Magic Mike XXL

Yes! It's them! Don't tell me you haven't been watching for the opening date. Like every sequel, this one is bigger (solo numbers), harder (core), and waaay over the top. It has something for everyone and a body for everybody; you have to see it to believe it. The R rating is richly deserved although I hasten to add there are NO sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no vehicular mayhem, and no blowie uppie stuff, but there are F bombs by the score and some VERY suggestive (but terrific!) choreography.

It's three years after the first "Magic Mike," and some of our heroes' lives have changed drastically. Dallas has gone to seek his fortune on foreign shores and Mike is in the furniture business, while the rest of the Kings of Tampa toil on with diminishing returns. They decide to have one last blowout at a Male Entertainer's (Male Strippers) Convention in Myrtle Beach, Florida so they recruit Mike to leave his two-man business for awhile. Director Gregory Jacobs borrowed the final scene from his own "Oceans..." sequel. You might recognize it.

Each returning cast member is spotlighted separately:
  • Channing Tatum ("MM") Mike Lane just has to dance and his routines are eye-poppers.
  • Matt Bomer ("MM") does his own singing in Ken's outrageous spotlight bit.
  • Joe Manganiello ("MM") You'll love Big Dick Richie's routine with the deadpan clerk. He did his own choreography for this one.
  • Adam Rodriguez ("MM") The mirror dance is amazing!
  • Gabriel Iglesias ("MM") breaks out the sequins and a Carmen Miranda hat.
  • Kevin Nash ("MM") Tarzan uses glue and glitter for his surprise.
  • Donald Glover ("Community") Andre provides the vocals for an impressive routine.
  • Jada Pinkett Smith ("Madagascar") Rome has her own business now but Mike asks her to serve as their MC.
  • Michael Strahan ("Are We There Yet?") Augustus does an amazing routine at Rome's social club. He's an Adonis!
  • Andie MacDowell ("Cedar Cove") Nancy invites Big Dick to a "Hello drink" and finds out that he is both blessed and cursed.
In the interest of authenticity we saw more drag outfits this time and we actually have a smattering of a plot...again...so just get over it!

The (mostly female) screening audience was audibly impressed. Personally, I would have welcomed even more dancing (and fewer F bombs).
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Good moves, guys!
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Terminator Genisys

He's baaaak.....

Governator Schwarzenegger has returned to the silver screen in one of his most iconic roles. He even has a fist fight with himself, courtesy of ubiquitous Computer Generated Imaging, so we get two for the price of one.

As I watched this convoluted time-traveling behemoth, an old country-western song echoed in my brain: "I'm My Own Grandpa." In fact, the elaborate blather which was supposed to serve as a pseudo-scientific explanation elicited laughter from our screening audience.

Written by a team of screenwriters and directed by Alan Taylor ("Thor"), this familiar PG-13 outing takes us back in time as John Connor dispatches his good friend Sgt. Kyle Reese to 1984 to protect Sarah. The machines built to help mankind are also programmed to protect Earth. As they become sentient, they realize that Earth is most damaged by humans, so Skynet sets out to eradicate mankind. Thus our story... again... (Doesn't this feel a bit like "Groundhog Day?")

We see:
  • Emilia Clarke ("Game of Thrones" she's Daenerys) is excellent as Sarah Conner, slated to become mother to...
  • Jason Clarke ("Zero Dark Thirty") John Connor, charged with the responsibility to save mankind, but as we already know from previous movies in this series, he discovers a plot to prevent his birth which will change history! THEN things get complicated...
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Escape Plan") is Guardian, the Terminator programmed to protect Sarah, no matter what. He emphasizes that he may be old, but he is NOT obsolete.
  • Jai Courtney ("Insurgent") is Kyle Reese; he has to save Sarah from Skynet with absolutely no idea where his efforts might lead.
  • J.K. Simmons (2015 Oscar for "Whiplash") O'Brien has been following this story for over 30 years but he drinks, so he doesn't have much credibility.
Naturally the CGI is bigger, louder and more spectacular than ever. If you see this in 3D as I did, you'll be dodging debris and weapons during the endless battles and the sound will shake the theater. The ubiquitous humor is fun; the closest we come to nudity is a shadow on the wall; and we are reminded that clothing can't travel in time. Ahem....

Our (primarily young male) audience had a good time and we noted that all of the pieces are in place for a $equel. $hocking!
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Take a look:
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How do you feel about animals? Do you like dogs? I certainly do! And here we have a dog who has not only earned our affection, but our RESPECT! We become acquainted with the Malinois, which is a Belgian version of a German Shepherd, a bit smaller but every bit as smart.

Dogs have had an important role on battlefields since World War I and have been honored for bravery time and time again. There have been over 3,000 war dogs used in Iraq and Afghanistan; at the time of the filming (2014) 26 dogs and 25 handlers have died in Afghanistan.

This wonderful PG-rated movie, written and directed by Boaz Yakin ("Safe") is about a war dog. We first meet him in Afghanistan with his handler, who has trained him from a puppy. The two are inseparable until a betrayal leads them into a fatal encounter, which leaves the handler dead and the dog with a serious case of PTSD. (We know this from the trailers.) His behavior at his handler's coffin in a small Texas town is goosebumps all the way!

Our cast:
  • Carlos, in his debut performance, is Max, traumatized by events in Afghanistan and sent back to his handler's family in the United States to recuperate. He is grieving and vicious. By the way, can you imagine the impact of the Fourth of July fireworks on a repatriated war dog?
  • Robbie Amell ("The Flash") is Kyle, Max's beloved Marine handler, too soon dead, so we see him only in flashbacks. His father taught his sons that a hero always tells the truth, even when it hurts.
  • Thomas Hayden Church ("Lucky Them") is Ray Wincott, father of the dead Marine, led to believe that Max was the cause of his son's death. This former Marine sees no alternative but to put the dog down.
  • Lauren Graham ("Parenthood") is his wife, Pamela. She has lost her elder son and now is afraid of losing her increasingly defiant younger son. But just wait until this sweet Texas housewife gets angry!
  • Josh Wiggins ("Hellion") is their younger son Justin. While endlessly playing his video war games, it never occurs to him that his brother might die, and he certainly has no interest in babysitting a DOG. But what a joy it is to see three teenagers jump on their bikes to take on hardened criminals just because it's the right thing to do!
This involving movie has clear-cut characters and situations, so we quickly come to love our hero, his family and his dog; fear and loathe the villains; feel the frustration of being a powerless teenager; and ache to see the truth revealed. This film slipped in under my radar so it was a pleasant surprise, and the screening audience actually applauded. Don't miss this one!
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See bits of this wonderful film for yourself:
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Inside Out

Yes, it's finally here. This highly praised and heavily advertised movie is open for business. Pixar has a special place in my heart, ever since that charming young table lamp burst its rubber ball years ago, so I wasn't surprised, only warmed, by director Pete Doctor's appearance before the opening credits. Do you know why he appears? To thank us for coming to see the show! How can we NOT love these guys?

The main thrust of this fairly complicated (rated PG) story is to illustrate the mind-boggling complexity of the human brain, how memory works (each memory is like a huge color-coded gum ball) and the effects of emotion on our daily behavior. Does that sound pretty heavy duty? Yes, it is and it's very clear that much of this film is for adults. However, I talked with a six-year-old boy as we exited the theater and he was very happy with it, so I guess, like other Pixar/Disney collaborations, this works on many levels: He particularly liked the cats at the end!

The characters are voiced by celebrities but just as easily could have been done by professional voice artists, so I won't focus on them, but rather on the emotions themselves and how they effect the characters. To our delight, we see that every living creature, man, woman, child, cat and dog has a personal staff that includes these five emotions:
  • Joy - Our 11-year-old girl Riley finds joy in her ice hockey, her imaginary friend, her school chums and her wonderful parents. Her mother and father find joy in their family, their jobs and their daughter. You should see what brings joy to a dog!
  • Sadness - We see how sadness plays an essential role in the human experience. Dogs experience it too, but cats are oblivious. Riley is sad because she misses her old home in Minnesota; her new home in San Francisco doesn't even have a yard!
  • Fear - Too much fear and we are paralyzed, too little and we are heedless of any danger. Fear is pretty paranoid!
  • Disgust - This emotion goes into overdrive when Riley sees her dingy new bedroom in the attic...and a dead mouse!
  • Anger - The movers are coming with their furniture...WHEN?!? Anger gets a nice workout from the very beginning and is always sputtering in the background. When Mom's Anger kicks in, she remembers that handsome young soccer player that she let get away....
This is Pixar/Disney, so no profanity, no sweaty bodies, and no blowie uppie stuff but one fairly scary clown. The enormity of memory, both short term and long term, is wonderfully visible. By the way, I saw this in 3D, but there was no need; the story is the thing!
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Check out those memory banks:
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Melissa McCarthy's comedy has an unfortunate tendency to go over the top; I'm happy to report that this is NOT the case here (and you WILL become inured to the f-word after the first 20 times you hear it). Written and directed by Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids," and "The Heat"), we are transported to an R-rated James Bond'ish film, complete with iconic title credits and a song that evokes the genre.

This movie opens in the middle of an important mission to find and confiscate a nuclear device before it can be used against the United States. We see a supremely effective American CIA agent in constant communication with his high-tech handler in Langley, although they aren't even on the same continent. She provides tactical information from heat-detecting devices to warn him of approaching enemies. They make a top-notch team...until he is killed. Now the CIA needs a new face that isn't known to the enemy.

The cast:
  • Jude Law ("Hugo") is perfect as the super agent. He has the looks, the manner and the wardrobe.
  • Melissa McCarthy ("Identity Thief") is his heartbroken handler. She had been carrying a secret torch for her partner and now wants revenge, so she volunteers. Each new identity is more challenging (and funnier) than the last.
  • Allison Janney ("Mom") is their boss. She doesn't like our heroine, but knows it is vital to prevent that nuclear device from being smuggled into the United States...and our gal's face isn't known...
  • Rose Byrne ("Neighbors") This glamorous super-spy (with lots of hair!) is negotiating a deal. Nuclear devices are extremely profitable!
  • Jason Statham ("Parker") You have NEVER heard such an egotistical, overly confident bunch of twaddle in your life. Statham is clearly having a ball doing a hilarious sendup of his usual super-macho personae.
  • Miranda Hart ("Call the Midwife") Meanwhile, back at Langley, our heroine's gawky BFF has become, by default, her handler. She's confused and frightened but she's not stupid!
  • Bobby Cannavalle ("Danny Collins") This wealthy industrialist is in the market for a nuclear device.
Of course we travel to lovely locations: Italy (one Italian agent learned his British accent from watching "Downton Abbey"); MANY scenic spots in Hungary; plus some great locales in France. We see vehicular mayhem (with our heroine on a scooter), physical combat (she's surprisingly good), numerous gunfights (she's a crack shot) and some aerial stunts (she learned on the trainer at Langley). We do NOT see sweaty bodies or blowie uppie stuff...(well, just a little bit).

We enjoy laugh-out-loud comedy with very few "fat" jokes. Even though we see agents, double agents and even a triple agent or two, we have several people to root for and we can trust that this will have a happy ending. Whew!
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Check it out:
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The Connection

Two things: 1) I never saw the original "French Connection" with Gene Hackman, so I'm a "Connection" virgin. 2) If you thought the many awards including Jean Dujardin's Best Actor Oscar in 2012 for "The Artist" was a fluke, you must see "La French" (English captions). Don't let the movie-star looks fool you, this guy can act!

This Action/Thiller is loosely based on actual events when drug kingpins from Marseilles moved into power. I hesitate to call it a remake of the American version because I understand there are significant differences, but if you wish to do so, please be my guest. By the way, "La French" is slang for what we might call "The Mafia."

Writer-Director Cédric Jimenez takes us to the mid-70s, where we see children playing with an Etch-a-Sketch and hear a vocalist sing (in French) These Boots Were Made for Walkin'. He shows us two powerful men, one a law-enforcement officer and the other his arch rival, a drug lord, locked in a powerful conflict between good and evil. Both are devoted family men, with wives they adore and children they indulge. Neither man will budge.

The cast includes:
  • Jean Dujardin ("The Monuments Men") is Pierre Michel, recently promoted to Magistrate in the Organized Crime division, highly motivated because he had previously worked with drug-addicted youth. He has a wife and two darling daughters. The stakes are higher now than they were when he was a gambler.
  • Gilles Lellouche ("Tell No One") is Gaëtan 'Tany' Zampa, who holds himself above the chaos his enterprise has created, he leaves the dirty work to his henchmen. This handsome fellow prefers to stay at home with his beloved family; he has never been arrested.
There are assorted wives, sidekicks, associates, hit men and drug dealers; we watch cocaine being produced, packaged and concealed for export. We also see it distributed on American streets to the addicts it has created.

This is a well-crafted movie with a complicated R-rated plot that never confuses. We have people to loathe, even while we understand them; and we have people to root for, even while we fear for them. It has cold-blooded murders, betrayals and brutal beatings. I'm not a fan of this genre, but I was so impressed by Dujardin, I became totally engrossed.
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Please take a look:
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Having a personal trainer is a great status symbol and could be the key to a happier, healthier life. However....

This brightly lit but drearily written little dramedy features a personal trainer who works for a fitness center. It is also a classic love triangle but if this is love...

Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski ("Computer Chess"), we follow three singularly unlikeable people as they trudge through their misbegotten choices.

We see:
  • Cobie Smulders ("Avengers") as Kat, an extremely fit, popular and effective personal trainer. This actress is a capable performer and in my opinion, should go back to the better choices for which we know her.
  • Guy Pearce ("Memento") is Trevor, an ambitious and highly motivated New Agey sort of guy. He wants to expand both his business and his consciousness. It's clear to me that physically, Pearce, with a notable six pack and great biceps, is well qualified for his role, but as an actor, he is over-qualified for this flimsy piece.
  • Kevin Corrigan ("Community") is Danny, a wealthy out-of-shape new customer at the fitness center. To me, the only interesting thing about this loser was how he came by his wealth.
  • Giovanni Ribisi ("Avatar") is Paul, an attorney who is acquired by our wealthy Danny on a whim. Ribisi looks singularly bored in his scenes. I can certainly understand why....although he HAS mastered the art of talking with his mouth full.
  • Anthony Michael Hall ("Psych") is Grigory, a heavily accented fellow whose wife hosts a dinner for Trevor. I haven't seen Hall since his old John Landis comedy days ("Sixteen Candles") but he has been working all along.
This R-rated outing offers nudity, profanity, drug use, sex and a big muddle. Many plot points got by me because I couldn't make out what was being said. This is my criticism about accents, enunciation and sound engineering; evidently this movie was produced without closed captions. I won't beat that dead horse any more. 'nuf said.
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Make up your own mind:
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