Synopsis: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Creed, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.
Release Date: November 25, 2015
Thoughts: I’ve only seen the first Rocky. OK. Now that I have that secret off my chest can we move forward as friends? Here’s the first look at a spin-off that’s several decades in the making…and it looks like it could be a heavyweight champ this season. Rising star Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) reteams with his Fruitvale Station director for this new chapter of the Rocky franchise that focuses on the son of Rocky Balboa’s friend/competition Apollo Creed. Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 3) directed and starred in many of the Rocky sequels and I’ve a feeling that had he also taking directing chores here, the film might not come across with as warm a welcome. Looks like I have some catching up to do before this gets released in November…
Synopsis: A tight-knit team of FBI investigators, along with their District Attorney supervisor, is suddenly torn apart when they discover that one of their own teenage daughters has been brutally murdered.
Release Date: October 23, 2015
Thoughts: Before we talk about this American remake I want you to track down the Spanish language original. Click here for more information. Not only is it a damn fine example of a beautifully layered mystery that unfolds over several decades, it rightfully took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2010. I still remember the incredible (and now infamous) tracking shot that starts as an aerial view of a soccer stadium and seamlessly moves to a handheld chase sequence, implying everything was done in one spectacular take.
Anyway, I have some strange feelings about this US remake, mostly because I’m iffy on the casting. Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) teams with Oscar winners Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and Nicole Kidman (Stoker) for this and while that seems like a slam-dunk where star wattage is concerned, I’m nervous that the actors will overshadow the material. Roberts (in a role originally written as male) gets put through the emotional ringer and it will be interesting to see how well she tackles it. The film strangely hides the fact that Roberts and Kidman are really in the back-seat with Ejiofor driving the car…at least that’s how it is in the foreign original. It seems like some changes have been made for the American-ized version and I’m hoping too much tinkering hasn’t been done…the original is gripping and near perfect in the way it unfolds.
Review: So far, the summer of 2015 has proved fertile ground for highly anticipated blockbuster sequels. From May’s Avengers: Age of Ultron & Mad Max: Fury Road to June’s record-breaking Jurassic Worldand Ted 2 audiences have willingly plunked down their dough to revisit old friends. Well, July is here and a chilly wind has disrupted the warm paradise…and it’s called Terminator Genisys.
The Terminator franchise is a great example of a movie studio unwilling to quit while it’s ahead. Released in 1984, James Cameron’s The Terminator was a sleeper hit that officially introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger (Kindergarten Cop) has an action star. Seven years later Cameron had a golden idea for a sequel, resulting in the groundbreaking Terminator 2: Judgment Day. That film was a forward thinking epic on the grandest of scales, effectively saving the summer movie event from the comic-book mayhem it was turning into. Cameron’s director’s cut of the film remains one of my favorite films of all time, perfectly continuing the story he created and wrapping things up beautifully.
Unwillingly to leave well enough alone, Warner Brothers moved forward with a third film in 2003 and a fourth in 2009. Neither were much to write home about because they were designed to be cash grabs for a studio that seemed to lack an original idea. Admittedly, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines isn’t awful but it’s far more appealing than the gloomy Terminator Salvation…still, both films exist only for profit and nothing more.
So here we are, 31 years after the original with the fifth film in the Terminator universe and it’s easily the most troubling one of them all. I held out a little hope for the movie at the outset because it seemed to be going for a clever revisionist reboot vibe, with scenes from the 1984 film recreated with a fine eye for detail. Good intentions are quickly overtaken by uninspired action sequences that introduce a host of new faces playing familiar characters.
In the future where machines have taken over the world and are exterminating mankind, Kyle Reese (a flat Jai Courtney, Jack Reacher) is an impassioned devotee to resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke, Lawless, looking alarmingly like the puppet from the Saw films). How impassioned is he? Well, let’s just say that when Reese finds out later that he’s actually Connor’s father you can see that Reese’s dreams of sipping mai-tais with Connor on a beach disappearing right before his sorrowful eyes. When the opportunity arises for a mission back to 1984 to save Connor’s legendary mother, Reese volunteers and the rest is history…or the future…doesn’t really matter.
Back in 1984, things aren’t exactly like we remember them (the film reminded me a lot of Back to the Future Part II) and instead of finding a helpless Sarah Connor, Reese meets up with a determined heroine that has her own Terminator (Schwarzenegger) in her protection detail. Emilia Clarke may have a Linda Hamilton look to her but the comparisons stop there. Clarke is, like her co-stars, not a strong enough actor to carry this type of character to the end and therefore scenes displaying her unyielding stance at fighting for survival don’t land like they should.
Not surprisingly, only Schwarzenegger scores with any regularity. He’s perfected this character over several cinematic endeavors (and one exciting theme park ride) so this is all old hat to him. A chance for the elder Schwarzenegger to fight with a recreation of his 1984 persona is a pleasant sequence but an all too brief foray into ingenuity by screenwriters Patrick Lussier & Laeta Kalorgridis.
Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) has several large action sequences up his sleeve and while they deliver the requisite thrills, they seem like they’re cut scenes from a movie far removed from the Terminator universe. Mostly, the film is a paint by the numbers exercise in too much exposition backed up with surprisingly weak special effects.
The worst thing about the movie is how much of it has been spoiled by the marketing team. I won’t confirm or deny what people are thinking but you only need to look at the poster or watch one of the many spoiler-heavy trailers to get an idea of what’s going on in the film and preview nearly all of the pivotal moments the film tries to spring on you. A very shameful showing by the marketing people at the studio.
A poorly executed sci-fi adventure that loses itself in its own pretzel twists of time, there’s little to like or recommend here…it’s a chipped tombstone for the series.
Review: You only need to glance at my 2/10 review of 2012’s Magic Mike to know that Steven Soderbergh’s scuzzy stripper drama wasn’t my favorite movie of that year. An ugly looking film that tried to supplant its grim slime by tossing toned abs around with aplomb, I wasn’t distracted enough to be convinced that the movie was anything more than a last gasp effort from Soderbergh to instill some meaning into a meandering career. Thankfully, after pounding the nail into his coffin with 2013’s dismal Side EffectsSoderbergh took leave of the director’s chair, allowing us to attempt to fondly remember the director that gave us a string of dynamic films (like Erin Brockovich before petering out.
Well, while Soderbergh isn’t directing Magic Mike XXL his presence is still felt in his cinematography an editing (both contributed under pseudonyms) and it turns out the audience is all the better for it. Magic Mike XXL is that rare unicorn of a sequel that’s better than its predecessor in every way imaginable, leaving the original to be looked at as a curious exposition film that laid the groundwork for this superior sequel.
Picking up three years after Mike (Channing Tatum, 22 Jump Street) hung up his thong and tried to start his own business, we soon see that times are tough, his girl is gone, and a chance meeting with his old dancing buds rekindles a need in Mike to put some Magic back into the daily grind. Accompanying his crew to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, FL (because, of course it’s there) with stops along the way to vogue at a gay bar, hob nob with some mature Southern Belles (including a scene stealing Andie MacDowell), and reconnect with an old employer (the dynamite Jada Pinkett Smith) Mike and his gang of booty shakers take audiences along for a road trip adventure that’s pretty damn entertaining.
Though it features less nudity (sorry ladies and gents) than the first film, there’s no shortage of seriously raunchy dancing, the kind of bump and grind action that had my preview audience squealing with delight when they weren’t laughing. I had low expectations going into this one based off of my disdain for Mike’s first movie but almost from the get-go it was obvious this was a whole new ballgame with a roster of MVPs in the waiting.
Over the past three years Tatum has become a true blue movie star and that self-assuredness is put to good use here. I felt the first film (and Tatum’s performance) was more arrogant than confident but here the opposite is true. Tatum knows he has the moves, looks, and body to make this character a living breathing entity and it shows…but without that self-congratulatory glint in his eye he had last time. This is a character that’s evolved by leaps and bounds over the years and Tatum easily shimmies and shakes his way to another star performance.
Though he’s the headliner, Tatum is more than generous with screen time for his co-stars. Joe Manganiello (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) may have Tatum beat in the overall handsome department but what he’s lacking in dance moves he makes up with an awareness for his ability to sweep in and steal a scene or two. His convenience store seduction of an otherwise tuned out store clerk is a highlight of the film. Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez are given the spotlight as well but Matt Bomer edges them out for the third supporting role and that’s where the film falters a bit. Bomer is built like a studly Ken doll and has the plastic personality to go along with it. His scenes have a false quality to them, not helped by Bomer’s inability to truly convince us of the character he’s playing. I kept waiting for him to reveal himself as gay but instead we’re treated to him waxing philiosopical via New Age catch phrases and singing too much, especially in the finale.
The finale. Now here’s where the film really accomplishes something spectacular. Once they arrive at the stripper convention (what exactly IS a stripper convention? I sorta wanted to see the guys walking around a trade show setting looking at next-gen thongs that double as a FitBit) Mike and co. work out a five ring circus of a routine that finishes the film off with a major bang, giving each member of the group a moment in the naked spotlight to show off his special talent. It’s a boffo extravaganza of flesh and good-natured raunch, possibly the best example yet in 2015 of a movie giving the audience exactly what they came for.
Director Gregory Jacobs (Soderbergh’s long-time assistant director) keeps things lively and appealing, and I’ll admit that Soderbergh’s cinematography is visually pleasing and very much in line with his famous style. The soundtrack to the original film was a heinous mix of awful cover songs but the soundscape here fits right in with the breezy atmosphere.
It’s just a whole lot of fun. Where the previous film was more concerned with showing the seedy underbelly of the world of male strip clubs, the sequel couldn’t care less about it. I thought I’d leave Magic Mike XXL with the same bad taste in my mouth that I had after taking in the gross original but instead I felt like making it rain for Tatum and his pals…something I’m sure audiences will have no trouble doing this weekend.