"Beauty and the Beast" is the only animated feature in cinematic history to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award as one of only five nominees. It also happens to be my favorite movie of all-time. I've seen it in 2D, 3D, on VHS, DVD, TV, and even at the Fathom Events Sing-a-Long event (Sadly, I was a little too young to experience it in IMAX back in 2002.) And the Tony Award-winning musical was the first Broadway show I ever attended.
This Disney animated classic was released in 1991, and therefore, is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year. While it didn't open in theaters until Nov. 15, The Academy is always rather busy around that time, so "Beauty"'s Silver year was honored with a special screening earlier this month in LA. The stars, including Angela Lansbury and David Ogden Stiers, as well as several of the creators (including co-director Gary Trousdale and animator Glen Keane - both of whom I've had the chance to interview), attended and revealed stories and surprising secrets about bringing this iconic story to the screen.
And "Beauty"'s buzz keeps growing, as Disney has unveiled the 90-second teaser for the live-action version, which will be released on March 17 (St. Patrick's Day) 2017. And already the trailer has made history, beating the record previously held by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" for the most views in a 24 hour period - 91.8 million. The content has been well received - giving all of us hope that the film will be elegant and the story handled with care.
The casting of "Beauty" was one of the biggest on-going stories of 2015, and any bit of production news or release of images lit-up social media. The world WANTS this "Beauty and the Beast" to be special. Like "Cinderella" and "The Jungle Book", this "tale as old as time" is cherished and beloved, but there's something even more important about "Beauty" that has taken fans' interest to an even greater level.
The potential for incredible musical production numbers is real, with the classic songs combining with new ones from the great Alan Menken. The cast choices were inspired - headlined by Emma Watson, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Kline and Stanley Tucci. And the script for this new version was written directly from Linda Woolverton's '91 script, in some cases (as we learn in the trailer) word for word.
With so much on the line, Disney and director Bill Condon simply CANNOT mess this up - can they?
"The Nice Guys" captures the rich flavor of the 70s, thanks to director Shane Black ("Iron Man 3"). He assembles a likable leading pair in Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who play incompetent private eyes Jackson Healy and Holland March. These longtime detectives partner-up to investigate the disappearance of a young girl involved in the crime and porno scenes of 1977 Hollywood. The script has its shares of surprises, is filled with energy and easy to follow.
But here's the problem - "The Nice Guys" juggles too many balls. It never feels satisfied with its current tone, so Black constantly shifts the focus between quirky, goofy humor, noisy blasts of stylized violence, minors in peril and serious moments of in-your-face murder. Meanwhile, hovering-over all of this, is Healy and March's relationship. Make no mistake, this is a buddy comedy - that also tries to be so much more.
The continuous attempts at laughs (including a dream sequence that includes an appearance by a giant bee) really bugged me, constantly taking me out of the moment, with the jarring dramatic elements, as a result, lacking in impact. If "The Nice Guys" had been played-out as a drama, infused with elements of disco flare, cool clothes, a hip soundtrack and subtle touches of humor it would've been much more successful.
March's 13-year-old daughter, Holly, is played by Australian native Angourie Rice in a star-making role. She shares a lot of screen time with veterans Crowe and Gosling and holds her own. Kim Basinger's character is pivotal to the plot, though she only appears in a couple of scenes.
"The Nice Guys" is a nice change of pace from what we're recently used to in the genre ("Ride Along 1/2, "The Other Guys", "The Heat") - and is more of a throwback to the effective cop buddy comedies made back in the 80s ("Midnight Run", "48 Hours", "Beverly Hills Cop", "Lethal Weapon 1/2"). But the mismatch of content never allows it to reaches its full potential. These Nice Guys don't finish last, but they don't win, either.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Nice Guys" gets a C+.
“Neighbors” was Universal’s highest-grossing movie of 2014, so it’s no surprise that the studio decided to ring the doorbell again. Like “22 Jump Street”, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” doesn’t hide the fact that it’s basically re-hashing the same plot. The difference: Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s second go-around as undercover cops was consistently funny while Seth Rogen and Zac Efron’s college sequel simply isn’t.
Even with its wildly ridiculous storyline, “Neighbors 2” is based in reality: In the U.S., Sororities are not allowed to throw parties. And since the release of the original “Neighbors”, Abercrombie & Fitch have gotten rid of their shirtless models.
Kicked-out of his friend’s house and not pleased with his job “demotion”, Teddy (Efron, who still spends much of the film without a shirt) gets desperate and decides to visit his old college frat house. His former neighbors, Mac and Kelly (played again by Rogen and Rose Byrne) are happily expecting their second daughter - and looking forward to moving into a new home in 30 days.
When Teddy realizes that a new college sorority, Kappa Nu (led by Chloe Grace Moretz’s Shelby) plans on renting his old Delta Si house, and throwing incredible parties to make enough money to pay the rent, Teddy decides to become their mentor. Of course, this doesn’t make Mac and Kelly happy, as they need a quiet neighborhood until they sell their house.
Cue a non-stop stream of revenge pranks, including the return of the airbags gag - and the results are much more deflated this time. The original “Neighbors” had a decent number of quality jokes and smart comical references amidst all the chaos. I chuckled less than half a dozen times during “Sorority Rising”, and half of those were thanks to a few celebrity cameos. Many scenes go on way too long, are awkwardly staged and have absolutely no purpose.
The five (!) writers (Rogen being one) relied on the wild college life for humor - but we’ve seen this in so many other movies - it’s not shocking and far from amusing. There’s also plenty of anti-sexism preaching, but it’s difficult to take seriously when squished between moments of babies playing with sex toys and teen girls in wet bikinis.
How about a legitimate twist in the story? Nah - Rogen and returning director Nicholas Stoller didn’t dare mess with success. “Neighbors 2” is this year’s biggest, most blatant money-grab. If you think you know what you’re in for, expect to be underwhelmed.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” gets a D.
Angry Birds is one of the most popular and successful apps of all-time. The game is energetic, wacky and completely addicting. With so many kids (and adults) attached to these characters, an animated feature film was a logical next step. Seven years after the game's inception, Rovio, the franchise’s Finland-based animation company, brings us "The Angry Birds Movie".
Bird Island is inhabited by a variety of species - all of which cannot fly. Jason Sudeikis is perfectly cast as the voice of Red. Abandoned as a child and made fun of in school for his large, black eyebrows, Red has never been able to fit in. And that’s made him pretty angry. Being a clown for family birthday parties is probably not the best job for him. Following a disorderly disturbance at one home, Red receives the worst sentence an angry bird could get - he must attend Anger Management class.
There he meets the fast-talking, even faster moving, and out-of-control bright yellow Chuck (voiced by Josh Gad) and the giant, black Bomb (Danny McBride), who's main issue is that he literally blows-up. One of the best things about “The Angry Birds Movie” is that each bird’s characteristics and specialties are taken directly from the game. And the script stays true to the main rivalry, presented to us much like an origin story of the game’s very first edition, when a colony of green pigs inhabits Bird Island and they begin to show interest in all the unhatched eggs in the village.
The first half hour of “The Angry Birds Movie” features some smart, edgy one-liners, especially from Red, a rare movie smart-aleck who’s surprisingly and instantly likable. Once the pigs arrive, the pacing becomes frenetic and never slows down. This is a slapstick-heavy animated adventure, with so many over-the-top and zany comedic moments and action sequences, especially in the second half, that kids, and adults, will likely feel overwhelmed and tired-out even before the “soaring” climactic battle sequence.
Gad, a household name for playing Olaf in “Frozen”, really doesn’t change his voice much here for Chuck, which is a little distracting. On the other hand, Bill Hader, who plays Leonard, the King of the pigs, provides a noticeably deeper toned voice than for his Flint Lockwood character from the “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” series. Both have their moments.
“The Angry Birds Movie” is colorful, flashy and often clever (bird and pig puns aplenty). It’s not on the same quality level as this year's other animated hits, “Zootopia” and “Kung Fu Panda 3”, but it’s undeniably fun and memorable, especially for those who have loved slingshotting and blowing-up these characters on their phones and iPads all these years.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Angry Birds Movie” gets a B-.
"Money Monster" is director Jodie Foster's first feature since the 2011 drama "The Beaver". And which element of that film was considered more controversial is still up for debate: Mel Gibson's character or the actual beaver puppet. Foster turns to more commercial fare for "Money Monster", admitting that because "it's a genre film [from] a mainstream studio" it's much "different" than the other movies she's made.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the arrogant host of the popular finance show, "Money Monster", on the fictional Financial News Network. Gates is clearly based on CNBC's Jim Cramer, the high-energy host of "Mad Money". Like Cramer, Gates uses props, sound effects, wacky graphics, video clips and a quick wit in his analysis of the daily stock market activity and in interviews with the movers and shakers of the business world.
But Gates even takes things further, including a show-opening production number, complete with a gold top hat and back-up dancers. A little awkward and uncomfortable to watch? Yes. Why does Gates do it? As a typical twenty-something Wall Street guy says while watching the show in a bar, "I like when he has the strippers." It's all about the ratings.
Julia Roberts teams with Clooney for the fourth time, here as "Money Monster" show producer and director Patty Fenn. Minutes into Friday afternoon's live show, a regular viewer and follower of Gates' advice, posing as a delivery guy, walks onto the set, fires a gun, and forces Gates to put on a vest strapped with explosives. And if Kyle Budwell's thumb comes-off the detonator (he's played by "Unbroken"'s Jack O'Connell) the bomb blast will kill everyone in the studio. The disgruntled and desperate investor just lost all his money on a Gates "sure thing" stock pick.
Through Gates's earpiece, Fenn must coach the host through this life-and-death situation, telling him to "just breathe" after he predicts "I'm gonna f***ing die." And there are plenty of f-bombs tossed-around by Gates, Budwell and others as the hostage situation unfolds. The bill from the FCC when it was all over must have been incredible.
Of course, if a live hostage event like this did happen in real-life, it'd immediately become must-watch TV. Foster does a good job of not only showing that development within the story, but creating that feeling for those in the theater. Yes, it's not difficult to see where things are going, but it's how we get there that keeps "Money Monster" gripping. The script takes some unexpected swerves, including a few surprises in the climax that leave a nice, gritty aftertaste. And for a film that plays-out in real-time, and with more than half of that time spent in one location (the TV studio), it's a major accomplishment that things never drag.
"Money Monster" is a details movie, from the "TV tricks" Gates uses to try to prevent Budwell from pulling the trigger, Budwell's unpredictable responses, and Fenn directing Gates, the NYPD and others, making critical decisions on the fly, as the situation plays out. In this "What If" situation, Gates isn't afraid to admit his faults, or take a bullet (both figuratively and possibly literally) in front of the tens of millions of people watching. He sticks to his brash persona even in crisis, as his investment program turns into Reality TV.
While these aren't career-best performances from Clooney and Roberts, what they do quite well is make you forget early on that you're watching two of the biggest movie stars in the world playing a host and director/producer. Not an easy task. Foster chooses to keep the focus on the three main characters. There is a lack of substance and detail in the actual stock decline/world of finance storyline. This is NOT "The Big Short" with the addition of a mad gunman. Instead, "Money Monster" is a tense, yet light-on-its-feet, modern thriller that's absolutely worth your investment.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Money Monster" gets a B+.