MASTERMINDS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, some Language and Violence

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Directed by: Jared Hess

Written by: Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer & Emily Spivey

Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Mary Elizabeth Ellis & Ken Marino

MASTERMINDS was originally slated to hit theaters in August 2015 and, due to the studio declaring bankruptcy, its theatrical release was postponed until this weekend. When you look at the cast, crew, and source material behind this film, you get the sense that this might be an underrated sleeper hit of 2016. The script is based on a real-life heist of idiotic proportions, the cast features big comedic talent (including 3/4ths of the recent GHOSTBUSTERS remake) and director Jared Hess has tackled quirky comedies in the past (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, NACHO LIBRE). Though its true story is anything but bland and forgettable, MASTERMINDS somehow manages to be bland and forgettable. The film only received a handful of laughs from an awkwardly silent theater and a majority of those were caused by one particular cast member (more on him in a moment).

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The year is 1997 and the place is North Carolina. David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) drives an armored truck for Loomis Fargo and dreams of making a big name for himself. Though he always imagined fighting off robbers, David soon finds himself persuaded to steal over 17 million dollars from his workplace due to the urgings of sexy co-worker Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) and her manipulative friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson). After the initial heist seemingly goes off without a hitch, tensions soon erupt within the group of white trash thieves. This is further elevated by FBI Special Agent Scanlon (Leslie Jones) hot on the case, with David as a prime suspect. Extravagant spending, bad disguises, crazy coincidences, and wacky backstabbing schemes soon follow.

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Look at that cast! Just look at them! Out of the bevy of recognizable faces, only one character sticks out: Jason Sudeikis as a psychotic hitman. He steals the entire show, as if there was much worth stealing in the first place, and provides the film’s only laughs. I cannot overstate how funny Jason Sudeikis is in this film. This is one of the Sudeikis’s best performances and it’s tragically trapped in one of the worst films of his career. Everyone else comes off as various degrees of bland, though the end credit bloopers show that they all seemed to have fun on the set.

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Zach Galifianakis’s only funny bits have already been given away in the trailer (the best of which involves a horribly misguided disguise), meaning there weren’t that many to begin with. His performance is phoned in, but it’s nothing compared to the Kristen Wiig’s hollow love-interest role. Kelly Campbell’s relationship with David might have been interesting in a better film, but I never really understood where she was coming from and eventually gave up on any attempt to care. Owen Wilson’s villainous Steve Chambers has an okay running gag of overspending (a detail that’s completely accurate to the ridiculous true story), but his presence is underutilized. Kate McKinnon is cringe-worthy as David’s mentally unhinged fiancé and Leslie Jones doesn’t get much to do as the FBI agent investigating the case.

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As mentioned before, MASTERMINDS is funniest during Jason Sudeikis’s scenes. If the film had maintained that level of energy and hilarity for a majority of the running time, this would be a very different (far more positive) review. The script frequently stoops to low-brow potty humor, instead of focusing on the hilarity of the ludicrous true crime story that inspired it. The worst joke comes in a fart gag that devolves into a diarrhea scene. Another needlessly unfunny moment has a character farting into another character’s butt. That’s the level that this film is playing on. Jared Hess’s past efforts have showcased a unique sense of humor that works for some viewers and doesn’t quite work for others. I like NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and NACHO LIBRE, but MASTERMINDS feels like it’s attempting to recapture that quirkiness with a bigger budget and frequently falls flat. I wouldn’t be surprised if the studio meddled with this film to the point where it didn’t resemble Hess’s original vision at all or he might have simply lost his touch on this project.

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It should speak volumes that I laughed more whilst reading the Wikipedia page about the 1997 Loomis Fargo heist than I did for most of MASTERMINDS’s running time. I’ll say it again, Jason Sudeikis’s hitman is the funniest thing in this whole damn movie. The rest of it is generic, bland, and lazy. There’s really no discernible excuse for why this film shouldn’t have been hilarious. The material is perfectly honed for this director and the cast seem primed to make this into a goofy romp. Sadly, MASTERMINDS is a disappointment that only contains a handful of laughs and an interesting true story that’s far more entertaining than the film itself.

Grade: D+

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and Action

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Directed by: Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly

Written by: Mikael Hed, Mikko Polla & John Cohen

(based on the video game ANGRY BIRDS by Rovio Entertainment)

Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key & Blake Shelton

I wasn’t expecting THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE to be great. After all, this film is based on an addicting cell phone app. That’s the current state of the film industry though, where a TETRIS trilogy gets greenlit and an EMOJI MOVIE is currently in production. I watched ANGRY BIRDS with hopes that it might be serviceable family entertainment. Not up to Disney or Pixar standards, but somewhere along the lines of a lesser DreamWorks film. I was horribly mistaken. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is one of the worst animated films I’ve seen in a long time and it’s not like this film doesn’t have good production values behind it either. ANGRY BIRDS features a talented voice cast and has solid animation, but the script is offensively lazy and a large portion of the jokes fall flat.

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On the aptly named Bird Island, easily infuriated Red (Jason Sudeikis) has been sentenced to anger management. In this frustrating program, the red flightless bird reluctantly befriends speedy Chuck (Josh Gad) and explosive Bomb (Danny McBride). Red’s anger management classes encounter unexpected turbulence when a mysterious ship arrives, filled with green pigs. The pigs are led by charismatic leader Leonard (Bill Hader), who quickly becomes popular in the bird community. However, Red becomes suspicious of these pigs and is written off as paranoid by his fellow feathered citizens. Soon enough, the outcast trio of angry birds become the only hope for Bird Island’s unhatched eggs.

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To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t exactly sold on ANGRY BIRDS being a film from the get-go. The marketing was lame, but I heard a few surprisingly positive reviews and the animation looked good. This film was made by Finnish company Rovio Entertainment, the very same company that made the ANGRY BIRDS app to begin with, and currently holds the record for the largest budget in Finnish film history. Apparently those investments paid off for them, because this film banked at the box office and there’s already a sequel in the works. Why am I discussing the production of this film, rather than the qualities of the movie itself? Well, those details seem remarkably more interesting than anything I can really say about this dull slog of wasted animation.

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The film’s story seems to be making itself up as it goes along, with many filler scenes before the all too brief conflict between angry birds and green pigs. This film seems like an origin story for the ANGRY BIRDS universe, but forgets part of why that game was so enjoyable in the first place. You’re launching birds at evil green pigs to retrieve eggs. This movie takes over an hour before it finally reaches that point, not that it necessarily would have been better to watch birds vs. pigs for an hour of screen time. What I’m getting at is that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE runs way too long. This film could have easily been shortened by 20 or 30 minutes and it would have made for a less painful experience.

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The film’s talented voice cast is completely wasted on bottom-of-the-barrel potty humor and pop culture references. Both of those can be well-executed in kid’s films, but ANGRY BIRDS drops the ball numerous times. There’s a forced SHINING reference with two pigs, a Calvin Klein ad with a pig, cholesterol jokes and plenty of substituted profanity (e.g. “Peck my life” and “Shell yes”). Are we laughing yet? Well, if those don’t do it for you, surely you’ll be rolling in the aisle from lame bird puns, a sequence of a snot-nosed bird flying through the air and smearing mucus everywhere, butts being thrown into other birds faces, and an elongated pee joke that’s already been spoiled in the trailer. It’s a wonder that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE wound up hitting 3,932 theaters, because this thing feels like it should be debuting direct-to-video in Redbox and discount Wal-Mart bins.

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Are there any redeeming qualities to ANGRY BIRDS? Well, two adult-aimed jokes are genuinely clever and the animation is fun to look at. I’m not going to pretend like I’m the target audience for THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE, because I’m clearly not. However, THE LEGO MOVIE also sounded stupid in theory and wound up being one of the best films of 2014. It’s possible to make any idea, regardless of how idiotic and stupid it sounds, into a great or fun film, if there’s enough talent, effort and love thrown into the project. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is not that kind of movie. Instead, this lazy cash-grab will probably occupy bored children for 97 minutes, but likely won’t do much for teenage viewers and adults.

Grade: D

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Supernatural Action and some Crude Humor

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Directed by: Paul Feig

Written by: Katie Dippold & Paul Feig

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong, Andy Garcia, Neil Casey & Charles Dance

I wasn’t looking forward to 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS. It’s not that the 1984 classic was a huge part of my childhood (it wasn’t) or that I’m a sexist chauvinistic jerk who bashes anything with female leads (I’m not). It’s just that the film’s marketing was piss-poor. This is especially true of the painfully bad trailers, with every joke falling flat and the overall film looking terrible. Sony’s response to claim that every outspoken critic was an automatic “sexist” or “immature man-child” was also infuriating and ridiculous. I was not up for seeing or reviewing this film, until I received impromptu free movie tickets. Suddenly, my curiosity was ignited enough to give this GHOSTBUSTERS remake/reboot (whatever the hell you want to call it) a shot. Having finally seen one of the most talked about movies of 2016, I feel this new GHOSTBUSTERS is not good or bad…or worthy of its already established controversy. This horror-comedy is a middle-of-the-road experience with positive qualities and an equal amount of negative qualities.

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Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a college professor on the verge of getting tenure, but the resurgence of a paranormal book she co-authored with her ex-best-friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) threatens her livelihood. Through a strange set of circumstances, Erin and Abby become besties again…along with quirky inventor Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). The trio discover an actual ghost and decide to become professional paranormal researchers. However, their newly chosen career is met with understandable skepticism. The ghost-busting business starts booming when strange supernatural entities pop up around New York City. Evil genius Rowan (Neil Casey) is trying to unleash a ghostly apocalypse. With the help of streetwise Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), the four women unite to become the Ghostbusters and try to stop Rowan’s evil plans of paranormal pandemonium.

Gertrude the Ghost in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.

The GHOSTBUSTERS reboot/remake is a mixed bag through and through. This is especially evident in the main performances. Kristen Wiig has been funny in the past and so has Melissa McCarthy (SPY was one of the best comedies I saw last year), but both play serious straight-women to the wacky Kate McKinnon and loud-mouthed Leslie Jones. As a result, Wiig and McCarthy didn’t really deliver any jokes that worked. All the laughs I got out of the main cast actually came Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann and Leslie Jones’ Patty, two characters that looked annoying in the previews. Though McKinnon and Jones have their share of wooden moments, they mostly succeed as their colorful characters.

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The new GHOSTBUSTERS really drops the ball in its side characters. Besides a few show-stopping cameos from original cast members (one of which was hilarious and contributed to the main plot), the only notable supporting roles are Chris Hemsworth as a dim-witted receptionist (receiving big laughs) and forgettable bad guy Rowan. Neil Casey’s villain is a bland antagonist, who’s only motivation is that he was bullied in school. I know this because he wouldn’t stop monologuing about it. Rowan is boring and his final showdown is eye-rollingly obnoxious (repeating a tired trope that was seen in the other two GHOSTBUSTERS films). Though they only make up a combined screen time of five minutes, Charles Dance got some chuckles as an uptight college professor and Andy Garcia is slightly wacky as the nervous mayor.

Melissa McCarthy;Kristen Wiig;Kate McKinnon;Leslie Jones

For a movie that clocks in at just under two hours, 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS feels like it’s constantly going to get fun and exciting, but never kicks off into fully being either of those things. Aside from one sequence at a concert and another moment in which the crew test out newly invented equipment, the ghostbusting is sparse in this reboot. The effects-heavy climax is a bit of a mess with a repetitive blaster battle between the Ghostbusters and a never-ending horde of apparitions. While one moment was distinctly cut due to studio meddling and can be seen as a deleted scene in the credits, turning a goofy plot point into a gaping plot hole.

Slimer in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.

Concerning the ghosts themselves, the film’s effects resemble the campy, cartoony animation from last year’s highly enjoyable GOOSEBUMPS. There are a couple of creature cameos from 1984’s GHOSTBUSTERS, with Slimer being a huge plus, but the apparitions mostly consist of generic pilgrims, pirates, and a giant monster that was eye-rollingly stupid. There’s also a dragon in this movie. Though it’s in one of the film’s best moments, I was really curious as to why this monster was considered to be a ghost…because it’s a friggin’ dragon. Maybe, I’m just nitpicking, but this supernatural creature really bothered me as its presence is never commented on for, you know, being a mythical creature and not strictly a ghost.

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2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS is watchable and has a few legitimately good moments worth mentioning. Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth are standouts, while one particular cameo is great. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and the lame villain are dull and the movie never fully kicks off into the fun ghost-hunting adventure that it should be. Half of the jokes hit (one running gag kept me laughing) and the other half miss (did we really need a queef comment or a “kick him in the balls” scene?). In the end, 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS is a thoroughly middle-of-the-road experience.

Grade: C

FINDING DORY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for mild Thematic Elements

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Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Written by: Andrew Stanton & Victoria Strouse

Voices of: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Alexander Gould, Ed O’Neil, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Michael Sheen, Andrew Stanton, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett & Stephen Root

Ever since Pixar was bought by Disney, the studio has produced more sequels and less original films. We’ve had a third TOY STORY installment (which was amazing), CARS 2 (their worst film thus far), MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (an okay-at-best prequel) and still face a growing horde of follow-ups on the horizon with TOY STORY 4, CARS 3, and THE INCREDIBLES 2. 2003’s FINDING NEMO seemed highly unlikely to receive a sequel and stood perfectly fine by itself as one of the Pixar’s finest films. Still, here we are. Thirteen years after NEMO’s original theatrical run, we have FINDING DORY, which is a surprisingly solid second installment.

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A year has passed since the events of FINDING NEMO. Clownfish father Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) are peacefully living in their sea anemone home, now with forgetful blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) as their neighbor. Things have settled down for Marlin and Nemo, but that suddenly changes when Dory is struck by a resurgence of long-lost memories. It turns out that Dory has a family and lives somewhere in the California area. Desperate to be reunited with her formerly forgotten parents, Dory makes her way across the ocean with Marlin and Nemo in tow. However, her adventure becomes complicated when an aquarium “saves” Dory and the two clownfish are forced to go on an improvised rescue mission.

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Like most sequels in any genre, FINDING DORY doesn’t quite measure up to the quality of its predecessor. The plot follows a story that’s noticeably similar to the first film. When Dory is “rescued,” Marlin even exclaims “Not again!” as if to call attention to this. However, this sequel avoids simply repeating old plot points by introducing new characters, changing the setting and bringing a different set of stakes. One fantastic tweak in the story are emotional flashbacks to Dory’s childhood. Besides baby Dory being Pixar’s cutest creation ever, the blasts from this blue fish’s past lay out certain details in advance and give the audience a deep desire to see Dory happily reunited with her parents. These flashbacks don’t feel forced or heavily loaded with exposition either. They contain the right mixture of clever dialogue, heartwarming humor, and utter cuteness.

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FINDING DORY surprisingly doesn’t stumble into the typical sequel pitfall of trying to reincorporate too many characters from the original film. That film was chock full of unforgettable fishy friends and each served a distinct purpose in the movie’s storyline. DORY has a few returning faces (the singing Stingray, surfer turtle Crush, and a great after-credits cameo), but it mainly relies on a new handful of underwater characters that are just as entertaining to watch and contribute to the plot in their own special ways. Surprisingly, these come in voices from MODERN FAMILY and IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA.

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Ed O’Neill is perfectly cast as Hank, a grumpy red octopus with a heart of gold. Ty Burrell lends his unique vocals to beluga whale Bailey and provides one of the funniest story arcs, while Kaitlin Olson voices gentile whale shark Destiny. Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy serve as Dory’s forgotten-but-now-remembered parents in the many flashbacks throughout. Meanwhile, Dominic Cooper and Idris Elba are hysterical as two territorial sea lions. Even though FINDING DORY only brings back the “Mine!” seagulls for a very brief moment, these sea lions officially made up for that and had me laughing every single time they were on the screen.

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My only complaint with FINDING DORY comes from its changed environment. While the first film was an adventure that spanned across half the ocean and packed in lots of excitement, a majority of this sequel takes place within a California aquarium. This smaller location offers new characters, new jokes, and a more contained set of emotional stakes, but definitely lessens the exciting adventure aspect of the story. FINDING DORY is a very different film than FINDING NEMO in this regard, yet still can’t help but feel like a slight downgrade due to the crazy amounts of danger that the fishy protagonists faced in the first film. The only hazards Dory, Marlin and Nemo come into contact with are aquarium procedures, disgruntled staff members, and one angry sea creature (which felt a tad lazy).

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This complaint is very small in the overall scheme of FINDING DORY. The animation is exactly what you’d expect from Pixar at this point, which is to say it looks amazing, colorful and vibrant. The writing is smart and engaging, even if the adventure aspect is lessened from the first film (which seemed like an insurmountable predecessor to begin with). The emotions are spot-on as Dory’s past is built upon through adorable, heart-warming/wrenching flashbacks. DORY’s non-linear storyline never once feels forced or dull either. FINDING DORY shows that Pixar can still crank out great films, even if those movies happen to be sequels (a feat that had only previously been seen in TOY STORY 2 and 3).

Grade: A-

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