Independence Day: Resurgence (Full Rant)

Finding Dory was a perfect example of how an unnecessary sequel can be a masterpiece. Independence Day: Resurgence is the complete and utter opposite. We should’ve seen this coming. Not the inevitable sequel to a classic, but said inevitable sequel being a dud when Will Smith (whose film career was partially launched by the first film) refused to be involved. And even that giant red flag isn’t enough to prepare you for this disaster.

Independence-Day-2-posterLike the previous film, IDR picks up twenty years after “The War of 1996” when Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) helped lead the charge to save humanity from a hostile invading alien army. In the aftermath, humanity banded together and used the alien technology to create a global defense system reaching all the way to the moon and even to Saturn. Will Smith’s character is now dead, and his boring adopted son (Jessie Usher) has taken up the mantle as a decorated pilot. President Whitmore is now senile due to his first hand contact with the aliens and his daughter (Maika Monroe) is now a former pilot and presidential aid. Thor’s little brother (Liam Hemsworth) plays the same role he plays in every movie: The good-looking boyfriend who is a rugged fighter.

There are a bunch of other lousy characters in the movie, but I’ll spare you because I don’t want this review to be as flimsy as the movie was. Oh yeah… Vivica Fox returns if you consider two scenes being a part of the movie. All of the wit and charm that Will brought to the 1996 film is gone; replaced by so much cliché dialogue, characters and action sequences, you’d think this movie was the one made in the 90’s. And the compost heap of characters is only one part of the problem.

The plot obviously centers on the return of the evil aliens. Only this time there is a new wrinkle added, that doesn’t work at all, in the form of a separate alien being that comes to help the human race. After shooting down the peaceful alien ship, despite David Levinson (you know, the one guy everyone should listen to)’s objections, the evil alien force arrives and rips through Earth’s upgraded defense like a banner at a high school football game with a ship literally one third the size of Earth.

From there, we get stupid decision after stupid decision such as sending in the entire fleet of pilots at the mother ship, even though we know the shield’s are impenetrable and the same strategy failed 20 years ago. Then there are giant plot holes. The aliens have CLEARLY upgraded all of their arsenal, and yet a bunch of humans can hijack their ships in a matter of seconds and fly them out of the mothership like it’s as easy as picking up an X-Box controller and playing Halo. And somehow the impenetrable, continent sized mothership’s goal of drilling into the Earth’s core, is halted seconds from completion because the alien leader is defeated.

I searched myself for over 24 hours for something enjoyable about this film. But even Bill Pullman’s “rousing” speech feels forced making absolutely nothing about this movie feel genuine. Make no mistake, Independence Day: Resurgence is a loud, clumsy and hollow sequel that taints the legacy of its predecessor. So please, if you are a fan of the 1996 film as I am, do yourself a favor and pretend like this movie doesn’t exist.

FINAL GRADE: F

Independence Day: Resurgence (Full Rant)

Central Intelligence (Full Review)

Kevin Hart has made some great movies. Unfortunately, all of those were stand-up comedy specials. As for his movies where there is actually supposed to be plot and character development, he hasn’t quite figured that out yet. He played the supporting character well in movies like Think Like a Man and About Last Night, but movies like Get Hard and those God awful Ride Along movies have hardly established America’s top comedian as a home run leading man. Finding effective chemistry with his co-star has been one glaring issue, and luckily for him, he has the charismatic Dwayne Johnson to help him out with his latest film.

CentralIntelligencePosterCentral Intelligence stars Hart as a former high school golden boy turned middle aged accountant. Despite marrying his high school sweetheart (Danielle Nicolet), Hart feels like an underachiever stuck at a dead end job. That is until he is contacted by former classmate Robbie Weirdicht. Now a fugitive CIA agent going by the name Bob Stone (Johnson), “Fat Robby” has transformed from tormented, overweight geek into… well… The Rock. And after reuniting over drinks, Hart’s Calvin Joyner gets roped into Stone’s mission to clear his name with the CIA and foil a secret terrorist transaction.

The most important thing in a comedy is to be funny. The biggest reason Hart’s movies have mostly fallen flat is because they simply aren’t funny enough outside of the brief moments in their respective trailers. From Calvin’s first interaction with his annoying coworkers, it’s clear that this movie has a much better set of writers than any of Hart’s other films. The jokes come relentlessly and for the first time in a Kevin Hart led movie, I found myself crying laughing more than once.

Much of the comedy is due in large part to the chemistry between Hart and Johnson. Atrocious chemistry between Hart and Ice Cube weighs down the Ride Along movies, but here it seems like a match made in comedic heaven. The Rock’s dinky, tough guy routine plays well with Hart’s manic everyman and the two are able to provide a perfect comedic balance to drive the story through its more ludicrous and hokey moments.

The plot isn’t too shabby either. Aside from fleshing out the two main characters, Central Intelligence also delivers enough twists and turns to its action film elements to keep you from being bored. Throw in some unadvertised, but welcomed cameos and Central Intelligence feels like the comedy we’ve been waiting for from Kevin Hart. It seems all he really needed was a worthy co-star.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Central Intelligence (Full Review)

Warcraft (Full Review)

The question will remain until it’s effectively answered: Is it possible to make a great movie adaptation of a video game? Sure there have been some pretty decent ones (I’m quite fond of the original Resident Evil), but there’s no denying that when it comes to adapting another medium for the big screen, the video game to film genre is lightyears behind books, TV shows, and comics. Now comes Warcraft, adapted from a popular online role playing game, this Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy is the latest game franchise to fail to leave a mark for movie going audiences.

Warcraft_Teaser_PosterWarcraft tells the story of a war between Orcs, large humanoid tusked creatures, and humans. After the Orc home world begins to die, an Orc wizard named Gul’Dan (Daniel Wu) uses a dark magic force to create a portal to Azeroth, land of humans, dwarves and several other inconsequential species. There, they plan to conquer the humans and take Azeroth as their new home. Weary of the death and destruction is Orc chief and new father, Durotan (Toby Kebbell) who seeks to unite with the humans to stop Gul’Dan and protect his family. Leading the humans is their fiercest warrior, Lothar (Travis Fimmel), noble King Llane (Dominic Cooper), rogue wizard, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), fading sorcerer, Medivh (Ben Foster), and half human-half orc, Garona (Paula Patton).

The special effects are state of the art and the premise lends itself to an entertaining movie, but nearly everything about Warcraft is a bore. This is in large part due to stale performances by everyone not named Toby Kebbell. But I won’t blame the actors, a bland script and a plot void of any real surprises gives us a cast of generic characters that lack the charm or unique qualities to make them stand out as memorable. The result is a movie that struggles to make anyone care who, like me, never played the games.

The action in the film, though gruesome, is entertaining for anyone who is a fan of such things. And although the characters are generic and forgettable, the surviving pieces are at least left in scenarios that might garner a more interesting sequel. But none of that comes frequent enough to excuse a story that lacks conviction and characters that seem like something we’ve seen before. I’m not sure what the many fans of the game will think of Warcraft, but I’m almost certain newcomers won’t be captivated enough to want to stick around for anymore adventures.

FINAL GRADE: D+

 

Warcraft (Full Review)

Finding Dory (Full Review)

Pixar is the gold standard of animated family films. Among their many classics, few movies are as beloved as 2003’s Finding Nemo. The story about a father searching for his disabled son and learning not to be overprotective was highlighted by a cast of great characters. Ironically, the most unforgettable character was the one who couldn’t remember anything. And now, 13 years later, the Disney animation goliath brings us a much anticipated sequel that follows Dory on an all new adventure.

Finding_DoryPixar proved it can follow one of its classics with an equally fantastic film with the Toy Story trilogy. But before you go thinking Finding Dory is a lock to be a great follow up, I have two words for you… Cars 2. With Dory, the Pixar filmmakers had the challenge of making a movie with just as much heart, while maintaining a similar message about cherishing family and overcoming adversity that could easily feel repetitive. They manage to succeed, with flying colors.

Finding Dory picks up one year after Finding Nemo. Blue tang fish, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) continues to suffer from short term memory loss and now lives with her best clownfish buddy Marlon (Albert Brooks) and his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolance). One day, a series of familiar phrases triggers her memories of her long lost parents (Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy) and Dory sets out on a mission to reunite with them. The journey may seem like a retread, but a fantastic set of characters make it feel like anything but.

Pixar’s ability to create memorable characters is often what sets their films apart. Well… that and flawless animation. Finding Dory is a magnificent follow up to a beloved classic mainly because of its large cast of new characters, each one hilarious and unique. There’s a near sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), a beluga whale that thinks it’s sick (Ty Burrell), and a pair of lazy and bossy sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West). But perhaps no character is as critical to the movies fun and charisma as Hank (Ed O’Neil), a temperamental octopus trying to prevent being released from a safe and secure Marine hospital.

Sure, Ellen DeGeneres is once again endearing as Dory and Marlon and Nemo provide several laughs and valuable lessons, but without the new faces, the movie would feel like a good, but relatively unnecessary sequel. But these new characters make this heartwarming story about Dory overcoming her shortcomings and finding her family feel fresh and the missing piece we didn’t even realize we needed. I’ve always said, every movie doesn’t need a sequel, but sometimes… when the right people are behind it…. some movies most certainly do. And in the case of Finding Dory, despite being a bit more over the top than the original, it’s the sequel adults and kids have been waiting for.

FINAL GRADE: A+

Finding Dory (Full Review)

Now You See Me 2 (Full Review)

Now You See Me was one of Summer 2013’s most pleasant surprises. Charismatic characters and originality turned this heist film involving magicians into a unique film that was exciting from start to finish. But as I’ve always shouted from the mountaintops (my laptop)… EVERY GOOD MOVIE DOES NOT NEED A SEQUEL!

Now_You_See_Me_2_posterThe first film followed FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) as he led an investigation into Robin Hood-esque crimes done by four magicians known as The Four Horsemen. The twist (SPOLIER ALERT for the first movie) was that Rhodes was actually the ringleader of the Horsemen and the whole thing was a plot to get magician snitch Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) behind bars and expose a greedy businessman (Michael Caine) who failed to pay out insurance after the untimely death of Rhodes’ magician father.

Fast forward a year later, the horseman are all in hiding and Rhodes’ cover is still standing with the FBI, now helmed by Sanaa Lathan’s forgettable character. But a new heist is in the works, causing Rhodes to reassemble illusionist Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), hypnotist McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and pick pocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). Lizzy Caplain replaces Isla Fisher as the team’s fourth member.  Unfortunately for the Horsemen, before they can even pull of their first trick, they and Rhodes are exposed by an anonymous adversary and are forced on the run from the police, leading them to a billionaire tech mogul (Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe) who offers them freedom if they can pull off a heist for him.

The first film had the perfect amount of twists and turns to make the movie seem as viable as possible despite many of the tricks being virtually impossible even after they’re explained. Because this is a sequel, it seems as if the filmmakers feel as if they have to up the ante on almost every front. Sometimes this works (a scene involving some clever card tricks is the best in the movie), but the overall product seems head scratchingly confusing and overblown. The tricks seem more impossible and the twists seem way too convenient. There just  isn’t enough set up to justify the hordes of plot twists and the movie suffers under its own weight to try and make it bigger and better.

Lizzy Caplain is a bright spot as quirky newcomer Lula, but every other new character is insufferable.  Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of his character’s flamboyant twin brother is the biggest example of this. The character is annoying every second he’s on camera and is never inherently necessary. The climax is decent enough, as it restores the film to the illusionist elements that made the first film so captivating, but the ends hardly justifies the long, convoluted means. I’m all for sequels that live up to their predecessors or even manage to feel genuine, but Now You See Me 2 just seems like an exercise in Hollywood giving us something we think we want, but don’t actually need.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Now You See Me 2 (Full Review)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Full Review)

It’s great to watch a movie bursting at the seams with nostalgia. We all long for the days of sitting down in our PJ’s with a bowl of sugary cereal as we watch hours upon hours of Saturday morning cartoons. But eventually, as much as we appreciate yesteryear, we realize our age and it becomes evident that a coherent story is necessary for something to be truly entertaining.

Teenage_Mutant_Ninja_Turtles_Out_of_the_Shadows_posterNostalgia saved 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot from being a complete waste of time. The camaraderie between the four titular characters was the best thing the movie had going for it. The sequel, Out of the Shadows, is once again produced by Transformers and Bad Boys helmsmen, Michael Bay while Dave Green steps into the Director’s chair. One year after thwarting arch nemesis Sherdder’s moronic plan, the charismatic foursome, leader Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), brainy Donatello (Jeremy Howard), grumpy Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and goofball Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), continue to live under the streets of New York City with their giant rat sensei Splinter (Tony Shalhoub). When reporter and Ninja Turtle BFF April O’Neil (Megan Fox) stumbles onto scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry)’s plan to break Shredder (Brian Tee) out of prison, the turtles are forced back into action.

Several new characters are infused into this sequel, each of which longtime fans will be familiar with. Arrow’s Stephen Amell steps in as Hockey mask wearing vigilante Casey Jones, while Gary Anthony Williams and wrestler Sheamus bring Shredder’s mutated henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady to cinematic life for the first time. Personally it’s hard for me to break through the nostalgia of seeing Bebop and Rocksteady (popular characters from the 80’s cartoon) on the big screen for the first time to make an unbiased assessment of their performance. The same can’t be said for Amell’s lackluster portrayal of fan favorite Casey Jones. Longtime TMNT villain Krang is also shoe horned into the movie, and while it’s nice to see an adversary other than Shredder in a Turtles movie, the appearance of this character is beyond irrelevant in this film.

Once again, everything involving the Ninja Turtles themselves is great. From their quips and endearing brotherly interaction to their lessons learned about teamwork, they again make the movie worth seeing for fans. But the plot to this movie is even more manic and thrown together than the first movie’s story was. These movies make Ninja Turtles 3’s (1993) plot involving time travel seem relatively coherent.  It also doesn’t help that Brian Tee’s Shredder bares virtually no resemblance to the first film’s version. Sure, Out of the Shadows is nostalgic and the action is fun in doses (when the CGI isn’t noticeably spotty) and the original theme song in the ending credits is a grin inducing nice touch. But at some point it would be nice to do the original comics justice and make a movie where the story doesn’t seem like it was written by 90’s kids when they were still in 3rd grade.

FINAL GRADE: C

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Full Review)