Movie Review: “Sex Tape”

Starring
Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz, Rob Lowe, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper
Director
Jake Kasdan

The screenplay credit may reveal more about “Sex Tape” than it cares to admit. Karen Angelo gets both a story and screenplay credit (yep, this movie was a woman’s idea), with lead actor Jason Segel and his writing partner Nicholas Stoller sharing a joint screenplay credit as well. For the sake of Segel and Stoller’s reputations as writers, we are going to hope that they went into production with Angelo’s draft of the script, only to have Segel and Stoller punch it up once they realized it wasn’t working, and then realizing that there wasn’t enough time to get it completely right, so they settled for this. That is the only way to explain how Segel and Stoller would be part of something so emotionally tone-deaf. The characters in “Sex Tape” don’t have personalities: they have quirks. That’s not the same thing, by a damned sight.

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Segel) are harried with children, with neither the time nor the energy to invest in their sex life as they did when they were younger and childless. Both recognize that this is a problem, and they decide to make up for all of the missed opportunities by making a video of them performing every position in the 1972 book “The Joy of Sex.” The plan is for Jay to delete the video in the morning, only he doesn’t. Later the next day, Jay receives a text from an unknown number, telling him that they’ve seen the video. It went out after Jay did a group sync of the contents of his iPad (that was the camera) with several other iPads that he has recently given away to friends and colleagues. Annie is naturally embarrassed, but worse, she gave one of those iPads to Hank (Rob Lowe), who’s considering buying Annie’s mommy blog.

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Movie Review: “The Purge: Anarchy”

Starring
Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez
Director
James DeMonaco

The first “Purge” movie was an incredibly stupid horror-thriller dragged down by its comically far-fetched concept, cardboard villains and idiotic characters, but it also made a lot of money on a micro-sized budget, so it was hardly a surprise when Universal greenlit another installment. As you might expect from a sequel written and directed by the same guy responsible for the original, “The Purge: Anarchy” is plagued by many of the same issues, although it’s a slight improvement thanks to the decision to move the action out into the city rather than stay contained within a single household. In fact, unlike the home invasion plot of the first film, “Anarchy” has shed itself almost entirely of all horror elements, aiming for something more along the lines of a retro John Carpenter movie, only not as good.

In an attempt to lower the national crime rate and control overpopulation, the country’s newly elected government – the New Founding Fathers of America – have enacted an annual holiday known as The Purge, a 12-hour period where all crime (including theft, murder and rape) is completely legal. It’s designed to provide citizens with an outlet for their repressed urges, and it actually works, but only if you’re lucky enough to be on the right side of the poverty line. Those who can’t afford protection are easy targets, like single mother Eva (Carmen Ejogo), who’s just trying to make it through another Purge alive with her daughter Cali (Zoe Soul). When a well-armed group of assailants raid their apartment building and take them outside to be executed in the streets, they’re saved by a mysterious stranger (Frank Grillo) seeking revenge on the man who killed his son. Along the way, they’re joined by a married couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) that’s been stranded in the city after their car breaks down on the highway, and they must work together to survive the night against psychotic gangs, twisted one-percenters and the government’s personal hit squad.

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Movie Review: “Planes: Fire & Rescue”

Starring
Dane Cook, Teri Hatcher, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Julie Bowen, John Michael Higgins, Brad Garrett, Regina King
Director
Roberts Gannaway

Movies like “Planes: Fire & Rescue” are the bane of a movie critic’s existence, but not for the reasons you might suspect. It has a rock-solid moral center, preaching the virtues of bravery and self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, and those are important things for young children to learn in the event that their real-life role models aren’t teaching them those things already. It also has some inspired voice work by a well-chosen cast, and some impressive visuals. However, in order to make said point about the virtues of bravery and self-sacrifice, the story line and dialogue are stripped of nearly all nuance, and in the end we are left with a Message Movie, and a straight-to-video Message Movie at that. (That might sound harsh, but last year’s “Planes” was originally meant to go straight to video.) Even Disney knows that these movies are second class to films like “Frozen” and “Wreck-It-Ralph.” It’s a place filler until they unveil their next tentpole release. Easily consumable and earnest, but knowingly lacking, and absolutely not worth paying extra cash to see in 3D.

Newly crowned race champion Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is enjoying his moment in the sun as the It Boy of aerial racing, but his mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher) advises him that he has a part that is both faulty and irreplaceable, and if he continues to push the limits, he will crash. Of course, he does exactly that, and sets off a chain of events that exposes the airport he calls home as being unsafe. They need another rescue vehicle and, realizing that his racing days are all but over, Dusty volunteers to be the rescue vehicle. Fire truck Mayday (Hal Holbrook) sends Dusty up to train with Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), and Dusty quickly, and repeatedly, learns that this job is much harder than it looks.

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Movie Review: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Starring
Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Gary Oldman, Kirk Acevedo
Director
Matt Reeves

It’s always a great feeling to walk into a movie with low expectations and come out pleasantly surprised, as was the case with Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a prequel that no one was really clamoring for apart from the franchise’s most diehard fans. And yet by proving that it was possible to make a great “Planet of the Apes” film, it raised the bar in the process, creating a whole new set of obstacles for any movie that followed, including whether it could live up to or even surpass its predecessor. But while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” stands above and beyond the original films, as well as most of the other movies released this summer, Matt Reeves’ much darker sequel is unable to match the emotional resonance of the previous installment, although it certainly tries.

Set a decade after the events of the first prequel, “Dawn” opens in a very different San Francisco from when we last saw it. The Simian Flu (a contagious virus spread by the Alzheimer’s drug that James Franco’s scientist created in “Rise”) has wiped out most of humanity, while the apes continue to thrive in their forest community located on the outskirts of the city. But when a small group of humans (led by Jason Clarke’s Malcolm) accidentally wanders onto the apes’ home turf while searching for a hydroelectric dam capable of bringing power back online, their arrival re-ignites the feud between leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and right-hand ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), who have vastly different opinions on how to handle the trespassers. Caesar agrees to allow Malcom and his team to stay and repair the generator in order to keep the peace between mankind and apes, but Koba’s deep mistrust leads him to discover that the human survivors have stockpiled weapons in their downtown sanctuary, and fearing that they’ll attack first, he betrays Caesar and leads an all-out assault against the humans.

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Movie Review: “Earth to Echo”

Starring
Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford
Director
Dave Green

“Earth to Echo” is the kid who has consumed so much pop culture that he no longer has any thoughts of his own. Everything he says and does is someone else’s idea, not necessarily mindless but rather overloaded by information. And yet, it’s strangely likable, in spite of the myriad of shortcomings it possesses. The leads are easy to root for; they’re good kids who are looking to take one last adventure together before they are separated. It’s a movie that acknowledges cynicism, but shows a more hopeful path. It’s hard to get too down on a movie like that, even a mediocre one.

The film is narrated by and documented courtesy of the recording devices of Tuck (Astro. Yes, the actor’s name is Astro.), who originally intends to film his last days with his closest friends Alex (Teo Halm) and Munch (Reese Hartwig). These are their last days because their sleepy Nevada town is mysteriously becoming the home to a superhighway, and the residents are forced to move elsewhere. The boys all pull the age-old tween trick of telling their parents they’re sleeping at each other’s houses so they can stay out all night. They’re doing this because their cell phones are all going bonkers lately, but in different ways. The patterns on their phone match a nearby map, so they follow the images on their phone, and discover an alien life form who’s trying to put the pieces to his equipment back together in order to go home. The boys are only happy to help. The “builders” of the superhighway, however, are less accommodating.

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