REVIEW: “SAN ANDREAS” (2015) Warner Bros.

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Los Angeles and San Francisco – WE ARE DOOMED!! Serious note, I’m not really even sure what to say about this film.

From the moment this film opens with a scene they clearly scooped from the opening sequence of JAWS with dramatic music and a girl – in this one driving a car mindlessly distracted, checking her phone etc..with cars driving narrowly at her on Mulholland Dr. when suddenly BAM..over the cliff she goes AND on que – dramatic rescue, you pretty much get exactly what you need to know about where the rest of the film is headed.
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The film and all it’s characters run the all too familiar ball-game gamut of disaster films. “Ray Gaines” (Dewayne Johnson) is a helicopter pilot with the LA Fire and Rescue Dept. “Emma” (Carla Gugino) his soon to be ex-wife whom is now with new boyfriend, wealthy developer “Daniel Riddick” (Ioan Gruffudd) who proves himself to be an untrustworthy one at that when he ditches Ray & Emma’s daughter “Blake” (Alexandra Daddario) after the quake hits to save himself while in San Francisco.

In the meantime Paul Giamatti as Cal Tech Earthquake specialist “Lawrence”, his staff and never flinching reporter “Serena” (Archie Panjabi) found they have just learned they can predict earthquakes..and within moments of being able to do so guess what happens..SURPRISE!! A super earthquake is upon them at Hoover Dam where they didn’t even know fault lines existed. As they of course predict more, within mere minutes Los Angeles is coming apart at the seams and next on the list is San Francisco. san andrea 1
Somehow we are to just not notice or overlook the fact that Ray is supposed to be going to Hoover Dam to help the rescue efforts there but as he calmly watches the destruction ensue from his helicopter he calls Emma who is having lunch with his sister “Susan” in a little cameo from Kylie Minogue here, its like that mission never existed as he rushes to rescue her from the top of a LA high-rise that is crumbling. Best part yet, we never hear him mention a thing about his sis who’s fell off the DTLA high-rise. what? clearly no brotherly love there. Another fun fact is that not one single one of these characters look like they could be even slightly related is just another fact that we must laughably ignore while watching this trainwreck film.
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And since every film now has to have a token Brit in it, even though it’s a disaster pic about earthquakes in the Golden State of California, we throw in our British tourist on a job interview “Ben” (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) as a love interest for Blake and his little brother “Ollie” (Art Parkinson) and you’ve got your human drama all neatly summed up for you in a nice little square package once the fault line starts a rocking.
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I’d be lying if I said some of the action sequences weren’t a bit fun, and also very silly as there were points I couldn’t stop laughing yet I don’t think I was actually supposed to. I mean the film was so spectacularly bad in ways that it was..well good. And most will know exactly what I mean by that.

There is a small sub-plot about a dying daughter/sister which I believe was thrown in to make it reasonable to the audience of first off why Ray went to get Emma before anyone else and how both are so hell-bent on rescuing Blake.

But the real star of this disaster upon disaster pic is the earthquake itself and the ensuing tsunami – and they don’t seem to stop coming until SFO & LA are completely bulldozed down and there is nothing left of either city or our brains for that matter. The end fact is while having lived through a few of the big quakes here and being petrified myself of them, this film with it’s complete lack of feeling, barely scares me into making another earthquake kit.

Grade: D
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REVIEW: “SPY” (2015) 20th Century Fox

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With the release of “SPY”, 20th Century Fox is putting out it’s second spy genre film of 2k15 with the first being the hugely entertaining ‘Kingsman:The Secret Service‘. But Melissa McCarthy’s latest jaunt into comedy had me contemplating if it was just going to be another one where she wears out her welcome by playing the same character-type once again. I’m pleased to report this is not the case and you will find yourself laughing your way through this one. Not only because of the fact that McCarthy is more or less doing character assassinations on most of those stereo-typed characters of her past, but it’s with a strong supporting, hugely funny and entertaining cast which really pulls this film all together.
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McCarthy plays “Susan Cooper”, a deskbound CIA analyst acting as the eyes and ears for expertly named-and-trained field agent, “Bradley Fine” charmingly done here by Jude Law, with whom she is clearly head over heels for, this fact being advantageous for him. When Fine goes missing and the agency is compromised, CIA spy-team leader “Elaine Crocker” (Allison Janney) gives the unassuming Susan a shot at her first field mission to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer. Needless to say, things do not go as planned. Not only does she have to deal with exotic uber-vixen “Raina Boyanov” (Rose Byrne) who has a hilariously homicidal lack of tolerance towards her own henchmen, but her own fellow on-the-outs disgruntled agent “Rick Ford” (Jason Statham) who is essentially part Rambo, part bumbling Inspector Clouseau.
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Every scene between McCarthy and Byrne sparkles and both play their roles spot on, particularly when they are both aggressors. Not content to be mere supporting actresses, both Byrne & Janney have some of the funniest lines in the movie. The jokes come so thick and fast that you’re likely to miss some of them simply because they’re drowned out by your own laughter along with the audiences. Statham is hilarious and is one of the reasons I wanted to see this film so much as seeing him skewer his tough-man persona, swearing poetically and prat-falling left and right in the most unpredictable spots is just one of SPY’s fun delights. My only beef with his part is I wanted more.
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Spy would not be funny if it were simply Susan/McCarthy bumbling from one scenario to another. It helps that her characters here have vulnerabilities; it works because McCarthy is adaptable to every situation she finds herself in and is able to hit all her marks without a miss. There’s a sense of witnessing a woman empowered and it’s a hoot to see McCarthy given the space she deserves here. The other is watching Rose Byrne vamping it up as Rayna Boyanov, along with Miranda Hart, who is a constant surprise as Susan’s coworker “Nancy“. And then we have 50 Cent, as himself, having a grand old time being, yes, dare we say it, a tad bit funny..
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Director Paul Feig has gathered a game cast here who are more than committed to the faintly ridiculous material they’ve been given which will make Spy likely to be one of the funnier films of the year. There are films with stronger action sequences, but that won’t be your concern when watching as again, you’ll probably be to busy laughing.

Grade: B-
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Screening at AMC Century City 15, Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 – courtesy of 20th Century Fox & LAFTV
“SPY” – Opening nationwide Friday, June 5th, 2015

RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)

PITCH PERFECT 2 (2015) Universal

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Yep…the Bella’s are back with new additions and some of the same cliches. The boy’s are there too though not so predominant this time round, even the Green Bay Packers brought a batch of a cappella linebackers to this one, along with a wanna-be group, The Tone Hangers.
But what would the story be if not for new rival a cappellas, German based “Das Sound Machine” featuring the beautiful badass “Kommissar” (Brigitte Hjort Sorensen) & her side-kick “Pieter” (Flula Borg) to duel it out with with an ending that comes as no surprise to anyone. Even so, never underestimate the power of the teen girl viewing audience as the ‘Pitches’ took down ‘Mad Max’ for top grossing film of the weekend box office. pp5

The tone of the film is set in the opening routine, in which Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” has a wardrobe malfunction on stage while dangling upside down at a performance in front of the POTUS & FLOTUS no less. This unlikely set-up forms the premise that takes us through what happens when the group is suspended from competing – unless they can pull off a win the world a capella championships in Copenhagen which no American team has ever done before.
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It’s pretty much all the same crowd – our jaded commentators “John” (John Michael Higgins) & “Gail” (Elizabeth Banks – whom most impressively also directed the film); leader of the pack “Beca” (Anna Kendrick) who also has a side-plot in wanting to become a music producer and keeping her music internship a secret from the rest of the Bellas, a cappella over-achiever “Chloe” (Brittany Snow), butch girl “Cynthia Rose” (Ester Dean), will do anything “Stacie” (Alexis Knapp), the ultra whisperer “Lilly” (Hana Mae Lee), “Flo” (Chrissie Fit) immigration story survivor extraordinaire and yes, of course previously mentioned, “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson). Even “Aubrey” (Anna Camp) shows up though is graduated and running a ‘boot camp’ for a cappellas where they get their harmony back with some hi-jinks to give us a laugh or two. The films secondary biggest plot revolves around Hailee Steinfeld as newcomer “Emily”, the group’s latest addition, who writes and sings her own original music which is unheard of in the a cappella world. Steinfeld is pretty terrific and has good screen presence and holds her own as the newbie here.
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There are some solid singing and dancing performances throughout with highlights in scenes in which the rivalry between the Barden Bellas and German reigning champions Das Sound Machine comes to a head; some hilarious confrontations between lead singers Kommissar and Beca follow with a few of the one-off scenes being a bit clumsy, though the sequence at the private party sing-off is a high point as it’s fun and musically clever.
At this point though, the humour factor is getting cheap, the fat jokes are wearing thin and getting on your nerves. Others are falling hard & flat and some are just leaving a bad taste in your mouth they are so crass and offensive.
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I did like the first Pitch Perfect, but in that ‘oh it’s cute way’ that you do like some films as it gave you that ‘Rocky’-underdog feel to it. This one, while it has it’s entertaining moments, lacks that. All the plot points are stepping stones for the climactic finish in Copenhagen, when everything comes together in by far the best part of the whole film, with dynamic harmonies and rhythms, it’s just too bad the film best perks wait until the very end to grab you.

Grade: C+
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Pitch Perfect 2 is in theaters nationwide.

RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)

REVIEW: “MAD MAX:FURY ROAD” (2015) Warner Bros.

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From the moment you hear Tom Hardy’sMax Rockatansky” croak out the words ‘My world is fire and blood’ you know you are in for a monumental whirlwind of a ride as the world of ‘Max Max:Fury Road’ unfolds on the screen before you. What follows will have you feeling as though you’ve been sucker punched in the gut, but in all the right ways. I left the theatre breathless and two hours later I still don’t think I was breathing properly.

It’s been three decades, 1985 to be exact, since we last saw the Road Warrior known as Mad Max, then being played by Mel Gibson, and from minute one-this film is a methane-fueled thrill ride that only gives you a minute or two to breathe in between the non-stop, rollercoaster post-apocalyptic relentless action of this return trip to the world of George Miller’s MAD MAX.
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And yes, Charlize Theron as one-armed “Imperator Furiosa” just absolutely kills it.
She’s the immovable object AND the irresistible force at the same time. I mean when was the last time you had a such a woman of action, and one armed to boot. Never. Her death-stare is truly like a thousand war-engines revving up. Axle grease used as war paint. Every man’s doom as her and Hardy have one of the screen’s most powerful man-on-woman fights and at no moment does one ever think that Theron/Furiosa is at a disadvantage against him as her opponent.
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Max’s inner demons are what haunts him this time round. He’s lost his wife and young daughter and it’s that little girl’s flashbacks accusing him of failing to save them that keeps appearing to haunt this guilt-feeling Max to the point that he lets his guard down just enough to get captured by “Immortan Joe” (Hugh Keays-Byrne) the over-lord of the citadel in this futuristic bleak wasteland, who dispenses precious water to his followers (quick shoutout to the California drought here ha!) all the while raising a troupe of ghoulish young men called the “War Boys.” The Boys, thinking Valhalla awaits them when they die so they can commit heinous crimes on Joe’s behalf.
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What drives this films plot is when Furiosa decides to go off course with an Immortans War truck along with his best five breeders aka wives “Toast the Knowing” (Zoe Kravitz), “The Splendid Angharad” (Rosie Huntington Whiteley), “Capable” (Riley Keough), “The Dag” (Abbey Lee) & “Cheedo the Fragile” (Courtney Eaton) to make it back to her childhood home ‘The Green Place’. Joe sends his War Boys after her including “Nux” (Nicholas Hoult) who just happens to have his ‘human blood bag’ aka Max strapped to the front of his vehicle in a chase scene that can only be described as sheer motor madness.
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There is not one but three different factions chasing them at times in the the most crazy of action sequences as we go from car chases to fist fights to foot pursuits and then we go back and do it all over again. It’s like the spin cycle of the washing machine is going full blast and giving us with perfect timing, a few moments here and there to catch our breath.

Neither Hardy nor Theron speak much through the first 30 minutes as they are to focused on just surviving. Hardy in yet another voice not his own, only really gives us a few grunts in the first hour, so Theron’s Imperator Furiosa seems almost chatty patty in comparison.
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As I don’t want to give away the whole plot as what I’ve described is really only the first 15 minutes or so of the film and it’s something that just must be seen spoiler free for yourself. And not on DVD or your laptop or your phone..you NEED to watch this in all it’s glory as it’s meant to be seen, on the biggest screen available to you with loud booming sound or you will miss even the crazy maniacal guitarist that would make even the biggest speed metal fan need earplugs as he plows along the desert in pursuit with Joe. Trust me on this one.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two things to end with here. One: the #GirlPower in this film is truly something to behold. Every single female character holds their own and I give huge kudos on this. Two: George Miller with this film simply raises the bar on everything cinematic being released thus far this year. CGI might be great for the Marvel or X-Men and it IS all fun and good, but there is NOTHING like the mastery brilliance that can take the place of watching live action human element of feeling as one – riding along with chainsaw wielding madman sliding across car hoods, crawling on the outside of fast moving vehicles or fear of being plucked out of said moving vehicles by crazed maniacs swinging from high velocity poles. It’s absolutely brilliant and made me giddy throughout the whole movie.

As Nux so aptly puts it “What a Lovely Day”

Grade: A+
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Screening at the Arclight Theatre, Hollywood Wednesday, May 13th,2015
MAD MAX:FURY ROAD WORLDWIDE RELEASE DATE: FRIDAY, MAY 15TH, 2015

RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015) Fox Searchlight

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Not being a huge fan of this genre of ‘dying’ teen movies, it would be so easy to sum up this film with just the title alone and leave it at that.

It would also be easy to criticize the fact that Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is directly aimed to the young teen Fault in Our Stars crowd with whom it’s guaranteed to be a summer box office moneymaker.
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And while all of that is true, what people will be missing if they don’t go to see this film is a truly good, touching, funny, quirky and well acted film. I went in to this film wanting to dislike it for so many reasons, the sheer fact of its utter teen-dream marketability and knowing how it will end thanks to the title. And to my pleasant surprise, while watching, I felt my mind change, change and then change again. I was reminded that movies like this do exist and some times they can not only be really good, but they also can be commercially successful at the same time and that’s a-okay for me.
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The film chronicles the senior year of “Greg” (Thomas Mann), his best friend/co-worker “Earl” (RJ Cyler), and “Rachel” (Olivia Cooke), who at the behest of his mother (Connie Britton) has been told to go ‘be friends with her’ as she has been diagnosed with leukemia (aka get it..Me & Earl & the Dying Girl). Rachel of course, sees right through his initial ‘pity’ visit but slowly and surely Greg begins to win her over with his cheekiness and charm.
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And yes, all of the teen dramedy tropes are present and accounted for. The awkward parents, most especially Rachel’s mom “Denise” (Molly Shannon) who practically mauls Greg she is so happy he is there for her daughter, the role of tatted up cool teacher who ‘gets it’“Mr. Walker” (Jon Berenthal) whom while he goes into some original territory – though maybe a little to much for me as I think there might be a line or two that is crossed. Add in the exploration of high school cliques as Greg seems to be the master of his universe as he somehow cultivates relationships in each clique in his school. He glides from circle to circle seemly effortlessly, not alienating anybody or anyone which if I remember high school as I do, is pretty near the impossible to make happen. Though with all this accomplishment, he doesn’t want to call anyone his ‘friend’ as he doesn’t want to emotionally connect with them fully, so he calls Earl, his actual best friend, a co-worker. The two share a bizarre, but fun love of cinema and re-create about 40 spoofs of films such as A Clockwork Orange & The Seventh Seal among others. These are some of the high points of the movie as it’s rather hysterical to see these kids become so creative over the years doing these oh-so-bad-they-are-good mini movies.
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A good supporting cast keeps the film fresh and rolling along. Greg’s eccentric parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) add a fun jolt of parental weirdness to their scenes, While I found myself wanting a bit more in regards to Rachel’s character, the film’s treatment of her friendship with Greg is both darkly funny and realistically somber. This is one movie that it’s safe to see regardless of its given ending.

Screening at Landmark Theatres Westwood – Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
Nationwide release date: Friday, June 12th, 2015
Grade: B
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RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)

“SLOW WEST” ~ REVIEW (2015) A24 FILMS

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Release date: Friday, May 15th, 2015 in the U.S. ~ U.K. release date: Friday, June 26th, 2015

“Go West young man, Go West” – This was the old adage all Westerns were based upon for a time, told to drifting young men back in the day. And “Slow West” is just about that journey ~ with a twist, as it’s no ordinary Western. Trust me on this one.

Starting the film, we follow 16 yr.old Scottish rich boy “Jay Cavendish” (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journey across the old Colorado frontier of 1870s America in search of the girl he loves, “Rose Ross” (Caren Pistorius), who has fled to America with her father, “John Ross” (Rory McCann). As Jay begins his search for what he believes is his true love, he is completely unaware that Rose & her father are wanted, dead or alive, as murderers with huge bounties on their heads. Needless to say this has brought out numerous not so savory bounty hunters, who are all in search of them.

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When Jay runs into bounty hunter extraordinaire, “Silas Selleck” (Michael Fassbender) who during an encounter with some soldiers, bails him out of a bad situation then offers his services of protection, for a fee of course, to escort him to where Rose is. As we listen to Silas, who confesses while narrating this quirky oft violent story, that this is really his whole ulterior motive in taking Jay along.

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Hot on their trail is another bounty hunter “Payne” (Ben Mendelsohn), along with his group of cold-blooded bounty hunters. As an ex-member of the team, Silas went the lone route after clearly having different ideas on how getting quick cash through delivering bounties should go. Payne is not having any of it, as the he tries to convince Silas to come back to the group so it’s no surprise that both Payne and Silas have different views when it comes to the young man, but Silas still does whatever he can to protect Jay from them and the truth about Rose.
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As per usual, Fassbender eats up the screen doing his best “High Plains Drifter” impersonation going even so far as having the ever present cigarillo hanging from the side of his mouth. The chemistry between Smit-McPhee and Fassbender is great, as we watch the pair soon develop a heartfelt, darkly funny, camaraderie that runs to the spine of the film. But don’t mistake this for an yippe-kai-yay uplifting buddy-western horseback ride through the wild west, because this world is filled with dark characters and even bleaker scenarios, but still has enough entertainment value to ensnare you in it. The graphic violence may come off as funny sometimes, but it works for a film taking place in the Old West.

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While Slow West may be considered a Western, it also is a nicely done coming-of-age story about Jay becoming a man and Silas learning that there is more to life than living on the road. Jay’s complete naiveness for life in the Old West and though complete opposites, it somehow matches well with Silas’ stone cold attitude. As things move along, Jay’s determination to get to the girl he loves slowly starts to affect Silas. You notice as he starts having this father-son bonding with Jay by teaching him how to shoot a gun and even giving him his first shave. At the same time, Jay shows Silas the beauty of life, so it’s hard to tell which of these men are actually growing up.

The movie comes to a head in a brutal, climactic shootout that brings all the characters together in one final showdown that results in bloodshed and an oh-so-unpredictable death. The only sour point in its conclusion is it’s almost just a tad too neat and tidy. Slow West is definitely a very unique, different type western from those I’ve seen, but it worked. With it’s somewhat fairy tale-ness, witty humor, silly violence, it’s a worthy addition to this genres roots, but with a modern edged tone.

Screening at USC School of Cinematic Arts, Ray Stark Theatre – Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Grade: B-
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RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)