Central Intelligence (2016)

Central Intelligence is a comedy that’s a bit of a variant on the Buddy Cop movie that we’re all too familiar with. The dialogue and the action are what make this movie stand up on its own, though.

Flash back to 20 years ago. Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is the high school all-star. He excels at everything, and even gets along with the teaching staff. At their final Pep Rally before graduation,  the principal extols his virtues. Calvin speaks to the crowd and is gracious.

Meanwhile, fellow student Robbie (Dwayne Johnson) is not faring as well. He’s 3-400 lbs, and is caught showering, and tossed buck naked into the pep rally. Everyone has a good laugh, except Calvin, who takes off his school jacket to give to Robbie, so he can cover himself and escape all the shame..

Back in the present, Calvin is stuck. He’s an accountant, whose promotion was just given to his former assistant. He is reminded by Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), his former high school sweetheart, now wife, that it’s time for their 20th year reunion, and Calvin doesn’t want to go. While he mopes around in his office, he gets a Facebook friend request for someone named “Bob Stone”, and it turns out that it’s Robbie from high school, who turned himself around, changed his unfortunate name, and is now the muscular and toned person that looks like The Rock we all know and love.

After a meetup at a bar for reminiscing, we find that he’s very skilled at fisticuffs, and is now an agent for the CIA. He’s so grateful to Calvin for his gesture all those years ago, and wants his help. Bob needs to understand some data he’s collected, and only an accountant, like Calvin, will make sense of it. Unfortunately, Bob’s not telling all the truth, as we find the CIA’s now looking for him. Led by Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan), they arrest Bob and tell Calvin they need his help in determining what Bob’s trying to do with this information. Calvin agrees to help them, but only after they threaten to take Maggie.

In any buddy cop film such as this, the story is made or broken by the interaction of the two “cops”. This film is no exception, and Johnson and Hart definitely have good chemistry. Early on, for example, Calvin calls Bob “Jason Bourne, in Jorts”. They play off each other very well. The jokes are sharp, and the action is great, even though it’s marred by that Shaky-Cam style of amping up fight scenes that really irritates me.

I rather enjoyed the movie, but there were a few big plot holes that appear, but only when you stop to think about them. You really don’t have time to stop and think, though, because the movie never lets up, all the way to the conclusion. There are a couple of amusing cameos in the film that help keep things going. In a way, the basic story reminded me of The In Laws from 1979, and I’ll leave it at that.

I do recommend this film, for what it is, a summer action/comedy. As with many comedies these days, there are outtakes at the end, before the credits really start rolling. Most are your typical script and action flubs, but unlike most, they were funny.

Warcraft (2016)

Warcraft is a mostly-live action film, based on the popular computer game World of Warcraft, from Blizzard Entertainment. You are not required to know about anything about the game, but it probably helps. It is a fantasy film where various races fight each other to survive. This movie is released as a 3D film, but I opted for the traditional 2D format.

The homeworld of the Orcs, Dreanor, is done. It’s resources are rapidly disappearing. An Orc Magician, Gul’Dan (voiced by Daniel Wu), has found a way to transport the Orcs to a new world to survive. That place is the world of Azeroth, where Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and others life, in relative harmony. They are protected by the Guardian, Medivh (Ben Foster), a very powerful magician who watches over all.

The Orcs can’t all come, at once. The portal is powered by the life forces of people the Orcs capture. Gul’Dan comes to Azeroth with the goal of capturing enough people that he can bring the rest of the Orcs (aka The Horde) across. They end up raiding small villages, and starting small. Naturally, this does not sit well with King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), as its his land they are attacking. They must be stopped.

The story itself isn’t bad, but it has to keep our interest. There’s a lot of bouncing around between the various Humans and Orcs, and it all builds to the Big Battle at the end. It does the job, and perhaps it has more meaning to the people that play the game. Others, such as myself, find it passable.

When the film opened, I found myself wondering if it would be a completely animated, as it starts with the Orcs.  However, it isn’t. I was all set to review the film along the lines of the Uncanny Valley, but it was not necessary. Humans are “real”, and the Orcs and other fantasy creatures are animated, perhaps overlaid on top of humans and such performing those roles. The skill of the animators is good, and the animated action blends well with the realities of the scenes. The settings are fantastical, and most likely the movie was shot, almost entirely, against green screens, as there are incredible sights and sounds.

There is action, passion, rage, and all the sorts of things you’d expect from a fantasy film, but, sadly, it wasn’t enough. The plot is very linear, and the main characters are there to follow that story. There weren’t many surprises as the story developed, but there were a few bits and pieces that made the film reasonable.

The movie ends without a post-credits sequence, but they leave the story open-ended via an epilogue, so they can make sequels if necessary, or if they’re driven to make more money.  I expect that there will be more Warcraft movies in the future.

This is a PG-13 film, and it runs 123 minutes. There are brutal combat sequences, but nothing too gory or graphic. They even cut away at the final moments of some, perhaps to retain the rating. There are some “minor” incidents of violence against animals during combat, but they are brief and not dwelt upon.

If you enjoy World of Warcraft as a game, you will likely enjoy the movie. I can’t whole-heartedly recommend the film, but I don’t hate it.


The Angry Birds Movie (2016)

The Angry Birds Movie was made, thanks to the millions of people who play the Angry Birds app on whatever computer apparatus they have at their disposal. It’s pretty much harmless fun. If you didn’t know and I suspect there are very few of you out there, the gist of the game is that green pigs have stolen all the bird eggs, and it’s up to you to launch your birds at the pigs’ constructions,to knock them down, so you can rescue the eggs. Various birds have various abilities.

The movie starts on an island, where only birds live. Red (Jason Sudekis) is an orphan who lives on his own, working as a clown for kids’ parties. When a job goes badly, the hosts lay into him and he loses his temper. He is sentenced to anger management classes, where he meets Chuck (Josh Gad), the yellow bird, Bomb (Danny McBride), the exploding one, and Terence (Sean Penn), the big red bird. Their coach Matilda (Maya Rudolph) tries to reel them in, but Red is having none of it.

While in a session, a boat appears on the horizon, bearing a pig, Leonard (Bill Hader), who wants to be their friends. Red is having none if it, because his ship drops anchor, literally on Red’s house. Red is incensed, and Leonard shows no sign of apologizing, which leads Red and Chuck to go look at the boat, when all the birds are at a big party. Red discovers something nefarious is going on, but no one believes him.

Long story short, the pigs (there are many more than Leonard indicated) are diverting the birds attention so that his underlings can steal all the birds’ eggs. Leonard and his cohorts get away before the the birds realize what’s happened. Nobody seems to know what to do, but now they put their trust in Red to find a solution.

This is a kids’ movie, so you know what the outcome will be. Much like the game levels themselves, everything is simplistically designed, and nothing is really dwelled on for long. As an adult, I found my mind and eyes wandering, and discovered there were more than a few sight gags sprinkled into the background, and some puns and jokes were in the dialogue, as well. For example, one of the pigs is named Jon Hamm. There are some signs describing artwork and plaques placed throughout the scenery, even a semi-obscure Andre the Giant reference. I chuckled at most, but groaned at more.

I can’t say this is a film you must see, but if you have little kids, they will be entertained, and you will not be bored. Josh Gad, as Chuck, has enough of a motor mouth, and I expect he was chosen due to his character Olaf from Frozen.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men: Apocalypse is the latest X-Men movie from Marvel, and is a coherent and balanced story that works quite well.

The film starts in ancient Egypt. A very solemn ceremony begins, with all the pomp and circumstance you can imagine. There is a transition of power for En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), and there are hints that the people are involved have magical powers. Before it can complete, the people revolt. Most of the people involved are killed, but one survives, sealed deep underground.

Fast forward to 1983, a decade after the events that occurred in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Mutants are still mistrusted, but tolerated. However, in some circles, they are captives, used for the entertainment of regular humans. In East Germany, a mutant fight club exists. and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) enters and disrupts the goings-on, freeing those who were being held to fight one other.

In Poland, Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is hiding. After his attack on the President, he’s become public enemy number one, across the globe. He has a wife and daughter now, and is trying to lay low, but he is discovered, with unfortunate results.

In Egypt, CIA Agent Mactaggert (Rose Byne) has discovered that some worshippers have uncovered the tomb of En Sabah Nur, and are in the process of reviving him. The cavern collapses, but he comes to life. He starts to acclimate to modern times, but realizes that he must rise to the level of power he had before. He recruits a mutant who’s living on the streets, and seeks more. He picks up Magneto, who has, once again, turned against humanity. The only way to exert this control is to destroy everything and start over, with everyone under his thumb.

Agent Mactaggert reaches out to Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) to warn him of what’s happening. Professor X uses his Cerebro device to try to locate Apocalypse (as he’s being called), but Apocalypse notices, and instead captures the professor, and things go out of control from there. Raven, who sees Magneto, understands that she needs the help of everyone at the academy, including a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan).

There are many characters in play, and I’ve left out quite a bit of setup, as well as the stories following others. However, different from the quantity of characters in Captain America: Civil War, the amount of time spent on the main characters and their backstories really works well. Each part of the story has a flow to it that was not found in the Avengers movie, and they all converge at the climax of the film, quite well, actually.

There was one subtextual element that most people wouldn’t have picked up on, and the ones that do( besides me) downplay its importance. In the movie, someone’s watching an episode of Star Trek called, “Who Mourns for Adonis?”, where the ancient god Apollo has captured the Enterprise crew, and wants them to go back to the old ways. In that episode, and in this movie, the ‘god’ hasn’t realized that humans no longer have a need for gods, and it’s time to put a stop to it. The final resolution does not go well, for them.

The final conflict builds to a satisfying outcome, and everyone does their part. I felt this was a better superhero movie than Captain America: Civil War, and I do strongly recommend X-Man: Apocalypse over it. It works better on the big screen..

There is a post-credits scene that probably works best if you know the Marvel comic book universe.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War is the latest film in the “Avengers Universe”. It picks up after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron from last year, as well as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and merges themes from both into a culmination that is this movie.

The movie starts as Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are chasing thieves, who’re attempting to steal a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos. The team arrives as the theft is in progress. Bystanders are hurt, and the situation gets out of hand, with a bomb set to go off in a crowded area. The Scarlett Witch uses telekinesis to move the bomb out of harms way, but it goes off, killing many people.

Most of the world is still up in arms about what happened in the nation of Sokovia, in that the Avengers team, left unchecked, is answering to no one. After this incident, there is pressure for them to submit to an international oversight panel, however, this doesn’t sit well with some of the Avengers, including Captain America. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is for it, even if in name only. Some hearings start to take place, but an assassin is sent in to bomb the meeting, killing the King of Wakanda, who was leading the effort. His son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) uses this as a rallying cry for justice, especially since it appears that Bucky, aka The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is discovered in security footage right before the blast.

Herein lies the conflict.  Cap is convinced that it’s not Bucky’s fault, given that he’s been brainwashed all these years, and hopes to capture him and save him. Iron Man, on the other hand, feeling guilty from the destruction of the city in Sokovia, insists that Bucky be captured and brought in to account for his crimes. The various Avengers take sides, and this begins the Civil War, while everyone is trying to locate Bucky.

Each side tries to get the others to join their team. Thor and The Incredible Hulk are unavailable/elsewhere, so Cap ends up recruiting Ant Man, while Iron Man entices a very young Spiderman. These scenes are some of the best and funniest of the film, as well as the “big fight” that regards what should be done about Bucky.

There are a few twists in the film and a surprise or two. Overall, I found it a good film, but not a great one. There are too many moving parts, and perhaps too many heroes. It’s orchestrated well, but I would say this film wasn’t a Home Run.

As I recall from the comics, it was Captain America who sided with the governmental control, and Iron Man was more for improvisation, so their positions in the film was pretty contrary to that.

Regardless, I do recommend this film. As with all Marvel movies, there is both a mid-credits and also a post-credits scene.