“Hello, My Name is Doris”

LOUISA:   4 STARS    MATT:  4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Hello, My Name is Doris” is a delightful little film that should appeal to a wide range of audiences. It’s a pleasant, upbeat, easily accessible indie movie. The subject matter could’ve easily taken a turn and gone in the opposite, much darker direction, but director and co-writer Michael Showalter manages to keep the tone positive — and that positivity is contagious.

Sally Field plays the titular character Doris, an endearing crazy cat lady type who, at the advice of a slick motivational speaker (Peter Gallagher), decides to romantically pursue a much younger coworker John (Max Greenfield). Taking the mantra “I’m possible,” Doris enlists the help of her best friend’s teenage granddaughter (Isabella Acres, channeling a young Amy Schumer) and sets out to win John’s heart.

I know the premise sounds a bit groan-inducing, and it doesn’t help that misfit Doris is a textbook wacky-looking lonleyheart hoarder who wears a hairpiece and is decked out in ratty vintage clothing. Initially overlooked by her younger coworkers, Doris gradually sheds her office invisibility in a series of “Forrest Gump” style situations. (One of the best: after pretending to like the same band as the object of her affection, Doris attends a hip electronic show and is later invited backstage, which leads to a gig posing for an album cover).

Doris’ old-school style appeals to the younger city hipsters, and she soon finds herself embedded in their world and quickly adopted as their mascot. Somehow, Field manages to keep Doris eccentric and quirky without being coyly annoying (she’s someone you’d actually want to hang out with). Underneath all of Doris’ slightly neurotic exterior lies a complex sadness that’s handled with a thoughtful tenderness throughout the film. I especially loved the nice little riff on loneliness and shattered dreams (a weighty subject that’s addressed with care but never gets too serious).

The movie stumbles a bit from its uneven tone but recovers quickly. The story shifts between comedy and drama but eventually settles on unconventional comedy, which is what what keeps things working. The humor is very subjective but if you are familiar with or are a fan of director Showalter’s previous acting, writing and directing work (“Wet Hot American Summer,” “Stella,” “The Baxter” and my personal favorites, “Childrens Hospital” and “The State“), you’ll find more than a few hearty laughs. Not only is it funny, it’s also kindhearted and not one bit mean-spirited. It isn’t a game changer for the genre, but it’s enjoyable and it works.

There’s no doubt that Doris is a pitiful character, but the film doesn’t dwell on the anguish nor attempt to manipulate the audience in order to elicit pity. Instead, it revels in the celebration of the odd, the elderly, and finding the courage to realize that it’s never too late to grab life by the horns. We only live once, after all.

MATT SAYS:

Come sit next to me, pour yourself some tea — and I’ll tell you what I thought about “Hello, My Name is Doris.”

Doris (Sally Field) is a sixty-something accountant working in a New York clothing business who embodies the word “mousy.” A holdover employee from the company’s past, Doris is surrounded by people thirty- and forty-years her junior and doesn’t quite fit in. Doris serves her time at the office and at night goes back to the home she shares with her mother. When the movie opens, Doris’s mother has died, and Doris (who never married or found a partner) finds herself at a crossroads. She develops a crush on a handsome young executive at her company, discovers social media, and experiences a personal rebirth — much to the frustration of her lifelong friends Roz and Val (played by Tyne Daly and Caroline Aaron).

People see one thing when they look at Doris, and for most of her life she’s allowed herself to be defined by that. But everyone deserves the chance to reinvent themselves — no matter how late in life. Age is a state of mind, and “acting your age” is a useless phrase invented by people who themselves are afraid of change. Doris, on the other hand, pushes boundaries and defies expectations – most importantly, her own. There’s something admirable and inspiring about that, and we can all learn a lesson or two about pushing outside of the boxes that we have put ourselves in: it’s hard, and sometimes it can be painful, but taking risks and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones can make our lives so much fuller.

While not (strictly speaking) a comedy, there’s lots of humor in “Hello, My Name is Doris,” but humor of a very specific kind. Even though we saw the film with a packed house, Louisa and I felt like we had to stifle our laughter at some point because no one else in the audience was laughing, to the point where we became incredibly self-conscious about it. Early in the movie, Doris and friends visit a motivational speaker filled with hilariously tired and empty platitudes disguised as deep wisdom – and she’s actually motivated by them. Later, she mingles with hipsters who talk endlessly about their artisanal, handmade, farm-to-table whatevers who see Doris’s making muffins from a premixed bag as transcendently different – Doris embodies the vintage lifestyle that they are so desperately trying to emulate. This stuff is comedy gold, but not in a the traditional sense. In other words, you have to have a very specific sense of humor to think this stuff is funny.

Sally Field perfectly portrays Doris, and her performance is easily the standout. Director Michael Showalter – he of sketch comedy fame – has a deft touch with the subject matter and captures the humanity of all of his characters, teasing out comedic moments without making fun of these people outright. While it’s far from perfect, “Hello, My Name is Doris” is what independent film is all about: fresh and inventive storytelling, created without the limits of focused-grouped rewrites designed to play to the largest audience possible.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”

LOUISA:   1.5 STARS    MATT:  1 STAR


LOUISA SAYS:

Was the moviegoing public really clamoring for a reheated sequel to the 2002 surprise hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding?” The lackluster “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” is nothing more than rudimentary sitcom humor thinly stretched into a 90 minute fluff film. This movie is much better suited to be a television movie of the week than a theatrical release. This stale film has zero charm, is formulaic, and relies on references to ethnic heritage as a substitute for true comedy. This sequel reeks of desperation and drowns in its fake wackiness and forced, faux sentimentality.

There actually is a bit of a plot here — Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) are married and dealing with the fast approaching high school graduation of their college-bound daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris). As usual, Toula’s obnoxious family is still too close — they all live on the same Chicago block, they all have gaudily painted houses, they are in everyone else’s family business, and they work at a — wait for it — Greek restaurant. (Perhaps a better title for this film would’ve been “Greek Greek-ity Greek Greek Greek: Part 2”). When a family ancestry search unearths a 50 year old unsigned wedding license, Toula’s parents decide that they need to finally make their union legal. Spoiler alert: this one also ends with a big fat Greek wedding! Didn’t see that coming!

There you have it, that’s the plot. That’s it. This whole ridiculous storyline punches the audience in the face with tired, dated Greek-themed gags, lame attempts at Greek-themed humor, and I did more eye-rolling during this screening than I have in a long while. If this movie was intended to be amusing and funny, it fails miserably because I just found the whole thing to be really sad. It started with the over-the-top stereotypes (maybe this stuff is humorous to people of Greek heritage) and goes downhill from there. Even famous Greek actor John Stamos shows up in a pointless cameo as a local newscaster.

Do people really live like this? Confined by family obligations, smothered by clingy siblings and aunts and parents and grandparents, staying close just “because”? No wonder Paris can’t wait to go away to a college that’s as far away as possible from her oppressive, controlling extended family.

I think it was supposed to be funny when the entire clan crashes a college recruitment fair (they boorishly barge in, loudly arguing and fighting while carrying enormous dishes of baklava) and bullies the admissions officer at Northwestern University into accepting Paris since it’s so close to home. It’s sad that Toula and Ian have to schedule a date night because they never go out anymore — when they finally get to enjoy a nice dinner and decide to make out in the car afterwards, they are interrupted by the entire family yet again. If that’s your idea of humor, you’ll enjoy this movie. Me? I spent 90 minutes feeling glad that this isn’t my life.

MATT SAYS:

I never saw the first “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” After seeing the sequel, I have absolutely no desire to go back now and check it out.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” joins Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) twenty years after the events of the first movie. They now have a daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris) and they live next to Toula’s parents and siblings in a suburb of Chicago. Paris is seventeen and ready to leave home for college, and Toula is struggling with letting go of Paris and seeing her little girl all grown up. Toula and Ian are dealing with impending empty nest syndrome and trying to reconnect with one another as a married couple. In the midst of all of this, Toula’s parents learn that their marriage certificate was never signed by the priest from their hometown in Greece, which leads to the titular “big fat Greek wedding.”

While clearly billed as a comedy, this movie wasn’t very funny. Much of the “comedy” is mined from the close-knit Greek family. They’re all likeable enough. Although none of them are particularly good actors (with the exception of Andrea Martin‘s Aunt Voula), Toula’s extended family feels authentic. The story itself is realistic enough for the most part (except for the scenes in teenage Paris’s high school – those teens don’t exist in any school, anywhere and never have). There are some genuinely sweet moments here, but they are relatively scarce and ignored in favor of jokes that were written for a very specific audience. If you can relate to these characters and their lives, it might be very funny to you. To the rest of us, it’s neither interesting nor funny.

Look, this movie wasn’t made for me. If you’re one of our readers, it probably wasn’t made for you, either. The target audience is clearly middle-aged and older women (who comprised 98% of the audience when we saw it), and they were laughing heartily for the first 30 minutes or so, but even those laughs tapered off as the movie stretched on. Simply put, there isn’t enough substance to keep this movie entertaining or compelling.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

LOUISA:   2 STARS     MATT:   3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The day of ‘Batfleck’ has finally arrived, so let’s get this out of the way early: he’s not half bad as Batman. I was one of the doubters who groaned and complained when I heard Ben Affleck would be playing the caped crusader, but he has made me eat my words. This isn’t to say the film is good (it isn’t), but Affleck is not the one who ruined it.

I’m not sure whom to blame for this big, bloated mess that is “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but let’s say I think the majority of the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of director Zack Snyder. No doubt Snyder is capable and talented, but here he shows zero technique — it’s as if he isn’t a fan of the material or even that he actively loathes the DC Comics characters. Talk about a complete waste of an awesome idea.

The movie is awfully dark in both story and look. It’s not really something for kids either (half of the children in my sold out audience were audibly freaking out after the big end battle scene), and half the time I couldn’t see what the heck was going on because of all the brown and gold, muted cinematography. Everything was washed out, and I like to think of my larger-than-life superheroes as being bold and bright and colorful. It’s further burdened with ugly costumes, scene upon scene of animated crap, and the most anticlimactic action and fight scenes ever. The action pieces are as slow and boring as the entire pace of the movie, which clocks in at a draggy two and a half hour runtime.

Snyder particularly stumbles in the final 20 minutes of the film. The convoluted story jumps around so much that it will make your head spin. There are a dozen different potential endings (“Oh, the film’s over now? Uh, guess not.”) that ramble on and on. It’s as if the film is comprised of a bunch of puzzle pieces that were dumped on the table and haphazardly stuck together in all the wrong places. None of the pieces fit together correctly and half of the story doesn’t make any sense. Even Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is given little to do. By the time she shows up to save the day (translation: to dine on the meager, leftover action scraps), I had already lost interest.

Not everything is terrible, however, and I’ll give credit where credit is due. The movie starts off strong and builds momentum — for about the first 30 minutes. After that, it begins a gradual and then a drastically sharp decline. Thankfully the film is jam-packed with talented actors who make even the most unwatchable scenes watchable. The standouts are the reliable Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons (Alfred) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry). Diane Lane, Scoot McNairy and Holly Hunter bring their A-game too — and balance out the completely wooden Henry Cavill as Superman (seriously, how did this guy get the job in the first place?). The dividing line as far as performances go will undoubtedly be Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor). Eisenberg plays the famed villain with an amusing over-the-top, psychotically weird bravado. He thoroughly fills the void left by Michael Shannon as Zod — and we all know that Shannon is the undisputed master of the ‘playing to the balcony’ style of over-acting.

There were two unintentionally funny moments too. Near the end, the characters discuss trying to put together a team to fight for justice. Rather than causing excitement, it made me feel a little embarrassed as I know I was witnessing the set-up of what will amount to nothing more than a low-rent version of the Avengers. Second, Aquaman shows up! His very brief cameo got a (deservedly) big laugh from my audience.

I know my readers will see this movie regardless of any positive or negative reviews, but you’ve been warned. There’s nothing fun nor exciting nor spectacular about this unsatisfying film, and there should be. Instead, it is (sadly) a messy, boring yawn.

MATT SAYS:

Let’s be honest with one another here: you’re not reading my review to help you decide whether you want to see “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” You are either going to see it, or you’re not; it’s just that type of movie. You’re reading my review because you want to know how I felt about it, and see whether my opinion agrees with yours. I hope you’ll tell me in the comments.

Now that we understand one another, game on.

First, if you’re reading this before you see the movie, a tip so that you don’t waste your time: there’s no post-credits scene. I waited for one, and I promise it’s not there. The Marvel movies have taught us all to expect them, and I was more than a little disappointed to not get one. I was impressed, however, by the sheer size of the visual effects team on this movie. There were about 3-4 minutes of screen crawl time devoted just to VFX credits. Wow!

Now to the review. I liked the SIZE of the movie. Not the run time, just the scope. I love it when a big event movie feels like a big event movie. There’s something viscerally appealing about these movies where larger-than-life characters are introduced and the score and deep bass tones announce to you “THIS IS IMPORTANT.” When events occur in other places around the world, they actually feel like they are happening somewhere else, which makes sense because in the credits I counted something like 6 different filming locations scattered all across the globe. You only get this kind of scope and scale with these massive-budget, big event movies. I love that because when you’re watching it – particularly when it’s with one of the first audiences to see the movie – you really have the sense that you’re actually part of something. Enjoying a big movie like this one with an audience that is all keyed up to see it is a sensation that cannot be duplicated at home. To me, that is the very essence of the theatrical experience, and why streaming, on-demand, and home video will never completely replace movie theaters.

That said, at times the movie was TOO big. There were too many storylines, too many things happening, to keep the nice, tight focus that could have made this movie great. As someone who has seen every superhero movie but has read none of the comic books and has missed all of the recent DC-based t.v. shows, I felt lost at times. There are plenty of things that must have been Easter eggs but were lost on me (which is okay – that’s the very essence of an Easter egg), but at some times I felt a little bit lost and confused. The story seems to take place in a line of continuity that includes the recent “Dark Knight” movies as well as the last “Superman” movie, but I’m not entirely sure.

In fact, I didn’t start really enjoying “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” until about 75 minutes into its substantial running time. There was an excessive amount of screen time devoted to cinematic throat-clearing and way too much prelude to the actual conflict. Which might be okay, but really not much of anything happened by way of action until about the 75-minute mark. I understand the need to set up the conflict, but there was maybe a little too much set-up here with scenes that definitely could have been trimmed.

This movie obviously rises and falls on the strength of the Batman – Superman conflict, and I’m pleased to report that it worked well. I’m still not entirely sold on Batman’s motivation, but to me the trickier part has to be convincing us that Superman could be perceived as a bad guy, and that he would be capable of killing Batman. On this, the film succeeds. This Superman is not the goody-goody, flag-waving Christopher Reeve version; this is a mortal with faults, flaws, doubts, and weaknesses. He’s pulled in different directions and tortured by near-constant public criticism of the death toll of his collateral damage.  He sees the Batman as an antihero and disagrees with his moral code, and it’s not unrealistic to think that one of them very possibly could kill the other. This is all convincing and compelling stuff, and the strength of the movie.

Plus, there’s actually a clear winner in the conflict, which defied my expectations.

Its flaws, other than the overly long exposition, are in an overly heavy use of computer-generated effects. Whereas “The Dark Knight” gave us a tactilely rich world that felt realistic, “Dawn of Justice” relies a little too much on CG (it was no surprise to me that the VFX team was massive). Fast-cutting shots are (once again) overused and the picture suffers from having to operate in a PG-13 environment where punches are pulled and consequences are ignored. As a rule, overuse of CG takes me out of the film and makes me care less about what’s happening, which undermines the strength of the story.”Batman v Superman” was no exception.

“The Bronze”

LOUISA:   4.5 STARS  MATT:  4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Humor is very subjective, and “The Bronze” is the perfect example of an incredibly divisive comedy that will push even the most tolerant viewers to their limit. Will you like this movie or will you bail after 10 minutes? That’s hard to say. If you are a fan of classic subversive comedies like “Bad Santa,” “Borat,” and “A Dirty Shame,” then this should be right up your alley. If you are easily offended, stop reading this review now.

From this point forward I will assume that I only have similar-minded readers, so I am confident to recommend this movie. Yes, it’s a comedy about gymnastics — but it’s so much more. Be forewarned that this movie is loaded with strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and a steady stream of sarcastic foul language throughout. It is very, very vulgar, but it’s not the gross-out, disgusting style of vulgarity as showcased in this year’s “Brothers Grimsby.” The film’s R rating is nearly earned through profanity alone, but it’s the outrageous, absolutely outlandish graphic sex scene that puts it over the top. Seriously, you have to see it to believe it: it’s without question one of the funniest and most exotically choreographed sex scenes in movie history (and let’s just leave it at that).

Hope (Melissa Rauch) is a former Olympic bronze medalist trapped in her glory days. This faded, small-town celebrity is an obnoxious, unemployed loser. She lives at home in her pathetic dad’s (Gary Cole) basement and never changes out of her 2004 U.S. Olympics jacket. Hope has stretched her 15 minutes of fame into a decade of “privileges” (like free pizza at the local Sbarro at the mall, a reserved parking space in downtown Amherst, Ohio, and her photo on the wall in the town diner).

When local athletic ingénue “Mighty” Maggie (the perky Haley Lu Richardson) has a chance to make it onto the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, Hope reluctantly agrees to train her for a supposed $500,000 payday. As Hope realizes that her local celebrity status as a hometown hero is threatened, she has to choose between helping or sabotaging Maggie. Sebastian Stan delivers an uproarious performance as conceited gold medalist Lance, one of Hope’s past sexual conquests and now a rival Olympic trainer. Thomas Middleditch charms as the sweet and nerdy Ben, a kindly, put-upon gym owner who has an inexplicable attraction to Hope.

It seems like audiences are in two different camps on this film: they either love it or they hate it, and I think a lot of that has to do with the Tonya Harding type lead character. Jokes are pushed to the limit and the vulgarity of the language here reaches epic heights. The film doesn’t rely on gross-out jokes or sight gags either, its humor is mostly derived through crude, profane dialogue. I found it refreshing to see a sports movie that’s not full of inspirational platitudes, and this quirky comedy takes no prisoners. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments that this film could easily become an oft-quoted cult classic.

The plot here is very basic but it works, and that’s mostly because of the hysterical dialogue and the straight-faced delivery. It’s hard not to laugh at the obscene, spiteful character as she spews caustic f-word laced tirades in her thick Midwestern accent. No doubt this is cruel verbal abuse, but it’s also very, very funny. Hope is an ungrateful, spoiled, self-absorbed, bratty monster; an awful person who hurls insults at everyone in her path. Somehow I found myself starting to like her. You’ll want to hate her, but her raunchy candor is a little refreshing, and the more obscene and cruel she gets, the more the satirical elements of the film shine through.

It’s not all mean, however: throughout the story we see glimpses of the dejected, bitter woman that lies underneath Hope’s ginormous bangs and tough exterior. And much like its lead character, this film is crude — but underneath it all lies a big heart.

MATT SAYS:

This is the week for movies about adult children who refuse to grow up. First, we had “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” and now “The Bronze.” But the similarities end there.

In “The Bronze,” Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch, who shares co-writing credit) is a former Olympian gymnast who won the bronze medal for Team USA in 2004 in dramatic fashion. Nowadays, Hope is still riding a wave of goodwill in her hometown (which translates to free stuff), living in her childhood home with her single dad (Gary Cole), and reminiscing about her glory days. When a hotshot young gymnast in town loses her coach, Hope has the chance to step in and mentor Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) a young new star from her town. But if Maggie outshines hope in the Olympics, will Hope fade into the background?

I have never been very interested in the Olympics. As a man, I have even less interest in gymnastics. I fully expected to be bored by this movie. I wasn’t.

I found myself actually rooting for Hope and Maggie and amazingly, I didn’t find the routines boring. Unlike “Race,” where there was way too much emphasis on showing the actual track-and-field events, “The Bronze” uses a more judicious approach, showing Hope or Maggie on the bars, or balance beam, or whatever just enough to support the story, but not so much that it slowed things down. The focus here isn’t on gymnastics, but on Hope and her frozen-in-time insistence on reliving her past instead of trying to create a new future for herself. Along the way, Hope gets to learn a few things about love, friendship, support, and loyalty – but not before she shocks and offends everyone with her incredibly foul mouth.

Oh, did I not mention that before? This movie is raunchy as hell. Hope would fit right in in a high school men’s locker room after a football game. She has a foul mouth that would make a sailor blush, and she doesn’t mince words. She’s not well-educated but she thinks she knows everything. In other words, she’s no one’s role model. And she’s funny as hell. Despite its subject being one that probably appeals to young teens, “The Bronze” is a very adult comedy (with one of the funniest sex scenes I think I’ve ever seen in a movie) and decidedly not for kids or those who offend easily.

If it were just a profane sex comedy or a drama about what it means to finally grow up, “The Bronze” would be forgettable. The reason it works well is because it balances the two; it’s at times both hilariously raunchy and oddly touching. I really liked it.

 

 

“Pee-wee’s Big Holiday”

LOUISA:   4 STARS   MATT:  4 STARS 


LOUISA SAYS:

For those of us who grew up with Pee-wee Herman, this new Netflix original movie will have you jumping for joy. Paul Reubens embraces his odd and slightly creepy man-child alter ego in this very corny and very funny movie. He stays true to the character so long-time fans never fear: you won’t be disappointed. The opening sequence of Pee-wee waking up in the idyllic town of Fairville (a town he’s never desired to leave) and getting ready to go to work is classic. It’s so colorful and inventive and fun that it instantly put a huge grin on my face. From there the film keeps up with its absurdly silly sight gags and corny jokes — for the most part. I am willing to overlook some of the more unsuccessful bits (the alien friend, the flying car) because the ones that work are so great.

Adding to the camp factor is hunky Joe Manganiello (starring as himself), hamming it up with an amusing deadpan delivery. Pee-wee thinks Joe is too cool for words and sets out on a cross-country adventure when he’s invited to his new friend’s birthday party in New York City. Along the way, Pee-wee briefly meets all sorts of oddball folks (if this plot sounds familiar, it is: this film retreads territory covered in the 1985 classic “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure“). But it’s a formula that works. Still, this film could’ve benefited greatly from having actual movie star cameos in all the small roles throughout (guess their budget was too small), but the no-name supporting actors are still enjoyable.

This is a very specific brand of humor and you’ll either find it immensely comical or you won’t crack a chuckle. If you loved any of the other Pee-wee movies or the television show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” you are sure to adore this latest installment of the grey suited, white loafered, red bowtied character. It’s filled to the brim with sweet nostalgia for the over-30 crowd but is also appropriate for everyone in the family. Parents, this is a great way to introduce your kids to Pee-wee.

This new original movie can be viewed exclusively on Netflix.

MATT SAYS:

Pee-wee Herman is back, you guys! And in a movie! One that you can watch at home, right now, if you have Netflix!

Despite many years having passed since the last time he visited the big screen, Paul Reubens slips comfortably back into Pee-wee’s shoes and it feels like he never left. This story is classic Pee-wee: after a chance meeting with cool-guy actor Joe Manganiello (who plays himself in the film), Pee-wee realizes that he is somewhat stuck in a rut with his job and his life and decides to set off across the country on a road trip to visit Joe in New York City. Along the way, he meets a series of unusual and eccentric characters that help him broaden his horizons and take in new experiences.

This is movie is charming and, at times, extremely funny. One scene in particular had us laughing so hard that we had to rewind and re-watch what we missed. It’s a great choice for family movie night (the movie is appropriate for kids — there are some slightly risqué jokes but they will fly right over kids’ heads) and a great way to revisit a beloved character.

“Divergent: Allegiant”

LOUISA:    1.5 STARS      MATT:    1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I mildly enjoyed the other two movies in the “Divergent” series (“Divergent” and “Insurgent“), but this addition to the filmed literary trilogy has all the joy completely sucked out of it. It feels like all involved would have rather been anywhere but working on this movie. It is obvious they are just showing up for the paycheck, and it’s sad.

Shailene Woodley, one of the most talented young actors working today, gives a performance so bad that I could tell she was simply phoning it in. She actually looks like she’s uncomfortable playing an action heroine, to the point where for the first time I didn’t find her believable as tough girl Tris. Theo James is capable as brawny hero Four, but let’s face it: the actor doesn’t have that much else going for him. The hugely talented Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Naomi Watts all give lazy performances that reek of desperation (the brief appearance from Octavia Spencer adds the only touch of class to the movie). But it’s Jeff Daniels who gets the worst actor award for this one; his delivery is borderline campy but he plays it with a very pitiful sincerity. I laughed out loud at some of his scenes — and they weren’t intended to be funny.

“Allegiant” is burdened with a convoluted plot that makes no sense and rambles on and on and on for two hours. The primary focus on animated gadgets and bloodless action sequences means there’s limited storytelling going on here. The cleverless action scenes are tediously dull, the dialogue is shallow, the acting is amateurish and the special effects are some of the worst I’ve seen in years. (No, really: a preteen kid with a laptop could’ve animated better CGI; the movie looks terrible)! Another big problem that these films have never been able to overcome is the fact that their characters are across the board unlikable. I’ve never rooted for nor cared for any of them, and their flaws are amplified even further since this latest installment is so tiresome.

If Hollywood doesn’t soon step in with better film adaptations (like “The Fifth Wave“), I fear for the future of the young adult genre.

MATT SAYS:

Easily the most forgettable entry in the “Divergent” series, “Allegiant” picks up where “Insurgent” left off. Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is dead, the power structure in Chicago has crumbled and the new rebel group led by Evelyn (Naomi Watts) has taken power. The new regime appears to be just as brutal and ruthless as the old one, and Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), and their small group leave the city walls to explore what’s beyond.

Although I had seen both of the previous movies in this series, I found myself more than a little confused by “Allegiant.” The silly faction idea, with its on-the-nose message about the importance of individuality, was at least something to grab hold of and was an effective device for telling a story set in a dystopian future. Here, though, with the factions gone and Jeanine dead, the denizens of the “Divergent” world have divided themselves into multiple groups with divergent (see what I did there?) interests and it has become much more difficult to care about any of them. While both “Divergent” and “Insurgent” left me at least partially interested in seeing what happens next, I find myself not caring at all about where things go from here.

Worse yet, the movie pretty much wastes its cast. The strength of these movies has been its use of talented actors which were able to elevate the source material. In “Allegiant,” the star of the show has become the cheesy and unrealistic computer-generated effects. Maybe I was spoiled by the 2015 practical effects-laden feasts “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Mad Max Fury Road,” but this movie in particular should be exhibit A in any discussion about why too much CG is a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good effects-driven sci-fi movie as much as anyone. But this isn’t good sci-fi, and these aren’t good effects. The capable young stars are almost forced to sit on the sideline while we watch a giant floating silver thing fly, attach, or crash into other giant floating silver things or barren landscapes, over and over again. The actors are reduced to lots of green screen running, shouting, and shooting, and it’s all kind of dull. I like these actors, and I wanted to see more of them actually getting to act and interact with one another. If not for the cast and the little opportunity they are given to actually act, I would have rated this movie even lower.

If you’re looking for good science fiction, go see “Star Wars” again. It’s still in theaters. Skip this one.

 

 

“Miracles From Heaven”

LOUISA:   2 STARS   MATT:  2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Miracles From Heaven” is surprisingly well directed and well acted, putting it a cut above your average faith-based film fare. It’s as melodramatic and preachy as you’d expect, but at its center is a pandering, uplifting story that should play extremely well with its core religious audience. There’s nothing objectionable here — the movie delivers a wholesome, clean, modest night at the movies — but be forewarned that this sappy Christian crowd pleaser will be a tough sell for secular audiences.

It’s a gross understatement to accuse this melodramatic film of ‘preaching to the choir.’ A good portion of the film takes place inside a church (with a hip preacher and a slick rock band, of course), making me feel like I was attending a Sunday service instead of watching a movie. I want to be entertained, not stuck in a 2 hour sermon! The sad thing is that this would make a pretty decent Lifetime movie of the week if it wasn’t overloaded with all the Jesus-y junk. At its core is a story of a family dealing with a horrible crisis, a story that has the power to transcend crossover audiences. Ultimately the film fails miserably in its handling of the subject matter.

So just how doctrinal is it? Let’s start with the unintentionally laughable opening sequence: you’ve got your hard working, non-threateningly shirtless, sexy daddy; three cute little girls playing in mud puddles in their “Sunday school dresses;” close-ups of crucifix necklaces; several rapid-fire mentions of Bible readings, church and the like. A joke about how “my friend says Hell is in California” got the biggest sincere laughs from my audience (that tells you all you need to know).

The movie’s message is that everything will be fine as long as you pray, pray, and pray some more. If you aren’t getting what you want, you aren’t praying hard enough. This dangerous notion is driven hard, over and over and over again. It’s also funny how the movie glosses over the serious, real questions. When mom Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner) stands up in church to address the congregation with a rousing speech, she touches on the idea as to why her child was cured and others are left to suffer. How does she answer? With the frequent Christian cop-out of “I don’t know.” The movie is absolutely fine to leave it at that. Scenes like this are exactly why many thinking people can’t stomach faith-based entertainment. 

Movies like this promote exclusivity simply because they exist. The supposedly “true” story on which its based sounds mostly like a bunch of malarkey, but its imagined retelling here comes across as nothing more than a recruitment video for evangelical Christianity. It’s offensive and does the religion more of a disservice in the eyes of a nonbeliever. The movie portrays Christianity as the only way (a child states that “not everyone’s going to believe, but they’ll get there when they get there”), has characters suggest that a child became terminally ill due to the family’s “sins” (to the film’s credit they do call them out for this), and advocates praying as a legitimate way to heal a human being (newsflash: it isn’t)! In the middle of the big child-trapped-in-a-tree rescue scene (itself laughable), the firemen stop to pray, making me want to blurt out “quit praying and do your job!” The weight placed on the importance and effectiveness of prayer in this film isn’t just ridiculous, it’s downright terrifying.

As in other faith-based dramas, the highly educated (in this case, doctors) are portrayed as goofy buffoons (Eugenio Derbez) or condescending, uncaring jerks. At least the atheist who shows up isn’t portrayed as a complete jackass, but — spoiler alert — he does sort of “find the power of faith” by the end. I do have to mention the unexpectedly admirable performances from genuinely talented Kylie Rogers (as the sick child Anna) and the immensely likable Brighton Sharbino (as sister Abbie). Queen Latifah charms in her very minor supporting role as a friendly waitress. And although her performance was brimming with tear-filled pain and honesty, I ultimately felt sorry for Jennifer Garner. She’s an adept actress giving some truly heartfelt work here, but I kept imagining that I was hearing wooshing sounds in the background: the sound of her career being flushed down the toilet.

If you love Jesus then you’ll probably love this movie. But for me, it’s a miracle I was able to sit through it ’til the end.

MATT SAYS:

If you know me, you know I’m not part of the target audience for “Miracles from Heaven.” If you are a member of the target audience, this movie will likely be right up your alley.

For the most part, “Miracles from Heaven” is a rather bland and unremarkable movie-of-the-week that would have found a happy home on the Hallmark Channel. What distinguishes it from those films is its subject matter and rather heavy-handed Christian message. Faith in Jesus is what it’s selling, and miracles are the engine that will get you there. It’s unlikely to result in any religious conversions, but if you already are a person of faith, you will likely find this movie inspiring and affirming to your view of the world.

The problem with this movie – and the reason it’s unlikely to reach anyone beyond its core audience – is that it takes place in a plastic world with plastic trees and plastic houses inhabited by plastic people. Other than Annabel’s (Kylie Rogers) disease, there is no adversity in this world. Every kid is a little angel who is willing to make any and all sacrifices for the sake and well-being of the other kids. The worst scolding these kids ever get from mom is for playing outside in their Sunday school dresses. There’s no boredom in church; the congregation enthusiastically crams in the pews every Sunday, and every man, woman and child listens with rapt attention when the pastor speaks, and laughs loudly at every joke he makes. In this world, “OMG” means “oh my goodness,” that other “G” word not being spoken unless it is in service or prayer to him with a capital “H.” Every single denizen of this world is a pious and believing Christian, with the notable exceptions of the (LIBERAL) media. This world is a Norman Rockwell depiction of the real one we actually live in.

While the messaging is heavy-handed, it is mostly not offensive to non-Christians. . . mostly. Unlike many of the other “faith-based’ films, there is thankfully no Christian Persecution Complex on display here. These characters operate well within a Christian worldview, where a crisis of faith doesn’t mean losing faith in the existence of god, it means losing faith in whether god actually will intervene in human events and help people who ask for it. There are even some Christians – the judgmental a*holes – that are temporarily portrayed in a negative light. While there is some Christian misogyny is on display here (reacting to a life-threatening emergency for her daughter, the dutiful wife calls her husband before she calls emergency services; the husband makes a big show of actually “allowing” his wife to say grace at the dinner table), it’s mostly whitewashed.

If it would have stuck to its folksy, downhome approach to religion and focused simply on the miracles, “Miracles from Heaven” would have been okay. The problem, however, is that it’s not content to be simply faith-affirming; it has to condescendingly try to tear down other world-views, too. There is a prominent subplot featuring an atheist/agnostic dad (again, a member of the LIBERAL MEDIA), with his like-minded daughter sick with cancer. Predictably (but unrealistically) the dad has a sudden change of heart after his daughter’s life is touched by Annabel. It is this type of messaging that’s offensive, because it perpetuates the Christian view that atheists and agnostics are only one miracle or sermon away from converting. “If I preach hard enough, or carry the message in just the right way, you’ll change your mind.” It is this lack of respect that deepens the religious divide in this country, and the one and only reason I have a problem with this film.

Listen up, faithful: atheists and agnostics don’t care what you believe in. They don’t care who, what, or how you worship. They don’t even mind movies and stories like this one. What the “nones” DO mind is your lack of respect for differing world views. “I’m right and you’re wrong” never got the human race anywhere in issues of politics, international relations, or philosophy, and as long as the discourse continues to be focused that way, we will continue to have this alleged culture war.

I’m upset that “Miracles from Heaven” had to cross that line, because otherwise it was an okay (if somewhat slow) movie of the week with a decent message that most folks – both religious and non-religious — would readily agree with: live each day like it is a miracle, and appreciate all of the little and big things that life has to offer.

“The Witch”

MATT:  3.5 STARS


MATT SAYS:

The last several years have brought some innovative new films that have set the horror world on fire. In 2012 it was “The Cabin in the Woods.” Last year it was “It Follows.” And this year, we get “The Witch,” a buzzy picture that made huge waves at Sundance and has intrigued audiences.

As a horror fan, I HAD to see this movie. I was hoping to love it, but I didn’t. Not that there aren’t plenty of things to like about it; there are.

While the story, relying heavily on the occult and supernatural, isn’t entirely new (“The Wicker Man,” “Kill List,” and “The House of the Devil” come readily to mind as comparisons), the setting of the movie isn’t one I’ve seen before in a genre film. “The Witch” takes place in the New England of the Puritans, when agrarian lives were focused almost entirely on religion and living a godly life. The manner of speech is decidedly old English, and the manner of both dress and address highly formal. North America was still untamed; the existence of demons, devils, spirits and witches was an accepted fact, and belief in supernatural evil was part and parcel of believing in the divine. That hexes, witchcraft and wizardry exist in this world is taken for granted, and the family that forms the center of this story struggles with doubt and belief that the evil might live among them.

“The Witch” is not your traditional horror movie. It’s a slow burn – mostly dialogue-driven interspersed with only occasional imagery that is highly disturbing and effective at creating an overall feeling of dread. Grey hues and darkness are used to maximum effect here – this is a world that is always in twilight and that the sun seems to never touch. Very little seems to thrive in this environment except darkness.

Yet for all of the things there are to like about the movie, it just never seemed to quite hit that point of true terror. The best horror movies are ones that stick with you, where there are scenes that you just can’t forget (no matter how hard you try). These are the movies that keep you up at night, the films touch that primal bit of fear within you, the ones that get your adrenaline flowing. If you saw “The Blair Witch Project” back in 1999, you were probably bored for 85% of the film. But then, that final scene. Who could forget that? Unfortunately, there’s nothing like that here (apart from maybe an early scene in the witch’s cottage that was really more shocking than terrifying).

If you’re looking for an atmospheric, intelligent, and interesting genre movie, “The Witch” is a good choice. If, however, you’re looking for a good scare, “The Witch” won’t give it to you.


Louisa was unavailable for review.

 

“The Perfect Match”

LOUISA:   2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The classic romantic comedy plot is on full display in “The Perfect Match.” Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a playboy womanizer makes a bet with his buddies and vows to remain faithful to one girl for an entire month (which according to Hollywood is the perfect amount of time for him to fall in love with her). This been-there-done-that storyline luckily has an eventual shocking, satisfying twist that surprised me, but it didn’t save the lethargic exposition that comes before. While I appreciate the filmmakers trying to put their own spin on the tried-and-true formula, it’s simply not very good movie. To make matters worse, the movie is interspersed with laughably unsexy steamy romantic ‘interludes,’ so many that I found myself wondering if this was all some sort of a joke.

The main problem is that there aren’t any characters you want to root for. Lothario Charlie Mac (Terrence Jenkins) may be rich, suave and successful, but he’s not exactly a catch. I didn’t care if he found his soulmate in Eva (Cassie Ventura), he was mostly just there to serve as (admittedly very tasty) eye candy. There’s the obligatory “let’s-try-for-a-baby” storyline, but I didn’t care if Rick (Donald Faison) and Pressie (Dascha Polanco) could finally conceive; do these people really need to be parents? Throw in an awful-as-usual, ditzy performance from the always perkily annoying Paula Patton as a borderline unethical therapist and the confusion grows. There’s also a dumb subplot about Ginger (Lauren London) and Vic’s (Robert Christopher Riley) expensive wedding planning. If you think this is too much to handle, the film features at least a half dozen more totally boring, inconsequential subplots.

The ensemble of actors is off-balance here, making it implausible that any of them would be friends in real life. It’s hard to overcome gross miscasting like this. Worst of all was the cameo by rapper French Montana, playing himself. I’ve never heard of this guy before but an actor he’s not; his ‘performance’ was so awful that it was distracting.

“The Perfect Match” features a likable enough cast, but nothing about the story or characters rings true. In the end, it’s nothing more than a forgettable romantic “comedy” without much comedy.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“The Brothers Grimsby”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS   MATT:  4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Once in a blue moon a movie comes along that actually grosses me out. This strange phenomenon doesn’t happen too often (“Pink Flamingos,” “Jackass: The Movie“), but it does happen. “The Brothers Grimsby” belongs on this short list.

Comedy mastermind Sacha Baron Cohen is ideal as the boorish manchild Nobby, a trashy soccer hooligan who is searching for his long-lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong), who turns out to be a skilled MI-6 secret spy. When a series of events leads to their eventual reuniting, all hell breaks loose.

This film is filled with politically-incorrect, absurd juvenile antics and doesn’t quite reach the brilliant comedic heights of “Bruno” and “Borat.” Make no mistake: it’s very, very funny, but this movie takes the disgusting jokes a step (or in some cases, several steps) too far. Get ready for rapid-fire offensive and uncomfortable jokes about incest, pedophilia, rape, bestiality, handicapped kids, starving Africans, drug addiction, oral sex, animal semen, and the classic fireworks-up-the-bum. Have you suddenly found yourself requiring additional time to process the previous sentence? Go ahead and take all the time you need.

I love irreverent humor but I do get the feeling that there are loads of offensive jokes on offer here that serve no other purpose than to shock and disturb the audience. Shocking doesn’t automatically equal funny and in some instances, I think the filmmakers forget that because many scenes rely on shock rather than actual jokes. That’s not to say there aren’t some truly inspired bits of humor here. There are plenty of easy-to-swallow wisecracks, including a gag at the expense of Donald Trump (who wouldn’t enjoy that?), and a brilliant opening bit that’s reminiscent of “Idiocracy,” but most are in extremely poor taste and are sure to offend the most delicate of viewers. There’s a revolting scene with an elephant — let’s just leave it at that — that will surely disgust even those most amenable to the grossest of the gross-out humor. I love “Jackass” but this one even pushed my limits, and I don’t get disgusted very often.

Still, the movie managed to make me laugh throughout, even when the third act begins to lag. Throw in some mildly amusing bits with the loveable Rebel Wilson and an entertaining supporting cast (Gabourey Sidibe, Isla Fisher, Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz) and it becomes quite a successful comedy.

The film earns its hard R rating with lots of strong crude sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, language, and drug use; it’s not for everybody. This is comedy pushed to the most outer limits of good taste. Proceed with caution.

MATT SAYS:

Comedies are notoriously hard to recommend because humor is subjective. What is funny to me may not be funny to you, and vice versa. Some people count “Zoolander” and “Wedding Crashers” among their favorite comedies of all time and I don’t find either of them particularly funny. I, on the other hand, loved “Eurotrip,” “Rat Race,” “We’re the Millers,” and the “Vacation” remake, while other people didn’t find those funny.

With that caveat as a warning to you, I really liked “The Brothers Grimsby.”

Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong play Nobby and Sebastian, two brothers who were once very close but were separated as children. Nobby is a soccer hooligan from a blue-collar town, and Sebastian is a straight-laced assassin for the British intelligence network whose life is upended when Nobby finds him in the middle of an assignment. The odd couple pairing is a classic one in the screen comedy, and it works well here to drive a story that is mostly sight gags balanced with crude and gross-out humor (yes, there is a difference between crude and gross-out humor).

While not everything works, the bits that are funny are really funny. I found myself continuing to chuckle at some of the more brilliant bits for several minutes after the scenes had already ended. The beginning of the movie, in particular, had the jokes flying at an almost rapid-fire pace where it would have been easy to miss one or more of them. The second act sags a bit — as it has to sacrifice some of the humor for advancing the plot — but the movie’s pace doesn’t slow too much.

This movie is most definitely not for everyone. As I said, there is a lot of crude humor (jokes about sex, anatomy, or bodily functions) here. Most of it works. The gross-out humor, on the other hand, is a bit hit-and-miss. There were some scenes that took it just a little too far on the disgusting meter for my taste, but comedy is about taking risks and this film takes a lot of them. I laughed a lot. To me, that’s the sign of a successful comedy.