Mini-Reviews: Masterminds, Deepwater Horizon, Storks, & The Girl on the Train

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the third edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Masterminds

Director: Jared Hess

Writers: Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Emily Spivey

Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Ken Marino, and Jon Daly

Synopsis: A guard at an armored car company in the Southern U.S. organizes on of the biggest bank heists in American history. Based on the October 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery.

 

Yes, Masterminds is based on a true story. Of course, I’m sure the film takes some liberties, but for the most part the film tells the story of David Ghantt (Galifianakis), an armored car guard at Loomis Fargo who wants to do more in his life. He gets the chance when his co-worker Kelly (Wiig), under orders of the town small-town criminal Steve (Wilson), convinces him to rob Loomis Fargo. David, of course does it thinking he has a chance with Kelly, even though he’s engaged to Jandice (McKinnon). The good news is that David gets it done and is convinced to go down to Mexico to hide out, the bad news is that the FBI is on to him and Steve wants to cut loose ends.

Masterminds was set to come out two years ago, until it got pushed back to this year, and even then its release was in question thanks to Relativity Media’s bankruptcy. It also didn’t help that the film had a pretty descent cast, so it’s a shame that after all this, the film didn’t turn out as good as it could have been. I will say it does seem hard to make a comedy based on a true story, since you can’t really force funny moments in true stories, but if you have the right cast I assume you could. Masterminds is sadly not one of those.

I will say I’m not a huge fan of Zach Galifianakis, but he does okay here as a somewhat lovable and gullible David, who gets fooled into robbing $17 million. Kristen Wiig is reliable as always, and is arguably the heart of the film. Owen Wilson has his small moments, but doesn’t stand out as much as Jason Sudeikis’ hitman character Mike McKinney. His part of the film is rather odd, and at times will probably make you cringe-laugh, but he goes all in for this. Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are put on the backburner for the most part. Jones plays a detective for the FBI hunting down David, while McKinnon plays David’s soon-to-be wife Jandice as an odd and cliché trailer park women, who has only one big moment.

All in all, Masterminds is a wasted opportunity to let all these great comedic actors to cut loose. There are some genuine funny moments in the film, but overall Masterminds fails to really connect, and make you laugh the way I think they thought it would.

Masterminds

2.5 out of 5

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Deepwater Horizon

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, Douglas M. Griffin, James DuMont, Joe Chrest, Gina Rodriguez, J.D Evermore, Ethan Suplee, Dylan O’Brien and John Malkovich

Synopsis: A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster when the offshore drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

 

Peter Berg has become a “based on a true story” film master. Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor, the upcoming Patriots Day – based on the Boston Marathon bombing – and this. Berg has a way to really make the people in those films more important than the event itself sometimes, and Deepwater Horizon is another prime example of that. Not only that, he makes the film feel like a horror film at times, which is what the people onboard the actual rig probably felt like they were in on that fateful day.

The film mostly follows the Deepwater Horizon rig’s chief electrical technician Mike Williams (Wahlberg) and installation manager Jimmy Harrell (Russell) or Captain Jimmy as the crew calls him, on the day they arrive on the Deepwater Horizon along with a few BP company men and control room operator Andrea Fleytas (Rodriguez). However, when they arrive they find out that BP management, lead by Donald Vidrine (Malkovich) on the rig, want the crew to start drilling right away because they are behind schedule. Of course, Mike and Jimmy aren’t having any of it because the safety of the crew is at risk, Mike lets them know that the rig isn’t running at one-hundred percent, but Vidrine pushes them and they start drilling. What follows is the Deepwater Horizon suffering massive failure and an explosion that sets the rig up in flames. The crew then tries to survive and escape the rig at all costs.

Berg does a great job of setting everything up. He even goes into the technical side of things even though he probably knows not all the audience is going to know what the hell they’re talking about – we can get the gist considering we know what happens and they make it sound pretty bad. We also get a descent sense of these characters, so when the rig goes up in flames we care for these characters. And while most films would tip-toe around the situation, Berg tackles it head-on and does lay some – arguably all – of the blame on BP for forcing the rig workers to keep going.

The other great thing Berg does is make us, essentially, part of the crew. When the Deepwater Horizon goes up in flames, you can feel the horror that these men went through. This isn’t your typical escapist disaster film, this was a man-made disaster that isn’t filled with your typical Hollywood hero. Wahlberg or Russell don’t make big speech to comfort everyone, they get hurt and are equally affected by the rig explosion like everyone else. 11 men lost their lives that night, and the way Berg makes the event look, it’s almost hard to believe that not more people died.

The cast holds their own. Wahlberg gives one of his finest performances to date, and one that pays off at the end. I know Wahlberg may make people think of the film a certain way, but when he’s given the right material with a great director like Berg, he always turns in a great performance. Russell is as reliable as ever, Gina Rodriguez and Dylan O’Brien have their moments, but are scattered throughout the film and only really pick up during the events of the explosion. Finally, Malkovich seems to be enjoying himself playing a sleazy BP official, and while maybe that’s not how the real life Vidrine was, it does give us the general idea of greed and not caring about the consequences.

All in all, Deepwater Horizon is a very effective thriller that sometimes feels like a horror movie. Peter Berg knows exactly what to show and what kind of story he wants to tell, and instead of focusing on the oil spill – which got the most attention in the news – this highlights the people actually onboard the rig. I’ll even admit that by the end of this film, I was in tears. Something not a lot of films can make me do, and make me admit.

Deepwater Horizon

4.5 out of 5

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Storks

Director: Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland

Writer: Nicholas Stoller

Voice Cast: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Anton Starkman, Ty Burrell, Jennifer Aniston, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Stephen Kramer Glickman and Danny Trejo

Synopsis: Storks have moved on from delivering babies to packages. But when an order for a baby appears, the best delivery stork must scramble to fix the error by delivering the baby.

 

I didn’t really expect anything from Storks when I first read about it. However, that all changed when I watched the film, because I really liked Storks. The film follows Junior (Samberg), who works at Cornerstore.com which is where storks now deliver packages instead of babies because delivering babies became too much of a problem. Junior is not in line for a promotion from his boss Hunter (Grammer), but before he can take the position he has to do one thing: fire the only human worker at Cornerstone, Tulip (Crown). Junior doesn’t really do so and instead puts her in a building by herself.

However, that only complicates matters as Tulip gets a letter from Nate Gardner (Starkman) who wants a sibling, and accidentally makes one. Junior already thinking he’d be in trouble with Hunter decides to deliver the baby on his own with Tulip tagging along. Of course, a grand adventure ensues.

I had a lot of fun with this movie more than I thought I would. The film never loses steam and the jokes are top notch, so much so that I was still smiling or laughing way after they were delivered. The stories are also very touching. On one end you have the human story of Nate, an only child, who wants a sibling to play with because his parents (voiced by Burrell and Aniston) are always busy with their real estate business. On the other end you have the two stories of Junior wanting to be more than a delivery man, and Tulip trying to find her own place in the world, and wanting to really help. The two stories perfectly blend together near the end that makes the finale all the more touching and heartwarming.

The rest of the voice cast is filled with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele playing Alpha and Beta Wolf, who are one of the many highlights of the film, and Danny Trejo as Jasper, a stork that comes into play in the second half of the film. Finally, another highlight of the film is Stephen Kramer Glickman as Pigeon Toady, who will leave you laughing for sure.

All in all, Storks is a ton of fun that takes a while to bring its core theme out, but the ride is so much fun that it doesn’t matter. Storks will leave you laughing out loud and leave you wanting a bit more.

Storks

4.5 out of 5

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The Girl on the Train

Director: Tate Taylor

Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson

Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon, Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow

Synopsis: A divorcee becomes entangled in a missing persons investigation that promises to send shockwaves throughout her life.

 

Based on the popular and one of the fast-selling novels of all time by Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train is being labeled as the possible next Gone Girl. A comparison that doesn’t really help any film since Gone Girl was vastly different animal that some people haven’t seen before. While the film does show shades of that, The Girl on the Train is a completely different animal altogether that is a less effective thriller and drama than Gone Girl.

The Girl on the Train follows alcoholic and divorced Rachel (Blunt) who rides the train every morning. During her rides, she always stops and spots the house of a couple who she doesn’t know but pretends to give them names and jobs. However, one day the woman, Megan (Bennett), ends up going missing and the day she did she noticed Megan with another man. What follows is Rachel trying to figure out what happened to a woman she’s made an unnatural connection to, but her obsession also becomes a problem for her ex-husband Tom (Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Ferguson), who she has been harassing them.

Going more into detail will probably lead me into spoiler territory which is something that I obviously don’t want to do. The film does jump back in time – a few months – so we get enough scenes with Haley Bennett’s Megan before she goes missing. The film also spends some time with Rebecca Ferguson’s Anna, who shines more near the end of the film than in the beginning. All that said though, this movie belongs to Emily Blunt. I’m okay with saying Blunt is one of the best actresses working today, and this film proves it. The rest of the cast, while they have their moments, kind of fall to the wayside. Edgar Ramirez and Laura Prepon are underutilized, especially Prepon, and Allison Janney, while her character was meant to only be small, would have been nice to see more of her.

The characters are probably going to make some people not like the film. There are times when you probably want to go into the screen and smack one of them around, which is what makes the film a little more relatable – to the characters anyway. It also helps that these characters are in the thriller genre, so their actions will make us question where they fall in line to the case. Although, there are times when the film gets bogged down in its own drama.

All in all, The Girl on the Train is held together by Emily Blunt’s great performance, along with Haley Bennett. The film gets bogged down a bit by its own drama, and while some things from the book don’t carry over, they make up for it by telling their own story. The Girl on the Train isn’t the next Gone Girl, but its effective while watching.

The Girl on the Train

3.5 out of 5

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‘The Book of Life’ Review

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Dir: Jorge R. Gutierrez

Cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Pearlman, Christina Applegate, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, and Ice Cube

Synopsis: Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears

 

 

 

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

 

 

The Book of Life is a great tribute to Mexican culture and its Day of the Dead (which the movie was originally going to be called) celebration – I’m not going to say holiday because it seems off to me. But who better to bring the culture to the big screen than producer Guillermo del Toro and first time director Jorge R. Gutierrez.

 

The movie start with a group of detention kids who end up taking a trip to the museum and find their tour guide (voiced by Applegate) that relates the story of the movie to them while also giving them, and the audience, a lesson in Mexican traditions.

 

The Book of Life follows three childhood friends – Manolo (Luna), Maria (Saldana) and Joaquin (Tatum) – who are caught in a love triangle end up becoming the subject of a wager between La Muerte (del Castillo), who oversees the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. If Manolo, La Muerte’s champion wins Maria’s hand in marriage, Xibalba must stop interfering in human affairs, but if Xibalba’s champion of Joaquin wins then he gets to rule both worlds.

 

After the three do something that could have harmed the people of the town, Maria is sent away by her father and leaves Manolo and Joaquin to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Joaquin’s late father was a great soldier that protected the town from a deadly outlaw, while Manolo hails from a long line of famous bullfighters, but proves to be a disappointment to his father (voiced by Elizondo) because he can’t kill the bull and would rather be a singer.

 

Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Manolo (Diego Luna)

Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Manolo (Diego Luna)

 

Of course, Maria returns to town many years later and Manolo and Joaquin go back to fighting for her heart. Manolo’s attempts eventually lead to the heavy advertised journey to the Land of the Remembered – with all you eat churros! – and where Manolo meets his ancestors and of course learns valuable lessons.

 

Zoe Saldana as Maria

Zoe Saldana as Maria

 

I will admit, I didn’t think the movie would be as good as it turned out. The Book of Life has a lot of humor for adults and kids and is visually amazing to look at. The team really did a great job of making every setting having its own unique look and feel to it. The Land of the Remembered is easily the best looking setting in the movie with all the vivid and bright colors that pop in every corner. The animation might throw some people off but wooden look to the characters when they are in the town as opposed to the skeleton look in the other worlds is handled in an effective way.

 

While visually the movie is great to see, its plot does feel pretty predictable with two guys in love with same woman. But it’s the way the story is told that is important and luckily the movie is engaging and the characters are endearing and funny. Diego Luna really makes us root for Manolo. Channing Tatum gives Joaquin a goofball/showoff quality that thankfully doesn’t make you hate him, but also makes you feel for him consider who his father was. Zoe Saldana’s Maria isn’t really a damsel-in-distress, as she shows throughout the movie that she can take care of herself.

 

While they are the main focus of the movie, the relationship between La Muerte and Xibalba is, arguably, a bit more interesting. Del Castillo and Pearlman sound like they are having a lot of fun playing the characters. While in theory Xibalba, and maybe even La Muerte since her name is Death, they are villains, they have these really sweet moments together and don’t act like villains at all. I’d have to say one of the weakest voice casting is Ice Cube as the Candle Maker. Nothing against Ice Cube, because he does have some fun/funny moments, it just feels like they casted him to a have another “celebrity” voice against the mostly Hispanic cast.

 

La Muerte and Xibalba

La Muerte and Xibalba

 

The rest of the voice cast that includes Hector Elizondo as Manolo’s father, Danny Trejo as Manolo’s grandfather, and Gabriel Iglesias and Cheech Marin as mariachis do their part and have some great moments as the supporting cast.

 

Since the movie is based around The Day of the Dead, it does address the meaning of it and does deal with the death of loved ones which some – if not all – Hollywood kids movies avoid. The other great thing the movie does is it takes modern songs and adds a mariachi flare to them (I think you won’t hear “Creep” by Radiohead the same again). Some of the songs – like Creep – add to the tone of the scenes, but some others add to the humor of the film.

 

All in all, The Book of Life is a ton of fun to watch. The Day of the Dead aspect of the movie is great to see on the big screen and done with respect.

 

 

The Book of Life

5 out of 5

‘Machete Kills’ Review

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Dir: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Danny Trejo, Demain Bichir, Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlie Sheen, and Mel Gibson

Synopsis: The U.S. government recruits Machete to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer who looks to launch a weapon into space

 

*Reviewer Note: This is a non-spoiler review*   

 

Who knew that a fake trailer in Grindhouse would lead to an actual movie, I’m sorry movies. Robert Rodriguez comes back to direct this more over-the-top and ridiculous, and I do mean that, installment to his now famous Machete character. Unlike the first movie Machete Kills tries to hide its social commentary a little more and instead just wants to you enjoy the ride. Also, in a fun little twist the movie kicks off with a fake trailer that seems like nothing at first but pay attention and you’ll see how important it is.

Machete gets summoned to the White House by the President himself, played by Carlos Eztevez aka Charlie Sheen, to stop a Mexican revolutionary that has lost his mind, turned terrorist, and has a missile aimed directly at Washington. Of course, Machete is the only man who can save world. He makes his way to Acapulco, causes chaos, kills a few ton of bad guys and finds out there’s a lot more going on than what he thought.

Sheen surprisingly doesn’t go over the top playing the President as one might expect but he sure is enjoying himself; even casting a certain someone playing one of his top secret service agents. The rest of the cameo cast also had their moments, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas and Lady Gaga play their very small roles well enough but they never really amount to anything other than a cool concept.

Sofia Vergara gives what may be the most over-the-top performance of the year as Madame Desdamona, owner of brothel, and some interesting weapon choices (even a throwback to Rodriguez previous work). She always has a group of her “girls” with her that include an all grown up and former Rodriguez Spy Kids alumni Alexa Vega. Amber Heard plays Miss San Antonio, a beauty pageant queen who doubles as the handler for Machete

Mel Gibson plays are main bad guy, for the first time in his career, Voz who is a billionaire that may be a little to into science fiction and may, and does, come off as a bit mad. Gibson even kind of pokes fun at himself here and there which is nice to see.

But as with the first Machete, the film belongs to Danny Trejo. As ever he’s a man of few words, but Trejo doesn’t need dialogue to convey his meaning; his eyes hugely expressive – most notably during a scene in which he’s hanging from a noose – and his actions oftentimes speaking louder than words for this larger-than-life character.

Of course like almost every Rodriguez movie the tones jump around which some will find a bit annoying but it keeps everyone on their toes and does slow the movie down just a bit. That being said, when you finally get to the third act it just feels like its run out of steam but also changes the genre completely. Is it for the better? Well that for you to decide.

Some might feel a bit cheated by the ending but considering what Rodriguez did in the beginning in the movie and even saying he wanted to make this a trilogy (in the first movie!) people shouldn’t be surprised.

All in all, Machete Kills is a little more “silly” (the two movies are suppose to be) than the first and maybe for the better. With over-the-top action, humor, and a pretty big cast Machete Kills is just one of those movies you need to sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

Machete Kills

4 out of 5