Bad Moms (2016)

Bad Moms is a comedy about parenting, and specifically motherhood. While I am neither a parent nor a mother, I feel able to critique this movie.

Amy (Mila Kunis) is the mother of two kids, and she’s trying to do it all. The movie starts off on a really bad day where everything goes wrong, all before she gets to work. As she drops the kids off at school, she’s ordered by the PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) to attend a ‘mandatory’ meeting that night, to discuss the upcoming bake sale. The day progresses from bad to worse after she brings her dog to the vet, has an encounter with her boss who expects magic from her, argues with her husband, etc, etc, and culminates when she finally says enough.

She storms off to a bar, and runs into two other moms from the school, Karla (Kathryn Hahn), and Kiki (Kristen Bell). Karla is a very outgoing single mom on the prowl, and Kiki is a stay-at-home mom, who’s a bit off. They bond over some similarities, and realize they’re not alone. The will make it through, together.

This is a crass movie, but not too crude. A lot of truths about parenting and motherhood are revealed, in funny ways. The good news is that the trailers you’ve seen don’t cover all the good material, because there is a lot more they couldn’t show. This is a mother-centered film, and there are a handful of men, but the focus is clearly on the moms and the frustrations of motherhood.

There is more than enough humor in the movie for me to recommend it, though I can’t fully relate to much of it. There are a few things I had a slight problem with, and the ending drags a little, but none of those things come close to being showstoppers.

There is a pre-credit sequence that is heartwarming and smirk-worthy, so you should stay through that portion.

Jason Bourne (2016)

Jason Bourne is the latest film in the series of movies based on the books of Robert Ludlum. There were three books in Ludlum’s series, and as this is the fourth film involving the character directly, and the plot is similar to the previous films. I will, in passing, mention The Bourne Legacy, but that film is best forgotten.

The movie starts with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has left the CIA. She hacks into their computer systems to extract data on Project Treadstone, which is the special ops training program that produced Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). She also pulls down some other projects’ data, convinced there is a correlation. She tracks down Bourne, but only after garnering the attention of the organization she left.

Bourne has been laying low, and is having flashes of things from before he became an agent. They’re vague, but he doesn’t want to pursue them. Nicky reveals some information that triggers another flashback, and of course, the CIA is hot on their heels. CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) wants Bourne dead, and Agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) leads the group trying to do that.

This movie follows the same basic developments and situations as the previous Bourne films, but that doesn’t matter too much. The names are changed, but the drama is similar. What sets it apart from the previous films are the action sequences. Yes, there is HEAVY use of shakey-cam, even when the action is not there. This has been a trait of the previous Bourne movies, but they amp it up for this one.  There are sequences where the camera motion is slowed to a crawl, but I can’t think of a moment where the shot is utterly still.

I’ve said that I detest shakey-cam, and I’m not making an exception here. It’s often used to mask bad fight scenes or awful car chases, but somehow, it works better than before. There are the briefest moments of clarity that help with your focus, and that’s an improvement, but it’s still annoying. The action is good enough that you might forgive it, a little.

There are some good twists and turns in the plot to keep you guessing, and they leave out some blatant exposition in favor of letting the action tell the story. If you let the story unfold, instead of demanding an explanation, you will enjoy it a lot more. Pretty much standard fare for a Summer movie. Runtime is 123 minutes, so it’s longer than you’d expect.

I do recommend this film. Please note there is a lot of violence in the film, and the action sequences were good enough to not require the shakey-cam action, but they are a trademark of this series, so you have to accept it.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond is the latest in the series of films in the re-imagined JJ Abrams Star Trek Universe. It is good enough to make you forget the near miss that was Star Trek Into Darkness, and fits as one of the better Star Trek movies in many years. There are a few moments that stumble, but the rest of the film is good enough to overlook those.

The USS Enterprise is in its third year of its 5 year mission. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) has started to feel like he’s in a rut. He joined Starfleet on a dare, and is trying to make sense of everything he’s done. As the ship sails towards a star base for a break, he has time to consider his situation. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is in denial, having a crisis of ‘faith’ that is obvious to us, but not to such a logical mind such as his. It is, however to Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban).

Before we get a chance to dwell on either issue, someone arrives at the base seeking help, as she is the only survivor of a vessel that was lost in an uncharted area of space. Since the Enterprise is the only ship available with the sort of scientific equipment needed for a search, the crew gets little reprieve and heads out to look. Turns out that where they’re going isn’t all that safe, and that’s where the situation goes all pear-shaped.

This is an action-packed movie, but the interplay between the characters is what really sustains the story in true Star Trek fashion. McCoy and Spock have a good time verbally sparring with each other. Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoë Saldana) help drive the plot forward, and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) has a lot to do, as well. Some of the better bits of dialogue come from Scotty (Simon Pegg), which is understandable, considering Pegg was one of the writers for the film.

Roger Ebert used to say that these sort of action movies only work well if the villain is compelling enough. That was the biggest failing of Star Trek Into Darkness (among several others). Here, he was only acceptable, and it isn’t until later in the film that you understand his actions. Even then, you have to take the knowledge at face value, and just accept that’s enough. It is, but I’d have preferred more depth there.

This movie uses shakey-cam action for the fight scenes. I’ve argued that that style is used because because the combat choreography isn’t compelling enough, and it’s true here, too. The CGI is overblown in some scenes, much like it was in the Transformers movies and the goblin fight scene in the Hobbit movie – there’s too much going on the screen to process everything that’s happening, so you just deal with it and follow along to what happens next.

I recommend this film, despite the flaws. They are secondary to the action, and the story is good enough to surpass these things. I did not see it in 3D, so I cannot comment on that aspect. I don’t think it was necessary to enjoy the film.

There is a momentary pause in the credits, so please stay for it. Afterward, there’s a song, written by Sia, that should have been hers to sing, but Rihanna performs it.

There is no post-credits sequence.

What follows is list of a few nitpicks I had with the movie. You shouldn’t them read until after seeing the movie.  Spoilers abound, so be forewarned!!!


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OK, you were warned!!!

  1. Everything on the Franklin still works well enough to be spaceworthy?
  2. As it was in Star Trek Into Darkness, they could have used a transporter to capture the villain a lot sooner.
  3. How did Kirk get up there so easily? Probably the same way Krall did, but that’s not enough.
  4. Every shot inside the starbase made me think I was going to be Incepted, if you know what I mean!
  5. The whole thing with the Franklin falling to gain enough speed, yeah right.
  6. Greg Grunberg, AGAIN?
  7. Ditto, Shoreh Aghdashloo. She has a big part in The Expanse.
  8. Future Product Placement is still product placement. Booo!
  9. Oh yeah, and where did Krall get all those ship pilots??

Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters (2016) is a reboot of the original Ghostbusters (1984) movie. If you’ve been living under a rock, the decision  for director Paul Feig to employ an all-female cast has caused such an uproar in the Internet community that I have to admit I haven’t seen this much of an anger over a film, ever. I will not completely address that in this review.

Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), is a dorky physicist, who is up for tenure at Columbia University. While she is prepping for a class, she’s approached by a man who’s read her book on the paranormal. She’s stunned to find that a book that sold a handful of copies a decade ago. Apparently, it’s up on Amazon now, thanks to its co-author, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). The two had a falling out after their book flopped. Since she wants tenure, she finds Abby at a School of Scyence[sic]. Abby has been working with Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) who have made more than a few strides in paranormal research.

Erin begs Abby to pull the book, given her situation, but Abby denies the request, saying it’s funding her paranormal research. Erin implores her to reconsider, offering her a chance to investigate the man’s claim earlier that a ghost has appeared at a historically famous mansion in Manhattan. They go,and encounter the ghost of the mansion’s owner, who murdered the help, all those years ago.

The encounter is successful, and drives Abby onward. The school fires her and Jillian, but they are undaunted, realizing there’s money to be made in removing ghosts from the places they haunt. Problem is that someone’s actually causing them to appear, towards some mad goal. They find a place to work from, hire a severely dumb blond/wannabe actor/model to work the phones, named Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), however we’re not even sure he can do that. Their first client appears, right on the heels of them hiring Kevin. She’s an MTA worker named Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who’s had a ghostly encounter while working her booth in the NYC subway system. She more or less ingratiates herself onto the team, and off they go.

The jokes work, and this time, the mayor’s office is with them, but doesn’t want the negative publicity. They also get Homeland Security involved, who also want to keep the reality of the situation swept under the rug.

Wiig and McCarthy play well off each other, having had a decent rapport in their previous film, Bridesmaids. They play their roles pretty straight, but remain at odds with each other. McKinnon must’ve been told to let her character go, to play the Mad Scientist role, with the crazy eyes and manic attitude, but with the hatred of humanity removed from the equation. She’s just weird, and it works. Jones is the react-er, the one closest to the reality of the situation, and the one to remind the others of what does and doesn’t make sense.

I will say that there is more than one cameo appearance of the original movie’s cast in this film. The first is a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ appearance of Harold Ramis, in the form of a bust of a professor at Columbia University. There are others, but I leave them for you to discover. I also suspect there was a scene or two that were cut from the final version, for time, and I hope to see them when the movie is released digitally.

I found the movie funny and entertaining, and I do recommend it. I am generally against remakes, mainly because they often become a pale copy of the original. In my opinion, this one doesn’t fall into the same pitfalls as the rest. It stands on its own, and is worth seeing. Leave your sexist biases at home and you should enjoy this movie.

I saw the movie in 3D. It was OK, but it didn’t really approve the experience all that much. During the credits, there are some things that interact with the credits themselves, tugging and pulling them. There IS a post-credits scene.

I find the backlash against the casting of this movie very sad. The fact they went with an all-female cast and the umbrage against that is very telling about the nature of the movie business. Don’t give in to it.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

The Secret Life of Pets is an animated film made by the people who created the Despicable Me and Minions movies.  There was a brief Minions short at the start of the screening.

Max (Louis CK) is a terrier in NYC, who was adopted by Katie (Ellie Kemper) at a very young age. He grows up, and they do everything together, except she disappears every day for work. Max, of course, doesn’t understand this, and patiently waits for her return. Meanwhile, after their owners leave for the day, the pets in his apartment building come over, and hang out together, until their owners return.

It’s an idyllic life, until, one day, she brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a huge shaggy dog that she rescued from a shelter, at the last minute. Max hatches a plan to implicate Duke being dangerous enough that Katie must give him up. It involves destroying vases and such in the house, but that plan is interrupted by the dog walker, who takes them to a park, along with Max’s pals. Duke tricks Max, and the next thing you know, they’re on the loose, and get into a tussle with alley cats. They are captured by Animal Control, but are rescued by Snowball (Kevin Hart), a bunny who’s saving a friend from the same van Max and Duke are trapped in. They get away, but it’s all downhill from there.

Back at home, the other dogs talk with Gidget (Jenny Slate), the girl dog next door, as it were. They come to realize that Max is gone, and organize a rescue party.

There are a lot of parallels here to the original Toy Story movie. There is enough fresh material to keep it amusing and entertaining. The kids in the theater and their moms were definitely enjoying the film more than I was, but I understand that this movie was meant them instead of a broader audience. I did spy several kids running around with stuffed animal versions of the characters, which was a little surprising, considering the film only just recently opened. I can recommend this film, but only for a young audience.

They do dance around the idea that many of the predators you see eat some of the other animals here, but they avoid the reality of it.


The Infiltrator (2016)

The Infiltrator is an adaptation of the book of the same name by Robert Mazur, who was a U.S Customs Agent in Tampa, Florida.

After a drug bust, U.S. Customs is rethinking its tactics. They want the big fish – the  Medellín Cartel, and more specifically, Pablo Escobar, because the cartel is smuggling hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine into the U.S.  They poke fun at Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, and realize they should focus on the financial side of the equation.

Bob Mazur (Brian Cranston)  usually works undercover, and on his own, but the boss, Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), says there’s too much at stake, so he can’t. She assigns Agent Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), and, as you’d expect, he’s the antithesis of Robert. The two work combine their efforts and set up Bob as a fake money launderer for the NYC mob, named Robert Musella, who specializes in real estate.

Emir works his contacts, and sets up a low level meeting with the local cartel people. Bob gets a prisoner released who can help with some of the more sordid details of the business he’s pretending to be in. After a bit of back and forth, they all start doing business together. The cartel people bring in a private British bank, who they have been using, and Bob ingratiates himself into their business, too.

There are a lot of players involved, but Bob is documenting as much as possible, recording conversations, and so on. After a particularly successful deal, Bob is presented with a hooker, and he refuses her, being that he is married. At the scene, though, he claims he’s engaged, and that forces Agent Tischler to introduce another agent into the mix to play the fiancee – Kathy Ertz (Dianne Kruger). Bob and his wife-to-be are introduced to a high-ranking officer within the cartel – Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), who, in turn, introduces Kathy to his wife Gloria, and they bond over the upcoming nuptials.

The situation is very volatile. Cross the cartel, and suffer extreme consequences. At one point, Bob is flown somewhere, and is “vetted”, but it’s done in a fickle, yet scary fashion. There are quite a few twists and turns that have to be navigated properly or they will all suffer an extremely horrible fate.

The amazing facet of this movie is that it’s based on real events. I do want to know more, and such information is readily available. I gather that there were some simplifications of the plot, perhaps for the sake of moviemaking, but they weren’t too blatant. Where they implied that the operation involved just a handful of people, there were more than a few agents working in the background to make this happen.

The story gets a bit convoluted, but it holds together. The tension is palpable, and builds through to the end of the film. Brian Cranston proves, once again, that he’s an incredible actor, as are the rest of the cast. John Leguizamo plays close to type, but there was an unpredictability to his character that shined through. Amy Ryan continues to impress me in these peripheral roles she’s taken recently, and Dianne Kruger played her part well. There were several scenes in the film that weren’t truly necessary for the movie, but necessary to help understand the characters. There were two scenes, in particular, that really helped you to understand the characters involved, and I was pleased that they took the time to include them in the movie. It really elevated the film, for me.

The movie itself isn’t the sort of film you expect to see in the Summer, because it’s a heavy film. I have to admit I had serious reservations about seeing it, since it was released now, but it surpassed what I was expecting. There is serious violence, the kind you’d expect to see in a movie about drug trafficking, but they don’t dwell on it.

I do recommend this film, pretty strongly.

Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory is the sequel to the 2003 movie Finding Nemo.

The film starts off with Dory (Ellen Degeneres) as a child. Her parents Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Diane Keaton) are prepping her for meeting other children. They remind her to tell them that she has a problem with short term memory, and they have her repeat it. Dory is cute and adorable.  She gets separated from them, becomes lost, and spends a long time looking for her parents again. Eventually, she bumps into Marlin (Albert Brooks), which is how the first movie started.

It’s a year later, and Dory has had the flashback to when she was a child. She remembers other details that she repeats to Nemo (Heyden Rolence). She’s convinced that she remembers enough to get back to them.The distance, however, is vast, as the place is in America. Dory’s very insistent, and effectively drags Marlin and Nemo along on the search.  With a little help from their turtle friend, Crush (Andrew Stanton), they make their way across the Pacific, to California.

Dory is rescued by humans, after becoming entangled in a six-pack ring. The humans work at a rescue and release aquarium, which, we come to find, is where Dory grew up. She meets Hank (Ed O’Neill), an ‘octopus’ on the loose, who doesn’t want to go back to the ocean. He’s avoided capture by the humans for a long time, because he’s the kind of octopus that can camouflage himself. She realizes her parents are involved at an exhibit, and asks him to bring her there. They make a deal. She was tagged when captured, and if she gives him the tag, he’ll be included in a shipment of fish to an aquarium in Cleveland, aka not released into the ocean.

While that’s going on, Marlin and Nemo are trying to find Dory. They chat up a couple of seals who can help them. They make their way with the help of a crazed common loon named Becky. Their route, however, is through the park, amongst the humans, with all the pitfalls that come with that experience. They do eventually find her, but does she find her parents?

I loved the whole movie, and it’s definitely in my top ten films of 2016. There was not a misfire or a faulty part of the film. The undercurrent of the film is about the bonds of family, and how strong they can be. There are a lot of laughs, thrills, and strong emotions throughout. It is a Pixar film, after all! While all of the animals are anthropomorphic (human-like), they still behave like animals in many respects. The seals do behave like seals, hermit crabs do their thing, and don’t get me started about the sea otters!

I think I might’ve enjoyed it more if I’d seen the 3D version, but the 2D is wonderful on its own. Yes, there is the mandatory “3D run through all the 3D objects” scene, and actually I suspect there are several of those, but I can’t be sure, because I only saw the 2D version.

There is a lead-in short called Piper, about a sand piper leaving the nest for the first time. Very enjoyable.

Lastly, Please do sit through the credits. There is animation during the credits revolving around Hank, and there is a post-credits scene that makes the wait worth it.

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Independence Day: Resurgence is a sequel to the film Independence Day (1996). It stars much of the original cast in the same roles, with the exception of Captain Hiller (Will Smith) and Constance Spano (Margaret Colin), aka David Levinson’s (Jeff Goldblum’s) wife. This story was written around them, and they became unnecessary.

20 years have passed since aliens attempted to eradicate humanity from the face of the earth. Humans reverse-engineered much of the leftover technology, and have adapted it to benefit humanity. They’ve established a base on the Moon and elsewhere in the Solar System, to monitor the skies, as it were, in case of another attack. Gosh darnit, do you have any idea what happens next?

Former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) Dr Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) had psychic bond with the unnamed aliens and sense they are returning. They are haunted with visions of something that doesn’t correspond with anything humans have learned about the invaders. Is it something new, or another facet of aliens we didn’t know before? Watch and see.

This movie has a lot of moving parts. There are several story lines, each one dealing with a different aspect of the main story. As you would expect, they all converge at the finish. The main effort is directed to stopping the aliens, and it hits a lot of the same notes that the first film did. There are exciting moments, but the first film had them, too. I’m not saying that this is a rehash of the first movie, but, in some ways, it is. The ending ties up everything in a neat little bow, but leaves things wide open for another sequel.

I have a few logistical complaints about the movie that are probably left to another posting. When new developments are introduced, you have to accept them and move on, because there’s no time to dwell on any of them, or even think of the implications they present. Suffices to say that “it’s just a movie” provides enough of a recommendation that I won’t bother to go into them at this time. Perhaps I’ll collect all my gripes about this year’s movies and write a new article just about them, but not now.

If you’re looking for your typical summer blockbuster that you  will forget shortly after leaving the theater, then this is your movie. I’m on the fence about it. I saw it in a 2D theater, but I could easily see how certain scenes would have been better in 3D. In fact, I’d almost wager that every 3D movie made the past few years has had a scene composed in such a way that the lead characters are escaping or running away from certain doom, while avoiding all these 3D obstacles that are there just to be avoided and to amp up the “drama”, because, you know, it’s 3D. I can think of several films that have that scene.