Mini-Movie Reviews Catchup

So it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to write anything in this space. I had shoulder surgery in November and it turned out to be more serious than I might have hoped. I was rendered a one-armed man for a while and typing with only left hand was just silly. My injury didn’t keep me from seeing movies, of course, and thus, today’s collection of mini-movie reviews to help you make good movie decisions this holiday season. I’ll be back tomorrow with a Cooper-centric post so fret not, those of you who only come here for tales of my ridiculous child. BigHero6

Big Hero 6 – Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, James Cromwell Rated PG for thematic elements and comic book violence One sentence synopsis: A teenage genius teams up with some fellow genius and a robot to take on a mysterious villain in San Fransokyo. The first combination of Marvel and Disney animation, Big Hero 6 comes off as a smashing success both financially and creatively. This has the look and feel of a Pixar movie but with a superhero origin story mixed in for good measure. The visuals are lavish and beautiful and while the story isn’t all that original, the characters are strong to say the least. I think Disney has a certifiable star on their hands in the form of the robot Baymax, an iconic character that could likely carry a successful sequel on his own. Big Hero 6 should be a winner for kids and grownups alike and the obligatory short before the movie will likely force any pet owner to become a puddle of tears. Grade: A- (Podcast here)

Nightcrawler – Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton Rated R for language and violence One sentence synopsis: A nut job discovers the high paced world of new stringing in L.A. and takes his new found occupation to psychotic levels. Serious question: does anybody like Jake Gyllenhaal? I don’t mean, “Does anybody think Jake Gyllenhaal is a good actor?” He’s clearly extremely talented. I’m just wondering if anyone gets excited about a Jake Gyllenhaal movie because I find him nearly unbearable and it seems like most of my friends agree. That said, his performance in Nightcrawler is superb and will likely earn him a very well deserved Oscar nomination. His character is thoroughly unlikable but just as thoroughly compelling and that’s due entirely to Gyllenhaal. I found the film as a whole to be only alright but it is shot wonderfully in a style reminiscent of Michael Mann, Grade: B+ (Podcast, sans my involvement thanks to a sick child, here)

Wish I Was Here – Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Josh Gad Rated R for language and thematic elements One sentence synopsis: A struggling actor tries to keep his family together in the midst of his father’s terminal illness. Remember Zach Braff? Once upon a time he was one of the hotter up-and-coming names in the industry who probably stayed with Scrubs too long and missed his big break, then kind of disappeared for a while. Wish I Was Here is his third directorial effort and it is both pleasurable and frustrating. On the one hand, Braff knows what he is good at: the movie is dark and melancholy at times but always hinges on light humor, the soundtrack plays a big role, and the cast is solid. On the other, in the 10 years since Garden State, Braff hasn’t grown much as a filmmaker and still allows his movies to drift in and out of competence. When he’s good, he’s VERY good but when he’s not, his movies come off as film school-level. This movie is likable enough but not loveable and that’s a bit disappointing. Grade: B-


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I – Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences One sentence synopsis: Fresh out of the Hunger Games arena, Katniss becomes the face of the rebellion in Panem while struggling with the loss of Peeta, held captive in the Capital. I’m a much bigger fan of this film series than I am the books and this entry definitely has its merits but falls short of the high standard set by the previous films. Mockingjay simultaneously improves upon the source material while being hamstrung a bit by the lack of literary foundation (straight up: the “Mockingjay” novel is bad, let’s be honest). The movie drags a bit in parts and I think that illustrates why it shouldn’t have been split into two parts. But that said, the elongated runtime allows for more opportunities for its stars to actually acts and all of them, particularly Lawrence who is truly a movie star at this point, perform quite well. Grade: A- (Podcast here)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman – Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter Rated PG for mildly intense themes I guess? Do G-rated movies even exist anymore? One sentence synopsis: A genius dog and his adopted human son travel through time in the Wayback Machine. The two important questions I ask myself when grading most non-Pixar animated features (and the very best of Disney and Dreamworks, too) are: 1.) Is it harmless/appropriate for kiddos? and 2.) Is it tolerable for adults? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then great, the movie gets a “B.” Mr. Peabody and Sherman hits both marks but succeeds so well on both counts that I think it actually deserves some extra attention. This was a pretty stinking fun little movie and one that even my five-second-attention-span kiddo locked in on for a solid 30 to 40 minutes. It helps that it draws from some great source material but the visuals are good, the cast is strong, and there’s some fun moments that kept my attention as well as my kiddo’s. It’s been a strong year for animated films so this one is going to get left behind but for those of you with kids at home, it’s worth your time. Grade: B+


Exodus: Gods and Kings – Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley Rated PG-13 for violence and intense images One sentence synopsis: Moses clashes against the Pharaoh Ramses in order to free the Hebrews from slavery. The most frustrating part about Exodus is that it SHOULD be a good movie. Unlike Noah, which has a lackluster source material to pull from (89 verses in the Bible and a LOT left to the imagination), the story of Exodus is detailed and incredibly interesting (even if you’re not a believer) and moreover, there are so many theatrical elements within in. Unfortunately the movie just misses on so many levels. The casting is bad (Bale is alright but not great and most of the other actors feels extremely out of place), the script is messy, and about half the time I found myself wondering if Ridley Scott was even awake during production. Once upon a time Mr. Scott was a great director and maybe one day he’ll regain that form but too much of Exodus just felt like an exercise in lazy, voiceless directing. Moreover, the film dances around the subject of God and Moses’ struggle as a man without ever really picking a track to travel down. For all of its faults, at least Noah had the guts and ambition that Exodus lacks. Grade: C+

Dumb and Dumber To – Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Turner Rated PG-13 for language, gross-out humor, and general awfulness One sentence synopsis: 20 years after the events of Dumb and Dumber, Harry and Lloyd reunite to track down Harry’s daughter. Ooh boy. Like all American males from my generation, I love the original Dumb and Dumber. It’s stupid and juvenile but it’s also insanely quotable and stands as one of the few comedies that holds up from an era that doesn’t look so good in hindsight. What it NEVER needed and what it DEFINITELY doesn’t need 20 years down the road is a sequel. Dumb and Dumber To is a painful and at times desperate attempt to regain the magic from a long-gone era during which all parties involved enjoyed much greater success (with the possible exception of Daniels though The Newsroom might suggest otherwise). It comes off as a cheap knock-off that cheapens the original. Grade: F (Podcast, sans my involvement thanks to the aforementioned surgery, here)

The Signal – Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Laurence Fishburne Rated PG-13 for some language and sci-fi freakiness One sentence synopsis: After tracking a rival hacker to Nevada, three college friends encounter a power that may not be of this world. I’m a big fan of good sci-fi done on a low budget and The Signal fits the bill. It straddles the line between horror and sci-fi quite well and manages to keep the audience on their toes without falling into the trap of opening up a thousand questions that can’t all be answered. I’m not sure that everything within this movie makes sense and it definitely jumps around a bit toward the conclusion but still, it’s a solid little movie that will make for an enjoyable Netflix viewing at some point. Grade: B


St. Vincent – Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher Rated PG-13 for language and dramatic elements One sentence synopsis: A grumpy old man with a complicated past becomes friends with his new neighbor, a pre-teen boy. I saved the best for last so we can end on a high. I’ve been looking forward to this one for months and not only did it not disappoint, it blew my expectations away. There is so much more to the story within St. Vincent than you would guess from the trailer, which is kind of frustrating because in a down year for awards contenders, this film could’ve had a shot at some consideration with a better marketing campaign. Regardless, St. Vincent is wholly charming and emotionally impactful and I loved it. Murray gives his best performance in a decade and the chemistry he develops with newcomer Lieberher is superb. Lots of laughs, plenty of tears, and an all-around, highly enjoyable movie. Grade: A