Tag Archives: Elizabeth Banks

Angels Assemble

Charlie’s Angels

by George Wolf

We’ll know soon enough if there was high demand for a new Charlie’s Angels film. But 16 years after the close of the Drew Barrymore version, Elizabeth Banks apparently thought she could bring the franchise a welcome freshness.

She was right, mostly.

As writer, director and co-star, she’s a Banks of all trades, and just one of the Bosleys assisting a team of Angels. In this Charlie universe, “Bosley” is a rank, not a name, with famous faces such as Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou and even Michael Strahan as some manner of Boz.

But it is Banks’s Bosley that is on the case when Angels Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) must protect Elena (Naomi Scott), a brilliant systems engineer who stands between bad guys and some lethal new technology.

Even with its updated vibe, Banks’s vision seems more in line with the original TV series (12 year-old me was a big fan). Barrymore’s films did bring some charm, but too often treated style as weapon of submission. The feeling this time is more of an easygoing wink-wink, with plenty of callbacks to franchise history and some well-staged battle angel set pieces.

There’s plenty of girl power, too, and while these Angels aren’t first to that party, they fit in quite nicely. They value friendships, they own their sexuality without being sexualized, they’re skilled, strong and always ready to rib each other about awkward flirting or a love of cheese.

Even with the surprises and fake outs it holds, the spy story is a bit too slight to support a full two hours. But, no surprise, it is worth staying for credits that offer plenty of smile-inducing cameos.

Banks deals plenty of hands with Charlie’s Angels, overplaying none but the running time. So while it’s not a laugh riot, it is self-aware and amusing, its action heavy without undue disbelief and it feels like a reboot we needed, whether we realized it or not.


Brick by Brick

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

by Hope Madden

Everything is not awesome.

Don’t tell Emmet (Chris Pratt), though. Try as he might (mainly to please the ever-brooding Lucy/Wildstyle {Elizabeth Banks}), he can’t seem to take on the bleak attitudes of those populating Apocalypseburg.

Wait, didn’t that used to be called Bricksburg? It did, but that was before Dad invited kid sister to share in the Lego fun. Since that day, Emmett and his buds live Fury Road-esque in a smoldering wasteland, forever on the lookout for cute but dangerous aliens from the Sistar System.

When said aliens abscond with all the Master Builders (Lucy, Batman {Will Arnett}, Unkitty {Alison Brie}, MetalBeard {Nick Offerman}, and Benny {Charlie Day}), Emmet will have to find some grit to save his friends.

Returning writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller update their 2014 tale, this time directed by Mike Mitchell (Trolls), with some pre-adolescent angst that surprisingly mirrors the post-Trump revelation that everything really isn’t awesome.

Out there in the Sistar System, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish, a hoot) sings in Disney Villain tones that she is definitely not at all evil. Definitely. Not at all. Meanwhile, she manipulates Batman’s inner narcissist to convince him to marry her in a ceremony Emmet is convinced will bring about Ourmomageddon.

Yes, much of the charm of the original has worn thin. To make up for it, the sequel relies too heavily on pop culture references (a good chunk of the film is about funny, chubby Chris Pratt versus chiseled, hot Chris Pratt and his spaceship full of velociraptors). An abundance of live action plus a clumsy Back to the Future gag fail to entertain as much as they do force the story forward.

Still, Lord and Miller nimbly use the “don’t lose your inner child” theme so popular in family films to cast a side glance at the current bleakening of society. Emmet tries harder and harder to lose his sweetness and optimism in favor of the more masculine stylings of his new friend Rex Dangervest (also Pratt, channeling his Guardians co-star Kurt Russell).

Of course, we all pull for the childlike Emmet to survive, just as the film seems to hope that our own positivity can survive our own Apocalypseville.





Gym Class Heroes

Power Rangers

by George Wolf

Let us put an end to our petty squabbling and share a delicious warm donut, for Power Rangers is here to confirm what we long imagined. The key to saving the world lies in defending your local Krispy Kreme.

It’s true, and as long as this reboot taps into that Saturday morning vibe and Elizabeth Banks yells gems like “Push them into the pit!”, there’s some over the top fun to be had. Getting there, though, is damn near insufferable.

For an origin story, we get stitched-together remnants of better movies (Breakfast Club, Spiderman, 127 Hours, Breakfast Club again) and warmed over teen angst. The five young heroes are diverse in personality, ethnicity and lifestyle, and John Gatins’s script wields these cliches like a pandering Hulk smash.

It’s just a shame our new Rangers can’t morph until they “really get to know each other.”

What to do?

What if…we cue the strings and take turns telling each how nobody “gets me” and how awful it is to be a great looking teenager! Then we can be mighty! Yep, mighty lame.

Just when you’re wondering why Bill Hader’s voice and Bryan Cranston’s face are in this mess, here comes Banks as Rita Repulsa (nice!), a gold-eating, scenery-chewing villain from space! Once Rita starts destroying the Earth, Banks starts saving the film, and director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) finds the throwback groove we’ve been waiting on for over an hour.

Verdict-2-0-Stars

 

 





Day 24: Slither

Slither (2006)

Writer/director James Gunn took the best parts of B-movie Night of the Creeps and David Cronenberg’s They Came from Within, mashing the pieces into the exquisitely funny, gross, and terrifying Slither.

A Troma alum with writing credits ranging from Scooby-Do movies to the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Gunn possessed all the raw materials to pull it off. The film is equal parts silly and smart, grotesque and endearing, original and homage. More importantly, it’s just plain awesome.

Cutie pie Starla (Elizabeth Banks) is having some marital problems. Her husband Grant (the great horror actor Michael Rooker) is at the epicenter of an alien invasion. Smalltown sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) tries to set things straight, as a giant mucous ball, a balloonlike womb-woman, a squid monster, projectile vomit, zombies, and loads and loads of slugs keep the action really hopping.

Gunn lifts certain scenes – the best scenes – directly from both the Cronenberg and the lesser Creeps effort, but never steals. His film brims with affectionate nods, including the great early scene where white trash Margaret sits on her couch with her toddler watching Troma’s classic Toxic Avenger. Classy, mom!

Gunn would go on to helm the hilarious fun of Guardians of the Galaxy, and it’s this film that shows just how perfect a choice he was for that effort. Consistently funny, cleverly written, well paced, tense and scary and gross – Slither has it all. Watch it. Do it!

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!





The Pitch is Back

Pitch Perfect 2

by Hope Madden

In 2012, Elizabeth Banks produced a film that was “an inspiration to girls all over the country too ugly to be cheerleaders.” And now it’s time to return to Barton University to get our accompaniment-free groove on in Pitch Perfect 2.

That’s right, pitches.

The Barton Bellas, having survived power struggles, forbidden romance and intimacy issues, have been the reigning collegiate a cappella champs for 3 years. However, an a cappella-tastrophe during a command performance at the Lincoln Center stripped the group of their title, and their only way to get it back is to become the first Americans to win the World Competition.

To do it, they’ll have to beat the Germans. Just like Rocky, but with singing … and comedy that’s intentional.

Banks returns in her role as one half of a bedecked competition commentator duo, opposite the endlessly hilarious John Michael Higgins. While their hysterical banter punctuates the proceedings, Banks also directs this time around. She shows as strong a sense of comic timing behind the camera as she has always shown in front of it, but really impresses when staging the musical numbers.

The game cast returns for seconds, with a dry, self-deprecating Anna Kendrick leading up the singing sisterhood. Rebel Wilson and Adam DeVine are back, ensuring plenty of uncomfortable lunacy, while a stable of fun cameos including David Cross, Jason Jones and Keegan-Michael Key keeps scenes fresh and funny.

I’m no Green Bay Packers fan, but it’s a lot of fun watching Clay Matthews and most of their offensive line sing Bootilicious.

Plenty of bits feel stale, too. As with any sequel, the novelty is gone and certain jokes have more than run their course by now. The storyline is a bit too predictable and tidy, the new characters are not compelling, and now and again Banks returns to a gag once too often.

Still, Kendrick is a solid foundation. She’s a talented comic performer who sings remarkably well, so a good place to build your movie. Kay Cannon’s script balances silliness, raunch and heart quite well, and those folks looking for lots of exceptionally choreographed numbers won’t be disappointed.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





A Movie Worthy of the Awesomeness of Legos

The Lego Movie

by Hope Madden

Legos! Has there ever been a cooler toy? It’s ideal for unbridled creativity as well as meticulous attention to directions and every tendency in between, so basically, it’s perfect. And it’s a weirdly apt building block for a movie.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – writers and directors behind the surprise hit Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs as well as the even more surprising 21 Jump Street – return to animation with this artistic gem that pleases on all fronts.

Regular guy Emmett, construction worker and follow-the-directions type, falls into an adventure with wild idea creatives who are fighting to keep evil Lord Business from ending the Lego world as they know it.

It’s a solid, even familiar premise, and it offers these talented filmmakers a lot of opportunities. The tone is fresh and irreverent, the direction endlessly clever, and the voice talent spot-on.

Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman anchor the tale, with great cameos (Jonah Hill and Billy Dee Williams are the biggest hoot) and talented supporting turns helping to keep every scene interesting.

A clear love of Legos infects the entire proceedings, with hilarious Lego pieces and familiar characters and creations popping up everywhere. But the core ideas are even stronger and more thoughtful, the satire bright and evident, and the final themes appropriate for the kids you took with you as your excuse to see this movie.

Lord and Miller manage to entertain every possible audience here, poking fun at modern blockbusters and reveling in youthful creativity. They are aided immeasurably by animators who offer vivid, imaginative action sequences that embrace the themes of the film and mirror the energetic fantasy world of childhood.

The result is a joyous voyage, a perfect match between content and presentation, and a super cool movie.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 





State of the Art Gaming

 

by George Wolf

 

When a movie runs two and a half hours, yet the ending arrives as an unwelcome surprise, you know that film has done something right.

The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire is that film, one that manages to do just about everything right.

From the start, it raises the stakes from last year’s franchise debut. While The Hunger Games was certainly a competent adventure, it was content (perhaps understandably) to work within the “young adult” parameters of Suzanne Collins’s source novel.

Catching Fire deals in more mature themes and sophisticated ideas, weaving an intelligent script, impressive direction and superlative performances into a massively entertaining blockbuster that leaves you anxious for the next chapter.

The story picks up with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) on their victory tour, accompanied by their ever-present handlers Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks). While the group is away, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and new chief game maker Plutarch (these names!) Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) worry that Katniss has become a symbol of hope for the common people, a symbol which could spur another uprising.

Planning to eliminating that threat, Snow declares the next Hunger Games will be played only by former victors,  which means Katniss and Peeta will again be fighting for their lives.

While this sounds like just another empty rehashing of a successful formula, Catching Fire‘s scriptwriters, following Collins’s lead, have more on their minds.

Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire/127 Hours) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine/Toy Story 3), both Oscar winners, fill their script with the emotional heft needed to create a sequel which immediately creates potential for a truly memorable trilogy.

We connect with the characters on a deeper level, the sociopolitical undertones carry greater nuance, and there are even some sly parallels offered between the superstar status of Katniss and the actress playing her.

Speaking of Lawrence, well, if you’re sick of hearing she’s great, call a doctor. She grounds Katniss in vulnerability while never relinquishing the character’s heroic status. Perhaps more impressively, she sells the love triangle, making Katniss’s conflicted feelings for both Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) totally believable. And not a shirtless wolf-boy in sight..who knew it was possible?

The strong supporting cast is peppered with new faces, such as Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, and Jena Malone , who plays against her former child star type as the edgy Johanna. Keep an eye out for her elevator scene, one of the film’s lighter moments. It’s a scream.

All the separate elements are wrapped in a nice holiday bow by director Francis Lawrence (no relation). He smoothly guides the film from spectacle to solitude and back again, providing some arresting visuals in the process (see the IMAX version if you can). Despite director Lawrence’s heretofore lackluster resume (Constantine/ Water for Elephants), the choice to keep him at the helm for the Mockingjay finale (to be split into two films) now seems totally justified.

Okay, Catching Fire does stumble here and there. The scenes of Haymitch introducing Katniss and Peeta to their new opponents seems more fitting for an American Gladiators reunion and…well, that’s about it.

Fans of the book should expect a fantastic realization of the world they imagined, while those who haven’t read the novels (like myself) get to fully enjoy the delicious twist at film’s end, one that may invoke memories of a certain empire striking back.

Either way, The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire is rousing, epic entertainment.

 

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keT5CRhhy84