August has officially begun with its mixed bag of cinema goodness. This week, nearly every audience is covered. You have a gritty sci-fi action thinker (oxymoron?), a raunchy comedy, a young adult fiction fantasy adaptation and an excuse for Disney to sell toys. Let the reviews begin.
We’re the Millers
Jason Sudeikis plays David Clark, a middle-aged low-level drug dealer in Denver. He enjoys his passive way of life until he gets in a bind and owes a drug kingpin (Ed Helms) quite a bit of money. To pay off his debts, David agrees to smuggle a “smidge and a half” of marijuana across the border in an RV. He assumes that the only way to stay under the radar is if he hires a fake family to travel with him. He recruits an aging stripper (Jennifer Aniston) to play his wife, a seemingly homeless thief (Emma Roberts) for his daughter, and a naive teenager (Will Coulter) as his son. No family road trip from Mexico would be complete without odd travel-mates, car problems and a drug cartel hot on your heels.
If you think the plot sounds outlandish, that is only the tip of the iceberg. The farther this makeshift family travels, the more ridiculous the story gets. There’s almost no reason that this shouldn’t have been the long-rumored Vacation reboot. It would almost make as much sense that Wally World be their final destination just as much as getting back to the their drug lord by the deadline.
I went into this movie with an expectation of complete mediocrity, but something strange happened as I followed the Millers in their travels. I laughed…quite a few times actually. We’re the Millers kept swinging for the shock value and it paid off. Even when the jokes were more subtle, I couldn’t help but chuckle. One of the main problems comes when the movie tries to get sentimental. I wish this thrown-together family could have just stayed the pathetic characters they truly were and not pour sap all over the ending.
Sudeikis and Aniston held the movie together as best they can. Sudeikis’ character was unlikable for the entire movie. Aniston provided surprisingly funny moments. There seemed to be almost zero reason for Emma Roberts character to be in the movie. But, Will Coulter as Kenny Miller was the highlight of the movie. He stole every scene he was in and he barely needed to say a word. Most of the gut laughs dealt with the awkwardness of Kenny.
Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn costar as overly-helpful fellow RV’ers. This movie proves that having Nick Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec, in your movie is never a bad thing.
It’s hard to completely recommend We’re the Millers to everyone. It can get pretty crude. It’s also tough to root for drug smugglers. If you do see it, you’ll no doubt be laughing. Though, the comedy is fleeting. I forgot nearly every humorous scene immediately after the movie ended. It’s worth watching, but it would make a better rental or matinee.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Remember the days when every young adult fiction book was adapted for the big screen? Only 1.4% of them every did well enough to gain a cinematic following. 2010’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief looked to be another movie that hoped to be a franchise but fizzled out on its first outing. Well, somehow a second movie was made. Sadly, I don’t think fans of the series care much at this point.
Logan Lerman returns as Percy Jackson the half-human half-god son of Poseidon. After saving Olympus in the first movie, he is back with his friends at the half-blood camp that provides a shielded sanctuary from any outside threat. As the movie opens up, we see the death of Zeus’s young daughter just outside the walls of the camp. She becomes a tree, which provides the force-field for the sanctuary. But as Percy and his friends train, they find that the tree has been poisoned and the camp becomes vulnerable. So, Percy and his friends, along with his cyclops half-brother Tyson, journey to find the Golden Fleece, which can cure anything. Meanwhile, Percy’s arch-nemesis Luke is on his own quest to find the Fleece to raise evil titan Kronos.
Since seeing Lerman in last year’s incredible movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it almost makes me sad to see him have to play in a mediocre movie like this. One of the best things about the first movie was the caliber of actors playing the Gods. The absence of Sean Bean, Kevin Mckidd and Steve Coogan is noticeable. Even Pierce Brosnan as Chiron, Percy’s Centaur Mentor (good name for a band) has been replaced by Anthony Stewart Head. This time around we get the inclusion of Hermes, played by Nathan Fillion. In his far-too-short scene he provided some much needed humor.
I would have been happier with this movie if it was fun. But it just wasn’t. There was always an overly-serious tone and instead of feeling like an adventure, it just felt like the cast was traveling from one action set piece to the next. I can’t fault the pacing of the movie. Sitting around 1 hour 45 minutes, it maintained quick pacing and will keep younger audiences in excitement as the group takes on titans and monsters.
This movie ends with a hope that there will be another Percy Jackson sequel. I can’t recommend anyone in an older audience going to see this movie. If you were a fan of mythology, you have probably changed your mind since Clash/Wrath of the Titans and Percy Jackson. This is worth a rental if you have tweens at home.
A few years ago, a low budget sci-fi movie called District 9 came out of nowhere. Director Neil Blomkamp suddenly became a director to watch. Now finally, 4 years later, he has released his second movie, Elysium.
Matt Damon stars as Max, a former criminal trying to live an honest life working a 9 to 5 job at a robotics factory. The problem is, the year is 2154 and the entire Earth is a District 9 type wasteland due to heavy overpopulation. Because Earth is now a polluted landscape overrun with crime, the rich people live on an orbiting satellite called Elysium. They peacefully live out their days in paradise. The government of Elysium, specifically Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster), do whatever they can to keep Elysium free from filth. And yes, that means illegal immigrants from Earth.
So basically this movie covers border security, the occupy movement, and homeland security. Who doesn’t love a healthy dose of heavy-handed messages?
Max suffers an accident where he is poisoned with radiation and only has days to live. He joins with the criminal underground once again so that he can safely get to Elysium and heal his body in their magical medi-beds (which can heal broken bones, cancer and ripped off faces…and apparently plot-holes too).
I’ll just say it, I expected a lot from Blomkamp’s second movie. I wanted more originality, but all I got was more of the same, with a little less emotion. There were several important characters and I don’t think one of them had clear character motivations. Max is a selfish man looking only to save himself and has a split-second change of mind. Sharlto Copley’s villainous Kruger is a mercenary hired on and betrayed by Elysium’s government, but for some reason won’t rest until he eliminates Max.
This movie almost requires a second watch, not because it’s that good, but because I want to see if the plot actually makes sense.
That said, there are incredible elements in this movie. The weaponry is so much fun to watch. The guns, that were basically borrowed from the set of District 9, are so lethal and destructive that it’s almost shocking. It never hurts to have several bodies vaporize in this kind of sci-fi movie. Visually, Elysium is equal parts beautiful and unforgivably gritty. Blomkamp knows how to frame iconic scenes.
It’s a shame that nothing quite felt original in Elysium. I just couldn’t get invested in Damon or the plight of this world. There was plenty of cool stuff happening on screen, but it just felt a little hollow. The only parts that made me sit up and pay attention were the firefights.
If you loved District 9, then there’s no stopping you from seeing this in theaters. Sadly, it doesn’t quite measure up. If you didn’t care for D9, then don’t bother with Elysium. I just hope that Blomkamp tries a change of pace for his next film and doesn’t make a gritty sci-fi movie that feels exactly the same. If he gets typecast as this type of director, he only has himself to blame.