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‘Sense8′ is a rare science fiction success

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“Sense8″ (2015-)

Created by Andy and Lana Wachowski, J. Michael Straczynski

7.5/10  TV-MA

From Andy and Lana Wachowski, the minds behind “The Matrix” and “V for Vendetta,” comes “Sense8,” the latest offering from television’s most in-demand (and on-demand) channel—Netflix. Much like “Orange is the New Black” has done before it, “Sense8” achieves remarkable success with a cast that is not only large (with equal focus on eight primary s8characters and several others) but relatively unknown (Daryl Hannah…yes, from “Splash”…is the cast’s most recognizable name).

Eight strangers from around the world feel a sudden mental connection to each other, which allows the members of the cluster to switch places, or appear alongside one another, without the general population noticing. The eight men and women are as varied as their situations in life: Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre), a closeted gay film star in Mexico City; Will (Brian J. Smith), a troubled young policeman in Chicago; Kala (Tina Desai), a bride-to-be coming to terms with her marriage in Mumbai; Nomi (Jamie Clayton), a transgender woman who, with the help of her girlfriend Nita (Freema Agyeman), tries to evade harmful psychiatric therapy in San Francisco; Capheus (Aml Ameen), a bus driver in Nairobi; Sun (Doona Bae), a fighter who takes the fall for her father’s crimes in Seoul; Wolfgang (Max Riemelt), a criminal in Berlin; and Riley (Tuppence Middleton), a DJ who moves home from London to Iceland to be with her father. Their link? All are struggling with hardships—romantically, professionally, or criminally. As their bond Sense8-Netflix-Originalgrows and the sensates learn about one another, they’ll begin to rely more heavily on a little help from their friends. When “Sense8” steals a page from “X-Men” and the sensates learn about a plot to eradicate their kind from the earth, their connections will be vital to their own survival.

Rarely does an original science fiction series find success on television. “Sense8” does so by telling the stories of its diverse cast (who, despite living in seven different countries, all speak perfect English) while neatly weaving their storylines into one cohesive plot. Understandably, the first three episodes of the season (the lowest-rated three on IMDb, it’s worth noting) are spent explaining the complexities of the situation—not only to the audience, but also to the bewildered members of the cluster, who received no training manual for their newly acquired powers. But as the context begins to clear up, the series begins to pick up the pace. The stories of the characters are hashed out, and our emotional investments in their storylines grow more intense. Then, the sensates begin building Netflixconnections with one another and we see members lending a hand when their cohorts are in trouble. Finally, they’ll begin to come together on a more comprehensive scale to achieve the common goal of ensuring their own existence (it’s also worth noting that the final three episodes of the season are the highest-rated on IMDb). It’s the best way this intricate story could be told, but you expect only the best from the writers of one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time.

“Sense8” is more complex than a paragraph or two can explain. It demands your attention. It is not a series for casual viewing. That said, it’s worth the investment. “Sense8” is binge-worthy entertainment that not only feeds your brain but your heart as well. You’ll obsess over the incredibly well-developed characters, questioning from episode to episode what will happen to them next. You learn and grow with the characters. And their stories can be dramatic, comedic, or downright thrilling. Plus, sensational editing allows these stories to mesh seamlessly. I watched “Sense8” in two six-sense8-03episode binges. And I can’t be the only one. When Netflix begins counting down the seconds until the next episode automatically starts, you’ll find it hard to say no. It’s true that the complex nature of “Sense8” makes it a very difficult first-season sell—like I said, it takes a little while to really come together. But an assumed Season 2 will be almost as highly anticipated as the fourth seasons of “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” “Sense8” is on that level. Find out for yourself.

‘Dope’ is a new type of counter-culture comedy

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Dope (2015)

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

7/10  R

Counter-culture comedies like “Juno,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” and anything by Wes Anderson are becoming popular in the new hipster generation. Teenage and twenty-something characters who rebel against societal norms are endearing to moviegoers, but the genre has been missing something until now—a minority protagonist. Enter “Dope,” writer/director Rick Famuyiwa’s most poignant (and least “Hollywood”) examination of black culture.

dope-official-movie-trailer-dopeIn Inglewood, California, you can be shot just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his best friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are self-proclaimed geeks. They’re obsessed with ‘90s hip-hop culture and skateboarding. They’re trying to get into college based on grades alone, not on an athletic scholarship like so many of their black peers. They’re comfortable in their perceived whiteness, while trying to redefine what it means to be black. They’re not interested in the lives their classmates are leading. But when a new thuggish acquaintance (A$AP Rocky) invites Malcolm and his friends to the club for his birthday party, and a mix-up leaves Malcolm dealing with gangsters, they’ll be thrown into the very culture they have spent their whole lives trying to avoid. They’ll have to use their own particular set of skills to figure out how to navigate the gangster life that has been so swiftly thrust upon them.

In his first starring role, Moore gives a transcendent performance that tries to speak to a new generation of black youth. In his Harvard application essay, Malcolm asks “Why do I want to go to Harvard? If I was white, would you Dope-Movie-Still-1even have to ask me that question?” It’s a punctuation mark for a whole movie of a young man trying to show that he’s not like the Bloods he sees on the street every day. Revolori, who earned a Broadcast Film Critics nomination for his supporting role in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” shows once again how he can set himself apart from other teen actors with similar experience. He has maturity beyond his years. And in her first film, Clemons shows she’s cut out for more than television shows, even the critically acclaimed “Transparent.”

“Dope” could be better, though. It might have spent more time tightening up its script, which can get off track at times. And while the crime-comedy is both exciting and funny, it could have been more of either. It never decided what it wanted to be, then got really preachy at the end. The point was well made throughout, but Famuyiwa didn’t want you to forget. But at the end of the day, “Dope” is an unpredictable and surprising summer hit. There’s not much to complain about here.

‘Ted 2′ is an instant comedy classic

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Ted 2 (2015)

Directed by Seth MacFarlane

8.5/10  R

It’s as if Seth MacFarlane had full access to my internet search history, phone records, and inner conscious before writing, directing, and starring in “Ted 2.” Had he consulted me directly, even, asking for a list of everything that I found comical, the sequel to the hit 2012 comedy couldn’t have been made any more hysterical. The man has a direct line to my funny bone. In fact, at the risk of offending my family (so if you’re a relative, please skip the rest of this sentence), I think the term “funny boner” is the only way to truly capture the joy elation that overcomes me when I’m1429289669-ted-2 viewing something made at the hands of this man—whether it’s his other feature, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” or his long-running series “Family Guy.” Needless to say, “Ted 2” does not disappoint. In fact, it’s one of the least disappointing sequels I’ve ever encountered. It’s by far the funniest movie of 2015 (even in June, I can safely predict that), and—I’ll be unapologetically honest here—it’s one of my favorite comedies of all-time. Just look back at my review of “Ted” to see my abounding praise for that contemporary comedy classic. That’s nothing compared to the blubber-fest that’s about to commence.

Too often, sequels (especially comedy sequels) fall into the trap of recycling plot lines. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach (“The Hangover Part II,” “The Hangover Part III”) doesn’t work. “Ted 2” throws a big middle finger at 1,c=0,h=558.bildthe comedy sequel formula and goes its own way. A year and a half after the events of “Ted,” the talking teddy (voiced by MacFarlane) is married to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), and the couple is looking to have a baby. But there’s a snag—the state of Massachusetts says that Ted isn’t a human being, and therefore isn’t fit for fatherhood. Along with the help of his best friend Johnny (Mark Wahlberg) and his new lawyer Samantha L. Jackson (Amanda Seyfried), Ted will take his case to court and sue the state for his civil rights.

After the commercial success of “Ted” (it’s the 8th highest grossing R-rated movie of all time), casting became a cinch—who wouldn’t want to be attached to the sequel?! Cameos weren’t hard to come by. But where a lesser sequel would have paraded these celebrities around all willy-nilly, “Ted 2” carefully fits them in where they do the most good. It uses them for the best reasons. Sure, one or two might seem forced—but those ones are funny anyway. And the core ted-2-dcast is mostly back, minus Mila Kunis (rumors have it that her absence isn’t fueled by contractual spats or creative differences, but simply MacFarlane’s desire that Johnny be single). But have no fear! Kunis’s lovable, witty-but-not-vulgar, smart-but-still-naive female role is filled by Amanda Seyfried, who is the perfect sidekick to the funniest buddy duo in recent years. Her wit and charm is their perfect complement. But it’s obviously that duo that draws us back to the theater this summer. Wahlberg is comedy gold. Why he had been stuck in crappy action movies like “The Italian Job” and “Max Payne” for so long, I’ll never know. And as the voice of Ted, MacFarlane can do no wrong. He could say anything and I’d be thoroughly entertained. Somewhere in his crooning, soulful voice is this small hint of exclusivity that makes you feel like you’re in on his joke. Just you and ted-2-2him. Funny boner is the only way to describe it…I know, gross, weird, yuck, but I’m sorry, that’s simply the best way to put it.

Some said “Ted” was like a live-action episode of “Family Guy.” I agree. And this one is even more so. But in a good way. Like 2008 “Family Guy,” back when it was really funny. I don’t think 90 seconds ever went by where I didn’t laugh at least once. But “Ted 2” isn’t even strictly comedic. For a comedy, especially a comedy sequel, it actually has an admirable plot. The classy, old-fashioned MacFarlane wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s the courtroom drama, with civil rights arguments that echo the sometimes social justice-minded “Family Guy.” There’s the subplot with Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), the Ted-napper of the original, and its smooth intersection with the main plot. And there’s medium_Ted2-4some real conflict that makes you think this isn’t a comedy at all. But in the end, you’ll laugh anyway. If you didn’t like “Ted,” you won’t like “Ted 2.” But if you’re like me, and Seth MacFarlane might be your spirit animal, then “Ted 2” might be the summer’s most worthwhile $10. And for me, it most certainly was.

‘Love and Mercy’ sets the record straight

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Love and Mercy (2015)

Directed by Bill Pohlad

7/10  PG-13

God only knows what “Love and Mercy” would be without Paul Dano. The inventive Brian Wilson biopic drops in on the Beach Boys frontman at two important times in his life—right before releasing the Beach Boys’ seminal album “Pet Sounds” in the 1960s, and in the 1980s (played here by John Cusack), when Wilson was grappling with mental illness. But the LMbstory seems to pump the brakes during Cusack’s scenes. The drama may be juicier—or at least more accessible—but the magic isn’t there.

As someone who wasn’t alive for either of the decades shown in “Love and Mercy,” I’ll admit I didn’t know anything about Brian Wilson’s troubles. I didn’t know about his dad, who remained emotionally abusive even throughout his sons’ Beach Boys success. I didn’t know about his mental illness, or about his history of alcohol and drug abuse. Frankly, I grew up admiring the Beach Boys for their seemingly innocent spirit and unblemished reputation. Little did I know.

Paul Dano is one of Hollywood’s best young method actors. His inspired turn as Brian Wilson—what Dano himself called the role of a lifetime—could garner award attention. Attention that Dano hasn’t seen, despite award-worthy roles in three Best Picture nominees and a handful of others. Wilson’s artistic genius wasn’t understood in the early 1960s. His brothers love-and-mercy-movie-reviewthought his idea for “Pet Sounds” was an unnecessary turn away from the surfer song formula the band found success with. But Wilson had stories to tell. Similarly, Dano digs deep to find his own troubled muse to emulate. And John Cusack has to find his own demons to portray Wilson in the 1980s, after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It started when Wilson’s psychologist, Dr. Eugene Landy (portrayed by Paul Giamatti, overacting as usual), controversially put him under 24-hour observation. There are rumors that Landy forced Wilson to record his 1988 debut solo record and even that he ghostwrote portions of Wilson’s 1991 autobiography. Landy also overmedicated Wilson, telling him that he was schizophrenic when it was later discovered that his condition was not so severe. John Cusack certainly does capture Wilson’s particularly overmedicated state in his mannerisms and speech. Interviews from around that time are awkward, to say the least. But that’s about as far as Cusack’s success goes. Everything seems very base-level. Maybe it’s an unfair comparison, but Cusack’s scenes lack the good vibrations we pick LMup from Dano. Playing Melinda Ledbetter, Wilson’s future second wife and the woman who convinced him to leave Dr. Landy’s care, is Elizabeth Banks, fresh off directing “Pitch Perfect 2.” She strikes a rare balance in her performance, easily the best of her career.

The parallel plotlines can be at times muddled, and the editing of the two together can seem unimaginative, but the idea is smart. Wilson’s life is a book of many chapters, too long to capture in two hours. But “Love and Mercy” tells as much as it can, and it seems to have picked two distinct and characteristic moments in Wilson’s life to share. “Love and Mercy” shows a peek into the darker side of the life of a musical genius. It’s an acid trip of a movie that sets itself apart from a pack of biopics that normally look and feel about the same. Wouldn’t it be nice if other biopics took its cue?

‘Inside Out’ is fun for all ages

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Inside Out (2015)

Directed by Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen

7.5/10  PG

“Inside Out” is Pixar at its most revolutionary. But it’s also their most complex feature to date—maybe even too mature for the young demographic they aim to entertain.

Eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) are uprooted from their happy Minnesota home to the West coast when dad gets a new job in San Francisco. The emotions in Riley’s head—Joy (Amy netloid_watch-the-new-inside-out-official-trailer-1-2015-by-disney-pixar-movie-hd-nowPoehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling)—have to cope with her new house, new school, and new life, but grief slowly begins to take over. Together, Joy and Sadness will have to team up to make Riley feel like her old self.

Casting “Inside Out” must have posed its own interesting scenario—the pressure was on to find actors worthy of representing emotions, not just characters. Amy Poehler is the team’s dauntless leader, a fittingly quirky and upbeat Joy. Phyllis Smith, in her first role as a voice talent, encapsulates everything that Sadness needs to be—she allows the character to remain likable, like a female Eeyore. Lewis Black is also not known for lending his voice to big-screen characters, but his anger was a hilarious addition. Even Richard Kind, playing Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong (a pink cotton candy elephant-dog), is the best guy for the role.

A story this inventive could have only come from the mind of someone like writer/director Pete Docter, the man behind “Monster’s Inc.” and “Up.” “Inside Out” gracefully handles the difficult concept of depression in a way that children might be inside_out_2015_movie-2560x1440 (1)able to grasp. The message, in essence, is that no single emotion can do it alone. It’s okay to be angry or sad sometimes. The script isn’t without flaw, but kudos to the writing team for explaining emotions as both abstract concepts and cognitive functions. This is not the typical Pixar script. It can be funny, but more often it’s insightful. But what might have been a chance for Pixar to focus on animation—the emotions have to make their way through Riley’s imagination, her memories, and her dreams—seems like a missed opportunity, at least aesthetically. “Inside Out” is by no means unattractive, but it’s relatively plain by Pixar standards. Instead, the focus remains on the story and the characters.

“Inside Out” is easily Pixar’s best feature since “Toy Story 3.” It’s an ambitious project that focuses more on story than animation—and I’m not mad about that.

Throwback with a classic, ‘The Wizard of Oz’

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The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Directed by Victor Fleming

8.5/10  PG

In 1939, after years of speedbumps that almost halted production altogether, director Victor Fleming’s adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” finally made its way to the big screen. Now, 75 years later, “The Wizard of Oz” remains as wildly popular and universally successful as it was way back when.

More realistic and, in my opinion, more satisfying than the original story, the film begins on a sepia-toned Kansas farm. With her hardened Auntie Em (Clara Blandick) and unemotional Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin) raising her, innocent farmthe_wizard_of_oz-0303 girl Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) lived an unsatisfactory life. When a twister separates Dorothy and her dog Toto (Terry, one of the most popular dog actresses of all-time) from her family, Dorothy is lifted high in the sky and lands in the far-off Land of Oz. From there, the frightened Dorothy meets a mindless Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a heartless Tin Man (Jack Haley), and a cowardly lion (Bert Lahr) on her way to see the Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) and find her way back to Kansas. But of course, she’s met with challenges when the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) promises to stop her.

No review of “The Wizard of Oz” would be complete without mentioning the prolific, unforgettable casting. Judy Garland, notably second choice after then-ten-year-old Shirley Temple, breathes life into Dorothy in a performance that will never be forgotten. Vaudevillian performers Bolger, Haley, and Lahr make comedy with even their most minor facial expressions. Bolger, especially, The-Wizard-Of-Oz-the-wizard-of-oz-17565076-1488-1080captures the lanky, floppy look of the scarecrow like no other performer of his day could have. Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West could be described in one word – iconic. To this day, witches are supposed to have green skin, a pointy black hat, and an unsightly mole. Hamilton’s witch met an untimely fate, but her influence lives on.

In 1939, a cyclone was made using only a long stocking on a miniature replica set. Yet, this terrifying twister (with sounds made using a cylindrical metal machine and a canvas sheet rubbing together) blew audiences away with its realism. Throughout the film, inventive special effects made Oz the most beautiful place a film has ever been set. To this day, few places rival it. Sure, it isn’t what it could look like using today’s technology – but nothing hampered the unshakable spirit of “The Wizard of Oz” – not then, and not now.

At the time, the film only won two Oscars, both for music. This is due entirely to the fact that it went head-to-head against Wizard-Of-Oz-witch_lanother cinematic giant, often considered the best of all time – “Gone with the Wind.” The four-hour epic became an instant critical darling, leaving the crew of Oz to pick up their meager remains on Oscar night. Yet, at only two hours “The Wizard of Oz” does have one strong advantage over the four-hour ar epic. Watching it now, it felt shorter than it did the last time I watched it. It covers a grand amount in a relatively small amount of time.

“The Wizard of Oz” will remain one of the greats, one of the first truly classic films of the American film era. A visit to the Land of Oz is never one worth missing, even if there’s no place like home.

‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ is a refreshing summer hit

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

8/10  PG-13

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” won the Audience and Grand Jury prizes when it premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January. People loved it. I can see why. Few films this year have been as smart and honest with itself. Or as hilarious. And none have been as emotionally sincere as “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

In high school, people either find their clique or discover they aren’t fit for any. Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) is me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-nick-offerman-thomas-mannone of these defectors. He and his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) make intentionally terrible amateur films in their spare time. Otherwise, Greg likes to watch porn and neglect thinking about college. You know, typical high school senior stuff. But when his mom and dad (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) tell him about a classmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who was recently diagnosed with leukemia, Greg is encouraged to be a friend for someone who needs one. But considering her condition, that’s just asking for trouble. Right?

You would think this story would seem overdone. This likely isn’t the first time you’ve seen a movie about cancer. But first-time screenwriter Jesse Andrews (adapting his own 2012 novel) doesn’t take quite the same road as his predecessors. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” has an eccentric “Juno”-like tone. It’s culturally-informed, clever, and quirky. It’s self-aware. It’s hysterical and tragic.03-me-earl-and-dying-girl

Olivia Cooke has played sick before, in A&E’s “Bates Motel,” but she reaches new heights as “the dying girl.” Her powerful performance is a triumph. She’s the emotional (and comedic) heartbeat of this story, so when the story focuses more on Greg and Earl it loses some of its touch. But have no fear, because Mann and Cyler give incredible performances, too. Cyler is about as real as any character I’ve ever seen. What could have been a stereotyped sidekick character turned into everyone’s favorite teller-of-how-it-is.

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that takes an overdone story and makes it better. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is not like any movies you’ve ever seen about illness. It’s like real life, but funnier and more dramatic. It’s what we deserve.

‘Spy’ is stuck between superior ‘Kingsman,’ ‘Spectre’

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SPY (2015)

Directed by Paul Feig

6/10  R

I spy an unwanted trilogy. Of course, any franchise future will have a lot to do with the box office success of “Spy.” But considering the last two movies to come from director Paul Feig and comedienne Melissa McCarthy—“Bridesmaids” and “The Heat”—are both among the most financially successful R-rated movies of all time, I can’t spy-movie-photo-1see why the lackluster “Spy” won’t receive the same undeserved attention.

Criminal jurisdiction and protocol has never been more absurd than when CIA analyst Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is called upon to go undercover in Paris after the death of an agent (Jude Law). Why not send veteran agent and all-around badass Rick Ford (Jason Statham)? Because the identities of all of the CIA’s active field agents have been revealed by a mole to Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who is in talks with arms dealer De Luca (Bobby Cavanale) to sell him a portable nuclear bomb (it’s always a nuclear bomb, isn’t it?). Asking Cooper to go undercover is just asking for trouble, as she gets in a little deeper than she was supposed to.

Melissa McCarthy has been in exactly one role that I actually enjoyed, playing Maggie in last year’s underappreciated spy-image-melissa-mccarthy-rose-byrne“St. Vincent.” When she’s in straight-comedic roles, like this one, she tends to stoop to low levels for cheap laughs. Slapstick or insult comedy…or dick jokes. Or maybe her writers have resorted to giving her the same low-brow material to work with. (“Spy” is the first Feig-McCarthy movie that he wrote as well as directed…though I couldn’t tell a difference.) Either way, her shtick has lost its je ne sais quoi. Rose Byrne, strutting her comedic stuff in last year’s “Neighbors,” is a bright spot. And Jason Statham has the element of surprise in his favor. Since we don’t associate the British action star with comedy, his jokes draw more of a response. From McCarthy, however, we get what we expect. Though I’ve never been a fan, the masses have shown their support. If they continue to do so, we can continue to see more of this. I’m hoping people let McCarthy grow out of these roles. Let her transition into more serious roles for good. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

‘Entourage’ : As Hollywood as it gets

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Entourage (2015)

Directed by Doug Ellin

7/10  R

It’s been about four years since HBO’s “Entourage,” which lasted a successful eight seasons and 96 episodes, shot its last episode. Now, after some production speedbumps (ironic, eh?), the “Entourage” movie is finally here. Before you ask…yes, you can certainly enjoy the movie without having seen the show. I survived. It throws you into the middle of a few stories, but none you can’t easily pick up on after a few minutes. Have no fear. While “Entourage” isn’t the funniest movie of entourage-movie-adrien-grenier-kevin-connolly-600x399the year, it’s an enjoyable romp around Hollywood. Dozens of stars, from actors to models to athletes to musicians, make cameo appearances. It’s a red carpet of familiar faces.

Studio exec Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven, not missing a single beat) taps good friend and movie star Vinny Chase (Adrian Grenier) to star in and direct an ambitious supernatural film called “Hyde.” But alongside the rest of the crew—Vinny’s brother and costar Johnny (Kevin Dillon), driver/entrepreneur Turtle (Jerry Ferrera), and producer E (Kevin Connolly)—Gold and Chase will have to convince their financiers (Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osment, actually a great pair of performances) that the project is worth their investment.

entourage-movie-jeremy-piven-adrien-grenier-600x355“Entourage” only lasts 104 minutes, but it feels at least twenty minutes longer. Besides that and some lack of focus, I can’t see much worth complaining about. Aside from Jeremy Piven, these guys haven’t found superstardom. But they don’t need it, because they have this. These characters feel real because the guys have so much fun being themselves. Piven is hilarious. He’s the most deserving of the stardom he’s found since beginning the series back in 2004. The cameo guests are also frequent bright spots. Watch out for quick but unforgettable bits from T.I. and Bob Saget.

“Entourage” is just really entertaining. It’s not the best movie of the year, but it’s a fun summer flick. I feel like there’s no easier way to describe it than that.

‘San Andreas’ is an over-the-top cinematic spectacle

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San Andreas (2015)

Directed by Brad Peyton

7.5/10  PG-13

Don’t let the demolished Hollywood sign fool you—“San Andreas” shows that the summertime standard of big-budget Hollywood fun is still thriving. Yes, the science might be shaky. And the acting might be horrifying. But when Earth’s tectonic plates play Jenga with San Francisco and Dwayne Johnson decides to save the day, you and I both know that other stuff SAN ANDREASdoesn’t matter.

Cal Tech seismology professor Dr. Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) somberly turns to the camera, addressing a frightened California, and informs them that they’re about to feel the biggest earthquake in recorded history. From there, like dominos, San Francisco falls one skyscraper at a time. Blake (Alexandra Daddario), in the city with her architect stepdad Daniel (Ioan Gruffud), becomes trapped. With the help of two recent acquaintances, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), she manages to escape the collapsing building. But now, like the rest of the city, they’ll struggle to make their way to safety. Back in Los Angeles, Blake’s dad Ray (Dwayne Johnson), a helicopter pilot, and mom Emma (Carla Gugino), out to lunch with her future sister-in-law, are facing their own quakes (the San Andreas fault is almost as unstable as their recent marriage…ouch). But Ray promises to rescue Blake, come hell or high water (and he’ll deal with both), and save his crumbling family.san-andreas-alexandra-daddario

I imagine casting auditions sounded something like this: “Okay, now scream as you would if you saw a giant approaching tsunami in the distance.” When our stars aren’t in immediate peril, they’re duds. Thankfully for us, they’re in immediate peril nearly 90% of the time. If my heartbeat registered seismic activity, Alexandra Daddario would be a magnitude 10. In her first starring role since the “Percy Jackson” franchise, Daddario doesn’t disappoint. Dwayne Johnson is built for this role. The way he spits theatrical one-liners, you’d think he got his start in professional wrestling. Unfortunately, the family dynamic was lost on me. The story was riddled with clichés. But, with the world falling apart around them, I got over the plot’s emotional deficiencies fast. Plus, Professor Giamatti is a terrific addition. His own turn-to-the-camera lines are what movies like “San Andreas” thrive on.

san-andreas-official-trailer-2-hFrom the get-go, “San Andreas” hits you with high-octane thrills. “San Andreas” is a nail-biter of a disaster epic and I’m unapologetically in love with it. At times, the absurdity of it was literally laughable. But I couldn’t believe what I found myself enjoying. I was giddy. If you want scientific accuracy, go watch National Geographic. If you want to see stunts that defy physics, go watch “San Andreas.” But it’s not a total waste when it comes to realism. Its characters show you, in many cases, exactly what to do when the earth rumbles beneath you. It’s part Roland Emmerich epic (though he wasn’t involved in any way, surprisingly), part earthquake safety PSA.

“San Andreas” is a must-see theatrical spectacle. Lower your expectations and just go along for the ride.