Sleeping With Other People

Getting laid in the Big Apple is easy for these two.

Getting laid in the Big Apple is easy for these two.

(2015) Sex Comedy (IFC) Alison Brie, Jason Sudeikis, Adam Scott, Adam Brody, Natasha Lyonne, Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas, Katherine Waterston, Marc Blucas, Skylar Gaertner, Andrea Savage, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Margarita Levieva, Billy Eichner, Jordan Carlos, Margaret Odette, Sawyer Shipman, Brian Berrebbi, Michael Delaney, Remy Nozik, Victoria Frings. Directed by Leslye Headland

There is that age old question of whether or not men and women can be friends with each other without being sexually attracted. According to When Harry Met Sally the answer is no, and since it’s been 26 years since that classic hit the theaters, writer-director Leslye Headland thought it was high time that question was re-explored.

Jake (Sudeikis) is a serial womanizer who just can’t keep it in his pants. It seems to be a by-product of his commitment phobia for when any woman he’s spending time with wants to get close, he does something spectacular to push her away (generally sleeping with her best friend or sister); one recently made an ex-girlfriend reacts by shoving him in front of a taxi.

&At a self-help meeting for sex addicts, he runs into Lainey (Brie), the girl who was his first back in college (he was her first as well). She’s still hung up on the gynecologist, Matthew (Scott) that she was in college, much to Jake’s amusement. Matthew has all the personality of a wet sock and he can’t for the life of him figure out what she sees in him. In any case, they decide to hang out and develop a deep friendship.

Not wanting to mess things up with sex, the two decide to remain platonic and even institute a “safe word” when they start to feel sexual attraction for each other. Needless to say, everyone around them, particularly Jake’s friends Xander (Mantzoukas) and Naomi (Savage) who are married to each other see full well what the two don’t – that they are perfect for each other. And of course they both know it too, but are too scared to take action on it. So they both take refuge in old behaviors, just like many of us do when confronted by the scary.

Headland has written a smart, modern romantic comedy that is incredibly sexy. In fact, the onscreen sex is much more graphic than most mainstream films usually show in terms of body movement and facial expressions; however, there are no genitalia on display which is a bit odd considering that at various points in the movie there are some rather graphic conversations, including one where Jake demonstrates the finer points of female masturbation to Lainey so that she can curb her urges.

Sudeikis has been knocking on the door of stardom ever since graduating from Saturday Night Live and here he does the best work of his cinematic career. This is the movie that defines his strengths in a nutshell; it doesn’t hurt that he is given some wonderful dialogue that’s both snappy and smart. At one point, he dismisses Matthew as “the Pontiac Aztek of people” which is a hoot especially if you’ve ever driven one.

Brie has also been someone who has been knocking on that door, but her career is a lot less established than that of Sudeikis. She shows here that she has the chops to be as good a comic actress as any out there, including such names as Kristen Wiig and Tina Fey. She certainly in many ways is as good as Greta Gerwig who gets more indie love. Perhaps after this movie, which was a big hit at Sundance and Tribeca, that will change.

The only issue here is that there are some situations that reek of New York indie cuteness which is a disservice to the film. I don’t expect every movie to innovate, but I would at least hope that one that is as smart as this one at least avoids some of the same cliches that other films have fallen victim to, but at least it doesn’t hurt the movie too much.

It helps that there is some fine talent in supporting roles, many of whom are literally there to be conquered sexually by either Jake or Lainey. Many critics are comparing this to When Harry Met Sally and while this is much more graphic than that film, the basic man-woman friendship vs. sexual attraction thing is still at the forefront, and like that movie, there is intelligence and depth. Does it come to the same conclusions as that iconic rom-com? I will leave it to you to find out for yourself because this movie is certainly worth the look. As for me, I’ll have what they’re having – and fortunately for me, I already am.

REASONS TO GO: Excellent dialogue. Sudeikis at his very best. Intelligently written.
REASONS TO STAY: Too many cute indie cliches. Might be too sexy for those sensitive to such things.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of graphic sex (but no graphic nudity), sexual dialogue and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scott and Mantzoukas both appeared together in Parks and Recreation.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 59% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
NEXT: Reversion

A Faster Horse

All the kings horses.

All the kings horses.

(2012) Documentary (Film Rise) Dave Pericak, Tom Barnes, Hau Thau Tang, Hal Sperlich, Gale Halderman, Edsel Ford II, Art Hyde, Jack Telnack, Prakash Patel, Julie Rochner, Kemal Cucic, Frank Davis, Steve Denby, Bob Fria, Carroll Shelby, Arjay Miller, Bob Kreipke, Henry Ford II, Marcy Fisher, John Clor. Directed by David Gelb

Americans love their cars. It’s an affection that borders on obsession with some (and crosses well past the line for others). It’s true that for a fairly significant segment of the population a car is a conveyance, a means of getting from one place to another. It’s a machine and most don’t obsess over their toasters or vacuum cleaners, am I right?

But for many, a car is an extension of themselves, their souls made steel. It isn’t necessarily just a means of getting from one place to another but a style of getting there. For many Americans, the Ford Mustang represents the pinnacle of cars.

The Mustang came into being for a lot of reasons. One was the Edsel, a massive failure that put the Ford Motor Company into a tailspin. When a young Lee Iacocca approached Henry Ford II with the idea of the Mustang as a performance car that was fast, fun and affordable, Ford was at first not impressed; this went against all the established thinking in the automotive industry; cars were then massive monstrosities in which bigger is better and the more metal the better. Innovation was not Job One at Ford back then.

But Iacocca, a master salesman, persisted and eventually Ford grudgingly agreed to give him half the normal seed money for bringing a car to market. Iacocca turned the project to Donald Frey and history was made. The release of the Mustang would be the most successful launch for Ford since the Model A. It continues to be maybe the most well-known model in the line; it certainly has some of the most cache.

When Ford decided to redesign the car (only the fifth in the model’s history) to celebrate the Mustang’s 50th anniversary this year, they turned the project over to Chief Engineer Dave Pericak. Documentary filmmaker David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) was given unprecedented access to Ford’s design labs, testing facilities and production facilities. We become flies on the wall as the new model is designed and slowly shaped into being.

Gelb gives us a great deal of context, showing the Mustang in all its incarnations using car commercials, home movies and iconic clips from movies like Bullitt (whose iconic car chase helped make the Mustang Steve McQueen-cool). He also gives us a sense of how important the car is to the American self-image. In many ways the Mustang symbolizes American freedom, American strength and American individualism.

The distinctive engine sound of the Mustang is used to great effect here, merging with the Philip Glass-like score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans to make an eclectic noise. By the time the movie finishes up you’re bound to have an emotional reaction – in fact Pericak discusses the emotional response to the release of the car at length.

It is mind-boggling at how much has to be done for a car to make it from the drawing board to the dealership, but you get a sense of it here and of the pressure that the Chief Engineer is under. Ford invested an enormous amount of money to make this car at a time when America was in its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and car companies were being bailed out by the U.S. government. Even now, seven years later, Detroit is still suffering but Ford is one of the shining lights in the automotive industry, thanks largely to the success of the new Mustang.

Even those who don’t love cars – and I’m one of those – will find this a fascinating film. I can only imagine those who are car enthusiasts will find this to be catnip. Either way, this is a terrific documentary that is definitely worth your time to seek out and view.

REASONS TO GO: Gives you a sense of what it takes to get a car from concept to market. Underscores the importance of the Mustang to the American psyche.
REASONS TO STAY: Bogs down a little bit in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: Nothing really that should disturb anyone.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The 2015 Mustang is, as of this writing, a finalist for Car of the Year from Motor Trend.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/8/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
NEXT: Sleeping With Other People

New Releases for the Week of October 9, 2015



(Warner Brothers) Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Nonso Anozie, Adeel Akhtar, Amanda Seyfried, Cara Delevingne. Directed by Joe Wright

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is one of the most beloved characters in the history of children’s literature but there isn’t much that is known about his early years. Director Joe Wright aims to remedy that situation, showing us the tale of a young orphan spirited away from the orphanage in London to a magical island ruled by the wicked pirate Blackbeard. To survive he will need to united the tribes of Neverland, led by the impetuous Princess Tiger Lily, but he won’t be able to win at all without the help of a ne’er-do-well explorer who happens to be a fellow by the name of Jim Hook.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for fantasy action violence, language and some thematic material)

99 Homes

(Broad Green) Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern, Clancy Brown. After being evicted from his home, a single father has only one chance of getting it back – by going to work for the despicable and ruthless businessman who evicted him in the first place. At first, he does it for his mother and children but as he gets further ensnared in the businessman’s web, he discovers that in selling his soul he’s been sentencing himself to a kind of purgatory on Earth, and extricating himself from that might even be more impossible still.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R  (for language including some sexual references, and a brief violent image)

Big Stone Gap

(Picturehouse) Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Jenna Elfman, Jane Krakowski. The pharmacist in a small coal mining town in rural Virginia has resigned herself to being alone for the rest of her life. She is in fact content with that fate, living a fulfilling life of use and purpose. However, she discovers a family secret that shatters her illusions and changes the course of her life forever.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for brief suggestive material)

Coming Home

(Sony Classics) Gong Li, Daoming Chen, Huiwen Zhang, Tao Guo. In the midst of China’s Cultural Revolution, a dissident is sent to a labor camp. When he returns home, he finds that his beloved wife no longer recognizes who he is. Masquerading as a friend of her husband’s who was in the same camp, he tries to find a way to convince her that he is her husband. This comes from Zhang Yimou, one of the most honored directors in China.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material)

He Named Me Malala

(Fox Searchlight) Malala Yousefzai, Ziauddin Yousefzai, Toor Pekai Yousefzai, Khushal Yousefzai. Most of us have heard the name of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who courageously stood up for the education of girls in Pakistan and was targeted by the Taliban for elimination. Shot while returning home on her school bus, she survived her injuries despite overwhelming odds to become a symbol for the rights of women to make something better of themselves. This documentary not only tells her story but shows Malala at home as the ordinary teenage girl that she is, although truth be told she is something far more than ordinary.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats)


(Pantelion) Fernando Colunga, Eduardo Yanez, Miguel Varoni, Jessica Lindsey. The sequel to Ladron que roba a ladron follows the continued exploits of a pair of thieves turned crusaders for social justice. Now retired from the game, they come together for one last heist – this one against a ruthless family of land owners who are trying to wipe away an entire town in order to build condos. Putting together a new team of misfits, they’ll have to have cojones the size of watermelons to pull this one off.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Caper Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, some sexual content and historical smoking)

Meet the Patels

(Alchemy) Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel, Champa V. Patel, Vasant K. Patel. Ravi Patel is an actor/filmmaker who was born in America to parents who emigrated from India. He is rapidly approaching 30 and is single, having broken up with his white girlfriend of two years that he couldn’t bring himself to tell his parents about. They are anxious to have grandchildren and see their son married. Therefore they go old school; the parental matchmaking process. Captured on film by his documentary filmmaker sister, the film shows insights into the Indian culture and the heart of a loving family that is common to all cultures. This played at the South Asian Film Festival last weekend at the Enzian and is beginning a regular run; you can read my review of the film here.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG (for thematic elements, brief suggestive images and incidental smoking)

Sleeping With Other People

(IFC) Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Katherine Waterston. Two college friends, who have gone on to lives of serial infidelity, reconnect and become friends again. Vowing to remain friends because they are terrible with relationships, they find themselves falling for each other against all odds. Look for my review on this tomorrow.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sex Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for strong sexual content, language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Meet the Patels

Now that you've met the Patels...

Now that you’ve met the Patels…

(2015) Documentary (Alchemy) Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel, Champa V. Patel, Vasant K. Patel, Meredith Philpott, Audrey Allison Wauchope. Directed by Geeta Patel and Ravi Patel

Finding one’s soul mate is hard enough in this modern world. Add to that the pressure of one’s family to get married and have kids and it falls under the category of “how is this even possible?”

Ravi Patel is an actor and filmmaker who was born in the United States to Indian parents. He characterizes them as the happiest couple that he knows and they certainly seem to be very loving and very happy together. But they are concerned; their son is approaching his 30th birthday and isn’t married which in Indian culture is, as his sister Geeta puts it, Red Alert.

Ravi’s two year relationship with pretty red head (and completely Caucasian) Audrey Wauchope has just ended; he was so hung up on his parents approval that he never told them that he was dating an American girl, fearing that they wouldn’t accept her. Now single, he realizes he wants that extended family that he sees all around him; the family gatherings, the kids, the home, everything. So, figuring that since an arranged marriage worked for his parents, he would allow them to play matchmaking since the American method of dating wasn’t working for him.

He is set up on Biodata, a matchmaking website aimed at Indians. His parents are eager to set him up with a Patel – no, this isn’t an incest thing but more of a cultural thing, indicating that their hometowns are near the village where his parents grew up. This would make the odds better that they shared Ravi’s values as passed down by his parents.

Many of the candidates live all over the country and Ravi, being a struggling actor, doesn’t exactly have an endless bank account. However his father is very well off and offers to purchase air fare for a cross-country dating tour. His sister Geeta tags along to record everything, as she has from the beginning.

When the dates prove to be unsuccessful (we are never told whether Ravi or the women he is meeting are the ones who are not interested in second dates), he goes to a wedding at his parents behest where they try to hook him up. He goes to a Patel convention (apparently that’s a thing) and does a speed-dating thing there. Nothing seems to work. To complicate matters, things are heating up again with Audrey whom Ravi never really got over and when his parents find out, the curry is going to really hit the fan.

This is as much a family home movie as it is a documentary and a romantic comedy as much as it is a home movie. The screening I attended at the South Asian Film Festival in Orlando was largely attended by Indian families who laughed loudly at some of the cultural things (like parents calling multiple times during a date) that American audiences might not get. However, having parents that exasperate their children (and vice versa) is pretty much universal and the love and affection in this family is clearly universal. This is a family everyone is going to be charmed by.

While the movie drags a bit in the middle as we watch Ravi get more and more frustrated with his lack of success, the end of the movie in which Ravi and his family reach an understanding is actually very touching. This isn’t one of those documentaries that’s going to change the world or our understanding of it, although the insights into Indian culture are fascinating. However, it is the kind of movie that will put a smile on your face and remind you that there is nothing better in this life than your family, however you chose to define it.

REASONS TO GO: Clever combination of documentary and rom-com. Heartwarming look at Indian family dynamics.
REASONS TO STAY: Gets a little bit monotonous in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: A few mildly dirty words and thematic content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gujarat, the Indian state that Vasant and Champa Patel were from, also was the home state of Gandhi.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/7/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.
NEXT: A Faster Horse

The Intern

"I'll see your Raging Bull weight gain and raise you a Les Mis shaved head."

“I’ll see your Raging Bull weight gain and raise you a Les Mis shaved head.”

(2015) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, JoJo Kushner, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley, Christina Scherer, Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin, Celia Weston, Steve Vinovich, C.J. Wilson, Mary Kay Place, Erin Mackey, Christina Brucato, Wallis Currie-Wood, Molly Bernard, Paulina Singer. Directed by Nancy Meyers

Our culture is going from youth-oriented to youth-obsessed. We tend to marginalize the elderly, joke about their inability to decipher technology. As much as we dismiss the elderly, at the same time we don’t want to die young either. We want to live long, full lives. We also tend to ignore that in order to do that, we have to age.

Ben Whittaker (De Niro) has done that. He’s aged. He turns around and finds himself to be 70 and alone, his beloved wife passed on, retired from a successful 40-year career printing phone books. Even the industry he devoted so much of his life to has gone the way of the horse and buggy.

He tries to fill his days with tai chi sessions, Mandarin lessons and lattes. He also finds himself spending an unsettling amount of time at the funerals of his friends. He is busy but curiously unfulfilled. Even some flirtations with a lady his age (Lavin) – most of the flirtation coming from her end – leave him empty and even more cognizant that his life lacks something.

Ben has the wisdom to figure out that what he’s missing is purpose. Getting up early and going around and doing nothing productive just isn’t in his genetic code. When he sees an ad one day for senior interns at an e-commerce women’s fashion company, he decides to go for it.

Jules Ostin (Hathaway) is the CEO and founder of About the Fit, an online store that guarantees its clients that the close they buy will fit them precisely. How she does that is a miracle of epic proportions but hey, this is Hollywood so just go with it. Anyway, she doesn’t particularly need nor want an intern of any age but especially one who’s older and reminds her that her mother (Place) is judgmental and hyper-critical of her success. Jules is a bit of a workaholic whose company in 18 months has become a real player in e-commerce and has grown to more than 200 employees. The investors are beginning to get nervous; not despite the success but because of it. They don’t know if Jules has the experience and drive to grow the company into the next level so they are pushing to get an experienced CEO who can take them there.

Jules doesn’t necessarily want that to happen but on the other hand she is tired of being absent in her own home. Her husband Matt (Holm) is a paragon of support, giving up his own promising career to let her soar with eagles. Their cute as a button daughter Paige (Kushner) misses her mommy but seems cheerfully resigned to the fact that she doesn’t get to see her much.

Jules is a bit of a control freak and is looking for reasons that the easygoing Ben should not be her intern; he’s too observant, she complains to her right hand man (Rannells) as she orders a transfer but she soon comes to realize that Ben has become indispensable, giving her the confidence to be a better boss, a better wife and a better mom but will she learn the lessons Ben has to teach her in time to save her business…and her family?

Richard Roeper describes director Nancy Meyers as “reliable” and he’s right on that score. She doesn’t get the credit she deserves but yet she turns out consistently entertaining films albeit on the lightweight side but that may also be the secret of her success; even her movies with somewhat weighty topics (as this one which looks at women in the workplace) tend to be low-key and rarely rock the boat with strident opinions.

Here she is given the opportunity to take on how working women tackling entrepreneurial success are treated and the answer is pretty much not well, but she doesn’t hit her audience in the face with that revelation (which isn’t a revelation at all, really) but rather allows you to come to that conclusion organically. The point here is that there is a balance between career and family that can be achieved and when it is, both thrive but when out of balance, both suffer. It’s not really a subversive point at all and yet she sneaks it in out of left field with few people noticing at all that she’s actually communicating with her audience. Maybe it’s because she’s a woman?

De Niro has had some forgettable performances in the last decade but it’s forgiven because, hey, he’s De Niro. That’s not the case her as he utilizes his expressive face to go beyond the script with a well-timed roll of the eyes, shrug of the shoulder or grimace, he creates a character that’s living. That’s a good thing because Ben as written is a little too perfect to be believed; he always knows the right thing to say, do or be. He’s the magical Grandpa.

He also has great chemistry with Hathaway who also is a very emotional actress. The two have a great moment when discussing their marriages in a hotel room while on a business trip to San Francisco to interview a potential CEO (don’t ask why an intern would be on such a trip or how he got into her hotel room while both are in pajamas and robes), but Hathaway reminds us in those moments why she is such a powerhouse actress and along with Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams is the cream of the crop of talented young actresses that has come to the forefront of Hollywood the last five years or so.

There is a lot of contrivance in the plot which I suppose is to be expected because the story is so thoroughly a fairy tale but if that kind of thing doesn’t bother you and you don’t mind feeling the warm fuzzies as you exit the theater (or, if you are reading this a year from when this was published, as you turn off your TV or computer), this might just be what the doctor ordered. Da Queen found it to be much more than she expected from the trailer and I understand what she means; while Meyers can’t help the old fart jokes that pepper the film, there’s also a healthy respect for the difference between experience and wisdom that Hollywood sometimes mistakes for one another.

REASONS TO GO: Heartwarming without getting too treacly. Good chemistry between De Niro and Hathaway.
REASONS TO STAY: Ben is a little too perfect. Kind of fairy tale-esque.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexually suggestive content and brief rough language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The lead roles were at one time held by Jack Nicholson and Reese Witherspoon.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
NEXT: Meet the Patels

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Maze Runner The Scorch Trials

You’ve got to learn how to crawl before you learn how to run mazes.

(2015) Young Adult Sci-Fi (20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Terry Dale Parks, Kathryn Smith-McGlynn, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, J. Nathan Simmons, Alan Tudyk, Lora Martinez-Cunningham. Directed by Wes Ball

It seems that whenever you’re in the middle segment of a cinematic trilogy, there’s always a bit of a letdown; there’s usually more exposition that action and it lacks the kind of energy that marks the first installment, nor the emotional punch of the third. Would that happen to this sequel to the successful young adult science fiction adaptation The Maze Runner?

Following the conclusion of that film, the survivors of the Glade are brought into an underground facility, a way station before being taken to their final destination. No, that doesn’t sound sinister at all, right? In any case, Thomas (O’Brien) hooks up with Aris (Lofland), a survivor of a different Maze (there are apparently many of them) and discovers the truth about the facility – it is wholly owned by WCKD (pronounced “wicked,” possibly the most unsubtle acronym ever), the corporate blackhearts who created the Mazes and they’re conducting medical experiments on the kids who have made it this far.

Naturally, this doesn’t appeal much to Thomas and he takes the rest of his crew – Teresa (Scodelario), Newt (Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Lee), Frypan (Darden) and Winston (Flores) out of the frying pan and into the Scorch. The Scorch is the world above ground, an arid desert with unpredictable weather patterns, terrifying storms and creatures that roam the wasteland by night. A trip to the local mall leads to the discovery that they are victims of the Flare, a virus that turns the victims homicidal and utterly insane.

Thomas and the gang are looking for The Right Arm, an underground resistance group who may be able to shelter them from WCKD who clearly want them back badly; the chief scientist for WCKD, Dr. Ava Paige (Clarkson) has sent her assassin Janson (Gillen) to go fetch Thomas and his tank engine…er, crew.

After being captured by Jorge (Esposito) and his daughter Brenda (Salazar), they get away from WCKD and head out to find Marques, the man who might be able to find the Right Arm. Once again, it’s back into the fire as a happening party turns into a 90s rave and turns into a real bad trip. Once the kids find the Right Arm, however, they are going to find out that there are worse beasts in the wasteland than madmen, and that courage may not be enough to get them all through. Making it out alive may not be in the cards for all of them, but there may be worse things ahead for all of them.

No need to keep you in suspense; this isn’t as good as the first movie. That movie had a kinetic energy that is severely lacking here. Not that there aren’t some superior action scenes; there are, but while Maze Runner felt like a sprint, this is more of a distance run. Most of the same folks that didn’t get snuffed in the first film are back with a passel of new characters as well as the bulk of the same talent behind the camera. The problem with middle films in trilogies is that they are often connectors, linking point A and point B. The middle of a story is never as interesting as the beginning or the end.

O’Brien is a little bit more animated here but the same problem that plagued the first movie plagues this one; Thomas isn’t a very interesting lead character. They try to make him that way with references to his unremembered past but the real issue is that Thomas acts like every teen hero in every cinematic adaptation of a young adult novel ever, and it really is kind of tiresome. There’s nothing here to distinguish it from its competition and even given that the audience this is playing too is a lot less discriminating, they aren’t dummies; they know lazy writing when they see it.

Most of the rest of the cast is adequate to decent; the most promising performer in the first film doesn’t appear here. It’s just that they’re not given a lot to work with; the characters are mostly bland, recycled from other stories and films. None of them really grab your attention much. That’s the problem with having characters who can’t remember their past; there isn’t a lot for the audience to hold onto other than their actions and when you’re talking about actions that are pretty much standard young adult fantasy fare that’s only worse. Even the zombie-like Flare victims don’t measure up to the monsters of The Walking Dead and the special effects here are pretty much standard.

This is bargain basement sci-fi that doesn’t really generate enough enthusiasm in me to really give it much of a recommendation which is a shame because I thought the first film had some potential. Maybe we’ll have to wait until the final installation in the trilogy to see that potential fulfilled but at this point I’m not especially waiting on the edge of my seat for February 17, 2017 to come around – the date that Maze Runner: The Death Cure is set to wrap up the series. Sad to say, I’d be just fine with them wrapping it up here unless they can do a whole lot better next time.

REASONS TO GO: Some fairly well-done action sequences. Attractive leads.
REASONS TO STAY: Really been there-done that. Lacks energy.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of violence, some thematic elements, a scene of substance use and some mild language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The studio greenlit the sequel two weeks before the first film opened after early reviews and audience scores proved to be overwhelmingly positive.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/5/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100.
NEXT: The Intern

Finders Keepers (2015)

An unusual confrontation.

An unusual confrontation.

(2015) Documentary (The Orchard) John Wood, Shannon Whisnant, Peg Wood, Lisa Whisnant. Directed by Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. In this case, they’d be absolutely right. I can’t imagine anyone no matter how imaginative they are could make this story up.

Shannon Whisnant, a North Carolina junk dealer, had just purchased the contents of an auctioned storage unit. In that storage unit was a barbecue smoker, which was the prize item he had seen in the unit when he bought it. He put all his new items into his truck and drove it home, wheeled the smoker into his front yard and opened it – and just about had a heart attack.

In the smoker was the mummified remains of a human leg. Whisnant of course did the right thing – he notified the police who confiscated the leg as evidence and having nowhere to store it, left it with the local funeral home. Eventually they tracked down the owner of the storage unit who had defaulted on his monthly rental fee; John Wood.

Once the scion of a well-to-do family in Maiden, North Carolina, he’d fallen on hard times. But not hard enough to make him a killer – no, the leg was his. He’d lost it in a plane crash in which his father had lost his life. He’d asked for the leg back from the hospital once it had been amputated, intending to create a memorial to his father using the skeletal remains of his own leg but couldn’t find anyone to remove the flesh from the limb. He’d thrown it in the smoker and forgotten about it.

He wanted the leg back, however, still intending to eventually create that monument. However, Shannon wasn’t willing to give it back. After all, he’d bought and paid for the contents of the storage unit, including the smoker – and including the leg that was in the smoker. You wouldn’t ask for the grill back from the smoker after all; he’d paid for it fair and square.

So why would Whisnant want a human leg? Fame, pure and simple. He saw it as an opportunity to put his name on the map. At first he saw it as kind of a tourist attraction and being a fair man, he discussed going in with Wood on the deal Wood balked and the two geared up for a fight in the courtroom.

Some of you may remember the story when it hit all the tabloids a few years ago, but maybe you didn’t hear the whole story; how Wood had become addicted to painkillers while recuperating from his amputation, how he graduated to harder drugs, how he had been thrown out by his mother Peg recognizing that she was enabling his decline towards an overdose; how he had become homeless and alone.

Nor may you have heard how Whisnant had grown up with an emotionally and physically abusive father, how he had tried to gain his dad’s approval and never gotten it. How he was always a decent sort whose only aim was to make people happy around him.

This peculiar “only in the South” might induce giggles from some. They may look at these two men as ignorant hillbilly sorts that confirm the stereotype of Southern rednecks. And yeah, there are a few things here that head down that trail a bit, but as the movie unspools, you begin to see beyond the ridiculous and into the human story that is at the heart of the matter.

Both Wood and Whisnant are wounded human beings, and maybe they’re not likely to be employed by NASA anytime soon, but they are no less worthy of respect and empathy. These are both men who have gone through hard times; Wood, who was in attendance at the opening night screening at the Enzian, described Whisnant as “the yin to my yang.” They aren’t friends, not by any stretch of the imagination; Whisnant, who always saw Wood as uppity, described him as being “born with a silver crack pipe in his mouth.” They are inevitably linked by Wood’s leg and likely always will be. Maybe there is some comfort to be had in that.

One thing that is admirable is that as the movie goes on, we see Wood’s recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. An appearance on the Judge Mathis show (which resulted in Wood keeping the leg but having to pay Whisnant $5,000 for it) led to Wood receiving treatment at one of the nation’s premiere rehab centers. Since them, Wood has been sober and drug-free for nearly eight years and has also since gotten married. As important, Wood has gained wisdom; he has reconciled with his family and is slowly working to building back their trust after years of breaking their hearts. He recognizes that it is a slow and ongoing process but worth his effort. He understands what is important now and has put much of the sickness that led to his drug addiction behind him.

That’s a big deal; not all of us have the will to make that kind of turn-around and you have to respect the story of someone who has. Still, you will probably giggle fairly regularly, as Wood jokes about his leg, or Whisnant consistently mistakes “perspire” for “transpire.” But this is, as Peg Wood puts it in the movie, a funny story with its roots in tragedy. Fortunately, it’s a tragedy that looks like it will have a happy ending.

REASONS TO GO: Takes an unexpected turn. Oddball enough to keep your interest.
REASONS TO STAY: The pictures of the leg may be too stomach-turning for the sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: Some gruesome images, drug references and a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Whisnant once appeared on an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/4/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 80/100.
BEYOND THEATERS: VOD (Check your local cable/satellite provider), iTunes, Amazon, Vudu
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