REVIEW: “JOY” (2015) 20th Century Fox

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With narration told by her grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd), the only person who believes in and encourages young Joy’s as her story begins at Rudy’s Bus and Truck metal shop, where being an imaginative creative girl, she entertains herself through paper models of forests and castles.

Based on a true story, the film depicts the rise of female inventor and entrepreneur Joy (Jennifer Lawrence), who rises to fame by hawking her Miracle Mop on QVC. The story is much more than about business success, for Joy is a 1970’s housewife who supports four generations in her house, including her ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez) and father Rudy (Robert De Niro).
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Director David O. Russell struggles here, a bit unsuccessfully I might add, to portray a harrowing the path to the mop. Joy deals with a houseful of kids, only a few of them children by actual age. The motley crew she calls family all crammed in her small house are not on Joy’s side. She is the breadwinner, the adult, the rock whose imagination is a liability to those overly dependent on her. Her mother Terry (Virginia Madsen) a soap-opera viewing addict, who watches made-for-this-film, unfunny soap opera segments that seem unmotivated with there being no implication as to why we are pointing to the off-TV characters. It’s goes on to become a paint-by-numbers affair from there – familial jealousy from sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), dirty financial dealings, the nightmare of the age-old saying, “Do not do business with your family.”
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After all, Joy manages to build a mop prototype. She brings it to QVC where the initial sale segment bombs. With Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), the slick head honcho of newly formed shopping network QVC behind her, he takes a chance and allows Joy to showcase the mop herself. Bingo! The mop sells out. Success? Nope. The parts supplier is screwing Joy, every sale of the mop loses money, and the family wants their money back. Financial ruin follows. Then Grandma passes. But Joy decides she’s been walked all over enough and ‘womans up’ to settle all scores financial and emotional. You would think Hooray! right? If only the story wasn’t so average and been done so many times before would it be all that and more.

The acting is nothing notable as De Niro is no stranger to playing a conflicted father with a big heart, though there is something a bit off-kilter here even for him on this. We all know Lawrence & Cooper play well off each other and they do that again here. It’s Edgar Ramirez, who after falling so flat in Point Break, really stands up and dazzles amongst this all-star cast.
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So let me just do a quick sum up for you in one sentence. ‘Down and out mother thinks up an invention, brings it to market, and becomes rich after some pitfalls that, in reality, is all fought and done with lawyers in the end’. In lieu of dramatizing a woman overcoming, Russell instead created a often unfunny comedy.

While the real life, inventive Joy deserves kudos, the bottom line is this is a feature film about the creator of a better mop and offers little on the path to an unsatisfying end where Joy makes it big and helps others succeed.
With all the heavy-hitters in film coming out these last 2 weeks of the year, it’s doubtful JOY will stand out amongst them.

Grade: C
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Review Screening: Monday, December 21, 2015 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Studios
Nationwide release: Friday, December 25, 2015

REVIEW: “DADDY’S HOME” (2015) Paramount Pictures

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In this the second collaboration between Wahlberg and Ferrell, “Daddy’s Home” gives us Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell), a mild-mannered radio executive who is trying his damndest to become the best stepdad to his new wife Sara’s (Linda Cardenelli) two children. But some big complications are coming his way when their fun, free-wheeling, free-loading real father Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) arrives, forcing Brad to compete for the affection of the kids.
At this point is of course where the fun starts as father and step-father challenge and begin competing with one another for the love of their children for the position of being called “Dad”.
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The film spends its first ten minutes working to establish Brad as a character, as the over-eager, almost irritatingly, sincere step-father who found himself left impotent after a dental mishap. In contrast, we have Dusty Mayron. Dusty is Sara’s ex-husband and the biological father to Brad’s two step-children. Dusty is an eccentric larger-than-life type of guy, basically the walking and talking embodiment of all of Brad’s insecurities he seems to swagger around with his own soundtrack of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck playing in the background.
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Sara is the mother who watches as both these men in her life engage in a rapidly escalating game of one-upmanship to win the love of her children and while she is completely wise to what is going on and doesn’t try to stop it, she plays against neither character.

The supporting cast – The wonderfully accented fertility specialist Dr. Francisco (Bobby Canavale); Thomas Haden Church as Leo Holt, Brad’s boss, is as always sheer comedy gold. Taking me back to his WINGS days here with his delivery of stories and one-liners. And the man who seriously MUST re-consider his lively-hood in the pro-wrestling arena and become the hysterical supporting actor in every comedy film made.. John Cena. Hannibal Buress as Griff, the handyman extraordinaire, all do well, but director Sean Anders does struggle somewhat to keep the laughs coming.
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While I had a few really good belly laughs at this one – take note- it’s not a kids movie as even the littliest of kids swears some, it’s PG-13 rating is true to form here. All in all, Daddy’s Home has a solid premise and a talented cast. It just doesn’t manage to do much with either.

Grade: C-
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Review Screening: Saturday, December 19, 2015 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Nationwide release: Friday, December 25, 2015

REVIEW: “POINT BREAK” (2015) Warner Bros.

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I am not inherently opposed to remakes and reboots, and I don’t think I could call myself a ‘purist’ as I’ve liked some re-makes and I am perfectly fine with rebooting material and even straying from original material is fine if it serves the story well. What has happened here is that the studio has produced a garden variety action movie and slapped a name on it purely for the sake of brand recognition. But let us remember that when the original Point Break was released in 1991 it was universally panned and garnered quite terrible reviews. It’s only in the years since that we’ve come to be able to recognize it for the sheer fun it was, hence becoming a cult classic.
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This film exceeds expectations in the sense that this a slickly produced action film with a truly amazing soundtrack. The camera work, framing of the scenes and editing give everything you could desire of a decent action flick. There isn’t anything new going on here, but it’s produced in a professional manner and the action scenes are handled well and while it seems like X-Games on steroids at times, some of it’s truly breathtaking. This is where the second coming of Point Break truly excels. When it hits just the right velocity, it’s truly worth the watch. Also a bit of kudos as the helmets used for a robbery here, they stuck on caricatures of the Presidents, clearly in tribute to the original version.
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And then along comes the story. Luke Bracey takes on the role of Johnny Utah and this time our group of baddies, Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez), Grommet (Matias Varela), Roach (Clemons Shick),and Chowder (Tobias Santelmann) are all European and instead of pulling bank jobs to fund adrenaline junkie lifestyles, the action men of 2015 are self aware crusaders, too cool for school, hipsters on a self-imposed mission to nirvana. And where Lori Petty actually did something in the original, here we just sort of add in a Samsara (Teresa Russell) for only one reason. Honestly, you will find almost every character in this film to be quite annoying with the problem lying in the fact that not one of the main characters are in possession of a redeemable quality and their motivations are completely nonsensical. With that, clearly you know there will be no acting kudos coming from this crowd where everyone seemingly NEEDS loads of tattoos to be cool & belong. They do throw in Ray Winston as Pappas & Delroy Lindo as Instructor Hall for good measure, but not even these two can save the day of acting props here.
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The original Point Break was mostly known for its memorable bromance between Johnny Utah and Bodhi and some of its greatest action scenes ever put to film. Either way, this remake doesn’t bring enough justice to the cult classic.

Grade: D+
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MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!!

Review Screening: AMC Century City ~ Wednesday, December 16, 2015 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup Group & Warner Bros. Pictures
Nationwide release: Friday, December 25, 2015

REVIEW: “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015) Disney Pictures

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32 years after the original Star Wars exploded on our movie screens, the saga is set to continue here in The Force Awakens. Take note that this review is strictly a point of view and won’t contain to much storyline as you should see it for yourself, and definitely no spoilers. One thing before I continue on..Chewie..YOU ARE MY HERO!!!
As the opening log comes on the screen, we are immmediately taken back in time which has to be one of the happiest moments of the film. With that I will just spit it out that first and foremost, this is a good movie, though far far from a great one (It’s no Mad Max) And yes, I just said that.. So all the Star Wars fan-boys can step up now and sue me.. 😀

I’m as big a Star Wars fan as any though after Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace couldn’t even come close to comparing. Attack of the Clones was forgettable..Revenge of the Sith – didn’t even bother to see it at a theatre and actually waited for it to be on cable. And I won’t lie..I have a few issues with this film, though not all of them are bad.
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The opening 30 minutes are less than satisfying and to be completely honest was quite ‘lulz’. Here we are introduced to some new main characters Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac – who is terribly underused here). Finn is actually a stormtrooper, but get this..a stormtrooper with feelings?? no ..stormtroopers are not allowed those. But hey they are taking a risk here by doing that right – which is okay by me. Then Poe, who is head of the resistance pilots, gets captured and Finn helps him escape for which when Poe asks why, gets the answer of “Because it’s the right thing to do” what?? that’s just weak.. sorry but it is. It doesn’t fit in a Star Wars film. So as predicted they crash and it seems only Finn survives. But you also know that there is no way Poe is dead & gone, but this goes unexplained for some time, until he magically shows up later with barely a plausable explantion.

While she is no Furiosa, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has somewhat the same inplausability factor when we meet as her as she & Finn are all about saving each other within minutes of meeting. But then again, I like the risk-taking factor of appointing a strong female lead.
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Along with that part of the main cast, we are introduced to the mostly all Britsh/Irish (I guess a galaxy ‘far far away’ is now the U.K. ha!) cast of the Dark Side, notably General Hux (Domhnall Gleason), Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie – also terribly underused) to name just a few.

As expected, the robots especially BB8 (Bill Hader/Ben Schwartz – voice consultants), along with Chewbaca (Peter Mayhew) & Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) steal and deliver the best comedic one takes. While the new characters try, they fail quite miserably at trying to deliver cutesy one-liners that aren’t funny.
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While I loved the flashbacks to the Star Wars of old, including the graveyard of old spaceships, Hans Solo getting back onboard with his old ship is nothing less than classic. And who doesn’t want to see Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Solo reunite after years of separation?!! All these scenes and storylines are simply wonderful.

Another big risk and a sad heartbreaking one at that, is saying good-bye to one of the most iconic characters ever concieved in this galaxy or any other for that matter. Did it have to be done? Maybe so because it seems J.J. Abrams had to basically make us try to forget those three intermediate bad storylines and get us back on track to what is important. Though I found Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to be one of my least favourite characters (and actors) as it just seems to simple to say Skywalker was good out of Vader’s bad, but yet Ren is bad out of Solo & Leia’s good.
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Last note: I’m not the biggest 3D fan, but this film is so enhanced by it, it’s worth it. The final scene of the movie is by far what makes it all worth-while to see this film – as it gives us something to look forward to in Episode VIII and it tells us it will be so much better.

Grade: B-
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REVIEW: “SISTERS” (2015) Universal Pictures

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We’ve all heard the saying “Sisters from another mother”. Well that’s pretty much how Kate Ellis (Tina Fey) & Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler) are here as they look nothing alike and yes, they play/are sisters in this funny at times, throwback to our party days, comedy. Here the parents are Deanna, the fantastic Dianne Wiest and the truly who-knew-he-could-be-funny James Brolin is dad Bucky.

In case I didn’t mention it .. the sister’s are polar opposites. Since her divorce two years ago the responsible straight arrow, Maura, who is beyond do-gooder even in her job as a nurse. On the other hand we have the irresponsible, unable to hold a job or keep a place to live, mess up Kate. She is game for anything yet so childish that her daughter Haley (Madison Davenport), although still a teenager herself, seems to act much more mature than her own mother. But what the two sisters share in is going into complete and utter shock, to put it lightly, when going to visit their parents home they see a “SOLD” sign at the family house in Orlando. Seemingly by not informing or hinting at the fact they have sold it, their parents ask them now to clean out their former childhood rooms before the new owners come in.
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Reluctantly the sister dig through all their old stuff and while the two reminisce over their youth, Kate gets the idea to throw an for old times sake – “Ellis Island” –  one last party as they once were called and with that, one last party IS going down at the parent’s house.

The film definitely hits it’s high notes here as the invitations go out to all their former classmates – including as the scene stealer once again here as in Trainwreck, the how shall we say – robust – drug dealer Pazuzu (John Cena), to whom Kate has got her eye set on in some truly hilarious moments. As for Maura, well she’s got the charming nice guy love interest James (Ike Barinholtz), and they get themselves in the big ‘this-is-so-wrong moment’ of the film. Even high school mean-girl Brinda (Maya Rudolph) appears, although she is most definitely not on the guest list.
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As predicted, the party is soon out-of-control, so much so that the future homeowners might only be left with an entirely demolished home, sinkhole and all. There is mass destruction and a plowed-through dry wall. There’s also more token sad comedy bits than probably needed ending this.

A pre-party moment that stands out for me is a flat out hysterical nail salon visit with Hae-Won (Greta Lee), that had me rolling in my seat. Along with John Leguizamo’s character Dave, who’s never quite let go of his high-school party ways, the notable SNL cast members who do their bits are fun. There’s Bobby Moynihan playing an always “on” never-funny aspiring comedian Alex, who accidentally hoovers up some futuristic combo of blow and heroin and literally goes bananas.
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“Sisters” has a hard time stopping once the party has ended, but when it’s moving as an out-of-control party stacked with people worrying about getting old, it knows how to move. When it’s not, the story becomes a bit lackluster.

Grade: C+
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Review Screening: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Nationwide release: Friday, December 18, 2015

REVIEW: “THE BIG SHORT” (2015) Paramount Pictures

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When Ryan Gosling’s character Jared Vennett asks the question to a room full of brokers.. “What’s that smell?” and answers it with “Opportunity” you know then and there to prepare yourself for a very different type of ride.

The film’s narrative is driven by four cynical, fringe Wall Streeter’s disgusted with the large banking institutions’ overriding greed for profits. Separately, but yet oddly together, they make the decision to capitalize on the ensuing housing market catastrophe and the financial meltdown of 2008 upon discovering the market frenzy is being driven by worthless collateral debt obligations.
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While I might never figure out how Director Adam McKay made deplorable humans, blinding fear, gut-wrentching outrage and delightful shaming so much fun to watch ~ He most definitely brought along his dark bag of laughs here, but planted them in such a way as to where we actually understood what was happening thanks to fun cameo explanations from the likes of Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, Anthony Bourdain cooking it right up, and even Selena Gomez gambling though her little monologue.

After a rather lengthy dizzying, yet delightful, character introduction, the film picks up pace as the drama begins to unfold. Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an eccentric financial analyst, with complete autonomy of an investment fund, uncovers variables in his economic forecast indicating a massive housing market collapse. He informs his higher up, Lawrence Fields (Tracy Letts), of his discovery and creates a financial prospectus. In essence, he creates a commodity of selling short on bundled mortgages.
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The bankers laugh themselves silly as they willingly sell Burry all the “insurance” he wants. Word quickly spreads of Burry’s perceived madness in a after-work cocktail scene. With interest piqued upon overhearing the Wall Street gossip of the day, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), scoops up the aspects of Burry’s move. Soon, he sells it to a group led by Steve Carell’s real-life character, Mark Baum and convinces them to buy in.

As the debacle is in full free-fall, Baum struggles with disbelief as he and his group have bet against their own umbrella entity, Morgan Stanley. The final team that has uncovered the impending financial crisis, made up of two Wall Street rookie wanna-be’s, Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) who along with veteran trader turned-conspiracist Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), also struggle with the imploding financial system caused by corporate greed and indifference
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With a mammoth cast, the acting in this movie is pristine with the whole ensemble cast being in top form. With that said however there were three stand out performances that somewhat break this mold.
Ryan Gosling might be the funniest as he narrates and embodies the fact that he’s a scum bag and just rolls with it, offering an entertainingly slick performance. Christian Bale let us feel his pain and lonely genius, stole the show in every scene he was in. The only genuinely relate able character in the lot, Bale conveys a great deal of sensitivity, making it one of his best performances to date. Steve Carell dug deep and came up with a persona that brings Baum to life, even if he does over act at times which I guess is how he really is in true-life form.
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It was also nice to see Marisa Tomei, Hamish Linklater, Billy Magnussen, Rafe Spall, Max Greenfield and talented others working at a solid supporting level.

With all the ‘truth’ films out there this year, “The Big Short” is one of the more important ones of this group and also one of the best. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time as the film warns us in a way, who knows what will be the next basic human necessity to be denied by those few who hold power.

Grade: B+
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Review Screening: Arclight Hollywood ~ Tuesday, December 8, 2015 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
In Select Theaters: Friday, December 11, 2015
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Wednesday, December 23, 2015

REVIEW: “IN THE HEART OF THE SEA” (2015) Warner Bros.

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“In the Heart of the Sea” is an Action/Adventure/Biopic based on the real disaster that inspired Herman Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick’. The film follows the voyage of the ‘Essex’, a whaling ship that was bought down in 1820 by a Sperm Whale in the South Pacific, and is a true tale of adventure, drama, and survival.

Obviously the main reason to go and see this movie was to see this massive whale go toe to toe with the ‘Essex’ and its crew although actual confrontations with the whale in this film were few and far between, but when they happen, do they make an impact. This whale is inexplicably huge, and yes, he was grand as the story tells. in the heart 2It truly was such a spectacle seeing this huge beautiful whale on screen. The way they emphasize his size through setting him side by side with the boats gives his presence much more weight. Confrontations with the whale were intense and pretty good edge-of-seat stuff. Yes it’s CGI effects, but the whale was done beautifully and it’s incredibly detailed, making this whale look quite realistic and believable.
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The film’s biggest problem was the pacing. Throughout the film there are quite a few uninteresting moments that fail to hold your interest. There are some especially slow moments at the beginning where they are introducing some of the main characters to us including our lead, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) & his wife Peggy Chase (Charlotte Riley). As the introductions continue, we meet Mrs. Nickerson (Michelle Fairley) wife to Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who will be the one recounting the events of the film to Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) as he lived through and endured them as his younger self played very well by Tom Holland. Scenes like this are nothing new and have been done in countless films before this, but here they are a big part of the actual story of the film.
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Acting wise, the film was pretty good. I had heard some possible Oscar buzz about Hemsworth as he was the obvious standout, and he was able to show off a different side of his acting talents here, but still even with his dramatic transformation, it isn’t going to garner any type of Best Actor nom. The supporting cast was mostly pretty strong, Benjamin Walker as George Pollard and Cillian Murphy as Matthew Joy really stand out, again with Tom Holland as the Younger Thomas Nickerson. The crew of the Essex made up of Henry Coffin (Frank Dillane), Caleb Chappel (Paul Anderson), Benjamin Lawrence (Joseph Mawle), William Bond (Gary Beadle), Ramsdell (Sam Keeley) to name a few, were all good strong performances.
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Ron Howard does a pretty good job directing the film and most of the time he nails the tone of the film. The dramatic action scenes were filmed and directed in a very frantic and chaotic manner that upped the stakes during those intense moments. Especially in the latter portions of the film he does represent the sad tones and emotion pretty well and handles some very confronting scenes in a way that isn’t too disturbing but also isn’t sugar-coated.

The latter half of the film, although not free of some slower moments, does pick up significantly from the first half when it introduces some survival elements. As the film doesn’t end on a high note as it could have been a short and sweet ending but it is dragged out a little longer but with that, it makes a strong point.

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In the end, this is an action/adventure that has its intense, dramatic moments, but is not without some slower moments that if excluded could have kept the film to a shorter run time and maybe would have made it more impactful. If you are fascinated of the story of Moby-Dick as I was as a child, then you will definitely get more enjoyment out of the film.

Grade: C
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Review Screening: Monday, December 7, 2015 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Nationwide release: Friday, December 11, 2015