The Silver Bullet ~ Top Gun: Maverick

Synopsis: A follow-up to the 1986 hit brings back Naval Aviator Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and will deal with the rise of unmanned drones and pilots becoming a thing of the past.

Release Date: June 26, 2020

Thoughts: Has it really been 33 years since Tom Cruise cemented his rising superstar status with the blockbuster release of Top Gun?  Inspiring countless imitators (including Cruise himself) and launching a million slow dances to the Oscar-winning theme song, the movie is firmly in our cultural lexicon and holds up quite nicely.  So you could hear some groans across the U.S. of A. when it was announced Cruise would be returning in the long rumored sequel.  For someone with as good as track record as Cruise has with starring in successful non-franchise fare, why occupy his time between Mission: Impossible sequels with another sequel to a previous role?  Teaming with his Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski and looping in an excellent roster of supporting players, from the looks of this first trailer for Top Gun: Maverick Cruise clearly knew what he was doing and I’m sorry I doubted him in the first place.  This sneak peak at the high-flying action film releasing almost 12 months from now stirs the kind of nostalgic summer excitement within me that doesn’t get a jolt that often.  Fingers crossed it’s more than just a retread of the original.

The Silver Bullet ~ Hidden Figures

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Synopsis: A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

Release Date: December 25, 2016

Thoughts: Who’s ready for a history lesson? I certainly am after catching the trailer for Hidden Figures, a period drama which looks equal parts comedy and drama and represents a strong showcase for its trio of appealing leads.  Oscar-nominee Taraji P. Henson (Top Five) stars as a NASA employee during the space race fighting to combat the inherent racism and sexism she and her colleagues (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Zootopia, and Grammy winner Janelle Monáe) face. Joined by Kevin Costner (Draft Day), Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!), and Kirsten Dunst (Midnight Special), this one is sneaking it right at the end of the year before the Oscar deadline.  Could 20th Century Fox be counting on this becoming the sleeper hit it has the potential to be? 

Movie Review ~ Everybody Wants Some!!

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.

Stars: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Ryan Guzman, Juston Street, Glen Powell, Temple Baker, J. Quinton Johnson, Will Brittain, Zoey Deutch

Director: Richard Linklater

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Everybody Wants Some!! is being promoted as a “spiritual sequel” to director Richard Linklater’s cult favorite from 1993, Dazed and Confused.  While Dazed takes place on the last day of high school in 1976, EWS!! follows a team of college baseball players over the course of a long weekend in 1980 before school starts up again.  Even though there are no overlapping characters between the films, it’s not hard to imagine Blake Jenner’s leading player in EWS!! as a college-ready version of the character Wiley Wiggins played in the earlier film.

For EWS!! to play well as an almost sequel to a much loved near-classic that’s now become almost as much of a cinematic rite of passage as the various hazing sequences it showcases, it has to have something that sets it apart.  Once again, Linklater (Bernie, Boyhood, Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight) shows his knack for perfect casting by bringing together a host of handsome stars on the rise to populate his otherwise plotless observances of the last days of summer for a college baseball team.

Incoming freshman Jake Bradford (a winning, mellow Blake Jenner), arrives at his off campus housing on a Friday and spends the next three days getting to know his teammates, his surroundings, and himself.  Clearly influenced by Linklater’s own life, the character isn’t your typical meek newbie nor is he a loutish oaf that scores high on the d-bag meter.  Actually, even with its brief divergences into misogyny (there’s but one female role in the film that isn’t there to bed or bitch about), the film largely avoids the stereotypical frat boy trappings by providing actual personalities for its competitively horny young males.

Originally brought into the fold by team captain McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin, reminding me of a young Matt Dillon), Jake starts to learn the ropes from teammates like Glenn Powell’s (The Expendables 3) Finn, who can talk about anything from girls to gentrification and Wyatt Russell’s (22 Jump Street) Willoughby, a stoner that encourages everyone to “just be weird”.  There’s also the requisite dimbulb (Temple Baker), the sensible voice of reason (J. Quinton Johnson), a county-fried roommate (Will Brittain), and an easily provoked pitcher (Juston Street, the only faulty bit of character machinery in Linklater’s otherwise smooth engine of a movie) that pop up throughout the film to join in the weekend hijinks.   As the lone prominent female, Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy) more than holds her own as a matched equal to Jake that isn’t your typical co-ed. It’s not hard to picture Deutch’s mother Lea Thompson playing the same role had the film been made thirty years ago.

Since the casting is top notch, that means the acting is skilled too and the three weeks the actors spent rehearsing all day at Linklater’s Texas compound pays off well because you walk away totally buying the characters you just watched, flaws and all.  It has the same sharp wisdom and warm hope Linklater is so good at injecting into his films and pleasantly goes against the structural norm of these college set film by following these guys only up until the first bell rings on Monday morning.

It’s not often I leave a theater already figuring out when I can swing by and catch it again but I left EWS!! plotting a return visit.  I appreciate that Linklater has a way of making his films so accessible that it’s easy to watch them over and over again and, even if you don’t get anything new out of each watch, still be entertained.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Everybody Wants Some

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Synopsis: A group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.

Release Date:  April 15, 2016

Thoughts: For his follow-up to a career-high achievement with Boyhood, writer/director Richard Linklater has created a “spiritual sequel” to his popular 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused.  Trading D&C’s long hair, bellbottoms, and ‘70s high school setting for the porn staches, tight shorts, and college campus parties of the ‘80s, Linklater has assembled another cast of barely-knowns, several of which are likely wondering who’ll be the next breakout star ala Matthew McConaughey.  Linklater has had this one on his mind for some time and if Boyhood’s miraculous results after its slow gestation is any indication, good things come (Link)later.

Movie Review ~ The Expendables 3

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Barney augments his team with new blood for a personal battle: to take down Conrad Stonebanks, the Expendables co-founder and notorious arms trader who is hell bent on wiping out Barney and every single one of his associates.

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, Kelsey Grammer

Director: Patrick Hughes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I believe that part of being a balanced critic is to a) see most every film that comes your way and not just the latest blockbuster and b) being able to view a film for what it is and try to put yourself in the place of its intended audience. As a child of the 80s that grew up with action films featuring the headliners of these films, I was amped to hear they’d be brought together for The Expendables. When I finally saw the much-hyped film in 2010 I was awed by how ugly a film it was and how its one-joke premise stalled out before the first reel was done. Though 2012’s The Expendables 2 showed signs of improvement, it too faltered when it came to being more than the sum of its muscly, scar-tissued parts. It would be great to report back that the third film of the franchise finally knocked it out of the park but it’s actually a step backward, proving that logic, decent effects, and convincing performances are the true expendables on display.

Clocking it at an astounding 126 minutes and devoid of the CGI blood that pushed the first two entries into silly R-rated territory, The Expendables 3 feels neutered into a PG-13. Nothing much happens and nothing is truly at stake for our rag-tag bunch of mercenaries and certainly not for audiences. At least its predecessors had a little bit of loss to overcome…here the overstuffed script just puts everyone through the motions while making sure that every one of the hardly recognizable yet oddly familiar action star faces gets at least one zinger in.

Stallone (Escape Plan, and looking like he’s getting into character to play the title role for a live-action Droopey Dog) is as mush mouth as ever as the leader of The Expendables who are found as the film opens racing alongside a prison train to free Doc (Wesley Snipes). It’s one of the least exciting openers of any action film I’ve seen, though director Patrick Hughes tries to flash it up with a lot of flying fists, kicking legs, and a whopper of an explosion.

Hurtling into another mission that puts the crew face to face with a turncoat from their past (Mel Gibson, gleefully camping it up, whether you like it or not), Stallone and his men spend the rest of the film waxing nostalgic about the past, lamenting the fact that they’re getting older, and taking to task some new whippersnappers that are the next generation of Expendables…all the while being fired at by thousands of armed men that continually miss their shots.

Shot in Bulgaria (and numerous cockpit sets that appear lifted from a mall arcade), the film isn’t as dreadful to look at as the first film but achieves a new dullness thanks to lame green screen effects (I’m positive several of the big name stars weren’t in the same room when they filmed their scenes) and a non-existent visual style that renders the film almost black and white. Everything on screen feels cheap, from the cardboard sets to the CGI effects…leading me to believe that most of the budget went to the star salaries.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a few things that keep it from being total crud. Snipes is a refreshing addition to the cast and he gets a nice moment of self-mockery that you’ll see coming but still enjoy. While it may have been a coup for Stallone to land Gibson and Harrison Ford (Working Girl), their presence is more of a curiosity to see than anything really exceptional. Speaking of exceptional, Antonio Banderas (Haywire) should get substantial credit for nearly walking away with the film as a hilariously eager strong-arm for hire. The rest of the gang and especially the new recruits are better left unmentioned, lest they take it as encouragement to continue in their acting careers.

With a built-in audience I expect we haven’t seen the last of The Expendables…and as the film dragged on I started to think of names that could be tossed around to star in future installments. I’ll keep those to myself so I can check off my own personal list, but if the goal is to continue to feature faded names from the past…Stallone is just getting started.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Expendables 3

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Synopsis: The third installment of the action-adventure franchise that follows the exploits of Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, and their associates.

Release Date: August 14, 2014

Thoughts: I can’t tell you how nice it is to actually see a true teaser trailer pop up.  As I’ve lamented recently (check here for an example), the art of the teaser trailer appears to be totally lost with most previews clocking in at a spoiler heavy 2:30.  So it’s nice to see the latest entry in the profitable The Expendables franchise giving audiences a whet whistle before the final hours of 2013 tick away.  Though it’s not releasing until halfway through 2014, this is a nice way to announce the return of a series of films that have worked almost in spite of their BDL (big, dumb, loud) origins.  And you have to hand it to Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 2); he sure knows how to rally the troops to get a cast that continues to makes 80’s/early 90’s action movie nerds salivate.  The Expendables 3 features a huge roster of stars: Stallone, Jason Statham (Homefront), Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand), Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas (Haywire), Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford (Working Girl), Kellan Lutz (The Legend of Hercules), Robert Davi (Licence to Kill) and Kelsey Grammer