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‘Mighty Oak’ collapses under its own weight

AT A GLANCE

Mighty Oak

Directed by: Sean McNamara

Starring: Janel Parrish, Carlos PenaVega, Tommy Ragen, Alexa PenaVega, Levi Dylan, Raven-Symoné

Rated: PG-13 for thematic content involving substance abuse, language, some accident images and brief suggestive language

Available July 7 on: Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Sony PlayStation Video, Fandango NOW and more

Critical rating: 1½ stars out of 4

By Forrest Hartman

There’s nothing like a good music movie. The truly great ones – think “A Star Is Born,” “La La Land,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Almost Famous” and “Whiplash” – reinforce the importance of art. They can be inspiring, tragic, even funny; and they are always moving. But when a music movie stumbles, the result is often a forced, schlocky experience. 

With “Mighty Oak,” director Sean McNamara (“Soul Surfer”) and writer Matt Allen (“Four Christmases,” “Soul Surfer”) attempt a spiritual journey aimed at demonstrating the healing power of music. They instead deliver a melodramatic hodgepodge that’s light on authenticity and heavy on melodrama. 

The movie centers on Gina (Janel Parrish), the beautiful young manager of an up-and-coming rock band named Army of Love. The group is driven by the vocals and songwriting prowess of Gina’s brother, Vaughn (Levi Dylan). The remaining members — guitarist Pedro (Carlos PenaVega), drummer Alex (Nana Ghana) and bassist DB (Rodney Hicks) — are also extremely close. In fact, Gina has an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Pedro. Just when it seems that the band is about to explode, the entire crew is involved in a devastating auto accident that leaves Vaughn dead and Gina unable to move on. 

Gina emerges from her depression, however, when she meets Oak Scoggins (Tommy Ragen), a 4th grade prodigy who expresses a willingness to reunite Army of Love. The youngster reminds her so much of Vaughn that she can’t say, “No.” 

The setup is sweet, but it feels as forced as it sounds … especially when Gina and company begin to view Oak as a new version of Vaughn. Ragen is a real-life musician, and he is extremely talented for an 11-year-old. That said, he is 11, and his age is obvious each time he sings. That makes every sequence with him leading the band play like a novelty act on “America’s Got Talent.” It’s hard to believe Gina – or anyone else – would see Oak as a legitimate savior of the group. Since the entire movie is built on the premise that he is an apt replacement for Vaughn, it’s problematic. 

To their credit, Allen and McNamara have bigger ideas on their minds. They are clearly hoping viewers will ponder worthwhile topics ranging from mortality to mental illness. They also want us thinking about the connections that define human beings. These are worthwhile ideas, but they are presented so awkwardly that it’s tough to buy in, as many viewers will be busy analyzing the maudlin plot contrivances instead. 

Ragen, Parrish, PenaVega and the rest of the cast are charming enough, but some elements of the story are underdeveloped while others batter the audience like a sledgehammer. One doesn’t watch “Mighty Oak” so much as he/she is manipulated by it. Some filmmakers – Steven Spielberg chief amongst them – can get away with this type of manipulation. But Spielberg is nuanced. With “Mighty Oak,” one can feel McNamara and Allen tugging at the heartstrings, and it’s more uncomfortable than effective. 

Since Ragen is a charismatic presence and a talented musician, it feels curmudgeonly to critique his coming-out party. But the cruel fact is, “Mighty Oak” isn’t the best stage for his gifts. It’s easy to imagine him maturing into a formidable artist. When that happens, this film may be remembered as his big break, but it will not be remembered as his seminal work … nor that of anyone else involved.       

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Forrest reviews ‘Hacksaw Ridge’

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Forrest reviews ‘Doctor Strange’

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‘Batman v Superman’ – Review from ‘Forrest on Film’

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‘Race’ review on KGAB-AM

This morning, Gary Freeman and I talked about the film “Race” on KGAB-AM in Cheyenne, WY. The whole dialogue is now available on SoundCloud.

 

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Film Review: “Race”

Forrest reviews the Jesse Owens biopic “Race.”

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Snapshot Review: ‘A Walk in the Woods’

A WALK IN THE WOODS

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte star in

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte star in “A Walk in the Woods.”

Photo courtesy of epk.tv

Critical rating: 3 stars out of four

Directed by: Ken Kwapis (“Big Miracle,” “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants”)

Starring: Robert Redford and Nick Nolte

Rated: R for language and some sexual references

The story: Screen adaptation of writer Bill Bryson’s bestselling, 1998 memoir, “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.” The film, like the book, focuses on Bryson’s attempt to walk the 2,200-mile trail with his friend Stephen Katz.

The scoop: A comedy for mature audiences that value strong acting and subtle humor over car crashes and a barrage of crass gags. “A Walk in the Woods” is consistently funny, but it’s also a reminder that older folks needn’t act as though their best days are behind them. The movie is a likable mix of comedy and drama made better by the wonderful performances of Nolte and Redford. Like a hiker on a long journey, director Ken Kwapis takes an easygoing pace, covering a lot of territory but taking time to breathe and enjoy the scenery.

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Snapshot review: ‘American Ultra’

AMERICAN ULTRA

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star in the action-comedy "American Ultra."  Photo courtesy of EPK.tv

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star in the action-comedy “American Ultra.”
Photo courtesy of EPK.tv

Critical rating: 2½ stars out of four

Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh (“Project X”)

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo and Bill Pullman

Rated: R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content

The story: “American Ultra” is an entertaining action-comedy about a youthful slacker (Jesse Eisenberg) who easily dispatches two assassins that attempt to kill him, leading to the realization that he is really a former CIA agent who had his mind wiped. His loyal girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) is along for the ride.

The scoop: There are funny moments, and director Nima Nourizadeh mixes them with sequences of brutally graphic violence. Viewers will have a good time if they can look beyond the glaring plot problems and focus on the solid performances and Nourizadeh’s emphasis of style over substance.  Those who demand more from their filmmakers will see “American Ultra” for what it is: a lightweight Tarantino clone.

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Snapshot review: ‘Terminator Genisys’

TERMINATOR GENISYS

Critical rating: 3½ stars out of four

Directed by: Alan Taylor (“Thor: The Dark World”)

Starring: Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger and J.K. Simmons

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language

The story: The fifth installment in this long-running science-fiction franchise takes viewers to the future and past with a story that relies heavily on time travel. Much of the action centers on Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), who was played by Michael Biehn in the 1984 original. Viewers watch as Kyle is sent back to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Presumably this would result in a replay of the first movie, but Kyle lands in a timeline that has been significantly changed. In fact, there is a point where humanity’s prophesized savior, John Connor, becomes mankind’s biggest threat.

The scoop: “Terminator Genisys” is a fitting tribute to all the films that came before and the most entertaining franchise entry since 1991’s “Judgment Day.” Like the first two movies, the film is sometimes silly, often funny and always action packed. It’s a great summer blockbuster.

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New to home video: ‘Get Hard,’ ‘The Gunman,’ ‘While We’re Young’ and ‘Danny Collins’

Sean Penn plays an assassin who is hunted for the secrets that he harbors in

Sean Penn plays an assassin who is hunted for the secrets that he harbors in “The Gunman.”

Photo courtesy of Universal

The new home video releases for June 30 include …

GET HARD
2½ stars out of four
Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug material
Warner Brothers
Starring: Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell
Written and directed by: Etan Cohen (first feature film)
The scoop: Will Ferrell plays a millionaire who is sentenced to prison after a fraud conviction. Devastated, he hires the only black man he knows, Darnell (Kevin Hart), to prepare him for lockup. The only trouble is Darnell is as squeaky clean as they come. Hart and Ferrell are charismatic actors and the premise is funny, but the execution is hit-and-miss.

THE GUNMAN
3 stars out of four
Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality
Universal
Starring: Sean Penn and Javier Bardem
Directed by: Pierre Morel (“Taken”)
The scoop: A former assassin (Sean Penn) finds himself hunted by dangerous men afraid of the dark secrets that he harbors. Moviegoers have seen similar things in the past, but the film is still engaging thanks to solid pacing and a nice performance by Penn.

WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
3 stars out of four
Rated R for language
Lionsgate
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin and Adam Horovitz
Written and directed by: Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha,” “The Squid and the Whale”)
The scoop: The story of a middle-aged couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who try to recapture their youth by hanging out with a much-younger couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). The subject matter is enticing and the cast is remarkably talented.

DANNY COLLINS
3 stars out of four
Rated R for language, drug use and some nudity
Universal
Starring: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale and Christopher Plummer
Written and directed by: Dan Fogelman (first feature film)
The scoop: An aging rock musician takes stock of his career and tries to reinvent himself after receiving an undelivered letter that John Lennon wrote to him at the beginning of his career. Al Pacino isn’t completely believable as a superstar singer, but the movie’s dramatic arc is surprisingly engaging.

NOTE: Blu-rays, DVDs and screening links are provided to the reviewer at no charge. This enables us to run reviews the day titles become public, but it does not influence the opinions expressed.

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