The Silver Bullet ~ I Feel Pretty

Synopsis: A woman struggling with insecurity wakes from a fall believing she is the most beautiful and capable woman on the planet.

Release Date: June 29, 2018

Thoughts: It’s refreshing to see an actress like Amy Schumer continue to find roles that she seems a total natural for. I’d imagine the script for I Feel Pretty was written with Schumer in mind and the timing for this one feels right.  Posed as an early summer comedic alternative to the rambunctious blockbusters set to invade theaters, the directorial debut of screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein casts Schumer (Snatched) as a woman who bumps her head and suddenly finds her inner goddess.  Buoyed by a strong (and surprising!) supporting cast featuring Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World), Lauren Hutton (American Gigolo), and Aidy Bryant (The Big Sick), I Feel Pretty put a smile on my face with the trailer alone…looking forward to getting the full view.

Movie Review ~ We Are Your Friends

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Caught between a forbidden romance and the expectations of his friends, aspiring DJ Cole Carter attempts to find the path in life that leads to fame and fortune.

Stars: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Ferhandez, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal.

Director: Max Joseph

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The few times I saw the preview for We Are Your Friends, my head hurt.  Lots of flashing lights, quick edits, pounding music, and Zac Efron feeling the beat in a tank top under the California sun gave me little hope that the finished product would amount to much.  Then early reports indicated that the film was like Flashdance meets Saturday Night Fever with a dash of Cocktail…and I was officially sold. While the film starts off pretty rough for the first half hour or so, there’s something ultimately winning about it.

Efron (That Awkward Moment) headlines the picture as Cole, a DJ with a heart of gold struggling to break into the big leagues.  Living with a buddy (Jonny Weston, an annoyance in the beginning before graduating to valued asset) and working as promoters of a local club with two other friends (Shiloh Fernandez, Evil Dead, and Alex Shaffer) they live for the Thursday nights that are their reward for a job well done.

But, as in all movies with similar themes, they all dream of something more and the chance to “get out” and make something of themselves.  While the others all have admirable aspirations, it’s Efron that gets the focus as he makes the move from clap trap backroom DJ to working posh pool parties and headlining a summer music festival with his music.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about the DJ culture but I do understand that it’s more than just working two turntables and knowing when to scratch and mix the tunes together.  And, to its credit, the film makes an attempt to explain how it all works, but it’s not enough to clue most audiences in on what exactly is happening when Efron intensely turns one knob up high while turning another one down low.  The only thing we know, from Efron’s brow sweat and dilated pupils, is that it’s important stuff and he’s very good at what he does.

Being mentored by a DJ that many feel has sold out (Wes Bentley, Interstellar) has repercussions for the young upstart.  He learns to follow his internal turntable to churn out better music, yes, but also falls in love with the DJ’s assistant/girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski, Gone Girl, Entourage, with lips like life preservers) in the process.  At the same time, he’s supporting himself by working for a shady real estate investor (Jon Bernthal, The Wolf of Wall Street), whose methods put him into an even greater emotional spiral.

What’s nice to report about the film is that it’s probably Efron’s best performance to date.  Ignoring a flawed attempt at emoting near the end (must every Efron movie feature him with tears in his eyes?) Efron ably carries the picture to success and seems at ease with the complexities of the DJ scene.  Passages between Efron and Bentley are the best of the bunch, with both actors doing solid work and never coming off as merely pretending to understand what they’re talking about…but actually believing it.

Music obviously plays a big part in Max Joseph and Meghan Oppenheimer’s script and with Joseph directing, the film feels alive with rhythm from the first frame until the last.  Again, I couldn’t tell you a good beat from a bad one but there are enough music consultants and musicians listed in the credits that I’m confident the movie hits all the right notes.  Brett Pawlak’s cinematography may favor lingering on sweaty body parts a little too much (one sequence covers every inch of Ratajkowski’s flesh several times over) but generally it’s a nice mix of California sun and hypnotic club lights.

Owing a lot to the aforementioned Cocktail, the movie may find itself becoming a guilty pleasure down the line.  It’s relatively inoffensive and pleasant enough to not hold too many of its faults against it, buoyed by Efron’s considerable charisma and Bentley’s commanding performance.

The Silver Bullet ~ We Are Your Friends

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Synopsis: An aspiring DJ looks to make it in the electronic music scene.

Release Date: August 28, 2015

Thoughts: I’m starting to feel a little sorry for Zac Efron at this point because he’s yet to really prove himself as more than just a pretty face with amazing abs.  He’s struggled with dramatic roles that call on him to act (That Awkward Moment, The Lucky One) and his biggest hit has been The Lorax, an animated film he provided vocal work for.  While Neighbors did good business in 2014, you could hardly attribute that success to Efron’s work.

So I’m worried for We Are Your Friends, Efron’s latest attempt to go dramatic as a go-getter DJ that’s trying to catch a break in the popular EDM (Electronic Dance Music) scene.  It looks like a messy “driven to adulthood” film with an amber-hued California as its backdrop.  On the other hand, while his performances aren’t always a success, Efron can’t be faulted for choosing appropriate pictures for his age and peer group and EDM is a hot topic right now…it’s possible that the time is right for Efron’s official “big break” into believable adult fare.

Movie Review ~ Entourage

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Movie star Vincent Chase, together with his boys Eric, Turtle, and Johnny, are back – and back in business with super-agent turned studio-head Ari Gold on a risky project that will serve as Vince’s directorial debut.

Stars: Jeremy Piven, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Haley Joel Osment, Billy Bob Thornton, Rex Lee, Perrey Reeves, Emily Ratajkowski, Rhys Coiro, Nora Dunn, Debi Mazar, Constance Zimmer, Ronda Rousey, Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi

Director: Doug Ellin

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’ve been a loyal HBO subscriber for years but I’m one of the select few that’s never seen an episode of True Blood or made it through the entire series of The Sopranos. I especially avoided Entourage which seemed a little, well, douche-y for my tastes. I’ve known about the big screen continuation of Entourage (which had a successful run on HBO from 2004-2011) for a while and I tried to do my homework on this one, I really did. I even had the discs of the first season staring me down on my night stand each evening before I made the judgement call to watch Friends on Netflix instead.

So I approached the screening of the film with some trepidation. Would I be completely lost with the characters, not knowing their backstory? Would the bro-tastic vibe I got from the trailers send this one up, up, up into the macho testosterone grunting stratosphere? Most of all…would I enjoy myself?

The answer to these questions of world importance were no, not really, and, surprisingly, yes.

Sensing that their movie may be playing to a specific niche crowd of loyal fans, Warner Brothers and HBO have wisely made it clear in the ads and promos for Entourage that even if you never watched the show you’ll get a kick out of the raunchy debauchery of a bunch of L.A. living dudes that party hard, love the ladies, and work for the kind of bank bucks that keep them living the big life in spacious mansions that seem to always have a naked starlet in the pool waiting for them when they come home.

Truth be told, this isn’t my kind of movie at all but in many ways it’s one of the smartest (if slightest) comedies of the year so far. Its insider look at Hollywood and numerous celebrity cameos rival Robert Altman’s 1992 film The Player but the comparisons end there. While Altman’s film is a twisty noir that savages the entertainment industry, Entourage keeps things sunny and free spirited.

Playing like an extended episode of the series, the film follows star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his entourage: half-brother Johnny “Drama” (Kevin Dillon), manager E (Kevin Connolly), driver/assistant Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, Lone Survivor), and former agent now studio exec Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven, Edge of Tomorrow) as they scramble to finish Vincent’s directorial debut that Ari greenlit and is now way over budget. The film in question is a sci-fi take on Jekyll & Hyde for the new millennium and everyone that sees it thinks it’s great. Not being familiar with the show I’m unsure if it’s normal in the series to ape on Hollywood vanity projects by having everyone fawn over a film that’s fairly terrible looking but yeesh…the little we see of Vincent’s Hyde is overproduced goulash.

The film nicely divides it’s time between the pressure Vincent has to finish the film, newly promiscuous E’s impending fatherhood with his former flame (Emmanuelle Chriqui, Fort Bliss), Drama’s insecurities as he struggles to get out of his famous siblings shadow, and uber-wealthy Turtle’s romantic pursuit of mixed martial artist turned actress Ronda Rousey (Furious 7, The Expendables 3). All four actors know these characters inside and out and the years between the series finale and the film hasn’t seemed to lessen their interest in taking things to the next level.

Piven, who nabbed three Emmys for the show, is the unquestionable star of the show. The actor has had his fair share of being put through the Hollywood wringer and maybe that’s the reason why he’s able to sink his teeth into Ari so well. Short-tempered and hot under the collar, he’s especially amped up when he has to beg for more money for Hyde from the film’s financer, a deep-pocketed Texan (Billy Bob Thornton, The Judge, looking like a withered bobble head of his former self). When the Texan sends his nebbish son (Haley Joel Osment, Tusk, who has now completed his transformation into a Garbage Pail Kid) out to Hollywood to get a feel for the film, it causes a bunch of problems for Vincent, Ari, and the gang.

Though he hasn’t directed a feature film since 1998’s forgettable Kissing a Fool, Doug Ellin’s experience behind a camera on the Entourage series made him the right choice to write and direct…also helps that he’s the creator of the show. I liked that the film takes place almost entirely in the bright California sun and features a swell soundtrack that is easy on the ears. Though it does feel like a super-sized episode, it doesn’t feel like a quick cash-in on the popularity of the television show however it’s squarely targeted at fans…which can make the rest of us feel a little left out at times. That’s not the fault of the film, per se, and I’m not sure really what could have been done to fix that piece short of requiring viewing of the eight seasons before admission.

Better than I thought it would be, Entourage makes a solid bid for the attention of audiences that need a break from the bonkers mayhem of San Andreas, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. And after making it through the Pitch Perfect 2 festivities, men can hopefully get their girlfriends/wives to repay the favor and tag along to their Entourage party.