Had “Lights Out” been released after “The Ring,” it might be considered one of the all-time greats of supernatural horror. It has a genuinely creepy (if slight) premise, courtesy of a relentless, unstoppable villain, and several blood-chilling scenes. The film’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t trust its stuff, falling for the cliché trick of needlessly filling the score with crashing, ‘Boo!’ punches of percussion, when the movie was already perfectly scary. Director David F. Sandberg would have been wise to take a page from executive producer James Wan’s “Conjuring” films, and let the camera do the talking, rather than the score.
Illumination Entertainment showed such great promise with their debut film “Despicable Me.” It wasn’t quite Pixar-esque in terms of greatness, but the movie had its heart in the right place, delivered some quality laughs, and included great jokes for the adults that were also appropriate for kids (“Bank of Evil, Formerly Lehman Brothers.”) They’ve responded to the success of the first film by exploiting Gru’s minions like they were a limitless supply of programmable Olsen twins. The minions dominated “Despicable Me 2,” much to that movie’s detriment, and they finally got their own film, which to date is the worst film in Illumination’s history (yes, it made over $1 billion worldwide, but so did “Alice in Wonderland,” and that movie is a hot mess). Worse, they even appeared in costume form in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” They’re like alien spores, hell-bent on consuming all life on Earth.
Raunch-com, we need to talk. We’ve been spending a lot of time together (11 years, by my count), and this relationship just isn’t working for me anymore. Every time you start to tell me a new story, I get all excited, thinking, “This ought to be good,” only to discover that this story just cobbles together elements from the stories you told me a couple of years ago. Do you even recognize that you’ve told this joke before? There are times when I feel like Julianne Moore’s husband in “Still Alice,” if “Still Alice” were a pitch-black comedy. Funny, yet so not funny.
And yet, there are times when you can still bring the goods, though with your most recent story, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” your ass was saved by some expert casting. Aubrey Plaza? Genius move. it was economical as well, at 98 minutes. Way to get in and out before wearing out your welcome.
It’s easy to see why filmmakers are drawn to Roald Dahl’s work. He liked placing his stories in our world while adding something most definitely not from our world, with several of his stories coming with a new language. “The BFG” hits everything on the Dahl checklist, but it has trouble getting out of second gear. It’s sweet, it’s beautifully shot, and it sports another fine performance from Mark Rylance (who, last time he worked with “BFG” director Steven Spielberg, won an Oscar for his work in “Bridge of Spies”), but let’s point out the elephant in the room, shall we? Wes Anderson wrecked the curve for Roald Dahl adaptations with his stop-motion masterpiece “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Following in that movie’s footsteps, even seven years later and multiple generations of technological advancement – something that is clearly prioritized here – “The BFG” didn’t have a prayer.
There is a really good movie just within reach of “Central Intelligence.” The casting is impeccable (no joke, Dwayne Johnson has never been better), and the premise is a strangely beautiful marriage of “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “True Lies,” with a few jabs at Facebook for good measure. They even used their PG-13, one-time-only F-bomb to tell Mark Zuckerberg to, well, you know.
Unfortunately, the dialogue reads like it was written by horny tweens who are really, really into toilet humor. It also falls prey to the age-old movie cliché that the most highly skilled soldiers in the world happen to all be lousy shots. No, no, no.
Well, this is disturbing: Pixar, which for years was the most creative, most consistent studio in Hollywood (that includes live action films and animation), has five films in various stages of production, and four of them are sequels. If you go back to 2010, Pixar has produced seven sequels, as opposed to four films based on new ideas. Three of those four new-idea films have been released. One of them (“Inside Out,” one of only a handful of reviews I’d like to rewrite after misinterpreting a key plot point) has already ascended to classic status. The other two were two of Pixar’s weakest efforts (“Brave” and “The Good Dinosaur”). The fourth one, “Coco,” is inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is the exact setting for Fox’s 2014 film “The Book of Life.” Ahem.
If the idea of a sequel to the illusionist action comedy “Now You See Me” is shocking, look no further than the box office numbers. The original film grossed four times as much as it cost, and probably would have netted even more if they hadn’t stacked the movie with so much high-priced talent. For the sequel, “Now You See Me 2” (that they didn’t call the film “Now You Don’t” seems like a missed opportunity), they went for a flashier direction style, which suits the story well. At its core, it’s a heist movie, so appropriating from the “Ocean’s” films is to be expected.
The 2014 film “Neighbors” cost $18 million to make, and brought in $270 million worldwide. That is a spectacular, “Saw”-like return on investment, so it makes sense that the studio would be interested in making a sequel. There’s just one teensy little problem: there was nothing about “Neighbors” that lends itself well to a sequel. (Also, no one appears to have been asking for a sequel, but that is apparently beside the point.) It’s a film where the main characters each win a battle, but lose what’s left of their dignity. No bonds are forged, and the attempt at a happy ending drips with sadness. One of the first film’s good points was that they didn’t seem concerned about tomorrow because they were having too much fun today. Then tomorrow came, panic settled in, and for God knows what reason, the decision to not make a second film wasn’t considered. This is a mistake.