'Hotel Transylvania 3': The third time Is thankfully NOT the harm

'Hotel Transylvania 3': The third time Is thankfully NOT the harm
(Updated 7/16/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


For years in Hollywood, there have been several "Rat Pack" wannabe cliques of actors/friends who have managed to hoodwink the studio system and all make movies together. Many of these flicks succeed not because they're legitimately good movies, but because their target audiences are made to feel like they are vicariously a part of their friends' circle. This is true of the ol' "Freaks and Geeks" crew consisting of various combinations of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segal and invited hangers-on like Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride. And it's certainly been true for Adam Sandler and his merry band of pals, bros and buddies like Kevin James, Rob Schneider, David Spade and others.

But as the years progress and, let's face it, it gets harder to look at some of these folks, there has been the predictable turn to animation to keep the gravy train rolling. It's a shrewd move. The real creative talents like Rogen ("Sausage Party") and Sandler (the "Hotel Transylvania" flicks) who have actual screenplay and producer experience put the projects together. Their buddies come in for a day or two of voiceover work in a studio sound booth and pick up a hefty paycheck.

I WANT TO BE THEIR FRIENDS!!!

Ahem.

At any rate, the latest buddy collaborative "Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation" hits theaters this weekend. And as cash grabs go, it's a mostly pleasant and harmless family comedy. Sandler and Co. even jump on the whole "Social Justice Warrior" bandwagon and craft a #MeBoo story this time out that's about love and accepting each other's differences and moving forward together. Not sure if this were real life and we really, truly had vampires, monsters, creatures and ghouls roaming the planet amongst us that we'd really feel this way. I mean, rampant bloodsuckers, werewolves and zombies that have to feed are probably just the thing to bridge the red-blue, right-left divide in the good ol' U-S-of-A and get some real bipartisan legislation moving.

But I digress.

This time out, Sandler's Dracula and his creature cohorts decide to take a vacation from their hotel business and go on a Bermuda Triangle cruise. This gives them an opportunity to play some monster volleyball, get moon tans, etc. Complications ensue when Drac is smitten with Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), the ship's mysterious captain (hint ... her last name turns out to be Van Helsing), who secretly hates all of monsterkind and is plotting their destruction.

Animation franchises are funny things. When the first film is released and becomes a hit, the kids who are of age at that time flock to see it. But that first "Hotel Transylvania" was six years ago. My daughter, for instance, was 7 at the time and she loved it. Today, at 13, I tried to get her to go see this third in the series and she had NO interest. She wouldn't even wear a disguise with me so as to avoid facial recognition if any of her middle school friends were at the theater checking out "Ant-Man and the Wasp." God help me, I had more interest than my once-little Maddie for seeing this.

One big reason is the character stylings of director Genndy Tartakovsky, who gained fame in animation circles early in his career with the "Samurai Jack" series and the early "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" shorts. He and his team have a lot of fun here with their creature designs that are kind of a cross between cereal-box creations and classic creature feature characters. My favorite sequence takes place early in the film when Drac and friends board Gremlin Air and EVERY crew member onboard looks like the creepy crawler on the wing from that classic episode of "The Twilight Zone."

In a sequel-happy summer, "Hotel Transylvania 3" stays true to its concept and specific charms that preceded it. Those charms are modest and the messages are certainly worthy of Sandler, Spade and the others patting themselves on their collective backs at their next backyard mansion barbecue. It's a feel-good film ... with the cast and crew feeling the best afterwards.

"Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation" is rated PG for some action and rude humor. read more

'Skyscraper' does not tower over the box office

'Skyscraper' does not tower over the box office
(Updated 7/16/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


I keep pulling for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to put together a string of good flicks, because he seems like such a cool, fun guy in real life who is clearly having a blast with stardom. I also pull for him because I grew up in the '80s and early '90s when beefcake cinema was practically a way of life. I cut my teeth on the action flicks of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. When those guys were on, they delivered some of the favorite flicks of my lifetime (the first two "Terminators," "True Lies," the "Rockys" and "Rambos," "Above the Law"). Even when they were making cheapie throwaway flicks like "Commando" and "Cobra" and "Double Impact," the popcorn munching was epic. And lines like "I'll be back" and "Murdock, I'm coming for you" and "I'll hit you with so many rights, you'll be begging for a left" were pure geek poetry.

Johnson has certainly equaled those past action hunks' production on the big screen. It seems we get a new flick from the guy every three or four months. I just wish he were a touch more selective. And most importantly, I wish he worked with top-notch directors. Imagine what he could do with a Paul Greengrass or Christopher McQuarrie.

Instead, we get not-good/not-bad movies like "Skyscraper," a wannabe "Die Hard" or "Towering Inferno" or "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" directed by the guy who did "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," "We're the Millers" and "Central Intelligence." Those are some fun, modest comedies. "Skyscraper" strives for the gargantuan like its titular tower, but falls several stories short.

Johnson plays Will Ford, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader who now assesses security for really tall buildings. After a tense opening sequence (quite good actually) in which we learn why Ford is a former FBI guy, we find him on assignment in China and tasked with assessing the security on The Pearl, billed as the world's tallest and safest building.

It's not.

Before long, the darn thing is set ablaze with Ford's wife (a welcome return role for Neve Campbell) and two children inside on the 96th floor and he's framed for the fire. But it's really just an elaborate ruse for the film's baddies to commit arson, disable The Pearl's fire-fighting systems, and put their muddled extortion plot into motion.

The building is actually more of a character than any of the humans in the flick. An impressive movie creation, it soars 220 stories in the sky and is billed as three times the size of the Empire State Building. But bigger isn't always better ... seriously, it's not! And the film relies way too much on computer-generated special effects. Actually, what the flick needed to really sing was a great villain a la Hans Gruber ... or even Simon Gruber. It also needed a more chipper Dwayne Johnson. He plays a heavier, less humorous character here than you'd expect due to a tragedy shown early on. The film doesn't do itself any favors by constantly having kids in deathly peril, too.

Style and humor is what "Skyscraper" needed more of. It's how you get past dumb scenes like terrorists shooting up a room full of technicians ... and not hitting a single computer screen. Or, Ford's preposterous, gravity-defying leap from a 100-story construction crane onto The Pearl. Or Ford telling his frozen-with-fear kid, "For you to be brave, you gotta be a little scared!" Huh?

I've inspected this "Skyscraper," and I've deemed it unfit for full-price admission. Wait for cable or pay-per-view.

"Skyscraper" is rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, action and some language. read more

'Ant-Man and Wasp': Honey, I shrunk the Marvel franchise!

'Ant-Man and Wasp': Honey, I shrunk the Marvel franchise!
(Updated 7/9/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


"Ant-Man and the Wasp" is being touted as Disney/Marvel's "change o' pace" movie, departing from the thought provoking, socially conscious "Black Panther" and the supremely heavy "Avengers: Infinity War" to give us something light and fun. It's half the movie those two films are (and then some), so I'm considering only doing about half a review.

In a nutshell, I liked the flick. Didn't love it. Actually, I pretty much just watched the two-hour-plus action comedy to get the one-minute sequence at the end (during the closing credits actually) that references "Infinity War." It's a great scene and well worth sneaking in to watch if you can time it with the end of another movie you've just seen at the cinema (oh come on, you KNOW you've done it!).

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" picks up two years after the events of "Captain America: Civil War" with Scott Lang (a.k.a. Ant-Man) under house arrest for helping Cap, the Falcon, Black Widow and co. violate the Sokovia Accords and resist submitting to government oversight of their superhero actions. Scott spends his days playing with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson); razzing his parole officer, Jimmy Woo (Randall Park); and staying in touch with his business partner and former cellmate, Luis (Michael Pena), as they try to launch a security firm.

But he misses Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her scientist father, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who made him Ant Man in the first place. They've been on the run due to Scott illegally using their technology in "Civil War," but need his help to retrieve Hope's mother, Janet (that ice cold Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm. Scott went to this microscopic dimension in the first movie and returned. Janet did the same 30 years earlier, but has remained trapped.

It's a good set-up for a sequel. And it definitely makes the Marvel fan in all of us wonder if this microverse can somehow come into play and be used to defeat Thanos in the next "Avengers" flick due summer 2019. The problem is, director Peyton Reed and his team of five (!) screenwriters over-stuff their "smaller scale" movie with way too many characters, shifts in tone and story complications.

There is a villain ... er, sort of ... in the form of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who phases in and out of existence due to a science mishap when she was a child. But she is more of a tragic figure than a Marvel villainess we can really boo, hiss and root against. There is a gangster-type named Sonny played by Walton Goggins, who the film can't decide is a man to be feared or laughed at. One moment, he seems capable of real cruelty and sadism. The next, Goggins is off on his own doing some shtick from a whole other movie.

And the technobabble in this flick! Good Googleplex! It's like watching one of the lesser "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episodes where Data, Geordi and Picard debated fissures in the space-time continuum, fretted about quantum filaments and tried to solve things with tachyon pulses and nanoprobes. At least every once in a while, Rudd's dim-witted Lang gets off a good one-liner like "OK, now you're just putting 'quantum' before everything!"

Ant-Man gets lost in his own film from time to time due to this large cast that also includes Laurence Fishburne as a former rival of Hank Pym's; Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale as Scott's ex-wife and her second husband, respectively; and rapper T.I. and David Dastmalchian as Luis and Scott's goofy partners.

What's good? Fortunately, quite a bit. The action climax through the streets and sites of San Francisco (everything from Lombard Street to Fisherman's Wharf to San Francisco Bay factor in) is great fun with the various characters and their vehicles morphing from insect size to giant size and everything in between. The effects technology to de-age Douglas, Pfeiffer and Fishburne in flashback sequences has pretty much been perfected now and will make you feel like you're watching a 1989 film in spots. And, yes, there is a good bit of humor that does work mostly thanks to Rudd's droll line deliveries.

I don't think there's enough here to warrant a third film with these characters. But they're definitely part of the Marvel family, and I look forward to some of them showing up in subsequent installments of other characters' movies and, of course, "Avengers 4!"

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence and brief language. read more

'The First Purge' ... eh, hopefully the last

'The First Purge' ... eh, hopefully the last
(Updated 7/9/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


In a few years' time - heck, in a few weeks time - my guess is "The First Purge" won't be remembered much as a movie event. It's a disposable, dystopian action thriller, the fourth in its series, that has socio-political ambitions and yearns to be an important movie. But it's really just interested in giving us as many scenes as possible of creepy dudes in masks jumping into camera frame, essentially yelling "Boo!" and then committing heinous crimes. It never gets tired of showing us that.

But what "The First Purge" may be remembered for in a year or two years' time is the discovery of some great young talent who (hopefully) went on to bigger, better films. Now that Marvel movies, "Star Wars" flicks and other franchises are getting more diverse, they are on the hunt for top talent. And "The First Purge" has at least three performers who I think can be major contributors to bigger, better films coming up. This experience to me was akin to watching the first season of "The Wire" and marveling at previously under-seen talents like Idris Elba, Dominic West and Michael K. Williams.

The first is Y'Lan Noel, this sequel's action lead. Noel plays the cliche drug dealer with a secret heart of gold here, but he delivers such a strong and commanding performance that you forgive the stock writing and conception of the character. When it comes down that his community and people and former girlfriend are threatened, he really goes into action!

The second is Lex Scott Davis as said girlfriend, Nya. I just saw her in "SuperFly" a few weeks ago and wasn't impressed. Here, though, she is alternately fierce, vulnerable, smart, sexy and savvy, and she holds the movie when the focus is on her and her character's survival while also trying to keep the people she loves safe amidst a night of uncontrolled violence and mayhem.

The third is an actor I've never seen before, Rotimi Paul. He plays a homicidal street hood named Skeletor, and he is absolutely ... freakin' ... scary! Skeletor was feared in his neighborhood before. But given 12 hours to kill, maim and threaten without the threat of arrest or punishment, he goes for the grand prize of Purgers. He WANTS to be the baddest man of the night, and he is so clearly deranged that you fear even for the worst of the criminals prowling the streets with him.

I so wish they were in a better flick than "The First Purge," but I will say they make the whole thing watchable in its ugly, garish, B-movie exploitation glory. The film is a prequel to the three previous "Purge" flicks showing how Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei, cashin' that paycheck) came up with the experiment to have all violent crime legal for one 12-hour evening to lower the crime rate for the rest of the year. But it's really just a cynical exercise for the federal government to wage war on poor people, who've been paid $5,000 each to remain on the test site that is Staten Island, N.Y., for the one night.

When the violence doesn't kick in to an alarming degree in the first few hours, the President's soulless Chief of State Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) activates hordes of mercenaries to descend on the borough and ratchet up the bloodshed. The Staten Island drug dealers led by Noel's Dmitri take it personal and begin shooting back.

The film is at its best when it centers on its action and the survival of its leads. When it tries to be an important movie, the social commentary is ham-fisted and under-developed. We're supposed to believe that the mercenaries are a mix of colluding Russians, white supremacists and general cutthroats from all over. But the main ones look and dress like they were plucked from 1942 Berlin. One female character gets grabbed in the you know-where. And the third party that has seized control of American politics in this alternate near-present is funded by the NRA. Both the characters and the audience are hammered over the head in this one.

For the most part, I smirked and scoffed my way through it while enjoying the performances. I hope this is the last "Purge" film, but the first of many better movies to come for Noel, Davis and Paul.

"The First Purge" is rated R for violence, pervasive language, some drug use and sexuality. read more

Shore Leave turns the big 4-0

Shore Leave turns the big 4-0
(Updated 7/2/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


If you've lived in the Baltimore metro area long enough and have ever geeked out to any of the voyages of the Starships Enterprise, imagined an umbrella as a lightsaber, had spirited debates about who should be the next Batman or watched an episode of "Stranger Things" and got every single reference ... you've likely been to a Shore Leave. It's the annual sci-fi and fantasy convention put on by fans, for fans, in Hunt Valley.

This year, the show is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an array of cool movie and TV stars (everyone from the great William Shatner making a Saturday-only appearance to Ming-Na Wen of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" to Shawn Ashmore of the "X Men" movies), authors and actual scientists. There will be a poker tournament, an art show, the annual Ten Forward Saturday night party and much more.

I sat down recently with Mike Schilling, one of the event's organizers, to talk about Shore Leave's storied history and what to expect at this year's show, which is scheduled to run Friday, July 6, through Sunday, July 8. What follows is our chat:

Teddy Durgin: Shore Leave is celebrating 40 years and has become a regional tradition for many genre fans. What has been the biggest contributing factor to the annual show's longevity?

Mike Schilling: Perhaps it's the great guests we have every year. Maybe it's the fact that so many of our committee members have been doing this for so many years, which brings a certain degree of similarity and professionalism to what we do. Perhaps a larger reason is that no matter how much Shore Leave, and fandom itself, has grown and changed through the years, we're still that "little-group-of-fans-that-could" at heart, still going up against the big boys and somehow holding our own.

TD: What are the challenges of being a fan-run convention?

MS: Fan expectations! It used to be 20 or 30 years ago, you could sign one or two "Star Trek" co-stars, throw in a few local pro writers to fill out the schedule, run the "Trek" blooper reel and you'd draw thousands of people. Now, with the greater acceptance of genre entertainment and the proliferation of gigantic conventions such as the Las Vegas Grand Slam and the San Diego Comic-Con, people want more and more choices for their hard-earned money.

TD: How long have you been involved with Shore Leave and how did you become involved?

MS: I first became aware of Shore Leave in 1986 when I picked up a Shore Leave flyer at another convention earlier that year. It was in the Shore Leave program book where I found out about the convention's parent organization, the Star Trek Association of Towson (STAT), and it wasn't long before I found myself attending meetings and becoming a full-time member.

After some years of being a volunteer for the convention, I was asked to join the Shore Leave Committee in the early '90s in what was then called the Video Department, where I'd schedule various sci-fi films, TV episodes and specials concentrating on our guest stars for that year and oversee the video room for the balance of the weekend. After several years, I was asked to "trade up" to the Publicity Department where I could put my own naturally talkative nature in combination with my knowledge of the convention itself to good use by obtaining press for the convention and generally spreading the word about the event to anyone who would listen.

TD: In terms of guests, you've had some big names over the years. Is there an actor/actress/other and a moment involving that person that has stood out for you personally?

MS: Seeing one of Leonard Nimoy's last public appearances via Skype, just months before his passing, was a true high point for many of us. Even through the computer terminal, he still was able to connect with each one of us in that ballroom in a very personal and real way. William Shatner on the Shore Leave stage just a few short years ago was a very proud moment for us as well. Experiencing the humor and charm of Robert Picardo on a few different occasions has also been a great treat.

TD: Has there been a guest you and your colleagues have tried to book over the years, and it just hasn't worked out for one reason or another?

MS: There are always actors who are forever on our "wish list" and just don't come to fruition for whatever reason. I'd rather not mention specific names for fear of upsetting anyone or putting at risk any future chance we may have of signing them to a Shore Leave appearance.

TD: How has social media changed the way you promote Shore Leave?

MS: Social media has definitely had a major impact on how Shore Leave is publicized, and most certainly on how we keep track of our fan base year to year. Although we still maintain our mailing list and a phone information line, most of our attendees find out what's happening in the world of Shore Leave year to year by going to our official website, www.shore-leave.com, or by taking a look at our Facebook page or going on Twitter, most especially by our younger fans where getting their information in this way is as natural as breathing.

TD: Finally, what are you most excited about for this year's show?

MS: Well, it's a pretty amazing thing that we've been able to "Live Long and Prosper" for 40 years now, so I'm sure there will be much discussion of that topic during the weekend. Also, this year happens to be the 25th Anniversary of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and its long time sci-fi rival "Babylon 5," plus the 40th anniversary of "Superman: The Movie." That, along with the steamroller that is the ever-expanding "Star Wars" and Marvel Comics universes, should make for lively discussion all weekend long! read more

'Uncle Drew' shoots and scores

'Uncle Drew' shoots and scores
(Updated 7/2/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


"Uncle Drew" certainly has a LOT going against it. It's not high-brow cinema; it's junk-food cinema. In fact, it's actually produced by the Pepsi corporation! And you're not going to get a cast of Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman and Angela Bassett. The players and supporting players here are comedians and basketball players past and present like Kyrie Irving, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber and Reggie Miller. So, you ain't gettin' Michael Jordan OR Michael B. Jordan!

But what you will get if you pay to see this flick is an afternoon or evening of goofy fun. I could tear this movie from reel to reel with spot-on critical commentary. But it would only hurt me. I would feel bad after writing such a review, because the movie is just so darn likable and undemanding. No, I never once believed it for a second. The old-age make-up that makes Irving and Shaq and others to look like seventy-somethings is cheesy as all get out. Rick Baker did a more convincing job 30 summers ago turning Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall into barbershop geezers in "Coming to America" (and Murphy briefly into an elderly Jewish man).

The film follows a series of viral Pepsi commercials in which Irving stars as the title character, an old-school basketball player still able to flash moves on the court, sink the three, drive to the hole and throw down a dunk. The man became a legend back in his day for hitting the winning shot in a game ... while eating a ham sandwich. How can you not be endeared?!

"Uncle Drew" is basically that sequence in "Cocoon: The Return" where Wilford Brimley and his Greatest Generation pals fresh off a return trip from outer space flat-out school a bunch of young Gen X'ers in a pick-up basketball game ... only it's stretched out over 90 or so minutes. The plot involves Harlem shoe salesman Dax (Lil Rel Howery) needing money and entering the annual Rucker Classic as coach of a team headed by star-in-the making Casper (Aaron Gordon). But his long-time rival Mookie (Nick Kroll) steals both his team and his girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish). Dax is forced to look elsewhere for players and happens upon the 75-year old Uncle Drew, who then goes about reuniting his old crew of teammates for one final hoop dream.

"Uncle Drew" is cheaply made and there's never any doubt how it's all going to end. But for an hour and a half, this flick made the cares of the outside world dissolve away with its winning formula and committed cast. It's easy to extol the virtues of Perrier, a fine wine or the latest trendy juice drink. But sometimes you just want a Pepsi. And when it's served all chilled and fizzy on a hot summer day like the ones we've been having, it'll just make you smile and go "Ahhhhhhh!"

"Uncle Drew" is rated PG-13 for language, suggestive material and brief nudity. read more

The 'Jurassic' films: Not quite a fallen franchise, but close

The 'Jurassic' films: Not quite a fallen franchise, but close
(Updated 6/22/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" certainly held my interest throughout. How could it not? It's got dinosaurs, an exploding volcano and people yelling "RUN!" every seven or eight minutes. But about two thirds of the way through, I started asking myself, "Why am I not feeling ANYTHING towards this movie or these characters? And why have I not been scared even once?"

And I arrived at the answer pretty quick. It's because the "Jurassic" franchise has gone soft. This is a movie about conservation. It's basically a "Save the Whales" flick, only it's "Save the raptors, the T-Rexes and the Whatchacallthemsauruses" - creatures that in the previous flicks, we were supposed to be scared to death of! Yeah, every once in a while, those previous flicks would stop and give us lovely moments where an herbivore would stroll into camera frame and chomp on a tree or some sick triceratops would be lying on its side just waiting for medical attention. But, for the most part, the dinos were dangerous and they didn't care who was part of the human buffet suddenly being served to them.

"Fallen Kingdom" doesn't play by the basic rules of nature. Chris Pratt's Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing return from "Jurassic World" to save the once-extinct beasties from Isla Nublar, which is about to be covered in lava and ash from a previously unmentioned volcano suddenly going active. They are recruited by a wealthy, terminally ill, previously unmentioned business partner of John Hammond's named Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who wants to get as many species off the doomed island and to a sanctuary as possible. But unbeknownst to Lockwood, Owen, Claire and anyone out of earshot of his "Muhaha!" laugh, Benjamin's greedy cohort Eli (Rafe Spall) has plans to put the saved dinosaurs up for auction to the highest and most evil bidders imaginable.

The problem is director J.A. Bayona and co-screenwriters Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly SO want us to be on the side of the dinos that too many scenes have Owen and Claire almost literally teaming up with the creatures who now seem to inherently know who is bad and who is good. The evil humans in this film are so cartoon bad that they might as well be wearing shirts with the words "Eat Me!" and "Eat Me Next!" written on them.

The one true threat to all dinosaurs in the flick is a genetically engineered "Isoraptor" that must clearly be killed. The others, even the T-Rex, are all presented as victims or heroes who come to the good humans' rescue.

The original "Jurassic Park" worked as a story because all of the characters, whether it was the scummy embryo thief or the two innocent kids, were in the same amount of mortal jeopardy. Good characters got killed, the short-sighted Hammond was spared. In the sequel, "The Lost World," good-hearted Richard Schiff goes to heroic measures to save Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm and the Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn characters ... only to be devoured by two T-Rexes seconds later. Cold and cruel and real.

The "Fallen Kingdom" cast is fine, ranging from "Oh, wow, they look SO absurdly fit and trim" (Pratt and Howard) to "Oh, man, they look SO old and decrepit!" (Goldblum, Cromwell, Geraldine Chaplin). The best character is a sort of dino-veterinarian played by Daniella Paneda. She has the most spunk of any female character I've seen in the five "Jurassic" films, and it's a shame she is off-screen for long stretches in "Fallen Kingdom." When she's on, she's just terrific. And, yes, Goldblum returns for two scenes to bookend the film that basically amount to Ian Malcolm going before Congress and saying, "I told you so!!!"

If you go to "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," you'll get your matinee money's worth of dinosaurs stomping, roaring and doing cool things. And you'll be treated to several really memorable shots courtesy of director Bayona, most notably one of a dinosaur sadly left behind to die as Isla Nublar crumbles in flames and smoke. I actually suspect the third part of this proposed trilogy is where all of the real potential is. At least that's my rambling, self-serious Ian Malcolm prediction.

"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. read more

'Incredibles 2' is incredibly fun

'Incredibles 2' is incredibly fun
(Updated 6/18/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


The best superhero movies have one thing in common: they are just as good and watchable when their lead hero or heroes are NOT in their costumes performing feats of strength, speed, daring and courage. Think about it. I would contend that the best moments in any of the three "Iron Man" movies are when Robert Downey Jr. is OUT of the armor and just being Tony Stark in all of his sardonic, egotistical glory. The original "Superman" movies were at their best when Christopher Reeve was playing the charming, bumbling Clark Kent, duping his Daily Planet co-workers and charming Lois Lane.

So, it is with the "Incredibles" movies. The Parr family - otherwise known as Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and their three kids, Violet, Dash and Baby Jack-Jack - are as compelling and maybe even more so when they're just at home, sitting around a dinner table and relating to each other as when they are out on the town in full costume battling some megalomaniacal threat to all of humanity.

"Incredibles 2" is the insanely good new sequel now in theaters that maintains all of the charm and whimsy of the first film and also tells a truly involving new story about a family in upheaval with the mom and dad switching traditional gender roles, the teenage daughter feeling all hormonal and the baby throwing temper tantrums that include screaming, crying... and, oh yeah, shooting laser beams from his eyes and teleporting back and forth to different dimensions.

This is the most pure fun I've had watching a flick since "Thor: Ragnarok." It's loose, confident and quite funny in spots. Oh, and it just happens to be a fantastic action movie to boot! There are a good half-dozen fight scenes in this flick that are as good as any in the live-action "Avengers" movies (especially a hilarious bout between Jack-Jack and a raccoon... trust me). And the major setpieces, which include Elastigirl having to stop an out-of-control train and all of the "Supers" banding together to try and avert a billionaire's massive yacht from crashing into a city port, are so well-conceived, animated and edited, they're just things o' beauty, I tell ya!

Most of the vocal cast returns from the first "Incredibles" 14 years ago. Craig T. Nelson is once again all wounded bluster as Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr, forced to take on more of the parenting duties to his three kids when his wife, Elastigirl/Helen Parr (Holly Hunter), becomes a sudden media celebrity and proponent for getting the Supers' citizenship rights restored. Frozone/Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson) is back to lend moral support, wise cracks and help taking on a new menace known as Screenslaver, who has the ability to take over view screens all over the globe with strobe light patterns that turn otherwise good people into zombie pawns hellbent on disrupting society and the status quo.

I like that Pixar doesn't go too heavy-handed with some of the messages here, keeping the Parr family at the core of the story. The villain, though, ends up having a valid, even somewhat noble point of view that's as logical as Erik Killmonger's was in "Black Panther." But, like Killmonger, Screenslaver's end game is still quite evil and must ultimately be stopped.

Meanwhile, as the plot unfolds and the action gets bigger and bigger, the viewer's eyes drink in some of the most stylized animation, set and character designs of any film in recent memory. Writer-director Brad Bird and his legion of Pixar animators maintain that whole 1960s-inspired, retro-futuristic look and style of the first "Incredibles."

Will it be another incredibly long 14 years before we see these characters and this world again? Sigh. Parr for the course with the geniuses at Pixar.

"Incredibles 2" is rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language (one character says, "Well, I'll be damned.") read more

A not so 'SuperFly' remake

A not so 'SuperFly' remake
(Updated 6/18/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


If you identify yourself with the Black Lives Matter movement, the Blue Lives Matter counter-movement, the #MeToo uprising, and any number of other social justice campaigns, "SuperFly" might not be the movie for you. Black lives are wasted throughout. The blue lives are mostly murderous, corrupt ones. And the film's treatment of women? I checked - Harvey Weinstein was NOT among the producers.

This remake of the 1972 blaxploitation classic takes place in the world of Atlanta's big-money cocaine trade, and it's a gangsta's paradise from the way filmmaker Director X (that's his name) depicts it. Big mansions, fast cars, fancy clothes, fine cigars and hot tubs full of strippers. It ain't "time's up" for the film's competing druglords, Priest (Trevor Jackson), Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Q (Big Bank Black... if I win the Powerball, I'm officially changing my name to Big Bank White). They still live in a "man's world" where the guys make all the decisions (and the money) and get to go home at night to two women in the shower.

Priest is the central character. He's the good-hearted drug dealer who has morals and a code of honor. He only resorts to violence when he absolutely has to. But a near-death experience in which Q's top lieutenant Juju (Kaalan Walker) takes a shot at him, misses and hits an innocent bystander convinces Priest that it's time to give up the life.

But, of course, he vows to make one last big score to set himself and his two girlfriends up for life. And by BIG score, I mean Steve Bisciotti dollars. He gets the bright idea to usurp his mentor, Scatter, and promise a ruthless Mexican cartel led by Gonzalez (Esai Morales) that he can move three times the amount of cocaine that Scatter can. Gonzalez agrees. But that leads to increased tensions with Q's Snow Patrol gang and with two crooked cops (Jennifer Morrison and Brian F. Durkin).

It was hard for me to know what to root for throughout "Superfly." At one point, it's made clear that Priest's fortune has mushroomed to $38 million. At that juncture, the movie was over for me. $38 mil?! I could would have headed for Montenegro with ... oh ... $8 million. Heck, I'd go there now if I could live rent-free and be promised decent Wi-Fi.

How much is enough for Priest? It's not a question the movie is interested in answering. Even when he breaks down to his girlfriend, Georgia (Lex Scott Davis), and expresses his fear that they'll never be able to get out, it's never really made clear why they can't just fill some suitcases with the piles of cash he keeps in his safe and hit the road. Of course, there would be no movie then.

"SuperFly" has a certain B-movie-quality watchability that makes it guilty entertainment for a while. But the longer it went on, the more I noticed Director X's way-too-tight control of the narrative. He should have called himself Puppetmaster X. Because in order to keep Priest an honorable and somewhat clean character, he can never really have him kill another character on screen or give the order himself to have someone killed, as would be standard practice in this lifestyle.

Even when Priest is engaged in a high-speed car chase that takes him through a public park, he does everything he can to swerve and dodge multiple pedestrians and innocent bystanders. And that woman who got shot by mistake with the bullet intended for him? He runs over, gives her a wad of cash and advises her what the best hospital is to go to. He's SO nice! Never mind that the cocaine Priest has been peddling for years has strung out countless hundreds, maybe even thousands. Never mind that little ding-a-doo.

Director X cut his teeth in music videos. And this is kind of like watching a 100-minute-plus music video. Some may find that entertaining. But I found it a waste of at least 70 minutes. Film Critics' Lives Matter!

"SuperFly" is rated R for violence and language throughout, strong sexuality, nudity and drug use. read more

'Ocean's 8' loses count and Teddy back by popular demand

'Ocean's 8' loses count and Teddy back by popular demand
(Updated 6/11/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon may be missing from the new "Ocean's 8" movie now in theaters. But guess who's not missing from the pages of the East County Times anymore?! This guy! Yes, dear readers, your man Durgin has returned! Thanks to Devin Crum and the rest of the fine people at this newspaper for bringing me and my film-review column back. And thank you, thank you to any and all who wrote in and said how much they miss me! I understand quite a number of you did, and I can't tell you how good of a feeling that is. Thank you, thank you to all! I am truly humbled and appreciative.

Now ... back to business!

"Ocean's 8" is missing one key ingredient that makes the best heist flicks fun. There's no villain! There's no slimy, scummy, multi-billionaire just begging to be scammed. If the lead crooks pull off their heist in this flick, there is no sense of comeuppance or great achievement other than "they got paid."

It's probably the biggest problem in this hit-or-miss reboot of the "Ocean's" franchise with Sandra Bullock leading an all-female team of criminals out to steal a $150 million diamond necklace during the famed Met Gala that takes place each May in New York City. Bullock is Debbie Ocean, the younger sister of George Clooney's Danny Ocean from the "Ocean's" flicks of the 2000s. We first meet her, as we first met Danny in "Ocean's 11," duping her way out of a prison term at a parole hearing and then immediately hatching a plan for a big score.

OK, there is a sort-of bad guy in the form of Richard Armitage's Claude Becker, who sent ex-girlfriend Debbie to jail years earlier and is now living the high life in Manhattan's swank art world. But he's really just a side character. He has a scumbag's beard, but no personality. He doesn't have the marvelous smarm that Andy Garcia brought to Terry Benedict or the gleeful corruption that Al Pacino displayed as Willy Bank in "Ocean's 11" and "Ocean's 13," respectively. You REALLY wanted to see those two get heisted.

The necklace in "Ocean's 8" is just that: your basic, gaudy diamond necklace that's been kept in the vaults of Cartier for 50 years that vapid actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway, giving the film's best performance) is loaned as part of her fashion ensemble for the Met Gala red carpet.

Honestly, it was more fun and involving watching Charles Grodin try to swipe the Baseball Diamond in "The Great Muppet Caper" and Kermit, Fozzie, Animal and the gang trying to stop him. "Ocean's 8" director and co-screenwriter Gary Ross doesn't give his flick much urgency.

Even without the urgency, no one seems to be having much fun here. Cate Blanchett is a force of nature, but she's playing the Brad Pitt second fiddle part here with little in the way of quirks or memorable lines. Helena Bonham Carter tries to find a character in down-on-her luck fashion designer Rose Weil. But her usual eccentricities are also toned down. Rihanna is pretty slick as a hacker named "Nine Ball," but she spends most of the movie typing on a laptop. The real find here is Awkwafina as pick-pocket Constance. She's the only one who seems to take any real glee in her crimes and misdemeanors.

I did enjoy some of the intricacies of the Met Gala heist, which is eventually revealed to be more layered than initially thought. And a late-game cameo by one of the original "Ocean's 11" crew was most welcome ... and the only moment in the flick where the audience I saw it with responded with anything resembling pleasure.

Sigh. They should have stolen more from the original films!

"Ocean's 8" is rated PG-13 for language, brief drug references and some suggestive content. read more

'Hereditary': And you thought your family was messed up!

'Hereditary': And you thought your family was messed up!
(Updated 6/11/18)

- By Teddy Durgin -


Except for a couple of dark, lonesome, terrible weeks last month and the beginning of this month, I've been reviewing movies without pause since 1997. So, those few times I write and declare a movie one of the funniest flicks I've ever seen or one of the most action packed films ever made, you can pretty much take it to the bank that what I'm reviewing is something special.

Ladies and gents, "Hereditary" is one of ... THE ... MOST ... terrifying movies I've ever seen! And I'm not talking jump-out scares or grisly, gory kills or creatures crawling in search of blood to terrorize y'all's neighborhoods. I'm talking pure, freakin' DREAD! This movie doesn't just want to scare you. It wants to stay in your head hours, even days after you see it. It doesn't want to just keep you up at night. It wants you to still feel uneasy on your drive to work the next morning ... heck, next Tuesday! It wants you to be thinking of it while you're having a normal dinner with your family or sitting in a classroom bored at the lecture or just walking to the mailbox.

It's like something has been unearthed here. It's like writer-director Ari Aster has harnessed real, true evil and encapsulated it into a single film. Am I recommending it? Uh ... I'm not quite sure. "Hereditary" is tremendously effective - one of the best examples of the horror-terror genre in years. But you're not going to like how you feel leaving the theater.

And, of course, just back on staff at the Times, I don't want to get blamed. I don't want people e-mailing and saying, "Can him again! I'm now taking Unisom!"

I didn't like "Hereditary." I don't think it's possible to "like" this film. It's not going for likability. I guess the word I would use to describe how I'm feeling about the flick is I "appreciated" it. I almost wanted to exchange e-mail addresses with the strangers I saw it with, because I feel like we went through something together and we should keep in touch, check in from time to time to see how each of us are doing.

So, what it's about? Uh, do you really wanna know? OK, we meet the Graham family, who has just suffered the loss of their matriarch, 78-year-old grandmother Ellen. Annie Graham (Toni Collette) eulogizes her mother at the funeral as husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff) and 13-year-old daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) look on.

During the service, the first signs that things ain't right start to fester. Charlie makes a weird, clucking sound while drawing an odd sketch. The strangeness continues in ways both big and small, like Annie paging through a memory book and coming upon a haunting picture of Ellen. Charlie decapitates a bird that has flown into her classroom at school. Ellen's grave is desecrated and Steve decides not to tell Annie.

Then, we start to find out more about the grandmother - her dementia, her suicide. Then, we learn a little more about Charlie ... like her peanut allergy. Will it factor in? Oh, man, does it ever! Eh, let's jump to a bit later in the film. Maybe to the séance? Or Annie's vision within a vision. Her revelation about Peter. Her-

Yikes! I want to give stuff away ... but I don't! "Hereditary" proceeds at a deliberate, slow-burn pace - maybe too slow for some who might want the film to stop spoon-feeding and "get on with it," or those who, quite frankly, will just want it to end. It deals with a lot - primarily grief, but also family secrets; family miscommunication; and, yes, otherworldly forces. Snicker at your own risk while watching it (at the very least, you can probably make some drinking game out of Toni Collette's facial contortions).

"Hereditary" is obviously not your usual summer popcorn fare. It's an experience you'll likely never forget. But if you are a fan of this kind of flick and want to see one done right - and I mean really, really right - check it out. But I've warned you!

"Hereditary" is rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and some nudity. read more

Times writer Teddy Durgin releases first novel

Times writer Teddy Durgin releases first novel
- By Patrick Taylor -

Recently, East County Times writer Teddy Durgin, who many recognize for his film reviews, released his first novel. Titled “The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor,” this murder mystery is a fast-paced, action and humor packed tale that will keep you glued to the pages.

Set in Laurel in the summer of 1986, the story follows 16-year-olds Sam Eckert and his friends Chip and Buddy (think the geek crew from the seminal show “Freaks and Geeks”). With summer work at the mall beginning, it looks like all will be relatively dull until the school year began - until a car explosion kills Muffy McGregor, one of the more popular, attractive girls in their school.

From there Sam and Chip get roped into the world of private investigation with the help of a mall regular, Mr. Rabinowitz. Suspects pop up one after the other, with McGregor’s classmates, co-workers and lovers all under the watchful eyes of Sam and his crew.

Those who have consistently read Durgin’s reviews over the last few years won’t be surprised that the book is filled with pop culture references that capture the time period perfectly. Whether it be discussing the films that made 1986 stand out or paying tribute to cultural touchstones such as the M*A*S*H finale, Durgin perfectly captures what it was like to grow up in that era.

“The thing about throwing references in is that you try to make them true to the character, and you don’t want to overdo it,” said Durgin.

Of course, given Durgin’s love of film, it should come as no surprise that this book often has a very cinematic feel to it.

“The premise of the book started with a simple question - what if John Hughes had written a murder mystery? It kind of went from there,” said Durgin. “That’s what was part of the fun of writing it.”

In typical John Hughes fashion, the book features many of your high school archetypes - jocks, nerds, pom-pom shaking cheerleaders. It also features some of the truest dialogue between teenage boys that I’ve read in quite some time. Seeing as how the boys are 16, it should come as no surprise that the book is littered with swears and moments of characters speaking before they’ve thought about what they’re going to say. A particularly awkward exchange early on between Sam and his new boss, a former plus-sized model named Collette, ends with Sam asking if she has any copies of her old magazines lying around.

“Some of those conversations are actual conversations from my youth,” Durgin said. “Before I really started writing the book, I had a lot of funny lines and interchanges between characters so I knew where to put lines.”

But the best dialogue comes when Rabinowitz is in the picture. An elderly Jewish man who often wonders aloud why he didn’t choose another field of business over private investigating, Rabinowitz is often trying to keep Sam and Chip in line during the investigation. After all, you can’t be making noise gushing about Magnum P.I. while you’re breaking and entering looking for clues.

For Durgin, writing this book was something that has been on his mind for a while, with the characters bouncing around in his head for ages.

Last year, he took about three or four months to plot out what the story would be, figuring out what should happen in each chapter. Around September, he decided that he was going to start really writing and dedicated himself to a chapter per week for the next 16 weeks. The book was finished around President’s Day this year.

“It was the most fun I ever had writing,” said Durgin. “I love doing the film reviews for the Times and for other papers, but this was something I just had to do. I had started and stopped novels before, so it felt really good to get this done.”

For Durgin, setting the story in the summer of 1986 felt natural. Much like Sam Eckert, Durgin was born in 1970, and 15-going-on-16 in the summer of ‘86. The nostalgia for this time period drips from the pages, but it never comes off as forced or insincere. The dialogue, references and struggles seem very true to the time.

“This book will appeal to anyone who has a twinge of 80s nostalgia, anyone who has lived in Maryland and anyone who enjoys a good whodunnit,” said Durgin.

“The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor” is available now on Amazon and for Kindle, and it couldn’t have been released at a better time.

This book is the perfect companion for travel, beach days, lounging by the pool and more. It’s a quick, easy read, but one that will keep you interested and engaged. When I first picked up the book I had a plan to read half of it on a Saturday, half on Sunday. Instead I finished it in one go.

The payoff is absolutely wonderful, and one that I did not expect as I made my way through the book. This might be Durgin’s first mystery novel, but it reads as if he’s been crafting these types of tales his entire life.

With elements of John Hughes, Thomas Pynchon and the Coen Brothers (Durgin compared a particularly poignant scene to the highly underrated “Burn After Reading”), this story is a wonderful blend of mystery and humor that really brings suburban Maryland in the 1980s to life.

“If the East County Times readers have enjoyed reading me in the past, I think they’ll really enjoy this book,” said Durgin. read more