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New York City may be home to around eight-and-a-half million people,
but you'd never know it from "Run All Night," a crime drama whose
credibility hinges on our willingness to swallow a rather implausible,
it's-a-small-world-after-all coincidence (which, in the interest of
avoiding plot spoilers, I won't spell out for the reader).
Fortunately, that doesn't turn out to be as much of a hindrance as it might have, since performance is the primary reason for watching "Run All Night" anyway. Liam Neeson stars as Jimmy, a down-on-his- luck, alcoholic ex-hit man for an old Irish mob boss (Ed Harris) who himself claims to have gone straight. Joel Kinnaman (from "Robocop" and TV's "The Killing") is Jimmy's son, Michael, a morally upstanding, solid family man who wants nothing to do with his ethically compromised old man - until, that is, thanks to that aforementioned coincidence, Michael becomes the unwitting target of the mob boss and finds he needs his dad's skills as a straight- shooting killer to help keep him from meeting an untoward and untimely demise.
If you can get past the unlikely premise, "Run All Night" provides a reasonably diverting time at the movies, thanks to Brad Inglesby's twisty/turny screenplay and Jaume Collet-Serra's caffeinated direction. And Jimmy and Michael even manage to work out a few of their father- son issues in between shootouts, car chases and non- stop threats from gangsters and crooked cops alike. Actor/rapper Common also makes an appearance in the movie.
Even though "Run All Night" is clearly miles above Neeson's most recent action opus, "Taken 3," it would still be nice to see this talented actor taking on a few more challenging film roles sometime in the near future. Here's hoping.
"Focus" is like a modern-day version of "The Sting," with bits of
"Pygmalion" and "Pretty Woman" thrown in for good measure.
Will Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon, a seasoned thief who leads an elaborate, well-oiled cadre of fellow criminals whose activities range from simple pick pocketing to high-tech identify theft. Spurgeon plays the Professor Henry Higgins to Jess Barrett's Eliza Dolittle, as he trains this promising, attractive crook-in-the- making in the fine art of stealing.
Audiences love a good con game, and "Focus" provides one, as Nicky and Jess hustle carefully chosen targets as well as each other. And therein lies the rub for the two characters, for when one makes one's living by being dishonest, is it really possible to establish that basis of trust upon which any romantic relationship must inevitably be built if it is to survive and flourish?
Filled with the twists and turns of plot and personality that are essential to the genre, the screenplay by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who co-directed the film) is sufficiently clever without ever being overly original, while Smith and Margot Robbie make a very appealing couple as Nicky and Jess. Moreover, there are fine performances by Rodrigo Santoro, Robert Taylor and Gerald McRaney in supporting roles. The locales range from New York City to New Orleans to Buenos Aires, which means we always have at least something to look at when the action gets a little slow - which isn't often.
"Focus" is not likely to make it into anyone's pantheon of great caper movies, but it provides enough entertainment to make it fun and enjoyable for the duration.
A comedy comprised of equal parts heart, brains and soul, "Unfinished
Business" is so low-keyed and laid-back in its humor that it's
practically guaranteed to get lost amidst all the crasser and flashier
items that Hollywood has to offer.
The movie reminds us, too, of just how nuanced and instinctive an actor Vince Vaughn can be when he's given material worthy of his talents (check out 1998's unforgettable "Return to Paradise" for definitive proof of this assertion). Vaughn stars as Dan Trunkman, a harried St. Louis businessman and father of two who feels so unappreciated by the firm he works for that he decides to strike out on his own and start his own company. The problem is he's saddled with two less-than-impressive employees to help get the business off the ground: a 67-year-old associate named Tim McWinters (Tom Wilkinson), and a baby-faced neophyte with the giggle-inducing name of Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) whose infectious smile and childlike eagerness at least partially make up for his lack of experience, social graces and smarts. While Dan and his merry band of social misfits try and land a major account in Europe, Dan also faces crises back home with his overweight son and hyper-sensitive daughter who are struggling with issues of self-image and bullying.
It's hard to imagine that we'll encounter a more purely likable character at the movies this year than Mike Pancake. Indefatigable, perpetually smiling and almost pathologically eager to please, Michael represents all of us who are just trying to find validation and acceptance from a world that is all too often looking for ways to marginalize us or put us down. And Franco plays the role with the perfect mixture of unaffected simplicity and pathos to make us care deeply about the character.
The script by Steven Conrad is so self-assured and knowing in its reflection of human nature - especially in those moments of off-the- wall surrealism that come seemingly out of nowhere - that its lapses into crassness and vulgarity are all the more painful and regrettable when they come along. But those occasions are few and far between, and the movie has some endearing things to say about the power of team work, self-esteem and unconquerable determination in getting us the things we need and want out of life.
Directed by Ken Scott, "Unfinished Business" is a scruffy, underdog of a movie that may not be perfect but, thanks to its innate sweetness and delightful performances, certainly gets you in its corner rooting it on.
"Hot Tub Time Machine 2," the sequel to the critical and box office hit
from 2010, proves definitively that if at first you DO succeed, don't
As Part 2 opens, we find that two of the original time-trippers (Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry) have parlayed their earlier visit back to 1986 into fame and fortune in 2015 (a third, Clark Duke, is pretty much the "butler" to his successful dad). John Cusack, the fourth member of the group, has wisely chosen to take a pass on this misbegotten reunion. He clearly used the hot tub to attain the foreknowledge that this particular venture had disaster written all over it.
Now the remaining trio has to travel ten years into the future to prevent Corddry's assassination in the present (don't ask). Adam Scott ("Parks and Recreation") and Gillian Jacobs ("Community") join in the festivities, though we suspect they'll not want to emphasize this particular part of their resume in any future auditions.
The screenplay by Josh Heald is, to put it mildly, a bit of an incoherent mess, short on logic and humor and long on jokes involving punctured testicles, spurting semen and homosexual rape. There is one funny scene in which the three look into a mirror to see their true selves in 2025, but the writer seems to have saved most of his best material for a clever and amusing end-title sequence. Whether it's worth the ninety minutes of dreck you have to sit through to get there is something you'll have to determine for yourself.
Deftly directed by Matthew Vaughn, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" is a
nostalgic throwback to those early Bond days of the 1960s, when just
about every other comedy coming out of Hollywood was a spy-movie
send-up ("Our Man Flint," "In Like Flint," "The Silencers," "Agent for
This latest addition to the genre, based on the comic book "The Secret Service" by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, tells of a spy agency so secret that even other spy agencies don't know it exists. Kingsman is made up of a cadre of highly trained, dapperly dressed "gentlemen" spies who consider themselves to be the descendants - in spirit, if not in flesh-and-blood - of the knights of yore (they've even given each other code names like Lancelot and Galahad). That dapperest of dapper gentlemen Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, aka Galahad, a veteran agent who recruits a directionless youth (Taron Edgerton) from the streets of London - the son of an agent who over a decade earlier saved Hart's life - to train in the art of spying (like in "My Fair Lady," the eager trainee pipes in). Eggsy's first major assignment will be to thwart the dastardly high-tech plot of a crazed gazillionaire, played by a lisping Samuel L. Jackson, who intends to save the planet by eliminating the "virus" (i.e., humanity) that seems bent on destroying it.
The humor in the Jane Goldman/Matthew Vaughn screenplay ranges from brittle and dry to pitch-dark satire, so dark in fact that the movie occasionally threatens to run off the rails into a tonal train wreck. Luckily, however, it always manages to right itself just at the point where we're about to bail out on it. It's true that the violence may probably be a tad too graphic for a movie of this type but the overall spirit of good cheer and unalloyed fun triumphs in the end.
If it's January, then it must be another of those lame "found footage"
movies so near and dear to the hearts of Hollywood backbenchers.
"Project Almanac," 2015's contribution to this start- of-the-year
tradition, at least shatters the mold a bit by not being about voodoo,
witchcraft or things-that-go-bump-in-the-night. Instead, we're treated
to a science fiction tale of a teenaged brainiac named Dave Raskin who
uncovers a blueprint for a time machine that's been moldering away with
all the rest of the uncompleted projects his equally nerdy dad left
behind when he was killed in a car crash on David's seventh birthday
(David's sister, Christina, is the 24/7 videographer who's making a
record of all of this).
David's time machine lacks the turbo-charged charm of Doc's modified DeLorean, and, indeed, it's really not too many technological steps up from the makeshift Speak-and-Spell intergalactic communication device E.T. once used to phone home.
Time-tripping scenarios demand a canny combination of intelligence, discipline and ingenuity to pull off. Unfortunately, the unsophisticated screenplay by Jason Harry Pagan and Andrew Deutschman is not up to the task (Dean Israelite directed the project). The purposes to which David and his cohorts put their new discovery are bush-league from the get-go, involving getting better grades on tests, going to earlier rock concerts, wooing a potential romantic prospect, and winning the lottery (well, at least the last one makes a little sense). Without any over-arching grand vision, the movie feels decidedly small-ball when it had the potential to be at least moderately mind-blowing. Moreover, the movie lapses into utter confusion in its final act, as it attempts to address the broader theme of the possible ripple effect that altering the past can have on the future and the unintended consequences that can result from it. In addition, the found footage format not only doesn't add anything to the story, it detracts from it.
Jonny Weston makes for a likable everyman hero, but "Project Almanac," with its staggering lack of imagination, rates barely a footnote in the annals of movies with the power to bend time.
A Russian-émigré scrubwoman named Jupiter Jones who's actually the
reincarnation of a galactic queen.
An elfin-eared, perpetually shirtless Channing Tatum zooming around on hover-boots.
A race of genetically-advanced super humans who've achieved eternal youth by harvesting inhabitants of "lesser" planets (Earth included) inside the massive, swirling storm on Jupiter.
These are just a few of the elements that have found their way into the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink screenplay that Lana and Andy Wachowski ("The Matrix") have concocted for "Jupiter Ascending," an eclectic sci-fi extravaganza that is just preposterous and goofy enough to be entertaining.
Mila Kunis plays the earthbound royal, while Tatum is the human/canine hybrid assigned to protect her from the evil forces dead set on denying her her rightful place on the throne.
With eye-popping art direction and computer-generated special effects, the look of the film (even if a bit too derivative of the "Star Wars" prequels) is never anything short of spectacular. Meanwhile, the script achieves moments of genuine originality and creativity, even if it frequently appears to be on the verge of collapsing into eye- rolling, giggle-inducing silliness. In fact, the movie is probably a tad too accomplished on a technical level for it to ever achieve the status of a true camp classic (though Kunis' wedding headdress comes pretty darn close). But, then, only time will tell on that score.
Mirrors, with their ability to both reflect and distort reality, have
served as sources of inspiration for many a horror story writer.
In "Oculus," the object in question is an ornately framed 500-year-old mirror that's allegedly been causing all sorts of havoc in the lives of those who've owned it. The last owners were a family of four in Alabama whose father (Rory Cochrane) went crazy, murdering the mother (Katee Sackhoff) and nearly killing his son and daughter before the son blew him away in self-defense. Fast-forward to the present day: Tim (Brenton Thwaites), the traumatized boy, now 21, has just been released from a mental institution, while his older sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan), has tracked down the mirror for the express purpose of proving to the skeptical world that it was indeed the nefarious mirror and not her father that was responsible for the tragedy.
Like most horror films, "Oculus" is better in the setting-up stage than in the playing out. The mirror aspect of the story suggests that things might be different here from the typical haunted house tale, but eventually the clunky, nuts-and-bolts aspects of the story come to predominate and the result is under-whelming.
Some creepy moments early on but a disappointment overall.
"Rio 2" is a sequel to the original computer-animated hit from 2011.
When Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway), two macaws living
happily with their three children in Rio de Janeiro, learn that a group
of their own kind have been discovered deep in the Amazon jungle, they
pack up and head out on a vacation to visit their old homestead and
introduce themselves to their long lost kin.
What is essentially an avian version of "the city mouse and the country mouse," "Rio 2" is bright, spirited and colorful, with just enough of an ecological message to lend it a social conscience. Yet, for all its virtues, the movie comes across like the assembly-line product it is, marked by stereotypical characters and lackluster storytelling. The cluttered cast includes Andy Garcia, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Bruno Mars, Rita Moreno, and Tracey Morgan as an assortment of compatriots, villains and sidekicks, but the movie itself might have benefited from a more disciplined and focused approach to the material.
Liam Neeson returns as ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills in "Taken 3," a
half-hearted man-on-the-run thriller that has even less distinction
than your average weekly TV procedural.
In this installment of the lucrative series, Mills is framed for the murder of his ex-wife, so he spends his time trying to both prove his innocence and find the actual culprits.
After some tedious exposition detailing Mills' bumpy relationship with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter (Maggie Grace), the Luc Besson/Robert Mark Kamen screenplay lapses into a predictable pattern as, scene after scene, Mills out-smarts and out-maneuvers a seemingly endless supply of dimwitted cops and snaggle-toothed Russian villains.
Even the action scenes are ludicrous and substandard.
The third time may well be the charm in other areas of life, but that adage rarely applies when it comes to movie sequels. Even the poster for the movie has the good sense to declare "It ends here." From their lips to God's ears.
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