‘Central Intelligence’ Review

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Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Writers: Rawson Marshall Thurber, David Stassen, and Ike Barinholtz

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul, Tim Griffin, Timothy John Smith, and Thomas Kretschmann

Synopsis: After he reunited with an old school pal through Facebook, a mild-mannered accountant is lured into the world of international espionage.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

When you put two of the most hardest working men in entertainment together in a movie, things could go wrong, or they could go right. Thankfully, those two hardest working men are Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The two, who have never worked together before, come off like they have known each other for years and just now chose to work together, and while the material for the film is a bit thin, the work these two put onscreen is worth the price of admission alone.

Kevin Hart plays Calvin, the former most popular kid in school nicknamed “The Golden Jet” and voted most likely to succeed, hasn’t lived up to that label as he is now an accountant. With his ten year high school reunion coming up, he tells his wife, and high school sweetheart, Maggie (Nicolet), that he’s not going because he doesn’t want to be asked about his job. However, things get complicated when a former high school loser Robbie Weirdicht, now called Bob Stone, comes back into his life by friending him on Facebook. Robbie isn’t the same though as he’s lost a lot – a lot – of weight and has gotten past the embarrassing incident of getting thrown naked in front of the graduating class during a prep rally. Oh, and is now a CIA agent on the run.

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It should be noted that if anyone other than Johnson and Hart were casted, Central Intelligence probably, and would, have not worked at all. It’s the chemistry between these two that make the film so fun and enjoyable to watch. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to believe that this is the first film that Johnson and Hart have worked on because they play off each other so well. Hart is the more straight-laced persona, as he is pretty much the audience’s surrogate, and reacts to all the craziness the way most of us probably would. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get some great lines to rattle off.

Dwayne Johnson plays a pretty different version of himself than we’ve seen. Despite his massive size and ability to take out a room full of guys, Bob has a goofy sense of humor and even acts a like goof most of the time, all while wearing a fanny pack, and treating Calvin like his hero. Again, it’s a different version of Johnson, who we all see as the tough guy, but here Johnson plays a little more to his comedic strengths which is really cool to watch. Hell, he wears a shirt with unicorns on it for crying out loud!

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The movie does go off the tracks a bit when it tries to bring in the spy elements, not because they don’t work, but because the element isn’t that strong. Bob is in the middle of mysterious purchase of codes that can take down the government that puts him in the crosshairs of Agent Pamela Harris (Ryan). Here is where the film tries to add a mystery element, and while it was nice that the film was trying to separate itself from other action comedies that have been coming out, everything leading up to it and the reveal is a bit underwhelming and falls flat.

All in all, Central Intelligence works mainly because of the chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. The two are great together, and I actually can’t wait to see what the duo will do next (besides the Jumanji remake). The film itself does have its flaws, but when Johnson and Hart are onscreen together, it doesn’t really matter. It’s still a great funny and enjoyable ride.

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Central Intelligence

4 out of 5

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‘Goosebumps’ Review

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Director: Rob Letterman

Writer: Darren Lemke

Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, Halston Sage, and Amy Ryan.

Synopsis: A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R.L. Stine after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

If you’re in the right age range, you probably grew up reading the Goosebumps books like I did. R.L. Stine was a one of my favorite authors growing up and I loved the books, and the TV show. When I first read that they were doing a Goosebumps movie though, I was a little hesitant. What exactly would they bring to the big screen and what kind of approach they would take? The movie has been in the works for years but never reach anything but planning stages. Then I saw Jack Black was cast as R.L. Stine I became reluctant, but now after watching Goosebumps, I can happily say, I was wrong about the film and it was a ton of fun to watch.

Goosebumps follows Zach (Minnette) and his mom Gale (Ryan) as they move to a new town of Madison, Delaware for Gale’s new job of being vice president at Zach’s new school. While Zach tries to adjust to his new life he meets one of his neighbors in Hannah (Rush). The two hit it off right away and spend a night having fun and getting to know each other. However, Hannah is scuttled away by her over-protective father “Mr. Shivers” (Black). The next night, Zach hears scream from Hannah’s house and enlists a friend he met at school in Champ (Lee) to rush over and see what’s going on. Once there, they find a shelf filled with Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine and that they are locked. When Hannah comes in the room and scares them, they accidently open one of the books, which happens to be the abominable snowman (of Pasadena).

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Zach and Champ then find out that Mr. Shivers is indeed R.L. Stine and Hannah is his daughter. Unfortunately, they have little time to breath as Stine’s worst fears have come true: All his creations are set free by the ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Jack Black as well). Zach, Hannah, Champ and Stine now have to work together and save the town from being destroyed.

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The approach of making Stine a character in the movie is pretty clever in the sense that Stine has to face his own creations and fight them to save his own skin, it also makes a little more sense than making multiple films with different characters and storylines or even an anthology film – although that would awesome to see too. Also, the fact that we get to see multiple of Stine’s creations together was the best way to go really. Of course, all his creations are lead by, arguably, Stine’s most popular villain in Slappy, who takes the role of main bad guy in the film. The reasoning behind him taking the big bad role isn’t just for being bad and taking over the world, which they could, but rather revenge on Stine for locking them away.

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Of course, the books were always creepy and scary for some probably, and some of that thankfully carries over to the film. It is a kids movie that is rated PG by the way, so it’s toned down horror. There are some pop-up moments, I’ll admit that one even got me, but even for a kids movie the “horror” moments could please fans of Goosebumps. There’s also a nice mix of old school horror too. There are some nice visuals in the film as well, but some of the CGI does get wonky at times, to point that it does become a bit distracting compared to the other better CG. They also used practical effects, which is welcomed since they could have gone strictly CG, especially for Slappy. Goosebumps is also, surprisingly, more funnier than I thought it would be, and it’s not kid’s movie funny, it is actually genuinely funny with some jokes I wasn’t expecting.

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What makes Goosebumps work though is the cast. The main adult cast of Amy Ryan and Jillian Bell as Gale and Zach’s aunt Lorraine, respectively, have their moments with Bell being more of the standout between the two. Ken Marino pops in as coach, Halston Sage as Champ’s sort love-interest, and Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund as the towns cops that have some funny moments at the beginning of the film. Of course, the big adult cast member is Jack Black as the famous author R.L. Stine. He doe serviceable as Stine, coming off as intense and standoffish at the start toward Zach and everyone else, but opens up a little more especially near the end of the film. However, he does get lost in the shuffle a bit with all the craziness and the focus being on the younger trio.

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Speaking of that, our three main leads are what make this film so fun, enjoyable, and make the biggest impacts in the film. Ryan Lee is a great comic relief and has great comedic timing and plays well off Dylan Minnette and Jack Black. Dylan Minnette, who I’ve only seen in a few things personally, is believable as the lead here and his chemistry with Odeya Rush’s Hannah is spot on. Finally, Odeya Rush’s Hannah is a strong part of the group and isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with her father’s creations.

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There is also an interesting twist in the film that was intriguing to see play out, and the cast handled it pretty well. It’s also something that isn’t just thrown in at the end. Looking back, it was touched on at the beginning of the film very subtly and it actually ties in the whole film together and connects a theme that I won’t spoil here.

All in all, Goosebumps is a lot more fun and enjoyable than I first thought it would be and probably how you thought it would be. It’s a fun family film and while Jack Black may be on all the promotion material, he is the biggest star in the film, besides Slappy, the film belongs to the young cast of Minnette, Rush and Lee. Also, what’s not to like to see some of R.L. Stine’s work come to life?

 

Goosebumps

4 out of 5

‘Bridge of Spies’ Review

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons, Jon Rue, Scott Shepherd, Dakin Matthews, Mikhail Gorevoy, Sebastian Koch, Will Rogers and Amy Ryan

Synopsis: An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The Cold War was an important time in American, and Soviet Union, history. Both sides were at odds with each other and more importantly, both sides wanted information on the other. Steven Spielberg manages to bring some of the mindset to the big screen with his latest film Bridge of Spies, and who better to help him than someone that has proven to give him great work in the past in Tom Hanks. However, Bridges of Spies, which is based on true events, is actually composed as two films in one. One being a courtroom drama and the other being a spy thriller. The two blend together rather well, while also faltering a bit as it tries to handle a bit too much.

While the whole film is set during the height of the Civil War, the first half of Bridges of Spies follows James Donovan, a successful insurance lawyer who is suddenly picked by the government to “defend” a supposed Soviet spy in Rudolf Abel (Rylance). The idea is for Donovan to put on a show for the public and make it looks like Abel is getting a fair trial, even though he will be found guilty. However, Donovan isn’t all that thrilled with the idea since he will become a hated man and not only put himself in danger, but his family’s safety as well. But, to Donovan, there is something about Abel that intrigues him and sees that Abel isn’t really getting a fair shot, so he actually does his best to try and actually do his job much to the chagrin of his co-workers.

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The second half of Bridges of Spies follows the heavily promoted material of Hanks’ Donovan going to Berlin, thanks to the help of the CIA, to discuss and work out a trade for pilot Gary Powers (Stowell), who was shot down, for Abel. Of course, not everything goes as planned and Donovan has to worry about not only making this deal happen, but also getting back home alive.

There is no mistaking that Bridge of Spies belongs to Tom Hanks. Hanks brings his likeability and nice-guy demeanor to Donovan that not only makes his performance work well, and makes us easily root for him, but also enhances the film. Donovan may be a by-the-book kind of guy, but he cares and there are moments where he’s conflicted about doing what’s right and what people are telling him is right. Near the end of the film, he makes a decision based on a new predicament that occurs that is extremely dangerous, and could have had extreme consequences. However, at this point of the film we already know how he will react. It’s great to see, but looking back, you can easily see how dangerous that would have been.

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One of the things that also works extremely well is the relationship and chemistry between Hanks and Mark Rylance. It’s arguably the best working component of the film, and it disappears as Hanks and Rylance don’t share any screen time after the first act of the film. Thankfully, Hanks carries the film, but there is something about the relationship between Hanks and Rylance that makes the film tick and so engaging.

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Rylance is also a standout on his own. The beginning of the film actually follows Rylance’s Abel in a cold – no pun intended – opening as we follow him, and as agents follow him too, doing what seems like a morning routine until he gets a call to pick up something that we, as the audience, know is incriminating. But Rylance doesn’t need to say anything – in fact, he doesn’t say much in terms of dialogue – because he has such an amazing screen presences that it helps not only his character, but the tension going in for the rest of the film.

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However, despite amazing performances by Rylance and Hanks, the rest of the cast get only a few moments to shine, however not all of them work. Austin Stowell’s Gary Powers isn’t as intriguing as Abel, and after his introduction and getting shot down, he disappears with the exception of an integration scene. It’s kind of shame he’s not in the film more since he does play an important part for Hanks’ Donovan. Jesse Plemons also shows up as Powers’ friend and fellow pilot, but there isn’t really much for him to do. Amy Ryan pops in as Mary Donovan, who plays the part of concerned wife, but also somewhat understands why her husband does what he does.

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Dakin Matthews plays Judge Byers during the first half of the film and does a pretty good job and reminds us that during this time of history, even people that are supposed to up hold the law took a side. Scott Shepherd plays CIA agent Hoffman which goes to Berlin with Donovan, and tries to keep Donovan on track that the deal is to make them the trade. Sebastian Koch plays Vogel, a man that Donovan thinks could help him with everything in Berlin, but something to Donovan feels off.

Bridge of Spies does stumble a bit near the middle of the film. A new plot point is introduced that doesn’t really do too much for the film other than give Donovan another obstacle to overcome. There are also a few plot points that a bought up, but never mentioned or even hinted at again as the film progresses. Yes, the film is all about Donovan and his task, but it would have been nice for the film to give some sort of resolution or a mention.

The film, again, really tries to put you in the mindset of the people living in the time. There is even a point in the film where Donovan makes a funny remark about his treatment in a certain place. Speaking of funny, Bridge of Spies has some surprisingly great humor injected into the film that breaks some of the tension and seriousness of the situations.

All in all, Bridge of Spies has a lot going on, and while most of it works, the missteps make it from being an even greater film. Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance’s chemistry makes the film pop and is the arguably the better part of the film, but make no mistake in saying that this film belongs to Hanks.

Bridge of Spies

4 out of 5