Entourage

By: Kevin Jordan

Great.  Now I’m going to lose two days of my life.

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One of the most confounding things that happens to me is when people ask if I’ve seen movie X and when I say “no,” they act shocked and become incredulous.  My immediate response to that is “how many movies released last year did you see?  Because I saw seventy.”  And it’s always the so-called classics – “You’ve never seen Reservoir Dogs (gasp!)?” – “How have you never seen any of The Godfathers (double-gasp!!)?” – “You have to watch Blues Brothers (head-shake).”  Etcetera, etcetera.  I don’t necessarily blame them because people have an expectation that movie reviewers have seen every movie ever made.  While it’s possible that some reviewers have seen every movie you name for them, those reviewers get paid to do that.  I, on the other hand, do this in my spare time for free because I chose to be a cog in the corporate machine, so I have a lot less time to watch movies, not to mention I consume a fair amount of television as well.  Incidentally, the same question happens with television shows and the answer is no, I have never seen even a minute of an episode of Entourage.  Now, close your mouth before a fly flies in there.

My choice of movie screenings this week was Entourage and the annual Melissa McCarthy abomination, this year titled Spy.  Normally, this would be an easy decision because McCarthy’s movies make me want to die, but I had to consider it because I’d never watched Entourage (the show) and there was a good chance I would hate Entourage (the movie) because I wouldn’t know who the characters were or get any of the inside jokes or references that would undoubtedly be splattered throughout the film.  Ultimately, my loathing of McCarthy won out and I picked the movie that had eight seasons and 96 episodes of development preceding it, hoping they wouldn’t pull a Mad Max: Fury Road by expecting you to already know the characters.  In other words, produce actual writing beyond “car explodes and bodies go flying.”

Even though I was going into the movie blind, I wasn’t completely clueless.  I knew that there was a group of four dudes comprised of at least one actor and three dudes following him around, plus Jeremy Piven as said actor’s agent.  Other than that – nothing.  Much to my delight, the movie provided ample character introduction and even more development on top of what the show previously delivered.  I won’t bore you with a recap of these five characters and neither does the movie, which does a great job of sprinkling historical information about the characters without making it seem like a history lesson.  It’s this kind of thing that makes me wonder how HBO could have done such a good job with Entourage, yet shit the bed so badly with both Sex and the City movies (especially since Entourage and Sex And the City have essentially the same formula for its makeup).

The plot of Entourage (the movie) was the other thing I was worried about.  Based on the previews, Ari (Piven) is now the head of a film studio and he wants Vince (Adrian Grenier) to star in his first movie.  Vince agrees, but with the stipulation that he also gets to direct the film.  I thought the rest of the film was going to be a struggle between Ari and Vince over additional finances, which sounded a lot like watching a sports movie where the main plot is going to be a contract dispute between a player and general manager.  That doesn’t exactly sound riveting, not to mention confusing because Vince and Ari are supposed to be friends.  Thankfully, that is only the catalyst for the actual plot – Ari trying to obtain the extra money from a couple of filthy rich, redneck Texans (Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osment).  While that is going on, the other three guys each have their own subplots that have nothing to do with the main plot of the film.  Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is working on a relationship with Ronda Rousey (playing herself), Drama (Kevin Dillon) is trying to get another acting job, and E (Kevin Connelly) is juggling a pregnant ex and two absurdly hot women.  While that might seem like loose writing on the surface, the various plotlines all work because this movie is ultimately about the five dudes’ friendship and how they help each other through their issues.

Besides the characters and their plots, there are a couple of other things that make the film work well.  The first are the countless cameos of actors, athletes, and models scattered throughout the film.  For as many as there were, a surprisingly low number of them felt forced (Tom Brady and Gary Busey for example) and even those worked as quick comedic gags.  Of the ones that were exceptional, Richard Schiff’s stands out the most, reminding us why he was such a vital piece of The West Wing.  The second was the comedy, which starts out a little slow and obvious, but settles into a really good groove once the characters are established into their plotlines.  As the film wore on, the audience and I were laughing harder and more frequently and none of it relied on lazy toilet humor or the fat jokes all but certain to be found in Spy.  Also, a shout out to Haley Joel Osment appearing as an adult and reminding us that he is more than just that kid who sees dead people.  Of all the things I didn’t expect in this movie, that one was the biggest surprise.

If there was one weakness in this film, it’s the way in which it treats Vince’s movie.  For all of the comedy and cameos, the film tries to take itself semi-seriously in terms of the characters and portrayal of the movie industry and does a very good job, except with the reception of Vince’s film (Hyde).  We only see a quick snippet of Hyde (a Zack Snyder-esque action shot) and we are told that Drama has a role, though he only appears in four scenes.  (SPOILER ALERT) Yet, at the tail-end our movie, Hyde is up for five Golden Globes, including best picture, and Drama wins best supporting actor.  Given what we know, this seems counter to the rest of the film and feels very much over-the-top – essentially, tacked on for no logical reason.  The only thing that felt right was hearing that Hyde was raking in money like a Marvel film and they easily could have just left it at that since the entire movie was centered on money.

Make no mistake – this movie is for guys.  With the exception of a couple of wives and Rousey, the women are treated as set pieces – appearing either in bikinis, topless, or topless and having sex with E – to be ogled by the dudes who are this movie’s main audience (and don’t think I’m complaining, because those women are gorgeous – yes, I’m a dude).  The closest thing to male nudity is a blurry-handed picture of Drama jerking off and Russell Wilson playing beach volleyball.  They even manage to fit in some gay jokes while winking at you that it’s okay because Ari is going to give away his gay assistant at said assistant’s wedding.  I don’t believe this was meant to be offensive, but was meant to reassure the bros in the audience of their manhood.  For the record, I have no problem with gays or male nudity, but I think gay men would agree with me that nobody wants to see Kevin Dillon naked.

The bottom line is that this movie is a very, very good movie for both dedicated fans and Entourage-virgins like me.  In fact, I liked the movie so much that now I’m forced to skip a couple of movies in order to watch Entourage the show.  But at least you won’t gasp now when you asked if I’ve seen it.

Rating: Worth more than you paid for it if you are a dude, but women will probably want a buck or two back since they didn’t even get a decent ass-shot of Russell Wilson.

The Judge

THE JUDGE One SheetBy: Kevin Jordan

A peak at Robert Downey Jr.

If you’re a sports fan, chances are good you’ve seen an all-time great playing during his peak, dominating the competition.  Michael Jordan during the 90’s, Roger Federer during the 00’s, and Tiger Woods before his wife beat up his car with a golf club after she found out what he really meant when he said he was going on tour.  Entertainment is no different, with plenty of stars dominating at different times.  Arnold Schwarzenegger during the 80’s, Tom Cruise before he jumped on Oprah’s couch, and Mel Gibson before revealing his tolerance toward certain religious faiths that rhyme with Newish.  Now, here we are in 2014, witnessing another dominating run by an actor who decided to be an idiot early in his career rather than torpedo his legacy at the end – one, Robert Downey Jr.

Throughout his career, Downey has been recognized for the talent he is, but his dominant run didn’t start until 2008, when Ironman was released and he took his acting to the next level as Tony Stark/Ironman.  Later that year, Tropic Thunder happened and we found out what happens when an American actor hitting his peak plays a white, Australian actor playing a black soldier uttering the line “What do you mean you people?”  And, if that wasn’t enough, he scored the triple crown in 2009, delivering us a Sherlock Holmes we never knew we were missing.  And just like that, Downey was at the top of the heap, effortlessly delivering more Ironman and more Sherlock and making us all wonder what will happen when Ironman and The Avengers run their course and Sherlock is put back on the bookshelf because he and Benedict Cumberbatch will never be topped.  Well, wonder no longer because The Judge has proven that he doesn’t need to portray a superhero to show us how good he can be.

In The Judge, Downey plays Hank Palmer, a big-shot defense attorney who is forced to return to his childhood home in nowhere-ville, Indiana for his mother’s funeral.  Hank is immediately established as priggish jerk who cares nothing of innocence or guilt in his clients and cares only for himself and maybe for his daughter.  This veneer is almost immediately attacked when his younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong) stealthily films Hank alone in the funeral home holding his mother’s hand.  Soon thereafter, we meet his older brother, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), and his father, Joe – the judge – (Robert Duvall).  There is bickering and tension, mostly between Hank and the judge.  Hank tries to leave, but the judge is arrested on suspicion of murder and Hank reluctantly returns at the behest of Glen to defend his father.  Now, based on the previews, you probably think this movie is a courtroom drama (think A Few Good Men or anything adapted from John Grisham) with some family strife thrown in, but it’s the other way around.  In fact, it’s probably the most disappointing thing about the movie because the law and the case play a distant second fiddle to the family dynamics and Hank and the judge’s relationship.  That’s not a bad thing, but people aren’t going to be too excited to see a movie featuring a main story that Julia Roberts has already beaten to death on numerous occasions and is probably the reason behind its current 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While the movie is filled with worn out clichés, Downey does what every all-time great does – he puts the film on his back and carries it and everyone in it to a better place.  In this film, Downey is ridiculously good and you can see it most clearly when he isn’t saying anything.  His body language and reactions to other actors or dialogue during scenes is so well done that it seems as if he isn’t acting at all (which is really the whole point of acting).  There is a scene where he is sitting in a hospital with Glen and Dale, Glen says something rude to Dale, and Hank gets a look of disgust on his face that looks so real you’d think D’Onofrio’s line wasn’t even in the script, but an actual jab at Strong himself.  That kind of thing happens often and you truly believe that Downey feels what the screenplay says Hank is supposed to feel.

While Downey was doing all the heavy lifting, his supporting cast held their own.  Dax Shepard, Vera Farmiga, and Billy Bob Thornton rounded out the cast in smaller roles, but were important in that they provided the catalysts and development needed to further flesh out Hank’s character and growth.  Though, I will admit that every time I saw D’Onofrio, all I could think was “tell ‘em what they missed Detective Goran.”

As I said, if you are hoping for a courtroom drama with lawyers screaming about handling or deserving truths, you are going to be disappointed.  If you are okay with a family drama that probably hits a lot closer to home for more people than it should, you will appreciate this movie.  But, either way, if you are a fan of Downey for more reasons than a snarky attitude and cool facial hair, you won’t see a better performance.

Rating: Ask for a dollar back because, like me, you really did want this to be a little more Law and Order and a little less Steel Magnolias.