Movie Review: “Self/less”

Starring
Ryan Reynolds, Ben Kingsley, Matthew Goode, Natalie Martinez, Michelle Dockery, Derek Luke, Victor Garber
Director
Tarsem Singh

Nobody makes movies like Tarsem Singh. The polarizing visionary always brings his colorful personality to all of his projects, whether it’s a thriller (“The Cell”), a swords-and-sandals action pic (“Immortals”), or his adult fantasy masterpiece, “The Fall.” Tarsem tells stories through images, not only through dialogue. His latest film, “Self/less,” is his most story-heavy picture to date, but once again, he energizes a familiar tale with his bold eye.

The man responsible for some of New York’s most beautiful buildings, Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley), is dying. The billionaire industrialist is filled with regrets; he once thought his checkbook was sufficient enough to take care of his daughter, Claire (Michelle Dockery). Hale wants a second chance at life, and he receives it in the form of “shedding,” a procedure that transfers one’s consciousness to a young, healthy body. The company responsible for the technology is led by Albright (Matthew Goode), and his dream is to give the most important and influential figures – or failing that, the richest – more time on Earth. Hesitantly, Damian accepts Albright’s very pricey offer, and after the procedure, he’s no longer himself, but Edward (Ryan Reynolds), a young, handsome and retired millionaire. Damian is meant to start a new life in New Orleans where he can’t contact anyone from his past, but when he starts seeing Edward’s memories, Damian begins to ask questions about who he is and whose body he’s taken over.

“Self/less” is more of a thriller than a summer action movie; it’s a high-concept detective tale. Screenwriters David and Alex Pastor manage to tell a personal story, and like all good detective stories, they follow a detective haunted by his past. Damian Hale’s journey is as engaging as the film’s ideas. Ryan Reynolds hasn’t always had the best luck with studio films, especially in the summer, but he’s given more to work with this time around. There’s an actual arc for him to communicate.

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Movie Review: “Minions”

Starring
Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders, Geoffrey Rush
Director
Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin

It’s easy these days to take for granted the influence that Pixar has had on storytelling for animated films in particular and child-friendly entertainment in general. Prior to the release of “Toy Story” in 1995, there was no guarantee that adults would be entertained at all by a child-friendly film, never mind be entertained as much as the kids were (even Pixar’s now-parent company Disney was guilty of that), and in fact, most movies didn’t even bother pretending to appeal to both kids and adults. As Exhibit A, I submit 1994’s “Monkey Trouble,” starring a pre-“American Beauty” Thora Birch. Nobody likes this movie.

Pixar destroyed the notion that animated movies were simply kids’ stuff, and made films that were literally fun for the whole family. “Minions,” on the other hand, is a throwback of sorts to the pre-Pixar era, the movies that make a couple of dated references to give the parents a chuckle, but are otherwise devoid of a single plot piece or angle that would engage anyone from tweens up. In fact, the movie has no story at all. It’s just one ridiculous setup after another, and none of it makes any sense, but that’s almost beside the point; the minions, much like the “Penguins of Madagascar,” are simply funnier in small doses.

The opening credits show the evolution of the minions from the dawn of time, gleefully following behind the biggest fish in the sea and then land animal, as Geoffrey Rush gently explains to us that their life’s purpose is to serve the world’s most despicable creature (more on that later). That creature changes a number of times over the years, but after a mishap involving a certain vertically challenged army general, the minions go into hiding…and completely lose their sense of purpose. Minions Kevin, Stuart, and Bob dare to seek out a new evil ruler, and after a long journey lands them in New York (it is now 1968), they have found their new boss: Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the most villainous villain alive. The minions impress her, and she hires them for a job: steal the crown of Queen Elizabeth (Jennifer Saunders, holler!). At this point, the film’s screenwriter presumably fell asleep for weeks on end, and his screenwriting software finished the job.

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Movie Review: “Terminator Genisys”

Starring
Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Byung-hun Lee, Matt Smith
Director
Alan Taylor

“Terminator Genisys” marks the second sequel to a seemingly dead franchise this summer. Following the massive success of “Jurassic World” comes the fifth “Terminator” movie to date. The last two sequels were failed reboots, and for good reason, as neither of them had the intensity or awe James Cameron brought to the original films. “Terminator Genisys” doesn’t recapture the series’ former glory, but it is an actual “Terminator” movie, and it’s certainly more ambitious and entertaining than its recent predecessors.

The film begins in 2029, with John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) leading an ambush against Skynet. We see the events that influence Connor’s decision to send Reese back in time to save his mother, making this both a reboot and a surprisingly faithful sequel. Reese expects a helpless Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) back in 1984, but she’s nothing of the sort; she’s a trained, skilled soldier. At her side, once again to Reese’s surprise, is a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who Sarah refers to as “Pops.” For a reason that’s being saved for a potential sequel, someone sent the T-800 back in time to protect Sarah as a child, which answers one of the most of obvious questions in this franchise: Why doesn’t Skynet simply kill Sarah as a kid? Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese and the T-800 have to work together to prevent Skynet’s takeover and, surprisingly, defeat John Connor, who’s working for the bad guys this time around.

Screenwriters Patrick Lussier and Laeata Kalogridis rewrite the past, but they don’t erase it. There is no shortage of time travel talk in the film, and one of the key decisions made is to establish this as an alternate timeline, so the other timelines, meaning the first two films, still exist. Do the time travel rules always make sense? No, but neither does time travel. Sometimes, the less explained, the better – and the first hour struggles with that. There is a cluster of exposition in the setup, often explaining what we’re literally seeing. At first, Jai Courtney’s performance suffers because of how many questions and obvious statements he has to deliver, but once the wheels start moving, “Terminator Genisys” improves as it goes along.

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Movie Review: “Magic Mike XXL”

Starring
Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Jada Pinkett Smith, Amber Heard
Director
Gregory Jacobs

One of the biggest complaints about “Magic Mike” was that it was a lot more serious than people were expecting for a film about male strippers, and producer/star Channing Tatum addressed that issue with the promise that the upcoming sequel would be a much lighter affair. And you can’t say that Tatum isn’t a man of his word, because “Magic Mike XXL” couldn’t be any more different from the original. Whereas Steven Soderbergh’s movie was a moody drama about the dark underbelly of the stripper lifestyle that focused on character and story, “XXL” (which was directed by Soderbergh understudy Gregory Jacobs) is an upbeat and whimsical bro-fest that plays like a racier, bizarro version of “Entourage.” Both films are good for their own reasons, but “XXL” is definitely the more enjoyable of the pair.

Three years after leaving the stripper life to pursue his dream of starting his own custom furniture business, “Magic” Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) reunites with the remaining Kings of Tampa – Ken (Matt Bomer), Big Dick Ritchie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) – for a wild night out on the town. When he learns that the group is being disbanded after their boss, Dallas (played by Matthew McConaughey in the first movie), fled to Macau for greener pastures, Mike agrees to join them on their road trip to the annual stripper convention in Myrtle Beach for one last blow-out performance. But after their MC (Gabriel Iglesias) gets injured in a car accident, Mike is forced to call on an old friend from his past, former lover and business partner Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), for help in pulling off their one-night show, complete with new, personalized routines.

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Movie Review: “Ted 2″

Starring
Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi, Morgan Freeman
Director
Seth MacFarlane

“Ted 2” is a sweet but profane love letter to Universal Pictures. Writer/director/star Seth MacFarlane references several high-profile Universal properties, with the plot serving as the connective tissue. This naturally makes for a threadbare story, to be sure, but this is Seth MacFarlane we’re talking about. The man has never let story get in the way of a good joke, or even a bad one. To the surprise of no one, “Ted 2” has plenty of each.

The story begins at the wedding of magical, real-life teddy bear Ted (MacFarlane) and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). Ted’s best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) is happy for the couple, but still reeling from his recent divorce. Ted and Tami-Lyn have a perfect wedding day, but one year later, they are fighting nonstop. Ted suggests that having a baby might solve their problems (this is a terrible, terrible idea, for the record), but after their attempts to do in vitro or adopt fail, Ted finds his life unraveling as his creditors begin terminating his accounts on the grounds that the government doesn’t recognize him as a real person.

John and Ted retain a top-rate lawyer to fight for Ted’s civil rights, and he assigns it to his niece and junior attorney, Samantha (Amanda Seyfriend), who does the case pro bono. While they’re working on Ted’s defense, Ted stalker Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) conspires with the president of Hasbro to kidnap Ted pending him losing the case (as he will officially be considered property at that point), so they can use his mojo to mass produce “human” Teds.

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