Saturday, August 19, 2017

Movie Review: "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul" (2017)

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Movie"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul"
Director: David Bowers
Year: 2017
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

After being embarrassed online, Greg Heffley decides to use his family's road trip vacation as an opportunity to meet his favorite online gaming star at a gamer's convention. He hopes that being in this game's video will overshadow his earlier viral faux pas.

The fact that this movie has 20% on Rotten Tomatoes boggles our minds.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul" is directed by David Bowers and is apparently the fourth film is the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" film series. This installment was released five years after part three, and due to the long wait, the original child actors have aged to near adulthood. This means an entirely new cast was needed for this "reboot." Jason Drucker takes over the lead role of Greg Heffley with Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott, and Charlie Wright taking over the parts of his mom Susan, his dad Frank, and his brother Rodrick. When Greg gets caught on camera in a ball pit with his hand stuck in a diaper, the video goes viral, leaving Greg mortified. He comes up with a plan to undo this embarrassment by using his family's impending road trip to take a detour to a gamer's convention where he hopes to meet his favorite online gaming star. Greg wants to take a picture with and be in a video featuring his hero, which he believes will wipe away his previous shame.

We remember seeing the original "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" back in 2010, and as far as we can recall, it wasn't horrendous. We didn't really follow the series beyond that initial movie. We were aware of the first sequel called "Rodrick Rules," but never saw it and had all but forgotten the series by the time this entry was rolled out into theaters. The trailer for this movie looked awful. It was downright cringe-worthy, but hey, we've seen good movies sprung out of bad trailers in the past, so maybe that would be the case here. Unfortunately, it's not.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul" is every bit as abysmal as the trailer would lead you to believe. This movie actually got a theatrical run, which even we couldn't bring ourselves to see in the theater. Now that it's on video-on-demand, we promised we would give it a fair shot. Despite being released in theaters, it has a low-quality knock-off feel, like something that was meant to go straight to DVD. It's like "Home Alone 4," but with more diarrhea jokes.

Filmmaker David Bowers treats his audience as if it were full are morons. He and Jeff Kinney, who co-wrote the screenplay, pile on one stupid joke after stupid joke in an effort to drown the audience in stupidy so they will forget it's poorly written. There is nothing clever or witty about this movie. It may have anybody above a fourth-grade education rolling their eyes more than laughing out loud. The oldest son Rodrick barely feels like a functioning human being the way he is written here. He is so stupid that we doubt he could be able to tie his shoelaces without help. They make this character so dumb, it becomes more sad than funny to watch him be an imbecile. The new Greg also feels like more of an asshole than the Greg from the 2010 movie.

There is less reliance on cutesy drawings and way, way more reliance on what they call "diaper hand" because Greg gets his hand stuck in a diaper. HA HA GET IT? IT'S FUNNY. DON'T YOU KNOW HUMOR?? The movie even goes as far as blatantly stealing a couple of jokes from older, much better movies like "Dumb and Dumber." The other "humor" mainly consists of shoddy slapstick where people getting doused with mud, people get turned odd colors by dirty hot tub water, and of course, the tried and true lazy poop and fart jokes.

If you are jonesin' for a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" fix or think your kids might want to watch something like this (which let's be honest, why would they?), simply go to your wallet and set your rubles on fire. It will assuredly be a better use of your money than watching "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul." Proceed to rewatch the original 2010 movie and forget this one exists.
My Rating: 1.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 1.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 4.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 20%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Movie Review: "Message from the King" (2017)

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Movie"Message from the King"
Director: Fabrice du Welz
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

A South African man comes to Los Angeles in search of his estranged sister, though circumstances eventually lead him down a path of violence and revenge.

"Message from the King" is a thriller directed by Fabrice du Welz and is written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cromwell. It stars Chadwick Boseman as Jacob King, a South African man who has come to Los Angeles to find his sister Bianca, played by Sibongile Mlambo. He and Bianca were close as kids, but ever since she has moved to LA, she has been distant. Now, she has gone missing. As Jacob investigates, he learns that she has been mixed up with a bad crowd for a while. What he discovers leads him down a path of revenge against the criminals who have wronged his family. Joining Boseman is Teresa Palmer as Kelly, a mother/prostitute living next door; Luke Evans as Wentworth, a dentist Bianca went to see; Tom Felton as Frankie, Natalie Martinez as Trish, and Alfred Molina as Preston.

This is a pretty straightforward revenge thriller. It is reminiscent of something that would have come out in 70's, a modern day "Death Wish" neo-noir type of film. Movies like this have popped up every decade, and films about vigilante justice have very simple plots. Insert random badass who has been wronged by unsavory people and allow said badass to unleash fury upon them. What's not to love?

Chadwick Boseman plays the part of a killer vigilante extremely well. It's as if he was using this part to prepare for his upcoming film "Black Panther," and we don't mind it at all. Jacob King is slick, gruff, and not to be messed with under any circumstances. There is a bit of intrigue and mystery as he begins to uncover what happened to his sister. We slowly learn the events surrounding Bianca's disappearance are rather horrific. Jacob is fighting to avenge his sister, but we learn she isn't exactly a saint and was never just an innocent bystander. The thrills come often, as do the awesome fight scenes full of well-choreographed moves.

"Message from the King" has its fair share of raw, gritty moments. It deals with numerous unsettling situations that will make the audience uncomfortable. We certainly didn't expect it to get as dark as it does. The one drawback is its pacing, which can be very slow at times. Otherwise, this is an engaging film with an excellent lead performance from Chadwick Boseman, who has never disappointed us as an actor. We wound up enjoying this flick for the most part. It certainly isn't going to win any awards, but it's worth checking out for fans of sordid revenge thrillers.
My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 40%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Movie Review: "Undertow" (2004)

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Director: David Gordon Green
Year: 2004
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

A widower named John Munn has been raising his boys on a pig farm in rural Georgia. John's older son Chris has had some minor run-ins with the law, mostly for petty crimes. John's brother Deel shows up out of the blue and helps out on the farm, though he clearly has some bad history with his brother John. When John and Deel quarrel over some gold coins their father had when he passed away, Deel murders John in a fit of rage. Fearing for their lives and worried he will be blamed, Chris takes the coins and his brother Tim on the run with their uncle in hot pursuit.  

The above poster says this film's name is "Undertow." That's a typo, folks, it should have said "Underwhelming."

We're not exactly sure what inspired us to watch "Undertow." We know Roger Ebert called it one of the ten best films of 2004, but we cannot fathom why. For whatever reason, it was on our Netflix queue, so shortly before it was removed, we gave it a watch. Now that we have seen it, we honestly don't know what Roger Ebert saw in this film. He had a weird relationship with movies sometimes because, apart from a murder scene, there's little else to enjoy. It has a unique shooting style, but different isn't always good, which is the case here. Director David Gordon Green constantly uses freeze frames in the middle of his shots. He also uses repeated editing cuts and an overall shooting style that seems to give "Undertow" a completely unnatural flow to its movement.

The film screams 'pretentious art for art's sake' that's eerily reminiscent of something made by Terrence Malick, minus anything remotely intriguing. Some of the best films are executed with this idea in mind, but this same idea has also produced some of the worst movies ever conceived. In this case, an attempt at something different winds up being more distracting than anything. "Undertow" is overall bland and has a ridiculously slow moving pace. The story centers around a relationship between two sets of brothers. One set is Chris and Tim, played by Jamie Bell and Devon Alan. Chris is older and a bit of a troublemaker. The sheriff is well aware of who he is. Chris' little brother Tim is kind of sickly and weak, possibly due to his propensity for eating toxic chemicals. Due to his brother's sickly nature, Chris is stuck doing the brunt of the chores and looking out for Tim. The other brothers are the boys' father John, played by Dermot Mulroney, and their uncle Deel, played by Josh Lucas (what the hell kind of a name is Deel, anyway?). The set of older brothers has issues stemming from a feud over John's deceased wife, who was in a relationship with Deel at some point. After she died, Chris took his two boys and moved them into the middle of fartwind-no-man's-land to be pig farmers. They also fight over some gold coins their father had, which leads to Deel killing John and the only worthwhile scene in the film. Chris and Tim take the coins and go on the run across a rural southern landscape (shown through many wide shots of it, we might add). Meanwhile, Deel hunts them down, and quite honestly, we don't give a hoot if he finds them or not.

Unfortunately, "Undertow" wasn't able to keep our interest through their whole ordeal and we never felt any specific way for the characters. None of the actors seem to have the slightest bit of chemistry, and once the movie was all over, we wondered why we ever bothered watching it in the first place. In fact, we have already forgotten we did.

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 4/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 55%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Movie Review: "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature" (2017)

Director: Cal Brunker
Year: 2017
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

After the nut shop burns down, the animals are forced to return to the park. The town's corrupt mayor, however, has plans to turn their regular park into an amusement park so he can make a profit. Now, the animals living there must fight to save their home.

"The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature" is a sequel to the critically panned "The Nut Job," which only saw tepid box office returns. One must wonder two things when considering the existence of this sequel: 1) why was it made at all? and 2) why is its subtitle a reference to an early 90's hip-hop group that was irrelevant ten years before this movie's target audience was even born? We may never know the answers to these questions. The majority of the original cast returns to reprise their roles with the exception of Brendan Fraser, who must not have been able to fit it into his busy, busy schedule. Will Arnett voices Surly, a squirrel who is a bit of a jerk, but did happen to find the nut shop where all of the animals now live and gorge themselves on a lifetime supply of nuts. Joining him once again is Katherine Heigl, who plays Andie, a squirrel who refuses to live in the nut shop and refuses to eat the abundance of free nuts she has available to her because she believes that animals belong in the park. She also thinks the hard work of scrounging and foraging builds character. Apparently, accepting a free food handout of makes you lazy and reliant on the nanny nut shop, which in turns makes you incapable of fending for yourself. Also voicing characters in the film are Maya Rudolph, Bobby Cannavale, Bobby Moynihan, Peter Stormare, Isabela Moner, and Jackie freakin' Chan, among many others.

We really have no one to blame but ourselves. What did we really expect from "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature?" We expected the characters to repeatedly say the word 'nut' a bunch of times, which they do. We expected a lot of lame running jokes that aren't funny, which we get in spades. This is particularly true when one of the mice yells "we're all gonna die!" seven. goddamn. times. It wasn't funny the first time and sure as hell wasn't funny the seventh time. We expected bodily function jokes, and in place of lazy fart jokes, this time we get to watch a dog eating its own vomit...excuse us, regurgitating its food (there's a difference!), as a sign of affection. We expected a nonsensical story, and we even get that, too.

It seems like the animals had been struggling to survive in the park, that's why most of them moved to the nut shop. Acorns appear to be few and far between outside of the shop. With the looming threat of an impending amusement park being built on what once was their home, the park, which barely sustained them in the first place, has all of a sudden become their livelihood. The city's evil mayor wants to build a profitable park, yet he dumps a huge investment into sub-par rides, shoddy equipment, condemned parts, and broken down attractions that not even the most desperate entertainment seeker would dare ride. Seems like a terrible plant. We know, we're getting too deep into the plot of this mindless children's movie whose only purpose is to distract your children for 91 minutes. There are animated films that respect their young audience, like "The Iron Giant" or the majority of films put out by Disney and Pixar. "The Nut Job 2," however, is a movie that treats its audience like they are a stupid bunch of idiots. Its sole purpose is to make a bunch of animals run around and slam into things while attempting to create humor in the laziest way possible. The runners of this dog and pony show hope it will be enough to squeeze a bit of cash out of an unsuspecting audience who don't realize they wasted their money until it's too late to get a refund.

On the bright side, it was a hot day when we saw "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature" and the theater was air conditioned. This is the nicest thing we can say about this abysmal sequel.

My Rating: 2/10
BigJ's Rating: 2/10
IMDB's Rating: ~4.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 11%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

PRESS RELEASE: Quinn Shephard's Directorial Debut "Blame" Acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Films

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Samuel Goldwyn Films announced today the acquisition of the teen drama "BLAME" after its highly reviewed world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. The film stars writer/director/producer Quinn Shephard (TV’s “Hostages”), Nadia Alexander (TV’s “The Sinner”), Trieste Kelly Dunn (UNITED 93), Marcia DeBonis (SULLY), Tessa Albertson (3 Generations), Sarah Mezzanotte (TV’s “The Interestings”), Owen Campbell (AS YOU ARE), Luke Slattery (TWO FOR ONE), with Tate Donovan (SHOOTER), and Chris Messina (ARGO). Samuel Goldwyn Films has acquired the North American and Latin American rights.
Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
The summary of the movie reads as follows:
It’s the start of a new year at a small suburban high school. Abigail (Quinn Shephard) is an outcast who seeks solace in the worlds of the characters she reads about, much to the amusement of her manipulative classmate, Melissa (Nadia Alexander). When an intriguing new drama teacher (Chris Messina) casts Abigail over Melissa in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Abigail’s confidence blooms, and soon her relationship with Jeremy begins to move beyond just fantasy. Melissa, fueled by vengeful jealousy, begins to spiral out of control and concocts a plot against Abigail. This triggers a chain of events that will come to affect everyone around them, as well as reveal some dark truths. 
Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
“One of our strategies is to work with emerging filmmakers,” says Ben Feingold, Chief Executive of Samuel Goldwyn Films. “Quinn not only fits the bill, but has written, produced, directed, and starred in an extraordinarily impressive first feature film. She is the real deal, and I believe she will become a major talent in the industry.”
Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Filmmaker and star Quinn Shephard had this to say about the acquisition: “Blame is the result of years of hard work -- is so special and personal to my mom and I, and we couldn’t be happier to have the opportunity to share it with a wider audience through Samuel Goldywn Films. I feel the message of the film is so important, both for its adult audience and for a younger generation of moviegoers.”
Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
The deal was negotiated by Peter Goldwyn of Samuel Goldwyn Films and Josh Braun of Submarine on behalf of the filmmakers. The movie is slated to be released in theaters, on demand, and via digital media this winter.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Review: "The Ice Cream Truck" (2017)

Director: Megan Freels Johnston
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

A woman moves from Seattle back to her hometown in suburbia. She prepares her new house while she waits for her husband and kids to show up. Meanwhile, to cure her boredom, she tries to recapture her youth. While all of this is going on, an ice cream man murders unsuspecting victims.

"The Ice Cream Truck" is written and directed by Megan Freels Johnston. It stars Deanna Russo as Mary, a 30-something-year-old woman who is moving from Seattle back to the old suburban neighborhood where she grew up. She has just arrived at her new house and is in the process of setting everything up for the arrival of her husband and two children, who are finishing up the school year. Growing bored and restless, Mary decides to do things she couldn't do with her kids around, momentarily trying to recapture her youth. She gets invited to a graduation party and winds up smoking pot and hanging out with her neighbor's 18-year-old son named Max, played by 27-year-old-who-we-thought-was-32-year-old John Redlinger. All the while, an ice cream man in a vintage ice cream truck is simultaneously going on a murdering spree in their small town.

If you go to IMDb and look up "The Ice Cream Truck," it is billed as a 'comedy/horror/mystery,' but it is barely any of those categorizations. Yes, it has a few horror elements spawned from a killer ice cream man running amock in suburbia, but overall, this is mostly just a midlife crisis drama interwoven around a couple of kills. The movie is 85% focused on Mary and her boredom as she saunters through the days waiting for her husband and kids to show up and wouldn't you know it, since she's alone, she has an urge to be bad. Luckily for her, every man she comes across tries to have sex with her, right down to the creepy furniture delivery man, who we thought for sure was going to kill her. It's all about Mary trying to be young again while engaging in smoking reefer and flirtations with an 18-year-old kid. We're all for a "do you, girl!" type of situation when the kids aren't around, everyone needs to let loose, but we didn't find much (if any) humor or mystery to anything that goes on in this movie.

Deanna Russo does a good job with her performance. She has a few awkward conversations with her "Stepford Wives"-esque neighbors that she sells really well despite some odd audio editing. And speaking of these "Stepford Wives" neighbors, that's one of the biggest problems we have with "The Ice Cream Truck," the over-the-top nature of all of the characters. This is most apparent in the way the catty neighborhood wives act, particularly Jessica, played by Hilary Barraford, and Christina, played by Lisa Ann Walter. It's like all of these people are on crack, they are so unnaturally spastic in their delivery.

Then, there's the ice cream man in his 50's style ice cream truck who combs the neighborhood killing people. These moments feel disconnected from the rest of the story and feel thrown in so the movie could be called a "horror." Considering the title is "The Ice Cream Truck," you'd think it would be a bigger part of the story. Every death set-up is cliche. A character who has only had about four minutes of screen time goes off by themselves? Noooo, they won't die immediately! On top of this, the murders aren't even creative. The ice cream man is a basic slasher who uses a knife to kill his victims most of the time (except for one awesome kill at the end), and if that's the case, why make him an ice cream man at all? He could have been a random, nondescript crazy person and this movie would have been exactly the same and the story would have the exact same outcome. Oh, that's right, we get it, "there are some things in life that are sacred, and the ice cream man is one of them." OOOOOOOOKAY. There is never any panic or even any acknowledgment that the murders have happened. The entire town is oblivious to what's going on, which means there's zero tension from start to finish.

It's obvious why events play out the way they play out in "The Ice Cream Man," but the ending feels so unearned and so tacked on that we didn't even realize what the director was trying to say until the next day, and it still didn't change our minds about this movie. There is so much wasted potential here. The best thing about this flick is its 80's-like electronic slasher homage soundtrack. Beyond that, we found "The Ice Cream Truck" to be a slow paced, mostly boring drama with smatterings of slashings by a serial killer who happens to drive an ice cream truck. Freshness, dramatics, and uniqueness get lost in the fray.

My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 2/10
IMDB's Rating: ---/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Movie Review: "The Glass Castle" (2017)

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes

The story of Jeannette Walls' life being raised by an alcoholic father and a neglectful mother.

"The Glass Castle" is a true life drama directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who also helped write the screenplay along with Andrew Lanham. It is based on the memoir of writer Jeannette Walls. It stars Brie Larson as Jeanette herself. Larson previously worked with Cretton on the under-seen gem "Short Term 12." Joining her is Ella Anderson and Chandler Head, who also play Jeannette at different stages in her life. Also in the film are Woody Harrelson, who plays Jeannette's alcoholic and mentally abusive father Rex, as well as Naomi Watts, who plays Jeannette's mother Rose Mary, who is so wrapped up in her dream of being a painter that she neglects her children's needs and enables her alcoholic husband.

This is one of those movies that screams Oscar bait. The top billed actors are all Oscar nominees and winners, it's a true life story about self-reliant success and overcoming adversity, and it's depressing...really, really depressing. So what went wrong? It certainly isn't the acting. All of the actors, especially the three leads, do fantastic jobs in this film. Even the child actors do a great job. Woody Harrelson plays a drunk conspiracy-obsessed asshole believably well, which should be taken as a compliment but sure doesn't sound like one. Naomi Watts portrays a self-absorbed mother perfectly, and Brie Larson is wonderful as the grown up version of Jeannette Walls who must navigate adulthood with a hell of a lot of baggage. The directing by Cretton is very good. The film is well shot and looks gorgeous. Some have called this film slow and repetitive, but we didn't feel it was poorly paced. We also feel the repetitive nature is left in on purpose to emphasize the cycle of shit and broken promises the kids were subjected to during their lives starting at a very young age.

Where this film fails is in its message. It would seem that Destin Daniel Cretton and probably Jeannette Walls herself want the audience to find some endearing quality in her father. They want the audience to see the few times he acted like a father should act and say, "see? He was a decent person all along!" WRONG. Unfortunately, these happier moments are overshadowed by the times Rex Walls chose buy himself alcohol and cigarettes rather than buying his children groceries, making them go hungry in the process. It shows all of the times their mom was too busy painting to make her kids lunch or to get a job. By the time this movie was over, we absolutely hated Rex Walls, and we viewed him as a total piece of shit. No amount of laying in the snow promising his kids the stars could ever change that. Maybe there is more to Rex Walls than what is portrayed in "The Glass Castle," but using your teenage daughter as a sexual distraction so you can shark some guy in a game of pool is pretty fucking low. We feel like this movie wants us to root for a reconciliation between Rex and Jeannette when we were really rooting for her to free herself from her selfish asshole parents and finally move on with her life. Whatever direction they hoped to steer the audience, they were unsuccessful in that aspect, at least with us.

We can't really recommend "The Glass Castle" despite its excellent acting, camera work, and directing because of its relentlessly depressing nature. Though it has a lot to say about growing up poor, it tries to make a manipulative asshole a source of redemption by movie's end. It misguidedly sells some aspects of the Walls' lifestyle as something to be admired when really it's the same story as "Captain Fantastic" if "Captain Fantastic" were a raging, selfish alcohol and a legitimately bad parent without the best intentions for his children.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~49%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.