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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I recently bitched about the Beauty and the Beast remake being unnecessary. However, the movie was enjoyable and sweet on some levels. Then came the Ghost in the Shell remake; while it was a letdown, it looked good and had decent performances.

Now comes another remake, Going in Style—and there are no redeeming qualities: It’s a total disaster.

The original “old guys rob a bank wearing rubber noses” comedy from back in 1979 starred George Burns and Art Carney. The original was directed by Martin Brest, the guy who would go on to direct Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run and, uh oh, Gigli. Martin Brest … where are you? Yes, Gigli sucked an awful lot, but you had a decent batting average until then. You haven’t done anything since bombing with Gigli, but that film didn’t kill Ben Affleck’s career, so why did it knock you off?

Back on point … this Going in Style remake loses all of the charm of that fun and slightly dark Burns vehicle. Instead, the film is super heavy on schmaltz, and it asks a lot of beloved actors to basically embarrass themselves for 90-plus minutes.

Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin replace Burns, Carney and Lee Strasberg in the updated story, and that setup probably looked pretty good on paper. Unfortunately, they handed the film to Zach Braff, the guy from Scrubs, to direct. Braff does so with all the subtlety and nuance of an M80 going off in a candlelight-yoga class.

The comedic moments demand that you laugh … yet you don’t. The touching moments grab you by the collar and scream, “Cry for me!” … yet you don’t. The heist itself insists that it is clever; it’s actually rather rote and mundane. The payoff involves a little girl doing something totally wrong, and it feels weird.

Michael Caine replaces Burns as Joe, the brains of the group. Joe, during a visit to a bank to complain about his upcoming foreclosure, witnesses a bank robbery. So, naturally, when he and his pals’ pensions go away, he decides to rob a bank.

After some gentle persuading of Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin), off they go to rob a bank. The big twist here is that they wear Rat Pack masks instead of the rubber-nose glasses from the original. Yes, that’s the biggest twist the film has to offer.

The heist itself just sort of happens. Braff shows some of the planning and execution in flashbacks, but the technique doesn’t reveal as anything ingenious. The whole beauty of Going in Style 1979 was that three old men simply robbed a bank—rather sloppily. Trying to make them seasoned, crafty pros in this one is a major misstep.

Ann-Margret is around to sleep with Albert (the grumpy one) and make him feel young again. That’s Ann-Margret’s job these days: She gets the “sleep with the old guy” roles, like she had in Grumpy Old Men. The way her character aggressively pursues Albert while she’s on the clock in the produce aisle should have gotten her character fired. It’s hard watching a great, fun actress being reduced to a stereotype—that stereotype being the older lady who tries to grab your junk by the avocados.

All of the dark, twisted fun has been taken out of the premise, and replaced by mawkish sentimentality. Caine, Freeman, Arkin and Ann-Margret are lost in a screenplay that doesn’t have any inventiveness; the film simply tries to get by on their star power. It’s not befitting of their legendary statuses.

The movie is a real bummer—a blue paint bomb in a bag full of money. The year 2017 is shaping up as the Year of the Unnecessary Remakes … and so far, this is the most unnecessary of them all.

Going in Style is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Call this one The Empire Strikes Back of Dolphin Tale movies, in that it is slightly better than the original (not much—just slightly), and it has Tauntauns. (Actually, that last part’s not true.)

Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr. rejoin annoying child actors Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehisdorff (yes, the Cozi Zuehlsdorff) for another round of gooey sentimentality involving dolphins. This time, the story spends a lot of time focusing on rehabbing and releasing animals, rather than confining them for human amusement, probably due to all the current issues involving whales and dolphins in captivity.

In addition to Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail, there’s a awesome sea turtle and a kooky pelican that kids will love. The movie works in some ways as educational fare, but when it drifts away from the aquarium tanks, it becomes a hell ride.

Harry Connick Jr. can’t act for beans; Ashley Judd’s career has really hit the skids; and Morgan Freeman has no right being within a million miles of this film. Gamble and Zuehlsdorff (yes, the Cozi Zuehlsdorff) are, I’m sure, exquisite human beings, but watching them in a movie is an annoying, tedious task.

I love the dolphins and aquatic life in this film. It’s the humans who drive me crazy.

Dolphin Tale 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

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What starts out as a potentially great movie winds up being merely good.

Scarlett Johansson stars as the title character in Lucy. She’s an American living in Taiwan who gets mixed up with the wrong people—and winds up not only as a drug mule, but a drug mule with a highly experimental drug placed inside her lower stomach. When the drugs start to leak, Lucy winds up using her brain to full capacity—resulting in her ability to control her body and the forces around her.

Luc Besson directs with his usual visual competence, and Johansson is great in the title role. The problem is that the film feels as if it is going to some great place—and then it suddenly ends, at 89 minutes. Granted, it’s a good 89 minutes, but I was left feeling a bit unfulfilled.

Morgan Freeman shows up as a scientist who knows a lot about brains, while Min-sik Choi (the original Oldboy) plays a true bastard of a bad guy.

Surely, the premise is total bullshit, but the resultant mayhem is fun bullshit. I just wish Besson had a more-complete story to tell.

Lucy is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Those hoping that Johnny Depp’s latest film would make up for that dick move he made by playing Tonto in The Lone Ranger are watching their hopes get dashed upon the rocks and swept out to sea: Transcendence is terrible.

This is another one of those “technology is evil” movies that suggest humans are slaves to computers. That may very well be true (I, for one, have been sitting at my damn computer all day), but movies haven’t really gotten evil computers right since 2001: A Space Odyssey and WarGames.

Depp plays Will Caster, a seemingly mild-mannered scientist who is mapping out brains in hopes of creating a self-learning, artificial-intelligence program capable of emotional growth. However, a terrorist organization grazes him with a radiation-laced bullet, and he finds out he only has a few weeks to live. Therefore, it’s time to speed up his work and get his brain into a computer so he can keep hanging out with his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), after his body is dead.

Will dies, and he does, in fact, get himself uploaded into a computer. He immediately starts asking for more power, along with access to the stock market and banks—actions that seem to clash with the nice guy he was when alive. Evelyn, acting upon instructions from Computer Will, buys up a small town and starts rebuilding it with money made through shrewd, fast investing in the stock markets.

Caster then builds an army of humans that act like robots, because he’s healed them with computers and made them super strong … or some crap like that. It all makes little sense. Even worse: While Caster is portrayed as an out-of-control egomaniac during most of the film, the screenplay pusses out in the end and tries to partially redeem him. It fails miserably.

Morgan Freeman is here, because the script called for a sympathetic type to rise up against Will Caster and hopefully save humanity. Cillian Murphy shows up as a crime investigator type who gets to run around with Morgan Freeman and look concerned. Murphy actually looks as if he’s angry to be in this movie, knowing that his part is worthless.

I paid the big bucks to watch this goofy crap on IMAX, and there is really no reason to see the film in this way. Not only does the film suck as far as content is concerned; the visuals and audio don’t benefit from being turned up to extremes. Only the preview for Godzilla was pleasing on this particular IMAX visit.

Starting with The Tourist and Alice in Wonderland, Depp’s garbage-movie ratio has been on the rise. He made stinkers before (The Brave, The Astronaut’s Wife), but it seemed like he was at least trying to do something different when he screwed up. Depp is now a big commercial commodity with the Pirates movies and his dopey Mad Hatter character; sequels for both of those franchises are in production, so we know Depp will have plenty of money in the bank. It would be nice to see some more experimental, low-budget stuff to go with those excremental behemoths. Actually, a big-budget offering with a decent script and some edge would be nice, too.

Depp will always be a great actor. Heck, he even has moments in Transcendence in which he transcends the trite material and shines for a bit. I’m hoping these last four years are just a hiccup for him, and he gets back on track. Johnny Depp: Please call Scorsese, Wes Anderson or Tarantino and remind the world that you are not all about the big paycheck.

Transcendence is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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The Lego Movie is a most welcome surprise. Fast-paced, frequently hilarious and visually fun, this is the sort of movie we’ve come to expect from Pixar—one that appeals to both kids and adults on many levels.

However, this isn’t a Pixar film; instead, it’s a product of the formidable but inconsistent Warner Bros. animation wing.

Sure, it’s a big commercial for Lego toys, but the product placement is more of a sly wink than a hammer over the head. I’m more offended by, say, frequently placed Subway sandwiches in an Adam Sandler movie than the constant presence of Legos in this one. Lego has developed its own universe over the years, especially with its video games, so I never felt like I was watching a commercial.

Instead, we get a movie that hurls jokes at breakneck speed, to go along with its super-kinetic visuals. The voice talent is a who’s-who of subversive humor, including Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt, Will Forte, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Jonah Hill and Charlie Day. It also has Morgan Freeman as a God-like character—and he is given some of the movie’s greatest lines. It’s co-written and directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, the guys who did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the decidedly non-kid-friendly 21 Jump Street.

The plot follows Emmet (Pratt), a “generic” builder who goes about his homogenized life, building structures under strict deadlines and listening to the same song (Tegan and Sara’s terrific “Everything Is Awesome”) every minute of the day, while following the rules of the omnipotent President Business (Ferrell). President Business demands conformity in a decidedly socialistic way—but he keeps everybody at bay by promising Taco Tuesdays.

Things change instantly when Emmet meets Wyldstyle (Banks), who reveals to Emmet that there’s the possibility for real life beyond the walls of his pre-programmed world. (There are echoes of The Matrix and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.) Emmet joins forces with Wyldstyle and her extremely cool boyfriend, Batman (Arnett), to take down the establishment and restore freewill.

I confess to being totally blindsided by the ending, which warmed my heart in a way that is on par with the wonderful endings of Pixar’s Up and Toy Story. It is, without giving anything away, brilliant, ingenious and wholly satisfying. It also manages to tie the whole movie together in a way that is beautifully mindboggling.

There are terrific cameos along the way, including members of the Star Wars universe, other heroes from the Justice League, Gandalf and others. Liam Neeson is killer funny as Bad Cop/Good Cop—and even his father, Pa Cop, who is constantly breaking and kicking things. (He’s this movie’s Darth Vader.)

The film relishes random humor. At one point, a cowboy in a saloon asks quite earnestly, “Are zeppelins a good investment?” (I laughed out loud to an extent that was a little embarrassing.) Arnett’s Batman is arguably on par with those played by Christian Bale and Michael Keaton. Stick around for the credits, and Arnett’s Batman theme, “Untitled Self Portrait,” which repeatedly touches upon Batman’s dead parents and penchant for dark things.

The Lego Movie is a bit exhausting at times, but the constant stream of activity is super-intelligent. It’s a cliché, but I’ll say it: “Fun for the whole family!” Sorry to be so cookie-cutter here, but it’s the truth. 

The Lego Movie is playing at theaters across the valley.

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For those of you hankering for another magician movie after The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, here it is!

A Las Vegas magician act called the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) concludes a show by seemingly robbing a bank in France through teleportation. An FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and an Interpol detective (Mélanie Laurent) investigate—and we snore.

Morgan Freeman is on hand as a man who makes a living debunking magic, as is Michael Caine as a millionaire bankrolling the Horsemen. It all amounts to nonsense, with the a lot of swirling cameras and stupid fights involving playing cards and paper cuts.

The big reveals are silly, and much of what happens on the magic side is never explained. Meanwhile, Eisenberg delivers one of the year’s more annoying performances.

Now You See Me is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Tom Cruise spends most of Oblivion in a goofy, impractical-looking leather space suit that clashes with his 2013 hairstyle and reminds of Captain EO.

Yes, it’s silly to notice these things, but Oblivion is the sort of film that causes one to notice such trivial matters, for the movie surrounding that goofy outfit is not that good.

Cruise, however, is in typically fine form as Jack, a scout/worker for the surviving human race, following a devastating alien attack 60 years before (in 2017). The remaining population of Earth has been sent to a moon of Saturn, and Jack’s job is to make sure Earth’s energy resources are properly mined. He lives in a stylish outpost with a hot partner (Andrea Riseborough), and their work is being monitored via video by Sally (Melissa Leo), an overly nice boss.

Jack is haunted by dreams of a past Earth world that he is too young to have experienced. In his dreams, he meets up with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) atop the Empire State Building, just like in Sleepless in Seattle. He’s found a cabin in the woods where he wears a Yankees cap and listens to Led Zeppelin. He seems very at home for a guy who supposedly never set foot on pre-invasion Earth.

Of course, there’s more to Jack’s universe than meets the eye. He eventually comes face-to-face with Beech (Morgan Freeman), a wise, old, cigar-smoking man (those cigars must be 60 years old and awful) who is going to turn Jack’s world upside down.

The movie has some significant twists and turns, and some of them are not at all surprising. However, one particular twist caught me off guard, and is pretty clever.

As for the action, it’s sub-par. I actually stumbled upon Cruise on Jimmy Kimmel’s show the other night before I saw the film. I turned it on during a clip showing Cruise in a funny-looking little spaceship, shooting a drone-type thing out of the sky with a pistol and crashing in the desert. I thought it was a gag, because it looked cheap. Turns out it was the movie’s major action-set piece.

While the Cruise performance is good, he does slip into that Tom Cruise-yelling mode, often reminding of his interrogation of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise yelling is, sometimes, unintentionally funny.

Oblivion is derivative of many sci-fi films that came before it, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, etc. A little bit of all of those movies and others can be found among the plot threads and visual effects.

As for those visual effects, they aren’t spectacular. I did like seeing the top of the Empire State Building protruding from grey Earth, the ground having risen to the famous landmark’s observatory deck. Otherwise, there are some weak CGI recreations of demolished landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty.

The film drags itself to its inevitable conclusion, providing no real surprises or excitement. The last scene involves something that is supposed to be triumphant, but is actually quite weird.

Joseph Kosinski directs; his only other directorial credit is TRON: Legacy. Oblivion is a marked improvement over that fiasco. As with TRON, Kosinski is far more preoccupied with visuals over substance. And in both cases, the visuals aren’t anything to get excited about.

Cruise is in a sci-fi state of mind these days. Up next is Doug Liman’s All You Need Is Kill, in which he plays a soldier caught in a time loop and repeatedly getting killed by aliens. (Cruise haters will probably get a kick out of seeing their nemesis getting repeatedly smoked.) Then it’s Yukikaze, based on yet another alien invasion scenario.

In his most recent three films, Tom Cruise has played similarly titled characters: Stacee Jaxx (Rock of Ages), Jack Reacher (Jack Reacher) and just plain Jack in this film. That’s another useless factoid I fixed on while being mildly bored by the ho-hum Oblivion.

Oblivion is playing in theaters across the valley.

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Gerard Butler stars in one of the most ridiculous action films you will see this year.

He’s a Secret Service agent on duty the night something very bad happens to the president (Aaron Eckhart); he winds up with a desk job. Later, some nasty North Koreans hilariously infiltrate the White House and hold the president and his Cabinet hostage—so it’s time for Gerard to dispense with the paper clips, and pick up an automatic weapon! Yes, it’s Die Hard in the White House, or at least it wants to be.

There’s some fun to be had here, but the movie has some tragic flaws, including terrible CGI and mawkish patriotic crap that distracts. (Melissa Leo screaming the Pledge of Allegiance as she is dragged to certain death comes to mind.) This is one of those “so bad it’s almost good” movies.

Olympus Has Fallen is playing at theaters across the valley.

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