Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek: Beyond

        A perfect film for a "30 Second Critic" review. The third in the Star Trek reboot series is directed by Justin Lin (Fast & Furious series) and features the original reboot cast. It does not need a deep analysis. It is pure fun from start to finish and the closest any Star Trek film has gotten to recreating an actual episode of the beloved series.

        The crew go on a rescue mission, things turn bad, a villain appears, etc... It is easy to sit back and enjoy. The villain this time out is played by Idris Elba, who, unfortunately is wasted under tons of makeup and restricted speech. But no matter, he is still threatening enough and creates enough havoc to keep the film suspenseful until the end.

         There is plenty of action and typical Star Trek humor and even a heartwarming nod to the original cast. I saw it in iMAX 3D and while the iMAX was terrific, I don't think the 3D did anything to really enhance the film. If you are a fan of the series, you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets

         If you have seen the trailer for this new animated film, then you have seen the majority of best parts. The beginning of the film represents the "secret life" best but after a while it turns into a frenetic, elongated chase that loses its charm and wears you down.

         Max. a cute little terrier enjoys his life with his owner, Katie. When Katie brings home gigantic and shaggy Duke, Max's idyllic life is severely threatened. Circumstance finds the two lost in the city and ending up as part of a gang of rogue pets turned out by bad owners, and led by a psychotic bunny named Snowball. Max's friend, Gidget, a Pomeranian, along with an assortment of other friendly animals journey out of their comfort zones to find Max.

         The celebrity voices include Louis C.K. as Max, Kevin Hart as Snowball, Eric Stonestreet as Duke, and Jenny Slate as Gidget...just to name a few. As with most animated films , the actors are paired perfectly with their characters. The animation itself is good but not up to the standards of Pixar (with the exception of the East river which seems very realistic).

          Jokes, both visual and spoken come fast and furious. While they don't all work, there are some very funny lines to be found throughout the film (some aimed directly at the adults in the audience). The film relies heavily on the "cute factor" of all the animated animals. Younger kids will enjoy it ( although there are some "scary" parts) but it lacks the smart humor of "Zootopia" and some of the better animated films to come along recently.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Infiltrator

         Bryan Cranston channels his most arrogant "Walter White" in this new crime drama, based on a true story. The compelling story of Bob Mazur, an undercover DEA agent combined with a very talented cast make up for any plot weakness and execution.

          Mr. Cranston, playing Mazur goes undercover as Bob Musella, "cleaning" dirty drug money for the Colombian Cartel. Wheeling and dealing with drug lords and dirty bankers, Mazur as Musella flaunts his abilities behind mansions, expensive clothes, jewelry and cars all previously confiscated by the U.S. government. As usual Mr. Cranston is exceptional and a riveting actor to watch. His co-stars here are John Leguizamo as his fellow agent Emir Abreu, Diane Kruger as another agent posing as his fiance, Benjamin Bratt as a high level Cartel member, and Amy Ryan as Mazur's no nonsense boss.  The film also features Juliet Aubrey as Mazur's wife Ev and Joe Gilgun (Cassidy on AMC's Preacher) as Dominic, a criminal Mazur frees in order to help him undercover. 

           The true story gets a bit muddy over the course of the film, bogging down in unnecessary detail and extraneous story elements. Things are not always so clear as we follow the money but the cast is so good, you go with it and are easily caught up in the mounting suspense. Director Brad Furman does a good job of recreating the look and feel of '80's excess but other drug related "true story" films have had stronger screenplays.

            The film relies heavily on Mr. Cranston to carry it's weight and he doesn't disappoint. He is excellent at conveying the dilemma of an undercover operative who gets too comfortable in his role, becoming too close to his targets.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan

         Warner Brothers re-imagines an ancient icon for a new generation and hopes to find an audience. Can a jungle lord raised by apes find his place among todays superheroes? He can if he's played by Alexander Skarsgard. Mr. Skarsgard has plenty of female fans from his time on cable TV and he doesn't disappoint, swinging through the jungle, half naked. Although, sorry ladies, no loincloth for this hero.  For the men in the audience, the lovely Margot Robbie, plays  Jane Porter, Tarzan's love interest and for this version, quite the feminist. 

          The film also stars Samuel L. Jackson as an American government agent helping Tarzan and serving as light comic relief. The villain of the film is played by Christoph Waltz, who can do these roles in his sleep. Dijimon Hounsou also co-stars as a tribal chief with a grudge again Tarzan that sets the plot in motion.

               CGI is the other star of the film. So much so that is becomes hard to tell reality from the created reality. CGI has come such a long way that this film could have easily been shot in a back lot in California and all the animals and scenery added later. I actually started to wonder if the actors were real.

              What is real, however, are some truths behind the fictional story of Tarzan. King Leopold of Belgium actually did rule the Congo and slaughtered and enslaved millions to rape the land of minerals and other natural resources. His chief agent in the Congo was a sadist named Leon Rom, who is gleefully played by Mr. Waltz. Even though Tarzan triumphs (no surprise) there is a sadness that permeates throughout the film, watching people as well as animals slaughtered by greedy, ignorant men that stains the "action adventure" and love story, the studio was hoping to achieve.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Conjuring 2

     Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as paranormal investigators, Lorraine and Ed Warren in this scary new sequel.  Once again directed by James Wan, the undisputed king of modern day horror movies, "Conjuring 2" keeps up the suspense with just enough moments to have you jumping out of your seat.

       Like the original, this sequel is based on a "true story" of a paranormal incident that took place in 1977 England. Mr. Wan and his team get the period right and draw the audience in with just the right amount of dread and foreboding. Mr. Wilson and Ms. Farmiga both act with conviction as well as Francis O'Connor as the mother of the terrified family. Credit also goes to Madison Wolfe who has the unfortunate role of Peggy Hodgson, the possessed daughter. Ms Wolfe endures quite a bit through the course of the film.

        Mr. Wan builds his suspense very well jolting the audience quite a few times throughout and he does it with very little, if any bloodshed. His one flaw here is overextending himself. The film could easily be cut by 15-20 minutes and still be a very effective chiller. He has a winning franchise here and I look forward to seeing more of Lorraine and Ed Warren.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Shallows

         Blake Lively is basically a one woman show in this aptly named survival thriller. The film is paper thin.  It's stranded surfer vs. tenacious shark for 87 minutes.

             After a stretched out set up, surfer Nancy begins to enjoy the waves on a secluded beach in Mexico (actually Australia). With only two other surfers around, it seems like an idyllic spot. Pretty soon, the dead carcass of a whale floats into view along with the shark that killed it. Things go downhill from there until Nancy finds herself only 200 yards from shore, wounded on a rock outcrop that is slowly disappearing under the rising tide. 

             Ms. Lively is a very attractive actress who does an admirable job of struggling mightily against the shark and the elements. The scenery is beautiful, the shark realistic, and the tension palatable. It tries hard to be "Jaws" for a new generation but it's a one trick shark. 

Friday, July 01, 2016

Our Kind of Traitor

         Based on the novel by John le Carre, this is a more of a cerebral spy thriller than an action piece.  It offers a picturesque tour of Europe and a decent amount of suspense. It is a serviceable adult drama sandwiched in between aliens, animated fish and low brow comedies.

            The film has a pedigree cast. It stars Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris as a British couple on vacation in Morocco dealing with some marital issues. They soon find themselves entangled with a Russian mobster played by a scenery chewing Stellen Skarsgard. Once the plot thickens, they seek out the help of British intelligence in the form of a buttoned up Damian Lewis. 

             It's an intriguing plot and holds your attention but it all balances on the unlikely idea that a college professor and his lawyer wife can easily morph into "spy like" behavior to help someone they barely know. If you buy into the concept, you will become much more invested in the characters and care more about the eventual outcome.