Friday, June 15, 2018

Tag - Review


Actor Jon Hamm (aka Mad Men and The Town), Ed Helm (aka The Office and The Hangover) and Jeremy Renner (aka The Hurt Locker and Wind River) along with Isla Fisher (aka The Wedding Crashers and The Lookout) combine their electric talents to tell the true story of how five close friends from high school who started a juvenile game called “Tag” that created a strong lasting bonding between them that they mutually decided to keep carry on their childish antics into their adulthood some 20 + years later.

If you don’t know the game “Tag” it is essentially a playground game that involves several players chasing other players in an attempt to "tag" or touch them, usually with their hands. There are many variations; most forms have no teams, scores, or equipment. Usually when a person is tagged, the tagger says, "Tag, you're it" and then repeated again to the next person who is aligned to be touched next.

In this film adaptation we see the actor characters as all highly successful business people who have decided to continue their seemingly harmless game but only for 30 days in the month of May each year. But because of the highly competitive nature of theses supposedly mature friends they not only hit the ground running hard each year, it a full out no-holds-barred game literally risking their health, their jobs and their personal relationships to take one another down no matter where they live in the country.

In this particular month of May we see the players pursing one another during a specific time that just so happens to coincide with one of the players wedding named Jerry (Renner) leading up to and during his big event. Jerry also happens to be the only undefeated player who has never ever been touched in all the many years of playing the game. So in the minds of the others he is target number one with an all-out war approach and tactics to finally getting him “tagged” once and for all.

REVIEW: It’s not so much that “Tag” is a bad film, rather its just not anything I believe you will find memorably funny or hilarious on the comedic meter, though its listed specifically as being a comedy in its description. It has a single one note premise which is milked throughout the films’ entire execution time of 1:40 minutes. And while it has a few scant moments of it being slightly amusing and imaginative it mostly devolves into something where you watch people behaving totally and utterly insane……………..just to touch someone.

“Tag” is about boys never stop being boys and while I admire how their game did in fact nurtured a sense of lasting love and bonding affection for one another, in terms of the movie itself it also showed how mean spirited and viscous they acted and stooped (in friendship supposedly) to either touch or not be touched.

As far as the technical aspects of the film I was especially disappointed by both the infusion of slow motion back flip somersaults and Ninja acrobatics that I know damn well never happened with these men in their real-life stories. I also was a bit confused by the many previous movies references infused into the story, including Predator and actor Shane Black getting hit by a swinging log and the Predator itself being briefly snared in a net trap. There was also references to human torture aka waterboarding from Zero Dark Thirty and the film Alien (kind of, sort a) which involved a cast member using a miscarriage just to escape from being touched. And don’t get me started on how many Jackie Chan and Rambo movie references there were in this film. Bottom line none of this made me believe anyone would be so insane as to do any of these stunts just to play this silly little game.

“Tag” has a mix bag amusing – clumsy – tasteless - corny – cute feel to it. But ultimately, it’s a film that never reached its full potential that I thought it seem to offer from the early trailers I saw. It was a creative idea that was creatively spoiled and messy by being all over the place with no real singular connection from one scene to the next other than the principles repeatedly trying to tag someone slightly differently than they just did a few minutes ago.

In the end “Tag” while a heartwarming effort overall is nothing more than a cliched and unoriginal executed film that will keep you going in circles over and over and over and over and over again…………………until “you get it” it’s not really worth recommending to anyone to see in the theater.

2.00 Stars        

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Oh Lucy - Review

Oh Lucy

Japanese actress Shinobu Terajima and American actor Josh Harnett star in a cross cultural contemporary story involving three women from Japan and an American from Los Angeles called oddly “Oh Lucy”.

Early in the film we see a woman named Setsuko who is a public employee living an ordinary life in Tokyo. She is a single, emotionally unfulfilled woman, seemingly stuck with a drab, meaningless life. At least until on one random day when she is convinced by her beautiful niece Mika to enroll in an unorthodox English speaking class that requires her to wear a blonde wig each session and to take on an American alter ego named "Lucy." Reluctant to take the class Setsuko eventually agrees and when she arrives after work meets the handsome American who teaches the class. His offbeat warm approach to teaching “American English” gives Setsuko a new sense of an identity. It awakens something dormant in her that she feels is something in the way of developing romantic feelings for her American instructor, John (Josh Hartnett).

One day when arriving for her class she is informed the Instructor had left and the company would be looking for a new instructor leaving Setsuko very emotional distraught. But what she soon discovers later is that her niece and John were secretly dating and that they have moved together back to Los Angeles to be married.

Determined to find out why all of this happened Setsuko enlists the help of her sister, Ayako (Mika’s Mother) and the pair fly halfway across the world to the outskirts of Southern California in search of the runaway couple. In a brave new world of tattoo parlors, fast food burger places and seedy motels, family ties and past lives are immediately tested as Setsuko struggles to preserve the dream and promise of the feelings she got when John use to call her "Lucy."

REVIEW: Filmed in equal parts subtitles and English “Oh Lucy” is marketed as being a Drama – Comedy. What it was for me was something uniquely funny, sometimes sad, equal parts lovable, spontaneously sexy and other times just an offbeat crazy and quirky film that worked for me from beginning to it end. In fact I found this small slice of life movie one of the more enjoyable viewing experiences for 2018.

With a running time of 1:30 minutes “Oh Lucy” gradually and pleasantly moves over your attentive consciousness like someone slowly placing a warm blanket to cover you a few inches at a time. Filled with some genuine moments along the way that were both intense and surprisingly fun this film kept me guessing and off guard as to what would happen next. But the real strength of the story is the acting of Shinobu Terajima. You are able to feel her every emotion and mood to such great effect that you begin to empathize with how her miscommunication from learning a new language and her miscommunication of having a life devoid of real love - an emotional connection with someone, can both sometimes land you in an intimate rough spot of personal confusion and miscalculations.

A straight to On Demand movie and Executive Produced by Will Ferrell, “Oh Lucy” while a bit idiosyncratic with moments of melancholy is still a very moving story with lots of human charm.  An abundantly sweet and sentimental story that will remind you what it’s like simply to being human with someone you love and loves you back . And whether you are Japanese or American in both our human beginning and our human ending we all share a basic need to be bonded with someone or something.  "Oh Lucy" bonded with me very, very well.

3.50 Stars

Hereditary - Review


In 1998 Australian actress Toni Collette played an earnest loving mother in the most talked about horror film of that year called “The Sixth Sense”. Now fast forward 20 years later and one again she has delved into the mysteries of spiritual life and death with her latest effort called “Hereditary”. A physiological thriller about a family going through emotional crisis while dealing with the sudden death of a matriarchal relative that seems to have had a far more profound impact on their emotional well-being well beyond expected grieving. And as the story layers are peeled away we see the entire family beginning to unravel in a cryptic and terrifying way as the secrets of their ancestry is revealed to all. Going forward what they discover is the more they try to outrun their sinister fate the more they succumb to the evil  they seem to have inherited.

REVIEW: Rotten Tomato gave this film a 94 rating which by all accounts is universally very high. So with that in mind I was hoping largely from the trailers to find something imaginative and yet horrifying at the same time, even though I am not one who is easily manipulated with freight in horror films. They tend to make me laugh more than be frighten. But putting my personal quirk aside I found “Hereditary” less a horror flick or to put in simpler terms more a 2 hour film that tried earnestly to delve into upheaval impact of what mourning does to families already in turmoil. But leaving the theater I cannot even say it even did that very well as I found myself more baffled to what either the message or the plot were actually all about.

Basically I found the film a poorly directed and a poorly constructed story.  And while I am certain both the writer and director were heavily influenced by the previous films “The Wicker Man” and “The Shinning”, their "Hereditary" film managed only to confused me more each passing frame to its less than shocking finale.

To compound matters even more there were several scenes that seemed were intentionally crafted as directorial techniques that were only intrusively designed to shock audiences which from my perspective did not add anything substantive to the story itself. Instead (for me) they only managed to befuddle me as to what was the purpose of the scene in the first place. For example seeing people sitting on the ceiling for no reason or effective purpose. Someone floating without a head to a tree house glowing in the color red but not red once the camera moves inside. Someone spontaneously bursting into flames. Repetitive “clocking” sounds that had no reasonable explanation or understandable meaning. And finally the brief instruction of a  very strange and sinister looking adolescent little girl who apparently was inflicted with a birth defect but who only added more to the story’s overall confusion with her make up that for my money made me feel I was looking at a miniature version of NBA great Larry Bird with a bad natty wig. You can only imagine at this point I was mumbling a lot  ………….”WTF”.

“Hereditary”…………..I cannot say the film was boring. I also cannot say it didn’t have some entertainment value. But overall from my viewing experience it’s as if someone put me in a car blind folded and 2 hours later I take the scarf off to find me and the car on the deck of a freighter in the middle of some early ocean with God only knowing how I got there and where was I going next.
2.00 Stars

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Ocean’s 8 - Review

Ocean’s 8

Academy Award winning actresses Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock and Anne Hathaway headline an all-star supporting cast in the all-female spin off of the George Clooney 2001 “Ocean’s 11” now titled imaginatively “Ocean’s 8”.

In this effort we see Debbie Ocean (Bullock) and just like her brother we find her in an orange jump suit being interviewed to be paroled from prison after spending five years, eight months, 12 days and counting for a caper that she was busted for in an FBI sting. But just like her older brother Debbie spent all of that incarcerated time planning not only to being more careful in the future but devising a caper which will be the biggest heist of her life including knowing what and who it's going to take. A team of the best people in their fields starting with her partner-in-crime Lou Miller (Blanchett). Together they begin to recruit a crew of specialists, including jeweler Amita, street con Constance, suburban mom Tammy, hacker Nine Ball, and fashion designer Rose to.pursue the target of a priceless necklace worth more than $150 million that will be on display at the annual New Met Gala.

REVIEW: “Ocean’s 8” isn’t bad it’s just not very interesting mostly because they seem more interested in mimicking the more successful Oceans 11 than being imaginative or taking new risk with this effort. Instead all you find yourself doing is watching this stellar cast going through the paces of some boilerplate conversations and boilerplate actions that never feel exhilarating at any point. Thus we the audience have been given the task or burden of knowing up front that they will get away with their heist and then watching them for the next 2 hours minimally being clever in executing their caper with the occasional unanticipated obstacle seemingly thrown in for a moment of intrigue.

Also the story is full of technical flaws and just dumb stuff ranging from Debbie Ocean running a scam to stay overnight in a hotel without a security key card. Stealing clothing from Saks 5th Avenue without remotely drawing any suspicion from store security. And finally one of the cast members actually painting their toe nails while the caper was in progress. But the biggest problem to this film is the absence of a real villain to be the counter weight to the plot. In Ocean’s 11 you had a legitimate smart ruthless villain in Andy Garcia who played Terry Benedict the owner of the Bellagio Hotel Las Vegas robbed by Danny Ocean. While he lost his money he was still nonetheless Danny Ocean's equal intellectual match throughout the film. There is no such character in Ocean 8. Instead the villain persona is substituted through the portrayal of a few naive dunces to make their heist even easier to pull off. This vacuum of not having a real foil to contrast with just made big chunks of the film boring.

Now there were a couple of excellent performances by Anne Hathaway as the target who would be wearing the jewels at the Met Gala and late night Host actor James Corden who played with real zeal and smarts an Insurance fraud investigator towards the last 30 minutes of the film. They both were great. But all in all there is is nothing really memorable about this slick stylish effort at all. Its less a smart crime caper and more of a loose goose “Lite Ocean Breezy 8” story of some really beautiful sexy women just behaving badly with diamonds.

2.50 Stars.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Adrift - Review


Starring up and coming actress Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, Fault in Our Stars &, Divergent films) and Sam Catlin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games films), ADRIFT is based on the 1983 inspiring true story of two sailors who set out to journey across the ocean from Tahiti to San Diego. Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Catlin) couldn't anticipate they would be sailing directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. In the aftermath of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in ruins. With no hope for rescue, Tami must find the strength and determination to save herself and the only man she has ever loved. ADRIFT is the unforgettable story about the resilience of the human spirit and the transcendent power of love.

REVIEW: After watching this movie let me tell you the Pacific Ocean is nothing to mess around with. And even through the back drop of a typical by the book love story between young Tami and Richard, ADRIFT still works pretty damn well in retelling their amazing story of survival on a boat severely damaged and with Richard seriously injured for 41 days.

Now the film did have it moments where it was excessively slow mostly from a few too many irrelevant conversations that were either totally unforgettable or just mundane in my opinion. But even through those moments of foggy dialogue the collective effort from the acting, the writing and the directing still brings the story to life in a way that made it a refreshing thrilling adventure leaving you aghast anyone ever survived to tell this tale.

But the real plus to ADRIFT is actress Shailene Woodley who navigates the story with a strong emotional connection to both the audience and the events itself that in the end showcases something rare in the way of leading female character. Specifically someone who was at times very emotional and very vulnerable was also someone very much fully independent, fully capable, very noble and fully determined to work endlessly in finding her way home. Woodley in deed showed me something today for someone who is only 26 in Hollywood ……………..she is really a gifted talented actress. 

ADRIFT is very similar to the Robert Redford 2013 film tiled “All Is Lost”. A fictional story about one person trying to survive minute to minute on a damaged boat in the Pacific Ocean. And while I believe Redford’s effort is the far superior (I recommend renting it if you have not seen it) Woodley’s film (she is the Executive Producer) still makes a very solid emotionally appeal to its audience through its entire 2 hour running time that was authentic and captivating every step of the way. 

ADRIFT is equally a hard to believe story and an equally definite worth a sailing adventure to the theater to see.

3.25 Stars

Friday, May 25, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story - Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story

One of Harrison Ford’s iconic film characters is given a prequel of sorts aka “Hans Solo” in the now seemingly endless parade of annual Star Wars films in the 2018 latest titled “Solo: A Star Wars Story” starring Alden Ehrenreich as young Solo, Donald Glover as young Lando Calrissian and Joonas Suotamoas as a young Chewbacca, along with newer characters Woody Harrelson as Beckett, Emilia Clarke as Qi'ra and Thandie Newton as Val.

We again are thrust in the opening screen shot of the Star Wars story taking place “in a galaxy, far, far away” where we see a very young impulsive Solo and his girlfriend Qi'ra both scavenging about for some precious item to secure for enough funds to bribe and leave their “god forsaken rock of a planet” to go on a mutual life long adventure romantically flying their own ship among the stars throughout the universe. But per usual the best laid plans always go awry when they are both caught by the confederates of some Centipede looking female (I guess it was a she) called Lady Proxima who apparently Solo owns some sizeable debt to. Determined to keep his “precious funds” away from her Solo and Qi’ra try to make an escape only to be separated with Qi'ra being captured. Vowing he will come back for her Solo spends the next three years looking for the right opportunity to go back for his love when he meets up with an outlaw named Becket who has a plan not only to make every one rich but enough for Solo to fly his own ship throughout the galaxy.

REVIEW:  I think this is Director Ron Howards Best work in 15+ years as he takes us on this iconic saga with a much lighter, more romantic and more intimate personal touch that makes this film far better than the 2017 “SW: The Last Jedi”. Howard manages to take the lead character Solo and remove him from the clutter of him saving the entire universe or fighting an evil looking heavy breathing Vader or a red face Maul. No light sabers, no storm troopers and no menacing death star to distract him. No this film while as its premise is a science fiction tale, at its core feels, looks a lot more like an old style Cowboy Western with thrilling train robberies (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), showdowns at the OK Corral and clever conversations at card games for high stakes wagers (Tombstone).

Director Howard also incorporated some other trilling chases and plot points that clearly draw upon other films like Mad Max Fury Road and Star Trek the Wrath of Khan i.e. drawing upon both great films the feeling of narrowly escaping with their lives. And while the film will never go down as something memorable in the SW saga per se it does keep its thumb squarely on the pulse and pace gas pedal in a very good popcorn eating entertaining kind of way.

Feeling less like a leading character film, Solo: A Star Wars Story is more of a collaborative effort with Woody Harrelson providing the more notable performance in the film. He is smart, funny, energetic and overall was appropriately cast (as always) to be both an ally and scoundrel and ally again in this high flying twist and turning story that was pretty simple and easy to follow.

Now there are some technical problems in film. One of which was shooting way too many scenes especially early in the film in some misty dark milieu and on and off again throughout the rest of the film. For the life of me I cannot figure why these scenes seemingly felt out of focus at certain times that was never necessary to shoot that way at all, at least not for any plot point development affect.

In addition there also was a female robot characters who was a second officer pilot to Lando Calrissian ship “The Millennium Falcon” who had this technical sounding computer voice that was very difficult to ever understand what she was saying. The same problem also applied to some of the chase scenes where the noise of the chase and explosions were just drowned out completely to what ever they were saying or rather should I say "screaming" to one another. Still these were relatively minor defects that neither lasted that very long nor caused any real confusion to the films story.

On the plus side, it was really cool to see the origins of Solo and Chewbacca’s relationship, how Solo learned to speak “Wookie” and overall watch Chewbacca be more developed in this Star Wars back story that up until now has never been really explained. Chewie was fun to watch in this effort. He kicked ass – literally.

In the end Solo: A Star Wars Story is not some deep thoughtful moral film. Rather it’s just plain old fun to watch for its 2:25 minutes running time. Solo the film has a confident smirk about itself but it smirks in the right kind of way all the while taking us along for a pretty good ride. A uniquely Star Wars ride that while was executed with a light and not too serious touch around the edges, remained throughout something that was engaging, reasonably clever, reasonably charismatic and cinematically pleasing to look at as a solid intergalactic adventure to experience.

3.25 Stars

Friday, May 18, 2018

Deadpool 2 - Review

Deadpool 2

Actor Ryan Reynolds reprises his surprising 2016 comedic superhero hit “Deadpool” in Deadpool 2” where again we find the wisecracking, irreverent, sarcastic and yet smooth romantic mercenary "Wade" aka “Deadpool” joining forces with three other mutants Bedlam, Shatterstar and Domino to protect a boy with special powers from an all-powerful alien visitor named “Cable” (Josh Brolin) who has traveled back in time to kill the adolescent for some unknown mysterious reason.

REVIEW: To the point. It is not as good as the original. Specifically Deadpool 2 while it looks the same that's all it has in common with its more dynamic and fresher predecessor. Basically this 2018 effort is an excessively long movie. No actually the word should be an excessively stuffed and stiff filled movie with an endless array of fight scenes, crashes and gun battles that seem to occupy more of that space in its 2 hour running time than having anywhere close to an actual coherent story connecting the dots to something that makes sense or is believable. By the time the finale comes along the whole experience felt empty with nothing memorable to hold on to or to take home with me in the way of………. "Oh wow that was a great scene” . “That was funny as hell”. “That was so freaking cool”. Instead all I could think about was…………….. "Is it too late to swing by Chipotle before it closes? It wasn’t, I got my 2 standard veggie burrito bowls to go. Yummy.

Now I give “Deadpool 2” some measure of credit in that they did try to make a a new film that was both comedically subversive with a moral based story line, all the while holding on to some of the 2016 original’s charm, wit and clever infused action that was so much damn fun. They tried earnestly to raise the stakes a bit by having this film pull on your emphatic heart strings largely predicated on a dramatic event that happens to "Wade" in the first 10 minutes of this film. But in the end it does not work, not at all. At least for me it did not work. Instead all I found after watching DP2 for the remaining hour and half was a film overly saturated with old and some new characters that were equally annoying and underdeveloped which made my viewing experience feel like it was running on fumes, while also getting thinner and thinner in the way of interest every minute it went by.

It was if the director and the writer collaborated on one single principle idea to work on. All they had to do was make “DP2” into a story that was preoccupied with visual special effects, with some big city carnage and destruction and things will turn out just alright.  But it wasn’t right. These characters plight and their dilemmas were similarly to me watching out my window several of my neighbors standing on their side of the road watching the results of a car wreck on their side of the road who then themselves eventually get hit by another car who was watching the wreck on the side of the road.  

It has been my life long movie going experience that sequels to highly successful films are extremely hard to pull off. But the key has been to those rare sequel films that have been successful i.e. Godfather 2, Aliens, Batman -The Dark Knight and Mad Max Fury Road to name a few, is to always keeping their screenplay writing fingers away from the “keep it  generically safe button”. Those films listed above made great efforts, even took great risks and showed meticulous attention to extraordinary details in crafting and writing stories with well-rounded villain(s) and well-rounded heroes while also making the overall story itself have even more meaningful discerning appeal to a returning audience who came back to theaters to get more of the same thrills they garnered from the original. Meaning, creating something more imaginative, more provocative and more reflective.…………….."Deadpool 2 "misses its mark on all of these areas.

So in the end “Deadpool 2 ” does have just enough in it to be watchable, but that’s only if its 6 months from now when you are comfortable at home and you hit your remote control button and see where your cable provider is now showing it on demand for $3.99.

2.25 Stars