movie reviews June 2015

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Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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Jurassic World
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

Early in the film, Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) explains to potential investors why the park's R&D has moved beyond reviving extinct dinosaur species (a process already proven disastrous three times over) to genetically engineering their own: "No one's impressed by a dinosaur."

And after a glimpse at this up-and-running Jurassic World, who can blame them? The new resort, built on and around the ruins of the original, seems the epitome of theme park sterility. John Williams’ majestic fanfare feels ironic when it first emerges, not at the sight of living, breathing dinosaurs, but to long lines of exasperated parents and bored kids winding past Starbucks and Margaritavilles to dino petting zoos and a Sea World-style amphitheater for performing sea creatures.

Where’s the awe? The sense of wonder?

Director Colin Trevorrow and his committee of co-writers seem to have found themselves in the same position. Audiences stunned by the effects Steven Spielberg unleashed 20-odd years ago can’t be blamed for being harder to impress this time around.

As Claire concludes, “Consumers want them bigger, louder, more teeth."

Hence, the super-saur, Indominus rex — Tyrannosaurus rex DNA spliced with a proprietary genetic formula of what seems to include, at various times, chameleon and garden-variety cinema slasher.

As a framework for this newer, nastier rex, Trevorrow and Co. offer the theme-park version of a plot — a series of familiar tropes to get viewers from set-piece to set-piece.

We get the mismatched former couple with a love-hate relationship. Claire, the uptight senior executive, literally buttoned-up and sporting preposterous stiletto heels, who’s supposed to be chaperoning her nephews, who have been dropped-off at the island for the holidays. We know she’s due for some life lessons as she has chosen to remain — gasp! — childless, choosing career over her gender-bound purpose, procreation.

And who better to teach her these lessons than earthy, hunky Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a sort of Velociraptor Whisperer, who, dressed down in Henleys and work shirts, is training a squadron of these ultimate predators to follow commands?

We get children in jeopardy. It’s only when sullen teen Zach (Nick Robinson) and his mop-topped younger brother, Gray (Ty Simpkins), come up missing that Claire finally discovers her missing maternal instinct. How do we know? She unbuttons her power jacket and rolls up her sleeves.

She never loses the heels, though, managing to run full-tilt, dinosaur in pursuit, without breaking a heel, much less an ankle. Irony? Bad writing? Who’s to say?

And we get the nefarious villain, a cartoonish Vincent D'Onofrio as Vic Hoskins, an InGen security honcho who wants to “weaponize” the velociraptors and sell ‘em to the government.

Throughout, Trevorrow and Co. lack the imagination or wit to do much more than echo images from earlier, better films (the death of a brontosaurus in the field; another raptor in pursuit seen in a rearview mirror; yet another huge predatory eye peering into an overturned vehicle) as they herd the behemoths together for a final battle royal.

Or, in this case, a battle royal with cheese. (A rather intense) PG-13 Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 06/18/15)

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) reunites with actor Melissa McCarthy for a spy movie satire, which Feig also wrote. More than just a spoof of James Bond films, Spy’s mocking jabs at well-worn tropes hit their mark, bringing a smart indictment against Hollywood’s double standards of beauty while also pulling off the near-impossible task of still being funny.

Not much has changed in Hollywood movies since James Stewart’s acrophobic detective chose Kim Novak’s mirage dream girl over Barbara Bel Geddes’ no-nonsense Midge Wood in Vertigo. Actresses whose looks fall outside a narrow spectrum for whatever reason — Hitchcock used glasses to make Bel Geddes unalluring — are relegated to sidekick, or in the case of McCarthy, ridiculously exaggerated comic relief.

Casting McCarthy as an improbable CIA agent isn’t on its own an act of impertinent rebellion; she’s played similar roles before but only as the butt-of-the-joke loser. The astonishment of this movie comes from Feig writing her as a smart, competent woman, putting those that underestimate her on the losing side. 

Feig must watch crime shows in off-network syndication, especially Criminal Minds. He’s modeled McCarthy's Agent Susan Cooper on that show’s infantilized CIA hacker Penelope Garcia played by Kirsten Vangsness. Cooper flawlessly relays Intel to suave super agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) while they flirt shamelessly and she ignores the indignities of working in a vermin-infested basement. Cooper is in love with the glamorous Fine, but he doesn’t even consider her a potential love interest — he assumes she keeps cats and buys her a childish cupcake necklace as thanks for saving his life yet again. 

The plot, which involves a portable nuclear weapon and multimillionaires with ties to terrorist cells (Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne), is merely the pretense to get Cooper motivated to become an active agent. When Fine is presumed dead, she convinces her director (Allison Janney) to send her out in the field, and is assigned a desk-bound gal Friday of her own, another sympathetic ugly duckling colleague played cheerily by Miranda Hart. The ongoing joke of Cooper’s secret identities is a brilliant move that takes down the glamorous identity of secret agents, as well as those outrageous, goofball characters McCarthy has played in the past.

It’s ironic that a movie desiring to invert stereotypes includes a handsy Italian CIA ally (Peter Serafinowicz), but his relentless lecherous pursuit could be a reinforcement of the assumptions made about Cooper — fat women should be flattered by any kind of attention, right? But Serafinowicz’s performance is too overdone, even for a spoof, and his gags repeated too often. The opposite of this tiring character is rogue agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), whose increasingly farfetched stories actually get funnier the more they continue. (R) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 6/10/15)

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

It’s been four years since the series finale of “Entourage” aired on HBO, but for screenwriter and director Doug Ellin it’s still season eight. The big-screen adaptation of the show, which Ellin created and also served on as executive producer and head writer, opens a mere six months later, though Ellin’s screenplay conveniently dispatches with any previous resolutions within seconds and then quickly, inexplicably moves forward two years.

It’s not that a departure from the former conclusion was entirely unwelcome. For several seasons — in all honesty, probably around five or six — the show had been shirking its responsibility to substantiate its existence with any kind of meaning or emotion; high on its popularity, it lost sight of the quality that made it most appealing, namely Adrian Grenier’s initial portrayal of beatific Vincent Chase, an aspiring Hollywood actor with some of the combined qualities of Jesus, Buddha and Errol Flynn. Actually, it wasn’t a coincidence that in the second season Vince buys Marlon Brando’s villa. Vince was bound for a downfall, but it wasn’t nearly as sad, meaningful or politically motivated as The Wild One in his later years. It also forced his companions into central roles, where they were never meant to be.

The storyline is anemic at best, and completely circumvents the process of moviemaking, which in its early days the show did best, reveling in the details of how a movie actually gets made. Now that Ellin has actually made a movie, he’s avoided all discussion of it. Vince has convinced his former abusive agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), now an abusive studio head, to let him direct and act in one of his projects. While entire episodes of the show focused on making such a deal, on-screen here it happens in a flash, and then jumps to postproduction where Vince forces Ari to beg for funds from Hollywood-hating Texas oilman (Billy Bob Thornton) and his spoiled baby-man son Travis (Haley Joel Osment).

With this theatrical release perhaps Ellin has satisfied his own sense of closure, but he hasn’t improved on its ending. He’s filled it with star cameos, such as Warren Buffet, Liam Neeson and Emily Ratajkowski, but not brought back any of the previous important ones, denying loyal viewers their sense of continuity and satisfaction.

Where were Seth Green, Anna Faris and Jamie-Lynn Sigler? One of the show’s producers, actor Mark Wahlberg was given his usual walk-on surrounded by his retinue, perpetuating the rumor that he, and not Ellin, supplied the real-life inspiration for the show, and making us wish it were true. (R) Rating: 1 (Posted on 6/05/15)

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