Monday, May 30, 2016

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

It is clear that a moderately successful Neighbors, based on a conflict between a young couple and their fraternity neighbor would necessarily result in a sequel conflict between same couple and sorority neighbor. So the existence of the film does not surprise or bother me. For a plot, young couple Rogan/Byrne are selling their house and enter a 30 day escrow period. At the same time, a group of college freshmen girls decide to rent the former frat house to start a new sorority. The basic conflict is over whether the girls will cause the new buyers to cancel escrow and opt of the sale. The real story here is what I might refer to as Fake Feminism. The girls suggest that they are demonstrating empowerment and strength by going on their own, against the greek system. Intertwine this with a millennial mentality. So why is it Fake Feminism. The girls portrayed in the film are college freshmen that demonstrate no intelligence. They need to be portrayed as these completely inane women in the first place in order to be able to, for the film, have some upward trajectory. A truly feminist film would not need this starting point. You could start with strong, intelligent 18-year old college freshman that have an idea about their skill set and what is possible in life, and a realistic idea of what can be learned. Then the plot would need to develop to allow them to grow even more. But this is not easy to write. I wondered in the first film if I was just aged out of the target demographic. But for this one, even with some funny moments, it sends a message that is mostly wrong, and probably just offensive. It would be interesting to show this to a group of high school senior girls or college freshmen girls and see what they think about the portrayal.

Normally, the only way to get one star is if I walk out of a film, but in this case the message has earned
1 star (out of 5)

X-Men: Apocalypse

I like the X-Men. Always have, probably because of the variety of characters and mutant abilities allows some serious action and some fun. In this installment, we get great fun from Quicksilver (who channels a little bit of the Deadpool DGAF attitude, but in a PG-13 way) and Nightcrawler (the innocent, newbie, German exploring his abilities). And we get the ongoing battle between Professor X and Magneto, the introduction of Storm, and an explanation for the pyramids. The general plot is that Apocalypse is a mutant who can transfer his consciousness into a new body and take over that bodies abilities. He is betrayed during a transfer attempt in ancient Egypt and lies dormant until present day 1980's. When he awakes, he resumes his quest to control the world and wants to take over Professor X, with his ability to control minds. What could be better. In the end, the moral of the story is "Those with better friends, win". I must say that as a casual fan (i.e. not a fanboy) I find myself confused with timeline and characters in these films. I often found myself wondering during this film if I was supposed to know some history, or remember some future that was revealed in a past film (how is that for a timeline bending idea). Maybe that is intentional, providing obscure details so that the fanboy will have an inside track and get more satisfaction from knowing said obscure details, leaving the casual fan with only a slight confusion and not enough to impair overall enjoyment.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

While We're Young

This was hilarious, but I am quite sure that it was only hilarious to a very niche demographic: 40-something, childless couples. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are said couple and find all their friends are becoming "lost" to their kids. So they befriend some 20-something hipsters. Just this setup allows for the film to skewer all the stereotypes around conflict between children/childless and middle age/millennials. But I think those with kids will only find it moderately funny and millennial/hipsters will say "Huh. I guess I can see the humor there". The main hipster/new friend is Adam Driver who happens to be a filmmaker (same as Stiller) and turns out to be a manipulative narcissist. The not-so-subtle message is that most millennial/hipsters are also manipulative narcissists and the 40-somethings are really better all around with their own kind (and with kids).  I don't really agree with this message, and this might be what prevented the film from being great. It could have been funny *and* had a good message.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Bradley Cooper happens upon a designer drug that accelerates his mind. While on the drug, he understands numbers better, sees disparate connections, learns languages. This turns out to make him a rock star in the investment world as he can see market trends that others can't. Unfortunately, it seems that this designer drug has not been perfected yet to the point of not having side effects, the most important of which is death upon withdrawal. It also turns out that there is a limited supply, so another user becomes desperately interested in acquiring Cooper's supply. And that is it. No real quality, feel-good use of the drug. And not really dark enough to be considered dark. By trying to be enough for a wide audience, it seems like this is not really anything for anyone.
2 stars (out of 5)


The best possible way to have a sequel to the Rocky franchise. Rocky Balboa is now a restaurant owner in Philadelphia, where he remains a cultural icon. He is approached by a young Californian fighter who needs a trainer. Turns out this fighter is Apollo Creed's son. So of course he agrees (of course, for the film, but reluctantly, for the character). This leads to some tension in the existing Philly boxing community, but works out in the end. A classic underdog, plenty of nods to the original franchise without seeming overly gratuitous. Pretty cool.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Money Monster

George Clooney is a pop-financial TV guru who fills time with his show on the business TV networks. Julia Roberts is his producer. When a disgruntled investor who had taken Clooney's advice loses everything, he comes onto a live show to demand information (with a bomb vest to be worn by Clooney). He doesn't want money. He wants to know why. Clooney does a great job in his role. And plays the hero as he works to actually find out what happened with this "glitch" in the system. Lots of fake drama and over the top action (e.g. a "parade" as they walk from the studio down to a Wall Street investment firm). And for an "exposé" film, a largely unsatisfactory ending. We really are just dumb investors with no recourse when "the system" goes wrong.
3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Other Woman

Cameron Diaz finds out that her boyfriend is actually married to Leslie Mann. They meet accidentally and strike up a strange friendship. Actually, Mann stalks Diaz for awhile trying to find answers about why her marriage ended with a cheating husband. In the process of their sorting out their friendship, they discover Kate Hudson is yet another girlfriend. So of course, the revenge plan commences. This feels a little bit like Home Alone repurposed for the midlife crisis. And with that image, you can guess how everything turns out. Moderately entertaining diversion.
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


I don't get the fascination with this film. Amy Schumer plays a professionally successful woman who has decided that relationships are impossible, so all relationships should be one night stands. This comes from her opening scene 'Monogamy is not realistic' mantra that her father ingrains into her and her sister. So the film becomes a series of drunken relationships and confusion about the lack of life satisfaction that they give. The film is only moderately comedic (it relies on all the tired stereotypes) and the characters are shallow and really uninteresting. Maybe I watched it "too late" after the cultural hype was dead. But if this is the case, if the only reason this was "good" was because of a flash in the pan cultural hype, then I guess it was not really good at all.
2 stars (out of 5)