April, May, June, July, August 2016 Capsule Reviews

GHOSTBUSTERS

Directed by Paul Feig

Starring Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones

**

Out of ****

The most enjoyable aspect of this new iteration of Ghostbusters is that it’s essentially a 2 hour middle finger to the fanboy misogynist losers who spent the last 6 months bitching and moaning that rebooting a completely unremarkable 80s cult-comedy for tweens and casting four women in the lead roles, was ruining their childhood.  If films like The Thing, Total Recall and Robocop are not sacred enough to avoid a remake – I can assure you neither is freaking Ghostbusters. At least this remake or reboot or whatever, invokes a novel concept – a new film with four male leads would probably have been filled out by a comedy troupe that we’ve all grown tired of, or a set of current Saturday Night Live cast-members that most people couldn't pick out of a lineup.  As noted though, this movie is 2 hours and it is unfortunately more of a chore to sit through than anything else. With most of the jokes falling flat – and seemingly rushed, post-production ghosts that look like floating light brights accompanied by smoke-machines; it would feel disingenuous to claim this is as any good.  The lone highlight is the elbow in the ribs shots at the ‘sad pale ones’ who got all bent out of shape that Paul Feig and team had the audacity to cast characters from a 30 year old movie (and its completely crap sequel), as women. Ghostbusters lives for the moments of the (less than subtle) sad-sack, man-child villain lamenting about how he’s going to bring end to this world that's treated him unfairly; while the people around him at his hotel toilet-cleaning job piss all over him (figuratively). 

In theaters now. 

 

SAUSAGE PARTY

Directed by Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon

Starring Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek

*1/2

Out of ****

Sausage Party happens to boast sociological and religious allegory that’s an inch deep and a foot long, not unlike Seth Rogen’s hot dog character Frank. There’s probably a funny 10 minute short here that would have played great in front of the next live action Rogen production, unfortunately that 10 minutes worth of material is used to prop-up an hour and a half movie that feels two hours too long.  Not sure who the nuance-free religious commentary was targeted to, but I doubt it was the 15 year olds that shared the theatre with me; considering their joy seemed focus on the downpour of profanity devoid of punch-lines. To summarize - a bunch of adversarial sentient foods and grocery products, wander the supermarket together looking for the way home. If this sounds like your typical Pixar-fare than you've uncovered the other main target of Sausage Party's lackluster vitriol. A lampoon should not play so similarly to what it's lampooning, and Sausage Party is as boring to sit through as the Disney Juggernaut's most mailed-in entries. Augmenting this now rote plot mechanic with pun-less profanity and shoddy animation doesn't exactly make for a successful takedown of those box-office titans, no matter how many times the words sausage and buns are uttered (LOL, GET IT?).

In theaters now. 

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Starring Way too many people

**1/2

Out of ****

What a drag this would have been if Marvel had not decided to shoehorn some levity into the third act, in the form of Ant-Man and Spider-Man. Part sequel to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, part sequel to the last Avengers movie, part preview for the 11 other Marvel movies coming out in the next few years - and all over the god damn place.  Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Snark er I mean Stark, rather rudely interrupts the charming Chris Evan's third solo vehicle, and slowly marginalizes the star of the franchise. The tone of the film is mostly dour, featuring a lot of scenes of Iron Man and The First Avenger yelling subtext at each other in various white conference rooms and airport parking lots. Eventually these squabbles over the need for our heroes' overwhelming power to be reigned-in leads to the Civl War of the title. The Avengers (or the ones that were available to shoot for a few weeks), arbitrarily choose sides between Iron Man and the Cap; a lot of our favorite heroes return including Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Ant Man, Spider-Man and Jeremy Renner. I thoroughly enjoyed Renner wearing his absolute contempt for the material on his sleeve, smirking the whole time, while acting in a completely different film. Fortunately the climactic 20 minute fight scene is such a spectacularly entertaining left-turn from the rest of this morose self-important nonsense, that it almost makes the whole thing worthwhile. 

Available on VOD and Blu Ray 9/2/2016

 

 

THE JUNGLE BOOK

Directed by Jon Favreau

Starring Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley

**1/2

Out of ****

Some stunning animation and photography, along with a star studded voice ensemble; drag an otherwise pedestrian production across this reimagining of the 1967 Disney animated classic (inspired by the Rudyard Kipling collection of short stories). Painstakingly animated with lush detail that gives birth to photorealistic animals, every bit of fur moves like it has a life of its own. The fact that it took 5 hours to render any frame that had Baloo the bear in it, won't be lost on anyone who views this new version of The Jungle Book. Director Jon Favreau gets hit or miss utility out of the A-List voice acting; the villains (Christopher Walken, Idris Elba and Scarlett Johansson) are spot-on, while Bill Murray's bear and quite frankly Neel Sethi (as the pervasively annoying Mogli) fall short of becoming adequate foils. The script is the real culprit here as the dialogue and one liners never really get beyond what would be described as the ‘on-the nose’ variety. I had a similar problem with Favreau’s prior film, 2014’s Chef,  which was full of eye roll inducing quips (also a ridiculous subplot which surmised that BOTH Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara would be romantically interested in a human that looks like Jon Favreau). Don’t get me wrong parts of this are really something to behold; seeing it in true IMAX 3D at Lincoln Square – I can recall one moment featuring Elba’s ravenous tiger leaping at the heroes from behind some long grass that had me nearly pissing my pants. The Jungle Book's moments of organic marvel are truly thrilling; I just wish it was a more complete effort. 

Available on Blu Ray and VOD etc. August 23rd.

 

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg

**

Out of ****

To put it lightly: this is not great. A rather generous two star rating above is propped up by my reaction to the critical community’s all out assault witnessed prior to viewing the film myself – “come on everyone it’s not THAT bad.” Seemingly fading into oblivion as I put these words to page, BVS:DOJ's only claim to relevant discourse is now attached to a nauseating discussion about its 2nd and subsequent week’s box office disappointment (and its ties to the allegedly abhorrent Suicide Squad, which a coworker of mine recently damned with faint praise by saying 'eh I could follow what's going on at least.') This is a complete mess, simultaneously over thought and under developed – featuring radical swings in quality and tone across it's 150 minute runtime. A surprisingly competent Ben Affleck stars as Bruce Wayne/Batman; while Jesse Eisenberg's absolutely awful Lex Luthor feels like it belongs in one of Joel Schumacher's campy 90s Batman flicks alongside Frozen Arnold Schwarzenegger. The cast is rounded out with A Department Store Mannequin reprising its role as Superman. The same endless building smash smash action scenes that ruined Zach Snyder's 2013 Man of Steel – rear their ugly head for 20 minutes of the endlessly drawn out climax. Just as loud and banal as the last film, only this time it also looks like shit. Equally nothing is at stake as these invincible gods (and Batfleck) shoot projectiles at an equally invincible rock monster. The first half is not too lousy, which makes the god-awful climax even harder to sit through by comparison. I got up to go to the bathroom sometime around the 70 minute mark, as I jogged out of the theatre - under the impression that the film was winding down, I thought "hey you know this is not half-bad," and then I glanced at my watch in bemusement...there was another 80 minutes to go. The movie fell apart shortly thereafter, right along the time Bruce Wayne sat down to watch some sneak previews for upcoming films in the DC Cinematic Universe.

Available on Blu Ray and VOD etc. now.

 

GREEN ROOM

Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

Starring Anton Yelchin, Macon Blair, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots

***

Out of ****

Had someone showed me the plot summary for this nasty thriller 10 years ago, I would have sprinted to the nearest theatre like Usain Bolt (topical). A Pacific Northwest punk rock band agrees to a concert gig at a bar patronized by a sizable group of Neo Nazis; a fight for their lives rather predictably ensues. Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier - whose 2014 film Blue Ruin was an indie darling that I couldn’t get on board with, feeling like I had read the screenplay prior to watching it. Green Room has an equally formulaic plot, but the sheer menacing brutality of it creates an armrest clenching dread that lingers for the duration. This dread is personified in Patrick Stewart’s terrifying head-Nazi Darcy, the proprietor of the establishment these musicians find themselves trapped in. Stewart is calm and cool, until he is flying straight off the rails. Speaking to the young punk-rockers from behind a closed door, tranquilly condescending like a school teacher trying to manipulate young pupils into adhering to the lesson plan. Stewart attempts to coerce the group to spring open the door they've barricaded themselves behind – intimidating without raising his voice, as our completely panicked internal monologue screams 'no, no, no.'

RIP Anton Yelchin.

Available on Blu Ray and VOD etc. now.

 

THE PROGRAM

Directed by Stephen Frears

Starring Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace, Guillaume Canet

**

Out of ****

Ben Foster (Lance Armstrong) races from scene to scene trying to prop up the meager bones holding together this otherwise abysmal biopic about famous bike man/sociopath Lance Armstrong. Simultaneously one of the emptiest and longest 100 minute movies I have experienced; Stephen Frears doesn't have a clue how to approach this material nor does he even lead on to why he feels like it was worthy of a feature film. Frears seems about as enlightened on this subject as someone who read Lance's wikipedia page right before taking their seat in the theater. To recap - Lance cheated at cycling, raised a boatload of money for cancer research, lied and covered up everything as much as he possibly could, was surrounded by rampant cheating and that's basically it. The dichotomy of a person who is simultaneously responsible for destroying the sport of cycling and those around him, while also instilling some genuine good (The Livestrong Foundation) is never explored. The sport of cycling rose and fell with Armstrong, at least as it relates to its relevant place in U.S. mainstream sports coverage; while a half billion was raised for Cancer research that was built on that same lie. So was the lie and the damage to the sport at all worth suffering through? Comedian Bill Burr explored more on these conflicting notions in 2 minutes on Conan, than the director of The Queen does in close to 2 hours. To quote Burr, "he raised a $500 million for Cancer research ...the guy was a sociopath on a bicycle... just keep him on the bike, let him go up and down the hills - he's not hurting anybody."

Available on Blu Ray, VOD etc. and free on Amazon Prime now.