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03 May 2016
Why I'm #TeamIronMan - Movie Reviews for Kids

Marvel's "Captain America" movies are the most well-made out of all the efforts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Star Chris Evans has been able to make people forget he was ever Johnny Storm in the original "Fantastic Four" films. And this is the 75th Anniversary of the Marvel Comics debut of The Star Spangled Man with a Plan.

But, as the Summer Movie Season is set to kick-off this Thurs. night, with "Captain America: Civil War" showings at 7pm, I'm declaring myself a proud member of #TeamIronMan.

Of course, neither Cap nor Tony Stark are going to die at the end of "Civil War". They're both coming back for future "Avengers" films, and it's just been announced that Robert Downey, Jr. will co-star with young Tom Holland in next year's "Spider-Man: Homecoming" reboot. But - since I feel obligated to pick a side - I'M going with IM. And here's why:

2008's "Iron Man" began the Marvel movie phenomenon. Without Downey, Jr. receiving the overwhelming praise he got from both critics and audiences for that initial performance as Stark, we very likely wouldn't have gotten "Guardians of the Galaxy", "The Avengers" or "Captain America", as directors and studios would have been very worried about bringing more decades-old comic book series to the screen.

"Iron Man" reinvigorated the concept of a Summer blockbuster and set the trend of the season now beginning on the first weekend in May. The "Iron Man" trilogy is one of the most successful in film history, and consistent in that all three are are quality movies. I have a difficult time picking a best out of the group as they're all satisfying.

Aside from Rocket Raccoon, Tony Stark is the most entertaining Marvel superhero of all-time. And, let's be honest, Cap himself is pretty stiff.

Forbes listed RDJ as the highest-paid actor in 2015, earning $80 million. The guy has pulled-off an incredible career comeback.

Iron Man and RDJ have actually proven me wrong. This is what I wrote in my "Avengers: Age of Ultron" review a year ago: "You can tell, just as his Tony Stark is getting weary of having to save the world, Downey, Jr. is starting to get tired of playing this role. His signature, sarcastic one-liners are beginning to wear thin. And considering how “Age of Ultron” ends, don’t be surprised if his screen time decreases for future “Avengers” installments."

Instead, RDJ is a back with a vengence in "Civil War" and has publicly referred to it as, "My little 'Iron Man 4'." His paycheck this time around: a reported $40 million. And, in addition to playing Stark AGAIN in "Spider-Man", it looks like a "big" "IM4" could be in the future: after initially stating "I don't think [an "Iron Man 4"] is in the cards, Downey. Jr. recently said, "I feel like I could do one more", which will only add to his status as the best action movie actor on the planet.  

#TeamIronMan Rules!


In Theaters

Mother's Day (PG-13) C

Mother's Day (PG-13) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

Garry Marshall gathered practically everyone in Hollywood together, back in 2010, to celebrate "Valentine's Day" with him. In 2011, he rounded-up a bunch of celebs again, this time for a big screen "New Year's Eve" in the Big Apple. But because those box office results weren't nearly as strong, his New Year's resolution should've been to not make any more holiday-themed films. Instead, Marshall has returned with "Mother's Day", which isn't quite as bloated or hectic as "NYE", but it's packed with two of the director's signature elements: Stars and Sentimentality.

The storylines aren't sophisticated, the performances aren't awards worthy, and most of the situations are over-the-top, over-dramatized and could only happen in the movies. But "Mother's Day" is far from the most painful film I've sat through this year. Credit the irresistibly likable cast for that. Here's a breakdown of the key characters, who either live or work in Atlanta:

- Jennifer Aniston is Sandy, mother of two boys. She's divorced from Henry (Timothy Olyphant) who's in a new relationship with a much younger woman.

- Jesse (Kate Hudson) doesn't get along with her parents and hasn't told them she's been married for years and has a son.

- Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widower (Jennifer Garner makes a cameo appearance in flashback) with two daughters. Marshall modernizes a line from his sister Penny's "A League of Their Own", with youth league soccer coach Bradley at one point shouting to one of his players, "There's No Texting in Soccer!"

- Britt Robertson ("Tomorrowland") is Kristin - longtime girlfriend to stand-up comic Zack and mother to their daughter Katie. Zack wants to get married soon, but Kristin needs more time.

- And, sporting the same red wig she wore in "Notting Hill", Julia Roberts plays HSN jewelry designer and host Miranda Collins.

As is Marshall's style, all five of these stories are intertwined throughout "Mother's Day", which runs nearly two hours. And it feels all of that. We spend a lot of time with each of the stories as they develop in detail, because, unlike Marshall's previous films in which every scene took place on the intended holiday, at least half of "Mother's Day" takes place on the days leading-up to Mother's Day. However, these mini-narratives aren't very layered, and in each case, elements are rushed, dropped or forgotten, in order to get everything wrapped-up satisfactorily. 

"Mother's Day" does provide a laugh here and there, usually in the form of a sarcastic remark about motherhood or parenthood. And there are plenty of goofy moments that may put a smile on your face just because you're witnessing pure, unapologetic absurdity (an out-of-control RV, Aniston's meltdown inside her van, Sudeikis falling from a balcony after rapping about his pink, or rather, salmon, pants). It's all pretty harmless.

There's another mother-daughter movie in theaters right now, "The Meddler", that's smart, genuinely funny and quite poetic about relationships, grief and family dynamics. If you're looking for the light dessert alternative, and you're perfectly fine with it not being on the same planet in terms of emotional impact, then "Mother's Day" is for you. 

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Mother's Day" gets a C.

Keanu (R) D

Keanu (R) D - Movie Reviews for Kids

Less than a year after their Peabody Award-winning Comedy Central sketch series wrapped, Key & Peele team-up for their first movie. With endless possibilities - they chose to base the plot around the love of a cute wittle kitty cat - And Me-OW - the results are painful.

“Substitute Teacher” is a really funny “Key & Peele” skit. But you can’t picture it as a feature-length film because the gags and one-liners based on the simple premise would wear thin rather quickly. Well, the same goes for “Keanu”, which could’ve been very entertaining as a five-minute bit on YouTube, but is not as a 100-minute movie.

Rell (played by Jordan Peele) and cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) live in LA. When Rell’s girlfriend dumps with him, he’s devastated. But, like a gift from Heaven, an incredibly cute kitten shows-up on his doorstep - and for Rell it’s love at first sight. He names the kitten Keanu and is immediately “back in the game”, including taking pictures of the cat in costumes in a variety of movie scenes (all of them distributed by Warner Bros.). But so many cat owners do this in real life, so this is just one of the film’s many unoriginal elements.

Upon returning to Rell’s home from seeing the latest Liam Neesons action film, the duo discover that the house has been broken into and Keanu is gone. The pair think the break-in has something to do with Rell’s drug dealing neighbor (Will Forte). So, to get the cat back, Rell and Clarence pretend to be notorious gangsta killers and get in deep with a rival gang that’s got the kitty. This is when “Keanu” officially hits the Formulaic Freeway and never looks back. We’ve seen this storyline so many times before, and there’s nothing fresh here.

But the amazingly-clever dialogue and sharp comedic timing of Key & Peele saves “Keanu”, right? Not this time. I don’t think I chuckled more than twice during the entire movie. There’s nothing - from the George Michael music to the celebrity cameos (including one from a famous Keanu), to any of the scenes that drag-on endlessly that comes-off as remotely funny. This is just another example of why sketch comedy is best served in small doses - and not at movie theaters.

Dull, often dopey and extremely disappointing, On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Keanu” gets a D.

Elvis & Nixon (R) B

Elvis & Nixon (R) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley went to White House and met with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. A photograph of these two icons shaking hands was taken, and to this day, it is still the most requested photo by visitors to the National Archives. In the wrong hands, "Elvis & Nixon", the fictionalized dramedy that provides the story behind this bizarre and fascinating meeting, could've been an absolute disaster. But director Liza Johnson makes sure this story doesn't come-off as a bad "SNL" skit, handling the tricky material appropriately, resulting in one of the most enjoyable film experiences I've had in a long time.

Michael Shannon plays The King of Rock-N-Roll. Shannon doesn't do the typical Elvis twang impersonation, a smart decision in that it allows us to quickly buy into his characterization. Disgusted with the Anti-American behavior of the young people at the time (sex, drugs and The Beatles), Elvis wants to work for the government and become a "Federal Agent At Large". He heads to Washington, D.C., uninvited, with longtime friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer). There, they meet-up with another member of The King's inner-circle, Sonny (Johnny Knoxville), and at 7:30 a.m., Elvis heads to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, where Elvis walks up to the guards at the West Gate with a personal letter to President Nixon (played by Kevin Spacey) in hand, requesting a meeting.

This may sound like the set-up to a bad joke, but when Presley arrives, one security guard says to the other, "It's Elvis." However, it's very important to keep in mind, while watching "Elvis & Nixon", that all of this, more or less, really did happen.

While the initial reaction by Nixon and most of the White House staff is to ignore Elvis's request, two of the President's top assistants (played by Colin Hanks and Evan Peters) see this as a great public relations (as in getting votes) opportunity, and their campaign to make this historic event happen sets the film's incredibly amusing narrative in motion.

Johnson is able perfectly balance the tone of "Elvis & Nixon". She establishes a nice 70's vibe, and acknowledges the utter absurdity of every situation, yet treats them all with a straightforward respect worthy of a historical event. She's able to mix-in some of the serious political and societal themes of the times while keeping the fun meter at the highest level. 

Unfortunately (?) Nixon didn't begin the infamous recordings of all his Oval Office conversations until a few months later, so it's unclear how much of the dialogue in this film was actually said. But that just doesn't matter. The verbal exchanges between these two icons is perfectly crafted and deviously playful. The screenplay (by three writers, including "Princess Bride" actor Cary Elwes) gives the entire ensemble opportunities to shine. And there's a sense of freedom in the script that could only work with a plot this wacky (for example, when Elvis encounters a couple of Elvis impersonators at an airport it seems, well, believable!). And there are several great scenes involving the reactions of fans, unexpectedly meeting The King.

"Elvis & Nixon" is filled with 70's music, but Johnson smartly chose NOT to include any Presley songs, even in the closing credits. This is a story about Elvis the Man - not the Myth or Legend - and the same goes for Nixon, who's portrayed as a hardworking, insecure and devoted family man. You can tell that Spacey, no stranger to playing a President, had a great time being Tricky Dick. He embodies Nixon's physical mannerisms and not-so-friendly persona. And Shannon's performance as Presley is one of the cinematic highlights of 2016 so far. He's remains completely restrained (even when demonstrating Karate to an amazed Nixon), avoiding all temptations to veer into stereotypes, and even has two showcase dramatic monologues that provide an emotional kick.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Elvis & Nixon" gets a B. You've just got to trust me on this one. With its unique premise, two outstanding lead performances, a smart script and skillful direction, this will be one of the most memorable movies you'll see all year.

A Hologram for the King (R) C

A Hologram for the King (R) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

Tom Hanks rarely makes indies. Instead, He usually headlines compelling biopics, gripping action/adventures and animated blockbusters. So the low-budget, German-produced drama "A Hologram for the King", based on a 2012 novel by Dave Eggers, is definitely a change of pace for one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. But even THE Tom Hanks can't save this unfocused and largely unimaginative adaptation.

Hanks plays businessman Alan Clay, who is sent to Saudi Arabia to represent his Boston-based technology company in presenting the King with a revolutionary hologram communication system for a soon-to-be constructed new kingdom. When Clay arrives - the atmosphere isn't anything like expected - and yet his story plays out exactly like I expected.

There's the obligatory goofy driver, a love interest (who's also his doctor) and conflicts involving the weather, culture clashes, and Clay's mysterious illness. Writer/director Tom Tykwer (who re-teams with Hanks following 2012's "Cloud Atlas") crafts a scattered screenplay. Situations occur simply based on chance and coincedence in order to quickly get us from Point A to Point B. Some of the subplots are left oddly open-ended, and several of the supporting characters have the ability to manipulatively get some of Clay's history out of him. Tykwer's occassional quirky visuals and brief flashbacks involving Clay's difficult marriage, challenges with his daughter and father (Tom Skeritt in a shockingly brief supporting role) and difficult career decisons from his past are the minor elements that do stand-out.

Hanks doesn't give my favorite Hanks performance ever, but without him at the helm of "A Hologram for the King" the movie would've completely fallen flat. This film feels old-fashioned - and a little too so - especially since the story is contemporary, about a breakthrough tech innovation. "A Hologram for the King" isn't awful and far from intolerable, but it desperately needed something NEW to say about the world of international business, foreign relations, human relations, personal struggles or, frankly, anything.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "A Hologram for the King" gets a C.


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"The Meddler" review

What's Next?
  • "Captain America: Civil War" - Friday
  • "Money Monster" - May 13
  • "The Angry Birds Movie" - May 20
  • "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising" - May 20
  • "The Nice Guys" - May 20
  • "X-Men: Apocalypse" - May 27
Best @ the Box Office
  1. "The Jungle Book"  $42.4M
  2. "Huntsman: Winter's War"  $9.4
  3. "Keanu"  $9.4
  4. "Mother's Day"  $8.3
  5. "Barbershop: Next Cut"  $6.1
  6. "Zootopia"  $5.0
  7. "Ratchet & Clank"  $4.8
  8. "The Boss"  $4.3
  9. "Batman v. Superman"  $3.8
  10. "Criminal"  $1.3
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LCJ and "Survivor"'s Andrea Boehlke

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