Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Foxcatcher: If Michael Scott Was Insane...

Director Bennett Miller has a magnificent talent.  I'm not talking his talent as a director or as a storyteller, even though those qualities are also quite phenomenal.  No, his talent is that he's able to take an actor or actors that may or may not have had some sort of stigma of not being a serious actor or even a great actor and turning them into something unseen in film before.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a character actor sure, but before Capote no one really knew just how GREAT the man actually was.  Moneyball showed us that Jonah Hill wasn't a total dipshit and could actually act.  However, Miller's greatest feat is Foxcatcher.  He is somehow able to transform (and not just through makeup) Steve Carell from one of the most likable comedic faces in Hollywood into an unsympathetic psycho creep.  The magic doesn't even stop there!  Guess what?  Channing Tatum... can act!  He's not just a "charming potato", but he's an actual actor with actual talent.  Go.  Figure.

So, I've learned that a lot of people don't actually know the true story that Foxcatcher tells and the unexpected ending that occurs if you're not already familiar, so I will not be spoiling anything.  However, Foxcatcher gives us the relationship between Olympic wrestling gold medalist Mark Schultz and billionaire John Du Pont.  Schultz had won the gold in wrestling in the 84 Olympics and was training for the 88.  His brother David was also a gold winner.  Mark is then contacted by John Du Pont and offers him money to come and stay at the Foxcatcher camp where he and his family reside.  He builds an entire training center and wants to be a coach and a mentor to Mark in order for him to get the gold once again.  The "funny" thing is... Du Pont doesn't know a thing about wrestling.  He's a psychotic billionaire narcissist with a mommy complex.  His mother's views on wrestling were that it was barbaric and a gentleman doesn't get involved with it.  Instead, a gentleman rides horses in competition.  He's a freaky mouth-breathing weirdo who's never been looked up to and never had a friend.  So, when he sees that he can not only use his esteem and his money to buy a trainee, he will also be able to become a mentor to someone, a friend to someone, and show his mommy he's not a total screw-up.

For those of you who've seen The Office John Du Pont is essentially the same person as Michael Scott.  His need to be liked is his sole purpose for living.  Whereas Michael Scott is a quirky and funny and harmless, Du Pont is crazy, dark, and dangerous.  His need for anyone's approval drives him and when he is disappointed his responses are overreactions and violence.  And because someone who doesn't know anything about Olympic wrestling can't be a proper coach, Du Pont recruits Mark's brother Dave to come and help.  This ends up driving a wedge between Mark and Dave because Dave is suspicious of Du Pont and Mark can't see it.  Then later drives a wedge between Dave and Du Pont because Dave only wants the best for his brother and Du Pont thinks Dave is trying to overshadow him.

Tatum is amazing as Mark.  He looks like a hulking man-ape with an overbite that never blinks.  He's always focused on his goal of winning.  If you look at him in the eyes, there's nothing going on upstairs other than wrestling and winning.  It's a commitment to character that we haven't seen from Channing on film yet and it's remarkable.  Mark Ruffalo as Dave is also a stellar performance, but this is what we've come to expect from Ruffalo.  But, it's Carell's performance of Du Pont that steals the show... that makes the film worth watching.  He is literally unrecognizable and dives so deeply into character that we can see Carell's inner dark side.  I compared Du Pont to Michael Scott, but the way the characters act couldn't be more different.  There is no light in Du Pont's eyes.  There is no child-like innocence.  There is a lonely man seeking a friend and approval that can never truly be satisfied that when the end of the movie comes, though it is shocking... it really isn't.

This has been a year for the actor.  So many actors have turned in beautiful performances and literally become other people that we as an audience can easily distinguish the actor from the character... which is what makes a great actor as well as a great film.  If the actor and the character aren't distinguishable... they've failed.  Steve Carell deserves at the very least a nomination, if not the win.  He's a villain played as great as any in the past decade.  Foxcatcher may move at a very slow pace at times, but it's carefully building it's story. It's carefully constructing it's characters.  It's carefully going into the minds of a troubled young man and a disturbed billionaire to inevitably lead up to the unbelievable (yet very true) climax of the film.


Unbroken: An Incredible Story, A Decent Movie

A lot of times, going into a movie I'm unable to distance myself from my own preconceived notions of what I think the film is going to be like and how I'm going to react to it.  Occasionally, I'll see a film that I'm expecting to hate and I'll force the movie to change my opinion.  Even more often I'll see a film that I'm expecting to be great and it won't live up to those expectations.  I honestly didn't know if I was going to love or hate Unbroken.  The first preview I saw of it I immediately thought that it was a film that was made solely to win all Oscar gold available for every category, especially with Angelina Jolie attached as director and the biggest selling point of the movie due to a bunch of relatively unknown actors starring in it.  But, then I read that the Coen Brothers wrote the script and my thoughts on the film changed.  It can't be bad at all if the Coens wrote it.  However, the reviews came out and a lot of them were unfavorable.  My guess is that a lot of critics had my first inclination that it was Oscar bait and it let a few of them down... so, my expectations were lowered quite a bit and my interest in the film ceased.  So, by the time my ass hit the theater seat I was expecting to be able to point out all of the points of failure and nitpick the movie down to a C grade... and I was doing that for a little while, but after most of the movie had gone by, it really did win my affection.

Louis Zamperini was an Olympic athlete, a bombardier in World War II, and a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp.  All three of these stories are told in Unbroken and really all three of these stories really could've been their own film.  The movie could've been a trilogy and, for once, it wouldn't have been out of greed but out of great storytelling.  However, the decision was to make one movie and tell how this one man overcame a great deal of adversity.  After Zamperini competed in the Olympics and did a very respectable job, he joined the military as a bombardier.  His plane is shot down during a rescue mission and him and two others are stranded on a raft at sea for well over two months.  Inches from death, with no hope in sight, they're finally rescued... by a Japanese freighter.  Instead of being thankful for finally winding up on solid ground, they're immediately thrown into an internment camp led by a malicious Sargent who tortures prisoners at will due to his own emotional predilections. Suffice it so say, Zamperini probably had a better experience dying on a raft in the middle of the ocean.  But, his will to survive is what makes him... yes... unbroken.

It's strange what we as a culture enjoy watching and consider "inspiring".  In this film, you take a man who is genuinely portrayed as a decent human being just get the ever-loving shit kicked out of him.  He's pushed past the brink of sanity and strength.  He's thrown every obstacle one could think of and he overcomes all of it.  Yes, it's inspiring to see what a single human being can deal with if they're strong enough, but the pain never lets up for a second.  We're watching a tortured soul, knowing full well he survives it all, but that's all we get.  Something bad happens, then something worse, then something worse, then something unbelievable (yet true), then something WORSE, and so on until the end when you realized he was able to survive.  It's a torture movie.  It's like watching Passion of the Christ.  Jesus is beaten and hung to death for two hours and then at the end comes back saving the souls of every living being on Earth.  The film is watching him get f#@&ed up, yet when everything is okay at the very end, we're able to say that it was inspiring.  I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but we as a society enjoy watching this type of film.  I was getting sick to my stomach watching Zamparini get handled the way he was, but I was even more impressed with the amount of physical abuse he could withstand without killing himself.  It's a strange dichotomy.

I do believe that a lot of the criticism of the film to be a bit accurate.  It's very evident that Jolie is a little bit too emotionally attached to her lead character to distance herself from him and give him a dramatic arc.  He begins the movie as a strong person, almost too perfect and great and ends him on the same pedestal he began on.  It's almost hard to paint the man in a bad light because of everything that happens to him, but he has no flaws during the entire film.  Not that he needs any, but the need to overcome inward adversity as well as outward adversity is what makes great films.  In any instance, I thought the film was very well done, especially for Jolie's second outing as a director.  It's not an easy film to watch, but it is a good film.  And while I don't expect it to win any of the awards I had assumed it was going to, there is a decent little film here about an amazing human being with an incredible story.


Wild: The Meaningful Thousand Mile Journey

Less than ten years ago we were treated with another "someone goes into the wilderness to find themselves" movie with Into The Wild.  It's a good movie, but instead of coming off as poignant and important, the main character kinda has a Holden Caufield effect where the audience loses interest because they don't have the same ideals as Alexander Supertramp.  He's a privileged white kid who is sick of the greed of his upper class family and wants to shed all of his material attachment to the world and live in the wild.  He goes so far as to burn his money and his identification.  While this may be considered a noble gesture by some... by others it's frowned upon.  Flash forward to the end of 2014 and we're given another movie in the same vein only with a female protagonist in Wild.  While the two films may share a few things in common, Wild is a vastly different, as well as far superior, film.

Instead of leaving her life behind in search of being a free person, Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) is on her own, hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in order to find out who she is as a woman.  If this sounds a little douchy, let me explain.  Cheryl was always the good girl.  She was in school, she had part time jobs in order to help her family make ends meet.  She lives with her mother, her best friend, after they've left her abusive father.  Her mother was the person inspiring her to reach her goals and be the best woman she could possibly be.  After an illness takes her mother at a very young age, Cheryl spirals into a world of promiscuous sex and drugs.  This leads to her marriage ending and her life hitting rock bottom.  Then, she discovers the Pacific Coast trail, a hiking trail that stretches from the border of Mexico in California to Canada.  There, she will learn how to grieve properly for her mother and find out what kind of woman she wants to be.  And while this doesn't sound like the harrowing journey Alexander Supertramp has, it is in no way less important.

It's a beautifully shot film, perfectly acted, and emotionally riveting.  Witherspoon plays Cheryl the way that I assume the real Cheryl would've behaved on the journey.  A woman who'd never hiked in her life, but had to finish the journey at any cost.  She's on her own in the great unknown at her most vulnerable searching for answers that may or may not be out there.  She travels from hundred degree desert heat to freezing cold snow-covered mountains, meeting many different types of hikers, hunters, people along the way.  It's also written very well.  Author/screenwriter Nick Hornby (About A Boy, High Fidelity) writes the character carefully.  We watch intercut scenes of Cheryl's past leading up to her journey, and not in sequential order either.  We get her divorce first.  Then he relationship with her mother and brother.  Then, her torrid childhood.  Then, her downward spiral until it all comes together to paint a cohesive picture of a troubled woman.  Her journey ends up making much sense and winds up being a much more important travel than anything else like this on film.

I was a huge fan of this film and it was one of those that had me thinking about it long after it was over.  It far exceeded my expectations and it's a great film to watch at the end of the year in order to inspire those worried about their future in the upcoming year.  Great movie.


The Imitation Game: This Is How You Do The Brilliant Scientist Biopic

Reviews like this one are difficult for me to do.  Here's why-- I don't exactly know that much about science.  I know science is a general term that can be applied to many regular things I do in my life, but we're talking about it in the sense of Alan Turing.  I don't know much and therefore can't explain or analyze much about it or the film.  The same can be said for The Theory of Everything, however it's easier to write a review about it if I didn't think the movie was great.  I can just list the reasons why it failed.  This time another brilliant Brit scientist (actually I'm pretty sure Turing preferred to be known as a mathematician) is given a biopic about the importance of his life in relation to, you know, the world.  And it's great. (Which sucks because I can't nitpick it.)

Alan Turing was a gay scientist/mathematician living through the days of World War II in England.  He is recruited, along with a few other local university geniuses to crack the enigma code-- a daily code used by the Germans to detail their attacks to each other that is reset every day and is said to be uncrackable.  Turing, a social pariah, doesn't go the math route of pen and paper and brain to try and crack the impossible code, but instead decides to design a machine to do the thinking for him.  Of the one hundred and fifty million million million possibilities and the code changing every night at midnight, these men stand zero chance of cracking it without Turing's machine.

And that's essentially it.  It sounds a little dry and a little stale and a little boring, but somehow it isn't.  It's like how Moneyball made a seriously intriguing movie about baseball stats.  It's not so much about waiting for Turing to break the code, but how he does it and the conflicts that stand in his way-- more notably about how homosexuality was illegal and he was a flagrant gay, but had to hide it.  How his homosexuality couldn't be overlooked even though his machine essentially won the war.  Benedict Cumberbatch turns in yet another stellar performance as the strange Turing.  He's suddenly become one of the most reliable actors in Hollywood.  You know exactly what you're getting if you're watching one of his movies-- a mesmerizing performance.

Kiera Knightley is also in the film as a  mathematician whose brain is similar to that of Turing, but unlike Alan, has a fully functioning personality.  The two love one another, though obviously not in the traditional sense, but have a wonderful chemistry.  What's great about this movie is it doesn't fall under the pattern of standard biopic.  There's no real structure to the plot that has become very familiar in the biopic genre as of late.  They allow us to see all of the good and bad that happens in Turing's life without seeming cliche.  It's an honest (I assume) depiction of a mathematical genius portrayed by an acting genius.  I wish I could be a little bit more articulate about why it is so good, but it's just one of those films where you don't really even need that much of a description.  It looks like it could be good, a few people tell you it is good, you assume it is.  Well... it is.


Top Five: Chris Rock FINALLY Delivers

For as long as I can remember, Chris Rock has always been, to me, one of the smartest, if not THE smartest comedian of my generation.  There have been others before him.  George Carlin may be the smartest of all time, but by the time I was able to understand and appreciate his humor, he was already very old.  There was also Richard Pryor-- still before my time.  And, I'll even give credit to 80s Eddie Murphy.  But, one of the first stand up comedy shows I ever watched was Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker.  I was familiar with Rock only in regards to In Living Color and Saturday Night Live.  On those shows he was... humorous.  With his stand up, he's genius.  

Next, came a series of WTF movies from the comedian I respected more than anyone.  Down To Earth came out where he actually played a comedian!  And his best joke on stage in the movie was "You've got so much armpit hair you look like you got buckwheat in a headlock."  Yeah. That's it.  He used his D material in the movie that was the antithesis of funny. Then Head of State which I still don't really understand how Chris Rock wrote that movie and the stand up material for Never Scared. With his stand-up Chris Rock was finally becoming the Carlin of my generation, but with his film choices, the next Eddie Murphy.  So, you can imagine how refreshing it is to see Top Five, a film that finally displays Rock's talent as a writer/director and comedian as well as showcases that genius we all knew he was capable of. 

Top Five takes place in a single day.  Rock plays Andre, a celebrity whose celeb life has started to go somewhat downhill.  He used to be the biggest comedian of his time and made the highest grossing comedy movies until he got sober and quit comedy.  He's now trying to promote his newest film "Uprize" about the Haitian uprising, but much to his chagrin, it's getting terrible reviews.  He's followed around all day by a reporter (Rosario Dawson) trying to get the real story from Andre about why he's quit being funny.  They stop at several places for his promotion of the film-- radio stations, press junkets, Andre's old friend's homes, etc.  What starts to develop is a relationship between comedian and reporter that transcends sex and love, but of mutual understanding and sympathy. 

It's a great love story and even more it's a great commentary of the film industry.  No one gives Andre's film a chance because it's not funny and he's supposed to be funny.  When he stops by a random theater to watch his fans waiting for the film, there's four people in the theater.  The rest of the crowd is lined out the door waiting for the new Madea movie where she spends the night in a haunted house.  It's also a commentary about how we need our comedians to be "on" at all times.  Sometimes, they're human.  They don't feel funny.  He satirizes reality television stars.  It's also a commentary on the roles black actors tend to get in Hollywood.  Nearly every supporting character in the film seems to be played by a stock black comedian.  They're either the crony, the hood friend, or the Haitian slaves uprising.  

Rock delicately weaves all of these storylines together through his day and is able to make a big statement about Hollywood as well as provide a very funny and poignant movie.  Watching what I'm sure is a partly autobiographical film, it's comforting to see Andre's vulnerabilities and be able to watch a celebrity work through problems that us everyday folk go through constantly as well.  But, down to it's very core, it's still mostly a love story.  It's a love story from two broken people trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and maybe fit well with each other.  The chemistry between Rock and Dawson is great.  It's such a pleasure to watch.  And, if nothing else, go for the cameos.  There are a few in the film that will leave you hurting.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Exodus Gods and Kings: A Live Action Prince of Egypt

Let me preface this review that is sure to have some rolling eyes-- I didn't really have a desire to see this movie.  I'm a big fan of Christian Bale and I recognize his ability to choose a role that comes with it, a good movie.  I'm also a big fan of director Ridley Scott (though is last few efforts, The Counselor, Prometheus, Robin Hood, Body of Lies, A Good Year, have been less than sufficient).  But, the over-abundance of biblical movies this year has pushed this movie into the backburner for me for what I wanted to spend my time and money watching.  I've already seen The Ten Commandments as well as The Prince of Egypt.  Was this a movie that I desperately needed to see... again?  Absolutely not.  It's not even a movie that needed to be made.  But it was.  And I saw it.  And I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of it.

It's the same story we've seen countless times before of the book of Exodus.  Ramses and Moses begin as brothers.  Once it is revealed that Moses (Bale) was born a Hebrew, he is exiled by his now Pharaoh brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton).  Moses is contacted by a burning bush (also known as God) to be the leader to free the Hebrews from the clutches of Ramses.  When Ramses refuses God unleashes a series of plagues such as the rivers running red with blood, locusts, the killing of the first born sons, etc.  Then, once he finally gives in, Moses leads his people through the desert, parts the Red Sea, and they're now "free".  There's nothing really new here.  It's the same story with better actors, better computer effects, and a great director.  Almost anyone who decides to watch the film... or is forced to watch the film... will find it quite enjoyable. Hey, it's better than Noah. 

But what about those who are unfamiliar with the story?  What about those who haven't seen The Ten Commandments or The Prince of Egypt?  This is one of the few problems I had with the film.  It's a writing and/or directorial choice, but hardly anything is explained to the viewer.  It's Scott's style not to baby his audience, but those unfamiliar with the source material will find a lot of the film very confusing.  Those who know the story know that the slaughtering of a lamb and the smearing of its blood on the posts of the houses shows the Holy Spirit that a Hebrew lives there and to stay out of the house.  Those who don't bloody up their houses will have their first born sons killed.  This is in response to the previous pharaoh taking the Hebrew first born sons and dumping them maliciously into the River Thames. However, none of this is explained.  It just... happens.  Someone who didn't already know the story would be very lost.  They just assume that everyone watching is familiar with the story, which then begs the question-- if we already know the story, why tell it again?

Another small problem I had with the film was that Ridley Scott decided to go semi-realistic in his portrayal of the "miracles" that happen in the film.  The burning bush sits in the background as the voice of God is personified in a little snarky child that talks to Moses.  Moses doesn't part the Red Sea with his staff... the water just kind of recedes.  While it isn't that big of a deal, the visual of the burning bush speaking to Moses and the visual of Moses physically parting the sea are very powerful and iconic moments in both the Bible and on film.  Moses is acting as a vessel for God and when he doesn't actively part the sea... and it just happens... it takes away some of the power of the story.  But, this was just a directorial choice that some won't mind, but I happened to disagree with.

Other than that, I didn't have any problems with the film.  It was very well acted and extremely entertaining.  Yes, there was a bit of racial insensitivity by casting white Brits as middle easterns, but get over it.  Stop being so sensitive, America.  We've done it for years.  Charlton Heston was Moses.  Freaking Val Kilmer was moses (I know he was drawn brown, but he was voiced by a definite whitey).  Look past that it's not skin-correct and look at it more as an entertaining retelling of a story that is still a very fascinating story from the Bible.  My expectations were exceeded greatly.


The Babadook: Smart Horror Done Right

"If it's in a word, or in a book... you can't get rid of The Babadook."

So, there's not much that I can talk about here without giving away the best moments of The Babadook, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet.  I'd heard about The Babadook through word of mouth only.  I researched only it's creation... not the plot.  I'd read that it was a movie funded from a kickstarter campaign.  It's a modest $30,000 budget and it comes from Australia.  That's all I knew.  Other than that, it was what I'd read about it-- that it was damn scary.  The director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin, had watched it on an iPad and said it was one of the scariest movies he'd ever seen.  And while it may not be the scariest movie EVER... it is still an effective horror film.

The best thing I can say about The Babadook is that it's unlike any horror movie to be released in the last five years.  While there have been some classic, even well made horror films (like The Conjuring and Insidious) this is horror in a different vein.  It doesn't have the jump-scares that seem to pervade horror movies these days.  While you're in terrifying suspense waiting for something to pop out and make you jump out of your seat... you will be disappointed.  What does happen is that terror you're experiencing ceases to leave your body.  It never really lets up.  While the story does take its time to build up the fable and the mystery of The Babadook, once it's established it grabs ahold of you and never lets up.

My suggestion is to not look any further into the plot of the movie.  Don't watch the trailer, don't look into the synopsis.  Just go into it blindly expecting a well crafted and perfectly paced terrifying movie that appeals to any horror fan.  Yes, it was made for cheap, but that propels the terror in even more creative ways.  It's a wonderful film that anyone should see if you're willing to give up a night's sleep.


Friday, December 26, 2014

The Interview: The Most Important and Subversive Movie Of Our Time... I Think Not

For as long as I can remember I've spent Christmas with family and friends, eaten a large meal consisting of some sort of glazed meat with the best mashed potatoes I'll ever eat, and then, after everything is over, I see a movie.  Some years it's with family.  Some with friends.  Some with significant others.  Whatever the case, the movie theater is a big part of my Christmas (that, and watching A Christmas Story on TBS on loop for nearly 24 hours).  This year there were slim pickins.  Into The Woods never really drew my interest as I'm not overtly fond of musicals and I'm quite unfamiliar with the source material.  Unbroken looked like a movie trying too hard to win our Christmas hearts and Academy votes.  Big Eyes looked interesting enough, but not enough for Christmas night. And The Gambler just didn't feel right.  So, it was always going to be The Interview.  Here's why: because I knew it was going to make me laugh.

Surrounded in (unnecessary and certainly unwarranted) controversy, The Interview has been the topic of discussion for several weeks now.  Almost entirely thanks to social media this movie has gotten so much press that half the people who were semi-interested lost all care in the film due to it's overexposure and the people who weren't interested in it are now gung-ho to see it due to the fact that it was going to be pulled from theaters and our artistic freedoms were to be taken away. ('Merica!) Now, it's about giving a large middle finger to North Korea that most people chose this film to be the one they watched on Christmas.  After all of the bullshit surrounding the film, there's almost no way to accurately critique the film for what it is-- a mindless comedy.  All of the reviews are going to be surrounded with the inevitable discussion of what the big deal was for North Korea to be offended by the film-- or whether or not they had a reason to almost entirely erase the film.  It's going to be difficult for the average viewer to take the film for what it actually set out to be in the first place-- a funny movie with nothing substantial to say.

Let's take a quick look back at the film history of Seth Rogen shall we?  Let's see, there's The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Funny People, The Green Hornet, The Guilt Trip, This Is The End and Neighbors are the most notable.  What do you notice about this list of films?  Could it possibly be that none of them have any social or cultural agenda whatsoever?  Could it be that most of them are a collection of the same dick jokes over and over again wrapped around a different plot and cast?  Could it be that Seth Rogen has literally no other intention with his film choices than to make this viewers laugh???  That's the one.  Nothing here has any other motive than to be funny.  There wasn't recently this idea that Rogen had to make a statement or commentary of the culture of North Korea.  He didn't set out to make an "important" film that would change anyone's views on the country or paint it in a different light (my kind, yet slightly racist grandmother watching a TV trailer of Annie and asking "does anyone understand what the little black girl is saying?" has more cultural relevance than The Interview does).  He set out to make a film of dick jokes with a new premise.  Take it for what it is, please.

The film revolves around Dave Skylark (James Franco), a celebrity talk show host and his producer Aaron (Rogen) getting the interview of a lifetime-- North Korean President Kim Jong-Un.  The CIA then recruits the two idiots to kill Un during the interview.  In between all of this is a cavalcade of dick jokes (which somehow still manage to be funny when coming from Franco and Rogen, shockingly).  That's it.  There's nothing more to it.  Before all of the controversy, when I watched the preview it didn't look outstanding, but I knew the track record of the two stars and knew that even if it wasn't their best outing, it was still going to make me laugh.  And it did.

What's so strange here is that Rogen is actually the most reserved here.  He did have writing and directing credits to go with the film, so he might've just decided to step back and let others take the comedic reigns for a change.  But, it's Franco that really surprised me.  I've got a love/hate thing going on with Franco.  Do I believe he thinks he's God's gift to film even though he isn't?  Yes.  Do I think he's funny when he's not working with a script?  No.  I mean, anyone who needs convincing that the dude isn't that funny only needs to watch his roast.  When he goes last, firing back at everyone else, it's borderline sad.  However, when he's in a film with all of his friends, he couldn't be funnier.  He was brilliant in Pineapple Express and hilarious in This Is The End.  And, he's on point nearly the entire film of The Interview.  He's almost a parody of himself.  It's great.  But, it's Randall Park as the Korean dictator that really steals the show.  He's onscreen a good quantity of the film and he's so funny.  It's beautiful to think of the real Kim Jong-Un playing basketball and drinking margaritas and jamming out to Katy Perry.  Is it a big cultural and social observation of Un as a dictator?  Hell no!  It's just a funny juxtaposition.  It'd be like watching Hitler play left tackle for the Raiders or Fidel Castro having a tea party in a dress.  It doesn't mean anything, it's just a funny image.  They've essentially taken someone "important" and feared and humanized them to a point that goes beyond farce. Like Kim Jong-Il singing "I'm So Ronery" (but even that movie had something to say.)

Had none of the instances surrounding The Interview ever occurred, it would be viewed like any other Seth Rogen/James Franco film.  No one would have any expectations of it other than getting a few good laughs.  That's all it provides.  If you think it's a necessity to see the film simply to exercise your right as an American, then don't expect much.  Don't expect the film to mirror the controversy surrounding it.  Don't expect to watch some subliminally implanted anti-North Korean propaganda film.  See it plainly to watch a funny movie and get some laughs and entertainment.  This is what Seth Rogen and James Franco are best at.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Theory of Everything: Or, The Stephen Hawking Story Written By Rob Reiner

The Theory of Everything for me was... unexpected.  What I expected was a biopic of the life of Stephen Hawking.  His genius at the beginning, his deterioration through the years as he succumbs to ALS, his meeting of his wife, Jane, his inspirations for his life's work including his book.  This is what I expected.  However, while all of this information was... sorta... provided, it was mostly glossed over.  What I got was more of a romantic drama about a smart guy with a stressed girl who try to keep their family and situation "normal".

It's a difficult task to make a film about someone as exceptional and important as Stephen Hawking.  There's trying to portray accuracy, as well as entertain, as well as please the man who is still alive and watching it.  The film hits a few of these right on the head, but misses more.  It's ironic... Hawking's work is all about time and time in this movie is the most glossed over aspect of the film.  We don't really get to see the slow and agonizing deterioration of Stephen Hawking's body.  We see him in stage one.  Then a couple years goes by and he's in stage two.  Then a couple years go by and he's in stage three.  And so on.  I don't actually know how to articulate just what is missing in these scenes, but it doesn't feel like it should have.  It feels as though there was just too much to do, so instead of montages we're left with assumptions.  We're just supposed to accept that this is the next logical stage of their marriage, of his disease.  And while it isn't overtly bad... it's jarring to say the least.

What's perfect, however, is the casting.  Eddie Redmayne has give a performance worthy of gold.  Real life Stephen Hawking himself even said that the performance was remarkable and even made him cry.  That's how great he is.  He transcends great in this movie.  He's perfect.  Unfortunately, he's given the performance of his life during a year where a lot of actors have done the same and I feel he will be at a loss to someone like Gyllenhaal or Carell.  Redmayne, as Hawking, holds nothing back.  If you ever want to see how unbelievable horrific a disease ALS is, you need look no further than here.  Felicity Jones, an actress I wasn't familiar with prior to this film, is actually very good as well.  She gives Jane a tough exterior while she is clearly in just as much emotional pain inside as Hawking is outside.  It's subtle, but wonderful.

The film isn't bad enough to be considered a Lifetime biopic.  I just don't think it was handled by capable enough hands as it should have been.  It's a decent depiction of the life of these two, but their relationship isn't exactly the most tantalizing story of Hawking's life.  His struggling relationship with his wife and children are kind of the B story to the overall A story inside the mind of a genius that wasn't hardly able to articulate any of it.  Instead, the romance is the A story and everything else is on the back burners.  There is beauty to the film in the way that it's shot and the performances are unbelievable.  It is for these reasons alone that I would suggest viewing this film, however there will still be a little bit left after the movie ends that will leave you feeling strangely unsatisfied.  You won't exactly be able to pinpoint all of the reasons, but there will be just something missing.  What's missing are the gaps in time and the character changes we wanted to see but are instead passed over as unimportant and accepted as such.  The movie deserves to be just as fascinating as the person it is about, yet it doesn't quite reach that level.  Hell, maybe that's the point.  The level of Hawking is unreachable.  The rest of us can just do our best.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2: Yet Again, Another Sequel That's Just A Bastardized Version Of The Original

There's something inherently wrong about making sequels to comedies and something inherently right about it too.  It's wrong because most comedies become beloved because the humor is fresh, the story is new, the characters are fun, and everything seems to work succinctly into making a genuinely funny movie.  Then comes the sequel which tries its best to recreate the magic of the first movie by trying too hard or rehashing old jokes that were funny before but tired now (see any: The Hangover II, Legally Blonde II, Caddyshack II, Evan Almighty, Son of the Mask, Major League II, Airplane II, The Whole Ten Yards, Miss Congeniality).  And it hardly ever works save for a few lucky gems (see: Hot Shots Part Deux, Christmas Vacation, Home Alone 2).  It's nearly impossible to find a good comedy sequel and aside from Christmas Vacation, I challenge you to find one that's better than the original.  However, there is something good that comes out of a comedy sequel that doesn't out of films in a different genre: and that's laughter.  Whether the movie is on par with its predecessor or a complete waste of time, it doesn't matter in a comedy sequel because there will almost always be at least one scene that makes you laugh.  I knew Horrible Bosses wasn't going to live up to the original, but I also knew that even if it was a pile of piss, there would still be scenes and moments to make me laugh.  And I was right.

Horrible Bosses 2 tells essentially the same story as the first one with a slight twist (think: The Hangover 2 is exactly the same as the first movie, but the twist is that they're in Thailand).  This time around our three "heroes" (can they really be considered heroes?) have invented the Shower Buddy, an all inclusive shower experience that saves time and money.  A big business mogul (Christoph Waltz) invests in their company and orders 500,000 units of the buddy.  However, once they've produced the product, Waltz backs out of the deal, steals the idea, and screws over our "heroes" royally.  So, like most sane human beings they decide to kidnap his son (Chris Pine) for the ransom of $500,000.  Some twists and turns occur along the way (like the son being in on the plan wanting to screw over his father as much as our three do, as well as old characters showing up, ie-- Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx).  That's pretty much the brunt of it.  The fun is watching these three idiots muff up every plan they come up with and getting themselves out of it.  The movie offers little more than this.

Let's start with the good-- Charlie Day (at his most Charlie Day-est) is on point with the laughs.  He is the central laugh provider of the film.  Almost everything that comes out of his mouth is comedy gold.  Also, the plans that they come up with are enough out there that it keeps you wondering exactly how things are going to go wrong, and when they do, how in the hell they're going to get out of a jam.  Like most comedy sequels, it still does provide a lot of laughs.  Most of them may come cheaply, but there's enough here to provide any movie goer enough laughs worth the price of admission.

Now the bad-- Everything else.  I want to first question the entire reason of casting Christoph Waltz!  Why in the hell was he in this?  He doesn't add anything funny to the film and he's not badass enough to want to be in it.  Also, he's only in it probably a good six or seven minutes of screen time, if that.  I have no clue, other than a sizable paycheck, why he'd agree to be in the film in the first place.  Second, the humor in it is very weak.  I don't mean from the characters because they do the best they can, but from the "outlandish" situations they find themselves in.  There's a scene where silhouettes look like they're jerking off Jason Sudekis when really everything is innocent (hello Austin Powers), a scene where Bateman is in a Sexaholics Anonymous meeting, yet he thinks he's in an AA meeting and everything that comes out of his mouth could be taken a different way under different circumstances.  The guys hide in a closet but accidentally release laughing gas and wind up getting the giggles and passing out.  It's as if the writers watched every comedy made in the 90s and decided to replicate the humor for a new generation.  As if the "getting high accidentally" joke had been dormant for so long, everyone forgot about it until it's newfound awakening in Horrible Bosses 2.

Most of the returning characters didn't really add much to the movie.  Kevin Spacey gives advice from jail and screams profanity, however, there wasn't much funny to it.  Jennifer Aniston returns to say horrendously vulgar things to everyone, yet we've already seen it.  The beauty about the first movie is we got to see actors in roles we'd never seen them play before.  Kevin Spacey as a douchebag boss, sure, but in a comedy?  Never.  Jennifer Aniston... and the things that came out of her mouth... it was so outlandish and unexpected that it was hilarious!  Colin Farrell as a fat, balding coke head made the movie!  Yet, here, there's nothing added to the characters to continue that feeling of surprise.  When Aniston does the same old thing... we've heard it.  It's not unexpected for her to be raunchy.  We expect it.  What more can you give her character? Which, again, leads me back to my question as to why Waltz decided to take on the role?  He plays the character very straight and there's nothing strange or quirky about him other than that he has a faint german accent.  Chris Pine is fine as the spoiled, vengeful son, but there's nothing extra to the character to lend to the comedy.  Even Jason Bateman, who I'm a fan of played it a little to straight-man for this movie.  Charlie Day was able to scream and wild-card his way through the film and give us plenty of laughs, but bouncing off Bateman gave Day the laughs.  And Sudekis... I don't even know what to say.  I like him a lot.  He's incredibly funny.  But he's got a very unique comedic style that is overt, yet dry.  And I don't think it works in a movie like this.

For all its faults, Horrible Bosses 2 isn't that bad of a movie.  There will be at least one scene that will make you laugh.  But as for watching it again... probably once is enough.  I assume until it stops making money that there will be more and more of them, which I'm actually okay with.  Only if they decide to bring in big actors (it's funnier if they don't usually partake in comedy) with quirks so different from what we've seen from them and put them in outlandish situations that are relevant to today's humor.