Welcome to NICKPICKSFLICKS. I am your host for the evening, America's sweetheart, Nick Spake.
5 Stars= It's Simply the Best
4 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Totally Sucks
Just Reviewed Tomorrowland and Poltergeist-May 22nd
Just Reviewed Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2-May 15th
Just Reviewed Hot Pursuit-May 8th
Just Reviewed Avengers: Age of Ultron-May1st
Just Reviewed Ex Machina and The Age of Adaline-April 24th
The children are our future ***1/2
Like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Haunted Mansion,” and “The Country Bears,” “Tomorrowland” is inspired by a popular Disneyland attraction. Where the latter films take place in worlds where Disney doesn’t necessarily even exist, however, “Tomorrowland” finds a way to work Disneyland into its narrative. Right under the It’s a Small World ride is a portal that can take you to a real futuristic wonderland. You conspiracy nuts thought Disney was harboring unbelievable secrets already? Walt’s frozen head was only the tip of the iceberg!
Britt Robertson gives a charming performance as Casey, a teenager who would rather spend her time shaping a brighter future rather than dwelling on past mistakes. Casey finds out that she can indeed make a difference upon picking up a mysterious pin and receiving a glimpse of Tomorrowland, a place where our greatest hopes for the future have come true. She soon meets Athena, a sophisticated little girl played by Raffey Cassidy, who’s reminiscent of Lindsay Lohan before she…um, “matured.” Eventually they team up with George Clooney’s Frank, a surly inventor who’s lost confidence in humanity’s fate. Together, though, these dreamers might realize the World of Tomorrow today.
Tomorrowland itself is a wonderful interpretation of what EPCOT thought the future would look like in the 1960s. While a lot of it is brought into fruition by obvious CGI, Director Brad Bird’s vision is always energized, vibrant, and complete with a thrilling musical score from Michael Giacchino. You can just completely lose yourself in this awe-inspiring environment. The downside is that “Tomorrowland” spends much of its time in our present, which isn’t nearly as exciting by comparison. Even in its modern set pieces, however, “Tomorrowland” does offer plenty of creative action, innovative ideas, and fun performances.
While “Tomorrowland” will never have you checking your watch, it does occasionally leave you wanting more. The film has a good sense of humor about itself, but it’s not consistently laugh out loud funny. The characters are all likable, but they aren’t timeless heroes. The story is ambitiously awesome, but the pacing can feel unbalanced. The message is an inspirational one for young people, but it’s sometimes presented in a The More You Know PSA fashion. There are also several plot points that don’t make a ton of sense even by retro sci-fi standards, but I’ll let CinemaSins nitpick those little details.
Seeing how Brad Bird’s flawless track record includes “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” just to name a few, we expect the world from “Tomorrowland.” Bird doesn’t deliver the world this time, but he does give us smart, heartfelt, inventive family fun. That’s more than can be said about “Jupiter Ascending” or “John Carter,” which won’t jog anybody’s imagination. It’s a good flick overall and, much like Disney’s “The Rocketeer” or “Flight of the Navigator,” has real potential to get even better with time. Until then, heed this movie’s morals: Think about today to make tomorrow better and also buy some “Iron Giant” merchandise while you’re at it.
Who ya gonna call...someone else *1/2
Have you ever wanted to see a remake of “Poltergeist” that was less intense, more CGI reliant, and presented in needless 3D? Of course you don’t, but they made it and its existence is about as warranted as the remakes of “Total Recall” or “RoboCop.” You’d think with a talented director, cast, and even Sam Raimi as a producer, this new “Poltergeist” might be able to stand on its own feet. Compared to the original and new paranormal classics like “The Babadook,” though, it doesn’t have a solitary scream. It doesn’t even have an eeep!
Instead of the Freeling family, this version focuses on the Bowens. Sam Rockwell plays the slacker father who responds to everything sarcastically, even when in life-threatening danger. Rosemarie DeWitt plays his dedicated wife and mother of three. Their offspring are comprised of Saxon Sharbino as their iPhone-addicted teenage daughter, Kyle Catlett as their astute son, and Kennedi Clements as their youngest daughter who gets a little too close to the TV. They buy a nice suburban house at a great price. The realtor neglected to mention, however, that it was built on an ancient burial ground and the spirits don’t take kindly to squatters.
Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist” still holds up as a creative, creepy flick with strong build up and even stronger payoff. This poorly paced “Poltergeist,” on the other hand, builds little suspense and fails to deliver any genuine thrills. If you’ve seen the first film, you know all the stops this one’s going to make, from the eerie tree to the demented clown doll. Even if you haven’t seen its predecessor, this remake practically spells out what’s going to happen early on. Then when the alleged frights come, you just kind of shrug them off. The irony that a PG film from 1982 is scarier than a PG13 film from 2015 really says something about the current state of horror and the rating system.
What makes the new “Poltergeist” even more disappointing is that it was directed by Gil Kenan, who made the wickedly entertaining “Monster House.” Actually, that animated feature felt much closer to what a modern “Poltergeist” should be than this movie. With Kenan behind the camera, we at least get a mostly well-crafted picture full of superb cinematography and lighting. Kenan also finds neat ways to work contemporary technology like iPads and drones into the action. Kenan falls short whenever he utilizes computer-generated images, though, which simply look lame and fake when stacked up against the original’s immortally impressive practical effects.
The performances are uniformly solid, but the only one who really stands out is Jared Harris as a supernatural expert. He’s not as memorable as Zelda Rubinstein’s pintsized spiritual medium, but Harris does have fun in the performance and makes it his own. Yet, most of the performers have the disadvantage of playing irresponsible idiots. When a character is stupid enough to put his arm in a hole in the wall of a haunted house, it’s clear that the filmmakers aren’t trying that hard.
On top of all that, “Poltergeist” often seems unsure what tone it exactly wants to set with an uneven mix of cliché jump scares and comedic scenes out of a bad sitcom. Is it trying to be scary? Is it trying to be funny? Why was this movie even made? If they were aiming to bore the audience, however, then they definitely hit their mark.
The “Mad Max” trilogy takes us back to a time when sets were handmade, people performed stunts, and CGI wasn’t around to provide shortcuts. There’s no doubt that CGI is a marvelous tool that’s made once unfilmable stories possible. When almost every blockbuster is solely relying on the technology, though, one can’t help but long for the real deal.
The good news about “Mad Max: Fury Road” is that it doesn’t commit CGI overkill like “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” or “Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.” Director George Miller stays true to the look and spirit of his original films, utilizing practical effects roughly 90% of the time. Then when Miller does turn to CGI, it’s as seamless as the effects in either of the “Babe” pictures. The final result is one of the most dazzling summer movies ever produced and arguably the first film to truly capture the thrills of a rollercoaster from start to finish.
Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky, a road warrior still wandering the post apocalyptic world. His lovely day takes a turn for the worse when he crosses paths with Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is leading five sex slaves across the desert to freedom. Hot on their trail is the tyrannical King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), his vicious army, and even some kickass musical accompaniment.
How to describe a film like “Mad Max: Fury Road?” Imagine if every character from a drive-in B-movie came to life. Then imagine if every drawing from a heavy metal album came to life. Now imagine all these bizarre creations entered a death race that makes “Furious 7” look like “Driving Miss Daisy.” That wouldn’t even begin to describe just how insanely awesome this movie is.
Basically one giant car chase of epic proportions, the film ups the ante with every passing moment. A rally with trucks, explosions, and a rockin’ guitarist doesn’t sound extreme enough? Let’s throw a monstrous dust storm into the mix just to kick it into gear! The difference between the nonstop action here and something like “Transformers” is that Miller’s vision is never mindless or dull for a second. Every shot offers something visually unique and the film almost never hits the breaks. Even when “Mad Max: Fury Road” does provide its characters some breathing room, it still feels like the movie just downed an entire pot of coffee.
This is such a revelation of art direction, effects, makeup, stunts, cinematography, editing, and choreography that it’ll be easy for people to overlook the performances. Credit should go to the entire ensemble, however, which also includes Nicholas Hoult as a jittery psychopath that sounds like Gollum meets the Crypt Keeper. It isn’t easy fleshing out people that have little dialog and fairly basic goals. With what they’re given to work with, though, everyone makes their characters interesting and even empathetic in some cases. We genuinely want to see our heroes survive this dementedly hyper experience on a road of redemption, salvation, and, of course, fury.
Everything sounds so much better with an "aca" added in front of it ****
The original “Pitch Perfect” was a solid box office success, but it’s popularity spread like Gangnam Style on DVD. If your fifteen-year-old daughter isn’t singing along to the “Frozen” soundtrack, chances are she’s playing the “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack over and over again. With strong crossover appeal between female and male audiences, there was little doubt the aca-awesome comedy would spawn a sequel. Does this franchise really have anything else to sing about, though, or is it the most overhyped one-hit wonder since “Glee?”
Like “22 Jump Street,” “Pitch Perfect 2” is a rare sequel that surprisingly comes close to topping its predecessor. What makes this especially surprising is that the plot’s basically a rehash. The Barden Bellas, an all-female musical group that made a capella cool, is now being lead by Anna Kendrick’s Beca and Brittany Snow’s Chloe. Subsequent to winning regionals or sectional or whatever for the third year in a row, the Bellas lose their voice when Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy suffers a wardrobe malfunction. The fact that the incident took place with President Obama in the audience doesn’t help. The only way to save the Bellas is if they win an international a capella competition, a feat no American team has ever achieved.
So why is it that the stock plot works in “Pitch Perfect 2,” but not in sequels like “The Hangover Part II” or “Horrible Bosses 2?” Maybe its because the plot in the first “Pitch Perfect” was already pretty inconsequential. The dialog was so witty, the musical numbers were so lively, and the characters were so likable that the story was an afterthought. The story doesn’t really matter in “Pitch Perfect 2” either as the film delivers more consistently hilarious one-liners, aca-amazing music, and all the characters we adored from the first film simply interacting with one another.
In addition to the original players, “Pitch Perfect 2” naturally introduces several newbies too. Along with cameos from Snoop Dog and the Green Bay Packers, we get splendid supporting work from Keegan-Michael Key as a hotshot record producer, David Cross as the worlds biggest a capella fan, and Hailee Steinfeld as a wide-eyed freshman who just might takeover the Bellas someday. Screenwriter Kay Cannon also deserves credit for developing a legitimately funny group of bullies in Das Sound Machine, the German a capella team that pose a genuine threat to our heroines.
Speaking of entertaining antagonists, Adam DeVine returns as Bumper Allen. Previously depicted as an enjoyable jackass and rival, here he rises up as a love interest for Fat Amy in a romance that’s as funny as it is charming. Even if the backdrop can seem familiar at times, “Pitch Perfect 2” plays with its characters in new, fun ways. The film is given a ton of chances to take a cliché, meandering detour like when Beca almost storms off from the group. Instead of dragging out their reconciliation, however, the scene ends with a huge laugh and leads into one of the series’ more poignant moments.
After winning a Razzie along with twelve other directors for “Movie 43,” Elizabeth Banks is given a second chance to prove that she has a real eye for filmmaking. Banks raises the stakes with several musical set pieces, most notably the ultimate riff-off, and makes great use of her entire ensemble, which includes herself as commentator Gail Abernathy-McKadden. She’s made a delightful picture that even works in messages about inevitable change and sisterhood without going overboard in the girl power department. With a ton of passion in front of and behind the camera, what else can be said except, “Insert aca pun here.”
Hot on the outside, unfunny on the inside **
“Hot Pursuit” is exactly like every action/comedy road trip movie that’s come out since “Midnight Run.” Discussing the plot is hardly necessary. You all know what’s going to happen solely based on the poster. Two opposites will be forced to hit the road together. Along the way, they’ll bicker, undergo costume changes, get chased by bad guys that are more menacing than funny, and maybe even learn something about one another. Then as a testament to how lazy the movie truly is, the filmmakers will tack on some excruciating bloopers over the credits.
The only reason to see a film like this is if the stars can bring something special to the table. There’s no doubt that Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara are capable comedic actresses. Where the rest of the film doesn’t try hard enough, though, the stars try way too hard to make this effortless material work. In the end, we just have a desperate attempt to polish a turd.
“Hot Pursuit” is as by-the-books as its main character, Cooper, a police officer played by Witherspoon. She knows police protocol like the back of her hand, but is completely inept in the line of action and everyday conversation. Witherspoon puts on a Texan accent so thick that she actually makes Sofía Vergara sound less like a cartoon character. Vergara plays Daniella Riva, a drug dealer’s trophy wife who’s set to testify against a drug lord. Cooper is charged with escorting Riva to the trial, but the gals get sidetracked after some obviously crooked cops set them up. Thus, Cooper and Riva go on the run and yada, yada, they become friends.
With films like “Pleasantville,” “Election,” and “Legally Blonde,” Witherspoon demonstrated early in her leading lady career that she has an unparalleled charm. Here, however, she’s stuck playing a fickle character that’s street-smart one minute then a bumbling oaf the next. There’s a fine line between being a lovable scatterbrain and simply being inconsistent. As for Vergara, this is yet another forgettable film role to add to her résumé along with “The Smurfs” and “New Year’s Eve.” Both seem to think that acting as energized as possible and screaming their lines will somehow result in laughter. They might as well have gotten down on their knees and begged us to laugh.
Director Anne Fletcher is a gifted choreographer and has made a couple descent flicks like “The Proposal.” There’s nothing neither she nor her stars can do to salvage David Feeney and John Quaintance’s script, though. It takes no chances, few one-liners or setups standout, and there are countless superior buddy movies available as an alternative. From “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” to “The Heat,” you can do a lot better than “Hot Pursuit,” as can Witherspoon and Vergara.
Not to be confused with Age of Adaline ***1/2
There’s an instance towards the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” where a character says, “Nothing lasts forever.” That seems to be the case for everything except for popular film franchises. Considering the level of quality and variety the Marvel Cinematic Universe has exemplified over the years, however, this is one ongoing series that could deservedly stick around for some time. Even if not every outing is triumphant, fifty more “Avengers” movies sounds much more promising than one more “Transformers” picture.
While the original “Avengers” broke all kinds of box office records, the film’s true achievement is that it got made at all. The fact that Director Joss Whedon lived up to the hype further cements the blockbuster’s place as one of the best summer movies of the past couple decades. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” isn’t as fresh as its predecessor. It’s not as funny as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or surprising as “Captain America: The Winter Solider” either. It is a solid follow-up, however, that continues Marvel’s winning streak.
Although Tony Stark destroyed his mechanical suits at the end of “Iron Man 3,” he simply couldn’t resist teaming up with his Avenger buddies another time. Stark’s need to protect the planet blows up in his face, though, after Dr. Banner and him accidentally invent an A.I. called Ultron. Originally conceived as a global defense program, Ultron has plans of his own: Eradicate the human race and start fresh. Thus, earth’s mightiest heroes must assemble once more.
The standout performance comes from James Spader, whose voice couldn’t be more perfectly matched to Ultron. Philosophical, funny, and menacing enough to make a “Pinocchio” song sound terrifying, he simply steals the entire show. Granted, Ultron’s plan to “save” the human race is ridiculous. If history has taught us anything, though, it’s that madmen will always justify genocide by claiming its for the greater good. In his metal pinky, Ultron still has more class than Megatron has in his entire being.
As for our heroes, it feels tedious to go over every character and actor. Let’s just say that virtually all major players and supporting players from the previous Marvel films appear, from Thor, to Nick Fury, to Falcon. They even introduce a few newcomers in the form of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, respectively played by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson of “Godzilla.” Like the first “Avengers,” “Age of Ultron” surprisingly never feels overstuffed despite its extensive cast. Everybody is given just the right amount of screen time. The problem is that not every subplot clicks.
For example, we get a romance between Black Widow and the Hulk that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Not to sound like a shipper, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to hook up Black Widow and Captain America given their chemistry in “The Winter Solider?” This pairing just feels so random, not even amounting to any particularly romantic moments. There’s also a hallucinogenic subplot that doesn’t amount to much and a couple action sequences in the second act that come off as forced.
For every scene that doesn’t quite mesh, however, there’s a terrific scene waiting around the corner. Hawkeye gets some nice development and Tony Stark’s actions raise some intriguing ethical dilemmas that parallel real world issues. The characters are the key to “Age of Ultron” and all the other successful Marvel movies. Whether taking on a robot army or making banter over a few drinks, these people are just so enjoyable to watch. You could make a movie where they blackout in Vegas and it’d probably be awesome. They’re the reason to see this movie.
With a lovable ensemble and colorful action, Director Whedon gives us pretty much what we want again. Yet, he doesn’t really raise the ante. That might sound weird for a film that builds to a climax involving a floating island, but the first film just might have been too grand to top. With that said, “Age of Ultron” doesn’t lower the ante or rehash any tired plotlines. It furthers the story leading up to the Infinity War and has a lot of fun in the process. For a sequel and technically the eleventh film in a saga, that’s not half bad.
Don't ask me how to pronounce, "Machina" ****
Over the past month or so, two movies about artificial intelligence have been released. In March, we got Neill Blomkamp’s “Chappie,” which was clunky, recycled, and obsolete. Now we get Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina,” which is slick, inventive, and a total upgrade in every way. It’s like comparing an iPod to a Zune. Both products basically have the same foundation, but one is plainly a better purchase than the other. Where “Chappie” will fade from your memory as fast as the Zune’s shelf life, “Ex Machina” will stick with you for some time.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a computer programmer who’s selected to participate in an innovative experiment. He travels to a secluded dwelling in the mountains where he meets his company’s CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Drunk on wine, beer, and his own genius, Nathan informs Caleb that he’s made a breakthrough in technological evolution and human evolution too. Nathan has invented a functioning android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). It’s Caleb’s job to test the humanoid machine on both an intellectual level and emotional level. The closer he gets to Ava and Nathan, however, the clearer it becomes that neither is what they seem.
Alex Garland distinguished himself as a gifted writer with films like “28 Days Later…” and “Sunshine.” His directorial debut has the essence of a stage play, relying more on absorbing dialog than in your face visuals. Of course the special effects here are striking nonetheless, despite only having a limited budget to work with. It also helps that Garland has a superb ensemble to give his characters heart.
This is a transcendent turn for Vikander, who brings Ava to life with captivating body language and speech. Ranging from cold and brooding to curious and affectionate, you’re not sure if Ava is developing real feelings for Caleb or is just manipulating him. Just as enigmatic as Ava is Isaac’s Nathan, who obviously isn’t telling his underling everything. At the center of it all is Caleb, either the smartest man in the room or the biggest fool.
Garland has made a film with the ambiguity of “Under the Skin,” the craft of “Blade Runner,” and the gripping storytelling of a classic “Twilight Zone” episode. His script goes beyond forcing a cliché narrative down our throats about man playing god. At its core, this is a movie about ideas that will get the hamster wheel in anybody’s brain running. The audience is constantly guessing everyone’s motive and who can be trusted. All of these characters are rats in a maze, even if some don’t realize it. What’s fascinating is that the movie doesn’t spell out whom we should be routing to find the cheese. “Ex Machina” demonstrates that we might be able to draw a line between artificial intelligence and intelligence itself, but drawing a line between good guys and bad guys can be much more difficult. This helps to not only make its characters more believable, but more human as well.
Not to be confused with Age of Ultron ***1/2
How much do you want to bet that next weekend somebody will try to get a ticket for “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” and accidentally purchase one for “The Age of Adaline” instead? It’s got to be more than a coincidence that these two movies are coming out within a single week of each other, right? Of course if real life were anything like “The Age of Adaline,” implausible coincidences would be natural occurrences. Whether you see it purposely or by mistake, this romantic fantasy is still a pleasant alternative to the swarm of action blockbusters on the horizon.
Blake Lively has done mostly solid work over the years in “The Town” and those “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” flicks. Here she’s elegant, charming, and a true shimmering star as the title character. Adaline is well over a hundred, but doesn’t look a day over thirty. How is this possible? Decades ago, Adaline crashed her car into a freezing lake during a snowstorm. Her car was struck by lightening and somehow this renders Adaline immortal. Um…are you guys sure this isn’t a superhero film because that’s about as feasible as Electro’s origin story.
Over the years, people start to notice that Adaline is aging even better than Elijah Wood. Out of fear of getting taken captive by the government, she’s forced to go on the run and continually change her identity. The only one who Adaline maintains contact with is her loving daughter (Ellen Burstyn), who now looks much older than her mother. Adaline finally lets her defenses down upon meeting a charismatic man named Ellis (Michiel Huisman). The two fall madly in love, but Adaline isn’t sure how to inform Ellis about the significant age difference.
Things only get more complicated when Harrison Ford enters the picture as somebody from Adaline’s past. Without giving too much away, there’s a twist in the film’s second act that’s going to have the biggest sourpusses in the audience rolling their eyes in disbelief. There are quite a few moments in “The Age of Adaline” that really don’t make much sense logically, even if it does try to work in some scientific jargon. A movie like this doesn’t need to be governed by logic, though. It’s a modern fairytale where the planets are aloud to miraculously line up. The question is whether “The Age of Adaline” is truly magical like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or an abra-catastrophe like “Winter’s Tale.”
Thanks to the skillful direction from Lee Toland Krieger, universally heartfelt performances, and some nicely written scenes, this is a sincerely romantic movie. Such a film is difficult to come by in an era of Nicholas Sparks and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but “The Age of Adaline” keeps you invested every step of the way. Even though some plot points can come off as forced and manipulative, the emotion here is 100% genuine and the characters all feel surprisingly authentic. It’d be especially easy for a film like this to throw in a one-note villain. Yet, everyone is essentially a sympathetic, caring human being that deserves to a live long, long, long, happy life.