Movie Review: “Trolls”

Starring
Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, John Cleese, Jeffrey Tambor
Director
Walt Dohrn & Mike Mitchell

A movie about Troll dolls is almost comically cynical. Take a product line that has lost its luster, repackage it for the next generation and laugh all the way to the bank. It’s the textbook definition of a cold, calculated, brand-driven cash grab. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is exactly what people said about “The LEGO Movie” before it came out. Then that movie turned out to be awesome, and the nation ate a fair amount of crow.

“Trolls” is no “LEGO Movie,” but there is something to it, a relentlessness of spirit that is undeniable. It has a stunningly unique visual style, the musical numbers are a deftly chosen blend of big pop hits and lesser-known but worthy songs (all selected by co-star Justin Timberlake), and the voice casting is sublime. The ‘B’ story could have used some work (it’s a Disney princess story, almost verbatim), and it ultimately lacks the courage of its early convictions, but it is still a wildly entertaining movie.

The trolls are impossibly happy, follicly-blessed creatures who live in a tree in the middle of a village of Bergens, miserable folk whose only joy comes from eating a troll, and the eating of a troll becomes a Bergen holiday. On one of these holidays, the trolls escape, and for 20 years, they live a blissful, hug-filled existence. The new Bergen king (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has been told his entire life that he will never be happy until he eats a troll, so when the disgraced Chef (Christine Baranski), who’s been cast out of Bergenville after the trolls’ great escape happened on her watch, finds the trolls’ hiding place and snatches several trolls to offer to the king, he is more than eager to restart the long-abandoned tradition of eating a troll. Troll Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) sets out to save her kidnapped friends with reluctant assistance from sullen troll Branch (Timberlake).

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Movie Review: “The Accountant”

Starring
Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor
Director
Gavin O’Connor

What if Jason Bourne wasn’t an amnesiac super-soldier but rather a high-functioning autistic man with comparable fighting skills? That appears to be the general idea behind Gavin O’Connor’s “The Accountant,” a film suffering from such an identity crisis that it’s unclear exactly what kind of movie he’s trying to make. Though it starts out as both a fairly generic crime procedural and a zen-like character study about an on-the-spectrum math genius struggling to lead a normal life, it completely changes gears midway through and transforms into a straight-up action thriller. The problem is that “The Accountant” never stops being those other movies either, resulting in a convoluted and tonally unbalanced mess that is occasionally entertaining but feels like it’s a few drafts away from a finished product.

Small-town accountant Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) isn’t like everybody else. He’s highly intelligent, a proficient marksman and capable of winning a knife fight with only a belt. In fact, Christian isn’t even his real name; it’s just one of many aliases he uses to stay off the grid. Raised by his sadistic military father, who eschewed traditional therapy for an unorthodox childhood designed to prepare him for the toughness of the real world, the antisocial Christian now moonlights as a forensic accountant for dangerous criminal organizations, uncooking the books to locate missing money. Determined to stay one step ahead of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes division, led by director Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), Christian accepts a seemingly innocuous job auditing a high-profile robotics company after an accounting clerk named Dana (Anna Kendrick) discovers a discrepancy in the finances. But as Christian and Dana get closer to exposing the truth, they’re targeted by a contract killer (Jon Bernthal) who’s been hired by someone within the company to contain the leak.

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Movie Review: “The Hollars”

Starring
John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Sharlto Copley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director
John Krasinski

Actor John Krasinski returns behind the camera with “The Hollars,” the follow-up to his 2009 directorial debut “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” an adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s novel of the same name. Although that film was greeted with mostly negative reviews, Krasinski’s sophomore effort is a compelling and kind-hearted, albeit familiar, tale about returning home.

After learning his mother is sick, John Hollar (Krasinski) has to fly back home, away from his unsatisfying job and his pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). Upon his arrival, he’s greeted by his brother Ron (Sharlto Copley), who was recently fired by their dad, Don (Richard Jenkins), from the family store. After his divorce, Ron is still living at home, doing considerably worse than his younger brother, who once dreamt of what he thinks is a better life as a graphic novelist. Once he arrives home, he’s forced to confront past mistakes, rebuild relationships, and be there for his family, most notably his mother Sally (Margo Martindale), who’s been diagnosed with a massive brain tumor.

That plot summary tells you exactly what you’re in for. In one subplot, John even has dinner at his ex-girlfriend’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) house with her husband Jason (Charlie Day), who comedically hovers around to make sure nothing happens between them. It’s an overly broad scene that speaks to “The Hollars” biggest problem: it tries a little too hard with the laughs. Screenwriter James C. Strouse often goes big with the gags, and sometimes at the expense of the drama. It feels like almost every dramatic scene has to end with a laugh or some kind of gag to provide levity. The jokes are sometimes more calculated than a natural mix of the good (the laughs) and the bad (the drama) in these situations.

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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: “Pitch Perfect 2″

Starring
Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Devine, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Flula Borg
Director
Elizabeth Banks

Second verse, same as the first. A little bit louder and, unfortunately, a little bit worse. “Pitch Perfect 2” is so, so very sequel. It finds room for characters who have no business returning for the second installment. It plays matchmaker, and lots of it. Money is not an issue for anyone at any point, even though there are several instances where it should be (these are college kids, after all). It gives far, far too much screen time to Rebel Wilson, and it has some galling product placement (Pantene and Dave and Buster’s, we’re looking in your direction).

In spite of all this, it’s also a massive crowd pleaser, filled with some ridiculously fun and elaborate song and dance routines and enough quality jokes to help the audience suffer through the less funny material (again, Wilson, mostly). The movie’s story structure is nearly identical to the first “Pitch Perfect.” If it’s missing anything, it’s the element of surprise. No one saw the first one coming, which is why it was a left-field hit, but this time, audiences are prepared, and can therefore see every plot development coming down Broadway.

The Barden University a cappella singing group the Barden Bellas, who have now won three straight college championships thanks to the leadership of Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick), perform for the President at Lincoln Center and suffer yet another humiliating mishap on stage that leads to their suspension, and the near-certain demise of the group. There is a loophole in the terms of their punishment, though, that allows them to compete for the world championship, and if they win that, the Bellas will be reinstated. No American group has ever won the world title, though, and they face stiff competition at the hands of Das Sound Machine, a group of two dozen German men and women who look like they were manufactured in a lab, a lab with lots of steroids. Cue the “Rocky” theme.

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