Posts in category Films
Three years after Mike bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, he and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance.
Running Time: 1hr 55min
MPAA Rating: R
by Brian Gibson for Vue Weekly
Newbie-male-dancer-gone-bad tale Magic Mike (2012) was a bit coy and moralistic; sequel Magic Mike XXL is anything but(t). Far less dark or subtle—plenty of pelvic thrusts in faces; more thongs and codpieces than at a seaside restaurant; lots of talk of treating women like queens—but far more boisterous, raunchy and exuberant, this is a movie that neon-lights the “entertainment” in “male entertainment,” even if it isn’t much more than one last road-trip down memory lane.
Rapidly reuniting the stripped-tees-and-tease gang—Mike (Channing Tatum) rejoins Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Ken (Matt Bomer), and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) as they travel to a strippers’ convention in Myrtle Beach for one last tear-off-the-pants—the movie shruggingly dispenses with its predecessor’s two best characters, Brooke (Cody Horn) and Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), right from the starting pole-position.
There’s some strutting fun, more burlesque and role-play than stripping: a visit to a drag-queen club where the boys flame it up; Richie grinding it hard to put a smile on a convenience-store clerk’s face; a high-class, suavely personalized strip-club for black women in Savannah.
A talk with older Southern belles comes off as a third-rate Vagina Monologuesmixed up with a lame sex-advice column, though. Mike’s interest in photographer Zoe (Amber Heard) never sizzles much (their conversations don’t quite have the ragged, lifelike crackle of his and Brooke’s scenes). And for all the riotous energy of the thong-and-dance routines amid hordes of laughing, whooping, money-shucking women, the movie can take Mike and his magic-stripshow a little too romantically and slickly at times: a few too many close-ups tell us he’s the hero-with-the-pecs of this pic; the slow-tracking reveal of a luxury convertible is bling-bling fetishizing at its worst.
At its best, the lighthearted knowing-ness of what’s on show in Magic Mike XXL, with everyone up for some gyrating good times, makes for song-and-dance that fizzes with the exhilaration of a smartly self-aware pop-song. All this big-screen glorying and revelling in sexual energy and performance for the sheer, sin-less fun of it. That’s no small thing for a movie in a country, and an industry, that can be prudish, puerile or sniggeringly exploitative about the act.
A new theme park is built on the original site of Jurassic Park. Everything is going well until the park’s newest attraction–a genetically modified giant stealth killing machine–escapes containment and goes on a killing spree.
Running Time: 2hrs 4min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The dinos-run-amok blockbuster franchise is back with new thrills and chills.
by Peter Travers for Rolling Stone
It’s not the cynical, cash-in cheesefest you feared. OK, Jurassic World is a little of that. But this state-of-the-art dino epic is also more than a blast of rumbling, roaring, “did you effing see that!” fun. It’s got a wicked streak of subversive attitude that goes by the name of Colin Trevorrow. He’s the director and co-writer whose only previous feature credit, a nifty 2012 indie called Safety Not Guaranteed, cost $750,000, chump change on a studio product like this, which cost — wait for it — $150 million.
For starters, Trevorrow is a fanboy of all things Jurassic and Steven Spielberg, who directed the first two Jurassic films and rode herd as an exec producer on this one. But even with the boss looking over his shoulder, Trevorrow, with his writing partner, Derek Connolly, redrafted the existing script to get in his own licks. That means throwing a few bombs at a public that thinks better is defined solely by upping the wow factor. Style, character and emotion are fatally retro or, worse, so three Jurassic epics ago. If you intend to watch this new take while binge-checking your smartphone, Trevorrow has a few darts aimed your way.
But, first, let’s play catch-up. The big attraction that John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) envisioned in 1993′s Jurassic Park never opened; too many creatures created from dino DNA wreaked havoc on humans. In Jurassic World, the third sequel in the series, the park has been open for 22 years. But the tourists are jaded. Dinos have been domesticated. Kiddies ride tamed triceratops. And when a great white shark (name-check, Jaws) is swallowed in one gulp by a Mosasaurus, all the public gets is splashed. Safety is guaranteed. Boring! The fans want danger — bigger, faster dinos with more teeth. If that’s not Hollywood in a nutshell, I don’t know my inflated, degraded CGI epics, in 3D and IMAX, from Transformers to San Andreas.
To stay in business, Jurassic World, the park, needs to give the public what it wants: blood. For Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the operations manager, that means building a better tourist trap in the scary form of an Indominus rex, created from a mix of, heck, I’ll never tell. But she’s a beauty and a terror, forcing the park to erect a wall to hold her (name-check, King Kong).
Enter our hero, Owen (the über-relatable Chris Pratt), an animal-behavior expert (he tames velociraptors) so human his shirts stink from sweat. Can his raptors bring down the Indominus? Or will a bullying profiteer (Vincent D’Onofrio) rain down holy terror? Not so fast. First, Owen and Claire have to get it on in the 1980s style of Romancing the Stone. An early clip fromJurassic World inspired Avengers director Joss Whedon to tweet, “She’s a stiff, he’s a life force — really? Still?”
Don’t groan. Pratt — cheers to Star-Lord of Guardians of the Galaxy — aces it as an action hero and invests his sexual banter with a comic flair the movie could have used more of. And Howard, a dynamo, is nobody’s patsy. Claire can do everything Owen does, and in heels. She also protects her two visiting nephews, 11-year-old Gray (Ty Simpkins) and 16-year-old Zach (Nick Robinson). The boys have a killer scene in a gyroscope with video commentary from, of all peeps, Jimmy Fallon. It’s hilarious till the gyro goes flooey and turns the kids into dino bait.
Trevorrow relishes turning tourists (read “us”) into material for chomping. We get what we wish for. And we care because there’s a humanity in the characters, even Lowery (Jake Jonson), a park techie who collects toy dinos and wears a tee from the original Jurassic Park that he bought on eBay. Lowery is a realist who sees things with childlike wonder. So does Trevorrow, who recaptures the thrilling spirit of the Spielberg original (name-check, T. rex) with fresh provocation: Is bigger always better, or is it an empty, soulless thing ready to bite us on the ass? Jurassic World will scare the hell out of you, and not just for the obvious reasons.
After a humiliating command performance at Lincoln Center, the Barden Bellas enter an international competition that no American group has ever won in order to regain their status and right to perform.
Running Time: 1hr 55min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The comedy choir wars are more intense, more absurd and more lowbrow fun than ever in “Pitch Perfect 2.” It is almost impossible not to be amused by the cutthroat world of competitive a cappella.
Watching the international battle royale that is at the heart of the “Pitch Perfect” sequel, the feints and jabs and trash talking are certainly more entertaining than, say, the recent Mayweather-Pacquiao match. Yawn.
The new “Pitch” is still securely anchored by Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Brittany Snow, who portray the defining members of the top-ranked college a cappella group, the Barden Bellas. Hailee Steinfeld proves a very good addition to the chorus line, and her Emily is key to freshening up a fairly predictable plot.
Basically for the Bellas, life may be lyrical, but it is also a constant cycle of fighting their way back from some kind of terrible mess. In “2,” screenwriter Kay Cannon lets them start on a high note. The Bellas are the reigning national champions, and as such Beca (Kendrick), Chloe (Snow) and the rest are performing as part of a birthday celebration for President Obama. It is all razzle-dazzle until an aerial silk segment by Fat Amy (Wilson) ends in a pants-splitting overexposure.
Providing the play-by-play of that debacle and more are the a cappella pundits John and Gail, played John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks, both excellent snipers and fully loaded with caustic lines.
Speaking of Banks, it was a smart move for the studio to let her slip into the director’s chair too. She and her producing partner-spouse Max Handelman have been guiding forces in the surprise musical hit from the beginning. But certainly for Banks, her behind-the-camera role in “2″ takes her impact to a new level.
It is an impressive feature directing debut, with Banks handling the high-octane chaos of “Pitch” with almost perfect aplomb. She sets a fast pace that is definitely needed to keep this kind of zany piece afloat. And though there are any number of scenes that call for humiliation, and the film is certainly not shy about poking fun at stereotypes, there is something comically apologetic in the way Banks goes about it that makes the offenses easier to take.
The film catches the Bellas at a major transitional point. Most of the group’s members are going to be graduating — even Chloe, who has delayed her departure for many years since the Bellas are her life, her identity. It’s not that “Pitch” goes deep, but it does in these offhand ways weave in some of the issues facing college grads.
One of the major ones is Beca’s divided loyalties. Part of her is still very much invested in the Bellas, her creativity much of the reason for the group’s success. But she’s also got an internship at a recording studio, the first step in her dream of being a music producer.
Besides representing one of the film’s flashpoints, the recording studio also provides a nice-sized stage for the very funny “Key and Peel” star Keegan-Michael Key (whom I first came to admire in “MADtv”) to have some fun as Beca’s acerbic boss.
Steinfeld’s Emily enters the picture as a new freshman whose mother (Katey Sagal) was a famous Bella. That legacy status fast-tracks her acceptance in the group, while her style — she writes original music, gasp — creates controversy.
The narrative follows the Bellas as they try to redeem their rep by winning the world competition. There are many bumps on the road to the fateful face-off in Copenhagen. The enemy is a German group led by Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) and Pieter (Flula Borg), a duo so tightly wound you fear they might come completely unhinged.
There are romantic intrigues for Beca, Fat Amy and Emily — sweet singing guys played by Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine and Ben Platt. But really, it’s all about the music. The versatile Mark Mothersbaugh, whose credits include many of Wes Anderson’s films, was in charge of the music.
“Pitch Perfect 2′s” song sheet is extensive and playful. Aakomon Jones’ choreography is elaborate. And the underground a cappella slam, called the Rip-Off, hosted by a caftan-clad David Cross, might be the most memorable in the movie. Jim Denault is director of photography, Toby Corbett production designer, Salvador Pérez Jr. costume designer.
Kendrick continues to prove her comic and singing chops — her musical credits keep expanding, with her “Into the Woods” Cinderella among the more recent. Wilson’s “I’m fat, get over it” shtick gets more screen time in “2″ and is still funny — for now.
Steinfeld continues to turn up in the strangest places as she moves beyond her “True Grit” breakthrough. She’s charming in “Pitch,” which serves quite nicely while she finds her way to perfect.
A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart.
Running Time: 1hr 28min
MPAA Rating: R
‘Tangerine’ tells a tough transgender story with humor
“Tangerine” is the wildest screwball transgender comedy since Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon donned lipstick, mascara and full-tilt female get-ups in “Some Like It Hot.” Director Sean Baker tosses aside good taste and common decency to create a little LGBT gem. His film is frenetically paced, sublimely strange, and admirably skillful at creating a funny Transformers parallel universe.
“Tangerine’s” stars are a twosome of talented first-time actresses, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor. Each is the epitome of a dumb blonde and rambunctious comedian. They play two sex workers halfway through male to female transition, sharing a breakfast doughnut the morning of Christmas Eve. Sin-Dee Rella (Rodriguez) has just been released from a 28-day stint in prison for drug possession. Her gal pal Alexandra (Taylor) is getting ready for a singing gig that evening at a local bar. Each finds that the day before Christmas is the time when everything can go wrong. Particularly Sin-Dee, who goes full woman-scorned after hearing that her pimp/boyfriend Chester (riotous James Ransone) forgot about their romance while she was inside.
The film spends 24 hectic hours following them as they race across the seediest neighborhoods of Los Angeles in search of happiness and humanity. If anyone could locate a silver lining in this strip of cheesy pastry shops, sleazy strip malls and dingy coin laundries, it’s this pair.
Characters like these leading ladies don’t appear in films very often. Transgender characters are usually portrayed as murderous psychopaths or self-contained jokes. What’s remarkable about the two hookers in focus is that they are instantly likable. Despite being criminal, unruly and profane, these marginalized characters are affectionate. That happens in part since Baker withholds contempt from the briskly paced story and partly because Rodriguez can dig out every laugh in the script.
And this ribald, raucous sex comedy is stacked high with laughs. Without entering spoiler territory there’s no way to discuss where on the sliding scale of misbehavior we encounter the cabdrivers, pimps, wives and Armenian mothers-in-law at the fringes of L.A.’s sex industry. “Tangerine” idealizes nobody, stereotypes nobody and scorns nobody. All the more remarkable for being entirely shot on an iPhone 5s, it should bore nobody in the audience, either.
Continuing the global exploits in the unstoppable franchise built on speed, Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson lead the returning cast of Fast & Furious 7. James Wan directs this chapter of the hugely successful series that also welcomes back favorites Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky and Lucas Black. They are joined by international action stars new to the franchise including Jason Statham, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey and Kurt Russell.
Running Time: 2hrs 17min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
by Helen O’Hara for GQ
Enjoying the Fast and Furious franchise is not, precisely, a respectable activity, but at this point only the terminally self-important can really consider themselves above it. A heady combination of muscles and muscle cars and an impressive balancing act between sentimentality and sark has powered us now through seven films of escalating excitement. As ridiculous as it is irresistible, doubters should comfort themselves in the knowledge that this series functions as much as a commentary on the ludicrousness of the action genre as a paragon of the same.
This story picks up directly after the end of the sixth film, and simultaneously from the end of the third film, but don’t worry too much about anything that’s gone before because only the now matters. Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel), Bryan O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their friends have defeated the dastardly Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) with the help of the recently drafted Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). But Owen’s brother Jason Statham, described wonderfully as a “legitimate English badass” (not a bad business card), is after the people responsible for bringing him down, and sets out to kill everyone involved. Statham’s Shaw is the kind of guy who has taken the Chicago Way to heart: you pull a sledgehammer as Diesel does here, he pulls a gun; you put one of his in the hospital, he puts all of yours in the morgue.
There’s a bit more involving Kurt Russell’s government agent, Nathalie Emmanuel’s hacker and the continuing amnesia of Michelle Rodriguez’s Lettie, but the plot is really there only to move us from one action scene to the next. And those action set pieces are gloriously bonkers, as cars are driven from planes, out of skyscrapers and occasionally along actual roads. “Cars don’t fly!” yells Walker at one point, apparently forgetting at least 50 per cent of what has gone before. There are literally earth-shaking punch-ups too, with Ong-Bak’s Tony Jaa and MMA star “Rowdy” Rhonda Rousey enlisted just to give our heroes a work-out, and the delightful sight of The Rock shattering the cast on his broken arm just by flexing and stealing an ambulance to get back to the fight.
Much of the hilarity in these films – and they really are very funny – comes from watching the excess as characters try to outdo one another’s manliness. There are anthropology papers to be written about what the Fast franchise says about modern masculinity, from the oiled muscles to the multi-million pound cars to the sweetly gratuitous gyrations of endless car groupies, who wiggle more underbum than Carnival in Rio. And if you’re looking for a neat illustration of the perils of hyper-masculinity, the sight of Vin Diesel and Jason Statham spectacularly failing to understand how you play Chicken - twice - really should sum it up.
After the sad death of Paul Walker during filming (his last scenes were finished using a combination of stand-ins that included his brothers, and CGI), some of the moments where our heroes miraculously survive certain death smack of wish fulfilment. The end is as much about paying tribute to the actor as his character, and shows a display of open emotion unusual in these cynical times. But don’t worry if you tear up: tell anyone watching that it’s just excess testosterone leaking from your eyes, and there’s a good chance that after watching this they’ll buy it.
In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland.
Running Time: 2hrs
MPAA Rating: R
You have never seen anything quite like Mad Max: Fury Road. Jaw-droppingly beautiful when it isn’t horrifyingly ugly, this is a literal vision of hell-on-wheels and features some of the most astonishing action ever committed to film. Lit by scarlet fireballs and peopled by irradiated mutants, the world of Mad Max is not for the faint of heart, but it’s heart-pounding, visceral stuff.
The story, such as it is, sees Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) imprisoned in the Citadel, an oasis in the wilderness fed by a deep aquifer and ruled with an iron fist by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). This despot is worshipped as a god by his followers, but when the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) steals his imprisoned wives (including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough) Joe sets off in pursuit. Max reluctantly teams up with the fugitives and a chase through the desert ensues, with Immortan Joe determined to recover his breeding stock.
In truth, it hardly matters why anything here is happening. This is such a hell-scape that motivation is obvious and characters hardly relevant. While a few actors do a lot with very little – Nicholas Hoult’s demented young War Boy Nux is especially good, and Huntington-Whiteley is surprisingly splendid as Splendid – even the nominal leads are only loosely sketched beyond their extraordinary names. Hardy’s Max probably says fewer than 500 words in total, and his conversations with Furiosa (the true lead, judging by impact and screen time) are chiefly composed of glances or grimaces.
The chase is the thing, and here director George Miller and his cinematographer John Searles excel. You’re left in awe of shots of dust clouds, never mind the bloody fireballs that suddenly light them or the mutant terrors who loom from the swirl. The desert locations – Namibia filling in for the Outback after record rainfall turned the Australian desert green – are stunning in their emptiness, only the heat haze providing a backdrop for the long struggle to escape. At one point, when night turns the desert blue, you hope that our heroes have passed into a sort of purgatory, but bent figures walking on sticks like something from a Hieronymus Bosch painting soon put paid to any such notions of true escape.
The bad guy here is the sort of ruler who rolls out alongside a huge truck composed entirely of amplifiers, drummers, and a blind guitarist wielding an axe that is also an actual axe and incidentally a flamethrower. His hunting party is like a post-apocalyptic heavy metal concept album, a nightmarish blend of rock opera and Viking raiding party, belching out greasy smoke in its wake. Their ill-bred hybrid machines can’t be described as mere “cars”; they’re true monster trucks, spiked and souped up and guzzling whatever resources this devastated world has left. Jeremy Clarkson would love them.
But Miller is after more than mere vehicular chaos. Soon the face-painted, scarred War Boys are flipping from one vehicle to another like precarious pole-vaulters, hurling grenade-tipped spears and dodging fireballs like modern commuters dodge buggies. Max and Furiosa have only an armoured tanker and a handful of bullets against overwhelming odds – and yet you wouldn’t bet against them. It’s brutal and bloody, but by god it’s a breathtaking fight.