Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle | Keith the Critic Reviews

Every week, Keith the Critic will take a look at the latest movies, DVDs and Blu-Rays and will give you the scoop on what you should and shouldn't miss.
Nia Vardalos, left, and John Corbett, right, attend the premiere of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in New York. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Movie Review: Criminal, I Saw The Light, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

April 19, 2016

Criminal
Ryan Reynolds plays the part of CIA agent Bill Pope. His mission is to bring in “the Dutchman” who has created a wormhole program that will override the world’s nuclear defense programs. The Dutchman has agreed to sell the program to the U.S. Pope gets The Dutchman to a safe house but is tortured and killed before he can tell his superiors.
Dr. Mahal Franks, who is played by Tommy Lee Jones, has been developing a treatment that can transfer brainwaves from a dead person to a live one thus transferring memories. Pope’s supervisor, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) decides to do a live test since it is imperative that the US get the wormhole program. Dr. Franks suggests Jericho as the best candidate. Jericho, who is played by Kevin Costner, is a violent criminal with no hopes for redemption.
The surgery at first appears to fail but soon Jericho begins to see Pope’s wife and daughter in his mind and to do things that Pope would have done. Maybe the treatment will work after all.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It had suspense and action. I loved the connection that develops between Jericho and Pope’s family. Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Ryan Reynolds, and Kevin Costner were all fantastic as was the story line. I gave this movie 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

I Saw the Light
This movie covers the short and troubled life of Hank Williams Sr. who is played by Tome Hiddleston. The movie reviews Hank’s rise to stardom including his rocky marriage to Audrey who is played by Elizabeth Olsen. Cherry Jones played Hank’s mother who was convinced that Audrey was wrong for him.
Hank’s troubles were many including his love of alcohol and women. His dream of making it in the Grand Ole Opry was short lived due to his independability. After filing for divorce several times, Audry finally left Hank. He then married Billie Jean after finding he had fathered a child with Bobbie.
Hank’s brilliant career was cut way too short as he died at the age of 29.
Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen were terrific in their roles. The music was good but overall the movie was not as good as I thought it would be. The scenery was realistic and matched the times.
If you love country music, go see this film. As I said before, the acting was top notch. I gave this movie 3 stars.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
This sequel brings back the characters from the original but years older. In the original movie, Toula (played by Nia Vardalos) is getting married. The problem is that Toula’s family is Greek and expected her to marry a Greek man. Instead she married Ian, played by John Ccorbett, and he is American.
In the sequel, Ian and Toula’s daughter, Paris, (Elena Kampouris) is a senior in high school. Paris feels smothered by her Greek family and plans to attend college as far from family as she can. The family all live on the same block in Chicago and all know each other’s business.
Toula’s parents are Maria and Kostas, played by Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine. Maria and Kostas discover that their marriage certificate was never signed. Now Maria is planning another wedding with the family’s help.
I very much enjoyed the first movie. This one was OK but not quite as good. I did like having all he original cast. I loved the bickering between Maria and Kostas as it was how families are. The relationship between Toula, Ian, and Paris was also realistic and I enjoyed that. I want to give this movie a good review but I can only give 2 ½ out of 4 stars. It wasn’t bad but not as good as the first.

The Boss
Melissa McCarthy stars as Michelle Darnell who was raised an orphan but made a fortune as an adult. All was great until Renault (Peter Dinklage) who is a shunned ex-lover takes revenge. Renault turns Michelle in for insider training resulting in prison time and bankruptcy.
Claire Rawlins, who was played by Kristen Bell, had been Michelle’s assistant and Michelle turns to her for help once released. Claire is a single mother of Rachel played by Ella Anderson. When Michelle takes Rachel to her Dandelion meeting, she realizes that there is money to be made selling the tasty brownies that Claire makes.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Melissa McCarthy is one of the funniest women in the world today. Kristen Bell was great as well and the chemistry between the two was fantastic. Dinklage was pretty good too. The director was Melissa McCarthy’s husband and he did a great job. The Chicago scenery was superb. This movie is laugh-out-loud funny as expected and I gave it 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

Dan Trachtenberg, from left, John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr. and J.J. Abrams attend the premiere of "10 Cloverfield Lane" at AMC Loews Lincoln Square on Tuesday in New York. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Triple 9, Whiskey Foxtrot Tango

March 18, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane
This movie is a follow up to Cloverfield. It begins with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packing her things and leaving after a fight with her boyfriend. The radio is filled with reports of black outs throughout the country.
Her boyfriend, Ben, keeps calling and distracting Michelle. Suddenly her car is hit by another car and she awakens to find herself locked in a cement room with an IV in her arm and chained to a wall.
Michelle soon meets her captor, Howard, who is played by John Goodman. He tells her a story of how he saved her life and that aliens had attacked leaving the air unsafe to breathe. She is distrustful of the story. Michelle then meets the other inhabitant of Howard’s self-made bunker. Emmett is a local man who helped Howard in building their new home. But Howard is hiding secrets and they both know it.
I very much enjoyed this movie. The characters were great, especially John Goodman. I got sucked into the story line and found this file exciting. Mary Elizabeth Winstead added to the attraction with her superb performance. I highly recommend this movie and gave it 3 out of 4 stars.

Triple 9
Triple 9 is the story of bad cops who are being controlled by the Russian mafia. Chiwetal Egiofor plays Michael who has a son with the sister of the mafia boss’s wife, Irena. He is asked to get a crew together to steal a safe deposit box. The mafia boss is in prison and the contents should free him.
The crew consists of four cops and ex-cops and Michael. After stealing the safe deposit box, Irena, who is played by Kate Winslet, blackmails Michael into stealing evidence from the government. The mafia kills one of the crew to show that they mean business.
Marcus, who is played by Anthony Mackie, is one of the crew. He has a new partner named Chris, played by Casey Affleck. Casey is the nephew of the detective investigating the bank robbery. Detective Jeffrey Allen, played by Woody Harrelson, is closing in. The crew devise a plan to call a Triple 9 to keep the cops distracted. A Triple 9 means officer down.
Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, and Kate Winslet played their roles perfectly. But the storyline dragged. The sets were well designed and the action was good. However, I can only give it 2 out of 4 stars. I expected more from a cast this great.

Whiskey Foxtrot Tango
In this movie Tina Fey plays the role of Kim Baker who has spent her career as a journalist covering small time stories for TV. When the opportunity arrives to take an assignment in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, Kim takes it.
When she arrives at the home shared by many journalists, she realizes that life will be very different. She quickly makes friends with other journalists including Tanya Vanderpool who is played by Margot Robbie. Tonya introduces her to photographer Ian Mackelpie who is played by Martin Freeman. Ian is a ladies man who fancies Kim but she has a boyfriend. Kim also befriends American Marines Commander General Hollanek who is played by Billy Bob Thornton.
Life is not easy in Afghanistan but Kim gets used to it. Soon a short assignment has become long term. She quickly grows used to the danger and this war zone seems like home.
I like the cast in this movie but the story was lacking and slow. I didn’t care for the way the director took this movie. Tina Fey and Martin Freeman were great together but couldn’t save the show. I gave this movie 2 out of 4 stars.

Actresses from left, Leslie Mann, Dakota Johnson, Alison Brie and Rebel Wilson pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film 'How To Be Single' in London, Feb. 9, 2016. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Movie review: How to Be Single, Deadpool, The Witch

February 28, 2016

How to Be Single
This movie stars Rebel Wilson as Robin, Dakota Johnson as Alice, and Leslie Mann as Meg. Alice had dated her boyfriend for years and has decided to take a break so she can explore more of life’s opportunities. Meg is Alice’s sister who lives in New York and is happily single.
Alice gets a job at a law firm in New York where she meets Robin. Robin teaches Alice how to be single and enjoy life. Their escapades get crazy and so is the show.
Kind of a separate story line was taking place with Alison Brie playing the part of Lucy who lives above a bar. Lucy is desperate to meet someone and get married.
I thought the first 20 minutes were slow. After you got to know the characters, it picked up. The ladies in this film were fantastic and as usual Rebel Wilson is hilarious and outrageous. I recommend this movie but leave your mind at the door and just enjoy. I gave it 2 ½ out of 4 stars.

Deadpool
The latest Marvel sensation is Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds in the title role. Deadpool is part of the X-men series.
The movie begins with Wade Wilson working as a mercenary when he meets Vanessa at a local bar. A year later Wade proposes to her and then collapses. He is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Wade learns of a secret program that can cure him of the cancer and any other future illness. He enters the program and is tortured until his body mutates killing the cancer. In the process, his body becomes hideous to look at. And so begins Deadpool. New he is out to get the man who made him look the way he does.
Other X-Men characters make an appearance such as Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Stan Lee even has a small part as a DJ in a bar.
This movie has it all – drama, action, gore, romance, and humor. Deadpool is full of wit and one-liners. Ryan Reynolds is absolutely fantastic. Be on your toes or you’ll miss something. The action is fabulous and fast. I loved the zingers. Stay past the credits to catch even more. I gave this movie a rare 4 out of 4 stars.

The Witch
The only thing I want to say about this movie is that it is really bad from beginning to end. So don’t waste your time. I gave this movie 0 stars out of 4.

Josh Brolin, left, and Kathryn Boyd arrive at the world premiere of "Hail, Caesar!" at the Regency Village Theatre on Feb. 1, 2016, in Los Angeles. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Movie review: The Fifth Wave, Hail Caesar

February 8, 2016

The Fifth Wave
The Fifth Wave is based off of a novel by Rick Yancey. The novel is targeted for young adults but the movie will be enjoyed by all ages. Chloe Grace Moretz plays Cassie Sullivan who along with her brother Sammy are survivors of the Four Waves of Lights Out where all electricity is knocked out, Surf’s Up where giant waves from any ocean or lake wipe out everything in sight, Pestilence where a plague of sickness erupts, and Silencers where not all people are human. Now they must survive whatever will happen in the Fifth Wave but who can they trust.
I loved Chloe Grace Moretz in her part as Cassie. I didn’t expect to like this movie, but came away very pleased. The directing was superb, the sets were well designed and looked great, and all the actors did a fantastic job. I can’t recommend this movie enough. I gave this movie 3 out of 4 stars.

Hail Caesar
Hail Caesar is filled with big names. Josh Brolin plays the role of Eddie Mannix, the head of production for Capitol Pictures. Eddie is the glue that holds the business together. Their lead actor, Baird Whitlock, is played by George Clooney. Other actors playing the part of actors are Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill to name a few.
Baird is in the middle of filming Hail Caesar when he is drugged by some of the extras in the movie. After returning to his room, he is kidnapped and taken to an extravagant house by the ocean. Eddie receives a ransom note and works to keep the kidnapping quiet while quelling rumors and keeping the movie on schedule.
I love the Coen Brothers in most all of the movies they direct, produce, and write. This includes movies such as Fargo, Barton Fink, and O Brother Where Art Thou. Hail Caesar is not the same caliber. George Clooney and Josh Brolin were solid but I wanted a better story than I got. Wait to see this one at the cheaper theaters. I gave this movie 2 ½ out of 4 stars.

Ken Jeong, Olivia Munn and Kevin Hart during an interview at the world premiere of 'Ride Along 2' at Regal Cinemas South Beach 18 & IMAX on earlier this year in Miami Beach, Fla. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Movie review: Ride Along 2, Daddy's Home, The Forest, The Boy

February 1, 2016

Ride Along 2
This movie features Kevin Hart as Ben Barber, a street cop with hopes of being a detective and Ice Cube playing James Payton, who is already a detective. Ben is engaged to James’ sister so Ben refers to them as the “Brothers-In-Law”.
A case takes James to Miami and he agrees to take Ben. In Miami, they join forces with Detective Maya Cruz who is played by Olivia Munn. The case soon has Ben and James crossing paths with crime lord, Antonio Pope, who is played by Benjamin Bratt. To many, Pope is just a businessman and a very important one in the community. James, Ben, and Maya must prove otherwise.
The first Ride Along movie was better than this one. However, this is still a funny movie but I expected more. Kevin Hart was his usual hilarious self and Olivia Munn and Ice Cube were great in their parts. The action scenes were pretty good as was the sets. If you liked the first you’ll still probably like this one too. I gave it 2 ½ out of 4 stars.

Daddy’s Home
This movie stars Will Ferrell as quiet and non-violent Brad Whitaker. Brad is married to Sara who is played by Linda Cardellini. Brad has always dreamed of being a dad but is unable to have kids of his own. Just when Sara’s kids begin to warm up to him, Sara’s ex, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) arrives.
Dusty is everything that Brad is not. Dusty is the cool one and the kids know it. Soon Brad and Dusty are in competition.

I loved this movie. Will Ferrell, Linda Cardellini, and Mark Wahlberg were terrific. The contrasting personalities between Brad and Dusty had me laughing all through the movie. Go see it and enjoy. I gave this movie 3 ½ out of 4 stars.
The Forest
There is a forest in Japan where people go to commit suicide. Natalie Dormer plays the part of Sara Price whose twin sister has gone into the forest. As many twins do, Sara and her sister have a connection and Sara is sure her sister is alive.
She travels to Japan to find her sister. When she arrives, she meets an Australian reporter named Aiden played by Taylor Kinney. He agrees to help her in exchange for the story. Despite warnings to stick to the path and not stay after dark, Sara remains in the forest where the dead are said to come alive after dark.
The scenery and zombies in this movie were great. Natalie Dormer was very strong in her role. It was a slow start but picked up and I enjoyed it. If you can get by the beginning, I think it’s worth seeing. I gave this movie 2 ½ out of 4 stars.

The Boy
Laura Cohan plays Greta who has been hired by an elderly couple named Heelshire in the United Kingdom to be a nanny to their son, Brahms. Greta is fleeing from an abusive relationship back home in Montana so needs to get away.
When she arrives, she discovers that Brahms is a doll. It turns out that the Heelshires’ son had died in a fire, but the doll is treated as if he is a real boy.
The Heelshire’s are leaving for an extended holiday and introduce her to Malcom how is played by Rupert Evans. Malcom delivers the groceries and explains the family’s history to Greta. Malcom is attracted to Greta and they become friends.
Soon odd things begin to happen and Greta begins to believe that Brahms is indeed alive.
I very much enjoyed this movie. It was intense at times and filled with surprises. Laura Cohan (who also played in The Walking Dead) played her part perfectly. Rupert Evans was fantastic as well. The set was well done and the directing was excellent. The doll was very creepy (especially when it seemed to be looking at you) and added to the suspense. I gave this movie 3 out of 4 stars.

Academy Award-winning writer/director Quentin Tarantino, center, poses with actors Kurt Russell, right, and Samuel L. Jackson for photos after arriving for the premier of 'The Hateful Eight." (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Movie review: Hateful Eight, Concussion, Joy

January 10, 2016

The Hateful Eight
This is the latest movie directed by Quentin Tarantino. It stars Kurt Russell who plays a bounty hunter named John Ruth. He has taken Daisy Domergue prisoner who is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. John Ruth is known as the “Hang Man” because instead of bringing them in dead, he makes sure they hang.
John and Daisy are on their way to the town of Red Rock travelling in a stagecoach during a blizzard. The come across another bounty hunter named Marquis Warren who is played by Samuel L. Jackson. Marquis has lost his horse and needs a ride to bring in his own bounty who are already dead. Not long later, they meet another traveler in need of a ride. This time it is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who is to be the new sheriff in Red Rock.
The blizzard forces them to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery until the storm passes. Other travelers were already there so John Ruth announces that Daisy Domergue is his prisoner and everyone should leave her alone. After his announcement, all hell breaks loose.
This movie was another Tarantino masterpiece. I loved the acting performed by Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson and the others and Jennifer Jason Leigh rocked every scene. It’s a 3-hour movie but I didn’t mind. I gave this movie 4 out of 4 stars.

Concussion
Everyone knows that tackle football is a violent support. Lately we have heard more and more about the dangers of concussions. This movie tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) who is working as a forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when Steeler great Mike Webster dies. In his last years, Mike’s life is nothing as it was in his playing days and he was found dead in his pickup truck.
Dr. Omalu is very thorough when he performs autopsies and he digs deeper when he discovers that Webster had suffered severe brain damage. He makes the determination that Webster died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE due to the severe blows to the head he endured during his time in the NFL.
Dr. Omalu enlists the help of the county coroner, Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), and former Steelers team doctor Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), who had often treated Webster. They along with another neurologist publish a paper on the findings and the NFL ignores it.
Later Dr. Omalu discovers that other former players are also dying from CTE. This includes Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, and Andre Waters. Dr. Omalu is now taking on the NFL or as the movie states, the organization that “owns a day of the week”.
I think Will Smith is one of the finest actors working today. No matter what the role, he always delivers. His part as Dr. Omalu was no different. Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks were terrific as well. The direction was good by Peter Landesman but not as good as I had hoped.
I played sports and can see the need for attention to this issue. It is very sad to see some of the great former players who have suffered from this disorder. Go watch this movie, as it’s worth the time. I gave it 3 out of 4 stars.

Joy
Joy Mangano, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is a small town girl with a great mind who has dreams of being an inventor. She is a divorced mother living with her children, her mother, Terri (Virginia Madsen) grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd), and her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) who lives in the basement. Mimi is always encouraging Joy to follow her dreams.
Joy’s father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), begins dating a wealthy widow named Trudy (Isabella Rossellini). Joy has been working on a new mop that allows you to wring the water without touching it. She convinces Trudy to invest in the product and they begin production.
Edgar helps Joy get a meeting with Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) who is an executive with QVC to get advertisement for the mop. However, all does not go as planned and Joy’s troubles have just begun.
David O. Russell was the director of Joy and I thought provided an interesting story line. The scenes were reminiscent of the time and well designed. Robert De Niro, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, and Bradley Cooper were all fantastic. Jennifer Lawrence knocked the ball out of the park with her performance and I hope she gets nominated for an Oscar. I gave this movie 3 out of 4 stars.

The long-awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally arrived. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Movie review: Star Wars, Sisters, Alvin and the Chipmunks

January 2, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The long-awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally arrived. This latest movie in the series continues the lives of Princess Leia (now General Leia Organa), Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker with all the original cast of Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill. Other newly introduced cast are Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) who is a Resistance pilot, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who is Leia and Han’s son and a member of the Dark Side, Rey (Daisy Ridley) who is a scavenger, and Finn (John Boyega) who is a Storm Trooper who has left the dark side to join the Resistance. We are also introduced to a new droid named BB8.
The First Order is looking for Luke Skywalker as he is the only remaining Jedi. However Luke has disappeared. Stormtroopers attack a village where Poe Dameron has just received a map showing him where Luke is located. The Resistance also hopes to find Luke to aid them in defeating the First Order (the Dark Side). Poe gives the map to BB8 who escapes but Poe is captured.
Stormtrooper FN-2187 has seen enough killing. He rescues Poe and they escape in a TIE Fighter. Poe gives FN-2187 the name of Finn. After the two crash on the planet Jakku, Poe disappears. Thinking that Poe has died, Finn leaves the crash site.
Rey finds BB8 in her scavenging and later meets Finn. The First Order attacks the planet and the two escape in the Millenium Falcon which has been retired on Jakku.
This movie does a great job of introducing new blood. It allows the old characters to be retired and skillfully brings in the new characters. You see all of the fighter plane chases, lightsaber battles, and cool looking characters that we’ve all loved in the previous movies. However, we now get to look forward to more.
The prior three Star Wars movies made failed in comparison to the first three. This movie, however, is a huge success. Adam Driver plays a great bad guy and John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are superb in their parts. I cannot wait to see what is in store for them in the future.
I loved the action and seeing Chewbacca, C3PO, and R2D2 as well as Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker. The scenes between Han Solo and Princess Leia were well done. I hope to see Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren have beefier parts in the future and I fully expect that to be the case as with Rey and Finn. I enjoyed this movie so much that I will probably see it 3 – 4 times more. It appeals to people of all ages and is one of the best films of the year. Don’t miss this opportunity to share a great film with the entire family. I gave this movie 4 out of 4 stars.

Sisters
This hilarious movie stars Amy Poehler and Tina Fey as sisters, Maura and Kate Ellis. The two have just discovered that their parents, played by James Brolin and Dianne West, have sold the family home. Maura and Kate are to come home to Orlando to clean out their rooms.
Kate was a wild child and Maura was the sensible one. The two decide to have one last big bash at the house known as the “Ellis Island” house party. They invite all of their old friends but purposely leave out Brinda (Maya Rudolph) since Kate hates her. Kate convinces Maura to invite James (Ike Barinholtz), who they met while he was gardening outside his house nearby. Maura convinces Kate to let her be the wild one for the night and “get her freak on”. This means that Kate will not be able to drink but she agrees.
As the party begins, the sisters begin to realize that all of their friends are so grown up that the party is dull and boring. They convince their friend Dave (John Leguizamo) to invite his drug dealer who was played by John Cena. This kicks up the party and the craziness begins.
Bobby Moynihan from Saturday Night Live also plays the part of one of Maura and Kate’s friends. He and everyone else contribute to the hilarity in this movie. I found myself laughing from one scene to another. Once the movie got going, the laughter didn’t end. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were terrific in their parts and really made you believe that they were sisters.
It’s rated R for a reason, so don’t take the kids. If you want to see a great comedy, this one is it. I gave it 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
This latest installment in the Chipmunk movies again features the animation of the chipmunks mixed in with real life scenes. The movie opens with all three chipmunks - Alvin, Theodore, and Simon along with the Chipettes - Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor holding a huge surprise birthday party for Dave (Jason Lee). When Dave arrives home he is less than pleased. However, he agrees to take Alvin, Theodore, and Simon to meet his long-time girlfriend, Samantha (Kimberly Williams – Paisley.
The chipmunks like Samantha but her son Miles (Josh Green) is another story. Miles seems to take pleasure in tormenting them. To make matters worse, Dave is going to Miami to produce a record and is taking Samantha with him. Miles is to stay with the chipmunks during this time.
The chipmunks find an engagement ring in a bag Dave is taking to Miami and fear that Dave is planning to propose to Samantha. An engagement would mean that they and Miles would be forever entwined. They convince Miles to travel with them to Miami to stop the engagement from happening. And so the shenanigans begin.
I’m not a fan of the chipmunks but my youngest daughter loves them so I took her. The animation in this movie was top-notch and Jason Lee and Kimberly Williams-Paisley were great. The mix of real-life with animation was fantastic. My daughter gave the movie 4 out of 4 stars but I only gave it 2 out of 4 stars. This is a personal opinion because I find the chipmunks annoying. Families with kids will probably disagree.

Actor Seth Rogen arrives at LA Premiere of "The Night Before" held at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, in Los Angeles. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Movie review: The Night Before, Krampus

December 15, 2015

The Night Before
This hilarious movie is the story of three long-time friends who celebrate Christmas together every year on “The Night Before”. The tradition began one night when all three were in high school. Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) received news that his parents were killed in a car accident right before Christmas. In order to cheer him up, his friends Isaac Greenberg (Seth Rogen) and Chris Roberts (Anthony Mackie) take him out to have fun on Christmas Eve.
Now that they are older and their lives are changing, they have decided that this will be the last time. Chris is a NFL football player and Isaac is now married and anticipating the imminent birth of his first child. Meanwhile Ethan is sulking over the end of a long-term relationship with his girlfriend due to his fear of commitment and failure to meet her parents.
Isaac’s wife surprises him by giving him a multitude of different drugs to help him enjoy the evening. So he goes through hallucinations, highs, and lows throughout the evening. Chris on the other hand, is constantly being asked for autographs and favors from his adoring fans. Ethan just wants to enjoy the night as they have in the past, but the present keeps getting in the way.
This movie was a great comedy. All three stars were well cast. “The Night Before” was one of the coolest movies I have seen in a long time. Instead of just being funny, it had a real story line behind it of true friendship. As usual Seth Rogen was crazy and laugh-out-loud funny. The movie is not for young kids but is probably suitable for kids 16 and older.
There are a couple of guest stars in the movie who play themselves that fit right into the story line. Go see the movie to see who I refer to and enjoy a fun-filled evening. I gave this movie 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

Krampus
Krampus is based on an old German tale of a bad Santa who visits families who have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) along with their children Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) and Max (Emjay Anthony) are planning to celebrate Christmas with their family. Tom’s mother, Omi (Krista Stadler), lives with them and encourages Max to write to Santa as he has in past years.
Sarah’s sister, Linda (Allison Tolman), and her husband, Howard (David Koechner), arrive with their children. Linda and Howard have 4 children, Stevie, Jordan, Howie Jr., and a new baby. Max’s cousins are always picking on him. Stevie and Jordan find Max’s letter to Santa and decide to read it out loud over dinner. The letter is very personal and having it read for all to hear infuriates Max. He retrieves the letter, yells out how he hates Christmas, and goes to his room.
The next day, a terrible blizzard arrives and electricity and power are lost. Max notices that a snowman has mysteriously appeared in their yard. Beth goes out to visit with her boyfriend but never returns. Bad things are just beginning to happen to the family as they receive a visit from Krampus and his helpers.
Krampus is considered a horror movie but I would say contains some comedy as well. The cast was terrific and the special effects were well-designed. While both families were related, they were very different in personalities and attitudes towards life. I think this is probably more common than one might think and showed the added stress that surrounds the holidays.
I enjoyed the movie but my daughter hated it. I gave this movie 2 ½ out of 4 stars.

Actor Michael B. Jordan attends the LA Premiere of "Creed" held at the Regency Village Theater on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Los Angeles. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Movie review: Creed, Hunger Games, Secret in Their Eyes

November 29, 2015

Creed

Creed is the latest installment of the Rocky movies. In this version, we find young Adonis Johnson in constant trouble and always getting into fights. To his rescue comes Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of Apollo Creed. Apollo had an affair that resulted in the birth of Adonis. Adonis’s mother had not told him of this so he believes that he has no father. Mary Anne takes Adonis in and he begins a new life.

An older Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) decides to follow his dream to be a boxer. He travels to Philadelphia to find his way as did his father. There he meets his neighbor and soon to be girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who is a singer and songwriter. He has hopes of convincing Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) to be his trainer. Rocky has been out of the business and is now owner of an Italian restaurant called Adrian’s and has no wish to train Adonis or Donny as he is known.

After some time, Donny convinces Rocky to be his trainer and so begins Donny’s new life as a boxer. Donny, however, does not want anyone to know that he is Apollo Creed’s son, instead wanting to make it on his own.

I enjoyed the relationship that develops between Rocky and Adonis. I think that Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan are both worthy of Oscar nominations. The whole movie was true to the Rocky franchise thanks to the direction by Ryan Coogler who should also be nominated for an Oscar.

You really see Adonis grow up through this movie. The boxing was fantastic, which you would expect from a Rocky movie.
I gave this movie 4 out of 4 stars. Don’t miss it because it is one of the best films of the year.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

This movie concludes the Hunger Games movie adaptation of the books by Suzanne Collins. It continues with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) continuing her quest to end the reign of tyranny from the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is still recovering from the brainwashing he was subjected to while being held in the Capitol. He has been taught to hate Katniss and to believe that she cannot be trusted. Therefore, he is a danger to her.

President Coin (Julianne Moore) plans to continue using Katniss as a face of the rebellion but Katniss wants to kill President Snow. She sneaks on an aircraft but is placed on a team whose mission is to be filmed and shown as the face of the revolution. Peeta gets assigned to the team as well as does Katniss’s friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). The team encounters setback after setback on their way to the Capitol and is forced to travel in the sewers to avoid the pods that are found everywhere.
While in the sewers, they are attacked by “mutts” who are sent to ambush them.

The entire cast of these movies was terrific. This also includes the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. And you cannot say enough about the performance of Jennifer Lawrence. The sets were all well designed and the directing was superb. They are looking to find a way to continue the movie and I hope that they do. I gave this movie 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

Secret in Their Eyes

Julia Roberts stars in this movie as Jess Cobb and FBI investigator. Jess and her partner Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are working in the District Attorney’s office led by supervisor Claire (Nicole Kidman). They are called to investigate a body found in a dumpster near a mosque they had been watching. Upon arrival it is discovered that the body is that of Jess’s daughter, Caroline.
Ray works tirelessly to find the killer and sees a picture at a company picnic where an unknown man continues to watch Caroline. The unknown man turns out to be an informant for the FBI helping them fight terrorism. He is labeled untouchable by the District Attorney and all evidence is destroyed.

Ray leaves the FBI but continues to hunt for Caroline’s killer. He returns years later with a new lead. He confronts Jess and Claire to convince them to reopen the case.
Both are hesitant but Ray insists. Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Chiwetel Ejiofor were all outstanding in this movie. The roles had to be difficult since all have families and could understand the stress and bereftness of losing a child to murder.

Julia Roberts’ performance was particularly extraordinary. She looked like she had lost her way and was a shell of her former self.
I enjoyed this movie but expected more with the big names in starring roles. I still gave it 3 out of 4 stars.

Movie review: Burnt, Rock The Kasbah

November 5, 2015

Burnt
Burnt is the story of Chef Adam Jones played by Bradley Cooper. At a very young age, Adam went to France to learn to become a chef. He was showing great promise but got caught up in alcohol and drugs and threw it all away. To make matters worse, he didn’t care who he took down with him.
Now Adam is cleaned up and living in London. He is determined to make a comeback and earn his 3rd Michelin star. The 3rd Michelin star is the prize sought by great chefs everywhere but very hard to get. Adam must first convince his old friend Tony Balerdi (Daniel Bruhl) to allow him to be the chef for the Langham one of London’s finest dining establishments. Tony is the Maitre D for the Langham but isn’t sure if he can trust Adam. However, he has been in love with Adam for years and wants to help him so agrees.
Adam begins his search for other chefs to assist him. He runs into Michel Diome (Omar Sy) who was one of the chefs he betrayed in Paris. At first Adam fears Michel but after a discussion, Michel agrees to help out since he is in need of a job. He also convinces Helene Sweeney (Sienna Miller), who is already a great chef at another restaurant, to jump ships and join him at Langham. With Michel and Helene as well as a cast of others, Adam is ready to go. But Adam is tough on the chefs and all will not be easy.
This is not one of Bradley Cooper’s finest movies but it wasn’t his worst either. I loved the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Sienna Miller was quite good and actually could be a chef after making this movie.
With the movie taking place in London, you got to see a little of the city which I enjoyed as well. But all in all, the movie was really kind of ho hum with little to grab your attention. I gave this movie 2 out of 4 stars.

Rock The Kasbah
Rock the Kasbah stars Bill Murray as Richie Lanz, a washed up Rock Manager whose clients play the local bars. One day he hears of an opportunity to take one of his “stars” to Afghanistan on a USO tour. His client, Ronnie, (Zooey Deschanel) is freaking out all the way there. Once there, he leaves her to rest. Upon his return to the hotel room, he finds that she has left with his passport and all of his money.
He then meets Bombay Brian (Bruce Willis), a mercenary who will help him return home for $1000. In an effort to earn the money, he agrees to deliver a package to an Afghan village. While there he hears a beautiful voice. The voice belongs to Salima (Leem Lubany), a young Afghan girl. Richie tries to convince Salima to appear on Afghan’s version of the Voice, but Afghan girls are not allowed to do this kind of thing.
This movie has a lot of big name stars. Besides Bill Murray, Zooey Deschanel, and Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson also has a part. She plays an exotic hooker named Merci who provides entertainment for the troops. But regardless of the big stars, this movie is very lacking. I loved Bill Murray’s part. It reminded me of his days in Saturday Night Live.
The movie lacked content. They made a big deal at the beginning of him saying good bye to his young daughter but there was no further mention of her. It had some good points and tried to shed the light on the limitations to females in Afghanistan but could have told the story in a much more entertaining fashion. I gave this movie 2 out of 4 stars.

Goosebumps
Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mother, Gale (Amy Ryan), have just moved into their new home. Gale has been hired as an Assistant Principal at the local high school. Soon Zach meets Hannah (Odeya Rush) the young girl next door. While speaking with her, her father, Mr. Shivers (Jack Black), warns him to stay away. Zach and Hannah find the opportunity to become acquainted anyway.
One day Zach hears Hannah’s father yelling and hears her scream. Zach calls the police but Mr. Shivers convinces them that it was only the TV. Zach doesn’t believe his neighbor and convinces his new friend, Champ (Ryan Lee), to check it out after Mr. Shivers leaves the house. Once inside they discover an entire bookcase full of Goosebumps books. Hannah hears them in the house but before she can stop them, they have opened one of the books. This allows the creatures and hooligans from the books to escape and wreak havoc on the town. Zach, Hannah, and Champ must stop them with the assistance of Mr. Shivers.
This movie is based off of the very popular Goosebumps books that were written for a teenaged audience. I thought Jack Black was fantastic as Mr. Shivers as well as Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, and Ryan Lee in their roles. The special effects in this movie were quite good and the sets were well designed. The action was just about right for this type of movie.
Goosebumps is a family movie and will be enjoyed by the younger generation. I recommend that anyone with children make it a family outing to see this movie. The kids will love it. I gave this movie 3 out of 4 stars. I enjoyed as did my teenage daughter.

The Martian
The Ares III is on a 2 month mission on Mars and living in a habitat they built called the Hab. The crew consists of Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who is a botanist, Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), who is the commander, and Rick Martinez (Michael Pena), who is the pilot among others. Not long into the mission, a gigantic storm hits and the team decides they must abandon their trip and head for home.
In the process of leaving, Mark becomes separated from the others. Commander Lewis must make a tough decision: leave and save herself and the others or continue to look for Mark. She decides to leave and Mark is left behind.
Mark, however, is alive. He must now figure out how to survive on Mars. He is unable to communicate with NASA and determines that he must keep himself alive until the next mission which is at least 3 years away.
This movie also stars Jeff Daniels as NASA’s director. The whole cast was fantastic. Each person’s performance was superb especially Matt Damon whose character had a great sense of humor. The cast really worked well together. The scenery was terrific and looked very real. I would like to think that Mars is really that beautiful.
Of course I have to mention Ridley Scott. He is one of the greatest directors alive today and keeps putting out great movies. The Martian didn’t disappoint and I gave it 4 out of 4 stars.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
In the first movie, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Aris (Jacob Lofland), and others survive the maze. This movie begins with the group discovering that there were others in a maze as well. They are led to believe that they are being kept safe from the world outside that includes WCKD, a virus known as The Flare, and the Cranks. Soon they realize that Mr. Janson (Aidan Gillen) who runs the place, is keeping secrets and all is not as it seems.
The group escapes into the Scorch while being chased down by Mr. Janson and his men. The Scorch is not a safe place either and they soon find themselves in other troubles as well. They are looking for the Right Arm, a resistance group, where they feel they will find safe haven.
I didn’t like the first Maze Runner movie thinking it had no real point. This installment caught me off guard as I enjoyed it. The ruins shown in the Scorch were spectacular. The cast was fantastic and worked great together. The directing was well done also. I was happily surprised with this movie and gave it 3 out of 4 stars.