Tag Archives: Anthony Mackie

Movie reviews: ‘Mockingjay, Part 2,’ ‘The Night Before’

Jennifer Lawrence in 'Mockingjay Part 2'

By Tim Lammers

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)

The final arrow has been slung – but doesn’t have nearly as much zip – in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2,” a solid yet underwhelming conclusion to the franchise based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling book trilogy. Jennifer Lawrence is superior once again as Katniss Everdeen, but a lumbering start followed by uneven pacing makes the hotly anticipated final installment in the four movie saga the weakest in the series. It’s still a good movie, just not as accomplished as its three predecessors.

“Mockingjay, Part 2” picks up almost immediately where “Part 1” left off, with a rescued but emotionally damaged Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) still strapped to his hospital bed after he tries to choke Katniss to death. He’s clearly traumatized – maybe for life – by the treacherous President Snow (Donald Sutherland at his menacing best), who is laying a trap for the inevitable invasion of the Capitol by the District 13 rebellion. Despite his troubled mind, Peeta is sent along with a strike force including Katniss to execute the plan, and with any luck, give the symbolic Mockingjay her chance to assassinate Snow for all the pain and death he’s caused her and the oppressed districts of Panem.

“The Hunger Games” series has generally had three major things going for it the entire time: A story that became more textured and thought provoking as it progressed; exciting direction by Garry Ross for the first film and Francis Lawrence for the remainder, and an enormously talented ensemble cast led with ferocity by Lawrence. “The Hunger Games” of course were about adolescents dueling to the death, and “Catching Fire” upped the stakes by pitting former champions against each other. That, of course, led to the rebellion against the Capitol in “Mockingjay,” which in typical Hollywood money-grab fashion, was split into two movies to maximize profits.

Rarely has that formula worked. “Harry Potter” introduced it with “The Deathly Hallows” to great effect, but since then, it’s been employed by the dreadful “Twilight” series and much better but “Hunger Games”-like “Divergent” series.

As the 2 hour 20 minute “Mockingjay, Part 2” plays out, you begin to get the sense that the move was made solely to please the fans who want the detail and nuance of the books. That’s all well and good, so long as it translates to an exciting movie experience, and that’s exactly where this final chapter in “The Hunger Games” series is lacking. As a two-part film that nearly runs 4 1/2 hours, “Mockingjay, Part 2” simply feels stretched too thin.

For all its shortcomings, “Mockingjay, Part 2” still feels complete with this latest chapter, and doesn’t, well, leave you hungry for more. With most of his scenes opposite Julianne Moore as shifty District 13 President Alma Coin, you can’t help but be left with a bittersweet feeing watching the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his final role as gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, as the character seems far less involved than in the previous two films as “Mockingjay, Part 2” draws to a close.

One word of warning, like “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” “Mockingjay, Part 2” can’t quite seem to settle on an ending. Book fans will know the ending when they see it, but for the rest of us, the conclusion seems filled with indecision until the credits roll.

Tim Burton Book 2
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“The Night Before” (R) 2 stars (out of four)

Seth Rogen is haunted by the ghost of stoner movies past with “The Night Before,” a retread of the dopey film formula that has followed the actor throughout most of his career. The raunchy Christmas comedy isn’t a complete disaster – Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie make up for Rogen’s lame presence – it just requires a lot of patience as you’re hoping for fresh laughs amid the same old tired jokes.

Gordon-Levitt stars as Ethan, an aspiring musician whose life was rocked by tragedy in his early 20s when his parents were both killed in a traffic accident on Christmas Eve. To help their friend Ethan cope, his two closest friends, Issac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie), start a Christmas Eve tradition where they party their way across New York City – all in the hopes of getting passes into the ultimate bash called the Nutcracker Ball. Unfortunately, the annual event seems to be losing its luster as Isaac is preparing to start a family and Chris is enjoying success as an NFL star.

“The Night Before” is packed with everything you’d expect out of a Rogen movie: Lots of drugs, booze and jokes about a certain member of the male anatomy. It’s really only saved by the charm of Gordon-Levitt and Mackie, and a welcome, unexpected comedic turn by Michael Shannon as a small-time dope dealer who doubles as a “Christmas Carol”-type ghost of past, present and future.

Movie reviews: ‘Love the Coopers,’ ‘Spotlight’

Diane Keaton and John Goodman in 'Love the Coopers' (CBS Films)

By Tim Lammers

“Love the Coopers” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)

If you’re looking to get into the Christmas spirit early you should at the very least like “Love the Coopers,” a dysfunctional family comedy that avoids the trappings of the genre as it winds down to a predictable yet very sweet conclusion.

Diane Keaton and John Goodman star as Charlotte and Sam Cooper, whose marriage has soured after 40 years together. Wanting to gather their family together for one last Christmas before they split, the Coopers struggle to hold it together as their children and extended family each make their respective treks to the family household.

“Love the Coopers” plays out in five individual stories before the family gathering, as we follow the complicated lives of Cooper children Hank (Ed Helms) and Eleanor (Olivia Wilde), grandpa Bucky (Alan Arkin), Charlotte’s sister, Emma (Marisa Tomei), and of course, Charlotte and Sam.

Hank is going through a divorce and is in search of a job, while Eleanor has a mess of a love life until she meets a soldier (Jake Lacy) on leave. Bucky, a lonesome widower, is distraught that his good friend, Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) is moving away; while Emma struggles to come to terms with her longtime sibling rivalry with Charlotte. Also involved wrapped up in the family trials are a taciturn police officer (Anthony Mackie), an eccentric aunt (June Squibb) and Hank’s estranged wife (Alex Borstein) and their lovelorn teenage son, Charlie (Timothee Chalamet).

“Love the Coopers” feels like a number of different films, from “Home for the Holidays” to “A Christmas Story,” because the story is aided with a wise, introspective narration. It also feels a lot like “Love, Actually,” because it starts out with separate stories that eventually intertwine.

Despite its shortcomings, “Love the Coopers” works because it could have easily gone the way of a screwball comedy, yet instead relies on its gifted cast’s talents as actors whom possess natural gifts for both drama and comedy. It has a surprising blend of humor and poignancy, all while telling us a story we all know too well: Families are complicated. But since the Coopers are load

ed with family members you can relate to, don’t be surprised if you leave the film with a big smile on your face.

“Spotlight” (R) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams head up an all-star cast in writer-director Thomas McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” a compelling film about the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team’s investigation into the Boston Archdiocese child sex abuse scandal – a report that led to a falling out in the Catholic Church and exposure of hundreds more scandals in parishes nationwide.

Set largely in 2001 – in the days before the Wild West journalism of the Internet (and a sad reminder of how investigative journalism is currently on life support) – “Spotlight” follows editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), reporters Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) as the team digs into allegations of child molestation against defrocked priest John Geoghan. As it turns out, Geoghan is only the tip of a very large iceberg, leading the reporters to groundbreaking investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-ups of child sex abuse by defrocked, and in some cases, reassigned, priests.

“Spotlight” runs the gamut of emotions. You’ll feel sadness hearing the tragic revelations of abuse survivors in interviews conducted by reporters; and anger when you see the thinly-veiled threats by the church’s powerful supporters as Spotlight is urged to back off its investigation. There’s also frustration as journalists desperately try to get sensitive court documents unsealed, and disbelief as the reporters uncover a coded system in the church’s records to detect how priests accused of abuse were dealt with in a very large and convoluted system.

In the end, “Spotlight” is a very difficult film to watch, but an important film to watch nonetheless. It’s easily one of the best films of the year.

Movie reviews: ‘Our Brand is Crisis,’ ‘Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’

Sandra Bullock in "Our Brand is Crisis" (photo -- Warner Bros.)

“Our Brand is Crisis” (R) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)

A terrible title is not the only thing wrong with “Our Brand is Crisis,” a political dramedy based on a 2005 documentary of the same name. Starring a stunning Sandra Bullock and talented cast of co-stars including Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan, the film — about dueling political strategists in the 2002 Bolivian presidential race — will likely only appeal to political junkies that is if they aren’t already burnt out by America’s exhausting race for the White House. Ultimately, though, the film is hurt by its own identity crisis.

Bullock stars as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a whip-smart former political strategist coaxed out of retirement to help former Bolivian President-turned Sen. Pedro Gallo (Joaquim de Almeida), who is struggling in the polls to regain his old job. With only 90 days to go before the election, Bodine must find a way to boost Gallo 30 points in the polls – that is if she can find a way to out-maneuver her old nemesis Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who is helping the election’s frontrunner.

Bullock’s talents as both a comedic and serious actress are put to good use in “Our Brand is Crisis,” although the film (produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov) is too silly sometimes for its own good. And therein lies the biggest problem of “Our Brand is Crisis” – looking for a platform for Gallo to run on, Jane stresses how the politico should stress the “crisis” the country is going through, so suddenly, the madcap antics of the strategist feel awkward when the film gets serious. On top of that, Jane, as it turns out, has some complex issues plaguing her psyche, which are revealed as the film unfolds.

Character issues aside, “Our Brand is Crisis” is ultimately about politics, and politics being politics, the candidates eventually show their true colors and reveal themselves as slimy politicians that steal and lie; and the strategists do their best to manipulate the outcome of the election with their dirty, underhanded tricks. If anything, the film is a disheartening, defeating peek behind-the-curtain of the political system as a whole, and sadly, the world is just as scummy as you would expect it to be. There’s a crisis alright, and it starts with the people constituents put in charge to prevent

them from happening in the first place.

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In brief:

“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” (R) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)

In a film and television world over-saturated with the zombie genre, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the gory comedy “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” is death warmed over. A cross between the clever horror classic “Shaun of the Dead” and the amped-up zombie sensibilities of “World War Z,” “Scouts Guide” starts off in a deep grave before the film miraculously climbs out for a wild and inventive final half. Tye Sheridan (“Mud”) is sharp as the leader of a trio of teen Boy Scouts who put their skills to expert use when a zombie epidemic takes over a small town, and Sarah Dumont adds some edge to the film as an ass-kicking cocktail waitress who joins the teens in their plight for survival. David Koechner and Cloris Leachman are hilarious in their supporting roles as a trooper leader and neighbor lady, respectively. In the end, “Scout’s Guide” really works best for millennials and older teens, as the humor in the movie is squarely aimed at the key demographic.

Movie reviews: ‘Project Almanac,’ ‘Black Sea,’ ‘Black or White’

Project Almanac

“Project Almanac” (PG-13) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)

Get ready to be all shook up by producer Michael Bay’s manic movie “Project Almanac,” the latest offering from MTV Films that puts the shaky in shaky cam. A first-person camera movie (a la “Cloverfield” and “Chronicle”) that’s clearly aimed at the teen demographic, “Project Almanac” would be nearly intolerable if not for its ever-fascinating  narrative about traveling back in time, and the potential repercussions those travels have on the future. In a weird way, “Project Almanac” is like “Back to the Future” with an MTV generation twist.

Jonny Weston stars as David Raskin, a brainiac Atlanta high school senior on a course to attend MIT, only if he can come up with the money to attend the prestigious institution. Looking for ideas for a scholarship presentation while rummaging through the family attic, David discovers a video from his 7th birthday party where an image of his current-day self appears in a mirror.

Investigating the bizarre occurrence, David discovers his dad worked for a secret government program and was developing a machine to make time travel possible. Together with his science nerd friends (Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista), his sister (Amy Landecker) and the girl of his dreams (Sofia Black-D’Elia), David figures out how to make the “second chance machine” work, which enables the group to travel back in time.

But as the group discovers, the more they jump back and forth in time, the more their actions alter future events, sometimes with deadly results. Worse yet, any attempts to fix what they’ve done by going back in time again only creates other problems.

Naturally, “Project Almanac” is predictable insofar as we know that messing with history is bound to backfire on the teens. The great thing is, we have no idea how. While the narrative as a whole is a stretch, “Project Almanac” is entertaining as long as you sit back and enjoy the and ride and don’t let the movie’s inconsistencies drive you crazy.

Even though the film features a cast of unknowns and perpetually nauseous camera movements, the always spellbinding concept of time travel and rewriting history makes “Project Almanac” a worthwhile trip. The whole idea of documenting the events of the film on a smart phone video feels fitting for today’s tech-savvy generation, and the mind-bending concept is enough to hold everybody else’s attention.

While the presentation of “Project Almanac” is less than desirable, there are far worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

Reviewed in brief:

“Black Sea” (R) 3 stars (out of four)

Jude Law gives a commanding performance in “Black Sea,” a dark and gritty submarine thriller that will undoubtedly test the limits of claustrophobic moviegoers. Law stars as Robinson, a hard-nosed Scottish sub captain unceremoniously discarded by his employer after 11 dedicated years on the job. Before too long, though, Robinson is approached by a shady financier to command a bucket of bolts to the dangerous depths of the Black Sea, where rumored to be buried on a ridge is a Nazi U-boat that contains $20 million in gold.

With everyone promised an equal cut of the profit, the submarine soon turns into an underwater deathtrap as crewmembers contemplate killing one another to effectively get a bigger slice of the loot. But as vessel becomes damaged and the shocking plan behind the mission is revealed, the crewmembers have to find a way to put aside their differences if there’s any chance for survival.

Expertly directed by Kevin Macdonald, the great thing about “Black Sea” is that it’s every bit about its deeply flawed characters as it is the intense action scenes that propel the story ahead to its final destination. And while the scenarios get more ridiculous as the film enters its final act — the ending presents the most implausible scenario — “Black Sea,” despite its faults, is a pretty exciting ride.

Tim Burton Book 2
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“Black or White” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)

Kevin Costner stars in and produces “Black or White,” a gutsy family drama that examines race relations in the U.S. through a custody battle for a mixed-race child between her white maternal grandfather (Costner) and black paternal grandmother (Octavia Spencer).

Costner plays Elliot, a successful Los Angeles attorney who, along with his wife (Jennifer Ehle) raised Eloise (Jillian Estelle), after their daughter died in childbirth. But after his wife’s sudden death, Elliot becomes despondent and his drinking problem worsens, so Eloise’s grandmother, Rowena (Spencer) seeks shared custody. The case becomes more intense when the Eloise’s recovering drug addict father (Andre Holland) resurfaces and claims he can now parent her full-time, even though he avoided the responsibility the girl’s entire life.

Interview: Kevin Costner talks “Black or White”

Writer-director Mike Binder unflinchingly dives into a touchy area with “Black or White” as the subject of race enters the court battle, as both sides debate which culture, effectively, would be best for Eloise to be raised in. What follows is a brutally honest discussion of race from both sides of the case, which manages to be effective without being politically correct or preachy.

For as powerful as the subject matter is, “Black or White” is hampered, oddly enough, by the film’s score, which sometimes makes it feel like a Lifetime movie. That’s too bad, because everybody in the film — from Costner and Spencer to Anthony Mackie as Rowena’s brother attorney and comedian Bill Burr in an effective, serious turn as Elliot’s law associate — bring their A-game. Whether you catch “Black or White” in theaters or eventually on the tube, it’s a film that everybody should make a point seeing.

Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.