“Premium Rush” (Action / Thriller: 1 hour, 31 minutes)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon and Dania Ramirez
Director: David Koepp
Rated: PG-13 (Profanity and violence)
Movie Review: Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) is one of the thousand bike messengers In Manhattan. He picks up an envelope with a valuable and mysterious piece of paper in it at about 5:30 p.m. The envelope’s content attracts the attention of Bobby Monday (Shannon,) a dirty detective who chases Wilee throughout many dangerous, busy streets for hours.
Gordon-Levitt is a fine actor. He is superb here, but the plot is an adolescent-like feature, which plays like a comedy at multiple moments.
“Premium Rush” is a different kind of film. It is hip, using quick-paced scenes and smooth visuals of New York City. These scenes promote a unique adrenaline rush, especially when the cyclists speed in and out of lanes with potential collisions with automobiles. The scenes keep one on edge, yet they fail to keep momentum near the end. There, the film turns into an awkward, unintelligent piece. The NYPD officers are portrayed as inept.
More important, the film leaves many loose strings. Repercussions for the characters’ actions appear absent.
This action film would be a better cartoon. It would have appeared more believable in that medium.
Grade: C (Good on rush, poor on premium.)
“2016: Obama’s America” (Documentary: 1 hour, 28 minutes)
Directors: Dinesh D'Souza and John Sullivan
Rated: PG (Thematic elements, brief language and smoking images)
Movie Review: Instead of bashing President Obama, Indian-American Dinesh D’Souza, an academic scholar and conservative author of several books, subtly examines the question: If President Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016? This documentary shows how Obama’s history may explain his actions as president, and what happens if Obama remains in office.
D’Souza is smooth in his attempt to chronicle President Obama’s history via Obama’s absent father, several of Obama’s relatives living in Africa and his collegiate associations. D’Souza first explains the similarities he and Obama share, such as they were born and married their wives during the same years. Then, D’Souza shows how two Americans, he and President Obama, came to see this country in different ways.
The first 30 minutes are captivating to a point one may feel a certain sympathetic concern for President Obama. D’Souza attempts to show Obama’s parents, mainly his father, Barack Obama Sr., through the words of the President’s mother, Ann Dunham, and how they influenced the 44th President of the United States.
D’Souza accomplishes his goal. He easily makes this family fascinating. Anti-Obama moviegoers will take D’Souza’s words as truth, but they should not.
D’Souza acknowledges himself as a scholar. His attempts to psychoanalyze the President are clearly influenced by D’Souza’s right-wing politics. Some of D’Souza’s evidence here is sketchy, very subjective and contains illogical false conclusions.
As a scholar, he should not determine guilt via association. If you research everyone’s life, all have had associations with people others would not find acceptable. This does not mean one person may share the same values as those around them. D’Souza is incorrect to assume people Obama had a connection to have influenced him any more than any other person. Second, D’Souza does not interview people — at least it did not make it into this film — who also knew Obama while in college and have spoken differently about him. Third, D’Souza assumes presidents have the ultimate power to totally change government. He fails to note Obama has continued the majority of Bush’s programs. D’Souza also forgets to note a president must operate in a hyper-partisan climate, contend with multiple levels of federalism and share power with Congress and the Judicial branch.
D’Souza does some poor research here. He has a hypothesis. He tries to make the evidence fit his intellectual question. However, his attempt is a serious endeavor. D’Souza offers his research in a very pleasant, non-threatening manner. His low-key manner may just influence some independents. Others have already made up their minds since childhood.
D’Souza does plenty of research, enough to make this film an intriguing and thought-provoking piece of political propaganda. He knows how to captivate using his own version of the facts. He does this with nice visuals from around the world and subtle jabs at Obama.
Grade: B (2012, D’Souza’s interesting political propaganda)
“The Apparition” (Thriller/Science-Fiction: 1 hour, 22 minutes)
Starring: Sebastian Stan, Ashley Greene and Tom Felton
Director: Todd Lincoln
Rated: PG-13 (Thematic elements, some mild sensuality)
Movie Review: Ben and Kelly (Stan and Greene) are an attractive couple living in a suburban home. Odd occurrences happen in their abode. The two must come to grips that a malevolent entity is living in their house, one tormenting them on a regular basis. The entity originated because of an experiment Ben and several other university students summoned through a paranormal experiment gone awry. The being now torments those who summoned it.
As a thriller, this film is very much like the “Paranormal Activity” series that have scared people each year since 2007. “Apparition” is not as effective. Plus, the film makes crappy concepts into science fiction. The result is far from impressive. The science-fiction psychology part of this makes the horror part even less. The more the characters explain what is happening from a scientific point, the worst the plot becomes.
Good part is the film is just a little over an hour, minus the end credits. The sad part is the apparition takes its victims too slowly.
Grade: D+ (Transparently thin material.)
“Hit and Run” (Comedy/Action: 1 hour, 40 minutes)
Starring: Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Tom Arnold, Michael Rosenbaum and Bradley Cooper
Directors: Dax Shepard and David Palmer
Rated: R (Profanity, sexual innuendo, graphic nudity, violence and drug content)
Movie Review: Charlie Bronson (Shepard) and his girlfriend, Annie (Bell), leave via automobile for Los Angeles to get Annie to a job interview at a university. They do this, knowing Charlie is in a witness-protection program. Even more, the people wanting to harm Charlie are in L.A. Charlie and Annie’s road trip becomes hazardous when they are chased by a past associate of Charlie’s (Cooper), Randy (Tom Arnold) who is a federal marshal supposedly protecting him, and Annie’s jealous ex-boyfriend, Gil (Rosenbaum).
While watching this comedy, thoughts of “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977) emerge. “Hit and Run” is comparable in many aspects. The main similarity is that both films consist of numerous car chases.
“Hit and Run” features a funny cast, but the characters banter, fight and then speed away in nice cars. The process is overly repetitive. They argue until they are annoying. They behave in an adolescent manner that becomes tedious.
The preview trailers for this film were funnier. The film takes several jokes and beats it them to death. A joke is funny until you hear it multiple times.
This is a strange comedy. It plays like one long, repetitive joke.
Grade: C (Run before it hits you.)
“ParaNorman” (Animation/Adventure: 1 hour, 32 minutes)
Starring Voices: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck and Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Directors: Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Rated: PG (Violence, thematic elements including some scary scenes, gore, crude humor and language)
Movie Review: Norman Babcock (Smit-McPhee) is a misunderstood boy in the town of Blithe Hollow. Like the kid in 1999’s “The Sixth Sense,” Norman sees and speaks to dead people. This talent is handy. Norman’s ability will be needed to help save the town of Blithe Hollow from a centuries-old curse, the return of an angry witch.
This adventure uses stop-motion animation nicely to create a horror for children and adults. This is a family film, but parents should be aware that some scenes may be too scary for your small fries.
“ParaNorman” works as good entertainment. It provides plenty of humor and smart moments. While the zombie plot is familiar, this film pleasantly uses horror themes in a childlike manner.
Grade: B (Much better than normal.)
“The Expendables 2” (Action: 1 hour, 43 minutes)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger
Director: Simon West
Rated: R (Extreme violence, strong language and gore)
Movie Review: “The Expendables” (Director Sylvester Stallone) debuted in 2010. It featured action stars from the past to present. It was met with mixed reviews. Rarely, a sequel outshines its prequel, but “The Expendables 2” does.
Barney Ross (Stallone) and his gang of mercenaries must keep weapons-grade plutonium from the hands of Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the leader of a cold-blooded group called The Sang. After their mission goes awry, The Expendables go into Sang territory for revenge.
Past and current action stars comprise the cast. Additionally, the cast expands with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the bad guy, Chuck Norris with a great entrance and Nan Yu, the only female in this group. The group is solid. The result is a better screenplay directed by Simon West (“Con Air,” 1997; “The Mechanic,” 2011).
These men, some in their late 60s, show they are not done having fun on the big action films. The actors have great lines. They deliver with them with keen machismo and comical wit. Humor is abundant. Stallone and Terry Crews have great comical lines. Other quips regard lines from the actors’ previous films, such as Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be back” and Willis’ catch-phrase “Yippie Ka Yay ...”
“Expendables 2” is good entertainment for those who like action films and want to see this second reunion of action stars from the past. Think of this as a flashback to the late ’70s to the early 1990s. The nostalgia alone makes all a worthy escape.
Grade: B (The Indispensables.)
“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” (Comedy/Fantasy: 1 hour, 45 minutes)
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton and CJ Adams
Director: Peter Hedges
Rated: PG (Mild thematic elements that include some bullying and brief language)
Movie Review: Director/writer Peter Hedges gives audiences a sentimental journey with this mild, magical story. It features Cindy (Garner) and Jim Green (Edgerton) as a married couple. They desperately want a child. Their wish is granted one day when a young boy, Timothy (Adams), enters their lives. Miraculously, Timothy came from the ground, and he has leaves growing from the bottom of his legs. Timothy is not only what Cindy and Jim need; Timothy is also what the small town of Stanleyville needs.
This film is very interesting in that it features a wonderful cast that appears very easy to like. Garner and Edgerton are a nice pairing. It is easy to have concern for them. Adams plays Timothy Green with an endearing zeal. He easily steals scenes away from his adult counterparts. Also, seasoned actors David Morse, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Dianne Wiest are superb supporting players. Wiest is easily the film’s most intriguing character.
The people are likable, and the nature of this film is sweetly inspiring. The plot is not as adorable. The plot requires one to take a leap of faith and just believe. Check. That part is easy. Nevertheless, audiences also want a healthy return for that investment.
The investment here is an emotional one. This plot’s conclusion does not render a healthy return. The ending requires an even greater leap and may not be the ending audiences were expecting.
Grade: C+ (Oddities make for an emotional film.)
“Sparkle” (Musical/Drama: 1 hour, 54 minutes)
Starring: Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Derek Luke, Carmen Ejogo, and Tika Sumpter
Director: Salim Akil
Rated: PG-13 (Strong language and violence)
Movie Review: Set in the 1960s, this is a remake of the 1976 screenplay (Director Sam O’Steen). Sparkle (Sparks), Sister (Houston) and Delores (Sumpter) are three talented sisters. They are singers under the management of Stix (Luke). Their Mother Emma, a very religious lady and domineering woman, wants anything but singing careers for her daughters. However, Sparkle and her sisters want to become Motown sensations, but family woes may soon drive them apart.
An off-putting aspect of this film is that it, like many other modern films, tries to make a singer an actress. The results are not always stellar. The same is notable here. Sparks is lackluster, but Ejogo and Sumpter shine. Ejogo is especially effective.
The plot needed more time to develop the characters’ relationships. Instead, the singing becomes the focus for this musical drama.
Ultimately, this film is not bad, but it is not powerfully effective in any manner also. Otherwise, the songs are the better part of this movie. It resides mainly on the fact it is the last outing for talented songstress Whitney Houston who passed away in February of this year. Houston’s last movie was in 1996, “The Preacher's Wife.” Too bad “Sparkle” could not be a more fitting legacy for Houston’s return to the big screen.
Grade: C+ (A light sparkle.)