Friday, July 29, 2016

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Movie Review - Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (PG-13) - By Stephen Signor

Run Time: 116 minutes

I was apprehensive about seeing this film, because 27 years have passed since the last one so my initial opinion was let’s let a sleeping dog, or in this case ghost, die. Couple this with casting women who have no genetic connection to the original characters and I sensed disaster. 

I was wrong. Not only did this work, it was extremely effective in giving the plot of the story a new life. A brief appearance by Bill Murray as cynic and disbeliever Dr. Martin Heiss is refreshing and takes us back to another time. Perfect!  Additional memories will be accentuated by…well, you’ll see. 

Kristen Wiig plays as Erin Gilbert, a professor at Columbia University and unheralded published author on the subject of the paranormal. A few years later, Gilbert lands a prestigious teaching position at Columbia University. In the meantime her book resurfaces no thanks to Abby Bergman (Melissa McCarthy) and she is laughed out of academia. Speaking of laughs, McCarthy’s sense of humor will diffuse the resulting tension between the two but I found her delivery weak and sometimes out of sync. This would soon be forgotten by the other ghost buster member, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon).  McKinnon is a tech nerd, brilliant with a touch of sarcasm with a no none-sense approach to life.

Last, but certainly not least, is Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones; Saturday Night Live-1975) a NYC subway worker who stumbles across the focal supernatural threat. This encounter catapults her into membership of this elite Ghostbusters team. Her humor is also a refreshing addition. All together they form a mismatched group of out of control paranormal fighters that eventually congeal into a collaborative effort when ghosts invade Manhattan as they try to save the world.

Several writers assembled to give this sequel its new life. Of those is Dan Aykroyd whose own fascination with the paranormal inspired the original concept in 1984.  Conceived as a vehicle for himself and for his friend and fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus John Belushi, the original story was titled "Ghost Smashers." Very different than what would be eventually filmed it involved a group of Ghostbusters that would travel through time, space and other dimensions taking on huge ghosts. 
While there are no similarities in this installment either, it does beg the question of where else can this team be taken? Stay tuned.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Movie Review - The Secret Life of Pets (PG) - By Stephen Signor

Run Time: 90 minutes; PG

Have you ever gone to the movies based on the preview or trailer, only to find that these clips were the only highlight once you are seated? Well such is the case with ‘Pets”. Yes there are twist and turns to the plot but they are too obvious. Taken into effect that this critique is coming from an adult, where does that leave you in making your own decision to see this film? Well if you are a huge fan of the Minions and Dr. Seuss than by all means indulge yourself. Directors Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud are both known for being the production designers for animated films Despicable Me 2 (2013) and Lorax (2012). Writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio was also a contributor to the Despicable Me films. 

To me this was more about a family reunion of animated artists than it was producing a film with substance. During scenes which should normally incite laughter was only replaced by silence.  All this being said I suppose there is room for giving praise for at least the choice of casting. Among other things Louis C.K. is a comedy writer, so it would seem natural for him to be the voice of a terrier named Max. His life as a favorite pet is turned upside down, when his owner brings home a sloppy, stray mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet in his first animated gig) whom Max immediately resents. You may recognize Eric is Cameron Tucker on TV’s Modern Family.

Just off his role as Calvin Joyner in the very recent Central Intelligence Kevin Hart lends his voice to Snowball. I also have to admit the setting for the antics of these pets is perfect. It takes place in a Manhattan apartment, spills into the streets and the sewer system, the home of Snowball and his constituents. This comes as a result of the “Pets” eventually having to put their quarrels behind them after discovering that this white bunny (Snowball) is assembling an army of non-owned pets determined to take revenge for their situation. In her third animated film Jenny Slate (Bellwether in Zootopia) is Gidget who has a crush on Max and eventually leads her own revolt.

In conclusion, I have to say that being a huge fan of animated children’s films I was surprisingly disappointed.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Movie review - Independence Day: Resurgence - By Emily Maier

Run time: 129 mins

Roland Emmerich is back at it again with Independence Day: Resurgence, his sequel to the sci-fi epic Independence Day. Taking place twenty years after the invasion of 1996, the film follows David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) as he attempts to prepare humanity for a possible second attack. Since the last invasion, society has incorporated the very alien technology that was originally used to try to destroy them. With these new advancements, many believe that Earth is ready for extraterrestrial war, but when a new ship arrives - one massive enough to have its own gravitational pull - they quickly realize that they are laughably outmatched.

I loved the first Independence Day, so I was desperately trying to keep my hopes high for Resurgence. But the departure of Will Smith, combined with multiple unoriginal trailers, quickly quelled my excitement. And, true to form, the film was a major let down. 

The worst part, without a doubt, was the acting. Dylan Hiller (Jessie Usher) led the train wreck as the son of the previous movie’s Steven Hiller (Will Smith). Usher’s cringe worthy performance really set the stage for equally terrible acting by just about everyone. Jeff Goldblum was one of the few people that actually played his role well, but it still wasn’t anything spectacular. 

In all honesty, Independence Day: Resurgence has one of the worst casts I’ve seen in a major movie in a long time. Even the inclusion of Will Smith couldn’t have saved this film. 

Resurgence also had a tendency to focus on pointless details. One “key” plot point in the film was the rift between Dylan and Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth). Their constant bickering throughout the first half of the movie was neither necessary nor entertaining, and it completely took away from the aspects of the plot that actually were entertaining (i.e. the aliens).

In addition to these setbacks, the genre itself is being worn out. The thing is, when Independence Day came out in 1996, disaster movies weren’t exactly run-of-the-mill. To give you an idea - some of the most popular films released that year were Fargo, The Birdcage, and the first Mission: Impossible. There were multiple thrillers and dramas, but very few disaster movies. Since then, watching the Earth blown to pieces has almost become commonplace. What should have been shocking and awe-inspiring - watching a 3,000 mile wide alien ship tearing up cities - felt mind-numbing and uninspired. 

To quote Goldblum’s character, “they always go for the landmarks.” By now, we’ve all seen major cities demolished on the big screen; there’s really no need to go through the motions again. But Emmerich does, and Resurgence becomes a typical, paint-by-numbers disaster movie because of it. In this sense, less really is more. 

However, the film did have quite a few good scenes. Near the end of the movie, there’s one particular chase scene involving the alien queen and a bus that was fantastic. Overall, the aliens were just the right amount of scary and fantastic, so every scene involving them was great. But, for the most part, Independence Day: Resurgence has a lot more pomp and circumstance than it actually delivers. There’s a reason this movie has a 32 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Movie Review - The BFG - review by Stephen Signor

I could sum this movie up in just two words; Steven Spielberg. But he says it best. In his own words “It’s a story about friendship, it’s a story about loyalty and protecting your friends and it’s a story that shows that even a little girl can help a big giant solve his biggest problems, proving that the giants are not the only thing that are big.” 

Clearly his name should appear in the dictionary under the heading of imagination. However, in all fairness, it is a collaboration of additional talent that should not go unnoticed. I speak specifically for names like Melissa Mathison who is no stranger to this genre of film making. As the screen writer for The BFG she also brings to the table her participation to iconic films such as E.T. the Extra-terrestrial (1982) and Twilight Zone the Movie (1983). Sadly these accolades are given posthumously, but her imagination lives on with The BFG.

That Big Friendly Giant is Mark Rylance, making a successful transition from the dramatic thriller (Bridge of Spies-2015), to the voice of this unique resident of Giant Country. Unlike the others, BFG stands out among the other giants. Half their size, yet rising 24-feet tall, donning enormous ears and with a keen sense of smell, he is also delightfully dim-witted and introverted. On the other hand, the larger giants Bloodbottler, voiced by Bill Hader (Finding Dory) and Fleshlumpeater voiced by Jemaine Clement are twice as big, twice as intimidating and have been known to eat humans, in particular…children! 

Frightened by her first encounter with BFG, 10-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) quickly realizes that this huge behemoth of a man is also big on being quite gentle and charming. This of course raises many questions. To answer, he brings her to Dream Country where he collects dreams and sends them to children, thus teaching her all about the magic and mystery of dreams. It is here that the real magic of this film begins. Ruby Barnhill is convincing and impressive in her film career debut, delivering a performance equal to seasoned actors. 

Adapted from British novelist Roald Dahl's 1982 novel, I highly anticipate box office receipts surpassing the $100 million to $125 million rumored budget to make the film. Since this was Steven Spielberg’s first time directing a Disney-branded movie, I believe it will not be his last.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Movie review - Free State of Jones - By Stephen Signor

Run Time 2:19 Rated R
By Stephen Signor

Having just experienced a taste of civil war life through the eyes of those participating in last week’s reenactment in Windham, I felt compelled to see this movie. Another valuable reason is because this film is based on a true story. Director/writer Gary Ross (Hunger Games, 2012) brings to life the anguish of war as well as personal lives off the battlefield. This was accomplished through the use of cleverly inserted archived photographs from that war and the era in general. The film does jump 85 years later once in awhile but this too is accomplished without causing confusion to the viewer.

Set during the Civil War, Free State of Jones tells the story of defiant Southern farmer Newt Knight (McConaughey) and his band of extraordinary armed followers against the Confederacy. Joining together with other small farmers and local slaves, Knight instigated an uprising that led to the secession of Jones County, Mississippi from the Confederacy, creating a “Free State of Jones”. 
Knight continued his struggle, distinguishing him as a compelling but controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the war.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (The Whole Truth, 2016) is brilliant as Newton Knights’ savior.  McConaughey too is impressive, effectively showing a sensitive side as well as a man with a painful mission. Other notable actors i.e. Mahershala Ali (House of Cards and HungerGames: Mockingjay I and II) and Keri Russell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014) round out an incredible cast; each feeding off one another’s talent. Rated R, the film begins with the bloody horror of battle, leaving theater goers with a sense of shock and remorse.

Add to this the captive cinematography, shot partially on location, by Benoit Delhomme (The Theory of Everything, 2014) and what you end up with is a documentary on steroids.