The Boys Are Back in Town

The speakers blast the opening beats to “Pony”. It can only be one thing: The summer movie that calls to women and lures them in the theaters with the promise of rock hard abs and nice tushes. It’s Magic Mike back in theaters and this time it’s XXL!

In the previous installment, too much time was spent on a lack luster plot that was forced down the audience throats. We didn’t go for a dramatic movie: we went for a good time. Magic Mike XXL learned from the original’s strengths and weaknesses. The second romp is fun with a few moments of sentiment that will put a smile on your face.

Dallas sells out the boy leaving them stranded on their own before the big stripper convention in Myrtle Beach (is this even a real thing, because well….). Mike sees an opportunity to have some fun and re-galvanize his life. The team (Richie, Ken, Tarzan, Tito, and Tobias) set out in a food truck once the prodigal son returns for their last performance. But the ride isn’t that easy. Drag queens, drugs, and girls set the boys off the beaten path as they struggle to find a new MC and some new routines to go out in a “tsunami of dollar bills.”

This movie is pure fun with laughs abound. The plot centers around the Kings of Tampa themselves and not just on Mike and his an unworthy protege. Instead its a buddy movie focusing on the male entertainers themselves. Joe Manganiello kills it as Richie who becomes a de facto leader for the team and has some of the best one liners. He also has one of the best dance sequences in the entire movie.

There are a few moments of tenderness which reminds everyone why women seek out male entertainers. We want to be reminded that we are wanted, that we are beautiful. In the most touching (and one of the few dramatic scenes in the film), Matt Bomber’s Ken breaks out the Bryan Adams to serenade a middle aged Southern Belle reminding her that she is worth love and to have her fantasies come true.magic_mike_joe_manganiello.0

The other thing the movie does well is bringing in strong women. Jada Pinkett Smith is Rome, a feisty
and feminine strip club owner who rules every scene she’s in. Amer Heard plays the scorned photographer who just needs her smile back. And Elizabeth Banks, well, she’s just spectacular. These character balance out the testosterone and proves male entertainment isn’t an all boys club.

What does it do wrong? Well, the plot is as thin as the men’s thongs but its those thongs we came to see. Will it when the actors any acting awards? No, but someone needs to give these boys kudos for their dancing moves. This movie is pure movie escapism.

Magic Mike helps level the playing field when it comes to female sexuality. Forget 50 Shades of Grey where women have to submit to be sexy. These men remind we are beautiful just the way we are and that we should embrace to our sexuality (and those one dollar bills). Hate it if you must, but Magic Mike XXL is great summer movie fun.

As Is Often the Case, Dinosaurs Run Amok

Jurassic World is about being bigger and better. The new park has bigger attractions, bigger dinosaurs, bigger scares. But, as in the spirit of the first film, we learn that bigger doesn’t necessary mean better especially where nature is concerned. Ironically, the script doesn’t understand that lesson. The film tries to out do the original but fails in an entertaining manner.

Over twenty years later, Jurassic World has learned from previous mistakes, designing a new park sparing no expense for awed crows. Claire (played but a surprisingly one dimension Bryce Dallas Howard) helps run the park but has no time for her own family. When her nephews come for vacation, she quickly passes them off to her assistant. She is more concerned with their new dinosaur Indominuscb26e9d8-8468-430b-9503-86ed2d62d9d4

rex who was created from a variety of dinosaur and animal DNA.. The park owner wants hot shot trainer Owen to approve the pen she is kept in. But he arrives too late as Indominus rex terrorizes the park, and Claire’s nephews are lost in the struggle.

If this plot sound familiar you are right. The movie mimics (I hate to say steals) scenes from the original film trying to out do them. From trying to eat children through vehicles to having a greedy scientist try to make off with DNA, the movie fails to exude the terror for the original. Ironically, the film is at its best when it waxes nostalgia. Those first moments you hear the theme song your heart swells. When the boys find the old visitors center an steal a jeep. These feel like the homage the movie should be making.

As a movie on its own, it’s easier to enjoy. There are a few moments of pure terror. As before, it’s hightened when the raptors are let loose. Their ability to think makes them terribly scary and the movie does well using this terror. But director Colin Trevorrow really falls flat when working with the cast. He must have asked Chris Pratt to not be Starlord because Pratt’s performance is stilted which is odd because Owen is the same kind of character as Starlord. Pratt needed a longer leash to truly become the character. This could have helped Howard as the two didn’t play off each other well and chemistry was being forced on them (and the audience.)

Over all the movie is entertaining, but it makes a mistakes in trying to surpass its predecessor. It should have happy just surpassing The Lost World (which proves that even if Michael Crichton was still alive, the plot would not have been much better). Funny at times, frightening at times, Jurassic World leaves you with a “what if…” taste in your mouth.

How Women Defeat Themselves at the Movies

There has been much jaw flapping and anger as of late in regards to the treatment of women in films. Avenger’s director Joss Whedon left Twitter among the complaints about the film’s treatment of Black Widow. But are these arguments justified? Aren’t there other movies that are even more of a farce in regards to feminism? The answers are: No; Yes.

Let’s take a minute to look at The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the sequel to the comic book based mega production, Tony Stark accidently creates Ultron, an AI that is intent on killing every human on the planet. The Avengers assemble to defeat this great evil. But along the way, much needed character development is introduced and our superheroes stop being one dimensional stereo-types. Thor shows real fear, Cap starts to adapt to his surrounding, and Black Widow and Hawkeye delve into the world of personal relationships. (Stop here if you’re avoiding spoilers).Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Black-Widow-and-Hulk

It seems that Black Widow having a real conversation about not being able to have children is unfeminist and liking children as a women is unfeminist. I thought it was a great way to round out a character who is tough as nails: having a real conversation with her relationship partner about what may or may not be in her future. She is not whining or pining or acting like that is her only calling in life, she is having a logical conversation about events that have happened in her life. There are other examples against Black Widow, and the movie as a whole, but I would like to make another point.

I know that Black Widow is not a perfect character. Like so many comic women she is over sexualized (and really if she would wear less tight pants she could run faster). These are not faults of Whedon but with the way women are perceived in comic book and Hollywood culture. It’s especially infuriating when women perpetuate it.

I saw Hot Pursuit and came out steaming mad. The movie wasn’t very good but that wasn’t what angered me so much. It was the outright stereotyping of women that had been crying out about after Ultron, but no one was saying anything about it in this movie.

Hot PursuitHot Pursuit tries to flip the usually male-centered cop and detainee story by casting Reese Witherspoon and Sophia Vergara as the stars. Like so many of these stories, a cop is in charge of a member of witness protection but things go south and the two must go on the lam. Include bad cops, rednecks in trucks, and thousands of shots of Vergara’s butt and that is the entirety of the movie’s plot.

The movie is one giant cliché. Weatherspoon plays Cooper who is trying to make it in a man’s world and jokes fly about how girly she is not. There are jokes about her height, her hair and her fashion. Vegara’s character is nothing but the caricatured mamacita with no depth or realism. In the first fourth of the movie, Vergara wears a dress whose top looks just like one of my bras! The movie goes over the top with menstrual jokes and the awkward and creepy romantic relationship Cooper pursues. There was no way Cooper could stay single huh? That was the ultimate make-over for the character: dress in high heels and get a boyfriend.

I shouldn’t have to say that these flaws were at the very heart of the Ultron criticism expect that this movie was directed and produced by women. This was one of Witherspoon’s pet projects. She or director Anne Fletcher could have stood up at any point and say when things went over the line, or could have agreed not to do it at all. This is when feminism is defeated, when women defeat themselves.

So we ask ourselves do we want our females is low cut tops and kicking ass or in see-through dresses making out with each other? The answer: neither, but I will take the girl who is kick ass and rounded as character any day.

A Ride Down Fury Road

Reviving an old franchise is difficult especially one where last movie featured Tina Turner (she is amazing don’t get me wrong, but that was a whole other era.). So how do you revive a dead franchise? Do you Indiana Jones it and bring back the aging but iconic star? Do you reboot the series and rewrite its history ala Terminator? Or do you stick with the atmosphere and bring in a brilliant director? (If you’re counting: one of these have succeeded, one failed miserably, while one is yet to be determined). This one sticks with the atmosphere and George Miller, injects all the Mad Max chaos and brutality into Fury Road.

In a post-apocalyptic world, Max is used as a blood bag for one of Immortan Joe’s goons who is on the trail of Imperator Furiosa. What had started as a gas run turns into a quest for freedom as Furiosa tries to escape with the handful of women that are being used as Joe’s breeding chattel. As the chase ensues, Max frees himself and becomes a reluctant partner in Furiosa’s scheme. The two are chased through the vast desert landscape looking for Furiosa’s homeland where freedom will be theirs.

Miller was the perfect director and co-writer for this film as his mind is as chaotic as the movie itself. There have been reports from the actors that script pages changed daily (when there was a script) and Charlize Theron admits to rolling in the dirt for her look. The actors embraced this quality, and the casting was expertly done. Theron shows the earthy side of a Hollywood starlet (Theron, who despite her beauty, never has any problem getting dirty) and Tom Hardy grunts through his lines as the titular Max. Hardy is a chameleon easily sliding into any character role including this one.pacnv9d5s2ov5i0qt2px

The movie biggest it strength is also it weakness. The movie is INTENSE. While it’s easy to follow the plot, it is hard to take everything in. The movie is visually stunning perfectly portraying the wasteland man has created of the earth. Each goon’s vehicle has different flair make them individualized since they themselves all look some much alike. By the last third of the movie, I was mentally exhausted and the movie slows some to give the characters time to grow. But then viewers are whisked away again to a satisfying conclusion. There is no cliff hanger that begs for franchise, but there is a promise of more stories that can be told.

The final third of the film gives the emotional impact that matches the brutal intent in the rest of the movie. This is where you finally learn something about Max and see the characters as more than just one dimensional archetypes. Though it’s called Mad Max, it’s really not about Max at all. The film follows Imperator Furiosa and her personal mission for freedom and the green land. Hardy pretty much spends most of the movie looking pretty (even covered in dirt). In the movie’s final throws, he actually shows some characteristics other than a man bent on survival.

Mad Max Fury Road calls for multiple viewings as well as a look back into the original films. Hardy claims that Mel Gibson gave his blessing, and he should have: this film is a great addition to the franchise. If The Wasteland (Miller’s planned sequel) can be this good, then by all means keep Max coming.

Life in the Fast Lane

furious-7 (1)The latest in the Fast and Furious franchise is fun and entertaining. It keeps all the elements of the past movies, and expands into new territories. It is not only a fun movie; it is a great send off to an actor who lost his life too soon.

Furious Seven is colored by the death of Paul Walker. The movies has to deal with the loss of his character Brian O’Conner while the cast and crew had to create a finished movie without one of the stars. This isn’t to mention the love and sadness the fans carry with them into the theater early trying to decide what Walker had and had not finished and prepped with tissues for the movie’s conclusion.

After killing Owen Shaw in the previous installment, his brother is out for blood. Anyone related to the team is a target starting with Han.  While Brian adapts to family life, he longs for the thrill of the chase.  Mia worries over him and wants him to stay home with the family. But any plans they had are destroyed, when a bomb is sent to Dom’s house. The team gets back together to take out Shaw so he can’t pick them off one by one.

The movie suffers from too much melodrama. Usually each movie has something a little deeper going on but viewers are wound through too many characters’ emotional stories. To be fair to the writers, this isn’t there fault. I am sure the original story was to deal with Letty’s amnesia and how she fits into the group, but when Walker died a new level of story had to be added. In order to say goodbye to his character, the writers had to find him a way out that didn’t mean death.

The movie wraps up the memorial to Walker beautifully in the final scene. I did, in fact, cry like a body shaking, paulwalkerwailing baby (well maybe not wailing). The tribute is touching and is a power ending to the film (and would have been a great ending to the franchise). Unfortunately, many viewers will try and spot what scenes Walker doesn’t actually appear in. It’s easy enough to tell, but let’s suspend disbelief and enjoys the movie as a complete whole.

Overall, it a fun, fats thrill ride. That is what is so appealing about these movies: they take us out of real life and just let you have some fun. Critics talk about how nonsensical the plot is but apparently they missed all the other installments of the franchise. Fans love the insane; no way is this possible atmosphere of this world. Plus, adding Kurt Russell is never a bad idea.

The next movie has been greenlit but I don’t know how many more I will see. This franchise was supposed to have the breakout role for Walker though Diesel got the biggest boost from them. With that in mind, it’s hard to keep it going without him. As a fan, I really don’t want it to.

The Insurgents Go Factionless

It is always hard to be objective when a literary story is adapted for the big screen. Fans long for certain scenes or are unhappy with certain casting and these opinions can skew a movie. Insurgent is just the next in a long line of adaptations that leave book readers wanting a little more.

download (1)The second entry in the Divergent trilogy comes to life with great force and action. Tris and the other refugees have fled Dauntless and have taken shelter in neighboring factions. Tris, Four and Peter take respite in Amity but peace does not last long as Eric sniffs the fugitives out. The two must meet up with their friends hiding in Candor, but along the way they cross path with the factionless and find out the hidden truth about their leader. Tris must keep fighting in order to cross paths with Jeannie and take her out.

As a book reader, (SPOILERS) there are aspects from the books that I really miss. I feel like these cuts impact the story in negative ways. Viewers do not get the truth about Amity and what is really going on there. Amity seems to be a central theme of reduced material. In fact, in the books, Tris’ defining moment as Amity is when she keeps Tori from killing Jeannie; a more poignant reaction that=n movie portrays.

Removing myself from the material, it is easy to see how this movie would entertain its core audience. The action is candor-insurgentcontinuous and keeps viewers on their toes. But critically, the story fails at real emotion. Tris’ emotions are presented in stereotypical scenes and are very one dimensional. By focusing solely on the action, the character development falls flat.

I also missed Ellie Goulding’s music and vocals. Goulding’s music was used as Tris’ inner dialogue in Divergent and made the emotional aspects of the scenes multidimensional. It truly added a lot to the first movie. Instead, the music is insipid and uninspired. (Forgive my Ellie Goulding bias those that know me.)

Insurgent is thrilling and fun for audience though book fans may be disappointed. While these are not the Hunger Games, these Factions are just as dangerous.

Fifty Shades of Hell No

It is a difficult task to write about 50 Shades of Grey with any objectivity. I am not a fan of the books (I thought the first was horribly written and stopped there), and I have some issues with the content (no, not the sex). But it is fair to say that the movie is better written than the book. That does not mean the movie is good (it’s horrible), but at least it is better than the book.

Since this started as a Twilight fan fiction, you know the plot already. Virginal girl in Washington falls for a strange man who is way out of her league. He takes a strange attraction too her and claims he’s no good for her because of his secret. But instead of being a vampire, he’s a sadist with a “Red Room of Pain.” He takes her through sexual discovery by dominating her in every way. It’s a love story.

The movie thankful does not feature narration by Anastasia “Ana” Steele. Instead, the movie keeps the trite dialogue while more fluidly transitioning from one scene to another. “Goddess” is used only one time, and the “Oh My God”s are kept at a minimum. But there is no way to hide the Twilight parallels in almost every scene. I can just see E.L. James’ lawyer going over the content with a fine tip comb. “O.K., the rescue from the bicycle is different enough from the Tyler’s car but José has to be a different minority.” I would rather have watched Twilight.

fifty-shades-of-grey-movieDakota Johnson makes a good Bella-excuse me-Ana, but Jamie Dornan is horribly miscast as the titular Grey. He is good-looking and has a nice body, but he is not a good fit for the character. The reasons are two-fold. The first is that he looks like a young Colin Firth and that doesn’t go with the Christian Grey persona at all; it’s actually kind of terrifying to think of Firth in this role. The second is that his accent is terrible. If he had a voice acting coach, no other actor needs to hire them. The only good thing about Dornan being in it is that means Charlie Hunnam got out (Thank Goddess!).

There is one good thing about the film: it manages to give Ana more power than she did in the book. My friends tell me everything happened the same way in the book, but the book was so poorly written that it was hard to interpret any nuisances. When Ana goes to the conference room to negotiate the contract in the film, she is confident and forth coming. The movie makes it more apparent there is more of a balance between the two (only ever so slightly though).

While its claim to fame is nudity and sex, it’s the movie’s ability to transcend the book that is its positive aspect. The movie is truly horrible but it’s better than its book counterpart. That is a rare success for any movie.

American Sniper Misses Its Mark

American Sniper garnered great attention when it was nominated for six Oscars. The hype for the film was propelled by critics and viewers alike. But, sadly, the film does not live up to that that hype.

The movie details the military life of Chris Kyle (played by a Texas twanged Bradley Cooper), the deadly American military sniper credited with 160 kills over his four tours. The movie (SPOILER) follows his life from a rodeo ranch hand to his eventual death at the hands of another veteran. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie pays homage to the titular Navy Seal.

The film suffers from a horrible screen play. Jason Hall created elements that weren’t in the memoir and changed many things to try to create a typical movie story. This hurts the movie. The lines are cliché and are no different than any other mediocre war film. The movie is disjointed and doesn’t flow. Here’s a scene with the Seals, here’s a scene of Yaya crying on the phone, here’s a scene of Chris holding his baby awkwardly. It’s hard to follow exactly what the story is trying to show. Is it about PTSD? Is it about the legend? Is it about revenge?

Eastwood and Cooper both falter. In the final act, Eastwood gives into Hollywood clichés of a slow motion shot which is meant to amplify the action but it just slows it down. We’ve seen the same shooting/breath sequences in other films; this adds nothing new. Cooper does well with accent never faltering from the Texas twang and impressively bulks up his physical appearance. But there are sequences where he is trying too hard to portray his feeling with his body language and it’s awkward.

But Cooper excels in those few and far between sniper moments. He does well portraying the thoughts that go through Chris’ head as he decides who is a target. Chris is given the authcooper43ority to decide who is a threat and who isn’t. Cooper shows how heavy these decisions are on the man and how it affects his life in and outside of the Seals. The moments where Chris deals with his PTSD are when you feel for him the most; you want to reach out and comfort him.

Speaking of comfort, the movie does a horrible job of portraying the families of our war heroes. The role is written very one sided and Taya Kyle becomes a harpy always screaming at Chris and telling him to move on. When we do truly see the heart ache she feels for his husband, Sienna Miller butchers these moments with insane histrionics.

But, after all, it is the story of Chris’ life.  In the final moments, as you find out his fate and see footage from his memorial and the irony of the situation hits you, it’s deeply moving and brings tears to your eyes. The movie does well with showing you his life, his sacrifices, and his desire to protect our country. That sticks with you as you leave the theater and maybe that’s how it should be. You remember the man, not the movie.

Holiday Big Openers

 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

In this final installment of The Hobbit adaptation, the story is stretched way beyond the point of APphoto_Film Review The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armiesentertaining. Peter Jackson uses material from the various appendices by J.R.R. Tolkien himself  to pad the story and just plain makes stuff up.

Laketown must deal with the deadly dragon that was released in the second movie. This hassle is taken of quickly and the story moves on to the fight over the dragon’s treasure. The Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Humans each want a piece of the treasures held within the Lonely Mountain But the Dwarves, Human, and Elves have to band together to defeat the Orcs and save the legacy of their races.

The problem with this movie is that it is too long. The story suffers at the expense of expanding for three movies.  The entirety of The Hobbit could have easily been two movies while still expanding on Tolkien’s supplemtantal material.

Like the two before it, the movie looks good.  The effects are gorgeous and the make-up is effective. This go-around I did notice something: the two Dwarves we are supposed to empathize with the most  are the two that look the most human.  Quality actors help round out characters but even they can’t smooth over dodgy bits of exposition.

Honestly, I wanted more or the dragon and less of the endless battles. Hell, I just wanted the damn movie to be over.

Into The Woods

Into the Woods follows several well-known fairy tale characters as they try to obtain their greatestdepp-wolf1 wishes. It seems that to have each wish granted, they must enter the spooky woods that surround their homes. The characters find that they help each other achieve their dreams, but then, too late, they learn their wishes were not what they were cut out to be.

Unfortunately, the movie adaption of the Broadway show does not translate well. The story rambles on and changes focus. It becomes preachy and tries too hard to have a moral.  There were some interesting points with the highlight being Johnny’s Depp short appearance as The Wolf. This was the best musical sequence in the whole film.

The casting is the second issue.  James Corden and Emily Blunt are passable but Chris Pine can’t sing even though he’s great at being a charming jerk.  I also don’t understand why everyone loves Anna Kendrick so much, and she does not ever embody Cinderella for me. It seems like the casting was looking for big names instead of talent. But that’s not to say there isn’t some talent there. Meryl Streep was fantastic as was Lilla Crawford who played Red Riding Hood.

I’ll admit it looks good. Director Rob Marshall always manages to make his films look like the worlds they are set whether it is a Cook County Prison, pirate infested jungles, or creepy fairy tale woods.  Marshall does well with what he has, but the biggest issue is that he wasn’t given great material and actors to work with.

Fall Movie Snapshot

Horrible Bosses 2

horrible_bosses_2Need some adult movie time? This movie is your best bet. When Nick, Kurt, and Dale (don’t say that too fast!) are cheated out of payment by an evil CEO, they kidnap his psychopathic son in order to collect the ransom for their lost money. But of course these guys aren’t smart enough to pull off a kidnapping. Hijinks ensue as the three men run into their old bosses, break into houses, and orchestrate the greatest ransom drop ever. This movie is ridiculously fun, and you’ll leave the theater feeling better about your day.

 

Mockingjay Part 1

15558194588_9309c0692a_kThe studio decided to split the final installment of the Hunger Games, Mockingjay, into two parts giving viewers more time to really see what pain is caused to the victors of the Hunger Games. Katniss must deal with becoming the Mockingjay and leading the revolution while reeling from the horrors of the games. It doesn’t help that Peeta is still in the Capital and speaking about a cease fire. This movie is emotion filled but it’s the weakest in the series. And fans will have to wait a year for the explosive conclusion.

 

Big Hero 6

Hiro-and-Baymax-Big-Hero-6

This fun, family film is a lot of laughs. Young Hiro inherits Baymax after his brother’s tragic death. The robot is made to be a nurse drone but Hiro gets him ready to do battle against the a villain who has stolen Hiro’s technology and using it for evil. The film blends action, humor, and emotion. A story about what really makes a hero; this animated film is a great solution for family movie time.

 

Gone Girl

4121433fGone Girl is hands down the most anticipated movie of the Fall. People devoured the book about a wife that goes missing and all signs point to her husband killed her. The movie stays mostly true to the book, and the twist is amazing. But the story doesn’t stop there. It continues to twist and turn into the bizarre. Instead of being a psychological look into the minds of married people, it’s weird mind bender. I can say one thing for certain, if you haven’t read the book, you won’t see what’s coming!