Transformers: Age of Extinction Full Review

ImageIf you’re going to do anything for a fourth time, you’d better know what works and what doesn’t. The first Transformers movie was a fun and unexpected summer classic. It molded ground breaking effects and top notch action sequences with a likable lead (Shia LeBeouf) and hilarious supporting characters (Anthony Anderson and the late Bernie Mac). Unfortunately, they weren’t able to capture lightning in a bottle with part two. 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen was both sloppy and convoluted. And who can forget those lousy twins! 2011’s Dark of the Moon would’ve been a solid step back in the right direction had it not been for the corny side characters (John Malkovich and Ken Jeong) and shoehorned female lead (no love interest at all would’ve been better than some random new girl we’re supposed to care about).

Age of Extinction delivers a new cast and a much, much darker tone. Mark Wahlberg takes over the lead role as failed inventor and single father, Cade Yeager. Along with his teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz), her boyfriend (Jack Reynor), and a Steve Jobs rip-off (Stanley Tucci), he gets caught up in the action after stumbling upon a nearly destroyed Optimus Prime. But before you go thinking it’s the usual Autobots vs. Decepticons explosion fest, there are some things you should know that’ll make you believe me when I say that this is easily the second best film in the franchise thus far.

Well, for one thing, the villains are a major upgrade. Set five years after part three, the chaos from the previous installment has caused humans to not only distance themselves from the Autobot heroes, but to actually hunt them in order to successfully build Transformers of their own. Then there’s Lockdown, a nasty bounty hunting Decepticon who is much more interesting and menacing than Megatron ever was in the previous movies. These livelier adversaries make for more interesting heroes. Gone is the wise, God-like Optimus Prime. In this movie, he is both angry and weary after years of dealing with human screw ups. As for the rest of the Autobots, for the first time since part one, there’s actually interesting members other than Bumblebee (especially John Goodman’s Hound).

Like with all Transformers movies, there are hefty problems. Oddly enough, the CGI seems really shoddy at times. It almost feels like they rushed the animation for this one. And as for the Dinobots that were so heavily marketed throughout the film’s promotion? ImageThey are basically just cameos who serve little purpose to the actual plot. I also can’t help wondering why there was no mention of any of the previous films’ characters. A worldwide catastrophe goes down and not a single one of them is even referenced? But the biggest flaw is the run time! At nearly three hours (without trailers) it’s just way too damn long. Nevertheless, good action sequences and a decent story are worth at least one viewing. Just don’t plan anything else to do with your day/night. And remember, all of this is based on toys, so don’t take it too seriously.

FINAL GRADE: B-

Think Like A Man Too… Full Review

ImageDo I even need to say it? *Sigh* I think I do…. *Stands on soap box and clears throat*. EVERY MOVIE DOES NOT NEED OR WARRANT A SEQUEL!!! Ok, now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I feel like I can proceed forward with my actual review of Think Like A Man Too.

Based on Steve Harvey’s book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, the first movie was a romantic comedy built around the archetypal personalities of men and women in relationships. Comedian Kevin Hart, as the happily divorced comic relief, served as narrator in a story about: The Mama’s Boy (Terrence J) and the single mom (Regina Hall), the dreamer (Michael Ealy) and the Independent woman (Taraji Henson), the player (Romany Malco) and the wholesome girl (Meagan Good), and lastly the man-child (Jerry Ferrera) and the woman who wants him to grow up (Gabrielle Union). Despite some flawed logic and falling into the usual romantic comedy clichés, the first movie was actually comically enjoying.

This time around the whole gang and a few new faces, some necessary and some not, head to Las Vegas for the mama’s boy and single mom’s wedding. Antics ensue when the Best Man, Kevin Hart’s Cedric, goes over the top to make bachelor party night a success. Meanwhile the girls just want to get away from the overbearing mother-in-law to be (Jenifer Lewis).

It isn’t that Think Like A Man Too is a bad movie. That isn’t the case at all. Kevin Hart is still funny, perhaps even more so than in his previous big screen outings this year. The problem is that not an ounce of it is necessary. None of the characters go through anything that isn’t just an extension of the same problems they had in the previous movie. And for a movie set in Las Vegas, the plot sure is bland and uneven. Maybe it’s just me setting the bar too high, after all, every unnecessary sequel can’t be as great as Best Man Holiday. Still, I can’t help feeling like this was something I could’ve waited for on Red Box.

FINAL GRADE: C+

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

Really good family movies are often hard to find. And when I say family movies, I don’t necessarily mean movies made for families, because frankly that encompasses most animated films nowadays. What I mean by ‘a good family movie’ is a movie that succeeds at having elements that each member of the family can enjoy. Moms, Dads, little boys and girls, grandma and grandpa… etc. With How to Train Your Dragon 2 there’s something for everyone.

Image2010’s How to Train Your Dragon was a surprisingly fantastic film about a young boy who goes from nerdy wimp to brave hero by showing his dragon fearing clan that they can coexist with the dangerous creatures. Part 2 picks up five years later. The hero of the first film, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has grown older and wiser and now spends his days flying on his dragon companion, Toothless, and discovering new worlds. Along his journey, he uncovers more dragon hunters led by creepy villain Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) and a swarm of new dragons under the careful protection of the mysterious Valka (Cate Blanchett).

As with the previous movie, and most movies by Dreamworks, the animation is beautiful. The scenery is so captivating, you’d swear you were watching a live action film and not CGI. The dragons, which is what most of the kids come to see, are even more fun and fascinating than before. The Alpha dragons, massive ice breathers who can control the smaller dragons, are the most impressive newcomers (I’m only subtly biased in loving them).

But nowadays nearly every animated film has funny characters and elegant animation. To be a truly noteworthy animated film, you have to have a story that will capture those characters in a relatable light and give them interesting challenges. Dragon 2 does just that. Hiccup’s personal journey to live in his father ’s (Gerard Butler) footsteps is a story we can all relate too. And anyone with a pet can’t help but love his relationship with Toothless. Even Drago Bludvist comes with the intimidating mysticism and tragic back story that help make up all of the best film antagonists.

There are shades of other animated films that may make Dragon 2 seem familiar. But with animated films, horror movies, superhero films or any other over saturated genre, that is to be expected. The movie isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, it only intends to satisfy everyone who comes to see it. Parents will laugh and tear up, kids will smile and cheer… what more can you ask for in a summer animated film?

FINAL GRADE: B+

22 Jump Street Review

22_Jump_Street_PosterThere are different ways a sequel can fail. Having a less challenging plot, a weaker cast, or just flat out going overkill on a premise that never was meant for a sequel (*cough* Hangover 2 & 3). If ever there were a movie that understands these potential pitfalls, it is 22 Jump Street.

From the jump (no pun intended), Jump Street knows exactly what it is. In fact, it might just be the most self referential, tongue and cheek comedy I’ve ever seen. Literally at the beginning of the movie, the police captain tells Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) to do the exact same thing as last time. So… that’s pretty much what they do, only instead of infiltrating a high school to find drugs, this time they’re infiltrating a college campus.

Though it still manages to be funny, it’s debatable whether this installment is an upgrade from the first. The supporting cast is a bit forgettable. The exception is Jillian Bell as the annoying roommate to Hill’s college girlfriend (Amber Stevens). And as comedies go, some of the bromance jokes can get stale. We get it, Tatum and Hill’s relationship is borderline homosexual. It isn’t necessary to keep acknowledging that in every scene. But for every misfire, Tatum, Hill and Ice Cube are there to make up for it with a ton of laugh out loud moments. The last half of the movie is packed full of hilarious moments.

Just like with the first movie, the sequel is a mixture of Buddy Cop movie, spoof comedy, and romantic comedy. Ironically enough, it manages to avoid the predictability of those genres by acknowledging them before hand.  In fact, there is a point in the movie where the entire plot is rundown for us, clichés and all. And the credits, chock full of cameos, pokes fun at a possible series franchise. It always helps when you can laugh at yourself. And it certainly makes it more fun for the audience.

FINAL GRADE: B

The Fault in Our Stars. A Review by and for the guy dragged to see it.

Fault_in_our_starsThere is a reason a large portion of men don’t like romantic movies, or “chick flicks”. They’re often slow paced and predictable. But perhaps the greatest reason is the fact that the male lead in these films is usually a character that says and does things that most men would never say or do. The Fault in Our Stars, adapted from a novel by John Green, is without a doubt a chick flick. But… if you can make it through the sappiness…  it is smart, insightful, and anything but predictable.

As you can see, I am not writing this review for fans of romantic films. Fans of the genre don’t need convincing that this movie is worth seeing. You will be front and center with tissues at the ready for this movie. Instead, I am writing this review for the guy who may be dragged to see the film with his mother or significant other. The guy who would rather be watching Edge of Tomorrow, X-Men, or even Maleficent, that’s who this review is for.

The story focuses on a young couple (duh). A 16 year old girl named Hazel (Shailene Woodley of Divergent fame) who has thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs, keeping her permanently attached to an oxygen tank, and 17 year old Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort, also from Divergent) a now cancer-free amputee who is smarter, more suave, and more interesting than any guy you know or will ever know. He is the type of character that usually only shows up in movies, but he is flawed enough to be likeable.

As you can probably guess, the first hour of the film will make you roll your eyes as much as any romance movie. But be patient, because the payoff is actually quite worth it. It all gets interesting when the couple goes to Amsterdam to meet their favorite author (Willem Dafoe). From then on something unexpected happens. The movie goes from being another sappy love story to being an incredibly heartfelt and thought provoking commentary on the subject of life, death, and acceptance.

Yes, I know, an hour is a lot to get through if you aren’t into these kinds of movies. But, seeing as you likely didn’t choose this movie anyway, it should be some sort of silver lining that the movie has depth and meaning. The actors are pretty good, but it’s without a doubt the observations and conversations that provide us with lessons meant for everyone. After all, we’ve all lost someone and will lose someone. And, whether you have cancer or not, life can be short so we must enjoy it while it lasts and cling to those who make it worthwhile. Chick flick or not, it’s gratifying to see a film with doomed characters who understand that concept.

FINAL GRADE: B

Edge of Tomorrow Full Review

Have you ever played a fun video game that is really difficult? It makes you frustrated, so much so, that you almost think about giving up on it. But as soon as you turn away, it pulls you back, because it’s simply that exhilarating. That, my friends, is Edge of Tomorrow.

edge-tomorrow-bannerIf there’s one thing we know about Tom Cruise, it’s that he is capable of pulling off the action/sci-fi film (see Oblivion), sometimes with flying colors (see Minority Report). Cruise has a way of portraying genuine valor in characters that few actors can match. So he is the perfect fit to play Major William Cage, a weasely coward who must become a masterfully heroic soldier after he is unexpectedly thrust into a battle front against an invading alien race.

But Edge of Tomorrow (based off of the Japanese graphic novel All You Need is Kill) is not your average man vs. aliens war epic. In this film, the hero is forced to live the same day over and over again following his death on the battlefield. Think Groundhog’s Day meets Independence Day. Emily Blunt plays Rita aka “The Angel of Verdun” or the “Full Metal Bitch”, a worldwide heroine who used the same power to capture a previous victory over the invading alien race known as mimics. Once discovering Cage’s power, the two must join forces, and experience a LOT of deaths, in order to learn from mistakes and turn the tides against the time shifting alien enemy.

The unique plot of course leads to a unique narrative, where scenes are lived over and over again. Early on, the redundancy can be as annoying to the audience as it is to Cruise’s William Cage, because it feels as if the story isn’t progressing. But where the film gets most interesting is when, following a montage of Cage’s deaths and redo’s, we no longer can tell if he’s been through the events or not. Cruise and Blunt make everything work. She is earnest, tough, and noble. Cruise soundly exhibits the fear and utter hopelessness that comes with the sense of an inevitable fate.

But their performances aren’t the only reason the film triumphs. The supporting soldiers, named the ‘J’ Squad by Master Sergeant Farrell Bartolome (Bill Paxton), is colorful and humorous. The Mimics themselves, massive metallic octopus-like creatures that move like rapid spiders, are perhaps the most visually daunting aliens I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi battle film. Some of it may be confusing, the beginning may be a bit clustered and rushed, and the ending may be a bit too happily ever after (at least for my taste). But the meat of the movie, aka the main course, is as vibrant and invigorating as any science fiction film.

FINAL GRADE: B+

A Western by the guy who made Family Guy (Full Review)

million_ways_to_die_in_the_west_ver11Seth McFarlane currently stands as the king of cartoon comedy. Family Guy and American Dad are two of the funniest cartoons on television and if you watch those shows, you know McFarlane’s style of comedy. In 2012, McFarlane made his first soiree onto the big screen with the moderately funny Ted. This time around, he sets his comedic sights on the old west.

Like with Ted, McFarlane again directs and stars in the film. But there is one thing about this film that sets it apart from anything McFarlane has ever done on TV or film. Instead of voicing a prominent character like Ted, Peter Griffin, or Stan Smith, this time McFarlane himself is on screen as the lead role. Based on this performance, he should probably stick to voice acting. It’s not that he isn’t funny as an actor, it’s just that he’s more awkward than funny. He doesn’t look like he is enjoying himself as sheep farmer Albert Stark. And as such, it just makes everything feel less humorous.

The plot of the movie involves Albert Stark learning how to be a gunman from an outlaw’s wife (Charlize Theron) in order to win back his ex-girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) from a rich mustache groomer (Neil Patrick Harris). Giovanni Ribisi plays Stark’s best friend, a virgin who is in a serious relationship with a prostitute (Sarah Silverman), and Liam Neeson plays the film’s outlaw villain. Neil Patrick Harris is probably the funniest character in the movie although McFarlane and Theron should get some credit for having decent on screen chemistry.

McFarlane’s shortcomings as an actor would be forgivable if the movie were funnier. But it just isn’t. You’ll chuckle every now and then, but even if you are a fan of the pop culture references, non-sequiturs, and potty humor that have come to make McFarlane famous, you won’t find enough here to make this movie interesting. I don’t get bored at the movies much, especially not during comedies, but I admittedly couldn’t wait for this one to be over.

FINAL GRADE: D+ Catch it on TV in a few years or don’t bother

P.S. This is my 50th Post!! Too bad it had to be on such a sh***y movie. Oh well, Edge of Tomorrow is next!