Archive for the ‘Popcorn movies’ Category

Lupita Nyong’o

“US” My rating: B+

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Humor and horror are strange bedfellows. Usually one negates the other.

But in “Us,” writer/director Jordan Peele’s followup to the spectacular “Get Out,” finds just the right balance between the goofy and the ghastly. The result is a horror movie quite unlike anything we’ve seen, one that mixes a family survival tale with supernatural elements and wraps it all up in a mind-boggling apocalypse.

All while leaving you chuckling.

The story begins in the mid-80’s when little Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders away from her parents at a beachside amusement park in Santa Cruz. She finds her way to a creepy mirrored funhouse where she encounters her own doppleganger…a little girl who looks exactly like her.

Jump to the present, where the adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is vacationing with her family — husband Gabe (Winston Duke), teen Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and little Jason (Evan Alex) — at her late grandmother’s semi-remote house in the forest outside Santa Cruz.

After the creepiness of the prologue Peele plunges into a family comedy.  Dad is a big friendly doofus, the sort of guy who is always humiliating his adolescent daughter, who rarely looks up from her smart phone. Little Jason is a weird kid who goes through life wearing what looks like a snarling gorilla mask.

As for mother Adelaide…well, she does the usual mom stuff. But being so close to the scene of her childhood trauma — after which she didn’t speak for months — has her cringing.  A trip to the beach finds her suppressing hysteria despite the presence of old friends Kitty and Josh (Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker) and their twin teen daughters.


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Maia Mitchell,Camila Morrone

“NEVER GOIN’ BACK” My rating: B- (Opens Aug. 17 at the Screenland Armour)

85 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Never Goin’ Back” is Romy & Michele-meet-Ferris Bueller…if Romy, Michelle and Ferris were majorly into weed and cocaine.

Writer/director Augustine Frizzle’s debut is a female-centric stoner comedy. It often reminds of the rambling examinations of adolescence pioneered by Richard Linklater in films like “Dazed and Confused.” This is a good thing.

Our dubious heroines,  Angela and Jessie (Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone),  are high school dropouts who waitress in a Fort Worth diner and share a house with Jessie’s older brother Dustin (Joel Allen), a numbskull who wants to become a major player in the drug trade but really hasn’t a clue.

The girls must also contend with yet another roomie, the awkwardly lustful Brandon (“SNL’s” Kyle Mooney).

As the film begins Angela surprises Jessie with the announcement that they are going to celebrate the latter’s birthday with a road trip to the beach-side wonders of Galveston. To reserve their motel room Angela has spent all their rent money; she says they’ll make it up by working extra shifts at the restaurant.

Of course it doesn’t quite work out that way. “Never Goin’ Back” follows the cocky, brash pair in the week leading up to their big trip. They’ll be lucky if they make it to the city limits.


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Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen

“BOOK CLUB”  My rating: C+

104 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The advertising for “Book Club” tells us exactly what to expect. This vehicle for four fine actresses of a certain age (Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen) is basically “The Golden Girls” with Viagra. Don’t wait for surprises…there aren’t any.

The good news is that despite the self-congratulatory, nudge-nudge/wink-wink humor employed by director Bill Holderman and co-writer Erin Simms,  “Book Club’s” cast — not just the female leads but the male supporting actors as well — are solid enough that even a curmudgeonly viewer can take comfort in basking in the glow of so much collective talent.

The premise finds four women, pals since college days, who meet regularly to discuss a new book. They are:

The recently widowed Diane (Keaton), who is contending with the smothering attentions of her two grown daughters (Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton). They want to move Mom from L.A. out to their home in Arizona.

The vivacious Vivian (Fonda), a wealthy businesswoman and hotel owner who has never married and in fact refuses to sleep with men. Literally…she’ll bonk their brains out, but she won’t sleep with them, as that implies an intimacy she’s always avoided.

Sharon (Bergen) is a long-divorced federal judge more than a little peeved that her geeky ex-husband (Ed Begley Jr.) is now engaged to a braindead twentysomething blonde. She hasn’t had a date in 18 years.

Finally there’s Carol (Steenburgen), a successful restauranteur whose once-passionate marriage to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) has hit the doldrums. Recently retired, he’s now more interested in servicing his old motorcycle than his wife. (more…)

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grav“GRAVITY” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on Oct. 4)

90 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The prospector in the waterless desert. The mountaineer in a blizzard. The shipwrecked sailor on a raft.

There have been plenty of movies about humans trying to survive in inhospitable situations, but few are quite as terrifying – or beautiful – as that depicted in “Gravity.”

As just about everyone knows by now, the latest film from the chameleonic Cuaron – a veteran of kiddie lit (“A Little Princess”), teen sex (“E Tu Mama Tambien”); a Harry Potter movie and a dystopian future (“Children of Men”) — is set in outer space and centers on two astronauts  (played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney)  who are marooned when their space shuttle is destroyed by debris from a Russian spy satellite.

“Gravity” isn’t the first stranded-in-space epic…Ron Howard gave us “Apollo 13” in 1995 and long before that there was the melodrama “Marooned” in 1969.

But it is without doubt the most realistic, so perfectly capturing the feel of life in orbit that on the drive home from the theater I couldn’t quite shake the sensation that I was part of a weightless environment.

The film begins audaciously with a single, uninterrupted 12-minute shot in which Cuaron’s camera seems to slowly float around the orbiting shuttle and the Hubbell telescope, which is undergoing a repair job.

The lady with the wrench is Ryan Stone (Bullock), a scientist on her first space flight. Ryan is installing new circuitry of her own design on the Hubbell, and pride of ownership is the only reason she’s doing the job herself.


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Family DeNiro“THE FAMILY” My rating: C+ (Opening wide on Sept. 13)

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Luc Besson’s queasy comedy “The Family” is noteworthy primarily for casting Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer in roles that are a figurative continuation of characters they developed some years ago.

We meet the Blakes — Dad Fred (DeNiro), Mom Maggie (Pfeiffer) and their kids,  17-year-old  Belle (Dianna Agron, late of TV’s “Glee”) and 14-year-old Warren (John D’Leo) — after an all-night drive across France to their new home in a small burg in Normandy.

Actually, their name isn’t Blake.  It’s Manzoni. And it quickly becomes apparant that this is no ordinary family. 

Michelle Pfeiffer

Michelle Pfeiffer

Dad is a former Brooklyn wise guy who turned state’s evidence against his mob bosses.  Now the survival of  his brood is dependent on the Witness Protection Program and an exasperated, saddle-faced FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones) with the double duties of keeping the “Blakes” safe from hired hit men and of protecting the rest of us from the family’s spectacularly criminal proclivities.

Robert DeNiro as a made man? That’s no stretch. The guy could play Fred Blake/Giovanni Manzoni in his sleep — though he thankfully doesn’t take the easy way out here. 

And Pfeiffer portrayed a Mafia wife in the 1988 hit “Married to the Mob.”  She’s got the sexy/dangerous attitude down cold.

So it’s kind of reassuring — in a weird way — to find them adopting personas with which we’re already comfortable. It’s like going to a rock concert and being treated to an evening of Nuimber One hits. (more…)

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elysium“ELYSIUM” My rating: C (Opening wide on Aug. 9)

109 minutes | MPAA rating: R

One classic definition of science fiction is a story that takes a contemporary social or scientific situation and extrapolates how it might play out in the future.

Neil Blomkamp’s “Elysium” should be great sci-fi. Instead it’s a great idea that quickly bogs down in the same sort of slam-bam chaos we’ve been enduring all summer.  (Hell, for as long as I can remember).

As such it’s a distinct step down from Bloomkamp’s debut feture, 2009’s “District Nine,” a savvy futuristic satire of Apartheid involving aliens instead of black people.

We all know about the 1 percent, right? Well, 150 years from now the wealthiest among us have given up on the dying planet Earth and relocated to Elysium, a big, sleek space station rotating in orbit.

There the lawns are all manicured, the foliage is lush, the people are rich and beautiful, and the technology so advanced that every home has a machine that diagnoses illnesses or physical damage and cures the patient in a matter of minutes.

Back on terra firma the vast mass of humanity lives in conditions that suggest a South American favela that has spread to cover the entire planet. Everyone dreams of going to Elysium; a few actually make it thanks to smugglers who make illegal shuttle runs.

Max (Matt Damon, head shaved, heavily tattooed) is an ex-con working in an L.A. factory making ‘droids. Thanks to his criminal past he’s always being hassled by the cops (actually robots) and spends a lot of time talking to his parole officer (a robotic mannequin so primitive it looks like one of those fortune tellers in a turn-of-the-last-century penny arcade).


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Lili Tqylor...it's behind you!

Lili Taylor … it’s behind you!

“THE CONJURING” My rating: C+ 

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Conjuring” might have been subtitled “Exorcism’s Greatest Hits.”  When it comes to manifestations of demonic possession, the damn thing is practically encyclopedic.

Levitation. Foul odors. Disgusting vomit. Rotting ghost-corpses. Sleepwalking.  Doors that open and close when nobody’s around. An animated evil doll. Strange noises. Unexplained bruises.

No head-spinning, but there is a Hitchcock-ian bird attack.

It’s all quite silly but surprisingly effective, thanks to the taunt direction of James Wan (creator of the “Saw” series) and a cast of talented pros who keep our doubts at arm’s length.

“The Conjuring” is inspired by the ghostly experiences of husband-and-wife team of Ed and Lorraine Walker, who specialized in paranormal investigations. These real-life ghostbusters did on-site studies of hauntings publicized in the movies like “The Amityville Horror “ and “A Haunting in Connecticut.”


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PACIFIC RIM“PACIFIC  RIM” My rating:  C + (Opening wide on July 12)

131 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There is absolutely no reason why a reasonably intelligent, over-30 lover of the dramatic arts needs to slap down $10 or so to watch “Pacific Rim.”

That said, if such an aforementioned individual does find himself in a theater watching this noisy (as in rock-concert loud) romp, he’ll be okay. Might even enjoy himself.

If you’ve seen the trailers you know that “Pacific Rim” is a lot like a Transformers movie mated to a Godzilla movie and injected with steroids – a description that sounds impossible (louder and busier than a Michael Bay movie?), but there you have it.

The pitch: Giant robotic figures battle giant saurian creatures.

But “Pacific Rim” was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, the Spanish horror/sci-fi aficionado who has given us two flat-out masterpieces set in the Spanish Civil War  (“The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”)  and the devilishly enjoyable (thanks to Ron Perlman’s monumental perf in the title role)  “Hellboy.”

Del Toro is in summer blockbuster mode here, which means you won’t get a whole lot in the way of character development, complicated motivations or subtlety in just about any phase of this production.

But I gotta admit, his childlike enthusiasm is infectious.

Orson Welles once described a movie set as the greatest toy train a boy could ask for. Only for del Toro a movie is a 60-story mechanical man using a seagoing oil tanker as a baseball bat.

The story? Well, apparently big lizard-like aliens called Kaiju have been entering our world through a time/space rift at the bottom of the Pacific. These critters seriously ravaged the adjacent coastlines before being held at bay by the Jaegers, huge robots piloted by two humans who must meld their minds in something called the “drift” in order to operate these massive fighting machines.


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Man Steel“MAN OF STEEL” My rating: C  (Opens wide on June 14)

143 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Henry Cavill, our newest Superman, certainly has the look down.  He knows how to fill not only the red-and-blue suit but looks extremely hot in a Royals T-shirt.

He might even be able to act, although you won’t be able to tell from “Man of Steel.”

Zack Snyder’s reboot of the venerable superhero franchise is yet another piercingly loud, atavistically violent affair, albeit one that seems to have been assembled from spare parts left over from other big, noisy summer popcorn flicks.

Superhero origin stories usually benefit from a human dimension lacking in followup films. They’re about a superhero discovering who he is, establishing what his relationship is to the rest of us mere mortals.

Sequels, on the other hand, invariably deteriorate into long, numbing passages of shit being torn up (see “The Avengers,” any “Transformers” film, etc.).

Snyder (“300,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Watchmen”) and screenwriter David S. Goyer (the Christopher Nolan “Batman” films, the “Blade” movies), want it both ways – and so they have given us a glum, joyless origin story and a whole lot of destruction.

In the process  they inadvertently reconfirm that Christopher Reeve was/is the best movie Superman of all time, thanks to his disarming blend of sincere heroism and an intoxicatingly sly sense of humor.

 “Man of Steel,” on the other hand, occupies an irony-free zone.


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Now-You-See-Me-01“NOW YOU SEE ME” My rating: C (Opening wide on May 31)

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Big, slick and determined to wow us with its amazingness, the magic-themed caper film “Now You See Me” is less a David Copperfield spectacular than a fumbled bit of sleight-of-hand as performed by “Arrested Development’s” Gob Bluth.

The movie starts falling apart as soon as it begins. “Now You See Me” isn’t about the characters and it certainly isn’t about stage magic. It feels like something the screenwriters (Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt) cooked up on a dare, vying to establish the most outlandish, complicated yarn possible.

What they’ve produced is a towering house of cards that any two-year-old could knock over.

At the outset of Louis Leterrier’s film we’re introduced to four struggling street magicians, each of whom has a magic specialty.  Daniel  (Jesse Eisenberg) is a cocky card manipulator and illusionist. Henley (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist. Jack (Dave Franco…James’ brother) is an accomplished pickpocket. Merritt (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist/hypnotist.

These rivals are recruited by a mysterious, unseen individual to form a big Las Vegas magic act, the Four Horsemen.

On their opening night the Horsemen “teleport” a French vacationer to the vault of his bank in Paris, where millions in Euros are sucked up into an air vent and end up fluttering over the delighted audience back on the Strip.


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