“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

If your Playstation isn’t enough to keep you entertained this weekend, you can go to the theater to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” a 2 hour and 16 minute video game of real people shooting at CGI garbage. It’s another superhero movie that strives to be funny and loved simply by being different when in reality, it’s just the same as every other raucous, overstuffed Marvel exercise.

In this unbalanced sequel, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) is searching for his lost father (Kurt Russell). All the Guardians gang is back, including love interest Gamora (Zoe Saldana), superstrong Drax (Dave Bautista), the loyal friend-yet-jerk Rocket raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and the baby version of Groot (Vin Diesel).

Audiences are treated to yet another annoying performance from abrasive jackass Pratt (remind me why this guy is a movie star again?), and the movie milks the cuteness of baby Groot to the max (the character is visibly meant to appeal to the smallest of children; take note as the doe-eyed Groot shimmies and shakes his way through the opening credits). Jokes are repeated from the first film, including referring to Rocket as a rat. It feels old and stale.

Director James Gunn is relentless in his insistence on using obscure 70s ballads to score the film that the music choices sticks out like a sore thumb, being used so much that the movie at times feels like an overly long music video. Half of the scenes don’t mesh with the (supposedly) tongue-in-cheek accompanying songs, and the soundtrack is as irritating as it is distracting. I lost count of the number of times a character is seen walking in slow-motion to a crappy retro tune.

The movie also tries to steal the core message of the meaning of family from the popular “Fast and Furious” franchise, taking their earnest, heartfelt sincerity and pushing it to the point where it comes off as awkward, phony, and forced. The irreverent humor flops as often as it succeeds, and the film at times resorts to lazy reference jokes (yeah, yeah, we get it, but just name dropping 80s-era icons like Pac-Man and David Hasselhoff doesn’t a genuine laugh make).

Thankfully it’s not all bad. The action-packed storyline kept me engaged with characters that I find hugely unlikable, the special effects (read: cartoon drawings) are colorful and cool, and the ending is absolutely fantastic — but none of these things can completely excuse what comes before.

This movie is really nothing more than a flashy and boisterous Saturday morning cartoon on steroids, something by design that’s made to appeal to adults and kids alike. You can take your whole family and everyone will probably agree that it’s the best movie they’ve ever seen because it’s the last movie they’ve seen. There’s not much craft nor artistry to “Guardians Vol. 2”, but it’s as good as the first movie and it’s still fun enough to not become a total disaster.

“Sandy Wexler”

LOUISA: 1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

When an Adam Sandler movie has a runtime of over two hours, it’s a matter of course that it will long overstay its welcome. “Sandy Wexler,” the latest Netflix original film from the former SNL funnyman, runs out of steam very, very quickly. This is the worst kind of comedy: one that’s devoid of laughs.

Sandler plays the titular good hearted yet incompetent talent manager who manages to all but ruin the careers of his clients. The story is set in the 1990s, so get ready for reference jokes about the fashion, music, and entertainment industry during that time (including giant cell phones, the Atkins diet, and Arsenio Hall). He has a rag-tag roster of clients, including a ventriloquist (Kevin James), an unskilled wrestler (Terry Crews), a lousy comedy writer (Colin Quinn), and a stuntman (Nick Swardson). When Sandy signs a theme park singer with stars in her eyes (Jennifer Hudson), he falls in love.

Sandler uses a goofy voice that makes it feel as though he’s doing a subpar impression of Billy Madison and the waterboy. Sandy’s signature laugh is a charming quirk, but there’s no real purpose to speaking in a comedic voice. The long list of random celebrity cameos (set up as a fake roast of Sandy) comes across as more gimmicky than fun, and Hudson truly deserves this year’s Razzie award for the worst acting performance of the year as a Whitney Houston wannabe. Her delivery is so strained and awkward that I could swear she was being forced to read her lines at gunpoint. It’s not a so-bad-it’s-funny performance, it’s just so awful it’s sad.

There’s one major obstacle that the movie can’t overcome, and that’s the fact that it’s simply not entertaining nor very funny. There are a handful of jokes that land and while some of them are quite inspired, most are strained and unfunny. Even the idea isn’t amusing in the least. Thank the film gods for Swardson’s inept daredevil because he’s the only remotely funny aspect of this movie.

As with most of Sandler’s recent work, the story has a sweet and heartfelt tone and ending. It’s not really out of place here, but it also doesn’t exactly feel earned or authentic. In a word, it’s lazy.

“How to Be a Latin Lover”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

There are plenty of quality laughs to be had in “How to Be A Latin Lover,” a slapstick film from first time movie director Ken Marino that puts the classic rags to riches story into reverse. Yes, it’s been done to death and no, there’s nothing new here, but there are bouts of genius absurdist humor and funny physical comedy that makes this one worth seeing.

The film tells the story of aging, lazy gigolo Maximo (Eugenio Derbez), a man in his mid-forties who has been spoiled by two decades of being the “trophy husband” of affluent 75 year old sugar mama Peggy (Renée Taylor). When Peggy suddenly leaves him for a young luxury car salesman (Michael Cera), Maximo finds himself homeless and in need of a job. Luckily his estranged sister Sara (Salma Hayek) lives nearby with her nerdy son Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). The plot isn’t original at all (and prepare yourself for the inevitable “how to be a ladies’ man” montage), but what makes the movie work is the believability of the human relationships (there’s a natural chemistry between Hayek, Alejandro and Derbez that is just plain delightful).

Rob Lowe has an innate sense of comedic timing (see the television series “Californication” and the movie “Tommy Boy”) and is hilarious throughout as friendly rival boy toy Rick, Kristen Bell delights as a cat crazy manager of a frozen yogurt shop, and funnymen Rob Huebel and Rob Riggle muster some chuckles as a pair of idiots who repeatedly fail at collecting a $1,000 debt. Nothing ever reaches true comedy gold, but there are lots of giggles that can be found in the most unexpected places.

The comedy is restrained by its PG-13 rating, with only a handful of mildly naughty double entendres (the most coming from Linda Lavin — you’ll probably remember her as playing TV’s “Alice” — as an object of affection whose kinky lustings are even larger than her substantially deep pockets). Its family-friendly rating reflects its family-friendly message.

The movie’s sweet tone reminds me of a Happy Madison movie but funnier, and thankfully without Adam Sandler. By the end of the story, Maximo finds redemption in the form of hard work and finally understanding the importance of having a loving family. It’s a male gigolo movie that’ll make you say “awww.”

By no means will this become a cult comedy classic, but it’s an amusing diversion that’s much better than it should be.

DVD Roundup: May

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 May 1 – May 31, 2017.

Highly Recommended

Worthy Rentals

You Can Do Better

Skip It

 

“Grow House”

growhouse

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I truly expected “Grow House” to be another junk movie destined for a lifetime on the clearance DVD shelf at Walmart. Somehow it managed to get a limited theatrical release, which usually means there’s a little special something about the film. While it ticks off everything on the typical stoner comedy checklist, this celebration of devoted friendship and copious weed smoking is also quite entertaining overall.

The plot in this “Friday” meets “Up in Smoke” homage may be predictable, but it’s ripe with comedy potential that’s almost always fully realized. Pat (DeRay Davis) and Darius (Lil’ Duval) are low on cash and weed, so they decide to apply for a medical grow license as a business opportunity to solve both problems. Once they acquire their cards and become legal, the guys temporarily move into a foreclosed mansion in Bel Air to use as their grow house. They need to find an investor to front some “seed money” (get it?) who would agree to be paid back in product, so Darius Tweets to Snoop Dogg (playing himself), and the famous rapper agrees. It’s a funny premise that makes for a funny movie.

The two leads are naturally funny and have a great chemistry together. Their natural riffs feel comfortable and they’re guys you’d like to hang out with. Snoop brings a chill vibe and delivers his jokes with his innate coolness, but hey: this is Snoop we’re talking about here. Martin Starr shows up as hydroponics expert and resident weirdo Conspiracy Chris, there’s a silly bit with Charlamagne Tha God as Black Jesus, Faizon Love plays a disabled neighborhood bully, Lin Shaye provides some laughs as the drunk and horny neighbor Mrs. Gilliam, and there is a truly inspired and uproarious brief turn from Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Doobie. The acting isn’t going to win any awards, but does that really matter? If this film had been cast with some big Hollywood names, I think it could’ve done quite well at the box office.

What I like about this movie is that it pays attention to the details. There are several background sight gags that will reward viewers who are paying attention (make sure you look at the office decor in Dr. Doobie’s office). Writer and director DJ Pooh does nothing new here, but his style is straightforward, uncomplicated, and appropriate for the material. Get ready for lots of glamour shots of marijuana plants.

The story starts to wear thin as the film goes on, but it never gets boring because there are a couple of surprises along the way. This movie may offend those who are sensitive about the medical and recreational marijuana movement, and it’s filled with adult language and jokes that take aim at sexism, racism, and the handicapped. Some of the wisecracks push the envelope of good taste (like when Darius “takes one for the team” by being forced to sleep with Mrs. Gilliam in order to keep her from ratting them out to the cops), and others may be a bit too slapstick to make any lasting impact.

“Grow House” isn’t a game changer for the genre, nor is it one of the better stoner classics (“Pineapple Express,” “How High,” “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”), but it earns a respectable place among other late night pothead films (and it’s way better than “Half Baked” or “Smiley Face”). If you’re a fan of these movies, you’ll probably dig this one: and this review’s for you. Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.

“Born in China”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Born in China,” the newest documentary from DisneyNature, lands squarely in the middle of the series. While it’s much better than “Bears” and “Wings of Life,” it doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Oceans” or “African Cats.” The Disney-fied story pushes the importance of family and the academic information is brief and spread a bit thin, but it’s still a wonderful educational tool for kids and adults alike.

John Krasinski does a great job as the narrator this go ’round, expressing an adept mix of empathy, humor, and authority. The storytelling format is the same as some of the past films in the series (telling the story in chapters bookmarked by the four seasons) and focuses on three different animal families, all given human-like personas and names so you’ll instantly become attached. This time it’s overprotective panda bear Ya Ya and her new baby Mei Mei, a group of golden snub-nosed monkeys and the outcast Tao Tao, and tenacious mama snow leopard Dawa and her two cubs. Along the way, there are glimpses of chiru (Tibetan antelope), red pandas, and yaks.

To make the film more exciting, there are some obviously clever editing choices that are pieced together in a way to create tension or action sequences (if you can call a hawk nearly picking off an infant monkey for dinner an action piece). Otherwise, it’s a brilliant cinema verite look at the vast, unspoiled terrain and fascinating animals of China. This film is worth seeing for the incredible footage of the snow leopards alone.

The film starts and ends with a harmonious spiritual tone, with majestic slow motion photography of red-crowned cranes taking flight. According to Chinese folklore, natives believe that whenever a crane takes to the sky it carries the soul of a deceased animal on its wings, thereby completing the circle of life. After this somber intro, suffice it to say that it doesn’t end well for one of the families; it’s a moving scene of such tragic beauty that I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. But that’s nature, right?

Parents should be aware that there are some substantial themes at play here and while the film is rated G, it still may be unsettling to some youngsters. You may find it prudent to talk to your kids about symbiosis, general biology, and the food chain before taking them to the theater. This is an absolutely wonderful tool for teaching the younger generation about respect for the environment and the animals that inhabit our planet, and I do not want to discourage anyone from taking a family trip to the movies to see it.

As with all DisneyNature documentaries, “Born in China” has astonishing, impressive camerawork that will at times leave you breathless and in tears from the chills of the sheer beauty of it all. The original score by Barnaby Taylor is as elegant, memorable, and breathtaking as the photography. Be sure to stay through the credits for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. I’m sure you’ll also be super jealous of the folks whose job it is to shoot these movies.

“Free Fire”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The disappointing “Free Fire” feels like one of those movies that was conceptualized over a 3 a.m. cup of coffee in a booth at a late night diner. “Let’s make a 70s era throwback movie that ends in an hour-long bloody shootout set to a classic John Denver song!” It’s a five minute idea that’s stretched into a 90 minute “Reservoir Dogs” rip off. The overly simplistic screenplay and clunky direction from Ben Wheatley make this film quite the yawner.

The film is set in the 1970s for no reason whatsoever, and the period costumes and hairstyles are second rate at best. The loose story centers around a gun deal gone horribly wrong. The film begins with a fun introduction to the group of characters (including Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, and Jack Reynor), but the background setups are all too brief and pointless, as the film quickly becomes nothing more than a loud, bloodstained, and overly long shootout in a decrepit warehouse. There are a few early glimmers of greatness from Hammer and Riley, but Larson and Reynor are completely wasted. There’s a lot of shooting and yelling and a lot of bloody injuries, but all of it lacks substance to the point where after a while, it’s not even enjoyable anymore.

The story starts off kind of great, but it quickly becomes clear that the film lacks any kind of depth. All of the action takes place in one warehouse, and if you’re going to have the balls to set a movie in a limited, confined setting, you’d better be ready to — pardon the pun — bring the big guns. Wheatley does bring some heavy ammunition, but his film fails to measure up as either an action tour de force, genre thriller, or a commentary on gun culture.

“T2 Trainspotting”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

It’s the sequel that from the outset sounded like the most terrible idea, a crime against film fans everywhere. It’s the film that had to face questions of “why mess with a cult classic” from the get-go. Fans of the original 1996 film “Trainspotting” will find it impossible to have a middle of the road opinion about “T2,” and I guarantee audiences will either enthusiastically love it or vigorously hate it. Regardless of which spectrum you fall into, I have to say that nobody but Danny Boyle can direct material like this.

The story, based on Irvine Welsh’s follow-up book “Porno,” picks up twenty years after the original film. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) has returned home to Edinburgh as an older (if only slightly wiser) man. He’s off the smack and while in town, looks up his former mates — who have never really forgiven him for walking off with that bag full of money (as shown in the open-ended finale of the first film). Spud (Ewen Bremner) is the happiest to see him, but “Sick Boy” Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) reacts with anger. Of course as the guys hang out and share many trips down memory lane, their bromance is quickly rekindled.

Just like its main characters, the film has a cynical and much more mature tone and as a result, doesn’t feel nearly as provocative or disturbing as the first installment. It’s dark but far from mellow, and the characters are still fun even two decades later as the actors remain true to their rowdy younger selves (and all excel at showing the effects of time and hardcore heroin addiction). These are damaged men who are still paying the price for their reckless youthful indiscretions.

Hardcore fans of “Trainspotting” will find much to savor here, especially in terms of throwback references to the first film and the parade of favorite characters, including love interest Diane (Kelly Macdonald) and hot-tempered Begbie (Robert Carlyle).

Boyle employs some clever directorial choices by incorporating several well positioned bits of old footage into the new narrative — a tactic that could’ve backfired but instead feels fresh and new. The frequent throwbacks include a brilliant update to Renton’s classic “choose life” speech, this time updated and delivered with a heartfelt punch from a former junkie turned world weary man living with regret. It takes on a completely different meaning, and it’s by far one of the best scenes in the film.

Boyle makes fantastic use of his trademark snappy, breathless storytelling and dizzying visual style, including hallucinatory flashes and a blaring, killer soundtrack (this absolutely is the greatest movie soundtrack since last year’s American Honey).

This sometimes aimless movie isn’t for everybody as it is packed with profanity, graphic nudity, violence, drug use and (of course) one of the grossest onscreen vomit scenes in recent memory (but hey, at least there’s not a head first dive into a diarrhea filled toilet this go around). Folks new to the party will probably be offended or confused and some may find it downright incomprehensible, in terms of both storyline and dialogue (some scenes have quirky subtitles to help puzzled audiences figure out what the hell some of these guys are saying).

“T2” is the perfect companion to its predecessor, providing a meaningful epilogue and closing chapter to the original film. While it may not provide the same cult obsession potential, view into the counterculture, or the wallop of a thrill ride as “Trainspotting” did, it’s a worthy sequel that still manages to feel raw, fresh and subversive.

“The Last Word”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The cool and natural chemistry between leads Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried is the main reason to see “The Last Word,” a female-centric buddy dramedy about creating your own meaningful legacy late in life. The two actors make a fantastic onscreen duo and they keep the contrived story enjoyable (or at least interesting).

MacLaine is Harriet, an overbearing, controlling, and generally unlikable woman facing the end of her life. When she realizes that she hasn’t exactly created a proud or newsworthy legacy, she enlists the help of young obituary writer Anne (Seyfried) to pen hers prematurely. In an attempt to make her own last-minute story relevant before she kicks the bucket, Harriet starts by finding a young “at risk” youth (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) to mentor.

Maclaine is fantastic as Harriet, and she sells the role with perfect, scowl-faced believability. Seyfried holds her own with another strong performance as a young woman who needs a good kick in the pants to awaken the ambition to live up to her full potential.

This feel-good indie movie is packed with genuine laughs, tear-jerking sentimentality, and bouts of mushy melodrama. While the story overall may be quite forced in its conventionality (you’ll see everything coming from a mile away), it doesn’t make it any less satisfying. Of course the nasty old hag finds her inner humanity by the end of the story, of course she touches and changes everyone’s lives for the better, and of course everything is wrapped up in an overly sentimental little bow, but no matter. Although the movie doesn’t exactly have much of an original voice, it still has a very big heart.

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“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Strong dialogue, an intriguing screenplay, and smart direction are the strengths of “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” and oddball (but in a good way) directorial debut from writer and actor Macon Blair. Blair obviously learned a thing or two on the set from director Jeremy Saulnier (after acting in his gritty and violent “Green Room” and “Blue Ruin”). This film pays homage to the tone set in those two films, but has a twisted, dark humor twist that sets it apart.

Melanie Lynskey takes the lead role as the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” Ruth, a woman who is fed up with basic human indecency that she witnesses on a daily basis. When her home is burglarized and her laptop and grandma’s silver stolen, she teams up with her slightly off-kilter misfit neighbor Tony (a seriously cool and kooky performance from Elijah Wood) to track down the perpetrator and exact revenge. This dark and sarcastic look at society has plenty black humor to counterbalance the bloody violence and somber undertones.

The story follows a basic crime thriller outline but it has a decidedly indie voice and an original, engaging story. It’s chock full of weirdness at every turn but luckily, all of its quirkiness doesn’t feel forced. The abrupt (and at times downright startling) shifts in tone can be a shock, but there are plenty of twists and turns that will keep you guessing. There’s a natural flow to the strange turn of events, and the credible performances keep the film humming along towards its very bizarre and offbeat conclusion.