by Jeff Boam


Opening this week

The LEGO Movie
Voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks
In this PG-rated animated comedy, an ordinary LEGO minifigure mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder (Pratt) is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant (Will Ferrell) from gluing the universe together. The Plus: The vehicle. Someway somehow, they managed to make the mega-selling sets of interconnecting blocks into a motion picture. The jokey cartoon vibe seemed to work well if the trailer is any indication, which showcased tongue-in-cheek LEGO cameos from everybody from Batman to C-3PO to Abraham Lincoln. Here, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have assembled a cast of celebrity pipes including Pratt (Zero Dark Thirty), Banks (Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Will Arnett (Netflix’s Arrested Development), Morgan Freeman (Last Vegas), Ferrell (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), Liam Neeson (Taken 2), Will Forte (Nebraska), Channing Tatum (White House Down), Charlie Day (Pacific Rim), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Dave Franco (21 Jump Street), Alison Brie (NBC’s Community), Jake Johnson (Fox’s New Girl), Colbie Smulders (The Avengers) and Billy Dee Williams (Fanboys) plus countless more. The Minus: The odds. For those industry insiders who think that this toy adaptation can single-handedly save Warner Brothers Animation, here’s one word to the contrary: Battleship.

The Monuments Men
George Clooney, Matt Damon
Having just capped off a year in which he gave a memorable turn in one of the year’s most celebrated and award-winning films (Gravity) and put the finishing touches his latest writing/directing gig, you’d think that George Clooney would rest on his laurels. By George, you must be crazy! Currently, he’s acting in the Disney sci-fi mystery Tomorrowland (due: May, 2015), Brad Bird’s follow-up to Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol. First, however, comes The Monuments Men. In this PG-13-rated historical drama, an unlikely World War II platoon (Clooney, Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray) are tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners. The Plus: The players. Here, Clooney co-writes with Grant Heslov (The Men Who Stare at Goats) and directs a cast that includes Damon (Elysium), Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson), John Goodman (Inside Llewyn Davis), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Hugh Bonneville (PBS’s Downton Abbey) and Bob Balaban (Moonrise Kingdom). The Minus: The odds. Clooney’s passion projects have ended up to be critical darlings before (Good Night, And Good Luck), but they have also ended up with up critical drubbings (Leatherheads). More often than not, they fall somewhere in-between (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Ides of March). The fact that The Monuments Men got bumped from an Oscar-contending December 2013 release to this weekend hints that this historical romp falls into the latter category.


Now Playing

Labor Day
Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin
***1/2 — Thank You for Stoking
Far from being a déjà vexed sequel to Groundhog Day, Jason Reitman instead gives filmgoers a textured and nuanced love story beautifully set against a ‘80s backdrop that’s the furthest thing from laborious. In this PG-13-rated adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s 1987-set novel, a depressed single mom (Winslet) and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man (Brolin) shelter, only to gradually learn his true story as the police close in. If the ‘look’ of Labor Day belies a 30 year-old drama unfettered by modern cynicism, it’s completely intentional. The film mirrors such straight ahead, death-tinged ‘80s coming of age stories as River’s Edge and Stand By Me. It’s the ‘feel,’ however, that truly sets the suspense and emotion on a perpetual simmer. Uncomplicated by modern conveniences such as cell phones and Wi-Fi, the emotion grounds itself in pure character building. Giving the actors so few words to exchange, much of the action falls to body language and unspoken expression, which the brilliant cast — especially delivers to letter perfection. Ironically, so much of director and sometime screenwriter Reitman’s CV is drenched in modern sarcasm and pessimism (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult). That’s what makes Labor Day such an excellent slow-burn. It’s not a simplistic film; it’s an intricately constructed doomed romance masquerading as a simplistic period piece. Unfortunately, by proxy, the photography occasionally brings to mind dated sudsy TV movies more than the modern classics listed above.


That Awkward Moment
Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan
**1/2 — Saps in the City
Graciously more Average than Awkward, this unnecessary Moment nonetheless feels like a rehash of the dozens of other hapless sex comedies that slid down the screen over the last few years even when it’s feigning maturity. In this R-rated comedy, three best friends (Efron, Jordan, Miles Teller) find themselves at the confusing moment in every dating relationship when it’s time to take to take it to the next level or get out while they can. Oh, the cast elevates the material to a minor degree but that’s like saying Porky’s was less sophomoric because it was a period piece. They both end up the same despite trying to see the characters through to some semblance of adulthood. The walk and talks feel like contrived TV character builders, as if That Awkward Moment was being spread out over multiple seasons on pay cable and always under the threat of being cancelled. Middle of the road more than high road or rocky road, it’s just a forgettable Moment in moviegoing. Zac Efron is the modern Robert Wagner. He’s ridiculously handsome and acts his way out of a paper bag to perfectly entertaining effect — not with great award-feting emotional resonance, however. He simply stands and delivers exceedingly well. Miles Teller, however, continues on a sky high trajectory begun with the remake of Footloose. Like co-star Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, Fruitville Station), he exhibits amazing chops for the biz and this genre. First-time writer/director Tom Gormican doesn’t deliver a top shelf name brand product, but his generic bag of chips fares better than most supposed veteran laugh-makers even though it’s simply just empty calories you don’t really need.

I, Frankenstein
Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy
* — Monster Fraud
Stitching together a monstrously bad tale out of classic lit and bathroom reading, hulking bore I, Frankenstein deserves to be hunted down and burned to the ground by angry villagers. In this PG-13-rated adaptation of the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, Frankenstein’s creature (Eckhart) finds himself caught in a centuries old war between two immortal clans. What results is not so much in the tongue-in-cheek style meets substance funny book adaptation Hellboy so much as poor monster mash-ups Underworld and Van Helsing. Only it’s much much worse than those already low standards, dishing out a cliched supernatural actioner that robs from graves not worth turning over. Sadly, the movie wants very badly for some humor … because something this miscalculated has got to be a joke, right?

Ride Along
Ice Cube, Kevin Hart
** —  Flunk the Police
Ridden hard and left for dread, Ice Cube’s latest nearly brings moviegoers along on a straight up bust. Oh, it boasts some laughs, but sometimes makes audiences long for his PG-rated days pulling desk duty in family flicks. In this PG-13-rated comedy, a fast-talking security guard (Hart) joins a hard-nosed cop (Cube) on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying the cop’s sister. The fact that the ridiculously formulaic Ride Along blatantly robs so many cliches from decades old police actioners speaks volumes about the comedy’s entertainment value overall, however. Once you stop shaking your head at the jaw dropping amount of stolen goods being sold as new kicks on screen, you can actually stop to appreciate the occasional yuks. They’re often derived from a recipe too, mind you, but the players bring some mad skills.



Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto
**** — Drugstore Wow, Boy
In this R-rated drama new to DVD and set in late ‘80s Dallas, electrician and reformed ne’er-do-well Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) hustles over the border to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he gets diagnosed with the disease. Buying up awards votes with an emotional Texas-sized tale brimming with emotional Texas-sized performances, membership in this Club offers a lot of truth, tears, and timeliness. Pitting terminally ill Americans against for-profit pill-pushing corporations in a broken-down health care system provides a very modern parable. Oh, it’s not exactly perfect (some of the antagonists come off as caricatures), but some Oscar-worthy turns make up the dividend. Capping off a string of amazing performances (Magic Mike, Mud), Matthew McConaughey delivers his best performance ever and, as of yet, the best male performance of the year. As his business partner, cross-dressing Jared Leto definitely sets the bar high for the supporting category. Director Jean-Marc Valee colors their pestilent world with a winning mix of period detail and immersion into the sadness, sickness and silliness.