Archive 2
Fate of the FuriousGoing in StyleBoss BabyChipsKong: Skull Island A Dog's Purpose La La Land Sing Fences Hidden FiguresThe Founder — Manchester By The Sea — Hacksaw Ridge Arrival Jack Reacher The Accountant 
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Fate of the Furious
The 8th installment of the F&F franchise does not disappoint.
In all honestly, I had hoped Paul Walker’s unfortunate death would mark the end of the series — after all, 2015’s Furious 7 dealt exquisitely with the loss. But inasmuch as they insisted on going on, this one bravely takes the baton, again, defying both the laws of physics (though raining cars is over the top even by F&F standards) and the rule that a film needs a plot.
What really needs to be said? This one is solidly as fast and as furious as its predecessors.
Jason Statham mines the best laughs toting a baby during an epic shoot-out and Charlize Theron is probably the weakest link. But all of the fan favorites (except Walker, obviously) are back: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Kurt Russell.

Going in Style

“It is a culture’s duty to take care of their elders,” says a masked gunman early in the remake of Martin Brest and Tony Bill’s 1979 comedy Going in Style (Tony Bill exec-produced this one).
Regrettably, in the years since the poignant coming of old-age drama, it’s been anything except. The golden generation has been reduced to cartoonish stereotypes — popping Viagra like Skittles and Snapchatting their colonoscopies. To wit: Old Dogs, Stand Up Guys, Last Vegas, Dirty Grandpa, etc... (Robert De Niro, in particular, has done a bang-up job sullying his legacy.) What's next? Pimp my rascal scooter? This old hip?
Thankfully, this reboot retains much of the poignancy of the original with Michael Caine leading retired pals Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin in this light heist film. The three are union pensioners who are screwed-out of their fixed incomes when their former employer moves its HQ out of the country. They target a local bank apparently behind the restructuring but vow to take only what they believe they have coming.
Christopher Lloyd's scatter-brained character is exactly what's wrong with Hollywood depicting mature characters but the film otherwise does a pretty good job with this feel good comedy that understandably skews towards older audiences. Kudos for the references to Dog Day Afternoon.
John Ortiz, Ann-Margret, and Matt Dillon co-star in this Zach Braff-helmed charmer.

The Boss Baby

“Cookies are for closers.”
In the sassy animated crowd-pleaser The Boss Baby, Alec Baldwin is not dispatched by Mitch and Murray but the vibe is the same.
He’s sent to live among a family (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) and charged with undermining their new technological advance which prevents puppies from growing-up. Because, you see, there is not enough love to go around and puppies are commanding a growing slice of the pie.
Many of the laughs skew toward adults; for example, a hysterically heartless baby Baldwin throws cash at problems he walks away from. But there is probably enough here for the whole family.
Though only a sidebar, the sarcastic Gandalf alarm clock spouts more than its share of gems. In one dream sequence it and the film’s protagonist seven-year-old Tim (voiced by both Miles Christopher Bakshi and Tobey Maguire) are imprisoned. As the little madcap fruitlessly attempts to stretch through the bars he laments, “If only I could reach my magical shank.”
No matter where you are on the org chart, lots of LOL moments.
Now, “Back to work! Formula break is over.”


Its promo claims, “CHIP happens.”

If in the real world when, err, chip actually happens it’s usually bad, then all I have to say about this Dax Shepard-penned and directed send-up of the iconic 1970s lawdog bikers is:  10-4.
Because watching this one is like driving past a highway pile-up. You can’t not gaze at this wreck and still be in a hurry to get home.
Shepard is Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox’s character on the series) and the great though evidently desperate for a paycheck Michael Peña is “Ponch” (Erik Estrada on TV). The latter is a seasoned FBI undercover agent paired with an incompetent new recruit (Baker) trying to weed-out a thread of corrupt cops.
Unlike other nominal TV remakes that hit pay dirt like 21 Jump Street (2012, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) or Starsky & Hutch (2004, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson) CHIPs doesn’t happen, instead it just straddles the line without ever crossing into the hysterical and/or clever zones.
While we do get a satisfying though predictable cameo precisely where it’s expected, there are missed opportunities. For instance, Robert Pine, the TV duo’s boss, is nowhere to be found nor is his famous son Chris (Star Trek reboot’s James T. Kirk).  Couldn't one of them have been pulled over for texting?
I’ll let you off with a warning: keep moving, nothing to see here.

Kong: Skull Island

Unlike the two earlier reboot attempts — Dino De Laurentiis’ World Trade Towers-leaping great ape and Peter Jackson’s preposterous ice skating Kong— the new 3D/ IMAX KONG: Skull Island actually *does* hold a candle to the 1933 classic.
The time Kong told Godzilla, “Cash me outside!”

   King Kong has always been misunderstood and sometimes outright the hero. Like in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, a guilty pleasure.
   When Godzilla runs rampant in Tokyo and Batman is not answering the Bat Signal what to do? Airlift Kong to battle his natural enemy.
   Cheesy effects like floating Kong in with weather balloons add to the kitsch. But for my money, the best scene has Kong jamming a tree down Godzilla’s throat to arrest the flames.
   See, when these mega-monsters fight, street rules apply!

Set wholly on the beast’s home turf (read: no pole-dancing atop the Empire State Building), relatively unknown director Jordan Vogt-Roberts paints his supersized simian as a sort of protector against Mesozoic evils; though in some of the early scenes before knowing he’s on the same side Kong can be seen batting military helicopters like they were movie props.
Samuel L. Jackson stars as an aging military officer engaged immediately after the 1973 Vietnam withdrawal to escort a team (John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, and non-blonde Brie Larson) charged with exploring a heretofore unchartered island. It’s Apocalypse Now meets Jurassic Park with John C. Reilly as the ersatz Brando character of the former and from the latter Jackson channeling himself delivering the catchphrase “Hold on to your butts!”
No camp and less than expected humor. The plot is excusably secondary — teams are separated and encounter fantastic beasts as they try to reunite at a safe pick-up point… or something like that. But still lots to like here not the least of which are the amazing effects that must be seen on a large screen. 3D, not so much.
Finally, though this one is advertised as From the producers of Godzilla it has a different vibe from the well-executed 2014 Godzilla which I called one of the best monster films of the past quarter-century. A post-credits tease suggest a host of sequels including another Godzilla, possibly an epic face-off with Kong in 2020.

In the meantime, watch where you step.

A Dog’s Purpose

Though cleared by a third-party of wrongdoing, it’s still hard to look past the original allegation that filmmakers forcibly induced one of its canine stars to jump into raging waters.
But if and once you do, A Dog’s Purpose is a clever and touching tale of a sentient pet examining its own lives to find his purpose (spoiler: it’s different than Navin Johnson’s special purpose in The Jerk).
Based on 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter scribe W. Bruce Cameron’s similarly named 2010 best seller this one follows Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) over his four lifetimes and breeds spanning nearly fifty years —first as a young boy’s puppy, then a Chicago Police K-9, then a college student’s companion and finally a middle-age man’s rescue pet.
Lots to like in this comfortably-paced story. Poignant and solid family entertainment.
Less a movie than it is an experience.

La La Land

If The Artist and Rock of Ages had a baby it would be the ersatz musical La La Land.
But reintroducing Golden Age Hollywood song-and-dance in the Critics’ Choice for best film (FWIW, it didn’t get my vote) plays as just a novelty that I am not sure even the film ever commits to — it opens with an atypical (by today’s standards) high-energy choreographed routine by dozens caught in a massive L.A. traffic jam but except for one tune, all of the others (sung by stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling) are much subtler.
Stone works as a barista in a studio coffee shop while awaiting her big break. Gosling is jazz aficionado hoping to open his own club. They meet. They sing. They dance. Saying more would be a spoiler.
I hated the first twenty minutes, but when the hokey singing finally died-out a solid film unfolded... regrettably undermined by an unsatisfying fantasy sequence in the third act.
For nostalgics and über Stone/Goslings fans. But not for moi.


“Let’s put on a show.”
Nana Noodleman

Thankfully I haven’t heard that in years but when a spirited little koala (Matthew McConaughey) decides to stage a singing contest to revive the rundown old theater that he owns, the line comes across sincere and fresh.
Indeed, even if the plot is not wholly original, the characters and upbeat music make Sing an overlooked joy.
Co-stars John C. Reilly, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, and Scarlett Johansson. But for my money, Nana Noodleman (Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Saunders) steals the show.


Frequent readers know I drop a lot of references to The Sopranos. In part, that’s because the award-winning series is a good barometer of great writing (plus, the series is also cool as hell).
For instance, when Tony’s daughter tells him it’s the 90s and parents talk to their kids about sex he comes back with, “Yeah, but that’s where you’re wrong. You see out there it’s the 1990s, but in this house it’s 1954.”
Tony’s West Orange McMansion is a controllable refuge insulating his family from the world. Likewise, the metaphoric Fences Denzel Washington are perpetually constructing in his back yard keep the evolving 1950s Pittsburgh outside world separate from the blue collar father’s work and greater neighborhood; though Washington’s paranoia and preoccupation with the Grim Reaper do a pretty good job of isolating him from his wife (Viola Davis), sons, and brother.
Not for nothing, the relationship with his youngest son — the unwavering, almost obnoxious, strictness — is reminiscent of The Great Santini. Parallels to Sam Jackson’s Lakeview Terrace where a home is a sanctuary from the world and its arguable progress. Fences is a Denzel Washington-directed film version of the Pulitzer prize winning August WIlson stage play (the revival of which also starred Washington and Davis). Remarkably well-written though the big-screen version never feels anything but a filmed version of a play.

Hidden Figures

Pro forma but well-paced treatment of the unheralded contributions African-American women made during the 1960s space race.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe) are three mathematics experts relegated to mundane computation tasks in a segregated NASA facility. But when the Russians beat us to the exosphere, the are necessarily brought into the mainstream program where they predictably excel in spite of the subtle racism and overt segregation in which they are expected to perform.
Kevin Costner (who with Spencer also starred in last year’s Black or White) is the project’s director. Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons co-stars. 


The Founder

In honor of The Founder, the story of McDonald’s visionary Ray Kroc, I had my first ¼-Pounder (Royale w/cheese for my Amsterdam readers) in 18 months.
In 2001, author Eric Schlosser published Fast Food Nation, outlining the intersections of fast food, the demand for fast food, and the unpleasant things necessary to get a burger into our hands for a dollar. (Boyhood director Richard Linklater brought a less persuasive adaptation to the big screen in 2006 that starred Ethan Hawke, Ashley Johnson, and Greg Kinnear.) Weakened nuclear families, deconstructed social norms, and robotomized workers were a few of the consequences. Documentarian Morgan Spurlock famously highlighted another in his Super Size Me.
As for their role, the jury is deadlocked as to whether the ubiquitous McDonald’s invented the now roundly remonstrated trend or the evolving family created a demand for it. But to believe the Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) that director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks) serves-up here, it is the latter.
Kroc got his start hustling milkshake mixers to drive-ins popular in the era. (Chicagoans will recognize his employer Prince Castle who, with Cock Robin, ran venues back in the day.) In the course of his sales pitches, Kroc observed the operations in action as well as their loitering teen clienteles. He developed a sense of what processes were most effective in delivering product and the part his mixer might play in the overall “symphony of efficiency.”
But it was on a road trip to customers Mac and Dick McDonald’s place that was transformative. Kroc noted that every small town along Route 66 had two things in common: a church and a town hall; by the time he got to the brothers’ San Bernardino, California restaurant he imagined a third: golden arches. “Why not,” he wondered out loud to the skeptical men, “A place where decent, wholesome, families come together — McDonald’s can be the new American Church.”
They resist, at first… strict hands-on oversight was necessary to maintain quality, consistency and speed, and the brothers historically had problems recruiting like-minded managers. But the persistent Kroc eventually erodes their reluctance and the first McDonald’s franchise opens far from the brothers in Des Plaines, Illinois, near Kroc’s Oak Park home.
Then another. And another. In no time the franchises explode (today, the film notes, McDonald’s feeds 1% of the world every day) but the relationship between the ambitious Kroc and conservative McDonalds fractures and the real founders are epically and ignobly squeezed-out like ketchup from a little packet.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Keaton does a wonderful job as the ever-optimistic Kroc though the character is born can’t miss. Laura Dern co-stars.

A slated sequel is said to feature the McRib.
I’m lovin’ it.


Manchester By The Sea

Casey Affleck carries the film as a ne'er-do-well forced into a guardian role when his brother’s untimely death leaves a nephew orphaned.
Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler co-star.

Overrated Oscar bait.




Whenever science fiction assumes aliens visiting our planet must be a superior life form I think of something ALF — the 1980’s cat-munching pain in the Tanner family’s crack Melmac refugee — told Willie to temper his wonderment, “This is a good time to tell you I was a P.E. Major.”

Who’s your favorite extraterrestrial visitor?

e.t. of 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial?
Klaatu or Gort from 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still?

The Martians from Tim Burton’s 1996 Mars Attacks? Ack! Ack!
“By Grabthar’s Hammer” The Thermians from 1992’s Galaxy Quest?

Visit the Facebook Page and tell me.


Just sayin’.


Amy Adams is a noted linguist brought in by military intelligence to facilitate communications after a dozen ships land across our planet in Arrival


She and partner Jeremy Renner have a close encounter with two of the so-called heptapods (named for their seven arms) whom they nickname Abbott and Costello. But they quickly learn it is almost as difficult to converse in the aliens’ symbol-like language as it is to maintain dialogs with the other countries trying to do the same in order to ascertain the visitors’ true intentions.


Parts of Arrival are sharply written, notably the entire concept of language as a weapon, other parts are dogged. For instance, the layers of non-linear time are managed well but often too heavily relied upon as an escape to a plot-point painted into a corner. Overall it is original even when reminiscent of both The Day the Earth Stood Still and Christopher Nolan’s Inception.


From director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners and the upcoming Blade Runner 2049). Forest Whitaker co-stars.

Hacksaw Ridge


I tried fit Desmond Doss, the WWII medic who saved more than 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa, into the reluctant hero category — a sort of Sergeant York meets Saving Private Ryan. A bankable Hollywood character type. But the truth is, Doss signed-up to jump into the fire.


A pacifist, he yearned for a way to do his duty and thought he found one as a battlefield medic. Unfortunately, his rifle company did not exactly warm-up to a fellow soldier avowed to never handle a firearm.


In spite of their distrust, Doss saved scores of them when the United States sought to overtake the Pacific enemy on a suicidal mission at Hacksaw Ridge.


Hollywood pariah Mel Gibson directs Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, and the on-no-one’s-radar economic drama 99 Homes) in what is, hands down, one of the ten best films of the year.


A riveting story of the compelling servitude and self-sacrifice that earned Doss a Medal of Honor, the first ever to be awarded to a conscientious objector.


Vince Vaughn (!) co-stars as Doss’ drill instructor and later rifle company sergeant.  

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back


Ever reliable at the box office, Tom Cruise returns as Jack Reacher in Never Go Back, a film that is OK, but far inferior to the original 2012 installment that co-starred Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, and Robert Duvall.


This go ’round has Reacher traipsing around New Orleans to help vindicate his Army insider (Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Cobie Smulders) in what is an uninspiring adaptation of Lee Child’s 18th book in the series.


There are better movies to see and to read about. 


The Accountant

Rain Man meets Rambo in Ben Affleck’s hard-to-categorize thriller The Accountant.

Affleck is a high-functioning autistic number-cruncher whose father’s tough love helped mainstream him. If that’s what you call cooking the books for international crime organizations and keeping two steps ahead of U.S. intelligence agents (J. K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) wanting to recruit him.

The film starts-out intriguing, but its third act betrays originality when it descends into cliché and closes with a PSA.

Someone should have audited the script before green-lighting the project.

Anna Kendrick and John Lithgow co-star.





© 2008, 2016 Chris Miksanek, The Med City Movie Guy
  Last updated: 2016 December 1
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