The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Full Review)

You’re forgiven if you didn’t see, or just hardly remember, 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. The film certainly had its moments: Solid visuals, likable actors as the seven dwarves, and Charlize Theron as the wicked queen. But, the always melancholy Kristen Stewart in the lead role was a mistake as she made the film feel much more dull than it should’ve been. An unwarranted love triangle between Snow White (Stewart), the Prince (Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin), and the heroic Huntsman (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) didn’t help either. So, Universal Pictures decided to do the only logical Hollywood logical thing and give us a sequel/prequel void of Kristen Stewart.

The_Huntsman_–_Winter's_War_posterThe Huntsman: Winter’s War covers events before and after its 2012 predecessor, in a story revolving around all of the major returning cast. The plot predominantly focuses on The Ice Queen Freya (loosely based on the same fairy tale character that inspired Frozen’s Elsa), played amicably by Emily Blunt. Sister to Evil Queen Ravenna, Freya’s ice powers are unlocked when her infant child is killed. The  child’s death sends Freya on a mission to conquer as much land as possible, kidnapping children to train as her huntsman army. The best amongst those huntsman are Eric (Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who secretly break their queen’s only rule by falling in love with one another. After word of Revanna’s defeat at the hands of Snow White reaches the Ice Kingdom, it becomes a race to recover Revenna’s magic mirror.

The visuals, though not quite as striking as they were in the first movie, are still good enough to give the movie some solid popcorn eating enjoyment. There are also a couple of decent plot twists involved in the story, some you see coming from a mile away and some you don’t, that keep the plot from being too much of a generic action/adventure. As for the star studded cast, only Theron seems to really revel in her role, picking up right where she left off albeit in limited screen time. And Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, and Alexandra Roach do provide welcome humor as a set of wily supporting dwarves.

The biggest issue with Huntsman is really in the bland love story between Thor Eric and Sara. There’s enough cheesy dialogue between the two to conjure up more than a few eye rolls from any non-Twilight fan who’s watching and Jessica Chastain’s Sara, while being a tough warrior, just doesn’t seem to be intelligent enough to be truly likable. She tries her best to force herself away from Eric after Freya’s obvious attempt to separate them even though her heart, and sheer logic, should tell her otherwise.

The film ultimately suffers from lack of Charlize Theron, who undoubtedly breathes life into the few scenes she’s in. And while no one will miss Kristen Stewart, the fact that the movie takes place while her character is alive and in power, makes it incredibly awkward that she isn’t involved in the film at all. Instead, the movie focuses on Hemsworth and Chastain even though the previous film led us to believe there was a romantic connection building between Eric and Snow White. There are certainly worst films to be watched, but in the end The Huntsman: Winter’s War will end up being just as forgettable as its predecessor because of its main characters.

FINAL GRADE: C+

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Barbershop: The Next Cut (Full Review)

220px-BarbershopTheNextCutposterApparently, It’s never too late to make a sequel. And in the case of Ice Cube, over a decade isn’t too late to resurrect his popular Barbershop films from the early 00’s. Picking up 10+ years later can be a tricky thing for any film franchise. Luckily, with Barbershop: The Next Cut, O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson has a Director who knows all about delivering under those circumstances, in Malcolm D. Lee (Best Man Holiday).

It’s been 14 years since Barbershop 2: Back in Business, a movie that was decent, but not remotely as good as the first. Calvin (Ice Cube) is still running the barbershop he inherited from his father while he and his wife (Jazsmin Lewis) raise their teenage son (Michael Rainey Jr.) on the dangerous southside of Chicago. Like before, the film features an ensemble cast of characters, some old and some new. Eve returns as volatile barber, Terri, although she’s traded in Michael Ealy for Common as a love interest. Cedric the Entertainer also returns as Eddie, the wise-cracking older statesmen of the shop who rarely ever actually cuts hair. Other characters from the older films (Sean Patrick Thomas, Troy Garity) are little more than cameos.

There are a bunch of refreshing new faces in the mix this time around. Regina Hall stars as Angie, Calvin’s partner who runs the beauty parlor half of the shop. Along with her are feminist, Bree (Margot Bingham), and Draya (Nicki Minaj) who seems hell bent on stealing Rashad (Common) from his wife (Eve). Rounding out the comedic cast are Lamorne Morris as black nerd, Jerrod, Utkarsh Ambudkar as token foreigner, Raja, Deon Cole as Dante, the customer who never leaves, and J.B. Smoove as Barbershop bootlegger, ‘One-Stop’.

On the surface it would seem as if there are too many characters crammed into the shop this time around, but the film actually does a more than amiable job giving each character their time to shine. Whether it’s chemistry or comedic timing, this Barbershop feels as funny and charming as the original from the moment we first step in. Even Nicki Minaj, who is clearly the odd ball on the acting front, manages to slip in more than a few heavy laughs to justify her presence. The lone exception is Anthony Anderson who reprises his role as hustler, AJ, from the first film. Not only does his character provide few, if any, comedic moments, but his presence is completely irrelevant to the overall story.

Speaking of the overall story, like the original Barbershop, this film seeks to be both entertaining and thought provoking. Woven between the jokes are important questions raised about street violence, misogyny, and relationships, all of which are relevant to the black community. And while the film doesn’t actually get around to answering many of these questions, they do manage to get people thinking, and there’s merit in that, at least in a comedy.

The dramatic moments don’t always hit. One particular scene meant to be the film’s most dramatic, falls somewhat flat due to the character involved not being fleshed out enough. And sometimes, the film’s attempt to hammer home lessons comes off feeling like an after school special. But, again, the movie didn’t have to address these types of issues at all. They could’ve hit us over the head with another plot about a rival barbershop or something along those lines. But instead, Barbershop: The Next Cut takes the high road, and manages to sublimate a horde of side splitting laughs with an endearing message.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Disney’s The Jungle Book (Full Review)

It seems as if we are now in full swing remake mode as Disney is now updating their animated classics with the live action treatment on a yearly basis. Last year’s Cinderella proved that, while redundant, this can still be a relatively pleasant experience for old and new audiences. With Beauty and the Beast on tap for next year, we’d better get used to seeing our childhood films recreated.
220px-The_Jungle_Book_(2016)The latest Disney classic to get the reboot treatment is the 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The story itself has seemingly been done to death over the past century, but the Disney animated version is hard to forget. The catchy songs and solid voice cast helped ingrain it in our minds, giving this new film some lofty expectations to live up to. Luckily, the film has a strong director at the helm (Jon Favreau) and a wonderful team of CGI artists to help make this new version just as memorable.

For anyone who’s been living under a rock, The Jungle Book tells the story of talking animals and Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a human boy found as a baby in the jungle by a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kinglsey) who entrusts him to a family of wolves. After a vicious tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens to kill the outsider, Bagheera and Mowgli’s wolf parents (Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o) decide it best to return Mowgli to a nearby village where he can be with other humans. On their journey, they encounter an easy going bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), a hypnotizing snake named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), and sly monkey king, Louie (Christopher Walken), who wants the boy to teach him how to create fire.

While the story won’t feel new to anyone who isn’t in grade school, the film manages to feel refreshing from start to finish. This is due in part to a well crafted script that manages to make slight adjustments to make the story match the realness of its imagery. And the imagery is stunning, but this should be no surprise as Disney is known to spare no expense for their films. The animals are animated to look as real as possible, and the jungle scenery is breathtaking.

But the number one reason that this new version of The Jungle Book is an absolute triumph that now has me excited and eager for more animation remakes, is due to the awesome cast. Giancarlo Esposito, Lupita Nyong’o and Ben Kinglsey all bring a beautiful nobility to their roles as Mowgli’s guardians while Scarlett Johansson is fittingly hypnotic in limited screen time. Neel Sethi is perhaps the weakest link as Mowgli, but that is mainly due to the fact that he’s a child actor. Considering the fact that he’s essentially the only non-CGI character in the movie, he actually does a remarkable job as well.

There are two actors who unsurprisingly steal the show. Bill Murray manages to bring even more charm and charisma to the character of Baloo than we saw in the iconic 1967 animated version. As for Shere Khan, the best movies have the best villains, and Idris Elba owns every second the character is in. From the moment the imposing tiger enters the film, he brings an intimidating, yet captivating aura that makes you absolutely love him.

Yes, Hollywood needs to take chances on original ideas more. Pretty much every blockbuster is a sequel or a remake. But if Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book is any indication of the quality Disney is putting into these live action updates, then by all means keep them coming. Pretty much the only flaw to this movie is the shoe horned songs in the second half that turn the movie back into a musical all of a sudden. But even they work for nostalgia’s sake. I originally cringed at the idea of seeing my childhood favorites recreated, but after watching this movie, I honestly say bring on a CGI recreation of The Lion King next.

FINAL GRADE: A

Perfect Match/The Boss Quick Reviews

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus (somewhat recovering from the disappointment of Batman v Superman). But I’ve still been doing my best to keep up with all of the new releases. Here are two films to avoid if you haven’t spent money on them already.

ThePerfectMatchPosterTHE PERFECT MATCH 106 and Park host turned actor, Terrence J gets the star treatment in his first leading role. Fresh off getting significant screen time in the Think Like A Man films as a humble, church going Mama’s boy, Terrence switches things up this time as Charlie, a successful bachelor who wants anything but a serious relationship despite the fact that his best friends (Donald Faison, Lauren London, Robert Riley, Dascha Polanco) are all married. Believing that he is immune to love, and ignoring the counsel of his older sister (Paula Patton), Charlie takes a bet that he can withstand a sexual relationship with new flame, Eva (Cassie Ventura), without falling for her and wanting something more.

The movie isn’t unwatchable, but there are numerous qualities that may make you feel like you overspent for the price of admission. A cast of mainly B-listers and a relatively flimsy script that for some reason includes a subplot involving rapper French Montana as himself, don’t help the mediocre production value and cinematography that are both best suited for a BET original movie. But the biggest problem is Terrence J. After watching him hold his own in an ensemble cast as a choir boy, seeing him here as a womanizing playboy just never feels right. And when your lead actor isn’t quite believable, even a few funny jokes and a pleasantly surprising twist in the final act can’t save this movie from feeling like something best suited for Redbox and a rainy day. FINAL GRADE: C-

 

The_Boss_posterTHE BOSS I’m beginning to wonder if Melissa McCarthy is doing this on purpose. We know McCarthy can be downright hilarious (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy). And yet, she continues to put out a stinker (Identity Thief, Tammy) every so often to make you that much more skeptical about her next film. This newest unfunny, cash grab sees McCarthy taking on the role of  orphan turned despicable, rich mogul Michele Darnell.  After being ratted out for insider stock trading by her ex (Peter Dinklage), Darnell hits rock bottom and must room with her former assistant (Kristen Bell) who is a single mother raising a teenage daughter.

This may very well be McCarthy’s worst film. I spent the first 45 minutes waiting to laugh and even after the movie was over I had trouble recollecting a single funny moment. The fact that this movie is a comedy makes it unwatchable for that reason alone and makes the tiny dose of heart toward the end seem like an afterthought. Then there’s Peter Dinklage, who absolutely phones it in with a role so cartoonish, it makes his performance in last summer’s Pixels seem Oscar worthy. I’ll give McCarthy a pass on this one, so long as she never does anything like it again. FINAL GRADE: D-