Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tomorrowland, Terminator: Genisys, Vacation, American Ultra (all 2015) and more…

Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland (2015) is a fascinating throwback Disney fantasy, one that uses wide-eyed optimism and wonder as its badge, versus the parade of gritty fantasy movies clogging cinemas. The plot: A teen (Britt Robertson) is given a pin that can transport her when touched and the object sets her off to find a recluse inventor (George Clooney). No more details. Yes, the Tomorrowland theme-park ride figures, as do robots, Tesla, and the Eiffel Tower. The movie has a fun kick. But problems galore: Cooney is miscast as a guy who hasn’t left his farm in years, but looks like a Hollywood spa’s MVP. The opening shots have him gabbing endlessly into the camera. That grinds. More so, the plot could have used streamlining to bounce rather than crawl. Story resets vibe like time killers, rather than misadventure lessons. Props to Bird for doing something different, though, and putting young females in the drivers’ seat. B

Left Behind (2014) is the second telling of the Jesus Returns book series that was everywhere during the 1990s. It’s as awful as the 1994 Kirk Cameron vehicle. No. This is worse. Nicolas Cage (!!) plays Rayford Steele (!!), America’s Greatest Pilot, on his way to London and a U2 concert with a Slut Stewardess. Jesus snaps His magic fingers, and all believers and children vanish. The Left Behind go whack. So much is wrong with this shit, it’s bewildering. What kills me: “Left Behind” seems made by wealthy bigoted white American Christians for wealthy bigoted white American Christians. The GOP elite. The people Jesus visited: The poor, criminal, outcasts… none are here. They are background extras, running in panic. Not worth our attention. Or God's. The one black female? Goes gun crazy on an airplane. Bigotry and conservatism together? Shocker. The fate of that U2 concert is more important than those Christ so loved. Goddamn this movie. F

Midway through Terminator: Genisys (2015), a school bus flips a somersault on the Golden Gate Bridge. Why? Because the CGI special effects studio guys said they could animate it. Divorced of any suspense or remote logic, the spectacle of James Cameron’s 1984 classic is fast becoming a faint, lost memory. Our leads in this time-warp sequel/reboot/snore are Jai Courtney (“A Good Day to Die Hard”) and Emelia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) as the same heroes from the original. They have no chemistry or intensity. They are voids. Hamilton and Biehn killed in the original. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears, and every time Clarke calls him “Pops,” my geek soul died. C-

Vacation (2015) is another reboot/sequel that casts Rusty Griswald (Ed Helms) as the bumbling dad in place of Clark (Chevy Chase), trying to get cross country with wife and kids. Mayhem ensues. Chase and Beverly D’Angelo appear. It’s not terrible, it’s not memorable, if you love penis jokes, enjoy. The prior films are name dropped in a fourth-wall busting opener. Seen the trailer? That’s all. B-

Seven Days in May (1964) comes from John Frankenheimer, my favorite director. This is another of his paranoid thrillers, but does not pack the same punch –- the whole ending is a long lecture -– yet the story resonates. A Pentagon lawyer (Kirk Douglas) suspects his boss (Burt Lancaster) of plotting to overthrow the White House in a War Hawk move meant to push war with Russia to the Kill ’Em All point. Look, I love Frankenheimer, but Douglas’ flat hero pales next to Lancaster’s evil demigod. A slight dip for John F. B+

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart re-team from “Adventureland” in American Ultra (2015), a stoner Jason Bourne comedy with Eisenberg as a slug with a mind-wiped CIA past, and Stewart as his devoted girlfriend. This is a ridiculous flick made for potheads, but a bust –- a plot twist comes as the lamest reveal outside of the crap in “Terminator: Genisys.” Props, though, to Eisenberg and Stewart’s unbeatable chemistry. C+

Desk Set (1957) teams perfect co-stars/couple Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in a workplace comedy that plays goofy tricks with a “super calculator” as a 50-years early precursor to the Internet, daring to replace research staffers. It’s dated, but that very fact is perfect. I laughed so damn hard. A-

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