tuesday afternoon at the Disney lot. Those of you who know me or have read my previous posts about “Star Wars” know that my kid is obsessed. I showed him all six films — in release order, of course, because I’m a good mom — back when he was 4 1/2 years old. Since then, he’s dressed as Darth Vader for Halloween, carried various “Star Wars” lunchboxes to school each day, romped about with his collection of light sabers and played countless hours of the Angry Birds iPad game. I was more excited for him than I was for myself; he’d only seen the movies at home on television, so this would be his first time watching one in a packed theater with all the excitement and ritual that entails.

He sat in my lap the whole time and was transfixed — although he did ask who Han Solo and Princess Leia were when they came on screen for the first time. (Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher look a little different than they did 32 years ago in “Return of the Jedi.” It happens to us all.) But even before the film began, just during that brief, silent pause between the words: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …” and the first blast of John Williams’ stirring fanfare, there was a palpable sense of anticipation and even reverence. This mattered, no matter how old you are.

And J.J Abrams didn’t disappoint. He actually exceeded my expectations of what this experience would be like — and it truly is an experience on both a cultural and an emotional level, and not just your everyday Saturday night at the multiplex. When Abrams was handed the franchise, the expectation was that he would return it to the glory of the the original trilogy. If anybody could, it was this director. And he did. Working from a script he co-wrote with Lawrence Kasdan (who also wrote the best film in the series, “The Empire Strikes Back”) and “Toy Story 3” and “Little Miss Sunshine” writer Michael Arndt, Abrams beautifully combined the elements of the first three films that we loved so much with a fresh sense of purpose. Characters, images, themes and even lines of dialogue that make the “Star Wars” lore so rich co-exist seamlessly with new faces and adventures and a revitalized energy.

It also blends much-ballyhooed practical effects with the best of what crisp and shiny computer-generated imagery can achieve. “The Force Awakens” flat-out dazzles, filled with a wide variety of perfectly-paced set pieces. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a chase involving the Millennium Falcon zooming through the remnants of a crashed star destroyer that’s the most thrilling sequence I’ve ever seen in the entire series. And yes, that includes the climactic destruction of the Death Star in “Star Wars.” This is not hyperbole.

But speaking of the original film — yes, a lot of what we see here is awfully familiar, but with enough tweaks to provide some novelty. You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the plot in the slightest, but there’s a desert planet where a droid (the adorably perky BB-8, arriving just in time for Christmas) is entrusted with secret information. There’s a cantina where various intergalactic freaks meet to mingle and menace (although this time, the owner is a woman, played by Lupita Nyong’o in a vivid bit of motion-capture performance). There’s a giant planet that destroys other planets but also has an Achilles heel that makes it vulnerable to an X-wing attack. And there’s snappy banter between Han and Leia, only now they’re older and filled with regret, which adds a sense of wistfulness to their exchanges.

As for the newcomers, Adam Driver provides real depth and inner conflict as Kylo Ren, Dark Side head honcho and leader of a new evil empire known as the First Order. The black helmet, cape and mechanized voice may all seem familiar, but once again we know the whole film aims for a different perspective when it allows the character to reveal his face and true identity. That element of humanity actually makes Kylo Ren even scarier.

John Boyega is enormously charismatic as Finn, a disillusioned Stormtrooper who must figure out what he believes in and then choose to find the strength to fight for it. If you’re one of the few who saw “Attack the Block,” you know what a pleasing screen presence this young, British actor has. Now the whole world will now. And I love the fact that the massively versatile Oscar Isaac has such a crucial, meaty supporting role as bad-ass pilot Poe Dameron. In the past few years, he’s shown he can really play any kind of character in any kind of film, from “Inside Llewyn Davis” to “A Most Violent Year” to “Ex Machina.” (Isaac’s “Ex Machina” co-star Domhnall Gleeson, who’s also been all over the place lately, is chilling as the First Order’s military czar.) Now, Isaac brings his formidable acting chops to the biggest blockbuster imaginable and provides it with even more substance.

But this is Daisy Ridley’s movie all the way. She is just a superstar. It’s as simple as that. As the plucky heroine Rey, a resourceful scavenger who discovers abilities she never knew she had, she has an electrifying presence but also a down-to-Earth accessibility. It’s a tricky balancing act she pulls off: a mixture of daring and vulnerability, smarts and openheartedness. We now have a “Star Wars” movie for a whole new generation in which the central figure is a woman — and a strong woman, at that. Rey never needs to be rescued. She’s the one doing the rescuing. Ridley has excellent chemistry not only with her fellow newcomers but also with veterans Ford and Fisher. Fellow old friends Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C3-PO (Anthony Daniels) and even R2-D2 are welcome sights once more, with Chewie enjoying a significant and even poignant storyline this time.

“The Force Awakens” is a complete blast but it also features real stakes, which woefully were missing from most of George Lucas’ duly derided prequels (although “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” was actually pretty good). A dramatically lighted scene on a catwalk is a prime example of this; again, I wouldn’t dream of divulging what happens in this moment, but I will say that its familiarity in no way diminishes its power.

That’s what’s so impressive about the tricky balancing act Abrams has pulled off with “The Force Awakens”: He’s made a movie that’s simultaneously gripping and a huge release. We are in good hands, at last.

Post Date Dec 18 — Son of Saul

Son of Saul Movie ReviewThe Hungarian drama “Son of Saul” is a marvel of controlled, precise filmmaking and an impressively assured debut from director Laszlo Nemes and star Geza Rohrig. The story of a Nazi concentration camp prisoner trying to bury a boy he says is his son is harrowing to watch, yet mesmerizing. My review.

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Post Date Dec 17 — Sisters

Sisters Movie ReviewThe zippy, zingy chemistry of longtime collaborators and best friends Tina Fey and Amy Poehler keeps “Sisters” consistently entertaining, even when it grows a tad repetitive and overlong. My review.

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Post Date Dec 14

The Ridiculous 6

The Ridiculous 6 Movie ReviewNetflix
Running time: 119 minutes.
Zero stars out of four.

I’m gonna do away with this quickly, because why should I put more thought into “The Ridiculous 6” than the people who actually made it? That’s just nuts. But several of you guys asked whether I’d seen the latest Adam Sandler debacle, and so out of professional edification (if nothing else) I made myself hop on over to Netflix to stream it on Sunday night.

My husband and I cracked open a bottle of red wine in hopes that it would ease the suffering, but alas, it did not. He fell asleep next to me on the couch pretty quickly, but I take my job seriously, dammit, so not only did I force myself to stay awake the whole time, I also took notes. Actual notes! That’s dedication, people. They include phrases like “burro projectile shitting,” “Taylor Lautner fares better in ‘Grown Ups 2′” and “Steve Zahn eyeball scoop,” but there was indeed an attempt at offering some sort of substantive analysis. One can only do so much.

The mostly lazy “Ridiculous 6” may have more impressive production values than the average Sandler vehicle, and it feels less like a shameless vacation for himself and his friends than most of his movies do because it takes place in a remote, scrubby section of New Mexico. Several Native American cast members notoriously walked off the set in protest because they found the cliche-addled script so offensive. Truly, though, it would be news if a Sandler film didn’t offend somebody, at some point, on some level. The only difference this time is that he brings his brand of crass, puerile humor straight to television rather than theaters.

You can watch “The Ridiculous 6” whenever you’d like from the comfort of your own home. Lucky you.

Anyway, the film from frequent Sandler collaborator Frank Coraci (“The Wedding Singer,” “The Waterboy,” “Click”) is a Western, in theory, because it takes place in the American West and it’s a knock-off of “The Magnificent Seven.” Sandler stars as Tommy, who’s been raised by Native Americans under the name White Knife. He goes on a quest to rescue his estranged, bank-robber dad (Nick Nolte) from kidnappers and along the way runs into the random-idiot half-brothers he never knew he had: Ramon (Rob Schneider), Lil’ Pete (Lautner), Herm (Jorge Garcia), Chico (Terry Crews) and Danny (Luke Wilson).

Seems Dad got around, which brings us to a recurring and unpleasant theme: Except for White Knife’s fiancee (Julia Jones), whose name is Smoking Fox, all the women in this film are straight-up prostitutes or they’re just generally promiscuous and forward. (This includes Sandler’s real-life wife, Jackie, who has a brief supporting role as a flirty woman named Never Wears Bra. This is the level of humor you can expect in the script from Sandler and Tim Herlihy.)

The six of them team up to save their father and retrieve his hidden, pilfered fortune. It’s a journey that consists of a series of painfully unfunny gross-out gags and cliched cultural stereotypes, strung together with no sense of cohesion, timing or forward momentum but frequent bursts of explosive donkey diarrhea. “The Ridiculous 6” slogs along for two staggering hours but never really goes anywhere. If the humor were inappropriate but funny, it would be totally fine. But the jokes come in an overlong, tone-deaf litany, with Sandler at the helm phoning it in more than usual. Increasingly, he’s seemed bored in his own movies; here, he ostensibly can hide behind the stoicism of his character, but he just talks in a lifeless monotone. How can he possibly motivate others when he’s so obviously unmotivated himself?

Anyway, Vanilla Ice shows up as Mark Twain and Sandler regular Dan Patrick has a cameo as Abraham Lincoln. Neither casting choice is as amusing as it probably sounds in your own head. Among the other actors in the massive ensemble cast who could not possibly need work badly enough to say yes to this: Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Will Forte, Whitney Cummings, Zahn and Lautner. Hell, Blake Shelton is a brand unto himself, but for some reason he agreed to show up in one scene as Wyatt Earp. Additionally, the usual suspects abound: former “Saturday Night Live” pals David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Chris Parnell and Schneider and — of course — Nick Swardson.

At one point, several of these actors take part in a high-stakes poker game in which they talk about the significance of satire. Is that what they were going for here? Never would have guessed that amid the muck and stench of donkey feces.

Post Date Dec 11 — Boy and the World

Boy and the World Movie ReviewThe animated Brazilian film “Boy and the World” may look simple, but as it unfurls and takes hold, it’s dazzling in its colors and aesthetics. As a parable about the perils of industrialization, it’s not the most subtle, but it’s always a wonder to watch. My review.

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