Movie Review: “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”

Starring
Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Stephen Root
Director
Jake Szymanski

Raunch-com, we need to talk. We’ve been spending a lot of time together (11 years, by my count), and this relationship just isn’t working out for me anymore. Every time you start to tell me a new story, I get all excited, thinking, “This ought to be good,” only to discover that this story just cobbles together elements from the stories you told me a couple of years ago. Do you even recognize that you’ve told this joke before? There are times when I feel like Julianne Moore’s husband in “Still Alice,” if “Still Alice” was a pitch-black comedy. Funny, yet so not funny.

And yet, there are times when you can still bring the goods, though with your most recent story, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” your ass was saved by some expert casting. Aubrey Plaza? Genius move. it was economical as well, at 98 minutes. Way to get in and out before wearing out your welcome.

Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) are dipshit party boy liquor salesmen who have a history of ruining family events with their brotastic shenanigans. The next family event is the wedding of their little sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard), so the parents give them an ultimatum: they must bring dates, and nice ones at that, so they will be encouraged to behave themselves. The boys are struggling with the concept, so in their infinite wisdom they decide to put out an ad, which quickly goes viral and catches the eye of party girl Tatiana (Plaza), who sees an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii as the perfect way to get her left-at-the-altar bestie Alice (Anna Kendrick) out of her tailspin. Alice and Tatiana’s ruse is to lead the boys into thinking that they don’t know who they are and are just meeting them by chance. It works, but not for as long as they had hoped.

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Movie Review: “The Legend of Tarzan”

Starring
Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent
Director
David Yates

It’s been over 100 years since author Edgar Rice Burroughs published his first Tarzan novel and nearly half that long since the character was last relevant in pop culture, so it’s understandable why Warner Bros. may have thought it was a good idea to resurrect the franchise as a big summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, there’s a reason Tarzan hasn’t succeeded in recent times, and that’s because it’s a largely hokey premise that is firmly rooted in the sensibilities of a bygone era. Though director David Yates’ reboot is admirably old-fashioned in execution, a gorgeously filmed adventure movie shot with classic Hollywood grandeur, “The Legend of Tarzan®” is as soulless as the registered trademark symbol that appears on the opening title card.

Set in 1890, the film begins several years after the man formerly known as Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) left the jungles of Africa to assume his rightful position as British aristocrat John Clayton III alongside his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). But when he receives an invitation from King Leopold II of Belgium to return to the Congo as a trade emissary for the House of Commons, American statesman George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convinces him to go in order to investigate rumors that Leopold is using slave labor to colonize the country. Upon arriving in the Congo, however, John discovers that the whole trip is a ruse devised by Leopold’s trusted advisor, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who has agreed to hand John over to a vengeful chieftain (Djimon Honsou) in exchange for diamonds needed to pay off Leopold’s mounting debt. John manages to evade capture, but Jane is kidnapped in the process, prompting him to unleash the beast he’s kept contained for so long in order to rescue her.

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Movie Review: “The Purge: Election Year”

Starring
Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor
Director
James DeMonaco

It’s very rare for a movie franchise to get better with each successive installment (especially in the horror genre), but that’s exactly what writer/director James DeMonaco has done with the “Purge” series, refining the concept each time by carrying over the elements that worked best. Though “The Purge: Election Year” inherits many of the same problems from 2014’s “The Purge: Anarchy,” chief among them the absurdity of the Purge itself, it also builds on its strengths to produce another John Carpenter-styled action thriller that’s equal parts cheesy B-movie and pulpy fun. It’s not necessarily a good film, but what “Election Year” lacks in quality it makes up for with a deft understanding of its audience.

Two years after choosing not to murder the man who killed his son in a drunk driving accident, former police sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is now working as the head of security for Senator Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a fast-rising politician who watched her entire family get massacred during Purge Night 18 years earlier. Senator Roan has been gaining ground on the current presidential frontrunner thanks to a campaign built on ending the Purge once and for all, and the NFFA (the New Founding Fathers of America, a.k.a. the rich white guys behind the Purge) wants her gone before the election. After lifting the immunity clause on all government officials for the upcoming Purge, the NFFA plots to eliminate Roan by attacking the senator at her well-guarded home in Washington, D.C. Forced to go on the run when a trusted staff member betrays them, Leo cautiously teams up with some fellow survivors – including corner shop owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), Mexican immigrant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) and reformed gangbanger Laney (Betty Gabriel) – in order to protect Roan by any means necessary.

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Movie Review: “The BFG”

Starring
Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance, Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Penelope Wilton
Director
Steven Spielberg

It’s easy to see why filmmakers are drawn to Roald Dahl’s work. He liked placing his stories in our world while adding something most definitely not from our world, with several of his stories coming with a new language. “The BFG” hits everything on the Dahl checklist, but it has trouble getting out of second gear. It’s sweet, it’s beautifully shot, and it sports another fine performance from Mark Rylance (who, last time he worked with “BFG” director Steven Spielberg, won an Oscar for his work in “Bridge of Spies”), but let’s point out the elephant in the room, shall we? Wes Anderson wrecked the curve for Roald Dahl adaptations with his stop-motion masterpiece “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Following in that movie’s footsteps, even seven years later and multiple generations of technological advancement – something that is clearly prioritized here – “The BFG” didn’t have a prayer.

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) lives in a London orphanage at a time that is at first undetermined, but we later learn is the early 1980s (Dahl’s book was released in 1982). She has trouble sleeping, and it is on a sleepless night that she sees a giant walking the streets. The giant (Rylance) sees that he’s been spotted and, out of concern that she will tell the authorities and make things difficult for him, he snatches Sophie and takes her to his home in a faraway land. Unlike the giants he lives with, he has no intentions of hurting her (the others love eating children, and would devour her on sight), and he even takes her as he goes to work catching dreams. The other giants are much larger and meaner than Sophie’s giant – whom she calls BFG after he remarked that he’d like to be known as the Big Friendly Giant – and they bully him relentlessly. Sophie encourages BFG to stand up for himself and comes up with a plan to put the giants in their place.

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Movie Review: “The Shallows”

Starring
Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge
Director
Jaume Collet-Serra

Jaume Collet-Serra is a director who can generally elevate whatever material he’s working with. The “Non-Stop” and “Orphan” director makes B-movies – films that, in less capable hands, wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as they are. The same can be said for his newest film, “The Shallows,” an enjoyable and often exciting thriller that rises above a somewhat inconsistent script.

Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) heads off to paradise to surf on a secluded and mostly unknown beach that her mother, who recently passed away, told her about. With the exception of a few visitors, she’s completely isolated. On Nancy’s second trip into the water, she comes across a dead whale and quickly realizes she’s truly not alone; there’s a great white shark in the shallows. Bitten and nearly killed, she’s left stranded on a rock too far from the shore. For the most part, “The Shallows” is a one-woman show, although Nancy does befriend a seagull.

Anthony Jaswinski’s script doesn’t stretch the premise out too much. For the most part, “The Shallows” is a refreshingly efficient and cleanly structured summer movie, one that runs under 90 minutes – a rarity this time of year. There’s little fat to this story. At the start of the film, Nancy is already on her way to the beach, so Jaswinski kicks things off running, for the most part. There is a minor exposition dump at the start, but it’s quick and clean, and it helps that the opening scene features two actors (Blake Lively and Óscar Jaenada) that have a natural and charming rapport, so the information goes down smoothly.

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