Love, Sex & Eating The Bones

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LOVE, SEX & EATING THE BONES

2003

ThinkFilm/Velocity Home Entertainment

Written and Directed by David “Sudz” Sutherland

Produced by Jennifer Holness

Watching movies recommended to you by your friends is always a tricky proposition, isn’t it? Mainly because people are so passionate about their movies that if they recommend one to you and you don’t like it they are truly and honestly upset about it. It’s almost as if by saying you don’t like their choice of movies, you’re rejecting them.

Of course, if you’re as open-minded as me, you pretty much roll with it and just sit back and determine to be completely and totally objective about a recommendation. Even when it’s a romantic comedy, not my favorite movie genre, I assure you. But LOVE, SEX & EATING THE BONES got my attention for three reasons: first, it’s a romantic comedy with a primarily black cast. Second, it’s set in Toronto and I was highly curious to see if the movie would provide me with insight into African-Canadian culture. And third, it stars Hill Harper, an exceptional actor who I’ve seen in movies for years and years now and never seems to have hit upon that one breakout movie that will make him a star. This is truly a shame because I’ve never seen him in a movie where I didn’t enjoy his performance and I greatly enjoyed his performance in this movie as well.

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Michael Joseph (Hill Harper) is an aspiring photographer making ends meet by working as a security guard in a parking garage. It’s not a bad job. The work isn’t demanding and he mainly hangs out with his co-workers/best buds Sweets (Mark Taylor) and Kennedy (Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies) Since his job is so undemanding he’s got plenty of time for his two true passions in life: his photography and his pornography.

Yep, you read that right. Michael is a full tilt boogie porn addict. He’s got stacks and stacks of porn tapes in his apartment and his particular porn star obsession of Amazonian proportions named Lisette (Meriaka Weathered) who he fantasizes about while he’s uh…ahem…harrumph….cough cough.

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He doesn’t see his porn addiction as a problem until he starts dating the gorgeous and stylish marketing executive Jasmine LeJeune (Marlyne Afflack) who coming off a long period of celibacy and is looking to make up for lost time. They date and there’s an honest connection there. This makes it all the more surprising for them and hilarious for us when Michael is unable to perform in the bedroom. In fact, unless he’s watching porn, his soldier refuses to stand to attention at all.

It also doesn’t help that Jasmine’s sister Peaches (Kai Soremekun) is aware of Michael’s porn addiction since in one of those coincidences that romantic comedies couldn’t exist without, she works in Michael’s favorite XXX video palace.

Can Michael overcome his porn addiction and make this relationship with Jasmine work? Or will he be lured to the dark side when he wins a contest where the prize is being in a sex scene with Lisette?

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Trust me when I say that LOVE, SEX & EATING THE BONES is not as sleazy as it sounds. Oh, it’s got its raunchy moments, I don’t deny that. But the porn scenes are played more as a parody of the genre that anything else. The true meat of the movie is Michael’s dealing with his porn addiction and how it got such a hold on him. What helps us sympathize with his character is that Michael honestly is a nice guy. He’s extremely respectful towards all the women we see him encounter. Even Peaches, who since he doesn’t drive a Bentley and have a six figure bank account she takes an immediate dislike to him and tries her best to jam him up every chance she gets.

The movie even takes a soft turn into psychodrama as when Michael mind starts to mix up his fantasy woman and his real woman. And I think it was an inspired move on the part of writer/director Suzd Sutherland to have this rich golden glow emanate from Michael’s portfolio of pictures whenever somebody opens it up to look at his work instead of showing actual photographs. It’s the best way to visualize Michael’s work as being magical. There’s a really lovely scene where Jasmine looks in the portfolio for the first time and as the golden glow plays over her face and she smiles we can tell exactly what she’s feeling.

Hill Harper and Marlyne Afflack share the acting honors in this one. They have a genuine rapport and charm with each other that is so unforced and so natural I got caught up in the story before I knew it. The rest of the cast does exactly what the supporting cast in a romantic comedy is supposed to do: they circle the leads and comment on the action, offering advice that isn’t needed or wanted but provide us with a lot of laughs.

LOVE, SEX & EATING THE BONES most certainly isn’t your conventional, paint-by-the-numbers American made romantic comedy and its refusal to be conventional is 50% of its appeal. The other 50% is the setting and the strong performances of the talented cast. Highly Recommended.

LOVE, SEX & EATING THE BONES is currently available to watch on Popcornflix.com

100 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

San Andreas

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2015

Warner Brothers/New Line Cinema/Flynn Picture Company/Village Roadshow Pictures/RatPac-Dune Entertainment

Directed by Brad Peyton

Produced by Beau Flynn/Hiram Garcia/TrippVinson

Screenplay by Carlton Cuse

Story by Andre Fabrizio/Jeremy Passmore

You know what SAN ANDREAS needed to be a real, Honest-To-Irwin-Allen Disaster Movie? Director Brad Peyton needed to have rounded up a dozen aging character actors from the 1980s and sprinkle them in his movie in various roles so that we in the audience could have the fun of guessing which ones were going to die and which ones would be around for the closing credits. Because that’s how those classic Disaster Movies of the 1970s sold: “Who will live and who will die?” the posters asked. And that was part of the fun of going to see a Disaster Movie back then.

SAN ANDREAS chooses to focus on one family as they struggle to survive the largest earthquake in human history: a 9.6 that rips California apart and obliterates cities. It’s a narrow focus, yes, but the real stars of the movie aren’t Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino, good as they are. The stars of SAN ANDREAS is the special effects department and it goes absolutely batshit insane destroying Los Angeles and San Francisco. Even for a long time movie goer like me who has seen plenty of destruction on screen, the apocalypse depicted in SAN ANDREAS is magnificently outrageous. And that’s the fun of going to see a Disaster Movie now.

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Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter rescue pilot. He’s going through a rough divorce from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) who he still loves madly even though she’s moving in with her mega rich real estate developer boyfriend Daniel Riddick (Ioan Grufudd) Ray is looking forward to spending quality time with their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) in San Francisco. Quality time that is cut short by a devastating 7.1 earthquake that destroys Hoover Dam.

Caltech seismologist Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) had predicted the quake but in true Chicken Little fashion, nobody believed him when he said the sky was falling. But with the help of plucky news reporter Serena Johnson (Archie Panjabi) they believe him when he says that this is just the beginning. Things are going to get a whole lot worse and basically, everybody in San Francisco needs to start running as if their asses are on fire NOW and don’t stop until they hit Canada.

The quake hits Los Angeles and Ray is able to save Emma using his chopper. They then set out to fly to San Francisco and hopefully get there ahead of the quake and save their daughter.

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And that’s all you need to know. SAN ANDREAS knows what you’ve come for. You want to see skyscrapers tumbling into rubble, famous landmarks blowing up, cities engulfed in tsunamis, women clutching their children to their breasts as they run screaming down the street, men stampeding like blood-mad bulls and everybody pretty much hollering “Oh, shit!” non-stop as they all try to stay alive while California slides into the sea.

Director Brad Peyton and screenwriter Carlton Cuse have no pretense that they’re making art here and stars Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino don’t for a minute try for Academy Awards. But they do understand the genre they’re working in and conduct themselves accordingly. Both Johnson and Gugino are always wonderful to watch on screen and they acquit themselves well here. Between dodging collapsing buildings and explosions they rebuild their damaged relationship, providing moments where their characters and the audience as well can catch a breather until the next crisis must be overcome.

Paul Giamatti and Archie Panjabi are also fun to watch as they work their side of the street warning the hapless citizens that they have to run for their mollyfoggin’ lives NOW. I liked how Paul Giamatt’s Dr. Hayes gets to have his Action Hero moment during the destruction of the Hoover Dam (a truly frightening sequence) where he’s getting tourists off the dam as its falling to pieces.

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I saw SAN ANDREAS in 3D and while I normally avoid 3D like the plague, this time I couldn’t get out of it as my wife Patricia insisted on seeing it in 3D. She’s very good about going to see movies with me she has no interest in so I couldn’t be a swine and refuse her. And you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I enjoyed watching it in 3D way more than I thought I would. The 3D was especially good later on during the scenes in a drowned San Francisco that are utterly and totally surreal. And yes, fellas, you will most definitely appreciate the 3D in the scenes where Carla Gugino is running.

So should you see SAN ANDREAS? Yes. It’s a total Summer Movie. It’s all spectacle, all massive action set pieces and enormously outrageous stunts and special effects. It has no pretentions and no desire to do nothing else that make you forget your troubles and entertain you for 114 minutes. And it does it with strong actors and a simple, direct story that has just enough characterizations and genuine emotion to get you invested in the characters. Enjoy.

114 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Beyond The Poseidon Adventure

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1979

Warner Bros.

Directed and Produced by Irwin Allen

Screenplay by Nelson Gidding

Based on the novel by Paul Gallico

It doesn’t surprise me at all that it took Irwin Allen seven years to come up with a sequel to his disaster movie masterpiece “The Poseidon Adventure.” He did come up with a story soon after that movie in which the survivors had to go to Vienna to testify in a hearing as to what happened on The Poseidon. While on a train to the hearing, the survivors would be trapped in a miles long tunnel that collapses, trapping them inside. The rest of the movie would have them struggle to find a way out.

For some reason that was never filmed but the premise was reworked and used for the Sylvester Stallone movie “Daylight.” You’ll have to tell me how it works out because for some reason I’ve never seen “Daylight.” Don’t ask me why.

Anyway, apparently it took Mr. Allen that long to come up with another story. In the interim, Paul Gallico, the writer of the original novel had written a sequel of his own. The sequel was to his novel and not the movie. But don’t worry; the movie BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE has no relation to the novel written by Mr. Gallico and I give thanks for that. If you’ve read “The Poseidon Adventure” you’ll know why I say that. There’s a popular school of thought that says that movie versions of novels are never as good as the books. Well, “The Poseidon Adventure” is a movie that goes against that school of thought as it’s far better than the novel. The characters in the novel are vile, despicable people who I was rooting for to die. There’s no heroism in that book, nobody to root for. Unlike the movie which shows us that anybody is capable of rising to meet an extraordinary challenge.

But that’s enough of that. We’re here to talk about BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE so let’s get to it.

On the same New Year’s Eve that The Poseidon gets turned topsy turvy, Captain Mike Turner (Michael Caine) and his plucky crew (Karl Malden and Sally Field) are struggling to keep his tugboat afloat. Now, what in the hell a tugboat is doing way out in the middle of the ocean in international waters is never explained. All you have to know is that Turner loses his cargo and that means he’ll also lose his boat to the bank as he was depending on that cargo to pay off his mortgage.

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As fate would have it, Turner and crew come across the wreck of The Poseidon and Turner aims to go aboard and claim salvage rights. He figures that he can get to the purser’s office he’ll find valuables in the safe that he can use to get his boat out of hock.

Dr. Svevo (Telly Savalas) and his crew who represent themselves as medics who received the ship’s SOS join them. Now, what in the hell a crew of medics is doing just joyriding way out in the middle of the ocean in international waters on New Year’s Day is never explained. All you need to know is that five minutes after Turner meets Svevo he’s got the feeling the good doctor is fulla bovine excrement.

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Making their way inside The Poseidon through the same hole in the hull that the survivors of the previous movie escaped through, they quickly become trapped inside the still sinking ship themselves. Turner and the others encounter survivors still aboard: ship’s nurse Gina Rowe (Shirley Jones) the obligatory passenger with a deep dark secret Suzanne Constantine (Veronica Hamel) the obligatory pain in the ass Frank Mezzetti (Peter Boyle) and his daughter (Angela Cartwright) crewman Larry Simpson (Mark Harmon) billionaire Dewey “Tex” Hopkins (Slim Pickens) and blind businessman Harold Meredith (Jack Warden)

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Turner finds the purser’s office and the safe. And inside the safe he finds stacks of cash, industrial diamonds and gold coins, more than enough to get his boat out of hock. Dr. Svevo and his men also find something as well; a cache of plutonium. Svevo is actually a terrorist who has nefarious plans for the plutonium. And he’s more than willing to kill Turner and the others to insure they won’t tell the outside world of those plans. As decks continue to flood and explosions rock the ship it becomes a race for the two groups to get off the doomed ship, battling each other and time.

I realize I’m in the minority here, but I actually think it was a smart idea for Irwin Allen to go with a plot that is just as much an action/adventure thriller as a fight for survival. After all, we got the fight for survival in the first movie. The plot with the terrorists and the plutonium may be out of left field but let’s face it, if you’ve bought everything up until now, why not go along with the rest?

There’s a strong line-up of actors in this movie and while nobody is trying to win an Academy Award, nobody is phoning it in either. Telly Savalas is in full Ernst Stavro Blofeld mode here, managing to be pleasantly menacing and ruthlessly charming at the same time. Peter Boyle is saddled with the unfortunate task of being the Ernest Borgnine stand-in here but he and Caine do appear to be having a good time barking and biting at each other. If there is anybody who can be said to be coasting, it’s Sally Field. Basically she’s playing her character from “Smokey & The Bandit” here. The similarity even goes so far as to her being nicknamed for an animal in this movie just as she was in “Smokey & The Bandit.” In that movie her nickname was ‘Frog.’ Here, Turner nicknames her ‘Monkey.’ And how can you go wrong with Michael Caine, Karl Malden, Slim Pickens and a baby-faced Mark Harmon all in the same movie?

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So should you see BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE? Sure, why not? It’s nowhere near as good as the original, but then again, it’s not trying to be. In fact, you could watch this movie without ever having seen “The Poseidon Adventure” and be satisfied. It does its own thing and it’s satisfied with that. I wouldn’t say it’s a movie that you should run out and buy but if you’re channel surfing and see it’s on; you wouldn’t be wasting your time giving it a watch. It’s what I like to call a Solid Saturday Afternoon Movie. Enjoy.

114 Minutes

PG

Tomorrowland

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2015

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Brad Bird

Produced by Brad Bird/Damon Lindelof/Jeffrey Chernov

Screenplay by Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird

Story by Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird/Jeff Jensen

Despite my curmudgeonly demeanor, at heart I’m really a soft-as-a-marshmallow optimist. Really. I believe that Good always triumphs over Evil. That most people are good at heart and will lend a helping hand when they can. I depend on the kindness of strangers. I believe that the sun will come out tomorrow. I bet my bottom dollar that tomorrow there will be sun.

That’s why I’m really not much of a fan of dystopian science fiction. It kinda makes me sad that young people especially positively wallow in books and movies that depict the future as a pretty shitty place to live. And I think that as I get older, I want to believe more and more that mankind has a great and glorious future not only on this planet but in the far flung galaxies that I still believe we’ll explore. That’s why I was looking forward to TOMORROWLAND as it looked to be a science fiction movie throwback to an earlier time of hope and optimism that Science would make our world a paradise (It’s 2015…where the hell are my moon cities, jetpacks and flying cars, dammit?) and enrich our lives in every way imaginable.

There’s a part in the movie when disillusioned super genius Frank Walker (George Clooney) rages at Athena (Raffey Cassidy) that she did not fulfill the promise she made when she brought him to the city of Tomorrowland. Mr. Clooney could be speaking for me as well because TOMORROWLAND the movie certainly did not deliver on the promise that the trailers made to me.

Frank once lived in Tomorrowland, a futuristic city inhabiting another dimension. As a boy he invented a jetpack and eagerly brought it to the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, NY to show it off to David Nix (Hugh Laurie) Nix is unimpressed but Athena, a young girl of surprising intelligence and maturity sees his potential and grants Frank access to Tomorrowland. Frank is later on banished from Tomorrowland and grows up mean, surly and resentful. But he still manages to monitor events in Tomorrowland. Events that may mean the end of the world.

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Athena re-enters his life, still looking like a young girl and bringing along Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) who in her own way may just be as mega-brilliant as Frank. Athena assures Frank that if they can get back to Tomorrowland, Casey might be able to prevent the end of the world. That’s if they can survive the attacks of killer robots sent after them by Nix who has engineered natural disasters, environmental catastrophes and implanted bad hoodoo in the minds of everybody on Earth to bring about the end of the world. Don’t ask why. The movie never bothers to explain and I’m not gonna do the screenwriters job for them and try to bail them out with extrapolating one.

Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first so I can end this review on a positive note. My major beef with the movie? That we spend so little time in Tomorrowland itself. There are two magical scenes that tease and tantalize. One is with Frank as a boy (Thomas Robinson) using his jetpack to fly over Tomorrowland and in that scene Brad Bird manages to evoke the same feeling I get when I look at the covers of 1950s science fiction magazines. The other scene is where Casey is briefly transported to Tomorrowland and explores the city. That scene also tickled my sense of wonder. Especially the swimming pools.

But except for those two scenes and near the end of the movie we never learn a lot about Tomorrowland itself. We’re constantly told how Tomorrowland is populated by inventors, scientists, artists, technologists and dreamers who are all working together to create the future. But we never see any of them or what they’re working on. And how did a guy with a head full of bad wiring like Nix wind up in charge, anyway?

Brad Bird’s direction really disappointed me as I know for a fact the man can direct a movie. He directed “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” which I consider to be the best of the “Mission Impossible” movies and he directed one of the best superhero movies ever made; “The Incredibles.” But TOMORROWLAND is devoid of any real energy or suspense. The movie and the characters just wander around doing things and while some of it is very exciting stuff, yes, it just doesn’t have a feel of urgency or that any of it matters.

What else? The ending feels very out of tone with the rest of the movie. It’s as if Brad Bird and his co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof felt that like every other summer movie, they needed a big explosion to finish things off.  And speaking of the writing, it leaves out so much that would go a long way to explaining Tomorrowland and the characters of Frank and Nix. We never do find out why Frank was exiled from Tomorrowland and Nix acts pretty much like a James Bond villain in that once he’s got the good guys under his thumb he explains his entire evil scheme to them.

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Now onto the good: George Clooney is is usually charming self. I dunno…it’s impossible for me to dislike Clooney in anything he does because he’s got such an earnestness behind what he’s doing on screen that I’m sucked in. It’s always welcome to see Hugh Laurie do anything on screen and he does the best he can with such a thin character. I don’t blame him, I blame the screenplay.

The acting honors go to the young ladies, especially Raffey Cassidy who somehow manages to be both unnerving and endearing at the same time. She acquits herself equally well in action scenes such as when she takes on a pair of hipster killer robots that run a science fiction memorabilia shop as well in more emotional scenes with Frank where they have to resolve issues from when Frank was a boy and fell in love with her, not knowing her secret then.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Athena (Raffey Cassidy)..Ph: Kimberley French..©Disney 2015

Disney’s TOMORROWLAND..Athena (Raffey Cassidy)..Ph: Kimberley French..©Disney 2015

Britt Robertson plays Casey as spunky, nervy, brainy and downright fun. The two young actresses have a wonderful chemistry and whenever they’re on screen together, TOMORROWLAND snaps, crackles and pops.

So should you see TOMORROWLAND? While I appreciated the marvelous special effects which evoke the spirit of 1950s science fiction and the movie’s message of optimism, hope and scientific exploration, it’s continually beating us over the head with that message and it gets in the way of the story. Wait for this to show up on Netflix or get the DVD.

130 Minutes

Rated PG

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Warner Bros./Kennedy-Miller-Mitchell/Village Roadshow Pictures

2015

Directed by George Miller

Produced by Doug Mitchell/George Miller/P.J Voeten

Written by George Miller/Brendan McCarthy/Nico Lathouris

With all the deserved praise that he’s been getting for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, nobody seems to have mentioned that George Miller has revived a time honored movie tradition that has been forgotten in our age of reboot fever: he just simply recast a new actor to play Max Rockatansky aka Mad Max.  He didn’t reboot the series or felt that he had to explain why Max hasn’t aged in the thirty years between this movie and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” In fact, through some subtle visual clues such as Tom Hardy wearing the same jacket and leg brace that Mel Gibson did in the three previous Mad Max adventures, Miller lets us know this is the same guy. Hardy even gets to briefly drive the iconic black V8 Interceptor.

But he doesn’t feel the need to work some kind of jiggery pokery as to why Mad Max is now Tom Hardy and not Mel Gibson. He simply presents MAD MAX: FURY ROAD as another adventure of his signature character. You can take it or leave it. And in fact, that attitude runs throughout the entire movie. It’s a perfect example of that old adage: “Show. Don’t Tell.” Miller doesn’t waste our time having his characters stand around mouthing meaningless exposition, explaining things to each other that they already know or filling us in on the background of this visually deranged world. Miller’s attitude seems to be: “Here’s the characters. Here’s the situation. Now sit back and watch the damn movie.”

Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the soldiers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who holds sway over a hoard of worshippers due to his control of an unlimited supply of water in the middle of a desert wasteland somewhere in Australia. Immortan Joe has used the water to create an oasis where he lives with his private army, known as The War Boys and his Five Wives. They are all women of exceptional beauty he uses strictly for breeding.

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Max is kept alive and used an an unwilling blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult). While trying to figure out a way to escape, Joe’s right-hand woman Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps The Five Wives do just that very thing, hijacking the heavily armored War Rig. She intends to take them to The Green Place where she grew up. Once he discovers his wives are gone, Immortan Joe takes off after Furiosa with not only his War Boys but the armies of Gas Town and The Bullet Farm as well. Nux joins the pursuit with Max strapped to the front of his car and during that pursuit Max manages to escape and joins up with Furiosa and The Five Wives.

And that’s really all you need to know about the movie. What you’re getting is a two-hour epic car chase that is like a deliriously demented “Smokey and The Bandit” on acid. This is one of those movies that I watch in genuine amazement that nobody got killed working on this thing. It’s even more of an impressive achievement when you realize that most of the stunts and effects were done practically, at George Miller’s insistence. The use of CGI was used only when absolutely necessary and it’s actually Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron performing most of their stunts.

And speaking of Charlize Theron, she’s absolutely astounding here. The only other movie I can recall where she de-glamorized herself to this degree was “Monster.” Her role as Furiosa isn’t as dramatically daring as that of Aileen Wuronos but it’s no less captivating as she’s the best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens.” Yes, she’s that badass. Easily the equal of Tom Hardy’s Mad Max. They’re both warriors and survivors and come to respect each other because of their respective abilities to stay alive in this insane world. There’s no phony tacked on romance between them. They don’t have time for that bullshit. There’s only time to stay alive and ahead of the three armies chasing after them trying to kill them.

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Just on a purely visual level MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is brilliant. The vehicles on display are bizarre and just plain wacko. The Doof Wagon has to be seen to be believed. It’s a stage on wheels with six drummers banging away on drums while a guitarist swings back and forth on bungee cords playing heavy metal on a flame throwing guitar to Immortan Joe’s War Boys as they charge into battle.

Taking into account that he’s 70 years old, the imaginative visual power and energy of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is nothing less than astounding. Miller throws ideas and concepts up on screen for a couple of minutes that other filmmakers would make whole movies out of. You’d expect this kind of movie from a younger director, eager to show off what he can do.

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And maybe that makes all the difference. George Miller already knows what he can do. He did it before with “Mad Max” and with “The Road Warrior” which revolutionized the modern action movie. And he does it again with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop procrastinating. It’s definitely one of the best movies of the year and next to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” a Must See for the Summer of 2015. Enjoy.

Rated R

120 Minutes

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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2015

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Based on “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

The best recommendation I think I can give AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is that by the time the final credits were through rolling, my face hurt. But it was a good hurt. I’m being totally honest with you when I say that for about 85% of the movie I had the biggest grin on my face. The times I didn’t were during the appropriate and genuine moments of emotional crises suffered by the heroes. And those were welcome and necessary moments. Because Joss Whedon gets The Avengers. And he knows that without those scenes where they bicker, fight and squabble like a family, we won’t give a damn when they assemble to go into battle to save the world.

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And this time around, saving the world has a personal angle to it as Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is responsible for the menace threatening it. Yep, Tony’s been playing Dr. Frankenstein and has created an artificial intelligence named Ultron. Working in conjuction with Doc Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) Tony designed Ultron (James Spader) to be a worldwide defense program. It’s obvious to the rest of the team: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) that Tony is still feeling the PTS of the Chitauri Invasion of New York. It could well be that his manic desire to protect The Earth from future invasions may be clouding his judgment just a wee bit.

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Such an understatement. Ultron achieves sentience and sets out on his own agenda to save The Earth. An agenda he feels that can only be accomplished by eradicating humanity. Ultron recruits two “enhanced humans” to his cause. The twins Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Formerly experimental subjects of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) they eagerly join with Ultron for reasons of their own that concern Tony Stark.

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That’s the bare bones of the plot and that’s really all you need to know. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is so much fun because it’s exactly what I look for in a superhero movie and Joss Whedon knows how to make one, that’s for sure. The action sequences are nothing less than spectacular and even though they’re extremely busy, it’s always very clear which Avenger is doing what and why. I especially liked the different and inventive ways Whedon came up with for Captain America and Thor to work together using their signature weapons of shield and hammer. Each and every one of the fight scenes is big enough to have easily been the conclusion of any other superhero movie. Trust me on this. Right from the raid on Strucker’s Hydra base that starts the movie, Whedon cranks it up to eleven and keeps it there for the entire running time.

But it’s not all wall to wall action. Whedon knows how to slow down the action to allow the human, emotional moments to take over and they’re just as suspenseful as the action sequences and in some cases, a complete and total surprise. There are revelations concerning Hawkeye, the Black Widow and The Hulk that I really didn’t see coming. And in the case of Hawkeye, those of you who like me, complained that he didn’t have enough to do in “The Avengers” will be delighted to hear that he gets more than enough to do this time around.

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James Spader as Ultron does some interesting things with his characterization that has subtle echoes of Downey’s characterization of Tony Stark which only makes sense to me. Chris Evans can no longer be billed: Chris Evans as Captain America. From now on he gets billed: Chris Evans is Captain America. While he still is presented as a man out of time, it’s his values and morals from that time that always gives the team its drive and sense of purpose. It provides a nice balance to Tony Stark’s Australia-sized ego and single-minded focus on what he thinks his best for the world.

As the new kids, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen hold their own with the more experienced ensemble cast and carry their roles admirably. I really enjoyed Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and preferred him to the Quicksilver in the “Days of Future Past” X-Men movie. That version was too frivolous and smart-alecky for my taste while Taylor-Johnson had the intensity and pissed-off attitude I like in my Pietro.

It’s a big, complicated story with a lot of characters and a lot of cameos featuring faces you’ll recognize from the standalone movies featuring Thor, Iron Man and Captain America but you’ll never be lost or feel like the story doesn’t once know where it’s going. And the best thing about it is that it’s a superhero movie that makes you feel good. The Avengers never lose sight of the fact that they’re supposed to be the good guys and even when they stumble, they pick themselves up and jump right back into the fray. It’s downright refreshing to see superheroes who worry first about getting civilians out of harm’s way before going into combat with the bad guy (in a marvelous massive melee combat scene I’m convinced is a homage to the final shootout in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”)

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AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON gave me the same feeling I had as a kid when I first discovered the comic book and I treasure that feeling. It shows that superhero movies can be visually eye-popping and have astoundingly jaw-dropping fights and still not lose sight of what makes these characters work: they are men and women of godlike power who truly care about protecting the world and the people who inhabit it.  By all means, go see it and have fun.

PG-13

141 Minutes

Furious 7

Furious-7

2015

Universal Pictures/Original Film/One Race Films/Relativity Media/Media Rights Capital

Directed by James Wan

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell

Screenplay by Chris Morgan

Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

I have a lot of admiration for “The Fast and The Furious” film series. The first movie “The Fast and The Furious” was little more than an unofficial remake of “Point Break” substituting street racing clubs for surfers. Gradually the movies changed and developed into crime thrillers, teenage coming of age dramas and heist movies. With “Fast & Furious 6” and now FURIOUS 7 they’ve become full tilt boogie action-adventure spectacles with international locations, larger-than-life villains, breathtaking fight scenes and mind-boggling stunts that easily match and yes, sometimes top what you would expect to see in a James Bond or Mission: Impossible movie. There a scene in this movie where silky smooth spymaster Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) tells Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) “This is the world you’re in now, like it or not.” Which I interpret as a sly hint that this type of globe-trotting espionage capers is where the franchise is heading now. And if we’ve got more movies as good as FURIOUS 7 coming, then I eagerly await them.

It seems as if life has finally settled down for Dominic and his family. He’s helping Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) try and regain her lost memories. Ex-cop/Ex-FBI agent turned professional criminal Brian O’Conner has resolved to become a family man with his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their son Jack even though he reveals to Mia that he misses the jazz of his dangerous life.

None of them have to worry about being bored. Dom’s house is blown up and he’s informed by his ally Luke Hobbs of the Diplomatic Security Service (Dwayne Johnson) that Dom and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) the older and definitely meaner brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) the villain from the last movie who is now in a coma. Deckard is out for revenge and has already killed Han Lue (Sung Kang)

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Dom is contacted by Mr. Nobody who offers to help Dom catch Deckard if Dom and his crew will help him stop a vicious mercenary named Jakande (Djimon Honsou) from getting his hands on God’s Eye. It’s a frighteningly sophisticated computer program that can use any digital device in the world to track any individual (think of it as the little sister of the Big Brother-ish Machine from “Person of Interest’) and Jakande has the creator of God’s Eye, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) After rounding up Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris Bridges) the band is back together and they set out to rescue the hacker, recover God’s Eye and save the world.

Well, maybe not save the world, but there certainly is that kind of feel as our heroes race around the globe from the Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi and back to Los Angeles. And in each one these locals there are jaw-dropping action sequences that are insanely preposterous but I couldn’t help but watch with a goofy grin on my mug because dammit, that’s the reason why I go to see movies of this type. Give me the insane and the preposterous every time.

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What’s even more amazing to me is that all this astounding action is served up by James Wan, who as far as I know has directed mainly horror movies. Who knew that this cat had this kind of action movie in him? And now that we know, he should be given nothing but action movies to do. Seriously, FURIOUS 7 would be an impressive piece of work from a seasoned action director. But coming from Wan, who hasn’t done this genre before…well, he gets a standing ovation from me.

By now, everybody knows their characters inside and out and in a way, we all do as well. The team just isn’t a team. It’s a family as well and while that aspect may feel like it’s being beaten to death at times, it’s such an essential element of these characters that there’s no way a “Fast and Furious” movie can do without it. Especially not when the story has these kinds of stakes, what with Torretto & Co. being hunted by Deckard for personal reasons. James Wan isn’t afraid to slow down the action to develop emotional scenes between his characters and that gives resonance to the story in-between the cars flying through buildings and parachuting out of planes.

There’s a lot of great fight scenes in here, more elaborate than I can remember being in the other movies. Paul Walker and Tony Jaa as Jakande’s Oddjob go at it. Michelle Rodguez and Ronda Rousey have a memorable throwdown that while I enjoyed the hell out it also had me wondering since when did Letty become such an accomplished martial artist that she’s able to take down three other opponents at the same time before her main bout with Rousey’s character? We also get Johnson vs. Statham and Diesel vs. Statham. There’s your money’s worth right there, partners.

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So should you see FURIOUS 7? What, are you kidding me? YES. It’s a non-stop action extravaganza that’s not afraid to show heart and emotion, especially at the movie’s end which is both a truly moving tribute to Paul Walker and a sendoff for Brian O’Connor. If they never do another “The Fast and The Furious” movie, FURIOUS 7 is a more than satisfying way to end the series. This is the rare film series that has has gotten bigger and better with each new entry (I won’t mention “Tokyo Drift” if you won’t, okay?) and I hope it only continues to get bigger and better. Highly Recommended.

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137 Minutes

PG-13