THEY CAME TOGETHER

they-came-together-poster1This is the brighter sibling who doesn’t live up to his potential from the SCARY family of “MOVIE” spoofs (EPIC, DATE, DISASTER, NOT ANOTHER TEEN…). TCT is a one-joke pony, but it’s a pretty good joke. The movie trots along finding every, in this case, Rom-Com cliche it can to poke fun at, in a fully-fleshed-out parody that seems like ten movies you’ve seen before, down to the dialog. Woody Allen and Rob Reiner films are in the crosshairs, which is a little tired by now. And there’s also a big nod to THE GRADUATE, which is past tired and fast asleep. If the movie’s sense of humor could be summed up in three words, they’d be Take Everything Literally. Here is one joke among hundreds that sums up what you’ll see: Paul Rudd puts the moves on Amy Poehler, who is willing but hesitates, saying, “I can’t. My Aunt Flo[w] is here.” Rudd says to her, “Oh, you’re having your period?” Poehler replies, “No, my Aunt Flo is visiting from out of town”. Camera pans over to older woman looking on disapprovingly. Once you get the hang of this, you’ll see the punch lines before the set-ups are even done. Another example: Rudd and Poehler are out to dinner, and they get a lot of attitude from the waiter. Rudd says, “Boy, does he have a pole up his ass, or what?”. The waiter turns around, and yes, there’s a giant pole coming out of his ass, which sweeps all the diners’ dishes off their tables. In other words this is very low comedy, and since that’s my favorite kind, I laughed all the way through. The filmmakers kill themselves “explaining” their obvious jokes, the gag being they know we get the joke, so “explaining” it to us is hilarious. And yes, it pretty much is, but oh my they take it to the limit — including one daring scene of repeated dialog that is just relentless. Michael Ian Black cannot not be funny, and here he gets a lot of help from a ridiculously dyed hairdo (or wig). Ed Helms walks away with his first scene. And good to see Michael Murphy again. THEY CAME TOGETHER isn’t brilliant like the filmmakers tv series “Stella”, but it’s a good time. — Jeff Schultz

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

transformers-age-of-extinction-poster-570x889When the host at the Arclight Theater said TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION was three hours long, I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. I wish he was. Because this movie is a joke. Ok, it’s not all horrible. It’s just mostly horrible. The effects are ok, the 3D is decent, and well, that’s about all that’s good. Let’s start with the dialogue which is beyond hackie. The parts that are supposed to be funny fall flat. The scenes that are intended to tug at the heartstrings induce head shaking and eye-rolling. The jokes come out of nowhere at the most ridiculous moments. It feels like the writers felt they had to shoehorn the jokes into the script. The basic story seems ok. The Transformers (Autobots and Decepticons) are all being wiped out by a creepy sounding CIA black ops team named Cemetery Wind. Yeah, Cemetery Wind. What the heck does that even mean? Titus Welliver as the head of this group glares at the camera and blurts out trite cliches that are meant to be orders. Kelsey Grammar is his CIA boss who is meant to be menacing, but you never totally buy it. Even Stanley Tucci is wasted as the “evil” head of a weapons contractor who has figured out how to manufacture Transformers. He is supposed to be a kind of evil genius, like a Bond villain. But even Tucci’s great talent can’t save this drivel. Then there’s Mark Wahlberg. He can be very good (The Departed and Lone Survivor are two examples). This isn’t very good. Wahlberg is supposed to be a broke engineer who tries to make ends meat by inventing stuff. He is about to be evicted from his home, along with his 17-year-old daughter (Nicola Peltz). He spends the whole movie either trying to be a badass, trying to crack wise or trying to tell his daughter how much she means to him. Oh yeah, there’s her love interest (Jack Reynor) who Wahlberg is trying to keep away from his daughter. Wahlberg finds Optimus Prime and brings him back to life and… oh hell… why bother explaining it. It’s idiotic. The whole thing is idiotic. And it’s 2:45 of idiotic!!!! Michael Bay, what the hell is wrong with you? Maybe your could Transform into a decent filmmaker. And he’s reviving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Sigh. Then there is there relentless product placement. It’s not even subtle. Nothing about this is subtle. It is relentless and ridiculous. Should you go see this? No. The only thing that should be extinct after this mess is this whole franchise. I need a shower, and a nice short indie movie. — Alan Yudman

 

JERSEY BOYS

jersey-boys-poster-600x889Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hold a special place in my musical history. I remember they were one of the first pop groups I ever heard. My Aunt was a fan and she would listen to their records and I would listen along. So I was eager to see what Clint Eastwood would do with JERSEY BOYS, the hit Broadway musical that he adapted for the big screen. I’m not exactly disappointed. I guess I’m more befuddled. Alison Wilmore of BuzzFeed kind of cleared it up for me. JERSEY BOYS is not really a musical as much it is a drama about music. As Wilmore says, “it’s a musical that doesn’t care about music”. Think of it as more RAY than CHICAGO or LES MISERABLES. JERSEY BOYS is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. How four kids who were destined for jail or the Jersey mob got out and became one of the biggest selling groups of the early 1960’s. Three of the Four Seasons starred in the National touring company of the Broadway musical. So, they were experienced in their roles. It shows. John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda are very natural and comfortable and seem to know what they are doing. The one “outlier” is Vincent Piazza. He is also the one with the most acting chops. Piazza is fantastic in Boardwalk Empire as Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. He plays a similar character here in Tommy DeVito. DeVito is a self-involved, self-important jerk. Sure he organized the band and managed it in its early stages, but he also was a crook, a thief and was instrumental in the end of the original Four Seasons. Piazza shines in the role. The music is also great. Eastwood chose to have the music performed live to film. It totally works. Each performance feels genuine and raw. That’s the good. There are also problems. Several times in the movie, characters seemingly appear out of nowhere (one character’s daughter suddenly appears only to be killed off moments later with little explanation). Most of the time, Eastwood uses the music to fill gaps, make transitions and cover plot exposition. Music is all anyone cares about when you go to see a movie about the Four Seasons. They are interesting but not as compelling as someone like Ray Charles. So, the choice to ditch the musical aspects of the Broadway show in favor of a more dramatic approach is kind of baffling. The one time it really feels like a musical is the final number that begins the closing credits. That was an example of what this could have been had Eastwood gone that way, as he should have. That said, I really enjoyed the movie. I did wind up caring about these guys and sat in rapt attention for the movie’s two plus hours. So should you see JERSEY BOYS? Absolutely! It’s entertaining and well done. You just have to go in with the right expectations. — Alan Yudman

Not to go all Jebidiah Atkinson on Clint, but going in I didn’t realize the movie would last through all four seasons. This overlong, by-the-numbers biopic has a shining central performance from the magnetic John Lloyd Young. But at 2 1/4 hours, it struggles to find conflict in what was basically an untrammeled success story. Once the group finds its sound — and that’s pretty early on — the boys are on their way to tremendous success. And that’s pretty much it, with two exceptions that get so pumped up for dramatic purpose, they squeeze most of the joy from both the music and the musicians. Group founder Tommy DeVito spends himself (and the others’ money) into a Mob-constricting hole, leading to his ouster amid much Sturm und Drang about loyalty and betrayal. Lead singer Frankie is on the road too much, leading to family tragedy amid even Sturmier und Drangier tears and recrimination. The latter story line involves a daughter who pretty much appears out of nowhere, disappears for a while, returns off screen as an apparent up-and-coming recording talent, and then goes away for good. The acting is solid, but I gotta say that to me, Vincent Piazza (who plays Tommy) looked so much like Robert Pattinson, it intruded on my ability to enjoy the character. (To a lesser degree, Michael Lomenda, who plays Nick Massi, reminded me of a young Michael McKean.) Christopher Walken is simply wonderful. It’s not a big part, but is there another actor in movies who could put the spin he does on a simple line like “Stay out of my bathroom”? Only at the very end, in a reunion scene that could have been much more fully developed (with much of what comes earlier trimmed) does the movie come alive, thanks in part to excellent aging makeup. But Eastwood isn’t content to stop there: he has to throw in a dance number just before the credits that comes off like the old Drew Carey sitcom opener (“Cleveland Rocks”) with a final shot of the entire cast holding their pose like a game of statues or the end of a “Police Squad” episode. — Jeff Schultz

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-poster1-690x1024Hiccup is five years older, and as he approaches manhood his animators have cleverly aged him half a decade on screen as well. But we are still on Berk Island, which begins in bliss with a soaring, ecstatic flight sequence that makes for a great introductory thrill ride, while also setting the scene: humans and dragons now not only co-exist, they live and thrive together. Paradise, of course, never lasts, and when the good times end, it’s up to Hiccup and his pals (and of course his dragon buddy Toothless) to save the world. If the sequel gets a little too entangled in “parental issues” — here not just disobeying one’s father, but (surprise!) matters involving Mom as well — there are plenty of fresh dazzlers just ahead: massive “alpha dragons”, sweeping crowd scenes, and several literally touching moments, where human-to human and human-to-dragon contact touches us. John Powell’s rapturous, Irish-inflected orchestral score contributes to the emotional intensity big-time. And Jay Baruchel, so good at playing winsome dorks, is once more the perfect voice for our young hero. One parental caution: there is a serious plot turn that, were I, say, 7 or 8, would have upset and stayed with me. To the movie’s credit, the tragedy stands despite DRAGON’s overall happy ending. — Jeff Schultz

 

EDGE OF TOMORROW

edge_of_tomorrow_ver4Time travel movies can be tough to pull off. The story can get so bogged down or confused by keeping track of what time you are in, or explaining the mechanics of time travel that you never know what’s going on with what you should care about— the story arc. One movie that did it successfully was GROUNDHOG DAY. It kept it simple and used it to service the main character’s confusion, frustration and disorientation and ultimately the funny. Consider EDGE OF TOMORROW a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day that works just as well.
We are dropped into the middle of a war between the Mimics and Earth. They have invaded the planet and are bent on annihilation. Tom Cruise is a Major and PR person for the Earth’s forces. When the Commanding General (Brendan Gleeson) orders him to the front to document the big D-Day style invasion of France, Cruise displays an impressive amount of cowardice and quick thinking to try and worm his way out of the assignment. When he tries to run he is stunned with a taser and shipped to the forward operating base at Heathrow Airport. He wakes up a private in a unit that will be among the first to land in France. During that battle he is killed, yet not killed. The way he dies allows him to reset that day every time he is killed. Each time he wakes up at Heathrow and begins living the day again. But, right before one death, he encounters Emily Blunt who recognizes what is happening to Cruise and starts training him to defeat the enemy. Don’t worry, it’s a lot easier to follow on the screen than on this page. Just like in Groundhog Day, you really feel the main character’s anxiety and frustration as you and he figure out what is going on together. It also helps to have such strong actors as the leads. Cruise and Blunt play off each other nicely and show great chemistry as she tries to turn the coward into a hero. Blunt is especially great. Her character is a war hero who has gone through what Cruise is going through. She has become the face of the war effort because of her fearless victory in a previous battle. Blunt perfectly pulls off a strong female character that is at least Cruise’s equal. And Cruise allows her to play to those strengths rather than trying to hog the spotlight. But make no mistake, this is Cruise’s movie. His transformation from mouse to lion is satisfying and makes him easy to root for, even when he seems like a totally inept jerk. If you aren’t in the mood for a teenage tearjerker, EDGE OF TOMORROW is just the movie you are looking for. — Alan Yudman

22 JUMP STREET

22_jump_street_poster_2-620x921Strained, repetitious and overlong, with two running gags hammered home hard enough to smash the nail right through the wood. 22JS continually steps outside of itself to nudge-wink joke about the plot being the same as the first movie, about the sequel’s larger budget, and about the need to keep the franchise going (this last, probably the funniest thing in the movie, comes at the end with a look ahead to future installments up through “40 JUMP STREET” and beyond). The other gag is the bromance that, while platonic, is played out with every dialog cliche from an actual love affair (hurt feelings, jealousies, experiments with an “open” relationship) that quickly wears thin and makes you wish that Channing and Jonah would just get a room already. Tatum and Hill are funny men, with great chemistry even in reduced material, and Tatum especially gets to use his physicality in both leaping action scenes and dancing (the latter during a “trippy” drug-induced freak-out). I did enjoy the second nod to ANNIE HALL’s lobster scene, the performance of Jillian Bell as a bitch of a college roommate, and Tatum’s (literally) hysterical reaction to a revelation about Ice Cube’s daughter. But mostly the movie pulls muscles overstraining for laughs, and by the time you’ve had enough, there’s still a trip to Mexico and an extended windup that seems to last as long as Spring Break. — Jeff Schultz

 

The surprise for me in 21 JUMP STREET was Channing Tatum. He turned out to have great comic timing and fantastic chemistry with Jonah Hill. So, I was really looking forward to 22 JUMP STREET. I was not disappointed. The sequel is unbelievably hilarious. I may have to go see it again to catch some jokes I missed because I was laughing so much. Jenko and Schmidt are back, but this time they are heading to college to bust a drug ring. And they are doing “what worked the first time”. Something that’s pointed out endlessly by Tatum and Hill, and Ice Cube and Nick Offerman and just about anyone else who cares to bring it up. They are also talking about the film. Why mess with a great formula.. give us more of the same hysterical banter, outrageous situations and great buddy comedy. (I’m looking at you “THE HANGOVER”) It’s also pointed out over and over that they have more money to spend on the movie and on their crime fighting efforts, but obviously they went over budget and that was cleverly written into the script too. It kind of clubs the audience over the head a lot of the time, but no one in the theater seemed to mind— including me. You can complain about leaps of logic and the sophomoric nature of a lot of the humor, but neither 22JS or 21JS ever pretended to be high minded. You want intelligent, thoughtful humor then watch a classic Woody Allen or Wes Anderson movie. This kind of movie puts the jokes right in front of you, drops its comedic pants and says, “go ahead and laugh, or don’t… but we know you want to laugh.”  Everyone is funny, but Tatum and Hill, Jillian Bell  and Rob Riggle stand out above the rest. The sequence of sequels at the start of the closing credits is hilarious (with a few excellent cameos), and make sure you stay for the post credits scene). It’s nice to go to a movie and simply laugh your ass off without pretension or conscience. And that’s exactly the kind of catharsis you get from 22JS! — Alan Yudman

Lots of people complained when The Hangover 2 came out that “it was the same movie”. When the third one did something totally different, they complained “it didn’t feel like a Hangover movie”…and it sucked. That being said, 22 Jump Street lets us know right off the bat it’s not reinventing the wheel…it’s more of the same. And you know what? That’s okay with me! Tatum and Hill are not afraid to be the butts of the joke (Magic Mike even lets Hill make fun of his bomb “White House Down”) and in a wink wink to the audience, they keep reminding us not to be too critical because “it’s exactly the same”. Just like the second Hangover, the point is to give audiences what they want and I thought it was a lot of fun. And kudos for the closing credits which takes shots at all the actors and Hollywood, when we get a peek at the next 15 or so sequels…take a ride down this street, you won’t be disappointed. — Stormy Curry

STAGE FRIGHT

Stage-Fright-Poster-691x1024A new hybrid: the slasher musical! With no half-measures about the slasher part. Much of the satire is similar to CAMP, but with added blood and (literally) guts. The characters are just as likely to break into song as they are to be eviscerated. The numbers are snappy and elaborately choreographed, the lyrics smart and funny, and the gore puts the right damper on all that precious sunniness. Damsel-in distress Allie MacDonald is what Lindsay Lohan could have become; it’s good to see Minnie Driver again, here playing Allie’s mother and still a beauty; and Meat Loaf nails it as the evil (?) stepfather. With many candidates for the killer (who of course wears a mask) the movie keeps us guessing. And laughing. — Jeff Schultz

 

NEIGHBORS

neighbors posterI was soooooooo looking forward to this one. Loved the idea. Loved the trailer. Should have stopped there. What’s being sold as a back and forth revenge comedy between grown ups and a frat is really a mostly laugh free stoner comedy that is pretty lame. If it was half as funny as the trailer I could have forgiven the half baked story. If it had a realistic message I could have ignored the lack of humor. Instead it tries to be something parents could relate to yet “cool” enough for the teens to like. Amusing to a point, then painful to finish, the only two who deserve a better script and movie were Zach Efron and Dave Franco. They were so much better than this movie deserved. And the only ones getting a kick out of this alleged comedy are Seth Rogen and friends, who are laughing all the way to the bank.– Stormy Curry