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Arts and Culture (Movie Reviews)

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Whether he’s hanging off the door of an ascending plane or casually participating in the demolition of the Kremlin, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise: Edge of Tomorrow) has quite the reputation in the spy game. The top spy in the IMF, a super-secret government agency, Hunt is assigned impossible missions with his only guarantee complete government disavowal if he fails.
    Though he always comes through, the government is tiring of his methods.
    CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin: Aloha) leads the charge to shut down Ethan and his team. When the government sides with Hunley, Hunt doesn’t take it well. Instead of contritely accounting for every instance of vehicular mayhem, property damage and personal injury he’s inflicted on the world, Hunt goes rogue.
    He hasn’t joined the dark side; Hunt has a greater mission. A secret organization, The Syndicate, is behind most recent disasters and acts of terrorism, and he has sworn to track down and destroy The Syndicate before returning home.
    The problem: No one at the CIA believes him.
    Can Hunt and his faithful tech friends — Benji (Simon Pegg: The Boxtrolls) and Luther (Ving Rhames: James Boy) as well as operative Brandt (Jeremy Renner: Avengers: Age of Ultron) — stop The Syndicate? Or will they be taken out by their own government?
    Filled with action, technobabble and engaging acting, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is a summer blockbuster that doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel. The plot is formulaic, the faces familiar, the jokes well-worn. Viewers know what to expect, and Mission: Impossible delivers.
    Director Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote the script, does a remarkable job of making a predictable film exciting. We know Hunt isn’t going to die. In fact, most viewers know within the first 30 minutes how the film will end. Still, action sequences feel visceral and alive. A breathtaking car and motorcycle chase through the streets of Casablanca is particularly thrilling. McQuarrie also peppers his action with plenty of comedy, with Pegg and Renner landing most of the punchlines.
    One of action’s most committed actors, Cruise keeps the film from slipping too far into parody. While other stars of his caliber shuffle through their action films and collect their paycheck along with their copy of AARP Magazine, Cruise always gives 100 percent. His natural intensity will allow for nothing less. He runs full force, attacks each fight scene and pratfall with gusto.
    In spite of some great action and acting, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is far from perfect. McQuarrie drags out the final act about 15 minutes too long. The plot is also filled with ridiculous contrivances, including a morally compromised character named Faust.
    Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to buy a ticket and a bucket of popcorn and watch Ethan Hunt save the world for a fifth time.

Good Action • PG-13 • 131 mins.
 

This isn’t your mother’s romantic comedy

Amy (Amy Schumer: Inside Amy Schumer) is living the dream. She has a spacious New York apartment, writes for a men’s magazine and goes home with a different guy every night.
    Amy learned from her father at an early age that monogamy doesn’t work. Her father, now in a nursing home, eggs Amy on in her rejection of relationships, domesticity and kids. He encourages her to make herself happy even at the expense of others. Amy mercilessly mocks her sister Kim (Brie Larson: The Gambler), for her focus on her family.
    Until a new writing assignment causes Amy to reevaluate her life. Her subject is Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader: Inside Out) a sports surgeon with a long list of celebrity clients. After their night of sex, Aaron wants another date. Amy overrides her impulse to say no.
    Does love mean having to change who you are? Is monogamy possible for a free-thinking modern woman? Or is domesticity the trap Amy has always believed it to be?
    Filled with lewd jokes, uncomfortable situations and genuine laughs, Trainwreck is a romantic comedy for the cynical voice in the back of your mind. Schumer, who also wrote the film, has made a name for herself as a comedian unafraid to tackle sex, drugs and feminism. In her first starring role, Schumer crafts a comedy that examines modern feminism.
    With Trainwreck, Schumer isn’t proposing women necessarily settle down. She’s asking them to be sure they’re pursuing what they really want, be it children, a career or anonymous sex. It’s a heavy task for a romantic comedy, but Schumer manages.
    Helping her set the tone is veteran director Judd Apatow (This is 40). A master of wildly vulgar humor with a heart of gold, Apatow combines sexual innuendo and sincerity to craft a modern romantic comedy. Some of the sequences run too long, with Apatow pushing the joke further than it needs to go, but it’s fun to watch Schumer riff. Though Schumer is often the butt of the jokes, Apatow makes sure we don’t see her as stupid. She’s a flawed but funny woman trying to navigate uncharted waters.
    In essence playing the same character she affects for her standup show, Schumer shows real promise. It’s no surprise that she can nail the comic beats, but Trainwreck also requires some hard emotional work. Schumer attacks each moment with aplomb, creating a nuanced character we root for — even as we cringe at some of her decisions.
    Backing up Schumer is Saturday Night Live alumni Hader, who serves as the perfect foil. Aaron is sincere, while Amy is cynical. Both have been damaged by life, but each has reacted differently. Hader’s natural sweetness and hilarious reactions to Amy make his Aaron endearing.
    The biggest surprise in Trainwreck, however, is a breakout performance from basketball great LeBron James. Parodying himself, James acts as Aaron’s pal, a little overly invested in Aaron’s love life. As a Downton Abbey-obsessed, penny-pinching romantic who wants to make sure his buddy Aaron doesn’t get hurt, James gleefully skewers his own image.
    Trainwreck isn’t a typical romantic comedy. You may be turned off by its lewd humor, drug use and active sexuality. Still, Schumer and Apatow have created a sincere comedy about finding the courage to fall in love.

Good Comedy • R • 125 mins.

A superhero a fraction the usual size delivers big laughs

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is an ex-con who wants to go straight. A burglar with a master’s degree in electrical engineering, he can’t even keep a job at Baskin-Robbins. Desperate to earn child support money so he can see his daughter, he reverts to crime one more time.
    But mysterious millionaire Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) isn’t the doddering old man he pretends to be. Pym is a genius who has invented a suit that allows its wearer to shrink to the size of an ant while becoming 50 times stronger and faster than a human. Hank offers Scott a job as Ant-Man to keep a protégé from weaponizing the Ant-Man suit.
    In the world of the Incredible Hulk, Spiderman and Iron Man, a shrinking suit isn’t very impressive. So instead of awe-inspiring, Ant-Man’s powers are laugh-inspiring.
    Rudd and director Peyton Reed find the laugh in each scene and quirk of the genre. Scott must learn to communicate with ants. A dramatic battle to the death takes place on a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. A ridiculous number of animals and people are vaporized into goo.
    Combining great writing, a charismatic performance from Rudd and some spectacularly funny action sequences, this is the best Marvel release since the fantastic Guardians of the Galaxy.

Great Action • PG-13 • 117 mins.

Little creatures look for a fearless leader in this fun comedy

Since the dawn of time, Minions have been looking for a master to serve. The yellow cylindrical beings are attracted to the baddies of the world and biologically compelled to assist them.
    But they’re terrible at the job.
    These yellow dunderheads have managed to cause catastrophes from the extinction of the dinosaurs to Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. For their constant failures, they are expelled from society.
    In their icy cave, the Minions long for a new evil mastermind. In 1968, three leave the cave to realize their hope. They find Scarlett Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock: ­Gravity), the world’s first female supervillain. She’s ruthless, she’s stylish and she’s beautiful. The Minions are enthralled.
    To earn a spot on Scarlett’s payroll for the banana-like brethren, the Minions must complete a trial mission: Steal the queen of England’s crown.
    Clever and relentlessly silly, Minions is a family film that entertains all generations.
    The stars are the creatures who chatter gibberish and take in the world through wide Buster Keaton eyes, sweet of nature even as they try to be bad. These are not cruel or stupid creatures, and the film seems to cherish the innocent exuberance that often leads the Minions astray.
    Pierre Coffin (who also co-directs) has the unenviable job of providing a voice to the Minions, and though he doesn’t speak in comprehensible sentences, he manages to create three distinct personalities as well as a whole host of emotions.
    Bullock has a grand time as Scarlett, a brassy villain whose princess complex exacerbates her mood swings.
    Though their concept is fairly straight forward, directors Kyle Balda and Coffin find innovative ways to tell the story. The setting inspires a fantastic classic rock soundtrack that drives the action and will have adults tapping their toes. Minions also uses 3D technology in an interesting way. Coffin and Balda play with perception, having objects enter or leave frame in unexpected places. Scenes seem alive, and the 3D effect catches the audience off guard.
    Minions doesn’t have the depth or beauty of Pixar’s Inside Out, but profundity isn’t its thing. This is a movie for a bucket of popcorn and an escape from the summer heat. As children aren’t the only people in the seats, there are a few jokes to keep adults laughing as these little yellow henchmen bumble their way through London.

Good Animation • PG • 91 mins.

If this is the best humanity has, it’s time to welcome our machine overlords

Skynet, an artificial intelligence software system, was created to make life easier. Instead of improving streaming speed, Skynet became self-aware and a powerful enemy of the human race. Hacking into every computer system in the world, Skynet built an army of infiltration androids (called Terminators), launched missiles and wiped out three billion people.
    By 2029, humanity has a savior. John Connor (Jason Clarke: Child 44) is a fierce warrior who seems to know exactly what Skynet will do before the machine does it. On the eve of losing the war to the humans, Skynet takes desperate action: It sends one of its Terminators (Arnold Schwarzenegger: Maggie) back in time to 1984, the year John’s mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke: Game of Thrones), gives birth to him.
    To stop the prenatal assassination, John sends back his most trusted soldier, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney: The Water Diviner). Kyle imagines Sarah to be a helpless woman terrorized by a killer machine. What he finds is a warrior who takes out Terminators in the blink of an eye and has more weapons training than a Navy SEAL.
    It turns out Kyle and the Terminator aren’t the only time travelers. After the 1984 attempt fails, Skynet sends a Terminator back to the 1970s to kill Sarah as a child. The attempt, which kills Sarah’s parents, is thwarted by a friendly Terminator (also Schwarzenegger) who then raises Sarah in preparation for her 1984 meeting with Kyle. Those two crazy kids share a night that creates John Connor.
    Now, the timeline has splintered. Kyle and Sarah must attempt to change the future using time travel, explosives and their rapidly aging Terminator.
    Sound confusing and convoluted? It is.
    Try not to think too hard about the multiple timelines; the writers clearly haven’t. From its misspelled title to its horrible plot, Terminator Genisys is an exercise in audience patience.
    Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) hammers what should be the final nail into the coffin of the Terminator franchise with this stupid, messy film. He apes the style of James Cameron’s first film, but the callbacks to the original underscore just how awful this movie is. Action sequences are bloodless, loud and confusing cacophonies of sound and CGI animation. Explosions are big, but without any connection to plot they’re little more than an expensive distraction.
    Writers Late Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier do the bare minimum, relying on the audience’s memory of the previous films and lazy exposition on the nature of time travel to move the plot along. With never a reason for what happens, characters look as confused as the audience is.
    With a terrible script and a director with no vision, it’s easy to understand why the performances are so uniformly bad. Clarke and Courtney are set up to for an antagonistic romance, but they fail to find the right chemistry. Instead of sexual tension, we have two people who don’t seem to like each other very much. Clarke also has trouble being tough. She flinches when she fires guns, screams in a baby voice and pouts at both man and machine when things don’t go her way. Only Arnold, who was born to play the robotic character that made him famous, is having any fun. He still delivers one-liners with aplomb and manages to look deadly at an age that qualifies him for Social Security.
    Poorly written, badly acted and ­utterly confusing, Terminator Genisys is the reason sequels get such a bad rap.

Dismal Action • PG-13 • 126 mins.

The boys are back; their clothes are not

Magic Mike (Channing Tatum: Jupiter Ascending) retired his thong with his bump-and-grind act three years ago. Now a furniture builder, the former stripper is dedicated to growing his burgeoning business. Business is good but burdensome. His workers want health care, he wants retail space and he’s tired of hauling showpieces on and off a truck as he sells his work to Tampa stores.
    When former co-workers call him as they pass through town, Mike reminisces about the great old times. While he has been struggling for growth, Big [redacted] Richie (Joe Manganiello: True Blood), Ken (Matt Bomer: The Normal Heart), Tito (Adam Rodriguez: The Night Shift) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash: John Wick) have been partying. They persuade Mike to join them for one final hoorah: the Stripper Convention in Myrtle Beach.
    He throws caution and clothes to the wind, joining his buddies for a week of drugs, bonding and semi-nude dancing.
    How many shirts can one man tear off in a single movie?
    The original Magic Mike, a character study of men in the adult entertainment industry, featured nuanced looks at the problems of the business, including drugs. With the sequel, Magic Mike XXL, filmmaker Gregory Jacobs (Wind Chill) gives the audience what they’re clamoring for: lots of nearly naked men grinding to R&B hits.
    Story and characters take a back seat to oiled chests and teeny strips of fabric. Dance sequences are long and impressive, as Jacobs shows off the special talent of each performer. Tatum and his pals also have camaraderie that translates onto camera. It’s believable that these goofy guys would spend time together perfecting hip rolls, talking about women and drinking.
    The biggest disappointment in Magic Mike XXL is the women. Though marketed to females, the movie is uninterested in them. As Mike’s love interest Zoe, (Amber Heard: 3 Days to Kill) pouts prettily while Tatum dances circles around her. The only woman who displays personality is Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith: Gotham), a sexy MC who has a secret past with Mike. Pinkett Smith commands every scene she’s in, impressively drawing focus from a horde of handsome, gyrating men.
    Go with friends. Half the fun of this silly movie is listening to people hoot and holler as if Magic Mike could twerk right off the screen.

Revealing Dramedy • R • 115 mins.

The best actor in the film is a dog, who is saved the trial of lines.

Max is the perfect Marine. The Belgian Malinois is a search dog whose job in Afghanistan is sniffing out weapons, explosives and possible trouble for his platoon. His partner Kyle (Robbie Amell: The DUFF), is more than a trainer; he’s Max’s whole world. So when an ambush leads to Kyle’s death, Max is a broken dog. Afraid of gunfire, aggressive and unwilling to be touched, Max has PTSD and is useless to the Marine Corps.
    Kyle’s family is having a similar reaction. Father Ray (Thomas Haden Church: Heaven is for Real) is stoic. Mother Pam (Lauren Graham: Parenthood) cries as she cooks. The only person who seems unaffected is Justin (Josh Wiggins: Hellion), Kyle’s little brother. A videogame-obsessed teenage terror, Justin is too busy committing petty crimes, BMX biking and sassing his parents to care. After Kyle’s death, Justin’s surliness worsens.
    Brought by Marines to Kyle’s funeral, Max refuses to leave the casket. The dog’s fidelity convinces Pam and Ray to take him home. But the traumatized dog refuses any attentions except Justin’s. Deciding responsibility could help the surviving son, his parents put him in charge of Max’s rehabilitation.
    Max has the best intentions and the worst execution. The movie eschews character development and reasonable plot for plodding moral messages. At fault is the script by Boaz Yakin (who also directed) and Sheldon Lettich. Neither writer trusts the audience to understand the themes, instead belaboring their points with cringe-worthy dialog. The duo also has a limited view of Mexican families, trotting out every possible stereotype from gang association to Chihuahuas.
    The best actor in the film is Max, who is saved the trial of lines. Even veteran actors like Church and Graham can’t make much of this script. Portrayed as the dog’s saviors, the family chains him outside, without shelter or water, in Texas. That’s animal abuse. Ray lectures Justin on the importance of the dog one moment, and the next is willing to shoot him. Graham has the thankless job of being the subservient mother unyieldingly supportive of her men.
    The dog is this movie’s saving grace. Malinois are expressive by nature, and Yakin capitalizes on every ear twitch and head tilt. Max’s antics are amusing, his ability to search grids and leap over obstacles is inspiring and the story of the dogs who have served alongside U.S. troops since World War I is fascinating. Young viewers will be captivated by the pretty dog, but a few violent scenes of war and shootouts may scare them.

Fair Family Film • PG • 111 mins.

Pixar explores the mind and emotions of a girl on the brink of adulthood

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler: Parks and Recreation) was the first emotion Riley (Kaitlyn Dias: The Shifting) knew. Joy wasn’t alone long, 33 seconds after popping into Riley’s mind, she’s joined by Sadness (Phyllis Smith: The Middle), Anger (Lewis Black: Let Freedom Laugh), Fear (Bill Hader: Trainwreck) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling: The Mindy Project).
    For 11 years, Joy led the team, controlling Riley’s responses to the world and safeguarding her memories. All the emotions love Riley, but Joy is particularly protective, trying to keep the others from making Riley feel anything but happiness. Joy’s nemesis is Sadness, a well-meaning but mopey figure who Joy feels is unnecessary. Excluding Sadness proves harder as Riley ages.
    When Riley’s family moves to a new city, Sadness becomes more assertive. Riley flounders, and Joy blames Sadness.
    After Sadness accidentally corrupts Riley’s core memories, she and Joy are sucked into long-term memory, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust trying to take over.
    Can Joy find her way back to Riley’s control center? Will Sadness find a way to contribute? What goes on in the minds of little girls?
    Directed by Pete Docter (Up) and first-timer Ronaldo Del Carmen, Inside Out is a funny and honest look at a girl on the brink of adulthood. The filmmakers consulted psychologists to perfect the science of Riley’s mind, but the film doesn’t feel like a lesson. Each facet of Riley is beautifully realized with an explosion of color and imagination. From French fry forests to vampire teen boyfriends, there’s plenty to relish as Joy and Sadness try to find their way home.
    Docter and Carmen rely on their vocal cast to fill in their world. Poehler and Smith are particularly good as foils who must learn to appreciate each other. Black is perfectly cast as anger, and Hader is a shrill delight as fear. But Richard Kind (Happyish) steals the film as Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend long relegated to a dark corner of imagination land.
    Pixar is at its best when it takes on big concepts, such as loss (Up), growing up (Toy Story series) and love (WALL•E). In Inside Out, Pixar delves into the psyche of a child on the verge of puberty who is learning that life is filled with complex emotions. The film captures the death of childhood and the birth of a more multifaceted emotional life, both celebrating and mourning the changes required. The parts of childhood we build upon and the parts we let go shape us, and as Riley’s emotional life becomes richer, her emotions must learn to work together lest they spin her out of control.
    The genius of Pixar is making a film for everyone in the theater, from the wide-eyed kid with a bedtime to the jaded reviewer with a notepad on her knee. The brain crew is colorful, funny and engaging for little ones, and though their deeper struggles and symbols might be lost on the Sesame Street crowd, they will hit home for parents and teens.
    Docter has a knack for finding heart and nobility in every character. This tender treatment of a young girl’s emotional journey is worth a ticket and a few tissues.

Excellent Animation • PG • 94 mins.

Behind a great man, a woman more qualified

CIA top agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law: Black Sea) is handsome, smooth and comes out on top in a fight. Fine’s secret isn’t training or a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. Behind Fine’s success is CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy: Mike and Molly).
    Cooper who gathers intel, memorizes building plans to lead Fine in and out, warns him when bad guys approach. Though qualified as a field agent, Cooper is content to be the voice in Fine’s ear, eschewing credit to support the man she secretly loves. Fine barely notices, treating her like Siri, a neat toy that can answer all his questions.
    An intelligence leak leads to Fine’s death at the hands of crime boss Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne: Annie), who has uncovered the identities of all the top CIA operatives. Reeling from Fine’s death, Cooper volunteers to track Rayna and the portable nuke she’s marketing. The CIA is desperate enough for an operative Rayna’s people won’t recognize to overlook her 10 years out of the field.
    Cooper is issued a cover identity, a gun and a mission.
    A mashup of James Bond and Inspector Clouseau, Spy is a hilarious comedy buoyed by smart writing, enthusiastic performances and snappy action. Writer/director Paul Feig (The Heat) crafts a comedy that empowers, a rarity in blockbuster filmmaking. Spy has plenty of obscene humor, sight gags, physical comedy and witty dialog, but the director’s feminism sets it apart. Feig is interested in how often women allow themselves to be overlooked. In Spy, all of the women are capable, funny and smart; they just don’t know it until they’re tested.
    In the real world, too, McCarthy has long needed a film worthy of her talents. Usually her weight is the punchline. Forced to fall over, act like an oddball or hit on men who react with revulsion, she has spent much of her career as a side show. In Spy, she’s allowed to be a person, not a shtick. Her Cooper is a smart, funny woman who discovers that she’s a natural in the field.
    McCarthy carries the film and has a great supporting cast backing her up. As the ruthless, snobby Rayna, Byrne is delightfully snarky. She spars admirably with McCarthy and manages to make Rayna somewhat likeable in spite of her evil ways. The real surprise of Spy, however, is action hero Jason Statham as rogue spy Rick Ford. Usually a snarling, serious presence, Statham proves himself to be a comedic talent by lampooning his man-of-action image. He spews ridiculous tough-guy talk and takes pratfalls like a champ. His chemistry with McCarthy crackles as he competes with her to take down the criminals.
    A few jokes and sequences fall flat, as Feig has a tendency to push a joke a bit too far. But the laughs greatly outweigh the groans in this rare R-rated comedy that’s both smart and funny. Buy a ticket to see Melissa McCarthy show the James Bond wannabes what a real spy looks like.

Great Comedy • R • 120 mins.

It’s a disaster!

Rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson: Furious 7) has saved countless lives. But he was unable to save his daughter from drowning on a family trip. Haunted by memories, Ray drove away his wife Emma (Carla Gugino: Match) and his surviving daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario: Burying the Ex). Now he longs to have them back.
    What could possibly mend this broken family?
    How about a catastrophic earthquake along the California coast?
    When the earthquake strikes, buildings topple, streets open into gaping maws and thousands struggle for survival. This would be a compelling scenario — if our hero cared. Instead of doing his job as a firefighter, Ray reroutes his helicopter — effectively stealing it — to rescue his wife and daughter. What’s a few hundred lives when your ex needs you?
    The biggest fault in San Andreas is lack of tension. Director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) choreographs a massive earthquake with computer graphics and stirring music. But there is never any question about the outcome. You know Ray will save his wife and daughter and that they will reunite.
    It is possible to make a good disaster movie. The original Poseidon Adventure (1972) showed us how to use disaster to explore a group of characters — before devastating us by killing them. It’s a tried-and-true formula ignored by modern filmmakers. Why develop interesting characters when you can use computers to animate destruction? In these bloodless disasters, we watch cities crumble without the bother of emotion.
    Because the stakes are so low, performances are uneven. Johnson, who’s played this role so many times he could do it in his sleep, isn’t so much acting as flexing his natural charisma. A great star with a commanding presence, he has yet to find a project worthy of his personality.
    Gugino isn’t as lucky. As the damsel in distress, she’s forced to stare admiringly at Johnson, follow mutely behind him and panic so he can manfully calm her. Though she can hit the right hysterical notes, it’s an embarrassing role for a reliable character actress.
    Loud, silly and wholly unsatisfying, San Andreas is the type of film giant tubs of popcorn were made for.

Ridiculous Action • PG-13 • 114 mins.