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Mr. Holmes (Bill Condon, 2015)

A sobering but not bittersweet tale of soul-searching well past his prime, Mr. Holmes is a refreshing take on the familiarly slick and quick-witted super sleuth. Infirm and slipping into senility, Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) lives a mostly solitary existence in the twilight of his years with the aid of housekeeper Ms. Munro (Laura Linney), her excitable son Roger (Milo Parker) and a modest apiary. When confronted with the final case that drove him into retirement decades prior, Holmes is forced to grapple with morality and mortality in equal measure as recollection leads to self-reflection.

It’s easy to discern how Mr. Holmes‘ appeal is almost limited to the relatable fallibility of its feeble protagonist. He’s elderly by numbers and curmudgeonly as such yet his trademark wit remains intact if dormant. As suggested by a last-ditch effort to preserve said intellect for the sake of fully recollecting the case at the film’s core, Holmes longs for closure and is as affected by his evolving epiphany as you or I would be. He’s essentially a fallible everyman of above-average intelligence, of whom is a far cry from the spry superhero type gracing the recent blockbuster re-imagining of the character in his absolute prime.

The involving procedural aspects of Holmes’ capers aren’t entirely absent however, as they’re deftly employed during intermittent bursts of clarity that engage as you’d expect them to. Spliced with his increasingly dire home life, Mr. Holmes draws obvious but affecting parallels between his and Roger’s bond and what the end result of his full recollection yields. It’s far from hokey in its exploitation of this emotionality on the basis of relatable authenticity alone, a general air of simplicity failing to hamstring the proceedings thanks to both inventiveness and McKellen’s predictably stellar turn as the titular legend.

With a resolution that may ring a bit too tidy for some, Mr. Holmes can be branded as either innocuous or entirely lovable with little room in between. Its aim is simple in illustrating a conflicted old man’s cathartic ruminations, yet the affecting earnestness in which it’s all conveyed is both commendable and effective. Although McKellen is largely to thank for a bulk of the film’s charismatic aura, Mr. Holmes‘ apt singularity of scenario is intriguing from the get-go and subsequently well-executed in a manner that’s satisfying on multiple fronts.

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Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015)

Although frequently engaging throughout a familiar evolution of character, Trainwreck is both peak Apatow and an exemplification of the director’s longstanding bad habits in the realm of focal idiosyncrasy. Amy Schumer both penned and portrays the titular fictionalized version of herself: a hard-drinking promiscuous staff writer for a men’s magazine that’s been preconditioned by her father (Colin Quinn) to avoid monogamy. When her latest assignment pairs her with renowned sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), said subject’s genuine sense of self tickles Amy in such a way that prompts her to embark on a long-term relationship with him. Only time will tell if this change of scenery is too good to be true however, as Amy’s checkered past will or won’t come back to haunt her amid added familial stress and the like.

From Trainwreck‘s admittedly excellent opening sequence on, it becomes abundantly clear that its script’s success is contingent upon a sustained level of engagement. Discernibly lacking in depth given the lifestyle embraced and (maybe) soon-to-be-shed by its protagonist, Trainwreck indeed thrives thanks to unrivaled comedic chops and Schumer’s inherent likability as an honest comedian. Time and again throughout the film’s opening third, said honesty isn’t afraid to spotlight Amy’s arrested developmental tendencies in a manner indicative of the film’s title. She’s not the greatest person and she knows it, yet the comedy coinciding with this self-referential flair remains Trainwreck‘s most effective throughout its duration.

Unfortunately, the proceedings suffer from Apatow’s meandering sensibilities that corral narrative fat because more comedy is more comedy, right? Throughout his past three directorial outings, Apatow’s long-winded tendencies have detracted from what have otherwise been serviceable serio-comic dissections of real life issues. This is 40‘s hotel scene comes to mind, during which Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann indulge in pot brownies and aimlessly riff off each other for what seems like an eternity. While it’s all in good fun, it’s this aimlessness that has undeniably detracted from the films’ appeal and even derailed them entirely. Trainwreck suffers from the same fate in a comparably cameo-laden manner that panders to audience reaction over genuine conflict resolution, and it’s a shame, because what a bulk of the film puts forth is agreeably involving despite a noticeably basic character arc.

It’s easy to appreciate most of what Trainwreck showcases as Schumer’s charisma, her corresponding chemistry with faux beau Hader and the like and laughs abound triumph over familiarity. Even still, Apatow can’t quite stay the course in the pursuit of something steadfastly R-rated and insightful amid serio-comic beats that help transcend the likes of the typically dick joke-heavy. All told, Trainwreck is still far from unberable thanks to Schumer and her gusto as the type of the comedian she’s thrived as.

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Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015)

As a rollicking if innocuous expansion pack to the oceanic MCU, Ant-Man is largely a character-driven affair that’s succumbed to unfortunate timeline placement. Opening with a meeting of the minds-cum-fallout circa 1989, it becomes abundantly clear that Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is undyingly protective of his breakthrough brainchild the Pym Particle: a subatomic compound that allows for the shrinking of matter whilst it retains all of its original physical attributes. Two-plus decades later, unstable protégé and successor to the Pym throne Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has closed in on replicating the formula, thus alarming Pym himself and prompting the recruitment of recently sprung ex-con and would-be electrical engineer Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Given Lang’s skillful proclivity for thievery in the face of adversity, he’s recruited in an attempt to quell Cross’ ill motives via elaborate heist scheme, all the while pining for his daughter’s love amid requisite preparatory training montages.

Despite Ant-Man’s early prominence as an inaugural member of Marvel’s Avengers, the film in question unavoidably pales in comparison to the MCU’s more renowned heavy hitters, prompting me to wonder just how disparate Wright’s involvement could (and assuredly would) have been. Instead, we’re bombarded with a lot of expository pseudo science that fails to elevate the proceedings above the simplicity of character origin trappings and a general banality of narrative. Humanism is confined to basal familial relationships and corresponding motives – Lang longs to reconcile with his estranged daughter; Pym with his – yet its all ineffectual as the predictable evolution of Rudd’s at-first bumbling Lang segues into a comparably ordinary heist caper.

For as detail-heavy Ant-Man is regarding the Pym Particle and its wide-reaching gravitas, the proceedings can’t help but pander to the Marvel cinematic stencil we’ve come to expect from every subsequent franchise entry. Rudd is fine as Lang and exudes serviceable chemistry with Douglas and Evangeline Lilly as Pym’s daughter Hope but, at the end of the day, Ant-Man is too largely inconsequential as an attempt to broaden the broad with a lack of sustained engagement in the vein of other films’ multi-strand narrative bombast. Thankfully, there’s still fun to be had thanks to the charming juvenility of size-changing sight gags and one-liners.

Thanks to a combination of formula and bad timing, Ant-Man‘s introduction into the MCU is just that: a mild-mannered insertion of the character’s mythos into a recognizably dense body of predecessors. Wright’s unfortunate departure aside, I find it hard to believe that even his panache as a witty, moreover stylistically-inclined purveyor of quality cinema could’ve substantially elevated the film above fanboy expectations. It’s biggest problem is that it exists and attempts to thrive within a singular, unexplored universe to little avail to the opposite effect of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. A poor and obvious comparison for sure, however the performances and intermittent wit serve to overshadow maudlin narrative chunks and mostly flaccid action set pieces.

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Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor, 2015)

2015 is shaping up to be a fruitful year for those aiming to drown my fond childhood memories in an ocean of swill. Riding on the coattails of two similarly needless sequels, Terminator Genisys is an ill-intentioned love letter to franchise roots a la shitty expository posturing and the personality of dirty underwear. Even still, the prospect of another Terminator film excited just the right bunch to put this puppy on the fast track to middling success amid its money-grubbing contemporaries.

1984’s The Terminator was for all intents and purposes a borderline exploitative sci-fi horror yarn. It was deftly concise, well-written as such and pandered to James Cameron’s strengths as a conceptual storyteller and visual dynamo. Exposition was force fed as needed, however key plot points were just that – necessary. They were butter to the film’s bread, the Terminator’s relentless pursuit of its target ringing reminiscent of earlier Carpenter and the like thanks to effortlessly sustained dread. It’s because of these streamlined sensibilities that The Terminator was so successful and continues to find solace in its unprecedented singularity.

Many will undoubtedly argue that T2: Judgment Day is the poster child for the rare superior sequel. In expounding on base-level mythology outlined by its predecessor, T2 certainly has enough to talk about as John Connor becomes tangibly integral alongside his mother and a reformed killing machine. It’s intermittently hokey for sure, what with Sarah’s ineffectual ramblings, John’s bonding with Arnie and the like failing to age as well as the film’s straightforward narrative integrity. In intelligently providing expansion and (then) closure to his own brainchild, Cameron did so amicably to a considerably larger degree of blockbuster bombast.

This is the point where I can disavow the existence of Rise of the Machines and Salvation on account of how little they contribute to and thrive within the realm of potentiality. In their seldom represented defense, I can safely say that Genisys is truly and deplorably an unnecessary waste of studio resources at its most gratuitous, prompting me to ask both you and myself the following: Are the powers-that-be truly satisfied with this bullshit? After all, both entries laughably forgo intelligence to put forth iterations of different points along the same timeline, to little avail.

Bypassing a typical synopsis is easy to do for Genisys on account of how it merely puts the pivotal events of the first two films in a blender. In gathering and illustrating various details presented throughout the franchise’s superior origin stories, Genisys‘ self-assured alternate timeline conceit is the hottest bag of garbage I’ve had to handle in a long time. Not only is a bulk of the film’s first third purposefully (embarrassingly) familiar, but the all-encompassing vapidity exuded by lackluster key players entirely fails in making literally everything the least bit exciting.

“But what about the twist?!” the avid fanboy yells in protest. To be honest, I’m usually a sucker for cross-dimensional and/or time travel bullshit when it can assuredly work within a universe conceived around the concept. To take a preexisting legacy and tarnish it with rudimentary anachronisms is something mildly insulting and, in the case of Terminator Genisys, transparent in intention when compared to other entries into this most recent rash of sequels. Bland contrasting punch-for-punch machine bouts do little to elevate the stilted and CGI-laden bulk of it, and callbacks to the original films ring stale and serve to exacerbate just how inferior it is in general to the same groundbreaking inspirations that are responsible for all of its revenue.

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Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs, 2015)

The original Magic Mike – as a theatrical experience – was a unique one for me. It opened my eyes to how oblivious the reactionary populace is to what lies beneath face value as my peers chided me for eagerly anticipating it. Time after time, my professed admiration of Soderbergh’s swan song end cap (sans-Behind the Candelabra) has garnered more eye rolls than empathy, even despite the film’s merits as a surprisingly multifaceted deconstruction of the male stripper lifestyle. For what it’s worth, Magic Mike XXL is just as enjoyable but in a different vein, an adherence to the broader tale it chooses to tell working to its utmost advantage.

Nearly three years removed from the biz, Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) leads a newly conventional lifestyle as a furniture designer. When unexpectedly prompted to reunite with his former coworkers, Mike’s coaxed into being the missing link in getting the band back together for one last gig at a notorious convention in Myrtle Beach. Well-oiled hilarity ensues as these aging men embark on their odyssey via mobile frozen yogurt stand complete with abundant debauchery.

For all intents and purposes, Magic Mike was a resplendently glorified depiction of its titular protagonist at the height of an identity crisis. Naively tentpoled into his profession and retroactively aware of the American Dream that’s eluded him because of it, XXL‘s predecessor had a penchant for grimly waxing poetic about its heavy-handed central theme. While I found this aspect of the film to be most laudable amid Soderbergh’s trademark touch (present again throughout this film), the thorough exploration of the subculture coinciding with the profession in question proved to be more than just one-dimensional clothes shedding.

XXL chooses to instead shed something else entirely, and that is a proclivity for mirthless heft that would procure a familiar end result. Instead, gone are the harsh, almost unforgiving aspects in favor of what’s ostensibly buddy road trip comedy peppered with gleeful absurdity. Take a scene involving a nearly seven-foot-tall male rolling on Ecstasy for example, self-basted with Cheeto dust and water in an attempt to merely make a convenience store clerk smile. Set to the tune of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” no less. This happens prior to the film’s best stretch, and let it be known that I was still hooked.

Without revealing too much of what makes this sequel tick in the realm of straitlaced entertainment, Magic Mike XXL epitomizes self-assurance in modern filmmaking. It revels in exploring a world introduced throughout the original to a decidedly different degree, people’s comparisons to a male stripper equivalent of an Ocean‘s film ringing more agreeable than ever once the stellar third act unfurls. Barring the obvious and initial appeal of recurring male nudity, Magic Mike XXL is a rare example of an unnecessary sequel that effortlessly surpasses low expectations on the basis of how fast and loose it completes its singular and subversive albeit simplistic overarching objective.

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Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2015)

Although steadfast in scope, Eden sports a frequently slight narrative that belies the high-energy genre of music it spotlights. As a semi-autobiographical account of co-writer Sven Hansen-Løve’s stint as a DJ for the better part of two decades, protagonist Paul (Félix de Givry) is the film’s primary focus as one-half of the Parisian garage outfit Cheers. Coasting breezily through life naively dependent on his passion as a means of financial gain, Eden simultaneously dissects the personal relationships – no matter how tenuous – that help shape Paul as an individual unsure of his future in the midst of ongoing existential tumult.

I’ve seen this film described as “directionless” in the vein of typical biopic fare, which isn’t far from the truth given how modest Eden‘s core focus is. To elaborate, Paul as Eden‘s subject is nothing more than a particularly hip everyman at the forefront of a fad despite the genre’s sustained popularity well into the present. He’s amiable; boyish even by way of standard charm but prone to selfishness and not much of a domineering presence outside of a niche music scene. Even still, Hansen-Løve’s approach is refreshingly intimate as it sidesteps the pratfalls of more prominent Hollywood fare.

In fact, the film’s adherence to its subject’s unglamorous, pseudo-celebrity lifestyle that exudes a sense of self worth investing in, not to mention the comparably authentic way in which Paul’s life progresses. The proceedings admirably avoid melodrama in this regard, yet there’s something about Eden‘s deliberate pacing that left me wanting more as its gratuitous length becomes especially palpable during the home stretch. Whether it’s Paul’s arrested development well into his adult years or a general banality of narrative, the initially impressive segues into something considerably less compelling.

Compared to so-called awards bait, Eden is far and away more admirable despite purposeful but sometimes ineffective low-key sensibilities. Intimacy of focus aside, the appropriately pulsing club sequences, corresponding soundtrack and adherence to Paul’s frequently fallible persona help make Hansen-Løve’s latest feature something to recommend. It may peter off once Paul’s redundant existential pining for commitment and success are made too abundantly clear, but all in all, Eden is simply a delightfully subdued and personal piece of filmmaking that alternately sheds light on a piece of musical history and an individual that helped perpetuate if not shape it.

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Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)

It’s easy to default to Pixar as a frame of reference for animation as a cinematic medium. Having alternately, sometimes simultaneously written and directed the studio’s flagship titles, Pete Docter’s track record is nearly flawless, his stories’ exemplifying the brand’s penchant for unrivaled brilliance in accessible, moreover technically transcendent storytelling. Surprising no one, Inside Out has made waves for its laudable anthropomorphic representations of the emotions piloting an 11-year-old’s ever-evolving noodle. While the film certainly sports its foreseeable merits, it doesn’t quite hit the perfect stride many have fervently swore it does.

Although you’ve certainly familiarized yourselves with the intricacies of the core premise, Inside Out hones in on the frequently-at-odds emotions of young Riley: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. Faced with the trying uncertainty of an impending move from rural Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley begins to buckle under the weight of drastic change when Joy and Sadness are thrust into the nether regions of her long-term memory. Unable to bounce back without the aid of these emotional cornerstones, Riley begins to lose her sense of self as they combat many an obstacle on their return journey toward HQ and Riley’s recovery.

I agree that it’s silly of me to dissect a Pixar film any more than you have to. After all, there’s little to digest outside of base-level thematic substance, varying degrees of tearjerkery and – of course – execution of concept through imaginative and visually resplendent means. As always, Inside Out subverts simplicity with heartfelt ingenuity and thorough fleshing out of concept, yet the “It’s okay to be sad!” undercurrents don’t resonate with the more personal spins on familiar themes as illustrated throughout Toy Story and Up. The inner workings of Riley’s bustling, multifaceted psyche are as beautifully realized as ever but are frequently overshadowed by the lukewarm glorification of simply improving her mood.

Inside Out shines brightest by way of clever, well-informed world building. Unique referential renderings of things ranging from imaginary friends (Richard Kind’s delightful Bing Bong) to why that one song won’t stop looping obnoxiously in your subconscious are exemplary, as is Joy and Sadness’ trek through a loftier literal interpretation of abstract thought and so on. Docter’s alternately playful and authentic adherence to the adolescent mindset rings most enjoyable as the sheer wow-instilled adventure at Inside Out‘s core plays better than anything non-fantastical in scope.

At the risk of sounding reductive, let it be known that Inside Out is a mildly affecting and well-rounded outing from the animated medium’s A-Team. Laced with the requisite amount of heart and whimsy, Pete Docter’s latest effort can’t entirely surpass the overt familiarity coinciding with an ordinary girl’s emotional quandary. The film lacks the arresting, all-encompassing uniqueness of the studio’s previous all-stars, and while the lovingly crafted world inside Riley’s mind is peppered with a laudable uniqueness of vision, color-coded anthropomorphic emotions, their respective shticks and an especially basic resolution detract from Pixar’s more wholly immersive fare.