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Hercules (2014)
While Johnson's physique is nothing short of herculean, the performance flatlines from a lack of humor., 28 July 2014

The opening lines of Brett Ratner's "Hercules" challenge the audiences' knowledge of the titular legend. Based on Radical Studios' comic book, this is certainly not a typical retelling of the son of Zeus' exploits – and herein lies both the film's strengths and weaknesses. Approaching the generally demigod-depicted character as a mere mortal and blurring the fantasy lines of his monumental achievements makes "Hercules" appear wholly original. And despite moments of tepid dialogue and tired clichés, it's indeed a refreshingly clever take on the character. However, the originality stops shortly thereafter as the plot progresses into a serviceable rehash of "Seven Samurai" with weaker adversaries and predictable twists. The vision may be new for the Greek champion himself, but the cinematic ground on which it treads is well worn.

Enraged by her husband's infidelity, Greek goddess Hera vows to kill Zeus' half-human son, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson). In order to escape the immortal's wrath, the mighty warrior undergoes twelve increasingly difficult labors and, upon completing the tasks, attempts to retire peacefully with his wife and children. But tragedy strikes and the indomitable guardian turns to mercenary work with the faithful companions he acquired during his trials. Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), a master Amazonian archer, Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), a Spartan knife expert, Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), a silent juggernaut of fury, and Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), a cryptic prophet, fight staunchly alongside Hercules while his unintimidating nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) spins the tales of his triumphs. When Lord Cotys (John Hurt), the King of Thrace, offers the famed hero his weight in gold for aid in fending off the demonic sorcerer Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), the avaricious leader eagerly accepts. But as Hercules and his cadre set about training the ruler's army and inch closer to their confrontation with the necromancer, they begin to question the motives of both themselves and their employer.

As is standard with modern fantasy fare, groups of heroes retain specific battle skills and distinct visuals (such as scars and armory) that set them apart primarily by type of soldier and almost never by memorable personalities. Hercules is clearly the muscle, while berserker Tydeus is the crazed brute who never utters a word. Atalanta is the attractive female archer and Amphiaraus is the cryptic seer with a sense of sarcasm. Iolaus offers additional comic relief as a storyteller and Autolycus rounds out the gang as a rather generic knife thrower. The action sequences tend to require the singular expertise of each fighter (not unlike the Magnificent Seven or the Fellowship of the Ring) and are exciting just for that aspect, yet they never require anything beyond varying weaponry proficiencies. They might as well all be mute.

Dwayne Johnson adds an aura of fun to almost all of his films, especially those with comedic overtones. While his physique is nothing short of herculean, the performance flatlines from a lack of humor. The action sequences, though kinetic and thrilling, tend to hog the spotlight in the absence of diverse emotions, while their lasting impact carries little gravity. Tight pacing and an ample production value afford the adventure momentum while an unexpectedly divergent plot offers welcome intrigue – at least, for those anticipating a more classic account of the Greek legend.

Lucy (2014/I)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The smarter Lucy gets, the stupider the story becomes., 24 July 2014

Despite the principal precondition often appearing as simply an excuse to display over-the-top action, "Lucy" is far more science-fiction based than adventure oriented. In fact, Luc Besson's film delves so far into scientific theories and philosophies that it rapidly becomes incomprehensible and downright existentially nonsensical. "Lucy" is just too outlandish for its own good. When the titular character's powers expand beyond hyper-intelligence, and begin crossing into the realm of superhuman, not only do the action sequences lose their creativity and suspense, but also the need for any exciting escapades to exist at all is called into question. Attempting to locate the logical aspects of "Lucy" may be an exercise in futility, but less plausible set-ups have retained more entertainment by simply avoiding bringing attention to the absurdity (such as 2011's "Limitless" and, to a lesser degree, 2009's "Push"). "Lucy" seems to revel in it.

When her new boyfriend forces her to deliver a locked briefcase to a Korean businessman, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) becomes ensnared in an international drug-smuggling plot. Kidnapped and surgically implanted with a packet of CPH4, an experimental new narcotic, the young girl is scheduled to leave the country. But when a sinister turn of events leads to the package rupturing and the stimulant leaking into her body, Lucy suddenly finds herself able to access a previously untapped percentage of her cerebral capacity. Now, with extremely enhanced senses and the ability to process thoughts and information at an incredible rate, Lucy sets out to take revenge on the ruthless drug lord (Choi Min-sik) that imprisoned her.

The inaccuracy of the primary facts of the premise, which involves humans using only 10% of their brain capacity, is forgivable in the realm of establishing a fictional concept. Just as many movies are touted as "based on a true story" when they are instead entirely invented, it would be completely understandable if the audience believes every scientific explicandum from Morgan Freeman's Professor Norman. People actually use 100% of their brains, as evidenced by common sense concerning brain damage, along with published research and studies (according to "Lucy's" logic, 90% of all brain damage incidents would be inconsequential - in reality, basically all brain damage cases result in some detriment). But even dismissing the ludicrousness of various misrepresented ideologies, the manner and design in which Lucy's skills increase are hopelessly zany.

The smarter Lucy gets, the stupider the story becomes. Rather than gaining somewhat believable abilities, such as extreme intelligence, an encyclopedic memory, physical strength, heightened awareness, faultless coordination, and sharper senses, she quickly manages to read thoughts, control minds, instantly decipher new languages, and levitate objects. At a mere 20% brain capacity, the film is already deeply entrenched in science-fiction themes. Unexplainably, Lucy has an inarticulate conversation with her mother and continues to request help from people she couldn't possibly need less, including a policeman and a lecturer, long after she's clearly capable of changing her cellular makeup at will and commanding matter with psychokinesis. The majority of her actions inspire obvious questions about their necessity.

From a technical standpoint, the editing is overworked, focused on splicing in footage of symbolic imagery that isn't nearly as clever as it is dully straightforward. Unconvincing computer graphics show Lucy's insides on a molecular level, her vision is occasionally enhanced to demonstrate an interpretation of subjects like something out of "The Matrix," and the finale borrows from ideas seen in "The Time Machine." Further hampering potential awesomeness are a few sequences that depict Lucy's precise, calculated murderousness, before lengths are taken to ensure victims are either deserving, wouldn't have survived anyway, or only suffer flesh wounds. So much for the old-fashioned action movie notion of eliminating all obstacles no matter the cost. And despite a fun car chase scene, which would be sensational if any of it used genuine stunts, "Lucy" doesn't even address the significant presence of the manufacturing and distribution of the drug itself, which is still out in the world and could easily affect someone else in the same way.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
One good samaritan thrillingly turns into a force to be reckoned with, though the abundance of characters downplays his awesomeness., 17 July 2014

The year is 2023 (exactly one year after the events of the first film) and crime is still virtually non-existent, poverty is vanishing, and unemployment is below %5 - thanks to an annual event called the "Purge," in which all criminal activities, including murder, are legal for 12 hours. This milestone was created by the New Founding Fathers of the United States as a solution to economic and judicial downturns. In the context of the film, it's actually known as a holiday. It starts with a countdown (2 hours, 26 minutes) until the commencement, immediately orchestrating anticipation for the brutality ahead. Traffic is hectic, masked cutthroats sadistically brandish their weaponry, and prognosticators insist that more people will participate tonight than ever before.

Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a young couple contemplating a separation, are headed to a family member's house for the evening, taking the back roads to avoid crowded highways. But when their car breaks down under a downtown bridge, it's clear they've been sabotaged to become victims for hungry purgers. Meanwhile, waitress Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul) board up their apartment, hoping for another uneventful occasion. When the two females are attacked by a spiteful acquaintance (his intention is to rape and murder them both), they're momentarily saved by a squadron of soldiers, collecting bodies for a distinctly abominable man. But before the two can be executed by this new threat, a stranger (Frank Grillo) rescues them and, reluctantly, takes them with him on his own mission of personal vengeance to kill the man who recklessly committed vehicular manslaughter against his son – and walked free based on a prosecution error.

"I hope to see you all tomorrow," casually remarks a coworker, quickly drawing to the audience's attention the silliness of the premise. Fortunately, as this is more of a horror film than its predecessors, the unlikeliness of most of the happenings in the film are regularly overshadowed by jump scares, slow motion, intrusive close-ups, loud music and louder noises (screams routinely pierce the twilight air), and gaps of silence before sudden frights. Along with these clichés are unnecessarily interspersed political propaganda, questionable governmental intentions, scrutiny of the corruption of values, profiteering, and proclamations of love interrupted by gunfire – and oodles of bloody violence. Contrived scenarios also arise, including a random rat crawling up a leg, Eva falling down while being chased, and the prying young Cali unrestrainedly asking annoying questions – which inevitably support how morally wrong the Purge is, in case viewers get too enthusiastically caught up in the revenge fantasy.

The scope of "The Purge: Anarchy" has increased, but perhaps too much. Three separate stories interact yet still require their own individual outcomes. Part of this involves a satirical examination of the wealthy using expensive, hi-tech weaponry (the allowed Class 4 arms are never adequately defined), paying for willing martyrs to slaughter in the safety of their own homes (resembling something out of "Dexter" or "Hostel" but with the falseness of near-religious, family-oriented, machete-wielding savageness, as if any rich person dreams of gruesomely butchering a defenseless human), or conducting their own "The Running Man" voyeuristic entertainment doubling as sport - for the truly daring. One good samaritan thrillingly turns into a force to be reckoned with, though the abundance of characters downplays his awesomeness, which culminates in the cathartic finale that was so disappointingly absent from the first film. It's difficult to call this product an improvement, as the storyline is far removed from the freshness, claustrophobic environment, and intimate focus of the original, but much of it is nevertheless admittedly nerve-wracking.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

Sex Tape (2014)
7 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
The internet porn community gets a bad rap., 17 July 2014

It starts immediately with simulated intercourse, conspicuously partial nudity from Diaz (who likely has a "no actual nudity" clause in her contract, though a nonetheless impressive figure for 42) and Segel, and voyeurism from a random passerby. Audiences are further subjected to a sex montage, where the lead characters demonstrate their ardor for copulation in various locales, such as the shower, a public library, or in a park. Their physical demonstrations of love are spontaneous, wild, and constant. This audacious introduction isn't particularly unique (or stimulating), nor is it as crazily indecent as the filmmakers probably aspired it to be, instead feeling a lot like desperation for two roles that are, comparably, not as funny or sexy as they hoped.

Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) have had a ferociously sexual relationship leading up to their marriage and two children, but their nighttime rendezvouses have since then almost completely fizzled. Despite numerous attempts at scheduled intimacy meetings and genuine interest in initiating a lovemaking session, they just can't seem to pull it off. When Annie's blog gains a possible buyer in the form of the Piper Bros. Company, she decides to commemorate the felicitous opportunity with an evening of celebratory eroticism. Jay's handy new iPad sparks the idea of filming an amateur porno; with the book "The Joy of Sex" nearby, the couple proceeds to record a three-hour tutorial in which they enact every position illustrated in the manual.

The main predicament arrives in the form of Jay's failure to promptly delete the video. His auto-syncing program uploads the uncensored cut to his many other, older iPads, which he has given away over the years (as he regularly purchases replacements every time upgrades are available). Horrified, the flummoxed duo attempt to track down all the devices, which now reside with friends, relatives, and even the mailman. When they scheme to steal back an iPad from Hank (Rob Lowe), the CEO of Piper Bros., "Sex Tape" reveals that the basic premise isn't really what drives the misadventures. From engaging in violent slapstick with a German Shepherd to peer-pressure participation with narcotics to bizarre Disney-themed commissioned paintings, it's obvious that the laughs and situational comedy aren't based solely on furthering the story – or even grounded in realism. Instead, whatever inconsequential sketch seemed riotous while scripting became a fully realized scene, unsystematically structured into a pseudo road trip concept.

It's bad enough that overused elements like unreasonably intelligent kids, frankly vulgar dialogue, unfiltered insults directed at toddlers, and awkward physical interactions replace truly creative humor. But there are simply not enough amusing moments to fill even the brief 94-minute running time. Supporting characters are present only for brief one-liner jokes (comedians Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper play the best friends), an eventual blackmail subplot is mean-spirited and unbelievable, and the climax and conclusion are absolutely nonsensical. The film tries to impart a message of the importance of sustaining marital passion – and that the internet porn community gets a bad rap – but an apology, a declaration of love, and the revelations of appreciable inner qualities represent the easy way out. No resolution is given for possibly facetious monetary fines, a destructively sociopathic youngster, or even the continuance of newfound libidos.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
To the same degree that Novachek becomes transfixed and mesmerized with the mysterious Jourdain, the audience is sure to be fascinated with the actors., 10 July 2014

Thomas Novachek (Mathieu Amalric) is holding auditions for "Venus in Fur," a play he adapted and will direct, for which he's struggling to find real talent. He's watched 35 idiot actresses, half-dressed like teenage hookers, all incapable of reciting lines or exuding authenticity. At his wit's end, he cynically suggests that he'd be better for the lead female role. But just before he closes up the theater, out from the downpour comes Vanda Jourdain (Emmanuelle Seigner), with hair soaked and complaining of a dead cellphone, having broken a heel on a sewer grate, and fending off a stranger rubbing up against her on the train ride there.

Dressed in tight leather, black stockings, and a studded dog collar, Vanda thinks the part is all about eroticism and bondage, but Novachek enlightens her as to the less contemporary 1870 setting. She's primed for an audition, but the director has little patience for her after-hours arrival and there's no one left for her to read with. When she begins to depart in tears and complains of the 30 euros she spent on her dress, he reluctantly reconsiders – persuaded further by a distracting phone call from his fiancée that gives Vanda time to don her costume and push her way into a spontaneous tryout.

The evening becomes eerier when Jourdain inexplicably possesses an entire copy of the script, which Novachek did not distribute. Annoyingly, she has little knowledge of the pages, believing the text to be based on a Lou Reed song instead of the scandalous Austrian novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (whose name and writings inspired the term "masochism"). Furthermore, she's certain the play is essentially pornography, which infuriates Novachek's interpretation of it as a love story. She proceeds to change the lights, reduce his adjective-filled description of protagonist Severin von Kushemski (well-traveled, cultivated, aristocratic) to "nerd," and implausibly insists she already knows everything about the character for which she'll read - coincidentally also named Vanda.

As the duo recites lines and interacts, Vanda reclining on the divan, Thomas looking up from his desk surprised at her genuineness, the two actors become their alter egos, eventually transforming indistinguishably from the initially mussy actress and irritated director at the start. Their lines blur between reading the pages, giving perorational speeches, improvising, flirting, criticizing and adapting the words, reversing roles, and actually arguing - at one point, their exchanges mirror a therapy session. As the film progresses, it's less and less clear whether they're acting out the script or acting as themselves, as if reincarnations of their 19th century counterparts. The premise of Kushemski's deriving of pleasure from pain and degradation, absolute submission, the link to sables and stoles, Greek mythology, and eternal unification are diminished in comparison to the performances – and to the hopelessly bizarre finale. The seduction, sexuality, and power (or rebalancing of power) are quite prominent, however, in hilarious, absorbing form.

To the same degree that Novachek becomes transfixed and mesmerized with the mysterious Jourdain, the audience is sure to be fascinated with the actors, particularly with the immediately enchanting Seigner. The design serves them well with its intimacy, possessing a presentation like that of a stage production (indeed, it's adapted by David Ives from his own play), which might lend to its only major undoing: since it's primarily just dialogue between two people, the running time is a touch overlong. To a slighter noticeability, merrily quirky music occasionally intrudes, hinting at the blithe supernatural notes but taking away from the sincerity of the show's translation. The ending, while purposeful, can't match the striking curiosity and intrigue that blankets the first three-fourths, resulting in a movie that routinely nears perfection but misses the mark considerably with the conclusion.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

2 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
For the first time in the history of the "Planet of the Apes" franchise, the apes are believable when they talk., 10 July 2014

During medical experiments on apes at the GenSys Corporation, scientists unwittingly create a deadly virus. The "Simian Flu" quickly spreads across the globe, wiping out almost all of humanity. While the hyper-intelligent, escaped test monkeys create their own community in the Muir Woods, the remnants of the human population attempt to thrive in the industrial wastelands of once-grand cities. Years pass with no contact between the two species, allowing Caesar (Andy Serkis), the leader of the apes, to assume their primate relatives have long since become extinct. But when a small band of humans are discovered near the ape village, Caesar sends Koba (Toby Kebbell) to follow them back to their settlement.

In a show of force, the intrepid simian commander confronts the humans at their stronghold in San Francisco and warns them never to trespass on the apes' territory again. But altruistic Malcolm (Jason Clarke), along with his girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell) and his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), knows the humans' desperate need for a new power source and returns to the forest to beseech Caesar to permit them to repair a dam just beyond the apes' home. A shaky alliance is formed until Koba, distrustful and embittered by his treatment while in captivity, threatens to create a disastrous war between man and ape.

For the first time in the history of the "Planet of the Apes" franchise, the apes are believable when they talk. Finally, the special effects have reached the point that the non-human characters are just as realistic as their counterparts, conducting activities ranging from riding horses to shooting machineguns to communicating through facial expressions. In fact, as evidenced by the lack of big-name cast members, the apes are far and away the stars of the show – and for once, that's quite acceptable. The computer graphics are simply electrifying and seamlessly integrated into the tangible elements to a degree eclipsing just about every other effects-heavy blockbuster of late.

Comparable to "King Kong" with bits of "Jurassic Park" and "Avatar" blended into the tone and feel, this new adventure is a heart-pounding thrill ride from start to finish. It's undoubtedly overlong, but there's so much story carefully worked into the script that the runtime never bores. Satisfyingly, the previous film has little impact on the setup (which is reiterated briefly before the title is flashed on screen), imparting just enough of a premise that "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" can jump straight into the action without being bogged down by exposition. Humanity is thrown into a post-apocalyptic, ramshackle environment, while the simians have thrived in the dense jungles, creating a comparably primitive civilization in isolation. It's a delicate balance that is tipped by predictable yet amusing factors.

Like most great science-fiction/horror designs, moral complexities balance out the evils that descend upon the heroes. Here, there are not only two sides of protagonists, but also two types of antagonists. Where uninformed, defensive, self-centered people stir up trouble, their equals exist in the realm of the monkeys, ready to engage in very humanlike struggles for power and respect while harboring notions of deception and betrayal. Perhaps a comment on the ineffectiveness of communication amongst warmongering militarists exists in this world of dubiously opposing species, but it's the clever cinematography (bookending with contemplative imagery, duplicating video game perspectives, and framing characters with fiery visuals), awe-inspiring sets, and motion-capture performer Andy Serkis' spot-on enactment that will leave audiences stunned. Though it may be a single component to a larger picture (it's the second part, but practically holds its own as a first), which will likely see director Matt Reeves return to finish off the tale, it's wholly enjoyable all by itself.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
It definitely required a touch of madness from all involved to attempt such an undertaking., 5 July 2014

"'Dune' will be the coming of a god," exclaims writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who had set out to make a tremendously ambitious, mind-blowing epic that would change the public's perceptions of movie-going forever – starting in 1974. But it was not to be. For the most part, the monumental amount of work that went into the conceptualization, over a 2 ½ year period, is documented in a book (of which there are only two left in the world) designed to sell the project, kept at Jodorowsky's home. The film could have been "Star Wars" before that singular space opera masterpiece influenced generations of viewers, or bigger and more resonant than "2001: A Space Odyssey." Its failure to reach fruition is a tale of what is likely the greatest sci-fi movie never made.

Jodorowsky had been driving people crazy ever since the riot-inducing "Fando and Lis," started in 1967; his revolutionary "El Topo," and the following million-dollar-budgeted "The Holy Mountain" of 1973 were similarly met with awe. Perhaps his most winning quality was complete artistic control over his pictures. In 1974, with producer Michel Seydoux, a castle in France was rented as the base of operations for writing the filmic adaptation of "Dune." Author Frank Herbert's work was a worldwide publishing success and the holy bible of science-fiction devotees, though the rights were obtained for practically nothing, as if Hollywood was certain it could not be shaped into a marketable movie.

Jodorowsky wanted to make a film that would give audiences a fabrication of the effects of LSD; a visual experience as close to the hallucinatory effects of the crystalline compound without actually taking the drug. To tackle this lofty aspiration, he sought out creative warriors, ranging from visual effects technician Douglas Trumbull (who was dropped due to clashing spiritual wavelengths), to famous artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud (tasked with sketching over 3000 storyboard panels), to Dan O'Bannon, the production designer and editor of John Carpenter's "Dark Star." He went on to approach actor David Carradine, the band Pink Floyd, his own son Brontis for the lead character of Paul, spaceship artist Chris Foss, the eccentric Salvador Dali and his muse Amanda Lear, iconic Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (before he would work on Ridley Scott's "Alien"), Andy Warhol's great actor Udo Kier, the inimitable Mick Jagger, and the sizable Orson Welles, among many other talented people.

It definitely required a touch of madness from all involved to attempt such an undertaking. It was to initiate with a lengthy "Touch of Evil" opening scene (but better!), intended to be a tracking shot traversing the entire galaxy before zeroing in on spice pirates, and included sand worm confrontations, Baron Harkonnen's head-shaped fortress outfitted with huge knifelike barriers, Paul's messiah-like demise, and a riveting finale, altered drastically from the source material. The visionary ideas are breathtaking, but combining the likelihood of exceeding the $15 million budget and studios' notable fears of Jodorowsky's spectacularly unconventional filmmaking, the entire product was just too ahead of its time to take a chance on.

The documentary itself chronicles a bit of Jodorowsky's career leading up to "Dune" (with clips of his strikingly bizarre films), interviews with intrigued filmmakers and critics, numerous artists involved with the doomed production, and Alejandro himself, imparting plenty of details about his endeavors. Significant points of the storyline are explained, accompanied by paintings and animations, but the vastly different avenues explored for this take on Herbert's creation regularly begs for greater enlightenment. Colorful illustrations repeatedly pose the general reality that the optical translation couldn't possibly have been accomplished in 1975. There's also amusing commentary on the reception of David Lynch's long-awaited 1984 version. And yet, despite many staggering images, from a technical standpoint, the documentary is standard at best. A surprising amount of time is spent hearing Jodorowsky slowly narrate the processes of recruitment, seconds are wasted on a cat being picked up and held, and the lack of more prominent, current industry talent for interviews is disappointing.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Even without the nonstop hand-held camera-work, Earth to Echo wouldn't be salvageable., 1 July 2014

While the child actors all give admirable performances in "Earth to Echo," the dialogue and plot fail to capture the creativity and suspense their predicament promises. Finding an alien life form and helping it return home has been explored before, and with far greater imagination, poignancy, and artistry. Every adult character contributes only to contrivances; adversaries more inept and lackluster than those found in "Earth to Echo" would be difficult to locate. The childish humor that pervades much of the setup will appeal to younger crowds, but seasoned moviegoers will cringe at the fatigued "found footage" style of storytelling and its routinely lazy eluding of calamity by simply jumping ahead to the next scene (via hasty cuts, technical glitches, or distorted imagery).

When the state's plans to build a highway through the small town of Mulberry Woods, Nevada forces everyone to leave the neighborhood, best friends Tuck (Astro), Alex (Teo Halm), and Munch (Reese Hartwig) determine to have an adventure on their last night together. Following an enigmatic map displayed on their smartphones, the trio heads out into the desert and discovers a mysterious hunk of metal buried in the dirt. When the object suddenly springs to life to reveal a tiny robotic being inside, the inquisitive children attempt to communicate with the alien. Learning that "Echo" is injured and in need of the youths' aid, Tuck, Alex, and Munch determine to assist their newfound friend in a quest that will change all of their lives forever.

It's quite fortunate that Tuck is preoccupied with zooming in on faces and expressions (including his own) while significant events unfold in front of the group. Somehow, in the midst of harrowing actions, he thinks to film his pals running toward his camera instead of worrying about his own escape. It's also undeniably lucky that Echo, who commandeers various cellphones to use for vision in place of his damaged optics, manages to simultaneously record the things he sees. If not for these and many other coincidences, there would be no movie at all. It's particularly lamentable that the found footage genre is so incredibly tired and overwrought that all anyone can think about is how the film couldn't possibly have been constructed solely through spontaneous, live recording – let alone all the fancy editing, graphics, and soundtrack components necessary to render the final picture (in this case, seemingly assembled by a single teenager).

The script tries so painstakingly to be modern and hip (like an "E.T" for technologically advanced imbeciles) that it forgets it's supposed to be a document of real human interactions. In the guise of a coming-of-age escapade, the children accomplish startlingly unconvincing feats, fuss with overdramatic dialogue, ludicrously recruit the surprisingly attainable girl-next-door (Ella Wahlestedt as Emma), avoid arrest, and are apprehended by similarly unrealistic government dopes who moronically force the youths to help in their extraterrestrial seizure mission. And as the foursome journeys across town in their own scavenger hunt (orchestrated by an annoyingly unintelligent life form who plots the most backwards methods of obtaining spaceship materials), strained concepts of friendship, abandonment, the inability of teenagers to impact the ignorant adults around them, and adolescent rebellion, routinely cripple the film's ability to transcend the realm of recycled, family-friendly foolishness. Even without the nonstop hand-held camera-work, "Earth to Echo" wouldn't be salvageable.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

Tammy (2014)
13 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
Though most are of a repetitive nature, the film has its funny moments, with knockabout comedy and offbeat conversations capable of drawing laughs., 1 July 2014

Though most are of a repetitive nature, "Tammy" has its funny moments, with knockabout comedy and offbeat conversations capable of drawing laughs. What detracts from the merriment is the film's need to kowtow to morals and lessons that are both generic and too heavy for the eccentric characters. "Life isn't fair" adages, self-betterment truisms, and the struggles for equality breathe a solemn tone into "Tammy," while a sobering examination of alcoholism, brushes with the law, and even death create such a somber atmosphere that inserts of wacky humor barely bring the mood around. Standout sequences of oddball prankishness, such as Tammy's inept restaurant robbery, only lighten spirits momentarily before either weighty drama or revisited jokes crash the party.

Down-on-her-luck fast food employee Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) can't seem to catch a break. After a deer totals her car, she's fired from her job, and she catches her husband (Nat Faxon) cheating with the next door neighbor (Toni Collette), Tammy has finally had enough and hits the road with her irreverent, alcoholic grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon). Their attempt to visit Niagara Falls is delayed when the duo meets Earl (Gary Cole) and his son Bobby (Mark Duplass), along with subsequent mishaps that find Tammy resorting to illegal activities. But as the two run from the police and contend with one another's clashing attitudes, they land headfirst into an adventure of a lifetime.

The concept of an underdog lead character unveiling one disaster after another (relationships, careers, transportation, money, possessions) until an already middling life has been upended and disheveled into loony-bin unbearableness is nothing new. To make that main role a female is similarly unoriginal. And even to cast Melissa McCarthy isn't as fresh as it once was (her part is very similar to her turn in "Identity Thief"). Although Sarandon as a mouthy souse is an amusing sidekick, and McCarthy taking screen writing credit for penning a story for herself is a congratulatory next step in her career, "Tammy" is so terribly devoid of singular ideas that its pieces can be clearly seen in just about every other mainstream comedy of the last few years ("Bridesmaids" and "Girl Most Likely" are prime influencers).

Despite a CG deer sullying the first minute of screen time, and the usual fat jokes, slapstick, and expletive-saturated insults that follow, there's mild fun to be had in this by-the-books road movie. It's of the hopelessly standard variety, however, gorged on booze abuse, unintelligence, dares, familial bonding, the sharing of pitiable stories exaggerated to goofy excesses, and the bittersweet romance of an overweight girl in desperate need of a cold dose of reality. She gets more medicine than she can handle with repeated blows to her confidence, relationship failures, general rejection, and risky shenanigans that morph into criminal ordeals. With a skewed sense of morality, in which she depressingly pays for her comic crimes in a world devoid of Hollywood glamor, the film claims that Tammy is forever capable of capturing her own American Dream, complete with fairy tale love. But the script comes off as a drama embellished with comedy instead of the fun-loving comedy with a hint of drama that it intends to be, resulting in a confused execution that detrimentally hinders its ability to make a lasting impression in either category.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

13 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
An egregious amount of attention is again afforded to the special effects, but the moments in between grow correspondingly less intelligent., 26 June 2014

While the human cast has traded off slightly for "Transformers: Age of Extinction," it's still fairly inconsequential to the primary focus of the film. Coupled with several other notable faults pinpointed in former entries, which continue to plague the series, and it's evident that not much has changed. An egregious amount of attention is again afforded to the special effects, embellishing the action sequences in more and more grandiose fashions, but the moments in between grow correspondingly less intelligent.

The majority of characters involved are insipid to an extreme, giving the impression that an unwritten rule exists mandating that the prettier the face, the worse the associated dialogue. But director Michael Bay aims for the stars with his visuals, furnishing no doubt that the sheer scope of humans fighting giant robots fighting even bigger robots fighting dinosaurs will thrill those who value explosions over credible plots and character development. Exploring the Transformers origins and integrating fresh otherworldly designs into the mythology are a step in the right direction, but little else found in this installment leans towards anything meaningful.

Five years have passed since the invasion of Chicago and the U.S. government's abolishment of joint combat operations with the Autobots. Scattered and forced into hiding, several new threats have arisen against the noble robotic aliens and the humans that strive to aid them. When struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) unwittingly awakens a damaged Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), his desire to help the Transformer places his daughter Tessa's (Nicola Peltz) life in jeopardy by power-hungry CIA commander Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) and the dangerous galactic bounty hunter in his employ. With the help of Autobots Drift (Ken Watanabe), Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), Hound (John Goodman), Bumblebee, and a group of ancient warriors, Optimus Prime and Cade must not only attempt to stop Attinger and his nefarious plan to exterminate all alien life, but also thwart billionaire inventor Joshua Joyce's (Stanley Tucci) project to build his very own Transformers.

As if to heed the advice of "22 Jump Street" from a couple of weeks earlier, this new chapter of the Transformers franchise is taking many of the ideas from the previous films and recycling them for what feels like just another episode of a television series. It's entirely more of the same. Obviously, the budget and special effects far eclipse anything on TV, but the story lines, characters, and pacing aren't far removed from such series of sci-fi-oriented programs. There are far too many subplots for a single feature and far too many supporting characters, all of who receive numerous lines of dialogue that do nothing more than drag out an already unbearable running time. At least, the inclusion of dinosaur-like robots (Dinobots!) winningly introduces concepts toymaker Hasbro has been integrating into the sizable Transformers lore.

Although the visuals are intense and impressive, with a few Autobot showdowns exhibiting exhilarating levels of destruction (and some fresh, engaging environments and structures for battlegrounds), it's all of the human elements that grow most tiresome - incredibly fast. The generic scripting, unoriginal backchat, and overdramatized emotions are nearly unwatchable, as several vapid roles seem cast solely for physical attractiveness. Indeed, director Michael Bay has once again hired a largely unknown, young female model as the lead love interest, costumed in extra short shorts and revealing tops. Additionally, sexy women pop up from time to time to flash brief skin like something out of a provocative commercial (including a leggy woman in an elevator and a foursome of Joyce's assistants in skirts and heels).

Supplementing the unnecessary details are scenes of Bay's signature slow motion, overdone to the point of grating obnoxiousness. It's excruciating to see efforts spent on pointless trivialities like a variety of added Transformer ethnicities, cabbaged conceptualizations from "Independence Day," and stunts so outlandish that no fleshly entity could possibly survive them (let alone initiate them). These divagations allow the omission of relevant factors, such as adequately bridging the gap between the Chicago invasion and the band of Texas commoners, elaborating on the insultingly inexplicit enemy capabilities, and touching upon the CIA Black Ops conducts that are dismissed with annoyingly uninspired "don't ask" vagueness.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)


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