One of the big draws of “Tomorrowland”—George Clooney–begins the movie with a confusing speech interrupted by teenaged Britt Robertson who over the course of the movie becomes the hero of the piece. It seems our world is threatened by war, political unrest, disease, and global warming. Britt’s sunny disposition has the answer: optimism. The plot gets even more convoluted as it goes back to 1964 with a young version of Clooney lured into the future by a mysterious young woman. Thomas Robinson and Raffey Cassidy fill those roles. Then we return to the story of the optimist played by Britt who receives a magic pin which transports her to the future. “Tomorrowland” runs way long with too many violent scenes of robots who don’t want our cast to make it to the future–a now bleak place run by Hugh Laurie. With a running time of two hours plus I kept wondering “How about ending this today?” Does it deliver what it promises? Kid adventure with a lot of violence and a hard to follow plot. Is it entertaining? Long and confusing. Is it worth the price of admission? I pass.
“Max Max: Fury Road” — This is not a movie. This is insane. George Miller—now 70 years old—remakes his original often copied after the apocalyptic thriller—and jams it down our collective throats. Just like the original, it’s the future, nobody has any gas (or water or bullets) and everybody’s driving around in cars shooting at each other or unleashing cascades of water every now and then. Who really needs this to make sense. We begin with an introduction to Tom Hardy — now one of the busiest actors in movies and one of the guys I always want to watch — eating a lizard and then getting captured by a band of mean dudes who control water bullets and gasoline and want Hardy’s blood. (I guess he’s a universal donor?) Charlize Theron — now almost as tough as Mel Gibson in the original — takes off on a gas run and then goes rogue. She kicks off an insane chase with outrageously wonderful details including a guy with a propane powered guitar—riding along to create atmosphere. Does the phrase “like watching a car crash?” mean anything to you? But wait! There’s more — hot babes including sexy supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley — plus rising star Nicholas Hoult (I can’t remember why but I like this guy) and a group of female elders ready to kick butt. I doubt that grown ups will flock to “Mad Max: Fury Road” but if they do they will be shocked to discover it undeniable. Does it deliver what it promises? Insane chase after the apocalypse. Is it entertaining? Relentless. Is it worth the price of admission? Cannot be denied.
Fans of “Pitch Perfect” might brace themselves for a let down from the sequel “Pitch Perfect 2.” The original wowed audiences with the story of the Bellas—a capella singers who come to embrace their goofiness while finding love and themselves in the process. “Pitch Perfect” also added to the star power of Anna Kendrick who continually dazzles audiences with her singing and acting and personality. She returns for “Pitch Perfect 2″ as a college senior ready to move to the next phase of her life. The story opens with an outrageous gag in which the Bellas perform for President Obama at Kennedy Center. The very large Rebel Wilson returns as Fat Amy and hogs most of this film. Her opening gag involves a ripped costume and no underwear which gets the group banned from further competition. Fat Amy is funny but not quite funny or nuanced enough to carry the entire movie, which the filmmakers seem to want her to do. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is pleasant as a freshman team member. We never feel that the Bellas are in any danger of not being allowed to perform somewhere—anywhere. Their competition which they must defeat for the world title is a German group called Das Sound Machine. The Germans never feel threatening. “Pitch Perfect 2″ has some laugh out loud moments and plenty of the word play that made the original so fun. It just feels like it tries too hard. Does it deliver what it promises? More Pitch Perfect. Is it entertaining? Might be good enough for fans? Is it worth the price of admission? If you loved the original.
Kristin Wiig has managed to avoid the broad heavily marketed easy comedy like “Hot Pursuit” that Hollywood loves to grind out. Instead she continues to choose projects including “Welcome to Me”—a comedy about a society outcast that sometimes makes you laugh but often makes you squirm. As Alice Kleig she wins the lottery giving her enough money to buy her own reality show in which she acts out the real and imagined hurts of her life. She also has a borderline personality diagnosis and she’s off her meds. Some aren’t going to find those facts funny. However as this is a movie her odd passive aggressive program gains an audience. “Welcome to Me” lampoons the world of television and reality shows and the power and influence of money. I have to respect Wiig for not following her break out hits including “Bridesmaids” with a string of the usual broad movie comedies. Do be warned: “Welcome to Me” doesn’t quite add up to a complete movie. It feels more like a long running “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Does it deliver what it promises? Alternative independent comedy. Is it entertaining? Different. Is it worth the price of admission? For the right crowd. By the way, this is available on demand and not widely available in theaters.
“Hot Pursuit” reminds you how ordinary the mismatched buddy comedy has become. This one’s a pale imitation of “Midnight Run” “The Heat” and especially of “Thelma and Louise” to which it doesn’t even come close. Reece Witherspoon plays a tightly wound San Antonio policewoman assigned to accompany a cartel bosses’ wife to trial in Dallas. Sofia Vergara endures numerous lazy jokes about her chest, her age, and her Spanish accent. Very quickly the two women wind up chained to each other chased by rogue cops and cartel members. Witherspoon and Vergara’s name and charisma will probably draw some viewers but the two of them can’t put over a tired unfunny script. Does it deliver what it promises? Mismatched buddy comedy but not funny. Is it entertaining? Tiresome. Is it worth the price of admission? A resounding No.
Summer movie season officially arrives in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” May is the new summer and comic superheros are the preferred summer material. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” reunites the Marvel characters as played by superstar actors including Mark Ruffalo (the Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Chris Evans (Captain America). Robert Downey Jr. continues to lead as Iron Man. The group reassemble to fight Ultron—a computer generated artificial intelligence robot with evil on his mind. James Spader voices Ultron and sounds like he’s channeling Brian Cranston in “Breaking Bad” —which I view as a good thing. The robot versus good guys plot delivers one of the more satisfying elements of a long overstuffed action movie. Fans get a bunch of extended battle sequences each of which showcase the characters individually. This showcasing takes time, extending this chapter to two and a half hours. A lot of the battle scenes feel run of mill. Better is a hint of romance between Scarlett Johanssen and Mark Ruffalo. The rising star Elizabeth Olsen shows up with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a creepy Russian sorcerer who comes to her senses and joins the gang. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” will satisfy fans. But don’t expect anything new. “Age of Ultron” does what it needs to do. Does it deliver what it promises? Reunites the Marvel stable of superheros and throws a few new characters in as well. Is it entertaining? Does what it needs to do. Is it worth the price of admission? For fans.
Blake Lively brings a touch of classic Hollywood to an unbelieveable but enjoyable romance. As the film begins we learn Adaline was born more than a hundred years earlier but stopped aging at 29 thanks to a near fatal auto accident and a series of only in the movies happenings. Most of us would love to stop growing at 29, but the times in which Adaline live bring her to the attention of a harsh government. She barely escapes plans to spirit her to a laboratory and “study” her. As a result, every ten years she changes identities and locations and avoids intimacy. The pattern breaks when she meets hunk Michiel Huisman who falls hard and works overtime to win her. His money and position help but also lead to an equally preposterous plot twist involving old grizzly Harrison Ford. What saves “The Age of Adaline” is its sense of play. It “winks” at us and we love it. Most of all Blake Lively makes “Adaline” a pleasure. She reminds me of the pre “Mildred Pierce” Joan Crawford. Lively has the classic Hollywood look and voice and movement. Does it deliver what it promises? Classic romance. Is it entertaining? A great surprise. Is it worth the price of admission? A keeper.
Russell Crowe begins “The Water Diviner” searching, then divining and finally digging until he hits water and creates a well. These abilities and the suicide of his wife lead him on a mystical journey to find the bodies of his three sons during the 1915 battle of Gallipoli. “The Water Diviner” comes from a well-regarded novel inspired by truth. Crowe’s return to the battlefield and his friendship with a Turkish commander intersect with a budding romance with a Turkish mother grieving the husband she lost in the same battle. Just so you follow the Turks defeated the Australians at Gallipoli in one of the most horrible battles of a terrible war. The dramatic high point comes in Crowe’s recreation of the death of the sons on the battlefield. Their agony feels as real as the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan.” “The Water Diviner” runs long and slow and offsets that battlefront reality with candle lit romantic scenes that look like they belong in a different movie. Does it deliver what it promises? Remembrance of the 100th anniversary of a terrible battle in an awful war. Is it entertaining? Long and sometimes clumsy. Is it worth the price of admission? A mixed result.
“Ex Machina” casts a spell on its viewers—a chilly, creepy, unsettling spell. Gen X computer nerd Domhnall Gleeson toils at his desk for a computer conglomerate much like Google. One day he learns he has been selected to spend a week with the company founder who lives in seclusion on a vast chilly estate where he unveils Ava—a beautiful female robot programmed with state of the art artificial intelligence. Gleeson must determine the extent of her intelligence and any human qualities she possesses. Alicia Vikander gives Ava an unforgettable quality of innocence of guile. She flirts with Gleeson and wins him and us. Meanwhile billionaire Oscar Issac who dreamed up the project adds menace to the triangle. Part mystery mostly science fiction with a touch of horror “Ex Machina” will stay with you on the ride home and probably in your dreams as well. Sure it recalls “Blade Runner” and “Frankenstein” and “A.I.” and “2001 A Space Odyssey” but that puts it in good company. Does it deliver what it promises? Sexy sci fi thriller. Is it entertaining? Holds your attention. Is it worth the price of admission? A keeper.
James Franco and Jonah Hill play it serious in “True Story.” Jonah Hill inhabits disgraced NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER Michael Finkel. Franco plays true life child killer Christian Longo. The story begins with Hill getting fired from the TIMES for blurring facts and creating a composite character. Lying low in self-imposed isolation Finkel learns Longo has fled the country using Finkel’s name as an identity. Once arrested Finkel contacts Longo in hopes of finding a project that will reignite his career. Franco portrays Longo as a master manipulator who uses Finkel for his own purposes. Felicity Jones adds to the stellar cast as Finkel’s girlfriend. Even though Longo is in jail, scenes and an invasive phone call make us fear for her. Rupert Goold directs and really captures a sense of menace in the encounters between the two men. “True Story” has moments that remind me of the best parts of “Silence of the Lambs.” Hill and Franco have great chemistry together. I left the screening thinking more of them and their work. Does it deliver what it promises? Tense crime psychological drama. Is it entertaining? Kept my attention the entire time. Is it worth the price of admission? Worth it.