San Andreas - Review

PG-13  |  114 min  |  Action, Drama, Thriller
Review - Matt Mungle
Disaster films are not a rare commodity but you can't beat them when it comes for big screen imagery and edge of your seat popcorn eating. SAN ANDREAS lives up to the genre with thrills, action, and total building annihilation.

Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a LAPD rescue-helicopter pilot with a long string of successful saves. But the biggest challenge of his career is also the most important as he tries to rescue his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) during a massive San Francisco earthquake.  As his world literally crumbles around him Ray stops at nothing to complete his mission. In the meantime Emma has to recall all she has learned from her dad in order to survive as she waits for help to arrive.

We have seen Johnson make the transition from wrestler to actor with huge success. He is very versatile and has a way of delivering a solid performance no matter the character or genre. He can go from action flick to kids comedy to sci-fi without ever losing that wide smile and endearing charm. Here it is Ray's devotion and drive to save his daughter that truly makes him shine. Relying more on emotion and decision making rather than just size and strength allows him to bring a bit more depth to the role.

All that means nothing in a film like this though if stuff isn't exploding, collapsing, and taking your breath away. Which it does. The effects and imagery in this are fantastic as we literally see San Francisco demolished by shifting plates and huge ocean waves. I am not sure if people who live along the San Andreas fault enjoyed this movie as much as those halfway across the country; but for us it was a blast to watch.

We get a small dose of Plate tectonics education thanks to the character of Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) a professor at Cal Tech who has developed a way to detect Earthquakes before they happen. But is he too late? It is cool seeing Giamatti take on a role like this. He plays the "caring professor trying to get the word out" perfectly. He knows how to set up a dire scene with an edge and tome to his voice. We know disaster looms even as the camera tightly closes in on his face.

This film is like many of its predecessors like Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and all the films of the 70s that made the genre so popular. But this one is actually better than the prior. Sure there are impossible situations in this that no one could possibly survive. And yes there are moments so far fetched that you almost want to yell, "cheater". For some reason the get a pass in this one. Maybe it is the expert timing and editing. Possibly it is the fact that it is just so overwhelming to watch on the big screen. Regardless, this is a fun summer film that delivers exactly what is needed and expected.

SAN ANDREAS is rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language. It is wall to wall thrilling suspense that will have you catching your breath at times. The peril and danger may be a little bit much for younger viewers to process and the language can be a bit strong (but who says dang when a building crashes around them?). Other than that there is nothing at all offensive about the content. I give it 4 out of 5 parking garages. More popcorn anyone?

The A Plate

NR  |   |  Comedy Romance
Review - Matt Mungle

THE A PLATE, a raunchy look at car salesmen and the women who tolerate them, is now on VODD
We all have had to deal with car dealerships and the annoying buying process. There is a stigma that follows those who work there and this film takes a decent stab at elevating those stereotypes to hilarious heights.   

Jay Roth (Shane Jacobsen) is the sales manager at a mid level car dealership. He has the talent and personality to be successful but what he truly wants is to be the dealer. The top guy. To get the car with the A-Plate. When the owner (Sam McMurray) of the car dealership he works for gets caught up in a nasty divorce Jay  thinks he might have found a way in. But things get real complicated when Jay falls for the owner's daughter (Julie Ann Emery).  

This film is as ridiculous as it is funny. Full of oddball characters and implausible scenarios that are there simply to give the characters a reason to be despised. Everyone is sleeping with everyone else and you often wonder if any cars are being sold at all. The film though is more about the behind the scene antics of the employees and that is where it keeps its focus. 

The cast is comfortable together and obviously have fun taking the roles to the limit. Sam McMurray (Raising Arizona, Christmas Vacation) is an amazing funny man with a long pedigree of memorable characters. His wife is played by Priscilla Barnes and older audiences will love seeing this Three's Company blond back on screen. Julie Ann Emery is currently tearing it up on Better Call Saul. So all of these familiar faces add to the appeal of this adult comedy. 

And it is very adult. The language and bed hopping is in no way intended for younger viewers or those watching in awkward mixed company. It is not rated by the MPAA but contains strong language, nudity, sexual content and drug use. So be aware of that going in. If you want a funny comedy that you can chill out on the couch and watch it will certainly serve that purpose. 

Barely Lethal - Review

PG-13  |   |  Action, Adventure, Comedy
Review - Matt Mungle

Now showing at AMC Mesquite 30 and DirecTV VOD

High School can be a tough transition. Even for a trained assassin. Barely Lethal throws an action packed punch at the adventure comedy genre in this teen spy flick.

Megan Walsh (Hailee Steinfeld) has been raised from a baby to be an elite undercover agent. An orphan whose only thing close to a parental unit is a hard nosed combat instructor (Samuel L. Jackson). Now that she is a teenager she longs for nothing more than the chance to just be normal. So she fakes her own death in order to sneak away and experience a life she has only seen in Teen Mags and popular movies. But she soon finds that no training could have prepared her for the craziness that is High School.

What appears at first glance to be a regurgitated teen comedy that you would fine in endless repeat on Nick at Night or Disney XD is actually a pretty fun film. It caters more to the older teens than the young tweens in the fact that is doesn't hold back with some of the humor and dialogue. Megan is a rouge agent with fists of fury and a heart that longs for a stolen adolescence. The film tackles all of the nuances of High School from bullying, cliches, crushes, and odd ball teachers.

Steinfeld handles the role the way Bond handles a firearm; with confidence, and expert timing. We have seen her handle mature scripts starting back in the True Grit remake. It obviously taught her to hold her own with seasoned actors like Jackson. The cast also includes solid character actors like Jessica Alba, Rachael Harris, Sophie Turner, and Thomas Mann. Mann does what he excels at. He is the really nice guy who dwells in the friend zone.

This film could possibly rank up there with the classics it references. like Mean Girls, The Breakfast Club, Beverly Hills 90210. What makes this one unique is that it also combines some pretty solid action moments and a script that isn't afraid to push some envelopes. It mixes relevant pop culture with teen aged angst, It is instantly quotable and easily enjoyed. For the right audience. Those over 25 and not of the female persuasion may find it unreliable. But it isn't made for them so that is expected. The film balances High School elements with the spy world perfectly. One moment Walsh is trying to survive peer pressure and the next she is in a shoot out and car chase.

BARELY LETHAL is rated PG-13 on appeal for sexual material, teen drinking, language, drug references and some action violence. It is certainly for the older teens and those used to some of the more spicy dialogue. It is definitely a film that will surprise in the way it breaks out of the stereotypes of teenage comedies and gives something respectable. I give it 3.5 out of 5 drop kicks. Want to spice up your life a bit? Sponsor an exchange student is happens to be a kick butt assassin.


Kathryn Bigelow joins CARTEL LAND as Executive Producer.


Matthew Heineman's Film Received Both the Directing Award and Special Jury Award for Cinematography in the U.S. Documentary Competition This Year at Sundance

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (THE HURT LOCKER, ZERO DARK THIRTY) has joined Matthew Heineman's documentary CARTEL LAND as Executive Producer. The film was produced by Tom Yellin and Heineman, and Molly Thompson of A&E IndieFilms (JESUS CAMP, THE IMPOSTER, THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE) is also an Executive Producer.

The Orchard acquired the film out of Sundance and is releasing it theatrically on July 3 in New York and July 10 in Los Angeles. The film will then expand into select cities nationwide. Today, The Orchard has also unveiled the first poster for the film, which can be downloaded here.

VICE Media, the world's leading youth media company and digital content studio, has also come on board to partner with The Orchard in the promotion of CARTEL LAND.

With unprecedented access, CARTEL LAND is a riveting, on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy - the murderous Mexican drug cartels.

In the Mexican state of Michoac√°n, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as "El Doctor," leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Meanwhile, in Arizona's Altar Valley - a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley - Tim "Nailer" Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico's drug wars from seeping across our border.

Filmmaker Matthew Heineman embeds himself in the heart of darkness as Nailer, El Doctor, and the cartel each vie to bring their own brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed. CARTEL LAND is a chilling, visceral meditation on the breakdown of order and the blurry line between good and evil. At the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Heineman received both the Directing Award and Special Jury Award for Cinematography in the U.S. Documentary competition.

DIRECTED BY: Matthew Heineman
RUN TIME: 98 minutes


Felix and Meira - Review

R  |   |  Drama Romance
Review - Matt Mungle
Now showing at Angelika Dallas and select theaters

Felix and Meira had every opportunity to wow and engage but sadly nothing about this film ever seems to connect. That is disappointing on many levels but mainly because the characters are so interesting and thought provoking. 

Meira (Hadas Yaron) is a young, Hasidic Jewish wife and mother who feels trapped within the rules and regulations of her Orthodox community. She likes popular music, art, and culture. You get the sense that she isn't rebellious as much as searching. When she strikes up a casual friendship with Felix, a single man who lives in her neighborhood, it causes her to stray even further from her marriage and her responsibilities. The two offer a bit of solace to each other and soon things begin to get more than platonic. All of this to the obvious and expected frustration of her husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky). 

Meira is a complex character and Yaron plays the role expertly. This Israeli actress is not unfamiliar to the culture and is convincing in her performance. You feel Meira's sadness and lack of passion for her current situation. You understand why she is drawn to Felix. Still she isn't flagrant about her actions. She it torn between two extremes and wrestles with the guilt. This is about the only depth in the script we see. 

The scenes themselves are disjointed and forced. You have no trouble following the story but it is also easy to get bored with it. The conversations for the most part are thin and unresolved.  The moments that come even close to dramatic are when a frustrated Shulem  tries his best to get Meira to understand the fractures her actions are causing. But even these fizzle and misfire too often. There are character traits that are shown and then never given a fair chance to shine. The most powerful interaction is a conversation that Felix and Shulem have near the end of the film. As they sit across the table from each other you are fixed on every word. It is this emotion that needed to happen from the beginning on. By the time it does come it is too late. 

One positive point worth mentioning is how the writers (Maxime Giroux, Alexandre Laferrière) handle Shulem's character. It is easy for those of us outside the strict Orthodox community to applaud Meira for trying to live her life. We can look at her household as one of bondage and old fashioned regulations. But it is clear that Shulem loves Meira dearly. You see that he mainly wants her to obey in order not to lose respect and bring shame on the family. He is a good husband and wants what is best for his daughter and wife. Even if that seems so outlandish to you and I.

FELIX AND MEIRA is rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity. I am surprised that this film has an R rating. If it was for the one brief moment of sexuality/nudity that seems a bit harsh. Other than the actual themes and story line being adult geared there is nothing content wise to warrant any sort of warning. In fact director Maxime Giroux could have easily left that one moment out and gotten a tame PG-13. Regardless the film itself is too sporadic and lukewarm to matter. It ends with a ho hum and a casualness that makes it forgettable. I give it 2 out of 5 passports. It should have been better.