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Mini Reviews (July 2018)

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Calibre, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Yogi Bear, The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?, Blindspotting, Extinction

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (July 1/18)

Perpetually uneven but affable enough, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion follows the two bubbly title characters (Mira Sorvino's Romy and Lisa Kudrow's Michele) as their friendship is tested during the buildup (and road trip) to their high school's ten-year reunion. Directed David Mirkin immediately establishes a sprightly, fast-moving atmosphere that proves an ideal complement to Robin Schiff's lighthearted screenplay, and there's little doubt that the film's pervasively agreeable vibe is heightened by Sorvino and Kudrow's solid work as the airheaded protagonists - with the picture also benefiting substantially from the efforts of an almost unusually strong supporting cast (which includes Janeane Garofalo, Camryn Manheim, and Alan Cumming). It's just as clear, however, that Romy and Michele's High School Reunion does suffer from a decidedly erratic sense of pacing, as Schiff delivers an oddly disjointed narrative that contains a couple of prolonged flashbacks and a bizarre, padded-out dream sequence - with such moments, entertaining as they may be, resulting in a palpably hit-and-miss vibe that (somewhat negatively) affects the movie's overall impact. Still, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is, in the final analysis, a difficult film to wholeheartedly dislike due almost entirely to the completely (and consistently) engaging work of its two stars.

out of

Calibre (July 5/18)

An erratic yet effective thriller, Calibre follows old friends Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann) as they head to an isolated Scottish Highlands village for a weekend of relaxing and hunting - with the movie detailing the problems that ensue after an accidental moment of violence forces the pals to cover their tracks. It's a familiar premise that is, at the outset, employed to underwhelming effect by first-time filmmaker Matt Palmer, as the writer/director delivers an opening stretch that's riddled with elements of an almost unreasonably clichéd nature - with this especially noticeable in the portrayal of the picture's various characters. (Lowden and McCann are, for example, trapped within the confines of, respectively, a quiet, meek family man and a brash, loudmouthed finance jerk, while the town's myriad of denizens generally come off as suspicious and aggressive.) It's subsequently not surprising that the narrative's tense moments aren't as impactful as Palmer has surely intended, although, by that same token, there's little doubt that the movie improves substantially once it reaches a fairly specific point - with Calibre's propulsive and fairly engrossing third act ensuring that the whole thing ends on a far more satisfying (and grim) note than one might've anticipated. The end result is a hit-and-miss endeavor that works in spite of Palmer's less-than-fresh approach to the hoary material, with the movie's more effective (and affecting) moments ultimately compensating for its smattering of almost eye-rollingly stale attributes.

out of

Alice Through the Looking Glass (July 12/18)

A rather ineffective followup to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass follows Mia Wasikowska's title character as she embarks on a perilous quest to prove that the Mad Hatter's (Johnny Depp) family didn't perish in a long-ago calamity. Filmmaker James Bobin delivers a strong opening stretch that seems to bode well for the ensuing narrative, as the director, working from a screenplay by Linda Woolverton, kicks the proceedings off with a briskly-paced and thoroughly entertaining first act - with the picture benefiting substantially from Wasikowska's strong work as the affable, sympathetic protagonist. (Sacha Baron Cohen, cast as Time, offers as irreverent and oddball a performance as one might've anticipated, while Depp and his various Wonderland-based costars provide able periphery support as well.) It's increasingly clear, however, that Bobin's consistently (and aggressively) over-the-top sensibilities grow intolerable somewhere around the movie's midway point, as the film, which has clearly been designed to appeal mostly (or is that solely?) to very small children, adopts a frenetic tone that's amusing for a while but eventually becomes exhausting - with the atmosphere of sensory overload compounded and perpetuated by an egregious emphasis on computer-generated special effects. Bobin's climactic attempts at tugging at the viewer's heartstrings, as a result, fall completely and hopelessly flat, which ultimately confirms Alice Through the Looking Glass' place as an overblown and underwhelming sequel to a somewhat middling original.

out of

Yogi Bear (July 17/18)

Based on the classic Hanna-Barbera character, Yogi Bear follows the title protagonist (Dan Aykroyd) and his sidekick, Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake), spend their days stealing picnic baskets from unsuspecting campers and making Jellystone Park's head ranger's (Tom Cavanagh's Ranger Smith) life miserable - with the narrative eventually detailing the heroes' efforts at preventing an evil politician (Andrew Daly's Mayor Brown) from shutting down the iconic park and opening the land to logging. It's clear immediately that filmmaker Eric Brevig has no loftier goal than to entertain very small (and undiscriminating) children, as Yogi Bear contains a pervasively, aggressively over-the-top vibe that persists for the duration of its often interminable 80 minutes - with the movie's noisy sensibilities compounded by Aykroyd's frustratingly ineffective vocal turn as the irritating central character. There's little doubt, as well, that the picture suffers considerably from an almost total lack of momentum, with the disjointed nature of Jeffrey Ventimilia, Joshua Sternin, and Brad Copeland's screenplay certainly playing an instrumental role in cultivating a vibe of abject pointlessness (ie it feels like two short films have been artlessly crammed together). By the time the predictably loud and larger-than-life finale rolls around, Yogi Bear has certainly confirmed its place as a patience-testing, headache-inducing disaster with little to offer older viewers. (This is despite the personable work from human actors like Cavanagh, Anna Faris, and T.J. Miller.)

out of

The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? (July 24/18)

Written and directed by Jon Schnepp, The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? details the behind-the-scenes happenings within a proposed 1998 blockbuster that would've introduced Superman to a whole new generation - with the production eventually roping in filmmaker Tim Burton and star Nicolas Cage. It's a relatively interesting story that's drained of its effectiveness over the course of a somewhat tedious 104 minute running time, as Schnepp delivers a padded-out product that's been geared solely, for the most part, to the comic-con, hardcore-nerd demographic - with the movie delving deep into the kind of minutia that'll hold very little interest for the majority of viewers. (There is, for example, a very long and far too in-depth stretch detailing the creation of and various adjustments to the completely redesigned Superman suit.) The movie does, however, have a few admittedly compelling (and even engrossing) sequences, with an ongoing highlight undoubtedly Kevin Smith's typically amusing tales of working on the project and his encounters with notoriously eccentric producer Jon Peters. (It's clear, too, that Schnepp does an effective job of tracking the progression of Michael Keaton's casting as Batman to Nicolas Cage's controversial Man of Steel hiring.) And while the picture does possess a number of intriguing tidbits and factoids, The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? ultimately feels too much like a rough cut of what could (and should) have been a far shorter and more cohesive endeavor (ie there's no reason this needed to run a minute longer than about an hour).

out of

Blindspotting (July 24/18)

Blindspotting casts Daveed Diggs as Collin, a recently-paroled inmate who returns home to Oakland and attempts to pick up where he left off - with the character spending much of his time working and hanging out with best friend Miles (Rafael Casal). Filmmaker Carlos López Estrada, working from a script by Diggs and Casal, has infused the early part of Blindspotting with a loose, easygoing vibe that's fairly difficult to resist, as the picture benefits substantially from the stellar performances by (and palpable chemistry between) the two central characters - with the strength of Diggs and Casal's work here generally compensating for an episodic, hit-and-miss midsection. Estrada is clearly going for the vibe of a lighthearted hang-out comedy in the vein of Friday or its sequels, and yet it's equally apparent that the sporadic sprinkling of dramatic happenings works far better than one might've anticipated (ie such moments don't feel out of place or shoe-horned in) - with the only real exception to this a didactic climactic stretch that strains the limits of credibility well past its breaking point. The end result is as erratic an endeavor as one can easily recall, which is a shame, certainly, given the affable performances and smattering of undeniably engrossing sequences (eg Collin and Miles make a somewhat disastrous appearance at a yuppie party).

out of

Extinction (July 31/18)

Sporadically decent yet mostly underwhelming, Extinction follows Michael Peña's Peter as his visions of a brutal alien invasion eventually come true - with the narrative detailing Peter and his wife's (Lizzy Caplan's Alice) efforts at keeping their two small children safe. Filmmaker Ben Young delivers an opening stretch that certainly seems to hold plenty of promise, as the initial emphasis on the affable protagonist's aforementioned visions effectively cultivates an intriguingly mysterious atmosphere - although it's not long before the subtlety of that opening stretch is replaced by a somewhat generic and tedious alien-invasion midsection (ie there's plenty of skulking around in the dark and avoiding the invaders during this dimly-lit portion of the proceedings). It's clear, as well, that the proliferation of unconvincing, chintzy special effects hinders Young's attempts at creating suspense and excitement, while the less-than-developed nature of the central characters' ensures that one has virtually no rooting interest in their continued survival (ie Peña and Caplan deliver subdued, almost robotic work that perpetuates the hands-off vibe). There's little doubt, however, that Extinction benefits quite substantially from an admittedly surprising twist at around the halfway mark, with the strength of this game-changing development paving the way for a second half that fares slightly better than one might've anticipated - and yet, as is ultimately clear, it's just not enough to compensate for what's mostly an erratic and ineffective sci-fi picture.

out of

© David Nusair