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.

Movie Review ~ Need for Speed

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross country race with revenge in mind.

Stars:  Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Harrison Gilbertson, Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi, Michael Keaton, Dakota Johnson

Director: Scott Waugh

Rated: PG-13

Running Length:131 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Though I want you to read the whole review, let me say right off the bat that there’s no real need to see Need for Speed.  It’s a hare-brained, noisy, overlong film that most will probably find subpar in comparison to other muscles and muscle car films like Fast & Furious 6.  Even with that disclaimer, I’ll tell you that I found myself enjoying Need for Speed more than I thought I would/could.

Based on a popular game from Electronic Arts, Need for Speed has a rather lenghty set-up that takes up a good half hour of your time but ably covers a lot of bases you’ll need to get something out of the final 100 minutes.  Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is a good ole boy living in the kind of quaint small time town that so many city denizens would long to visit…for a weekend.  Taking over an auto-body shop from his recently deceased dad, he’s seeing the bills pile up and begrudgingly takes an offer from rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) to soup up a car to be sold at auction.

Said car is a beaut and attracts the attention of a Julia, a comely associate (Imogen Poots) of a wealthy business man…and leads to a dangerous situation that sees Tobey imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.  Upon his release he sets out for revenge, bringing Julia and a bunch of emotional baggage along for the ride.

A gigantically silly film, I couldn’t help but just sit back and enjoy the ride that the 3D converted film provides.  Needing to make it cross-country in less than 48 hours, Tobey burns rubber though scenic vistas while avoiding the police and an array of roadblocks both literal and figurative.  Culminating in an illegal street race across the beautiful coast of California, Need for Speed should be credited with never slowing down…because it’s only after the lights come up that you realize how ludicrous the whole thing is.

Compensating for his tiny facial features by pitching his gravely voice to the Christian Bale basement level and over emoting the simplest of line readings, Paul isn’t nearly as impressive here as he was in his award-winning turn on TV’s Breaking Bad.  He’s better than Cooper (Dead Man Down, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), though, who isn’t the formidable foe the character and movie calls for.  Michael Keaton (recently seen in 2014’s failed Robocop reboot) must have filmed his scenes in a day and laughed all the way to the bank as a hyper mastermind behind the final race.

The grand prix winner of the film is Poots who works the same kind of magic she did with That Awkward Moment earlier in 2014 by effectively stealing the role out from under her male counterparts.  I had forgotten she was in this so when she appeared on screen I had the feeling the movie was about to be kicked into a higher gear…and I was right.

Though it hits the skids plot-wise as it nears the finish line, director Scott Waugh stages some mighty fine action sequences that don’t fall victim to repetition.  Using very little in the way of visual effects, Waugh is able to up the ante on race films without coming off as showboating.  It adds a considerable amount of realism to a non-realistic flick and I enjoyed his employment of interesting camera angles.

This is a film I wish was released later in the summer when I could have seen it at a drive-in movie theater.  Though set in present day it has a pleasingly retro-vibe to it even if it lacks the overall cool factor that made classics like Bullitt so monumental in the race genre.  If you’re in the mood to put your brain on cruise control and can take your hands off the wheel, Need for Speed could be a road trip worth taking.

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The Silver Bullet ~ Need for Speed

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Synopsis: Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross country race with revenge in mind. His ex-partner, learning of the plan, places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins.

Release Date:  March 14, 2014

Thoughts: I’ll admit the first time I saw the preview for Need for Speed I feared we had lost star Aaron Paul to the Nicholas Cage darkside of films.  The more I saw it though (and I’ve seen it a LOT lately) I’m intrigued by what looks to be a popcorn flick (ala Fast & Furious 6) wanting to emulate those grindhouse-y films from decades ago but filtered through a modern lens.  It’s hard to balance a retro-feel with an updated approach but I find myself cautiously optimistic that this will deliver the goods.  Bonus points for having the intriguing Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment) and Michael Keaton (Gung-Ho, also in the RoboCop reboot) on board in supporting roles.