By all rights, Disney has been kicking sister company Pixar’s butt on the animated film front for the last five or six years. This is due to two unrelated events: Former Pixar chief and current Disney chief John Lasseter brought The Process with him from Pixar, where instead of putting one or two people in charge of the story, a group of writers will work on the story until they have ironed out any potential kinks. At the same time, Pixar hit a point in their release schedule where they were working almost exclusively on sequels (with only one of the non-sequels, 2015’s “Inside Out,” good enough to stand alongside Pixar’s best work). This left Pixar vulnerable, and while Pixar was by no means out, they were down, and Disney seized the opportunity. In the last four years, Disney and Pixar have each won two Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, though if you ask us, “Wreck-It Ralph” was robbed at arrow point by “Brave” in 2012, and the real tally should be 3-1 in Disney’s favor.
This brings us to “Moana,” coming out in a year where Disney and its many subdivisions have completely conquered the box office. (They own the top four spots on the worldwide box office rankings, with the recently released “Doctor Strange” at #9 and climbing, and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” still waiting in the wings.) One wonders if releasing three animated films in one year proved to be a strain on the brain trust, because The Process let “Moana” down. It’s fun, and it’s beautifully rendered, but it is a far cry from “Zootopia” in terms of story, a farther cry from “Frozen” in terms of musical numbers, and it pales in comparison to both in terms of emotional weight.
Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul
Rawson Marshall Thurber
There is a really good movie just within reach of “Central Intelligence.” The casting is impeccable (no joke, Dwayne Johnson has never been better), and the premise is a strangely beautiful marriage of “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “True Lies,” with a few jabs at Facebook for good measure. They even used their PG-13, one-time-only F-bomb to tell Mark Zuckerberg to, well, you know.
Unfortunately, the dialogue reads like it was written by horny tweens who are really, really into toilet humor. It also falls prey to the age-old movie cliché that the most highly skilled soldiers in the world happen to all be lousy shots. No, no, no.
It is 1996, and Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is riding high as a high school senior and multi-sport all-star. In the middle of his speech at the last assembly of the year, Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson), an awkward, overweight, overlooked kid, is thrown into the gym, naked as a jailbird, by a group of bullies. Calvin offers him his letterman jacket so he can cover himself up, and Robbie is eternally grateful. Twenty years later, Calvin is an accountant but frustrated that he, in his mind, peaked too soon. A day before his 20-year high school reunion, Calvin receives a Facebook friend request from a Bob Stone and accepts it. Bob Stone turns out to be Robbie, only now he’s tall and ripped, and he hasn’t forgotten that Calvin offered to help him during the most humiliating experience of his life.
Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi
Roland Emmerich would be proud. “San Andreas” is every bit the big, dumb and loud disaster movie that everyone expected it to be, delivering on that promise with some sensational, effects-heavy action that’s practically begging to be turned into a theme park attraction. Though some people will undoubtedly criticize the film for doing exactly what it sets out to achieve, “San Andreas” is pretty upfront about its intentions, doing no more and no less than it needs to in order to get its characters from point A to point B. This is the type of guilt-free popcorn movie that the summer blockbuster season is built around, and while it never amounts to much more than cinematic eye candy, that’s kind of the point.
Dwayne Johnson stars as Chief Ray Gaines, a former military helicopter rescue pilot who now works for the Los Angeles Fire Department saving lives alongside the same crew that served with him overseas. When a big earthquake hits Nevada, tearing apart the Hoover Dam in the process, Ray is forced to cancel a road trip with his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to help with the rescue effort. But Cal Tech seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) predicts that an even bigger earthquake is going to occur along the San Andreas Fault, with San Francisco getting hit the hardest, placing Blake smack dab in the middle of the impending destruction. After rescuing his soon-to-be ex-wife, Anna (Carla Gugino), from a crumbling building in Los Angeles, the pair heads to San Francisco to save their daughter before she becomes another victim of the devastating quake.
Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jordana Brewster, Kurt Russell
A franchise seven movies in shouldn’t be this good. The “Fast and Furious” series almost died after the dismal “2 Fast 2 Furious,” but in 2006, director Justin Lin revived the franchise with the immensely enjoyable “Tokyo Drift.” Although Lin’s follow-up (2009’s “Fast & Furious”) was a misstep, he quickly bounced back with “Fast Five,” taking the franchise to another level. The scope, laughs and characters ballooned, proving less isn’t always more. “Furious 7,” directed by James Wan, continues the series’ tradition of going big.
The sequel picks up not long after the events of “Fast & Furious 6.” Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) is still alive, but just barely, and his older brother, Deckard (Jason Statham), is going to finish the fight he started, vowing to take out Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the rest of the gang, including series regulars Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. That’s the core story of “Furious 7,” but there are terrorists, a hacker and a device that can track anyone in the world that the “Fast” family must contend with as well.
These movies are almost overstuffed by design. Chris Morgan’s script doesn’t really have 127 minutes of story to tell, but “Furious 7” is so giddy and overblown that its bloated runtime is more of a blessing than a burden. Right when you think these movies are about to slow down, they keep going, especially in the action department. Do the action set pieces defy the laws of physics? Possibly, but that’s what makes them so appealing. When a car hops from building, to building, to building, it’s like something out of a 12-year-old’s dream.
Once upon a time, the summer was the designated dumping ground for all of the crap that the networks had lying around that they didn’t deem good enough to put on during the regular season, but now…well, actually, there’s still a bit of that going on, but viewers are also starting to get some unexpectedly strong material as well. I’ve been bombarded with screeners over the past few weeks, so many that I haven’t been able to keep up with them all, but I’ve managed to pull together a list of 10 shows that I have seen and found at least worth giving a try, if only for one episode to see if the first taste is enough to keep you coming back for more.
Wizards vs. Aliens
As a rule, any series which features Russell T. Davies, the man who finally succeeded in selling “Doctor Who” to Americans, as part of its creative team is a series that’s at least worth giving a shot, even if it is on The Hub. In fact, let’s back up a second: The Hub actually has a quite a lot of fun programming for the hipper young-adult set, so no one should be dismissing the network out of hand as being merely a channel for kids. Plus, hello, the show’s called “Wizards vs. Aliens.” How is that not going to be awesome? Granted, it’s still intended for a younger demographic, a la Davie’s “Who” spin-off, “The Sarah Jane Adventures,” so you shouldn’t go in expecting “Torchwood” levels of darkness, but if you go in with the right mindset, you’ll find it’s a lot of fun for the whole family.