Archive for June, 2015

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A favorite trope among the critical elite is the old trick of pointing out how a bad movie is a metaphor for itself. They pick out a particular scene, or line of dialogue, to construct an elaborate meta symmetry between the action onscreen and the actions that led to it literally being on-screen.

Recently, this popped up in reviews for Jurassic World, which told the tale of how corporate greed and a need to invent bigger, faster and scarier monsters went horribly wrong, resulting in the (creative) death of innocent (storytelling narratives) bystanders.

Perhaps no film has been so perfectly tailored for the plot-is-review device as Terminator Genysis, which seeks to recapture the early magic of an enduring cinema franchise by sending characters to the past and making a mess of the original timeline.

In short, it’s a reboot *about* rebooting. It tries to jump back in time to save the franchise from destruction, but fails.

Unlike 2009’s Star Trek, which pulled off a similar stunt by hitting the space-time reset button before setting off on a satisfactory stand-alone story, TG has little more on its mind than borrowing table scraps from the original (far superior) Terminator films and offering little by way of justification for its existence.

For the uninitiated, in the year 2029 mankind has been all but wiped out by an army of sentient machines controlled by the Skynet program. A small resistance force, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) is nearing victory, which prompts Skynet to send a humanoid “Terminator” back in time to kill Connor’s mother Sarah (GoT’s Emilia Clarke) before Connor can be born, thus clearing the chess board of its opposing King. But Connor is able to send back one of his lieutenants, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney of Divergent and Jack Reacher) to find and protect his mother from the machine.

That’s the plot of The Terminator, a great film directed more than two decades ago by James Cameron. For reasons that remain unexplained after the credits roll on Genysis, something is altered in the timeline, resulting in Kyle Reese finding a battle-hardened Sarah Connor and her Terminator sidekick (original star Arnold Shwarzeneggar, returning to the franchise after a one-film absence) in lieu of the damsel he was expecting.

So after a few scenes that recreate (with a twist!) the iconic imagery of T1 and T2, the plot zips ahead to 2017, the new date of the robopacolypse, with our heroes fighting to destroy a nascent Skynet.

Much like Jurassic World, the film offers two hours of satisfactory action-fueled fun the unfortunately falls apart on further reflection. At the end of the day, TG is little more than rehash of the “destroy Skynet” plot established in T2 and repeated in the abysmal T3 and tragically underwhelming T4. Its an improvement over the last two films, but after leaving the theater, and decompressing from the pulse-pounding Hans Zimmer soundtrack and destructo-porn, you realize that you’ve already seen that movie, several times, and you’re not entirely sure why you haven’t stopped yet.

As a standalone film, Genisys is baffling at best, with hordes of unanswered questions (likely saved for the inevitable sequel) and long stretches of chunky exposition that attempt to justify the plot gymnastics of the time-travel shenanigans.

Unfortunately it’s a pale imitation of its predecessors, with a lessor Sarah Connor, a lesser Kyle Reese, and a grey-haired Arnold who insists, on several occasions, that he is old “but not obsolete.” His familiar catch phrase of “I’ll be back” makes it’s appearance, but at this point its a threat directed at the audience.

Grade: C

*’Terminator Genisys’ opens nationwide on Wednesday, July 1.

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*Note: This review was originally posted in February during coverage of the Sundance Film Festival

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In a tiny apartment in Manhattan’s lower east side, six brothers and one sister live locked away from society. They venture outside only on the rarest of occasions, and their sole connection to the outside world comes in the form of the films that they watch and recreate with impressive detail by way of homemade costumes and props.

It’s a bizarre story made all the more unsettling by the fact that ‘The Wolfpack’ is a documentary, and not a piece of narrative fiction. After one brother essentially snaps and wanders out into the street in a Michael Myers mask, the ensuing ripples turn into cracks in the family’s cloistered lifestyle. Bit by bit, the brothers venture out into the world to pursue their own lives.

Director Crystal Moselle tells their story with a respectful, but prodding, curiosity. There’s a hint of danger in the brothers’ stories, an inclination that behind the smiling faces lie a number of unnamed demons. But Moselle does not overtly demonize, even while the Wolfpack describe their father’s locked-in rules as a form of prison and speak about how the world they see on their TV screen is the only world they know.

Even by documentary standards, it’s a very unique film. It takes an abstract look at a non-traditional family and is able to paint a fascinating portrait of individuality.

Grade: B+

*The Wolfpack opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 19.

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Independent films can often run the risk of being *too* indie. They chase after a quirky and inventive style and in the process become something that dives headfirst into a hipster, movie-snob cliche.

Sundance hit ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ approaches this invisible line hundreds of times, tip toeing up to the abyss between art and schtick and almost daring itself to cast itself into the void of unmet potential. One slip, one false mood, it seems, would be all it takes to veer dangerously off course.

But it doesn’t. Instead, at every turn, Me and Earl stays firm with both feet planted on the ground and the result is a Russian nesting doll of themes, moods and shooting styles that tell a poignant coming-of-age story and serve as cat nip to cinephiles.

Me and Earl centers on Greg (Thomas Mann) a high school senior who prides himself on being a nation of one who has made no enemies by maintaining armed neutrality among the social cliques. The closest he comes to having an actual friend is Earl, who Greg refers to only as his “coworker” because of their shared hobby of making Sweded versions of classic cinema.

His world is shaken by the cancer diagnosis of a classmate Rachel (Bate’s Motel’s Olivia Cooke, again playing a character doomed by disease) who is thrust into Greg’s world at the insistence of his mother (Connie Britton). At first obligatory, Greg and Rachel soon blossom into an sincere and meaningful friendship that shakes and ultimately shatters Greg’s status quo of aloof isolation.

The film deals itself a hand of winning cards, chief among them being the winning performance of the three young leads, the gallery of charming supporting characters (Nick Offerman once again has a ball as the indie-movie father, a character opposite to but reminiscent of the one he played in The Kings of Summer) and, notably, a series of movie-in-movie vignettes showing Greg and Earl’s library of film re-imaginations.

But the film has a dark side as well, as Rachel’s condition deteriorates bringing her closer to her titular role and Greg, as a result, is sent flailing. Her story, and the toll it takes on the other characters, makes for a juxtoposed balancing act of quirky fun and often beautiful sadness.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon handles the transitions well, but some audience members may feel whiplash bouncing from comedy to drama and back in so short a time span. That majority, however, will find themselves watching the rare film that isn’t afraid of shirking convention and forging its on path, even while paying homage to familiar titles from the Hollywood canon.

Grade: A

*Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opens in select market on June 12 and in Utah on Friday, June 26.

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There’s a moment early on in ‘Entourage‘ in which Turtle (a slimmed down Jerry Ferrara) is giving a tour of his home to his crush and UFC champion Ronda Rousey.

The home – which evidently is located next to that of Steven Spielberg – came furnished, Turtle explains, which gives it a “lived-in” quality.

It’s a fair metaphor for the Entourage movie, which – admirably — sticks to the formula that made it a success on the small screen. The film adaptation arrives in theaters on Wednesday four years after the corresponding HBO series signed off in 2011. Like real estate, it’s walls are already painted and the decor is fully installed, but that also means there’s little motivation to freshen up the place.

After a brief scene of exposition to orient new audience members – courtesy of a Piers Morgan interview with the central cast — it’s off to the races, as Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his titular entourage work with agent-turned-studio-head Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) to salvage Vince’s directorial debut.

That film, a dystopian fantasy twist on the Jekyll and Hyde tale, serves as the central MacGuffin for Entourage, as Ari has invested his political capitol as a new studio head in letting Vince behind the camera of a major tentpole film. Problem is, the film is over budget and in need of a final funding boost, which can only be secured with the blessing of the Texas co-financiers played by Billy Bob Thornton and his son, a deliciously off-putting Haley Joel Osment (watch for a well-placed Forrest Gump reference).

But the rest of the gang have pickles, albeit low-stakes ones, of their own: Vince’s manager/best friend Eric “E” Murphy is flailing since splitting up with his pregnant girlfriend; Drama is banking on a supporting role in little brother Vince’s movie to be his big break; and Turtle is attempting to woo the aforementioned Rousey.

It’s an uncomplicated (read: light) plot buttressed by the banter, tangents and celebrity cameos that serve as fan service to HBO devotees and icing to newcomers. For two hours, the film bounces around Los Angeles, offering a glimpse at the bizarre and anxiety-prone goings on of show business and the pomp and circumstance of the upper crust.

Longtime fans will likely welcome the return of the characters, and the uninitiated need not worry about being lost at the party. It’s a breezy, comfortable, entertaining film, but in its journey to the big screen Entourage also falls just shy of being cinematic.

Grade: B

*Entourage opens nationwide on Wednesday, June 3.

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