Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What's New in Blu? (Week of Oct. 13)

“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” (PG)
Starring the voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Allison Janney, Ellie Kemper, Ariel Winter, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci
Directed by Rob Minkoff

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” (PG-13)
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage
Directed by Bryan Singer

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

What's New in Blu? (Week of Oct. 6)

“Edge of Tomorrow” (PG-13)
Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
Directed by Doug Liman

Science fiction gets a kind of "Groundhog Day" treatment in "Edge of Tomorrow," an action-packed tale of a military officer (Tom Cruise) forced into combat who becomes the key to unlocking the strategy to kill a seemingly unstoppable alien species that has invaded Earth. As Maj. William Cage, Cruise is in fine form, playing a bit against type as a soldier who knows how to sell the public and press on going to war, but not actually fighting in it himself. In fact, when his superior, Gen. Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), orders him to the front lines, Cage doesn't react well and tries to flee. It only gets worse for him from there, as he is later killed almost instantly upon coming face to face with the alien opponents. But then he wakes up, and is right back on base with his new platoon, confused and kind of horrified to realize he has to relive the whole day again.

Having entered into some kind of time loop (don't worry, the movie makes an effort to offer a reasoning behind it that's not quite completely absurd), Cage is forced to live the day over and over in an attempt to finally defeat the aliens. He's assisted by Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt, who, like Cruise, goes against her previous image with good results), a tough-as-nails soldier who happens to understand what is happening to Cage and agrees to help train and ultimately fight alongside him.

A good measure of humor is sprinkled throughout the movie, particularly in the early resets (of which there are many) for Cage, as he slowly realizes what's happening to him. For example, he begins to memorize people's conversations with him, as if he's heard them dozens of times (because he has). It's a good counterpoint to the frequent action sequences that, thanks to strong direction from Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity"), refrain from getting excessively redundant — a real challenge in a film such as this.
Grade: B+

“Million Dollar Arm” (PG)
Starring Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, Suraj Sharma, Lake Bell and Alan Arkin
Directed by Craig Gillispie

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” (R)
Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman and Liam Neeson
Directed by Seth MacFarlane

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What's New in Blu? (Week of Sept. 29)

“Chef” (R)
Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by Jon Favreau

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” (PG-13)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammar, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor
Directed by Michael Bay

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What's New in Blu? (Week of Sept. 22)

“Neighbors” (R)
Starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco
Directed by Nicholas Stoller

A couple somewhat grudgingly moving forward in adulthood and parenthood is faced with a temptation that turns into trouble after a college fraternity moves next door to them in "Neighbors," a frequently funny, occasionally raucous comedy. Someday, perhaps a movie will depict the value and meaningful experiences of being in a fraternity. This is not that movie. But it does take a good concept and has fun with it, even though it overloads on the raunch a bit. Seeing Rogen and Efron face off is pretty much what the movie trailer promises, but Byrne is a real standout in her portrayal as a loving wife and new mom who has no problem mixing it up with the boys. Normally, the wife/girlfriend role in movies like this is left on the sideline to complain and be the voice of reason. The movie does lose steam down the stretch, but delivers the laughs often enough to forgive its shortcomings.
Grade: B+

“The Rover” (R)
Starring Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy
Directed by David Michod

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Movie Review: "They Came Together"

Starring Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Melanie Lynskey and Ed Helms
Directed by David Wain

There are some movie genres that seem to be setting themselves up to be skewered — probably none more so than the romantic comedy. That’s the goal of “They Came Together,” which also serves as a practical reunion of the cast of “Wet Hot American Summer,” the 2001 comedy that marked the feature film directorial debut of David Wain.

Here, Wain teams up with longtime friend and collaborator Michael Showalter on a script that is riddled with cliches and occupied with broadly and poorly developed characters. However, that was the filmmakers’ intent, and while the movie definitely generates some legitimate laughs, it never hits the manic, anything-for-a-laugh spirit of spoofs like “Airplane” and “The Naked Gun.” At times, the movie clearly has an aim at ridiculous sight gags and literal interpretation of dialogue that those popular 1980s-era films did, but with sporadic success. It tries to wink at its audience a bit too much, as you practically expect the characters to look into the camera every few minutes.

The cast certainly does all it can to move the very slender story along, with Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler portraying the romantic leads, Joel and Molly, who meet on the way to a Halloween party (where both are dressed as Ben Franklin, naturally), and instantly hate each other. But as the genre dictates, that hate turns to love in fairly quick succession, even as a corporate candy company for which Joel works looks to open up a candy superstore and close down Molly’s little candy shop (Upper Sweet Side) in the process. Will their love survive?

Actually the movie is hardly concerned with the story as anything but a series of scenes in which to hang their jokes. More land than flop, but not by a large margin. Clearly, the cast is on board with the material, as Wain gets an immeasurable amount of help from a strong collection of comedy veterans. (Rudd, in particular, has brought a winning everyman quality to past Wain projects, including “Role Models” and “Wanderlust”).

“They Came Together” ultimately is a bit of a letdown, yet still funny through sheer force of will from its game cast. If it were a candy, you’d probably still eat it, but maybe not buy it again.

Grade: B-
(Rated R for language and sexual content.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

What's New in Blu? (Week of Sept. 15)

“The Fault in Our Stars” (PG-13)
Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern,Willem Dafoe
Directed by Josh Boone

“Godzilla” (PG-13)
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins
Directed by Gareth Edwards

“Think Like a Man Too” (PG-13)
Starring Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, Michael Ealy, Taraji P. Henson, Meagan Good, Romany Malco
Directed by Tim Story

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Movie Review: "Under the Skin"

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay
Directed by Jonathan Glazer

Aliens have long been a subject of fascination in movies — some lovable (“E.T.”), some hideous (the “Alien” series), but almost always interesting. However, as “Under the Skin” makes abundantly clear, they can also be boring. That’s not really meant to be a knock on Scarlett Johansson, who plays an alien inhabiting the body of a woman on the prowl for men in Scotland. She frankly doesn’t have a very dynamic character to portray here, which I’m sure is part of the point in the script by Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer (who also directs). But it sure doesn’t make for compelling viewing when long stretches of the film unfold in general silence with little to no action.

Glazer, who has been out of the movie scene for nearly a decade, made his very promising film directing debut in 2000 with the crime drama “Sexy Beast.” He’s not a filmmaker afraid to take chances, and with “Under the Skin,” an amalgamation of science fiction and horror, is able to occasionally generate a sense of uneasiness and dread. A scene involving a family at the beach with Johansson’s emotionally detached character watching a terrible series of events unfold is a perfect example of Glazer’s skill.

Bateman stars as Guy Trilby (who is employed as a proofreader), an admitted underachiever in education, having never advanced beyond the eighth grade. He uses that schooling deficiency to exploit a loophole in the rules of the National Quill Spelling Bee, allowing him to compete against children generally a quarter of his age. His participation doesn’t sit well with anyone, be it parents, the spelling bee officials or the competitors themselves. But Trilby doesn’t care. Instead, he responds to everyone with a sharp tongue and is exceptionally quick with insults. That acerbic wit is aimed at adults and children alike, with the script by Andrew Dodge generating laughter frequently, although you might feel a bit guilty along the way. Case in point: Trilby’s devious new use for a ketchup packet.

That said, the story’s driving action — as thin as it is — doesn’t generate much excitement and is too redundant. Much of the alien’s activities involve driving the Scottish countryside, picking up single men and taking them back to her place, where they meet their ultimate demise. How this happens is a creepily effective conceit in which nary a drop of blood is spilled, with the viewer left to speculate what exactly is the overall goal of the aliens. Johansson’s outer space visitor, like all characters in the film, is unnamed, but it seems clear she isn’t the lone alien in Scotland.

There are some memorable visuals and at times the film’s soundtrack is effectively haunting, which leads me to understand why Johansson would be attracted to being involved in a project that’s far away from the big-budget and high-profile “Avengers” world. Still, the movie’s rhythm is sometimes just off-putting, while the languid pace becomes a very difficult hurdle to overcome. Clearly, it’s a movie built much more on atmosphere than action. While that approach might work for an undisputed sci-fi masterpiece such as “2001,” “Under the Skin” is ultimately too bleak and cold around the heart to care much for what transpires.

Grade: C-
(Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language.)