Monthly Archives: May 2017

Rock-in’ The Beach

Movie spinoff of TV show is bawdy, brawny, spicy, sexy fun! 

BAYWATCHBaywatch
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach & Jon Bass
Directed by Seth Gordon
R

The first day of summer is still officially a few weeks away, but why wait? Let’s get the party started with some fun, sun, sand, surf, a little bit of action, a load of laughs and some totally rockin’ beach bods!

In Baywatch, devoted lifeguard Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) leads an elite team in protecting his stretch of California beach, especially when he gets a whiff of something unusually fishy—a drug-smuggling operation that threatens the future of the bay.

Johnson, the former pro wrestler known as The Rock, has become one of Hollywood’s most versatile stars, a mountainous Atlas of an actor who can glide effortlessly between bawdy comedy and explosive action, often in the same scene. In the opener, he dives dramatically off a rocky shoreline into choppy waters to save an unconscious, downed parasailer—then emerges, beaming with a billion-dollar smile as dolphins dance in the background and the movie’s title appears on the horizon.

Mitch then jogs along the beachfront, basking in the glow of his many fans—people he’s rescued, people who know people he’s rescued, people making sand sculptures of the sea god Poseidon with Mitch’s face.

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Dwayne Johnson & Zac Efron

Zac Efron plays Mitch’s new partner, Matt Brody, a former hotshot Olympic swimmer who comes aboard with muscles on his muscles—and a bit of a troubled past. Brody has to earn the respect of Mitch and the other lifeguards, Summer (Alexandra Daddario, who played Annabeth in the Percy Jackson movie series), C.J. (former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera from TV’s Billions and Master of None).

Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra (Quantico‘s Alex Parrish) portrays a ravishing real-estate mogul with sinister plans to expand her empire, drawing a city councilman (Oscar Nuñez) and a tech-savvy computer geek (Hannibal Burress) into her dark, dangerous web. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (from the Netflix series The Get Down) is the local police sergeant, constantly butting heads with Mitch.

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Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly Rohrbach & Alexandra Daddario

Director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief) concocts some absolutely hilarious setups that take full advantage of the movie’s R rating—like a morgue investigation with an uproariously raunchy riff on Johnson’s well-known, real-life status as a titan of social media; a shower scene involving an a cappella rendition of Katy Perry’s Roar and a discussion of lunch menus; and an unfortunate incident on the beach that starts with a bag of candy and ends with a wooden lounge chair, a circle of smartphones and a painfully lodged body part.

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Jon Bass

Everyone gets lots of time to shine, but the movie’s main weapon in its comedy arsenal is Jon Bass, who plays Ronnie, the schlubby, tubby “outsider” chosen to be a lifeguard because of his spirit, spunk and heart. Bass, whose TV and movie roles include playing Del on the Comedy Central series Big Time in Hollywood, FL, definitely knows how to mainline the funny flow, and director Gordon gives him his own comedic subplot, a crush on fellow lifeguard C.J. And just wait until you see Ronnie’s surprising, bust-out moves on the dance floor!

The movie is wryly meta and self-aware of its TV roots. Baywatch was cancelled in 1989 after only one season on NBC, but went on to international fame in a decade of worldwide syndication, a slice of pure, exported American cheese as its characters dealt with problems ranging from beach bums to shark attacks, earthquakes and serial killers.

Late in the movie, a couple of all-stars from the TV show make cameo appearances.

“Why does she always look like she’s running in slo-mo?” Summer asks as the camera lingers (yes, in slow motion) on a jogging C.J. It’s a wink-wink reference to the television show’s frequent leering shots of its swimsuit-clad actresses as they ran on the beach, slowed to such a crawl that it looked like they were moving in molasses.

At one point, the seasoned lifeguards explain to Brody the variety of their work. They don’t just rescue drowning swimmers: They also chase away beach thieves, fend off schools of deadly manta rays, break up rings of offshore diamond smugglers…

“Sounds like a far-fetched TV show!” Brody says.

Hmmm, yes, it does—just one that’s quite bit more bawdy, brawny, spicy, sexy and fun!

In theaters May 25, 2017

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Pure Love, Tainted World

YA saga ‘Everything, Everything’ missing a little something-something

EVERYTHING EVERYTHING

Everything, Everything
Starring Amandla Stenberg & Nick Robinson
Directed by Stella Meghie
PG-13
In theaters May 19, 2017

And you think you’ve led a sheltered life.

Imagine being confined to your home day and night, forbidden to step outside, unable to interact with the world—and absolutely barred from seeing the cute new neighbor who just moved in next door.

No, you haven’t been kidnapped, you’re not under house arrest and you haven’t been permanently grounded. You’re just the lead character in the movie version of author Nicola Yoon’s 2015’s young adult novel Everything, Everything, which takes several time-honored, melodramatic girl-meets-boy themes and gives them a new, hormonal-yearning yank.

As she tells us in the opening scene’s voiceover, young Maddy (Amandla Stenberg, who played Halle Foster on TV’s Mr. Robinson and the little tribute Rue alongside Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games) suffers from a rare autoimmune disease that makes the world a serious threat outside her sealed, sterilized home.

“If I went outside, I would die,” she matter-of-factly narrates. So Maddy, who’s about to turn 18, hasn’t been anywhere, or done anything, since she was a baby. She fantasizes about swimming in the ocean, walking in the grass and breathing fresh air. She reads voraciously, absorbing life through the pages of classic novels like Stuart Little, Flowers For Algernon and The Invisible Man.

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Anika Noni Rose

Her mother (Anika Noni Rose, who plays “Jukebox” on TV’s Power and Dr. Eva Fletcher on The Quad) tries to assure her she’s provided all Maddy needs inside their airtight, irradiated, disinfected, high-tech, art-deco mansion in their leafy suburb of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. “You’re not missing out on anything,” she says.

“Just everything,” replies Maddy.

For her online classes, Maddy builds scale models of places she knows she’ll never go, like a library and a diner—and always puts a tiny model astronaut inside them. She has a thing for the little spaceman; he symbolizes much about Maddy.

Maddy’s never had a boyfriend. She’s never been kissed. She’s never felt the passion, or the pangs, of love. Like the astronaut, Maddy will soon go “out there” herself, all alone into the unknown, exploring.

That’s where cute boy-next-door Olly (Nick Robinson, who starred in the YA sci-fi adventure The Fifth Wave then Jurassic World after his 2013 breakout in the indie hit The Kings of Summer) comes in. Long-haired, dressed head to toe in black and gliding down the street on his skateboard, he radiates adventure and excitement. Olly just moved into the neighborhood with his family. Maddy is instantly smitten. At first they just wave hi through their bedroom windows, then exchange text messages and emails—and pretty soon figure out a way to meet face to face.

And guess what? Maddy doesn’t die. So they meet again, thanks to Maddy’s helpful and sympathetic daytime nurse, Carla (Ana de la Reguera).

Not surprisingly, Maddy’s fiercely protective mom blows a gasket when she finds out. She fires Carla and forbids Maddy from having any contact with Olly ever again.

“Love can’t kill me,” says a defiant Maddy.

“That’s not true,” counters her mom, somewhat ominously.

DSC08396.dngAnd mom doesn’t know Maddy’s gotten approved for a credit card, and airline tickets to Hawaii are a snap to book online.

Director Stella Meghie, whose only other feature was the 2016 comedy Jean of the Joneses, makes everything look posh and pretty, but really doesn’t break a lot of fresh ground when it comes to young-adult conventions, from Love Story to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Fault in Our Stars. Beautiful teen with a fatal disease—check. Forbidden love—yes. Oppressive parents who don’t understand—affirmative. Hokey dialogue (“I loved you before I knew you”)—in there!

DSC09791.dngStenberg and Robinson are adorably cute; their scenes together have an exhilarating, untethered, young-love, first-kiss rush and gush, scored to a hip, youthful soundtrack of tunes from Khalid, The Internet, Kehlani and Alabama Shakes, plus a track from Stenberg herself (“Let My Baby Stay”).

But there’s a bit of preposterousness to the whole setup, and the film presents it with even more of a fairy-tale gloss of impossible affluence, coincidence, perfection and only-in-the-movies happenstance. A major plot twist toward the end is a real soap-opera golly-whopper, and the thud of its scorched-earth aftershock rattles the simple charm of an otherwise sweet finale.

Teenagers, the audience for which the film is obviously intended, will probably be able to relate to this tale of young lovers determined to overcome their fate—and perhaps swoon more than once as the screen is filled with displays of their overflowing passion. More seasoned moviegoers, however, will probably find that Everything, Everything is missing a little something-something.

Stoned!

The ancient tale of Camelot gets a modern-movie, hipster twist

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law & Astrid Bergès-Frisbey
Directed by Guy Richie
PG-13

In the opening scene, the kingdom of Camelot of ravaged by a heathen horde and a rampage of gigantic, monstrous war elephants swinging black wrecking balls on their tree-like trunks.

Director Guy Richie’s wild-ride take on the legendary British folk tale is a bit like those jumbo Dumbos—it’s a huge, lumbering, dark fantasy that smashes and crashes into themes, events and characters that have been popularized in literature, lore, legend and popular culture for centuries.

Legend of the Sword gives Camelot a modern-movie, rock ’n’ roll makeover, with bombastic special effects, a pounding original contemporary soundtrack and a barrage of hipster Cockney slang.

“You’ve got some heat on you, Arthur,” young Arthur (Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy) is warned at one point—and he’s not being cautioned about standing too close to the fireplace.

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Jude Law

We find out how baby Arthur was raised by in a brothel after the death of his parents at the hands of his evil uncle, Vortigem (Jude Law), now the ruler of the kingdom. Bullied by the other kids, Arthur grew up tough, haunted by nightmares of his childhood and learning to despise the king.

Director Richie brings to the movie much of his fondness for streetwise, wisecracking British lads, as in his previous films Snatch, RocknRolla and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and two Sherlock Holmes flicks. As the plot thickens and Arthur and his miscreant “crew”—with names like Wet Stick, Mischief John, Brother Blackleg and Back Lack—prepare to make their move on Vortigem, Richie indulges his love of fast-flying quips, jerky, quick-cut edits and characters fast-forwarding, downshifting into super slo-mo and “rewinding.”

Naturally, Arthur pulls “the sword” from “the stone.” But for a movie called The Legend of the Sword, we really don’t learn anything about the legend, or the sword—why it’s so powerful, how it came to be or even its name. For some reason, it’s never referred to as Excalibur, or anything—other than “the sword.”

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Those elephants! 

The movie is far too occupied throwing everything else on the screen: There are family murders, a slashed throat, a severed ear, human sacrifices and knights that burst into flame. Not to mention those gargantuan elephants… huge, hissing rats… sirens that morph into a slimy blob of slithering eels… and a snake the size of a subway train. Why? If a street bloke can pull a magical blade from a rock, why not?

And it turns out Arthur’s weapon might be the world’s first smartsword—it seems to know who’s a bad guy and who’s a good guy, at least based on Arthur’s first big brawl. What’s next—self-firing catapults?

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Astrid Bergès-Frisbey

Law makes a juicy villain, and Hunnam brings a muscular, scrappy outsider’s heft and attitude to Arthur, not quite yet the nobleman he’s destined to become. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey (who played the mermaid Syrena in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is runway-model cool as the mage, a mysterious rebel with magical powers who helps Arthur harness the awesomeness of the sword not called Excalibur.

And hey, isn’t that the guy from Gladiator, The Legend of Tarzan and TV’s Wayward Pines? Yes, it’s Djimon Hounsou, whose character will eventually be knighted as Bevidere. And isn’t that archer a dude from Game of Thrones? Yep, it’s Aidan Gillan (GOT’s Petyr Baelish) as Arthur’s go-to bow-and-arrow guy, Goose Fat Bill. Is that former world soccer star David Beckham? Sure is—as a not-so-chivalrous knight in not-so-shining armor. Who’s that Lady of the Lake? It’s the director’s wife, Jacqui Ainsley, who gets a bit of screen time as the ghostly aqua-lass. Wasn’t Maid Maggie in Peaky Blinders? Yes, actress Annabelle Wallis starred on the BBC crime drama from 2013 to 2016, and she’ll play archeologist Jenny Halsey in The Mummy, opening June 7.

There are characters afoot everywhere, but too often, everyone’s competing with the spewing fountain of CGI show-off excess, a patchwork of unfocused, all-over-the-place storytelling and dialogue so rich and ripe with authentic accents “from the Isles” that American ears may have trouble keeping up. (I think “Goshen me brath” was “Catchin’ my breath,” but I’m not sure.)

This is supposedly the lead-off in a franchise, the first of six—rather optimistically—planned movies about Camelot, the boy king and his magical weapon.

“Did you see everything you needed to see?” the mage asks Arthur after his venture into the Dark Lands. “I saw enough,” he tells her.

After watching Legend of the Sword, I think I did, too.

In theaters May 12, 2017

Saving the Galaxy…Awesome!

Family matters in ‘Guardians’ sequel, but mostly it’s a wild ride of bonkers space-rocket fun 

nullGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker & Kurt Russell
Directed by James Gunn
PG-13
In theaters May 5, 2017

“We’re saving the galaxy again?” asks the rascally raccoon known as Rocket. “Awesome!”

Many fans will have the same giddy reaction at the return of Guardians of the Galaxy, the 2014 blockbuster about a ragtag, Robin Hood-ish crew of Marvel Comics space mercenaries. The gang from the original, which raked in more than $773 million at the box office, is also all aboard for the sequel, including writer/director James Gunn.

Leading the pack again is Chris Pratt as the cocky, roguish pilot Peter Quill, who still has an “unspoken thing” for the emerald-skinned she-assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Former professional wrestler Dave Bautista is a man-mountain of red-tattooed muscle as Drax (the Destroyer), whose hearty laugh sounds like it could rattle the rings around Saturn. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the mouthy raccoon genetically altered to become a master of weaponry and fighting, is given his own mini-story spinoff—which includes an especially zesty verbal spar with a dreadlocked baddie named Taserface (Chris Dowd, who plays Toby Damon on TV’s This is Us).

nullAnd even though you really can’t tell, that’s Vin Diesel once more providing the voice of Baby Groot, the new, little-sprout incarnation of the hulking tree creature that was part of the Guardians crew in the first film.

Baby Groot pretty much steals the show—and certainly every scene in which appears,  dancing, wiggling, running, grunting or simply saying the only thing he ever says: “I am Groot.”

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Rocket & Baby Groot

This time around, the Guardians get into serious trouble when Rocket double-crosses some gold-skinned aliens, the Sovereigns, led by the imperialistic Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki).  That sets off an intergalactic bounty hunt by the Ravagers, a group of motley thieves, smugglers and space pirates.

But Peter Quill’s long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell), zooms to the rescue. When he takes the Guardians to his fabulous celestial home, a world he created, he lays the news on them: He’s actually a cosmic deity, a “celestial.” That makes Peter, his spawn, a bona fide star child.

“You’re…a god?” asks the incredulous Peter.

“Small g, son,” says Ego. “At least on days I’m feeling humble.”

The matter of Peter’s mixed DNA—his mother was an Earthling who died of a brain tumor when Peter was a child—looms large. And as most everyone knows, family matters can be complicated.

There’s a difference and a distinction between fathers and daddies, Peter is reminded by Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned bandit who raised him. And Gamora is reunited with her sister, the cybernetically enhanced Nebula (Karen Gillan, Dr. Who’s Amy Pond), who has some major childhood grudges she still wants to settle.

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Gamora

All of this zaps and zooms along, as did the first movie, to a witty stream of pop-cultural riffs and references. Peter compares his slow-burn relationship with Gamora to Sam and Diane from the iconic rom-com Cheers, and he tells her how much he longed for his dad to be like dashing Knight Rider star David Hasselhoff. A wild, warping ride through space zones, in which characters’ faces contort in crazy, eye-popping ways, is a meta-reference to the work of legendary Looney Tunes cartoon animator Tex Avery. There’s a visual joke about Pac Man, and another very clever running gag that takes drone weaponry to an alien-videogame-arcade extreme.

And there are VIP cameos, one by someone Marvel fans always expect to show up in Marvel movies, and another by Sylvester Stallone, who mumbles a few mushy lines and then disappears for most of the rest of the movie.

Just like the original Guardians rocked out to Peter Quill’s “Awesome Mixtape Vol. I” cassette on his beloved Walkman, this one has an equally cool overlay of classic-rock gems to set the tone. It starts out with the Looking Glass super-70s hit “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” and continues through “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” Jay and the American’s “Love a Little Bit Closer,” Silver’s “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” and several more.

And you’ve probably never thought of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” as the musical backdrop for the battle of a gigantic glop monster, or Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” as the soundtrack for a moonlit evening of finely orchestrated defensive-perimeter mayhem. But you probably will now.

It’s noisy, colorful, jam-packed and it ends—like a lot of superhero flicks—with a big, boom-y, blowout bang before a much softer, sentimental coda, one orchestrated to the meditative strains of the Cat Stevens song “Fathers and Sons.” But it’s a practically nonstop cascade of fast-paced, bonkers, high-spirited fun, a far-out space-rocket ride with a cast of endearing characters that have definitely found their movie niche and intend to hang onto it.

As the teaser at the end indicates, they’ll definitely be back—to save the galaxy again.

To quote Rocket the raccoon, “Awesome!”

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