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27 May 2015

"Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous" writer/director Cameron Crowe has brought together, possibly, the best ensemble of the year for his new romantic dramedy "Aloha", which hits theaters on Friday. It's Crowe's first big-screen film since 2011's "We Bought a Zoo", a family drama that was so emotionally manipulative it made me emotional: angry.

I've been looking forward to "Aloha" since seeing the one and only trailer back in Feb. The highlight is a cast montage at the end, accompanied by the song "First" (by Cold War Kids), and Bill Murray's voice-over about the future. It's an early contender for "Trailer of the Year".

Stars Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone have recently given the performances of their respective careers, he in "American Sniper", she in "Birdman". Alec Baldwin was quite good last year in the Julianne Moore Alzheimer's drama "Still Alice". Murray's title role in "St. Vincent", released last October, was his most noteworthy work since "Lost in Translation". And his co-star, young Jaeden Lieberher, is also in "Aloha" and reportedly helped convince Murray to take the role and join him in Hawaii for the film.

Rachel McAdams has been consistently good over the last several years, especially in "Sherlock Holmes", Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" and the TV news rom-com "Morning Glory", an overlooked gem that also released only one theatrical trailer. And let's not leave out John Krasinski ("Promised Land", TV's long-running "The Office") and Danny McBride ("Pineapple Express", HBO's popular "Eastbound & Down").

The promotional campaign for "Aloha" has been steady but unspectacular. Heaven knows Sony and Columbia Pictures need a hit and it looks like there's no chance this will be a total wipe-out. Everyone would jump at the chance to take a trip to Hawaii with Cooper, Stone and co., but will moviegoers choose to take a chance on Crowe this weekend over The Rock saving the planet from the worst earthquake of all-time?  

In Theaters

San Andreas (PG-13) B+

San Andreas (PG-13) B+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

Over the last 10 years, Dwayne Johnson has starred in nearly 20 movies. The former WWE wrestler turned mega media star with that million dollar-smile is out to save the day once again - this time from the mother of all earthquakes in “San Andreas”.

Johnson plays Ray, Chief of the Los Angeles Fire & Rescue department. He’s got has a teen daughter named Blake (“Percy Jackson”’s Alexandra Daddario) and a soon-to-be ex-wife Emma (played by Carla Gugino - this is now her third film with Johnson following "Race to Witch Mountain" and "Faster"). She’s getting ready to move-in with the new man in her life man. Well…maybe not.

There’s a parallel, equally important story involving Paul Giamatti’s Professor Lawrence, a seismologist working to come-up with a way to predict earthquakes. Giamatti, one of our best actors working today, elevates what could’ve been just a typical supporting role, pouring his heart and soul into the part. After a 7.1 magnitude quake hits southern Nevada, destroying, among other things, the Hoover Dam, Lawrence and his team determine that an even more powerful quake is coming very soon - The Biggie - along the San Andreas fault line of southern California. And he needs to prepare everyone in LA and especially San Francisco.

Ray and Emma become separated from Blake during the San Andreas quake, and so they must work together to find their daughter, who’s wandering San Fran with a few new friends. The events they have to deal with get crazier as the movie goes on, until finally you’re asking yourself: “How in the world did that just happen?” But - amazingly - practically every situation - even the coincidences - work.

“San Andreas” is one of the wildest movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s pretty much two hours of non-stop destruction, with brief patches of character dialogue thrown in. And the effects are so good that this is the year’s first lock for an Academy Award nomination in the Visual Effects category.

And yet, “San Andreas” is also largely grounded and surprisingly sophisticated for a big-budget summer blockbuster. Director Brad Peyton (this is his follow-up to "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island", which also starred Johnson) even takes a risk with a subplot that’s quite heavy for a typical action film. In fact, “San Andreas” is far from your average action movie. Sure, we can allow ourselves to be entertained by a fictitious film that features giant buildings crashing on top of each other and a giant tsunami encapsulating the crumbling Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve seen several natural disasters around the world in recent years, and that a tragic event such as this could happen at any moment, that gives “San Andreas” more legitimacy than I expected. Even Johnson’s typical “over-the-top” one-liners don’t seem so “over the top”.

I’m not really sure. But I can say I had a hard time finding “fault” with any of it.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "San Andreas" gets a B+.

Tomorrowland (PG) C

Tomorrowland (PG) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

The latest sci-fi adventure from "The Incredibles" director Brad Bird is Disney's "Tomorrowland", which is very loosely based on the theme park attraction. Outside of a brief and flat-out awful narration tactic at the start of the film, star George Clooney is missing for the first 45 minutes. His Frank Walker character is introduced to us as a boy, or as I call him, Lil' Clooney), a young inventor who takes his jet pack invention to the 1964 New York World's Fair. Frank meets a mysterious young girl and ends-up riding the classic ride "It's a Small World" (there's some inside marketing for you), and is soon transported to Tomorrowland - a wondrous place between the present and the future where anything is possible.

The story then shifts to present day, where teenager Casey ("The Longest Ride"'s Britt Robertson) is arrested and when she's released from jail recevives a Tomorrowland pin. When she touches it, she's physically transported to this strange place, in brief flashes that only she can experience.

Eventually, following a "Men in Black"-esque stretch involving Casey and the mysterious girl, Athena, from 1964 (who hasn't aged a day), Casey makes it to Frank Walker's house. He's now an adult (and Clooney). Clearly he's no longer in Tomorrowland, for complicated reasons yet to be explained, but these three end-up having to return to Tomorrowland, for more complicated reasons that I won't explain, to - literally - save the world.

"Tomorrowland" features an original story, though it's far from unique. Bird not only directed and produced it, but also co-wrote the script, which includes a few nice touches such as "Iron Giant" and "Incredibles" figures in a sci-fi store Casey visits. Some of the themes, particularly in the homestretch, are fairly heavy for a PG Disney movie. There are no legitimate surprises, and sadly only one element (the relationship between Frank and Athena, seen in both flashbacks and their present-day reunion) actually works, albeit on the low side of the emotion spectrum and slightly creepy.

Clooney himself gives a few solid speeches, though I felt like he was copycatting his own death bed performance from "The Descendants" in a late crying scene. Just about everyone else overacts, and the soundtrack is way too intrusive. The showstoppers of "Tomorrowland", by far, are the visual effects. A sequence involving the Eiffel Tower will blow you away. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for just about everything else.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Tomorrowland" gets a disappointing C.

Pitch Perfect 2 (PG-13) B-

Pitch Perfect 2 (PG-13) B- - Movie Reviews for Kids

“Pitch Perfect” only made $65 million back in 2012, but a cult “Girl Power” following along with the growth in popularity of stars Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson helped convince Universal that they were A Ca-ready for “Pitch Perfect 2”.

Elizabeth Banks, who reprises her role as A Cappella competition co-commentator Gail, also directs this sequel, which is bigger and slightly better than the original. Once again there are no huge laughs - but several entertaining song renditions, some solid performances and a few genuine surprises help “Pitch Perfect 2” avoid hitting the low notes.

After a performance for the President and Mrs. Obama goes horribly wrong, (the First Couple is actually shown more than once) the Barden University Bellas are suspended and face termination unless they can win the World A Cappella Championship, which no U.S. group has ever done. Among the teams they’ll have to defeat is the German group Das Sound Machine - easily the frontrunners for the title.

That’s pretty much the plot, and so, at just under two hours, “Pitch Perfect 2” is longer than it needed to be. A song battle featuring David Cross as emcee and members of the Green Bay Packers belting-out pop tunes, along with a Bellas bonding retreat (the perfect setting for some over-the-top antics from Wilson), are drawn-out and don’t advance the story much.

The strongest element of “PP2” is a subplot involving Beca (Kendrick) secretly interning at a recording studio. Keegan Michael Key puts a more grounded spin on the typical demanding music producer role (and has some of the film’s best lines). And a scene involving him, Kendrick and none other than Snoop Dogg, who’s in a booth working on his upcoming Christmas album, is my favorite of the entire movie.

Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”, “Ender’s Game”) is a nice addition to the cast as Emily, the newest Bella. Kendrick’s original song “Cups”, from the first film, became a pop hit. This time, it’s Steinfeld and Kendrick’s “Flashlight” that you’ll likely be hearing everywhere.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Pitch Perfect 2” gets a B-. In a summer packed with action films, this light and fun version of escapism is a nice alternative.

Hot Pursuit (PG-13) D

Hot Pursuit (PG-13) D - Movie Reviews for Kids

Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon and "Modern Family"'s Sofia Vergara team-up for the action comedy "Hot Pursuit". It's such a cliche considering the title, but this really is one hot mess.

Witherspoon, complete with an annoying southern accent, plays Cooper, a Texas police officer. She's a plucky, non-stop talker who hasn't been out in the field since she tazed (and set on fire) the son of a mayor over a wacky misunderstanding. But now she's been asked to escort the wife of a drug trial witness to Dallas so she can also testify.

Things get complicated fast when Cooper and a fellow officer arrive at the mansion of Mr. and Mrs. Riva and within minutes, two different sets of gunmen show-up and open fire. Cooper barely escapes with the loud and flamboyant Mrs. Riva (played by Vergara). They're now on the run - wanted by the bad guys and the bad cops. Will this unlikely pair make it to Dallas by morning without getting caught and killed? Of course, with a premise like this, it's not going to be easy.

"Hot Pursuit" is directed by "The Proposal"'s Anne Fletcher. I wasn't a huge fan of that 2009 rom-com, but I'd sit through it a couple more times before going anywhere near this film again. The first half does have a handful of random, chuckle-worthy one-liners. But then the over-the-top gags and goofy situations start piling-up, including a guy shooting-off his own finger and Witherspoon then giving a dog the Heimlich because she thought he swallowed it.

As terrible as that scene is, nothing comes close to the escapade on a senior citizen tour bus, which is so flat-out ridiculous that I'm stunned the writers thought people would actually find it entertaining. At least "Hot Pursuit" is only 87 minutes, though it would've simply been a half-hour sitcom pilot if not for all the tiresome, double-crossing/triple-crossing, "Let me explain" scenes.

Vergara can be very funny in small doses on TV, but here proves she can't handle a co-leading film role. As for Witherspoon, going from career-high work in "Wild" to an embarrassing role like this is a shame. However, she does provide the true gem of the film in the closing credits outtakes. She delivers a line, but that take can't be used because a crew member quickly tells her she has to check something. Witherspoon responds, "God, I was giving the performance of a lifetime" and sarcastically laughs out loud. I did the same thing.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Hot Pursuit" gets a D.

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Best @ the Box Office
  1. Tomorrowland  $32.2M
  2. Pitch Perfect 2  $30.3M
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road  $23.9
  4. Poltergeist  $23.0
  5. Avengers: Age of Ultron  $20.9
  6. Hot Pursuit  $3.5
  7. Far from Madding Crowd  $2.3
  8. Furious 7  $2.1
  9. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2  $1.8
  10. Home  $1.7
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