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Review – Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb

With Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Rebel Wilson, Rami Malek, Skyler Gisondo. Written by David Guion & Michael Handelman. Directed by Shawn Levy. Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language. 118 minutes.

Often, when a series gets to a third film, it’s running out of steam and just goes through the motions to try to separate moviegoers from their money one more time. While the original “Night at the Museum” had an interesting idea, did we really need to see museum exhibits come to life for a third time? NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB answers that question with a resounding and immensely entertaining, “Yes!”

Divorced dad Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) still has his job as night watchman at the Museum of Natural History in New York, but now is also director of nighttime events. Under his direction, the exhibits can perform as “special effects,” with no one the wiser that it’s actually ancient magic at work. However something is going wrong and the Egyptian tablet that makes it all possible is starting to corrode.

Larry and his young son Nick (Skyler Gisondo) are joined by several of the exhibits to find the father of Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), the only one knows the secret of the tablet. Unfortunately, that means they must travel to London where his father’s remains are in the British Museum. He will come to life in the presence of the tablet, and they can figure out what to do. Easier said than done.

The clever script by David Guion and Michael Handelman comes up with hilarious obstacles from a Neanderthal who looks like Larry (and thinks Larry is his father) to the arrival of Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) who doesn’t quite understand these foreign visitors but becomes involved with them. Then there’s the night guard at the London museum (Rebel Wilson), who begins to suspect something odd is going on.

Besides the special effects, the film is also filled with some surprising and hilarious cameos (not to be spoiled here). Of course it’s also touching to see the late Robin Williams return as Teddy Roosevelt. As in the previous films, he’s portrayed Roosevelt as an avuncular presence, providing much needed support to the frantic Larry. Also appearing briefly is the late Mickey Rooney, reprising his role as Gus, a retired museum guard. The film is dedicated to the two movie legends.

Stiller, when he has the material and a good director, can play broad physical comedy and tender character moments with ease, and under Shawn Levy’s direction he excels as both. (Levy directed the prior two installments allowing for continuity in style as well as content.) Stiller’s scenes with the Pharaoh required a nimble touch and he plays it perfectly, with a lot more ease than Christian Bale in the recent “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

There are several films competing for the family market this season, and this final edition of “Night of the Museum” is not only a fitting end to the series. It is a sheer delight.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Annie

With Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale. Written by Will Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna Directed by Will Gluck. Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor. 118 minutes.

There’s a special place in hell for the perpetrators of ANNIE, not so much for the unconventional casting as for the shamelessly misleading advertising campaign trying to convince people they’re going to be seeing a film version of the beloved Broadway musical. Other than a handful of characters and songs, this has nothing at all to do with it. If they had been honest about it one might be inclined to be charitable, but this was about the fast buck.

The biggest changes, of course, were moving the story from the depths of the Depression to the present, and making Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) an African-American orphan. Pardon, not an “orphan.” She and the others under the guardianship of the venal Miss Hannigan (a woefully miscast Cameron Diaz) are “foster children.” In one of the few songs to survive the transition–“It’s A Hard-Knock Life”–the word “orphanage” has been banished. One might never have guessed that the show was based on a long-running comic strip called “Little Orphan Annie.”

Gone, too, is Daddy Warbucks. He’s been replaced by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), an entrepreneur who runs a cell phone empire and is running for mayor of New York. The story involves his sleazy campaign manager (Bobby Canavale) convincing him to let Annie move in with him after a video of Stacks rescuing Annie from the path of a truck goes viral. Isn’t that so up-to-date? Of course, the signature anthem “Tomorrow” remains, but more out of a sense of obligation.

By moving the story to the present, a lot of the charm of the show is lost. Songs like “We’d Like To Thank You, Herbert Hoover” and “We’re Getting A New Deal for Christmas” are gone. The send-up of ‘30s pop tunes–“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile”–gets short shrift, dropping the girls doing their version of it. A few other songs are heard in snatches or in the background, one in a campaign ad involving Mayor Harold Gray. That last is either an affection wink or a thumbing of the nose at the real Harold Gray, creator of the original comic strip.

Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) is appropriate spunky as Annie, and Rose Byrne is a genial foil as Stacks’ right-hand woman, but the rest of the cast ranges from giving it their best shot (Foxx, Canavale) to embarrassing (Diaz). Indeed, Diaz is an actress who has shown a wide range in her performances, but playing Miss Hannigan as an aging has-been rock singer was a bad choice regardless of who made it.

Which brings us to Will Gluck, best known for sleazy sex comedies (“Easy A,” “Friends with Benefits”) who is probably the last person who should have been trusted with “Annie.” Well, maybe the next to last person. Quentin Tarentino’s version of “Annie” likely would have been even less faithful to its source but probably would have been a lot more interesting, even if it were four-and-a-half hours long, split into two films, and shown only in theaters that still have a working 35mm rig. It’s hard to believe that something could make John Huston’s incredible misfire from 1982 look good, but this does. The sun may come out tomorrow, but “Annie” is destined to come out on DVD sooner rather than later.

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

With Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving. Written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro. Directed by Peter Jackson. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. 144 minutes.

And so it finally comes to an end. Well, not quite. Peter Jackson bloated the slim novel “The Hobbit” into three epic-length films (this one is nearly two-and-a-half hours) and you just know that eventually, there will be an “extended edition” out on DVD with numerous “extras.” However, the Tolkien estate has made clear its displeasure with the films (and, apparently, the accounting of the profits) and will be licensing no more of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books to Hollywood.

In the previous installment, “The Desolation of Smaug,” things finally got interesting due to the appearance of the impressive dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) and the addition of female warrior elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who does not appear in the book. Originally set to be only two films, the second movie combined the intended end of the first film with the intended beginning of the concluding film with additional material thrown in. Now we’re back to what passes for the main story, and the best that can be said is that it provided a lot of work for artists and technicians to do the CGI special effects.

The film opens with the climactic battle against Smaug. It’s all downhill from there. The bulk of the movie is set at the castle Smaug had been guarding filled with countless treasure belonging to the dwarves who are led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Unfortunately, the wealth has bewitched Thorin who is now ready to kill anyone he suspects of trying to take even a portion of the gold, such as the humans of Laketown, which has been largely destroyed by Smaug. Instead he sets up to do battle.

Thus we have battles between dwarves, and humans, and elves (who look down on everyone else), and the orcs. The orcs–the chief baddies of the film–are led by Azog (voice of Manu Bennett). There are also wizards involved, chief among them Gandalf (Ian McKellan). The movie makes attempts to spotlight individual moments of heroism and cowardice, bravery, and cruelty.

However, most of the time is given over to the armies fighting across large-scale battles. Nearly all of this is done with CGI, and so what you’re seeing is a lot of computer animation fighting with other computer animation. No attempt is made–as with Smaug–to make us accept the animation as involving living creatures, so it comes across like a very impressive video game, one in which you’re watching Peter Jackson doing the playing. It’s hard to get worked up about any of it.

Martin Freeman has very little to do, which is somewhat ironic since he’s the one playing Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit whose involvement in the adventure gives the original book and the three films it’s title. However, none of the cast gets to do much more than give voice to their characters whether they’re speaking for animated effects or are on screen themselves. Armitage comes closest to being allowed a full-bodied performance since he’s the only character who undergoes any sort of change in the film. Everyone else either remains the same or gets to die.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is of a piece with the rest of the series, which means that those who have enjoyed the other films–and they are legion–will probably like this one too. However, too much of a good thing can wear thin and perhaps even the fans will have tired of Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien. That is, until next year, when they can watch a Middle Earth marathon of the extended editions of all six “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies. As Samuel Goldwyn said in another context, “Include me out.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Top Five

With Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, J. B. Smoove, Kevin Hart. Written and directed by Chris Rock. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use. 101 minutes.

TOP FIVE is nothing at all like Woody Allen’s classic “Annie Hall” (1977), but the similarity between what Allen did then and what Rock has achieved here is worth noting. Both had established themselves in stand-up comedy and doing broadly comic films. It says something about Rock’s film career that his best work is arguably voicing a cartoon zebra in the “Madagascar” movies.

What Rock has done here, as did Allen before him, is break with the past by writing and directing a serious comedy. There are plenty of laughs–this may be his funniest film–but the difference is they’re about something. He’s no longer the clown. He portrays someone who is flawed and recognizably human.

Rock plays Andre Allen, a comedian who has starred in a series of cop movies as Hammy. Hammy is a bear and Andre is in a bear suit. Tired of Hammy, and having burnt out on drugs and booze, the now-sober Andre has put his efforts into a serious film in which he plays the leader of a historic slave uprising in Haiti. It’s not what his public wants to see.

Meanwhile he is dutifully promoting it, allowing his fiancée (Gabrielle Union) to plan their wedding as part of a cable reality show, and agreeing to be interviewed by a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) even though the Times’ film critic once compared his movie work to war crimes. Over the course of the day, Andre lowers his guard as he’s forced to see what his life has become, while the reporter has to face a few unpleasant truths herself.

And it’s funny. Hilariously, laugh-out-loud funny. Poking fun at his own role as a celebrity, Rock has gotten cameos from Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Tracy Morgan, Ben Vereen (as Andre’s father), and Cedric the Entertainer. Ultimately, the movie is about Andre’s rediscovery of why he went into comedy in the first place.

As an actor, Rock has never been better. Instead of mugging and clowning around, he lets us in on both the comedy and the pain that’s sometimes behind it. It’s the sort of role that will have everyone in Hollywood rethinking how he should be cast in the future. Dawson is a major plus for the film as Andre’s inquisitor. Her character is equally complex and she hits all the right notes, from the quiet moments to a memorably comic scene about the problems in her own love life. Union’s character is the most cartoonish–Rock is following tradition for this kind of comedy–but he allows her a moment where we get to see that she is more than that, having her own insecurities as well.

“Top Five” takes its title from a game the characters playing naming their top five favorite rappers/musicians. Among Chris Rock’s films, this is more than in the top five. It is number one.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Penguins Of Madagascar

With the voices of Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights,
John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch. Written by John Aboud, Michael Colton, Brandon Sawyer. Directed by Eric Darnell, Simon J. Smith. Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor. 93 minutes.

Some of the best moments in recent animated hits have involved the supporting characters. There’s a huge fan base waiting for next summer’s “Minions” movie being spun off from the “Despicable Me” series. For the “Madagascar” films, the penguins–led by Skipper (voice of Tom McGrath)–have provided some surreal comedy. The question was whether they could sustain a movie on their own.

With PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR, it’s clear that they can. Sure, the script steals–ahem, borrows–from the plot of “Despicable Me 2,” but it goes off in its own delightfully loopy direction. It opens with some background on how Skipper, Kowalski (Chris Miller) and Rico (Conrad Vernon) come to meet Private (Christopher Knight). That it occurs during the filming of a documentary narrated by legendary arthouse director Werner Herzog tells you this is no slapdash effort.

Our quartet soon finds itself caught in a battle between Dave (John Malkovich), a squid who disguises himself as a human, and Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), the leader of an elite force who wants the penguins to get out of his way. However, the penguins are at the center of Dave’s plot to rid the world of cute animals that are so popular that no one wants to see a squid.

The penguins owe as much to service comedies like “Sgt. Bilko” and the like as to other cartoons, with Skipper commanding his troops and finding the angles he needs to outsmart his foes, whatever side they’re on. It’s also knowing about current pop culture without simply being an endless series of references. When the villain calls via computer to make his threatening demands, there’s no sound because he can’t figure out to make Skype work. One of the characters says, “It’s like talking to my parents.”

The key to making this work–beyond the animation and gags–is having distinctive characters. From the zany villain to the self-absorbed leader of the “North Wind” secret agents to the penguin Kowalski, who always blurts out the unpleasant truth at the least opportune moment, these are cartoon characters who come to life. The chase scenes in Steven Spielberg’s inert “The Adventures of Tintin” (2011) may be more technically brilliant, but who cared? Here, a chase scene through Venice becomes a comic romp, and viewers of all ages will be on the edge of their seats.

DreamWorks Animation has not always gotten its due and, truth be told, has had its share of clunkers. However beyond the original “Shrek” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” the “Madagascar” films have been delightful comedy offerings. “Penguins of Madagascar” shows they don’t need the star power of big name voice actors (Malkovich and Cumberbatch are both in supporting roles) to make an animated feature work.

This is sheer, unadulterated fun. You don’t need to be a kid to enjoy “Penguins of Madagascar.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


Review – Horrible Bosses 2

With Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz. Written by Sean Anders & John Morris. Directed by Sean Anders. Rated R for strong crude sexual content and language throughout. 108 minutes.

As lowbrow comedies go, “Horrible Bosses” was a cut above “Bridesmaids” and “The Hangover.” That may not be saying much, but apparently it scored a sufficiently big box office that someone decided that a sequel was in order. A sequel was not necessary, but while as Hollywood is making us wait another year for the second half of “Mockingjay,” here we get a film that no one needed.

At the start of HORRIBLE BOSSES 2, Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) are getting ready to launch a new business in which they will be their own bosses. When they are outmaneuvered by the crafty Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his arrogant son Tex (Chris Pine), they plot an elaborate crime to get their revenge and save their business. As with the plots to murder their bosses in the first film, we’re waiting to see things go haywire.

Back for more of the same are Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, and Jamie Foxx. Aniston is the sex-crazed dentist who is less interested in relationships than trophies. Spacey’s character, now behind bars, serves as a profane counselor to the hapless trio, while Foxx–as a criminal whose nickname has the initials “M.F.”–advises them on their latest outing on the wrong side of the law.

The humor is wildly uneven, always going for the crudest sort of sex joke, which will probably ensure a “Horrible Bosses 3.” Some of the best laughs come from Bateman’s deadpan reactions to his goofy partners who can always be counted on to do the wrong thing. The exasperation may be real as he realizes the number of sequels for which he may be on the hook. Sudeikis (whose character is a bit sex-crazed himself) and Day (as the nervous father of triplets) get to act silly and broadly overplay their scenes. It sets the tone for nearly everyone else in the film.

The new arrivals are Waltz and Pine, and they join right in with the mugging. Waltz gets nothing like the Tarantino-penned dialogue he excels at so he gets to be the polished villain of the piece and little more. Pine also seems to be hitting one note, but as the story progresses, his character evolves–no spoilers here–and Pine is up to the task.

It’s a mixture of sitcom humor and raunch, which will fit right a year from now when the film pops up cable. It’s not as stupid as an Adam Sandler or Melissa McCarthy movie that makes you want to claw your eyes out, but neither is it something you’ll remember in any great detail a week from now. In short, it’s a movie that exists solely to separate uncritical viewers from their money, providing just enough entertainment value that people won’t feel ripped off.

Indeed, if any movie deserves to be damned with faint praise, “Horrible Bosses 2” is it.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


Review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I

With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore. Written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material. 123 minutes.

As the first half of what should have been a single film, THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART I does a good job of setting up the events of the final book in “The Hunger Games” trilogy. As a film standing on its own, it is long and slow and unsatisfying. It will undoubtedly make a lot of money and so Hollywood will learn the wrong lesson, as it did with turning “The Hobbit” into three bloated films.

For those who know where it’s going, “Mockingjay, Part I” gets a lot right. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) remains that mix of bravery, daring, and insecurity that makes her one of the most memorable of modern heroines. She and her mother and sister are now refugees in District 13, the base for President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and the rebel forces. Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), who has defected from the Capitol forces of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), convinces Coin that Katniss can be the face of the revolution. Her acts of defiance in the first two films make her the perfect person to rally and unite the other districts. The only one who has trouble believing it is Katniss herself.

Lawrence captures the contradictions within Katniss in a sequence when she visits a hospital filled with the dead and wounded. In turn she is shaken, stirred when she sees the effect she has on people, and then defiant when the Capitol strikes back. If “The Hunger Games” can be read (and seen) as an extended metaphor for adolescence, it is in “Mockingjay” that Katniss finally comes of age and takes full responsibility for her actions rather let herself be the pawn of others.

That’s in contrast to Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is in the hands of Snow and is being used for propaganda purposes to suppress the rebellion. The irony is that both Katniss and Peeta are being used, but since Snow is a cruel and sadistic leader–he orders mass murder just to make a point–it is Peeta who needs rescuing, an action taken up the last part of this film.

The look and feel of the film is different from the first two, since the Capitol scenes are brief and mostly in tight shots focusing on Snow, Peeta, or unctuous interviewer Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). We get much more of a sense of the spare military conditions of District 13, where Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) can’t get a drink, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) can’t get make-up, and Katniss has to demand that her sister be allowed to keep her cat. If you’re wondering what the world will look like after the revolution, you’re starting to get the idea.

The real problem here is that reviewing this film is like reviewing the first half of a book. There’s plenty of foreshadowing of what is to come but the story doesn’t so much come to an end as have an intermission. Those who haven’t read the book will likely feel frustrated and those who haven’t seen the other movies shouldn’t even bother.

For fans of the books and/or movies, “Mockingjay, Part I” can’t really be judged until we see “Part II.” Unfortunately, due to the President Snow types at Lionsgate, we have to wait another year.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


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