Super Troopers 2

super_troopers_two_ver2_xlgThe sequel to the 2001 cult comedy classic Super Troopers featuring the Broken Lizard comedic group, Super Troopers 2 is a ridiculously silly comedy that, like the original, is full of vulgar and very juvenile humor that tries to be nothing more than a more traditional slapstick comedy. The movie follows a group of former Vermont State Troopers who were fired after the shenanigans of the first film and are looking for a way to get back into law enforcement. The main characters are made up of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe: Jay Chandrasekhar playing Senior Trooper Arcot “Thorny” Ramathorn, Paul Soter playing Trooper Jeff Foster, Steve Lemme playing Trooper MacIntyre “Mac” Womack, Erik Stolhanske playing Trooper Robert “Rabbit” Roto, and Kevin Heffernan playing Trooper Rodney “Rod” Farva. The rather ludicrous plot involves the group of highly incompetent troopers led by Captain John O’Hagen, played by Golden Globe-nominated British actor Brian Cox, being recruited to help set up a new highway patrol station outside a small Canadian town transitioning into joining the United States after a border dispute between the two nations. They must take control from a group of three extremely stereotyped Canadian Mounties, including one played by Will Sasso of MADtv fame, who become engaged in prank war with the obnoxious American troopers. Many of the practical jokes that the characters play on one another are sometimes hilarious and almost always rely on gross-out and lowbrow humor that could be upsetting to some viewers. Over time, the ribald story becomes increasingly absurd with the appearance of the slick French-Canadian mayor Guy Le Franc, played by Rob Lowe, and a criminal organization smuggling drugs and a female version of Viagra outlawed in the United States. All of the Canadian characters are over-the-top composites of a stereotypical French-Canadian, complete with the different pronunciation of the word sorry and the notion that all Canadians are nice in addition to poking fun of the fact that some of them speak French and love hockey. Overall, I found it to be a mind-numbing comedy that furthers the stupidity of the original Super Troopers, which will definitely appease fans, that has its moments of uproarious hilarity fueled by some rather immature material.

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Finding Your Feet

finding_your_feet_ver2_xlgDirected by Richard Loncraine who is best known for romantic comedies and 2006’s thriller Firewall, Finding Your Feet is the quintessential British romantic comedy revolving around a group of senior citizens looking for joy and love and is brought to life by the highly talented cast. We first meet one of the protagonists Sandra Abbott, played by Oscar-nominated actress Imelda Staunton, after she discovers that her husband of many years has been cheating on her with her best friend. She moves out of her wealthy enclave to go to London and stay with her older sister Bif, played by Celia Imrie best known for 2012’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Unlike Sandra, Bif is very much a free spirit who is happy to live a modest life in a crowded inner-city apartment and has a group of eccentric friends who all take a dance class at the local community center. Eventually, Sandra is convinced to participate in the dance class in order to get over her pending divorce and reconnect to others her age and outside her comfort zone. Through a series of charming scenes marked by typically dry British humor, she meets Bif’s friends and dance classmates, including the down-to-earth and delightful Charlie, played by acclaimed British actor Timothy Spall, the jovial Ted, played by David Hayman, and the flirtatious Jackie, played by comedic actress Joanna Lumley. The romantic part of the movie comes into play as Sandra begins to fall in love with Charlie; at that very moment, Sandra evolves from being preoccupied with wealth and social status to falling for a man who has very little wealth and lives on a river barge in London. Their romance is complicated by unforeseen circumstances, including Sandra’s husband trying to make amends and Charlie’s past love life. Although much of the movie is an innocent feel-good movie, there are some sentimental moments in which life is brought down to earth through the universal aspects of aging, including grief and loss of loved ones. Overall, I found it to be a delightful British film filled with witty innocent humor and a realistic pinch of bittersweet emotions that is elevated by a terrific cast of characters.

You Were Never Really Here

Directed by critically acclaimed Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay who is best known for 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, You Were Never Really Here is a very dark and sometimes disturbing film remarkable for its gritty atmosphere and superbly dedicated performance from Joaquin Phoenix. It follows the violent exploits of hired gun Joe, played by Golden Globe winner Phoenix in one of his best performances, as he takes on one of his toughest jobs rescuing girls from the criminal underworld. A powerful New York State Senator enlists Joe through the middleman McCleary, played by John Doman, to rescue his young daughter Nina, played by terrific newcomer Ekaterina Samsonov, from an underage sex ring in New York City. Effectively portraying Joe’s descent into madness, a majority of the movie shows Joe walking through the rough streets of New York City beset by intense hallucinations and traumatic flashbacks the result of his serious PTSD. The uncomfortable moments of insanity are heightened through the random use of jarring imagery and discordant music and sound effects. Surprisingly, it is a slow burn story that focuses on Joe struggling with his mental issues while investigating the whereabouts of the girl, only interrupted by scenes of extreme and sometimes graphic violence. Joe is a truly complicated figure who dispassionately kills people in brutal fashion primarily using a hammer; however, his actions are somewhat justified because the people that he is viciously attacking are truly repugnant bad guys trafficking young girls. Over the course of the plot, things go horribly awry as he stumbles into a vast conspiracy involving the Governor and corrupt police officers who murder those closest to him. Overall, I found it to be an unpleasant yet mesmerizing cinematic experience notable for the realistic performance from Joaquin Phoenix and the uniquely brilliant filmmaking style of Lynne Ramsay; as fair warning, it is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Rampage

Loosely based on the widely popular 1986 arcade video game of the same name, Rampage is nothing more than your basic Hollywood blockbuster full of cheap thrills and elaborate CGI action sequences with a story that does not really matter. Starring Dwayne Johnson as primatologist Davis Okoye, the flimsy plot revolves around genetically engineered animals who become destructive monsters after being exposed to a genetic experiment created in the labs of an absurdly villainous corporation. Working for a wildlife sanctuary in San Diego after serving in the military and an anti-poaching squad, Davis discovers that something is terribly wrong with his favorite gorilla named George after the animal becomes bigger and stronger overnight. Eventually, he teams up with Dr. Kate Caldwell, played by Naomie Harris, who used to work as a geneticist with the Energyne Corporation owned and operated by two malevolent siblings who are secretly trying to develop biological weapons of mass destruction. The United States government and military led by the mysterious and extremely exaggerated cowboy-like Agent Harvey Russell, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, becomes involved after George exhibits aggressive behavior and goes on a rampage indiscriminately destroying all sorts of buildings. As George becomes increasingly dangerous, the already ridiculous plot thickens with the appearance of a oversized wolf and crocodile also infected with the pathogen. The trio of fearsome monsters ultimately descend on downtown Chicago where Davis and Dr. Caldwell search for the antidote so that the animals are not killed by the gung-ho armed forces. Similar to the video game in which tanks and other war machinery are used to try and destroy the Godzilla-like creatures, much of the film is comprised of overwhelming action sequences intensified by CGI eye candy in which the animals are bombarded with all types of weapons to no avail. Overall, I found it to be exactly what I expected from a movie based on a retro arcade game and led by action superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; it was a rather dumb story that was a vehicle for over-the-top mayhem perfect for a popcorn flick.

Beirut

Written by Tony Gilroy who is best known as the screenwriter for the Jason Bourne movie franchise first released in 2002, Beirut is a fairly typical espionage thriller set in the Middle East that is elevated by strong performances from the main cast and a uniquely complex script. Set in 1980s Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, the story focuses on the former United States diplomatic officer Mason Skiles, played by the gruffly charismatic Jon Hamm in a Don Draper-esque performance, who must return to Lebanon a decade following the death of his family and departure from the Foreign Service. He learns that he is sent to Beirut following the kidnapping of his previously close friend Cal Riley, played by Mark Pellegrino, by a group of Islamic terrorists. While in-country investigating the crime and trying to rescue his estranged former coworker, he is handled by the undercover CIA operative Sandy Crowder, played by Rosamund Pike, in collaboration with State Department officials Donald Gaines, played by Dean Norris of Breaking Bad fame, and Gary Ruzak, played by Shea Whigham. Skiles eventually finds himself entangled in an intricate web of international diplomacy and espionage involving the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the religious factions fighting for control of Lebanon. He also discovers that not everyone is who they seem and that the whole mission is fraught with deceit and focused on the larger political picture of the Middle East. Strikingly reminiscent of the screenwriter’s earlier work with the Jason Bourne series, the movie has a gritty feel with its use of jumpy camerawork and moments of intense action underscored by a clever and somewhat complicated plot involving spies. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining movie that at times felt a little too complicated to be a stereotypical genre piece appealing to all audiences but was able to stay afloat primarily due to the strong acting.

Chappaquiddick

Based on actual testimony and historical records, Chappaquiddick is a compelling glimpse into one of the many tragedies that befell the Kennedy family and effectively portrays the complexities of Senator Ted Kennedy as a result of Jason Clarke’s terrific performance. The film chronicles the horrific defining moment of a young Ted Kennedy, played by Jason Clarke, and his political career: the so-called Chappaquiddick Incident in which a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne, played by Kate Mara, died after a car driven by Kennedy was involved in an accident. Attending a party on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard with the “Boiler Room Girls” who worked for Senator Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign before his assassination, Kennedy becomes close to the 28-year-old Mary Jo discussing his brother’s untimely death before driving her back to a hotel late at night on July 18, 1969. Still under mysterious circumstances, the car veers off a small bridge into a body of water where Mary Jo is trapped and ultimately drowns while Kennedy escapes unharmed. The movie then shifts to its central focus of showing the audience the lengths taken by such a powerful political dynasty as the Kennedy clan and their close allies to cover up the misfortunate incident that would have serious repercussions for Senator Kennedy’s presidential aspirations. Immediately after the wreck, Kennedy enlists the help of his cousin Joe Gargan, played by Ed Helms, and lawyer friend Paul Markham, played by Jim Gaffigan, who both attended that night’s party, to clean up the PR disaster that could lead to criminal charges by the local police department. Later, at the behest of his tough yet very sick father Joe Kennedy, played by Bruce Dern, a group of powerful lawyers are assembled to basically brush off the accident as simply another unfortunate Kennedy tragedy in which Ted Kennedy is not culpable for the death of Mary Jo. Attempting to give a fair balance to the horrific events, the filmmaker presents what Kennedy claimed to have happened as well as the narrative ascertained by the police investigations. Furthermore, Kennedy is vividly depicted as a complicated figure who felt immense guilt over what happened at the same time that he is attempting to put the whole situation in a better light in which he takes liberties with the truth to become the victim and keep his political career intact. Overall, I felt it to be a truly fascinating movie that tries to present an unvarnished account of one of the most consequential occurrences in the Kennedy saga after the assassinations of JFK and his brother Robert: many people may not remember that the beloved Senator Ted Kennedy, at least by many Democrats, was intricately involved in such a tragedy.

Journey’s End

journeys_end_ver2_xlgBased on the 1928 play written by R. C. Sherriff that has been adapted to film four previous times, Journey’s End is a gripping war film set in the battlefields of World War I that is effectively able to explore the psychological effects experienced by a group of British officers as a result of a truly outstanding cast. The story follows C-company of the British Army who are sent to the northern French trenches for a six-day rotation in March 1918 during a time when a major German offensive may take place. Clearly based on a theatrical production, the film is much more of a intimate affair in which the characters are immersed in emotional dialogue rather than a typical war movie focused more on the action sequences, and most of the story takes place in an underground bunker reserved for officers in the trenches. The unit is led by Captain Stanhope, played by Sam Claflin, who is clearly suffering from PTSD after witnessing the horrors of war and resorts to drinking to soothe his severe depression. Rounding out the all-star cast, Paul Bettany plays Stanhope’s best friend Lieutenant Osborne, Stephen Graham plays the more upbeat Second Lieutenant Trotter, and Toby Jones plays the officers’ cook Private Mason. Things change with the arrival of the very young new officer Second Lieutenant Raleigh, played by Asa Butterfield, who knows Stanhope from school and whose sister is in a relationship with Stanhope. Fearful that his tragic change of character will be revealed to Raleigh and thereby his love interest, Captain Stanhope is upset that Raleigh has been assigned to his unit and feels that he must try to put on a more hopeful fa├žade. Throughout the movie, the characters try to distract themselves from their horrific situations by recounting their personal civilian lives and talking about their futures back home. Underscoring how warfare changes one’s psyche, the vibrant Second Lieutenant Raleigh rapidly becomes a shell of himself and more like the despondent Stanhope after he goes on his first raid across no man’s land to the German trenches in which several of his fellow man are brutally killed. Overall, I found it to be one of the more emotionally powerful films about World War I that brings to life the truism that war is hell and has a profound impact on those who serve.