Thursday, August 28, 2014

Calvary review

Summer is usually filled with light, entertaining movies that satisfy for a moment, but end up being forgettable in the end. The month of August is usually especially packed with forgettable, mediocre fluff that no one will remember or care about a year from now. If you want anything more substantial, you're going to have to go to the art house theaters. And honestly, there are some really great choices out there right now. Jon Favreau's absolutely terrific Chef is hitting theaters again for Labor Day, Boyhood is still rocking screens across the country and there's also a little film called Calvary that is definitely worth your time. This dark, unforgettable drama has a lot to say about the nastiness and inherent despair of the human spirit and it is an uncompromising, disturbing experience. With beautiful cinematography, an intriguing plot and great performances, Calvary is a film that should be near the top of your must-see list.

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) sits down in his booth to give confession. The man who he is seeing comes in the other side. The man (who we only hear) tells the priest that he is going to kill him in seven days, because he was raped by a priest as a young boy. Due to church laws about the sacrament of Reconciliation, Father James cannot know who the man on the other side of the booth is. He'll just have to wait and see. Over the course of the next week, we see Father James devolve into madness as he attempts to improve the lives of the people around him before heading to an uncertain fate on the next Sunday. The villagers in his small Irish town are all very disturbed in some way and despite his best efforts, their lives are out of his control. 

Calvary has been billed as a dark comedy, mostly because director John Michael McDonagh last directed The Guard, which was a brutally dark comedy. However, while Calvary does have its share of pitch black humor, it is most certainly not a comedy. This is a pitch-black drama that may cause you to lose your faith in humanity at the end. You could say that it's a mystery flick, but I honestly feel that would shift the focus off of the film's themes. This is a film about a man's descent into madness and sadness, because the human condition is something that simply cannot be fixed. People will make mistakes and they will screw up their lives and sometimes, it's just beyond our control. 

Brendan Gleeson is the star of this film and he anchors this movie with a sadness and remorse that is really quite excellent. He is truly a good man who is continually pushed to the edge in the name of a sick moral game that is being played. Gleeson's emotional scenes have huge payoffs and the sense of huge Shakespearean tragedy is prevalent throughout, often thanks to Gleeson's performance. He's the center of the movie and he's plays a firm, good man who often lets his anger flow in not-so-good ways. His character must deal with a messed up community that pushes him to his limits at his darkest hour. There are glimmers of optimism and hope, but in the end, Father James has succumbed to a society that has fallen into darkness. It's a tragic thing to watch and it makes for brilliant cinema. 

The rest of the cast is good as well. It feels like a true ensemble cast, because there simply aren't many standouts. Everyone is just very, very good. Chris O'Dowd, Aiden Gillan, Kelly Reilly, Dylan Moran, Domnhall Gleeson, David Wilmot and Owen Sharpe round out the rest of the cast and all of them are good in their own way. Gillan delivers a monologue towards the end of the film that is simply terrific and Moran has some funny moments as well. All in all, it's a terrific cast that works together really well. 

Calvary is truly not a film that relies on its narrative. In fact, I would say that the film's mystery is completely inconsequential. There's a little bit of a sense of "Who's it going to be?" when Father James walks on the beach at the end, but this isn't a movie where you try to grab clues throughout the movie to try to find out who the potential murderer is. It's more of a character study. The man in the confession booth tells Father James that he needs to get his house in order in the next week and James does his best. However, as the day approaches, the darkness surrounds him and he realizes that there is simply no way out. The world is a sad, dark place that can't always be fixed. 

The script for this film is terrific, balancing dark comedy and human drama. McDonagh's writing is witty and funny, but also serious. It truly feels Shakespearean and that's what makes this movie so terrific. The humor never overwhelms the film and when the darker elements become more intense, the humor is less prevalent. McDonagh knows when to crack a joke and when to be serious. 

This is also a masterpiece of direction. Simply superb. The opening scene of this film features several startling lines and it's filmed in one solid take focusing on the face of Father James in the confession booth and it's a great way to kick off the film. McDonagh gives each scene time to develop and he knows how to capture his dialogue. The cinematography focuses on the lush mountains of Ireland and adds some majesty, which only elevates the tragedy in this film. The music also adds quite a bit to the film and it gets much more serious towards the end. All in all, this is a technically perfect film that works on almost every level. 

This movie does take a little bit of time to get going. That's really the only negative. Calvary's characters and stories aren't quite as interesting at the beginning, but they progressively get much more entertaining. Calvary takes place over the course of a single week and that's a very interesting set up. Father James is very involved in the lives of every one of his parishioners and he really wants to help them all. He just doesn't realize that they truly are messed up beyond repair. It's an interesting dynamic that really carries the film and it's very hard to put into writing. However, this is most certainly a film that provokes a discussion and the ending should certainly spark some great discussions. 

Calvary is a character study about a good man who can't overcome the darkness in the world. He starts out with a pure heart and loads of optimism about helping others, but eventually falls into depression and sadness thanks to the tragically horrible world that he lives in. Gleeson is terrific in the lead role and the technical aspects are all brilliant. McDonagh has done something truly interesting and special here. It may take a while to get going, but Calvary is a brave, funny and audaciously dark piece of cinema and it will most certainly be remembered for a long time. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                               (8.7/10)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Expendables 3 review

Big cheesy action movies were definitely a thing of the 1980's, but honestly, I truly believe that we could use some cheese in our movie diets these days. All of the blockbusters are either self-serious, brooding affairs or dazzling, numbing CGI creations. There's nothing inherently wrong with either of those things, but we could probably use some stupid fun and some crazy stunt work every once in a while. That's exactly what The Expendables 3 offers and it delivers. If you're looking for character development or clever dialogue- go somewhere else. This is wall-to-wall action and general idiocy from start to finish, but it's just so much fun, which is more than I can say for a lot of the dull action blockbusters these days.

The Expendables 3 continues the adventures of Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his globe-trotting crew. This time, his band of mercenaries (Dolph Lundgren, Wesley Snipes, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and most prominently, Jason Statham) find their old nemesis, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who is selling weapons to wealthy buyers. After an Expendable is almost killed, Barney decides that his men are too old and goes out to find a new crew with the help of Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer). He find four new kids (Ronda Rousey, John Ortiz, Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell) who are some of the best in the world and head out to take down Stonebanks. Unfortunately, the new kids are captured and Barney must team up with his old pals and some additional friends (Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzanegger) to take down Stonebanks once and for all.

There have been better movies than Expendables 3 this summer. I am in no way calling this movie a masterpiece. But honestly, if you're looking for two hours of solid entertainment, you really can't go wrong with this movie. The action scenes are appropriately ludicrous and incredible and the acting actually isn't terrible. Mel Gibson is a great addition to the franchise, Wesley Snipes is occasionally electric and Schwarzanegger looks to be having fun tossing around one liners like "Get on da choppah!" and the like. All in all, it's not perfect, but it's a fun time at the theater and it's much better than most of the traditional August garbage.

Stallone always manages to attract an impressive cast for his movies and he gets his biggest one yet with this third installment. It's cool to see all of these guys on screen, but it is really obvious that some of these people are far too good to be in this movie. Mel Gibson adds an immense amount of interest to this film. His character is the only one fully developed and his deliciously evil performance is terrific. Snipes and Ford also do a pretty solid job in their limited roles. Antonio Banderas is also very funny and very annoying in this movie, but for the most part, it works. And even though Kelsey Grammer has nothing to do, he's still pretty good in this movie.

On the other hand, people like Stallone, Schwarzanegger, Couture, Lundgren and Statham aren't terrific actors. However, they're perfectly serviceable in this movie. Watching Statham shout at people and fire up a gun with Arnold shouting off cheesy dialogue, all while Stallone is fighting Mel Gibson is an absolute pleasure to watch and just what I want from this movie. It's not great acting, but it works and that's all that really matters in an Expendables movie.

The action in this movie is nonsensical, but brilliant. The closest comparison that I can think of is Fast and Furious 6, which also featured action that defied the laws of gravity. It's insanity from beginning to end, but it is so crazy good. The final fight scene at the end feels like something straight out of an 80's action, with only a few digital touch-ups. Helicopters, guns, knives- you name it, it's probably in the final battle of this movie. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

The biggest problem this movie runs into is that the characters are boring. In fact, they're not really characters. They're simply caricatures of the actors who play them. And because of that, when they aren't shooting and blowing up stuff, they're boring. The dialogue is either corny or bland and it just doesn't work. Director Patrick Hughes doesn't exactly do anything new or innovative and some shots are bizarrely awful. He has an eye for action and his recruitment montage scenes are good (unpopular opinion), yet he can't seem to make a simple conversation interesting. It just becomes tedious.

So in the end, what you see is what you get with The Expendables 3. A fun, delightful action throwback with a cliched script and terrific action. Some of the new actors add quite a lot to the cast and the movie is just plain entertaining. If you're looking for depth or character development, you won't find it here. But for a good time, you can't go wrong with The Expendables 3.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                               (7.3/10)

'Guardians of the Galaxy' reclaims top spot, while 'Sin City: A Dame To Kill For' flops hard at weekend box office

The end of the summer movie season is officially here and it did not end on a great note. The holdover Guardians of the Galaxy took the top spot this weekend after trailing Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for two weeks in a row. Guardians snagged $17.6 million this weekend, which was enough to make it the highest grossing film of the summer. The film has pulled in $251.8 million so far. Considering the fact that the Guardians of the Galaxy were practically unknown a year ago, this is a huge win for Disney and Marvel. In a few weeks, the film will top Captain America: The Winter Soldier to become the biggest film of 2014. Simply astonishing.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles slipped to second after two weekends on top and pulled in $16.8 million. The family action hit has now grossed $145.6 million and is undoubtedly one of the summer's biggest surprises. Still, it's a bad movie. Warner Bros.' If I Stay ended up being the top new release of the week with a third place finish and $16.3 million. That pales in comparison to the $48 million The Fault in Our Stars grossed earlier this year, but isn't bad considering the film's $11 million production budget. Audiences gave the film an "A-" Cinemascore, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it hold well and top the box office next weekend.

Let's Be Cops dropped 38% to fourth place this weekend and made $11 million. The comedy, which cost $17 million to produce, has now made $45.2 million. Not bad at all. Sony's When the Game Stands Tall was a little bit farther behind in fifth place with $9 million. The lackluster football drama cost only $15 million to make, so obviously, this film will turn a profit. The movie also got an "A-" Cinemascore, which is not bad. I'm anticipating a strong hold over the Labor Day weekend, even though the movie isn't that great.

The Weinstein Company's The Giver took sixth place and made $6.7 million. That's a solid 45% drop from last weekend. The film has now banked $24.1 million, which is simply okay. The film only cost $25 million, so once again, TWC isn't going to be hurt too badly by this slight disappointment. In seventh place was Lionsgate's The Expendables 3, which plummeted 58% and made only $6.6 million. I really enjoyed this movie and it's worth your time. I'm sad to see that it's not doing well. So far, The Expendables 3 has made $27.5 million.

The big surprise of the weekend was that Sin City: A Dame To Kill For simply fell on its face and pulled in an astonishingly low $6.4 million. Mix that with the "B-" Cinemascore from audiences and you have a bona fide flop on your hands. It's an atrocious opening for a film that looked kind of cool, but I guess the audiences just weren't interested. It's a hard R film in a world where most successful movies are PG-13 so that could have been a contributing factor. The nine year gap between films didn't help either. Maybe director Robert Rodriguez should just stop making sequels for a while (Machete Kills flopped last year as well).

Disney's The Hundred-Foot Journey finished in ninth place and made a strong $5.5 million. The film has held very well and has now banked $32.7 million. And finally, Into the Storm rounded out the top ten with $3.8 million. The disaster flick has now made $38.3 million.

In the limited release world, Boyhood led again with $1.8 million. The film took a light 6.4% drop this weekend and has now grossed $16.5 million. Simply extraordinary. Also, Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight grossed $1.3 million, which raises its total to $6.8 million.

Next weekend sees the release of As Above, So Below and The November Man. Here are my predictions for the four-day weekend:

1. As Above, So Below- $28 million
2. The November Man- $16 million ($23 million 5-day total)
3. Guardians of the Galaxy- $12.3 million
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- $10.4 million
5. If I Stay- $10 million
6. Let's Be Cops- $6.9 million
7. When the Game Stands Tall- $6.8 million
8. The Hundred Foot Journey- $5.5 million
9. The Giver- $4.5 million
10. The Expendables 3- $3.7 million

Saturday, August 23, 2014

When the Game Stands Tall review

I am so ready for the Oscar season. Summer got off to a great start, but in the last month, I've seen enough insignificant, disposable films to last a lifetime. There have been a few good films (Guardians of the Galaxy, What If and Expendables 3) and one monumental, brilliant achievement (Boyhood), yet I've also seen a lot of mediocre movies that are instantly forgettable. When the Game Stands Tall is one of those movies. This is a prime example of how to not make a sports movie. The cliches come early and often and the dialogue is awful. Every character says essentially nothing but inspirational quotes and there's no real emotional investment in the people in this film. I couldn't help but smile at the last few scenes, but honestly, it's really hard to screw up football scenes. None of the positives overwhelm the fact that this is a generic, cliched Lifetime movie that is being put into theaters for whatever reason. It's just bad.

For a long time, De La Salle High School in Concord, California had the most esteemed football program in the nation. They won a grand total of 151 games in a row and several state championships along the way. A lot of that success came from Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who taught the boys about family, respect and honor. However, all good things must come to an end and for De La Salle, a lot of good things ended at once.

First, Coach Lad had a heart attack and ended up in the hospital for several months. After that, a popular graduate of De La Salle was killed in a tragic shooting and the team lost a lot of confidence. And finally, the team ended the streak, losing two games in a row. The team is lost and disheveled and Coach Lad must find a way to get them all to band together and he does that by stressing honor, brotherhood and other Christian values. The other subplot involves a star running back (Alexander Ludwig), who is on the verge of breaking a record, and his abusive father. In the end, all of these players must come together and stand tall to reclaim their glory.

I love good sports movies. Hoosiers, Miracle, Remember the Titans, Field of Dreams, Million Dollar Arm- all of those movies are really, really good. And I have no doubt in my mind that When the Game Stands Tall could have been a great movie. It's a solid enough story and it hits all the right beats. Unfortunately, this film practically bathes in cliches and the dialogue is so incredibly atrocious. It honestly felt like none of the screenwriters actually knew how real humans talked. It made the movie painful, repetitive and simply bland. In more talented hands, this could have been better, but for now, it's just boring Hallmark fluff.

The characters in this movie are all relatively boring and useless, except for a select few. Coach Lad is a likable fellow, but if he really speaks in real life like he does in the movie, I can't believe that he's gotten so many players to play for him. Every line of dialogue out of Coach Lad's mouth is like an over dramatic sermon and it gets annoying fast. Caviezel does what he can with the lackluster script, though he's still pretty bland. Laura Dern plays Ladouceur's wife and is also hurt by terrible dialogue. She either has one word sentences to shout out or long sermons to read and Dern is completely wasted.

On the other side of things, I was impressed by Michael Chiklis, who plays the main assistant coach. He brings an electric energy that this movie desperately needs and is pretty good. He manages to overcome the awful dialogue in a way that the others can't. Also, I was interested in the story of Chris Ryan, played by Alexander Ludwig and his insane dad, played by Clancy Brown. The two characters actually speak like human beings for a change and bring some real drama to the film. Both actors do a good job and the subplot keeps the movie afloat near the end.

I've mentioned it several times throughout this review, but I have to say it again: the script for this movie is awful. Aggressively bad. So bad I wanted to punch the screen. There is no realistic dialogue whatsoever. It's some of the worst movie dialogue I've ever heard. Cliched, over dramatized and just plain bad.

However, the football scenes are great. That's about the only good thing I can say about When the Game Stands Tall. The action is exciting and there is a little bit of that inspirational side that the producers were going for. All of the football scenes take place during the second half of the film, which makes that half much more exciting. If only the scenes where people are talking were just as good.

Honestly, this is a Lifetime movie posing as a movie worth seeing in theaters. The football scenes are solid, but beyond that, there's very little of interest in this movie. We've seen stories like this done much better before and it makes this movie an incredibly boring one to watch. When the Game Stands Tall had potential, but it just couldn't overcome its terrible script and ultimately uninteresting story.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                                 (5/10)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' holds on to first place, while 'Expendables 3' tanks at weekend box office

After two recent smash hits, the box office was bound to slow down. And although this weekend was still up 6% when compared to last year, both new releases were pretty disappointing. One movie performed in line with modest expectations and the other one downright flopped. Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles finished in first place again this weekend with $28.4 million. Ninja Turtles dropped 57% from last weekend and has now banked $117.6 million, which is very strong. I hated the movie and I'm sad to see it doing well, but it's good for the box office, so whatever.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy took second place again and added $24.7 million. The sci-fi smash has now taken in $222.2 million and will definitely end up being the biggest movie of the summer. It will even pass Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the coming weeks, which is an extraordinary achievement. This is truly one of the biggest and best surprises of the year.

In third place was Fox's R-rated comedy Let's Be Cops. The buddy cop film grossed $17.7 million over the 3-day weekend and a total of $26.1 million over five days. Not bad for a film that cost a meager $17 million to make, although I imagine that the marketing costs were astronomical. The film only received a "B" Cinemascore, which isn't great, but Neighbors and Anchorman 2 ended up doing just fine with the same audience approval rating. However, Let's Be Cops is also sitting at 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. That's truly horrendous and I imagine that this film will disappear pretty quickly.

The big surprise of the weekend was the total under-performance of The Expendables 3. The PG-13 action thriller took in $16.2 million in 3,221 theaters in fourth place. That's the worst opening for an Expendables movie yet and a huge disappointment. The film received an "A-" Cinemascore, but that's probably not going to do much for the film. Some have blamed this disappointment on the fact that the film was leaked online weeks before it hit theaters, while others have said that the film's PG-13 rating betrayed its target audience. The word of mouth from the pirated copy was admittedly terrible and the 35% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes didn't show otherwise. This is definitely one of the biggest flops of the summer.

The Weinstein Company's The Giver finished in fifth place with $12.7 million. Not a terrible opening for the $25 million film, but it's not an overly impressive performance. The "B+" Cinemascore is solid, although critics have been much less kind (30% on Rotten Tomatoes is awful). I don't see The Giver finishing with more than $30 million, but in the end, that's not completely awful.

Into the Storm took a light 56% drop down to sixth place and ended up with $7.7 million. The decent tornado thriller has now made $31.3 million and will likely close with $45 million. The film cost nearly $50 million, which means that Warner Bros. will probably lose money, but it won't be a huge write-down. Disney's The Hundred-foot Journey was close behind in seventh place with $7.1 million. The light family drama has now grossed $23.6 million and has held very well so far. A finish around $40 million is definitely in the cards.

Universal's Lucy finished in eighth place this weekend and took in another $5.3 million. The R-rated thriller has now made $107.5 million and is considered to be one of the summer's biggest hits. Step Up All In fell 58% to ninth place and made $2.7 million. The dance flick has now grossed $11.8 million. And finally, the terrific Boyhood rounded out the top ten with $2.1 million. The IFC Films release has now made $13.8 million and is one of the studio's highest-grossing films.

In the limited release world, Magic in the Moonlight finished in fourteenth place with $1.8 million. Pundits weren't impressed by this opening and it's probably due to the mediocre response the film has received. It's a decent movie and nothing more. Also, CBS Films' What If grossed $829K in almost 800 theaters, which is pretty awful. It's a good movie that's worth seeking out. And finally, Calvary made $400K in 131 theaters. Very impressive. I can't wait to see that movie.

Next week sees the release of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, If I Stay and When the Game Stands Tall. Here are my predictions:

1. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For- $29 million
2. If I Stay- $21 million
3. When the Game Stands Tall- $16.5 million
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- $13.2 million
5. Guardians of the Galaxy- $12.9 million
6. Let's Be Cops- $7.9 million
7. The Expendables 3- $7.5 million
8. The Giver- $6.3 million
9. The Hundred-foot Journey- $5.5 million
10. Into the Storm- $4.9 million

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight review

Woody Allen churns out a film a year and he's often very hit and miss. While I'm not overly familiar with his filmography (I've seen Annie Hall and Blue Jasmine), most critics seem to think of him as an inconsistent filmmaker, quality wise. Films like Blue Jasmine and Midnight Paris received praise recently, while To Rome With Love was lambasted (I couldn't stand Blue Jasmine, so I differ there). Magic in the Moonlight is Allen's newest feature and it's about what I expected. Not great, but simply decent. There are good performances and a pleasant, traditional style with a stellar soundtrack. It's just a film that runs out of ideas and it isn't comfortable in its own skin.

Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is a magician who travels across Europe under the name of Wei Ling Soo. He's just finished a tour when another magician friend named Howard Burken (Simon McBurney) arrives to invite him to the south of France, where a group of socialites are convinced that a woman (Emma Stone) is an actual spirit medium. Stanley heads to France, where stays with the Catledges family and learns about all of the ways that Sophie (the medium) has affected them. Brice (Hamish Linklater) is in love with her and Grace Catledge (Jackie Weaver) believes that Sophie has connected her with her dead husband. Stanley has debunked many fake mediums before, but he slowly becomes convinced. Could she be the first true spirit medium?

Magic in the Moonlight is often a simple romantic comedy about the relationship between Stanley and Sophie. And that's not a bad thing. Most of the time, Magic in the Moonlight is a beautiful film with lush scenery, a classic soundtrack and strong performances. However, it's so unsure of itself that it ends up trying to be more than that and that's when the film falls apart. Colin Firth and Emma Stone have great chemistry, but their romance seems incredibly forced thanks to some of the third act twists and turns. Magic in the Moonlight had the potential to be a great addition to the Allen collection, but it ends up being forgettable because of a flat ending with unnecessary twists and a message about spirituality that doesn't fit the tone of the film.

The acting is always very good in Allen's films. Whether or not I like the characters is a completely different story, but I'm always impressed by the performances. Cate Blanchett was stellar in Blue Jasmine, although I despised her character and it made me dislike the film. The same thing happens at times in Magic in the Moonlight. Colin Firth is a fine actor and does a great job as Stanley, but his character is so gratingly pessimistic and rude that he'll get on your nerves fast. Emma Stone is also very good as Sophie, although she overdoes the psychic vision aspect a little bit (it's on purpose, but still seems unnecessary). 

The supporting cast is rounded out by veteran actors and they all deliver solid performances. One of the better performances comes Hamish Linklater, who plays Brice, the boy who is in love with Sophie so deeply to the point that you want to punch him. Linklater had a bit part in last year's 42 and has a great screen presence. A long career in movies is ahead of him. Marcia Gay Harden shows up and does very little and although it's always great to see Silver Linings Playbook star Jacki Weaver in a new movie, she has nothing to do in this one. Eileen Atkins plays Aunt Vanessa and has one of the meatier parts in the film. Her banter with Firth and Stone is quite amusing at times and she does a good job. 

The production values on this film are terrific and it's a lovely movie to watch. The Southern French scenery is absolutely gorgeous and it really sucks you into the film. The wide, sun-filled shots perfectly capture the beauty of the location and I truly admired that. The soundtrack is also terrific, with a lot of 1920's ragtime music, which fits the setting perfectly. The music feels like it's straight out of The Sting. Definitely a good thing. 

Allen's Blue Jasmine was thematically a very heavy film. It dealt with real-life issues including stress, the stock market crash and the superficiality of the world around us. Magic in the Moonlight is not that movie. It's set up as a frothy romantic comedy with a heavy dose of Woody Allen thrown in. The problem is that once Magic in the Moonlight heads into its third act, it tries to be a thematically deep film. It wants to say stuff about the human condition and it wants to mix in some heavy themes about God and spirituality and the movie is just not suited for that. It's too much of a tonal shift. 

In addition to that, I found the film's romance to be incredibly thin and poorly written. There's nothing that really suggests that Firth and Stone's characters should be together, but for whatever reason, they are. It just feels forced. The two characters spend most of the film making fun of each other with witticisms and practical jokes, yet they end up loving each other in the end. It's just a forced ending. If the film had gone a different route with its third act, the romance angle might not feel so fake, but for now, we're stuck with this version of the film.

Magic in the Moonlight was enjoyable for a good chunk of its runtime, but its charm wears thin pretty quickly and the third act has major issues. It's a shame that Allen couldn't hold it all together, because he could have had something truly special. But for now, we're stuck with a film that will entertain you for 75% of its runtime, before completely falling apart to the point where you'll probably lose interest. The performances are great and the visuals are astounding, but the story just ends up being a mess towards the end. I enjoyed this film a lot at times, yet it's just not perfect. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                              (6.8/10)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles review

Michael Bay gets a lot of hate from people on the internet, but I've always been a strong supporter of his films. The Transformers films were part of my childhood and even today, I still like Bay's exciting, crazy style that he brings to each one of those films. And that's why I had some optimism for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While TMNT was not directed by Bay, it was produced by him and still is very much a Michael Bay movie. However, this isn't Transformers. Ninja Turtles is awful, poorly made garbage with a meaningless plot, ugly effects and non-stop shaky cam that will leave you with a headache. It's almost astonishing how terrible this film is.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is more about April O'Neil (Megan Fox) than the Turtles. The film portrays April as a real reporter who's been stuck doing light and fluffy stories for a news channel with her cameraman Vern (Will Arnett). She's sick of it and wants to do stories that truly matter, especially ones involving the Foot Clan, the gang of mercenaries who have been terrorizing New York for a long time. One day, April sees a Foot Clan attack that is prevented by some vigilante and she instantly becomes interesting in this story. Eventually, April realizes that there are four vigilantes and that they're actually giant turtles who do karate. There are all these different tie-ins to April's past and a plot involving scientist and philanthropist Erin Sacks (William Fichtner). It all culminates in a giant battle between the turtles and the evil Shredder.

Odds are that kids will like this film (for whatever reason). There were children in my theater who audibly shouted stuff like "Cool!" and "That's awesome!" during the movie. I have no idea why, but they were really into this movie. I, on the other hand, sat in the theater dumbfounded throughout this entire movie. I was just shocked how bland the film was, how anticlimactic the action was, how dumb the humor was. This is just a bad movie, plain and simple. The human interactions are dull and tiresome and the Turtles aren't even that entertaining. I was hoping for a decent movie, but instead, I got a flat out terrible one.

This movie makes its first mistake early on when it decides to make April O'Neil the main character. She has more screentime than the Ninja Turtles and is supposed to hold the film together. And she's boring. There's nothing interesting about the character. Megan Fox is very pretty, but she's terribly miscast and not very good in this movie. The character of April O'Neil has way more weight than it should. I wish that the movie had just focused on the Turtles instead, because they're the only ones that are even remotely entertaining.

The rest of the human cast is rounded out by quality actors who end up doing rather mediocre work. Will Arnett, a comedian that I enjoy very much, is actually pretty decent as Vern. It's not a great performance, but he's good enough. Whoopi Goldberg makes a brief appearance as April's boss and adds nothing to the movie. William Fichtner is good as always. He's probably the standout of the cast, playing a very typical Bond villain type.

The Turtles, Splinter and Shredder are all CGI creations and the animators have varying degrees of success. The robo-Shredder armor is really, really awesome, but Shredder is a weak villain with absolutely no motivation whatsoever. The Turtles are strangely live-like and have personalities that are fully realized on screen. But whoever designed Master Splinter should never work in digital effects again. Splinter is a ghastly-looking creature that is incredibly hideous and tough to look at. He looks slimy, grimy and really nasty. It's just terrible.

Plenty of movies have so-so performances and mediocre CGI and still end up being entertaining. That's where TMNT fails. There is very little in this movie that is even remotely amusing and that's where it fails. The action is often briefly electric, but it is so poorly filmed that it makes you want to gouge your eyes out. Director Johnathan Liebesman just shakes the camera around a lot and it makes for an annoying experience. Plus, all of the action scenes are truly dull. There's no energy to them. It's just people that you don't care about fighting and you've seen all of this before.

That's truly the biggest problem that this movie runs into: it's incredibly, painfully, excruciatingly boring. This is a movie so dull and so bland that you will sit in your theater in shock. There's no energy, no personality, no excitement. It's just a brainless, tedious film from start to finish. There were little moments where I was entertained. For example, the first fifteen minutes hinted at a goofy, over-the-top version of The Dark Knight that never came to fruition. And towards the end of the film, there is a brief five minute period where the movie is actually entertaining. But other than that, this movie is just a slog from start to finish.

I have nothing else to say about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It's one of the worst films of 2014 and a shockingly bad misfire. I'm already dreading the release of Ninja Turtles 2. Unless the filmmakers decide to actually put some energy into the sequel, I can't see it being any better. This is pure trash and I'm saddened to see that it's making money. Nothing about TMNT is entertaining for adults and it shouldn't be entertaining for kids either. It's poorly made, weakly acted and not even close to being fascinating.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                               (4.4/10)