Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Magic Mike XXL

Film: Magic Mike XXL

Starring: Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher) and Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike)

Director: Gregory Jacobs (Wind Chill)

U.S. Release: July 1st, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 115 minutes

It's hard to believe, but it's been three years since critics fawned over filmmaker Steven Soderbergh's "male entertainer" drama, Magic Mike. While the movie sparked the rejuvenation of Matthew McConaughey's career, one that ultimately landed him in Oscar history after his Best Actor win for Dallas Buyers Club, I was one of the rare voices that recommended audiences to look elsewhere. However, with a continuation of Magic Mike XXL that's sure to bring the ladies to movie theaters in massive numbers, I must admit that this second go-around is a more fun and engaging adventure than the original.

The story picks up in real time and Mike's (Channing Tatum) been out of the stripping game for a trio of years, working hard to keep up with production and costs at his custom furniture company. But after a shocking voicemail puts him back in touch with some "Kings of Tampa" friends from his old job, he learns that the remaining guys plan to take their talents to the Myrtle Beach strippers convention for one last money-raining blowout. Torn between whether or not to join them on the trip, Mike decides he can't say "no" to a final adventure with his boys.

First things first, I need to give credit where credit it fully due. As someone who religiously bashed Channing Tatum throughout the early stages of his career, it's about time that I vocalize my new-found respect for him as an actor. Tatum stood toe-to-toe with the Oscar nominated performances of both Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo in last year's Foxcatcher, and he backs it up with a funny and heartwarming reprise in Magic Mike XXL. The sequel succeeds as a wild bachelor-style road trip where hysterical bro-mance banter paves the way for countless unforgettable onscreen moments. Yes, at the end of the day Magic Mike XXL targets lustful female moviegoers, but there are enough hilarious "boys will be boys" moments to keep the after-thought boyfriends and husbands content with the selection as well.

Despite the film's modest ceiling, there aren't many hindrances to Magic Mike XXL's overall quality. Clocking in at a lofty 115 minutes of screen time, the movie is paced surprisingly well. Although there's a noticeable lull in the feature's mid-section that's held together by a cameo from former NFL Hall of Famer, Michael Strahan, like you've never seen him before, it becomes a distant memory once the story picks back up. Outside of that tiny blemish, my only other miscue would be that Magic Mike XXL provides a somewhat anti-climactic finale. However, these shortcomings are merely bumps in the road for an otherwise effective film.

The franchise's first installment harped on a more dramatic angle while this new inclusion allows the guys to let loose. As a result, we're given a highly entertaining and laugh out loud experience. Channing Tatum's largely developed acting skills lead a collection of odd-ball characters that audiences of all genders will connect with automatically. Magic Mike XXL isn't anything groundbreaking, but it embraces its absurdity and delivers all the necessary ingredients of a fun-filled summer-time title.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Legend and Sleeping with Other People Trailers

Considering Tom Hardy is remarkable in just about every role he plays, who wouldn't be excited for him in a dual part playing notorious twin-brother gangsters in Brian Helgeland's Legend. Ronald and Reginald Kray (Hardy) were infamous identical twins that terrorized the streets of London during the 1950s and 1960s while trying to turn the city into the Las Vegas of the east. Given Helgeland's Oscar-winning credentials as screenwriter of L.A. Confidential and Tom Hardy's immaculate track record as a performer, there's plenty to be excited about with Legend.

Another new trailer that recently dropped is for Leslye Headland's romantic comedy, Sleeping with Other People. Jason Sudekis and Alison Brie star as a friendly womanizer and a chronic cheater who cross paths at a Sex Addicts meeting years after they knew each other, But this time around, their platonic friendship helps overcome their habitual sexual deviancy until a mutual attraction blossoms. Sleeping with Other People appears to have the makings of a solid and hearty romantic comedy, so check out the trailer for this September release.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ted 2

Film: Ted 2

Starring: Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivors) and Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables)

Director: Seth MacFarlane (Ted)

U.S. Release: June 26th, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 115 minutes

Animation guru, Seth MacFarlane, proved once and for all with his 2012 comedy hit, Ted, that he was capable of transitioning to a big screen director. And while his sophomore effort, A Million Ways to Die in the West, was an absolute disappointment, MacFarland attempts to get back to his comfort zone with the highly anticipated sequel, Ted 2. Regrettably, though, MacFarlane will have to continue trying to top his original work.

A few years have passed and John (Mark Wahlberg) has divorced while Ted's ties the knot with his grocery store check-out co-worker, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). With a shaky marriage brewing between the Teddy bear and his foul-mouthed wife, they decide that having a child is the only way to reconcile. However, in order to adopt a child (due to Tami-Lynn's drug-destroyed ovaries), Ted must prove that he's a person in a court of law. So they enlist the help of a novice trial lawyer named Samantha Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) and take on the almighty powers that be.

Ted 2's brightest moments occur when Seth MacFarlane sticks to his mantra of one-liners and merciless zingers regarding pop culture icons. The writer-director is massively effective when it comes to constructing these kinds of jokes. However, MacFarlane struggles to develop a cohesive and sensible story to help put his comedic prowess on display. He completely misses by continuing his blind loyalty to actor Giovanni Ribisi. After Ribisi's character nearly spoiled the franchise's first installment, there is absolutely no need to revive "Donny" in this sequel. While the blame deserves to land solely on MacFarlane's shoulders, as Ribisi has proven that he's a capable actor, Ted 2 suffers from an unforgivable second act that's plagued by unnecessary subplots and an over-extended script that pushes the comedy far past its desirable limits.

The third feature from Seth MacFarlane isn't all doom and gloom, however. Just like the original, Mark Wahlberg gives a fully committed performance once again and demonstrates his natural ability for eliciting laughs. Yet, despite Wahlberg's fine work in the film, trading Mila Kunis for Amanda Seyfriend is ultimately a bit of a loss. While Seyfriend is merely serviceable, Ted 2 uses a long list of cameos from Liam Neeson, Jay Leno and Tom Brady to keep the jokes fresh. But in the end, all of these shining bright spots become inevitably overshadowed by a flimsy story that provides a brittle foundation for the comedy.

Of course Ted 2 will make you laugh, much like anything MacFarlane has his hand in. Nevertheless, you're honestly better off revisiting the first film or soaking in some classic Family Guy episodes. This latest effort from Seth MacFarlane is by no means a complete bombshell, but it's definitely a long-winded affair that offers very little more than a solid barrage of first-half laughs and a steady stream of second-half yawns.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Trainwreck and Masterminds Trailers

Comedian Amy Schumer has taken Hollywood by storm in anticipation of her big screen debut in Judd Apatow's summer comedy, Trainwreck. Schumer stars as a writer for a men's magazine that refuses to settle down with a man. Yet, once she experiences an intimate evening with a sports surgeon (Bill Hader) who also happens to be the subject of her next article, she tries to fight the urge to become monogamous. As expected with any Judd Apatow film, Trainwreck's running time hovers around the two-hour mark and all we can hope is that the laughs keep coming to help ease the mounting minutes. Trainwreck arrives in theaters everywhere on July 17th.

While Zach Galifianakis' comedy shtick has certainly grown tiresome over the passing years, the prospect of his latest based on a true story crime-comedy, Masterminds, has me intrigued. The film tells the story of David Ghantt (Galifianakis), a dim-witted driver of an armored car who breaks from his monotonous lifestyle and pulls off the largest heist in American history with the aid of his flirtatious co-worker, Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig), and the not-so criminal mastermind, Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson). Masterminds only boasts a PG-13 rating, which gives me a bit of skepticism for the August 19th release.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rapid Views: Dope and The Overnight

By now we've all seen the typical coming-of-age story where a teenager discovers his voice and, in all honesty, many of them never set themselves apart from the herd. Yet, Rick Famuyiwa's unique vision, Dope, is anything but typical. Using a rare blend of originality and character development, the former Sundance selection provides a singular voice in an often derivative-filled genre.

Set in the rough streets of Inglewood, California, Dope follows a geeky high school senior named Malcolm (played by Shameik Moore) who dreams of one day attending Harvard. But when Malcolm finds himself haphazardly caught up in a drug selling operation that he can't escape, he looks to his fellow nerd friends, Diggy and Jib, to help rid him of his product and return to the straight and narrow path. Unfortunately, many obstacles lie in his way that force Malcolm to recognize that the world isn't always black and white.

Dope uses the rare vantage point of a brainy African American teen growing up in the slums of California, possessing absolutely zero street-smarts, to bring a compassionate and effective story of self discovery to light. As both director and writer of this fine script, Rick Famuyiwa excels in both departments. His sometimes unrealistic and far-fetched developments in the plot become overshadowed by phenomenal performances from his trio of intellectual goofballs. Shameik Moore shines in a breakout role, while The Grand Budapest Hotel's Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons bring a completeness to the group with their noteworthy co-starring work.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

If you're adventurous enough to seek out Patrick Brice's uproarious and sometimes uncomfortable indie comedy, The Overnight, then brace yourself for impact because it's one hell of an unforeseen experience. Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling and Jason Schwartzman throw everything on the line in this sexually-infused story of two romantically struggling couples.

A couple weeks after Alex and Emily (Scott and Schilling) move to Los Angeles with their son RJ, they quickly meet friends at the local park. And what they anticipate as a nice and painless dinner party together with the other family, hastily evolves into a free for all that forces the couple decide just how far their willing to take this evening with their hosts (Schwartzman and Judith Godreche).

Despite the indie comedy's fond fascination with the male reproductive organ, so much so that it actually becomes a subplot to the feature, The Overnight uses all of its awkwardness to tell an otherwise interesting story of our own insecurities and deficiencies communicating with the ones we love. Sometimes our likes and dislikes can be extremely difficult to verbalize, especially when it comes to sex. Brice relentlessly forces the audience to hurdle that obstacle of discomfort alongside his genuine set of characters and, by the film's conclusion, it's a breath of fresh air for everyone involved.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dark Places and The Peanuts Movie Trailers

I've got a pair of polar opposite trailers to pass along today. First up is Dark Places, which comes from the twisted brilliance of novelist Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). Charlize Theron stars as Libby Day, a woman who survives her family's murder many years back and revisits that horrific day with a secret society fixed on discovering the truth from that night. Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicholas Hoult co-star in this mysterious thriller due out in August.

I've always been a fan of Charles Schultz's entire Peanuts cast. Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang make their anticipated return in The Peanuts Movie, Charlie Brown tries desperately to remake his clumsy image to impress the new girl in town, all while Snoopy becomes entangled in an adventure of his own. Although this first official trailer for The Peanuts Movie has given me a bit of skepticism, it's hard not to get excited for this collection of classic characters.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Best Music Biopics

With the recent release of the Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy, I decided to devote June's Movie List of the Month to the best films centering around real-life musicians (May's List). One thing I discovered immediately, was that I hadn't seen a few of the big ones such as Control, Get UpWhat's Love Got to Do with It and Sid and Nancy. I also noticed that there aren't nearly enough to choose from, so Hollywood should quit it with the sequels and re-boots and tell us more stories about the musicians we love.

Honorable Mention: The Doors, I'm Not There, Love & Mercy and The Runaways

#5. The Soloist (2009)

This is kind of a cheap move on my part, especially considering Joe Wright's musician of choice was a promising young Julliard student who ended up homeless while battling Schizophrenia. In fact, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is a virtual unknown in the music community. However, his powerful true story is told extremely well and it's brilliantly acted through Foxx's attention to detail and co-star, Robert Downey Jr's, fine dramatic work. 

#4. La Bamba (1987)

The most iconic musician-centered biopic of my childhood is, without a doubt, Luis Valdez's La Bamba, Lou Diamond Phillips is masterful as Ritchie Valens, a promising young talent that died in a plane crash at the age of 17. With plenty of strong subplots scattered wonderfully throughout the film, La Bamba is an extremely gripping film that stands the test of time.

#3. Walk the Line (2005)

Oscar-friendly enough to land 5 nominations in total - including a win for Reese Witherspoon - underrated auteur, James Mangold, delivered an exceptional hit with Walk the Line. Joaquin Phoenix was  magnificent as a drug-addicted Johnny Cash who struggles to find his voice in music and win over the real love of his life, June Carter (Witherspoon). Walk the Line never attempts to paint a false portrayal of the flawed musician, which truly makes the film stand out as a great biopic.

#2. Ray (2004)

Another beloved Oscar biopic was Taylor Hackford's Ray. Released one year before Walk the Line and telling a similar drug-addicted story of blind pianist, Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx), this movie feels slightly more original and superior in many way. For starters, it's almost impossible to match the towering performance given by Academy Award winner, Jamie Foxx, who both looked and acted the part. Ray went on to earn 6 nominations in total,  2 of which were wins (Sound Mixing). Kerry Washington also delivers a fine supporting turn in this unforgettable instant classic.

#1. Nowhere Boy (2010)

Before director Sam Taylor-Johnson was put in charge of the box-office smash, Fifty Shades of Grey, she was telling the spectacular story of a young John Lennon with Nowhere Boy. Her leading star and now husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), gives a transcending performance as the Beatles' John Lennon prior to the band's breakout success. We're given the early story of Lennon's life and how his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) raised him and tried to protect the young man from his unstable biological mother whom he reconnects with during his teen years. Nowhere Boy is a fantastic film that's massively overlooked and under-seen. If you're interested in an engaging biopic, then this is a must-see.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

THG: Mockingjay - Part 2 and The Stanford Prison Experiment Trailers

For the fourth consecutive year we're given a box-office smash from the iconic Hunger Games franchise. In the final installment, Mockingjay - Part 2, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) leads a all-out rebellion of epic proportions against the almighty capitol. I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence returns for his third go-around with the series and Mockingjay - Part 2 arrives in theaters on November 20th.

While it's impossible to match the success of The Hunger Games, the more interesting trailer to land recently comes from the Sundance selection, The Stanford Prison Experiment. The film examines the real-life story of Dr. Philip Zimbardo's 1971 study where he selected 24 male students at random to take on carefully assigned roles of prisoners and guards conducted in a mock prison at Stanford University throughout a strenuous two-week period. With another overlooked Hollywood talent in a leading role, The Perks of Being a Wallflower co-star Ezra Miller, The Stanford Prison Experiment's debut trailer delivers a gripping tension that has me very intrigued to catch this July release.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jurassic World

Film: Jurassic World

Starring: Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help)

Director: Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed)

U.S. Release: June 12th, 2015 (Rated PG-13)

Genre: Action

Runtime: 124 minutes

What do you get when you cross a visually lavish and iconic film franchise with one of Hollywood's fastest rising stars? A global money-printing success, that's what. Chris Pratt became an overnight sensation with the release of last summer's hilarious superhero adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy. And this year he tackles one of 2015's mightiest blockbusters, the highly anticipated sequel, Jurassic World.

Despite its tragic events from 22 years earlier, Isla Nublar is now home to the re-invented dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World. And while attendance has been plateauing for quite some time, the powers that be put their stock into a new genetically modified "asset" that's almost ready for its unveiling. Yet, as the park's operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), decides to unsuccessfully play host to her visiting nephews, this powerful creature breaks containment and goes on a murderous rampage. Claire looks to former military officer Owen Grady (Pratt) for help as they attempt to locate her nephews and take down the dangerous beast.

While it's virtually impossible to recapture the magnificence and originality of Steven Spielberg's 1993 classic, Jurassic World does a respectable job of providing top-notch special effects and a thrilling experience. It certainly feels as though director Colin Trevorrow is forced to sacrifice a small amount of substance for style, as the most spectacular aspects of the film come from its technical achievements. Yet, the action is adequately distributed throughout and tied together with charming humor at the hands of the talented Chris Pratt. While this role isn't as memorable as the star's performance in last year's Guardians of the Galaxy, it's still strong enough to carry an otherwise pedestrian film.

Jurassic World proves to be a flawed feature in many regards, which results in a disappointingly low ceiling. The entire subplot revolving around the InGen genetics company and Vincent Donofrio's "dinosaurs as a weapon" campaign is punishingly ineffective, Furthermore, the film is riddled with unlikely conveniences which are required to transition from scene to scene. I mean, I've never met a high school student capable of fixing up a car and getting it to run in a pinch and with a massive dinosaur on the loose. It's thoughtless writing such as this that crosses the line of reality and truly hampers Jurassic World. Thankfully, though, superb visual effects and an epic finale are just brilliant enough to overlook these distinct blemishes.

It's extremely difficult to view Jurassic World in the same light as the franchise's origin film. Nearly 22 years have passed since then and I was merely a child mesmerized by Steven Spielberg's majestic new world. And although I'm unsure if this upcoming wave of youth will remember Jurassic World how I remember its source material, I will say that Colin Trevorrow's film is a worthy addition to the franchise. Despite its many shortcomings, Jurassic World truly is a sight to see and guaranteed to be one of the summer's biggest blockbusters.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Program and Regression (NEW) Trailers

The sporting world was floored when it discovered that the honored cyclist, Lance Armstrong, was actually a cheat. This year one of my personal favorite performers, Ben Foster, will put his talents on display in Philomena director, Stephen Frears', biopic of Armstrong, The Program. Tackling a rare dramatic role in this presumed Oscar contender is co-star, Chris O'Dowd, who actually looks quite impressive in the role of David Walsh, the Irish sports journalist who brought the cyclist to his ultimate demise. Although The Program has no official U.S. release date yet, you should still expect it to make a late-year Oscar push.

Despite knowing very little about Alejandro Amenabar's (The Others) new dark thriller, Regression, trailers keep popping up and they're very intriguing. We do know that Emma Watson stars as Angela Gray, a young woman who was sexually abused as a child by her confessing father but can't seem to remember the events. Ethan Hawke co-stars as Bruce Kenner, an investigator trying to unlock the secrets of this mysterious case. Oscar whispers are already floating around for Emma Watson's work in the film, so check out the trailer for the August thriller, Regression.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Love & Mercy and Insidious: Chapter 3

The Beach Boys have been a lifelong favorite of mine ever since I was a child singing along to "Kokomo" from their 1989 Still Cruisin' album. The band's song-writing visionary, Brian Wilson, is a master of orchestral arrangements and vocal harmonies who's repeatedly proclaimed that his brilliant ideas spawn from the music he hears in his head. Needless to say, Wilson's admitted history of audio-hallucinations and multi-year recluse lifestyle in the 1970s landed him on the doorstep of radical therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy, which sets the table for Bill Pohlad's newly released musical biography, Love & Mercy.

As a non-chronological examination of the songwriting icon, Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano and John Cusack), Love & Mercy tackles one of the most bizarre real-life stories of manipulation. Wilson pushes musical boundaries when he produces Pet Sounds, what would become one of the greatest rock albums ever written, but the repercussions of his psychedelic drug use cripples his psyche and makes him extremely vulnerable. Years later, his most trusted confidant, Dr. Landy (Paul Giamatti), has brainwashed Wilson and taken complete control over every aspect of the musician's life. All until Brian meets a spirited woman, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who discovers Landy's unnatural stranglehold and tries desperately to open Brian's eyes to this unsettling reality.

Love & Mercy is a surprisingly artistic biopic that jumps back and forth between the rise of Wilson's creative emergence and his over-medicated, prison-like lifestyle during the 1980s. Despite the film's erratic maneuvering between timelines that never feels as fluid as it should, engrossing performances from both Paul Dano and John Cusack keep the audience entangled in this peculiar true story. Fans of The Beach Boys, and more particularly Pet Sounds, will find themselves completely enamored by the film's 1960s storyline, even though John Cusack's portion of the feature feels barren and incomplete. Perhaps the most interesting story lies somewhere in between these over a decade-spread chunks of Wilson's life. Either way, Love & Mercy is an unevenly paced, yet still still effective, piece of dramatic filmmaking.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Horror guru James Wan, director of Saw and The Conjuring, introduced us to the franchise's origin, Insidious, back in 2010. A handful of years and two films later, Wan has jumped ship while the original creator, writer Leigh Whannell, has taken a seat in the director's chair. And how did Whannell expect to re-brand this horror franchise? The new visionary takes audiences back to where it all began with the prequel, Insidious: Chapter 3.

Before the Lambert family was even in the picture, gifted paranormal psychic, Elise Rainier (played by Lin Shaye), is visited by a high school teenager named Quinn (Stefanie Scott) who recently lost her mother to cancer. Together they call out to the dead only to discover a dangerous spirit attempting to attach itself to the young girl. Despite Elise's most emphatic demands to put an end to trying to contact her mother, Quinn finds herself in the clutches of an evil demon.

As someone who was outspokenly against the original Insidious, I decided to give the franchise another shot at redemption. Unfortunately, we're given more of the same. While Chapter 3 plays very well during its more intense moments and offers a strong collection of solid scares, every aspect of the film that takes place in between these frightful scenes is absolute garbage. Venturing deeper into "The Further" does nothing but weaken the effectiveness of the story and culminates into a laughable finale. Co-star Dermot Mulroney can't be taken seriously in any role and moviegoers need to start avoiding this unflattering horror franchise all together.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Walk and Everest Trailers

News flash: If you're afraid of heights, you may want to avoid movie theaters all-together this fall. A pair of thrilling and life-defying movies have released trailers this week. First up is Robert Zemeckis' The Walk starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. From the filmmaker who brought us Back to the Future, Forrest Gump and Flight, his newest entry follows the life of French high-wire enthusiast, Philippe Petit (Gordon-Levitt) who masterminded the artistic crime of the century when he illegally set up a tightrope stunt between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. Gordon-Levitt appears to display some of his finest acting chops to date and I'd say it's safe to call The Walk a potential awards season contender.

Another film featuring majestic views and unspeakable elevations is Balttasar Kormakur's Everest, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Keira Knightley. This two and a half hour epic examines a team of mountaineers and climbers who attempted to conquer Mount Everest in 1996 and encountered a vicious blizzard in the process. Full of action, drama and worlds of intensity, Everest tells a familiar story with spellbinding special effects that could ultimately find the film in some technical categories at the Oscars. Check out the debut trailer for this September release below.

Friday, June 5, 2015


Film: Entourage

Starring: Kevin Connolly, Jeremy Piven and Kevin Dillon

Director: Doug Ellin

U.S. Release: June 3rd, 2015 (Rated R)

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 104 minutes

It's as if the boys from Queens never left. After an up-and-down (mostly up) run of eight impressive seasons on the premium cable channel, HBO, Entourage has officially made the jump to the big screen. Following a fairy-tale of a series finale, our favorite quartet returns to encounter a few more roadblocks on their path to stardom. And while Entourage is far from a brilliant movie, this go-around is a nostalgic and fun-filled experience that's guaranteed to transport you back to the good old days.

The new adventure picks up shortly after the series finale, where Vinny Chase (Adrian Grenier) has come awfully close to breaking the record for the shortest celebrity marriage. But once Vinny learns that Ari (Jeremy Piven) has come out of retirement and wants him to star in his first major release as studio head, the actor drops a bombshell by demanding that he direct his next project. Ari reluctantly gives the star complete control over the film and quickly learns that its success, or lack thereof, could destroy his Hollywood reign.

The most redeeming qualities surrounding Entourage are its genuine laughs and brotherly camaraderie that helped make the show an undeniable hit. Without missing a beat the writer, director and show creator, Doug Ellin, places his characters in the same dicey situations we grew to enjoy throughout the program's eight-year run. For example, Eric aka "E" (Kevin Connolly) finds himself in a nightmarish scenario with multiple women after splitting from his pregnant girlfriend, Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Therefore, this trip to the movies will feel exactly like a Sunday night in your living room, thanks to Kevin Dillon's priceless one-liners and the constant bro-bashing insults that flow with ease. Although Entourage is far from a top-flight film, loyal fans of the show will find more than enough enjoyment with how the movie is handled.

In its first theatrical trailer, Entourage hyped up the amount and quality of its star-studded cameos. From Super Bowl champion quarterback, Russell Wilson, to billionaire tycoon, Warren Buffett, the film brilliantly piles on its cameos early and restrains itself once the story gets moving. Speaking of the plot, here lies the movie's biggest issues. The entire storyline revolving around Billy Bob Thornton's financier character and his son (Haley Joel Osment) is extremely flimsy. While I understand there needs to be some sort of conflict involved in Entourage, this aspect of the film is poorly constructed. Thankfully, though, we're able to look past blunders such as these because the boys and Ari do what they do best, and they do it well.

About a week ago I caught an episode of The Dan Patrick Show and the host's friend, Kevin Connolly, was on via phone to discuss the movie. Connolly confirmed that there's "a number" in mind where if they reach that box office total, a sequel gets the green light. Looking into my crystal ball, I have every intention of seeing Vince, "E", Drama, Turtle and Ari back on the big screen in due time. And after seeing how this first installment was cafefully developed, that's perfectly fine with me.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Spy and Aloha

2011 feels almost like a distant memory, but it was roughly four years ago that Bridesmaids director, Paul Feig, unleashed the antics of the overweight and filter-free funny-woman, Melissa McCarthy, to the world. Since then, the dynamic duo delivered another quasi-success with 2013's The Heat, co-starring Oscar winner Sandra Bullock, and complete the trifecta with this summer's ruthless comedy, Spy. Whether or not McCarthy's belligerent rapid-fire attempts at landing one-liners appeals to you, trust me when I say that you're in for more of the same with her latest offering.

When a deadly arms dealer (Rose Byrne) divulges her knowledge of the identities to all of the CIA's top agents, they look to an unthinkable desk analyst named Susan Cooper (McCarthy) to save the day. But with virtually no experience in the field, agent Cooper's unorthodox methods put her cover and life on the line while she haphazardly infiltrates the dealer's inner circle. Yet, as the clock continues to tick and time begins to run out, Cooper is the CIA's only hope.

As I mentioned before, I've grown exhausted of McCarthy's comedic game plan over the past few years. Her barrage of attempted humor lands at such an alarmingly low rate that it cheapens the successful jokes. Resulting to thoughtless raunchy zingers that sound like they're constructed from a Mad Libs book designed for children learning their first "bad words", McCarthy is simply striking while the iron is hot and who can really blame her? Although I'm clearly not a big fan of the actress, I will admit that Spy has plenty of other excellent attractions. During its massively outstretched two hour running time, co-star Jason Statham's well-concocted character delivers the film's most consistent source of laughs. Furthermore, the English-born Miranda Hart is a breath of fresh air as agent Cooper's hysterical desk-bound side kick. With Spy, there are certainly laughs to be had, but they come at the expense of a dreadfully long and irrational plotline.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

I recently chronicled the highlights of writer and director, Cameron Crowe's, impressive career. With films such as Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous sitting atop his long list of achievements, it's obvious that Crowe's skilled at creating and telling an exceptional story. I suppose that's why the erratically pieced together and messy new effort, Aloha, is such a disappointment to longtime fans of his work.

Bradley Cooper dominates the screen time as Brian Gilcrest, a military contractor who returns to the island of Hawaii where he left a remarkable amount of baggage with an ex-lover (Rachel McAdams). To further complicate the situation, while dealing with his latest assignment, Gilcrest unexpectedly falls for his military liaison, Allison Ng (Emma Stone). Brian soon discovers that you have to let go of the past before you can move on with the future.

At first glance, I was completely on-board with everything surrounding Aloha. The trailer looked great and the film carefully sat in the hands of an accomplished filmmaker who was working with an unbelievable cast including Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin and Danny McBride (in addition to the A-List stars already mentioned above). Unfortunately, though, Crowe spoils the moment with a head-scratching backdrop that offers very little relevance to the misguided story that's already in place. At its core, the love triangle scenario is by no means uncharted waters. Therefore, how you connect the dots becomes so vital to the film's success, and I'm not sure Cameron Crowe was even working with "dots". And he certainly wasn't connecting anything, leaving Aloha as a jumbled mess of a romantic comedy that only shines as bright as its performances can take this feeble script.

Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: C-

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

DVD Outlook: June 2015

While the summer blockbuster titles take center stage and dominate the box office sales, June offers a large collection of early-year releases to choose from in the DVD, Blu-Ray and Video On-Demand realms. For the month of May I was hard-pressed to find some suggestions outside of the very impressive war drama, American Sniper, which would still be my firmest recommendation if you haven't seen it. However, this month's top picks are still decent films albeit not at American Sniper's level of quality.

Kingsman: The Secret Service - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

A lot was made about Matthew Vaughn's comic book adapted action thriller, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and perhaps rightfully so. Colin Firth co-stars as Harry Hart, a highly trained spy operative who seeks out a smart and resourceful street kid named Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to join their elite squad. The talented young recruit must compete against other fully qualified candidates vying for the lone vacancy in their secret organization, all while a villainous technological mastermind (Samuel L. Jackson) threatens the entire global community. Boasting many brilliant high-octane action sequences and skillfully choreographed fight scenes, only an extremely long-winded running time and a few plot deficiencies can keep Kingsman from greatness. In other words, it's a fun and massively entertaining treat from Matthew Vaughn and company. (June 9th)

While We're Young - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

There's something wildly engrossing about Noah Baumbach's generational comedy, While We're Young. Ben Stiller stars as a struggling documentarian and his infertile wife (Naomi Watts) who break from their middle-aged trajectory and befriend a youthful and exuberant couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who force them to re-examine their lives. There's a certain level of charm and mystery surrounding the film that's reinforced through spectacular dialogue and fantastic performances. One of the most pleasant portrayals comes from musician and Beastie Boy, Adam Horovitz (Ad Rock), who delivers an exceptional supporting turn in a surprising change of scenery for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductee. (June 30th)

Focus - 2 and a half stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Hi, my name is Dave Traverso and I'm a Will Smith-aholic. Unlike many of his closeted fans, I've always been an outspoken fan of "The Fresh Prince" ever since his days as a local Philly rapper, through thick and thin. And while Smith's recent filmography has been pretty barren with successful entries, I've never wavered from my undying allegiance to one of Hollywood's most gifted entertainers. From the Crazy Stupid Love directing duo of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa comes Focus, a clever caper comedy that ranks as a worthwhile affair. Smith takes center stage as Nicky, a veteran con-man who can't seem to escape his once-upon-a-time protege and seductress, Jess (Margot Robbie), even years after they last worked together. Ficarra and Requa have made a career out of surprise twists and turns and, although this one is probably the weakest of the bunch, there are enough laughs and solid dramatics to keep you going. (June 2nd)

Honorable Mention: A pair of successful dramas also arrive on DVD this month. Kevin Costner stars in the underdog cross-country drama, McFarland USA (6/2), and the great Al Pacino gives a wonderful performance in the musical drama, Danny Collins (6/30). The polarizing sci-fi action thriller about a conscious robot named Chappie (6/16) finds a release, as well as Liam Neeson's latest action go-around, Run All Night (6/16), co-starring the always fantastic Ed Harris. And finally, a couple of comedies also become available this month, namely the teen flick The Duff (6/9) and the latest from funnyman Kevin Hart, which co-stars Will Ferrell, called Get Hard (6/30).

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

American Ultra (Red Band) and The End of the Tour Trailers

Academy Award Nominee Jesse Eisenberg reached a pinnacle of success at the turn of the last decade. But the Zombieland and The Social Network star plans a revival in 2015 with a pair of intriguing releases. The first of which is American Ultra where Eisenberg stars as a stoner, who also happens to unknowingly be a government-created killing machine, finds his life in a tailspin after the powers that be label him as a liability. This action-comedy has a high bust potential (no pun intended), but there's a part of me that sees some legitimate humor in Nima Nourizadeh's directorial follow-up to his blunder of a debut, Project X. Check out the first red band trailer for the August comedy, American Ultra, below.

Now, on a more serious note, Eisenberg has another release coming from an aspiring filmmaker that I've grown to enjoy over the past few years. James Ponsoldt, director of The Spectacular Now and Smashed, returns with the Sundance selection The End of the Tour starring Eisenberg and Jason Segel. This festival darling follows the life of renowned American writer David Foster Wallace (Segel) and the unforgettable five-day road trip he took with interviewer David Lipsky (Eisenberg) during Wallace's book for his adored novel, Infinite Jest, in the late 90s. Arriving in theaters this July, check out the debut trailer for The End of the Tour below.