The first was a classic…so this one had no chance of stacking up to the original. That being said, it’s fun to see these idiots back together. Critics have been brutal on this and once again much of the criticism is unfair. Bottom line for all comedies: if I laugh I like it. Worth seeing but don’t rush right out. Maybe a matinee. Or a rental. It’s fun but could have been funnier.
Everyone is funny in this sequel, but Charlie Day so dominates the comedy, the movie (more so than the first one) comes off like a feature-length version of an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” episode. That’s not a criticism. Charlie throws off so many hilariously delivered or just goofball observations, I know a second viewing will have me laughing at lines I missed. Listen to how Day marvels at Jamie Foxx’s poor negotiating skills. Listen to him dangerously shouting “Rex!” inside a home the boys have just broken into. Listen to him argue with Jason Sudeikis on the naming of their get-rich project, the Shower Buddy. Of course, with Sudeikis and Jason Bateman completing the trio, how could you go wrong? Throw in a super nasty Chris Pine (having a ball) and Jennifer Aniston doubling down on the filthy talk for added pleasure. It’s also good to have Kevin Spacey back for two scenes on a prison phone. Only Christoph Waltz fails to register, perhaps because he doesn’t have much interesting to do. Here’s the highest praise I can think of: HB2 makes me want an HB3. — Jeff Schultz
Not quite a horror movie, this Freudian thriller is more like an adult version of “Where the Wild Things Are” — using a monster to represent what’s going on inside the lead character, a widow whose husband died the night she gave birth to their son. And while it’s a bit of a guessing game at first, the screenplay makes clear that even a metaphor can have severe consequences. The director avoids cheap scares and there’s no gore; rather, it’s a psychological fight to the finish (actually, a clever draw) between mother and child. All credit to a remarkable kid named Noah Wiseman, playing a 7-year-old with the restraint and insight of a classically trained actor, which seems impossible at his young age. By the time he’s 13, we may be calling him the next Christian Bale; he’s that remarkable. Wiseman’s emotionally intimate relationship with Australian actress Essie Davis is so authentic, we accept the supernatural element as part of this family drama. The film’s simplicity might seem thin, until you think back on how gracefully it was put together. — Jeff Schultz
There is a new ethos in Hollywood. If you have a successful franchise, why not maximize eyeballs and spread it out as long as possible. That’s why we had two-part conclusions to The Twilight and Harry Potter series. Why should THE HUNGER GAMES be any different? So now we are forced to sit through two parts to the MOCKINGJAY finale. Please force me some more. This is obviously a set-up for the second part. Tate wheels are being set in motion. Katniss realizes she is the Mockingjay, and exacts demands from President Coin to be the face of the revolution. But she is obviously in love with Peeta. Once she discovers he is alive, she puts his well being ahead of her own. The film ends with a shocking scene that makes you wonder if it is all worth it for Katniss. Some say there isn’t enough action and it’s too talky and dull. I can’t disagree more with the second point. I was on the edge of my seat wondering where we were going next. The acting is what really lifts this to another level. Jennifer Lawrence. Need I say more? But you also get Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth and Jeffrey Wright. Not to mention a strong subtle reminder of the brilliant yet tragic talent of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The cinematography is gorgeous. The score is powerful yet not overwhelming. If you loved the first two films in this saga, you’ll go see this no matter what. If you casually enjoyed them, this is still worth your time and money. I cannot wait for next November to see how it ends. — Alan Yudman.
V/H/S ought to stand for Very Horrible Sequel. Five directors come up with four stories — and a framing device (of sorts) that I had trouble understanding throughout and totally did not get at the end, which I think is supposed to explain all that came before. None of the four short films within the film is a standout, although the “skateboarders in Mexico” sequence, while way too long, brings some needed spontaneity with the board-riding stoners’ banter. Their GoPro cameras also somewhat reenergize the “found footage” gimmick. But the rest — a story about an evil magician, another about finding a parallel universe, and a sexual revenge drama inside a taxi — are just no big deal. Here and there, an effective piece of gore or arresting image, but nowhere near enough to recommend this ghost of V/H/S (or even V/H/S/2). — Jeff Schultz
Is it just me or do a lot of Disney’s movies deal with the loss of a person close to main character. In Frozen it was the parents. Same holds true for the latest offering BIG HERO 6. Hiro is a genius kid. He lives with his aunt and his brother because, well, we don’t know what happened to their parents. Then early in the movie his brother, who is also something of a robotics genius, is killed in an explosion. But he leaves behind Baymax, a big cuddly, genial robot who is designed to be a personal health care provider. When Hiro realizes the only way to move on is to get revenge for his brother’s death he turns Baymax into a fighting robot complete with armor. Hiro also realizes someone has stolen his groundbreaking invention and is now using them for evil purposes. So Hiro puts together a super hero team made up of his brother’s friends and they go off to stop the evil. The story is better than average (thank you John Lasseter for being in charge) and the voice work is good, especially Scott Adsit (Pete from 30 Rock) as Baymax. Baymax is not just lovable because of his big cuddly appearance. The robot is sweet and caring and unintentionally funny. The real star for me here is the animation. The movement of the characters is natural and it all pops off the screen (even in 2D). Even though BIG HERO 6 deals with loss and tragedy and there’s a fair amount of fighting, it is not too intense. This should be ok for most kids. Just be ready to answer questions like, “Why can’t I have a Baymax”. The answer is you can, when BIG HERO 6 arrives on DVD or Blu Ray. — Alan Yudman
P.S. The best part of the whole night might have been the short that preceded BIG HERO 6. FEAST features an adorable boxer (?) pup and a sweet story that makes you feel all warm and gooey inside.
Christopher Nolan has become the master of the grand epic that makes less than subtle comment on society and government. The Batman trilogy was about the inequity of justice and profound loss. Inception also touched on loss and rule breaking to achieve the greater good. Memento was more than a story telling trick, it was also about loss. Nolan is back again, successfully weaving socio-political commentary into a sci-fi thriller in INTERSTELLAR. Briefly, (the movie is almost 3 hours long, so anything I write will be more succinct than that) the Earth is dying. It’s turning into a dustbowl (nod to climate change). People are just doing what they can to survive including former astronaut, now farmer Matthew McConaughey. His son is primed to follow in his farmer footsteps. But his daughter Murphy (played at different ages by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn) is all about science and curiosity. An outlier and a freak in this dismal future. Through a series of events McConaughey and his daughter stumble upon NASA’s secret lab. No one wants to spend money on space when people are starving on earth (a comment on shortsighted politicians). McConaughey’s Cooper is talked into piloting a mission to another Galaxy using a secret worm hole through space located near Saturn. The mission (along with Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley and David Gyasi) is to find a new Earth to populate. There is some talk of physics and time and the theory of relativity that I almost grasped. But the movie doesn’t get too deep into those weeds. Instead it mostly focuses on McConaughey’s relationship with his daughter and son. Murphy ages while Cooper is traveling through space. There is also a theme of the moral responsibility of government. Can official lie or keep secrets if they truly believe they are serving the greater good? So you can see, there are many questions that Nolan forces you to consider while at the same time he is entertaining you with a compelling story and spectacular visuals. This is science fiction, but more along the lines of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY than STAR WARS. Nolan fans will be thrilled and amazed and it will confirm everything they (ok, we.. I am a huge fan) they see and experience. Everyone else may not be willing to sit through nearly 3 hours of Nolan exploring his vision. That’s ok. That’s why man invented DVD’s and video streaming. But if you are willing to commit to the time, it will be well worth your while. — Alan Yudman
They never get it right. Whether on the big screen or TV, depictions of the television news business, either national or local, are unfailingly inaccurate. Feature comedies like MORNING GLORY and THE UGLY TRUTH, small screen dramas like “The Newsroom” and (for a looooong look back), Morgan Fairchild’s THE SEDUCTION and Martin Sheen’s NEWS AT ELEVEN — they each laughably rearrange the reality of how news gets on the air for dramatic convenience. And NIGHTCRAWER, thanks to the extra time it takes showing us the mechanics of production, deserves a strong, hard, tooth-loosening slap in the face for being perhaps the most egregious of all. This is a world where the News Director in Los Angeles also functions as a show producer, in both executive and line capacities, and personally negotiates the price of each stringer video. She also delivers running orders to the anchors while they are live on the air — lashing them over the PL with her urgency as though they were racehorses. The stringers themselves operate in a world that allows them within inches of murder victims still bleeding and lifesaving operations; they have a Ted Williams average at finding spectacular scenes that lead to we’re-leading-with-it “Exclusive”s, seemingly on a nightly basis. Exaggeration worked in NETWORK because that was a satire. The filmmakers may think NIGHTCRAWLER is too, but a movie that uses the tired banality “If it bleeds, it leads” right near the beginning pretty much promises what’s to come: a cheap and stale shot with no new perspective that repeats all the tired tropes about the industry. And to underscore the cliche, that News Director enthusiastically chooses to put on the air what would never in a million newscasts ever ever EVER be shown. The scrupulosity with which stations sanitize gore is perhaps greater today than ever; there hasn’t been a centimeter of backslide since 1976, when NETWORK was released and (first?) raised the issue. Also, the sheer illegality as to what gets put on the air and how it is obtained is simply jaw-dropping. Just flat-out impossible. But essential, because without that element, you have no movie. Jake Gyllenhaal does his best at creating a “character” and he does it well, but he’s no Travis Bickle. He’s a hustler on the make and a crackpot, often engaging, sometimes irritating. But his story means nothing. That a movie this false should choose a cynical ending seems appropriate: it comes off as smug, just like what precedes it. — Jeff Schultz