Premium Rush

“Premium Rush” is a movie my sons would’ve loved when they were 11 or 12. The movie is kinetic. It rarely stops moving. And some of the bike stunts are really cool. The title refers to the priority delivery status of a package, but it can also describe the adrenaline flow the movie sets off.

The film has hip younger characters, bumbling older characters, a friendly rivalry, a hint of romance, a bit of mystery, several chuckles and danger on many fronts. (Its rating is PG-13.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a bicycle courier in Manhattan. He does all the things that give some urban cyclists a bad rep: running red lights, riding between lanes of auto traffic, riding against the flow of traffic, taking to the sidewalk when the road is clogged, etc. He has no gears and no brakes on his bike.

The story revolves around one important delivery that has to go from Columbia Law School to Chinatown during afternoon rush hour. Michael Shannon is a crooked NYPD detective who wants to intercept the package, in order to pay off a gambling debt. “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi is the courier service’s dispatcher.

From the excellent opening shot, which shows Gordon-Levitt floating through the air in slow motion, director David Koepp takes us back a few hours to set everything up. He picks up from that slo-mo float to get us to the climax. The out-of-sequence storytelling works well.

If you’ve ever driven in Manhattan, you may have experienced bicyclists darting in and out amongst heavy traffic. “Premium Rush” depicts that reckless behavior with multiple shots of the bike riders in precarious situations on crowded streets. Gordon-Levitt’s risky riding is further revealed via many POV shots. One effective technique shows him speculating—in a split second—his chances of success among several options for getting through a congested intersection.

Will those over the ages of 11 and 12 like “Premium Rush?” I think yes. The action blends well with the storytelling. As a bike rider who prefers the Katy Trail, the idea of racing through the streets of NYC is frightening. But the vicarious thrill I get from this movie is a rush.

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ParaNorman

In the wake of the first few Pixar hits, many studios and production houses took shots at making animated movies. Dreamworks succeeded with the “Shrek” films, but others had problems.

In the last 15 or so years, we have seen tons of animated films that get a lot of things right, but fall short on that one key element: a good story.

“ParaNorman,” sadly, falls into that category. Like many of its animated brethren, it has a distinctive look, amusing characters and funny lines. But the plot is just not that good.

Norman is a kid who has that sixth sense: he can see and communicate with dead people. One of the deceased citizens of his small town shares information that leads him to try to break a centuries-old witch’s curse. Getting to that result is a roundabout cinematic journey.

“ParaNorman” looks great. It was shot in stop-motion 3-D by the same studio that made 2009’s “Coraline.” But here is the big difference: “Coraline” was based on a successful Neil Gaiman novel; “ParaNorman,” is an original screenplay, written by co-director Chris Butler.

For fans of stop-motion animation (myself included), “ParaNorman” is a must-see. For everybody else, it’s a maybe. There are some parts of the movie that may frighten younger children, but you know your kids better that I do. Parental guidance is suggested.

 

 

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

This movie is too sweet. No, really, it’s TOO sweet.

It’s a fantasy about a childless couple who get—for a while—this sweet little kid named Timothy. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton (who may remind you of Conan O’Brien just a bit) are the couple. CJ Adams plays Timothy.

After giving up in their effort to conceive, they drink a lot of wine and write down on small pieces of paper what their fantasy kid would be like. This is an odd thing to do, under the circumstances, but that’s the movies for ya! They take the papers, put ‘em in a box and bury the box in the yard. Also odd behavior.

After a violent storm, Timothy magically appears. Here’s the problem with this fantasy: everything else in the movie is perfectly normal. It’s hard—for one of us, at least—to buy into the fantasy when nothing else in the movie is particularly fantastical.

Timothy’s presence in their lives for a few months demonstrates to the couple the joys and pains of parenthood. And moves them so much that, in fact—actually in fantasy, the story is told in flashbacks while the couple are at an adoption agency.

TOLOTG is basically a Hallmark Channel movie with better actors and production values. It’s rated PG and is okay for all but the very young. I’ve seen tweets suggesting you bring tissues. If you cry easily, that might be a good idea. Yes, the ending is sweet. Just a bit too sweet for me.

The Bourne Legacy

Can Jeremy Renner replace Matt Damon? Well, yes. Damon’s Bourne was a strong screen presence. He anchored three excellent action films. But he was unquaveringly intense. Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross is more human. He smiles. He makes small talk.

There are references to Jason Bourne is the movie’s script, but the focus here is Cross and his efforts to stay alive. Turns out the US government agency that runs the Treadstone program—which genetically modifies its agents, including Bourne and Cross—is trying to eliminate Cross.

When he dodges a bullet in Alaska—actually, it’s a guided missile he dodges—he goes back east to find the lab scientist who worked on his genetic modifications. She’s played by Rachel Weisz. Turns out she’s also on the Treadstone hit list. Together, they run a gauntlet all they way to Manila, where the movie climaxes with a long, but exciting, chase scene—mostly on motorbikes.

“Legacy” is not nearly as intense as the three previous movies, but maintains a decent pace and has a sufficient amount of explosions, gunplay and general violence to get the adrenaline flowing. Each of the three Damon/Bourne movies had its own distinct style. “Legacy” is not so stylish, but does have more than enough to satisfy.

 

 

 

The Campaign

If you’ve waited for the sequel to “Talladega Nights,” this is it. Ricky Bobby has changed his name to Cam Brady and been elected to the US Congress. His fuzzy, dim-witted counterpart has morphed from John C. Reilly to Zach Galifianakis.

“The Campaign” is not just hilariously funny, it’s also a clever satire of the US political system and the way we elect candidates. You’ve seen tons of negative ads recently here in St. Louis. Maybe you’ve wondered just how low a candidate would go to slam his opponent? You’ll howl when you see how low in “The Campaign.”

Will Ferrell as Cam Brady is a standard issue congressman who keeps getting re-elected and figures to be run unopposed again this year. But two wealthy brothers who are moguls with political clout (played by Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow) draft a yokel named Marty Huggins to oppose him.

Galifianakis as Huggins is a likeable dweeb, who benefits from a Cam Brady campaign miscue and moves up in the polls. With help from a seasoned campaign manager played by Dylan McDermott, he actually becomes the favorite to win. Then the campaigning goes really negative.

As in “Talladega Nights,” there’s a strong cast of sidemen and women. Jason Sudeikis as Brady’s campaign manager, Brian Cox as Marty’s dad and Sarah Baker as Marty’s wife all turn in good performances. But they are trumped by Karen Maruyama who scores huge laughs as a housekeeper with an interesting way of saying things.

Not everything works in “The Campaign,” but the funny and often outrageous developments will keep you engaged and entertained for the movie’s hour and a half run time. Cast your vote at the box office today.

Hope Springs

This is a movie for older grownups. The advance screening was sponsored by AARP. Stars Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are on the cover of the August AARP magazine.

Can someone under 50 relate to a married couple that hasn’t had sex in over four years? I’m not sure whether many married couples OVER 50 can relate to such celibacy. But that issue is part of the problem that sets the plot of “Hope Springs” in motion.

Meryl is Kay. Tommy Lee is Arnold. They are a middle-class couple from Omaha who have been married 31 years. She picks up a self-help book by a marriage counselor and drags Arnold along to a small town in Maine called “Great Hope Springs” for a week-long session with the author. The counselor is Steve Carrell in a (mostly) non-comedic role.

“Hope Springs” is funny and poignant. The highlights of the film are Tommy Lee Jones’ hilarious facial expressions and a classic scene in a movie house, which I will not spoil by revealing details.

Of course, Meryl Streep’s acting skill is a given. Since she is playing an ordinary housewife, it may seem that she’s not working as hard as, say, when she’s playing Maggie Thatcher or Julia Child. No matter how hard she may or may not be working, her screen presence shows why she’s one of the giants of acting.

The TV spots make “Hope Springs” look like a laugh fest and, while there are some good yuks, this is a movie that reveals the problems many couples (of all ages) have communicating. While the four-year whoopie drought may seem extreme to many of us, there are issues in Kay and Arnold’s marriage that all long-married couples can identify with.

“Hope Springs” is rated PG-13 but addresses sexual issues that may make certain audience members squirm, just like they make Kay and Arnold squirm.

“Hope Springs” is not just for the over 50 crowd, but if you are beyond that milestone—especially if you’ve been married a few decades—this one’s for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Recall

Now THIS is an action movie!

“Total Recall” gets set and then goes. And once it launches, it maintains a breakneck pace with just a few interludes of calm.

Set a hundred or so years from now, “Total Recall,”  presents a world devastated by war. Human life exists only in the United Federation of Britain in Europe and The Colony (Australia).

Colin Farrell is a worker who commutes each day from The Colony to UFB via a speedy underground bullet train called The Fall. He works a dreary job making robot cops. On a night when he’s restless, he takes a walk on the wild side. He turns down a come-on from a hooker with three boobs—no, she really has three boobs—and goes to a business called Rekall to have new memories implanted. That’s when all hell breaks loose.

Farrell’s character is revealed to have had another identity and another life, which he doesn’t quite recall, even with prompts and holograms along the way. The film is essentially a long—but thrilling—chase sequence, leading up to an explosive climax.

Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel provide more punch than eye candy in this movie. Kate plays Farrell’s wife who turns against him and Biel is his new/old ally in his escape from/return to his past. You want a cat fight between the two? You got it. It’s a good one.

The hundred-years-from-now land (and water) scapes of the UFB and The Colony may be the best since “Bladerunner’s” vision of a future Los Angeles. The buildings, the infrastructures and the teeming masses of humans offer a compelling guess at a future (not unlike in “Bladerunner”) with a huge Asian influence.

“Total Recall” features another glimpse of what our future may hold: phones physically embedded in Farrell’s and Beckinsale’s hands.

If you’re wondering why the 1990 version needed a remake, go see this one and compare. Also consider that anyone born in 1990 turns 22 this year and is right there in the film’s target demo. Despite the new film’s violence (and the quick flash of the three boobs), the film is rated PG-13. (The 1990 version was rated “R,” by the way.)

If you enjoy a good futuristic action flick, add “Total Recall” to your “must-see” list.