The Boy Next Door Review

Still from The Boy Next Door 1

What can be theorized from a title like The Boy Next Door? Watch the first few minutes and one might assume that it was a dramatic bit of romance with a mother desiring the hunky guy next door. She’s frustrated with her current situation of disastrous dates and showy husband who her son favors. In walks the muscle bound teenager next door who is good with his hands and kind to his ill uncle. But, wait, this is a Blumhouse Production. Don’t they usually produce horror movies? You see their creepy studio identification before the movie begins and you know something terrible is going to happen to our poor protagonist. So why was I laughing the entire time at this farce?

This has to be one of the dopiest erotic thrillers I’ve seen this year. While Fifty Shades of Gray was just dull in its mediocrity, The Boy Next Door is a stinky hunk of preposterous cheese. Jennifer Lopez plays the hot high school English teacher Claire who finds herself so attracted to neighborhood newcomer Noah (Ryan Guzman) that she spends a wild night with him. But having a one night stand with the young stud proves to be an awkward mistake for both parties. For Claire, however, it hasn’t even begun to get awkward as Noah turns from taunter to stalker to killer in the most confusing progression.

Noah’s frustration at being led on by the hot teacher results in some of the most laughably terrible attempts at generating tension. He spends plenty of time at her house becoming great friends with her teenage son Kevin (Ian Nelson). Noah winks at Claire the entire time he is over with his stupid grin and uttering such comically suggestive dialogue. When Noah takes his leave, Kevin asks if he wants one of his mother’s cookies for the road. “I love your mother’s cookies,” he delivers with that dopey I’ve-got-you look on his face. This 17-year-old kid even manages to somehow make it into both Claire’s high school and the class she teaches, quoting the The Iliad and defending Kevin from hallway bullies. For the first third of the movie, it plays almost like a comedy just for amateurishly it was written.

But, given that it’s a Blumhouse Production, we have to go dark. Noah pits Kevin against his father (John Corbett) to make sure Claire is alone and all to himself. He starts decorating the schools with the old repeating printer that shoots out copies of their dirty pictures and tags the boys bathroom with slanderous graffiti. Breaks are cut, friends are killed and it isn’t long before he goes completely psycho with guns and knives. If you think his descent into murder is baffling, just wait until you hear his warped past which is supposed to explain his behavior, but leaves more confusing questions than anything.

How exactly did this strange story take shape? Writer Barbara Curry was apparently inspired by a “bad boy” across the street who was friends with her son. Combined with her work experiences as a criminal lawyer, she has crafted a vindictive little piece that mutated into a strange erotic thriller. Credit should be given to director Rob Cohen who at least convinced Barbara to change the age of Noah from 12 to 17. The last thing this movie should be is an uncomfortable blending of Fatal Attraction and The Good Son.

Still from The Boy Next Door 2If it weren’t so terribly uneven and savage in its assault, The Boy Next Door might have been a hoot for its trainwreck story with solid actors. Rather than capitalize on any drama from an affair, the film turns into a rickety ride of TV-movie dialogue, uncomfortable sexual tension and an over-the-top finale in a burning barn. Director Rob Cohen is a long ways away from his days of directing the first The Fast and the Furious movie in 2001. He does manage to insert one competently staged car chase into the mix. I wonder if he misses doing action movies because he’s sure not at his best with erotic thrillers.

Rated 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2 Review

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The original Hot Tub Time Machine was a party of a movie. It took a classic time travel concept and milked it for all the raunchy and smart-mouthed comedy it held. But now the party has died down and the sequel has become the awkward guest that won’t leave at 3am. It staggers around in a drunken stupor hoping to recapture some of that wit that was the life of the party. Now he’s just a sad guest who doesn’t know when to leave.

What made the first film so enjoyable was that some unlucky friends were given the chance to change their futures for the better with a hilarious take on Back to the Future. Now saddled with fame and fortune, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 starts the characters out as jerks that have to learn to be a little less jerky. Lou (Rob Corddry) has become the sleazy and hateful founder of his own empire based off Google, retitled Loogle. Lou’s son Jacob (Clark Duke) is still the snarky nerd that can’t catch a break from anyone, recognized by his dad more as a butler. Nick (Craig Robinson) is now a singing sensation, but has issues with his wife. They’ve all been coasting on their successful time travel knowledge and are now spiteful people that should’ve remained in the happy finale of the previous movie.

All of them are portrayed as terrible individuals bound by drugs, booze, sex and money. So are we really supposed to care about a murder mystery scenario where they time travel to save Lou’s life? Why do Jacob and Nick bother saving his life? Just before he was shot, Lou delivered an extremely self-centered speech about how you being a self-centered human being is the key to fun and success. Yes, I get that the characters are supposed to be seen as less moral and need to gain it back, but there is a fine line between establishing characters that are flawed and hateable. This movie seems to delight in how hateable they are right from the start and expects us to laugh at their cruel selfishness.

The three end up traveling to the future to track down Lou’s murderer. When they arrive, everything is turned upside down. Jacob is now the rich playboy he aspired towards, Lou is a bearded hobo and Nick is a washed up artist. While Jacob basks in the shoe being on the other foot, the rest of the crew enjoys the wonders of the future. What technological breakthroughs have been made possible in this timeline? Drugs in the form of stickers, iPads that act as sex toys and virtual reality sex that is never fully explained. To tell the sad truth, these actually sound more likely than a lot of the flashy tech in other future shock films. Cars are now free to hail and drive automatically, sounding the most practical of all the inventions. If only they didn’t have emotional sentience then we wouldn’t have to suffer for the lame joke of Lou trying to gain the trust and love of a car.

To prove you can’t catch lightning in a bottle, director Steve Pink returns to direct this sequel. He’s lost all the steam of the original by falling back on too many safeties. The jokes are almost all centered around sex and movie references without anything clever behind them. This is mostly due to the setting of the gags. These guys have travelled to a different era and they still end up spending a good chunk of their time at a bar with strippers. They later go on a game show which devolves quickly into Nick having sex with another man on television. Old bits such as Lou having sex with somebody and screwing up the timeline pops up. Even Chevy Chase appears for a brief and forgettable cameo as the magical repair man.

Still from Hot Tub Time Machine 2 2With such a tired script, it’s easy enough to see why John Cusack’s character was reduced to an even briefer appearance despite having a strong connection to the plot. All the pluck and laughs of Hot Tub Time Machine has fizzled out with a sequel that plays like an amatuer first draft. It’s just a lazy smattering of jokes that lose all consistency. Jacob makes reference to the television show Fringe to explain alternate timelines. Lou and Nick respond with their running taunt song “You’re a F**kin’ Nerd”, yet in the very same scene Lou compares Jacob’s bald head to an obscure Star Wars character. Go home, Hot Tub Time Machine 2. You’re too drunk on your fifteen minutes of fame to last another round, desperate though you may be for that trilogy.

Rated 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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Low Down Review

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A career in jazz has to be hell. From its long-running commercial failures to the copious amounts of drugs that follow, jazz artists seem to suffer more quietly than the loudest rock stars or boldest rappers. Joe Albany is another great of the genre that was wonderfully gifted, but tragically flawed. He seemed to be just another legend lost to the typical shortcomings of his fellow artists, but his daughter Amy-Jo preserved his memories in her emotional memoirs.

Now her recollecting words are beautifully transcribed to the screen. As a teenager, Amy-Jo (Elle Fanning) lives in her father’s apartment during the 1970’s. She loves Joe (John Hawkes) simply because he’s her dad. She doesn’t quite see a drug abuser who has a problem with heroin, a poor artist who is terrible with money or a troublesome man who has scuffles with the law. These appear as just normal quirks to her. She turns slightly silent for those darker moments to see through to the brighter ones. The lazy weekends of sleeping in and cooking breakfast are her more treasured memories than when Joe hangs around his junkie friends.

But the darker moments become more visible the more she interacts with the tragic souls around her. She shares a pleasant conversation with a charming neighbor of the complex played by Peter Dinklage, but soon discovers that he dabbles in perverted acts behind doors that should remain shut. Her alcoholic mother display all the filthy abuse brought on by her drinking. These are painful people to be around at their worst, but mostly because she’s not used to seeing them in such a light.

She befriends a boy in the apartment lobby who is waiting for his prostitute mother to finish with a client. They sit next to each other in silence watching cartoons. Neither of them talk about their parents or share experiences. They know what their current situations are and just want to bond in the simplest ways. The boy’s mother soon finds them in the lobby and plops down next to them, cozying up to her son as she closes her eyes. There is warmth in their worlds, but it comes in sporadic segments between crippling addictions.

Director Jeff Preiss, who previously directed the superb jazz documentary on Chet Baker, lovingly crafts Amy-Joe’s microcosm of the 1970’s. He uses plenty of browns and golds for apartments that seem to be bathed in cigarette smoke. The soundtrack is packed with an abundance of soft and somber jazz melodies, perfectly fitting Amy’s perception of a dire situation she does not see as such.

The performances are top-notch for this coming of age story the way Elle Fanning inhabits the role of the quiet and emotional Amy. Aside from some very small narration here and there, Fanning does all the talking in this picture with few words. Watch the way she becomes entranced by her father’s piano playing in a club. She can see what few acknowledge in Joe as a true artist of high talent. She’ll put up with his binges and scuffles if only to be with her papa for those fleeting moments of brilliance and kindness. John Hawkes should also be given credit for his role as Joe, dashing when sober and a mess when intoxicated. Though controlled by his vices, you can still see parts of his character that wants to be there for Amy. She will soon be an adult and won’t be able to look away from his shortcomings as slight errors. They’re both worried about each other and are not too sure how to deal with it.

Still from Low Down 2Low Down may be another sad tale of a jazz great’s descent into drugs, but one that is uniquely told from the perspective of his daughter. You feel all the pain of Amy’s plight with her surroundings, but also all the love she has for her dear old dad. It’s one of the most empathetic biographies in how we just sort of watch Amy’s situation and try to identify with it. She never has a moment where she has to shout out her pains or explain why she loves her dad. She just does and let’s the audience find out why for themselves.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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Song of the Sea Review

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Cartoon Saloon is slowly rising up as one of the major contenders in animated features. Director Tomm Moore managed to capture Oscar-worthy attention with The Secret of Kells, an Irish fairy tale that was nominated for Best Animated Feature. His method must be surefire as his second animated feature for Cartoon Saloon follows the same formula. It’s another animated tale of Celtic folklore with the trademark artistry of Moore’s shapely style, once again garnering Oscar attention. It also manages to duplicate all the same strengths and flaws as Kells, making for a film that’s frustrating for only being good when it should be great.

The story wastes no time diving head first into the lore. Young boy Ben is finishing up his painting of various spirits and gods for his soon-to-be-born sister’s bedroom. But when the baby finally comes, his mother mysteriously disappears into the ocean of his family’s lighthouse/home. Years later, Ben has grown bitter towards his now six-year-old sister Saoirse for her muted voice and strange obsession with the sea. His dad hides his sorrow in a pint while his grandma pokes and prods the children for safety and etiquette. One night Saoirse discovers a fluffy coat in the closet. She puts it on, steps into the sea and magically transforms into a white seal. The discovery of being the offspring of a mystical Selkie is exciting to her, she soon becomes the target of other fantasy beings that want her power. Ben must now protect his sister from this new world of spirits and legends, living up to the responsibility of being a big brother.

The two find themselves on their own as Ben struggles to escort a fading Saoirse back to the sea when their grandmother drags them into the city. On their quest, they run across many strange and unique fantasy entities. A group of musical trolls play their melodies for both Saoirse and an audience of stone statues. A wicked witch literally bottles up emotions in jars with her hordes of evil owls to do her bidding. One of my favorite characters is a hermit of endless hair that can spin all sorts of visions from his many threads. Ben picks up a strand and he’s provided a startling revelation on his mother disappeared, additionally lamenting on how he could be a better sibling.

The art style of reflects the trademark flat and painterly style Cartoon Saloon is quickly being known for. The characters appear in simple shapes, but with bold colors and fluid movement. Take a look at some of the subtle moments as when Ben becomes annoyed by Saoirse’s breathing while he doodles on the windy beach. It feels like an illustrated storybook given life as only the two-dimensional medium can convey. Take note of the backgrounds as well that embody the staging of a children’s illustration the way the background use different colors, textures, perspectives and cuts off around the edges. There’s rarely a background painting that didn’t catch my eye.

On the level of its animation, Song of the Sea is so darn mesmerising that it’s maddening the story doesn’t match that quality. I liked where the fantasy element took these kids and yet I expected much of its charm. There’s a quiet whimsy to all this beauty that is perhaps a tad too somber, even for a film about coping with loss. How come when Saoirse is revealed to be a Selkie it’s not astounding to anyone except Saoirse? I realize they talk an awful lot of these myths to the point where they seem to be commonplace in this world, but would it kill Ben or his father to be just a tad amazed that their daughter can transform into a seal? Can the film slow down just a little to take in all these creates rather than jump directly from exposition to plot importance with each one? This movie appears so engrossed in its wonder it forgets to add some grounding.

Still from Song of the Sea 2Song of the Sea is a true work of art, but it may be better appreciated by animation enthusiasts than the whole family. I want to recommend the film more especially since it’s a very refreshing change of pace from the manic and frenetic tone of today’s fast-paced animated films. It’s beautifully rendered and calmly directed with a wonderfully gentle tone and atmosphere. The problem is that it may perhaps be too quiet for its own good. There is some real artistry and craft in such a presentation which begs for a writer to bring some much needed enthusiasm to a story that feels far too passive.

Rated 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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The Loft Review

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There’s something very disturbing about a film when you can feel it channeling something on the level of Very Bad Things. In that movie, a group of inept men try to bury the dead bodies that end up at their bachelor party with a disastrous aftermath. It becomes so mean-spirited and vile that any shred of comedy is lost in the script’s desire for dark comedy. The Loft plays in the same backyard. It creates characters that are hateable and a plot that is muddled in preposterous twists. This is the type of film where you have to have tunnel vision to block all these elements to focus on the erotic mystery.

The setup itself just screams trashy as five married men share a loft to secretly congregate with their mistresses. Having a sort of clubhouse for sex is a really terrible idea even if the five were incredibly trustworthy with each other. How do you determine who is going to use the loft when? Who is going to clean up after the messes they leave with each visit? Do they stock the fridge with anything? I ask only because this is a very decadent loft in an upscale building. Honestly, it might have made a decent comedy playing up the expected Odd Couple angle fused with The Apartment.

Instead of trying for dark comedy, The Loft goes for dark mystery when the five of them discover a blonde corpse in the bed. As they arrive one by one for the brutal discovery, they immediately go Reservoir Dogs on each other either furiously blaming, frighteningly cowering or nervously planning an out. While they all freak out about what to do next or who might have done it, the film whips around both the events leading to the corpse and the police interrogation that follows of the suspects.

I suppose we should be invested in the whodunit, but there’s hardly a character to root for in this plan of cheating gone wrong. Vincent (Karl Urban) is the mastermind of this scheme as the sleazy architect of the loft building. Luke (Wentworth Miller) is the creepy voyeur of the group, preferring to watch more often than act. Chris (James Marsden) is the reluctant doctor who would appear the most human if he didn’t end falling for a prostitute. Marty (Eric Stonestreet) is a fat pervert who constantly drinks. Phillip is the most aggressive of the group threatening anyone who decides to bring his sister back to the loft. These guys spend the entire movie on the prowl for women to hunt for use in their shared lair of debauchery. All of them appear deadly serious about this new aspect of their lives that I’m surprised they weren’t expecting a murder in the loft at some point.

But when it finally happens, do we really care who lives and who dies? They’re all terrible human beings that are never given a shred of decency in the flashback sequences. Without proper investment in anyone, why should I care about who was deceiving who or who was setting up who to take the fall? Am I supposed to be shocked about the alliances that are formed and broken in the name of revenge and sex? And what about all these sex scenes which pack the same amount of I-don’t-care? They may be erotic in their staging, but ultimately vapid in their direction for the story. After all, they don’t really love anybody they’re with. It’s all just spectacle as in a pool scene where the audience is given a full view of Karl Urban’s abs and Isabel Lucas’ butt.

Still from The Loft 2The Loft is just plain empty. It’s a soulless experience of bad people doing bad things that become even worse with their idiocies. This is an erotic thriller where none of the sex has meaning and none of the plot is thrilling. The only admirable thing about this picture is the loft itself. It’s a great design with some nice choices in upscale decorating for such a joint. Why couldn’t the loft itself be the killer as a suite possessed by an evil spirit that kills off everyone who used this place for immoral acts of carnal delight? Then there would finally be a likable character in this mess.

Rated 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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Furious 7 Review

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In a cinema world where action movies struggle to be both fun and overblown, the Fast and Furious franchise manages to make it look so effortlessly easy. For a film series with so many characters to juggle and too many car chases/battles to count, it never fails to amaze with its delightful absurdity. The tone of the series’ future was perfectly laid out in the previous film where a fleet of muscle cars take down a tank. At that point, you smirk and laugh at either the ridiculousness or the creativity of it all (or both). If the series makes any promises, it’s that it never once bores.

Now here we are at the seventh addition to the franchise, boiled down to the title Furious 7, and it has twice as much energy and excitement as it predecessors. What helps keep this series moving isn’t just the wealth of cars and the Wacky Racer style stunts they perform, but the characters who occupy them. There’s a real sense of continuity and comradery between this misfit group of street racers turned secret agents. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has heart for his crew and badassery for his enemies. When a new enemy begins targeting his team after sending a bomb to his house, Toretto gathers together the gang for yet another mission.

Instead of following instructions from agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who spends most of the film hospital-bound from a fight with the lead antagonist, Toretto is now taKing orders from giddy covert ops leader Frank Petty (Kurt Russell). He’s a big fan of their work and is open to crazy ideas yet calm when they go awry. Their targets are some wicked men seeKing technological domination, played with grit by Jason Statham (simply so we can have Statham and Diesel duke it out) and Djimon Hounsou (the top secondary villain of choice these days). Statham’s character desires to avenge the death of his brother, naturally the villain of the last film, and plans to do so with the MacGuffin computer program God’s Eye. With this tech he can directly target individuals and dispatch them with armed drones (or spaceships as Tyrese Gibson‘s characters refers to them as), leading to one of the most destructive chase scenes in the series yet.

There’s a reason generally care for all these characters being hunted in how they’re playfully portrayed. Tyrese Gibson plays up the comic relief hilariously in how he demands to take lead on a mission and smooth talk his way at a party as the distractor. Chris Bridges is mostly relegated as the IT man of the group, but has surprising moments of physical deception when cornered by the enemy. And how could you not dig Kurt Russell in a role where he quite literally winks at the camera. Every single actor in this piece seems to be having a great time as they’re all given their little sections to shine. Even Dwayne Johnson gets a chance to burst out of his hospital gown, break his cast with his muscles and slip into a minigun for the grand finale (“Daddy’s gotta go to work”).

Not content with simple chases around city streets and country roads, director James Wan continues to push the bar for the series by keeping more of the vehicles in the air than on the ground. Rather than find a way to sneak some cars onto a secret road for an assault on an armored truck, all the vehicles are launched out of a cargo plane so they can skydive down to their target. Parachutes deploy, the drivers land their vehicles and proceed towards their target without any injuries from such a touchdown. If something like that sounds insane, your mind may just melt from the absurdity of Toretto driving a car mid-air through not one but two buildings. I swear if there were more skyscrapers in the area this scene would keep going until his car was low enough to the ground to hit the street and drive off unscathed. Maybe they’re saving that bit for the sequel.

Of course, the most timely draw for the picture is for being one of Paul Walker’s final films, having died during production. His replacements scenes are hardly noticeable at all, but the film doesn’t let you forget about Walker with a touching send-off to the character. It may sound forced, but it’s actually rather touching and fitting to both pay tribute to Walker and provide a satisfying end for his character arc. It helps alleviate some of the unpleasant reminders of his demise with several cars crashing directly into one another and exploding.

Still from Fast and Furious 7 2I didn’t think anything could top the take down of a tank and a massive plane in the previous film, but director James Wan found a way to make Furious 7 even more over the top and bombastically fun. These have to be some of the most elaborate and insane action sequences I’ve ever seen that the Mission Impossible and James Bond franchises should take note. In addition to all the frenetic energy, Wan carries on with the quality standard of likable characters, exceptional camera work and lavish locations overflowing with cars and women. It’s just damn good action filmmaKing that aims to be as entertaining as possible. For being the seventh film in the series, there’s still enough nitro left in its boosters for at least one more lap.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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The November Man Review

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There’s something strangely routine and uneven about a spy picture like The November Man. It’s a sloppy dance between the intricacies of the Bourne movies and the fancy tech of James Bond. Cars intensely dash around the street and explode, only to be followed with a bloody shootout that bites hard with its R-rating. It wants to be both hard-nosed espionage drama and a savage action bonanza. It’s cockily playful and brutally violent. This is a film that never finds its true tone and footing, merely skating around the expected cliches of most spy/revenge films and wedging them in when needed.

The aged government assassin Peter Devereaux (Pierce Brosnan) finds himself drawn back into the world of secret plots and vicious takedowns after years of retirement. Letting his emotions get the better of him, despite his creed for maintaining a stone-cold composure, he attempts to save the life of Russian double-agent Natalia who becomes a target of the CIA. But when she is sniped by Peter’s former trainee David Mason (Luke Bracey), a rivalry of teacher and student is born. They meet amid a brutal shootout and part ways with an exploding car behind them as they walk away. I didn’t think that cliche was still viable as I’m pretty sure Muppets Most Wanted killed it in parody. Director Roger Donaldson is either old fashioned or still living in the 1980’s.

The seemingly layered plot involves Russian president candidate Arkady Federov taking office to give America better control over the country. But it all just boils down to Peter finding a female target (Olga Kurylenko) and running around Russia trying to protect her the CIA and Russian assassins. When Peter is not trading fatherly banter with his ex-pupil David, he’s trying to evade the mute Russian hitwoman who has better legs than personality. They run through alleys, drive fast through the streets and shoot up all the bad guys when necessary.

There’s even a moment where Natalia attempts to seduce and kill the man responsible for the death of her family, dressed as prostitute in the goofy violet bob wig. Having seen far too many films with this same scenario and hair, I can’t help but wonder what allure there is to that wig style and color. It seems as though it has the power to make men quickly drop their guard and just let her get on with her murder. I can’t wait for the film when a mobster finally sees through this costume that screams bloody vengeance.

No stranger to this genre, Pierce Brosnan is the highlight of the picture as an old and grizzled hitman. He’s been in the game long enough to know all the rules and which ones disgust him the most. Pierce can be both the cold-blooded killer and the quick-witted hero when called upon by the script. The problem is that the script seems to call up these situations at random. There’s no proper flow or build up for these characters who are bent to the will of the plot. One moment Peter is trying to sway David over the phone while they play cat and mouse, the next Peter is threatening David’s female friend at knife-point with some rather gruesome results.

While the violence may be sporadic for such a story that fluctuates between mindless action and serious drama, there’s something admirable about a film that wants to go the extra mile to make itself shocking and bloody. When a character is sniped in the chest, it’s incredibly painful and messy. When a character is stabbed in the chest, it’s done multiple times until there is a pool of red on the floor. There’s a brutal honesty to its follow through on violent scenes which really do pack a punch. So powerful are these moments it makes me wish they were better assembled for other movies.

Still from The November Man 2Throw every action movie scene into a player, set it to randomize and you’ll have the messy compilation that is The November Man. There’s nothing to be invested in with these characters that adhere to the stock action tropes so closely it becomes tiresome. There are a few surprises here and there, but it’s mostly due to a fusion of different tones that do not mesh as well as they should. At least Liam Neeson didn’t snatch up this role and finally gave someone else the chance to fire some guns and make threats on some phones.

Rated 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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Watchers of the Sky Review

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The title of Watchers of the Sky refers to a man who once studied the skies for 25 years tracking the movement of stars. When asked what good any of this knowledge would be, he admitted he did not know, but that he probably saved somebody else 25 years of work. It’s a similar path of work for the many who speak out and do their best to stop international crisis of genocide. In a world of constant intolerance that results in violent massacre after massacre, calling the war on genocide an uphill battle would be an understatement. These brave men and women who dare to speak out against these atrocities may not be the most successful in their goals, but they’re hopeful they can leave even the smallest of dents for others to continue their work.

As discussed in this documentary, the term genocide itself originated in the 20th century by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin. After much consideration in the wake of the Holocaust, he arrived at a proper name for the worst crime against humanity. He decided on genocide based on the Greek word “genos” for race/people and “cide” for kill. From that simple enough definition, he helped lobby and craft the United Nation’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?). With this adopted resolution, Lemkin hoped that he could prevent another Holocaust. Even as international law, the killing of hundreds still continues.

This is where our current day heroes step in to continue Lemkin’s work. Samantha Powers, the current United States Ambassador at the UN, relays her experience as a journalist in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990’s. It was an era of horrific violence where vicious soldiers would round up the males of a town they invaded and gun them down one by one. So frequent were these slaughters that Powers notes how her editor grew weary of which stories to cover in the area. It’s rather shocking when one of the most brutal acts of genocide for that decade is treated as business as usual for that region. Wars should not be such a casual occurrence that force editors to decide if the latest killings should be on page eight or no pages at all.

Benjamin B. Ferencz is seen as both the prosecutor during the Nuremberg trials and the spry advocate against genocide at the United Nations. It’s amazing to hear his thoughts on those days of trying Nazi war crimes, but it’s inspiring to see him continue the fight with a hopeful heart. He cheerfully strolls into the United Nations, chatting up ambassadors and passing out informational documents (in addition to candy). At 95 years old, he doesn’t seem very deterred or weary from his goal. He’s very familiar with the tale of the man who watches the sky and let’s it drive his ambition.

Luis Moreno Ocampo and Emmanuel Uwurukundo appear to be working the hardest for the cause. Ocampo, once an outspoken prosecutor of corruption in Argentina, continues the fight as a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court. He was elected unopposed as nobody wanted to take on such a tough position. It’s easy enough to see why when he is grilled by nations for taking on the duties of keeping the brutal dictators and warlords in check. In several interviews with the press, Ocampo is repeatedly asked if his actions will do any good. While Ocampo fight a legal battle, Emmanuel Uwurukundo was trying to provide aid for the refugee camps in Chad. He has a few terrorizing tales to tell about a region plagued by mass extermination where he fears for the lives of his family. He makes sure they’re safe, but continues the dangerous duties of helping those wronged and displaced by ignorance.

All of these segments are divided up and strung together by watercolor illustrations. Simple shapes of people appear on the screen and chillingly disappear from the screen as the talks of death continue. It’s a beautiful method of illustrating the haunting nature of people once existing and then replaced by nothingness. It’s not the least bit surprising that the film won a Sundance award for its animated sequences. Also a worthy accolade was for the editing that takes a wealth of information parses at a perfect pace. This directorial decisions allows the viewer to take in the constant flow of genocide that never seems to stop or relegate itself to a few key incidents.

Still from Watchers of the Sky 2Watchers of the Sky is one of the most important documentaries of the decade for presenting a never-ending crime that should not be ignored or downplayed. There is no clear indication that things will get better. All signs point to genocide becoming worse the way people refer to other races and religions as cockroaches rather than humans. There’s a loss of humanity that must be addressed and must be held accountable as the most serious of offenses. There is no happy ending to this film. It simply reiterates why more awareness and prosecution of genocide needs be given more attention and consideration. The battle must continue as lives must be saved. It is not easy or perhaps even notable work, but it is work that must be done for the good of mankind.

Rated 5 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water Review

Still from The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water 1

SpongeBob Squarepants, despite its demographic, is not for everyone. If its nasally-voiced title character doesn’t drive you mad with his annoying laughter, then the surrealist nature of the manic cartoon format may send you running for the hills. If the cartoon series and previous film adaptation did nothing to garner your grin, Sponge Out of Water won’t sway you over with any new developments. For all its stupidity and weirdness, I have to admit that SpongeBob still manages to make me laugh just for how daring it aims to be when animated films have become more artsy and commercially sound. The team behind this project are either geniuses of animated comedy or kamikaze mavericks of the medium.

The underwater city of Bikini Bottom is once again consumed by the all-powerful secret recipe for Krabby Patties. Life must be pretty drab under the sea if the one bit of glue for its society is a hamburger. When the evil pint-sized Plankton once again attempts to swipe the secret formula from The Krusty Krab, the written secret magically vanishes before his eyes while in a struggle with SpongeBob. With both Plankton and SpongeBob being the last to be seen with the formula, the town turns on them as it descends into apocalyptic anarchy. The two enemies must join forces to recover the lost codex with teamwork – a concept foreign to Plankton who mispronounces it as tee-a-mwork. The villainous culprit of the theft is live-action character Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) who wants the culinary concoction for the menu of his own boat/food truck.

The biggest shortfall of the movie is that it feels like two separate stories with an uneven balance. Many are going into this film expecting its main draw to be a CGI version of the primary characters interacting with the live-action surface world. They will be sorely let down as that section only occupies the last twenty minutes of the picture. This may be a blessing in disguise, however, as the live-action portion is not as strong and essentially turns into a stylized fight/chase sequence. The animation team does their best to make the computer-generated animation just as crazy as the traditional 2D animation, but it still feels somewhat limited in what is presented with turning the characters into superheroes.

The good news is the majority of the film that retains the traditional animation style is absolutely as zany and fun as the standards of the TV show. There are some random, but hilariously well-crafted moments of surrealism and absurdity. Plankton attempts to steal the secret of the formula from SpongeBob’s brain, but it turns out that his psychological playground is a candy-themed dreamscape. It’s an outlook of ignorant innocence for SpongeBob and a nightmare for the likes of Plankton. Though to be fair a talking pair of popsicles mimicking the twins of The Shining would be terrifying for just about anyone. At its core, SpongeBob is all about being playful and kind-hearted, but oblivious to the strangeness of his universe.

Take for example a moment where he and Plankton travel through time to retrieve the recipe. A misstep causes them to visit with the all-powerful watcher of the universe who happens to be an English speaking dolphin named Bubbles and voiced by Matt Berry. When asked by Bubbles to keep any eye on the universe while he goes to the bathroom, SpongeBob doesn’t seem so concerned about who the universe watcher is so much as fixing up a planet that was destroyed on his watch. What is the point of this scene? Much like the hilarious bits of the Monty Python movies, absolutely nothing. It’s mostly just to watch Matt Berry voice a dolphin which the filmmakers get quite a bit of mileage out of.

Still from The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water 2The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is loud, trippy, nonsensical and over-the-top silly. In other words, same old SpongeBob. Children will delight in the film’s goofy sense of simple humor while teenagers and college kids will dig on the bizarre direction. As for the parents who are unwittingly drug to this experience, they’re probably going to be staring in confusion at this odd little animation. Or they’ll join in with the madness by gleefully singing along to the catchy theme song. Writing as a parent, I’ll admit that I was humming the tune.

Rated 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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Top Five Review

Still from Top Five 1

In the opening scene of Top Five, Chris Rock’s character rants to a reporter on the street that nothing has changed in society just because Obama is the President of the United States. To prove his point about racism, he walks out into the city streets of New York City and tries to hail a cab. He shouts while raising his hand about how hysterically backwards it is that a black man can’t get any service in this city. The first cab passes him, but the second one stops on a dime. He sighs at having his point disproven. The world really has changed and so has Chris Rock, but is it a change he can live with?

Semi-autobiographical, Chris Rock plays famed actor/comedian Andre Allen. What was once a grade-A comedian of the most unique calibur has been reduced to a mediocre actor. He tries to star in more dramatic roles, but is best known for his on-screen character Hammy, a cop in a bear suit (or a bear in a cop suit?). Due to the box office success of his dopey character, everyone on the street refers to him as Hammy. There’s even a beer named after the character which especially insulting given that Andre is a recovering alcoholic. Topple on a staged marriage for Bravo along with his new period-piece movie that is destined to fail against Tyler Perry at the weekend box office and his life is an uncontrollable rollercoaster of disappointment.

Approaching the age of fifty with such a career puts in a serious mid-life crisis. He finds himself only being able to open up to New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson). These two hit it off quick with their brutal honesty. They’ve both been through the ringer of jobs they don’t want to do and help programs they don’t want to attend. Sick of all the games and phoney nature of the media, they lay all their cards on the table for each other. Worst sexual experiences and most awful depths of depravity become fair stories for trade. They spend the majority of their interview walking the streets of Manhattan as they let their thoughts flow freely from their mouths.

Dawson helps bring out the true Chris Rock instead of the one hidden behind poorly written movies, endless press interviews, his artificial marriage and even his own family. At one point Rock pretty much pulls down the meta current when he has a bachelor party with Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg all playing themselves. They too are just as savage with their honesty, never cracking any big jokes in front of Rock’s character. Their advice for marriage? Sign a prenup and don’t expect it to last. Outside of those celebrities appearing as themselves, there’s a parade of cameos from the likes of Kevin Hart, JB Smoove and Tracy Morgan among others. Even DMX pops up for one of the silliest moments of his career, attempting to sing another genre of music, but still trapped in his rapping mentality (“What!”).

Wait, did I mention this was a comedy? For all its down portrayal of Chris Rock’s struggle with public identity, it’s incredibly hilarious on multiple levels. It’s smart in how it takes aim at the Hollywood machine that savagely chews up that which it once polishes. It’s goofy in how Andre’s family sling insults back and forth with a captive audience of relatives. It’s also incredibly raunchy in how open both Rock and Dawson are with their sex lives which are anything but expected.

Still from Top Five 2Top Five is a real return to form for Chris Rock in a personal comedy he crafts wonderfully by himself. Capping off the film is Chris Rock delivering stand-up at a club. He’s still got it. He may relay to the peanut galleries of the street that he doesn’t feel funny, but he is funny. Rock just needs the proper avenue to be the comedian everybody wants and needs. This film is proof that he is not only a triple threat as actor/writer/director, but that he can be one of funniest voices in the room if used properly. Whether he turns his career in a different direction at this point is tough to say. Perhaps Top Five says all that needs to be said about his career and what he wants out of it.

Rated 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Mark McPherson,

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