Run All Night – Movie Review

In Run All Night, Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is pulling the ultimate all-nighter.  Conlon has to protect the life of his son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman) from longtime friend and mobster, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Why is Maguire trying to kill the Conlons? Because Jimmy killed Maguire’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook) after Michael witnessed the murder of two Albanian drug lord’s after a failed deal with Danny.

Release Date: March 13
Rated R
Writer: Brand Ingelsby
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris

Run All Night 05There are a few other interesting dynamics too. Jimmy abandoned his family over the guilt of being Maguire’s best hit man. Michael can never get a fair deal in life because he’s the son of a hit man. Jimmy and Shawn are like brothers until a brother kills the son of the other. Being a mob assassin, is not the most emotionally stable job, and that’s easier for some assassins over others.

Admittedly, Run All Night boasts an incredibly convoluted plot, but not so much that it pulls you out of the movie. There are a lot of characters in the movie that are needed to support the movie’s plot and stunt heavy action. What makes Run All Night a good movie is its cast. Neeson as Jimmy is a sympathetic killer, which we root for to survive and come clean with the truth of his past. Kinnaman plays the son of the killer well. He’s strong enough and smart enough to protect himself, but in over his head when his family is placed in harm’s way. Jimmy has to keep Michael clean from killing another person so that Michael never has to go down the path as his father.

Run All Night 04Ed Harris plays a good head of the mob, but this has been done many times. Then there’s Vincent D’Onofrio as Detective Harding. His strong acting gives dimension to the overused, lone good cop on the force.

Run All Night is a good movie, but its far from great. The story isn’t the most original, and it is saved only by an amazing cast and good stunt work. Unfortunately for Run All Night, a better version of this movie came out in the form of John Wick starring Keanu Reeves.

Get Hard – Movie Review

Get Hard is a movie with a great premise–Rich white guy asks his black friend to help him survive in prison. Sadly for Get Hard, it fails to reach its comedic potential. Will Ferrell is James, a wildly successful stock broker. After being falsely convicted of insider training and embezzlement, James is sent to ten years in a maximum prison. Afraid of being killed and worse, James asks his friend Darnell (Kevin James) to give him the skills necessary to survive in prison.

Release Date: March 27, 2015
Rated R
Writers: Jay Martel, Ian Roberts
Director: Etan Cohen
Cast: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie, Craig T. Nelson, T.I.

Get Hard is essentially a buddy comedy. Two unlikely people are forced to team up under false pretenses and eventually become friends. Will Farrell and Kevin Hart play the characters they have been bred to play in movies.

As James, Will Farrell plays the familiar white guy, who is oblivious to the world around him, and everything he knows of prison and African-American culture comes from film and television. Kevin James is also comfortable as Darnell, the African-American struggling to provide for his family and realize the American dream of owning a high-end car detailing business.

James learns a valuable lesson about the misconception and prejudices about the African-American community. Darnell also learns about friendship when he has to hide the fact that he’s the furthest thing from a thug imaginable.

As a comedy, it relies on a constant stream of laughs and the all-important big moments. Get Hard has an adequate supply of laughs. Ferrell gets big laughs as he attempts to talk tough. James manages to cover up the fact that he knows nothing about the thug life and shows it by turning James’ home into a makeshift prison with golf club bars.

Unfortunately,  the needed big moments come in the form of raunchy humor with payoff that fall flat. Maybe the sodomy and keistering jokes should have been funny, but it just comes off as uncomfortable.

The heart of the movie is the relationship between Farrell and Hart. They are a good pair. You can’t help but root for them individually and as friends. With just a few writing adjustments, Get Hard could have been a great movie.

Sponge Bob Movie: Sponge Out of Water – Movie Review

Movies based off of a television show have one basic task to accomplish. Since audiences are paying a premium price to see the movie, filmmakers have to provide extra value to make the expense worth it. The Sponge Bob Movie: Sponge Out of Water somehow manages to bring enough value to make it a good movie.

Release Date: February 6, 2015
Rated PG
Writer: Glenn Berger
Director: Paul Tibbitt
Cast: Tom Kenny, Antonio Banderas, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Tim Conway

Just like the TV show, Sponge Bob nemesis, Plankton is at it again, trying to steal the secret Krabby Patty formula. Instead of stealing the formula though, Plankton destroys the formula by mistake. This mistake causes the undersea world of Bikini Bottom to enter a post-apocalyptic era. Everyone is out for themselves to survive in this new world. It’s up to Sponge Bob and Plankton to work together to save their idyllic habitat from self-destruction.

In order to save the formula and Bikini Bottom, Sponge Bob, and Plankton enlist the help of the Time Wizard, a dolphin named Bubbles. Bubbles sends our heroes forward and backward through time and ultimately to the real world.

For all intent and purpose, Sponge Bob Square Pants, is a television episode with a bigger budgets. By making it a movie, director Paul Tibbitt casts a human foil in Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas), and the third act brings our favorite characters into the real world.

It is this third act that makes the movie worth seeing in the theater. The special effects are amazing. Sponge Bob manages to bring the two worlds of animation and live-action together. It is more than just cartoon characters in the real world. It’s an enjoyable blend of both. The main characters look like plastic toys. Real cannonballs are shot, and Sponge Bob captures them in real bubbles. The pirate ship looks like a real ship but takes on cartoon characteristics as it’s being swung and thrust all over the screen.

Let’s be honest, this is an episode of the television show. Same humor, characters, and writing–All with a message of teamwork. No real profound moments and nothing that will convert viewers who are indifferent or hostile toward the television show.

Walter – Movie Review

As a young boy, Walter (Andrew J. West) was bestowed the responsibility of assigning every person he meets the destiny of whether he or she is going to heaven or hell. Strangely, this responsibility is only known by Walter and us, the audience.

Release Date: March 13, 2015 in theaters and VOD
Writer: Paul Shoulberg
Director: Anna Mastros
Cast: Andrew J. West, William H. Macy, Virginia Madsen, Jim Gaffigan, Milo Ventimiglia, Levan Rambin, Neve Campbell

Walter39Set in Indianapolis, Walter is a simple, OCD adult, who works as a ticket taker at the local movie theater. It is at this movie theater that Walter meets the most people and can cast the most judgment. His world consists of his mother (Virginia Madsen), his boss (Jim Gaffigan), his bullish co-worker Vince (Milo Ventimiglia), the cute concessions girl Kendall (Leven Rambin) and a ghost named Jim (Peter Facinelli). Jim has been roaming the earth for ten years and needs Walter to declare him worthy of heaven or hell.

The movie Walter starts as a quirky comedy about an incredibly quirky guy. But soon you understand that this is a mystery and Walter’s world soon starts to unravel around him. Unable to personally or emotionally connect with the real world around him, the mystery of this movie is to find out why Walter is the way he is. It’s the unraveling of this mystery that makes Walter a fantastic movie.

Brilliantly played by Andrew J. West, he manages to take the very real character of Walter from quirky to cathartic to recovery in a way that is real. When you look back at the movie, you can’t help but think this could happen in real life. You soon realize that this is not some surreal world somewhere in Indiana, but it’s a very real world, and Walter is a real person.

First-time director Anna Mastros directs Walter. She manages to make a movie with a great deal of complexity look simple. She is helped by an amazing supporting cast. Walter’s mother is played by Virginia Madsen. Madsen manages to come across as overprotective at the beginning of the movie to understandably sympathetic by the end. Also as Walter’s therapist, William H. Macy brings to another amazing performance as a therapist Walter destines for Hell, to an actual competent psychologist.

Although Walter has been given an assignment from God, don’t mistake this as a pro or anti-religion movie. Instead take it for what it is, a mystery about a man who’s life has stalled due to a past event and the mystery to be solved to free Walter of his past.

The Imitation Game – Movie Review

The Imitation Game is a game of deception of sorts. Can a child imitate an adult? Can a criminal imitate a hero? The Imitation Game is the based on the true story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the man who singlehandedly created the first computer. This computer cracked the Nazi code (ending World War II years earlier). He is also a convicted criminal for the crimes of homosexuality.

Release Date: December 25, 2014
Rated PG-13
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Andrew Hodges, Graham Moore
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightly, Mark Strong, Matthew Goode

Director Morten Tyldum tells the story of Turing at three stages of his life. We first see Turing at the latter point of his life, when his home is “robbed.” The police detective thinks there is more to Turing’s story and starts to investigate Turing as a possible communist spy. The subsequent investigation, though, reveals that Turing is, in fact, a homosexual, which at this point in the history of England is a prosecutable offense.

Feeling remorseful, the investigating officer tries to give Turing an out. It is here that Turing reveals the secret of his work during World War II. This event starts the second stage of the movie and the most prominent story of Turing. As mentioned earlier, Alan Turing created the first computer, designed to break the secret Nazi code called Enigma. The road was not easy. At this point in his life, Turing is an anti-social loner with very little people skills. He succeeds quickly to alienate himself from his colleagues and the Commanding Officer in charge of cryptology.

THE IMITATION GAMEIt is working at the base in Benchley, that Turing gets the idea of building Christopher, the code-cracking computer. His only ally is an agent from MI6 (Mark Strong). In a message to Winston Churchill, Turing manages to become the head of the project fire and couple of members and hire Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightly). Joan has to hide the fact that she’s a brilliant mathematician from her parents and the army.

The third stage of the movie is Alan Turing as a young boy in school. We find that Turing was just as much an outcast as a child as he was as an adult. Subject to constant bullying, Alan finds his only one true friend, Christopher. This friendship is deeply personal for both Alan and Christopher and as you can imagine not only defines Alan as a person, but also strengthens the shell where he will live.

The Imitation Game is a fascinating, yet tragic story of a hero. The events leading up to the breaking of Enigma has all the edge of your seat drama you need for a true story. Our hero, Turning is weird, yet sympathetic and heroic. The end of the movie turns tragic, when Turning’s work and heroism can not save him from an unjust end. So, is Alan Turing a hero or a monster?

Focus – Movie Review

Will Smith returns to the big screen playing the leader of a team of con artists in Focus. The big con is set in New Orleans, the host of the Super Bowl. The target of the con is everybody on the street. Margot Robbie plays Jess, the new recruit Nicky met a few month ago. She’s eager to learn the art of the con, but Jess and crew have their natural suspicions.

Focus is a movie looking to find its place in the con-man genre but fails. Con movies are about two things: cons performing the con and the con itself. Focus is cool about showing us scenes of pickpocketing, orchestrated distractions, credit card stealing and the passing of money. But there is no real con in Focus. There’s no bad guy in Focus. If the audience has no one to root against, then it doesn’t have anyone to root.

Focus 02Instead, the movie is about this potential love story between Nicky and Jess, which is the last thing we want in a con movie. Now, that we’ve reduced the movie to a love story, the stakes are lowered, and the movie’s exciting plot points have no weight.

There’s a moment when Nicky (Will Smith) is about to gamble the team’s fortune away in a single football bet. His character appears to be throwing away everything in a single sports bet. Emotionally, we can’t be what he’s about to do and then the rug is pulled out. I’m sure this is exactly what the filmmakers hoped for in its audience, but for us it’s not enough.

Focus 01The movie’s main focus is on the relationship between Nicky and Jess (Margot Robbie). The relationship needs to be complicated to the point that you believe cons should never hook up. Instead, the relationship is complicated because it’s between two complicated messed up people.

Ultimately, Focus is not a bad film, nor is it a great film. The scenes are well acted, and the outcomes manage to appear dangerous, but ultimately feel too safe. This safe feeling is not how your audiences should feel at the end of the con. The feeling you need is that you, as an audience, have been fooled, and you’re thinking about the entire movie putting the pieces together. That never happens in Focus.

Fifty Shades of Grey – Movie Review

Full disclosure: I have not read the book, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I can only judge the movie by what’s on the screen. Fifty Shades of Grey is the dysfunctional love story between Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). As mentioned before, it’s based on the book of the same name by E.L. James.

Release Date: February 13, 2015
Rated R
Writer: Kelly Marcel
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay Harden

The movie is controversial, to say the least. It’s the Beauty and the Beast story with themes of sexual bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and Sadism/Masochism. Anastasia Steele is a quiet young woman, who is helping her roommate with an assignment by interviewing a young corporate CEO, Christian Grey.

Almost immediately, the two become infatuated with one another, and a relationship is formed. But this relationship is complicated. Born the son of a prostitute, Christian can only feel, when engaged in acts of sexual dominance. Before any courting begins with Anastasia, Christian presents her with a contract–a standard dominant submissive contract. Christian asks Anastasia to read, ask questions and sign the contract, so their relationship can move forward. If Anastasia chooses to sign the contract, she will be given a new life thanks to Grey’s riches. Maybe she can change him too.

It’s clear that Anastasia has questions, and the movie is about whether she will sign the contract or not. Anastasia clearly loves Christian, but would she be willing to submit herself to this relationship. Christian, on the other hand, has convinced himself that he can never truly love another person and the only way to have an ongoing relationship is through this contract. This is the similarities with Beauty and the Beast.

Then there is our introduction to the world of the dominant and the submissive. Right away, we learn the emotional state of people who submit themselves to this sexual lifestyle. For Christian, though, Jamie Dornan plays him as conflicted. Christian can only experience feelings and emotions through a dominant/submissive relationship. He’s like Dexter, but instead of murdering the target, Christian must use sexual torture instead. Like Dexter, there are rules to his violence, such as safe words and he believe that his partner is in it for the pain and not for love.

The movie follows Anastasia as she’s slowly introduced to this lifestyle in Christian’s playroom. It is here that the movie becomes the sexual thriller than men have been waiting for. There is a lot of nudity of Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey. In case you were wondering, a very hard R rating. Nothing about it comes close to an NC-17.

The drama is played out in a very harlequin romance way. Lots of talking about love and how each other expresses it. Like a good beast, Christian is shown at times melting and being a good boyfriend. Anastasia revels in her first sexual experience and at moments thinks that what is between Christian and herself is real love.

Fifty Shades of Grey is what I imagine is a tame version of what happens in the original E.L. James novel. Women may be disappointed by this. For men, Fifty Shades is like porn; you’ll tolerate sitting through the plot just to get to the good stuff.

Cinderella – Movie Review

Cinderella is a faithful live-action remake of Disney’s classic animated feature from 1950. Director Kenneth Branagh manages to bring a real fairy tale to life on the big screen.

Release Date: March 13, 2015
Rated PG
Writer: Chris Weitz
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Lily James, Cate Blancett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard

The beauty of Branaugh’s final work is his hard work to take the original animated feature and give it texture. Story-wise writer Chris Weitz fills in the gaps that may have been questioned by fans. Visually filmmakers create a larger than life, a true “fairy tale” about a orphaned girl who must stay strong to her character and herself.

At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to Ella and her mother and father. Although her father often travels, Ella’s mother instills in her heart her code of life, “Have courage and be kind.” Then her mother dies. This is where the story runs parallel to the animated classic as Ella’s father remarries, is placed in the custody of her step-mother and bullied by her step-sisters. The king of the land knows that he can not rule forever and forces his son to find a bride quickly.

After escaping into the forest, the prince stumbles upon Ella and is enamored. He poses as the son of a servant; Ella falls for the prince as well. Then we have a ball, fairy Godmother, alliances with another country, a conspiracy and a glass slipper.

Cinderella has everything going for it. A well-thought out story by writer Chris Weitz. A fairy tale with beautiful over-the-top backgrounds and costuming. The acting is top notch from newcomers Lilly James and Richard Madden and veterans Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter. The story does tend to drag a little and there are moments you wish the action moves faster.

Kenneth Branagh manages to give much-needed texture to the original 2D animated feature. The additions and detail do not feel heavy- handed, and the final product is a real life fairy tale very much in the tradition of Disney. Cinderella will reach the levels of Disney classic as the original animated feature did.

Other thoughts: It appears that there is a mysterious disease roaming this land that causes people to die suddenly for no apparent reason, including Ella’s mother and the King.

Chappie – Movie Review

In the near future, the war on crime in South Africa is assisted by a robotic police force. Soon an internal debate occurs. One side pushed by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), who believes a robotic police force become more effective if the robots were given a conscious, feelings and morality. As helpful as a maintaining the peace is, robots have so much more potential. On the other side is evil robot engineer, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman). Moore believes that robots can maintain the peace by themselves as long as you equip them with more weapons and have them controlled by humans in a remote location.

Release Date: March 6, 2015
Writer: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Sigourney Weaver

Believing that robots can be given a conscious, Wilson steals a damaged robot and reprograms it with human emotions. The movie’s namesake, Chappie is born. To complicate matters, South Africa is embroiled in a particularly violent gang war. A local gang lead by Ninja and Yo-Landi (as themselves) steals Chappie in hopes of finally having a robot their own to battle against the police. They also have to deal with a bigger gang that they owe money.

Ninja and Yo-Landi coerce/threaten Wilson to allow them to teach and raise Chappie. Wilson wants Chappie to grow-up and learns what it is to be human. Ninja and Yo-Landi want/need make Chappie a member of their gang. As you can see, the plot is becoming a little convoluted. OK, it’s becoming a little convoluted.

Chappie falls into the Artificial Intelligence genre of Science Fiction. Chappie is one of those movies that only purpose is to pull at your heartstrings and sympathize toward the main character. If Chappie fails to deliver on this goals, then to some degree the movie fails. And fail it does.

The main problem is that Chappie is not the most sympathetic character. He’s a police robot with harsh edges, and only Sharlto Copley’s performance can bring a level of humanity to his cold steel robotic exterior. The main caretakers, Ninja and Yo-Landi are apparently big rock stars in South African, but unknown here in the U.S.  They come across as pretty harsh gangsters and it’s really only Yo-Landi that softens during the course of the movie as she turns into Chappie’s maternal figure.

Hugh Jackman is a great villain as Vincent Moore. His mullet hairstyle makes his a little goofy and baffoonish, and we quickly turn on him as any villain should. Sigourney Weaver brings weight to her role as the head of the robotic division of the police force, but the performance is almost wasted.

The idea of sentient robots is hardly a new idea and done masterfully in the past. Blumkamp’s Chappie will not find its place in the canon of these movies because it fails to connect us emotionally with the main character, Chappie. Then there’s the ending, which takes a sudden turn into complete fantasy science fiction and any connection we have emotionally to the story at this point is completely severed.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 – Movie Review

Almost everyone is back in the continuing adventures of the Hot Tub Time Machine. When we last left our heroes, the world has changed for the better thanks to Lou (Rob Corddry). The self-centered hero stayed in the past and became filthy rich thanks to his invention of Lou-gle.

Things appeared to work for the better, Nick (Craig Robinson) is a Quincy Jones-type music producer thanks to songs he “created” such as “Stay (I Missed You)” which was not ever created by Lisa Loeb. Jacob (Clark Duke), learning in the first movie that Lou is his father, now lives under the shadow of his father.

In Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Lou is shot by a mysterious stranger from the future or maybe the past. The gang needs to use the hot tub to find the killer and hopefully, learn a few things about themselves. This is where our wacky adventure begins as the boys go to the future and run into Adam’s (John Cusack, who does not return) son, Adam Jr. (Adam Scott).

Just bringing back the characters from the original movie is not enough to make a good sequel.

Here’s the thing about sequels that movie studios do not understand. When you make a sequel the goal is to take the things we liked about the first movie and continue it into the second movie. This allows the audience to re-experience the joy of the first movie but in a different context.

The problem with Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is that the filmmakers took what we enjoyed about the first movie and discarded it. That may be a little harsh. Let me restate. The filmmakers are stupid and failed to recognize what we liked about the first movie. The movie has most of the characters back, except for John Cusack’s character (first mistake). The movie then continues the gag, a hot tub that travels through time, and made a time machine movie. The filmmakers, must have that the audiences wanted more time travel (second most important mistake).

What made the first movie work was the basic story. What happens when four friends who made nothing of their lives, are given a chance to go back in time and change a moment in time.

Instead we have a movie about time travel, with a loose moral message about is success really something that will make us happy. The movie spends a lot of time defining the rules of time travel (kind of) and playing around with the idea of exploiting the knowledge of the future.

There were some good jokes, but I never laughed out loud during the movie. We’ve seen these jokes in Back to the Future and they did not retell these jokes better. Really the only joke that worked was the reshoot of Lisa Loeb’s Stay video.