“Transformers: The Last Knight”



“Transformers: The Last Knight” reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on and it wasn’t until I left the theater that the perfect analogy popped into my head. This fifth installment in the Hasbro toy brand franchise is sort of like when you have a really bad case of food poisoning. You start vomiting uncontrollably and think you’re finally done when — surprise — you find yourself running to puke yet again. It’s a never ending stream of upchuck until you’ve expelled the last bits of unpleasantness from your system and it’s finally over, leaving you feeling as good as new.

That pretty much sums up this stupid, flashy, regurgitated summer blockbuster.

If you are already a big fan of this loud, dumb film franchise then you’re going to see this one too and you’re probably going to love it. It’s not quite as bad as some of the other “Transformers” sequels, so that’s at least one positive thing I have to say.

I’m not one of those “high art” snobby film critics either. I actually like Michael Bay and think he’s talented when it comes to great looking visuals (see “Bad Boys II” if you ever doubt the man is a good director), and the earlier parts of this film are quite enjoyable. It’s when the thing deteriorates into a lazy mess of a robot cartoon that it becomes a rambling, puzzling lesson in total and complete incoherence.

It’s sad because the spectacular opening sequence, featuring a battle complete with King Arthur, the wizard Merlin (Stanley Tucci), and a giant dragon, is a considerable hook that’s extremely well done. It actually made me raise the bar a little bit solely based on its enjoyable extravagance. The film doesn’t really veer off into la la land until about halfway through its grueling two and a half hour run time, when it starts to fester and drags on and on and on. If you’re among the strongest willed moviegoers who are voluntarily able to stick with it until the very end, you’ll need to get some fresh air after sitting for what feels like much, much longer.

The movie works when it ties in a good, old fashioned adventure quest plot (a’la “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “National Treasure”) involving a loony member of a secret society (Anthony Hopkins) and an heir of Merlin (Laura Haddock) instead of the modern day jumble of angry army men (led by Josh Duhamel), our strapping hero mechanic Cade (Mark Wahlberg), and tough alien-fighting teen orphan Izabella (Isabela Moner). I wish Bay had stuck to this adventure theme direction for the story because it is fun and somehow oddly worked within the alien transforming vehicle world and most of all, it actually made sense. Human interaction is far better than phony looking animated robot fights, fiery explosions, nonstop yelling, and shooting.

Dialogue isn’t one of the film’s strengths either, with seven (yes, SEVEN!!) credited “screenwriters” choosing to dumb down the most simplistic of phrases into awkwardly contrived platitudes or laughably wooden statements of the obvious. How these projects manage to attract talent with true acting cred like Wahlberg, Hopkins, and John Turturro is beyond me. Oh, wait a second: it’s all about the Benjamins.

The special effects are first class (too bad the editing and direction of the CGI bits are so chaotic that they blur together and become much more tedious than exhilarating) and deserve a better showcase than this mayhem allows. And I have great news for those of you who love explosions: as is Bay’s trademark, this movie is loaded with so many detonations that if I had to venture a guess, I’d say there are at least two big fireballs for every minute of film.

I’ll leave you with some words of cinematic wisdom: see “Transformers: The Last Knight” if you must, but remember that your ticket purchase will encourage Hollywood to churn out more rubbish exactly like it.

“The 101 Year Old Man Who Skipped Out on the Bill and Disappeared “




In this sequel to “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” (which was ranked #7 on my Top 10 Best Films of 2015 list), a year has passed and our story picks up where the first film left off. It’s Allan’s (Robert Gustafsson) 101st birthday, and a random taste of the very last existing bottle of a delicious 1970s Russian soft drink called Folksoda sets off another goofy road trip filled with chance encounters and amusing exploits.

As with the first film there are several running gags (one involving a monkey and another the desire to go swimming), but nothing reaches the great comedic heights of the original. While part one was based on the novel by Jonas Jonasson, part two has no book on which its based — and the too simple, aimless story suffers. The formula remains the same, featuring more “Forrest Gump” style flashbacks from Allan’s adventurous life as a double agent spy.

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the first film, it may be helpful to brush up on the events that unfolded. Many characters are back, including Geddan (Jens Hultén), Popov (Georg Nikoloff), and Benny (David Wiberg), and most of their jokes reference the earlier movie.

Fans of the original will probably enjoy this installment enough for a mild recommendation, yet disappointment is most likely imminent. This half-baked sequel never even comes close to touching the brilliance of its predecessor, but it’s good for a few hearty laughs.


“The Mummy”



Universal’s attempt to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (they even are calling their new brand The Dark Universe) has produced “The Mummy,” the first in the series of classic monster movie reboots by the studio. If this film is any indication, they may have a difficult road ahead of them. This movie isn’t nearly as awful as you’ve heard, and it’s actually a rousing ride of pure escapism that is entertaining enough to please old fans as well as new recruits.

Too-old-for-the-part Tom Cruise plays hero Nick, a soldier with a sweet tooth for antiquities, who uncovers a hidden tomb and unleashes the fury of the mummy Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). The plot isn’t much more sophisticated than that, but it really doesn’t need to be because the admirable special effects and stunts carry the project from start to finish.

The stupid story and ridiculously silly ending don’t lend any favors, but despite the film’s uneven stumbles, it never struggles in its quest to keep audiences entertained. It’s thrilling and spooky enough when it needs to be, and it isn’t even close to being a bad movie.

Everyone gives better than they should performances, including a great turn from Boutella as the evil yet sympathetic Ahmanet and Russell Crowe as the dual personas of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I loved the female mummy angle quite a bit; her compelling back story provides plenty of motivation to explain her pure evilness. Cruise is good here too, proving himself to still be a bankable, charismatic movie star. There’s zero chemistry between Cruise and his co-star Annabelle Wallis, however. She, too, is horribly miscast as an archaeologist, and there’s simply not one ounce of believability that Nick would put his life on the line to save her. Their “relationship” consists of a one night stand, making their emotional connection register at nil. (There are several awkward jokes about their evening spent together, with some suggestive content that might make very conservative folks blush. In fact, prudish parents should be aware that this film pushes its PG-13 rating and is filled with many genuinely scary moments, mild horror gore, and brief nudity).

The movie blurs the lines to create an oddly satisfying horror-adventure genre (at times it feels more like a modern zombie movie or an episode of “The Walking Dead” rather than a classic monster reboot), which means there are far too many hackish scenes of cartoon zombies grabbing for the humans.

There’s no denying that the film is deeply flawed on so many levels, but it gets enough things right (including its big, dumb, over-the-top fun) to make for an entertaining evening at the movies.

“This Is Not What I Expected”



The conventional rom-com plot of a handsome billionaire falling in love with a goofy nerd girl is at the heart of “This Is Not What I Expected,” an absolutely charming and delightful import from China. The charismatic film is in Mandarin but has such a slam-dunk formula that if Hollywood would take notice and remake it with popular American movie stars, I think it would be a huge hit.

Lu Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a handsomely polished real estate mogul who is in the habit of buying up hotel properties to add to his portfolio. When he visits the small and ineptly run property the Rosebud, the kitchen’s kooky sous chef Gu Shengnan (Dongyu Zhou) serves him the most perfect meal of his life. The two couldn’t be on more opposite ends of the spectrum: he is uptight and orderly, she is a wildly free spirit — but they are brought together by a love for food.

It’s a clichéd romantic story for sure, but it is one that is incredibly well done (ha!) here. There are plenty of laughs (seriously, I was laughing heartily through most of this movie), and there are many slapstick gags and awkward moments when the two keep running into each other. It’s too bad that love story is not credible in the slightest, as the two are just not believable as a couple. The obligatory fantasy romance aspects feel very forced, although the actors are quite appealing and give it their all.

Thankfully the wacky performances fit the material, meaning the leads play their characters with highly exaggerated, flamboyant quirks. Sometimes the quirkiness is so over the top that it becomes irritating and annoying, but these are still likeable people –they just don’t belong together. Forget romance: luckily the film relies on the international language of food.

And that’s the glue that holds this delightful charmer together: food  Don’t go to the theater hungry because you’ll be salivating at the delectable plates of foodstuffs and dazzling artistry of the cooking photography. The food becomes its own character in the film, from a sizzling skillet to a gorgeous montage of creative, beautiful egg dishes. There are many pageants of pretty people noshing, including a scene that lays out the most precise ramen cooking directions ever.

Director Derek Hui throws in many fun bits that make the mundane come alive, like a mini musical number complete with waiters dancing and twirling their silver trays to a whimsical hallucinatory aftermath induced by a dinner of toxic blowfish (which includes their meal leaping off the plate while shouting “stupid humans!” and an indoor rainstorm that’s controlled by vocal commands).

Since this film is a product of the Chinese studio system, prepare yourself for some truly strange elements that detract from the overall story. There are lots of really, really bizarre American knockoff pop songs set to repetitive musical montages that dominate the film’s second half, and the choice to use oddball sound effects (including record scratches, spring “boings” and kazoo buzzes) feels out of place and unnecessary. This film is funny on its own without resorting to needless cartoonish ingredients.

“This Is Not What I Expected” is a real charmer and an amusing little film. It’s the perfect foodie meet-cute.


“Buster’s Mal Heart”



There’s a certain wickedness to “Buster’s Mal Heart,” a bizarre, unconventional, and unique visual experiment in existentialism that manages to never come across as pretentious nor self-indulgent. Sarah Adina Smith pens and directs this bold, mind bending thriller about a sorrowful man (Rami Malek) who is suffocating at the hands of his own existence.

This is not a movie for everyone as it’s extremely strange and bizarre, eventually evolving into something even more horrific, puzzling, and disturbing than its already overwhelmingly dark and depressing atmospheric tone of genuine despair and loneliness would first suggest.

Malek gives an Oscar-caliber performance as Buster / Jonah, a man who was once a hardworking dad and husband but is now internally wrestling with his deep psyche as he feels as if he’s been split in two. We see glimpses of the different identities from his own point of view, from a Spanish-speaking fisherman lost at sea to an unsuccessful family man trapped in a dead-end job working the late shift at a third-rate airport motel to a feral mountain man who breaks into lavish vacation homes for fun. Malek is fantastic at shifting from persona to persona as he struggles with the good and evil in himself and wrestles internally to reconcile his lost soul.

A glimmer of hope shows up in the form of a conspiracy theorist drifter called The Last Free Man (in a deliciously creepy turn from DJ Qualls), a mentally imbalanced wanderer who delights in playing tricks with Jonah’s mind. As the man spirals even more rapidly out of control, lines between what’s real and what’s imagined begin to blur beyond recognition. At times the story can be complex, convoluted, and even upsetting, but it never becomes lazy with its storytelling.

There is much religious imagery peppered throughout the story, including an abundance of water and baptism metaphors, and a dreamlike sincerity in the gutsy exploration of bold ideas and provocative themes. The film works because its story is edgy and haunting, the fractured art house visuals are nightmarishly abstract, and the entire low budget project is so well made that you’ll find yourself completely consumed by the mystery.

This is one unsettling movie that I guarantee will inspire many deep, philosophical conversations after viewing.

“Captain Underpants”



If “Captain Underpants” succeeds at one thing, it’s making me realize that I have the sense of humor of an eight year old. The movie, based on the incredibly popular series of children’s books by Dav Pilkey, relies predominantly on potty humor jokes as its core backbone of comedy — and it kept me laughing the entire way through. There aren’t any philosophical nor meaningful lessons to be learned here: it’s just mindless, poop-joke filled fun that celebrates the devotion and importance of a loyal friendship.

The movie tells the story of best friends George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and their penchant for cooking up epic pranks that target their mean school principal Krupp (Ed Helms). One day George hypnotizes Krupp with a toy ring and with a snap of their fingers, he becomes the dimwitted (and overly enthusiastic) superhero Captain Underpants.

There’s something innately hilarious about the entire scenario, and the appealing, tidy animation lends the perfect punch to the plot. Watching the doofus Krupp strip down to his tighty whities and jump through windows while trying to save the day is even more enjoyable with the robust primary colors and curvy character styles that comprise the drawings. The animation is cheery, spirited and bright, and I really love how the entire film looks.

Hart, Middleditch, and Helms all give strong, cheery, and amusing vocal performances that perfectly fit their characters. Ditto for Nick Kroll hamming it up as Professor Pippy Pee-Pee Poopypants, the evil scientist with the most unfortunate of names. (Only the most stoic members of society who lack an ounce of a sense of humor won’t be able to resist chuckling at that)!

The story’s bread and butter is its mild rude humor, but at least it shows a deep appreciation (and a genuine celebration) of the fantastic comedy potential that lives in the most simple of fart jokes. The movie works because it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

Yes, it’s goofy and juvenile, but “Captain Underpants” provides the perfect summer escape for the kiddos that will also entertain fun-loving adults. Now where did I put that whoopee cushion?

“The Lovers”



“The Lovers” is a film that tries so hard to convince audiences that it’s a funny, honest and refreshing look at modern infidelity and a crumbling marriage, but it’s just another “been there, done that” exploration of a tiresome theme. This uncomfortable indie is tedious, boring, and feels as if it goes on for twelve hours.

The fantastic Debra Winger and Tracy Letts play Mary and Michael, a long-married couple who have all but completely fallen out of love. They both suffer through monotonous cubicle office jobs and come home to a lackluster marriage. Each is having an affair with a clingy, needy, eccentric artist; her a writer (Aidan Gillen), him a ballet dancer (Melora Walters). These two can’t stand to be married to each other but once they begin “cheating” on their unpleasant side partners with each other, it turns out they get along great as lovers.

The premise of the story is a good one, but the only interesting elements of the movie is its ending which, by the time it rolls around, is far too late. The trouble starts at the core with the main characters. These are incredibly unlikable, dull people that you won’t care about — which makes for a ridiculously dull movie.

The film has a sluggish mumblecore quality that makes it even more unappealing, with long stretches of awkward pauses, staredowns, scenes of text messages, and unexplained bouts of crying. It starts off okay, but hardly anything happens from scene to scene. And there it sits. And sits. Aaaaand sits.

It’s exhausting.

At the midpoint, Mary and Michael’s son (Tyler Ross) comes home from college for the weekend with his new girlfriend (Jessica Sula) and thankfully breathes a little life into the story. There’s a lot of pain simmering beneath the surface during the visit, and it’s by far the best part of the movie. Unfortunately, it can’t save this tiring film.

I think this entire project would’ve worked much better as a short instead of a feature length movie. I guarantee a movie like this will be hailed as a masterpiece by critics, but they’re just taking the bait. I’ve seen (and loved) plenty of similar movies, but this one is a boring chore to sit through. This is the kind of indie movie that makes normal audiences think they hate indie movies.

“Wonder Woman”



It’s nearly impossible to watch “Wonder Woman” and not have your mind wander to our country’s current political climate where female rights are being trampled upon, leaving many women feeling as if they are being treated as second class citizens by the powerful white men in charge. That’s a big reason why the latest D.C. Comics superhero film resonated with me in a way few have before. No matter if you love it or hate it, this movie is a spirited rallying cry for feminism and is sure to empower girls of all ages.

The most any Wonder Woman fan could hope for is that the new movie doesn’t stink (it doesn’t). In fact, the middle third is pretty damn good cinema, with a creative (if implausible) real-world story line and scattered truly touching moments. What a pity that the film has bookends that can’t stand up to the rest of the project.

Director Patty Jenkins is efficient in delivering a good looking, enjoyable film, and it’s put together far better than any other big screen D.C. Comics project (which I realize isn’t much of a compliment, but it’s still an achievement nonetheless). I just wish she didn’t rely so heavily on slow motion twists and turns. It sure does look cool and fierce at first but after sitting through shot after shot of the same old thing, those visuals become tired parodies of themselves far too early. The movie also tries too hard with its story and ends up throwing every genre under the sun into the screenplay, hoping something will stick. There’s the usual ‘superhero saves the day’ story, but it’s also a war movie, a tender romance, an origin story, a buddy sidekick adventure, and a poignant feminist drama. Simply put, this movie is all over the place.

Besides the odd WWI set story, the elephant in the room is the acting. Let’s not sugar coat anything here: the performances are bad, especially for a big-budget franchise. Chris Pine just sort of sits there, a mostly insignificant character with the charisma of an old boot. Gal Gadot certainly looks the part but her performance is at times spectacularly awful, even causing me to giggle inappropriately through a couple of scenes. Thank goodness for the fantastic Robin Wright, who has an all too brief supporting role as the intense warrior Antiope. I’d love to see her have her own movie!

What works about “Wonder Woman” is when the story concentrates on the humanity of these characters. Thanks to the incredibly terrific “Logan,” it’s going to be nearly impossible to review a superhero movie without mentioning the incredibly high bar that it has now set. I realize not all films can operate with such an introspective, small scale focus, but when “Wonder Woman” isn’t afraid to go there, it really soars. Too bad the filmmakers (and studio) chose to chicken out and devolve into another computer generated crapfest which totally brings dishonor to the 120 minutes that preceded it.

The action is what you’d expect from a summer blockbuster: lots of CGI explosions and a ho-hum evil villain with a finale that resembles a bloated, tiresome cartoon. After another fifteen minutes of duplicate shots and an overlong ending where our heroine fights the Greek god of war Ares, I found myself longing for the earlier, better, more focused, and personal parts of the film, like the horror Diana experiences when she encounters guns for the first time or the sly and suggestive humor of her natural curiousness when she sees a naked man.

“Wonder Woman” is still a better-than-average superhero movie: but doesn’t she deserve far better than that?

DVD Roundup: June

Want to know which movies we recommend and which movies you should skip? Here’s 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. All films below have scheduled DVD release dates from June 1 – June 30, 2017.

Highly Recommended

 Worthy Rentals

 You Can Do Better

Skip It

“Everything, Everything”



Filmmakers attempting to break into the teen drama / romance genre seem destined to fail, mostly because of the candid authenticity of movies that came before like “The Fault in Our Stars” and “The Spectacular Now.” Whereas these films get almost everything right where coming-of-age adolescent angst is concerned, the plot for “Everything, Everything” feels like it’s filled with a watered-down insincerity.

The absurdity of it all revolves around the preposterous premise of author Nicola Yoon’s popular young adult novel (on which this movie is based). The story is about the life of a sweet 18 year old girl Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) who has a severe disorder with her immune system and is allergic to everything, including the outdoors. Maddy’s overprotective doctor mother (Anika Noni Rose) keeps her as a willing prisoner inside a glass walled house. When the dreamy and mysterious pretty boy Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door, the two are smitten (and of course with these two being teenagers, it’s love at first sight).

There’s an enormous amount of charisma and chemistry between the highly appealing young actors, and the performances are far better than you’d expect for a throwaway melodrama like this. Director Stella Meghie employs some clever ways to visualize the book, including having Maddy imagine elaborate fantasy sequences in her head when she’s simply texting back and forth (it’s a lot more interesting than looking at words on an iPhone screen).

But that’s where the positives stop.

There are so many far-fetched and ridiculous things that happen in the story that it becomes totally implausible and as a result, will take viewers out of the fairy tale experience that was obviously intended. Without giving away any spoilers, I kept wondering how a girl who most likely has no form of government identification was able to board an airplane, not to mention how her teenage boyfriend was able to rent a car.

Despite its many, many flaws, the film is sweet and innocent enough to appeal to the ‘tweens at which it’s aimed — adults would do better to skip this one.