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

YOGA HOSERS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Humor, Sexual References, Comic Violence, and brief Drug Material

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Austin Butler, Tyler Posey, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne & Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith’s filmography has recently gone through many odd shifts. Though he gained a loyal fanbase from low-budget comedies like CLERKS and MALLRATS, Smith has entered a horror phase…and this has been a hugely miscalculated move. The best of Smith’s horror efforts is easily RED STATE, a surprisingly strong merging of the Waco siege and the Westboro Baptist Church. 2014’s TUSK was disappointing due to its confused tonal shifts and a plot that seemed to making itself up as it went along. That film featured cameos from Kevin Smith’s daughter and Johnny Depp’s kid as Canadian convenience store clerks. YOGA HOSERS is a semi-sequel to TUSK and serves as a spin-off for that pair of minor characters.

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Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) are best friends, bandmates and co-workers at the Eh-2-Zed convenience store. They bury their faces in their cellphones during school and periodically skip out on their shifts to hold band practice in the backroom. After being invited to a senior party held by preppy Hunter Calloway (Austin Butler), the Colleens’ lives begin to look up…until Colleen C’s father (Tony Hale) forces the two BFF’s to take an unexpected work shift. Missing Hunter’s party won’t be the end of the Colleens’ problems though, because Bratzis (Kevin Smith in bratwurst make-up) have risen from the ground. You may be asking: “What’s a Bratzi?” It’s a little Nazi made of bratwurst and the Colleens have to contend with an army of them. Lucky for them, legendary man-hunter Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) is on the case.

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YOGA HOSERS’ plot is kind of difficult to summarize, because there isn’t exactly a straightforward storyline. The film is supposedly about two teenage clerks fighting bratwurst creatures that kill people by going up their butts, yet only a third of the film seems interested in that. The rest is dedicated to the Colleens going about their teenage lives and Johnny Depp mugging for the camera. Kevin Smith unapologetically admitted that this film was a vanity project, but it might have been fun (albeit ridiculously stupid) if there was any semblance of a story. Flashy headache-inducing title cards, two cringe-worthy musical numbers, and lame cut-away jokes constantly interrupt the movie’s already wavering momentum.

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Even though it clocks in at a mercifully short 88 minutes, YOGA HOSERS frequently lags in its pacing and feels much longer as a result. There are a few chuckles that keep the film from becoming a total failure, but these are few and far between. One visual joke seems directly lifted from Mel Brooks’ ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (moles changing around on Johnny Depp’s face), which in turn was actually recycled from the ever-changing hump in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. The biggest laugh comes from Haley Joel Osment as Canadian Hitler. The punchline to his single scene is very funny, but that energy vanishes the minute he’s gone. Don’t worry though, because YOGA HOSERS tries to get more wacky laughs by giving us a Nazi villain monologuing through voice impressions of Hollywood actors (ala Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Pacino, etc.). That’s the level we’re at here, folks.

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I can’t judge too harshly on Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith’s performances, because they come off as annoying teenage kids. This was definitely the intention, but it doesn’t automatically turn them into likable ass-kicking heroines. Austin Butler, who resembles Justin Bieber, shows potential in a neat plot twist that showed promise…and is quickly written out by a lazy butt joke. Johnny Depp’s Guy Lapointe was one of the worst things in TUSK, but seems to fit in with the wacky stupidity of YOGA HOSERS. His presence is much more colorful than either of the Colleens anyway. The less said about Kevin Smith in bratwurst make-up, the better. Justin Long is serviceable enough as a pretentious strip mall yoga instructor. However, Smith thinks that cameos are the same thing as comedy…which makes for two incredibly out-of-place moments.

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Truthfully, I think that Kevin Smith knows YOGA HOSERS isn’t a good movie. In the Q&A shown before the Fathom Event screening, Smith stated that the film is a midnight movie made for viewers who aren’t allowed to stay up until midnight. He seems to be writing off this film’s bad quality as it being made for kids. I don’t think that’s quite the case. There may be no F-bombs or nudity in this film, but there’s definitely enough sexual innuendos to earn the PG-13 rating (which isn’t exactly perfect for a “kid’s movie”). Even if YOGA HOSERS was actually intended for little girls, quality kid’s films usually entertain older viewers too. How terrible is YOGA HOSERS? Well, let’s just say that a theater filled with hardcore Kevin Smith fans was dead silent for 90% of the running time and I’ll pretty much be ignoring the rest of Kevin Smith’s new movies until he inevitably makes CLERKS III.

Grade: D-

AMERICAN ULTRA (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, Language throughout, Drug Use and some Sexual Content

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Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh

Written by: Max Landis

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman & Tony Hale

Sometimes, you walk into a movie knowing precisely what you’re going to get. That was my exact situation with AMERICAN ULTRA. I bought my ticket expecting a batshit insane action-comedy and that’s exactly what I received. Though it’s definitely not for everyone (especially gauging its current low percentage on Rotten Tomatoes), this crazy stoner adventure has a likely chance of going down as a future cult classic. I could see it easily resting next to REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA and SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. The film is far from perfect and has its problems, but I found AMERICAN ULTRA to be a blast of entertaining mayhem.

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Mike Howell lives a fairly uninteresting existence. He’s a stoner loser who’s going nowhere and suffers from a crippling number of irrational phobias. The best part of Mike’s life is his long-time stoner girlfriend, Phoebe. One night, a mysterious woman walks into Mike’s workplace and speaks gibberish to him that sound like bad song lyrics. It turns out that these “lyrics” were actually activation code words and Mike is far from your typical stoner. With lots of bad people coming to kill him, Mike finds himself suddenly endowed with a set of deadly skills that he never knew he had. To make it through the night alive, he’ll need some help from Phoebe and a variety of household appliances turned deadly weapons (including a spoon and a dust-pan). Think BOURNE IDENTITY with a BIG LEBOWSKI attitude.

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AMERICAN ULTRA lives up to its expectations as both a stoner comedy and a crazy action flick, but it also serves as an unconventional romance too. The film is entertaining the whole way through. The screenplay also delivers on what audiences going to a movie about an idiotic stoner sleeper agent would expect to see. The cinematography looks great and uses a lot of distinct stylistic touches. I couldn’t help but admire how the film looked as a whole. There’s a constant fast-pace through the first and third acts, but the film drags during the middle. This could be because the middle section has less action than the rest of the story, but I attribute most of the blame to exposition-heavy conversations (enough to temporarily suck me out of the story).

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Jesse Eisenberg is usually hit or miss for me. His geeky shtick can be annoying or charming, depending on the material he’s given. Here, Eisenberg is perfectly cast as the dumb, unconventional action hero. His nervous antics lead to many laughs as his predicament goes from bad to worse. Kristen Stewart, playing Phoebe, manages to be a better romantic lead with far more emotion than many past roles of her career. Connie Briton, Tony Hale, and Bill Pullman are side characters who mainly serve to drive the plot forward. Even though their characters are plot devices, they make the most of the screen time they’ve been given. Though Topher Grace may have been woefully miscast as a certain super villain in a well-known comic book franchise, he certainly fits the part of asshole pencil-pusher turned radical villain in this film. His smarmy line delivery and pompous facial expressions make you want to punch him during every one of his scenes. So, a job well done on his part. More intimidating than Grace is Walton Goggins as the simultaneously scary and funny Laugher (one of Grace’s main henchmen). John Leguizamo’s brief turn as a drug dealer is also hilarious, even tough he’s underused.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how awesome the action scenes are in AMERICAN ULTRA. I was shocked at how well-executed these sequences were. Aside from using enough blood to fill a Tarantino shootout, ULTRA gets ultra-creative (sorry, I had to say that) in its violence. We see normal household objects transformed into lethal weapons and these crazy combinations never get old. A sequence in the final third also comes off like the a cross between the KINGSMAN‘s now famous (or infamous) church scene and the final showdown in THE EQUALIZER. Blood splatters all over the place, but never to a sickening degree. None of this is meant to be taken seriously and the movie uses that to its comedic advantage.

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Slight pacing issues aside, I really enjoyed AMERICAN ULTRA. This is precisely the sort of film that might very well become a cult classic in the near future. The combination of a stoner comedy and a crazy action flick are undeniably appealing for certain crowds. It helps that fun performances and palpable creativity are also thrown into the mix as well. AMERICAN ULTRA is a stoner-centric romantic-action-comedy that delivers on its strange premise.

Grade: B

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