14 July 2014


Cars was not a great film.  Cars 2 was even worse.  Only because I am a glutton for punishment and my two-year-old loves all types of transportation, I rented Planes from the local library.  The trailer was nothing special.  The box office run was sufficient enough to spawn a sequel the following year, coming out this Friday.  The voice cast is led by Dane “My TV Show Got Cancelled Before It Aired an Episode” Cook.  This was a direct-to-video film that Disney decided to give a small theatrical push.  Remember, Toy Story 2 was supposed to go direct-to-video as well.  Things were not looking good for this 90 minute flick, but I hit PLAY anyway.

Planes opens with Dusty (Cook) daydreaming of racing against to Navy Fighter planes, and winning.  Why is this sequence a daydream?  He is a crop duster plane.  He dreams of being a racing plane, and his good buddy Chug (Brad Garrett), a fuel truck, tries to help Dusty achieve his dream.   Dusty tries to appeal the competitive spirit of an old WWII Corsair named Skipper (Stacy Keach), but is denied.  Dottie (Teri Hatcher), the local mechanic at the airport, thinks that racing is a bad idea for Dusty, as he is not designed for it.

Nothing will deter the crop duster, and Dusty goes to the local time trials.  After a stupendous lap, he places sixth, otherwise known as the first loser.  Saddened he goes home.  Later, the fifth place qualifier is disqualified for performance enhancing drugs, and Dusty is allowed to compete.  Now, Skipper decides to help.  After a training montage, Dusty arrives in NYC to start the Seven Leg race around the world.

Yes, most of the characters are transplants from Cars.  Chug = Mater.  Skipper = Doc.  Dottie = Sally.  Yes, the story is similar.  But, what Planes did better than Cars is streamlined the story.  It is almost a full half-hour shorter.  A lot of reviews I read just complained about it being bland, unoriginal, and a rip-off.  To that, I agree.  I can explain it, but I really enjoyed Planes. 

The voice cast is another shining aspect.  Other than the ones I already mentioned and John Cleese, the rest of relative nobodies that really excelled when given the chance.  The main villain, Ripslinger is voiced by Roger Craig Smith.  He is an accomplished voice actor, but no one knows him.  Another competitor, El Chupacabre is voiced by Carlos Alazraqui.  Again, a veteran voice actor with no mainstream appeal.  Maybe, paying all that money to big name actors to voice every role, some money can be saved, and the quality can be heightened with a slightly lesser known cast.  Just a thought.

I have since rented it again, and decided to go ahead and buy it.  There is just something in the story and the characters I love.  The score by Mark Mancina is great.  The original songs are fun.  I truly believe that the song “Nothing Can Stop Me Now” was missed by the Academy.

Is Planes on the same plane as Toy Story 2?  Hell no!  It is still better than Cars, Cars 2, Brave, and I will say it, Wall-E.  I am excited for this weekend’s sequel, Planes: Fire and Rescue.  My only concern is that Dusty seems like now he wants to fight forest fires.  Maybe Dusty should just stick to crop dusting or racing.  Still, the movie looks entertaining.

RATING: 7/10

07 February 2014

The Monuments Men - A 6-Part Mini-Series, but only as one part...

The Monuments Men vacated its original December release date to make room for The Wolf of Wall Street.  Writer/Director/Actor George Clooney assured everyone that it was not because his latest film was not Oscar worthy.  He just wanted more time to make the film better.  Let’s see how this changed worked out for The Monuments Men.

The Monuments Men opens with the Ghent Altar artwork being taken down by the priests.  They are trying to get it out of Ghent before the Nazis show up and steal it.  This is the basis for the film.  Frank Stokes (Clooney) convinces FDR (Michael Dalton) to allow him to assemble a team of architects and artists to go into the war to save art and buildings before they are destroyed.  Behind the opening credits, we see Stokes assemble his motley crew: James Grainger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), Donal Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin).

They head into France via Normandy behind the D-Day battle.  They then make their way to an Allied forces camp where they meet resistance by the Army.  Stokes also meets and commandeers Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas), a young Private who has German heritage and the ability to speak it.  The Monuments Men split up and head out to locate and protect the art of Europe.  Grainger is sent to meet with Clair Simone (Cate Blanchett), who worked for the Germans against her will.  She knows what art is where, but she does not trust Grainger and his men.  The rest of film simply follows these men as they track down and recover what they can.

The Monuments Men biggest drawback is its tone.  It is listed as a comedy-drama, but Clooney and frequent collaborator Grant Heslov do not balance this at all.  It is quite distracting.  All of the actors play their parts well, even if they do not get the screen time they deserve.  The Monuments Men tries to tell too many stories and utilize too many characters in too little time.  If Clooney and Heslov, who also produced it, would have extended this into a mini-series, this would have fit alongside The Pacific and Band of Brothers.  Not quite the same tone, but the story is as sprawling.  There is just too much going on to fully develop anything well.

The move from December to February is never a good one for a film, especially for one that boasts the cast that The Monuments Men does.  It feels like Ocean’s 11 via Saving Private Ryan.  Despite all its flaws, I found it quite entertaining.  But, when it comes to George Clooney, the man behind Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March, I expect better.  With the cast that includes Academy Award winners and nominees, Emmy nominees, Golden Globe winners and nominees, the bar is higher than normal.  You could do worse at the theater though: Legend of Hercules and I, Frankenstein.

RATING: 5/10

31 January 2014

Labor Day - Your Mom's Favorite Movie of the Year

Have you ever wondered what a theatrical release of a Lifetime movie would be like?  Me neither.  But, now I know. Labor Day follows Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) over the long weekend in 1987.  Adele is basically a recluse.  Her husband Gerald (Clark Gregg)     left her for his secretary, leaving Henry as her keeper.  We get all of this from a voiceover by older Henry (Tobey Maguire).

One morning, Henry discovers that he has outgrown his pants.  So, off he and Adele go to the local store to buy new ones.  While there, Frank (Josh Brolin) approaches Henry and “asks” for a lift.  It turns out he is an escaped convict.  He jumped out of a second-floor hospital window after his appendectomy.  Back at Adele’s house, Frank shows he is not such a bad guy and makes chili.  He plans to wait out the night, and leave for the train tracks in the morning.  The next morning comes, but no trains due to the holiday.  So, he stays with Adele and Henry and becomes a handyman fixing things, including Adele’s heart.  BLAH!

Throughout this terrible story, there is a storyline featuring the backstory of Young Frank (Tom Lipinski) and his wife Mandy (Maika Monroe).  We learn why Frank is in jail.  Also strung throughout is some history about Adele and Gerald.  The scene that finally explains what happened to their marriage is the only scene worth a shit in this melodramatic poopfest.

Labor Day is a book by Joyce Maynard.  I am sure that, as a book, this story works.  As a film, however, it is a mess.  Jason Reitman’s screenplay cannot decide on a tone.  See the two vastly different posters they used.  The first is a thriller looking one with Brolin holding Winslet in a death grip.  The other, they are making lovey-dovey faces at each other.  I think it is supposed to be a romantic drama, but there is too much outright comedy in it.  This causes huge disconnects in the film.  Jason Reitman’s screenplay offers terrible dialog that the seasoned actors are forced to try and deliver without laughing at each other.

Other aspects of the film make no sense to me.  The movie starts with a text on screen “1987.”  Then, the opening events happen with Frank going home with Adele and Henry.  The next morning (?), text on screen says “FRIDAY.”  Are we to assume then that everything we just witnessed happened on Thursday?  SATURDAY, SUNDAY, and MONDAY follow, but then on Tuesday, there is no text.  Why not?  Then, during the crappy, rushed, happily-ever-after ending, there is one scene where Henry, now played by Dylan Minnette, has a conversation with Gerald.  ONE SCENE!  Why not use Gattlin or Tobey?  Why cast this guy for one scene?  Finally, as the sappy ending is rolling out, Tobey Maguire finally makes his on screen appearance, but HE HAS NO LINES!

I expect better from the man behind Thank You for Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air.  All of these received some awards attention.  As I left the theater, thoroughly bored, I noticed so many older (post 55) women drying their eyes.  I swallowed a laugh.  The neat and tidy ending is by far the worst aspect of this 111 minute “drama.”  Everything is happily-ever-after.  Barf.

RATING: 5/10

28 January 2014

Jack Ryan: Hot Mess

The character Jack Ryan first appeared in print back in 1984 in Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October.  He then first appeared in 1990, portrayed by Alec Baldwin, in the film version.  The character has since seen eight additional novels and three additional films.  Harrison Ford replaced Baldwin for two films (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) before the first planned reboot cast Bed Affleck (The Sum of All Fears).  Now, here we are, twelve years after the failed reboot with yet another reboot.  This time Chris Pine is in the role.  This film has seen many directors come and go, and countless screenwriters.  The preview looks decent enough, so off I went.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens on 9/11/01 with Ryan (Pine) in college in England.  We then cut to Ryan in a helicopter over Afghanistan in the military.  The helicopter is hit, and he saves his two fellow crewmen.  He has a severe back trauma that leaves him almost paralyzed.  His rehabilitation doctor is Cathy Muller (Kiera Knightley).  While there, he catches the eye of Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), of the CIA.  Ryan begins to walk and run, and is offered a covert job with the CIA.  He is to analyze bank transactions on Wall St and look for irregularities.  We jump another eight years, bringing us to “now.”

Ryan finds an anomaly with a Russian partner with his bank.  He is instructed to find his way to Moscow to run an audit and track the money.  His now live in girlfriend Cathy wants to go, but is denied.  So, they decide to meet in Paris when his work is done in Moscow.  Upon his arrival in Mother Russia, his chauffeur Embee (Nonso Anozie) attempts to kill him.  Now, Harper arrives in Moscow because this mission just got serious.  Ryan meets with the head of the bank Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh).  Cherevin quickly shows Ryan that the questionable money and assets has been disposed of, and there is nothing to worry about.  He also informs Ryan that Cathy has arrived at his hotel and they should go out to dinner that night.  Now, Cathy is dragged into the mission as she finds out Ryan’s dark secret, he is in the CIA.  Ryan uses his super-powered brain to deduce the entire evil Russian plot on an airplane back to the USA.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a mess of a film.  The opening twenty minutes of backstory is thrust upon you.  We are supposed to connect with Jack because 9/11 affects him.  Then, he is a hero in Afghanistan.  Now, he leads a covert life with his doctor girlfriend. Then, we are thrust into some huge global conspiracy.  Jumpy, jumpy, jumpy.  The core plot is decent enough, but it gets lost in the mess of the rest of the film.  This story does not come from any of the books written by Tom Clancy, and it feels that way.  The previous films are all well thought out and have depth to them.  Shadow Recruit never seems to get its feet under itself.  This could be attributed to the plethora of rewrites it has gone through.  The final script is attributed to Adam Cozad and David Koepp.  If this is the best script through all of the development hell this movie went through, the other drafts must have been truly awful.

The action is over the top, and downright stupid at times.  Branagh is not really known for his action films, but did a decent job with Thor.  This time around, the magic and mysticism is absent.  A lot of the acting is off as well.  Pine puts on the same performance that he does as Capt. Kirk, with a little less bravado.  Kevin Costner’s Harper is no replacement for James Earl Jones’s Admiral Greer, but he is not too bad.  Branagh is a great villain, even if the accomplished thespian’s Russian accent does not suit him.  Then, there is Kiera Knightley.  I hate her.  I hate the way she moves her mouth.  I hate her acting.  I hate her in this film.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ruins what it has going for itself with terrible action, and an overly complicated and convoluted plot that plays out too neatly.  I am not sure that this will cover its modest $60 million budget domestically.  Paramount will have a hard decision as to whether or not continue this second attempt to reboot the franchise.  Ben Affleck’s film was financially successful, but was unable to ignite a franchise.  Bottom line: There are better thrillers, better action movies, and better adventure films than this.  Yet, it is way better than Die Hard 5.

RATING: 4/10

17 January 2014

The Nut Job

Somehow, last year, I did not see a single animated movie.  I know that in the coming years, with The Boy, I am sure that this will not happen again.  So, the first new animated movie to hit theaters in 2014, The Nut Job, opens this weekend, and I thought I would go give it a gander.  I knew next to nothing about the film.  I saw no trailer, just the poster.  I only knew that Will Arnett and Liam Neeson voiced some characters.  Basically, I went it with a completely open and blank mind.

The Nut Job follows Surly (Arnett), an outcast squirrel, in his attempt to secure enough nuts for the winter hibernation.  Surly and his rat friend Buddy spy a nut cart.  During their attempted heist, two squirrels from The Park are also on a mission.  Andie (Katherine Heigl) and Grayson (Brendan Fraser) have been sent by The Park leader Raccoon (Neeson).  Their giant oak tree does not have enough food to sustain the animal population.  The two teams cause mass chaos as they interfere with each other.  The end result is a burnt down stash of food in The Park.  Surly is banished to live in the city.  He comes across the Nut Shop.  The Nut Shop is a front by a mobster and his goons to rob the bank across the street.  Surly and The Park animals devise a plan to rob the nuts while the mobsters devise a plan to rob the bank.

The Nut Job tries to be creative in paralleling the mobsters and their robbery and the animals and their robbery.  “Tries” being the key word.  Really, The Nut Job just failed.  It failed to be original.  It failed to be funny.  It is not a bad film, but it certainly is not worth your time or money to be seen in theaters.  It felt more like a ripoff of Over the Hedge than anything.  Raccoon is Vincent the Bear.  Surly is RJ.  King and the mobsters are Gladys.  The animals need to collect food for the winter.  I could not believe that I got up on a Saturday morning and drove out into Chesterfield for this extremely average film.  I wasted my time.  Don’t waste yours.

RATING: 3/10