“Jason Bourne”

LOUISA:  1.5 STARS  MATT: 1 STAR


LOUISA SAYS:

“Jason Bourne” is a spy movie for imbeciles. The entire film feels like it’s written using nothing more than the vocabulary of a 12 year old and consists of two very tiring hours of repetition. Bourne gets chased, throws some punches, and gets away. Shoot, bleed, run, escape. Shoot, bleed, run, escape. Shoot, bleed, run, escape. Repeat to infinity.

I actually felt bad for the actors having to deliver such dreadful dialogue; their onscreen characters literally describe everything that’s happening as it unfolds (“It’s Bourne!” and “I’m going to shoot!” and “He’s running upstairs!” and “The files are downloaded!”). At some point it started to get funny.

Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne and it feels like he’s sleepwalking through the entire movie. Even the talented Alicia Vikander phones in her questionable performance (is she supposed to have an accent or not?) and Tommy Lee Jones plays yet another scowling caricature of a sinister government official. There’s little in the way of character development and the only actor who’s enjoyable here is franchise veteran Julia Stiles. What a pity that she’s not given much to do.

Even the action sequences are inexcusably incoherent. Paul Greengrass is one of my least favorite directors, mainly because he loves that fast cutting junk where I can’t tell what is going on in the movie. It’s a filmmaking style for those with short attention spans and it’s a sign of extreme laziness.

Greengrass sucks all the fun out of what should’ve been a spectacular car chase down the Las Vegas strip. Instead of taking his time and showing off the pageantry of stunt driving with a steady hand (see the legendary cinematic car chases in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof,” William Friedkin’s “The French Connection,” Peter Yates’ “Bullit,” Justin Lin’s “Fast Five,” or hell, even Michael Bay’s “Bad Boys II“), Greengrass once again opts for the lazy way out and gives us a messy commotion of three second snippets that seem to be edited together in a blender on the high setting.

None of the elements work: the film covers no new ground, it lacks any energy, and it simply feels tired, making “Jason Bourne” the lamest of all in the series.

MATT SAYS:

“Conversation” with 5-word sentences using spy and techno-jargon. Quick cut to person typing on computer: Beep, boop, beep. Quick cut to shaky cam conversation. Another five-word-sentence conversation and more shaky cam. Cut to shaky-cam motorcycle chase with no sense of geography. Cut back to computer.

Cut, cut, cut. Shaky cam, shaky cam, shaky cam. “Jason Bourne” might as well have been shot and assembled by a seven-year-old with ADD that hasn’t taken his Ritalin. It wasn’t so much edited as jammed together. So little artistry went into making this movie that it’s hard to even call Paul Greengrass its “director.”

One of my recurring rants is on the use of quick cutting and shaky cams in action films: it’s the hallmark of lazy filmmaking. When your action sequences are constructed by using cut after cut after cut, you don’t have to worry about storyboarding (contrast “The Raid: Redemption“). You don’t need actors who have any training in fight choreography (contrast “The Raid 2“). You don’t have to concern yourself with geography or spatial relationships. In other words, instead of having to WORK at creating a compelling action sequence, you can hack your way through it. And boy, there is NO ONE working in film now that loves hack action better than Paul Greengrass. And nowhere has Greengrass’s hackiness been on display more than in “Jason Bourne.” It’s his masterpiece of hacketry. I can continue making up new word forms using “hack” to describe this movie and director, but I think you get the idea.

In addition to the bad direction and editing, “Jason Bourne” stinks because it’s a poor excuse for a spy thriller. We are subjected to scene after scene of dreadful acting. Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons) is the worst of the lot, but Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Alicia Vikander (Heather Lee) and Tommy Lee Jones (Director Dewey) are only marginally better. The script is abysmal, with the characters not so much dialoguing with one another as speaking spy techno-jargon while they type on computers that are constantly beep-bloop-bleeping (no computer I’ve ever used makes so many noises when scanning files). Using words that sound cool does not make a scene interesting. And the plot? It’s barely even there.

I found only three things enjoyable about this movie. The very first fight scene between Bourne and some nameless guy — the one you see in the trailer. The story thread featuring the Silicon Valley billionaire that refused to screw over the public in the name of national security. And the final vehicular chase scene down Las Vegas Boulevard — which I liked in spite of the terrible editing (which, incidentally, got the geography of the Strip all wrong).

Please don’t make this movie a hit, because then we will get lots of imitators (like we did after “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum“, when quick cuts and shaky cam were used in 95% of all action pictures).

Demand more for your money. There are so many movies that do it better than this one. Do you want an engaging, twisty techno-spy thriller? Check out the “Mission Impossible” series. Do you want a well-written story of international espionage and intrigue? See “Our Kind of Traitor.” Do you want well-choreographed fight sequences? Watch “The Raid” movies. Hell, even this summer’s “Warcraft” did a better job with its fights and action that this film.

“Mr. Right”

LOUISA: 2 STARS MATT: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Mr. Right” isn’t much more than a half-baked hitman romantic comedy. We’ve seen the concept before (think “True Romance” meets “Grosse Point Blank“), but the idea has never been as messy, sloppy and as ill conceived as it is here.

Unlucky in love Martha (Anna Kendrick) has her world turned upside down when she meets and falls for gun for hire Francis (Sam Rockwell). Their love story blossoms over killings, knives and gun battles. The script, written by Max Landis of “American Ultra” fame, is just too flimsy to work. I expected more from the writer.

Tim Roth and RZA turn in enjoyable supporting performances, but the two leads lend the most starpower. The film features the onscreen pairing of my dreams with Kendrick and Rockwell. The two have an undeniable chemistry, but both actors are completely wasted with this mess. I really, really hope to see them work together in the future in a good movie — they both deserve a far better vehicle than this.

“Mr. Right” is a fun idea that’s poorly executed.

MATT SAYS:

In “Mr. Right,” Martha (Anna Kendrick) has recently broken up with her boyfriend after she discovers him cheating on her. A chance encounter in a convenience store leads her to start dating an unnamed hitman (Sam Rockwell).

If those two names — Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick — are all you need to hear to decide you want to see this movie, read no further. If you want to see the two of them play off of one another, this will be a meal that is mostly satisfying for you, but leaves you just a little bit hungry for something with more substance. There are probably vehicles that would have worked better for the two of them, but basically, it’s enjoyable enough as a choice for a movie night at home.

The highlights: Sam Rockwell’s dancing and dry delivery and the way that Anna Kendrick’s millennial-angsty, world-weary-but-optimistic character plays off of him. Tim Roth’s nameless soldier-of-fortune with inscrutable motivations. The rent-a-thug Steve (The RZA), who is nothing if not pragmatic. The lowlights: a terrible script that tries too hard to shoehorn a hardcore action plot into a film that works well enough without it. It’s readily apparent why this movie didn’t get a wider theatrical release.

I enjoyed seeing it, but ask me a month from now and I’ll barely remember it.

“Hillary’s America”

LOUISA:   1 STAR


LOUISA SAYS:

As an intelligent, highly educated female, I know I’m not the target audience for “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party,” the latest right-wing drivel from everyone’s least liked pseudo-documentarian, Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza, the director behind such cinematic gems as “2016: Obama’s America” and “America: Imagine the World Without Her” (ranked in the #1 spot on my list of the Worst Movies of 2014), is back to expose his unparalleled ignorance on the big screen. This time it’s directed towards the Democratic party and Hillary Clinton.

No matter your political leanings, this simply isn’t a very well made film. Historical scenes are poorly reenacted and other dramatic scenes are laughably staged (with D’Souza himself in a starring role). Worst of all is that this illogical, xenophobic rallying cry is disguised as a truth-seeking documentary. It’s a focused diatribe that’s also a very poorly constructed (albeit slick looking) piece of political propaganda. The movie plays like two stories in one: part one features loads of revisionist history, all trying to explore the ‘secret history’ (read: racist leanings) of the Democratic party; part two is a concentrated attack on Hillary Clinton that centers around a list of ridiculous Fox News conspiracy theories.

Early on, D’Souza states that the object of his film is to ‘prove’ that villainous Democrats have a ‘plan to steal America,’ whatever the hell that means. The movie lacks any truly convincing evidence and the facts that are presented make little sense; the film appears to revel in its own ignorance. There’s no linear presentation of the arguments nor the formula: it’s not even X + Y = Z, it simply jumps to X = Z. Anybody with half a brain will see right through this deception.

There’s a very, very heavy-handed agenda on display here. I won’t go into all of the claims that the film makes, but some of the more loathsome accusations are that Planned Parenthood was created solely as a means to abort black babies and that Hillary Clinton encouraged husband Bill to have affairs simply so she could control him. But wait, there’s more! According to this film, the Democratic party was responsible for slavery, starting the Ku Klux Klan and murdering Abraham Lincoln. D’Souza even goes so far as to call the Clintons “depraved criminals.”

The film closes with a rah-rah rallying cry to get out and vote for Donald Trump for president. There’s a big, rousing patriotic musical number with a cute little girl singing “The Star Spangled Banner” with a huge orchestra, followed by a lovely rendition of “God Bless America” while pictures of American flags and kids and soldiers flash by. This heavy-handed pandering may be shrewd but it’s also overkill, serving as an obvious distraction for the uneducated.

This is not a movie for anyone with any critical thinking skills or those with an in-depth knowledge of American history (trust me, it will make your head spin). “Hillary’s America” is just preaching to the choir of easily distracted red state Republicans. Is anybody really empty-headed enough to believe some of these claims? I guess so, because my packed audience responded with a standing ovation.

I fear for the future of our country.


Matt was unavailable for review.

DVD Roundup: July

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 July 1 – July 31, 2016.

“Sing Street”

Highly Recommended

“Green Room”

Worthy Rentals

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”

You Can Do Better

“Divergent: Allegiant”

Skip It

“Weiner”

LOUISA:  4.5 STARS MATT: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Chances are, you already know how the story of disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner plays out. You may think “Weiner,” a documentary about the man’s unsuccessful New York City mayoral run, will just be a series of ‘been there, done that’ storytelling. I had the same trepidation going into the screening for this film but instead left the theater having viewed a riveting, engrossing, expertly crafted documentary.

Some viewers may find this film exploitative, focusing too much on Weiner’s personal life that is, quite frankly, none of our damn business. Political junkies (like myself) will delight in this compelling behind-the-scenes peek at the inner workings of a campaign in crisis mode. Watching public relations tactics changing from offensive to defensive is absolutely fascinating, and this timely documentary also tackles the media’s rabid obsession with scandal (and reveals the true power of their public influence when it comes to electing our governing officials).

“Weiner” digs deep in its look at the professional and emotional damage that a political scandal can inflict. Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, the film obviously started out as a celebratory highlight reel to feature the delight of a disgraced candidate’s comeback. Early scenes in the film are cheerful, filled with boisterous scenes of neighborhood campaigning and percolating with a general ‘yes we can‘ atmosphere. All of this suddenly comes crashing down as we watch, on film, the breakdown of a candidate’s dreams, ideals, and a huge chunk of his personal life.

Weiner is married to Hillary Clinton’s long-time right hand woman, Huma Abedin. Huma is one smart, strong and tough woman, but it’s seriously sad to watch a marriage nearing collapse under the weight of a sexting scandal. Whether intentional or not, this film heavily implies spousal emotional abuse. There are many instances where the camera captures a teary-eyed Abedin with her head hung low, crossing her arms and sadly staring off into space. I have much respect for the family for allowing the camera to hang around, even during some uncomfortably tense and very embarrassing personal moments.

Most viewers will know that Weiner (aka ‘Carlos Danger’) is a trainwreck when it comes to his personal life and most know the outcome of the race for mayor, but this film is still completely mesmerizing. The man’s a political survivor, driven with a sincere desire to work hard to make his city great. His policies and beliefs all make sense — so why can’t this guy keep his stuff together and quit sending naughty photos and inappropriate texts? The most compelling scene in the entire film is when he’s asked on camera if he thinks he “has a problem.” Weiner’s candid response is as weighty as it is revealing.

The smart ‘show don’t tell’ angle of this film makes it a winner. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of my personal ‘Hall of Fame’ docs like “Man On Wire,” “Grizzly Man” or “The Act of Killing,” the film is clear, concise, well edited, and a prime example of what all documentaries should aspire to be.

MATT SAYS:

Anthony Weiner is a compelling figure. As a fiery congressman from New York, he fought both loudly and vigorously against corruption in the political system. He quickly rose up the ranks to become one of the more visible legislators in the national spotlight, until a sex scandal caused him to step down and not run for re-election. Then, less than two years later, he decided to throw his hat back in the political ring, running for Mayor of New York City. His mayoral candidacy was going well, until more information came to light about his previous indiscretions – which effectively ended his run.

There’s no question Weiner is an interesting figure and good subject for a documentary. The filmmakers were given what appeared to be virtually unrestricted access to Weiner’s staff and headquarters, not to mention his home. During the film, we witness the ups and downs (but mostly downs) of Weiner’s efforts to clear his name and get back into politics, and we see the tension and strain that his highly public life and indiscretions have caused to him and his marriage to Hillary Clinton’s trusted adviser, Huma Abedin.

While it’s easy to question (as even the filmmakers do at one point) why the former congressman gave them so much access, it’s hard not to be impressed by what the film shows us. The documentarians seem to be present for virtually every major event, and the reactions they are able to capture from Weiner (and, more importantly, Abedin) tell the story so much better than any narrative can.

While the movie is good, except for a few telling shots of Abedin that it captures at important moments, it never really ventures into greatness territory. The choices made in the editing room are a little questionable here. While we get a taste, at the beginning and in a few other telling moments, about what makes Anthony Weiner an interesting political figure, too much of the film’s attention is focused on his scandals. Even though that does result in those insightful moments with Abedin, the emphasis on the scandal at some point begins to feel a bit sordid.

In fact, the movie is walking a bit of a fine line when it comes to the scandal stuff: on the one hand, it seems to be wagging its finger at us for our prurient interest in what Weiner said, when, and to whom. On the other hand, for a film that would ostensibly question why his private sex life should be the business of anyone besides Weiner and Abedin, it sure does spend an awful lot of time exploring those dirty details. The end result is a bit confusing, and more than a little bit off-putting.

“The Secret Life of Pets”

LOUISA:   3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Anyone who is fortunate enough to share their life with a companion animal will undoubtedly get a kick out of the latest Illumination animated effort, “The Secret Life of Pets.” The film soars when it focuses on animals interacting with their human guardians, with the canine and feline characters acting like real pets do (if my cats could talk, I’m sure they’d converse in  similar dialogue as portrayed onscreen). The first part of the movie is incredibly perceptive and clever, as is the last 10 minutes because it zeroes in on these very relationships (the opening and closing scenes of the movie are touching and have lots of heart). The problem comes in the middle when the story stops being about ‘pets being pets.’ Sadly, the majority of the film lags when it ventures into the dreaded animated movie territory of sheer stupidity.

Loveable human Katie (Ellie Kemper) and her pup Max (Louis C.K.) are the best of friends. Max has several animal buddies that live in the same New York City high rise, including dogs, cats, birds and guinea pigs that stop by for daily visits. When Katie brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the animal shelter, Max devises a plan to get rid of him. Problem is, the two dogs find themselves lost in the big city and Max’s would-be girlfriend Gidget (Jenny Slate) takes it upon herself to recruit other pets — including the elderly paralyzed basset hound Pops (Dana Carvey) and lonely falcon Tiberius (Albert Brooks) — to bring Max home. Along the way they find themselves at odds with the anarchist gang of “flushed pets,” a group of outspoken, anti-human animals led by former magician’s bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart).

The voice acting runs the gamut from phenomenally good (Slate) to wince inducing (Hart). Slate is perfectly cast as Gidget, a poufy white spoiled little dog who eventually saves the day. She proves herself tenfold as a legitimate voiceover actor, and I hope to see her get more work in animation in the future. There’s no denying that Hart is a super likeable actor, but his portrayal of Snowball the bunny is nothing more than repeated, strained yelling. His overall performance felt so labored and unnatural that listening to him onscreen actually made me uncomfortable. I will not hesitate to nominate Hart for a Razzie award for worst actor of the year because his voice work is that bad.

In the ‘oh no, not again’ category, there’s plenty of dopey, brainless scenarios crammed in with a feeling that their sole existence is to appease young kids. We get yet another ridiculous animal driving a car stunt that we had to endure in this summer’s nearly insufferable “Finding Dory.” In fact, in “The Secret Life of Pets” we get not only a rabbit driving a van but also a lizard driving a bus and a pig driving a taxi.

The absurdity isn’t the only problem: it’s the repetition. The filmmakers must’ve run out of good ideas and instead of moving the story forward, the audience gets the same monotony over and over and over again. I don’t require my animated films to be completely based in reality (there’s a particularly amusing Busby Berkeley inspired musical sequence in a sausage factory), but I do expect more originality than is delivered in this movie. The story at times takes a cynical approach in several places and some of the themes may be too much for sensitive kids (but the film provides a great starting point for a learning opportunity about pets and how animals shouldn’t be viewed as disposable).

At least the animation is commendable, nice and colorful with lively, fully realized backgrounds. It’s visually interesting enough for adults and fans of the genre but it’s also vibrant and bustling enough to keep the kids interested. There’s a lovely original score with a lighthearted, almost vintage sound. For me, the original music in this film is one of the standout elements.

Overall I feel like this film takes a great idea and almost completely wastes the opportunity. This dull, unremarkable action caper is mostly moronic, but the imaginative peek behind the door at an animal’s life when the humans are away is what’s pure gold. I really wish the film had focused on that component. “The Secret Life of Pets” is fine, but isn’t destined for greatness. I’m throwing it a bone with a 3 star rating.


Matt was unavailable for review.

 

“The Neon Demon”

LOUISA:  4 STARS  MATT: 4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

What…did I….just watch?

Not for the uninitiated or those with weak stomachs, everyone’s favorite polarizing surrealist director Nicolas Winding Refn is back with the lurid, gory, sadistic, and horrifyingly beautiful “The Neon Demon.” This film makes a bold statement about the shallowness of Hollywood and the fashion industry in the most violent, brutal, bloody and disturbing way possible.

The film’s strength is in its breathtaking visuals. Refn once again establishes himself as a true auteur at the top of the visionary food chain. Even if you are one of the many who see him as pompous and pretentious, there’s no denying that few have quite the mastery of the craft of the visual arts as he does. This film belongs in a modern art museum.

It doesn’t matter that there’s not much of a plot: teenage ingénue Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles to chase her dreams of becoming a model. She soon finds herself living in a sketchy motel with lecherous landlord Hank (Keanu Reeves) and surrounded by the seductive Ruby (Jena Malone), Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), a pack of shallow, jealous, beauty-obsessed women. It’s hard to evaluate the performances since most consist of nothing more than striking and holding a pose or staring longingly into a mirror, but I do think that Reeves has one of the greatest (if small) roles of his career.

There’s no escaping the true debate this movie presents: is this a shrewd feminist manifesto or is it grossly misogynistic? It’s taken me three days to reflect on this and I’ve decided that it sways towards the former rather than the latter.

First, the film celebrates the female form; the women in the film are beautiful set dressings, designed to be admired (and not treated solely as sexual objects). Yes, the women are one-dimensional but at the same time, that works as a harsh criticism of the narcissism that’s so prevalent in the fashion industry. Refn also artfully expresses the malice that is sometimes deeply hidden in the female psyche. The film is insightful too: women have a dark side and sometimes we do feel like we are in a girl-eat-girl world (a phrase that the film takes a bit too literally).

Refn’s hypnotic signature is all over this stylish, elegantly violent film. Cinematographer Natasha Braier adds a disturbing hallucinatory effect while Cliff Martinez lends a thumping, ear-splitting, ominous score that reflects the overall atmosphere of insanity.

As with the director’s other films (“Drive,” “Only God Forgives“), there are plenty of scenarios that seem to be present with the sole intent to shock, offend or disgust. (Do we really need an extended scene of lesbian necrophilia? I guess you can argue the point, but the scene goes on a bit too long to make it seem relevant to the plot or characters). The extreme last act feels more like a pointless gross-out than a thoughtful commentary think piece. I think this is a good place to mention that this film is a very, very hard ‘R’ rating; I am surprised it’s not NC-17.

“The Neon Demon” isn’t your run-of-the-mill art house film; it’s so far beyond the art house that it’s in another dimension.

MATT SAYS:

A teenage runaway from Sandusky, Ohio steps off a bus into the glittering lights of Hollywood. All of her friends back home tell her that she’s destined to be a star, and she believes them. But Hollywood does not bestow fame and fortune without a price. First it will take her innocence, then it will take all that remains.

So is the story of “The Neon Demon,” the new film by auteur Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive,” “Only God Forgives”). Elle Fanning is Jesse, the underage runaway that has been lured to Los Angeles by the whispered promises of becoming a famous model. She meets up with another innocent who was been lured to the city: photographer Dean (Karl Glusman), whose attempts at emulating the art he sees in Hollywood through pictures are met with sneering ridicule as “amateurish.” Dean hasn’t sold his soul, and those who have have nothing but contempt for him.

Jesse, on the other hand, makes the bargain readily: after being paraded before harshly appraising eyes and being judged a piece of meat worthy of notice, she willingly trades her virtue for empty glamour and attention. After having reborn on the runway, Jesse quickly learns that she has still not given enough: people continue to want more from her, and what they want she isn’t willing to give.

“The Neon Demon” is not for everyone. It’s not even for most. Even if you enjoyed “Drive,” you may find yourself frustrated and your patience tried by this movie. There is much to appreciate, but you will be challenged in doing so. In this film, Winding Refn has made an art piece that must be assessed, considered, and deconstructed. Those who are literal-minded will likely find their patience tried: the story isn’t about what’s happening on the surface, it’s about what’s happening underneath. You must watch, listen, and observe carefully.

One additional word of warning: “The Neon Demon” is highly disturbing and will upset many casual viewers. Apart from its gore and physical violence, the film pushes boundaries HARD. Terrible things are either shown or implied. I can’t for the life of me understand why the studio and theater chains thought that this was an appropriate film to release in nearly 800 theaters nationwide. One can imagine that of the few audience members who didn’t walk out during the first 20 minutes ran for the exits at its offscreen implication of child abuse.

If you’re still reading this review and haven’t been dissuaded yet, I recommend that you see this movie. It’s one of the most interesting discussion pieces in recent memory and it’s not one that I will soon forget.

“Our Kind of Traitor”

LOUISA:  3.5 STARS  MATT:  3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Our Kind of Traitor” is the perfect anti-summer summer movie: it’s a thoughtful, talky, decidedly adult spy thriller that’s elevated by exceptional performances from top-notch acting talent and a clever, sharp script. You aren’t going to find lots of shootouts or pointless action scenes here, it’s the situations that will keep your mind actively guessing from start to finish. Director Susanna White instead chooses to focus on brains not brawn, and the result is an engrossing dramatic film with much greater depth than I expected.

Perry (Ewan McGregor) is a university professor who is on a getaway in Morocco with his barrister wife Gail (Naomie Harris). While sitting alone in the hotel bar, he strikes up a conversation with Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who turns out to be a Russian mobster whose family is on the fast track to execution by even badder bad guys. Dima requests that Perry hand deliver a flash drive with secret information to the British government upon returning to the U.K. and sensing the imminent danger to the man’s family, Perry obliges. Soon after, Perry is approached by MI6 agent Hector (a standout performance from Damian Lewis) and becomes an integral component of an involuntary spy game.

All of the leads play perfectly off each other, each bringing a contrasting, distinctive style of character to the screen. McGregor is perfectly clueless as a professor of poetry, Lewis is proper and resourceful as a by-the-books Englishman agent dealing with government red tape, and Skarsgård is spot-on as a genial, boisterous thug. Each of these men easily deserve major award nominations for their performances.

This is a well made tale of espionage and is far better than the last John le Carré adaptation (2011’s dreadfully convoluted “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy“). “Our Kind of Traitor” is the perfect choice for adults who are just sick and tired of all the noise that’s currently clogging theaters. This isn’t your typical mindless summer fare, and I encourage all grown ups to seek it out.

MATT SAYS:

If you like intelligent, twisty spy thrillers, “Our Kind of Traitor” is for you.

Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris play Perry and Gail, a couple from the United Kingdom vacationing in Marrakech to try to repair their broken marriage. While out for dinner, Perry meets Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a member of the Russian mafia who lives the high life. After getting to know the man, Dima entrusts Perry with secret information and asks Perry to give it to MI6. He does, and Perry and Gail quickly find themselves in the middle of a top secret operation that takes them to Paris, Bern, and the French Alps.

McGregor convincingly plays the quiet-but-decent college professor Perry, who is all too trusting and more than willing to help his new friend in any way he can, and Harris works well as Gail, his barrister wife who would and should be the voice of reason — until she too falls for Dima and his family. Skarsgård is a little out of his comfort zone, speaking with a Russian accent and long hair that would look completely ridiculous on anyone else. Damian Lewis does an excellent job as the MI6 agent Hector with questionable allegiance and motivation. As the spy game plays out, you find yourself guessing as to what might happen next, and who could be double-crossing whom.

Unlike some movies in this genre (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” comes to mind), “Our Kind of Traitor” succeeds because the plot isn’t too convoluted. It’s easy to figure out both who the characters are and what the conflict is about. There is no nonlinear narrative or jumping back and forth either in time or in situations; the movie coheres well. Throwing Gail and Perry directly into the thick of the espionage functions to hold interest, and the Walter Mitty-esque everyman angle makes it easy to relate to and sympathize with the couple.

Literary-minded folks will love this one, as it feels like a good, satisfying summer read: nothing feels forced, illogical or ridiculous and the ending is satisfying without being false.

“Ghostbusters”

LOUISA:  4 STARS  MATT:  3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

There’s an arbitrary sense of nostalgia that unfairly permeates audience perceptions of the new female-centric “Ghostbusters” reboot. I love the original 1984 film too; I wore out my VHS cassette when I was a kid and I’ve probably seen the movie dozens of times, including special theatrical re-releases and anniversary screenings. It’s almost as if all of this animosity is seen as a badge of honor for ‘serious movie fans.’

All of this badmouthing is truly unwarranted, especially if you actually go back and rewatch the original. Sure, the movie has comedy legend Bill Murray, the hilarious Rick Moranis, and memorable performances from Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver and Dan Aykroyd. It introduced us to the characters we all still love decades later, and made lines like “tell him about the Twinkie” a permanent part of movie nerd vocabulary. But to all the haters I say this: you are being very, very unfair. The 1980s era film has a lot of boring sequences and lags quite a bit, and as is the case with many movies, sometimes our nostalgia creates pretty thick rose colored glasses. We tend to only remember the good in our childhood favorites.

Put aside your bias: the new “Ghostbusters” honors the legacy of the original, is a fun retelling of the classic story, and it does not disappoint. THIS MOVIE IS FUNNY! THIS MOVIE IS ACTUALLY GOOD!

There are a couple of minor hiccups along the way (as with most comedies, not every joke sticks, and the ghastly Missy Elliott / Fall Out Boy remake of the already awful Ray Parker Jr. song “Ghostbusters” makes an unwelcome appearance), but overall the movie is a success. At first it may feel weird to see women Ghostbusters but any skepticism will quickly fade (there’s a new generation of young girls who will undoubtedly be inspired by these characters).

When estranged childhood friends and paranormal enthusiasts Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Abby (Melissa McCarthy) reunite, sparks are rekindled and they decide to get back to their ghost chasing roots. The smartypants duo is joined by weirdo nuclear engineer Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and subway worker Patty (Leslie Jones). When Manhattan starts to experience boatloads of specter activity, the friends get started on some good old fashioned poltergeist hunting.

A big part of why this movie works is the comedic talent of these women; their chemistry is evident and they play well off each other, and the positive themes of loyalty and friendship never once feel fake. All of the actors are proficient at physical comedy and all have impeccable timing. This movie is very funny and the jokes had (and kept) me laughing from the beginning (there’s a particularly hilarious sequence at a heavy metal concert that’s worth the price of admission).

Rounding out the amusing performances is Chris Hemsworth as Kevin, a completely clueless stud muffin who is hired as the women’s receptionist solely based on his beefcake good looks. This feminist spin on the dumb secretary stereotype is exactly the type of lampoon I was hoping for here. In fact, the film doesn’t shy away from all of the lady haters either: there are lots of self-referential bits that directly address all of the critics (my favorite being Holtzmann’s ‘One of the Boys‘ t-shirt). Girl power!

Fans of the original will also appreciate several in-jokes and references, and there’s a long line of fun cameos (which I won’t spoil here: just keep your eyes open and be sure to stay through the end credits)! The special effects have been given a serious upgrade as well: these ghosts look real, feel real, and are appropriately scary-yet-funny. When the ladies first fired up their proton packs, I began cheering internally.

“Ghostbusters” is exactly what a summer movie is supposed to be. It’s big in scope, it’s full of hearty laughs, it’s filled with terrific performances from all of the leads, it’s stuffed with stunning special effects, and it’s something the entire family can enjoy. All of you naysayers really need to lighten up because this is a really, really fun movie.

MATT SAYS:

Much ado has been made about the “female Ghostbusters.” Frankly, I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal what gender the busters of ghosts are. It’s a good and fun concept that has stood the test of time. As long as they don’t completely F it up (like the terrible “Poltergeist” remake last year), then why not reboot and update it?

And this reboot doesn’t F it up. It may not be as good as the original, but it’s certainly not trampling all over the goodwill created by the franchise (unlike the abysmal “Independence Day: Resurgence“).

These new Ghostbusters – SNL alums all, except for Melissa McCarthy – all do a good job with the material. They are clearly having fun and all do what they do well: Erin (Kristen Wiig) is the low-key one that wants to be taken seriously as a scientist; Abby (Melissa McCarthy) is the gregarious and outgoing one who wants to make a name for herself in the paranormal world; Patty (Leslie Jones) is the no-nonsense, practical one; and Jillian (Kate McKinnon) is the weird techno-geeky one who loves to create new gadgets. Together, they play off of one another well and create some solid personality-driven laughs. The star of the show, however, is neither Wiig nor McCarthy; it’s McKinnon, who is clearly having tons of fun with the role, creating a character that is neither Spengler nor Stantz, but something completely new.

Special effects have come a long way in the last 30 years, and those technical advancements show. The creeps are more creepy, and the ghosts generally more fun to look at. The EFX department clearly had a ball creating some new, different, and slightly (but not too) scary new ghouls that are an upgrade from the original.

The story is decent. It starts out with some really inventive bits that are laugh-out-loud funny (including a great sequence at a death metal concert). It maintains this momentum until a little after the midway point, when the Ghostbusters are confronted by the Mayor’s office. As it builds to its climax, it continues to deflate as the personalities and interactions between the characters take a backseat to a special effects extravaganza. Yes, impressive visuals are in abundance during the final sequence (with more amazing ghosts to look at), but the story just kind of peters out. The scope of the story gets too big and the emotional weight that we had in the original movie (where Venkman is fighting to save Dana as well as the city) is completely lost. In other words, they fall into the Transformers / Avengers / Superman trap where big battles to save the world lack the resonance of a smaller, more personal story.

There are plenty of Easter eggs and nods to the first movie for fans, and they are all as enjoyable as they should be. If you like the movie, it’s worth sticking around for the post-credit sequence.

“Now You See Me 2”

LOUISA:  4 STARS  MATT: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Most moviegoers weren’t clamoring for a follow-up to 2013’s smart magic heist thriller “Now You See Me,” but here’s one of the rare instances where the sequel is actually better than the original. While viewing the first film would be helpful before seeing “Now You See Me 2,” it’s not necessary. Even newbies can follow along with this slick magic show.

The Four Horsemen are back, this time fighting the powers that be with even greater illusions. Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson) and Jack (Dave Franco) are now joined by Lula (Lizzy Caplan, a welcome replacement for Isla Fisher as the “girl Horseman”). Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) plays a tech nerd who forces the Horsemen to steal a chip so he can control all of the computers in the entire world — but who is really pulling the curtain? Mark Ruffalo is back as FBI agent and magician Rhodes. Here he still aids the Horsemen (and seeks to find some closure with Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman), a man Rhodes blames for the death of his father). Yes, there’s a lot going on in this convoluted plot, but it is exciting from beginning to end.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the movie is the elevated performances. I love the trend of casting accomplished actors in fun summer movies; I think audiences get a better movie for it. These are talented actors who visibly enjoyed working together; they play off each other with an effortless believability. Their repartee is lively and their visible enthusiasm for their roles (and the film) is contagious and as a result, I was smiling throughout the whole movie. Harrelson will probably be taking some jabs for his partially silly turn (I don’t want to say how because I don’t want to spoil it), but I thought he was ridiculously amusing. No matter how you feel about the film, you have to agree that these characters are a hoot to spend a few hours with.

As with the first film, this one is packed full of entertaining twists and fun “gotchas!” A lot of it is, of course, ridiculous, but interspersed throughout the flashy trickery are some truly funny and memorable moments. Most of the stunts are CGI animation but even though they are fake, they’re still pretty damn cool. The big finale may be predictable but that makes it no less fun. I love the all of the misdirection this film includes (it’s the perfect homage to real magicians and tricksters), and it’s done in a witty and skilled fashion. Is this film as clever as it thinks it is? No. But so what? It’s a fun, wild ride.

MATT SAYS:

Now You See Me,” which told the story of a group of sensational illusionists that call themselves “The Four Horsemen,” was a sleeper hit in the summer of 2013. What worked so well about the first movie was that it used the illusion / magic angle to tell a twisty heist drama that kept the audience guessing. Attentive theatergoers who like to figure out whodunit found themselves challenged not only by the mystery of who, what, and why, but also the how. How, as in, how did they do that?

I’m pleased to report that the movie’s sequel, “Now You See Me 2” works just as well as the first film. As in, if you enjoyed the first movie, you will probably like this one, too.

“NYSM2” is effective because it doesn’t try to simply rehash the first film. As it opens, the Horsemen — Daniel, Merritt, and Jack (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco) have separated and Henley (Isla Fisher) is nowhere to be found. Their principal benefactor brings them back together to respond to a growing threat, and brings along new Horseman Lula (Lizzy Caplan) to help as their fourth. The tables are quickly turned on the Horsemen, and they find themselves challenged by a new threat. This cast has great chemistry; they are all likeable, they work well together and they are a ton of fun to watch. Caplan is a great addition, adding an outsider’s viewpoint to the group combined with a healthy dose of humor.

The illusions are not necessarily bigger or better, but they are different from the ones we saw last time. They are just as spectacular and fun to watch, and it’s just as enjoyable to try to figure out how you (and the other characters) are being misdirected. The movie keeps you guessing, which I absolutely love.

“NYSM2”, like its predecessor, rewards the attentive. Don’t bother trying to watch this film while multitasking with something else. You won’t be able to follow it and consequently, you might not like it as much as I did. But if you’re willing to put away all of your devices and distractions and get lost in a movie for a couple of hours, this one would be an excellent choice.