Cinema or Cine-meh?

Sorting out the cine-junk so you don't have to!

‘The Last King of Scotland’ brings about unwanted deja vu

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The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

7.5/10  R

I’m confused. I want to praise “The Last King of Scotland” for its bold use of documentary-style cinematography, throwback film score, and surrealist, “Trance”-like sequences to shove the action forward and build dramatic suspense…but instead, my head clouds with thoughts that I’ve seen it all before. Sure, it’s eight years old now. But it seems like a mere compilation of more the-last-king-of-scotland-originalcontemporary movies like “Blood Diamond” and “The Last Station,” and even the failed television show “Hostages.” The déjà vu is unshakable.

James McAvoy is incredible as Dr. Nicholas Gerrigan, a young, well-to-do Scottish physician who feels he would be better utilizing his skills in a country where an oppressive regime is currently being taken down: Uganda, 1971. When he treats the new commander, Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), following a car accident, Amin asks Gerrigan to be his personal physician. Showered with gifts from the loving leader, Gerrigan accepts the offer and feels that he’s doing his duty to the people of Uganda. But Amin, as history will prove, isn’t all that he seems. Will Gerrigan stay blinded by the gifts, or will his sense of duty shift to a cause more…moral?

Forest Whitaker is the true pulse of the film as he plays Uganda’s charismatic new leader. Whitaker swept the award circuit, winning Best Actor in 27 different award ceremonies from the Academy Awards (his only Oscar) to the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards. Incredible. His performance is a staggering masterpiece. Not to take anything away from McAvoy, who’s right in his element. McAvoy is always better as the weaker man, the one not in power.last-king-of-scotland-2

But like I said before, there’s something too familiar about “The Last King of Scotland.” It’s an unbelievable true story (well, mostly true…Gerrigan’s character is mostly fiction, simply a means to tell Amin’s story from an outsider’s perspective), but true stories are by no means a new trend. Even true stories about oppressive regimes with a backdrop of war are hardly unique. Internal conflicts of duty vs. trust is just as common, as are themes of broken alliances and insiders using their privilege.

But still, “The Last King of Scotland” is incredibly well-made. The two masters of acting in the lead roles are top-notch. The cinematography encourages the fast-paced action that you see on screen. The story is full of natural drama and suspense.

I guess I just saw it too late. Don’t make the same mistake.

“The Last King of Scotland” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

Robin Williams has some fun in ‘RV’

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RV (2006)

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

6/10  PG

I’m not a fan of “family fun” flicks…unless my family was the one having the fun. Nostalgia has a funny way of altering your perception of movie quality. When “RV” released, I was 14. JoJo was my dreamgirl and poop was still funny. Now…well, at least JoJo is still gorgeous. But the comedy doesn’t quite translate. My sense of humor has changed, for better or worse. But RV-movie-22that didn’t stop me from laughing the way I did 8 years ago.

Before “We’re the Millers” made the family RV trip funny again, Robin Williams had his turn. It’s far from his best (far, far, far from it), but it has a few fits of inspired hilarity. Williams plays Bob Munro, a family man whose work allows his family to have a good life. But when his boss asks him to travel to pitch an important business merger during his vacation week, Bob kills two birds with one stone and takes his family (Cheryl Hines, JoJo Levesque, and Josh Hutcherson) in an RV across three states to Colorado, where he’ll have to sneak away for the business meeting while his family unknowingly thinks this vacation is all about “them time.” You can foresee the complications. But when an overly-loving RV family (led by Jeff Daniels and Kristen Chenoweth) becomes a little stalker-ish, the story gets really fun.

Don’t blame Robin for the bad material he had to work with (from the screenwriter of “Daddy Day Care,” another movie that’s only funny to me because of nostalgia). In fact, like it or not, “RV” is what comes to mind when I think of Robin Williams’s special brand of humor. A good mix of impressions, accents, improv, sass, quick wit, and potty humor (literally) lets Williams rv_2006_1284x1024_705648show off everything he’s good at in under 100 minutes. He carries the story, though he has some funny support. Daniels and Chenoweth never break character as two lovey-dovey psychos who homeschool their kids as they travel the country as full-time RV-ers. Six years before “The Hunger Games,” Josh Hutcherson plays a gangster wannabe. You’re laughing at him, not with him. But you’re laughing. And JoJo doesn’t hit her peak until the credits, when she and the rest of the gang croons in a hilarious (and sometimes really good) rendition of “Route 66.”

Sometimes you need a little guilty entertainment. It’s not great, but “RV” and I have a history so I’m trying to show it some mercy. I got a kick out of Robin Williams when I watched movies like “Flubber,” “Jumanji,” and “RV” as a kid. When I discovered “Dead Poets Society,” “Patch Adams,” and “Good Will Hunting,” I knew he was one of the most versatile actors of his era. Thankfully, his life’s work will live on in history. Go enjoy some of it.

“RV” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

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Robin Williams (1951-2014)

‘The Incredibles': A reminder of Pixar’s peak

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The Incredibles (2004)

Directed by Brad Bird

8/10  PG

Some animated movies get better with age. Ten years ago, “The Incredibles” (from writer/director Brad Bird, “Ratatouille”) became one of Pixar’s smartest, most mature, and most respectable feature films. It has remained so for the past decade, as Pixar has seen its ups and downs. “Cars 2”? Really? Fun and meaningful for the whole family, “The Incredibles” shows relationships tested, Syndrome_Incredibles_h1family bonds strengthened, and cities united for the common good. It flips superhero movie clichés on their back, dissecting the universal stories for something worth watching.

When Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) got married, they had no intentions of hanging up their supersuits. But when they had kids and saw their heroics were no longer needed, they put that life behind them for good. They became Bob and Helen Parr. But when a plot to destroy their city puts Bob in danger, Helen will introduce her kids (played by Spencer Fox and Sarah Vowell), who also have super powers, to the life she once lived. And they’ll all have to work as a family to stop the evil (mainly a jealous super-wannabe named Syndrome, voiced by Jason Lee) threatening to destroy their livelihood.

the_incredibles-207910But Helen isn’t excited. She retired from superhero work! Her marriage is threatened in a very real way when she finds out Bob has been lying to her. The kids are hurt. Relationships are not as close as they once were. These aren’t PG emotions. But the family that fights together stays together, they’ll discover. This is an atypical family with typical family problems. Strength doesn’t always refer to physical ability. The Oscar-nominated super-script is unlike most animated films. And with phenomenal voice-acting from all involved, these complex emotions are spoken with live-action clarity and meaning. But also insane humor! Samuel L. Jackson, as family friend and former superhero Frozone, is the most insanely awesome and funniest minor character in animated movie history! Challenge me on that. Director Bird throws his own voice in the mix as supersuit designer E, a squatty old woman with immense attitude. Bird is hysterical. Along with 314_6_frozone“Monsters Inc.” and “Toy Story 3,” “The Incredibles” remains one of Pixar’s funniest.

A jazzy score from Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino (“Up”) is an homage to the film’s superhero serial roots. But “The Incredibles” takes the super-standard and turns it around. Vibrant, fluid animation incites the same excitement, and you’ll find yourself cheering as you see these superheroes showing off their super-skills.

You won’t find many animated films quite so maturely meaningful and immaturely hysterical as “The Incredibles.” Suit up and revisit an instant animated classic.

“The Incredibles” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘Training Day': Good cop/Bad cop routine perfected

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Training Day (2001)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

8.5/10  R

Denzel Washington has a reputation for playing heroic, morally pure characters. From “Philadelphia” to “John Q” to “Unstoppable,” so many of Washington’s characters are wholly good. But it was in 2001’s “Training Day,” playing vulgar, corrupt detective Alonzo photo-Training-Day-2001-1Harris, that Washington hit his career peak.

Harris has been in narcotics for nearly two decades, and he has a reputation for making respected detectives out of newbie cops. Now it’s training day for Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), a young family man hoping to make detective. As Harris spends the day training Hoyt on what it means to be a narcotics officer, Hoyt discovers the real meaning of street justice and learns that, sometimes, it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.

Harris is fifty shades of messed up, and good ol’ boy Denzel has a ball cracking vulgar jokes and playing this twisted, crooked cop. But he nails it. He does bad so, so good. In fact, he earned his second Oscar (his only for Best Actor) for the role. Screenwriter David Ayer (“Fury”) makes Harris into more than a corrupt cop stereotype. Even though the story takes place in the span of a day, Harris becomes a well-rounded character with a distinct arc. And Hawke is his perfect opposite. He’s always been the everyman type, but here you buy into his normality more than1459-3 ever. You can read Hoyt’s inner-struggles on Hawke’s face. “Training Day” also gets solid support from several key players in small roles. Eva Mendes, Snoop Dogg, and Macy Gray all bring their A-game, even with only a few minutes of screen-time.

“Training Day” brings you into downtown L.A. with gritty, intimate cinematography (Mauro Fiore, “Avatar”) and a concrete jungle soundtrack. You can practically feel the heat rise from the asphalt. Without that, you might not stay interested in the slow-burning crime drama unfolding. And no movie gets my full recommendation without a solid ending. Thankfully, “Training Day” has an earth-shatteringly good finale, full of excitement and closure that wraps up the story better than anything else could have.

“Training Day” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

A few movie and TV reviews under 100 words!

Let’s Be Cops

Let’s not. Toward the end of “Let’s Be Cops,” I heard a sound that I hadn’t heard in a while. It was me laughing. And even then, I think I was laughing out of pity. It’s the classic case of a movie wasting any and all of its entertaining material in the trailers. When you get to the movie, you get nothing new. Nothing funny. Nothing good at all. 5.5/10

Admission

I thought that this 2012 comedy starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd might be cute. Nope. Instead, it became one of the worst movies I have seen in a long, long time. Sorry, but it’s the truth. Bad chemistry killed this one. Chemistry between lovers, between friends, between family. It just wasn’t there. It was awkward to watch them all try to act. 4/10

Chaplin

Finally, something I don’t regret watching. This 1992 film by the now late director Richard Attenborough (“Gandhi”) shares with us the tumultuous life story of Charlie Chaplin (played by Robert Downey Jr., who received Best Actor nominations on most major award circuits). RDJ is incredible, the script is as dramatic as it is informative, and a slew of supporting actors (Kevin Kline, Anthony Hopkins, Marisa Tomei, Diane Lane, Dan Akroyd, and Milla Jovovich to name a few) give tremendous support. 8/10

“True Detective: Season 1″

This slow-burning and suspenseful thriller is written by a novice psychology professor. You can tell. “True Detective” takes you on a wild ride as two Louisiana detectives (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, both nominated for Primetime Emmys) investigate a complicated and twisted serial killer. If “Law & Order: SVU” had sophisticated and intelligent dialogue, it would look something like this. McConaughey deserved a Best Actor win in the TV Drama category. Really. 8.5/10

R.I.P.D.

Ouch. This one got dumb quick. It’s a silly story about two dead cops in a police force to stop dead people who still remain on Earth. Not worth the time to explain why it’s so bad. 5/10

“The Newsroom: Season 1″

I’m not sure who to praise first. Writer Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) fills “The Newsroom” with incredible witty dialogue, dramatic tension, and sentimentality. But the cast (including Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, and Sam Waterston) takes his lines and works magic with them. Sorkin doesn’t let us off easy by giving us a foil character. No real antagonist. We see the good and the bad in every character, just like it should be. And the romances that would fall together in 2 episodes in a lesser series take their dear old time. Brilliance. 9.5/10

‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and ‘White House Down': The movie so good they made it twice?

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Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

5.5/10  R

In late March, 2013, “Olympus Has Fallen” hit theaters. All the heat of a summer blockbuster, two months early. The plot isn’t too complicated. It spells everything out for you in agonizing detail. It panders. It’s just unintelligent, low-brow, thoughtless eye candy about a North Korean plot to take over America. How? They storm the White House, taking the President (Aaron Eckhart) and Olympus Has Fallen 5other top officials hostage. They keep them in the underground bunker while the helpless acting President (Secretary of State Morgan Freeman) looks on in horror and talks to the only American man inside the White House who has any control: a former Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) who happened to be working in the area and thought he could be of use. As the suave Mr. Butler kills North Koreans and makes his way toward the President’s bunker, he begins to face increasingly determined opposition.

There are a couple of things that “Olympus Has Fallen” has going for it. First, its R-rating helps a little. It allows the takeover to turn into a blood bath, a dizzying array of shoot-outs and fist fights that lead to gruesome deaths. Unfortunately, the battles seem a little Tarantino-esque in their excessive and inconsistent blood splatter. Oh well. It’s difficult to recreate a large-scale attack on Washington D.C., and especially the White House. The digital restoration of D.C. monuments isn’t a total failure, but at times the CGI that necessarily plasters the screen does seem a little out of place. Not enough to ruin the escapist thrills, though.

I believe in Harvey Dent. I’m just not sure if I believe in Aaron Eckhart. When his character has everything to lose, his aaron-eckhart-olympus-has-fallen-6118performance seems forced and melodramatic. STOP SHOUTING ALREADY! The now-commonplace Morgan Freeman takes another filler role. Other than Olympus, the most obvious thing that has fallen is Freeman’s career. Ouch. Thank goodness for B-list action superstar Gerard Butler, who does what he does best – say terrible one-liners and kick butt. He does what we want him to do.

Misguided social commentary is a thorn in the side of so many political action movies. Thankfully, “Olympus Has Fallen” only spends a couple minutes on it. North Korea and South Korea and American interference and blah, blah, blah…who cares? The plot is going to suck. It’s an action movie. Just give us the guns and the suspense and we’ll forget the rest anyway. Well, “Olympus Has Fallen” does that. Just not very well.

“Olympus Has Fallen” is now on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix.

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White House Down (2013)

Directed by Roland Emmerich

6.5/10  PG-13

Here we go again. Now it’s June, 2013. Another disaster epic involving the White House is in theaters. So how does this one differ from the last? Which one appears from the ashes the victor? “White House Down” can claim the master of disaster, Roland Emmerich, as its director. It also has more of a blockbuster feel, with bigger and better CGI air attacks, more consistent acting, and some clever comedy. But as the second of the two, did it do enough to set itself apart?

This time, we have Cale (Channing Tatum), a man who doesn’t have what it takes to be on the President’s Secret Service team. In order to still appear like a hero to his teenage daughter Emily (Joey King), who is obsessed with the President (Jamie Foxx), Cale 1183878 - WHITE HOUSE DOWNgets them both tickets for an official White House tour. Bad timing. A group of radical racists and veterans fed up with the black President’s new bill to end conflict in the Middle East decides to take it out on the administration by killing anyone they can find with any power. Thankfully, Cale is able to find the President and attempt to lead him through the enemy-filled White House to safety. USA Today reviewer Claudia Puig understandably likened it to “Die Hard” in that way. Anyway, Cale is separated from his daughter, which leaves his heroic actions in limbo. Can he save the President without getting his daughter killed? What are the real motives behind the attack?

Screenwriter James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spiderman 2”) gives us a good dose of political humor, including a reference to director Emmerich’s epic “Independence Day.” Nice. There’s the Shyamalan plot twist at the end that doesn’t really matter. Thankfully, they keep the motivations of the right-wing extremists to a minimum, not clouding exciting action with meaningless commentary. “White House Down” lets the guns do the talking, I’m happy to report.

WHITE-HOUSE-DOWNBut when the actors need to talk, I like what I see and hear. Jamie Foxx isn’t necessarily Presidential, but he’s better than Aaron Eckhart. He is able to stay alternately funny and somber when he needs to, without letting his A-list personality get in the way of his sort-of-genuine performance. Tatum is a great choice for Cale, a character who uses a mix of humor and butt-kicking to win the hearts of audiences. As the head of the Secret Service, Maggie Gyllenhaal reaches a “Dark Knight” level of seriousness. Take that as you will. Plus, there’s a crotchety Richard Jenkins (“Step Brothers”) as Secretary of State and Jimmi Simpson preceding his role as a hacker in “House of Cards” with his role as a hacker here.

Even though it came second, “White House Downs” bests the efforts of the lackluster action epic “Olympus Has Fallen” by keeping the action loud, relevant, and realistic. Roland Emmerich has done it again!

“White House Down” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is a delightful surprise

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Directed by Ben Stiller

8/10  PG

I’ve always been leery of those sappy, PG, Christmas Day movie releases that are often billed under “family” or “adventure.” You always know that just means it’s not funny enough to be a “comedy” or exciting enough to be “action.” I don’t feel the same way anymore. Not after seeing “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”…on DVD, because I didn’t believe my friends when they saw it in theaters and told me it was actually good…I should have listened, but instead I saw “Grudge Match.”

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a daydreamer. He often finds himself zoning out, wishing his life would go as planned. At work, he develops photograph negatives for Life magazine. But Life is about to transfer entirely to digital, so Walter is about to lose his job. The the_secret_life_of_walter_mitty2cover of the last issue will be a photograph so incredible, famed Life photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) calls it “the quintessence of life” (or is it “of Life”? I don’t remember). The problem is, the negative that O’Connell sent Walter has gone missing. And so has the ever-travelling nature photographer O’Connell. With the help of a co-worker, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), and a big boost of confidence, Walter will travel to find O’Connell and the missing negative.

Would you be surprised if I told you he finds himself instead? Of course not. But “Walter Mitty” knows it’s somewhat of a cliche, so it works hard to change that and becomes a unique, hilarious, yet still awe-inspiring version of those yuppy Christmas Day films I so dread. O’Connell and his poignant dialogue has even been the subject of philosophical discussions I’ve had since watching “Walter Mitty.” Screenwriter Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) filled his brilliant script to the brim with relevant life wisdom. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” worked so well it became a candidate for my next permanent movie purchase, something I want to re-watch again and again. Isn’t that about the best recommendation I can bestow?

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is on Blu-ray and DVD.

‘The Expendables 3′ breathes new life into aging franchise

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The Expendables 3 (2014)

Directed by Patrick Hughes

7/10  PG-13

The old has-beens that crowd the cast of The Expendables 3” have nothing to lose. Most are in their 50s and 60s (the oldest, Harrison Ford, is 72), and they’ve probably found that action movies aren’t as easy as they used to be. Action makes their arthritis act up. But DSC_9578.jpgas monotonous and careless as their line delivery is (I’m looking at you, Mr. Stallone), these geezers still have what it takes to make one hell of an explosive summer blockbuster.

Barney (Stallone) has disbanded his team of Expendables (Couture, Snipes, Lundgren, and Statham), saying they’re too old for his next suicide mission. In their place, he finds (with the help of Kelsey Grammar) some new bloods (Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Rhonda Rousey, and Glen Powell) to help him take out his oldest foe, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who helped Barney start the Expendables program all those years ago. But when the new kids on the block get napped by the ever-scheming arms dealer Stonebanks, Barney brings back his old crew, plus some old pals (Schwarzenegger and Li) and a new face (Antonio Banderas) to help him fight what could be their last battle.

When it comes to the star-studded cast of “The Expendables 3,” the A in A-list stands for action. Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Ford. Gibson. Banderas. Snipes. Li. Lundgren. Statham. The list goes on. But as the old-timers drone on monotonously (with the exception23293.dng of Banderas, who’s actually a hilarious and eccentric addition), the new guys (and girl) breathe new life into this franchise. Their quick wit even livens up some of the vets. Mel Gibson does what he can with an expendable script from the writing team of “Olympus Has
Fallen.” He’s better than his lines. Same can be said for Wesley Snipes, another new addition, who has a lot of fun in his limited screen time. Real-life fighters Couture, Rousey, and Ortiz have the fighting down, but they’re a sight for sore ears when they have dialogue to suffer through. They’re better off talking with their fists. As for the others, you get what you expect.

“The Expendables 3” also learned from “2” when it comes to what we like to see and hear. Where the original gave us a lot of story we didn’t care about, the second spoon-fed us enough action to last for a lifetime. Perfect. But also, “2” embraced its cheesy action flick personality by giving us references to tons of other action movies. “3” follows suit. An awesome one-liner from Stallone reminds us of Judge Dredd, Ford harkens back to his pilot The Expendables 3 Stallone 2014days as Han Solo, and a fist fight between a former fictional boxing great and a former fictional hothead cop looks all-too-comfortable.

I dread the day the Expendables are permanently disbanded, but why do they have to be? What isn’t to love about a franchise which stars teams of celebrities shooting guns and throwing punches? These guys might get too old soon, but the idea can never die. Long live the Expendables.

“The Expendables 3” is in theaters now.

‘Lethal Weapon’ 1-4 (because they’re too similar to review individually)

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Lethal Weapon 1-4 (1987, 1989, 1992, and 1998)

Directed by Richard Donner

7.5/10 (collectively)  R

The buddy cop standard as we know it might have gotten its start in 1987, when “Lethal Weapon” paired young, suicidal, white, womanizing newbie Martin Riggs (played by Mel Gibson) with stable, black, family-oriented veteran Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). Their polar opposition made for witty banter and exciting police action, but cliches can only get you so far.lethalweaponbdcap1_original

In “Lethal Weapon,” pre-crazy Gary Busey leads a ring of drug smugglers with a military background. Riggs and Murtaugh must overcome their differences to stop this seemingly unstoppable group of mercenaries. Gibson and Glover are a comical pairing, and both have just enough action gusto to pull off their roles without overshadowing the intended comedy of the movie. That said, the plot is thin and barely explained. Action is at times exciting, but sometimes non-existent. And the well-choreographed fight at the end is just unnecessary.

Two years later, in “Lethal Weapon 2,” Joe Pesci’s character Leo Getz is introduced as a witness with a lot of information and even more enemies. Riggs and Murtaugh will tote him around as the three of them pursue a group of dangerous South African diplomats. Pesci is hysterical, a surprising addition to the already-entertaining cast. Here, the action is really hitting its stride. Without the need LETHAL-WEAPON-PESCIto introduce Riggs and Murtaugh, we get to see them in action from the very first scene. But here’s also where the franchise begins to coast on its own success. It gets lazy. The films begin to blend together in a kaleidoscope of cliches. Where one ends and another begins, I couldn’t really tell you. Watching them all in a matter of a few days, as I did, makes them even less distinct. But I’ll press on.

“Lethal Weapon 3″ thankfully brings back Pesci as Getz, in a smaller but maybe even funnier role than before. This time, Riggs and Murtaugh have to track down a former LAPD cop who has turned into a murderous arms dealer with “cop killer” ammunition. This might be their toughest fight yet. But again, “Lethal Weapon” fails to provide a convincing motive for the perps’ actions, leaving audiences simply to buy into the plot. Though the characters become more well-rounded, and the chemistry between Glover and Gibson and Glover is even stronger, the script becomes even weaker than before.9ryAKT0ixpZkifphOeGJWw6bGPD

Things wrap up beautifully in “Lethal Weapon 4.” A Chinese slave trade plot is just as flimsy as the others, but Jet Li’s villainous presence helps give the final installment (Gibson is 42 years old at this point, Glover 52) a bit of excitement.

Like the “Die Hard” franchise, “Lethal Weapon” progressively continued to increase the action while decreasing the quality of the script. It’s a trade-off, but at some level you just say “f*ck it” and grab some popcorn and enjoy the cheap entertainment unfolding in front of you.

“Lethal Weapon” 1-4 are on Blu-ray and DVD.

Expectations are key if you’re going ‘Into the Storm’

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Into the Storm (2014)

Directed by Steven Quale

6.5/10  PG-13

In rural Ohio, especially in August, even the lousiest tornado flick is a chilling horror story. So despite failing on multiple levels, “Into the Storm” was able to unnerve this moviegoer with terrifying thrills to spare.

Silverton High School in Oklahoma is preparing to graduate its class of 2014. Rain might spoil the ceremony, they fear. But nobody Into_the_Storm_5expects what’s really coming. The assistant principal (Richard Armitage, “The Hobbit” trilogy) has told his two sons (Nathan Kress and Max Deacon) to record the ceremony, but when a freak storm breaks out, their handheld cameras will capture something much more momentous. The historic storm brings chasers (Matt Walsh, Sarah Wayne Callies, Arlen Escarpeta, and Jeremy Sumpter) to the small town, but even their tank wasn’t built to handle something like this.

I’m a huge sucker for a disaster epic. If the special effects are right and the destruction is beyond imagination, I’m going to enjoy myself. And “Into the Storm” doesn’t disappoint when it comes to explosive and deadly disaster. But, like you’d expect, 89 minutes and a deadly tornado plot doesn’t leave much space for character development. Each and every one of the film’s characters remain flat the entire time. Selfless acts intended to be indications of character development miss into-the-storm-2014-07
their mark. Cheap emotional ploys involving family relationships don’t work. We neither know nor care about the family dynamics enough to get emotionally invested. I wish the acting was good enough or the script original enough for me to care about the faux sentimentality. It’s just a big storm of clichés. “Sharknado” without the sharks. The throwaway script, using phrases like “really big storm,” does nothing to build suspense. (I mean, the only other feature John Swetnam has on his resume is “Step Up: All In”). So “Into the Storm” relies on its real star, the CGI twister itself. And, at least for this cinematic adrenaline junkie, that part didn’t let me down. The found-footage genre, which usually irritates me beyond belief, finds a fitting partner in the disaster flick. The POV shots amp up the natural tension of the situation. You 1395682362000-1SNEAKPEEK-INTO-STORM-MOV-62983740see what you come to see (assuming you didn’t expect Matt Walsh to suddenly pull an Oscar-worthy  dramatic performance out of his ass). Richard Armitage, the only actor whose performance may be worth salvaging, is far better than his script allows. He’s doing his best. Nathan Kress returns to making snarky remarks behind the camera, a la “iCarly.” I get the homage, guys. It’s only fun for a few minutes. Aside from Armitage, these performances can just get swept up in the next storm that comes along. I won’t miss them.

At some point, though, even cheap thrills are thrills. Lower your expectations and you’re in for a block-blustery storm of summer entertainment.

“Into the Storm” is in theaters.