REVIEW: “GIRLS TRIP” (2017) Universal Pictures

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The formula for “Girl’s Trip” is something you’ve all seen before. Best friends from college whom haven’t seen each other in years and have lost touch. All lead separate lives, yet come back together for a big reunion. But just as with all ‘formula’ films – it’s how you do it. And it’s done pretty well right here. While comparison’s to Rough Night will be inevitable as again, the formula is similar, ‘Girl’s Trip’ definitely benefits from a beefed up storyline and complete chemistry between it’s leads.

Speaking of those leads, this fearsome foursome of Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), the successful married author with the smooth ex-sportsman husband Stewart
(Mike Colter), who is setting herself up to be the second coming of Oprah. Sasha Franklin (Queen Latifah), runs a TMZ style gossip site and like a Real Housewife, her lifestyle exceeds her income. Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith), the stressed out, newly divorced of ‘mom’ of the group in everything from her mom-fashion sense to her ‘mom’ flirting style. Lastly we have our stand-out – the steal the film/sure to be our new star of the moment – Tiffany Haddish as Dina, the most over-the-top, wild, fun character to come across the screen in a long time. They are all otherwise known as the Flossy Possy and they have the matching necklaces & 90’s style bedazzled vests to prove it. This raucous romp of a film is bust-out-loud laughing for a good 90 minutes, but therein also lies the problem as the film is 2hrs long. That’s not to say that 2 hours isn’t filled with it’s share of raunchy comedy, heartbreaking reveals, and some truly jaw-dropping gags that run the gamut from all out fun crassyness to possibly even the illegal at some points. But the punchlines are hysterical and you can’t help but laugh uncontrollably.

Haddish’s and her charismatic zip set the tone early, zinging between bouts of physical comedy and wonderfully inappropriate one-liners that are as shocking as they are masterfully and hysterically, delivered. Later in the film, Haddish serves up what will likely become contemporary cinema’s best example of how to use fruit to simulate sex acts (sorry, “American Pie”), a sequence so deliciously raunchy that it’s worth the price of the ticket alone.

But Dina, for all her big talk and hilarious faults, is also an exceedingly loyal friend, and that will come in handy when “Girls Trip” takes on the very big secret at its center. It’s that secret that is the source of much of the film’s drama, and is what makes it for a bit of an overstuffed feature and adds time to the film that makes it just a bit too long as you think it ends at least 3 times before it actually does. As the ladies make their way through all the glory Essence Fest has to offer, including run-ins with a slew of big talents in a seemingly never-ending parade of cameos (Diddy and New Edition makes off with the best ones) and at least one wild adventure fueled by some ill-gotten pure absinthe, “Girls Trip” keeps the momentum going ever onward into the next big comedic set piece. That it all ends with a reveal that while it might dilute its more raucous sensibilities, it ends the film exactly how you think it will. But it only makes it more clear why Director: Malcolm D. Lee and all these ladies should think about coming back again and again for possibly some more hilarious ‘Girl’s Trips’ because I know I will be there for each and every one of them.

Grade: B
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Media Review Screening: Monday, July 17, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
“Girls Trip” will be released in theaters nationwide on Friday, July 21, 2017

REVIEW: “WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES” (2017) 20th Century Fox

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With this being the final film in the Apes trilogy saga ~ WOW! does this one have a lot to offer. From charactarization to extraordinary and beautifully done set pieces, along with spectacular next-level CG work that brings such realness to the apes. Of course it has flaws, but they are few. This truly shows how to respect original material, yet reinvent it in a way that enhances and sends it off in the right way.

If you are like me and have, whether secretly or not, always been cheering for the apes, you will love this movie. This movie has so much going on within itself the whole time, you will rarely find a dull moment. It starts with a bit of a prologue from previous films which I loved as it’s always nice to have a reminder – but done simply, clearly and precisly in a matter of a few short sentences. This will make it nice and easy for those who’ve not seen the earlier films in this series.

Of course, as the title dictates, it all starts with war. After the death of the man-hating Koba (Toby Kebbell) in “Dawn of The Planet of the Apes”, we find Caesar (Andy Serkis) looking to lead his klan to a new life where they can live in peace. But after a huge opening scene battle, where we see Caesar letting some humans live so they can take back an offer of peace to their commander known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). This offer is clearly rejected when they attack the apes and kill Caesars’ wife & son. And now it’s Caesar turn for revenge. Wanting to take this path of revenge on his own while sending the others off to find the peaceful land his son had found for them, he is unltimately joined by Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary), and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite). Along the way they pick up Nova (Amiah Miller), a young mute girl (how she gets her name is a fun little plot line) and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), an ex-zoo ape who doesn’t speak the ape language at all and truly adds the perfect bit of fun, zany bit of humour to a oft-times, dark film. We also find out, there was a disease that came after the plague, that cause humans to go dumb as in the case of Nova. This all builds up to the reasoning behind why The Colonel wants to completely exterminate the entire Simian community.

In the midst of all this, we also meet the newest addition to Caesars’ family, one that brings us back around to the very beginning. To those of you that don’t know Cornelius (Devyn Dalton), this goes back old school – we are talking Roddy McDowell/Charlton Heston Apes beginning circa 1968. Along with a few brief appearances by Koba – more of a mirage – reminding Caesar of things such as ‘ape does not kill ape’ and how hate bred inside of him and it didn’t end well, we have a good mix of old and new being brought together to wrap everything together.

As Caesar learns his entire tribe has been captured and taken to a work camp where they are put into forced labour to build a wall, he tried desperately to figure out plans to set them free. See, turns out that The Colonel has a completely different army coming after him because he is killing his own people, including his own son, for coming down with the new ailment that seems to be contagious to some. So what do the apes do? Well what we all should. They stand up and resist and through peserverance and brainpower, they outwit their captors to find their way out. There are moments that you can’t help but think of the narrative and where it leads to and how it matches so much in a way with our past and present state of our country politically.

As for acting, you would think with all the CG effects there really couldn’t be any, and while the human characters aren’t leading the ‘interesting’ pack here, there are moments when you swear Caesar is real. While there is predictability for sure, the very climatic ending is almost in two parts and while I scoffed for a quick moment at the 2nd part, it wasn’t a scoff of disdain but rather disbelief in a good way.

Just remember ~ No one comes out of this film well, after all it is a war.

Grade: A-
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, June 21. 2017 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Nationwide Release: Friday, July 14, 2017

REVIEW: “DESPICABLE ME 3” (2017) Universal Studios

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“Face it, Gru. Villainy is in your blood!” Dru (Steve Carell)

This fun, third-time around romp back into the world of the minions and crew, tells the story of the ex-villain Gru, who teams up with his twin brother Dru (also played by Carell), whom he has never met, in order to fight against former famous Hollywood child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). Balthazar, who has become a 80’s obsessed super villain who uses powerful bubble-gum to fight and steal the worlds biggest gemstone.

After being fired from the AVL (Anti-Villian League), Dru tries to convince Gru to come back to being a villian. With the Minions off being busy speaking and singing gibberish – almost becoming reality show singing stars in one of a few hilariously fun skits done with them. Along with being taken jail, we get a fantastic little spoof on JailHouse Rock and whose dance in prison stripes to the Pirates of Penzance’s “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” brings down the house. Agnes (Nev Sharrel) and her adorable obsession with unicorns, and Gru being a basically worthless but lovable villain/anti-villain. At the same time, the movie introduces some positive new dynamics in Lucy (Kristen Wiig) as she isn’t as annoying as she was in her first movie and the fun twin camaraderie between Gru and Dru is completely infectious.

The plot has enough twists and turns to stop it from being formulaic, and the movie has some excellent and funny references to the previous two films. Finally, Bratt is a perfect villain for this type of film and is too tongue-in-cheek to resist. The only little downside of this brotherly union is the minions have less of a role – maybe a little mistake when you consider they are a certifiable home run at any time.

All in all – this one is a fun 1.5 hour romp for all ages.

Grade: B+
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Media Review Screening: Monday, June 26th, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Universal Picture
NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE

REVIEW: “THE MUMMY” (2017) Universal Pictures

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Remember the 1999 version of The Mummy? How fun it was and you loved it! Well this isn’t that. This one take us to the old school premise of The Dark Universe, a creation of creatures that put Universal on the studio map back in the 30’s. Though the franchise had been struggling ever since the original 1999 movie was released, as the sequels to the first fun film gradually got worse. The first “Mummy” was slick, well made and entertaining; the second was your typical sequel movie, not the worst but far from the best, and then with the third installment it was clear that Hollywood had given up on the franchise and wanted to squeeze out one more pay-check.

Well skip forward to 2017 and we have Tom Cruise leading this one. While it may appear to have something just as good as the original, sadly it falls short of that kind of fun. Sure, for some, the flashy visuals or the (occasional) uninspired dialogue, may work – but most will see right past all this. However, there is no doubt that a lot of money was invested in making this film look good, and it does an okay job of doing that.

(L to R) Nick Morton (TOM CRUISE) and Chris Vail (JAKE JOHNSON) in a spectacular, all-new cinematic version of the legend that has fascinated cultures all over the world since the dawn of civilization: “The Mummy.” From the sweeping sands of the Middle East through hidden labyrinths under modern-day London, “The Mummy” brings a surprising intensity and balance of wonder and thrills in an imaginative new take that ushers in a new world of gods and monsters.

To summarize up the plotline quickly, Tom Cruise is Nick Morton who along with his fellow partner in crime, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), are supposed Army men, but really are just there to loot antiquities from local Iraqi war zones. Archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) is there trying to stop that from happening while having a little liason with Morton. What they find though is the mummified remains of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who was the sole heir to Egypt’s throne before her Pharaoh dad found a second wife and had a son. Furious that she wouldn’t be Queen, she vowed revenge, killing all three and making a pact with the bad-news Egyptian god Set. But before she could sacrifice a lover, who was to become the god’s human embodiment, she was captured and “mummified alive.” The ceremonial dagger with which she intended to make the sacrifice was split into two parts, putting its magic powers on hold until the about-to-wake-up Ahmanet can put the pieces together again. Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) – yes, THAT Dr. Jekyll – is the holder of one of these parts and of course wants to use it for his own means.

I think that it’s important to remember that you’re not seeing anything ground- breaking with this film. It’s not the same type of storyline as the originals nor is it going to have the same impact as those and it certainly isn’t going to steal the show at the Oscars, with the acting by all the leads, Cruise, Wallis, Crowe & Johnson being very stilted. But it has its moments of adrenaline-pumping action, some well-crafted visuals and of course the lead in to what The Dark Universe is set to bring us.

Some of this 1hr 47min Egyptian-fetish flick feels a bit clunky, and the story is all too familiar sounding (disturbing an ancient evil which comes back to wreak havoc on everyone), but when you consider that there have been worse redux films, The Mummy does have its entertainment value. It has its action, but it also has some cracks in its sarcophagi which will, hopefully, be ironed out when they inevitably make another of these in two or so years time.

Not the worst, not the best, and hopefully they will step it up some for the rest of the Dark Universe series for us.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening in IMAX 3D: Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
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REVIEW: “SNATCHED” (2017) 20TH CENTURY FOX

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The premise of SNATCHED is simple. Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) gets fired from her retail job in an very funny opening scene, then dumped by her boyfriend Michael (Randall Park) in another good comedic scene and convinces her super cautious house-bound mom Linda (Goldie Hawn), to go on this ‘non-refundable’ vacation with her to Ecquador. While on vacation Emily meets James (Tom Bateman), the stunning hot Brit who has some of the funniest scenes with Schumer of this whole hit-n-miss film. As for Emily and her mother, well they fall into in a completely predictable but hilarious tale, that despite a few lulls here and there, will make you laugh for most of the 90 minute run time.

The shenanigans which ensue is what makes this film a comedy, and while it might not match up to Trainwreck, it’s definitely a must see for some good laughs with just enough sentiment added into the mix for Mother’s Day. The rest of the cast features Ike Barinholtz as her mamas-boy brother Jeffrey, Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack as the hysterically funny duo of Ruth & Barb. Add in a couple of essential co-starring roles and you have Christopher Meloni doing a short but oh-so-sweetly-done stint as funny-man, Explorer/Trader Joe’s store manager’ Roger Simmons, and Bashir Salahuddin as State Dept. Agent Morgan Russell who constant hilarious phones calls with Emily & Jeffrey add some good laughs into the mix.

Make no mistake though, this is Amy Schumer’s movie and she defnitely takes center stage in this one and pulls it off – not as completely as say she did in Trainwreck, but still does a commendable job. And yes, you will need to like her brand of comedy to be able to find the fun so to speak. Goldie is well..Goldie, and at one part showing pictures her younger-self just takes you back in time for a moment. Of course there are some completely implausable situations, but for the most part they pull them it off. I will say though, if you’re planning to take your mom for this one and she doesn’t like in your face comedy, you might get grounded as it’s R-rated for a reason. Lastly, director Jonathan Levine along with producers Peter Chernin and Paul Fieg, knew what they were doing here on run-time as they didn’t overstay their welcome and try to make it last longer than needed.
Is this the best comedy you will ever see..no it’s not, but it’s definitely a passable way to spend 90 minutes.

Grade: C
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Media Review Screening: Monday, May 8, 2017 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE

REVIEW: “ALIEN COVENANT” (2017) 2OTH CENTURY FOX

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So here we are 10 years after “Prometheus” and a whopping 38 years after the original, we have Ridley Scott’s continuation of the well-known “ALIEN” film series with “ALIEN COVENANT.” Question proposed here – is there really anything new to add to the saga?
You know the formula of these films by heart by now. There’s usually a spaceship, an unknown planetary destination, a crew – most of whom will not survive, a diversion of some sort, and lastly..the Alien itself. It’s how well they are done and actually take the story forward (or in some cases backward), that make the film. Here the crew of the colony ship “Covenant” is on the way to a remote planet at the other end of the galaxy. There they discover something that first appears like an undiscovered ‘paradise’, which in this case means an atmosphere humans would be able to survive in and colonize. When in fact, it turns out to be a dark and dangerous place when they discover what and whom it’s actually occupied by, we are not really surprised.

Without going into any spoilers, which by the way you will be able to figure out within the first hour, we open with a rather creeped out scene set before the events of the previous film between Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland and David (Michael Fassbender), who is fresh off the assembly line. Thankfully it gives us a touch into the idea of what’s to come but still doesn’t really answer why David does what he does. Also we do find out what happened to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and the severed android head of her android David, but it’s not all that compelling and for those of you who can remember all of Prometheus I give you kudos, because I couldn’t.

As for the cast, you’ll get to know them pretty quickly and effectively even if you won’t remember them all by name because the casuality list is long and fast. Mercifully they are not made to look like dunces in the way that the crew of the Prometheus ended up as. Danny McBride as Tennessee is one of the stand outs though, working surprisingly well in a serious role as a cowboy hat wearing pilot, along with his wife Faris (Amy Seimetz). Katherine Waterston as Daniels tries aptly enough to fill Ripley’s shoes here as the the ships second in command, and the main character for most of the action in the film.

Billy Crudup also delivers a solid performance as Captain Oram, who is thrust unexpectedly into that role during the opening space mission scene and is constantly at doubt with himself when it comes to decision making. The constant reminders that he is a man of faith and is often at odds with the rest of his crew on those decisions does get a little heavy handed at times. But it is because of exactly this reason, he is also one of the few crew members you will actually remember along with Sgt. Lope (Demian Bechir) as the head of the security unit. And lastly, oddly enough the cameo from James Franco as Jacob Branson, the start-off Captain of Covenant, will remain in your head throughout the film.

When it comes to Fassbender, without spoiling anything let’s just say that he builds upon his creepy with the dual roles here. Watching the David/Walter scenes together though are some of the most slow, too lengthy moments of the film with even their fight scene coming in at a sort of head-shaking weird.

Lastly, the aliens themselves..well I won’t lie to you, they are pretty typical for a film of this type. There were moments of the eyeroll type laughter from the audience when and how they first appear. You also won’t find the type of tension here that you found when you saw the previous Alien films – you know – the whole ‘not knowing’ buildup of tension & excitement. There are no surprises nor really just any of that edge of your seat/don’t look tension here. You know when and how they are coming and who’s not going to make it pretty quickly in. A solid enough sci-fi thriller, with some gory jump scares about sums it up perfectly with the final scene being the best, and of course leading you into the next film in the series.

Grade: C+
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Media Screening Review: Friday, May 5, 2017 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Nationwide Release: Friday, May 19, 2017

REVIEW: “WILSON” (2017) Fox Searchlight

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Based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes.Woody Harrelson is Wilson, probably one of the most random and least liked characters I’ve come across so far this year. He starts and goes throughout the film, with a random series of unpleasant tics of being the most annoying person in the world, rather than a convincing human being. This problem extends to the film itself. It thinks it’s intelligent and possibly a comedy as it supposedly gives us earth-shattering insights into the human condition with establishing Wilson’s unreliability at the outset, pitting his self-righteous voiceover narration against the realities of his condescension toward strangers. But the character we end up seeing never really adds up to more than the sum of his vulgar outbursts and flagrant disregard for conventional social graces, schizophrenically flipping from pessimism to arrogance to sentimentality sometimes within the same scene and not done well, with the character coming off as more mentally unbalanced than anything else.

The film’s events are driven by the death of Wilson’s father, which inspires in an increasingly lonely Wilson a desire to reconnect with his ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern), and the daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara), he discovers she didn’t terminate the pregnancy as he had assumed, but put the child up for adoption. But his oddly portrayed idea of a conventional nuclear family doesn’t track with his distaste for what he sees as the soul-sucking suburban lifestyle, a contradiction that the filmmakers either don’t recognize or refuse to address for the sake of indulging in easy potshots at suburbia. Such contradictions are simply part and parcel of the film’s confused whole. Throughout its running time, Wilson lurches from melancholy to cartoonish slapstick, to dropping f-bombs for the sheer sake of no reason whatsoever, but to be more annoying and it’s just unable to settle on a consistent tone.

Wilson, Pippi and Claire are surrounded by caricatures oddly done mix of middle-and upper-class insularity. The worst is Polly (Cheryl Hines), Pippi’s sister, who’s so monstrously judgmental of her sister’s lifestyle that she’s willing to lie to Wilson about what Pippi does for a living when he embarks on his quest to reconnect with his ex-wife. Clowes might have intended this graphic novel to be a critique of the kind of out-of-touch smugness Wilson represents, but the film often feels like an symbol of just that toxicity. Add in the factor of bad acting from everyone except for the two-minute scene with Alta played by the always strong Margo Martindale, to the fact that it’s not funny in the slightest should have many skipping this one till they can see it on VOD.

Grade: D
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, March 21, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
Nationwide Release: Friday, March 24, 2017

Thanks all for taking the time to give this a read. Let me know your thoughts if you liked this film or not. Don’t forget to give this page a follow or a follow on twitter as well @pegsatthemovies. Cheers!