In the first episode of my new podcast — Joel & Kit Save the Movies (and we do) — Joel Amos, Editor-in-Chief of MovieMensch.com, and I talk about Ted 2, comedy sequels, Jurassic World smashing the box office and much more!
Movie Reviews and more…
In the first episode of my new podcast — Joel & Kit Save the Movies (and we do) — Joel Amos, Editor-in-Chief of MovieMensch.com, and I talk about Ted 2, comedy sequels, Jurassic World smashing the box office and much more!
Pixar is back in perfect form with Inside Out. It’s been a few years since they’ve released something this original, heartwarming, hilarious and just plain embraceable. A classic, for sure.
I discuss how wonderful it was with ScreenPicks, plus my thoughts on the indie gem Dope.
Step 1: Bring on the dinosaurs. Jurassic World surpassed all expectations by grossing $208 million in its debut weekend, making it the biggest opening in movie history. It beat previous record holder, Marvel’s The Avengers, which opened with $207 mil in 2012. This just proves people still love them some dinos and what’s not to love? In Jurassic World, the dinosaurs look better than ever, especially the velociraptors and the T-Rex. In fact, when ole Rexie makes his appearance, you cheer because it’s like seeing an old friend. There’s the new baddie, of course, a genetic hybrid they call Indominus rex, who’s scary cunning and ferocious and has a ton of sharp teeth. And the raptors? Well, they are still super smart and apparently willing to be trained, if they like the human who is training them, like Owen (Chris Pratt). One of the best parts of JW is how these dinosaurs have evolved, and how some actually become the heroes.
Step 2: Get Chris Pratt. Playing the raptor whisperer, Pratt proves that he is not only an action hero, he is a bonafide movie star on par with Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis. When Pratt landed what turned out to be the plum role of Peter Quill aka Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy, many thought he couldn’t break out of his dumpy Parks and Recreations persona. Oh, how wrong they were. Pratt has it all — charm, humor, good looks and a rock hard body to die for. His JW co-star Bryce Dallas Howard also does a nice job playing Claire, the irritating workaholic general manager of the theme park. Although Owen and Claire’s subplot love-hate relationship seems a tad forced, Pratt totally sells it.
Step 3: Add in the kid factor. All of the previous Jurassic movies had kids in jeopardy, and in Jurassic World, we have Claire’s nephews, teenager Zach (Kings of Summer star Nick Robinson) and his little brother Gray (Insidious star Ty Simpkins). You get the classic scene of Indominus rex trying to eat his way through a plexi-glass sphere with the boys inside (it’s kind of a ride). Robinson and Simpkins do well being equally terrified and quick on their feet when they have to. The idea that young people can fight their way through a dino rampage is what makes this appealing to kids of all ages.
Step 4: Hire a director who can (sort of) fill Steven Spielberg’s shoes. Colin Trevorrow, whose only other credit is the quirky and entertaining Safety Not Guaranteed, manages to expertly bring a whole new vision to the Jurassic franchise. Spielberg was an executive producer, so you know he had some good advice to give Trevorrow and you can see some of Steven’s touches, but the newbie director nails it all on his own. Ever since John Hammond told us about the park he envisioned in Jurassic Park, we’ve all secretly wanted to see it come to fruition. And here we are! Jurassic World is freaking amazing, from the T-Rex attraction to the aquatic behemoth the mosasaurs, who eats Great White sharks.
Step 5: So, build the damn park already! I think there’s a poll out there in which real people were asked if they’d visit a park like Jurassic World, knowing all the risks. The results were unanimous… Hell yes we would! But don’t worry about creating new dinosaurs to impress us. The old ones will do just fine.
The Entourage boys are back in this big-screen adaptation, and it feels like they never left. If you’re a big fan of the show, you shouldn’t be disappointed to see Vince, E, Turtle, Johnny Drama — and of course, Ari Gold — up to their usual shenanigans.
The ScreenPicks crew and I discuss the film, plus the Melissa McCarthy excellent comedy Spy. Just know that Jason Statham will totally surprise you!
It’s time for the Big One! San Andreas follows the disaster flick formula pretty closely, as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays a first responder who has rescue his family when the San Andreas fault finally shifts for the worse, destroying most of San Francisco.
Despite its many faults (get it?), the film is what you’d expect and enjoyable for pure entertainment value. Listen to our discussion about it on the ScreenPicks podcast. Plus, hear what I have to say about how Cameron Crowe’s Aloha went wrong.
Step 1: Remember teachers are usually underappreciated. Teacher of the Year highlights this point to hilarious and poignant effect.
Step 2: Hand it to the guy. In this mockumentary, we meet Mitch Carter (Matt Letscher), a Californian English teacher who is awarded the national “Teacher of the Year” for his hard work teaching kids at Truman High School. Clearly, he’s better than his thankless job, but he truly loves what he does, and the students — well most of them — know he cares. Carter, however, is faced with a dilemma when his newfound acclaim attracts the attention of education lobbyists in D.C. who want him to join their team to help speak for teachers nationwide… and they are going to pay him a lot of money to do it. Should he take the job or stay to be the best teacher in one school? Hmmm…
Step 3: Recognize some comic standouts. Funnyguy Michael Keegan-Key, who is just about everywhere these days, slays you as the school’s principal, a bureaucrat who just to be the kids friends but just comes off mostly as a giant idiot. As for Carter’s co-workers, the hysterical Jamie Kaler plays the school’s Robotics teacher, Steve Queeg, who thinks he should have been the one to get the award. As Queeg explains, “English is a dead language. Everyone already knows how to speak it. But robotics, now that’s the future.” Also, there’s the two-man band Queeg formed with fellow teacher Eric Sanders (Karl T. Wright), who both explain that even though Sanders can’t play the guitar or sing, they are excited about performing. Other standouts include college counselors, twin brothers Lowell and Clive Hammer (Jason and Randy Skylar), who just give the worst advice to the kids… the absolutely most hilarious bad advice ever.
Step 4: Applaud for job well done. Filmmaker Jason Strouse aptly combines humor with an honest depiction of what it’s like educating our youth in this country. One of the best sequences is the parent-teacher conference night, from the screaming parents to the complacent ones, and how each teacher handles it. Ultimately, though, it’s Carter’s story, and Letscher brilliantly portrays the angst of an educator of his quality stuck working in the inhibiting bureaucracy of the US school system, but who loves the high of reaching kids who appreciate his efforts to teach them. While making you spit out your drink with laughter, Teacher of the Year also warms your heart and gives hope that there are more teachers like Carter out there.
Step 1: Describe Mad Max: Fury Road in three words: Holy freaking hell! This is one of those rare cases in which a trailer, which completely blows your socks off, is actually only a taste of what you’re going to experience in the theater. This incredible cinematic masterpiece takes you on a high-octane acid trip that gloriously assaults your senses… and yes, if you could just imagine some of the smells, even that sense, too. Mad Max: Fury Road is probably one the best action movies you’ll ever see… EVER.
Step 2: Keep the story tight. Although the title suggests something different, Fury Road is really Imperator Furiosa’s story. In the post-apocalyptic wasteland nightmare she finds herself living in, Furiosa (brilliantly played by Charlize Theron) has one mission: to return to her “green” home after years toiling as a truck-driving flunky to a megalomaniac named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who, if you are a Mad Max connoisseur, is the same actor who played the wacked-out evil dude in the original Mad Max). They reside in a lush place called The Citadel, two tall rock formations that overlook hordes of starving, thirsty desert denizens who just wait for Joe to shower them with water, aka “aqua-cola,” every so often. Furiosa has had enough of Joe and in her quest to escape, decides to rescue his five baby-making “wives,” too. So, they secretly pile into Furiosa’s rig and on a planned trek to get more “guzz-o-line,” they run. And then they are pursued, in one spectacular chase sequence after another (more on that in a bit).
Step 3: Live up to your name. Now that we know how Furiosa feels about things, where does Mad Max fit in? The iconic reluctant hero, played with quiet ferociousness by Tom Hardy, has been captured by Joe’s men and finds himself an unwitting participant in said chase, eventually helping Furiosa and the girls. Hardy’s Max is a slight change to the character Mel Gibson indelibly implanted in our brains 30 plus years ago, but Max is still a man of few words, loves his car and gets pissed off when you steal it. Hardy aptly shows us this tortured soul, haunted by his past, who truly never wants to get involved but always ends up doing so anyway, grunting in protest.
Paired with Hardy’s subtle performance is Theron’s powerful one. Her Furiosa has seen some shit go down, and all she wants now is peace and as she puts it, “redemption.” As this intense warrior queen, wearing black grease that make her beautiful eyes pop, Theron just pours the determination, kindness –and weariness — into this incredibly kickass character. These two excellent actors only elevate the already superb proceedings.
Step 4: Go along on said acid trip. The supporting cast also does a fine job portraying what it would be like living in this very desolate, dying and strange world. Director George Miller just loves the weird, and in a post-apocalyptic setting, where, famine, dehydration, disease and desperation run rampant, he can paint just about any milieu he wants. There are ghoulish crow people on stilts, a severely deformed Citadel lookout and other characters with names like The Doof Warrior, The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer. There are also these creepy little bald-headed children, painted in white, who grow up to be aggressive young men known as War Boys, who battle at Immortan Joe’s request and scream “VALHALLA” a lot.
Nicholas Hoult plays one these boys, a brainwashed soldier who finally gets a clearer understanding of the world outside the Citadel when he encounters Furiosa and Joe’s wives. Those lovelies are portrayed by Zoe Kravitz, model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton, who thankfully bring much-needed beauty to the otherwise bleak surroundings. My favorite, however, is Immortan Joe’s stereo car. Its sole purpose is to provide a running soundtrack as they rush into the chase, with guys playing drums in the back and a horribly disfigured dude in a skull mask in front, wailing on a guitar that spews fire. It cracked me up every time it was on screen.
Step 5: Bow down to George Miller. This Australian auteur has never been properly given his due. Sure, the Oscar win for Happy Feet counts but not like this. It’s time to honor Miller; Fury Road is an unparalleled marvel in filmmaking. Future action directors should learn from this 70-year-old that it’s possible to create action without a ton of CGI. From mind-blowing frenetic action, complete with some unbelievable stunts, to the bleak, orange tones of the desert wasteland, to the weird oddities described above, Miller finally realizes the Mad Max world he’s been living in for these many years. Along with all those elements, you add a score from Junkie XL that sends shock waves and chills through the theater. Then there are the themes in Fury Road: Hope vs. fear, finding redemption, searching for a new normal that doesn’t include despots with boils on their back. And finally, Miller makes a feminist movie to break the bank, never cow towing to any stereotypes but creating these fierce, beautiful women who clearly should be running the show.
Step 6: Time to stop gushing. Okay, I’ll end my Mad Max: Fury Road love fest, but heed this advice: Don’t wait for it to come out on Blu-ray or on some streaming platform. See it in the theaters NOW because Fury Road embodies everything you love about going to the movies.
Step 1: Remember these three words about The Fourth Noble Truth: Meditation, mindfulness… and anger management. On the surface, The Fourth Noble Truth is a simple tale of a movie star named Aaron (Harry Hamlin), who has some anger issues that his lawyer wants him to deal with before he heads into court on a road-rage charge. Enter Aaron’s meditation teacher, Rachel (Kristen Kerr), who strives to calm him down and start him down the path of mindfulness. The only disturbance in the relaxation training, however, is the fact she’s always had a crush on him, which begins to add sexual tension to the proceedings. On Aaron’s part, what self-respecting bad boy would turn down a romp with his sexy meditation teacher?
Step 2: Embrace the romance. Writer/director Gary T. McDonald combines a story of redemption and transformation with Aaron and Rachel’s adult romance. Hamlin and Kerr sizzle with chemistry, acting like asteroids that gravitate towards one another, collide, separate and then collide again. As Rachel, Kerr aptly shows how she struggles against the attraction to Aaron, while trying her best to help him meditate and become more centered. For his part, Hamlin can play the lothario role in his sleep, but he does a nice job digging deeper, getting under the façade of a movie star character and emerging as a better person.
Step 3: Learn the truth. The film uses the four noble truths of Buddhism as a structural device that takes us through Aaron’s journey and the trajectory of the nascent relationship between Aaron and Rachel. The whole film is much like a meditation session, and we are allowed to reflect on our relationships and personal growth. It definitely moves slow, but in a summer filled with superheroes and action flicks, The Fourth Noble Truth is a nice change of pace. It draws you into its worldview of calm and serenity.
Although their new female buddy cop comedy Hot Pursuit didn’t wow them at the box office, Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara have undeniable chemistry. It unfortunately just happens to be stronger off screen than on.
Here are some snippets from the press conference:
Step 1: Don’t sweat not being the “pretty one”:
Reese: “I knew Sofia would be beautiful one in the movie, so I was comfortable being the ‘dude.’ I sort of like playing weird characters anyway.”
Sofia: “Yeah, it’s great because you got to be comfortable on set. I was miserable the whole time, dressed like a sausage in that white dress, sweating. Then the high heels, blisters. While she was so carefree, sitting on the floor and she wouldn’t even change for lunch. The dirtier she looked, the better. It’s like she knew what she was doing.”
Step 2: Try to speak Spanish:
Sofia: “Well, [Reese’s] Spanish was not very good.”
Reese: “No respect.”
Sofia: “That was actually one of my favorite scenes. She had to struggle a lot. I could see fear in her eyes, anxiety, and confusion. So it was great, because I feel like that’s every single scene of my life, you know? I really enjoyed it and didn’t try to help her too much. When I finally saw the movie, I was like, ‘Oh my god, now I understand why people laugh at me.’ It’s hysterical to see someone try to talk in a language not their own.”
Step 3: Embrace the similarities:
When asked about working with Witherspoon and Vergara, director Anne Fletcher said that they were physically and culturally different, but before she could finish her thought, Sofia interrupts… “Not really. [Reese] has hot guys eating out of the palm of her hand. We sat down and found out we like the same food, the same makeup. We like family around, the same places to travel. We had kids young… we had a lot of similarities.
Anne: “I don’t know these two women.”
Step 4: Talk about that onscreen kiss:
Reese: “It was Sofia’s idea.”
Sofia: “Delicious… she smells like a strawberry. [And on pulling Reese’s ponytail while doing it?] It felt like the right thing to do. It was like right there.
Reese: “She just grabbed my hair, pulling my head back, laughing, ‘Let’s do it again!’ I had whiplash for three days.”
Sofia: “You can’t just fake a ponytail pulling!”
Step 5: Play a Type-A personality:
Reese: [sighs] “Oh boy, I guess just have it in me. People just like it and think it’s funny, and I just enhance it and make it bigger and more annoying. People just really enjoy laughing at me.”
Sofia: “I did.”
Reese: “I like the find the heart of that person. She’s a nerd and doesn’t have any friends. She’s kinda a wreck and when she meets Sofia’s character, she’s like, ‘That’s my first friend!’”
Sofia: “And she’s not even a friend!”
I wonder if they’ll stay as close now that the film’s promotion is over.
Step 1: Give Jack Black a bitchin’ nickname, please:
In the dark comedy “The D Train,” Black plays Dan, a small-town insurance agent who is a little too manic and intense and who thinks he’s running his high-school reunion committee, much to the chagrin of the other people on the committee. One night, Dan sees the most popular guy from his high school, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), in a commercial and concocts a plan to fly to L.A. to track Oliver down and convince him to come to the reunion. That way, if Oliver comes, all the others will come, too, and Dan will finally be respected as the cool dude he has always wanted to be and get a really cool nickname.Things get kind of crazy in L.A., and even though Dan succeeds, more or less, Oliver’s return to his small town isn’t exactly how Dan imagined it.
James Marsden: “I didn’t have any nicknames. I always wanted one but didn’t feel important enough. Jimmy, Jimbo, those didn’t count. You wanted something like Ace. Or Flipper.”
Jack Black: “If you were a gymnast, Flipper would work. Jackety McBlackerty is one I called myself.”
Was Tenacious D [Black’s band with fellow comedian Kyle Gass] ever brought up? “I tried to get them to change the name of the movie. I was like, ‘Wait a second, I have a band Tenacious D and the fans are going to think it’s a Tenacious D movie!’ They were like, ‘Too bad.’ And now Kyle hates me because I have a movie called ‘The D Train’ coming out.”
Step 2: Describe what it’s like playing Dan:
Black: “I really liked this movie because of Dan. The least popular guy was very interesting to me because I’ve always been fascinated by those people in real life. The people who are the least loved in the room. Why? What makes some lovable or not lovable? I remember back in the day, when I was just starting out in comedy, with my band Tenacious D, we’d be playing clubs and there was this one guy that everybody hated, this one comedian. He would get a comedy show together and do all the work, flyers etc. And everyone would do the show because he would always get a packed house, but then he’d inject himself in the show. And everyone thought he was a piece of sh*t and made jokes about him. I just thought there was something so interesting in that… the hated one. I wanted to make a documentary about him, follow him around. What’s life like to be that guy? So I had an opportunity to play a character like that and also I felt like I could relate to it. I know what it is to want to be liked. It’s an interesting character study.”
Step 3: Describe what it’s like playing Oliver:
Marsden: “I think he’s a guy with high hopes. You grew up, in high school being the popular guy. With guys like Dan, and people around him, worshipping him. He was the basketball star, sleeping with the best looking girl in school. These kids who peak in high school, they move to Hollywood with an inflated sense of reality, thinking they’ll be the next Marlon Brando and find out there are 5,000 others just like them, trying to do the same thing. Oliver had some mild success with a commercial but it didn’t turn out like he thought. Real life sets in and it humbles him.”
Step 4: Try to find a cool high-school photo:
Marsden: “By the way, I played the cool guy in the movie? I was NOT this guy in high school. At all, in Oklahoma. This is a true story. The directors asked me for photos from high school of me looking badass, your senior photos looking like a stud. I told them, ‘Don’t got ‘em.’ I had horrible style, bad haircut, skinny. I was in drama. I sent them what I had and they said, ‘This is a real problem.’ Jack’s photos from high school, however, were badass! He’s wearing a green, military jacket… he looked like Emile Hirsch! He was a f**king badass!”
Black: “I know. It was a problem. We really had to do some Photoshopping.”
Step 5: Attend your high school reunion:
Marsden: “I think I was working on a movie and couldn’t go. I would have gone. I would have been anxious about it but I would have gone. I still keep in touch with most of my high school friends.”
Black: “I went to mine and it was fun. Saw people I hadn’t seen in 20 years, lot of catching up to do. Lot of weird emotions, too, insecurities coming back. It’s like you’re a teenager again, wondering if they like me? Did I say something dumb? That joke wasn’t funny, nobody laughed. Aaargh.”
Step 6: Give advice to someone starting out:
Black: “It always tough for me to give advice to young people or anybody. The way my life went, it was like, ‘Oh man that was super lucky. That was lucky, and that was lucky.’ It’s all just lucky, so what do I say? ‘Be lucky.’ So then it becomes what do you want to do? If you meditate and figure that out, then ask yourself what do you want to do for free? Because that’s probably going to be what ends up happening. I knew early on I wanted to be in the arts. I liked acting, doodling, singing. Acting was my favorite, though because I liked the audience and the laughs. When did it click? Probably when I realized I didn’t need a headshot anymore.”
Marsden: “I was lucky, too. My dad spotted me the cash to live out here for a year and if didn’t work out, I’d come back and finish college. He also knew someone who was a casting director and sent me out on auditions. I got super, super lucky.”
“The D Train” is pulling into theaters now.