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27 July 2014
I'd Rather Not Solve - Movie Reviews for Kids

I've been a game show fan my entire life. I've been able to meet some of the most popular game show hosts on TV, and if an opportunity were to come along in the future, I would love to host one myself. Being an avid watcher, I've picked-up on some things and developed some opinions and strategies. Here's some important (and possibly controversial) advice for you if you ever become for a contestant on "Wheel of Fortune" (which I attended a taping of in 2009):

After years of intense study and research, I believe that contestants should avoid solving the first toss-up puzzle. And here are my five reasons:

1. You only win $1000. The second toss-up is worth $2k and the third an even better $3k, so there's no reason to peak early.

2. Even if you lose every puzzle and keep hitting Bankrupt the entire show and end up with nothing you're guaranteed to win $1000. So winning the first toss-up actually gets you nothing.

3. If you do buzz-in but guess incorrectly, that failure could cause you to lose your focus kill your momentum for the rest of the game.

4. Unlike when you correctly solve the second and third toss-ups, you don't get to spin the wheel first when you get the first toss-up right.

5. What you do get to do is be the first contestant to talk with host Pat Sajak, sharing details of your life with Pat and the world. If you're not prepared for this (and who is), it could be nerve-wracking and hurt your performance on the rest of the show. It's much better to have some more time to think about what you're going to say while Pat's talking to the other contestants.

So, here's one case on a game show where winning could really be losing.

In Theaters

Lucy (R) C

Lucy (R) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

What if you were kidnapped by a group of suited men with guns and had a powerful and valuable drug surgically implanted in your stomach? And what if this led to you becoming the most intelligent person in the history of the world? I'm not sure mankind would be ready for it, something Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman could attest to, since he uses that line, yet again, this time as a professor of Neuroscience, in "Lucy". And the "drug problem" is exactly what happens to Scarlett Johansson, who plays the title character in this latest sci-fi action thriller from writer/director Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element").

Once Lucy realizes that the CPH4 leaking from the bag is messing with her brain and bodily functions, she gets it removed. But not before her brain power expands from about 10% (the current maximum for humans) to more than 20%, the equal of dolphins, according Freeman's Dr. Norman. And that's just the start. Meantime, the drug smugglers are out to find Lucy and get their drugs back, while she's out for revenge, more drugs (to feed her new, unique habit) and to share her new-found discoveries with the professor. 

"Lucy" begins very slowly. The set-up, in which Lucy and a former boyfriend contemplate which of them will deliver a briefcase to a man in a hotel, is painful to watch as it drags on way too long. Besson must have given the movie's editor the day off when they were cutting the first 10 minutes. And things don't get much better with Johansson's over-the-top scenes that lead to the implanting of the drugs. But once the CPH4 kicks-in, so does the actress' performance and the film. Johansson as a ruthless, emotionless killing machine works quite nicely. A car chase through the streets of Paris is the most genuinely entertaining sequence in the entire movie.

Besson takes some risks with "Lucy", the first being the actual concept, which expands into theories on evolution, human existence and the future of the species. He gets very creative with imagery, using cut-away videos of animals in nature, outer space and microscopic findings. There are touches of "2001: A Space Odyssey", "The Matrix", "Inception", and in one particular section, a montage right out of "The Tree of Life" (but it makes much more sense here). A few of the theories will be easy for audiences to accept. The rest, including speeches on why we were created and our ultimate destiny, is no more than sci-fi movie mumbo-jumbo.

The biggest problem with "Lucy" is that with all the crazy concepts and Lucy's wild antics, there are no true surprises. "Lucy" is too straightforward, with hardly any pulse-raising moments or emotional highs. The climax seems very rushed and the pay-off is forced and a little hokey. Johansson and Freeman are together for only two extended scenes, in yet another "extended cameo" performance for the veteran actor. This is a rare starring role for Johansson. Unfortunately the role limits her opportunities to show she can truly dominate a film. 

"Lucy" is rated R for some strong action/violence. It's appropriate for teens and up. The premise makes it intriguing enough to keep your interest, but in the end, it's not nearly as satisfying, memorable or groundbreaking as Besson intended it to be.

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

Hercules (PG-13) D+

Hercules (PG-13) D+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

Dwayne Johnson is one of the hardest working men in Hollywood. His post-wrestling, big screen career has included notable action hits, family films, and even a few comedies. Prior to filming "Hercules", the artist formerly known as "The Rock" told director Brett Ratner (the "Rush Hour" trilogy) that he was "born to play" the title role. And you'd think being the son of Zeus would be a perfect fit for Johnson. But while his physique is appropriately impressive, this twisted-up re-hash and re-vision of the Hercules legend, based on a comic book, is little more than a 100-minute infomercial on how to get into great shape.

I guess you can call "Hercules" an action comedy, even though all the attempts at humor (and there are many) fall ridiculously flat. Johnson's dramatic deliveries of the way-too-serious (and modern) dialogue do come-off as laughable, but I don't think it's intentional. Ian McShane, who plays one of Hercules' merry misfits, is the comic relief character, and talks non-stop about his impending death as if it were the funniest topic he's ever discussed. This running "joke" is ineffective and misplaced. There's also so much violence, including several bloody battles involving countless stabbings and killings, that it's surprising "Hercules" didn't get an R-rating, especially when you add the few, choice f-bombs. Ratner is relentless with the action, and the majority of it is mindless and pointless.

There's not much praise I can give in the story department, either. "Is Hercules really the son of Zeus?" "Did he actually kill his wife and children?" These are the most dramatic subplots the writers could come-up with. The best thing about the script is that it avoids the headache-inducing Greek Gods universe (which we all suffered through with "Clash" and "Wrath of the Titans", as well as this past January's "The Legend of Hercules"). And, thankfully, a possible romantic angle is avoided, since it only would have dragged things out even longer. 

"Hercules" is the latest in the new Hollywood trend of dumbed-down, modern re-tellings of classic stories, in which we learn "The Real Story" behind some iconic fictional characters. "Snow White & the Huntsman" and "Maleficent" worked because they were complex, suspenseful and fun. "Hercules" now joins the growing list of failures which includes "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters", "I, Frankenstein", and in all likelihood, the upcoming "Dracula Untold". With a lack of imagination from studios to create interesting, new characters and meaningful stories, this is what we are left with. Coming Soon - "The Werewolf: Before He Had Hair".

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Hercules" gets a D+.

Sex Tape (R) D-

Sex Tape (R) D- - Movie Reviews for Kids

Four-time Golden Globe nominee Cameron Diaz is on quite a roll. "Sex Tape" is her seventh movie in a row that's either a critical or financial bust, or both. In Jason Segel's case, fresh-off the finale of the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother", this is a low point in his big screen career which has included some solid work both writing and in front of the camera. "Sex Tape" is practically a complete failure and it has nothing to do with the actual premise of the movie.

You know going in that you'll have to bite the bullet for the first 20 minutes or so for the predictable set-up. We meet Annie and Jay as college students (even though Diaz is 41 and Segel 34 - and look it) when their relationship is new and exciting. But once they get married things become stale, so they decide to star in their own sex tape. Nothing fresh or fun here. But that's OK.

Their sexcapade is accidentally sent to family members and friends through Jay's numerous tech devices. He and Annie now must find a way to get all the IPads back and erase the video. This is the point when "Sex Tape" is supposed to kick-in as a wild comedy. This is also when the real trouble begins.

At only 95 minutes, "Sex Tape" feels much longer. This is a reunion for Diaz and Segel, and they reunite with director Jake Kasdan, who all teamed-up for "Bad Teacher" in 2011. It's time all three delete each other's numbers from their cell phones. There is no chemistry between the actors, who both give awful individual performances. And Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper ("Bridesmaids") simply go through the motions as the couple's best friends.

Segel, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller and Kate Angelo, put no care or effort into trying to make this film clever or funny on any level. Payoffs in most scenes are non-existent. The dialogue is completely flat and there's no attention to detail or logic. At one point, in an effort to create a joke, a character claims that Steven Spielberg's 2012 biopic "Lincoln" was 3 hours. With just a little research the writers could have learned that "Lincoln" was under 2:30. A small point, but a good example of just how poorly this film was made.

Also worth noting is an extended scene at the mansion of business owner Hank (Rob Lowe at his most annoying) which consists of cocaine use, a dog crashing into a wall and passing out, and portraits of Lowe's head on the bodies of classic Disney animated characters. It's as bizarre as it sounds. The "twist" midway through is a straight-up disaster.

There are other rude, crude and pointless situations simply thrown in an attempt to get laughs, including a few offensive references to kids with illnesses and people with disabilities. A surprise A-list cameo, who will regret it for the rest of his career, begins the over-sentimental final phase of "Sex Tape", which is so shockingly bad it seems to have been tacked-on at the last minute. And this film is already a lock to win the Worst Editing of the Year award because I can't imagine another movie over the next 5+ months that's as choppy and sloppy.

"Sex Tape" is rated R for adult content, including nudity and language. It's appropriate for older-teens and up. I do remember chuckling twice early on, but I can't remember why. For the remaining 90%, I sat stone-faced, staring, often shaking my head in disbelief that someone would actually think that what was happening on screen could be classified as comedy. This is one of the worst movies of this or any other year.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Sex Tape" gets a D-.

Planes: Fire & Rescue (PG) B

Planes: Fire & Rescue (PG) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

Last August, Disney's non-Pixar animated "Cars" spin-off "Planes", originally set for a Direct-to-DVD release, opened in theaters in the middle of a crowded animation summer. A $200 million worldwide box office total was good enough for The Mouse House to push full steam ahead on a sequel. Now, less than a year later, in likely the shortest amount of time between the big screen releases of an animated film and its sequel in movie history, comes "Planes: Fire & Rescue". I expected it to be similar to the original, which was fun but only slightly better than average. But to my surprise, and likely yours as well if you give it a chance, "Planes 2" is an action-packed thrill ride for the whole family.

Longtime Disney writer, producer, and director Roberts Gannaway begins the film with a nice on-screen dedication to all the brave firefighters who sacrifice their time and lives to serve and protect our country.

Dane Cook reprises his role as the voice of Dusty Crophopper, the former crop-duster turned racer who won the prestigious "Wings Around the Globe" event and is now returning home to Propwash Junction in time for the annual Corn Festival. But Dusty learns that he's got a bad gear box and might not be able to race again. A fire destroys part of the town, and investigators determine that Propwash Junction needs a larger fire department. So they shutdown the town until a second unit can be found.

Because his air racing career may be over, Dusty volunteers to train to become a certified firefighter. This means working with the best and most experienced crew in the nearby town, including the equally tough and sensitive Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris) and Lil' Dipper ("Modern Family"'s Julie Bowen), who claims she's Dusty's biggest fan.

Soon, Dusty and his new team are battling multiple blazing infernos, which are incredibly authentic-looking, especially coming from the usually sub-par DisneyToon Studios. There are several aerial and action sequences with planes flying in and out of the flames that are so well done they could be too intense for young kids.

"Fire & Rescue" is also filled with genuinely dramatic moments. Hal Holbrook, as the voice of Mayday, an old-school firetruck who feels his time may be over, is quite good. The script also includes the dangers that firefighters face on a daily basis, which audiences will appreciate, especially those with firefighters in the family.

And there's also enough light comedy to satisfy everybody. A few stock characters, including a park superintendent, are predictably over-the-top, but there are corny and even laugh-out-loud clever car and plane-name references, as well as a few inside jokes and good one-liners. A scene involving Blade's previous career will be appreciated by adults, and yes, Pixar staple John Ratzenburger and sports commentator Brent Mustburger do make return cameos.

"Planes: Fire & Rescue" is not outstanding, but, unlike the original, the script takes some chances and there are moments of true wonder. Let's put it this way: in the wrong hands it could have been a lot worse. It's rated PG for some action/violence and a few references that are sure to fly over kids' heads.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Planes: Fire & Rescue" gets a B. It's smart, honorable, and the safest bet for the entire family this summer.

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"Planes: Fire and Rescue" review

What's Next?
Best @ the Box Office
  1. Lucy  $44M
  2. Hercules  $29.0
  3. Dawn of the Planet/Apes  $16.4
  4. The Purge: Anarchy  $9.9
  5. Planes: Fire & Rescue  $9.3
  6. Sex Tape  $6.0
  7. Transformers: Extinction  $4.6
  8. And So It Goes  $4.6
  9. Tammy  $3.4
  10. A Most Wanted Man  $2.7
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LCJ and Michael C. Hall

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