Movie Review ~ It Takes Three

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When the coolest guy in school discovers that the new girl sees through his popularity and good looks, he enlists the class nerd to take over his social media accounts to add substance to his style.

Stars: Jared Gilman, David Gridley, Aurora Perrineau, Mikey Madison, Monk Serrell Freed, Anya Marina

Director: Scott Coffey

Rated: NR

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Honestly, when presented with the opportunity to get a look at It Takes Three, an umpteenth revisal of the Cyrano de Bergerac story, the idea of it wasn’t as interesting to me as the person sitting in the director’s seat.  Growing up in the halcyon days of ‘90s cable television, I had my channel tuned to HBO whenever I was lounging around the house and often caught the high school dramas and comedies that played ad nauseum.  So the name Scott Coffey leaped out at me like a red blinking light. 

Of course I knew who Scott Coffey was!  C’mon!  SpaceCamp and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986?  Ok…how about Zombie High and the forever underrated Some Kind of Wonderful from 1987?  Satisfaction (early Julia Roberts Alert!!) and Shag (a personal favorite) from 1988?  You’ve of course seen the John Travolta rebel classic Shout from 1991…right?  I can’t ever forget Coffey’s unfortunate accident in 1993’s The Temp…well, you get the picture.

The point is this, I was curious to see what an actor who grew up around films of this type would be able to bring to the proceedings and was surprised to see how much heart he was able to instill into Logan Burdick and Blair Mastbaum’s script.  Yes, it’s another take on the story of an outcast that’s good with words, here a boy named Cy (Jared Gilman, Moonrise Kingdom) who helps a handsome devil that’s empty inside (David Gridley as classmate Chris) woo new student Roxy (Aurora Perrineau, Jem and the Holograms) who is way out of his league.  As Cy’s friend Kat (Mikey Madison, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood) watches her bestie get sucked into a strange love triangle, she eventually realizes she’s got more of a stake in the game than she cares to admit.  Can Cy get over his own hang-ups long enough to see who the one that’s right for him actually is?

Ditching the nose that has defined Cyrano since the beginning, the screenwriters instead just make Cy someone uncomfortable in his own skin and it’s a strange wire to walk on.  On the one hand, it begins to address some questions on body dysmorphia in men (a topic not often discussed, at least not in any kind of film, mainstream or otherwise) but on the other it makes it the subject of jokes and casual devaluation.  Gilman’s own appearance is seemingly unaltered so…are we just saying that he hates how he looks and that’s that?  It’s an odd argument to witness. 

It’s good, then, that Coffey and his cast have a gainful spirit about them that propels the film forward into positive energy territory.  You always know the film is headed toward the kind of resolution that is expected but likely not the way you think it will go.  Knowing you’re in safe hands allows you to relax more for those 90 minutes and that’s where It Takes Three finds it’s sweet spot, bolstered by Gilman’s geeky charm and Perrineau’s earthy ease.  Coffey also dots the supporting players with some brilliant comedic players, from Anya Marina as the school principal that moonlights in a band to Lori Alan and Nicole Sullivan as Cy’s moms.  Small movies like this can have the tendency to slip through your fingers but get discovered at a later time when you’re deep browsing – keep your eye out for It Takes Three because it plays well, moves fast, and acts as a nice showcase for a crop of strong talent in front of and behind the camera.

The Silver Bullet ~ Passengers

passengers

Synopsis: A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

Release Date:  December 21, 2016

Thoughts: It’s okay if you watch this first trailer for Passengers and feel like you’ve been to this space rodeo before.  Peppered with hints of Gravity and The Martian with a little old (Sunday) school Adam and Eve business, our initial look at the late December release feels promising.  I mean, two hotter than Hades A-list stars with their choice of scripts wouldn’t sign up for this without it having some thrust, right?  I’m counting on blind faith that Chris Pratt (Jurassic World) and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) have chosen wisely.  Under the direction of Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) from a Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) script that’s been orbiting Hollywood stars since 2007, Passengers could pure rocket fuel at the box office if these heavy hitters bring their A game.  As for me…it’s set in space so…I’m in.

Movie Review ~ Jem and the Holograms

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jem_and_the_holograms

The Facts:

Synopsis: As a small-town girl catapults from underground video sensation to global superstar, she and her three sisters begin a journey of discovering that some talents are too special to keep hidden

Stars: Juliette Lewis, Molly Ringwald, Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott, Ryan Guzman, Hayley Kiyoko, Aurora Perrineau

Director: Jon M. Chu

Rated: PG

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Though I found myself sitting through it often, I wouldn’t say that I was a huge fan of the Jem cartoon series that ran from 1985-1988. The animation was rough, the music was a little grating, and the focus on “glamour and glitter, fashion and fame” didn’t really register in my pre-teen consciousness. In the cartoon, Jerrica Benton is the owner of Starlight Music and, with the help of her holographic computer Synergy becomes Jem, a rock star singer taking the world by storm with her band the Holograms. They are often in competition with The Misfits, another all-girl band usually is up to no good and getting in the way of the Holograms success. It was fantasy entertainment to the tune of 80s girl group pop rock and it was nothing if not a pleasant distraction.

Talk of a big-screen Jem has been raging on for years and what was initially planned as an animated feature morphed into the live-action doozy that’s being released 27 years after the series ended. If you aren’t familiar with the cartoon you may be willing to give the filmmakers a pass in what is in the end another in a long line of failed female driven franchises. Banking on the success of Pitch Perfect and its sequel, Universal Studios enlisted director Jon M. Chu and screenwriter Ryan Landels to produce a new take on Jem and it’s a miscalculated failure on nearly every level.

First off, this should never have been a live-action film. The appeal of the cartoon was the colorful world of fantasy and fashion the series nailed in its relatively charming low-budget way. The concept of a holographic computer creating images and scenes to protect its owner isn’t that far removed from the kind of animated offerings released by major studios today. Plus how often have we had an all-out rock cartoon, and a female-led one at that? If anything, a feature length cartoon of Jem should have found its way to theaters in the early nineties after the series has ended.

Landels hollows out the film down to its bare bones, leaving most of the names intact and switching the gender of the main antagonist. Jerrica Benton is a meek singer/songwriter too scared to go out on her own still living with her younger sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott, Insidious: Chapter 3), and two foster sisters (Hayley Kiyoko and Aurora Perrineau). Times are tough and their guardian aunt (Molly Ringwald, Sixteen Candles) is in danger of losing their California suburban home, threating to split the tight-knit family apart. When Jerrica takes on the persona of Jem and records a late night acoustic song, Kimber uploads it onto YouTube where it becomes a viral sensation overnight, rocketing Jem to stardom.

This is when the movie first shows signs of jumping off the track. The sudden stardom of a YouTube superstar is something director Chu knows a thing or two about having helmed Justin Bieber’s film Never Say Never. There are definite parallels between Bieber’s swift rise and Jem’s quick ascent to pop culture icon, though I think Bieber released more than one song before audiences went totally wild. The film tries so unsuccessfully to have us believe that Jem causes a commotion based on one melancholy song that I half expected the entire movie to be a dream at the end.

Before they know it, the executive of Starlight, Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear, who is either brilliantly badass or crazed campy…I still can’t decide which) is guiding them through make-overs, pop-up concerts, and red carpet walks that leave the girls in a daze.   Erica’s son, Rio (Ryan Guzman, The Boy Next Door) is charged with watching over the band and, shocker, he develops a thing for Jerrica that threatens his relationship with his scheming mother.

Synergy is now a tiny robot, the kind you’d by at a Brookstone for Christmas and sell at your garage sale the next summer, and it presents the opportunity for the film to have one interesting nugget to keep audiences awake for the next 118 minutes (it’s so long…so very long). You see, before Jerrica and Kimber’s dad died, he left Synergy unfinished and the little bot wakes up when they enter Los Angeles offering clues to a treasure hunt of sorts. So while Jem is struggling with her newfound fame (the film takes place over the course of 30 activity filled days), Jerrica is on a personal quest to finish the work her father started.

Musically the film isn’t that memorable. While Peeples has a pleasantly sweet voice she lacks the overall presence and star power needed for Jem. Her big solo number comes across as Lady Gaga light, performing in front of limber back-up dancers (when did they rehearse?) that kept my attention more than she did. As a group, Jem and the Holograms aren’t that distinguishable from any number of girl groups populating the music landscape now. I kept waiting for The Misfits to make an appearance, challenging the girls to up their game in the music department. Sadly (and maybe spoiler alert?) there are no Misfits to be had and the group works their way through two generic sounding ditties. The overall message in Jem and the Holograms is learning to love yourself no matter what life throws at you or how scared you may be to show who you really are and it’s a worthy one…but it comes in such a neon colored empty bucket of a film that I wound up just wishing it was printed on a T-shirt. Chu fills the film with all kinds of social media interjections, randomly cross-cutting cinematic scenes with YouTube videos of undiscovered music acts. There are also a healthy number of testimonials from those personally affected by Jem discussing what her music means to them. I couldn’t tell if these were all scripted or if they were people actually honesty linking their personal experiences to Jem. It’s so heavy with current social media that in five or ten years’ time it will be looked at as a time capsule of the here and now.

I would have liked to see the movie either become a full-fledged musical (an impromptu a capella moment on a beach had potential) or be a period set piece with all the excess of the 80s. Instead, it’s a film in serious need of autotune.

The Silver Bullet ~ Jem and the Holograms

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jem_and_the_holograms

Synopsis: Music executive, Jerrica Benton, lives a secret, adventurous life as a glamorous rock star named Jem.

Release Date: October 23, 2015

Thoughts: When I heard Universal Studios was getting behind a big screen treatment of the ‘80s cult cartoon Jem I was looking forward to a neon-colored camp odyssey that maintained the more fantastical elements while bringing the rock heroine forward into a new millennium.  After viewing the first trailer for Jem’s silver screen debut I’m…pretty bummed.  While I’m sure it will strike a chord with the Pitch Perfect crowd, this looks like a piffle of a mash-up of Josie and the Pussycats and Dreamgirls more than it does the Saturday morning flash-fest that inspired it.  Nice touch having ‘80s icon Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles) onboard and I’m never going to say no to a Juliette Lewis (Cape Fear) appearance…but yeesh…this looks terrible.