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‘The Interview’ is so bad, it’s criminal

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The Interview (2014)

Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

6.5/10  R

From the start of the movie, I knew “The Interview” was going to bomb. As talk show host David Skylark, James Franco is utterly unconvincing. As usual, Franco plays a heightened version of himself. Though he looks the part, he’s all flash and no bang. But he’s Oscar material compared to his co-star Seth Rogen, who completely lost me as smart, successful journalist and television producer Aaron Rapaport. He would have been more convincing if he had played Kim Jung Un. Rogen also directed, alongside Evan Goldberg, just as the pair did for 2013’s “This Is the End.” the-interview09Thankfully, “The Interview” was able to surpass that dud by using an actual plot, telling real jokes, and not killing off all the funny characters in the first ten minutes.

By now you likely know the plot, but I’ll remind you. When they discover than Kim Jung Un (Randall Park) is a fan of “Skylark Tonight,” Skylark and Rapaport take steps to secure a game-changing interview with the dictator of North Korea. When the CIA (Lizzy Caplan) finds out, they ask the pair to stealthily poison the leader. But Skylark and Un sort of hit it off, even though Rapaport is reasonably offended by just the sight of the man. How will this interview go?

Goldberg and Rogen, along with Dan Sterling, also wrote the screenplay for “The Interview.” Think of it as a James Francocomposite of Goldberg’s work on “The Watch” and “The Green Hornet,” Rogen’s screenplay for “Drillbit Taylor,” and Sterling’s writing on “The Sarah Silverman Program” and “South Park.” So, it’s a mixture of immature, caricature, amateur, and torture (but at least it wasn’t rapture…thanks, “This Is the End”). It does have some charm, including a couple hilarious cameos and an adorable puppy. It has a completely implausible romantic subplot, but you expect that. And it’s not completely devoid of a few laugh-worthy lines.

Unfortunately, a few funny lines can’t fill two hours of movie, and acting as unconvincing as Franco and Rogen’s is hard to watch. “The Interview” is like eating vegetables. Now, where is the steak?

‘The Lazarus Effect’ is a failure of Biblical proportions

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The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Directed by David Gelb

6/10  PG-13

I have a love/hate relationship with horror movies. I love them, but they hate me. I’m, well, easily terrified. So I’m not entirely sure if “The Lazarus Effect” was actually scary or if I’m just a wimp. I would never venture to say it’s a good movie, either way. But if you’re easily frightened, “The Lazarus Effect” may have that same paranoia-inducing effect on you.thelazaruseffect7

If you know your Bible trivia, you should be familiar with the story of Lazarus, the man Jesus brought back from the dead. A team of medical scientists (Donald Glover and Evan Peters) at a college in California, led by Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancé Zoe (Olivia Wilde), are close to finding a medicinal equivalent. So they bring in an amateur documentarian, Eva (Sarah Bolger), to record their progress. When they bring a dog back from the dead, they know they might have something powerful on their hands. But it has some undesirable effects. So when Zoe dies unexpectedly and the team rushes the process to try to bring her back, they don’t know entirely what you expect. You, on the other hand, might have an idea.

thelazaruseffect11Like most horror movies, “The Lazarus Effect” relies on cheap tricks – sudden motion and loud, unexpected noises – to get you to jump. You can spot the signs…you’ve probably seen enough scary movies to tell when something is coming. But expecting it doesn’t fully prepare you. And when one scene really stretches it out, building suspense with every passing second, you’ll be begging them to hurry up and end your panic.

I’ve never been wild about Mark Duplass. “The Lazarus Effect” shows precisely why. He’s a total dope, unable to play a serious man convincingly. But most of the cast (including Duplass, best known for “The League,” Donald Glover, best known for “Community,” and Evan Peters, best known for “Kick Ass”) are sarcastic comedic actors. Maybe that was the casting department’s intent. Olivia Wilde isn’t much better. Her role consists of a lot of dead-eye stares and dark one-liners. Perhaps the best actor was Cato, the dog brought back thelazaruseffect10from the dead with mixed results.

Plus, the story is mostly incoherent. I consider myself pretty keen in the art of understanding movies, but this plot was full of holes and unanswered questions. Maybe those will be answered in “The Lazarus Effect 2,” which was conveniently set up. “Low-brow” is a good word for it. “The Lazarus Effect” was enough to get my heartrate rising, but it wasn’t able to fool me into thinking it was a good movie. Dead on arrival.

‘The Judge’ is a simple, effective drama

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The Judge (2014)

Directed by David Dobkin

7/10  R

In “The Judge,” writer/director David Dobkin (“R.I.P.D.”) and screenwriters Nick Schenk (“Gran Torino”) and Bill Dubuque (his screenwriting debut) frame a beautiful examination of family. The drama follows Chicago attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.), who returns to his reviled small Indiana hometown after the death of his mother. As he reconnects with his estranged family, including his brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong) and his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) – who has long been dead to Hank – he’ll also re-kindle Download-The-Judge-Movie-1024x682connections with faces from his past. But just as Hank is about to leave, to return to his lavish suburban home in Illinois, his father is questioned in the hit and run of a despicable man he had in his courtroom twenty years ago. What follows is the trial of Hank and Joseph Palmer’s lives.

Robert Downey Jr., one of Hollywood’s biggest (and highest-paid) stars, somehow never manages to let his callous outer shell overshadow the personable character that hides inside. In what seems like the year of meta (see Michael Keaton), Henry Palmer is forced to flash back to RDJ’s own checkered past (including addiction and arrest), which allows RDJ’s dialogue with Duvall to be so moving and real. It always helps when an actor has something so relevant from his/her own past to pull from, and this is the perfect example. Robert Duvall picked up Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for his role, which sees him gracefully (and sometimes not-so-gracefully) enter the world of Hollywood old age. There comes a time when every actor and actress must play the role that admits their inevitable mortality, and, for Duvall, Joseph Palmer is that role. Jessica Tandy in “Driving Miss Daisy,” Christopher Plummer in “Beginners,” Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in “The Bucket List.” Duvall isn’t afraid to show the dirty side of aging. He may be getting older, but he’s not losing what made him a Hollywood legend. He’s not too old for another Oscar, that’s for damn sure. In smaller roles, Vera Farmiga (as Hank’s old girlfriend, who still lives in their hometown) and Billy Bob Thornton (as the prosecuting attorney trying to get Judge Palmer on murder) are excellentthe-judge-review-07 casting choices. Both play their characters with conviction and purpose, even if they don’t get top billing.

I can always tell when an Oscar-winning cinematographer is behind the camera. Janusz Kaminski (“Schindler’s List”) paints a majestic portrait of the courtroom of the American Midwest (actually it’s Plymouth County Courthouse in Plymouth, Massachusetts…oh well). His shots find beauty in everyday life, the way Oscar-winning cinematographers tend to do.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, “The Judge” does have a problem with its pace. It is, in my opinion, one of the year’s most wonderfully simple dramatic stories. But after 140 minutes, even I wanted to leave Carlinville, Indiana. Still, “The Judge” harkens back to the simple courtroom dramas of old, and I can be thankful for that.

“The Judge” is now on DVD and Blu-ray.

‘Still Alice’ is an emotional gut-punch

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Still Alice (2014)

Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

7/10  PG-13

“Still Alice” is just one letter away from “still alive.” This is an irony which, in essence, drives the beautiful and moving portrait of one woman grappling with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in “Still Alice.”

stillalice8When linguistics professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) begins forgetting directions, appointments, and simple words, she feels the need to visit a neurologist. A diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s is a difficult one to cope with, not only for the 50-year-old professor but for her husband John (Alec Baldwin) and her three adult children (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, and Kristen Stewart).

When a film gets me close to tears – and very few films do – it is almost always near the end, after I have invested in the characters and their stories. When I watched “Still Alice,” however, this moment first came very early on, even before the half-hour mark. The powerful emotional impact of “Still Alice” can be attributed almost entirely to Alice herself. Julianne Moore’s portrayal rips through your ribcage and gets straight to your heart like no performance this year. When she wins the Oscar for Best Actress tonight, as she surely will, she will have deserved it. Moore captures not only the medical symptoms of Alzheimer’s (like the distant looks of non-familiarity), but also the more tragic interpersonal symptoms of the heartbreaking disease. The moment I referred to which jumpstarted my 5550776_origemotional investment in Alice was the moment she struggled to tell her family about her troubling diagnosis. It is in that moment that Moore captured the struggle that’s often more difficult than the physical symptoms themselves. And it is in that moment that Moore earned the praise she is rightfully receiving. But she didn’t do it alone. Kate Bosworth gives easily the best performance I’ve ever seen her give. Alec Baldwin, asked by Moore to co-star in this low-budget independent feature, shows that people living with the disease aren’t the only ones who have to struggle with it. Even Kristen Stewart has fits of inspired acting that shows she’s better than her “Twilight” days.

“Still Alice” is a master class in acting. Unfortunately, the adaptation from Lisa Genova’s “New York Times”-bestselling novel is less remarkable. At times, the story’s chronology seems incoherent. Alice’s descent is swift, but the audience can’t tell when time lapses a day or a month. If this was an intentional method of showing how life 4779737_origmight have been for Alice (who has trouble remembering if something happened yesterday or last month), it wasn’t done as well as it could have been. That’s not all. I hate to write this, but at times the film’s practical message of Alzheimer’s awareness (a tremendously important cause, of course) overshadowed the story being told. I think the story itself may have been enough to stir activism for a cure, without the insertion of statistics and organization names. It was a slight distraction, though I certainly understand and respect the intent.

“Still Alice” wouldn’t have been what it was without Julianne Moore’s on-point performance, but she had notably talented support. A film that’s as important as it is well-made deserves extra recognition, and “Still Alice” thrives in its realistic and significant message.

For more information about Alzheimer’s disease or to donate to help discover a cure, visit http://www.alz.org.

‘McFarland USA’ is a winner

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McFarland USA (2015)

Directed by Niki Caro

7/10  PG

Formula plots become formula plots for a reason. They work. Disney knows how to make an inspirational, family-friendly sports movie. It has done it for years. “Cool Runnings,” “Remember the Titans,” “Miracle”…and now, we can safely place “McFarland, USA” there among the better of these (for reference, the poorer of these include “The Game Plan” and “Snow Dogs”).

Jim White seems like a conveniently-chosen name for a coach supplanted to McFarland, California, where over 90%McFarland-USA of the population is Hispanic. But he’s real, just like his story. When he was fired from his teaching and coaching gig in a predominately white school, White (Kevin Costner) had to accept a position teaching at McFarland High School and move his wife (Maria Bello) and two daughters (Morgan Saylor and Elsie Fisher) into an almost-exclusively Latino community. When Jim sees the speed of some of the boys in his gym class, he starts a cross country team. But when the boys’ loyalties to family and work come before practicing, Jim will have to become one with the community and figure out how to unlock the potential these boys have shown.

The endearing fish-out-of-water story is a welcome pick-me-up if you’re having a rough week. Costner, with an impressive sports movie résumé of his own (including “Bull Durham” and “Tin Cup”) growls coaching commands as a team of newcomers (including Carlos Pratts, Ramigo Rodriguez, and Sergio Avelar) shows that charisma is just as powerful as experience. The team of eight gets little characterization, and some are better than others, but as a mcfarland-usa10collective, the group is a lovable bunch.

“McFarland, USA” never overplays its biggest moments, which is the downfall of so many sports movies. It never gives in to schlocky melodrama. It stays true, has heart, all those things that you hope it would do. And the two-hour sports saga never feels like it’s dragging. Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois, the screenwriting team that penned Disney’s “Glory Road,” always know the right things to say. They never dip to soap opera angst. Yes, Costner will sound soapbox-worthy at times, like a Knute Rockne impression, but it’s always exactly what you want to hear. Or, at least, it worked on me. Honestly, the light-hearted underdog story is hard to hate. I dare you to prove me wrong.

‘The DUFF’ is just unique enough to not suck

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The DUFF (2015)

Directed by Ari Sandel

6/10  PG-13

Once more, I leave a theater confused about how I could have liked, even minimally, what I just saw. “The DUFF” is just another teen movie, subscribing to every high school stereotype in the book. But at the end of the day, even the predictable, feel-good, cutesy high school love stories can make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I know, shoot me now. But, unfortunately, I’m not kidding. Am I going to turn into one of those bloggers that shouts rooftop praises for every atrocious, mass-appeal movie that hits theaters? Am I going to revert back to my lame old high school self the-duff-01and talk about how this social-pecking-order morality play spoke directly to me? Am I going to abandon my values and beliefs as a movie critic and say nice things about a movie whose title refers to the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend”? Well…for a few hundred words more…yeah, I am.

26-year-old Mae Whitman plays Bianca, the DUFF (see above) of her friend group, which also includes attractive budding fashion designer Jess (Skyler Samuels) and attractive soccer player/computer nerd Casey (Bianca Santos). After discovering that she has been serving as a stepping stone to her hot friends for years, Bianca’s confidence takes a hit. So she’s shocked when the boy she has a crush on, Toby (Nick Eversman), approaches her to see if she wants to hang out. Bianca doesn’t know how to date. So she enlists the help of her long-time neighbor and totally platonic friend/football captain Wesley (Robbie Amell) to help her prepare for her big night. But Wesley’s girlfriend Madison (Bella Thorne) gets jealous of the attention he’s giving Bianca, and all-out high school social war ensues.duff

“The DUFF” lives on social media apps. Every known (and some unknown) social apps are name-dropped, from Twitter to Facebook to Pinterest to Snapchat to Vine…you get the idea. It’s the high school movie of today’s tech-addicted teens (not to sound like my grandmother), and the filmmakers even enlisted their cast to take to the virtual streets to help spread the word. Minutes after I tweeted about the film, actor Romany Malco (who plays the high school’s fed-up principal) favorited it. “The DUFF” has them trained like social media robots. But it speaks to the relevance of a movie like this. It brought a term officially coined on Urban Dictionary in 2003 to the forefront, or maybe just brought it back. Either way, it’s here to stay now.

I can’t give you any insight into the probably-terrible script or almost-certainly-appalling acting, because I didn’t pay attention to that. I was too caught up in the gossip girl high school drama and the immature jokes. Sorry, but I sort of had a good time. Whitman has charismatic charm, a contagious personality that you can’t help but fall for. It helps that she’s nearly ten years older than her character, with a good deal of acting experience, but still. I’m secure enough _N8A1240.NEFin my manhood to admit that Amell is hunky and funny enough to steal the heart of anyone, woman or man. And with the likes of Samuels, Santos, and Thorne (she’s only 17, so my adoration for her is criminal), you can’t even pay attention to acting. “The DUFF” just parades around adorably cutesy young adults in a way that effectively distracts us from whatever else it’s doing. It helps that the stars are all mostly anonymous, so you go into it without the expectations of those early-year releases with the likes of Kevin Costner or Johnny Depp (just retire already, Mortdecai). But “The DUFF” sprinkles in a drunk, divorced Allison Janney character (my favorite character in every movie she’s been in, this time playing Bianca’s mom) and an admittedly terrible Ken Jeong (as a journalism teacher who assigns Bianca a dreaded article about the fast-approaching homecoming dance) to give it a little star power.

“The DUFF” is a must-see for high school students. It’s no “Mean Girls” or John Hughes classic, but it’s not all-bad. Even as a predictable, guilty pleasure rom-com, “The DUFF” isn’t the worst thing you can do if you need a feel-good movie to tickle your soul. Take a few friends (don’t forget your DUFF) and go check it out.

“The DUFF” is in theaters.

2015 Oscar Predictions

Other Predictions

Best Visual Effects – “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Best Original Song – “Glory” from “Selma

Best Original Score – “The Theory of Everything”

Best Cinematography – “Birdman”

Best Writing – Original Screenplay

NOMINEES: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Nightcrawler

WILL WIN: “Boyhood” – Richard Linklater wrote this script, with contributions from his cast, over the twelve years it took to make the film. It was a monumental effort.birdman-alejandro-gonzc3a1lez-ic3b1c3a1rritu

SHOULD WIN: “Birdman” – It took a team of four to write this fast-paced story of an aging actor trying to stage a comeback. It’s brilliant, it’s culturally relevant, and it’s a meta-riddled adaptation of Michael Keaton’s own life.

DARK HORSE: “Nightcrawler” – From director Dan Gilroy, the screenplay for this creepy urban thriller blends suspense and intelligence to create an action movie that’s actually, well, smart.

 Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

NOMINEES: “American Sniper,” “The Imitation Game,” “Inherent Vice,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Whiplash”

WILL WIN: “The Imitation Game” – Graham Moore’s adaptation of the Andrew Hodges book “Alan Turing: The imitation_game_4_largeEnigma” is a brilliant retelling of an unbelievable true story. It’s the perfect story for Hollywood, and Moore did not disappoint.

SHOULD WIN: “The Imitation Game”

DARK HORSE: “Wild” – True, it’s not nominated. But it should have been. In my mind, the Nick Hornby adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir turned what could have been a boring nature walk into a moving family drama and a journey of self-discovery that I couldn’t peel my eyes away from.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

NOMINEES: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”; Laura Dern, “Wild“; Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game“; Emma Stone, “Birdman”; Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods

WILL WIN: Patricia Arquette – After sweeping this category in almost every other award show, this one seems like a lock.86145720141010011902

SHOULD WIN: Keira Knightley – Nominee Benedict Cumberbatch needed terrific support to make “The Imitation Game” a balanced film, and Knightley gave it to him. She’s a gem.

DARK HORSE: Laura Dern – It’s a long-shot, but don’t count her out. She’s incredible.

 Best Actor in a Supporting Role

NOMINEES: Robert Duvall, “The Judge”; Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood“; Edward Norton, “Birdman”; Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”; J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash

WILL WIN: J.K. Simmons – Best Supporting Actor is very often the easiest to predict. Jared Leto, Christoph Waltz, ?????????????????Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, HEATH LEDGER. In “Whiplash,” J.K. Simmons plays a jazz instructor who pushes his students to the edge in order to unlock their potential. He’s incredible, and this Oscar is his.

SHOULD WIN: Simmons

DARK HORSE: Edward Norton – The “Birdman” star gave the performance of his life. Any other year, this is all his.

Best Director

NOMINEES: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman”; Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”; Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”; Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

WILL WIN: Richard Linklater – Linklater filmed “Boyhood” over the course of twelve years. You knew that. LinklaterRichard-Linklater-Boyhood isn’t afraid to be inventive with his filming, and he deserves recognition for this monumental effort. To me, this is the only recognition “Boyhood” deserves. But we’ll see what Oscar thinks.

SHOULD WIN: Linklater

DARK HORSE: Alejandro G. Iñárritu – “Birdman” is incredibly inventive filming, and Iñárritu is equally known for being revolutionary. Just research his next project, “The Revenant.” He’s a long-shot in second place, but I wouldn’t be mad to see him come away with some gold.

Best Actress

NOMINEES: Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”; Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”; Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”; Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl“; Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

WILL WIN: Julianne Moore – “Still Alice” is one of the few Oscar nominees I still haven’t seen, but Moore has been sweeping the awards circuit so far.wild-star-reese-witherspoon

SHOULD WIN: Reese Witherspoon – She gives her all to play Cheryl Strayed in the artsy adaptation of Strayed’s hiking memoir, “Wild.” It’s a brilliant effort.

DARK HORSE: Rosamund Pike – Pike transcends herself to become Amy Dunne, psycho wife and gone girl. She’s phenomenal, and I couldn’t think of anyone who would have been a better fit for the role that originated in Gillian Flynn’s novel.

Best Actor

NOMINEES: Steve Carrell, “Foxcatcher”; Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”; Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”; Michael Keaton, “Birdman”; Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

WILL WIN: Eddie Redmayne – This is the one race where the “Will Win” is just as difficult to predict as the “Should Win.” Redmayne has been winning recently, including the Golden Globe and, more recently, the Screen Actors Guildthe-theory-of-everything-eddie-redmayne-2 Award. But Michael Keaton is favored to win the big one. I’m going on a limb and saying that Oscar will continue Redmayne’s winning streak and give it to the actor who truly deserves it. Redmayne is nearly perfect playing Stephen Hawking. He plays a man whose muscles were deteriorating, but Redmayne single-handedly holds up “The Theory of Everything.”

SHOULD WIN: Redmayne

DARK HORSE: Michael Keaton – Again, Keaton really isn’t a Dark Horse. His performance is almost Redmayne’s equal. He’s incredible.

Best Picture

NOMINEES: “American Sniper,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “Selma,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Whiplash”

WILL WIN: “Boyhood” – Linklater’s twelve-year effort is still the favorite, and I don’t see it losing. Oscar loves this stuff. It’s unfortunate, really.

SHOULD WIN: “Birdman” – Oscar nominees Keaton, Norton, and Stone, along with Zach Galifianakis and Naomi birdman-movie-review-f8eacfee-1f23-4abf-a558-b4d24c84e8fcWatts, deservedly accepted the S.A.G. Award for Best Acting Ensemble. The music, the cinematography, the unique script, and the meta relevance with Michael Keaton made “Birdman” the best movie of 2014. It deserves to be recognized as such.

DARK HORSE: “American Sniper” – War epics, especially if they’re true, are Oscar bait. Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper have 11 Oscar nominations and 3 wins between them. As war movies go, “American Sniper” is a great one. If Oscar has ‘Murica on its mind, “American Sniper” might be seeing some gold.

‘Kingsman’ makes us all adore the spy movie again

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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

8.5/10  R

I clapped. At the end of the movie, I mean. I clapped. I’ve never clapped. Sure, others do it. It can be tempting at times. But this time I did it. I clapped. I couldn’t help myself. “Kingsman” was simply too entertaining. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely shocked. From the writing/directing team of “Kick Ass” and “X-Men: First Class” and originally conceived by the guys that brought us “Wanted,” “Kingsman” was bound to be pretty good. But in reality, it KSS_JB_D25_02535blew “pretty good” out of the f*cking water.

The Kingsmen are a top-secret, independent group of spies. Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) is a teenager living in the ghetto of London, trying to protect his mum and sis from an abusive step-dad and stealing cars because why not? When Eggsy is recruited to be a Kingsman by veteran agent Galahad (Colin Firth), who knew his father, he’ll have to learn to be a gentleman. Billionaire Internet tycoon Winston Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is planning on using his excess wealth to do some good in the world – namely, rid it of most of its population in an effort to help heal our ailing planet before we lose it completely. He has an ingenious way of controlling most of the world’s population, and he’ll use that control to…well, I’ll just let you watch it for yourself. Needless to say, the Kingsmen can’t let this go down without a fight. And a fight is exactly what they’ll get.

Commencing blubbering paragraph of praise in 3…2…1: “Kingsman” may be the single most consistently uRHdkM871YJQDl3ux3ulCQw7BfVunpredictable movie I have ever seen. Right when I knew what was going to happen next, the opposite happened. When I made up my mind that the filmmakers wouldn’t do something as bold and original as…yep, they went ahead and did it. Even the minor details were nearly impossible to guess. And “Kingsman” is easily the most entertaining movie of the year…and maybe of last year, too. Let me remind you, I actually clapped. I giggled to myself, too. Not just at the humor, which the movie was full of, but of the sheer enjoyment. Fight scenes rarely come better-choreographed than in “Kingsman,” where one scene shows Colin Firth kicking ass with “Free Bird” wailing in the background. It’s applaudable in its own right. And I’m not one to bite my nails, but if that were a nasty habit of mine I wouldn’t have nails left. Hell, I wouldn’t have anything past of the knuckle. A plot so unpredictable means you movies-kingsman-the-secret-service-02actually fear that the screenwriters might do what you least expect. It’s anxiety-inducing. No character is safe from the wrath of an unpredictable script.

As Galahad, Oscar-winner Colin Firth is James Bond meets Maxwell Smart. He’s suave, gentlemanly, and badass. He’s the new knight. Plus, I just learned that the 54-year-old Brit did his own stunts. Un-f*cking-believable. Now, he says he’s itching for another action role. Well I’m itching to see it. In his first big American film, young star Taron Egerton is a stud. It always surprises me when younger actors (granted, he’s 25) have such an immediate charisma and on-screen presence. He has no problem at all being in the lead. Mark Strong was in director Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick Ass,” so he’s no stranger to this sort of violent fun. But here, he’s on our side…and you love him for it. He’s a total hoot. Samuel L. Jackson is a terrific villain, though his lisp is confusing to me. Sort of irritating. It does make you hate the man, I suppose…

“Kingsman” is unabashedly bold, intelligent, witty, and exhilarating. Just two weeks ago, I said how excited I was to see the 2015 release that would top “Black Sea” as the best of this young year. Well, I have most certainly found it.

‘The SpongeBob Movie’ : The only one caught out of the water is you

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The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015)

Directed by Phil Tibbitt

6/10  PG

In an egregious case of trailer misrepresentation, it seems the only thing caught out of the water is the audience of “The SpongeBob Movie” – because only one-third of the movie has our favorite sea creatures on dry land. The rest of the movie is animated, safely under the sea. And not full of human beachgoers, like the trailer might lead you to believe. The writers of the script, I might add, have no prior SpongeBob experience, though writer/director Paul Tibbitt, and writer Stephen Hillenburg (both of whom wrote the 1017177-watch-first-trailer-spongebob-movie-sponge-out-waterstory, which isn’t much better) are SpongeBob series veterans.

As usual, Plankton (Doug Lawrence, credited as “Mr. Lawrence”) is up to his antics trying to steal the Krabby Patty secret formuler (please tell me you read that in Mr. Krab’s voice). But this time, a dastardly pirate (Antonio Banderas, in the flesh) gets his hands on the formula and sets up a food truck on the beach selling the delicious burgers. Bikini Bottom is in post-apocalyptic shambles without the Krabby Patty (because nobody memorized the formula, there is no burger), so Spongebob (Tom Kenny), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence), and Plankton travel to land to get it back. But this pirate has a few tricks up his sleeve to make their rescue mission a difficult one.

The “SpongeBob Squarepants” television series has been on the air for over 15 years, and 2015 is far from the series spongebob24peak. Unfortunately, this movie reflects the show’s current declined state. As usual, the writing is childish and simple-minded. It has a few instances of witty word play, but on the whole the writing does nothing more than move the story along. It’s safe and dull. And once it gets further in, the story becomes incoherent and unrealistic (even by SpongeBob’s standards…). It just became silly, but not in a good way. The kids will laugh, but it won’t be enjoyable for the whole family. Sorry, parents, but you might be suffering by the end of this. But hey, if you make it to the credits you get rewarded by Pharrell’s new original song, “Squeeze Me,” an early candidate for the Oscar for Best Original Song.

I’ve always loved animation in 3D, and SpongeBob has never been crisper and more defined than in “Sponge out of Water.” It looks pretty, to be sure. I just wish the story was worth watching.

‘Black Sea’ is the classic submarine movie rebranded

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Black Sea (2015)

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

8/10  R

“Black Sea” proves that there will always be a place in our hearts for submarine movies and Jude Law. The actor best known for movies that released ten years ago gives one of the finest performances of his 20-year career as Captain Robinson, who is chosen to lead a submarine expedition to rescue millions of dollars in gold from the bottom of the Black Sea. With a crew of a dozen men (including Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and introducing Bobby Schofield), Robinson’s sub will sneak unnoticed past the Russian navy fleet and take the gold (tucked away inside a Black Sea Movie (1)Nazi U-boat that never made it to Germany) right out from under them. But when the men – half British, half Russian – begin to realize that their share of the wealth gets bigger if there are less men to split it with, the tension builds and the British/Russian divide will lead them to do things they normally wouldn’t do. The prospect of wealth for these men, most of them under- or unemployed, will mess with their heads. But when their cheap, old, rusty submarine (the only one this low-budget expedition could afford to take) gives them mechanical issues 100 meters underwater, the money will be the least of their worries.

Sporting a thick Scottish accent, a fading hairline, and 40 extra pounds (and I’m not talking about money), Law certainly does all he can to look the part of the recently-fired submarine captain ready for a shadowy last gig. He gives a commanding, respectable performance. Honestly, I would be surprised if he doesn’t get some sort of minor award season attention next winter. Schofield has a big role in his first feature film release, and he doesn’t disappoint. Playing the youngest crew member (Schofield is 21, but his character is 17), Schofield has a naivety and Black Sea Movie (3)curiosity that mirrors what the audience is feeling in these cramped quarters. The thrills reach new heights whenever his young life is at stake. The fun camaraderie that the actors feel is evident, and the chemistry they’re able to give their characters is unmatched.

“Black Sea” is set in the present day, but has the look and feel of a classic submarine thriller. It may utilize some of the classic submarine movie clichés, but it turns them into something new entirely. I haven’t been so happy with the end of a movie in a while. “Black Sea” is the best movie 2015 has offered so far, and I’ll be excited to see the movie that tops it. Strap in for the ride of your life.