Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Movie Review: “Magic Mike XXL”

Magic Mike XXL

*** 1/2 out of 5
115 minutes
Rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

OK ladies, I know you love seeing Channing Tatum up on the big screen — my wife is no exception — but let’s keep some decency to your moviegoing habits. Now, before you go calling me sexist, this is more about theater etiquette. I know it may come as a surprise that there could be such a thing when a movie like Magic Mike XXL is what’s playing up on the big screen, but at least wait to holler until he has his shirt off. While that may happen a lot, there’s also no need to talk through the entire movie like you’re some kind of MST3K-reject. Your freak flag doesn’t need to wave the entire runtime.

Now… Magic Mike XXL picks up three years later with Mike (Tatum) getting over a breakup with Brooke. Doing what he loves — making furniture — he works hard keeping his company afloat with one employee by his side. After Mike gets a call from Tarzan (Kevin Nash) that Dallas has passed, he heads to see the boys only to find out it was just a ruse to get him back into the swing of things. He unwittingly joins the crusade — alongside the remaining Kings of Tampa: Ken (Matt Bomer), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) — to head out on one last trip to Myrtle Beach for a stripper convention and have a final blow-out performance.

If there’s one film to compare Magic Mike XXL to, it’s this summer’s other boys-will-be-boys failure: Entourage. While that film was also filled with arrested adolescence gone wild, at least here we have a group of friends we can casually root for. They may smut around, but at least they’re having fun. Also along for the ride are some supporting characters from Mike’s past: most notably Jada Pinkett Smith as Rome (who owns a private all-male stripper club) and her crooning secret weapon Andre (Donald Glover), Amber Heard as Zoe (a photographer headed for New York City), Andie MacDowell as a southern belle cougar, and Elizabeth Banks as a blast from the past working the convention.

Overstuffed with subplots, the runtime could have used some tightening up. The jokes may land more than they miss, but there is a lot of time spent with characters faux-waxing philosophical — or at least as philosophical as a group of strippers can get — causing the pace to lag when it should be jumping to the next strip scene. And let’s face it, no one is going to Magic Mike XXL to listen to the characters talk. Unfortunately, they do. A lot! and returning screenwriter Reid Carolin gives them nothing new to talk about. They’re all just trying to exorcise some demons before they make the big leap into real adulthood.

It’s too bad Soderbergh didn’t come back as anything more than producer/cinematographer, but then again, even he was handed a hackneyed script. At least this time no one tries to squeeze anything resembling a plot into what’s basically a road trip movie with stripping. They know the fans will be there regardless and anyone else wanting to see what all the fuss is about at least won’t find themselves sitting through one of the worst films of the year. A good time is to be had in Magic Mike XXL, even if it’s of the lobotomized variety.

Movie Review: “Terminator Genisys”

Terminator Genisys

**** out of 5
125 minutes
Rated PG - 13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language
Paramount Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

When it comes to diminishing returns, the Terminator franchise has been no exception. While I still have a soft spot for both Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation, I know neither of them come even close to the greatness of James Cameron’s original classic and sequel. When a new installment was announced, I wasn’t too sure they could come up with anything new. Then, they announced that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be returning and it finally piqued my interest. When it was released that it wouldn’t be a reboot, I changed my mind. There’s no remaking Cameron’s films.

Thankfully, what director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) has done with Terminator Genisys, is taken the timeline and had some fun with it — at least as much as the PG-13 rating will allow. Granted, we’re talking about a series where the titular character is a robot, so it makes sense that they can get away with a lot more without going overboard. Is the film a complete success? Yes and no. But let’s face it, just having another Terminator film in theaters is a feat all its own these days. But as Jurassic World proved just four weeks ago, audiences appreciate a little nostalgia. While it never manages to be as suspenseful as that, however, Genisys definitely makes up for it in time-traveling shenanigans.

Beginning in 2029, John Connor (Jason Clarke) has just lead the resistance against the machines to what seems to be a win — for once. They have found Skynet’s time machine and send Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). And just when you think you’re watching the original film, along comes a version of the liquid metal T-1000 (Byung-hun Lee) who knew where Kyle was going to be. After Sarah winds up saving Kyle, we learn that a version of the T-800 (Schwarzenegger) — whom she has named “Pops” — was sent even further back to save Sarah when she was just a kid and has been her guardian ever since. Now, John has to convince Sarah and Pops that they need to get to the year 2017 to stop the launch of a program called Genisys — a renamed Skynet — to keep Judgment Day from happening once and for all.

As with all time travel films, there are a lot of plotholes in our midst. The best plan of action is to just sit back and revel in the joy of watching Schwarzenegger back on the big screen, doing what he does best: kicking ass while cracking wise. Genisys never takes itself too seriously, and let’s face it, what franchise can when entering into its fifth installment? Screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (horror film editor turned trashy screenwriter/director: My Bloody Valentine, Drive Angry) know that they need to bring something new. And really the only way to do that is to scrap what’s happened before, while never forgetting the alternate timeline happened.

There are plenty of nods to the first two films, with returning characters that I don’t want to mention in hopes of keeping at least a few surprises in store. I know the marketing for Genisys has been abysmal and has given away a huge one, so even though it’s already public knowledge, I refuse to ruin it here. Featuring a game cast — Emilia Clarke makes a perfect Sarah after having rewatched the first two films just days ago and this is the most fun Courtney has ever been. It’s too bad J.K. Simmons is the only one short shifted considering how reliable he is no matter how minor the role. His character is literally dropped right in the middle of an action scene and he’s never mentioned again.

Make no mistake, you want machine-on-machine action? Taylor delivers. Terminator Genisys may not go down as one of the best action films of the year — and still leaves us wishing for more as sequelitis starts to show the series’ age — but, just as the T-800 says about himself in the film: “I’m old, not obsolete,” and the same goes for the Terminator series, something that’ll come in handy after the mid-credits scene. Here’s to hoping that the next one is even better, because we all know he’ll be back, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Movie Review: “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

**** out of 5
105 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements
Fox Searchlight

Article first published at The Reel Place.

I have a colleague who uses the phrase “Sundance Goggles” during the Sundance Film Festival. He’s referring to films that, upon first glance, appear to be better than they might be if released outside the festival. Lots of hype and buzz get thrown around and they win festival awards, but sometimes, they just don’t live up to expectations. Or you watch it again later, only discover that maybe you had them on as well during one screening or another.

With Me and Earl and the Dying Girl getting swooped up by Fox Searchlight, a theatrical release was inevitable. So, how does it stand on its own amidst the onslaught of summer films? The easiest way to describe it is “Wes Anderson for teens.” While that may turn off some viewers, rest assured, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Glee, American Horror Story) directs author Jesse Andrews’s novel (adapting his own screenplay) into a hilarious and heartbreaking tale of one boy and his love for movies, and just maybe, the love of his life.

Greg (Thomas Mann) wants to do what he can to make it through high school without drawing attention to himself. He skirts through the cliques keeping only one friend in Earl (RJ Cyler), while keeping everyone else at arm’s length. That is until his mom (Connie Britton) and dad (Nick Offerman) inform him that Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with leukemia and he should offer his friendship to her. Begrudgingly, Greg makes nice and visits Rachel at home and the two begin what Greg refers to as a “doomed friendship.” He repeatedly assures us that Rachel does not die.

In their free time, Greg and Earl make spoof movies of old foreign films, and as Rachel’s prognosis worsens, school hottie Madison (Katherine C. Hughes) volunteers the two of them to make a movie for Rachel. Now, it’s a race to the finish line as Greg and Earl struggle to come up with a viable plot, and Greg has to comes to terms that he might just be the nice guy everyone thinks he is, whether he admits it or not.

If there’s one major thing working in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’s favor, it’s the cast. Mann makes a perfect version of the self-deprecating nice guy, Cyler delivers every line delivery as deadpan hilarious as possible, and Cooke proves she’s way more than just the oxygen-wielding girl-next-door on Bates Motel. The whole cast works perfectly together, creating one of the best ensembles of the year. On top of everyone else already mentioned, Molly Shannon gets a chance to shine as Rachel’s mom and Jon Bernthal is absolutely hilarious as Mr. McCarthy, Greg and Earl’s favorite teacher, with an even funnier special appearance by Role Models’ little Ronnie: Bobb’e J. Thompson.

Gomez-Rejon cut his teeth with this kind of material on Glee and manages to show that he’s ready to burst onto the Hollywood scene as more than just one of Ryan Murphy’s cronies. Skipping heedlessly through the motions, he creates a tour de force of emotion with no stone left unturned. From laugh-out-loud hilarious to heartbreaking tearjerker, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl should hopefully result in the breakout indie film of the summer and rightfully so. It’s one of the best coming of age stories since The Kings of Summer, and you don’t want to miss it.

Movie Review: “Ted 2”

Ted 2

**** 1/2 out of 5
115 minutes
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use
Universal Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

I wish I could say it feels like it was yesterday that Seth MacFarlane unleashed Ted upon us. One of the funniest movies of 2012 — only rivaled by 21 Jump Street and The Cabin In the Woods — MacFarlane’s brand of scatological heartfelt raunch proved that he was far more than just the creator of Family Guy. Unfortunately, MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West didn’t quite fit audience’s expectations. More full-blown western than comedy, it failed both critically and financially. Now, MacFarlane is back at what he does best with Ted 2, a film so funny you’ll wind up crying from laughing too hard.

We catch up with Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), the world’s most lovable foul-mouthed teddy bear come to life, as he marries Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). At the reception, we find out that best man/thunder buddy for life John (Mark Wahlberg), is six months divorced. (Turns out, that after spending a whole movie proving John and Lori were made for each other, they weren’t.) Ted wants John to get over her and back in the dating pool, but John isn’t quite ready to kick his porn habit.

With Ted’s own marriage on the rocks after just a year, John suggests that maybe the two should have a baby. Problem is, Ted doesn’t have the required appendage for procreation, and to make matters worse, Tami-Lynn has ruined her uterus with excessive alcohol and drug use. Now, the two want to adopt a little bundle of joy, but the state declares Ted a piece of property and not human. Thus begins Ted’s hilarious journey, with John by his side and 26-year-old pothead and lawyer-in-training Samantha, to prove he has a soul. Meanwhile, the nefarious Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) is hatching a plan at Hasbro headquarters to finally make Ted his own.

I have to admit, I had complete faith in MacFarlane for Ted 2. Even West had some brazenly inspired moments of absurdity to keep it chugging along — it also helps that I actually love a good western. I am a little cautious in declaring 2 funnier than the original, I can’t help but wonder if it seems that way because the jokes are fresher with this being the newest installment. But it is safe to say that MacFarlane (along with co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, who also co-wrote the original) has crafted an even bigger, sillier, raunchier, sequel than you could imagine.

But don’t let the lowbrow fool you, MacFarlane somehow has also managed to make the most pro-gay rights film at the same time. Lots of points are made about Ted not deserving rights because he’s different, don’t tell me they’re not drawing parallels, and more power to MacFarlane! Samantha’s opening remarks in court are both poignant and timely. But have no fear, of course this is no serious affair. There’s potty humor aplenty, but also plenty of heart.

I know, we came for the laughs. And on that note, MacFarlane and company score big time. Full of the prerequisite movie/pop culture references, dick and fart jokes, and non-stop lunacy we’ve come to expect from MacFarlane. I was left gasping after one joke careened into another, and I would never spoil them here! It helps that the cast is up to the challenge to deliver whatever antic MacFarlane throws at them. Without a doubt, Ted 2 is one of the funniest films of the year (only rivaled by Spy so far) and anyone worried it’s just more of the same, well, it is. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Movie Review: “Burying the Ex”

** 1/2 out of 5
89 minutes
Rated R for sexual content, partial nudity, some horror violence, and language
Image Entertainment

Article first published as Movie Review: Joe Dante’s ‘Burying the Ex’ Starring Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene, and Alexandra Daddario on Blogcritics.

It’s hard to watch one of your favorite directors fall from grace. I was always impressed with the way Joe Dante always delivered over his first two decades of movie-making, never a stranger to jumping from genre to genre. One thing was always the same though, you knew you were watching a Dante film. Through Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins, Explorers, segment “3” of The Twilight Zone: The Movie, Innerspace, The ‘Burbs, Gremlins 2, Matinee, even Small Soldiers, it was a strong 20 years of endless entertainment.

Burying the Ex, Joe Dante, Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene, Alexandra Daddario, Oliver Cooper, Alan TrezzaThen when it came time to make the film he seemed destined to make — Looney Tunes: Back in Action — he seemed to have hit a roadblock and the film was not the success it should have been. It would be six years before he’d direct another feature that resembled his own oeuvre (The Hole), and now another six years after that, he has wrought his worst film yet with Burying the Ex. Dante may have rounded up a game cast — mostly in his lead Anton Yelchin — but the energy his film’s once had is missing in full.

Max (Yelchin) is in a relationship with Evelyn (Ashley Greene) who forces him to eat vegan and hates that he works at a horror-themed “Boo-tique.” Their relationship hits the skids after a bus plows down Evelyn, but not before they make a promise in front of a mystical Satan Genie that grants their wish to be together forever. Now, Evelyn has come back from the dead and is making Max keep his promise, no matter how much she starts to decompose. Now, Max has to hatch a plan with his step-brother Travis (Oliver Cooper) to get rid of Evelyn forever so that he can start a new romance with malt shop owner Olivia (Alexandra Daddario), whom he shares a mutual love of the macabre.

Burying the Ex, Joe Dante, Anton Yelchin, Ashley Greene, Alexandra Daddario, Oliver Cooper, Alan TrezzaAll the elements are ripe for Dante to make a grand comeback, but he’s saddled with an obvious and cliched screenplay from Alan Trezza, making a debut that will doubtfully make Hollywood come knocking. While it may play up the fact that Evelyn is fully aware she’s a zombie, Burying the Ex is utterly lifeless. Yelchin does what he can with Daddario, but the two don’t have enough screentime to make you root for them as a couple. They don’t even start “dating” until roughly an hour into the film. The rest of the time we’re stuck watching Greene act in full histrionic-mode.

The one joke that made me laugh came from Travis who points out the fact that they’re half-brothers “from the good side.” And being the film buff I am, I felt extreme anxiety when Max comes home to find his apartment turned 100 percent green with his imported posters folded up in a drawer. I would have driven the nearest object through Evelyn’s brain right then. But alas, we’re stuck waiting for the inevitable showdown, where at least there’s a last minute twist that actually makes sense. As for the rest of the movie, Burying the Ex is never funny enough, gross enough, or even Dante enough, to warrant even the most curious filmgoer. If anything should be buried, it’s this film off Dante’s once golden resume.

Blu-ray Review: “Time Lapse”

Movie: ** 1/2 out of 5
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: *** 1/2
Extras: ****

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Time Lapse’ Starring Danielle Panabaker on Blogcritics.

Time travel is far from new in film — The Time Machine, Back to the Future, Looper, Primer, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Donnie Darko, About Time, Hot Tub Time Machine — it manages to span every genre and, if done well, stays true to its own. Once in a while, something novel may come along. Then there are the haphazard entries that make you yearn for something better. I’m sure no one was clamoring for a time travel film crossed with Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave, but alas, Bradley King has turned his feature film debut into exactly that. Only problem is, King and co-writer BP Cooper don’t have the cast, or characters, to invest any kind of payoff, making Time Lapse just another blip on the direct-to-video market. Even the MTV-funded Almanac Project was far more interesting.

Time Lapse, Time Travel, Bradley D. King, BP Cooper, Danielle Panabaker, Matt O'Leary, George Finn, John Rhys-DaviesFinn (Matt O’Leary) is an apartment complex manager, suffering from a creative block as a painter. He lives with his best friend Jasper (George Finn) and girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker) in an awkward pseudo-love-triangle of sorts. After “Mr. B” seems to be missing — he’s behind on rent, has a stack of newspapers at his front door, and a collection of parking tickets on his car — the trio decide to investigate, only to find out that Mr. B has built a homemade camera that can take pictures 24 hours into the future, always at 8:00 p.m. Soon enough, they find Mr. B’s charred remains in a storage room in the basement, Jasper starts using the camera to quench his gambling habit, and they quickly learn that they must not mess with time and have to make sure they recreate the daily photos in fear of putting a stop to their timeline.

Time Lapse is presented on a 25GB disc in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Considering the film’s low budget roots, this is one exceptional transfer. Colors are natural and pop while never bleeding. Blacks are inky with no crush to swallow up shadow details. Alisasing never appears and there may have been some blink and you’ll miss them instances of banding on a few objects such as painted doors and walls. Fine detail is usually razor sharp, with only a handful of shots appearing purposefully soft. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track offers up plenty of bass, and the surrounds are saved to give the score some breadth, but overall, this is a very front-heavy mix. Bass makes for some effective creepiness and subtitles are available in English for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Time Lapse, Time Travel, Bradley D. King, BP Cooper, Danielle Panabaker, Matt O'Leary, George Finn, John Rhys-DaviesAn overwhelming assortment of special features winds up being overkill, if only because of redundancy. Two commentaries kick things off featuring King and Cooper. The first is more of a behind-the-scenes look at the production and story process, while the second is called a “Filmmaking 101 Commentary” sporting more of a technical “nuts and bolts” commentary living up to its title. A “Behind-the-Scenes” (22:52) offers up a visual look at the production, with two deleted scenes showing at least one of them (“Callie in the Kitchen” 1:38) was wisely excised. The “Mr. B. Flashback” (2:22) gives us a chance to see John Rhys-Davies on screen which is always welcome, no matter how small the role. The film’s theatrical trailer (2:01) is also included.

King chose a very odd story line considering he and Cooper were strongly influenced by the “Time Lapse” episode of The Twilight Zone. The film gets far too violent considering we never care for any of the characters, and the big surprise ending is intended to encourage viewers to rewatch the film — something I doubt anyone will do. The only one worth rooting for most of the runtime is Panabaker, but once you realize even she may have ulterior motives, there’s only so far we’re willing to follow her. O’Leary is a complete bore making you wonder why Callie would ever want to be with him in the first place and Finn is never likeable, but does get to let loose a little as his character starts to unwind. While the technical aspects of the disc will at least make watching the film easy on the eyes, the film itself makes it hard. Time Lapse only makes you wish you could see your own future to warn yourself you’re better off skipping it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Movie Review: “Inside Out”

Inside Out

***** out of 5
94 minutes
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first published at The Reel Place.

No studio is more ready for a comeback than Pixar. After taking a critical beating over Cars 2, Brave, and even Monsters University, I think even John Lasseter knew it was time to take a break and go back to the drawing board. They’ve always been the kings of family films, but it took relying on a proven director to bring them back to their glory days.

If there’s one man who can make a grown man cry, it’s Pete Docter — see Monsters Inc. and Up — and he’s at it again with Inside Out, taking us where no director has gone before. Excluding the short-lived Fox sitcom Herman’s Head of course. But where that aimed for the lowbrow, Pixar and Disney are hitting for the feels with everything they’ve got.

Young Riley (voiced as a teen by Kaitlyn Dias) has just been uprooted from the life she loves and transplanted to San Francisco with her parents (voiced by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan), and her emotions are having none of it. Inside Riley’s head we meet Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), who run the control room that helps maintain Riley’s emotions and memories.

After Sadness winds up losing a core emotion, she and Joy go  on an adventure through Riley’s subconscious, taking them on a trip aboard the “Train of Thought” and meeting up with a long forgotten imaginary friend named Bing Bong (Richard Kind). Now, Sadness and Joy have to stop Riley’s core memories from falling into the abyss and wreaking havoc on her five “islands” — Family, Friendship, Hockey, Honesty, and Goofball — that make up her personality.

If there ever was a long shot in the Pixar canon, it would be Docter’s brilliant idea for Inside Out. Who knew that a family film could be so attuned to taking a psychology class. Smart is the operative word, with fun running the show. Docter and co-director Ronaldo Del Carmen have managed to deliver an adventure that may dwarf the epic story of Carl Fredricksen in Up. And the clever never lets up. Not even as the screenplay bounces from one emotion to the next.

It helps that the film is expertly voiced. Who else can you think of that emits as much joy as Poehler, the sarcasm of Kaling, or as much sadness as Smith? The funniest bits may get passed off to Black, but no character is left behind, each getting their shining moment. Did I mention you will cry? Well, most of you will. Anyone with a beating heart will never look at their emotions the same way again. I dare you to not think about your own thought process and feelings without seeing these characters in your head.

Needless to say, the film is a complete pleasure from start to finish and never takes a wrong step. Full of the state-of-the-art imagery we’ve come to expect from a Pixar production, along with all the hearts and laughs, Inside Out is truly the animated film to beat this year and there’s no way it’s going to happen. Docter has knocked it out of the park and it’s fantastic to see Pixar doing what they do best: keeping the youngsters entertained while making parents think and feel. Something they’ve frankly been missing for the last five years since Toy Story 3. Welcome back to the big leagues Pixar, it’s been too long!

*Be sure to at least be on time for any showing of Inside Out for the enchantingly fantastic musical short Lava from director James Ford Murphy about a volcano looking for love.