“Dope” begins with the definitions which set you up for a hilarious coming of age in the ‘hood comedy. There’s dope that people take, and dope as the name for the less than smart, and dope as slang for those who really get it. Shamik Moore plays a high school nerd trying to get through his days without getting shot or getting his shoes taken. One night on a detour home he catches the eye of the neighborhood drug dealers and thanks to a pretty girl and a comedy of errors winds up with a back pack full of drugs which interfere with his plans to makes his way to Harvard. “Dope” showcases current music, slang, sly comedy about white and black worlds and gives you a cast of characters to love. I think “Dope” will be remembered as a great reflection of 2015. Does it deliver what it promises? Fun and funny. Is it entertaining? A delight. Is it worth the price of admission? This is one of the movies you need to see this year.
Arnold said he’d be back but this is getting ridiculous. “Terminator Genisys” reboots the terminator story this time with an aging Arnold Schwarznegger making several stops back in time to save Sarah Conner — who appears this time in the very appealing Emilia Clark. If you remember the original you know that Linda Hamilton was living a dull life when suddenly this big hunk came back from the future to kill her thus preventing her from giving birth to John Conner who would lead the revolution against the machines that take over and nuke the world. Jason Clark plays the grown up John with the kind of swagger usually seen in your average high school bully. Jail Courtney plays Kyle Reese who fathers the child who leads the revolution. I got confused in the second movie when they made Arnold’s autobot a good guy. This time they stop in parallel universes visit several different years and leave enough holes in the script to drive a truck through. Good guys become bad guys and bad guys become good guys and the fighting goes on forever. “Terminator Genisys” is long and loud and confusing and no match for the dinos in “Jurassic World.” How about next time you don’t come back. Does it deliver what it promises? Confusing terminator redux. Is it entertaining? Long and confusing. Is it worth the price of admission? A resounding no.
The original “Ted” is a tough act to follow. “Ted 2″ tries but doesn’t quite succeed. In case you missed it Ted is a trash talking teddy bear who grows up with Mark Wahlberg after Mark’s wish that his bear become real is fulfilled. The two friends smoke weed, drink beer and chase girls together. As the sequel opens Ted has married his grocery store checker girlfriend and Wahlberg has divorced Mila Kunis I guess because she didn’t want to appear in the sequel. The opening features a wedding and a musical number worthy of Busby Berkeley in his prime. Ted marries Tami-Lynn and after a year of fighting they decide to try for a child. Since the Teddy bear can’t reproduce they turn to adoption. This brings Ted to court to prove he’s a person. “Ted 2″ starts with a series of outrageous scream out loud funny gags including a visit to Tom Brady. But soon the movie runs out of gags. The big conclusion is satisfying but might have been great if they cut thirty minutes or so leading up to it. It’s hard to recreate the shock and delight of the first movie. The very funny Seth MacFarlane came up with the original idea and brings life to the sequel as the voice of Ted. MacFarlane’s parody of “Blazing Saddles” flopped last summer. I’ll be interested to see what he does next. Does it deliver what it promises? More adventures of the trash talking bear. Is it entertaining? Funny but runs too long. Is it worth the price of admission? Nah.
When Pixar makes a movie, fans should take notice. “Inside Out” starts with a creative idea — showing the emotional life of a child — and gives it their best twist. We meet the emotions Joy – Sadness – Fear – Disgust – and Anger. In Pixar’s world the emotions operate in a tower where they operate a console of feelings and actions. The story follows a girl named Riley whose world turns upside down when her parents leave Minnesota for San Francisco. At the age of 11 everything Riley knows and loves gets turned inside out. Her emotions run so wild that Joy and Sadness get pulled out of master control. In the tradition of great childhood story telling they must find their way home and come to an understanding of each other. You’ll want to stay and read the credits to identify the voices in the story. My favorite belonged to Lewis Black as – what else? – Anger. Occasionally “Inside Out” gets a little frenetic but the pay off is worth the time. I came out with a tear in my eye and a laugh stuck in my throat and a head full of my own childhood memories. Does it deliver what it promises? Pixar comedy done well. Is it entertaining? Works on a child’s level as well as on an adult level. Is it worth the price of admission? Another winner in a summer of good movies.
A forced friendship with a girl dying of leukemia turns into an unsentimental comedy and coming of age event in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Starring mostly unknown actors, Thomas Mann hits just the right note as the teen required to befriend Olivia Cooke. The boy and his best friend RJ Cyler love movies and spend their days remaking classics as comic rifs such as “A Sockwork Orange.” Adults include the always brusk Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon in an especially strong role as the dying girl’s mother. “Me and Earl” finds unusual laughter while avoiding cheap sentiment. Does it deliver what it promises? Unusual comedy. Is it entertaining? Suprisingly good. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the summer’s best.
Alicia Vikander got a lot of attention this spring in “Ex-Machina”—now she shows her acting chops in “Testament of Youth” based on the deeply respected World War One memoir of pacifist Vera Brittain. The story begins as she pins her hopes on getting into Oxford – a daunting task in pre-feminist England. Once enrolled, she falls in love with her brother’s friend but war begins, and her brother and her boyfriend leave for France. She leaves Oxford to work as a nurse on the front. ”Testament of Youth” takes it’s time to great effect pausing for moments beautiful and horrific. There are occasional moments when the film gets a little too arty for its own good. Vikander proves herself one of the best actresses in film today. Does it deliver what it promises? World War One epic. Is it entertaining? Beautifully crafted. Is it worth the price of admission. They don’t make movies like this anymore.
Jurassic World reboots the Jurassic Park franchise with surprisingly good results. Once again science goes wrong with a little help from money hungry stockholders and a black ops proposal headed by the intense Vincent D’Onofrio. Chris Pratt gets the he man hero role as a dino trainer with a way with young raptors. Dallas Bryce Howard begins in her usual uptight alpha woman role but comes around to Pratt’s charms once the dino get on the run. In this episode BD Wong returns as the scientist able to clone the creatures. Demands for buzz at the new Jurassic World park push him to breed a super dino with some unanticipated abilities. Sure enough the giant gets out of his escape proof cage and starts killing just for the fun of it. Two cute kids – played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins – come to visit their marketing genius Auntie played by Dallas Bruce Howard and wind up getting on the super dino’s radar. Chris Pratt saves the day as special effects take over with great effect. The earth moves and the theater rattles as we head toward a conclusion right out of Darwin. This reboot requires no prior knowledge, it delivers fabulous special effects and a serviceable story. It’s awfully violent even for a PG-13. Your kids won’t care. Does it deliver what it promises? Yes but a little long. Is it entertaining? Yes but a little long and a lot violent. Is it worth the price of admission? I think it’s a blockbuster.
“Love & Mercy” visualizes genius and madness in one of the most compelling movies of the year. Based on the life of Brian Wilson it cuts back and forth between Wilson’s most creative days writing and conceptualizing the California group’s transition from pop to underground and Wilson’s latest period after a mental breakdown which leaves him dangerously dependant on therapist Eugene Landy. The excellent Paul Dano plays Wilson in his young days. Wilson after his break down falls to John Cusack. The mix and contrast add a deeper element to this biography that goes well beyond “…and then I wrote.” The story turns on Wilson’s romance with Melinda Ledbetter whom he meets selling Cadillacs. They connect sitting in a showroom automobile with the doors locked. ”Love & Mercy” soars in scenes with Dano composing and conducting a studio filled with professionals in awe of his talent. Cusack plays a hollow man desperate for help. Elizabeth Banks plays the woman who helps save him and adds just the right touch. ”Love & Mercy” is an extraordinary movie — as extraordinary as Brian Wilson’s life. The real Wilson performs as the credits roll and after this story no one in the audience was anxious to get up and leave. Does it deliver what it promises? One of the year’s best. Is it entertaining? Completely compelling. Is it worth the price of admission. Put this on your must see list.
Melissa McCarthy lampoons every James Bond movie ever made in “Spy.” In the process she turns out the funniest summer comedy since “Bridesmaids.” As usual McCarthy spews hilarious filthy ad libs and performs outrageous stunts while making us cheer for her character. She’s an in-house CIA agent, working in a rat infested basement, guiding with satellite and computer help the dashing spy Jude Law, whom she desperately loves. Something goes wrong and super villain Rose Byrn kills him. McCarthy vows revenge. CIA director Allison Janney elects to send her into the field because no one will believe she’s an agent. Her covers add to the humor —- always a single mother or a cat lady with a terrible wig and awful clothing. Rouge agent Jason Statham ups the comedy as an apparently immortal agent. Paul Feig directed “Bridesmaids” and gives “Spy” the same kind of pulse and humor. Miranda Hart of “Call the Midwife” adds to the fun as Melissa’s fellow house agent who winds up in the field. Hart’s British accent and string bean looks play great with McCarthy’s bigger than life presence. I didn’t expect much and walked out saying “That was Great!” Does it deliver what it promises? Melissa McCarthy comedy delivers great laughs. Is it entertaining? Sneaky funny. Is it worth the price of admission? If you only see one movie this month make it “Spy.” It’s worth the price of admission to see McCarthy get in a scooter with a roof, start it up, and fall over on her side.
“Entourage” the movie extends the HBO series for yet another adventure of Jeremy Piven as Hollywood super agent Ari Gold and his client Adrian Grenier who in this episode gets $100 million dollars to make a blockbuster special effects modern day version of “Jekyll and Hyde.” The movie and the movie within the movie turn out mostly Jekyll. The story begins with an over the top yacht party featuring Grenier and his posse—Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Connolly and Kevin Dillon. If you watched the series you know that Grenier hit it big in a commercial for Mentos and when Hollywood beckoned he brought his three best friends from the old neighborhood along for the ride. They remind me somewhat of the gang in “Swingers” and speaking of “Swingers” Jon Favreau is one of many celebrities popping up for cameos as one of the gags in this jokey “inside” story of Hollywood. Quick lines spew from Kelsey Grammer, Jessica Alba, Mark Wahlberg (he produced this after all) and as the biggest surprise Warren Buffet. The plot get Jeremy Piven as agent Ari Gold enticed out of retirement to run a studio. Piven made his name on the HBO series as a high octane often angry but hilarious character taking “over the top” to new heights. Piven as Ari hires Grenier to star in his first studio head project and Grenier demands to direct. The clip of the movie shown within the movie “Hyde” looks the kind of high octane computer effects story that audiences are starting to tire of—it’s not bad enough to be a punchline of “Entourage” and not good enough to serve as the example of the wonderful film Grenier has created. $100 million won’t get the job done, so Piven has to go to Texas to beg billionaire Billy Bob Thornton for more. Instead Billy Bob sends his neer do well son to oversee his investment. The role of the son marks the return to movies of Haley Joel Osment who made such an impression as a child in “The Sixth Sense.” This character isn’t a great return for Haley Joel — in fact when the movie finished I felt most sorry for him both as a character and as an actor. So there’s the plot—will Grenier get his extra millions to finish his movie? Will Haley Joel get to taste the Hollywood life of a movie star? Will Ari Gold keep his studio? And will Grenier’s pals continue to flourish? In fairness, if you haven’t followed the series closely you can follow the movie but I doubt it will turn you into a fan, and the series is long gone anyway. The nudity and sex reminds me of “The Wolf of Wall Street”—so much of it that it turns tiresome. So does most of “Entourage.” Does it deliver what it promises? Another episode of the old HBO series “Entourage” with plenty of nudity, cursing, and high living. Is it entertaining? Wore me out. Is it worth the price of admission? In these days when workers are pleading for a decent wage, a movie about a pretty boy who can’t make a movie for $100 million dollars feels like the biggest misfire since “Sex and the City2.”