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Beef on the Barbecue – July 4th weekend movies including "Magic Mike XXL," "Terminator Genisys," and "Results"

3 Jul
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What if Odysseus had been retarded?

Everyone and their mother is in Magic Mike XXL (edited but no longer directed by Steven Soderbergh).  Especially if their mother is a little overweight or a recent divorcee.

Elizabeth Banks is in it, and she is also in every other movie out right now, including Love and Mercy (which is a lot better than Magic Mike) and Pitch Perfect 2 (which is a teeny bit better).

If you want to get a heterosexual guy to go to Magic Mike XXL, you can truthfully tell him that for about a minute and a half, Elizabeth Banks and Jada Pinkett Smith make out, their characters having apparently been lovers years before the events in this movie (or those of the first Magic Mike).

Banks play a slightly trashier and much more countrified version of the contest maven she plays in the Pitch Perfect movies, it’s just that now she is organizing male exotic dancers instead of college acapella groups.  And MMXXL is about a third back story, filling in what went on in dancer Mike’s (Channing Tatum’s) life, before the first movie, including an affair he too had with the omnivorous Ms. Pinkett Smith.

One of the innovations of MMXXL over the original is just this multiculturalism:  there are now black people and gays.  Given the addition of black male dancers (ironically – or perhaps this is a marketing ploy to pull in TV viewers who otherwise would not see a dirty movie – daytime’s  Michael Strahan from the Kelly and Michael show aka Regis, and “Twitch” from Ellen) it is somewhat jarring that the odyssey Mike and friends take on their journey from Tampa to Myrtle Beach takes them through Charleston, South Carolina.

And it is almost literally an Odyssey, with many parallels.  The guys travel not from Mediterranean island to Mediterranean island, but from coastal beach town to coastal beach town.  Their ship, a frozen yogurt food truck, crashes.  They are rescued by an Athena-like Jada Pinkette Smith, who is a goddess of conniving, if not of wisdom (in one act the boys throw glitter on a poster, which sticks to invisible glue and then reads “The Goddess”).  At one point the boys end up in a drag bar and dance in a style to make themselves appear gay – Circe becomes a drag queen and they become not pigs but femmie faggots.  In another stop they visit a stripper club/brothel for a (mainly black) female clientele, where the owner, a beclawed Pinkette Smith, playing a slightly less homicidal version of her “Fish” character in TV’s Gotham, is like a Cyclops, ready to eat them – she makes Mike dance before the assembled clients to decide whether she will be his Cyclops or his Athena.  In a third stop they go to the home of a girl they met who gave Adam Rodriguez’s character her number, and her mother, played by Andie McDowall, is a wealthy divorcee, social queen in a McMansion with a court of wealthy girlfriends, all drinking wine to forget their sorrows; on one stop Odysseus visits Helen (of Troy) and her husband, who serve nepenthe, a psychopharmacological drink, to help them forget the Trojan War.

But these boys aren’t smart like Odysseus; they barely know any words that aren’t four letter words.  Their most elevated comments are when pretty Matt Bomer’s character launches into New Age flatulence about sexual and emotional healing.  So the first third of the movie is kind of awful.  Dirty looking boys with nice abs who aren’t that attractive, except for returning Joe Manganiello, who looks really good scruffy, and also turns out to be a better actor than the rest of them. (Manganiello, who starred in the HBO vampire show TrueBlood, at one point gets to make a joke about a rival group of contestants who have a stripper act where they are dressed as sexy vampires.)

But then the movie becomes a remake of Bring It On, with Tatum and Manganiello playing the Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku characters, with the missing Matthew McConaughey being  the cheerleader flick’s “Big Red.”  They have to invent new choreography and win!  When these characters follow Laura Ingraham’s advice and shut up and sing (and dance) the movie improves.  Except it is still a sad world of stupid men who make unloved women, some morbidly obese and some distraught divorcees, happy with their gifts, which are almost exclusively physical.

There are other fun bits. Matt Bomer sings nicely, making you think, because he’s prettier, if he learned to tell a joke he might threaten Neil Patrick Harris for top Hollywood gay guy. Amber Heard is good in a small role, playing a blond version of a Winona Ryder type character.

Film: C+     Libertarian Quotient: 5


Where Magic Mike XXL is Homer’s Odyssey, Terminator Genisys is Plato’s Republic.

The totalitarian artificial intelligence in all the previous entrants in the Terminator franchise was Skynet, an apocalyptic genocidal evil foisted on us by greedy corporations and militaristic governments, too shortsighted to worry about what an AI entity would do, just as they were too shortsighted to think the Pentagon maybe should be guarded by anti-aircraft weapons.

But in the new Terminator, Skynet uses time travel to continually evolve, or create alternate time streams, like founding new cities in Platonic thought experiments in the search for Justice.  And Skynet re-engineers time so that it instead enters history as a consumer product, Genisys (an evil Genie in a bottle?), that everyone must have, like the latest Apple product (in the film there are one billion pre-orders).  In the Republic the conversants actually found a simple, just, edenic city toward the beginning of Plato’s dialogue, kind of egalitarian, libertarian, and vegetarian.  But then one of them decides that in the perfect city, besides the simple, healthy food, there must also be relish, and away they go, until they end up in a weird totalitarian society where the ruling class steals your kids, but doesn’t know which of the communally raised children are its own children, and also has no property, as well as all sharing the same gym and bathroom facilities no matter what their gender or sexual orientation, where they are all required to exercise naked together.  Kind of like America today. In this movie, Skynet/Genisys must have been reading a digital library including Mary Wollstonecraft, Leo Strauss, and Leon Kass.  It creates a third model of Terminator, not the old Schwarzenegger model, nor the living liquid metal model, but a fused human/machine version.  In TG, the new AI entity offers to borg humanity with nanotechnology, improving it, along the lines of the Ilia character played by the (late) actress Persis Khambatta in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

If you like all the other Terminator movies you will like this one too.  They do handle the time travel conundrums well, and they explain why when the human heroes jump to 2017 their Terminator guardian, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been waiting for them for 23 years, is now an old, gray haired, man.  But for syfy fans, I think the current CBS offerings, Halle Berry’s/Steven Speilberg’s EXTANT, Rachelle Lefevre’s/Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and James Patterson’s Zoo, all deliver more punch.

Film:  B-          Libertarian Quotient:  6


Healthier beef, and more realistic servings, are provided by Guy Pearce in Results.  It’s a somewhat low budget movie set in Austin, Texas, tracking the lives and loves of a fitness center owner who is a personal trainer, his staff, and their clients.  Like Tatum or Schwarzenneger, Pearce is built.  Like Schwarzenegger he has played action villains (Iron Man 3), and like Tatum he has played to the gay audience (long ago, in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.)

This is a good date movie, especially for people who like indie films.  One of the remarkable features is Cobie Smulders, who looks strikingly like Jennifer Connelly, except with a very weirdly unattractive, though perhaps memorable, name.

Film: A-            Libertarian Quotient:  7


Coming attractions

Jurasslick Park  – Scientists recreate neanderthal and cro-magnon humanoids so sex tourists can partake in inter-species orgies on a secluded island; starring Jeff Goldbloom, Ron Jeremy, Sharon Stone, and Lena Dunham as “Gurga.”  Directed by Bryan Singer.

Weekend Movies – 5 Easy Pieces

20 Jun

Love and Mercy.  This is the best movie I’ve seen this year, in part because it has the advantage of having Brian Wilson‘s music as its soundtrack.  (Some of us are just young enough to have only faint memories of the better Wilson songs, until they were brought back to everyone’s attention as the score to HBO’s BigLove).  It’s also the most libertarian, combining themes from Ayn Rand and Thomas Szasz.  Also a feminist movie, with a working class divorcee the White Knight who saves the day.

It’s the biography of Brian Wilson, the singer/songwriter/composer responsible for the Beach Boys.  Seeking treatment for mental illness, which may or may not have been aggravated by a physically and emotionally abusive father (and a 60s drug use problem), Wilson was literally enslaved by his psychiatrist, who over medicated him, took his money and property, and tried to force him to produce more hits while drugged into submission.  Only the love and concern of car saleswoman, Melinda Ledbetter, he chances to meet (capitalism!), saves him from death.  After his recovery, he marries his princess charming rescuer, and they have 5 children and he composes two more award winning albums.  Wilson is played young and old by Paul Dano and John Cusak, but the scenery is really eaten up by Paul Giammati as the evil psychiatrist slaver and the ubiquitous Elizabeth Banks as Melinda.  Wilson is a Hank Rearden character, who believes he deserves punishment and is essentially evil, something his father had beaten into him and something his own sins as a husband and father in a first marriage (never fully explained or revealed) have for him confirmed; and Dr. Landy (Paul Giammati) is the Lillian Rearden ready to tap that guilt for sadistic fun and envious profit.  With Banks it’s as if Atlas’s Cheryl Taggart had met Rearden and they save each other together.  All against a yummy background of California scenery, from Malibu to the Hollywood Hills and retro shots of 60s Los Angeles pool parties and recording studios.

This movie reminded me of The Man Who Fell to Earth, the 1976 film where David Bowie played a Martian who falls to earth and is exploited by a cabal of government bureaucrats and crony corporations for his advanced scientific knowledge.  Association of Libertarian Feminists co-founder Sharon Presley penned a great review of Fell back when she was a hipster NYU grad student, pointing out how much it shared with Atlas Shrugged.  (Presley’s review is pre-internet and not online, so frustratingly I cannot link!  If someone finds a physical copy of it I’d love to post it here at Insomniac.)

(Side Note:  Paul Dano is the new male Catherine Keener.  A touchstone like Keener, if he is in a movie, often a quirky indie film you know nothing about, you can assume, 99% of the time, it’s pretty darn good.  These people either know how to read a script and assess a project in advance, or they have the freedom to turn down garbage.)

Film:  A+      Libertarian Quotient:  7


Pitch Perfect 2.  Busy Ms. Elisabeth Banks, who is in The Hunger Games, and Magic Mike II, and Love and Mercy (above) is also the director…and producer…and an actor… reprising her role as an acapella contest judge from Pitch Perfect.  You’d think being spread so thin this she couldn’t make this be good, but it is.  It’s kind of a more cerebral Porky’s, but with a female sensibility.  Lots of almost sophomoric jokes about sex, nudity, and bodily functions.  The plot involves the all female acapella singing team, the Bellas (from the first Pitch Perfect) being disgraced when they accidentally moon President Obama (who is made fun of, briefly). and then have to win back their title against a German team who think they are the master race.  The always appealing jolie laide Ana Kendrick leads her team to…you have to watch to find out.  The girls also learn about entrepreneurship as interns at a recording studio.

Film:  B+          Libertarian Quotient:  5


Jurassic World.  A perfectly serviceable entry into the franchise.  This return to the woebegotten Costa Rican island has more libertarian content than some of the previous Jurrasic films, as the danger is increased by genetic engineering by Defense contractors seeking to make bigger and better weaponized reptiles.

The movie has been the occasion for some internet fun, as a scene in which the studly Chris Pratt’s character “calms” three velociraptors has generated parody memes.  But the joke hits on a truth, which is that Chris Pratt’s pulchritude is palpable; seeing him makes you want to put your lips all over his body (if you are so inclined anyway) in a reaction very similar to looking at stock photos of Marilyn Monroe (who also produces that reaction in me – maybe I’m just hungry?).  (There is also a new computer game Lego Jurassic World.)

That’s actually one minor problem of the movie.  I generally like gingers, including ginger women, but Chris Pratt, who is basically the new Gerard Butler, is totally hotter, at least in this movie, than cold and papery Bryce Dallas Howard.  I don’t believe he’d be chasing her instead of her him.

The movie is speedy enough to keep you from being bothered by the fact that you may have known how it would end.  Early on we are shown the herpetological equivalent of a loaded gun, and then it reappears in the middle of the film, so we know it is going to be used, about 125 minutes later.

Film: A     Libertarian Quotient: 6


Boulevard.  Robin William’s final film, posthumously produced.  A depressing, mediocre movie that did not need to be made.  The official release date is July 10, but it’s being previewed now at gay film festivals (which is where I saw it).  Williams plays Nolan Mack, a closeted married gay loan officer, a very down market version of Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman, with a catatonic and ailing father in a nursing home, a childless, passionless, marriage, a boring but spacious house covered in doilies and thick curtains, and an obnoxious friend (Bob Odenkirk).  Then he meets a gay rent boy, Leo, who is hot, but his character is not exactly the same as that of Julia Roberts and this isn’t a remake of Pygmalian.  The gay press reviewers (as opposed to the libertarian reviewers who happen to be gay) think it is a untold story of what it was like to be a gay man before you could be out, who marries because you must, and quotes 60 and 70 year old gay men on how this is finally a film that speaks to them.  That’s nice.  What the fuck does that have to do with the rest of us?  I guess you could claim it is an eye opening window into gay history for the youth.  Other gay reviewers think the movie has great acting.  But it is boring so what does that matter?

William’s Mack has always been gay and never really acted on it, instead marrying a female literary academic (actress Kathy Baker), a substitute for his childhood/lifelong friend, an aspiring novelist (Odenkirk).  (I often find Odenkirk annoying so this was a good use for him.)  The hooker (Robert Aguirre) has a violent pimp and other problems, and trying to save him blows up Nolan Mack’s life.  In the final scene we jump to his going away meeting with Odenkirk; William’s is suddenly in better fitting jeans and a snazzier jacket, with hair that is no longer gray, and Odenkirk is finally headed to Manhattan to try to write the Great American Novel, young girlfriend in tow.  What happened in between with Kathy Baker and everyone else we never know.

I used to be a major donor/sponsor of DC’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival.  We’d sit through many bad movies about serial killers taking out gays just to see a handful of short gay romantic comedies.  Cable TV (i.e., capitalism) allowed more channels to serve niche markets (gays and also indie film lovers) so that more and better gay fare is available, and even made the other channels compete by including gay characters; and gay film festivals shrank from two week long event parties to weekend long affairs.  We just stay home now and watch better stuff on TV.  We don’t need to like mediocre gay fare anymore and include it in our programming.

If you watch the official trailer for Boulevard (below) you’ve seen the whole movie unless you enjoy watching Kathy Baker’s (et al) facial motor fine motor skills for 88 minutes.

Film:  C-         Libertarian Quotient:  1


Entourage.  Jeremy Piven, last seen on British TV in Mr. Selfridge, and Adrian Grenier, last seen in 2006 in The Devil Wears Prada, finally get some work.  Most people who loved the HBO series Entourage will be satisified but not overwhelmed by this conclusion to the story started on TV of whether Grenier”s Vincent Chase will ever have a hit movie.  One continuity problem is that in the four years since HBO stopped airing the series, most of the entourage have developed thick necks and the beginning of jowls (except Jerry Ferrara, “Turtle,” who has dramatically lost weight).  It’s clear at least four years have passed, though I think we are supposed to believe the film begins right after the series ended. If you didn’t see the series I don’t know if the film will make a lot of sense.  The movie within a movie Vincent Chase stars in and produces seems to be a libertarianish dystopian story in which a DJ is kind of Edward Snowden.

Film:  B-          Libertarian Quotient: 3