Despicable Me 3 (Full Review)

Pixar and Dreamworks aren’t the only ones who can make great animated films. When Despicable Me first arrived in 2010, it became a surprise hit thanks to its endearing family story that molded seamlessly with a brand of Looney Tunes-like slapstick humor. But after a solid 2013 follow up film, the animators at Illumination tested their luck by making a Minions spinoff that fell flat. With Despicable Me 3, there is a need to rekindle the old magic to avoid the franchise from becoming stale.

Despicable_Me_3_(2017)_Teaser_PosterDespicable Me 3 picks up where Part 2 left off. Former supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) continues to raise his three adopted girls Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Nev Scharrel), and Edith (Dana Gaier) while serving as a secret agent with his new wife Lucy (Kristin Wiig). After failing to capture an 80’s obsessed former child star turned supervillain (Trey Parker), Gru and Lucy lose their jobs as agents and are forced to seek refuge with Gru’s long lost wannabe villain twin brother, Dru.

If Minions almost made you forget just how great the Despicable Me stories are, Despicable Me 3 thankfully has several moments that are a pleasant reminder. The family dynamic is once again wonderfully charming and the laughs are plentiful. The biggest flaw is in the addition of the wholly unnecessary and often annoying character of Dru, but by the end even he manages to fit into the dynamic without feeling out of place. As for the minions, they are thankfully back where they belong as the comedic sideshow where most of them are involved in a plot that requires them to break out of prison.

Like the villains in the previous films, Trey Parker’s Balthazar Bratt is meant to be less of an in depth character and more of just a comedic caricature. And what a caricature he is. Dancing to Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ while doing the “running man”, the character provides some good laughs even if you could care less about why he exists. Despicable Me 3, unlike the Minions spinoff, has a better understanding of what works best in the franchise and even if the story isn’t quite as memorable as parts 1 and 2, it manages to still be a wholesome and funny family adventure.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Worthy of a Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

 

 

Rough Night (Full Review)

The Hangover with women. That’s probably how the studio pitched the idea to the cast. The Hangover, the first one at least, was a hit so taking that premise and adding a recognizable leading lady with a few established comedic actors should be enough to make a worthwhile comedy. At least in theory.

Rough_NightRough Night stars Scarlett Johansson as Jess, an aspiring congresswoman who decides to reunite with her college friends for her bachelorette party. Joining her in Miami is her clingy best friend Alice (Jillian Bell), snooty divorcee Blair (Zoe Kravitz), lesbian activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Aussie Pippa (Kate McKinnon). Things go haywire when Alice accidentally kills a male stripper, sending the group into a wild night of mass panic and a few odd twists that could’ve all been solved with a simple ‘911’ call.

What starts off as a pretty basic story really goes all over the place as the story goes along. And not in the ‘so random its hilarious’ way, but in the ‘why is all of this happening’ way. Several running jokes, like Ty Burrell and Demi Moore cameoing as an over-sexed couple trying to woo Kravitz’s Blair into a threesome, get old real quick. Others that start off relatively funny, Paul W. Downs as Jess’ fiancé who has a group of boring friends, go off on tangents that ruin aspects that might’ve been great.

As a result, Rough Night seems muddled and lacks comedic wit. Jillian Bell and Kate McKinnon do their very best to occasionally inject life into the flat tone, but they can only do so much. Even with decent chemistry between the cast and a few partially endearing moments, this movie is far too much of a mess to fully enjoy.

FINAL GRADE: D

Baby Driver (Full Review)

Fast and the Furious can be an acquired taste, but if there’s something we can all agree on, it’s that fast cars are entertaining as hell. Edgar Wright, the man behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, seems to have grasped that concept pretty well and manufactured it into a sleek heist film. In this summer filled with sequels, adaptations, and reboots, Wright refreshingly injects a film with exhilarating summer action, a great cast, and some catchy tunes.

Baby_Driver_posterBaby Driver stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, a skilled getaway driver who uses music to drown out a condition leftover from an accident that killed his parents. After falling for a diner waitress named Debora (Lily James), Baby desires a life free of car chases and shootouts. But to gain his freedom, he’ll have to outsmart his blackmailing boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), and his collection of loose cannon associates Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm,) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez).

Everything about Baby Driver is stylish and fun. The action sequences, which the film wastes no time getting into, are ridiculously exhilarating thanks to some jaw dropping stunt work. The music is an eclectic, but fitting mix of rock n’ roll and hip hop songs blended from different eras. Perhaps the most captivating, is how Wright incorporates the music into his cinematography, often synchronizing beats with the swift movements onscreen.

But while it can be entertaining, a movie can’t be truly great off of action, music, and cinematography alone. Wright’s story is well crafted and endearing. Though the characters seem simple, the charm of Elgort and Lily James helps us buy into the starry eyed romance between Baby and Debora. Meanwhile, Foxx, Hamm, Gonzalez, and even Jon Bernthal in a small role, all do their best to steal each scene they’re in as the wickedly charismatic band of degenerate thieves. Kevin Spacey effectively makes it all come together with his slick portrayal of the group’s ring leader.

Baby Driver moves at a pace that is swift but never difficult to follow. If you aren’t hooked by the opening scene, then this simply isn’t for you. As for me, I found it to be the most exciting thrill ride of the summer and maybe of 2017.

FINAL GRADE: A

Cars 3 (Full Review)

Cars has always been the black sheep of the Disney Pixar family. The first film is pretty good, but its unwarranted sequel is the only purely bad film in the studio’s illustrious gallery. And yet, thanks to the magic of merchandising revenue, the sequel no one liked has begat the sequel no one asked for in Cars 3.

Cars_3_posterOwen Wilson returns to voice Lightning McQueen, the famed champion of racing in this world where vehicles replace people as living beings. When a sleeker, more dominant young racer named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) threatens to force him into retirement, McQueen decides to work with a spunky young trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) in hopes of proving that his best days aren’t behind him. Larry the Cable Guy reprises his role as McQueen’s best friend Mater and Bonny Hunt returns as McQueen’s girlfriend Sally.

Cars 3 is as wholesome as ever, for better and worse. ‘G’ rated films have become increasingly rare, as more and more animated family films try to keep things as interesting as possible for older audiences while still remaining kid friendly. Thus, Cars 3 feels like the Nick Jr. to the rest of the animated world’s Nickelodeon. The jokes are pretty simple which makes things delightful enough to warrant a smile but never anything heavier than that. The story might also fail to interest any non-toddler as it lulls in the middle before finally becoming exciting in its final act.

While it is by no means on par with any of Pixar’s masterpieces, Cars 3 does deserve points for being far more necessary than its predecessor. It is undoubtedly a fun film for youngsters, even if their parents might dose off once or twice. And if you are a childless adult who scoffs at the idea that Pixar movies are only for kids, I suggest you pass on Cars 3.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

 

Transformers: The Last Knight (Full Review)

At this point, Michael Bay directing Transformers films is like that friend of yours at the party who was drunk hours ago but keeps tossing back shots. When he first arrived he was the life of the party, but now he has to drive home and you realize that someone should’ve snatched the keys from him a long time ago. The Transformers movies started off as a goofy, but fun and action packed thrill ride with low expectations due to the fact that it’s based off of a line of action figures. But now, the series has effectively become dumb and redundant.

timthumbIf you thought that the plot to Transformers 2,3, and 4 were overly convoluted, then get ready for this shit. Yeah, I said ‘shit’, and if that bothers you then you probably shouldn’t see this movie because the word is used in every other sentence like the entire cast are fifth graders who think cursing makes them cool and edgy. The heroic Optimus Prime has left Earth in hopes of finding and killing his creator. Back on our planet, the military has outlawed all transformers and is hunting them. You’d think after the Autobots have saved their asses in four movies that they’d stop blowing up the good guys… but whatever.

Meanwhile, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and some 14 year old we’re made to think is relevant but isn’t (Isabela Moner) are fugitives for harboring Bumblebee and the rest of the Autobots. Yeager finds a medallion that belonged to twelve ancient transformers that fought with King Arthur and the wizard Merlin, which brings him into contact with Anthony Hopkins and his annoying robot butler who want to recover the staff of Merlin (portrayed as a buffoon by Stanley Tucci) that they’ll need to keep Earth from being devoured by Cybertron, the Transformers’ home world. Laura Haddock plays Merlin’s successor (that’s a spoiler but you shouldn’t care) and Josh Duhamel and John Turturro reprise their roles for no real reason.

There. Those are the overt basics of the plot and that doesn’t even mention Autobot arch nemesis Megatron who also returns in a useless subplot. So you can only imagine how meandering this nearly three hour film is. At a certain point, there isn’t any reason to care about any of the story, because you know its eventually going to turn into a robot war with a bunch of military aircrafts and explosions. But even that action is often muddled and disorienting.

There are so many robots that you wonder if the writers even remembered them all. Constantly, at every corner one comes, makes a corny joke, blows something up, gets shot, then leaves, appearing on screen just long enough to make you question why it appeared in the first place. The dinobots return from Age of Extinction only to be inexplicably absent during the finale. And if you were excited about the battle between an evil Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, get ready to be Batman v Supermaned (“Why did you say that name!!!”). In fact, Optimus Prime is barely in the movie, so putting him on posters is like putting Hawkeye on the forefront of Avengers promotions.

The goofy humor, which gets less funny with each film, has finally hit rock bottom. There’s barely a chuckle to be had. There’s no Bernie Mac, T.J. Miller or Anthony Anderson here. No one brings the physical comedy that made Shia LaBeouf necessary. Mark Wahlberg looks bored and the feeble attempt at romantic chemistry between he and Haddock is lifeless. So by the time you actually get through the two hours of bull crap and get to the climactic battle, you just feel exhausted. There are just too many characters that are lackluster and irrelevant.

This series has run its course. The writing no longer makes any sense and other than Bumblebee, no character is truly likable or memorable. Even Fast and the Furious knew how to shake things up a bit. Enough with the transformers made to be stereotypes and the quirky, dumb humans searching for some magical McGuffin. The animated films and TV shows can be taken more seriously, so it’s clear that this franchise needs new blood. This is supposed to be Michael Bay’s last time directing Transformers. But after watching his final monotonous entry, it just feels like we’ve already been enablers to our drunken friend who ruined the party.

FINAL GRADE: A big fat Decepticon sized F

All Eyez on Me (Full Review)

Having great source material does not guarantee a great movie… especially when it comes to Biographical films. Some true stories may work best as mini-series’ or documentaries, but making a feature length film requires finding the right actors and fine-tuning all of the compelling facts into a cohesive under-three hour story. Tupac Shakur is already an interesting subject, even if you were never a fan, but making a film about his life needs more than that to live up to the hype of one of music’s most iconic figures.

AllEyez_posterNewcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. takes on the difficult role of playing rap legend Tupac Shakur, a man that went Platinum from prison and had 7 albums released after his death. Navigating through his rise to fame, problems with the law and untimely murder, the film highlights his relationships with his former Black Panther mother (Danai Gurira), friend Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), lover Kidada Jones (Annie Ilonzeh) and violent manager Suge Knight (Dominic Santana).

As I mentioned, when making a biopic, the most important elements are landing the right cast and creating a sound story. Straight Outta Compton nailed both. The James Brown biopic Get on Up had a great cast but lacked narrative structure.  All Eyez on Me doesn’t really secure either one. The cast has a few bright spots. Danai Gurira is clearly the best actor on screen as Pac’s mother. Kat Graham doesn’t look like Jada Pinkett, but she has the mannerisms down pat and Jamal Woolard, reprising his role from Notorious, is also once again great as Biggie Smalls. But this is a Tupac movie, and it helps if the guy at the forefront can consistently carry his weight.

Shipp Jr. isn’t terrible. He definitely gets better as the movie goes along, but aside from physically resembling Tupac, it never really feels like he embodies the artist. Tupac had a boyish charm to him that made him incessantly charismatic while also carrying a serene wisdom that transcended others in the industry. Aside from spouting some Shakespeare, that intelligence doesn’t really come through in Shipp’s performance and the charm only appears in doses.

As for its narrative structure, the movie takes nearly half of its two and a half hour runtime to find its footing. The first half works like a spark notes version of Pac’s life, fluttering between scenes without cohesive transition or focus while being filled with as many cliché monologues as possible. A prison interview is used as a framing device and then is completely dropped halfway through, making the much more compelling last half feel like it has a completely different director.

All Eyez on Me succeeds in being interesting, but never thoroughly entertaining. It’s hard not to compare it to Straight Outta Compton, but considering its subject matter, those comparisons are inevitable. Without a stellar lead, and without cohesion, the movie never truly becomes the homage it wants to be.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

The Mummy (2017) Full Review

Welcome to the age of cinematic universes. Marvel did it. DC is doing it. Even Lego has one going. And now Universal is trying to cash in on the action by using their old monster movies. The Brendan Frasier Mummy movies weren’t the greatest, but there is a fun 90’s camp feel to them that makes them enjoyable. Looking to launch their interconnected Dark Universe, The Mummy tosses Tom Cruise into the fold to reboot the series.

The_Mummy_(2017)Cruise stars as US soldier, Nick Morton, who scrambles around the middle east with his friend and fellow soldier (Jake Johnson) recovering artifacts from insurgents to sell on the black market. After stealing a map from an archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis), he inadvertently releases Princess Ahmanet, (Sofia Boutella), an evil mummy who wants to turn him into the god of death and unleash hell on earth. Oh yeah… and Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde ‘cause cinematic universe and stuff.

The movie certainly earns points for some solid special effects and a few successful jump scares, but it’s hard to ignore how out of place everything is. Tom Cruise has never been one for slapstick humor, and this movie is full of zany jokes that would work best if Brendan Frasier were the one leading the charge. Instead, this movie switches between horror and campy action adventure, never truly settling on a correct tone and fading into a failed attempt to be what it thinks audiences want to see in a summer blockbuster.

Cruise is also not the only one out of his element. Russell Crowe is useless, to both the plot and as a casting choice and Annabelle Wallis’ Dr. Halsey is dull and unoriginal. And if the meandering story and unnecessary easter eggs don’t make it completely obvious that this movie is designed to set up spinoffs and sequels, the somewhat inexplicable ending does its best to shove that concept as far down your throat as possible. There are worse films to watch, even in the Mummy franchise (Scorpion King anyone?), but this Mummy reboot is just a soulless attempt to cash in on the hottest Hollywood trend without actually doing anything to make you care about any of it.

FINAL GRADE: D

Wonder Woman (Full Review)

In baseball, when you’re losing, you don’t always need a homerun to restore the hope in your fans. Sometimes, you just need a solid base hit to get your team back into a rhythm. 2016 had two strikeouts for the DC Comics Extended Universe. Batman v Superman was the most dreary, self-indulgent superhero movie ever and Suicide Squad was a sloppy mess that had to rely on a seasoned cast to make it watchable. But now Wonder Woman is up to the plate, and after being one of the few bright spots in Batman v Superman, the most iconic superheroine in comic book history looks to get DC and Warner Bros. back in the cinematic game.

Wonder_Woman_(2017_film)Gal Gadot returns as Diana, the youngest of an island of Amazonian women created by Zeus to defend mankind from Aries, the God of War. Trained by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana becomes the fiercest Amazonian warrior, much to the dismay of her protective mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). When a World War I spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on their hidden shores, Diana embarks on a mission with him and his friends (Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock) to find Aries and end the war before a German General (Danny Huston) and his chemist partner (Elena Anaya) can release a deadly gas on all of mankind.

From the beginning, when we see Diana as a starry eyed little girl, the movie has a charming tone to it that never ceases. All of the supporting protagonists are likable and the chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine always comes off as genuine. Both Diana and Steve Trevor are wonderfully layered characters that uplift each other. Diana is portrayed as a strong but naïve fish out of water who learns the nuances of mankind from Trevor while he is a brave soldier who lacks faith until being inspired by her strong willed and unyielding nature.

Great chemistry between the cast is coupled with a strong dose of well timed humor that, unlike Suicide Squad, never feels forced. It should also come as no surprise to anyone that saw the character in Batman v Superman that the battle scenes are thrilling. So despite being over two hours, the movie paces beautifully with only the beginning feeling a tad slow.

Wonder Woman isn’t without some glaring flaws. There is an overuse of CGI which often clashes with the more tangible scenes in the film that feature well choreographed fights and gorgeous costumes and scenery. The movie also has some hokey moments and lacks a strong central antagonist (The final reveal seems a bit forced). So while it isn’t quite a homerun, Director Patty Jenkins does manage to make it DC’s first film that feels smart, fun, exciting, and endearing throughout. And that makes it a solid double off of the back wall and enough to give us faith in the studio again.

FINAL GRADE: B

Baywatch (Full Review)

If you’re like me, you remember the concept of Baywatch more than the actual show. David Hasselhoff and women in skin tight swimsuits solved crimes as lifeguards on the beaches of Los Angeles. Somehow that was a premise good enough for over a decade of television episodes. If there’s a property that seems ripe for a comedic parody film, it’s this one.

Baywatch_posterIn this adaptation of Baywatch, Dwayne “The Hulk” Johnson takes over Hasselhoff’s role of head Emerald Bay lifeguard Mitch Buchannon, whose job becomes a bit more frustrating after his boss (Rob Huebel) sticks him with arrogant Olympic Swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron). When a club owner (Priyanka Chopra) begins smuggling drugs on their beach, Mitch and fellow lifeguards Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), Summer (Alexandra Daddario), and chubby oddball Ronnie (Jon Bass) take on the role of self appointed beach vigilantes to try and stop her, much to the dismay of actual area policeman, Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Marketing itself as a comedy for wide audiences and not just fans of the television series, poking fun at the fact that the original cast carried themselves as if they were filming Law and Order, and not a cheesy drama that was just a reason for people to gawk at supermodels, should’ve offered the opportunity for heavy laughs. And yet, the cast of this film version of Baywatch operate almost exactly like their small screen predecessors. Throughout the movie, it is reinforced that this should be a job for the police and that Mitch and his crew are out of their league. Instead of at least crafting a resolution to show that both sides could help each other in protecting the bay, the movie ends up being a tale of superhero lifeguards who can and will recklessly take matters into their own hands with positive results. And maybe that was the point, for Dwayne Johnson and cast to embrace the ridiculousness of the source material by attacking it with the same seriousness. The problem with that is that it makes Baywatch the movie as terrible as the TV show.

Instead of being a spoof, the film wants to be an action movie with self-reverential humor and carries itself as if its rescue sequences are actually intensely thrilling. But the entire time it just feels like you’re being told a boring, over exaggerated story that might be more interesting if you were a lifeguard. It doesn’t help that many of the scenes don’t feel remotely realistic due to an overuse of green screen, which just seems lazy considering the movie is set on an LA beach.

Occasionally the movie makes up for its atrocious attempt at being exciting by throwing in some good laughs. But there aren’t as much as you’d think. The movie follows my comedy pet peeve of having its biggest laughs in its trailers and too often it relies on gross out humor or Jon Bass’ character being the awkward antithesis of the typical Baywatch lifeguard. And it’s a shame, because we know from past films like Central Intelligence and Neighbors that Johnson and Efron are capable of being hilarious with both delivery and physical comedy.

So if you’re expecting a comedic parody, you’ll only be satisfied about 20% of the time. As for the purists, I’ve never met an actual fan of the TV show so I don’t know if it’ll be pleasing to them. Sure, the men look like gladiators and the woman are stunning, but who the hell cares if you have to sit through two hours of lousy plot and cheesy action?

FINAL GRADE: D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Full Review)

Few summer blockbusters have ever been as much fun as Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The movie had thrills, humor, and charming characters. But the more movies they attempted to squeeze out of Johnny Depp’s iconic Jack Sparrow, the more the franchise began to lose its luster. Dead Man’s Chest was good, not great. At World’s End was far too long and overstuffed to truly enjoy. And… and… there was a fourth one, right? Something about Blackbeard? Anywho… this newest installment hopes to bring the Disney magic back to the eerie waters of the Pirates franchise.

Pirates_of_the_Caribbean,_Dead_Men_Tell_No_TalesThe aptly named Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds an undead sea captain searching for the bumbling, alcoholic, but keenly clever scoundrel known as Jack Sparrow. This time, said sea captain is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spaniard who once hunted pirates but was tricked into defeat by a young Jack. To escape Salazar, Jack must team with a female astronomer (Kaya Scodelario) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Jack’s old ally Will (Orlando Bloom returning in a cameo role), to find a legendary trident that will grant them power over the sea.  Meanwhile, Jack’s old rival Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) seeks to save himself from Salazar and his henchmen of zombies who can’t step on land by helping in the hunt for Jack Sparrow.

Like most Pirates movies (even the good ones), the plot can get a bit caught up in itself as it lumbers on for over two hours. There are some characters, like a British Naval Captain (David Wenham), that take up too much screen time despite being both generic and unnecessary. The plot itself also carries its fair share of conveniences. But what is Pirates of the Caribbean if not an unbelievable tale hidden beneath massive set pieces and well crafted costumes?

For the most part, Dead Men Tell No Tales manages to recapture the swashbuckling fun that made the franchise so popular. Yes, the plot often seems filled with holes so big that previous films can even get sucked into them, but that doesn’t take away from the fun at all. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush effectively step back into their roles as if they never left. Newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario provide wholesome focal points as a boy fighting to reunite with his father and a woman trying to forge her own path in a world where a woman is deemed a witch if she reads a book. Javier Bardem even manages to succeed in being a wholly threatening adversary even though he’s essentially no different from the villains in the other Pirates films.

The movie is filled with some scenes so over the top or cheesy that your eyes might fall out of your head. But those moments are eclipsed by all of the genuine laughs and charm brought to the story. With stunning CGI effects and likable new characters, this entry feels much more like what audiences fell in love with. By reconnecting with the original trilogy (something the fourth film almost completely failed to do), this new Pirates manages to give us an adventure both nostalgic and compelling.

FINAL GRADE: B