The Expendables 3 **

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Where did the joy and sense of fun go all of a sudden in the “Expendables” series? This third entry looked like it was going to be the best from all the previews I saw. I was at least expecting it to be on par with the first two films in the franchise. This third installment is a bit of a mess.

I think at this point it is getting way too to heavy. As much as I love seeing Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammar, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes joining the fun, perhaps they should start replacing the characters to make room. There are so many characters that some of the action literally has them all piled in to a vehicle of some sort, firing weapons at all the bad guys around them. Think of a clown car full of wrestlers and you get the idea.

The story this time tries to go darker and fails. The Expendables crew find themselves going up against a deadly arms dealer who happens to be a former member played by Mel Gibson. Gibson, amazingly, gives the best performance in the film. He really sinks his teeth in and creates a truly menacing character. My problem is that after an opening where the crew busts Wesley Snipes out of jail, Stallone fires them all and hires a bunch of younger members played by actors who could not act their way through a kids movie. This annoyed me a lot as I was especially excited to see Snipes back on the big screen.

Now they do come back when Stallone rehires them for the finale, which is a long ugly battle that takes place in a rundown building that offers the least amount of appealing visuals humanly possible. Speaking of the battles, this installment has gone PG-13 which means that the violence is not bloody at all. At first I was sort of excited by this prospect as the first two movies used CGI blood which I think looks ugly. Turns out no blood at all mixed with shaky cam action to obscure the gore is even worse. Everything just seemed so watered down. I don’t really get this move as the target audience is like 25 and above anyway.

If there is a fourth “Expendables” movie I honestly hope that Stallone can hire a seasoned action director and make it truly R rated again. John McTiernan, John Woo, and Andrew Davis immediately jump to mind. Patrick Hughes, the helmer here, seems to be in way over his head. None of the action is exciting or thrilling and the decision to use cheap looking CGI explosions is a complete disaster. Also cut out some of the characters if you are going to bring on new blood.

The Purge: Anarchy ***

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“The Purge: Anarchy” is the sequel to last summer’s “The Purge”. The premise is the same. The future America now endorses an annual holiday where for 12 straight hours all crime is legal, including murder. This apparently allows people a release from all the rage and violence they keep bottled up inside. The first movie focused on a family that was trying to survive a home invasion but this time we follow some different characters as they try to survive the streets which are basically a war zone.

The main character is Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) who is out to murder the man who killed his son while driving drunk. When he comes across a young mother and her daughter his conscience forces him to intervene and save them. He also decides to help a young couple who are on the run after their car broke down on the way home. Together they must survive roaming gangs, drunk snipers and savage killers.

The events this time take on more of a straight forward action thriller than the horror elements that dominated the first movie. There are a lot of fire fights and chases. I enjoyed this a bit more than the original to be honest. It is interesting to see the normal world turn to chaos once the inaugural horn fires up.

I also liked the political elements that were shown this time. The rich people are shown paying local street thugs to kidnap victims for their private auctions. Innocent people are then thrown in to a sort of giant rat maze where they can be hunted. I was reminded a bit of “Hard Target” where the wealthy paid a high price to hunt homeless people for sport.

As a summer thriller this works. It hints at larger themes but never truly explores any of them which is kind of a shame. It is still a horrifying vision of the future that should cause some mixed reactions.

Transformers: Age Of Extinction **

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What more is there to say about another “Transformers” movie? Did we need another one? I re-watched the original three earlier this week and I have to say that my mind was numb from the mayhem. I enjoyed them in theatres but watching them back to back really shows how repetitive they got. This fourth movie, “Age Of Extinction”, is basically more of the same but without a coherent narrative.

The original cast is replaced with a new family. Mark Wahlberg is the head of the house hold. He is an offbeat inventory who comes across a scrap heap that turns out to be a barely alive Optimus Prime. I will say that almost nothing beats hearing the voice of Peter Cullen on the big screen, no matter how bad the film gets. Most of the story involving Wahlberg’s family involves his issues with how fast his daughter is growing up and the fact that she is dating some guy behind his back. Yawn.

The Transformers are spread out all over the country and are now being hunted by the CIA, lead by Kelsey Grammar, with the aid of some new Decepticons. Basically they want the space metal that they are made of so they can create their own version of the Transformers. They start with the remaining metal of the defeated Megatron which turns out to be a mistake when some how they bring over Megatron’s soul, basically recreating him.

Then suddenly the action moves to Shanghai for no other reason than to sell more tickets to this movie in Asia. The Transformers end up in a giant battle that does a ton of damage to the city. The Dinobots show up out of no where to join the mass destruction. Giant aliens ships hover over the city, massive robots get tangled up in to confusing heaps of scrap metal, millions of bullets are fired and many things blow up real good. By the end of this cinematic insanity I was exhausted.

Out of all the films in this series this one seems the most half assed and stupid. Director Michael Bay promised to dial down the dumb characters and make this film a little more serious and focused but some how he has done the opposite. There are too many villains, too many idiotic characters and just too much incoherent CGI destruction sprinkled with moments here and there that I thought were funny or neat. I found Stanley Tucci to be so weirdly quirky that it was like he was in a different movie.

At this point you know if this movie is for you or not. I liked the first three to a degree but I have reached my limit. If there is to be more films then they need a new director a new writer and it needs to be set some where else other than earth. I do not need to see another City destroyed by CGI.

22 Jump Street ***

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“22 Jump Street” is the sequel to “21 Jump Street” from two years ago. The original movie was a remake of a TV show that ran in the late 80’s and starred Johnny Depp. It was a fairly dramatic show. The film version, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, was made as a flat out comedy, which sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I thought it was funny and I enjoyed it but it was I did find it a missed opportunity. The sequel takes that even further, almost bordering on parody of most buddy cop movies. I laughed and had a great time yet again.

The directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller are back again as is writer Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill. These guys know how to write comedy. Miller and Lord are fresh off of “The Lego Movie”, which was a hilarious romp as well. This time they take a lot of shots as sequels in general. The captain even tells them they got luck with reboot in 2012. The department is provided them with a bigger budget and they want them to do the same thing all over again. You see where this is going.

Tatum and Hill return as partners Jenko and Schmidt. These two guys should not be police officers. They are very funny as a duo but they freely drink, do drugs and get innocent people in to dangerous situations. The comedic chemistry just works though. I especially love the moment when they try to get in to character is potential Mexican drug dealers. Hill goes complete cholo, with a hilarious Mexican accent. Tatum attempts to match him with side splitting results.

The movie then sends them to college to try and find the suppliers of a new drug that is making the rounds. They are enrolled in classes and move in to the dorms where they immediately start getting themselves in to troubles.

Basically what I am saying is that if you really got a kick out of the first film then you should see this one as well. It is mindless entertainment that works.

Edge Of Tomorrow ***1/2

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What a truly awesome sci-fi thriller this is. Who would of thought that after numerous alien invasion flicks, with the same boring action sequences and effects, that director Doug Liman and actor Tom Cruise could take the same sort of premise and make it fresh and exciting. The twist they have added is straight out of Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day”. Cruise’s main character keeps reliving the same day over and over until he can either stop the invasion or figure out how to break the cycle.

The plot is fairly standard at this point. An alien race has arrived on earth bent on destroying mankind. The people of earth have mounted a resistance. But like I said, the main character seems to be stuck in a loop where he wakes up on the day of the invasion, gets thrown in to battle and dies. But he retains his memories which give him a distinct advantage as he starts to memorize the patters of the enemy. Eventually he joins forces with other characters who understand his ability and they devise a plan that could lead to the end of the war.

Cruise plays Major William Cage. Cage isn’t much of a soldier as he is a PR guy. He makes the rounds on talk shows and news pundit programs to talk about the war and all things military. When he is unwilling thrown in to the front lines we learn just how under skilled he is. When the ships hit the beach he almost dies instantly. He wakes up the day before to the same conversations and people and is thrust in to the invasion again where he dies again. He starts to realize he is stuck in this loop. Eventually he meets Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who seems to know what he is going through. Apparently she had this power transferred to her but it was lost when she tried to use it against the enemy.

Together they train in an attempt to know the enemies every move so they can get through the invasion and track down a specific location in which the enemy hub is hiding which if they can destroy it, then it would basically win the war. The invasion itself is an exciting, edge of your seat battle.

The screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie is fairly ingenious in the way that he manages to keep the movie interesting despite having to write the same day over and over. The characters and the dialogue are all very strong. It is a great blend of sci-fi excitement and humor. What more could we want from a big budget summer flick?

Director Doug Liman is no stranger to summer action films having directed “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” and “The Bourne Identity”. Here he takes his direction to a whole new level, seamlessly blending CGI action with a very human story. The action scenes are not a chaotic mess either. The battle is confusing to the soldiers fighting it but it is clear and easy to follow for the audience. CGI is used to create the aliens but they look terrific and blend in with the human characters perfectly.

A Million Ways To Die In The West ***

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“A Million Ways To Die In The West” is the follow up movie by Seth MacFarlane to his outrageously funny 2012 film “Ted”. Here he puts himself in front of the camera and sets the story back in the old west, setting the stage for a parody based on clich├ęs from classic western movies. Some of it is successful and some of it is not. I guess I was hoping for a classic along the lines of “Blazing Saddles” so my expectations were set pretty high.

The film has a lot of moments that are truly hilarious. A lot of it comes from the fact that MacFarlane’s character, Albert Stark, has a modern sense of humor and everyone around him has the 1880’s mentality. I especially love the moments where Stark stares right in the face of some classic western movie moments and pokes fun at them on the spot. During a potential duel he points out that the two men’s shadows appear to be engaged in oral sex. Then there is the moment where a classic saloon brawl breaks out and MacFarlane stands in the back, pretending to fight his friend in the hopes that nobody actually attacks them.

Eventually he gets caught in the crosshairs of a deadly outlaw named Clinch Leatherwood, played by Liam Neeson. Neeson of course gets some big laughs by playing this absolutely straight. His wife is played by Charlize Theron, who has the same modern sensibility as Stark, which results in a mutual attraction, hence why Clinch wants to gun him down.

Now my standards were set high because I figured someone like MacFarlane would really go for a searing look at the old West using R rated comedy. Instead we get a lot of potty humor, dirty site gags and a lot of naughty language. All of it is fairly funny but I was hoping for it to be edgy in a way that might even piss a few people off.

In the end this is a pretty funny flick. It got funnier the more I thought about it after I viewed it for some reason. Some of the dialogue and jokes stuck in my mind. I don’t think it will really break out though as it is not quite as accessible as “Ted” was.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past ***1/2

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The “X-Men” film franchise was put back on track with last year’s “The Wolverine”. “Days Of Future Past” brings the series back to full prominence. Bryan Singer, who directed the first two “X-Men” movies, returns to helm this latest installment and absolutely kills it with probably the most epic superhero flick since “The Avengers”.

The plot follows the classic storyline from the comic books. We start in a post apocolyptic future where the mutant race has all but been eradicated by robots called Sentinals. They were created specifically to identify mutants and destroy them. As the film opens we are thrust in to a battle between a select group of mutants and some particularly fierce sentinals that seem to be able to absorb a mutant’s specific powers and turn the tables on them. Fans of this series will recognize Ice Man and Kitty Pryde instantly. Fan favorite Bishop is introduced here as well.

Eventually they meet up with Professor Xavier(Patrick Stewart) and the X-Men which now consist soley of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), and Magneto (Ian McKellen). They devise a plan that will send Wolverine’s future mind back in to his 1970’s self so that he can organize the X-men in the past and stop a specific event that will stop the sentinels from ever being created.

When Wolverine wakes up in 1973 he travels to the X-mansion to find Xavier (James McAvoy) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) living in isolation. Xavier has lost his power due to the side effects of a medication that has restored his ability to walk.

Once Logan convinces Xavier of the terrifying future that awaits they band together to break Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of a specially designed prison under the Pentagon. This involves the help of a mutant known as Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who has the ability to travel at supersonic speed. The effects that went in to creating the scenes with Quicksilver almost steal the whole movie. We see his point of view as he moves through time as everything slows down to a crawl.

The visual effects in this film are some of the best that this franchise has seen but they are finally used to service the story again. Entries like “The Last Stand” and “First Class” seemed to rely on CGI action and shied away from great story telling. “Days Of Future Past” is one of the iconic tales of the X-Men canon and it is told marvellously. From the screenplay to the direction and the performances, this is about as near perfect as a blockbuster can get. It is exciting and engaging at the same time.

It also masterfully combines the casts of the original films with the cast of “First Class” and creates a bridge that can lead in to a reboot of the series. Normally I am against reboots, remakes and reimagining’s but this one does it brilliantly because it is technically a continuation. And the tease at the end tells me it is going to continue towards a place I have truly longed for with this franchise.