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Mini Reviews (March 2016)

Zootopia, London Has Fallen, Of Mind and Music, The Corpse of Anna Fritz, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Glitch, Traitor, The Brothers Grimsby, Hot to Trot, Madoff, The Gallows, The Bronze, Moving

Zootopia (March 1/16)

An affable yet forgettable Disney effort, Zootopia follows rookie bunny cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) as she's forced to team up with a con-artist fox (Jason Bateman's Nick Wilde) to uncover a massive conspiracy. It's perhaps not surprising to note that Zootopia boasts an absolutely jaw-dropping visual sensibility, as filmmakers Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush have suffused the movie's anthropomorphic-animal landscape with a bright, vibrant feel that's perpetuated by, at the outset, a blistering pace and surfeit of engrossing sequences (including, in terms of the latter, an absolutely captivating chase through a tiny rodent town and a vist to a DMV office run entirely by slow-as-molasses sloths). The impressively energetic and creative vibe persists right up until around the movie's midsection, with Zootopia, past that point, concerning itself with Judy and Nick's investigation to an extent that eventually becomes oppressive and repetitive - with the progressively less-than-involving vibe ensuring that the third act simply doesn't fare all that well. (It doesn't help, certainly, that the movie runs an overlong 108 minutes.) It's this pervasively erratic atmosphere that confirms Zootopia's place as a decidedly middle-of-the-road Disney effort, although, to be fair, it's worth noting that the movie ultimately makes a more positive impact than some of Pixar's more recent endeavors.

out of

London Has Fallen (March 2/16)

Set three years after the events of Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen follows secret service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) as he must once again spring into action after the president (Aaron Eckhart's Benjamin Asher) is abducted by ruthless terrorists. It's ultimately rather impressive just how closely Olympus Has Fallen and now London Has Fallen hew to one another in terms of quality and entertainment value, as the two films share a decidedly erratic atmosphere that's reflected in their stellar opening stretches and middling, mediocre midsections. Though it takes a while to get going, London Has Fallen boasts a spectacular (albeit cheap-looking) sequence revolving around the execution of several world leaders at a London-based funeral - with the effectiveness of this interlude (which also includes a car chase!) unfortunately not indicative of everything that ultimately follows. The movie, like its predecessor, progresses into a second act consisting mostly of Butler's character's surreptitious, murderous antics within a myriad of hopelessly dark environments, and it is, as a result, not surprising to note that one's interest begins to dwindle on a progressively pronounced basis - with the gleefully over-the-top final stretch subsequently unable to pack the exciting, visceral punch that's clearly been intended. Still, London Has Fallen contains enough unapologetically broad thrills to warrant a mild recommendation and it is, of course, impossible to go wrong with a film in which the central villain is described as being "responsible for more deaths than the plague."

out of

Of Mind and Music (March 3/16)

Based on a true story, Of Mind and Music follows neuroscientist Alvaro Cruz (Joaquim de Almeida) as he attempts to get over the recent death of his Alzheimer's-afflicted mother by spending time in and around New Orleans' jazz-infused environs. It's there that he encounters an elderly street musician named Una Vida (Aunjanue Ellis) and her partner (Bill Cobbs' Stompleg), with the movie subsequently detailing Alvaro's attempts at helping Una Vida fight the dimentia that's slowly-but-surely consuming her mind. It's a solid premise that's employed to less-than-engrossing effect by filmmaker Richie Adams, as the director's decision to infuse the proceedings with as deliberate a pace as one could possibly envision ultimately proves disastrous - with the viewer's ongoing efforts at embracing either the characters or the material consequently falling flat. And while the languid execution certainly mirrors the laid-back New Orleans atmosphere, Of Mind and Music's hands-off feel ensures that the emotional revelations contained within its final stretch aren't able to pack the heartbreaking punch Adams' has surely intended - which, despite a surfeit of stellar performances, confirms the movie's place as a well-intentioned yet wholly ineffective true-life drama.

out of

The Corpse of Anna Fritz (March 8/16)

The Corpse of Anna Fritz follows three friends (Cristian Valencia's Iván, Albert Carbó's Pau, and Bernat Saumell's Javi) as they sneak into a hospital morgue and discover the recently-deceased body of a famous actress (Alba Ribas' Anna Fritz), with the revelation that the title character is actually still alive putting quite the damper on the guys' rather illicit plans for the evening. It's as unique a premise as one can easily recall and yet The Corpse of Anna Fritz remains unable to wholeheartedly capture one's interest for the duration of its brief running time, as filmmaker Hèctor Hernández Vicens generally struggles to justify the movie's feature-length treatment - which manifests itself in an often unreasonably deliberate pace and smattering of time-wasting sequences and interludes. (There is, for example, an interminable scene wherein Ribas' resurrected figure attempts to crawl her way to safety.) Vicens' filmed-play approach exacerbates the less-than-engrossing vibe, to be sure, although it's admittedly worth noting that The Corpse of Anna Fritz is quite well made and the various performances are all much better than one might've expected. It does seem, ultimately, that Vicens and coscreenwriter Isaac P. Creus are relying mostly on the admittedly risque setup to carry the proceedings, and there's little doubt that The Corpse of Anna Fritz isn't, for the most part, able to make the grim, suspenseful impact that one might've anticipated.

out of

10 Cloverfield Lane (March 10/16)

A sequel to 2008's Cloverfield (but not really), 10 Cloverfield Lane follows Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Michelle as she crashes her car one fateful night and subsequently awakens chained to a bed inside a bunker - with the movie detailing the relationship that eventually forms between Michelle, her captor (John Goodman's Howard), and another man in the bunker (John Gallagher Jr's Emmett). Filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg, working from Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle's screenplay, has infused 10 Cloverfield Lane with an slow-burn, intensely cinematic feel that couldn't be further away from its predecessor's fast-paced and relentlessly jittery sensibilities, with the movie's deliberate atmosphere, in its first half, emphasizing character development over any overt instances of suspense or radical narrative shifts. It's a strategy that admittedly does test the viewer's patience on a sporadic basis, with the movie containing a number of long stretches in which the three characters attempt to adjust to their cramped, uncomfortable circumstances. Some of these interludes are far from enthralling, admittedly, and yet it's worth noting that even during its more obviously subdued moments 10 Cloverfield Lane manages to effectively hold the viewer's interest - with the absolutely flawless performances by the three leads going a long way towards keeping things interesting throughout. The movie's shift from agreeable to engrossing comes at around the one-hour mark, however, as the narrative adopts a far more urgent feel that's reflected in a variety of almost unbearably tense sequences - with the final 20 minutes or so packing an especially impressive edge-of-your-seat punch. And although the ending needlessly leaves the door wide open for a sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane ultimately establishes itself as one of the most effective and downright creepy thrillers to come around in quite some time. (It's a shame, though, that the film's title essentially acts as a huge spoiler.)

out of

Glitch (March 12/16)

Glitch casts Lucas Neff as Will, an affable game developer who finds himself falling for a pretty barista named Sophie (Maiara Walsh) - with Will's intentions for romance quashed by the discovery that Sophie's been in a three-year relationship with successful lawyer Keith (Levi Fiehler). Will nevertheless begins seeing Sophie on an almost daily basis as a friend only, despite the fact that Keith is assisting Will and his business partner (Blake Silver's Harper) with their case against a game-stealing corporation. There is, unfortunately, exceedingly little within Glitch that actually works, with the hackneyed setup paving the way for an often unbearably slow romantic comedy that's devoid of production values and momentum. In terms of the latter, the movie suffers from a midsection that seems to consist entirely of pointless, meandering sequences designed to pad out the running time - with the most obvious example of this an interminable scene concerning Will and Sophie's efforts at consoling a random crying girl. It doesn't help, either, that one's efforts at rooting for Will and Sophie to get together is thwarted by the behavior of Neff's character, as his continuing attempts at getting closer to Sophie, despite the presence of her not-a-douchebag boyfriend, come off as desperate, gross, and thoroughly icky. By the time the eye-rollingly sentimental final stretch rolls around, Glitch has completely confirmed its place as an amateurish and consistently underwhelming romcom that's lacking in both romance and comedy.

out of

Traitor (March 12/16)

Based on an idea by Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Steve Martin (!), Traitor follows FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) as he becomes convinced that a former Special Operations officer (Don Cheadle's Samir) is the key figure in a massive terrorism plot. There's nothing especially groundbreaking about Traitor - the film often feels like Homeland: The Movie - and yet one can't help but embrace the slow-moving narrative to an increasingly palpable degree. It's clear that the authenticity with which writer/director Nachmanoff has infused the proceedings plays a major role in its mild success, although, by that same token, there's little doubt that Traitor suffers from a number of somewhat less-than-engrossing stretches (ie much of the movie is focused on the minutia of the characters' endeavors). The inclusion of several gripping sequences (eg a fairly riveting prison break) goes a long way towards buoying one's interest during the film's erratic first half, and there's little doubt that Traitor, armed with an impressively unexpected mid-movie twist, grows more and more absorbing as it progresses into its intense third act. And while the film does peter out somewhat as it approaches its low-key finale, Traitor nevertheless does a nice job of balancing its character-study and high-octane thriller elements - with Cheadle's typically superb turn as the conflicted central character elevating the movie on an ongoing basis.

out of

The Brothers Grimsby (March 13/16)

A typically erratic Sacha Baron Cohen comedy, The Brothers Grimsby follows Baron Cohen's Nobby, a less-than-bright football enthusiast, as he's reunited with his long lost brother (Mark Strong's Sebastian) and subsequently embroiled in Sebastian's efforts to thwart a global terrorism plot. There's really not a whole lot contained within The Brothers Grimsby worth getting excited about, as the movie remains pitched at the level of a barely-adequate timekiller for the duration of its mercifully brief running time - with the mediocre atmosphere perpetuated by an almost total lack of genuine belly laughs. (It certainly doesn't help that the film has been suffused with a number of misguided, unfunny sketches, including a grim and downright cringeworthy sequence involving Nobby and Sebastian's efforts to hide amongst a herd of elephants.) Filmmaker Louis Leterrier's typically frenetic approach ensures that the movie possesses a curiously slapdash feel, with Baron Cohen's penchant for improvisation essentially heightening the movie's less-than-polished atmosphere. There's little doubt, then, that The Brothers Grimsby's extremely mild success is due mostly to Baron Cohen's enthusiastic performance and a smattering of chuckle-worthy lines and interludes, and it is, in the end, clear that the movie falls right in line with Baron Cohen's relentlessly middling run of less-than-brilliant comedies (eg Bruno, The Dictator, etc, etc).

out of

Hot to Trot (March 14/16)

A justifiably notorious bomb, Hot to Trot follows Bobcat Goldthwait's Fred P. Chaney as he begins receiving valuable stock tips from a talking horse (voiced by John Candy) - much to the chagrin of Fred's evil, duplicitous stepfather (Dabney Coleman's Walter Sawyer). Hot to Trot is a high-concept comedy that never manages to live up to the potential of its broadly-conceived premise, as filmmaker Michael Dinner, for the most part, emphasizes eye-rolling instances of comedy over fairly important elements like character development and momentum - which ensures, naturally, that the whole thing remains unable to even fleetingly grab the viewer's interest. It's clear, too, that star Goldthwait's high-pitched, screechy shtick absolutely does not work in the context of a leading man, as the actor, who can be extremely funny in small doses, delivers a performance that quickly becomes the cinematic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. The rampant silliness of Stephen Neigher, Hugo Gilbert, and Charlie Peters' screenplay ensures that Hot to Trot is ultimately likely to appeal solely to very small, very undemanding children, with the film, which has famously been disowned by Goldthwait himself, aimlessly stumbling about until it reaches its needlessly frenetic and thoroughly underwhelming conclusion.

out of

Madoff (March 16/16)

Madoff casts Richard Dreyfuss as the reviled title figure, a slick financier who was eventually revealed to have bilked over $50 billion from his various investors. Stretched over two nights (or a 165 minute running time), Madoff is clearly much, much longer than it needs or has any right to be and yet the movie remains surprisingly watchable from start to finish - with the film's mild success due almost entirely to Dreyfuss' consistently captivating turn as Bernie Madoff. (It doesn't hurt, either, that the supporting cast has been filled with talented performers, including Frank Whaley, Peter Scolari, Michael Rispoli, and Charles Grodin.) It's ultimately clear, however, that one of Madoff's most egregious failings is its inability to effectively explain its more complicated story elements, with scripter Ben Robbins' lackluster efforts at clearly spelling out exactly how Madoff's scheme worked compounded by his less-than-successful efforts at getting inside the central character's head (ie what, for example, was Madoff's endgame with this convoluted scam?) Madoff, in the end, stands as a fairly decent primer into the life of an obviously complicated individual, with the movie, buoyed by Raymond De Felitta solid direction and a smattering of top-notich performances, often faring better than one might've anticipated for a made-for-television production.

out of

The Gallows (March 17/16)

A generic, laughably incompetent found-footage horror flick, The Gallows follows four bland teenagers (Reese Mishler's Reese Houser, Pfeifer Brown's Pfeifer Ross, Ryan Shoos' Ryan Shoos, and Cassidy Gifford's Cassidy Spilker) as they break into their high school one fateful night and subsequently find themselves being pursued by a vengeful ghost named Charlie Grimille. (The latter was accidentally killed during a stage production 20 years earlier and has, it seems, been lying in wait until now.) There's never a point at which The Gallows is able to separate itself from the multitude of similarly-themed endeavors that've been flooding multiplexes lately, with the movie's eye-rollingly predictable atmosphere compounded by an almost total lack of compelling attributes. It doesn't help, certainly, that the film's four protagonists are as one-dimensional and bland as one could possibly envision, with, in a far more problematic development, Mishler's man-behind-the-camera figure's alpha-male, uber-douchebag persona an intense annoyance virtually from the word go. The Gallows' run-of-the-mill vibe takes a steep turn for the worse once the characters realize they're being hunted, as directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing infuse the latter part of the proceedings with a disastrously incoherent feel - there's just so much shaky camerawork - that stymie one's efforts to comfortably discern what's going on or who's being killed. It's ultimately not a stretch to label The Gallows one of the worst films of its type to come around in quite some time, and it's rather shocking to learn the relatively reliable Blumhouse Productions label is behind its release.

out of

The Bronze (March 17/16)

The Bronze casts Melissa Rauch as Hope Greggory, a former gymanistics wunderkind who's been coasting on her success and infamy since winning a medal at the 2004 Olympics - with Hope forced to finally grow up after she's reluctantly convinced to train an up-and-coming athlete (Haley Lu Richardson's Maggie). Filmmaker Bryan Buckley, working from a subdued screenplay by Melissa and Winston Rauch, is clearly going for the low-key, less-than-eventful feel of a character study here, with Rauch's unapologetically unlikable turn as the bitter and angry protagonist certainly going a long way towards perpetuating that vibe. The relentlessly unpleasant ambiance, perpetuated by an almost total lack of laughs and ongoing emphasis on grim happenings, ensures that The Bronze's first half is often a chore to sit through, and yet it's equally clear that the movie, past a certain point, does begin to morph into something that's at least watchable - with the narrative eventually adopting the feel of a generic underdog story that, when coupled with a softening of Rauch's abrasive character, paves the way for a fairly rousing third act. The late-in-the-game addition of a sweet romantic subplot between Hope and Thomas Middleditch's socially-awkward Ben ultimately confirms The Bronze's place as a thoroughly erratic yet somewhat entertaining drama, with the film, in the end, generally satisfying Rauch's presumed goal of separating herself from her squeaky Big Bang Theory character.

out of

Moving (March 18/16)

Richard Pryor's final starring vehicle (and with good reason), Moving casts the erstwhile comedian as Arlo Pear - a transit engineer who bounces back from a crushing job loss with a fantastic new position in Idaho. Problems ensue as the process of packing up his family turns out to be fraught with delays and mishaps, as Arlo must contend with three incredibly sketchy movers, a driver (Dana Carvey) with multiple personalities, and a homeowner determined to take all the house's fixtures with him. It's a reasonable premise that's employed to consistently and aggressively underwhelming effect by director Alan Metter and scripter Andy Breckman, as Moving boasts (or suffers from) an unreasonably over-the-top sensibility that grows more and more oppressive as time progresses - with the almost total lack of laughs ensuring that one's patience for the film's broad shenanigans grows thin right from the get-go. (There are, having said that, one or two chuckle-worthy moments, including Arlo flipping someone off with the wrong finger and most of Carvey's turn as the unhinged driver.) Moving's shift from dull mediocrity to flat-out disaster comes in its final half hour, however, as Metter delivers a needlessly frenetic and thoroughly exhausting climactic stretch that borders on the unwatchable - which, it goes without saying, cements the film's place as a rather epic bomb that's been justifiably forgotten in the years since its 1988 release.

out of

© David Nusair