Movie Reviews 2017

Jumanji
Jumanji - Welcome to the Jungle (PG-13)
The Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Bobby Cannavale star in this “humans enter video game” comedy follow-up to the original 1995 Jumanji film. Didn’t see the original, but regardless, this one stands on its own. Basically, humans enter video game - find trouble waiting for them - must solve the levels to finish the game - without dying.

The set-up intro is weak. But stay with it because once the high school players enter the video game and turn into real star actors, the Hollywood writers and seasoned pros have fun with it. It ends up both clever and engaging.

If you are itching to go to the theater you could do a lot worse than this one. But it will make a terrific rental for sure.
- See it on the Big Screen
Blade Runner
Blade Runner 2049 (R)
The long awaited sequel to Blade Runner is here. And for those old enough to have watched the first one on the big screen it’s a nice slow burn of a ride. That’s code for it needed more editing to shorten the long scenes. For those younger folks out there, it’s a slow paced story like many films of the 80’s, but with a 3 hour running time that might put younger folks to sleep. Until the end.

This time around Ryan Gosling plays the Blade Runner (Officer K,) who has to round up the old replicant models that were less reliable than the 2.0 versions. Not that Harrison Ford, the original Blade Runner, was forgotten. As with the Star Wars franchise, he’s still here and figures prominently in the story.

Robin Wright plays tough as nails Lieutenant Johsi. But if it’s tough-women role-model films you’re looking for, this may be the film of the year as Blade Runner 2049 is chock full of hard core women. It’s also is chock full of bad-ass loud scenes like the one pictured above.

Those scenes are certainly the Blade Runner you were hoping for. There’s a lot at stake here and it’s best if you don’t know anything about it going in. But as the 3 hours plod meticulously along just know that as the end closes in, the pace will quicken, the throbbing bass-heavy techno music will rise to AC/DC levels, and the payoff is actually satisfying.
- See it on the Big Screen
Happy Death Day
Happy Death Day (PG-13)
Here’s a movie that takes a new twist on Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. In this version, a college sorority sister wakes up every morning (the same morning) just seconds after she is murdered. It takes her a while to figure out what’s happening because unlike other people in the movie, she’s never seen the Bill Murray version. But once she figures out what’s happening, it’s up to her to stop the cycle.

This is really not a horror movie and the PG-13 rating reveals just how soft the scares are. It’s not really very bloody either. We’re simply along for the ride comparing what we would do with what she does. There are a couple flaws that keep the movie from really hitting a home run.

Even if you get over the Groundhog Day aspects of the story, the paths that she takes to remedy her situation would quickly land her in jail, multiple times, if not a nuthouse. No audience member would follow her dizzy path.

Secondly, and fatally, she’s not a likable character. She’s not supposed to be likable throughout most of the movie, but when a college girl is THIS unlikable and ornery, no one would want to be around her. Not even horny college guys. Not even audience members. It’s one thing to be stuck-up. But she’s just awful and gross.

Other than that, you will be engrossed in this crazy tale.
- Wait for Rental
Skyline
Beyond Skyline (R)
Frank Grillo and Bojana Novakovic star in Beyond Skyline, a fight to save the world from space aliens. This is the follow up to the 2010 original Skyline film that according to the reviews was a real turkey. Never saw the original so I cannot comment on that entry.

The action starts as the LA Cop (played by Grillo) and his son are forced to take the subway home when the subway cars come to a sudden and very violent stop. The whole event just doesn’t feel right to those involved. It’s not long before the people in the subway tunnel realize everyone on the surface of the city is being drawn to and lifted into the sky (by the thousands) inside a green pulsating light. It sounds hokey but the scenes are actually very well done.

The alien machines that then drop down to clean up any human stragglers are menacing enough to give us a sense of quick impending doom. Not at all a drawn out War of the Worlds clean-up mission with slow moving tripods. We’re talking blunt, effective, take every prisoner quickly and we’re on to the next city clean-up action.

The showdown in the final third of the film occurs in the jungles of Southeast Asia. That topography always lends itself to rich exotic scenes, like Schwarzenegger’s Predator film and Jolie’s Tomb Raider. This is a fun fight-back film and there’s enough action here to warrant a trip to the theater. It will make a terrific rental as well.

The bloopers reel at the end is worth watching so stick around for that.
- See it on the Big Screen
Geostorm
Geostorm (PG-13)
With a star studded cast and a cool premise I had high hopes going into this movie. The trailers were well done. But the thin script and made-for-TV feel really makes for a lightweight end-of-the-world movie.

Gerard Butler, Ed Harris, Andy Garcia and other faces you probably know all team up to save the world. The lines delivered sound like first draft stuff and you know where most of it is going from the outset. We’ve seen CGI footage of monster waves taking out cities and freezing cold air (I’m assuming Pluto temps) that can freeze waves of ocean water solid mid-tube. We’ve also seen it done better in previous genre films like this.

Forget the crazy weather stuff . . . the hard science makes no sense either. The Space Shuttle was the worst space vehicle ever designed, killing more people (14) than all other space vehicles combined. It was overly complicated, required constant massive repairs, never came close to hitting any kind of schedule and was simply too expensive and dangerous to fly. It had the highest fatality odds of any vehicle of any kind in history. A U.S. built deathtrap. NASA was forced to throw in the towel and let the Russians take over the job of getting our astronauts to and from space. To think we’d go back to that same flawed vehicle idea is ludicrous on all levels.

Then there’s emergency space walking. A hole in a space suit is lethal. Flying debris in space will cause holes in your suit. If you thought the film Gravity was far fetched, that’s a National Geographic Documentary compared to this farce.

I expect you’ll be doing too much eye-rolling to really enjoy the nonsense they are throwing at you in this would-be epic climate disaster sci-fi movie. It should have gone straight to video.
- Wait for HBO
American Made
American Made (R)
Tom Cruise needed a hit.

There, I said it. It needed to be said. After two recent big flops (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and The Mummy) a third stinker in a row would have really dinged his continued star trajectory. Luckily, American Made is right down his acting alley and he nails it as a pilot (again) named Barry Seal (based on the true story of Barry Seal) who walks away from flying TWA jets and instead flies guns, drugs or literally whatever is needed below everyone’s radar from country to country.

As all successful bank robbers and drug dealers quickly find out, spending bags of cash is downright difficult. So difficult it usually leads to their downfall. I’m not sure how much embellishment was done with this true story, but I don’t recall ever seeing this much cash amassed by any one person on film. Ridiculous amounts of cash. If it’s only half true it’s still remarkable. Add to that the refresher course in American underhanded politics in the 80’s and there is a lot of good plot to chew on here.

Everyone onscreen is totally believable. Sarah Wright stars as Mrs. Seal. She’s been in more than her share of awful movies so this terrific performance should help her career as well
- See it on the Big Screen
IT
It (R)
The long awaited big screen adaptation of King’s iconic novel It is here. For those not familiar with the story, a town in Maine has a problem with its population disappearing at an alarming rate over a long history. Though the townsfolk (adults) don’t really seem to notice this phenomenon much, the kids in town suddenly do. Let the battle of good VS. evil begin.

Here, the evil is a scary clown named Pennywise. If he had a Tinder page, it would go something like this . . . “I like red balloons, hanging out in sewers and really enjoy going out to eat - children.”

There is also a lot of Hollywood-conjured-up school kid angst with bullies picking on the losers in school. The “picking on” is taken to over the top levels, but that’s Hollywood. You have the usual mix of a United Nations group of kids and one Molly Ringwald lookalike to round out the romantic drive of the teen team. There are some good lines and scenes that bring you back to your junior high youth, but there seems to be so much dialog to be spouted out of their mouths, all the time, that they must have rushed their lines simply to shoehorn every stinking syllable into the two hour+ movie.

Then there is the scene where the gang of kids volunteer to clean up a bathroom that is totally covered from floor to ceiling with blood. A professional crime scene clean-up crew would want extra pay to tackle such a job. The fact that children did it is the most implausible scene in a decade of far fetched stories.

The evil protagonist is scary enough and it’s effective for the first half of the film. But the more you are exposed to the clown (and the special effects that animate him) the less scary he is. And since the movie is long, there is too much time at the end where you are hardly scared at all.

The only reason to see this movie in a theater is to envelop yourself in a room full of screaming viewers. At least for the first half.
- Wait for Rental
Mother Film
Mother (R)
Well that was something!

That’s what you will say to yourself as you leave the theater shaking your head after witnessing the movie Mother. What exactly it was . . . is up for debate. It’s wacky and there is too much going on to even take it all in.

The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. Jennifer Lawrence plays a wife who spends all her time fixing up their dilapidated house and doting on her wacky husband. Javier Bardem plays the husband/writer who never writes and is a bit off (to put it mildly). Maybe not Jack Nicholson in The Shining off, but close.

Then visitors show up. Lots of them. Too many of them. You’ve likely had ant infestations in your house that had fewer bodies streaming in than this gal has to deal with. What the?

Every extra in Hollywood had a cameo in this film. And the keg party down the street showed up too. And then they must have mentioned it on Twitter and the the whole town of Cleveland showed up too. Insanity!

It’s overkill and though the acting is top notch by all the veterans, the script is a visual acid trip that you may not want to take.
- Wait for HBO
The foreigner
The Foreigner (R)
Jackie Chan is back.

Here he plays an aging Chinese man (Quan) who seeks revenge after his daughter is killed in a terrorist attack in London. Pierce Brosnan plays Liam Hennessy, a British government official who happens to have Irish roots. So when bombs start going off again, like they did all too frequently back in the days of the angry IRA, a lot of people expect Liam to find out who the bombers are. Quan wants Liam to find out too, so Quan can take care of them himself.

I find it odd that the illuminating quick phone exchange between Chan and Brosnan we saw in the trailers:

Brosnan - “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”

Chan - “Yes I do. Do you?”

was cut from the final movie. Those were great lines and I’m sure everyone in the theater was waiting for that moment.

But it doesn’t matter. Chan wants revenge in a Liam Neeson Taken kind of way, but with with more explosive charges. It just so happens this Quan character has a lot of special skills too, and the terrorists have awakened a sleeping giant.

Like a lot of politicians, Liam has a lot of baggage to juggle, which makes him a more believable and interesting character than one would expect from this role. Jackie Chan plays a less funny version of his usual on-screen action prowess and quickly morphs from a simple old man to a pissed off Rambo in the woods menace to anyone who gets in his way. It’s a good role for the aging Chan.

The violent explosions certainly bring back the long forgotten memories of those days when the IRA was active in Great Britain. The onscreen visuals are well done and make you feel like you just saw a bombing live. I’m not sure it has been long enough for audiences in London to watch a film like this. They experienced frequent random bombings like this for decades from the 70’s until the early 2000’s. One day you’re just sitting in a bar . . . and boom. A little too close to home, I expect.

For the rest of us, it’s well worth a trip to the theater to see how this story plays out
- See it on the Big Screen
Spider-Man
Spider-Man Homecoming (PG-13)
Marvel Comics Studio gives us yet another version of the now tired series of Spider-Man movies.

Tom Holland (II) stars as the young new web-spinning hero and Michael Keaton plays the Vulture, the latest villain to fight Spider-Man. Keaton is believable and shines in this otherwise made for TV movie.

Actor Tom Holland was a real gamble. He’s young (he can finally drink this year) and small framed with the voice of a middle school kid. Think back to all the best films you’ve ever seen about high school and the fine actors were more mature than real high school kids, and thank god for that. But Holland actually seems like a 15-year-old high school kid with real insecurities, painfully obvious shortcomings, and the inability to drive a car much less run around in a souped up Spider-Man suit. He’s a Spider-Boy who shouldn’t yet have a license to wear the suit. It’s like watching a trick-or-treater who refuses to take off his costume the next day.

Painful. Watching him gets old immediately.

Then there’s his best friend in the world who is mega-smart, but like a two-year-old, has the complete inability to keep anything secret. Anything. Ever. He blurts out secrets like a chatty caged parrot. Incessantly. No matter how serious it is. Even in the middle of class.

Only in the mind of a Hollywood writer.

And then there’s the tacked on love interest. Every hero needs a love interest. But there is zero chemistry here. None. No real interplay whatsoever. If there was any reason for this high school debate-team Senior girl to hook up with this Junior loser (and I mean loser in the worst possible sense) it must have been left on the cutting room floor because we never see how on earth that could ever happen.

Only in the mind of a Hollywood writer.

The ending battle in the sky is cartoon clown-show nonsense. You’ll be shaking your head and saying to yourself, “Whatever. Just finish this crash and let’s move on.” Or something like that.

What a disaster. And unfortunately it will make gobs of money so we can expect more of it. And for god’s sake, don’t wait for the final credits to finish rolling so you can see the extra ending. They are out of clever ideas. They’ll literally just laugh at you for thinking they would go to all that effort.
- Wait for HBO
Atomic Blonde1
Atomic Blonde (R)
Charlize Theron, James McAvoy and John Goodman star in the spy VS. spy thill ride that plays more like a John Wick film than anything else you’ve seen recently. Sure there is double-crossing and some plot tension going on here that all takes place just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but what you really get for your ticket price is Charlize Theron wiping out scores of foes in serious gun play, knife play and hand to hand combat while the soundtrack plays the MTV hits of the 80’s. If that period of time rings a bell with you, you’ll feel right at home here.

Theron covers the gambit from looking like a top model to looking like she barely survived a bare knuckle bar fight with Mike Tyson. She also finds time to have hot sex with another female spy on the side. It’s always nice to see a little camaraderie among the female spies out there. Not since Basic Instinct have we had such a rich, violent, action packed adventure featuring a woman star onscreen.
- See it on the Big Screen
Baby Driver
Baby Driver (R)
A young man (called Baby) suffers tinnitus after a devastating loss when he was a child. He wears headphones jacked into his multitude of full iPods in order to drown out the constant hum and set the soundtrack of his daily life, whether simply walking down the street or driving a getaway car (in expert racing fashion) in much the same way as the Transporter genre of films. Except here the music on the soundtrack is literally playing in Baby’s headphones.

He drives a multitude of very colorful thieves from the heist locations to the mastermind’s hideout where they lay low and divvy up the money. Kevin Spacey plays the cold mastermind and has that role down to an eerie science.

With the likes of Spacey and Jamie Foxx you know you are going to get great characters onscreen, but the other less known actors and actresses here easily stand toe to toe with the veterans. Lily James plays a cute waitress named Debora, who seems to the viewer like she just stepped out of a time machine from a 1950’s diner. It works. You want more of that vibe, and they give it to you.

The bandits Baby has to work with are ruthless penitentiary level thugs that have little patience for a silent baby faced kid, much less one literally named “Baby.” He obviously doesn’t belong so the tension is usually thick whenever Baby is in the presence of thugs. Be aware that the onscreen violence quickly pushes the movie to its R rating. This is no-nonsense, guns blazing robberies with frequent attempted escapes from the law.

Eisa Gonzalez plays a pretty thug named Darling, who is one half of what could be called a Bonnie and Clyde relationship. The top notch, ruthless performance and chemistry of this duo could make for a great separate film on its own. Good stuff. Directors Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron (not affiliated with this film) have taken notice of Gonzalez and will feature her in their upcoming film, “Alita: Battle Angel.” Regardless of how that film turns out we need to see more from her.

This movie is filled from start to finish with great acting and rich character development. The action is non-stop, the editing is crisp, clean and clever and the soundtrack is pumping with hits covering many decades. Summer is here and thus far this is the best film of 2017.
- See it on the Big Screen
It Comes at Night
It Comes at Night (R)
Joel Edgerton stars with a group of utterly forgettable other actors in possibly the worst film of 2017, and it’s only June!

The critics (who overwhelmingly loved this movie) must have been under a spell and mistyped their label of “Horror” when categorizing this film. Perhaps they can’t categorize a film under the label “Horrible” but I certainly can.

It Comes at Night is not a Horror movie . . . it’s a Horr-ible movie.

Here’s a sentence that correctly uses the word “scary” when describing this movie.

It Comes at Night is so awful, it’s scary.

The all too familiar theme has a group of people hiding in a fortified home in the woods after a mysterious plague apparently wiped out humanity. Every other movie you’ve ever seen with that set-up was better and scarier than this one. Every one. Even TV shows with this theme - that we can watch for free.

A visitor suddenly shows up in the middle of the night, pounding on the only door into the house. This is the only scene (very early in the film) that shows promise. Something pounding loudly on a door is the highlight of this film . . . and it happens once.

For some reason zombies were implied for those heading to the theater along with a promise that this movie is terrifying. More than one critic said this film is terrifying. How old are those critics? Nine?

It Comes at Night is not terrifying, it’s terri-ble.

The characters are not folks anyone would be sympathetic with, the scares never really materialize, and unfortunately the climatic ending never materializes either. As the house lights came up, the movie patrons were all looking at each other with bemused looks on their faces. How on earth were we all hoodwinked into sitting through this movie?

It Comes at Night sucks. Avoid it like the plague it loosely dangles in front of us.
- Avoid!
The Fate of the Furious
The Fate of the Furious (PG-13)
Yes, the Fast & Furious franchise is still alive and well even if the implausibility knob is fully engaged at 10 throughout. But that’s to be expected whenever this band of high-revving drivers sets out (once again) to literally Save the World.

Kurt Russell (acting since 1963) can still carry his scenes, Charlize Theron shows everyone she can totally own any hot villain scenes, and then there’s Tyrese Gibson who shows us he’s still a no-talent clown.

If you think they couldn’t possibly outdo the outlandish scenes and effects of the last one, rest assured they spent the moola and the writers were given plenty of rope. Like the film T3 - Rise of The Machines, here we have another scene using the same weak plot device where 100 parked cars of all current makes and models suddenly start on their own to become auto-driving vehicles that perform with Blue Angels precision in a choreographed ballet of movement through the city streets of New York. It’s cartoonish in its delivery and insults the intelligence of an audience that shows up for these films mostly because they know a thing or two about cars.

Sometimes it’s best not to know too much about the plot of a film before you enter the theater. This is one of those instances. If you like the series then see it immediately and become as baffled as the onscreen team when Dom (Vin Diesel) suddenly betrays his team and goes rogue early on in this 2 1/4 hour film
- See it on the Big Screen
King Skull Island
Kong - Skull Island (PG-13)
Kong is back and thankfully Hollywood changed up the plot enough to breathe new life into the old story we’ve all grown up with. This is not your father’s King Kong show.

This time it’s a quest to find and examine a strange hidden island just after the Vietnam war ends (before the Russians find it and explore it). With a military escort, a small band of scientists head off to the island to see what’s really lurking there.

John Goodman plays the head of the exploratory group while Samuel L. Jackson plays the hard ass colonel who hates the fact that the war (any war) is over. Tom Hiddleston plays the black ops tracker, which you seem to need in any movie like this. Brie Larson stars as a combat photographer. There are other big stars as well but it’s best not to mention them as they are nice surprises as the story unfolds. If you read other reviews, I’m sure they revealed too much already.

It’s always fun to see movies featuring the 70’s to revisit all the old tech of the day. Kodak black and white film, clunky cameras, slide projectors and junky record players. You’d have to visit a dump or stop by a millennial’s apartment to see that stuff today. For those old enough to remember the hits of the early 70s, the soundtrack is killer. Very similar to Apocalypse Now in both feel and vibe. It works well as the helicopters take off from the aircraft carrier toward a massive storm that no fixed-winged aircraft nor helicopter would dare enter, but it makes for great moviemaking. Once through the storm that protects the island from the rest of the world, they enter a world very reminiscent of Jurassic Park. But since this is 1975, none of them have seen Jurassic Park yet so they have no clue what they are in for even after their first encounter with ginormous animals that shouldn’t exist.

The least plausible moment has to be the inept flying skills of every single military helicopter pilot in the film. Shame to portray such professionals as the Keystone Kops of aviation experts.

But all that aside, they meet Kong and other wicked animals as well. You’ll be on the edge of your seat and will have no idea where it’s headed at any point in time. That is certainly refreshing in today’s world of Hollywood retreads.
- See it on the Big Screen