Movie Review: “Lights Out”

Starring
Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alexander DiPersia
Director
David F. Sandberg

Had “Lights Out” been released after “The Ring,” it might be considered one of the all-time greats of supernatural horror. It has a genuinely creepy (if slight) premise, courtesy of a relentless, unstoppable villain, and several blood-chilling scenes. The film’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t trust its stuff, falling for the cliché trick of needlessly filling the score with crashing, ‘Boo!’ punches of percussion when the movie was already perfectly scary. Director David F. Sandberg would have been wise to take a page from executive producer James Wan’s “Conjuring” films and let the camera do the talking, rather than the score.

Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is concerned for his mother Sophie (Maria Bello). He hears her talking to herself at night, and one night, he sees something frightening that he cannot understand. Martin begins falling asleep at school, since he refuses to sleep at night. When Sophie doesn’t answer calls from Child Protective Services after Martin has fallen asleep for the third time in a week, Martin’s adult half-sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) picks him up. When Martin tells Rebecca about Sophie’s friend Diana, Rebecca stops in her tracks. Diana was a girl that befriended Sophie when both were under psychiatric care as teenagers. Diana died during an unconventional treatment called light therapy, and in death, she has latched on to Sophie, moving in the darkness. (Rebecca saw Diana as a child too, but no one believed her.) As Martin and Rebecca learn more about Diana, the more aggressive Diana fights to keep Sophie to herself.

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Movie Review: “Star Trek Beyond”

Starring
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim
Director
Justin Lin

In 2009, director J.J. Abrams helped to successfully relaunch the “Star Trek” franchise, and his reboot remains an immensely entertaining adventure movie. Although its sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” is not without its moments, it’s a disappointing follow-up that’s held back by some unfortunate twists and a misjudged villain. The film hardly slowed down this now 50-year-old franchise, however, which returns to the big screen with “Star Trek Beyond.” The Justin Lin-directed sequel quickly gets the crew back on track by delivering a very entertaining and often kind-hearted summer movie.

Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is tired of his five-year mission to seek out new life and explore new worlds. While on a diplomatic assignment with fellow crew members Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), Kirk presents an alien species with a peace offering from the Federation. The gift is part of a deadly ancient weapon called the Abronath, but he has no clue what it is or what it’s capable of. Krall (Idris Elba), on the other hand, knows exactly what it can do. The face-changing villain is against everything the Federation stands for, so he dupes the Enterprise crew into going on a “rescue mission” to a distant planet, where he attacks them, leaving the crew completely torn apart. Even though they’re outnumbered and outmatched, Kirk and the gang are not alone in their fight against Krall, joining forces with an alien warrior named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, who turns out to be a great addition to the series) to stop him from unleashing the Abronath.

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Movie Review: “The Infiltrator”

Starring
Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Olympia Dukakis, Jason Isaacs
Director
Brad Furman

Like director Brad Furman’s 2011 film, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” his latest movie, “The Infiltrator,” is an assured piece of filmmaking that spins a familiar tale extremely well. This true-life story is a consistently engaging look at a man and woman living duel lives. Will they get in so deep that they forget who they are? Furman and screenwriter Ellen Sue Brown (who also happens to be the director’s mother) answer that clichéd question with genuine nuance and thrills.

Set in 1985, Robert “Bob” Mazur (Bryan Cranston) – whose real-life counterpart worked as a consultant on Furman’s “Runner Runner” – is a U.S. Customs agent who’s given the chance to retire early and spend more time at home with his wife and kids following an injury at work. Instead, he pursues another job involving Pablo Escobar, who mostly remains in the shadows of this story. Posing as a successful money launderer named Bob Musella, he attempts to cripple Escobar’s organization by bringing down his top people, including Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), a criminal that Bob befriends. Joining Bob on his undercover mission are agents Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and Emir Ebreu (John Leguizamo), who must put aside their personal differences and work together in order to take down some of the world’s most powerful drug lords and corrupt bankers from the inside.

Bryan Cranston, who co-starred in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” is fantastic as Mazur. Rarely do undercover agents in movies feel this vulnerable. Mazur isn’t played as an agent that can take out five guards without a problem, but he’s extremely competent and smart at his job, even if his smarts aren’t always enough for the job. Even in seemingly mundane conversations in “The Infiltrator,” death is only a few flubbed words or a wrongly remembered lie away for the character. The stakes are always high, and Cranston makes the audience feel those stakes in the briefest of moments sometimes. When Robert witnesses two murders, the actor doesn’t play it cool; his response is either of shock or horror. In these extraordinary situations, Cranston reacts normally. The actor helps make the reality and the sense of danger palpable, and the same goes for Kruger and Leguizamo.

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Movie Review: “Ghostbusters”

Starring
Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey
Director
Paul Feig

Want a surefire way to piss someone off? Tell them that Hollywood is remaking their favorite film. That seemed to do the trick for the millions of “Ghostbusters” fans when it was announced that Sony was not only rebooting Ivan Reitman’s 1984 comedy classic but that director Paul Feig would be gender swapping all the roles. Though the news had the unfortunate effect of spawning a small but vocal group of misogynistic internet trolls, even the most level-headed moviegoers had reason to be concerned due to the uninspired cast and disappointing early trailers. Thankfully, the 2016 reboot isn’t as bad as many predicted, but it’s not very good either. The film is merely okay, and while that may be enough to silence its detractors, for a franchise with as much potential as “Ghostbusters,” it should have been better.

Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) used to be a firm believer in the paranormal, even writing a book on the subject with childhood friend/fellow scientist Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) before leaving it all behind to focus on a legitimate career teaching at Columbia University. But when Erin and Abby experience an actual paranormal sighting after a chance encounter reunites them, they team up with oddball nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and street-smart MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to capture a ghost as proof that they exist. Meanwhile, a bullied hotel janitor named Rowan (Neil Casey) has begun planting devices around the city that attract and amplify paranormal activity with the intention of opening a portal to a ghostly dimension and wreaking havoc on the world as payback. The only ones capable of stopping Rowan and his army of undead are the newly formed Ghostbusters, but first, they need to convince people that it isn’t a hoax.

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Movie Review: “The Secret Life of Pets”

Starring
Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks
Director
Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney

Illumination Entertainment showed such great promise with their debut film “Despicable Me.” It wasn’t quite Pixar-esque in terms of greatness, but the movie had its heart in the right place, delivered some quality laughs, and included great jokes for the adults that were also appropriate for kids (“Bank of Evil, Formerly Lehman Brothers.”) They’ve responded to the success of the first film by exploiting Gru’s minions like they were a limitless supply of programmable Olsen twins. The minions dominated “Despicable Me 2,” much to that movie’s detriment, and they finally got their own film, which to date is the worst film in Illumination’s history (yes, it made over $1 billion worldwide, but so did “Alice in Wonderland,” and that movie is a hot mess). Worse, they even appeared in costume form in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” They’re like alien spores, hell-bent on consuming all life on Earth.

This brings us to Illumination’s latest film, “The Secret Life of Pets,” which does not take place in the minions’ universe, yet contains three references to them: the word ‘Illumination’ in the studio’s title card flickers so that only the letters spelling ‘minion’ are visible; a character dresses up as a minion for a party; and there is a short film starring the minions before the main feature (to be fair, that bit is somewhat amusing, and proves that the minions are funnier when administered in smaller doses). That might sum up Illumination’s problem better than anything: they care more about branding than they do about the quality of their films.

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