Monday, August 22, 2016

Suicide Squad #1 for third week

For the weekend of August 19-21, 2016, Suicide Squad held on again to be the #1 film. It's still on course to break even, but since China's decided to not allow it shown, it probably won't be able to get much more than $675 million worldwide. Profitable, yes. But if it had just been a better movie...

Of the new films, War Dogs came out on top. Despite terrific reviews, Kubo & the Two Strings couldn't find its audience. The most expensive newcomer was Ben-Hur, but without a star on the poster, it never really found a marketing hook to justify its existence.

Hell or High Water expanded and had the best per-screen average in the top 30.

Summer is slowing down and some of the big-budget movies are in trouble. Ghostbusters and Star Trek Beyond have not caught on overseas, and both could still wind up being money-losers. Ice Age: Collision Course, however, is going to break even because of its overseas business, even though it won't get to $65 million domestic.

Opens August 26
DON'T BREATHE with Dylan Minnette, Jane Levy and Stephen Lang.
MECHANIC: RESURRECTION with Jason Statham and Tommy Lee Jones.
HANDS OF STONE with Robert DeNiro, Edgar Ramirez and John Turturro.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sausage Party - Movie Review

Starring the voices of Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, David Krumholtz, Danny McBride, James Franco, Nick Kroll and Paul Rudd.
Written by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg.
Directed by Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon.


Sausage Party is the raunchiest animated movie since South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. It's a spoof of VeggieTales and the Pixar canon that anthromorphizes everything from toys to cars. Beneath all the subversive humor is a direct attack on religion.

Seth Rogen voices a sausage named Frank who is in love with a bun named named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). They're packaged next to each other on a shelf in a grocery store called Shopwells. Each morning, all of the groceries join in a song that celebrates the Gods, aka the humans that shop there. It is the belief of the food that when they are selected by the Gods, they will go to Great Beyond, aka out the front door, where they will live in an eternity of joy and sexual fulfillment.

But when a jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) is returned, he comes back with horrible tales. The Gods are monsters who plan to consume them. There is no happiness in the Great Beyond; there is only death.

Frank and Brenda escape their packaging and set out to find the truth, but the longer they search, the more doubtful Frank becomes, and the more fearful Brenda becomes that she is angering the Gods.

The movie is full of stereotypes and has fun with them. Frank and Brenda are joined by a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton) and a Arabic lavash (David Krumholtz), and they bicker about occupied aisle space. The lavash also dreams of being drenched in the Great Beyond in 77 bottles of virgin olive oil. The German sauerkraut screams about exterminating the juice. And so on.

The movie is filled to the brim with dirty jokes, many of which are funny. In fact, it's remarkable how freeing animation is for Rogen's pot-obsessed humor.

As for the atheist argument, let's just say Rogen does it in a funnier, less ham-fisted way than Ricky Gervais or Bill Maher are capable of. The movie winds up being a celebration of hedonism before it ultimately disappears up its own butt.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Suicide Squad Stays #1 at Box Office

For the weekend of August 12-14, 2016, Suicide Squad easily held on to the top spot. After breaking the August opening-weekend box-office record, its 67% drop was to be expected. Its worldwide gross is now past $465 million, and this is before opening in lucrative countries like China, India, Germany and Japan. (For comparison, China alone was responsible for $190 million of Captain America: Civil War's $1.15 billion).

Sausage Party's tracking grew the closer it came, and when the overwhelmingly positive reviews came in, its success was assured. It also only had a $19 million production budget, which just makes me wonder why it took $105 million to make Ice Age 5.

Pete's Dragon opened to okay business, but it'll need good word-of-mouth and strong overseas performance to make a profit, and Disney could use some better news after Alice Through the Looking Glass and The BFG flopped. (Don't weep for them just yet. They also had Zootopia, The Jungle Book, CA:CW, and Finding Dory).

Florence Foster Jenkins joins Ricki & the Flash as an example that late summer Meryl Streep is no longer as bankable as she'd been in years past (with titles like Mamma Mia!, Julie & Julia and Hope Springs).

On fewer screens, Anthropoid wasn't able to garner much interest. It may look like a sci-fi title, but it's about the two men who carried out the assassination of SS Nazi monster Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. It stars Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) and Jamie Dornan (Battlestar Galactica).

Hell or High Water came out of nowhere for the highest per-screen average of over $18,000 on 32 screens for a $592,000 total. It's a modern-day Western starring Jeff Bridges as a sheriff on the trail of two bank robbers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster). Expect it to expand in the next week or so.

Opens August 19
KUBO & THE TWO STRINGS with the voices of Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey.
WAR DOGS with Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Bradley Cooper, Ana de Armas and Shaun Toub.
BEN-HUR with Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell and Ayelet Zurer.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad - Movie Review

Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevinge, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, David Harbour, Common, Jim Parrack and Ben Affleck.
Written & Directed by David Ayer.


Suicide Squad has so much potential, so many directions you could go with it, and yet this is probably the most frustrating movie of the year.

Let me start with what I liked.

1. Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. Robbie's a movie star, and she has as much fun as possible as Quinn. The character has expanded leaps and bounds since she was first introduced on Batman: The Animated Series.

2. Jay Hernandez's El Diablo. Not only does he have one of the better archs in the movie, but there's a sad soulfulness to the way Hernandez plays him. Right now he might be best known as the guy from Hostel but this should be a career-booster for him.

3. Jared Leto's Joker. Joker's part isn't as big as one might think from the trailers, and because he's the freakin' JOKER, but I liked Leto's take. Joker's sexier, more gangster, and serpentine. I look forward to seeing more of him in future DC movies. Plus he and Quinn had real chemistry.

4. Viola Davis's Amanda Waller. It's nice to have an actress like Davis in this role, where she can give ten minutes of expository dialogue and have it not bother you. Plus she's as mean as anyone else.

5. The first half hour. We get introduced to these characters through Waller's expository dialogue, with title cards and theme songs that get us right in the mood. Thirty minutes in, I'm going "This is a movie I can really get on board with." And then it slowly slips away.

Honorable mentions to Will Smith's Deadshot and Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang. I kinda liked Killer Croc too.

So what didn't I like? I'll have to get into some spoilers to explain it.

There are some basic problems with the story that I can't believe weren't halted in development.

1. The main villains. The "Big Bad" the Squad is sent after is not the Joker. And the Joker is not part of the Squad. The Joker is on the edges of the movie, working toward getting Quinn freed while she's engaged in this mission. No, the villains are ancient spirits that can possess people. They are the Enchantress and her brother Incubus. Enchantress happens to possess Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevinge, out of her league), who is the girlfriend of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Waller's right-hand man, and the guy in charge of the Squad while they're on their mission. Incubus barely registers. He's like Apocalypse from the recent X-Men movie, except he has maybe three lines.

Once brother and sister are reunited, Enchantress declares that she is going to build a machine to destroy humanity. Her machine apparently takes all night to build and it involves shooting lightning into the sky while garbage swirls around it. We've seen this too many times in blockbusters lately. Avengers and X-Men: Apocalypse come to mind. Even Ghostbusters had the same kind of sky-portal gigantic chaos type ending.

Enchantress also has the ability to turn people into these oddly-defined CG-creatures that are there for the Squad to kill in various ways. The entire concept of them was a bad idea. They make it feel like we're stuck in a video game, just killing random monsters along the way.

2. Too many characters. Slipknot is barely in the movie. And Katana is such an afterthought they would have been better off cutting her out completely. ("Oh yeah, by the way, her sword stores the souls of everyone she kills." "Huh.") Also, if only the Squad can go on such a dangerous mission, then why does Flag also have about 10 regular soldiers come too, one being Scott Eastwood? Why not send 20 soldiers and don't release these villains? Or just have Flag and the villains because this mission is too dangerous otherwise. This means the most interesting characters don't get enough to do. Courtney's having a lot of fun as Boomerang, but his skill set doesn't seem to come in handy for this mission.

3. The mission. Like I said, after the Squad's assembled, it kicks into video-game mode. They enter the city, they come across the CG foot-soldiers, they go deeper into the city. They kill more. There's a "surprise" rescue mission thrown in there which didn't make any sense when you think about it, and then they finally set their sights on Sky Laser Beacon to go defeat the ancient siblings. The movie's strength is its characters, but rarely in the last two-thirds do these characters get a chance to just stretch their legs and be.

4. Basic logistical choices. The climactic moment for Killer Croc is when he swims beneath the building in order to plant a strategic bomb, but even then he only leads some other swimming soldiers under the building, and one of the soldiers is the one who actually sets the bomb. Why not have Croc do it by himself? As for Diablo, when he takes his final form I thought "So this whole time, he could have done that?" Each Squad member has an explosive implanted in their neck so they can be killed if they try to escape, but apparently Diablo could have left at any time, no problem.

And then there's Enchantress. At one point she takes on four Squad members with two swords, and after some fighting, she just says "Enough!" and uses her powers to disarm them all. So why not start with that? If she's so powerful, why would she ever need to swing a sword?

5. Ham-handed choices. We know that Deadshot loves his daughter. But they go to that well so many times it started to generate groans rather than tug heartstrings. The dialogue every few minutes keeps emphasizing. "We're bad guys!" "Remember, we're the bad guys!" Show, don't tell. Also, they go for slo-mo at the wrong times.

6. The PG-13 rating. This movie felt held back by its rating. It should have been an R-rated crime movie. But before Deadpool, studios understandably thought they couldn't do that with superhero movies. (See the box office receipts of The Punisher.)

7. Death by committee. You can really tell this movie was meddled with by several people. Rewrites and reshoots resulting in an ultimate mess.

So between Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, the DC Universe has two financially successful movies that bombed with critics. The next one on their release slate is Wonder Woman. Even more pressure is now put on that movie to be good.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cafe Society - Movie Review

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Parker Posey, Ken Stott and Anna Camp.
Written & Directed by Woody Allen.


Oh look, a movie about a nebbish Jew from New York who's contemplating adultery. Must be a Woody Allen film.

I enjoy the Windsor font of the opening credits playing over an old jazz tune. It tells you right away you're back in that world, no matter what time period. This one takes place in the late 1930's, when Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) heads to Hollywood to work for his powerful agent uncle Phil (Steve Carell). While there, he falls for Phil's secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Vonnie has a secret boyfriend, but she enjoys her time with Bobby.

Eventually Bobby moves back to New York to help run a nightclub with his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll). Ben has killed many people to get ahead, and that aspect of him is played for droll effect.

There are some other twists and turns, but the plot moves along in haphazard fashion. The tone keeps shifting abruptly, and Allen seems to be aiming for the sweet spot of Crimes & Misdemeanors where he can go back and forth between comedy and drama. I would say Cafe Society was filmed before the script was really ready. There are themes he brings up which he then drops without really exploring them.

As for the cast, the standout was Kristen Stewart. She has a fresh-faced buoyancy to her performance that shows she's really put the Twilight films in her rear-view. With luck, her career will continue this crawl back to credibility.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Lights Out - Movie Review

Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alexander DiPersia and Billy Burke.
Written by Eric Heisserer.
Directed by David F. Sandberg.


We know most of the tricks of ghost thrillers. You can either try to find new tricks, or just make sure you're using the old ones really well. This one doesn't have any new tricks, but it's surprisingly effective with ones we've seen before.

The movie is pretty short (about 80 minutes) and most of what we saw in the trailer happens in the first act, which is great. This is a movie that understands you don't have to drag out the origin story, which is rarely the best part of any movie. Besides, the characterizations aren't that strong.

There is a deadly apparition named Diana, and we see her kill someone in the first ten minutes, so there's no doubt of her reality. She is somehow tied to Sophie (Maria Bello), a haggard mom who speaks to the shadows, which freaks out her sleep-deprived son Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Martin reaches out to big sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who left home under poor circumstances. Rebecca knows how bad things can get when Sophie's of her meds, so she agrees to take in Martin until their mom can get things under control.

Ah, but Diana isn't confined to a house. When she starts showing up at Rebecca's place, they know they have to get to the bottom of Diana's motivations.

The central trick is that Diana can only exist in shadows, and when the lights are on, she's invisible and powerless. Director David F. Sandberg does a good job of dwelling on dark corners of the room, making us regularly anticipate where Diana might come from next. She's one of those disjointed ghosts, like the poltergeist from Mama.

It delivers on what it sets out to do. It goes "Boo!" repeatedly and sometimes it works.

Bourne #1 in Final Box Office Numbers

For the weekend of July 27-29, 2016, Jason Bourne was the big winner. Matt Damon's return to the franchise was a successful one. It was the second-best opening of the series and a good $20 million more than the Damon-less Bourne Legacy.

Bad Moms also has to be happy with its performance, in this summer where R-rated comedies have been unreliable in their ability to perform. Maybe that helped them.

Nerve was a low budget movie, but surely the filmmakers had hoped to break $10 million opening.

Of the holdovers, any movie that opens over $50 million can expect to drop 50% or more in its second week, but 58.2% is a little steeper than Paramount would like for Star Trek: Beyond.

Opens August 5
SUICIDE SQUAD with Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie and Viola Davis.
NINE LIVES with Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner and Christopher Walken.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Star Trek Beyond - Movie Review

Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Deep Roy and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung.
Directed by Justin Lin.


After Star Trek into Darkness turned out to be a remake of The Wrath of Khan, they wanted to be a little more original this time around. And they were. This felt like a two-hour episode of the original series, so by being more faithful to the spirit of the series, it was able to break out and tell a new story.

The Enterprise is now more than halfway through its five-year mission, and the crew is starting to feel bored. But then an opportunity comes along to explore a nebula where no one knows what's inside it, and things sound interesting. Of course once they go inside, they're attacked, the Enterprise is destroyed, and they're stranded on an unknown planet.

The movie takes its time to give everyone character moments. We've gotten to know them; now it lets us enjoy their interactions. Spock and McCoy spend a good section of the film stranded together, and their interplay was the most enjoyable part of the movie. (Karl Urban's best work yet in the role.) It also benefits from guest work by Idris Elba as the main villain Krall, and from Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) as Jaylah, a different alien who's been stranded a long time herself.

The late, great Anton Yelchin is just part of the ensemble as Chekov, and I can't help but wish they'd given him more to do. But they had the luxury of thinking they could just do that in the next movie.

Star Trek is a likable series. It's never my #1 must-see of the year, but I'm always glad when the opportunity to see another one rolls around. Especially when it's good.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek Beyond is #1 at box office

For the weekend of July 22-24, 2016, Star Trek Beyond was the clear winner. It may not have opened as well as the first two, but Paramount has to be happy. With how this franchise does overseas, it'll be plenty profitable and justifies having a fourth movie with this cast, minus the late Anton Yelchin.

The other two wide releases were Lights Out and Ice Age 5, but it won't be until the actual numbers that come out that we'll know who took third, fourth and fifth place.

Of the holdovers, The Secret Life of Pets did really well, and it benefitted from Ice Age 5 getting terrible reviews. Now it can dominate the family animated landscape until Kubo & the Two Strings, which is four weeks away.

The horror movie Lights Out did great. Its low budget puts it on par with The Darkness, but that was univerally panned, whereas LO's reviews have been largely positive.

Opens July 29
JASON BOURNE with Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones and Julia Stiles.
BAD MOMS with Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Christina Applegate and Kathryn Hahn.
NERVE with Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis and Samira Wiley.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ghostbusters - Movie Review

Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth, Charles Dance, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Neil Casey, Zach Woods and Ed Begley Jr.
Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig.
Directed by Paul Feig.


There's one big obstacle this movie faces. It tries to pay homage to the original every few minutes with references and cameos and following the same basic formula, but it is not a sequel. It is a reboot that pretends the other movies didn't happen. The movie would have been better off if it had made a decision. Either be a sequel, which wouldn't have been difficult to do, keeping the whole cast intact and have Dan Aykroyd mentor them for a few minutes. Or be your own thing. But in addition to Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts popping up as different characters, we also get the return of Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Why?

Now I love the original Ghostbusters. Felt let down by the sequel. But I was ready to enjoy this movie on its own merits. So what are its merits?

Paul Feig reunites his Bridesmaids actresses Wiig and McCarthy, and I like seeing those two play off each other as different characters. I liked the broad energy of Leslie Jones.

(I have to have another quibble with the marketing team. They ruined a lot of punchlines in the trailers. Almost every scene, my mind would go back to one of the previews. "Ah, this is the scene that will end with Jones slapping McCarthy once more than necessary and yelling 'The power of pain compels you!'")

Chris Hemsworth steals the show as Kevin, the spectacularly dumb receptionist for the Ghostbusters. Probably my favorite non-Thor role of his.

I liked the concept of the villain, although I wish they'd cast someone more interesting in the part. Not exactly as memorable as Gozer. The budget is huge, so why not get Jonah Hill? Patton Oswalt? Instead they cast Neil Casey, who was a writer at Saturday Night Live when Kristen Wiig was still there.

Kate McKinnon's character is so out-there I never bought her in the fabric of this universe. Maybe she was trying something risky a la Johnny Depp in the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Some people are finding it hilarious. I didn't think it worked.

The movie's fine. I think it might linger in pop culture just because it's four women kicking butt and zapping ghosts, and I don't diminish that. If anything it felt like the script and story decisions let the ladies down.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Weekend Box Office - July 15-17, 2016

For the weekend of July 15-17, 2016, The Secret Life of Pets managed to hang on to the #1 spot, but it had strong competition from Ghostbusters. Illumination had found its diamond with the Despicable Me/Minions world, and now they've found a new franchise they can milk.

Ghostbusters opened a little under expectations but considering how many sequels/remakes have bombed so far this year, I think they have to be happy. It's the highest opening ever for Melissa McCarthy or director Paul Feig. It's also their biggest budget. China has said they won't allow the movie to play there, so that's an unfortunate chunk of foreign box office they'll miss out on.

The Legend of Tarzan has been resilient. I never would have guessed it would wind up doing better than Independence Day: Resurgence.

The other new wide release was The Infiltrator, which never really felt like a summer movie. I admire the counterprogramming effort, but maybe the public is a little Escobar'd out.

Woody Allen's latest, Cafe Society, did great in limited release. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell and Blake Lively.

Opens July 22
ICE AGE 5 with the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
STAR TREK BEYOND with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana and Anton Yelchin.
LIGHTS OUT with Teresa Palmer, Emily Alyn Lind and Alicia Vela-Bailey.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

2016 Emmy Nominations


Game of Thrones
Mr. Robot
House of Cards
Downton Abbey
Better Call Saul
The Americans


Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Master of None


Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
Rami Malek (Mr. Robot)
Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul)
Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan)
Kyle Chandler (Bloodline)
Matthew Rhys (The Americans)


Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Taraji P. Henson (Empire)
Keri Russell (The Americans)


Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)
Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth)
Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley)
Aziz Ansari (Master of None)
William H. Macy (Shameless)


Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Amy Schumer (Inside Amy Schumer)
Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
Laurie Metcalf (Getting On)
Tracee Ellis-Ross (black-ish)
Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)


The People v. O.J. Simpson
American Crime
The Night Manager


The Voice
The Amazing Race
Top Chef
Project Runway
Dancing with the Stars
American Ninja Warrior


All the Way
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
A Very Murray Christmas


Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Matt Walsh (Veep)
Louie Anderson (Baskets)
Keegen-Michael Key (Key & Peele)
Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)


Niecy Nash (Getting On)
Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Gaby Hoffman (Transparent)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Judith Light (Transparent)
Anna Chlumsky (Veep)


Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul)
Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Kit Harington (Game of Thrones)
Michael Kelly (House of Cards)
Jon Voight (Ray Donovan)


Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones)
Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones)
Maura Tierney (The Affair)
Constance Zimmer (UnREAL)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Purge: Election Year - Movie Review

Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Raymond J. Barry and Ethan Phillips.
Written & Directed by James DeMonaco.


The Purge movies can't honestly be called "good," but they're a C-grade guilty pleasure for me. It's a low-budget franchise that lets Frank Grillo be the star of a world, like Robert Englund ruled Elm Street.

Each movie expands the scope of the world a little more, and this time around we see a political outsider, Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), running for president on a platform of ending the Purge. The NFFA which has run the USA for the past 25 years doesn't like that, and they plan to use this year's Purge as a cover for having her assassinated.

Sgt. Leo Barnes (Grillo), survivor of Purge: Anarchy, has worked his way over to be the head of Sen. Roan's security detail. After being betrayed, he and the senator have to go on the run on Purge Night, eventually hooking up with resistance leader Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), the only person who's been in all three movies.

This time around, the metaphors are laid on in a more heavy-handed fashion. The mercenaries hired to kill Roan wear Nazi symbols and Confederate flags on their uniforms. In ranking the movies, I'd say this ranks just below Anarchy but better than the first one. I hope for the fourth installment they expand the idea more. Let's see a bank heist be the main goal.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Love & Friendship - Movie Review

Starring Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Morfydd Clark, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, Justin Edwards and Stephen Fry.
Written & Directed by Whit Stillman.


Writer/director Whit Stillman has always had a knack for dialogue, and he gets to really show his stuff by translating Jane Austen's novella "Lady Susan" to the big screen.

Kate Beckinsale plays Susan, a widow and mother looking out for her own survival by seeking a rich suitor. While staying with her brother-in-law and his wife, she sets her eyes on the wife's younger brother Reginald (Xavier Samuel). Meanwhile she is trying to marry her own daughter off to a rich idiot named James Martin (Tom Bennett), who reminded me a lot of a guileless version of Ricky Gervais' David Brent.

This comedy of manners shows how everyone being so polite means that they keep putting up with Susan and her scheming, even as they all know what she's doing. Susan, meanwhile, is a champion at finding justification for everything she does.

Chloe Sevigny reunites with her Last Days of Disco co-star as Susan's American friend. She's fine but she doesn't look comfortable playing out of her century.

Hopefully this movie does well enough we don't have to wait five years for Stillman's next one. Heck, if he wanted to tackle Northanger Abbey, I doubt anyone would complain.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Conjuring 2 - Movie Review

Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O'Connor, Madison Wolfe, Lauren Esposito, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Benjamin Haigh and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
Written by Carey & Chad Hayes.
Directed by James Wan.


It might not be quite as good as the first one, but it's still effective in its own right. Director James Wan is a master at playing with shadows and dark corners, drawing out the tension, releasing it, and then jolting the audience.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back as Ed & Lorraine Warren, who investigate paranormal activity, usually debunking it, but sometimes they meet fierce opposition from evil spirits. The movie is able to claim it's based on a true story, and yes it is, but it takes a lot of liberties with the truth of the story for maximum scares. Which is fine. They can embellish another case for The Conjuring 3.

This time the Warrens are summoned to England, where a single mother and her four children are dealing with a possible haunting, especially daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). Furniture moves on its own, a disembodied voice whispers in the dark, that sort of thing. In what came to be known as the Enfield Poltergeist, the evil spirit reveals himself, and from there, the Warrens need to figure out why he's there and how to make him go away.

In some ways, Wan goes bigger here. The third act has more CGI than the original, and one creation actually pulled me out. Too fake-looking to be scary. On the other hand, there are some long-lasting scenes. I still think about the scene where Lorraine is alone in Ed's office and what visits her there.

So while the real-life cases might not have been as spectacular as their movies, it's still a fun journey, well-crafted. Always best to wait until after the movie to look up what really happened.

Weekend Box Office - Finding Dory still #1

For the weekend of July 1-3, 2016, Finding Dory managed to survive three newcomers to remain #1 at the box office for the third week in a row. It's a further win for Disney although it came at the expense of its release of The BFG.

The BFG is a disappointment for Disney and for Steven Spielberg, who hadn't directed a special-effects driven movie since Indiana Jones 5.

The Legend of Tarzan fared best of the new releases, but it's not going to make its money back domestically. Warner Bros. will be counting on overseas interest in order to turn a profit. That seems a tall order. It also seems like another property like the Lone Ranger, where the peak of its popularity was so long ago, maybe it shouldn't be rebooted.

The Purge: Election Year did great. I'm sure they're working on Purge 4 right now.

Of the holdovers, a big drop-off for Independence Day: Resurgence. Word is getting around it's not very good.

Opens July 8
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS with the voices of Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart.
MIKE & DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES with Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick and Adam Devine.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Shallows - Movie Review

Starring Blake Lively.
Written by Anthony Jaswinski.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.


This movie is exactly what it claims to be. It contains lots of shots of Blake Lively stranded on a rock 200 yards from shore, but she can't escape because she's being stalked by a shark.

The movie's only 87 minutes long, which feels novel these days. We see her make her way to the beach, we get just enough family bakstory to make us care about her, and the movie toys with our expectations until the shark finally arrives.

There's some clever, economical direction here from director Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night), but this movie will seek or swim on Lively, and she delivers. I never really thought about her that much as an actress. I've enjoyed her appearances here and there, in films like The Town or Savages. This is something she can parlay into being a star.

Independence Day: Resurgence - Movie Review

Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jesse T. Usher, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Brent Spiner, Judd Hirsch, Sela Ward, Joey King, Travis Tope, Viveca A. Fox, Angelababy, Patrick St. Esprit, Deobia Oparei, and Robert Loggia.
Written by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt, Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich.
Directed by Roland Emmerich.


The first Independence Day movie came at the right time. America was feeling pretty good about itself in 1996. There hadn't been an ensemble space-battle movie for a while. Will Smith wasn't a star yet. It wound up being a great summer movie.

In the past 20 years, we've seen a few more Roland Emmerich world-destruction movies, we've gone through 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, ISIS, a huge recession, and a sluggish recovery. This movie is able to tell a story of how awesome Earth would have been over the past 20 years had the first movie actually happened. If aliens want to visit Earth, either as friends or enemies, it would do wonders for the world economy.

Will Smith passed, and so we get Liam Hemsworth. Sure, he has Hunger Games cred, but when you look at titles like Paranoia and Cut Bank, Liam has shown he just doesn't have the charisma for this type of role.

I saw this in 3D on IMAX (Hooray for $5 Tuesday!) My son liked it. It has a blatant open-ending for a sequel, and since most of the characters survive, I'm sure they're all game for it. I just don't see this one burrowing its way into pop culture the way the first one did.