Box Office: “Jack Reacher” isn’t the end of Tom Cruise, “Madea” has a little life in her yet

boxReviews for both the second Jack Reacher movie and the first Tyler Perry “Madea” movie in three years aren’t giving them a boost.

But with Tom Cruise teetering on the brink of irrelevance — action stars lose their audience after 50, unless they’re named Eastwood — every misstep is a threat to his status as someone who can open a picture and his high-priced quote. I figured this potential franchise-killing “Reacher” bust might be it.

But by midnight Sunday, he’ll have pulled in maybe $25 million or so for Paramount. Novelist Lee Child fans were irate when Cruise got the gig (Reacher is described as being Liam Neeson-sized in Child’s books). Their fears seemed exaggerated, but this movie is a formulaic compromise, start to finish. It’ll probably earn under $50 in the US, when all is said and done.

Tyler Perry and his most famous creation were seriously overexposed by 2010. But a few years’ absence and some funny TV ads had fans hoping he’d deliver the goods with “A Madea Halloween.” We all went to check it out Thursday and Friday, and the film should clear $23 million by Sunday night. But his cheapness and credit hogging and the fact he’s simply run out of jokes for her work against the film, and his movies always have the steepest drop off the second weekend.  Figure he might clear $40 or so with this one by the end of its run.

The best-reviewed (perhaps a tad over-rated) film of the weekend is the “Ouija” prequel, which turns a pretty good cast loose on a back-engineered tale of how spiritual investigator Paulina Zander (Lin Shaye in the original film) was first exposed to the supernatural. It’s underwhelming the box office. Anybody who’s seen the trailers has seen the movie. A bit over $12 million for it on opening weekend.

“Keeping up With the Joneses” is proof that Zach Galifianakis can’t open a movie, Jon Hamm and Isla Fisher aren’t a help and the new Wonder Woman Gal Gadot isn’t yet box office. A poorly reviewed comic thriller, following the “Masterminds” debacle (also starring Zach, alas) it is bombing — $6 million this weekend.

Kevin Hart’s concert film days may be over as “What Now” is dying off faster than the honeybees. “Girl on the Train” is holding strong, “The Accountant” is headed to a $65-75 million or so take, all-in. “Deep Water Horizon” will clear $65 by next weekend.

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Movie Review: “Boo! A Madea Halloween”


Oh Madea, how we’ve missed you.

No. Seriously. Unless you are into getting your fixes direct-to-video, Tyler Perry’s alter-ego has been MIA from movie screens for three years.

And “Boo! A Madea Halloween” (Haller-ween?) has TV commercials that make you long for the big-boned gal’s heydays. Maybe a Halloween movie, a Madea “Scary Movie” with all sorts of slapstick, effects and big scary sight gags could breathe a little life into dude in a dress.

“You know black people scared of everything,” as Madea herself declares.

But the same problems curse “Boo!” as the last half-dozen Madea movies. Perry tries to get by without effects, without sight gags. It’s a comedy of words — rants, profane tirades, riffs. And Perry is running short on those. Funny ones, anyway.

He writes long, windy spiels and wordy old folks roundtables ranting about “kids today” and “back when I was strippin'” and the joys of medical marijuana — “I got me a PRESCRIPTION!” He works in his homilies about raising kids, the N-word, corporal punishment and avoiding religion while invoking “Jesus” in any situation of stress. “Boo!” is a “spare the rod, spoil the teen” life lesson from He who has Raised No kids.

Perry strains to put Madea into a college comedy about randy teens trying to get in trouble at a frat party on Halloween night, a cumbersome plot device that adds 40 clumsy minutes to the running time, and zero laughs.

In short, there is no truth in advertising. The only laughs are in the trailer. And Madea and her Crew get them.

AMH_D1-00079.cr2Perry plays Brian, father of flirty-tarty teen Tiffany (Diamond White), who longs to run with Bella Thorne’s cut-off top/short skirt crowd at Catholic school. They’re all invited to an Atlanta frat party Halloween night. Brian summons his dad (Perry, as “Joe”), and his Aunt Madea, Madea’s pal Bam (Cassi White) and Joe’s crazy gal Hattie (Patrice Lovely) to babysit and keep the teens out of trouble.

And thank God he does, because they only show up 12 minutes in, and proceed to regale us with scenes about pot, accounts of their various surgeries and “kids these days.” Madea dominates the talk, goosing the conversation forward with “Go the hell on” and “Show some apolegection!” and”Little love tap never hurt nobody.”

Scary clowns are dominating the trick or treating, though the odd kid dolled up as a cow shows up.

“Got that kid dressed like chocolate milk in a box. He needs to be trick-or-treating for a damn treadmill!”

Misbehaving teens sneak out, Madea gets manhandled trying to rescue them, then mad, then scared, then MADDER. And frat boy pranks are played.

The group scenes with the bug-eyed White and racially ambiguous Lovely are loud and riotous. And everything that ties them together is cut-rate and in need of editing/workshopping/rewrites. Perry’s lack of effort in writing the scenes he isn’t in has become more obvious with each Madea movie.

All those years with Madea not on the big screen haven’t changed Atlanta’s mogul’s business model. He’s still doing everything cut-rate, still not sharing credit or spending money on joke writers. Sad thing, because the big guy with the cross-dressing fetish is fresh out of jokes. Madea is damn near played out.

Wish it wasn’t so, as I still find the character brash and cranky fun. But until Perry parts with a nickel and brings in funny people to goose his ideas into something wittier, Madea isn’t MIA, she’s DOA.


MPAA Rating:PG-13 for drug use and references, suggestive content, language, some horror images and thematic material

Cast: Tyler Perry, Cassi White, Patrice Lovely, Diamond White, Bella Thorne

Credits:Written and directed by Tyler Perry. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:43

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First Preview: “Logan” lets the Wolverine exit with feeling

The only reason the X-Men franchise was never less than half-interesting was Hugh Jackman’s iconic — yes, that’s the right word — portrayal of Wolverine. From the very first X-Men film, he was the magnetic center, a very good actor turning a comic book character into flesh and bone and metal talons. Impossible to think of anybody else in that part, now.

I’ve enjoyed the iterations of Magneto and Xavier through the franchise films and its prequels, but Wolverine is still the draw. And letting him age out of the part is gutsy and inspired. They never let James Bond get old, world-weary and grizzled. Same with “The Terminator,” for that matter.

Wolverine deserves better. Fox is sending him off, it would appear, with some class. “Logan,” the furry one’s real name, opens March 3.

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Movie Review: “Max Steel”offers minimal entertainment


“Max Steel” isn’t the utter abortion that it’s terrible Metacritic/Rottentomatoes ratings suggests it must be.

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence

Cast: Ben Winchell, Maria Bello, Andy Garcia, Ana Villafane, the voice of Josh Brener
Credits: Directed by Stewart Hendler, script by Christopher Yost. An Open Road release.

Running time:


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Movie Review: “Jack Reacher” turns babysitter in “Never Go Back”


Vigorous, violent, and would you believe…cute?

With “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” Tom Cruise & Co. take the popular Lee Child character and franchise and stick a gun in its mouth.

Cruise and his “thirtysomething” co-conspirators — a cheap shot, but hey, “Glory” and “Defiance” take a back seat in director Edward Zwick’s ouevre when he’s working on the script with longtime partner Marshall Herskovitz — take a lean, stoic man of action and have him bickering with a soldier (Cobie Smulders) he’s trying to rescue over who should take care of this annoying teen (Danika Yarosh).

Seriously. And sorry, teens. You’re all kind of annoying…in the movies.

Reacher (Cruise, who produced this as well) is headed to D.C., a drifter living, we assume, off his Army pension. He wants to meet this officer in the military police/Judge Advocates General department who’s helped him and who sounds sexy on the phone (Smulders).

But there are contractors out to kill her, and it turns out, him. They know about some girl (Yaroush) who claims to be his daughter. And they aren’t fooling around. They dress in black, the hit-man’s choice (Patrick Heusinger is “The Hunter”) and stalk Reacher in black SUVs , purchased wherever black suits and machine guns with silencers are sold.

And they frame Reacher for every death that happens during their pursuit. He has to tease out who is behind this, what they want and what their monetary angle, and figure out a way to get this movie to New Orleans.

Where production incentives make setting your story during Mardi Gras worth your while.

This isn’t the most interesting character Cruise has ever played, just a tougher Clint Eastwood-quiet brute who broods, tells bad guys which limbs he’s going to break and makes a show out of not being addressed by his former rank — Major.

It’s “EX-major.” Or “Just Reacher, I’m a civilian now.”

The Army and all its contractor scandals and those who would kill to cover them up keep pulling him back. And in that milieu, we get to hear how “You’re a LEGEND around here” and “they ran outta medals” when it comes to Reacher.


The movie starts with a brawl we don’t see, progresses to epic fights with bad guys (apparently) reluctant to draw their guns, and shootouts. Cruise’s ageing Reacher punches through car windows, drops legions of bad guys and ambles toward a final showdown.

And they drag along this kid the bad guys might want to hurt because she might be connected to Reacher, allowing Cruise to play a guy who has no idea how to parent. And he bickers, without irony, wit or sarcasm, with Major Turner (Smulders) over who should stay in the hotel and watch the kid. Because, you know, women, even Army badasses, must have maternal instincts, right?

We figure out what’s going on long before Reacher, and whatever cool value there is in the rough justice of Reacher’s beat-downs or the logistics of living off the grid, on the lam, stealing mini-vans and cell-phones, evaporates with every idiotic thing the sassy, brassy teen says or (predictably) does.

When it works, it works. But if this character and this franchise are to survive, “Never Go Back” needs to be a promise Reacher makes — about ever playing a parent again.2stars1
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements)

Cast:Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger

Credits:Directed by Edward Zwick, script by Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Richard Wenk. A Paramount release.

Running time: 1:58

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Movie Preview: Can “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” catch lightning in a bottle…again?

The first teaser for the GOTG sequel (“Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2”) is nostalgic — for the first film and its judicious use of Blue Swede and “Hooked on a Feeling.”

They’re not giving us much, which is no real warning sign. But the first film was both unexpected and breathlessly anticipated. The second won’t have the element of surprise going for it. We’ve seen Mr. Pratt’s shtick, know Bradley Cooper’s raccoon voice and appreciate Zoe “Never Met a Franchise I Won’t Do” Saldana’s badass presence. Michael Rooker at his funniest. But Dave Bautista can’t be the sleeper but once.

It’ll make a mint. Will it be any good?

But Sly? Kurt Russell? Nathan Fillion? Let’s just say we’re intrugued, and withholding high hopes. Effects didn’t sell it, story didn’t either. Comedy and chemistry did.

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Movie Review — “Ouija: Origin of Evil”


“Ouija: Origin of Evil” makes you appreciate the fine art of cutting a movie trailer.

You’ve got to show us enough to want to buy a ticket, but you don’t want to spoil all your surprises and effects.

This is a movie that gives away most of its secrets in its trailers, and somewhat ruins its impact by spending much of its third act over-explaining how this “House of Evil Where Playing with a Ouija Board Can Get You Killed” came to be.

But this amusing and occasionally hair-raising thriller still delivers the chills and giggles, and joins the growing honor roll of a new Hollywood Golden Age of Horror. Read through the credits of films from “Insidious” to “The Visitor,” “The Conjuring” to the “Amityville Horror” revivals. There’s a lot of overlap in producers and house styles.

They’re hiring good actors and turning them loose on scary movies. And good actors know how to register shock and awe, and how.

“Origin of Evil” is a “Ouija” prequel, an improvement on the original film — which had kids playing with a dusty old Ouija board game, breaking its rules, and paying a deadly price.

Those rules again? “Never play alone. Never play in a graveyard.” And “always say good-bye” to the spirits you’ve contacted.

In 1967, Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) makes her living as a spiritualist, someone who will contact the dead in order to help the living. “We help people,” she explains to her daughters, who assist her in the various con-job effects (doors opening, candles blowing out, etc.). “We heal their hearts.”

But when rebellious teen Lina (Paulina, for those inclined to do character research) plays a new board game with her pals, Mom picks up a Ouija (by Hasbro!) and figures to add it to their afterlife services menu. Lina (Annalise Basso) isn’t keen on it. Little Doris (Lulu Wilson) starts hearing voices and acting strangely.


Adding to the milieu is the fact that Alice is recently widowed, that the kids miss and long to talk to their daddy (Doris prays to him). Alice is broke and about to lose their spooky old house.

And the girls are in Catholic school, where helpful Father Tom (Henry “E.T.” Thomas) is worried about their grades and their spiritual well-being, but open-minded enough to wonder if they’re messing with things they cannot control or fathom.

Reaser (“The Twilight Saga,” “Sweet Land”) is impressively wide-eyed when her daughter turns out to be capable of actually doing what she herself has always faked. Thomas, in his best role in decades, makes Father Tom as interesting as the script allows. Watch the way he tries to roll-back Lina’s raging 15 year-old hormones with relation to the handsome and attentive Mikey (Parker Mack).

“Boys his age require discouragement. Makes them better men, in the long run.”

The rising threat from the game, the too-obvious black-spandex clad spooks Doris sees and the climax play according to formula. The finale is drawn-out anti-climactic And as I’ve mentioned, we’ve seen most of the effects in the trailers.

But director Mike Flanagan, who did the haunted mirror thriller “Oculus,” makes great use of deep-focus close-ups, playing up the scariness of the youngest child.

And Reaser, Thomas, Basso and especially the demonically playful Miss Wilson play the Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard script like a fiddle. They make “Ouija” stand out among the generations of Ouija-board using horror pictures — the first might have been “The Uninvited,” in 1944 — a spooky thriller that, like its characters, only gets into trouble when it breaks the rules. 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements

Cast:Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas, Lulu Wilson, Parker Mack

Credits:Directed by Mike Flanagan, script by Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:39

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Movie Review: Faith-based “Priceless” lacks urgency


You have to appreciate the high-mindedness of “Priceless,” a faith-based drama in which a “transporter” makes it his business to free Mexican women he’s unknowingly delivered into the Southwestern U.S. sex trade.

But other good intentions — director Ben Smallbone crafting a “star vehicle” for his hunky Nashville singer brother Joel — tend to trip this sluggish melodrama up.

Joel Smallbone stars as James, just a guy with anger issues driving a third hand box truck through the desert southwest. He used to be married, now he’s widowed. The truck used to be a U-Haul, now it’s got faded “party time” stickers, sort of hiding what he’s got inside.

He doesn’t know what his cargo is, doesn’t question the folks who give him fad wads of cash to do the driving, until he runs off the road and hears whimpering from the back. He breaks the lock, and voila — two young Mexican sisters appear (Bianca A. Santos, Amber Midthunder).

price3The film’s most honest moment has James slam the door shut, as if he doesn’t want to see what he’s a party to. He changes his mind, helps them clean up, even buys them fresh dresses. The film’s most dishonest moment comes at the point of delivery, when the recipient (Jim Parrack) shows up with a van full of women, and two roses for the girls.

James acts shocked. He’s not living up to his favorite tattoo — “Let all you do be done in love.” This is about sex, not love.

And he’s the only person on Earth who hasn’t figured out exactly what these two young women have been smuggled into the U.S. to do.

Veteran character actor David Koechner plays a blunt but sympathetic hotel manager who provides James with a motorcycle, then a car, to track down the smuggling ring. And he lays down the film’s faith-based message.

“The flames of tragedy can refine you.”

But Smallbone the director makes sure Smallbone the star gets the star treatment here. The most beautifully coiffed truck driver in North America frets with his forelock in most every shot. First thing he does after crashing his truck? Flip his perfectly trimmed hairdo out of his eyes.

James narrates, blankly, and acts as if there’s no real rush in saving these two “unspoiled” immigrants from their sex trade fates. Smallbone should be leaning into the frame, guiltily rushing hither and yon to “undo what I’ve done, somehow.”

Instead, he just comes off as a vain first-time leading man. The film just drags, content to stare longingly at Smallbone’s chiseled good looks and perfectly-trimmed stubble. The character arc, from “non-believer” to righteous man receiving his first “God shot,” is blase.

Koechner, consigned to comic jerk roles decades ago, may have relished his rare shot at a dramatic role. But there’s not a lot to the character, just motorcycles, a hat and other conveniences that will aid James in his quest.

“Priceless” isn’t a particularly dislikable film, just an exhausted one — a couple of scenes have sardonic bite, the final confrontation is staged with some thought.

As for the Smallbones (Joel is in the band King & Country with another sibling, Luke) sometimes, having a relative behind the camera “looking out for you” is a help. But sometimes, they’re just enablers playing to your vanity.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving human trafficking, and some violence

Cast: Joel Smallbone, Bianca A. SantosDavid Koechner, Jim Parrack

Credits:Directed by Ben Smallbone, script by Chris DowlingTyler Poelle. A Roadside Attractions release.

Running time: 1:37

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Movie Review: The Icelandic thrills are dim in “Autumn Lights”


What’s memorable about “Autumn Lights,” an erotic thriller set in posh accommodations in rural Iceland?

Well, the nude scene depicted above, for starters. A couple of others. Some explicit sex.

It’s tempting to revive that long retired label “soft-core porn” in order to categorize this dim mystery in which the mystery is forgotten for most of the movie, and dispensed with, cursorily, late in the third act.

But we see Icelandic vistas and Icelandic forest, and naked actresses, which sounds like a movie to some folks. In this case, it adds up to instantly-forgettable.

We meet photographer David (Guy Kent) as his girlfriend is ditching him in the middle of an Icelandic assignment that he’d turned into a vacation. Her “We were fooling ourselves, it was a mistake” have barely sunk in when he stumbles across a body along the beach.

A young woman has killed herself. Whatever other plans David might have had, they’re back-burnered as the philosophical local cops want to question him and maybe explain away Scandinavian suicide to him.

“People die because they can’t live any more. They can’t go on.”

And sticking around lets David meet the neighbors. And their icy marriage and evasive answers to his questions about the dead woman draw him in.


That, and the Italian wife (Marta Gastini) makes no bones about flirting and isn’t the least bit discrete about what she likes to do in the woods.

Listening to her husband, the Austrian Johann (Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson), you understand Marie. Just a little.

“The only things we can depend on — ourselves, and our unhappiness.”

First-time feature writer-director Angad Aulakh avoids the Icelandic scenic cliches, and works hard to establish a lonely sense-of-place in “Autumn Lights.” He sets up a potentially intriguing sexual dynamic, with wary but helpless-to-resist David tumbling into whatever weirdness these bored Europeans are into.

David is drawn to Marie’s blonde Icelandic coed friend, only to feel Marie’s jealousy. And if our memory is sharp, we start to wonder if we’re seeing some version of what really happened before that suicide is playing out again here.

But Aulakh has a hard time distinguishing between ennui and simple boredom on screen. The relationships, to a one, are arid and unmoving. The performances, with the exception of Gastini, are as lifeless as paintings.

The cops, David and everybody else lack any sense of urgency or purpose. And for a movie built around a photographer, there’s too little pictorially that suggests anybody here has a photographer’s eye.

“Autumn Lights” has a hint of Ingmar Bergman about it in intent, setting and title (he made “Autumn Sonata”). But in execution, we can’t tell if this was meant to be an homage or a parody.



MPAA Rating: unrated, with sex, nudity, adult situations

Cast: Guy Kent, Marta Gastini, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson, Thora Bjorg Helga

Credits:Written and directed by Angad Aulakh . A Freestyle release.

Running time: 1:38

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Box Office: “Accountant” cashes in, Hart sells out, “Max Steel” melts

Warner_bros_logo-4Here’s what I’ve been saying since “The Town.” Warner Brothers recognized, in Ben Affleck, their replacement for Clint Eastwood.

He’s become a reliable box office star in front of and behind the camera. They’ve shoved him into a Bat costume, and made him an accountant.

And they’ve let him direct a solid true story thriller to Oscar winning glory.

“The Town,” “Argo,” “Batman v. Superman” and now “The Accountant” have all opened. And though “Sully” shows us Clint isn’t quite finished yet, their replacement is working out quite nicely, thank you — groomed for the part, mocked in some roles, but a solid choice when you’ve got a big ticket picture on the line.

Remember, nobody celebrated Clint’s acting until he got his AARP card. Affleck may be a stiff trying to play an Autism spectrum “dark money” bookkeeper with gun-wielding survival skills in “The Accountant,” but the movie still did a whopping $25 million+ this weekend. 

Kevin Hart keeps going back to his audience for more pocket change with these concert films, and his latest pulled in over $12 million. It’ll top out in the mid $20s, maybe $30 ish. Low costs, a few top name cameos, and his pals help him write and direct it. Pocket change.

“Max Steel” had zero buzz heading into the weekend, a comic bookish (Is it a comic? Sorry, never heard of it. Maybe a video game?) action pic aimed at kids, it wasn’t previewed for critics. NONE have endorsed it. And it’s opening in the under $2 million range. That’s a BOMB.

“The Birth of a Nation” is still in the top ten, but barely. It has no staying power, has lost all its audience and will end up losing money for Fox Searchlight. It has zero Oscar prospects, to boot.

A flop, not a bomb. But still, beware of over-hyped Sundance pictures with little known rape charges hanging over the star, director and screenwriter. That tends to make people look at the weak acting and perfunctory directing a little more harshly.



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