“X-Men: Apocalypse”



Let’s just get right down to it: the disappointing “X-Men: Apocalypse” is far from unwatchable but it’s the first X-Men movie in the franchise that I’m not clamoring to go see again. It pains me — seriously pains me — to rate it at only three stars. This one is pointlessly noisy and dull, riddled with poorly conceived CGI effects, cluttered with too much religious imagery, and crowded with far too many irrelevant characters.

The core of what holds this film together comes from the strong characters. The X-Men have always been my absolute favorites when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so just seeing them onscreen makes me giddy. This time around, the mere presence of them is nearly the only thing that works. What doesn’t: the acting performances from the usually great Oscar Isaac (rage-grunting his way through thick makeup as Apocalypse) and Alexandra Shipp (making the already unlikeable character of Storm even more irritating); both performances are so overwhelmed with mediocrity they are distracting. Olivia Munn (Psylocke) is given nothing to do except scowl in her semi-sexy costume; she comes across as nothing more than a low-rent version of Wonder Woman. Thank goodness for Nicholas Hoult (Hank / Beast), Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Tye Sheridan (Scott / Cyclops), and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Kurt / Nightcrawler) for redeeming the other casting failures.

The friendship between Charles / Professor X (James McAvoy) and Eric / Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is one of my all-time most beloved on-screen bromances, and one that is the true heart of the franchise. As usual, Fassbender and McAvoy are standouts in the acting category; I couldn’t have asked for a better casting decision and the two men give it their all.

The most glaringly dreadful thing about the movie — and this comes as much of a surprise to me as it will to you — is Jennifer Lawrence‘s lackluster performance as Raven / Mystique. I love Lawrence but something about her is completely “off” and, for the first time in her illustrious film career, she seems to be phoning it in. I don’t know if she hated working with director Bryan Singer or was being forced by her agent to be in the movie or what, but something is obviously wrong and it translates onscreen.

Speaking of Bryan Singer, I’m still in shock that he directed this. This is his fourth time at the helm of an X-Men movie so he knows and respects the characters and he’s undeniably skilled, but “Apocalypse” is a bit of a hack job. It’s almost as if Singer knew his finished product would be a letdown: there’s even a self-referential joke about it at the film’s halfway point (and one that got huge laughs from my disappointed audience). The half-hearted applause as the credits rolled showed me that I wasn’t the only X-Men nerd who was disillusioned by this latest MCU installment.

The elephant in the room is the film’s originality problem (and lack thereof). There’s a cameo that should’ve made me all fired up but instead it felt like a strained, pointless sequence and was more lame than inspired. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) basically makes the same entrance as he did in “Days of Future Past,” only to a different retro song. It’s fun, but I’ve seen it before (and it was done better the first time around). In fact, there’s a lot of retreading and not much innovation. I’m starting to worry that the X-Men franchise is slowly reaching its expiration date, and that makes me sad.

The lackluster plot and script are tolerable but the visuals are far too gimmicky. I refuse to see 3D movies so I didn’t watch this one in 3D, but even in 2D I easily noticed all of the special effects that were put in just for the 3D crowd. It was bothersome and distracting, especially in the opening credits sequence. I hate when I watch a movie and I’m emotionally removed from the story because all of the effects look like they were done by some tech nerd with a computer. This was a huge budget movie and I expected better effects.

I know that I set the bar very high for all X-Men movies because I’m a big fan of the characters and there’s a level of quality that I’ve come to expect, so I acknowledge that yes, I’m bitter and yes, maybe I’m rating this movie a bit harsher than I should. I wanted the greatness that its recent predecessors “First Class” and “Days of Future Past” reached, but instead I got mediocrity.


The best characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are back in “X-Men: Apocalypse.” And this time, they’ve added Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner).

If you have a pulse and you follow the entertainment world, I don’t need to tell you what this movie’s about. The younger versions of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) are back, along with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). This time, they face Apocalypse (Isaac) a mutant that has lived for tens of thousands of years and, through body transference, has amassed the talents and abilities of a number of mutants. As would be expected, this new mutant poses a significant threat not only to Xavier and his school of gifted individuals, but also to humanity itself.

Broadly speaking, the “X-Men” movies are so much more compelling than most other superhero movies. This is because of the essential humanity, and friendship, of Professor X and Magneto. These men, their backstories, and their bond with one another is unlike anything else we see in the MCU; the relationship between Charles and Erik forms the beating heart of the X-Men universe. “Apocalypse” is no exception to this rule.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” is at its best when it’s focusing on Erik and Charles. As the film opens, we find Erik in a place we never expected to see him. He’s apparently found peace and happiness; when that happiness is violently ripped away from him, he reacts in the way that only Magneto can. Professor X continues to live in a state of somewhat blissful ignorance running his school of mutants, and it’s only when the rising threat of Apocalypse comes to his attention that he finally starts to understand what’s at stake in this world where mutants exist side-by-side with humans. It’s when Erik and Charles once again cross paths that we see the men, and their worldviews, tested.

Conversely, “Apocalypse” sometimes loses steam when it’s focusing on the other characters. While we know Jean Grey (Turner) plays an important role in these movies, she’s given little to do in “Apocalypse” until the very end of the film. The movie is okay when it turns to Mystique (Lawrence), Hank/Beast (Hoult), and Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee), but the story just isn’t as compelling when it comes to these X-Men. In fact, any time the focus isn’t on Charles or Erik, it’s much less interesting. The notable exception to this rule is Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who once again steals the show nearly every time he takes the screen.

Broadly speaking, what is so great about all of the X-Men movies is that it consistently casts “actors’ actors” in the lead roles. Having first-rate talent play the central roles is critical in adding gravitas, and McEvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, and Hoult are clearly up to the task as always. Disappointingly, however, Isaac does a “just okay” job as Apocalypse. He isn’t given much to do other than issue dramatic pronouncements about humanity and ending the world. It’s actually kind of a shame: as one of the best actors working today (see also: “Ex Machina,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and “A Most Violent Year“), his talents are wasted. Director Bryan Singer, who is usually very good at getting great performances out of his actors, is clearly struggling when it comes to directing Isaac in heavy makeup.

“Apocalypse” also loses its momentum through the climax of the film, where — like virtually every other superhero movie in recent memory (with “Captain America: Civil War” being a notable exception) — the team faces another CGI-heavy, potentially world-ending event. In almost all of these movies, it’s when the focus leaves the main characters and goes instead to some computer-generated threat that the story gets bogged down. It’s much harder to care about what’s happening on the screen when all that we see is another swirling CGI whatsit that is going to end the world as we know it.

On balance, I’m disappointed to say that “X-Men: Apocalypse” didn’t reach the heights of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (on my honorable mentions best list for 2014), but it was still a damned good movie. There were a handful of very memorable scenes that alone were worth the price of admission. One scene, in particular, featured a certain well-known X-Man doing what we’ve all, collectively, always wanted to see him doing. And it was… everything I ever hoped for.

While it wasn’t a perfect movie, I want to see it again, right now. And that is a sign of a good movie.

“The Angry Birds Movie”



Adding to the cinematic animated clutter based on once popular games, “The Angry Birds Movie” is one that I was dreading to watch. Was anybody really clamoring for a movie based on this game? Apparently so, according to the film’s $40 million opening weekend.

I’ve never played the game on which this film is based so I’m not sure if avid fans of the app would find more to like, but I can tell you that as a casual observer, this isn’t a very good film. The animation and the voice talent isn’t the problem: it’s the paper thin story that ultimately leads to the movie’s failure.

The film is set on bird island, a beautiful sanctuary in the middle of a crystal clear ocean. Red (Jason Sudeikis) is a lonely bird with some serious anger management issues. When his temper lands him in a relaxation class with fellow angries Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride), the outsiders form an offbeat friendship. When a couple of mysterious pirate ships arrive with green pigs at the helm (pigs who want to steal and eat all of the baby bird eggs), our feathered heroes have to swoop in and save the day from the evil piggies. And that, my friends, is the entire plot.

Most of the second half of the film is stuffed with situations and scenes taken from the popular game. I didn’t know for sure at first, but quickly figured it out because everything in the final action sequences felt out of place and tacked on. There are obvious inclusions that make zero sense to the story (slingshots, bombs, flying birds, etc.). It’s a shame because the characters are, dare I say it, likeable and actually a little bit lovable! Evil head pig Leonard (Bill Hader), Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), Judge Peckinpah (Keegan-Michael Key) and Matilda (Maya Rudolph) are pretty good characters. Of course most of this success lies with the actors who lend their voices to bring these birds to life. They are undoubtedly talented and they give it their all, but so much more could’ve been done with the story. They, and these characters, deserved more.

There’s a lot of modern-day sass talking and groan-inducing bird related puns (“what the flock?” / “pluck my life“) for the adults, and most attempts at humor fall flatter than a pancake. A majority of the film’s first 30 minutes feels like nothing more than an advertisement for the soundtrack (there are several weird musical interludes that are “written” into the story, making the songs the centerpiece of the action) while the last part of the film is nothing more than an ad for the game. There just isn’t much going on to keep anyone engaged.

It’s not all awful: the biggest surprise here is the skillful animation! You’d expect a kid’s movie like this to be slapped together with the usual Hollywood half-assery in the visual department but it’s not: the animation is vibrant, polished and beautifully textured. Say what you will about the film but it’s really, really gorgeous to look at. What a shame that it’s wasted on such drivel.

I’m awarding it two stars solely for the skillful animation and the proficient voice talent. Bottom line: this movie makes no damn sense but it sure is pretty.


Okay, so I understand that you are contractually obligated (it’s part of the parent-child contract) to take your kids to see “The Angry Birds Movie.” So the question you should be asking me is not whether it’s any good, but whether alcohol or other substances will significantly improve your viewing experience.

Sadly, the answer is a resounding “no.” This movie sucks. It’s yet another example of a kid movie that is made with very little consideration given to the parents that are being dragged to see it. Yes, in the tradition of every such movie made since “Shrek,” there are a couple of throwaway “adult” jokes, but they are relatively few and far between — and they aren’t funny.

Okay, you might say, but I love playing Angry Birds. Is it possible I might enjoy it, as an aficionado of the game?

Again, the answer is “no.” Yes, the theme song is used from time-to-time. Yes, many of the birds you love are in the movie, exhibiting the characteristics that make the game so fun. Yes, the Bad Piggies are here, and there is even an extended scene of the birds destroying the Piggies’ structures (just like in the game!!!). But that doesn’t make the film any good.

“The Angry Birds Movie” starts out kinda okay, with some decent jokes interspersed between the plot exposition… aaaand then, it starts to suck. It gets stupid, and boring. Nothing much happens for about an hour. You get Josh Gad trying (unsuccessfully) to do a voice that isn’t Olaf. There are multiple unfunny sight gags that don’t reward the attentive viewer. The head honchos at Rovio (the company that made the game) get satiated by multiple references to their app, and then it’s over. That’s about it.

Not even a generous helping of wine (Adaptation Petite Sirah 2013 — it’s amazing, you should try it) could make this movie more enjoyable. If you can get away with sending your kids with their friends’ parents so that you don’t have to go, it will be a significant victory for you.


“The Nice Guys”



The bizarre, sleazy and wildly wonderful “The Nice Guys” is sure to be a movie that divides audiences. It’s one of those dark, semi-inaccessible films that defies categorization and is just plain strange. Director Shane Black skillfully captures the gritty feel and spirit of late 1970s cinema. The film’s tone successfully mixes violence, humor and an enjoyable “whodunit” conspiracy storyline with some truly magnificent vintage set decor and a string of random, memorable single-serving bites of eccentric characters. (Lance Valentine Butler, credited only as “Kid on Bike,” has only a couple of minutes of screen time but man oh man does he make a lasting impression)!

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) are private detectives who team up to solve a missing persons case. March is the “brains” and Healy provides the brawn. The film is set in Los Angeles during the 1970s and centers around a murderous scheme involving the burgeoning underground p*rnography industry and the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s a good story and a strong script with a very satisfying conclusion. At times the movie reminded me of a James Ellroy story, but funnier. This made me chuckle even more when Kim Basinger showed up (she and Crowe famously worked together on 1997’s “L.A. Confidential,” a film based on Ellroy’s novel).

The two leads have a genuine, snarky chemistry, so much so that I would love to see them partner up again in future movies. The pair play off each other perfectly and are the true heart of the movie. Adding to the enjoyable performances is Angourie Rice as March’s daughter Holly. You’d think a tween girl character would be the most annoying thing ever but not here; Rice is dynamite as a junior detective and has more than a few meaty scenes in the film.

The acting and set design isn’t all that works: the violent action scenes (and there are lots of them) are more than noteworthy. The film’s bloody opening starts with a young boy sneaking a peek at his dad’s nudie magazine stash. Suddenly adult film star Misty Mountains’ (Murielle Telio) car comes crashing through his house, narrowly missing the kid and maybe even crushing the family dog. This gruesome scene — complete with full frontal nudity — really sets the tone for this distinctively strange comedy. There’s even more fistfights, blood, knives, gunplay and car crashes. Towards the end there’s a phenomenal shootout and action sequence that takes place at a car show. Without question this scene provides one of the greatest thrill rides of the year! It’s so much fun that I can’t stop thinking about it days later.

If you’re sick of seeing the same old boring formula films that Hollywood habitually churns out and are in need of a breath of fresh air, go see “The Nice Guys.” This movie isn’t for everyone, but it’s a true original.


“The Nice Guys” is not an easy movie to review. It defies compartmentalization as it exists in a category all its own.

Ryan Gosling plays Holland March, a sad-sack private investigator who is pretty good at his job but even better at drinking and bilking his clients. Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, a thug-for-hire. In the course of investigating a routine missing-person case in 1970s Los Angeles, March crosses paths with Healy, who has been hired to scare March off the case. The two team up to find the missing girl and in so doing run afoul of the mob, the adult film industry, and the Justice Department — not necessarily in that order.

To say that “The Nice Guys” is unusual for a big summer blockbuster is an understatement. To start, the movie has an offbeat sense of humor that will frustrate or confuse most casual moviegoers (for example, one of the funniest scenes involves a teenage boy that aspires to be a p*rn actor because of his…endowment). Then there is a significant subplot involving the adult film industry — and there is no shortage of nudity to punctuate this point. Those who come for the star power may end up feeling frustrated, as this movie is not standard fare for either actor.

But all of those things — which some may view as negatives — add to the film’s charm. While the writing is uneven, when the movie is at its best the script (by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi) is whip-smart. Black, who also directed, is clearly having a ball here with his material. The setting is used to maximum effect (with plenty of shots of Hollywood and the Sunset Strip circa 1970) and teeters right on the edge of being gimmicky, without ever succumbing completely to the temptation of emphasizing setting over story. There are some outrageously fun set pieces (namely, a party in the Hollywood Hills and an auto show) that maximize time and place. Crowe and Gosling work nicely together; Crowe is understated and Gosling (ever the chameleon) shines in a role that is very different from those he’s taken previously.

Taste, style and subject matter make “The Nice Guys” difficult to recommend, as I have a feeling that most people won’t enjoy it as much as I did. But if you aren’t offended by the subject matter, nudity, or the offbeat humor, you might have a great time watching it, too.

“Special Correspondents”



Never has a premise gotten so lost in such a poorly written script than in “Special Correspondents,” the new Ricky Gervais directed film that recently debuted on Netflix. What could’ve been a whip-smart satire is instead wasted on this huge disappointment of a movie. It’s stereotypically British in a way: watchable yet bland.

“Special Correspondents” is a remake of the 2009 French film “Envoyes Tres Speciaux.” It starts with a fantastic premise: New York City radio reporter and womanizer Frank (Eric Bana) and his sad-sack sound engineer Ian (Gervais) get assigned to cover a civil war in Ecuador. When a mishap causes them to miss their flight, the pair hide out in a nearby ethnic restaurant and fake on-the-ground audio reports from across the street. After spinning a complex web of lies, the duo eventually get in way too deep and end up faking their own kidnappings. It’s fun to a point — but then gets uncomfortably ridiculous. The idea is a great one, but the characters so poorly developed that the film stalls and ultimately goes nowhere.

Some true moments of inspired greatness come mostly from America Ferrera as the restaurant’s dim-witted proprietor and Vera Farmiga as Ian’s opportunistic wife Eleanor. When Ian and Frank go missing and capture the hearts of Americans everywhere, Eleanor takes to television talk shows, singing her original song: “Dollar for a Hero.” Soon she’s collected a pile of money by exploiting this “tragedy.” This is one of the funniest parts of the film and really shows the meaningful social commentary and satirical greatness this film could have achieved.

Ricky Gervais is fine as a director, simply competent and straightforward. A huge problem with the film is that there is zero chemistry between Gervais and Bana. It’s really, really awful and unpleasant to watch. Most of the performances here are pretty tepid and boring across the board, and the film isn’t as funny as it should be. There’s nothing super impressionable here (it feels like a not so great ripoff of “Wag the Dog“), but it’s still just good enough to make it worthy of a Netflix night.

This new original movie can be viewed exclusively on Netflix.


I love Ricky Gervais. For some reason, his sense of humor generally gibes with mine. So when I found out that he wrote and directed the remake of the French movie “Envoyes tres speciaux” for Netflix, I had to check it out.

“Special Correspondents” is a fun idea: two hapless radio journalists (Eric Bana and Gervais) fake reports that they send in supposedly from a war-torn country, when in reality they are really holed up in an apartment across the street from their radio station. When their bosses demand that they show up at the U.S. Embassy, they fake their own kidnapping to avoid having their lie exposed.

It’s a fun idea with a good cast that, in addition to Gervais and Bana, includes the always-delightful Vera Farmiga as well as America Ferrera and Kevin Pollak. There are some enjoyable bits here, mostly those involving Ferrara’s character and her husband Domingo (Raul Castillo), who are the only ones who know about the journalists’ ruse.

That said, there isn’t much substance here. In spite of the better-than-average cast and the talent of Gervais, this feels every bit a straight-to-Netflix affair that was clearly made with a limited budget and resources. If you’re a fan of Gervais and the rest of the actors, it may be worth a watch. Otherwise, skip it.

“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”



“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is the latest recycled sequel to a movie that wasn’t good in the first place (2014’s “Neighbors“). I had zero expectations for this movie and I’m surprised to say how much I enjoyed it! This movie is silly and absurd and requires viewers to seriously suspend disbelief, but it is really quite funny and — surprise! — smartly insightful. The rapid pacing kept me thoroughly entertained and the jokes kept me laughing. These weren’t just a few chuckles, this was hearty, sustained laughter. Comedy is subjective, but I found “Neighbors 2” hilarious.

Most of the original cast is back, including co-stars Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, and Carla Gallo. Parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are expecting baby number 2 and have just sold their house. They have a 30 day escrow period where the buyers are encouraged to stop by unannounced at any time (see where this is going)?

Flash to the local college where a fraternity party is in full swing. Socially awkward and slightly geeky freshmen Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), Beth (Kiersey Clemons), and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) cross paths at the party, are disgusted by its “rapey” atmosphere, and decide to move off campus and start their own sorority, Kappa Nu. When the Kappas rent the house next door, they team up with former frat king Teddy (Zac Efron) for advice on how to grow membership, raise capital, and of course, throw killer parties. When the sorority girls have a run-in with their neighbors, the formula from movie #1 kicks into gear and the war begins.

This isn’t a lazy film, however; many of the gags from the first film are NOT recycled. The big twist is that Efron teams up with Rogen and Byrne to fight against the girls’ “right to party.” It’s a fun premise and it works. There are some truly inspired bits of comedy on display, making this one of the better sequels I’ve seen in a while. The actresses are likeable across the board, even when they repeatedly refer to Rogen and Byrne as “old people.” Efron and Rogen have an authentic, easygoing chemistry. The gags are goofy but amusing, with a good mix of both cerebral and physical humor. And there’s a pretty sweet scene involving a seriously buff, shirtless, dancing Efron and a grilled ham.

Despite the silly partying scenes, the movie has an unexpected strong, positive feminist message about girl power and friendship. I didn’t see it coming but I heartily applaud the filmmakers and writers for successfully doing more with what could’ve been another typical college party comedy. This movie is ambitious for cohesively mixing a gross-out comedy with a message movie — and it actually works. “Neighbors 2” is bawdy, funny and has a big heart. This movie surprised me, and I also think it’ll surprise you.


“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” is the rare sequel that is not just better than the original, it’s significantly better. The trailer would have you believe that “Neighbors 2” is just the first movie all over again, except with a sorority this time instead of a fraternity. It isn’t.

In this movie, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are still living in the same home with baby Stella (Elise Vargas) and getting ready to have a second baby. They are enjoying the peace and quiet that has come after the fraternity next door led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) has long since left the house. Meanwhile, Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her friends have learned that, surprisingly, sororities in the Greek college system aren’t allowed to have parties. In response, they create their own sorority outside of the system and rent a house. . . and of course it’s the one next to Mac and Kelly.

There is much to like about this movie, starting with its attitudes — which are refreshingly progressive without feeling forced or preachy. In “Neighbors 2,” a major theme is gender equality: Shelby and her friends aren’t looking for boyfriends, and only want a place where they can enjoy college and sisterhood on their own terms. Gay marriage is treated seriously — this may be the first mainstream, R-rated adult comedy featuring a gay relationship that is never played for laughs.

The actors are all well within their element here and are obviously having fun with this material. Zac Efron, in particular, is delightful as Teddy and provides some of the best laughs of the film. Despite its similarity to the first movie, the jokes here don’t feel recycled. With the possible exception of Lisa Kudrow‘s character (Dean Gladstone), all of the returning characters feel like they have a reason for being here which isn’t “hey, do you remember me from the first movie?”

While the movie certainly deserves its R rating, it doesn’t rely on gross out humor to earn its laughs (with one notable exception). For the most part, it’s an inspired comedy and it’s worth seeing.




“Sundown” successfully includes all of the elements of a long line of classic spring break comedies that it’s obviously attempting to emulate. The movie shows massive promise at the beginning and takes off with lots of original jokes and solid laughs, but it ultimately fizzles out and becomes a bit of a bore.

High school senior and aspiring EDM dj Logan (Devon Werkheiser) is in love with crush Lina (Sara Paxton). When he discovers Lina is headed down to Mexico for spring break week, his goofy buddy / sidekick Blake (Sean Marquette) convinces him to go after her. What follows is an extended semi-madcap tourism commercial for Puerto Vallarta.

This is a Mexican made movie all the way, and it’s a worthy entry into the country’s cinematic playbook. Director (and co-writer) Fernando Lebrija has a visual style that works for this type of story, and I appreciated his clever uses of camera tricks to disguise what must have been a relatively small budget.

Lots of things really do work in the movie. First, local taxi driver Chuy (Silverio Palacios) is absolutely delightful. He’s funny and bubbly with a huge personality. Chuy knows everyone in town (he calls most people “my cousin”), and this newfound friendship is critical to the story. Marquette is perfect as the oversexed, wacky best friend and is quite likable. Teri Hatcher and John Michael Higgins show up to add some mild comic relief as Logan’s mom and dad.

To keep things moving, our horny heroes find themselves in all sorts of random and amusing situations: crossing paths with a gangster, taking a she-male home from a club, sleeping in a hotel supply closet, screeching through the streets of Old Town Vallarta in a high speed chase, and carrying out a dog napping.

When Logan has an encounter with stripper Gaby (Camilla Belle) at a nightclub, the story shifts into a (sort of) crime caper over a missing Rolex watch. The story isn’t bad and there’s a lot to keep audiences entertained, but the film greatly suffers from a draggy run time (it clocks in at 100 minutes but feels like it’s 3 hours long). There’s way too much filler in the form of big booty girls dancing in bikinis, wild drinking parties, and an ear-splitting EDM soundtrack (watch for celeb dj cameos from Steve Aoki and Paul Oakenfold). The soundtrack is legit and the music is good, but my ears were ringing when I left the theater.

This is a hard R comedy with lots of nudity and sex (and more than a few gross out moments). You can’t escape the comparisons to “The Hangover” trilogy,  “Road Trip” or “Porky’s,” but “Sundown” sadly doesn’t quite reach any real moments of greatness. As far as aspiring dj movies go, it’s way better than last year’s Zac Efron debacle “We Are Your Friends.”

I can’t finish this review without scolding the filmmakers for the unnecessary extended cockfighting scene. I had to shut my eyes for a good 3 minutes so I didn’t actually watch it, but I have a horrible suspicion that it was real footage of a real fight. That’s animal cruelty, folks, no matter how much you try to defend it as a “cultural” experience.

(To report suspected cockfighting in your area, please contact your local police department).


A movie in the tradition of teen road comedies “Road Trip” and “Sex Drive,” “Sundown” is also a love letter to electronic dance music (EDM) and the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta.

Logan (Devon Werkheiser) and Blake (Sean Marquette) are sex-obsessed teens in their senior year of high school. After learning that Logan’s crush, Lina (Sara Paxton), is heading to Puerto Vallarta for Spring Break, the guys book a last-minute trip to follow her. Upon arriving, they meet up with local Chuy (Silverio Palacios) who knows everyone in PV and acts as a guide and a go-between for Logan and Blake. After spending a night with the mysterious Gaby (Camilla Belle) at a local dance club, Logan finds himself mixed up with local crime boss Dorian (Jordi Molla) and must figure out a way to extricate himself from an increasingly complicated situation he clearly wasn’t prepared for.

Starting out strong, “Sundown” loses significant momentum in the second act – when Logan tracks down Lina at a local dance club. With a soundtrack curated by Paul Oakenfold, the film spends significant screen time on Logan’s obsession with EDM in general and features multiple cameos including superstar DJs Oakenfold, Steve Aoki, and Adrian Lux. As a result, EDM fans may find much to love about “Sundown,” but for those of us who care about such thing as pacing and plot, the extended dance club scenes (where virtually nothing of significance happens) are a chore to sit through.

The actors are all good enough at what they do to carry the film. Werheiser and Marquette have a good chemistry and Palacios is enjoyable as their spirit guide. As they play, run, and careen through the streets of Puerto Vallarta, we are treated to multiple helicopter shots showing the city – which is a treat for fans of the seaside resort but may play a bit too much as an extended commercial for those who are not. Although the rest of the movie is innocuous enough, a lengthy sequence at a cockfight is upsetting for animal lovers as it unsuccessfully attempts to walk the line between celebration and condemnation of the brutal game.

While it has its enjoyable moments, “Sundown” just isn’t good enough to recommend.

DVD Roundup: May

Want to know which movies we recommend and which movies you should skip? Check out our newest feature, the DVD Roundup. Each month we’ll be posting a handy review recap of movies that will be released for home viewing. Simply click on the film’s title to read our original reviews and to see the star rating for each movie. Movies that we split on will have the star ratings averaged to find the appropriate category. Films are listed alphabetically in each category regardless of DVD release date. All films below have scheduled DVD release dates from May 1 – May 31, 2016.

“Pee-wee’s Big Holiday”

Highly Recommended

“The 5th Wave”

Worthy Rentals

“The Choice”

You Can Do Better

“Dirty Grandpa”

Skip It



“Papa Hemingway in Cuba”



“Papa Hemingway in Cuba” is a flat, uninspired, tiresome misfire of a movie. The film is based on the true story of Miami reporter Denne Bart Petitclerc (here renamed “Ed” and played with an “oh god, why can’t I be anywhere but here” deer in the headlights look by Giovanni Ribisi). Ed was a big Hemingway fan who penned a letter to the author in the late 1950s. The letter caught Papa Hemingway’s (Adrian Sparks) attention and soon Ed was invited down to Cuba to visit with the reclusive author and his fourth wife, Mary (Joely Richardson). The film dramatizes this friendship and the series of visits in the dullest way possible, and it is one of the worst biopics I think I’ve ever seen.

The film feels far too ‘stagey’ to be even remotely engaging and is poorly directed by Bob Yari, a man who has no business behind the lens of a camera. The film is packed with odd pauses, abrupt fadeouts and a confusing overuse of Cuban music that ineffectually scores far too many scenes. In order to stretch the film’s run time (I’m guessing because they needed a certain number of minutes to get feature-length financing for this debacle), we are treated to repeated scenes of drunken mumbling, menacing gun waving, liberating skinny dipping, and lots of shirtless, inebriated yelling.

At one point I could swear I was watching a crummy soap opera.

Remember when Joey on the television show “Friends” would wax poetic about ‘smell the fart‘ acting? Well, there’s plenty of that thespian style going on here. I’m sure Richardson wasn’t trying to make me laugh with her over-the-top hysterics, but her performance is so dreadful that it became funny early on. Ditto for Sparks’ violent, paranoid outbursts. The screeching matches between the two are so awful that their performances are better suited for an amateur community dinner theater than a feature film.

After the dinner party scene (which features a big, unintentionally comical blow up between the two), I actually started to feel bad that I could no longer stifle my mockery of chortles and laughter. These performances are grade-A bad in every sense of the word. The ridiculously simple, poorly written dialogue doesn’t help matters either; one such example of the gems the actors have to deliver: “Go to hell,” Ernest sneers, prompting Mary to fire back “I’m already there!!” Yikes.

I did enjoy seeing Finca Vigia, the real Hemingway house (now a museum) and the shots in and around Cuba, but even the setting couldn’t keep this film from sinking. This is a mildly interesting true story that’s ruined with monotonous, unskilled direction and inept acting. I wouldn’t even recommend this yawner to the most die-hard Hemingway fans.


You know that warning that precedes every episode of “South Park?” The one that says that “this show should not be viewed by anyone?” That statement applies to “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” A truly terrible movie with some of the worst direction in recent memory, I can’t recommend the film to anyone.

On paper, “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” sounds like it could be interesting. The movie follows Miami Herald reporter Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi) as he strikes up a friendship with Ernest (Adrian Sparks) and Mary (Joely Richardson) Hemingway and spends time with them in Cuba during the Castro-led revolution against Batista. The Hemingways serve as surrogate parents to the orphaned Myers, and Ernest attempts to impart life lessons and wisdom to his would-be son. But Ernest, who is gradually losing his sanity, is not in much of a position to mentor Myers, particularly given the violence that surrounds them on a daily basis as Cuba falls to the revolutionaries.

See what I mean? From that description, it sounds like it could be really good, right? Trust me, it’s not.

For its sheer awfulness, there is much blame to spread around, but the buck starts and stops with director Bob Yari. Yari (a longtime producer whose credits include “Crash,” “The Illusionist,” “Factory Girl,” and many others) has absolutely no business putting himself behind the camera. Seriously, this movie is so poorly-directed that it makes Peter Billingsley (the “just-o.k.” director of “Term Life“) look like Martin Scorsese.

Why do I say that? Let me count the ways. Let’s start with the melodramatic performances of the actors (Richardson in particular) who overacted in spectacular fashion, playing to a non-existent balcony. At times this movie felt so much like a bad stage play that I was shocked to learn that it wasn’t based on one.

Then there was the terrible editing where we would jump from person to person, scene to scene, with no sense of transition or the passage of time. It was very difficult to tell how much time passed in this film from shot to shot — both over the life of the movie and even in certain scenes (a dinner scene in particular was cut so badly that it was both jarring and confusing).

Added to those glaring problems was obvious and simply dreadful ADR looping where the actors’ boomingly loud voices didn’t match the background or the conversations; throwaway expository lines that had no purpose other than to tell the audience what was happening; and horrible camera placement that failed to capture seemingly important actions and reactions of the characters during conversations.

Finally, let’s not forget the title card that informed us that the movie’s name is simply “Papa,” whereas the marquee and IMDB clearly call it “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” For this to have clearly been a passion project for Yari (why else would he have made it?), it sure seems like he took a lot of short cuts and rushed it to the theaters. Inexplicably, a lot of those theaters seem to be carrying this film, but it’s almost impossible to find the wonderful “Sing Street.” Apparently, Yari has plenty of pull with distributors. He should have used it on a better project.

“Ratchet & Clank”



Colorful, loud and boisterous with an uninteresting plot, “Ratchet and Clank” is not a good movie for adults or kids. This is exactly the kind of animated movie that gives all animated movies a bad name. That it actually got a wide theatrical release will go down as one of the greatest mysteries of the decade (it’s much better suited as a Nickelodeon cartoon television movie of the week for the kiddos).

The characters are cute and likeable, especially the big-eared, fox-like creature Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) and defective war robot Clank (David Kaye). The friendly Clank is inexplicably cuddly (I never thought I’d feel all warm and snuggly about a robot) and you can’t help but root for the duo to save the galaxy. Most of the others are completely generic and forgettable. Captain Qwark (Jim Ward) is a Mr. Incredible looking vain buffoon and Elaris (Rosario Dawson) is a slightly nerdy femme sidekick.

The voice actors are more than capable and I have no complaints about any of their performances, but there are two well-respected actors who have no business lowering their standards to be in a movie like this: John Goodman (Grimroth) and Paul Giamatti (Chairman Drek). Goodman and Giamatti at least give it their all so you can’t fault them for that.

The story is generic too: our misfit heroes must work together with the Galactic Rangers to stop evil aliens from destroying every planet in the Solana galaxy. There’s a lot of double crossing and lasers and noise that blends into a cacophony of blah. The animation is good enough, but barely. It looks like a video game, but maybe that is the point.

Not everything here is awful, however. I found myself snickering at a lot of the smartass, sarcastic humor and way more than a handful of jokes are genuinely funny. The snappy buddy banter works well at first, but the overly long movie later nosedives into a boring mess of repetitive ruckus — and I still have a headache from the robots and laser guns hours after my screening. God help you if your kid demands to see it in 3D.

I knew nothing about this film before I watched it, but apparently it’s based on a very popular SONY video game. As such, the movie feels like a 90 minute commercial for PlayStation.

This might be something children would enjoy if they are familiar with the game, but I shared the sentiment of the little girl sitting in the row behind me. “Mommy,” she asked about 30 minutes into the movie, “when do we get to go home?

Matt was unavailable for review.

“Hardcore Henry”



If you’ve never heard of “Hardcore Henry,” you’re probably not the target audience for the film. This highly specialized visual adrenaline rush will undoubtedly play well to the extreme sports crowd as well as lovers of all things camp. It feels like a classic Troma movie but with a (relatively) bigger budget. The film is a hard R with drug use, sex, profanity, non-stop brutal, bloody violence and an abundance of ruthless mayhem. It’s part action, part thriller, part adventure, and part sci-fi / fantasy. It’s similar to the “Hitman” movies but less nuanced.

The story is weak and the characters are mostly throwaways, but the film’s attempt to reinvent the action film with its original first-person style is at least interesting. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it would feel like to be a stuntman (or hardened criminal), this is the film for you. You are watching right along through the eyes of talented stunt professionals as they fling themselves off rooftops, out of the sky, and inside cars that are being wrecked.

Everything takes place through the point of view of Henry, a half-man / half-robot resurrected from the dead by a maniacal telekinetic scientist Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) to become a killing machine. Henry takes survival advice from paralyzed scientist Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) and his virtual reality personas, all manifesting as alternate versions of his personality (another enjoyable plot device). Henry assaults his way out of all sorts of impossible scenarios in memorable settings that run the gamut from a laboratory to a forest to a whorehouse.

The gimmick is a lot of fun and never gets tiresome. What does get tedious is the overuse of shaky handheld cameras. Much of the movie made me feel as though I were in an earthquake, making even Paul Greengrass look like a grounded, single still camera experimental filmmaker. “Henry” rocks, rolls and shakes so much that at times I had to look away because I felt so queasy. Get ready to have a headache when it’s all over. Because of all the movement, a good majority of the film made me feel like I was doing nothing more than sitting around watching a buddy play a first person shooter video game. All the hand-held camera work is unnecessary and the film would have earned a higher rating from me if director Ilya Naishuller had toned it down a bit.

The movie isn’t great but it’s still quite an achievement, and I’ll give credit where credit is due: some of the action sequences are truly inspired, a few causing me to clap and woot (including a particularly amusing high speed road chase). The movie is action packed, quite humorous, and very, very bloody.

Viewers with weak stomachs need not apply: prepare yourself for savage beatings, hatchet hackings, sword stabbings, shattered glass eye gouging, bare-handed penis ripping (yep), strangulation, ribcage cracking, heart removing, face slicing, choking, flame thrower burning, bullet spraying, and much more. To call this film violent is an understatement. There’s a ton of hardcore blood and gore, evidence that “Hardcore Henry” more than lives up to its title.


“Hardcore Henry” is a novel idea for a film. The entire movie is shot in first-person style, much like a first-person shooter video game, where you are Henry, and you experience the movie’s events as him.

As the picture opens, you wake up in a lab and see a woman who tells you she’s your wife. You’ve been terribly maimed in an incident that also caused you to lose your memory. You’ve lost your arm and your leg, but your scientist-wife tells you that she’s given you new, upgraded bionic appendages to replace them. As the lab is infiltrated by a group of baddies, you escape and begin testing out your new abilities.

It’s a neat idea for a movie — particularly a gory action flick — but it is a bit of a challenge to watch. The camera shakes, shimmies, and sways as you run, jump, fight, get shot at, ride, dodge explosions, and the like. I’m not particularly prone to motion sickness, but after a while the first-person style made even me a bit queasy. When you add that to fast-cutting action sequences (which you must know by now I hate because they are lazy filmmaking), you have the perfect recipe for causing vertigo or at the very least, a mild headache.

The storyline is just interesting enough to hold attention, but it’s not particularly compelling. The actors (led by “District 9” and “Chappie” alum Sharlto Copley) are good enough to get the job done. Only one scene – featuring a man with multiple clones of himself that he controls doing a musical dance sequence – stands out as particularly unique or memorable.

Ultimately, “Hardcore Henry” is a neat gimmick movie, but that’s about all it is. If you’re intrigued by the first-person concept, then it’s worth checking out. Otherwise, it’s not a film I would recommend.