Jason Bourne


Jason Bourne
Starring Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander
Directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language

After a brief hiatus, Bourne (Damon) is back again and this time he remembers almost everything about his past. But when he discovers what brought him to his predicament in the first place, he goes after the person in charge (Jones).

If you are a big fan of the other Bourne films, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It has the same frenetic energy, high octane action and a familiar storyline. The acting isn’t fantastic, but it doesn’t have to be for this. It is exactly what it needs to be to serve the story.

The last couple of Bourne films that Paul Greengrass directed gave me a headache due to the obnoxious camera work. My guess is that the camera work is much the same here, but this time I had a nice Pinot Noir during the movie (thank you AMC theaters) and my nerves were much more able to handle it.

While the movie is entertaining, my biggest complaint is the originality. These Bourne films all seem like the same story to me, just in different locales. Bourne discovers a bit about himself, then he goes after the man responsible. Rinse, wash, repeat. They have deviated so far from the books at this point that it seems impossible to go back, so they just keep giving the audience what they think they want. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t. At least it is once again a fun ride. After all, I go to Disneyland a lot and ride the same rides over and over again, year after year. Why should my movies be different. B-

Finding Dory


Finding Dory
Starring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks and Ed O’Neill
Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo)
Rated PG for mild thematic elements

First things first. Before the sequel to the Pixar mega hit begins to play, they offer up another short film, in this case Piper. Piper tells the story of a baby sandpiper who is urged by his mother to start finding his own food on the beach. Reluctant at first and very scared of the onslaught of ocean waves, the young bird learns from an unlikely friend how to face his fears and successfully locate dinner. If you get nothing from Dory, this film might just be worth the price of admission. It is mesmerizingly beautiful with a short and sweet story that touches your heart. It is truly one of, if not the best, short films Pixar has produced.

Then comes Dory. Following a year after the events of the 2003’s Finding Nemo, Dory becomes unsettled once she recovers memories of her parents she had not experienced prior. If you remember, Dory has issues with memory loss, and therefore these imprints are inconsistent but create a restlessness inside her, making her want to find her parents at a marine conservatory in Norther California. So off go Dory, Marlin and Nemo on an adventure to bring Dory to her home.

In the animation world, for the most part, there is good, and then there is Pixar good. The worst Pixar films are usually better than most other studios’ best and that is more or less the case here. I’m not sure Dory needed her own story, but they committed and the result is mixed.

In regards to the story, it is average at best. Pixar is known for its creativity and this is far from their creative best. In fact, it is really similar to Finding Nemo in its beats, and drags along at times because of this.

They were able to give us some new characters worth watching though. Dory makes many new friends along the way including a whale shark and a pilot whale, but it is the septipus (an octopus missing a tentacle) who steals the show and gives the project the many pushes it needs to keep it going.

The one thing you can count on every time with Pixar is its animation artistry. The entire film is absolutely stunning to look at and while I think they sometimes use this too much to overcompensate for the lack of story, they definitely put their best foot forward in that department.

The most surprising thing about Finding Dory is the recurring joke with the sea lions who ostracize their seemingly special needs colleague who wants to join them on their rock. While the scenes they are in get big laughs from the kids, I found it to be cruel and not indicative of the film’s spirit of acceptance regardless of handicap (after all, Nemo is respected and loved in spite of his one miniature fin).

Overall, Finding Dory will be a popular summer movie but just don’t expect one of their better performances. B

Batman v Superman


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and Jessie Eisenberg
Directed by Zach Snyder (Man of Steel)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality

With the amazing success of the recent Avengers films, DC thought it was time to throw multiple heroes in the mix, starting with their two most famous: Batman and Superman. In this latest creation, Batman (Affleck) doesn’t like the danger that Superman (Cavill) has put the planet into, so he decides to unilaterally take him out. Somehow orchestrated by the evil mastermind Lex Luthor (Eisenberg), the two have an all-out clash with a new baddie added to make things interesting.

Opening last weekend, the film blew the door off of the March opening weekend record, in spite of a plethora horrible reviews from the press. The question is – was the movie bad enough to warrant these kind of scathing reviews?

The film starts off having the same dark tone as the Christopher Nolan Batman films and the previous Man of Steel (which I really enjoyed). Zach Snyder has a unique vision for the project, which is well conveyed throughout and consistent with the universe. You get the feeling that you are walking into a world you know and love. Maybe that’s why so many people showed up in the first three days – because they didn’t trust “the critics.”

Unfortunately, production alone isn’t enough to carry a film. This project really suffers from a horrible script and its victims: the performances. Having written all of the aforementioned titles, you would expect David Goyer to churn out a tremendous script in order to set up what will eventually be the Justice League. But this script is a mess, both in story and in dialog. The story takes one wrong turn after another, making it so you can barely see the right turns when they occur. The dialog, though, makes it so that the talented cast has no choice but to phone in their performances.

I heard so many people complaining about actor choices after the press screening last week, namely the decision to cast Affleck as Batman. Was it a mistake? Maybe. But I can understand why Christian Bale baled and left such a huge vacancy. The screenplay wasn’t worthy of his talents and would have ruined the legacy he left behind with Dark Knight. Affleck might have went out and buffed up to a massive degree, but while his muscles were super strong – his acting here seems inversely weak due to the material he is working with. I don’t think he’s a bad actor, but it is hard to prove that point with this project.

This film had such a huge potential, and maybe that pressure got in its way. Regardless, it’s a lousy way to start off a humongous new franchise and I hope that Warner Brothers can figure out how to fix the problems before we start to see the many films which are to follow in the years to come. C-

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Starring Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Bodega and Adam Driver
Directed by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek)
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence

     There is so much secrecy surrounding this highly anticipated project that I feel like a spy writing this review. At first they announced that NO ONE would see it before the opening and you can just imagine the smile on my face when I opened the email that contained my invite to see – even if it was just two days early. So that being said, I will be very limited in my divulging of major plot points and I will not be lying out any spoilers that could ruin your experience should you be one of the millions of Americans watching this over the next week.

     As the scroll begins and the words following STAR WARS: Episode VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS appears amongst one of the most famous fanfares ever written, we learn that Luke Skywalker has gone missing and the Rebellion, lead by General Leia, is desperate to locate him. We learn that a map to his location is being given to them by an old friend. Similar to A New Hope, this message is given to a BB8 Droid (this generation’s R2 unit) and we are off to the races.

     What’s amazing is that the plot is rather simple and while there are secrets throughout, especially since we’ve not been allowed any information other than quick glimpses, the story is not extremely complex and makes a lot of sense given our prior knowledge of the original trilogy. That being said, the two-plus hour long movie flies by due to a masterful hand at pacing.

     You can tell from the beginning that this film is about the passing of the baton to a new generation of characters. Han, Leia and Luke make way for Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who will be the new most popular heroes and villain in fictiondom. Props go to the casting of this film as they put together a fantastic crew of talented young actors. I’m especially pleased with Ridley, who is largely unknown and playing the role of a lifetime like she’s been a movie star for years.

     The original Star Wars films essentially created our understanding of what special effects can add to a film and so it is important that the filmmakers should be at the top of the game in this regard. When Episodes 1-3 came out there was great disappointment due to the fact that it actually looked green-screened. While I’m sure that was enough of that on board here, it doesn’t actually look like it. The production design looks authentic and organic without being scaled down.

     Another important part of the production is the music and at the age of 83 John Williams has given us yet another marvelous score full of playfulness and adventure. And if you really want to provide your own spoilers during the film, listen for the little motifs within the new themes. With this score you not only get a beautiful listen but a great deal of foreshadowing as well.

     I’m not completely complaint-free here. I think there is a major lack of originality when it comes to having yet another death star-like creation within the Starkiller Base. While the base is a subplot, it still feels like a throwback to Episodes 4 and 6 and yes it does provide for some pretty spectacular effects, but I’m pretty sure they could have come up with something different and cooler. In this regard, the Empire (here called The First Order) is employing the very definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again hoping for different results.

     The question I anticipate getting more than any other is if it is child-appropriate. I guess that depends on the child. My five-year-old is going to love it. There are some pretty violent moments (no worse than anything in the first six films) and it is pretty dark at times. I can see kids of all ages experiencing a roller coaster of emotion ranging from fright to sorrow, but overall I think kids and adults alike are going to eat this thing up and come back for seconds and thirds, probably in the same weekend, if they can score tickets. A-

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutchinson, Liam Hemsworth and Donald Sutherland
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material

     It has finally come to the end. In this last chapter of the highly anticipated Hunger Games franchise, Katniss and her two boyfriends, Peeta and Gale, set off to do battle in the capital with the hope of killing off President Snow once and for all.

     The great thing about this Hunger Games finale is that the franchise started out strong and each one of these films has been consistent since. This film is no different. It is a loyal telling of the book’s story and while the movies have gotten progressively darker (hard to believe if you haven’t read the books), they have not deviated from their source material in any major way.

     In other words – you won’t be surprised – and that’s a good thing. Since a vast majority of the audience has read through the novels at least once, almost everyone will get exactly what they expect out of this finish. This sounds elementary, but so many recent franchises haven’t accomplished this. Twilight, Maze Runner and The Divergent Series have managed some extreme let downs due to filmmakers’ inability to represent the various authors’ visions on screen. The fact that The Hunger Games has carried out this feat in spectacular fashion is a huge accomplishment and one that will be heralded for decades to come.

     So is the film perfect? Hardly. I’m still not convinced that we needed a two-part finale. While the actions taken by the cast are in the book, much of it is unnecessary for the telling of the overall story and I bet a talented screenwriter could have put this thing in at one film with less than a three hour running time. That being said, the studio wants to make money and this formula has been working for Hollywood so I get why they do it.

     At least the filmmakers didn’t sleep walk through it. It appears that they made every attempt to give us our money’s worth. If they are going to try to take some extra hard-earned dollars, its nice that they at least want to have you enjoying yourself while you cough them up. Overall, I feel that my time spent with these films has been well-rewarded. A-



Starring Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by Balthasar Kormakur (2 Guns)
Rated PG-13 for intense peril and disturbing images

     Being the tallest mountain on our planet, every year lots of mountain climbers attempt to conquer Everest and many of them fail, or worse. This new film by Icelandic director Balthasar Komakur tells the true story of a group of climbers from a 1996 expedition who, on an attempt to get to the top, undergo extreme adversity and tragedy once there.

     I have always been fascinated by the thought of people climbing Everest. Through books and documentaries, I have created in my own mind what it must be like to make this dangerous journey. But this movie is, by far, the most realistic vision I can imagine of what it must be like to risk your life just to be able to say you did it. I have no desire to climb any of the seven peaks, but being able to watch a movie like this gives me all the thrill I need, wrapped up in a two hour package.

     Production-wise, the film is a fantastic experience. It is spectacular to look at and take in. Seeing it in 3D IMAX, in my opinion, is the only way to go with a film like this. It’s big and bold and a wonderful sight to behold. I was also happy that they hired one of the greatest modern composers, Dario Marianelli, to do the score. Showing the opposite extreme from his tender scores for Pride & Prejudice and Anna Karenina, the music is allowed to open up and breathe, making the experience that much more grandiose.

     Story-wise the film is told almost like a documentary, which is good and bad. I rather enjoyed getting to know the characters, but try as hard as they did, the cast still seemed distant. The roles are well-acted by an extremely talented cast, but the parts weren’t the juiciest. The story itself tells of man vs. nature, which allows a bit of tension between its characters, but not enough to really draw you in like it could. A similar story, A Perfect Storm, tackles this complex screenwriting dilemma in a better way, providing for a better connection to the human element of the adventure. That being said, it shouldn’t be a deterrent to seeing the film.

     One thing I am both surprised and glad the filmmakers did, was to make it family-friendly. I didn’t expect it at all but found it refreshing that a big film with a huge budget and a killer cast could actually be made without bad language, sex and violence. There are some frightening images that are important to the film, but overall what a nice change of scenery. A-

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher)
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material

     This fifth installment of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise finds Ethan Hunt (Cruise) deep in the middle of a huge international case when the CIA decides to disband the IMF and make Hunt enemy number one. But instead of revolting or disappearing, Hunt and his crew of highly skilled misfits continue to work on finding and stopping the international crime “syndicate” that the CIA doesn’t even believe exists.

     Each one of these films has bigger and flashier set pieces but this one really takes the cake, and even in the first few minutes. In the very first act, Cruise pulls off a stunt hanging from the side of a jumbo jet as it takes off, and from the press around the film it appears the stunt was very real. With today’s technology this could have easily been done on a computer. But to give his audience the biggest thrills possible, Cruise gives the movie his all, over and over again. His abilities and dedication to his craft have never ceased to amaze me and this film just takes everything up a notch.

     New to the franchise is director Christopher McQuarrie, who until recently has had mostly writing credits on his resume, including his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Usual Suspects. Here he really shows that he has the chops to direct a big tentpole picture. Along with a very talented production team, and a gigantic budget I’m sure, he pulls off a massive undertaking with style and class.

     While Ethan Hunt has been considered by many to be the American answer to James Bond, I didn’t think I would ever see the day that a Mission: Impossible flick could be better than a Bond film, especially in the presence of new Bond Daniel Craig. Until now. Rogue Nation is better than any 007 film I’ve ever seen and has the potential to be a legendary movie in the spy genre.

     So your mission, should you choose to accept it: show some discipline and don’t see this film – no matter how good people say it is. If you believe Mr Cruise to be the leader of a dangerous and recklessly un-American cult, then send a message to him, with your pocketbook, that as long he is associated with Scientology, you will not support his “church” with your hard-earned dollars. Trust me, with the reviews this film is going to get, should enough people stay home this weekend, he will hear you loud and clear.  A



Starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams and Bill Murray
Directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry McGuire)
Rated PG-13 for some language including suggestive comments

In Cameron Crowe’s latest rom com, Bradley Cooper stars as a defense contractor hired by a billionaire (Murray) to obtain a blessing in his old stomping ground of Hawaii for approval of a large business deal. In the process he falls for a young captain (Stone) assigned to cart him around and revisits an old flame (McAdams) from his previous life on the island.

Throughout the years Crowe has proven to be a master of smart romantic comedies that stick with you long after the credits. He is known for displaying honesty and creating great moments from John Cusack holding a boom box over his head in Say Anything… to Tom Cruise’s iconic line in Jerry Maguire “you complete me.” His writing and directing is quirky while at the same time quite wonderful. Most of the time. Aloha is a complete miss. In fact, if I hadn’t known this was a Crowe film, I wouldn’t have believed it afterward.

The biggest problem with the film is the insane plot which doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s something about getting a blessing from a Hawaiian king to launch a satellite for some sinister purpose that never gets fleshed out. The whole thing feels like an inside joke told from kids who think they are cool and want you to really want to know, but the joke isn’t funny and the kids are far from cool. They act like we should know the characters and the culture, but we don’t really know them and we don’t really want to either.

Then comes the bad character choices that lack any authenticity. For example, much ado is made about Cooper being the father of McAdams oldest child, and yet the person who has been playing dad for her entire life seems like more of an outsider in the equation than Cooper who has been gone for over a decade and newly introduced. Their decisions make the whole crew look shallow and weak.

The icing on this lousy piece of cake is the multitude of poor performances. I have really liked these actors in the past, and Bill Murray I’ll forgive simply because it’s him, but the acting here is so bad that it makes me question if any of these players are any good at their craft.

So it is with great disappointment that I have to throw this one under the bus. Sadly, San Andreas is not the only disaster movie hitting theaters this weekend. F

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies



The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage
Directed by Peter Jackson
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

     I’ve read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, maybe not as many times as some, but enough to know that the story is about a group of dwarves, along with a wizard and a hobbit, who try to take back a mountain full of gold from the Dragon known as Smaug. But a huge battle? Well, in the book there is only a glimpse of it, so for me, after the removal of Smaug, this storyline didn’t seem like a necessary diversion and central focus for an entire film. And yet it fits.

     In this last chapter, after Smaug is defeated, King Thorin’s heart becomes possessed by the riches of the mountain. When the elves and men come to claim their rightful portion of the treasure, Thorin refuses to share and a large battle seems eminent when suddenly a vast orc army enters to complicate the situation. It’s a grand war full of unexpected outcomes.

     This is where a trust in Peter Jackson needs to be placed. He and his team felt that the story just wasn’t complete leaving it as is and so a huge embellishment was needed, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m glad he was in charge. This is not at all like The Hunger Games or Twilight where two films were made instead of one as a pure money grab. Here, this story felt like it needed to be told and like the overall film wouldn’t have been served correctly without it.

     Production-wise, this film is, as expected, first class. It appears that no expense was spared to make everything look and sound perfect. The special effects, while not as showy as in the second installment, were flawless and exhilarating. The acting was superb by the entire cast, making the entire world seem alive. And once again, Howard Shore created a new and innovative score that doesn’t just remind us of old themes, but rather livens up the movie with fresh and beautiful music.

     As an aside, while I was never bothered by the tremendous lengths of the Lord of the Rings and other Hobbit films, it will be comforting to some that this newest installment is the shortest Middle Earth film yet clocking in at only 144 well-paced minutes.

     I guess what I’m most enthused about with this final Hobbit film is that beforehand I wasn’t excited to watch it but afterward I was extremely excited to talk about it. I love a good surprise and this film made me remember why I love Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth so dearly. It is a masterful creation and a terrific way to close out what I think will be considered to be one of the most underrated and under-appreciated sagas in cinematic history. A




Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway
Directed by Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight Trilogy)
Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language

In the not too distant future, our time on Earth is coming to an end and NASA is looking for a way to to keep the human race alive as it looks for potential worlds for us to inhabit. An ex-astronaut-turned-farmer (McConaughey) is recruited to fly a mission to check for the potential of survivability on another planet.

The one thing filmmaker Christopher Nolan has always excelled in is rich, thought-provoking and ambitious storytelling. And Interstellar is one of the most ambitious films in this genre that I’ve ever experienced. At its very heart it is a warning that we are destroying our planet by providing a glimpse of a dire future. But it also serves as an adventure with many underlying themes. Its very grandiosity is the most compelling reason to see the film.

While at first the film appears to be greatly influenced by such projects as 2001, Contact and even Tree of Life, the project quickly propels itself into new territory asking huge questions about our Earth, our Universe, Love, Aliens, God and other difficult to explain conundrums. When I say ambitious, I really mean it. For a film like this to exist in a three hour form seems to be an amazing feat in itself. I’m sure the movie could have been two hours longer and most would have barely minded. It goes places and attempts to give answers to many of the things we, as humans, really want to know.

That being said, we must also recognize that while there is a lot of science here, this is a work of fiction spouting some whacky philosophies which I can’t get into without creating spoilers. I’m sure that many a fan boy will look to this film as more than theory and fantasy, but rather as fact. This could be a dangerous place to go and I’m sure debates will abound when it comes to accuracies and potential pitfalls. Since I don’t have a degree in astro physics, I’m going to assume that Nolan and his crew thoroughly researched their science and had numerous high level consultants giving them knowledge and advice, but I’ll also freely admit that that does require a huge leap of faith in a Hollywood project.

For those who don’t want to go too deep with the underlying questions, the film also works as great adventure. The performances from the talented cast are as terrific as we would expect, although many of their decisions and actions are a little too coincidental and inauthentic, I’m assuming mostly to help the pacing of the film. For example, McConaughey just happens to live close to the secret NASA base and just happens to be the ONLY person who can fly the ship. Some problems you just need to overlook. Also, what about the rest of the world? Where is the news? We don’t even get to see other cities other than the corn fields of Mid America. Many little details are left out, but I have to admit that the film doesn’t really suffer from a lack of expositional weight. A-