Saturday, July 26, 2014
Dearest Blog, today it was off to the cinema for a double-bill guaranteed to make me feel like a doughy old lump: Dwayne Johnson's Hercules and Scarlett Johansson's Lucy.
Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers.
First on the docket was Hercules.
Having successfully completed his legendary Twelve Labors, Hercules and his band of mercenaries find something besides gold that's worth fighting for.
Now, reader(s), you just knew this one was going to be silly, didn't you? Yeah, so did I, but it doesn't take itself very seriously at all, so I didn't mind. Dwayne Johnson is, as always, a truly engaging screen presence. You'll probably never see this guy carting home an Academy Award, but dude knows how to win and hold an audience.
You'll wonder why John Hurt and Ian McShane (one of my all-time favorites), even bother with stuff like this, but the movie is better for having them, so no complaints here. I'm sure their bank accounts have no complaints, either. The wonderful Rufus Sewell is also a welcome addition. Hercules' effects are decent and of course HUGE, if nothing too special. The story is passable entertainment, but, with such scintillating dialogue as, "Don't just stand there, KILL SOMEBODY!"...well...it isn't exactly Aaron Sorkin.
Hercules runs 98 minutes and is rated PG13 for "epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language, and partial nudity."
If it's just brainless fun, well, I'll take self-aware silliness like this over pompous drivel like the Planet of the Apes franchise any day.
Of a possible nine Weasleys, Hercules gets five and a half.
Next up was ScarJo headlining Lucy.
A party girl living abroad is forced to carry drugs out of the country. When the package leaks inside her, it expands her mind's capacity to unthinkable levels.
Okay, confession time. I am what Hollywood refers to as "part of the problem." I don't generally see movies that star women. Women's movies don't interest me, and even an action thriller starring a woman wouldn't have made my list on a stronger weekend. Having said that, I've been falling a little bit in love with Scarlett Johansson's voice of late (but who hasn't...am I right, Joaquin Phoenix??), and since it was a weak weekend and Hercules wouldn't work with another screening of Jersey Boys, Lucy wound up the default closer of my double-header.
I admit, I was surprised by Lucy, and not altogether pleasantly. I wasn't bored--which I feared I would be--but at some point the movie degenerates from a solid-if-predictable action movie to broadly-drawn science fiction, and, while I didn't hate it, I also didn't love it. Johansson is capable in the lead, not to mention pretty darn hot, and Morgan Freeman is steady if somewhat underused.
I very much like the idea, but am unsold on its execution, and if the little science-class movie clips were kind of clever the first dozen times, I got tired of that trick before the halfway mark. To its credit, the movie keeps moving and doesn't wear out its welcome, but it would have fared better had filmmakers toned down the sci-fi a bit.
Lucy clocks in at 90 minutes and is rated R for "strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality."
A little something different to break up your summer of superheroes and sequels, of a possible nine Weasleys, Lucy gets six...which would probably be at least half a Weasley higher if it were Louis instead.
Until next time..
Morgan Freeman and Scarlett Johansson headline this EuropaCorp/TF1 Films co-production directed by Luc Besson, and released by Universal Pictures. The story centers on a woman (Johansson) who falls prey to sinister underworld forces, but who gains superhuman abilities that allow her to strike back at her oppressors. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Release Date: Jul 25, 2014
Rated: R for Sexuality, Disturbing Images and Strong Violence
Runtime: 1 hr. 28 min.
Genres: Action/Adventure, Suspense/Thriller
Luc Besson has made some solid films over his career but he’s made some fairly terrible ones as well. Lucy falls into latter category in spite of Scarlett Johansson’s best Small Wonder impression. Besson waste a fairly decent premise which is rather intriguing for an instant before it devolves into a rapid vortex of stupidity all while playing it straight. Besson really thinks he’s making a thought provoking film that’s posing some serious questions, you can tell by the film student quick cuts of stock footage to hammer home points, instead it’s probably one of the stupidest movies I’ve seen this year. By the time the third act pops up and Morgan Freeman shows up, presumably having walked over from the set of Transcendence, you just have to hold out to see when this silliness will end which it does rather quickly and abruptly.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Cindy Prascik's Reviews of 22 Jump Street & The Purge: Anarchy + Bonus Afterthoughts on How to Train Your Dragon 2
Dearest Blog, it's Jamboree in the Hills weekend here in the upper Ohio Valley, and you know what that means: I spent BOTH days hiding out at the cinema. On tap: a second screening of How to Train Your Dragon 2, a first (very late) screening of 22 Jump Street, and the new release The Purge: Anarchy.
Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers.
First up was a second go at How to Train Your Dragon 2. Regular reader(s) will know I was gravely disappointed in this the first time I saw it, as the original ranks among my favorite movies of all time, and this one...well...this one doesn't. While I still don't agree the sequel is better than (or even as good as) the first, I will say I definitely warmed to it upon a second viewing. I found much more to laugh about, much less to be annoyed about, and remained in awe of its visual magnificence. If you don't bother for any other reason, do see it on the biggest screen you can find just for the privilege of seeing the best-looking movie ever.
After revisiting the film, I would probably upgrade it from my original seven and a half to eight of a possible nine Weasleys. Still not as good as the first, but it probably wasn't reasonable to expect that anyway, no matter who said it nor how often.
Next up was another sequel, 22 Jump Street. I'm well aware this has already left many theatres and if you were gonna see it you probably would have done by now. I'm still reviewing it for two reasons: first, because it's worth a good word if that good word convinces anybody buy the DVD or see it in a second-run cinema, but also so I don't forget it when it comes time for my year-end top ten, which at this writing would include it.
Having succeeded in their high school undercover mission, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) move on to college.
22 Jump Street is that rare sequel that is equal to its predecessor, hilarious from beginning to end, with a couple twists that rival most mysteries and thrillers. Hill and Tatum have a genuine chemistry that sells their relationship, and a comedic fearlessness that translates to great entertainment. The supporting cast is a riot, and laugh-out-loud physical humor combines with self-aware sequel jokes to make this the summer's funniest movie thus far.
22 Jump Street runs 112 minutes and is rated R for "language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity, and some violence."
If you're in the mood for a good laugh, this is your movie. Of a possible nine Weasleys, 22 Jump Street gets seven.
Finally, today it was The Purge: Anarchy.
A small group caught out during the annual Purge teams up to try to survive the night.
Two notes: I have seen only minutes of the first Purge, in passing. It is by all accounts terrible. The sequel was only on my radar--and barely, at that--because I've had a bit of a thing for Frank Grillo since The Grey. Yeah, I know I'm late to that party, so sue me. Earlier this weekend, I saw a review comparing this new Purge to Walter Hill's The Warriors, one of my top ten movies of all time, and it became a must see.
I didn't expect much, but I'm pleased to report I was very pleasantly surprised.
Let this be the first and probably only review to note that the annual Purge takes place on Gary Oldman's birthday, March 21. How's a transplanted Brit to celebrate his special day in a country that's doing THAT with it? I strenuously object, and respectfully petition for a change of Purge date.
Okay, back to business. As mentioned, The Purge: Anarchy is much better than I expected. I figured I'd indulge my crush in a so-so movie and be done with it, but I was actually engaged from start to finish. The concept is scary as hell, but provides some interesting food for thought. There's some wonky dialogue, but the movie is smart enough not to try getting too talkey. Tension holds steady throughout, no chance to feel certain of anyone's safety. The Halloween-masked antagonists are particularly effective, and their scenes especially well staged. There's plenty of violence, but nothing overly graphic or gory. Grillo is well suited to his role. I expect I'd feel pretty safe in his charge were my life threatened...or, hell, even if it weren't. The rest of the main cast does a decent job of: a.) appearing terrified, and b.) running for their lives. So. Much. Running. It's like a World Cup game, but without the diving. Finally, the movie gets full marks for not wearing out its welcome.
The Purge: Anarchy clocks in at 103 minutes and is rated R for "strong disturbing violence and language."
It may not be what you'd call a "summer fun" movie, but it's engaging, entertaining, and worth the price of admission. Of a possible nine Weasleys, I'm happy to give The Purge: Anarchy seven.
Until next time..
Saturday, July 19, 2014
A vengeful father comes to the aid of a mother, her teenage daughter, and a defenseless young couple on the one night of the year that all crime, including murder, is legal in this self-contained sequel from producer Jason Blum and original writer/director James DeMonaco. This unlikely group must stick together in order to survive the night. But little do they realize that their nightmare has only just begun. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Kiele Sanchez, Michael K. Williams, Zach Gilford, Carmen Ejogo
Release Date: Jul 18, 2014
Rated: R for Strong Disturbing Violence and Language
Runtime: 1 hr. 43 min.
Genres: Horror, Suspense/Thriller
The Purge was a solid film with a nice little premise which it never really expanded on, instead just turning it into a standard home invasion thriller. There was plenty of meat on the idea to explore which was left untouched by the original so I was looking forward to a sequel but worried it’d miss the point of it all. The Purge: Anarchy is actually a nice surprise even if the message is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. The story smartly gives us 3 storylines to follow which converge rather quickly. It’s enough to give us a feel for the world at play and some of the ideas extrapolated out stretching the not so subtle metaphor out and expanding the mythos. The characters outside of Frank Grillo’s, delivering a grizzled Punisher like performance, man out for vengeance are rather bland but they’re there to serve a purpose. We are given a Warriors like trek through the anarchy like streets during Purge night. At its core, the sequel feels a lot like some of the wonderfully ham fisted exploitation message movies from the 70’s and 80’s which isn’t a bad thing.