Review: Earth to Echo

Earth_to_Echo_Poster“Earth to Echo” doesn’t come close to being the next “E.T.,” but it does pack enough spirit and fun to make it a worthwhile knockoff.

Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley (yes, the kid from “The X Factor”) and Reese Hartwig lead as Alex, Tuck and Munch, three best friends who never really fit in until they found each other. However, with plans to build a highway straight through their Nevada suburb, their families are left with no choice, but to pack up and move away. In an effort to make their very last night together one to remember, Tuck insists they ride their bikes to the middle of the desert to investigate a mysterious signal that pops up on their cellphones.

Elements of that premise are in line with “The Goonies,” but there aren’t many similarities beyond that primarily because “Earth to Echo” is a far more juvenile film. It’s got heart, intrigue and a mild amount of suspense, but a lighter tone that will make older moviegoers well aware of the fact that nothing bad can happen to these characters. However, “Earth to Echo” gets away with it because the film is much more so about experiencing this crazy adventure than it is about the characters.

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Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers_Age_of_Extinction_PosterAt one point, a “Transformers: Age of Extinction” character delivers this gem – “I also have a saying; I don’t care.” Why isn’t that the tagline of this movie? Or the whole “Transformers” film franchise for that matter?

“Age of Extinction” takes place five years after “Dark of the Moon.” Even though the Autobots helped save mankind in Chicago, the US government classifies all Transformers as dangerous fugitives, forcing the Autobots to go into hiding. Meanwhile, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is desperately trying to earn enough money to keep his home and send his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), to college. Trouble is, none of his inventions work very well and he doesn’t make much money fixing CD players and other random things. However, a dilapidated truck Cade gets his hands on is another story because it isn’t just a truck in need of fixing; it’s Optimus Prime.

This part of “Age of Extinction” isn’t all that bad. The idea of the government shunning the Autobots for helping us win a battle we never could have won on our own is a little ridiculous, but it’s well worth the fun of getting the chance to discover the Transformers all over again. The human characters involved in that discovery, however, are so devastatingly poorly written, they almost extinguish the thrill of the Autobot reunion.

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Review: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer_PosterJoon-ho Bong’s unprecedented combination of stunning combat, stylistic eccentricities and dramatic poignancy is so rich and enthralling, there’s no way one viewing of “Snowpiercer” will ever be enough.

In an effort to thwart global warming, a chemical called CW-7 is released into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2014. Soon thereafter, the temperature plummets and the world is consumed by snow and ice. “Snowpiercer” begins in 2031, 17 years after the only survivors entered Wilford’s self-contained safe haven, a train that circles the globe once every calendar year and is sustained by a perpetual-motion engine. On that train, passengers are separated by class. The wealthy indulge in parties, fancy clothing and sushi up front while the rest are secluded to the tail, forced to live in tiny compartments and live off of unappetizing protein blocks. However, the time for change has come and Curtis (Chris Evans) has a plan to take over the front.

“Snowpiercer” is a downright mesmerizing display of hardship, combat and magnificent environments. Bong does an exceptional job developing the world, every member of the cast delivers a wholehearted performance and cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong churns out one exceptionally picturesque and telling shot after the next. There are some plot holes and believability issues in the mix, but everything else bears such an all-consuming quality that it’s nearly impossible to pull yourself out of the film long enough to assess those issues, keeping them from effecting the overall experience.

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Review: Coherence

Coherence_PosterThere’s more suspense in this low budget dialogue-driven sci-fi thriller than many effect-heavy, $100 million+ blockbuster wannabes.

“Coherence” focuses on Em (Emily), Kevin (Maury Sterling), Mike (Nicholas Brendon), Lee (Lorene Scafaria), Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), Hugh (Hugo Armstrong), Amir (Alex Manugian) and Laurie (Lauren Maher), a group of friends reuniting for a dinner party. It’s all small talk and a little bit of gossip until the lights go out. Power goes out all the time for various reasons, but the strange thing is, the entire neighborhood is without electricity except for just one house about two blocks away. Does this have anything to do with Miller’s comet, which is passing Earth at this very moment? No one knows, but Hugh’s brother might so Hugh and Amir make their way over to get some answers, but their visit only winds up sparking more questions.

The best way to walk into James Ward Byrkit’s first feature is knowing nothing about what you’re getting yourself into, so this assessment of “Coherence” will remain rather vague.

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Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

How_to_Train_Your_Dragon_2_Poster“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is kind of like going to a pet store and being swarmed by puppies; you won’t want to leave and when you have to, you’ll want to take them all home with you.

It’s been five years since Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) met Toothless and changed the way the people of Berk viewed dragons. Now, just about everyone has one, even Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler). When a notorious dragon hunter named Drago (Djimon Hounsou) threatens to steal Berk’s dragons, Stoick insists there’s nothing they can do about it, but lay low and keep out of his way. Hiccup, on the other hand, is convinced that reasoning with him could make a difference, so he flies out to do what he thinks is best in an effort to keep the dragons and his village safe.

It’s been over four years since the first “How to Train Your Dragon,” but it’s effortless to fall right back in step with Hiccup, Toothless and the rest of the gang. Any pet owner could relate to Hiccup and Toothless’ connection in the first film and this time around we’ve got an entire village full of people with man’s best friend-type relationships with dragons. There’s dragon racing, a cat lady-like character covered in baby dragons and an abundance of unconditional love all over the place. Within minutes, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” sells Berk as a village well worth saving, almost instantly making you invested in the mission to protect it from Drago and his crew.

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Interview: The Rover Writer-Director David Michôd

David_MichodFour years after delivering the film that would ultimately go on to earn Jacki Weaver her very first Academy Award nomination, writer-director David Michôd is back with his second feature film, “The Rover.”

The film stars “Animal Kingdom” alum Guy Pearce as Eric, a loner roaming the desolate Australian outback where law enforcement is hard to come by and everything comes at a hefty price. When a group of criminals steals Eric’s car in the heat of a botched heist, he decides to pick up the wounded accomplice (Robert Pattinson) they leave behind so he track them down and get back his sole remaining possession.

When you mark your feature debut with something like “Animal Kingdom,” follow-up opportunities are bound to come your way. However, an opportunity and the right opportunity are two different things, so Michôd opted to take his time to ensure he picked the best thing.

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Interview: The Signal Director William Eubank

William_EubankIt isn’t easy getting your first feature off the ground, but William Eubank managed to pull it off and in a rather unconventional manner. He didn’t attend a traditional film school or track down an industry contact willing to give him a shot. Eubank entered a Red Hot Chili Peppers music video contest – and lost. But he did wind up with quite the consolation prize – the band Angels and Airwaves agreed to both produce and score his first feature, “Love.”

After four years of work that included building a fully realized space station set, writing, directing and shooting the film himself, Eubank wound up with a final product that would go on to collect laurels from Toronto After Dark, Fantasia, Fantastic Fest, Sitges Film Festival and more, and ultimately afford him the opportunity to move forward with his sophomore effort, “The Signal.”

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