<b>Stripped Down</b>

Stripped Down

Magic Mike XXL can't recapture the substance that made the original more than hunky shirtless guys
There's an important, perhaps counterintuitive point that must be clear before we start talking about Magic Mike XXL: The original 2012 Magic Mike was not about male strippers. Make no mistake: It contained male strippers.

Winning Reboot

Somehow, Arnold's return to the Terminator franchise makes for solid sci-fi
There will be Terminator purists who insist that this fifth entry in the series breaks the rules of the Terminator universe. But it's hard to tell if that's something they're going to hate or celebrate.

Dog of a Story

Max wastes a promising idea on forgettable characters
There's a promising premise at the beginning of Max, a "war is hell" setup involving a Marine coming home from combat duty in Afghanistan, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to adjust to a life of normalcy. You've seen the posters.

The Me Problem

How to read the emotional emergence from narcissism in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The arc of critical response to a festival film is… well, let’s understate things a whole lot, and say that it’s complicated. In the swarm of an environment where members of the press are watching four or five films a day, reactions can be distorted by everything from sleep deprivation to the desperate need to find something, anything great to champion.

Hot Property

Sundance darling Dope gets its day in the sun
Drawing on sources as varied as 1980s Spike Lee, 1990s Quentin Tarantino and Risky Business is bound to result in something at least a little fragmented, but in Dope it's often a lot of fun watching those fragments drift and find their shape. Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a geeky, straight-A high-school senior trying to carve out his own identity on the rough streets of Inglewood, California.

Mixed Emotions

Inside Out sells silliness to kids while delivering a powerful story for parents.
If there's anything we should realize by now about the way Disney markets its animated films — whether from Disney Animation Studios or Pixar — it's that there's simply no way to know from the advertising what these films are actually about. Brave's advertising played up the comic relief from the mischievous triplets, completely hiding the fact that the central story was about a complex mother-daughter relationship.

Island Issues

Is Cameron Crowe losing his mojo? His Aloha suggests as much
In the Hawaiian language, the word "aloha" has multiple meanings: affection, peace, compassion and mercy, to name a few. Early on, the films of Cameron Crowe navigated those concepts with earnest, well-told stories about people on redemptive journeys of self-discovery, such as the sweet slacker hopelessly in love with the class valedictorian in Say Anything..., the cynical sports agent humanized by loyalty and love in Jerry Maguire, and the innocent teenage reporter exposed to the rock & roll lifestyle in Almost Famous.

Good Vibrations

Paul Dano and John Cusack tag-team the role of Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy
Yes, "Based on the Life of Brian Wilson" is emblazoned on the screen near the beginning, but Love & Mercy isn't your standard rock 'n' roll biopic. It's an insightful look at two periods of the surfer boy's life.

Hooray for Bro-llywood

Entourage may be effective fan service, but it's barely a movie
Introductory disclaimer: Prior to sitting down for the feature film version of Entourage, I'd never watched a single minute of the 2004-11 HBO series that inspired it. Sure, I'd absorbed a few details simply through pop-culture osmosis, like the fact that its central character, actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), had starred in a blockbuster movie version of Aquaman, and that his high-strung agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), was prone to profane catch phrases like "Let's hug it out, bitch."

Covert Comedy

Melissa McCarthy and company provide female empowerment and plenty of laughs in Spy
Director Paul Feig has made two very bad movies with Melissa McCarthy. The Heat and Bridesmaids were popular, but they were also cruel and unforgivably unfair to the women they were about.

Manifest Destiny

Michael Fassbender gives us the spirit of golden-age Eastwood in Slow West
A folksy fable defined equally by its whimsy and wistfulness, director John Maclean's Slow West unfolds in the wake of the American Civil War as a collection of natives, outlaws and settlers often meet violent ends in pursuit of land, money, and love. Our innocent surrogate in this hostile domain is smitten 16-year-old Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who's fled his wealthy Scottish family in pursuit of working-class crush Rose (Caren Pistorius).

The Big One

San Andreas pits The Rock against an earthquake, and you know who's gonna win
The nail-biting begins less than a minute in, when a young woman driving along a twisty elevated road meets up with a big rockfall, and she and her vehicle go hurtling halfway down a mountainside. Thank goodness Ray Gaines (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), chief pilot for the Los Angeles Fire Department, is nearby in his chopper, ready to rappel down a long rope to save the dangling damsel in distress.

Happily Ever After?

Tomorrowland's fantastical vision of the future may leave you wanting more — or less
Former animation wizard Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) delivers his second live-action film, after Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, with mixed results. Tomorrowland certainly has lots going for it, including a wholly original plot line, terrific visuals and surprisingly good performances from its young actors.

Wiiging Out

Kristen Wiig's performance in Welcome to Me is funny, but squeamishly so
Welcome to Me is not sure if it wants to be an uncomfortable comedy or a wry drama. The film stars Kristen Wiig, who switched over to making films after concluding a popular stint as a longtime regular on Saturday Night Live, where she created a stable of peculiar characters whose lack of social affect was matched by their inappropriate enthusiasm.

Desert Rage

Mad Max: Fury Road will restore your faith in action movies
The action genre requires a refreshening every dozen years or so (the last one was 1999's The Matrix), so we're overdue. Mad Max: Fury Road might not be that refreshening, but if it isn't, it's most definitely a reminder that it's desperately needed, and a hint of what that might feel like.

Buddy Flop

Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon don't quite click in Hot Pursuit
OK, we get it. This is a girl-power film: female director, two female leads doing a riff on the usual male road trip-buddy movie.

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