The Game Changers (2018)


There is strength in numbers.

(2018) Documentary (Diamond Docs) James Wilks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrik Baboumian, Scott Jurek, Dotsie Bausch, Kendrick Farris, Nimai Delgado, Lucious Smith, Gary Wilks, Fabian Kanz, Kim Williams, Morgan Mitchell, Rip Esselstyn, Mischa Janiec, Damien Mander, Tia Blanco, Bryant Jennings, Griff Whalen, Damien Mander, Helen Moon. Directed by Louis Psihoyos

 

Eating meat has long been understood to be less healthy than eating vegetables. However, a mythology regarding the manliness of being a vegetarian has also developed; eating meat makes you stronger, more masculine, more virile. These are ideas largely pushed by purveyors of meat, including burger joints and cattle collectives.

This documentary is out to puncture those myths and perhaps make a few converts among the sports bar crowd. The message is aimed almost overwhelmingly towards men, even going so far during an extended segment to show that eating a plant-based meal before bedtime results in – ahem – improved bedroom performance that night. Gentlemen, start your erections.

There are few men as bad-ass as Wilks, a former UFC fighter and former carnivore. While rehabbing an injury, he researched methods that might get him back in the octagon sooner but came across a study that startled him; gladiators, thought to be among the manliest men ever, were largely vegetarians according to scientific analysis of their bones. The fact that these guys were among the biggest and strongest of their time gave Wilks pause.

He soon found that there were plenty of modern equivalents. Baboumian, one of the strongest men on the planet and a world record-holder for the most weight ever lifted and carried by a human, has been a vegan for ages. So too has ultimate marathoner Jurek and Olympic cycler Bausch. Former NFL player Lucious Jones who is Wilks’ trainer, also has been a vegan largely persuaded by his wife, a chef who specializes in healthy diet. His old team, the Tennessee Titans, were mired in a streak of seasons failing to qualify for the postseason but once more than a dozen members of the team began eating vegan the team made a surprise return to the playoffs. Of course, all the credit is given to the diet.

There is also a nearly endless parade of doctors proclaiming the virtues of a plant-based diet, showing the medical benefits. Quite honestly watching all of these interviews, even supplemented by nifty graphics as some of them are, I found it all beginning to sound repetitive and my interest waned. Even with testimonials coming from the Terminator himself didn’t sway me as much. Maybe I’m just mule-headed but I do love me a burger from time to time.

There’s definitely a new convert’s zeal here and Wilks makes for a solid narrator, even converting his father to the cause after the elder Wilks suffers a major heart attack. In fact, the zeal was a bit off-putting. It’s sort of like having an evangelist preach to you the benefits of Christianity albeit without the scientific backing. There may be a few converts here and there, particularly those who are convinced that their dicks will get harder if they go vegan (the way to a man’s heart is most definitely not through his stomach) but the movie never addresses the main objection most carnivores have to turning to a plant-based diet – meat tastes damn good. In any case, while they make a good scientific case if you are willing to wade through all the stats and graphs, I’m not sure that their apparent goal of converting the intractable will be met.

REASONS TO SEE: Explains the myths of vegetarianism well. Wilks makes a fine narrator.
REASONS TO AVOID: Doesn’t really make any new converts. The medical information can get bone-dry.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wilks is a former MMA fighter who currently trains law enforcement and military on combat techniques.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes:78% positive reviews: Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The End of Meat
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Low Tide

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This Means War


This Means War

Tom Hardy and Chris Pine mistakenly believe they're trying out for the next Men in Black movie.

(2012) Spy Comedy (20th Century Fox) Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Abigail Leigh Spencer, John Paul Ruttan, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris, George Touliatos, Clint Carleton, Warren Christie, Leela Savasta. Directed by McG

 

When guys bond, it’s a beautiful thing. Guys will take a bullet for each other; guys will give you the shirts off their back. When a woman comes between two best friends, all bets can rapidly become off.

That’s especially true for Franklyn “FDR” Foster (Pine) and John “Tuck” Harrison (Hardy). Both of them are elite field agents for the CIA and their partnership in the field has led to the kind of friendship that is as close as family (in fact FDR regularly brings Tuck to the home of his Nana (Harris) for family functions). They are working a case in which two German weapons dealers (and actual brothers) are in the midst of pulling off a scam in Hong Kong. The operation goes south and one of the brothers winds up taking a doozy of a last step. Naturally Heinrich (Schweiger), the terse surviving brother, vows revenge.

The debacle lands the two field agents in desk jockey-land. Bored out of their skulls, they begin to talk about their love lives (and if you know how bored guys have to be to discuss their love lives with one another…) leading Tuck, recently divorced and missing his son Joe (Ruttan) to sign up with one of those online dating services.

Lauren (Witherspoon) is a product tester and she loves her job. She had moved to Los Angeles to be with her boyfriend who wound up cheating on her, sending her into a romantic tailspin from which she’s not yet recovered. Her best friend Trish (Handler) signs her up for a dating site and she promptly lays her peepers on Tuck’s profile and is very interested.

So is Tuck but FDR knows that he’s rusty at the whole dating thing, so he arranges to hang out at a neighboring video store just in case he’s needed to rescue his friend. Tuck and Lauren hit it off right away so Tuck sends the “all clear” signal to FDR. FDR, a big-time movie buff, decides to find something to rent for the night. Of course he stays long enough to bump into Lauren after her date with Tuck. Not knowing who she is, he flirts with her and long story short, manages to connive her into a date.

The two men find out that they are both dating the same girl and as it turns out, both have strong feelings for them. At first they set up ground rules of a “may the best man win” sort but soon enough the “all’s fair in love and war” corollary sets in and they are both using all the high-tech means at their disposal to keep an eye on each other as they put the moves on poor Lauren. Will she choose either one of them, or will the evil Heinrich show up and spoil the party?

McG has made a reputation that isn’t necessarily the greatest among critics. In all fairness, he doesn’t seem to be aiming to create films that are as memorable so much as they are entertaining. There’s a lot of bright colors, lots of things that go boom and lots of eye candy for both sexes, all of which are elements regularly seen in McG movies.

That this movie has gotten critically spanked is no surprise – that this is much better than what the critics are letting on isn’t either. What is a surprise is that the audience, generally better arbiters of this kind of film than the critics, haven’t picked up on it yet.

There is good chemistry between Pine and Hardy, essential to make this movie work. These are two up-and-coming stars, both who show signs of being destined for bigger and better things. Their byplay is natural and realistic; they act like a couple of guys who have been friends for awhile. The chemistry with Witherspoon is a little bit more forced. Mind you, Reece Witherspoon is one of the most beautiful women in the world, but she seems uncomfortable with the slight sluttiness her character displays.

This isn’t smart entertainment by any means. It’s a big dumb dog lying in front of a fire on a rainy afternoon; familiar and easy to deal with, making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This breaks little or no new ground and doesn’t really want to. The whole aim here is to entertain and if that’s all the filmmakers are after, mission accomplished – and not in the George W. sense either. I can be picky and take issue with the somewhat choppy pacing which is less than seamless going from comedy to romance to action sequences but while it’s a little annoying it isn’t a dealbreaker.

There’s far worse out there at the moment and there will be far worse available when it comes out on home video/streaming. If you’re looking for something mindless and fun, this could be your huckleberry. If you’re looking for something that isn’t just empty calories, well, you might want to check your art house listings.

REASONS TO GO: Good ol’ empty-headed entertainment. Some nice action sequences and good chemistry between Pine and Hardy. Witherspoon is awesome to look at.

REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is a bit choppy; feels like you’re driving a car with a bad transmission.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll find plenty of bad language, some action-style violence and a lot of sexual innuendo. .

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At one point in the film, FDR is waiting for Tuck to show up at his home to join him in a “CHiPs” marathon. Actor Chris Pine’s father Robert Pine was a regular on that show.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100. The reviews are poor.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: True Lies

STAR TREK LOVERS: Both Pine and Hardy have appeared in Star Trek films – Hardy as Shinzon, the clone of Capt. Picard in Star Trek: Nemesis and Pine as Capt. Kirk in Star Trek. In fact the reference to Pine being a cruise ship captain throughout the film is in reference to this.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Kung Fu Panda

The Pink Panther 2


The Pink Panther 2

Looks like Peter Sellers' memory is getting hosed again.

(2009) Comedy (MGM) Steve Martin, Jean Reno, John Cleese, Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Yuki Matsuzaki, Jeremy Irons, Johnnie Hallyday. Directed by Harald Zwart

Some movies shouldn’t have been remade, and once remade, they should never have generated sequels. However, upon rare occasion, the sequel turns out better than the original remake. Not so much the original original. Oh, my brain hurts!

Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Martin) has been relegated to traffic duty by his nemesis, the stiff-necked Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Cleese, taking over from Kevin Kline who played the role in the reboot – Herbert Lom made the role famous in the sequels to the original that were made more than a decade than the original, but almost 30 years before the reboot…did I mention my brain hurts?). As with most things, he makes a hash of it, delivering chaos without really intending to. However, that’s all about to change. A skilled thief who calls himself “the Tornado” has stolen such artifacts as the Shroud of Turin, the Magna Carta and the sword of the Japanese Emperor. Notice he didn’t go after anything American of value ; our national symbol perhaps, one that sums up our identity more than any other. I’m speaking of course of the Vince Lombardi Trophy given to the winner of the Super Bowl each year. Then again, if someone were to steal that, they’d have a hundred million angry football fans clamoring to kick their ass.

Um, moving along, the French prime minister fears that the Pink Panther, the national symbol of France (but was originally the symbol of the fictional country of Lugash in the original and its sequels and I think the reboot too but I can’t remember very well anymore because my brain is really beginning to hurt now), will be next. He wants Jacques Clouseau on the case, joining a dream team of international detectives that have been assigned to apprehending the thief. They are Vincenzo Doncorleone (Garcia), an Italian lothario; Kenji (Matsuzaki), a Japanese computer whiz; Pepperidge (Molina), a Sherlock Holmes-like analyzer of clues and Sonia (Rai Bachchan), the world’s foremost authority on the Tornado and damned gorgeous to boot.

Along for the ride is Nicole (Mortimer), Clouseau’s long-suffering and clearly smitten with him secretary, and Ponton (Reno), Clouseau’s long-suffering and able assistant inspector. They’ll question a retired jewel thief (Irons) and visit the Pope when the Tornado steals the papal signet ring from his finger while he’s asleep. Along the way there’ll be pratfalls, mistaken identities, property damage and romantic interludes. A restaurant will burn down – twice, and Nicole, tired of waiting for Clouseau to make a move, allows herself to be romanced by Vincenzo, especially after Clouseau disgraces himself by dressing up like the pope, appearing on the balcony in St. Peter’s Square and then proceeding to fall out of the balcony, giving billions of Catholics angina. But you know how things go in this kind of movie; no matter how big a buffoon he is, only Clouseau can save the day – even if he gets his ass handed to him by a couple of karate kids, an angry old lady and Lily Tomlin, who may have been angry but isn’t the old lady I was thinking about. Oh, my brain is exploding!

The original Pink Panther series had Peter Sellars as Clouseau and rightly or wrongly, that role is associated with him as much as James Bond is with Sean Connery and Harry Potter with Daniel Radcliffe. Some roles just leave indelible marks on the careers of an actor.

Remaking movies with other actors in those roles may bring people out for curiosity’s sake, particularly when the originator of the role is long dead, but it rarely ends up well. Most film lovers spend the entire movie comparing the performances (and usually the new guy doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt) and the studios, for their part, rarely see fit to spend much money or time on a project which is, to them, an attempt to milk a cash cow one last time.

Strangely, though, as bad as the first reboot of the series was, this one is slightly better. Martin has settled in a bit more to the Clouseau role, and while he can do the physical comedy required of the role, he seems better suited to the verbal buffoonery that comes from Clouseau’s impenetrable accent.

There are some charming moments, however; a re-teaming of All of Me co-stars Martin and Tomlin, the latter as a very politically correct instructor on…um, political correctness, something which the bumbling Clouseau can’t begin to comprehend, using racial and sexual slurs at nearly every turnpoint but with a guileless charm that makes it more like a child saying it. In the hands of a less gifted comedian, you might wind up despising Clouseau.

Unfortunately, this is a comedy and you kind of expect a few laughs. There are a few, but only a few; much of the movie seems very ill-timed and rushed, and you get the feeling that there was more of a sense of getting everything in the can so that the all-star cast could move on to more worthy pursuits. There’s nothing here that’s edgy or outrageous; for the most part, the comedy is as inoffensive as that of Father of the Bride, a like-minded Martin comedy that is also much better than this.

WHY RENT THIS: Pretty much non-offensive comedy that while not laugh-out-loud funny isn’t uncomfortably unfunny either. Rai is very pleasant to look at and some of the physical comedy bits were well-staged.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This isn’t very bad but it isn’t very good either. The movie degenerates into downright silliness often enough to be irritating.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some innuendo and a little bit of mild violence but otherwise this is suitable for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie in the franchise, either with Peter Sellers or without, that has had a number in the title.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Not a lot; there is a gag reel that might well be funnier than the movie, and a feature deconstructing some of the more physical comedy gags which was kind of interesting.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $76M on an unreported production budget; I doubt the budget was even $30M so I’d think this was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Signal