*1/2 out of ****
Rated PG-13

(for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo)
Released: June 22, 2017
Runtime: 150 minutes
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner, Josh Duhamel, Jerrod Carmichael, Stanley Tucci, Santiago Cabrera

Transformers movies are the worst. Just ask anyone. Yet Michael Bay keeps making them because, despite being the most popular franchise to mock and ridicule, people keep watching them.

Loud. Bombastic. Chaotic. Indulgent. A soulless metal-on-metal orgy of violence that’s both headache inducing and mind-numbing all at the same time, not to mention utterly confusing. Read any previous scathing review aimed at the first four movies in the Transformers saga (Parts 2 through 4 especially) and the same gripes will apply here in this fifth – and allegedly final – installment, Transformers: The Last Knight.

This time around, Bay expands the ever-evolving makeshift mythos to reveal that the alien Autobots have been helping protect Planet Earth for 1600 years. Now, however, they’re deemed threats to world order, so they’re being rounded up by a military task force. Cade Yeagar (Mark Wahlberg) is also a wanted man, covertly trekking the world to help rescue Transformers from capture, and living at a secret junkyard base that also serves as an Autobot sanctuary.

How this low-tech refuge eludes the tracking capabilities of the U.S. government is a mystery (well, until the movie needs it to be found), but plot holes and logical inconsistences are all part of this franchise’s milieu. Nevertheless, when the task force makes a deal with the devils – aka Decepticons – to find the stray Autobots, the cover for Yeagar’s getaway is blown, and everything else starts to blow up with it.

There’s a whole other layer, too, about the discovery of a link between Earth and Cybertron (the Transformer planet). This new information puts Earth in peril, turns Optimus Prime to Nemesis Prime, and it all builds up toward – you guessed it – a possible apocalypse.

For excessive measure, there’s a mythology thread that I don’t even have the energy to get into but, suffice it to say, it turns Yeagar into a Chosen One and the new academic hottie Vivian (Laura Haddock, aka Star-Lord’s mom Meredith Quill) into the final link in a family tree dating back to Merlin the magician, making her the sole genetic heir who can access an ancient relic and stop the devastation that’s coming. This would also seem to imply that Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky is dead now, but really, who cares?

The worst part of Bay’s patented obnoxious moviemaking is its pace. Scenes and shots are cut so quickly, and constantly, that your ability to process what you’re watching can’t keep up. It’s a real shame, too, because the lush, meticulous images that Bay crafts are actually pretty spectacular, especially with IMAX cameras. He just can’t sit on one for more than a second or two, and it’s maddening.

For all the frenzied nonsense that this movie vomits up and onto the screen, in a style so kinetically incoherent that it’s impossible to keep everything and everyone straight, the film’s worst attribute is actually its run time. Cut an hour out of its two-and-a-half hour length, make it a tight 90-minute special effects fireworks show of things blowing up real good (ditch the belabored mythology and flat robot comedy bits especially), and you’ve got yourself a dumb-but-thrilling multiplex movie ride.

Instead, like the others before it, Transformers: The Last Knight is a pummeling assault of visual and auditory monotony that would be fun if it didn’t relentlessly wear you down, and out.


HAN SOLO Directors Fired: It Was The Right Call (ANALYSIS)


A million voices crying out in terror, but hardly silenced. Padawans across the Twitterverse fear something terrible has happened. Five months into production of the (as yet untitled) Young Han Solo movie, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has fired its directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

The film’s release date of May 25, 2018 remains unchanged, for now.

Following reports by The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, each sourced by unnamed insiders, opinions have erupted across professional and social media landscapes. Reactions are overwhelmingly on the side of Team Lord/Miller, the guys behind The Lego Movie, the 21 Jump Street films, and TV’s The Last Man On Earth.

Feeling like a lonely Obi-Wan in Tatooine exile, I find myself siding with Team Lucasfilm, even as I’m entirely perplexed and concerned by the move, especially in its timing. The truth is, Lord and Miller never should’ve been hired in the first place.

I say that as someone who greatly admires their talents and the very specific niche (and voice) they’ve carved out for themselves within the industry. But why on earth Kennedy and writer/Star Wars guru Lawrence Kasdan ever thought the Lord/Miller style of comedy was a right fit for a Han Solo tale (young, old, or otherwise) has always baffled me.

I’ve been skeptical from the start about this mismatch of directors and material, deferring to trust Kennedy and Kasdan based on successes thus far. That trust felt justified with the hiring of a superb cast.

But when I read this statement from a source in The Hollywood Reporter, it nutshelled my concerns from Day One:

  • “People need to understand that Han Solo is not a comedic personality. He’s sarcastic and selfish.”

Exactly. And a very dry, laconic version of that personality too. Lord and Miller are great, but they are very off-brand for Han Solo.

So here we are, in the middle of a firing that, while I believe was necessary, is particularly shocking given its timing. How was this shift not made way back in 2016 during pre-production? Why did it take five months of actual filming to finally arrive at this conclusion?

I’ll grant a mulligan for trying something different with the initial hire, but the development process should’ve been more than enough for Lucasfilm to realize that Lord and Miller would not make the kind of Star Wars movie they wanted to produce. I’ve no doubt Lord/Miller could make a smart, clever send-up of the Star Wars mythos, and I’d even love to see it, but I don’t think it should be done in canon. Kennedy came to that same conclusion, too, but well-past due of what is fair to all parties involved (including, especially, the film itself).

Initial rumors of a replacement have zeroed in on Ron Howard as the front-runner, with Joe Johnston (Captain America: First Avenger, The Rocketeer) also a reported possibility. Generally speaking I have my reservations about Howard, but they revolve more around his penchant for Oscar-baiting. When it comes to big budget pop cinema, though, Howard could offer very reliable hands (if not particularly exciting ones), especially given his familiarity with Kennedy and her producer husband Frank Marshall.

(UPDATE: Ron Howard has been confirmed as the new director of the Young Han Solo movie.)

Anxieties could be tempered, too, when realizing that this situation isn’t all that different from what happened on Rogue One. In effect, writer Tony Gilroy (the Bourne movies) was brought in after initial shooting was completed and oversaw extensive rewrites, reshoots, and final edit, relegating director Gareth Edwards to a second-tier collaborator.  The only big difference between the two situations, it seems, is that Edwards was willing to submit to Lucasfilm’s creative authority and, for right or wrong, Lord & Miller were not.

Based on trailer clips that never made it into the stand-alone’s final cut, there’s a very intriguing alternative Rogue One out there that we’ll never see. Even so, it’s hard to complain about its success, both at the box office (2nd highest grossing Star Wars film ever) and overall positive reaction from fans and critics (some even hailed it as the best Star Wars movie since Empire). So as troublesome as this dramatic shift for the Young Han Solo movie is, it’s not without successful precedent.

The Variety and Hollywood Reporter pieces are definitely worth reading. Their references to on-set creative clashes between Lord/Miller and Kennedy, plus the directors’ penchant for improv conflicting with writer Kasdan’s stick-to-the-script ethic, all make for very insightful reportage.

As of now, I feel both worried and relieved. Relieved that a severe miscalculation within the Star Wars Canon has been averted, but worried if anything good can be salvaged at this late stage.

PTSD Drama THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE Trailer Explores Battle At Home (VIDEO)

The #1 movie at the 2014 box office was, surprisingly, American Sniper, the Clint Eastwood/Bradley Cooper war drama about one Navy SEAL’s tours in Iraq and his battle with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) back home. Now, the screenwriter of that film, Jason Hall, makes his directorial debut with Thank You For Your Service.

It covers familiar territory but then expands it beyond one soldier to several, and the demons that still haunt them as they struggle to adapt back to civilian life, particularly to be good husbands and fathers.

Once seriously considered by Steven Spielberg to direct (as was American Sniper), this stars Miles TellerHaley Bennett, Amy Schumer, Joe Cole, Beulah Koale, Scott Haze, and Keisha Castle-Hughes.

Thank You For Your Service opens this fall on October 27, 2017.

THE BOOK OF HENRY (Movie Review)

* out of ****
Rated PG-13

(for thematic elements and brief strong language)
Released: June 16, 2017
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring:  Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Dean Norris, Sarah Silverman, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler, Bobby Moynihan

Colin Trevorrow’s powers of persuasion are infinitely greater than his powers of storytelling, because it absolutely boggles the mind how he was able to convince any adult human person to help him make The Book of Henry.

From broad concept to actual specifics, The Book of Henry is such an affront to common sense and the basic functions of how day-to-day reality works that the only conceivable reaction to reading this script would be, one would think, “You can’t be serious.”

The fact that this film exists – with legitimate theatrical distribution, no less, complete with actual marketing – is a testament to how much leeway industry professionals will grant a person who has successfully managed a blockbuster franchise (Jurassic World, in the case of Trevorrow).

Mishmashing a grabbag of ideas into the clunkiest of narratives, The Book of Henry goes from precious to perverse to preposterous in a series of whiplash inducing swings. How else can one describe a film that throws pedophilia into the crosshairs of a child prodigy’s coming of age story, granting his intellectual genius the moral authority to validate a vigilante license to kill, then drops in a terminal illness for good measure, and expects you to embrace it all with the warm nostalgia of a suburbia-set Spielberg classic?

It’s all so utterly absurd that even a Lifetime network exec would scoff at the notion of greenlighting this mess.

Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special) is the tween-age genius Henry who lives with his diner-waitress single mom Susan (Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) in the impossibly twee-decorated home of a working mother so tight with her budget that she nags her boys to not waste syrup at breakfast because “that stuff’s expensive”.

That tiny anecdotal nitpick is actually a good example of the logical inconsistencies that are writ large across the entire landscape of this movie, one that manufactures the facsimile of human behavior from a Hollywood contrivance machine.

It’s hard not to spiral down into a long list of implausibilities that this movie expects you to buy at face value so, short of doing that, it’s fair to say that the fundamental problems here are a writer (author Gregg Hurwitz, in his screenplay debut) so in love with his ideas that he’s blind to their incredulity, and a director so equally fascinated by them that his hubris thinks he can sell them.

Of the two, Trevorrow’s is probably the more delusional because he thinks a cheesy, schmaltzy tone will win our hearts over (just the opposite occurs) before he grabs us with the suspense of a “How To Get Away With Justifiable Homicide” thriller, all told with too-cute self-conscious dialogue that thinks its cleverness will mask its expository laziness (it doesn’t).

How it tries to set aside our most obvious question of “Well, isn’t there another option than, oh, I dunno, murder?” and the credible alternatives any sane person would jump to is the epitome of this movie’s insults.

In Henry’s book, there are topic headers that reflect, verbatim, all of our questions. These headers are followed by Henry’s detailed reasoning, at full thesis level one would assume, as to why murder is the only option…yet the movie never has any character actually read or reveal the reasoning laid out in Henry’s book. It just zips by the topic headers and expects us, the audience, to assume that the kid’s reasoning (whatever it may be) is valid because, well, he’s a precocious genius, so just go with it.

To dig further into this disaster would be to pick apart a litany of spoilers, ones I won’t detail so as not to undercut the pure experience of being gobsmacked by this train wreck. It is the most bizarre must-see movie for all the wrong reasons. But for a taste of its WTF audacity, I’ll add that it chooses to complicate its climactic hit job assassination with a Rube Goldberg machine.

Simply put, The Book of Henry is one of the most egregious miscalculations by a filmmaker that I have ever seen.

PARIS CAN WAIT (Movie Review)

**1/2 out of ****
Rated PG

(for thematic elements, smoking, and some language)
Released:  May 12, 2017 NY/LA; June 16, 2017 wide
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Eleanor Coppola
Starring: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin,
Élodie Navarre (Laura Karpman)

Leave the movie, eat some cannoli.

At the spry age of 81, Eleanor Coppola – wife of Francis Ford and mother to Sofia, both Oscar-winning auteurs – makes her directorial debut with Paris Can Wait, a jaunty Euro road trip with all of the necessary ingredients for a sumptuous art house truffle. There is much here to warm the heart and put a soothing smile on your face but, alas, Coppola’s strengths are in producing, not directing.

Her keen eye for gathering the right resources (this movie has virtually everything it needs) doesn’t transpose artistically; few of the film’s treats work together in an effective or endearing organic harmony. Each element is divinely sophisticated, but the collective whole rarely is.

In this frothy bit of Chic Lit cinema, Diane Lane – who became like family to the Coppolas during her young collaborations with Francis in The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and The Cotton Club – plays Anne, the wife of a hard-working Hollywood producer named Michael (Alec Baldwin, who literally phones in most of his performance).

He’s inattentive, distracted by work emergencies, and clueless as to how he subordinates Anne’s life to his own, yet even as Michael takes his wife for granted he’s still clearly in love with her. Nevertheless he’s in serious need of a wakeup call, she needs some appreciation, and they’re both are about to get it.

In a rush to leave Cannes for Paris, Anne’s travel options fall apart in the first of several forced contrivances. Her remaining alternative? Go with Jacques (French actor Arnaud Viard), a French business associate of Michael’s who’s headed that way via highway himself. She takes the offer, and the two set out on a luxurious travelogue from the southern Croisette to the northern capital, every mile filled with lush locales, museums and landmarks, sunny sights, and foodie delights.

This is a movie so, of course, the possibility of forbidden romance looms, although for Anne it’s ultimately an emotional fling, not a sexual one. She’s assessing her midlife, where the rest of it goes from here, and if Michael’s in the picture, but it all stays an easy breezy affair, not a tawdry or tormented one.

Jacques, however, seems to have more amorous designs on his mind, each coyly suggested but in increasing measure. Meant to give the excursion its jolt of romance (or, at least for Anne, a reawakening of passion), Jacques’ would-be catalytic presence fails with surprising consistency because, at least here, Arnaud Viard is not a compelling romantic figure or muse. He’s scripted to provide a slow-burning spark that Anne should find difficult to resist, but Viard’s cavalier approach makes Jacques awkward, and occasionally creepy, not swoon worthy.

Despite his vast insights as a tour guide, with an attention to detail and Anne’s experience of it, Jacques’ advances (whether in look, insinuation, or gesture) feel intrusive, not welcome. He’s easy going, amiable, and observant, but there’s no charm there. Instead, Jacques simply comes off as what he actually is: a vivacious associate of Anne’s husband who has good taste but oversteps his bounds while leeching an extended vacation off of her credit cards.

She rebuffs his most direct signals, which makes sense given how clumsy they are, yet it’s clear that Coppola would have us believe Anne does so while resisting a desire to give in. The fact that Anne and Jacques confess a meaningful connection between each other is hard to believe.

Lane does her best to create some chemistry, sometimes working too hard for it (though it’s hard to blame her), but Viard is simply not attractive or alluring, thus nullifying Jacques’ primary function. A simple bit of recasting, say, with Best Actor Oscar winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist) would’ve made a world of difference, and helped smooth over Coppola’s directorial rough edges.

Or better yet, Paris Can Wait would’ve been more compelling, and empowering, had Anne made the journey of her own volition, within her own agency, as a proactive choice to take stock, find herself, and do it on her terms, and not on the whims of a cad. Sure, if you want some romance, give her some winking dalliances along the way, maybe even a profound (if brief) connection, but the presence of Jacques ends up compromising Anne’s arc of self-discovery, and reduces it to a gossipy anecdote.

Composer Laura Karpman’s Riviera-tinged jazz does much of the tonal heavy lifting, and to the extent you’re transported during these ninety minutes it’s due to her music (seriously, make this score – available on Spotify – the soundtrack to your summer) and cinematographer Crystel Fournier’s picturesque frames, from gorgeous landscapes to glossy still life.

Paris Can Wait is the movie equivalent of a French weekend getaway, complete with vicarious flirtations, yet you’ll end up rooting for Baldwin’s dolt of a husband to come around more than you will for Anne to indulge in some “justified” tryst. I suspect Coppola was hoping for the reverse, given how the film ends on an obvious cue for a second trip, but the only new holiday worth taking is the one where Anne sets out on her own, still heard through Karpman’s ear and seen through Fournier’s eye.

Oscar-Winning Director Tackles 1967 Riots In DETROIT Trailer (VIDEO)

Restaging events, in some cases, as exact replications of archival footage, Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) takes on the tone of a gritty crime thriller in Detroit

The latest film from the only female to win a Best Director Academy Award dramatizes the five days of riots in 1967 that followed a police raid of an unlicensed bar. Starring John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as a security guard who gets caught up in the police department’s racist politics, the cast also includes Anthony MackieMalcolm David KelleyJohn KrasinskiJacob LatimoreJason MitchellWill PoulterJack Reynor, and more.

Detroit opens on August 4, 2017.

One Sheet Poster for DETROIT.