Horrible Bosses 2

 

Horrible Bosses 2 reminds me of a Saturday Night Live bit that fizzles. HB2, like those misfired SNL sketches, has a ridiculous setup and plot, actors you like who are wasting their talents and a handful of chuckles that make it almost palatable.

When you’re watching SNL, you hang in because you know the bit that’s dying will be over soon. With Horrible Bosses 2, you keep waiting for it to get better and hating yourself for having chosen to watch it.

Here’s the setup: After plotting to kill their bosses in the 2011 Horrible Bosses, Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) have decided to start their own company so they won’t have to deal with bad bosses again.

They develop a product called the Shower Buddy. They show it off on TV. The bit features a visual sexual joke that was done much better in the Austin Powers movies. The TV host (Keegan Michael-Kay) is stunned by the name of their company which sounds like a slur: Nick-Kurt-Dale.

After Burt Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his son Rex (Chris Pine) back out of a deal to buy all their Shower Buddys, the trio decide to take drastic action. Here’s where the plot, which centers on kidnapping, becomes ludicrous.

Part of the scheme involves breaking into Julia Harris’s (Jennifer Aniston) to steal laughing gas. As the break-in is underway, she shows up to conduct a sexual addiction self-help group. The hilarity here is minimal, as it is throughout much of the film. (If you enjoyed hearing Aniston talk dirty in the first film, there’s more for you here in HB2. I’m not a prude but I felt kind of embarrassed for her.)

Also in the film is Kevin Spacey, as a horrible boss now incarcerated for crimes committed in the first film. When the trio visits him in prison for business advice, he provides a laugh or two with his profane putdowns. Jamie Foxx plays a hood who participates in the kidnapping.

Honestly, I found the outtakes at the end of the film to be the funniest part of Horrible Bosses 2.

Before you put down good money to see Horrible Bosses 2, take a moment to consider what else is available at your local movie house. There are better options. (Scroll down through this review site for a few good suggestions.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is more than just a bridge to next year’s finale. Things happen. Characters grow.

Having rebuked President Snow (Donald Sutherland), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes an ally of the rebels. Realizing her power, she agrees to be a voice for those opposing Snow. President Coin (Julianne Moore) leads the opposition with key advisor Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Heavensbee drafts Katniss for a series of videos, directed by Cressida (Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones). Cressida has a Skrillex haircut and a long vine tattoo on her left side—it’s a distinctive look. (Heavensbee’s guidance reminded me about Hoffman’s role as another crafty political consultant in The Ides of March.)

After scripted attempts at a propaganda clip fall short, Katniss and crew go on location for passionate, ad-libbed speeches that rip the Capitol crew to shreds. There’s also an action segment where Katniss takes down a fighter jet attacking District 8 with a well-directed arrow (with an explosive tip).

All the while, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is ensconced in the Capitol with several other survivors from the most recent Hunger Games. Like Katniss, Peeta is a media tool. Every time he appears on the Capitol’s TV feed, she watches intently.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 brings new versions of certain series characters. Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is now sober and not happy about it, thanks to Coin’s prohibition of booze. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has doffed her outrageous wigs and dresses for a do rag and olive drab jumpsuit. Hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is still more like a big brother to Katniss, but there appears to be something stronger between them this time.

Among the questions unanswered in THG: M1… Is Peeta’s call for the rebels to stand down sincere or is he just saying these things to save his skin? Is Snow being overly cocky as he plays mind games with Katniss and the rebels? Do the rebels have necessary firepower to take down the Snow regime? Will Coin turn out to benevolent or will power corrupt? And will Katniss and Peeta ever be a real couple? Stay tuned—Part 2 comes your way in exactly one year!

 

 

 

 

 

The Theory Of Everything

 

In a star-making role, Eddie Redmayne brings a brilliant performance to the screen as nerdy genius Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. His portrayal is the reason to see this film.

The film has three plot elements: Hawking’s romance with Jane (Felicity Jones), his challenge due to physical issues and his work as a cosmologist. Because the brainy stuff is way over the heads of most of us, it gets less play. Because Hawking’s deteriorating condition is so heartbreaking and sad, even in brief scenes, it’s the love story that provides the real essence of the movie.

Hawking’s dogged pursuit of Jane starts the movie. It climaxes with an evening at a spring dance that provides one of the more truly romantic sequences seen in movies this year.

Following marriage, Hawking outlives initial prognosis that gave him just two more years of life. He and Jane try to maintain what normalcy they can. They have kids. His work leads him to teaching along with assembling his thoughts on the physical nature of being.

Jane’s fatigue leads her to join a church choir to relieve the stress of caring for her husband. (She is a religious woman; he cannot accept the possibility of God.) When she meets the choir director, Jonathon (Charlie Cox) it is obvious that they are going to hook up. But that comes after several years of a platonic friendship that includes Stephen.

When Hawking’s condition becomes more than Jane can handle, she brings in Elaine (Maxine Peake). Hawking’s affection grows for the new caretaker and he invites her to take care of him on his trip to America to promote his book A Brief History of Time.

Regarding Time and History, the film begins in summer 1963 (with Martha and the Vandellas’ Heat Wave playing), but director James Marsh does not provide good indicators of time passage along the way. I had to consult Wikipedia to find out that it was 1988 when the book was published.

Marsh makes up for it with a end sequence that recaps the story of Stephen and Jane, reminding the audience that despite his debilitating condition, he lived life to the fullest and managed to accomplish more that most of us able bodied folks. (At age 72, the real-life Hawking is still alive.) It’s an upbeat end that adds a good vibe to that established by Redmayne’s acting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dumb And Dumber To

 

Yes, Dumb and Dumber To is funny! The humor, from the Farrelly Brothers, is silly and frequently disgusting. But there are laughs—big and small—to be enjoyed and that’s why you see a movie like this.

Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) team up again after 20 years. It’s quickly revealed that Harry visited the institutionalized Lloyd every week for those 2 decades. When Harry tells Lloyd he needs a kidney, they embark on a mission to find a living blood relative who might donate one.

Dumb And Dumber To quickly becomes a caper film. When Harry finds mail from years back naming him as the father of a child, he visits the child’s mother Fraida (Kathleen Turner) who gives them the address of the girl’s adoptive parents.

Fraida’s daughter Penny (Rachel Melvin) is just as dumb as Harry and Lloyd. She’s also gorgeous and Lloyd develops a crush, based on her photo. Despite her lack of smarts, she’s sent to an egghead conference in El Paso to deliver a speech on behalf of her ailing dad. Harry and Lloyd go there to meet her and deliver a package for the adoptive dad. The story gets more absurd from there.

Dumb And Dumber To features clever visual jokes, including those that result from a ridiculous mix of cuisines and cultures at an El Paso restaurant. The sight of a Zamboni flying down a highway is chuckle-inducing. The pursuit of a hearing aid for Harry leads to an oddly personal—and funny—encounter with a nursing home resident.

Dumb And Dumber To does not offer life lessons, hope for mankind or commentary on the human condition. Just laughs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Hero 6

 

What a cool movie! If I were a 12-year-old kid, the new animated film Big Hero 6 could easily become an all-time favorite!

Big Hero 6 has robots, action, sadness and joy. And it sets the table for more adventures for this sextet (who don’t really refer to themselves Big Hero 6 until the end of the movie).

Big Hero 6 presents a clever blend of America and Japan. It’s set in San Fransokyo, a city with cable cars and steep hills and also has cherry blossom trees. The lead character is Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter), a teenager with a Japanese name but no discernable Japanese features. An African-American character has the nickname Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans, Jr.).

The movie shows influences from films of the anime genre, but it doesn’t have the look of typical Japanese anime. And, in this first year without an official Pixar release in 2 decades, Big Hero 6 fills the gap nicely. (Like 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6 is made under the Disney Animation nameplate, but has that Pixar look and feel.)

Hiro is a boy genius. Already done with high school, he spends his time building robots. Big Hero 6 opens with robots doing battle, a la Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Ems. When Hiro’s brother shows him around the “nerd school” he attends, Hiro applies. To gain admission, he builds microbots which, when performing together, can do amazing things.

When tragedy strikes his family and the “nerd school” and Hiro’s bots disappear, he engages 4 of his brother’s friends and an amazing inflatable robot named Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). Baymax provides many funny moments along with his heroics. Baymax is designed to diagnose medical issues in humans, but is quickly shown to have greater abilities.

An evil villain gains control of the microbots and, with his commands, is able to move them in ways that call to mind certain scenes in various Japanese animes. The pursuit of the villain and the resolution of the adventure are not quite as entertaining as the film’s beginning—especially that first visit to “nerd school.” But, overall, Big Hero 6 provides great fun and cool robots.

In case you’re unaware, Big Hero 6 is adapted from a Marvel comic book series, so stick around for a special coda after the credits.

 

 

Interstellar

 

“Time is a flat circle,” said Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust Cohle in TV’s True Detective last winter. In Interstellar, McConaughey’s character Cooper is concerned with time, space, gravity, wormholes, black holes, extra dimensions as well as family and love. It’s a sci-fi fantasy filled with suspenseful adventure, memorable spectacular effects and heartfelt philosophizing about the fate of our species.

Director Christopher Nolan’s newest movie is big, loud and ambitious. In an IMAX theater, with speakers aplenty, you almost feel the G forces of Interstellar‘s space travel scenes. Hans Zimmer’s score is not shy about bringing emotion and volume. The composer is a certain Oscar nominee.

Cooper is a widower with 2 kids, Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). Their welfare is his #1 concern. He’s a former astronaut, now working as a farmer in a Kansas-looking flatland. (Plains scenes were shot in Alberta.) Dust storms—not unlike dustbowl storms of the 1930s—have ruined all crops on earth, save corn. The planet is in big trouble.

When mystical happenings occur, young Murphy suspects ghosts. Her dad suspects something more physical. Magnetism, gravitation anomalies or other forces lead him to a hidden fortress in the mountains where he finds… NASA!

The population has become so disenchanted with the U.S. space program that history books have been revised to tell of moon landings that were staged in an effort to bankrupt the Russians. So, NASA has gone underground, literally.

In short order, Cooper’s former boss Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) recruits him to fly a mission to Saturn where a wormhole appeared a few decades back. Earlier brave astronauts made it to the other side of the wormhole; Cooper and crew are charged with bursting through, checking on the prior travelers and determining if three particular worlds in that new dimension are suitable for sustaining human existence. Is their mission to save their own families or to save the species?

Cooper’s crew includes Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), Dr. Brand’s daughter, Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi). After 2 years of travel, they touch down in shallow water on a new planet. Shortly after exploration begins, an enormous wave approaches, leading to a harrowing escape. They go off to a new, very cold planet where they find Dr. Mann (Matt Damon in an uncredited role) in suspended animation. Events there lead to another hasty exit.

Interstellar’s final act involves many back-and-forth cuts between events in space and those on earth. Our heroes have not aged significantly during their time in space, but back home, Cooper’s kids have become adults (Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck). The earth continues to be ravaged by dust storms. Meanwhile, beyond the wormhole, Cooper and crew work to define and to achieve satisfactory results.

Nolan’s Interstellar (co-written by the director and his brother Jonathon AKA Jonah Nolan) is a gigantic movie, clocking in at 2:45. It is efficiently made. Scenes that don’t necessarily advance the story help delineate the characters and the settings.

Some notes about Interstellar: The underground bunker where NASA is based reminds me of a Bond villain’s lair. The excessive exposition about time and math and gravitational anomalies quickly becomes tedious—I wonder if Steven Hawking will pause the DVD to see if their blackboard formulas are correct.

The little girl who plays the child version of Murph looks like a young Anne Hathaway. A few of the film’s effects recall similar bits in Nolan’s Inception. I loved the cool robots TARS (voiced by Bill Erwin) and CASE—loyal servants and deftly mobile. The cast also includes Topher Grace as adult Murph’s doctor friend and John Lithgow as Cooper’s father-in-law.

Interstellar is not the best movie I’ve seen in 2014 but it has enough going for it to merit an Oscar nomination. Nolan should receive a best director nomination. McConaughey is a possible contender for best actor. Effects, makeup and sound production crews could be taking home awards as well.

I think audiences will enjoy Interstellar because it infuses science with humanity. Last year in Gravity, Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone talked about her earthly concerns; in Interstellar Cooper’s family is onscreen and is a major part of the film. Interstellar plays on our survival instinct. Several times in the film, Caine’s Dr. Brand quotes Dylan Thomas’s poem about fighting off death, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Interstellar does not go gentle. It rages against the dying of the light.

 

 

 

 

 

Nightcrawler

 

TV news is a competitive business. Every station wants the big story. Some will pay good money to freelancers with video cameras for exclusive footage.

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an L.A. ne’er-do-well who wants to go legit. As Nightcrawler begins, he sells fence (chain link) to a fence (guy who buys stolen goods) and asks the buyer for a job. When Lou happens upon a news photog (Bill Paxton) shooting video to sell to TV, he decides to try it himself.

Lou finds a willing buyer in Nina (Rene Russo), a news director at an L.A. station whose ratings need help. Lou continues to bring graphic footage to her and the ratings inch upward. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a TV industry half-joke, one with more than a grain of truth behind it. In the battle to titillate news viewers, Nina keeps asking for shocking video.

As the checks roll in, Lou hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed). He buys a new, faster car. He gets better monitoring equipment to listen in on police calls.

Lou is a scheming pragmatist who aggressively woos Nina with logical arguments and, of course, exclusive video. His online research tells him that she has had trouble keeping a job and that she will soon be up for renewal. She needs him.

Lou boldly goes into places he shouldn’t to get juicy footage. Eventually he goes too far. But even when he oversteps, he continues to bring the goods to Nina and her news team. She has few boundaries regarding what she’ll put on air and Lou responds. Nightcrawler may exaggerate the lengths TV stations will go to lure viewers, but not by much.

Gyllenhaal’s Lou is a likeable charmer. He’s a bit smarmy, not far removed from Leave It To Beaver’s Eddie Haskell. Even though he does things that are wrong, it’s easy to root for him. He’s also funny—though not always intentionally.

After last year’s excellent performance as a detective in Prisoners, Gyllenhaal follows with a completely different character and another memorable role. At age 33, he has already amassed a respectable acting resume. As he moves into more mature roles, I look forward watching him grow into a major film star.

It’s good to see Rene Russo back onscreen. Except for the Thor movies, she’s been absent for the last decade. At age 60, she brings appropriate intensity to her role as Nina.

I’m happy to report that rookie director Dan Gilroy (he also wrote the script) did not make Nightcrawler to rip into the TV news biz for its love of crime and gore. He accepts that as a given. Instead he focuses on bringing this interesting character and his story to the screen. Good jobs, Dan and Jake!

 

 

 

 

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

 

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is sad, funny, nostalgic and informative. But mostly, it’s sweet. Glen Campbell and his family show and tell how his Alzheimer’s has affected each of them.

As Keith Urban, one of many fellow musicians who offer comments, points out, much of our lives consist of memories. And when memory goes, a large part of our existence goes. Thankfully, for Glen Campbell, his abilities to play guitar and sing remain intact, although he cannot remember the words to his songs.

In I’ll Be Me, Glen and his wife Kim visit doctors at the Mayo Clinic. Results of brain scans are analyzed and explained. Drugs are prescribed and life goes on. For now.

The documentary begins in 2011 when Glen Campbell goes public with his diagnosis. It follows him and his entourage through a farewell tour that includes stops at iconic venues Ryman Auditorium (Nashville) and Carnegie Hall (New York). It’s not easy—not for Glen, nor his sidemen who include three of his kids.

At the Ryman, his teleprompter (with song lyrics) goes out and he is lost until it is restored. The family is concerned when he does the Leno show, but he turns in a successful performance. A tribute medley at the Grammy Awards show in early 2012 goes well. At gigs in late 2012, however, as his abilities decline, he has more difficulties. It’s not hard to respond emotionally to his ordeal.

Among the performers who offer comments about Glen Campbell and/or Alzheimer’s are Jimmy Webb, Brad Paisley, The Edge, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Blake Shelton and Kathy Mattea.

Most of the performances in the film from his farewell tour range from good to stellar. Most of his hits plus a few new songs are presented. Other highlights include a tour bus duet with daughter Ashley on Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues, several clips from Campbell’s TV career and home movies and videos from all stages of his life.

For baby boomers and some Gen-Xers, Campbell has been prominent showbiz figure for half a century, thanks to a string of pop-country hits and a weekly TV show. Performances in Vegas and Branson kept him working long after the hits stopped coming.

It was brave for Glen and his wife and family to make this film and show how Alzheimer’s affects an individual, as well as caregivers and other loved ones. Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me brought tears to my eyes several times during its 1:44 or so run time. But it also made me appreciate the body of entertainment that Glen Campbell has delivered during his lifetime, especially these last concerts. I’m sad about what’s next, but happy that these performances were documented.

 

Birdman

Birdman delivers. It is an amazing thing to see. Michael Keaton’s terrific performance in the title role is likely to earn him an Oscar nomination. Director Alejandro Inarritu (who co-wrote the script) should receive awards, as well.

Riggan Thompson (Keaton) is a well-known movie star who played a character called Birdman in a series of films before he stepped away from the franchise. Now he is starring in and directing a Broadway play whose script he adapted. The movie covers the few days spanning the time from final rehearsals to opening night. Yes, it’s a comedy, but one with a dark, often subtle, wit.

Is Riggan crazy? Is his inner voice—the voice of Birdman— just the conscience we all have or is it the voice a mentally ill person hears? Does he really (within the movie) have super powers or is that just his imagination? Can he possibly be as insecure as he often seems? And there are more questions that are not clearly answered, questions that can’t be referenced here without being spoilers.

Other key players include Mike (Edward Norton) who is a last minute replacement in the play’s cast. He’s a pro and Riggan knows it, but Mike’s on-stage confidence and Broadway pedigree rub Riggan the wrong way. Naomi Watts is Lesley, another on-stage cast member. She and Mike have a past together. Riggan’s girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) is the 4th member of the play’s cast. His response when she tells him she’s pregnant reveals much about their relationship.

Samamtha (Emma Stone) is Riggan’s daughter, just out of rehab. She confirms to her dad that, yes, he is no longer relevant. She chides him for not being on Twitter and Facebook, equating social media presence to existence.

Jake (Zach Galifianakis), the show’s producer, is a different role for Galifianakis. He plays a less wacky, more normal guy, though one with some funny lines.

Because of its technical style, long takes and unorthodox camera angles, Birdman is film that will be dissected and analyzed by film classes for decades. The Steadicam used extensively in filming Birdman earns back every cent producers paid for it.

If you see Birdman with a friend, you’ll have plenty of things to talk about after the show, such as: Who, besides Keaton, had the most award-worthy performance? (I’d say Norton.) Were things Mike said to Riggan based on jealousy of his notoriety or were they sage wisdom? (Both, I think.) Was Birdman‘s “continuous take” clever or tedious? (For me, mostly clever.)

More discussion topics: How about that soundtrack, provided mostly by a single drummer? (It magnified the tension, but I detest drum solos at concerts, so I got tired of it quickly.) Is the alternative title Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance really necessary? (No.) Was Riggan’s putdown of critics valid? (To a degree, yes.) What did you think of that ending? (No spoilers, so no input from me on this question.) We can talk after you see Birdman. And you must see it!

Fury

 

Fury is a beautifully constructed WWII movie. The story, the script, the characters, the acting, the tanks, the effects are all top-notch. But is it special? That’s the big question about Fury. It’s a truly entertaining film, and maybe that’s enough.

Fury is a tank, commanded by “Wardaddy” (Brad Pitt). He’s fought Germans in Africa, France and, now, on the Krauts’ home turf. The film is set in spring 1945, just weeks before the war’s end. Germany is reeling, but the bloody battles continue.

When any war movie introduces its characters, you know: some will die; some will survive. Wardaddy’s group includes the religious Swan (Shia LeBoeuf), Latino “Gordo” (Michael Pena) and redneck “Coon-Ass” (Jon Bernthal).

The most interesting character in Fury is Norman, a callow youth played by Logan Lerman. Norman is a pencil pusher, just 8 weeks into his Army career, when he’s somehow assigned to Wardaddy’s crew. He is unprepared for witnessing death and certainly not ready to kill people.

A couple of battle scenes set up the final showdown. The faceoff between Fury (and other American tanks) against a bigger, stronger German tank depicts the intense effort of those inside the tank and the constant movement of the tanks for strategic positioning. (A note at the movie’s opening notes that American tanks did not quite measure up to German tanks.)

A sequence that follows the takeover of a German town shows Wardaddy and Norman enjoying a cordial visit with 2 German women. It’s a moment of quiet humanity amidst the horror of war. Later, the other 3 tank men crash the party and behave uncouthly until Wardaddy takes control.

When Fury is assigned to go it alone and defend a key rural intersection, they sit and wait for German activity. Norman scouts from a hillside and spots hundreds of Germans on their way for the film’s climactic battle, which is loud, intense and furious.

Writer/director David Ayer frames the film with memorable opening and closing shots and his overhead shots of the tank positioning are cleverly shot. In Fury, though most of the action occurs during daytime, the days are gray and dismal—appropriate for the grim business of war.

As Fury depicts it, war is hell. WWII, particularly so.