Movie Review ~ Angel Has Fallen


The Facts
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Synopsis: Secret Service Agent Mike Banning is framed for the attempted assassination of the President and must evade his own agency and the FBI as he tries to uncover the real threat.

Stars: Gerard Butler, Piper Perabo, Lance Reddick, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston

Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: From the law of diminishing returns, it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility for me to think Angel Has Fallen was going to be a disaster.  Consider the facts.  When Olympus Has Fallen was released in 2013 it became a surprise success, coasting along and benefiting from the abundant patriotism of its audience.  It restored some faith to star Gerard Butler’s shaky career and gave stalwart actors such as Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Angela Basset, and Aaron Eckhart a chance to chew the scenery without getting too much gunk caught in their pearly whites.  Three years later, London Has Fallen arrived and, though it made a sizable amount at the box office, it was an ill-timed, ugly-American movie that was film garbage at its most xenophobic.  Truth be told, I wasn’t even aware a third movie was on its way until the first poster and preview popped up a few months back.  After the disastrous previous outing, I had little interest in seeing where this franchise was heading.

So imagine my surprise to find that Angel Has Fallen is not only better than London Has Fallen but wound up being the best of the series so far. Turns out that all these movies needed was a judicious trim of the star quotient, a refocus on more homegrown enemies, and a director with a fresh take on balancing action with drama that doesn’t detract from the pace.  With Butler and Freeman the only two returning actors from the first movies (Piper Perabo replaces Radha Mitchell as Butler’s wife), there’s space for screenwriters Robert Mark Kamen and Matt Cook to make this outing less wholly about wall to wall action and give more time to personal moments for Butler and a few new characters.

Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler, How to Train Your Dragon 2) remains a top performer in his role leading the security detail around the President of the United States (Morgan Freeman, Lucy, happily awake and alert) but the job is taking its toll physically and emotionally.  Though he’s in line to take over as director of the Secret Service, he’s hiding a growing reliance on painkillers and shrugging off lasting effects of numerous concussions and injuries sustained in the line of duty.  More concerned with being there for his wife (Perabo, Looper) and a consistent presence for his young daughter, he’s weighing the President’s offer to take on the role when his team comes under siege during an otherwise routine fishing trip.  The first of several well designed action sequences employing a clever use of next-gen technology, it doesn’t bother too much with logic but sets its target on maximum thrill.

Though he winds up saving the President, Mike is the only one from his unit to survive, which raises suspicions from his direct leader (Lance Riddick, White House Down) and a no-nonsense FBI Agent (Jada Pinkett Smith, Girls Trip, giving her most no-nonsense glares toward the camera) who launches an investigation into Mike. When Mike is discovered to have suspicious documents with ties to Russian intelligence on his computer not to mention a few extra million dollars in an offshore bank account, he realizes an old colleague (Danny Huston, All I See Is You) and perhaps another mystery player to be revealed later are framing him.  With the President out of commission and the Vice President (Tim Blake Nelson, Lincoln) stepping in as Commander in Chief, the tensions mount as a growing distrust of Russia is used as ammunition in firing up the war machine that’s long been dormant.

So begins a cross-country chase with Mike trying to stay one-step ahead of government agents and a horde of shadow operatives desperate to keep their agenda hidden and larger plans on track.  By cutting Mike off from his crew, family, and friends it allows Mike some good moments to get creative with his evasion, not to mention escaping one dangerous situation after another.  It also lets Butler show some new sides to this character, something the actor clearly is enjoying.  For a while Butler was appearing in some real turkeys and not seeming to care how much his reputation was suffering from it.  In the last few years his films have taken a more deliberate path – the movies may not be all that different on the surface but looking at the flawed characters he’s taking on now you can see what drew him to the role.

I’m betting a reunion with a man from Mike’s past (Nick Nolte, A Walk in the Woods) is a large part of what got Butler excited to come back for a third time.  Bringing in Nolte was an inspired choice as the actor, like Butler, got a little lost inside his image for a time until he took a step back and got a hold on his career in a more concentrated way.  Nolte is the highlight of the film, a lovable grump living a solitary life in the forest and none to happy to be disturbed by Mike’s appearance.  It’s nice to see Nolte and Butler so engaged on screen and with each other, especially in one grand scene where Mike discovers just how much this mystery man has been preparing for unwanted visitors. The squabbling between the two drifts ever so slightly into a buddy-comedy film at times but it’s a welcome reprieve from some of the darker turns the film takes.

That’s one thing about all these films that I, in many ways, respect.  Though it features recognizable faces and notable nearly A-list stars, the filmmakers are not at all opposed to killing people off in rather cruel ways.  The difference in this film is a less cavalier attitude after the fact.  In Olympus Has Fallen there were too many wisecracks with each deathblow. With London Has Fallen, the bloodlust overwhelmed the plot and added to the overall nastiness of that film.  Here, though people are snuffed out with brutal efficiency (including one that’s truly shocking) there’s no pleasure taken by those on screen or in the audience.  Just that small adjustment makes a huge difference in the tone of the film and how it rolls out over the audience.

Director Ric Roman Waugh makes some smart choices in the assembly of the movie but ultimately he does allow the movie go on too long.  One more pass by an experienced editor could have trimmed some extra fat off the running time but for the most part Angel Has Fallen trucks along nicely.  The plot is entirely predictable and if I didn’t know better I would have sworn this was a script unrelated to the franchise that Butler scooped up and had tailored into a Mike Banning film.  Though you’ll be able to spot the plot twists a mile away, it somehow doesn’t make much difference because the movie is so otherwise engaging.   I did have trouble following some of the action/chase sequences that were set at night, at times everything just became a blur of flack jackets, fists, blood, and scruff. Thankfully, the important moments in the film happen in the daylight so it’s easy to follow the well-choreographed fight sequences, though some of the special effects, especially near the end, get pretty iffy.

I thought after the last film that I was done with Banning and could easily see this character be put to bed but I’m cautiously optimistic there’s a continuing future for this character if Butler and his team keep additional chapters as sturdy as this one is.  It’s clear the wrong steps of the other films were in the direction of making the threat too broad; by making the danger closer to our hero it upped the ante for him and the audience cheering for him to clear his name. Maybe next time they can let Perabo get out of the kitchen (I swear every scene she’s doing something around her center island) and allow her to get into some of the action…

Movie Review ~ Girls Trip


The Facts
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Synopsis: When four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.

Stars: Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Rated: R

Running Length: 122 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: The latest in a long line of Women Can Be Raunchy Too comedies (like Bad Moms and Rough Night), Girls Trip is better than you or I thought it would be.  Maybe it was wrong to doubt it in the first place, though, because it stars four actresses who could each easily headline their own film and is the kind of free-for-all extravaganza of ribald humor rarely seen anywhere in film lately.  Better still, it winds up touting a message of acceptance of oneself from within instead of opting for an easier and more expected takeaway.

The members of the Flossy Possy are four friends that grew up together, went to college together, lived together, but then forged their own paths in varied directions.  Sasha (Queen Latifah, Joyful Noise) is a gossip blogger nearly bankrupt, divorced mom Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith, Magic Mix XXL) hasn’t had a fun night out in years, man-loving Dina (Tiffany Haddish) just got fired from another job, while Ryan (Regina Hall, Vacation) is reaching the pinnacle of her career as an Oprah-esque self-help guru that seems to have it all.

When Ryan is asked to be the keynote speaker at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, she decides to make it a (ta-da!) Girls Trip and invites her three best friends that she hasn’t seen in years.  Over the next several days the women party, play, fight, dance, take absinthe, and a whole host of other NSFW activities that can only be appreciated when experienced with friends.

The four women elevate the material to something better than it ever was intended to be.  I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that Latifah was originally approached to play Hall’s part and vice-versa.  Both actresses have done those types of characters before and it’s nice to see them take on something different, especially Latifah who’s taken some pretty bland roles lately.  Pinkett Smith seems at home in the mother hen role but let’s loose when she’s good and ready.

Truly, though, the star of the show is Haddish as a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed broad that owns her sexuality and honesty like a badge of honor.  Impossible to embarrass, Dina will say anything and do anything to get a reaction out of her friends and Haddish goes to the same lengths to set herself apart from her costars who all have more experience on the big screen.  What Haddish does with a banana and a grapefruit at one point should earn her some sort of special medal for bravery.

Sure, the movie feels cheaply made with an abundance of “group” shots that look like they were filmed at different times and badly photoshopped at that.  Then there’s the supporting cast that seemed to be comprised of actors that would work for scale just to keep their health insurance going.  I’m not saying that Kate Walsh (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) is in it just for the money but she does subject herself to some pretty embarrassing “I’m so WHITE!” dialogue and one whopper of a sight gag when she drunkenly grabs the wrong cocktail glass.

This is one that would be best to see with a large audience and if they are anything like the people I screened this with, it will only add to the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ feeling.  There’s a bit of graphic nudity early on in the film that elicited screams of laughter from the audience, screams that remained going strong for a solid minute.  Then there was the projectile urination scene…but I’ll let you see for yourself what that’s all about.  While it frustratingly bottoms out several times, it sticks its ending with a fresh message of be your best self that feels genuine in its delivery.

The script from Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver and direction from Malcolm D. Lee are, to be honest, nothing special.  Most of the jokes are telegraphed in advance and even some of the tackier vulgarity feels also-ran.  The movie heads in exactly the direction you think it will and rarely strays off course.  Allowing his movie to go on too long by a good 15 minutes, Lee seems beholden to give each actress the exact same amount of screen time, whether we like it or not.  This creates a Girls Trip that overstays its welcome at times but ends with a bang.

Movie Review ~ Bad Moms

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The Facts
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Synopsis: When three overworked and under-appreciated moms are pushed beyond their limits, they ditch their conventional responsibilities for a jolt of long overdue freedom, fun, and comedic self-indulgence.

Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Annie Mumolo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Christina Applegate, David Walton

Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Man, 2016 has just not been a great year for mom movies.  I’m barely over April’s otherworldly awful Mother’s Day (RIP Garry Marshall) and now Bad Moms has been plunked down on our cinematic doorstep like a heap of garbage.  Not only is the movie tone-deaf, stupid, tiring, and boring, but the way it squanders the talent of every single cast member is really something for the record books. Like the recent Ghostbusters reboot, here is a movie that doesn’t know what to do with its perfectly capable but script stymied stars.

The first hurdle to overcome is buying the fact that 32-year-old Mila Kunis (Ted) has a 12-year-old.  Yeah, I know mathematically it works but throughout the film when sharing scenes with her two awkward children (that look nothing like her in the slightest) she looks like their babysitter instead of their mom.

Kunis is Amy, a hard-working mother of two who manages to get everything done without any help from her slacker husband or her emotionally stunted (read: awful and spoiled) tykes.  In addition to her mom duties, her part-time job for a coffee company has her putting in 40+ hours a week.  So it’s easy to see why she’s just a tad stressed when Gwyneth, the head of the PTA (a disappointingly comatose Christina Applegate, Vacation) and her two cronies (Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumalo, Joy) puts a target on her for bringing store-bought food to the school bake-sale.  Working with two other PTA-averse moms (Kristen Bell, The Boss and Kathryn Hahan, Bad Words), Amy decides to challenge Gwyneth in the upcoming PTA election.

That’s pretty much all she wrote folks, or in this case all he wrote or, more to the point, all they wrote because director/screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore don’t bother to do anything original or, I dunno, funny with this material.  Though Bell’s hapless simp is fleetingly amusing and Hahn gets in some dandy zingers clearly ad libbed on the spot, the bulk of the film is an astoundingly lame exercise in men writing about the secret life of moms.  For example, take Jada Pinkett Smith’s (Magic Mike XXL) uptight Stepford wife remarking after oogling dad-hunk Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad), that she’d “let him put it in my”…well, I’ll let you fill in the location.  That’s literally one of Pinkett Smith’s first and only lines in the film…what an impression.

Make no mistake about it, I have no objection to a movie going crass in style.  Plenty others have shown they can do it well but here it’s so uncomfortable to witness you’ll be tempted to watch certain scenes through splayed fingers normally reserved for horror movies.  Hahn knows her way around raunchy material but even she looks like she’s totally over her dialogue comprised mostly of F-bombs and synonyms for the female anatomy.  Kunis is pleasant enough but seems out of place with Bell and Hahn…I would have loved to see her switch roles with Applegate because both actresses seem to be pining to be playing any other role than their own.

At 101 minutes the film could be a good 10 minutes shorter without the numerous slo-mo scenes of bad mom debauchery.  The first time it’s used to good effect in a late-night grocery store rampage but it soon wears out its welcome, as does the tendency to blast a pop song every three minutes to punctuate scene shifts.  It’s a sloppy movie that comes in well below the taste level I’d expect of this group of otherwise pleasant actors.

As much as I disliked this film on the whole, I have to say the end credits may just be the best I’ve seen all year.  Interviews with Kunis, Bell, Hahn, Pinkettt Smith, Applegate, and Mumalo sitting next to their real life moms provides more laughs and heart than the preceding 98 minutes.  What a shame Lucas and Moore didn’t start with these interviews and find some inspiration for the screen moms they created.  Maybe they would have been more than just male cartoon visions of what moms look and sound like.

Movie Review ~ Magic Mike XXL

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The Facts:

Synopsis: 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.

Stars: Channing Tatum, Amber Heard, Adam Rodriguez, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Gabriel Iglesias, Jada Pinkett Smith, Andie MacDowell, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Glover, Michael Strahan

Director: Gregory Jacobs

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

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 Effects Soderbergh 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.

The Silver Bullet ~ Magic Mike XXL

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Synopsis: The continuing story of male stripper, Magic Mike.

Release Date:  July 1, 2015

Thoughts: I wasn’t the biggest fan of 2012’s stripper-palooza Magic Mike, finding it to be one of director Steven Soderbergh’s (Side Effects) worst looking and worst sounding films to date.  Between the garish production design and general stupidity of the entire affair, it was just a gigantic dud in my book.  Still, Magic Mike was a perfect example of creators knowing exactly who their target audience is and going in for the kill – which is why it’s not a shocker that the further adventures of Mike (Channing Tatum, The Vow) and his crew of perfect peelers are returning with an XXL entry this summer.  Sadly, Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), the lone presence from the previous chapter that was the least bit interesting, isn’t along for the ride.  The first look at the sequel shows off some of Tatum’s moves before going, um, balls out into overstimulation mode.  Though my overall interest may be XXS, I’m have to admit some mild interest in seeing what Tatum and co. have worked up.