Mini-Reviews: Keeping Up with the Joneses, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Desierto, Ouija: Origin of Evil, & Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the sixth edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, there are more movie reviews than usual. I’ve been a bit behind so this is me making up for lost time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

 

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Director: Greg Mottola

Writer: Michael LeSieur

Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe, Kevin Dunn and Patton Oswalt

Synopsis: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

 

I didn’t think much about the film other than the fact it had a good cast. Ironically, I had that same feeling about Masterminds, which also had Zach Galifianakis, and while Keeping Up with the Joneses was a better movie than Masterminds, the film doesn’t do enough to warrant being a standout action comedy.

The film follows Jeff (Galifianakis) and Karen (Fisher) Gaffney, who quietly live in the suburbs. Karen is an interior designer while Jeff works Human Resources for a big company called MBI. However, the lives get turned upside when their new, and seemingly perfect, new neighbors Tim (Hamm) and Natalie (Gadot) Jones turn out to be spies. When the Joneses come clean, the Gaffney’s ended up being sucked into their mission to stop a deadly plot.

Keeping Up with the Joneses isn’t the best action comedy out, but it certainly isn’t the worst. The cast isn’t that bad and the mismatched casting of Galifianakis and Fisher with Hamm and Gadot actually works, although the bonding scenes and overall chemistry of Galifianakis and Hamm plays out better than Fisher and Gadot. There are some genuine laughs in the film, but overall the film does shoehorn in some jokes that fall completely flat. The film also does rely more on the comedy side of things rather than the action. Although the standout action sequence is a car chase that does feel a bit out of place within the movie, but one that actually works in terms of action.

All in all, the film does have a lot of issues, and while many will probably end up forgetting they watched Keeping Up with the Joneses in a few years, it isn’t completely a waste of time like some will have you believe it is.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

3 out of 5

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Edward Zwick, Richard Wenk, and Marshall Herskovitz

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Madalyn Horcher, and Robert Knepper

Synopsis: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

 

The first Jack Reacher was a pleasant surprise when it came 2012, but when the sequel was announced without director Christopher McQuarrie, fans were, respectfully, disappointed. That being said, the sequel went forward to new director Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond), who worked with Tom Cruise on The Last Samurai. However, the result this time around was not that great.

Never Go Back finds Jack Reacher (Cruise) traveling to Washington D.C. to meet up with Major Susan Turner (Smulders), who he has been talking to recently, and someone who has taken over his old unit. However, when Reacher finally reaches D.C. he finds out that Turner has been arrested for espionage, but something doesn’t feel right to Reacher and he decides to get to the bottom of it. To make things worse, Reacher finds out that there is a paternity suit against him and that he has a 15-year-old daughter named Samantha (Yarosh).

Tom Cruise really wants another franchise, and Jack Reacher could have been it if Never Go Back wasn’t such a mess. Cruise nails the no nonsense, tough guy one-liners, but having Reacher become a potential father doesn’t really fit the character, and at times, slows the movie down trying to make awkward situations where Reacher has to act like a father to Sam – and in some cases have Turner act as a mother. Some of the scenes are funny, but feel out of place next to the Reacher breaking nameless thugs’ bones, and a hitman named The Hunter (Heusinger) killing people that stand in his way.

I’m all for shaking a character up, but we’ve only had one movie with Reacher, and the first one had him as this unstoppable hitting machine that gets the job done. He’s like that here too, but it seems like he’s more tamed down this time around. There is a little more action this time around, although there’s nothing that compares to the chase scene in the first film.

The new cast is a nice addition. Cobie Smulders does the best she can with what they give her, but I kind of wished she was more important to the overall plot. Danika Yarosh as Sam, Reacher’s possible daughter, holds her own with Cruise and Smulders, but she’s sometimes left with being the person that it told to stay back or having to be saved. Patrick Heusinger’s The Hunter is an okay villain, when he’s actually being a villain, and Robert Knepper is severely underused.

All in all, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is an okay movie that happens to be a sequel. Not saying the potential franchise can’t come back, but Never Go Back was a step backwards for the character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

3 out of 5

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Desierto

Director: Jonas Cuaron

Writer: Jonas Cuaron and Mateo Garcia

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Catano, Marco Perez, Oscar Flores and David Lorenzo

Synopsis: A group of people trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States encounter a man who has taken border patrol duties into his own racist hands.

 

Directed by Jonas Cuaron, the son of Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity), Desierto is a timely film about the border of Mexico and the U.S., and while Cuaron does understand the material and issue, he rather follow the dangerous cat-and-mouse game between our leads. It’s not so much a bad thing, but Cuaron is still learning his footing in the directing game. It should also be noted that the names of the characters are never said in the film – only in the credits.

Desierto follows a Mexican man, named Moises in the credits, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who along with a group of Mexican immigrants are coming to cross the border illegally. When the truck they’re in breaks down, they are left to walk the rest of the way in the desert. However, they aren’t alone as a man, named Sam in the credits, played by Jeffrey Dead Morgan finds them and kills most of the group. Moises, along with a few others, are left to survive in the desert against Sam and his dog Tracker.

The film is one of the ultimate cat-and-mouse game films. The majority of the film is Sam chasing down Moises through the desert, which of course, adds a lot of tension since there is not a lot of places to hide there. It’s a hell of a lot harder when you also have a tracking dog and a madman with a rifle chasing you down. The film works best when it’s a thriller of the characters on the run, but it’s once it slows down is when the film starts to show its faults.

It’s not hard to see the political themes, especially this late in the political season. Sam’s truck even has a small confederate flag and once he kills the first group of people he sarcastically says “welcome to the land of the free.” It’s not a bad thing, but Cuaron never fully develops that idea, and chooses to focus on the chase instead.

When it comes the cast, Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dead Morgan fully invest in their characters. Jeffrey Dean Morgan doesn’t go over-the-top like he could have, but he also doesn’t see what he’s doing as wrong. In fact he barely flinches when killing the characters from far away. Gael Garcia Bernal, on the other hand, plays his character pretty straight. He’s trying to survive to make it to his kids, and does something in the film that I didn’t think the film would do. The only other character that gets some more depth is Alondra Hidalgo’s Adela.

The film does lose some steam near the end during the final confrontation between Moises and Sam because Cuaron wanted to keep the camera rolling. I’m not saying it wasn’t bad, but this is what separates him and his father in the director’s category. Although, not many directors are Alfonso Cuaron.

All in all, Desierto isn’t a bad film, but it works better when it’s a cat-and-mouse thriller rather than being a cat-and-mouse political undertone thriller. While Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are on point with their roles, the overall film lacks a certain punch to put it over the top.

Desierto

3 out of 5

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Jane Goldman

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Chris O’Dowd, Rupert Eveertt, Allison Janney, Judi Dench, and Terence Stamp

Synopsis: When Jake discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

 

Based on the novel written by Ransom Riggs – which I haven’t read yet – and directed by Tim Burton, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a movie I was actually looking forward to despite it being directed by Tim Burton. I haven’t been a fan of Burton’s for a while, but it looks like he was returning to form with his X-Men-esque fantasy tale. Also, having never read the book, I’m judging the movie for the movie itself, and not how loyal the film is to the book.

The film follows Jake (Butterfield), who is living in Florida, and wants to do something more in his life. That just happens when his grandfather, Abe (Stamp), passes away supernaturally. Remembering some stories as a child, Jake convinces his reluctant father (O’Dowd) to go to Wales so Jake can get closure on his grandfather’s passing, and maybe find out what really happening, all the while remembering the stories of his grandfather about a woman he once knew called Miss Peregrine (Green). Eventually Jake finds out the stories of his grandfather are not stories at all, and finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that has children with powers of invisibly, floatation, pryokinesis, and other peculiarities. However, Jake finds out that all of them are stuck in September 3rd, 1943. Worse of all, dangerous monsters – known as Hallows – are after them lead by Mr. Barron (Jackson).

The film works best when the fanatical elements are in full swing. When Jake direst arrives at the home and meets everyone, the film is fun. We get to see everyone uses their abilities. Ella Purnell’s Emma is the one we get to know the most as she and Jake spend the most time together, her peculiarity is air and being able to float off the ground. We also meet Olive (McCrostie), who can turn into anything she touches into fire, Hugh (Parker) who is always invisible, Enoch (MacMillan) who has an interesting ability that leads to a surprising and cool sequence near the end of the film. There are twins, Claire (Raffiella Chapman) has a mouth on the back of her head, Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) can project his dreams, Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) can manipulate nature, and Bronwyn (Pixie Davies) is super strong.

It did seem like Miss Peregrine was tailor-made for Burton, and Burton does his usual thing and makes sure that the whimsy never fully gets put in the background. When the film does go off the fantasy element is when the film slows down a bit, but that rarely happens in the film. However, the film does get lost in itself for a bit, which is prone to happen when you have a lot going on. There’s even one plot point bought up that gets completely forgotten about once it’s introduced.

The cast does a great job with everything they were asked to do. Butterfield’s Jake does have a peculiarity that makes sense for the film, and one that makes the film rather suspenseful at one point. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is great to watch. Green brings a levity and grand approach to the children’s guardian. Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron character is, well, Samuel L. Jackson playing a bad guy – minus the swearing. His character is a bit too cheesy at times and just a smidge over-the-top. Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd, and Allison Janney pop in for small roles that don’t really do too much in the film. One casting I couldn’t get over is Kim Dickens, who appears in literally two very short scenes as Jake’s mother.

All in all, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is one of the better Tim Burton films in the recent years. While the film does have some things wrong with it, the cast and whimsy of it all will keep you invested until the end.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

3.5 out of 5

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Ouija: Origin of Evil

Director: Mike Flanagan

Writers: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard

Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas and Parker Mack

Synopsis: In 1965 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their séance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home. When the youngest daughter is overtaken by a merciless spirit, the family confronts unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.

 

A sequel/prequel to the 2014 film, Ouija – which I never saw by the way, and kind of have no intention on seeing to be honest – Origin of Evil, is just that, an origin of the evil Ouija board that causes mayhem to the people that used it.

Ouija: Origin of Evil, set in Los Angeles in 1965, it follows the Zander family in mother Alice (Reaser), eldest daughter Lina (Basso) and youngest daughter Doris (Wilson), who run séance scam, but Alice does think she’s doing good by helping people, even if it’s not really true. Desperate for money, the family adds an Ouija board to shake things up. However, when Doris starts using the board more, strange things start to happen around the family, and eventually the family finds out that Doris has made contact with actual spirits – and they aren’t happy.

Never seeing the first film (although I read what the connection was afterwards), I can only judge the film for what it was, and in part I really enjoyed the film. Origin of Evil keeps a great deal of the focus on the family, making us really care for these characters, and when everything goes to hell at the end, you do feel worried for them. It also helps that the actresses are great, but the highlight and real star of the film is Lulu Wilson, who plays Doris. One scene in particular stands out where the focus is on her and talks about a certain subject that really sticks with you, and despite the subject, I couldn’t help but laugh because it was so uneasy to hear her talk about it.

The film does have some missteps, like a subplot with Henry Thomas’ character Father Tom. The subplot doesn’t really lead anywhere, and while it gives Elizabeth Reaser’s Alice more screen time, it felt shoehorned in. The other thing is the Ouija board. The board, while a huge and really only reason the events of the film takes place, is just hanging out in the background. The film could have probably done without the Ouija board and found a way to introduce the spirits another way.

All in all, Ouija: Origin of Evil handles itself pretty well, as a horror film that also has a solid family story holding it together. While I may not have understood some of the little things that may connect it to the first film, I still really enjoyed it for what it was.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

3.5 out of 5

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October Movie Releases

It is October ladies and gentleman!

This month looks pretty great and, yet again, some early Oscar nominations could come out. Of course, let’s not forget that it is the month of Halloween, so there are some potentially great horror films out this month. But let’s stop talking about them and actually get to them!

Also, Happy Early Halloween!

 

7th

 

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (Comedy – Lionsgate/Participant Media/CBS Films)

Imaginative quiet teenager Rafe Katchadorian (Griffin Gluck) is tired of his middle school’s obsession with the rules at the expense of any and all creativity. Desperate to shake things up, Rafe and his best friends have come up with a plan: break every single rule in the school and let the students run wild. The film also stars Laruen Graham, Isabela Moner, Adam Pally, Thomas Barbusca, Efren Ramirez and Andrew Daly. The film isn’t really targeted toward me, but I’m sure if I was younger this would be up my alley.

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The Girl on the Train (Mystery Drama Thriller – Universal Pictures/DreamWorks/Amblin Entertainment/Reliance Entertainment/Marc Platt Productions)

Based on the best-selling book of the same name, The Girl on the Train follows the story of Rachel (Emily Blunt), who goes on a train to London. She witnesses the “perfect” couple: Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett). But one day, havoc ensues and Rachel becomes involved in their drama and mystery of Megan. I’ve read the book and I can’t wait to see how they bring this to the big screen. Edgar Ramirez, Justin Theroux, Lisa Kurdow, and Allison Janney also star.

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The Birth of a Nation (Historical Drama – Fox Searchlight Pictures/Mandalay Pictures/Bron Studios/Phantom Four/Ting Giant Entertainment)

This film has been making a lot of waves at film festivals and is even considered an Oscar hopeful and favorite. However, recent things have come to light about Nate Parker that may hinder some of the film’s success, but only time will tell. The film follows Nat Turner (played by Nate Parker, who also wrote and directed the film), a former slave in America, who leads a liberation movement in 1831 to free African-Americas in Virginia that results in a violent retaliation from whites. The rest of casts includes Penelope Ann Miller, Aunjanue Ellis, Katie Garfield, Colman Domingo, Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union, Aja Naomi King and Jackie Earle Haley.

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11th

Limited/Short Release: Shin Godzilla/Godzilla Resurgence

The Toho Godzilla is back! The film will be getting a limited and short run here in the States from the 11th to the 18th. So if you want to see the “official Godzilla” on the big screen, here’s your chance.

 

14th

Limited Release: Certain Women

Based on the short stories on Maile Meloy, the lives of three women (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart) intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail. The film also stars Rene Auberjonois, James Le Gros, and Jared Harris.

 

Limited Release: Christine 

The film is based on the true story of 1970s TV reporter Christine Chubbuck, which will be played by Rebecca Hall. I assume many of you will assume what happens in the film based on the trailer or will look it up, but the story of Chubbuck is something I can’t believe I haven’t heard of. The film has a very impressive cast of Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Timothy Simons, J. Smith-Cameron, Maria Dizzia and John Cullum.

 

Limited Release: Desierto 

A group of people trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States encounter a man who has taken up border patrol duties in his own racist hands. The film looks like a strong and powerful film and has strong leads in Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Not only that, the film is being done by the Cuaron father-son duo, Alfonso Cuaron – the director of Gravity – is producing, while his son Jonas Cuaron is directing. Desierto also stars Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Catano, Marco Perez, Oscar Flores and David Lorenzo.

 

Kevin Hart: What Now? (Concert – Universal Pictures)

Another Kevin Hart live concert film, this time from the Philadelphia outdoor venue, Lincoln Financial Field.

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Max Steel (Sci-Fi Action Adventure – Open Road Films/Dolphin Entertainment/Mattel Entertainment/Playground Productions/Ingenious Media)

The adventures of teenager Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) and alien companion Steel (voiced by Josh Brener), who must harness and combine their tremendous new powers to evolve into the turbo-charged superhero Max Steel. The movie has been in the works for a handful of years now, and was even set to be released last year, but got pushed back because it wasn’t ready yet. Now, Max Steel is going to have to kick in it’s marketing into overdrive since the release date was just set in the middle of September, but I’m sure it will probably find it’s audience. The film also stars Maria Bello, Andy Garcia, Ana Villafane, and Mike Doyle.

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The Accountant (Drama – Warner Bros./Electric City Entertainment/Zero Gravity Management)

A forensic accountant (Ben Affleck) un-cooks the books for illicit clients. Directed by Gavin O’Connor, The Accountant stars a star studded cast that also includes Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, J.K. Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow. The film looks rather good – I say like I had anything to do with it – but seeing Affleck playing a badass with a cast like this around him? Nothing wrong with that, right?

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21st

Limited Release: American Pastoral

Ewan McGregor stars and makes his solo directorial debut that is based off Philip Roth’s novel that is set in postwar America, where a man watches his seemingly perfect life fall apart as his daughter’s new political affiliation threatens to destroy their family. The film also stars Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Uzo Aduba, Molly Parker, Rupert Evans, Valorie Curry, and David Strathairn.

 

Limited Release: The Handmaiden

Directed by Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Thirst, Stoker), a woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.

 

Limited Release: In a Valley of Violence

Directed by Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), a mysterious stranger (Ethan Hawke) and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody crosshairs of revenge. The film looks like an interesting blend of genres with Western and comedy. The film also stars John Travolta, Karen Gillan, James Ransone, Taissa Farmiga, and Burn Gorman.

 

Boo! A Madea Halloween (Lionsgate/The Tyler Perry Company)

Tyler Perry brings one of his biggest and most beloved characters in Madea to life again in this horror comedy that sees Madea fighting off the supernatural on Halloween as she tries to keep a group of misbehaving teens safe.

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I’m Not Ashamed (Drama – Pure Flix Entertainment/All Entertainment/Visible Pictures)

Based on the inspiring and powerful true story and journal entries of Rachel Joy Scott (Masey McLain) – the first student killed in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. I don’t know how people will react to this film, but I’m sure there is an audience. The cast is filled with unknown actors and actresses.

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Ouija: Origin of Evil (Horror – Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions/Platinum Dunes/Hasbro/Allspark Pictures)

A prequel to the film that came out in 2014, this film set in 1967 L.A, a widowed mother (Elizabeth Reaser) and her two daughters (Lulu Wilson and Annlise Basso) add a new stunt to bolster their séance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home. When the youngest daughter is overtaken by a merciless spirit, the family confronts unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side. Ouija: Origin of Evil also stars Henry Thomas, Sam Anderson, Doug Jones, and Lin Shaye.

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Keeping Up with the Joneses (Action Comedy – 20th Century Fox/Parkes+MacDonald Image Nation)

A suburban couple (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) are government spies. I didn’t think much about this, but the trailers make it seem like it could be a fun watch. Keeping Up with the Joneses also stars Patton Oswalt, Matt Walsh, and Kevin Dunn.

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Crime Drama – Paramount Pictures/Skydance Productions/TC Productions)

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) returns to the headquarters of his old unit, only to find out an old partner and friend (Cobie Smulders) is accused of espionage. I was surprised by the first Jack Reacher, and although I wasn’t screaming for a sequel, Never Go Back looks pretty damn good. Robert Knepper, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, and Danika Yarosh also star.

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28th

Inferno (Mystery Thriller – Columbia Pictures/Imagine Entertainment)

Based on the continuing book series by Dan Brown, Ron Howard comes back to follows the adventures of Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), who becomes a target of a manhunt and with the help of Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) and his knowledge of symbology, Langdon has to solve a crime, while also trying to escape the manhunt. Inferno does look a little more action-centric than the past films, but Hanks and Howard seem to really enjoy doing these films, so more power to them.  The film also stars Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, and Omar Sy.

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What are you looking forward to?