Magic Mike XXL-2015

Magic Mike XXL-2015

Director-Gregory Jacobs

Starring-Channing Tatum

Scott’s Review #290

80031499

Reviewed November 27, 2015

Grade: F

Magic Mike XXL might possibly be the worst film of 2015. The follow-up to 2012’s Magic Mike (a predictable yet decent flick), this version has none of the novelty nor the basic storyline that the original contained. Instead, audiences are treated to a lame mess of nonsense, lack of a story that makes sense or is realistic, plot holes galore, and, to nitpick a bit given the subject matter at hand, scarcely any skin at all. A stripper road trip kind of movie, I can’t quite decide if the film was targeting frat guys looking for a buddy movie or teen girls and soccer Mom’s looking for escapism.

Even in a less than adequate film, I always try to find something positive to mention, whether it be with the characters, the story, or cinematic elements, but I truly cannot find any redeeming value to Magic Mike XXL. Fortunately, Matthew McConaughey had the good sense not to sign on to appear in this drivel.  The same is not the case with Channing Tatum as he is the star of this installment. Poor guy. I hope the paycheck was worth it.

The premise is as follows: Mike (Tatum), who is out of the stripper business and now runs a furniture business, receives a call that his former boss is “gone”. Mistaking this to mean he has died, Mike returns to Florida to see his old buddies, who convince him to join a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to end their careers on a high note.  While on the road en route to the convention, problems, secrets, and past faces resurface to add to the drama.

Mike’s love interest from the first film is barely mentioned and dismissed in a weak story-dictated explanation. Clearly, this is an attempt for Mike to have a new love interest in the character of Zoe, a photographer headed to New York and played by Amber Heard.

The film is really a mess from start to finish, but here are highlights (or low-lights). The silliness in conflict over coming up with a new routine fails miserably. The character of Richie (Joe Manganiello) slinks into a convenience store and razzle dazzles a brooding cashier, making her burst with delight because she thinks he is dancing for her. C’mon! Completely juvenile, watered down,  and unrealistic.

The stereotypes simply flow from Magic Mike XXL. En route to Myrtle Beach, the fellas make two stops that are the most ridiculous parts of the film and feature name actresses in silly roles. When their van breaks down after an accident, clearly a plot driven way to allow the group to be sans  vehicle,  Mike looks up an ex named Rome (a severely miscast and unappealing Jada Pinkett Smith), who runs a weird male stripper house for bachelorette’s in the  middle of nowhere. After a lame strip scene (PG rated at best) to impress Rome, the boys are on their way again. What was the point of introducing Rome to the story at all? And there is zero chemistry between Tatum and Smith. It seems like complete filler and the dancing scene endless.

As if the film wasn’t bad enough already, one of the dancer’s looks up his love interest and the group winds up at her mother’s house. A fifty-something boozy, sophisticate, played by Andie MacDowell, is the mother Nancy, and along with her group of cougar friends, flirt with the boys and conjures up every negative female stereotype imaginable- a couple of the women are misunderstood by their husbands and are feeling needy and desperate. And of course they are all horny and oogling over the guys.

And what is with the lack of nudity or much skin? Is Magic Mike XXL not a stripper film?  Besides  Manganiello’s bare bum in one brief pool scene, there is nothing else and barely any stripping going on. This truly makes the film weak.

Magic Mike XXL is a complete dud of a film and I hope against hope that there will not be a third installment. If the target audience is giggly teen girls, the horrific bad writing does not say much for society these days.

Dawn of the Dead-1978

Dawn of the Dead-1978

Director-George A. Romero

Starring-David Emge, Ken Foree

Scott’s Review #289

423744

Reviewed November 26, 2015

Grade: B+

One of the better installments by famed horror-comedy director, George A. Romero, though inferior to my personal favorite  film of his, Night of the Living Dead, Romero focuses slightly more on the comedy aspect with Dawn of the Dead, though for horror fans, there is plenty of gore to satisfy the more blood-thirsty viewer. This film is glossier and slicker than its predecessor was.

On a slightly larger budget than Night of the Living Dead,  the events largely take place in suburban Pennsylvania, and more specifically, a local mall. An unknown phenomenon has made non-buried humans change form into flesh-eating zombies that prey on other human beings. A group of survivors hunker down in a suburban mall and begin a life of adequacy-utilizing the contents of the mall until events threaten their existence. They must form a militant operation in order to continue to survive.  The four survivors are Stephen and Francine- two staff members of a local television station- and Roger and Peter- two SWAT team members whom they meet in the ensuing chaos. The quartet steal a helicopter and travel a short distance to the mall.

Having viewed Dawn of the Dead on multiple occasions, I am a fan of the film, but not an enormous fan, and it hovers below my Top 25 Horror Films list.  The main flaw of the film is how it delves into the personal lives of Stephen and Francine midstream, a fact I find meaningless and in fact, stalls the plot. Francine has realized that she is pregnant and I just do not understand the point of slowing down the action for this purpose. I am a huge fan of character development (even in the horror genre!), but this development does not work.

Still, the lengthy portion of the film, and with a running time of over two hours (highly unusual for horror), I am enamored with. The scenes in the mall are fantastic and the action in the final act is thrilling. Reminiscent of my youth and spending hours as a child, along with my mother and siblings, being paraded around the local mall, the look of the mall in Dawn of the Dead brings back a flood of memories. From the fake green plants, to the mannequins, the pool of water filled with coins, and, of course,  the redundant, but lovely Muzak in the background.

Romero, as he did with Night of the Living Dead, provides a social element to the film. In the case of Dawn of the Dead, it is the onset of materialism and consumerism that captured the United States in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s that he focuses on, and it took me a couple of viewings to catch onto this point- the zombies stupidly walking around the mall in numbing fashion mirroring how many people did during the day. One character mentions that the zombies are drawn to the mall because it is familiar- much like people frequented the malls in that time period frivolously spending away their time and their money.

Some of the deaths, including one main characters, are haunting. As the character suddenly “turns”, it is frightening to see them in this new light as compared to how they once were. And, in comic fashion, my favorite zombie character is the nurse. Clad in nurse-gear (white shoes, classic nurse cap, and white uniform) she is creepy yet mesmerizing in her body and facial expressions as she lumbers around the mall. It makes me smile each time I see her.

Dawn of the Dead is certainly one of the better, more interesting zombie movies around- I just wish the relationship drama, mainly in the center of the film, had been derailed or modified, as it slows down the pacing of the film. Still, a good, fun, late night flick.

Steve Jobs-2015

Steve Jobs-2015

Director-Danny Boyle

Starring-Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet

Scott’s Review #288

80049358

Reviewed November 25, 2015

Grade: B+

Steve Jobs is a name that almost everyone has heard of. Most associate him with Apple products or at least know that he is some sort of technological genius who has influenced the modern world in some fashion- his name is household. The film Steve Jobs presents a slice of his life, mostly focusing on his professional leap to success, but also on his damaged personal life and his inability to stay close to people within his personal circle.

Michael Fassbender plays the title role.   He looks nothing like the real Steve Jobs, but this fact did not bother me. Quite soon it is revealed that Steve Jobs is a competitive, cut-throat, and sometimes unkind man. He is driven, ambitious, and willing to do what it takes to succeed at business. He is also complex and as the film rolls along we witness the complexities of this man, arguably deemed a “genius”.  But where he has flaws is in his personal life as the film makes abundantly clear.

Kate Winslet is excellent in the supporting role she plays. As Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’s loyal Marketing Executive, she stays in his corner through the years, enduring  ups and downs, and yet their relationship never goes beyond the platonic.  They are colleagues and both are absorbed in their creations. Her character is a bit under-explored as we never are exposed to much of her personal life. Winslet, in a rare “dowdy” role, makes the most of Joanna as she is the type of woman who throws herself into her work at the expense of a private life.

The film is primarily set during the three important software launches. and, predictably, all are filled with issues and stress. The bulk of the first act occurs in 1984, when Jobs and Hoffman struggle and fret during an Apple Macintosh launch in front of an auditorium filled with industry types eager to see the new technology. The entire scene is filled with tension as the new computer will not say “hello” as advertised and Jobs demands lead engineer, Andy Hertzfeld, fix it.  The scene escalates in its intensity. We immediately bear witness to the fact that Steve Jobs is a shark. He is demanding and unlikable and the film is not afraid to stress that fact as the action continues.

We are next introduced to Jobs personal life. A beautiful young woman arrives at his office with a young girl. They are both on the brink of being destitute and thrown out of their home, yet Jobs refuses to help them and coldly calculates the probability that the young girl (Lisa) is biologically not his.

As the film chugs along Steve Jobs has a turbulent relationship with Lisa as the film spans the period of time from 1984-1998. The film is a character study of sorts and we learn the complexities of Jobs. Fassbender gives a nuanced performance and allows the audience to absorb these character traits and ultimately feel emotional sympathy for him.

I admired this character study that is Steve Jobs and feel that I know him quite a bit more, on a human level, than I once did. Perhaps the supporting characters might have been fleshed out a bit more, but in large part, Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of a real-life person makes this film a success.

Mad Max: Fury Road-2015

Mad Max: Fury Road-2015

Director-George Miller

Starring-Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron

Scott’s Review #287

80025919

Reviewed November 20, 2015

Grade: C-

Having almost nothing to do with the original (and far superior) 1979 version of Mad Max, the 2015 Mad Max, sub-titled Fury Road (presumably for the endless car chases across the desert), looks great from a visual perspective, and the charisma of Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron is appealing, but the story is non-existent and the film grows tedious after the initial admiration I first felt for the camera-work and the dream-like vision the film possesses.

Initially, and admittedly, I was quite impressed with the film- a dreamlike, glossy- look makes it a fantasy that one can escape into, for sure. However, after a period of time, I began growing tired of the visuals, rather viewing it as a somewhat video game, and instead noticing the lack of story, which glared. Sure, the thinly laid plot-line involved a rebel, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), escaping the War Boys, where he has been kept as a blood donor against his will, joined by Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and a group of young, beautiful females escaping a life of breeding. The group join forces to allude Immortan Joe, who chases them throughout the barren desert as they strive to reach safety in the beautiful “Green Place”, a land of prosperity that Furiosa remembers from childhood. But this synopsis is similar to countless other action or adventure tales that have come and gone without distinction. Again, to compare to the original, I was expecting more from Mad Max: Fury Road and I did not receive it.

The story, for what it’s worth, fails because there is no rooting value. Since the film is a fantasy, per se, I did not find much investment in the characters getting to the “Green Place”.The sweltering heat of the post-apocalyptic desert gives the film a roasting, tense look, and the action is almost non-stop. Cartoon-like characters come and go, writhing on tops of cars or simply looking sinister with sneers and evil smirks, adding little to the story. Who are they? What is their purpose other than to look menacing?

I did take admiration in the character of Furiosa. With a buzz-cut and a bad-ass swagger, the character is no-nonsense and in control throughout the film. Certainly an inspirational female character, she adds zest to the film, which, on the surface, seems male dominated. A female that can inspire and impress in this day and age of film is reason enough for mention.

Inexplicably, the reviews for Mad Max: Fury Road, were positive and I just do not get that. My overall perspective disagrees with these findings. I do not mean to imply that the film is “run of the mill” in an overall critique. It’s not. There are fits and starts of creativity, as the glossy look of the film is admittedly a treat and a spectacle, but, alas, without a compelling story this only goes so far before it begins to wear thin as an overall production.

Little chemistry or, frankly, much dialogue is found between Hardy and Theron- two top-notch talents in their own right. Rather, grunts and facial expressions run rampant  between the pair. If the film was going for any kind of sexual connection between the two, especially given the hot, steamy desert atmosphere, this intention fell flat as I noticed none.

To admire visually, the latest Mad Max may be worth a glimmer, but as a film that contains the entire package, this one is not worth its salt.

Sexy Beast-2001

Sexy Beast-2001

Director-Jonathan Glazer

Starring-Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley

Scott’s Review #286

60020863

Reviewed November 13, 2015

Grade: B+

Sexy Beast is an interesting little indie gem that has garnered quite  a cult following, deservedly so,  since the year of its release- 2001 and that I have recently viewed for the first time. In large part, the film belongs to Ben Kingsley as he gives a bravura, and frightening,  performance as a crime lord attempting to convince a retired hit man, now sworn to the straight and narrow, to resurrect his career for one last heist. The other principle characters are wonderful in their own right, as the film successfully mixes elements of Quentin Tarantino with Ocean’s Eleven- bank heist meets quirkiness, with smart and witty dialogue sprinkled in.

Gary Dove is happily retired and living a life of contentment with his ex-porn star wife, Deedee, and best friends Aitch and Jackie.  Having all been involved in “the biz”, they are long since removed from their respective careers. They now enjoy evening parties of wine and martinis, and days relaxing by the pool in their Spanish villas.  One day, a former criminal associate, Don Logan (Kingsley), who is also a sociopath, arrives to disrupt their peaceful lives and coordinate a bank heist in London, in hopes of luring Gary into the game once again.

As Gary and company nervously decide to decline Don Logan’s offer to participate in his sinister plan, a wonderful and important scene occurs early in the film. The quartet sits around the dinner table at a swanky Spanish restaurant anticipating a scrumptious meal. Jackie reveals the news that Don has contacted her and the tone of the scene immediately changes to one of dread. It is evident that all of them both fear and despise Logan. They agonize over this sudden disruption to their lives and we, the audience, fear Don Logan before he ever appears on-screen. What fantastic story-telling.

Kingsley portrays a menacing character and brilliantly so. The character contains a frightening brutality bubbling beneath his normally calm demeanor, that it makes the viewer shudder when he appears on-screen. Lest we forget, Ian McShane also gives a nuanced performance as Teddy Bass, Logan’s right-hand man, and wise business man. The cat and mouse scene towards the end as Teddy and Gary have an important discussion in a car is both chilling and important to the plot of the film. As Teddy slowly figures out certain events I was left intensely anticipating his reactions.

The film introduces  an intriguing  sub-plot involving Don’s long ago fling with Jackie and subsequent love for her which adds layers to the plot and the dynamic and tension between Don and Gary.

Upon finishing the film, I loved the effect of foreshadowing that the film contains. I found myself rewinding the events in my mind, pleasurably so.  From the pool, to the young Hispanic kid, to the thunderous boulder- all of these elements were crucial to the conclusion and fit like a puzzle.

A dark comedy of sorts, I chuckled at the conclusion of the film as the final reveal involving a double-heart insignia and a pool that gives comeuppance to the villain and pleases the viewer.

Having alluded viewing Sexy Beast over the years, I am glad that I finally found the time to witness a darkly comical gem that, admittedly, may take repeated viewings to absorb and therefore fully “get”, and I look forward to doing just that.

This Gun For Hire-1942

This Gun For Hire-1942

Director-Frank Tuttle

Starring-Veronica Lake, Robert Preston

Scott’s Review #285

70000544

Reviewed November 3, 2015

Grade: B

This Gun for Hire is an early film noir that clearly influenced later films of a similar genre. Starring marque headliners of their day, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, this film is a surprisingly violent experience for its time period. Shot in black and white, the film is wonderfully lit, adding style as well as substance to it.

The film begins with a bang…literally, as hit-man Philip Raven (Ladd) murders a chemist and blackmailer in exchange for a hefty sum of loot. His wealthy boss double-crosses him and reports him to the Los Angeles Police department. Detective Michael Crane takes the case aided by his sexy girlfriend and nightclub singer Ellen Graham (Lake). Adding a wrench to the story is the tangled love affair that ensues between Ellen and Raven, who are the films main draw.

I loved the black and white shooting of this film, as many were in 1942, and found this only enhances the tone of the picture given that it is of crime/hit-man variety. The chemistry between Lake and Ladd smolders and Lake is great as a femme fatale with her long blonde locks and sultry pout. In fact, she was the inspiration for the character conceived for L.A. Confidential as Kim Basinger portrays a Veronica Lake look-alike. Ladd is brooding in his intensity as the hit-man with the damaged childhood and ultimately sympathetic personality.

The setting of San Francisco and L.A. is wonderfully perfect and adds depth as the warm and sunny locales are mixed in with murder, corruption, and shenanigans. Who wouldn’t make comparisons to Chinatown??

A flaw I found in the film and in which I found difficult to buy into is the implausibility of Ellen falling in love with Raven as he clearly tries to murder her-unsuccessfully so. This point seems  plot-driven and  a way to incorporate a mainstream love story amid the thrilling film noir. Surely, she would find satisfaction in a romantic sense with her detective boyfriend and since the duo has no conspicuous problems, the love between she and Raven is all the more inexplicable. Still- sparks do indeed fly on-screen.

An action packed crime affair, This Gun for Hire laid a crisp blueprint for film noir and hitmen, action types films for decades to come and I admire it for this reason.