Far out clothes and vintage Hollywood party scenes aren’t enough to save this latest Russell Crowe film from box office disaster. Fellow new release “The Angry Birds Movie” clinched this past weekend’s top spot with nearly $40 million, followed by 2016’s highest grossing film so far--the resilient “Captain America: Civil War” ($34M). But most troubling to Warner Bros. and Crowe has to be the fact that “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” landed in third place with $22 million…crushing “The Nice Guys” with twice the ticket sales from moviegoers.Co-starring opposite Anna Kendrick’s Twitter love interest Ryan Gosling, the former “Gladiator” Crowe plays a hired heavy paid to dole out punishment on others in 1977 Los Angeles. Gosling plays small-time private eye Holland March and reluctantly teams up with Crowe’s bruiser character, Jackson Healy, to investigate the disappearance of a woman who goes missing into the Hollywood nightlife. Despite a cinematographic orgy that delicately takes viewers back to a retro 1970s look, “The Nice Guys” can’t overcome a slow, boring start with one-dimensional characters. Russell Crowe’s big-screen forte is masterminding others misfortune, not spewing one-liners in a crime comedy. Thankfully, Gosling’s comedic timing is spot-on throughout. The film’s biggest drawback, though, is the lack of audience investment in either of the Crowe or Gosling detective roles. The film’s director and writer Shane Black (“Iron Man 3”) deserves credit for starting the story off so raw, minus any narration or set-up. Missing a quick background on the main players, however, costs Black valuable screen time (already pushing 2 hours) and tests viewer patience. But in the end, Black nicely ties together every loose end and hidden joke for an impressive, encyclopedic storyline from start to finish.Less about sleuthing for answers to a missing girl than a budding bromance between two Hollywood heavy-weight actors, “The Nice Guys” crosses the finish line intact. Do we know more about either Jackson Healy (Crowe) or Holland March (Gosling)? Hardly. Do we care? Barely. This whodunit crime mystery delivers on two fronts—taking the audience back forty-years on film to a simpler time in America and dishing out groovy punch lines. Unfortunately, neither enough to keep audiences psyched through a sedated first hour that’s “for the birds”. Let me do you a solid, wait for this throwback on DVD. Grade: B-
We’ve all cringed at movie trailers, those pesky studio previews which have spawned from one-minute commercials into two-and-half minutes of spoiler reels. Just as movie running times are getting longer and longer, so are the trailers promoting those films. In today’s critical competition for box office dollars, promotional companies expend an entire film’s arsenal of laugh lines, suspense shots and plot twists in the trailer alone—leaving audiences letdown when all that’s left to see in the theater is bland background filler. Having recently watched the spoiler-rich “Money Monster” trailer from Academy Award-winning actress and now director Jodie Foster, I was not eager to watch this Wall Street corruption narrative unfold. The previews told us everything: George Clooney’s character is an over-the-top, on-air television personality spewing Wall Street investment tips at the top of his lungs. The movie’s calming influence falls to “Pretty Woman” Julia Roberts, as Clooney’s producer, who directs and de-escalates the TV set using her voice. What else can this movie tell us? A lot.Continuing Hollywood’s fascination with Wall Street moguls instigating financial disasters through incompetence or greedy shenanigans, “Money Monster” pits one large corporation against a single, meager shareholder seeing red after a $60,000 investment loss. “Unbroken” (2014) star Jack O’Connell perfectly portrays a distraught and armed investor who has lost it all—based on the misguided advice of Clooney’s financial forecast. Between all the finger-pointing and stock quotes is a compelling story of anger and discontent directed at greedy individuals perpetrating fraud inside the financial district. Similar to last year’s Oscar-nominated best picture “The Big Short”, Foster presents this Wall Street train wreck in understandable terms. She deserves serious accolades for never letting this story dissolve solely into a money-counting movie experience. Despite less than stellar police work in parts, “Money Monster” delivers a steady-paced thriller that only gets better by the minute. “Money Monster” wisely touches upon the viral nature of social media and the public’s laser-guided focus on potentially violent outcomes during live events. It’s comparison between the OJ Simpson Ford Bronco freeway perp chase and O’Connell’s walk along crowd-rousing Manhattan streets doesn’t go unnoticed.Strong performances carry this brisk 90-minute film. Clooney’s wack job persona gets more believable throughout the movie as his heart begins to thaw. Although a simplistic financial formula, “Money Monster” achieves its portfolio goal—accountability for those responsible for the mismanagement of funds and loss of trust from others. But we knew that already…from the trailer. Here’s my “Money Monster” investment advice: Go see the movie and not the trailer.
Being considered a wolf hasn’t been this popular since 2009’s “The Hangover”, when Zach Galifianakis’ loner character Alan pronounced his one-man wolf pack allegiance to groom and groom-mates high above Las Vegas. Now seven years later and packing a legitimate PG-rating, wolf fans find themselves in an Indian jungle toasting a family movie about a young boy raised by a group of the carnivorous mammals in the wild.“The Jungle Book” film is based upon the 122-year old collection of life lessons from Rudyard Kipling’s novel by the same name. This book-to-film adaptation showcases an unassuming 10-year old boy named Mowgli (played by Neel Sethi) caught in the middle of a high-stakes fight between predators at the top of the jungle’s food chain.Jon Favreau, the genius behind the original “Iron Man” back in 2008, directs this eye-catching animal adventure from Walt Disney Productions that is sure to please the mature audience of kids (and most adults) in their theater seats. After a chart-topping, opening weekend box office haul of $104 million, don’t look for any of these jungle inhabitants to become extinct in theaters anytime soon.An on-screen masterpiece of computer generated imagery (CGI), this year’s offering of Kipling’s work is vastly more watchable than the earlier 1967 animated release or the 1994 live-action film. It can be easily argued that the impressive visuals in this “The Jungle Book” tale make up motion picture’s finest CGI moment on film. Ever.The realistic action sequences even offer up to viewers a few jump-out-of-your-seat scenes. These short moments of death and perilous times may be too much for younger eyes. But the Law of the Jungle and human’s reliance on the troublesome “red flower” (fire) aren’t enough to spark a substantial or deep plot.While extraordinary visual effects are complimented with a splattering of humor throughout, generated mostly from comedian Bill Murray’s superb portrayal of Baloo the grizzly bear, the essence of “The Jungle Book” falls back to just an average, vanilla storyline. Kids will give this film a full letter-grade higher of love than adults. And maybe that’s alright. After all, your money is better spent watching this movie than on a trip to the zoo.
It seems as though Ben Affleck isn’t ready to hang up his bat-suit just yet, and is planning to appear in several more films as beloved DC Comics superhero, Batman. Aside from the two already confirmed “Justice League” based films, Warner Bros. recently announced that Affleck will also be directing and starring in a standalone “Batman” movie.The announcement was made last week by Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara at the CinemaCon movie industry convention in Las Vegas.No release date was announced during the convention, though there is some general speculation as to when the “Batman” movie may be released. “Justice League Part One” is slated to come out in 2017, with a sequel slated for 2019. Aside from those two dates, there are untitled projects set for Oct. 5, 2018, and Nov. 1, 2019 – either of which could be Affleck’s movie.The choice to announce a standalone film could not come at a more interesting time. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which came out over Easter Weekend, debuted at an impressive $170 million in the box office, though the film was generally panned by critics. Response among the fan base could only be judged on a case-by-case basis.Many thought the “Batman” franchise may have been nearing its end in terms popularity, though Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy featuring Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader quickly changed that. On top of a few billion dollars across banked the trilogy, “The Dark Knight” is considered by many to be the magnum opus of the “Batman” series.Affleck looks to capitalize on the moment and produce a film worthy of standing next to its predecessors.
With the comic book-to-film universe getting more crowded by the day, the two primary production studios will need to take further risks to entice viewers. As we saw with last month’s release of Marvel’s juggernaut “Deadpool”, superhero films can be vastly enjoyable for their serious, crime-fighting comic book personas as well as provide audiences with lighthearted and humorous moments…the exact combo not only invoked by Marvel Studios in last year’s “Ant-Man” but nearly each of its movies since “Ironman” way back in 2008. Attempting to play catch-up to the superior Marvel Collection, DC Comics and Warner Bros. Studios stumble miserably with this “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” headscratcher.“Man of Steel” (2013) director Zack Snyder continues his Superman helm in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, sliding two-time Oscar winner Ben Affleck into Christian Bale’s former role as the Dark Knight. A sensational cast from top-to-bottom, including Henry Cavill (as Superman), Amy Adams and Academy Award winners Holly Hunter and Jeremy Irons, falls victim to a surprisingly weak script. Very weak. Completely baffling is why the 5-time Oscar-nominated Adams continues to stake claim to her Lois Lane part.The cinematic problems with “Batman v Superman” are drastic and plentiful. Director Snyder never establishes a believable animosity between the two main superheroes. A garbled plot never comes into focus, leaving impatient moviegoers with boring storyboards on information we already know…for instance, why the Daily Planet’s Editor-in-Chief Perry White can’t find the whereabouts of reporters Lois Lane (Adams) or Clark Kent and the often repeated circumstances behind the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Key relationships groomed nicely in past movies, like Bale’s one-liner exchanges between Batman and the stealthy Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman) or Bruce Wayne’s rapport with his wise butler, Alfred (played perfectly by Michael Caine). Both bonds brought laughter and excitement to the big-screen…something sorely missing in this DC Comics chapter.Only after this dull, diluted plot gets simplified down to a hostage situation within the final forty-five minutes, does “Batman v Superman” begin to pack any sort of punch. By this time, however, it’s way too late to matter. At over 2 hours and 30 minutes long, this film deserves to be called “Bladders v Superheroes: Dawn of Anatomy”. Thankfully, being a DC Comics brand, there’s no need to stay for any extra scenes as the credits roll.The film’s two positives are Batfleck’s inaugural performance and that of former model and Miss Israel, Gal Gabot (from the “Fast and the Furious” film franchise). Both stars can be absolved of blame in this sad tale, where each give us glimpses into their serious potential in future DC Comics productions—provided a script rises to the same level of quality.
Local organization, the Arizona Rose Theatre Company, recently hosted several showings of its most recent original production, “Sherlock Holmes and the East Wind,” at the Temple of Music & Arts Cabaret Theatre in downtown Tucson. Based on the characters of Arthur Conan Doyle, the world of “Sherlock Holmes” is one of mystery, excitement and defied expectations.True to the source, “Sherlock Holmes and the East Wind,” provided its own major mystery – a murder – as well as another well-crafted surprise between the play’s two acts. Without giving too much away, any who have read “The Adventure of the Empty House” or immersed themselves in Doyle’s writing may not be caught too off- guard.The play takes place at the Hôtel du Louvre in Paris in 1915 as the dozen or so patrons and employees of the hotel go about their business. Among the guests are Dr. John Watson, played by Luke Howell, and his wife Sarah, played by Kate Scally.No longer chronicling the adventures of the deceased Sherlock Holmes, Watson has retired to a calmer life. Watson and his wife travel to Paris to meet with their nephew George, played by Michael Howell, who is on leave from the British Army after serving in the war.The Hotel itself is comprised of a colorful cast of employees, including the German-hating Jacques, played by Ruben Rosthenhausler; hotel custodian Rene, played by Ron Kari; and young love birds Martin and Margerite, played by Jason Schutte and Stephanie Howell, respectively. Joining the Holmes family in their stay are American diplomatic ambassador William Henry Hunt, played by Darwin W. Hall and his assistant Ms. Elanor Ryan, played by Rachel Gigar; fleeing French aristocrat Donatien Francois de Vieux, played by Vincent Lugrine and German cabaret singer Ana Gold, played by Savannah Hicks.
Based on the real-life terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, as depicted in the book from Pulitzer Prize and New York Times #1 bestselling author Mitchell Zuckoff titled “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi,” this true story follows the heroism of a half-dozen security personnel charged with protecting the U.S. State Department’s compound and CIA station in Benghazi, Libya.Military members and their families will find this movie very watchable, as it inequitably drops the heavy burden of defending our national interests on so few...them. Civilian eyes in the theater will be raised and fixed on the risks, threats and constant vigilance required in today’s dangerous world of unraveling, weak governments and emboldened terrorist organizations.The film’s finest achievement is that it places bearded faces — and their personal stories — up against the mere head counts provided in news reports after such incidents. John Krasinski, from television’s successful comedy sitcom “The Office,” anchors the movie and delivers his best performance to date.Much of “13 Hours” reminded me of 2001’s “Black Hawk Down” ... the relationships developed between brothers fighting evil on city streets, where it’s difficult to determine friend from foe. Circumstances and safety can change within one city block. The twisted military humor displayed by those far from home for the umpteenth time. Likewise, it nicely illustrates that not all military expertise and portfolios are equal on the battlefield. The film subtly exposes the degree to which experience and superior training provide a force multiplier in heavily outnumbered firefights.Director Bay should be commended for this effort. He properly raises questions by those on the ground (and in the audience) as to why help never arrives from outside Libya. While he leaves the specific blame for others to assign, Bay makes it very apparent that the military did immediately muster quick reaction forces and attempt to jump into the fight with both combat boots.“13 Hours” is an intense, action-packed story of bravery. It raises adrenaline from a growing threat and through violent battles — with some graphic war wounds depicted. The film closes ranks and gives us an up-close, first-hand account of the heroic men doing our nation’s heavy-lifting down range. It methodically walks Americans through the multiple pleas for support that emerged from Benghazi as the State Department’s compound and CIA annex erupted in gunfire. It properly identifies those terrorists behind the preplanned attack on September 11, 2012.
Hollywood has a buddy-cop formula studios continue to follow to this day: two cops, one the goofball comedian, the other a hot shot action junkie. There’s banter, shootouts and a testing of friendship that’s ultimately strengthened by the end of the movie. Call it “Action-Comedy 101” or the “Buddy-Cop Guidebook,” either way; it doesn’t always result in terrific success — case in point, “Ride Along 2.”As the sequel to the surprisingly successful 2014 film, “Along” wears out its welcome before the title credits even conclude, introducing not one cliche (Latino drug lord Benjamin Bratt) but two (Asian tech whiz Ken Jeong) within the span of a few minutes. Granted, it’s an early assumption, but these two performers do little to disprove their stereotype over the course of the film’s runtime. It’s a particular shame to see Bratt, a wonderful actor, relegated to bon mots left over from second-rate Bond villains.As for the core duo of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, it’s unfortunate to say they don’t fare much better than their supporting cast. After the events of the first film, security guard Ben Barber (Hart) is now slumming as a patrol cop, while soon-to-be brother-in-law James (Cube) is back to cracking skulls as an Atlanta detective. A shootout and a few explosions later, James high-tails it to Miami with potentially incriminating evidence against tycoon Antonio Pope (Bratt). Ben, desperate to prove himself, tags along at the behest of his stressed fiance (Tika Sumpter).Once in Florida, the mismatched duo engages in banter, shootouts and a testing of friendship that’s ultimately strengthened by the end of the movie. Which, as previously mentioned, is perfectly enjoyable, if the empty spaces in between are filled with clever dialogue and likable characters. Instead, director Tim Story goes the opposite direction, sucking the chemistry his actors shared in the first film and replacing it with ... well, nothing. Hart is a brilliant stand-up comedian, but the consistency of his punch-lines melt in the humid Miami heat quicker than an Ice Cube. As for his partner, Mr. Cube, the rapper’s stoic demeanor and PG-13 insults are like listening to a radio edit of his legendary music — underwhelming, and ultimately, pointless. Olivia Munn is brought in for obligatory eye candy, but even that can’t save a film with hilarious moments you can count on one hand. Depending on the success of this project, it might not be the last time audiences see Hart and Cube dishing out insults over gunfire. If that winds up the case, let’s all hope “Ride Along 3” has less of a copy-and-paste feel. Repetition is flattery, but not to the people forced to watch.
Initially a successful novelist, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo shot to the top of M-G-M Studios in the late 1930s, raking in Oscar nominations (1940’s “Kitty Foyle”) and an impressive $4,000 a week. But, as is the case with most biopics, tragedy struck; leaving Trumbo a blacklisted Communist who served a year in jail in 1950. Once released, a lack of studio offers forced the talented wordsmith to churn out cheap B-pictures under assumed aliases — two of which wound up winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Only in Hollywood.As a story, “Trumbo” is right in the wheelhouse of an industry that pretends to love fiction while secretly loving its own salacious history. Director Jay Roach, typically known for lowbrow comedies that include “Meet The Parents” (2000), is shamelessly enamored with the magic of the past, peppering in newsreel footage, recreated film sets and superstars of the era. The last of those inclusions is particularly fun, as supporting roles are filled by real life leading men like Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg). Rounded out with a vicious turn from Helen Mirren as nasty columnist Hedda Hopper, and Roach’s supporting cast proves invaluable to the historical proceedings that surround them.That history is one that’s changed radically in the past eight decades. Though deemed right by the government during their “fight against communism,” “Trumbo” is a story that wears its judgment on its sleeve. The Communists are not bad people, as Trumbo and his writing cohorts (including a great Louis C.K.) prove time and time again throughout the film — they are mistreated merely because of their differing views. It’s a safe message to pad into a movie in 2015, but regardless, the sincerity is worth taking note of. And while things can easily veer into the valley of heavy-handedness, especially when Trumbo becomes a badgering workaholic to his family, this preachy melodrama still works in a nostalgic sort of way. Several critics have made unflattering comparisons to “Trumbo” resembling a TV movie, but the style ultimately suits its period piece origins and makes for a snug fit.At the center of it all is the man himself, Dalton Trumbo. Played with snickering panache by Bryan Cranston, the screenwriter is lush with personality, witty wordplay and a true presence onscreen. One gets the sense Trumbo even surpassed his movies in the charisma department, and that assumption gets played up by Cranston and Roach. The only issue with this choice is that emotions are tough to spot underneath a bear of a mustache and enough cigarettes to warm the Earth. There are times when Cranston gets dangerously close to crafting a caricature, but he never quite falls off the cliff into artificiality. All in all, “Trumbo” is a completely satisfying if not creatively incredible film. Roach takes few risks with his direction, but the ones he does take are pleasantly integrated without sticking out.
Movie buffs old enough, can still remember when and where they watched the original “Star Wars” blockbuster a long time ago, in a theater far, far away. A timestamp etched into our memories, marking the epic start to a hit franchise about outer space civil war. Thirty two years after we said good-bye to them in “Return of the Jedi” (1983), the 1977 original cast is back to fight on. The 7th chapter of the Star Wars saga, “The Force Awakens” is an absolute blast…! A work of brilliant cinematography, music score and filmmaking!Star Wars newcomer J.J. Abrams directs audiences to a rekindled struggle between the Dark Side’s “First Order” Stormtrooper forces and the Rebel Alliance’s fighters. The coveted prize in this Galactic match-up is the last remaining Jedi--whose whereabouts are unknown to all. As Stormtroopers search for this final purge holdout to their hopes of finally destroying the “Resistance”, the lone Jedi must live-on to provide balance to a Galaxy where evil exists.As the first film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, “The Force Awakens” perfectly blends a new dynamic and energetic cast with the original’s legendary stars. With three generations of Star Wars lineage covered in this movie, Abrams masterfully juggles the exciting new actors in with the older characters and droids—all of them vital to the exhilarating story.Make no mistake…there are no token cameo appearances by these Galactic veterans…from Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker and General Leia. Each and every one play a significant role in the immediate action or to the overall narrative. Likewise, Abrams takes deliberate care to mold the new franchise faces into compelling, and funny, action-driven space warriors. They’re endearing to viewers from their very first scenes. Handling most of the heavy lifting are a strong-willed, action heroine Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) and First Order escapee, Finn (John Boyega).Non-stop adventure permeates throughout this surefire hit. “The Force Awakens” operates at one action speed--and one speed only--full-throttle! With the best composer in the business (John Williams) returning once again, Star Wars fans will not only hear, but feel the Force be with them. Short pauses, to rearm or re-strategize by each side, are superbly countered by well-timed humor and lighthearted moments—attributed mostly to the Han Solo-Chewbacca comedy team and the rookie Finn.This film’s overwhelming success is due to Abrams’ willingness to take risks and yet remain faithful to the Star Wars’ product DNA. By not playing it safe, moviegoers are never sure which direction events or characters will break in the end.
As a big fan of The Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” reality television series, I enjoy the fireworks that fester between a ship’s captain and her crew. And just like you, after about 15 minutes into the crab rings being pulled from the icy cold waters of the Bering Sea, I yearn for the personality differences to collide and dangerous conditions to develop miles offshore.Knowing the story of Moby-Dick, I held similar expectations for this true story about an ill-fated whaling ship sailing in 1820.Based upon the nonfiction maritime novel “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick in 2000, director Ron Howard navigates moviegoers through the (whale) oil business 30 years after the Essex’s historic disaster.The Academy Award-winning director cleverly introduces us to “Moby-Dick” novelist Herman Melville (played by Ben Whishaw), who must elicit details from the youngest crew member who sailed aboard the Essex — a 14-year old greenhorn named Tom Nickerson. With dual performances by Tom Holland and Brandan Gleeson as the younger and older life versions of Nickerson, we gain an appreciation for the harrowing sea conditions and cannibalism confronting the 20-man crew.Despite a well-known villain (an 85-foot sperm whale) and plenty of animosity between Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and his First Mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) to work with, this ship adventure still lacks air in her main sails. Hemsworth spends too much screen time belaboring the fact his captain lacks proper decision-making skill and how he got overlooked for the job.As viewers must wait patiently for the whale equivalent of “Jaws” to wreak havoc upon the 88-foot Essex, topside chores are doled with total abandon. Decks are swabbed, sails repositioned and family names soiled. It’s only the unflappable and poignant memories described by Gleeson’s character in 1851 that provide foreshadowing of troubled waters ahead.
As demand for instant news has increased over recent years, the always competitive news markets have tried to keep pace with the news-thirsty customer demands for timely (and still accurate) information. Added to the mix is a watchful public armed with immediate access to Internet posts and real-time videos — both often used to fact-check biased reporters or provide contradicting images to mainstream media reports. News media consumers have argued a trust issue has developed between news reporters and them — the intended audience. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that a film which exemplifies fair, honest and reliable journalistic qualities would be well-received by moviegoers. Some viewers will characterize “Spotlight” as the true story of a cover-up by the Boston archdiocese of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests over several decades. But to simplify this stellar film down to only its end result misses the means by which text-book journalism triumphed in the name of public safety. The spectacular “Spotlight” is less about the disgusting crimes committed by the Catholic Church and more about the lost art of journalism.This dramatic film’s most compelling feature is how it rekindles the Boston Globe’s integrity and persistence just as tension builds from outside pressures…setting up a bold showdown by the film’s end. With a focus on getting to the truth, the newspaper’s investigative “Spotlight” unit shines light on the cover-up of child molestation by exercising the fundamentals of news reporting; accuracy, objectivity and impartiality. “Spotlight” depicts a news organization where facts are followed — allowing the story to tell itself. The newspaper’s editor confidently willing to put fresh eyes on an old lead. Where the reporters aren’t the story, but rather the conduit to truth.Writer-Director Thomas McCarthy (“Up” 2009) provides keen insight into a covert newsroom, with less than a handful of reporters, who are given the time to get the big story right. After all, being first to report news that’s wrong only leaves the public misinformed, not enlightened. The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team that uncovered the secrecy and abuses within the Catholic Church did get the big story right — even earning the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2003.