Friday, October 28, 2016

Movie review - Keeping Up with the Joneses - review by Stephen Signor

Run Time: 105 Minutes

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is there is no good news. This film is a prime example that you cannot trust trailers that are shown for promotional purposes. It begins with a house explosion that while spectacular is nothing more than a tease. Granted this is not billed as an action film, but the fact that there were a few wild scenes peppered in left me wondering why director Greg Mottola was expanding his horizons from directing and producing TV movies and series. Clearly it was a mistake.

When a suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies. While I did find the premise interesting to a point, I felt the presentation lacked in believability. Sudden scene changes left me feeling dizzy and unable to follow. Writer/producer Michael LeSieur form the TV Series Glory Days appears to lose focus on where the plot should go and when. What you end up with is scenes that are placed almost randomly. 

Zach Galifianakis plays Jeff Gaffney, a very ordinary non-achieving husband loved by his understanding and but mundane wife Karen played by Isla Fisher (The Brothers Grimsby). The chemistry that ensues was obviously born by a mad scientist, as the banter seems to be thrown together like a puzzle where the pieces don’t fit. I blame this on the casting of Galifianakis. His memorable humor displayed in (Hangover 1 and 2) was too much for this caliber of film. I found it awkward here.

If there was any positive point, it had to be the portrayal of the neighborhood spies and their introduction into the plot. As Darrell, Jon Hamm brings the well played demeanor of Tim Jones. His voluptuous but deadly wife Natalie (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) reprises the similar role she played as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman. This I thought at least gave the action merit. 

Lastly there was the ending which I will admit I enjoyed, but didn’t happen soon enough. When the Joneses identity is also discovered by foreign powers, through a twist of fate, they team up with the Gaffney’s and wild action scenes involving chases, bullets flying and explosions ensue. What follows however is stereotypical and therefore predictable.

This was the longest 105 minutes I have spent in a theater.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Movie Review - The Accountant (R) - review by Stephen Signor

Run Time: 2:08

The word is out that this production is Bourne like. Well, forget about what is being said, sit back and enjoy the ride. While there are some similarities, including at one point, when Ben Affleck said, “we should go,” it really ends there. Unlike Bourne, the action sequences are not as frequent. However, that works for the plot here. What action there was, I considered just as intense in comparison. As for Affleck’s character being autistic I felt it had no bearing on the plot other than an explanation for his special abilities. It would have worked just as well without it.

The cast does include two Oscar winners: Ben Affleck and J.K. Simmons; and two Oscar nominees: Anna Kendrick and John Lithgow. Affleck is Christian Wolff, a mathematic scholar who prefers numbers rather than people. No one seems to know who he is, except for being a high profile freelance accountant. His major clients are less than law abiding and as expected eventually draws the attention of the Treasury Department's Crime Enforcement Division headed up by Ray King (J.K.Simmons). Probably most recognized from his Farmers Insurance commercials, I kept waiting for him to say “we covered it.” In a way he did. I thought his brash character set the right tone for moving things along.
Portland, Maine, born Anna Kendrick, who was impressive as Cinderella in 2015s Into the Woods, adds a bit of mystery to the mix. Interestingly, Kendrick based her character on her mother, a real accountant who went over the script, explaining the math to her. Her film relationship with Affleck is professional as is the interpretation of her character.

The plot, while slow moving at times, does thicken when a legitimate client (John Lithgow) enlists the help of Affleck to straighten out discrepancies’  involving millions of dollars in the books of Lithgow’s high tech robotics company. In doing so, related and unrelated secrets are uncovered and bodies begin to pile up. 

Director Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got a Gun-2016) did well in getting the gist of the plot across although it could have been achieved with less flash back. Writer Bill Dubuque, who wrote the screenplay for 2016s A Headhunters Calling managed to keep me interested in The Assassin, but not on the edge of my seat; something I expected from this caliber of players and story line.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Movie review - Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (PG) - Review by Stephen Signor

Run Time: 1:29

This movie is extremely entertaining, offering a plot with a multitude of comedic situations that are interlocked through the clever use of animation. You see, Rafe has an active imagination and combined with his ability to draw, his renderings come to life. Albeit in his own mind, these manifestations are timely introduced. Accentuating the predicaments, he endlessly finds himself in trouble as a result of numerous rules bound in a book the size of a bible and Dictator Principal Dwight (Andrew Daly) to enforce them. When Dwight destroys Rafe’s sketchbook because it’s in violation of one of the rules, it’s the last straw. 

As Rafe, Griffin Gluck (Just before I Go- 2014) lends credence to the adage that middle school can be challenging, especially when you have a problem with authority. When both opposing forces collide, his sister Georgia, Alexa Nisenson (Constantine -2015) steps in to bring the balance he needs to set things right. Nisenson is brilliant portraying a little rebel, yet offering the viewer a look at being that supportive force with an added touch of sensitivity that will melt your heart.

With best friend Leo (Thomas Babusco) a plan develops to break every rule in the book. Chaos ensues from the catalyst of Rafe’s imagination, and much to the approval of classmates reduces Dwight to a frazzle.     

Isabela Moner plays Jeanne, an audio visual student and overachieving girl whom Rafe can only dream about. Their chemistry is precisely presented with what would be expected for that age group. The dialog is fluid as well as the actions.

Meanwhile, at home, Rafe’s mother’s boyfriend considers Rafe an obstacle, a threat and most of all a loser. Rob Riggle (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 -2016) is Bear, that boyfriend. His character is one you love to hate and I had no difficulty with this. 

The rest of the cast filled in any gaps leaving me with the feeling of being there and restoring my own memories of those years. After all, isn’t that what a good film is supposed to do?

Director Steve Carr, his first direction since his 2012’s Movie 43 manages to keep the tumultuous situations going without missing a beat. Chris Bowman writer of Napoleon Dynamite and most recently Masterminds teamed up with Hubbel Palmer, who is also credited in Masterminds, to complete the era teleportation.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Movie review - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (PG-13) - review by Stephen Signor

Run Time: 1:34

Ransom Riggs may have written the book on which this movie is based, but Director Tim Burton writes the book when it comes to imagination. In this, his 39th feature film, Burton manages to combine elements from a few of those other films he is known for. The movie goers need not look for them as they should be obvious. Does this work? Absolutely! 

The main protagonist is Jake, a 16-year-old whom through a series of circumstances uncovers clues to a mystery that takes him away from an ordinary life and propels him to alternate realities and times. It is here the discovery and purpose of Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children comes to light. Ara Butterfield (Enders Game and a Brilliant Mind) is Jake. Most of the time he possess the “deer in the headlights” look, however this gives credence to his existence and performance.

Eva Green, whom may be recognized as Artemisia from 300: Rise of an Empire, is Miss Peregrine. It is no coincidence her name is synonymous with the attributes of the peregrine falcon which she can turn into at will. Greens performance in providing stern but loving care over the children is accomplished often with just a facial expression which becomes emotionally believable. 

Samuel Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan) is Mr. Baron the leader of a group of monsters called the Wights. These immortals, with their enhanced physical attributes, hunt and kill peculiars. As far as Jackson’s performance, while it can be considered stereo-typical, it does show a new side to his ability of convincing fans he still has what it takes.

Rounding out the cast is Ella Purnell who played the teenage Maleficent (2014). As Emma, the oldest member of the peculiars, Purnell again demonstrates her acting ability.

The screenplay was written by Jane Goldman (Kingsman:The Secret Service-2104) did well in adapting this to the silver screen. Her successful association with like films in a capacity that also included that of the producer is evident.

Reviews have not been favorable for this film but that, in my opinion, is due in part largely because most of them are too busy focusing on meaningless details the average movie goers either miss or don’t care about to begin with. That said, I enjoyed being taken on another one of Burton’s rides.