Items from reviews I contributed on: LaLaFilm.com

Magic Mike XXL - July 6, 2015

I have never been to a male strip club, and I don’t have any desire to go. So I’m not sure why I really wanted to see Magic Mike XXL. I mean, what’s the difference though? The idea is good but somehow I think it would be very disappointing in real life. I saw the first Magic Mike (2012) and thought it was okay. Three years later, this sequel perfects the idea. Magic Mike XXL premiered this 4th of July weekend, and very appropriately so. By the end of the movie, we hear fireworks, and end up leaving the theatre with a lit fuse and I defy it not to detonate a new spark in you.

I think what is key is the content is in the hands of some talented people. I’m impressed with the writer, Reid Carolin. These “male entertainers” are just regular, good-natured guys, who know how to have fun. They are extremely attractive men so maybe not so regular, after all. But what makes a man even more attractive is when he appreciates you – appreciates what you have to offer. Reid captures that in this film. The guys are presented as healers. Sure, they are somewhat down on their luck, and not sure where they are headed beyond their final gig. And so they can be considered somewhat ordinary, but ultimately with superhuman powers that we see through their dance moves and inner and outer appeal. It can be so simple to make someone feel good. Through Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), the women in attendance are commanded with empowering words and declarations that they are queens.

The film starts out slow – we see Mike (Channing Tatum) sitting calmly at the beach contemplatively looking out at the ocean. It begins like a slow tide and then, the swell, and wham, there comes the big wave. That’s what it was like because once the guys get rolling, it picks up quickly. Mike gets a call from his old friends – the Kings of Tampa, to join them in their final performance in Myrtle Beach. Along the way, they reconnect with each other and gift each other with some self-actualizations. Just guys hanging out – seemingly regular aesthetically fortunate with the worries of many but what they can do! Or what do they have the potential to do! The dialogue and interactions seem realistic. I mean, I don’t hang out with guys like that to know for sure, unfortunately.

There are also the dance performances. There are many memorable ones. Since I am a fan of the Backstreet Boys and Nine Inch Nails, Joe Manganiello had a couple of notable ones featuring song favorites. In one, he enacts a good example, a guy that commits. What starts out like a simple wedding ceremony, very sweetly walking with his bride, and then a song by Nine Inch Nails blasts and there you go. Or a store clerk he makes smile as he takes a Backstreet Boys’ song into a higher realm.

Of course, there are the definitive moves of Mike (Channing Tatum) and Tito (Adam Rodriguez). And there is Michael Strahan as Augustus. I had to look twice because Michael’s morning job on “Live with Kelly and Michael” is quite different than what his role is here. He really is multifaceted.

Why I could see this movie but not go to a real strip club? Well, I guess if Steven Soderbergh’s cinematography could show it to me, director Gregory Jacobs could guide the experience from inane to insanely entertaining, and if the actors in this film were there in real life, then, yeah, guess I would be there.

(2015) – December 24, 2015

The sisters in the movie are played by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, both former cast members of Saturday Night Live and both highly accomplished women in a variety of film and TV productions. In 2013, they made a big hit when they hosted the Golden Globes Awards ceremony, and followed it up with two more years of hosting after that. Their perfectly matched styles are bold, gutsy and super smart, which can also make for super funny. It’s with that boldness that they portray the sisters in Sisters and make the film worth watching.

Amy Poehler is Maura, the perfect sister and Tina Fey is Kate, the troublemaker. With Amy Poehler in the role, perfect doesn’t mean Maura is boring though. Although when the two sisters read aloud from their childhood diaries, we learn Maura and Kate apparently were related by family but not by fun times. The differing personalities seem to have kept the sisters a bit apart. It isn’t until their parents decide to sell the family home that the two come together not to just revive old times but to give Maura a chance to live a little. Namely, she hopes to whoop it up with James, the helpful, hunky neighbor. Kate vows to be the designated mom at a party so Maura can let loose. The switch in roles takes place during the big blowout party at the house, in what turns out to be a catharsis for both sisters.

Both sisters are in their early 40s and yet the party that follows could be one played out in a Zac Efron movie. But heck, why can’t you have fun in your 40s, especially if you missed out in your teen years? Amy Poehler and Tina Fey pull it off well. I also credit the director, Jason Moore, for making the party wild yet credible and entertaining. While the house itself doesn’t fair too well, a good time is had by all. The message could be that it’s more about your attitude than anything else. As the Beastie Boys once sang, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”! And if you don’t know who the Beastie Boys are, then you might not relate to the sisters either. Because while attitude is important, somehow age differences can potentially and eternally create a gap.

And in fact, some moviegoers might even relate better to the parents than the sisters. Both mom and dad (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) just want to be done with the raising of the eternally young sisters. While some of the film’s topics are a little racy, it could be considered a family movie, but probably only if you bring the teen kids, and above.

I totally admire the sisters’ brashness and, of course, that of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Both women are leading by example. Watching strong, confident, and successful women living life unafraid and setting new standards can only be a good thing for everybody. And so is watching silliness and fun for an afternoon.

Sleeping With The Fishes (2013) - June 20, 2015

Sleeping with the Fishes is the directorial debut of Nicole Gomez Fisher, for which she was twice awarded: Best New Director – Brooklyn Film Festival 2013 and Best Director – Imagen Awards 2014. Nicole, also the writer and producer, expertly cast Gina Rodriguez to play Alexis, the lead character.

The film starts out with Alexis in the midst of a not so great time in her life. Draped in a meatball suit, she bravely works as a street waver for a boss who neglects to promote her to event planner for his restaurant. Phone sex operator is another job that’s a dead ender for her. Calls from her sister Kayla remind her that family is not so far away, although that’s a complicated option. After the death of an aunt, Alexis reluctantly returns to her family home where she reunites with her Jewish father and Latina mother. At the outset it’s clear her mother has been an ongoing source of conflict and drama.

With big dreams of and talents in party planning, Kayla books Alexis a paid gig planning a bat mitzvah. Even though her mother wants her to get her life together and give up the kiddy parties, Alexis agrees to plan the party, and so prolongs the stay with her family.

Fighting back from the history of a cheating (now dead) husband, and a pessimistic mother, she begins planning the superhero themed event. Kayla’s fun-loving guidance propels Alexis on a path to a reawakening. After drinking too many shots at a nightclub, Kayla dances and falls and while she sleeps it off in the club’s office, Alexis hangs out with the handsome club owner, Dominic.

While a romance starts between Alexis and Dominic, she still struggles with finding her way in the world.

Disillusionment after her bad marriage, unresolved issues with her mother, and attempts to revamp herself, all lead to a lesson in transcendence.

While the film deals with heavy issues, it is lighthearted throughout. Alexis fights her inner demons but her angelic face and her radiant courage give hint that all will be well.

As Kayla tells her, “You can’t fail if you finish”.