Masterminds

masterminds-movie-poster

Release: Friday, September 30, 2016 

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Bowman; Hubbel Palmer; Emily Spivey

Directed by: Jared Hess

Masterminds didn’t need to be masterfully made to be effective, but a little discipline could have gone a long way.

Directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite; Nacho Libre), the film is a comedic dramatization of the October 1997 Loomis Fargo bank robbery that took place in Charlotte, North Carolina. The story made national headlines when an employee made off with $17.3 million from the bank’s vault, making it at the time the second-largest cash heist in American history, second only to a Jacksonville, Florida incident seven months prior in which the same bank lost $18.8 million to the driver of an armored vehicle transporting the cash. Not a great year for Loomis Fargo, admittedly.

The details of the heist seem ripe for the tabloids, or even a solid comedic outing. Hess adopts the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction angle by going balls-out on the zaniness and slapstick elements, employing star Zach Galifianakis‘ trademark gooberisms to often irritating effect. Masterminds is a film stuck on one setting and it never demonstrates aspirations to become something more . . . not even important, but watchable. A collaborative screenplay is only ever interested in puerile jokes, making fun of “simple Southern folk” and accommodating Galifianakis and his weirdness.

David Scott Ghantt (Galifianakis) is the focus of this southern-fried farce. He’s a loyal employee of his local bank although quite the simpleton. He has a crush on a girl he works with, a Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) who suddenly quits her job because it sucks, basically. She falls in with a rough crowd and cozies up to the bad news Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson), who has this idea to take that branch for all it’s worth. Good thing Kelly happens to know someone on the inside that she can manipulate/seduce into pulling it all off.

Masterminds is aggressively unfunny. Having absolutely no faith that the sheer absurdity of the actual circumstances will do much of the work for them, the filmmakers overcompensate, aiming for the lowest common denominator as loud farts, sweaty redneck culture and Wiig’s cleavage become major talking points. Galifianakis tries his best to make us empathize with David but he can’t. And he doesn’t get much help from the rest of the ensemble, as Wiig looks bored, Owen Wilson is still just Owen Wilson, and Jason Sudeikis and Kate McKinnon lay two distinctly rotten eggs — the former playing the world’s worst hitman and the latter David’s psychotic country bumpkin fiancée. (If you somehow make it through the film’s opening 10 minutes or so, you might as well stay. McKinnon features prominently here and she’s the worst part of the film.)

You’d think with Wilson’s casting there’d be an element of Bottle Rocket to proceedings in this heist film, but sadly that film with made-up characters feels more authentic than this one based upon real individuals. What we have here are caricatures who shout dumb things, make weird noises and enthusiastically check off items from a master list presumably titled ‘Things Everyone Who Has Never Lived There Hates About the South.’ The movie doesn’t mean to offend but it does when the whole thing is just so inept.

Recommendation: Offensively low joke-to-laugh ratios can be found in Masterminds, an ill-advisedly goofy recreation of a bizarre real-world bank heist. If you have love for any of the actors in this movie, I have to say you should try and keep that love going by outright skipping this turkey. A deep-fried, southern turkey covered in about as many stereotypes as you can think of. Zach Galifianakis is only as good as the material he works with, so here I have to say he’s actually pretty awful.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “Katie Candy Cane . . . is she a stripper?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

30-for-30: Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?

30-for-30-small-potatoes-movie-poster

Release: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

[Netflix]

Directed by: Mike Tollin

When Donald Trump made the ‘small potatoes’ remark it was after he had wrapped up an interview with the director for this very documentary. He was referring to his dalliance with sports team ownership, his dismissiveness hinting at days that were so far in the rearview he couldn’t even see them anymore. He was already over it, the way you get over a summer fling.

In the early 1980s Trump briefly owned a franchise within the United States Football League — the New Jersey Generals — before growing bored with it and selling it to an Oklahoma oil magnate who in turn sold it back because he couldn’t keep pace with the travel schedule required to watch his team play. Trump did agree to speak candidly about his involvement with the USFL so anything seemed fair game. However, at the time of the interview (sometime in 2009), Trump’s magnificent hair was already thinning, evidence that at this point his image was so firmly cemented he no longer seemed obligated to care about his hair. And if he didn’t care about how thin his hair looked, how could he possibly still care about a business venture that fizzled out all the way back in 1986?

Mike Tollin (executive producer of such shows as All That, Smallville and One Tree Hill) seeks multiple perspectives rather than going all Salem Witch Trial as he tries to find out the cause of the USFL’s collapse a mere three years after its establishment. A variety of interviews with former players, coaches and team owners alike — Burt Reynolds even weighs in — are spliced in between segments from the present-day Trump interview.

The USFL was first envisioned by a New Orleans businessman named David Dixon some 17 years before Trump’s acquisition of the Generals in 1983 helped legitimize the league as something worth investing not only money but time into. The establishment of the league was predicated on the notion it would run differently than its older and more popular brother, the NFL, which played its schedule through the fall season, concluding with the Superbowl in February. The USFL, then, would be played in the spring and summer months, capped off with a National Championship game. Following what was known as ‘The Dixon Plan,’ the USFL found the inaugural season somewhat successful though crowd attendance and media exposure disappointing. It was after that first season franchise owners started having eyes larger than their stomachs.

The Dixon Plan had set into place limits on spending and had also helped teams secure prominent locations where they would play their games, all moves which helped make the USFL a little more competitive with the NFL, even if that was ultimately not the intent. Not until Trump, anyway. The advent of legendary running back Herschel Walker, who cost Trump a whopping $4 million, indicated a shift in the league’s priorities — rather than looking towards long-term security team owners began signing higher-profile talent which ultimately broke many a franchise’s bank, with single-player signings often exceeding salary cap space four or five times over.

There were other significant moves made that steered the USFL toward an altogether uncertain and less stable future. With Trump’s business savvy he began poaching NFL talent and even went after collegiate players in an effort to “level the playing field.” This ultimately triggered yet another out-of-control spending spree and further set the league back financially. But that was nothing compared to what the Donald had up his sleeve next. In perceiving the USFL to be an organization that could possibly rival the more institutionalized NFL, Trump advocated for a schedule change so the games could be shown on TV alongside those other “more important” games.

In 1985 everything changed when the league decided to pursue an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL for their monopolization of television markets. It was a disastrous move that all but spelled the end for the USFL. Over the last season many teams had already folded or had merged with other more notable franchises, and Trump’s Generals was still trying to pile on the star talent to make them the team to beat. While the court ruled in favor of the USFL there would be no flags for excessive celebrations. Damages amounted to a grand total of $4 (that’s not a typo — they had a check cut in the amount of $3.67 or something), which is not quite enough to get franchises up and running again. No one, not even Trump’s sexified Generals, would see a fall season of action.

Small Potatoes, for obvious reasons, leans heavily on the business side of things and while that could spell boredom to many viewers, it’s a narrative that only gets more interesting as it goes on. We needn’t live in denial; the real game is played behind the scenes rather than on the field and the competition is far uglier. What had begun as a potentially prosperous and exciting alternative to mainstream football had been decimated by a series of hasty, if not altogether poor decisions that were never actually made in the league’s best interests. David Dixon would be spinning in his grave if he ever knew what became of his idea.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews. 

the-donald

Recommendation: Packed with fascinating insight into the inner workings of a fledgling football league, Small Potatoes, one of the very earliest installments, asks that simple question: who’s responsible for the USFL’s sudden disappearance? There’s something bittersweet about this film, about knowing how dominant the NFL has become over the years and realizing that even if the USFL hadn’t folded in the 80s, it almost assuredly would have in the 90s and early 2000s. I also had no idea Donald Trump ever owned a football team, so that was fascinating in and of itself. It’s also funny coming to the realization that apparently he was never good enough to become an NFL franchise owner. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 51 mins.

[No trailer available, sorry everyone . . . ]

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.youtube.com

Morgan

'Morgan' movie poster

Release: Friday, September 2, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Seth W. Owen

Directed by: Luke Scott

No movie, especially one dabbling in the science fiction genre, has an obligation to make the viewer feel all warm and cuddly inside. You can be both the coldhearted bastard and The Year’s Best Movie, but if you plan on being as brutally dispassionate as this year’s attempt at Ex Machina-ing the AI subgenre back to life, you better have something interesting to say.

Morgan‘s got nothing. What it does have though are 90 of the most unpleasant, uninteresting minutes I’ve spent at the movies this year.

There were only four of us in my 3:45 screening and the film played out as though it were anticipating as much. You might attribute the film’s disinterest in engaging the viewer to Scott W. Owen’s thoroughly unoriginal screenplay, a story about the dark side of cutting-edge science so bland you sit there realizing that you’re thinking about how bland it is. Annoyingly that meta thought begets another. And then another, and soon enough, twenty minutes have gone by and still nothing’s happened. Oh, look. Time to refill the coke and popcorn. (Spoiler alert: do it in the first 45 minutes because you won’t miss a thing.)

Unfortunately though it’s a real team effort, as the son of the great Ridley Scott doesn’t steer the project in any meaningful direction with an uninspired vision that substitutes substantive scientific and/or philosophical questioning for grisly and pretty cruel action sequences. There are so many questions. What makes Morgan special? Why should we believe she’s the AI creation of the cinematic year? What is her true potential, what is her purpose? Can she really be controlled? Should she be? And the million dollar one: why should we care, about her or this world she inhabits?

If foreshadowing doesn’t destroy Morgan‘s shot at profundity, then it’s a lack of depth and substance. There’s no extrapolation as to what this says about where we are in society, only easy answers — solutions tailor-made for this specific narrative. All the bloody hand-to-hand combat reserved for the ending is an overt solution to the problems introduced in this dreary, monochromatic world. What makes Morgan special? This karate chop! That crazy look in her eyes. (It sure isn’t that fucking boring hoodie.) Why should we believe she’s the year’s coolest AI creation? Because she’s a murderer, with a lust for blood not seen since Ted Bundy. What is her true potential? To be more Ted Bundy than Ted Bundy. Why should we care? Um . . .

The story takes a more political/business approach to the world of scientific endeavors, one of its few distinctive features. Morgan focuses on the tension between a corporate entity seeking total control and the idealistic virtues of those working directly on the company-funded Morgan Project. It pits Kate Mara‘s supremely unfriendly risk manager Lee Weathers against the strangely more sociable project overseers, a group that includes doctors Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones), husband-and-wife duo Darren and Brenda Finch (Chris Sullivan and Vinette Robinson), Amy Menser (Rose Leslie), and Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh). After an incident in which Morgan attacked another scientist, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the second role this year that has required her to cover her face in physical-abuse make-up, Lee is called in to assess whether the project is one still worth pursuing or if it needs to be terminated.

Mara may not look the part, but she kind of does feel like The Terminator, and Leigh’s bedridden scientist even calls her “a goddamn assassin.” She’s here on business and won’t leave until that’s finished. From the moment she appears Mara delivers each of her lines in the same monotone, several inflections away from sounding like a real person. It’s actually a pretty terrible performance from a reliable thesp. (But not as terrible as the ending.) Corporate red tape wears out its welcome quickly with Ziegler and his colleagues. Perpetually on the defensive, the team continues trying to justify Morgan’s sudden outburst as anomalous. Morgan describes it as “an error.” Nonetheless, a psychiatrist is brought in for an evaluation. It’s Paul Giamatti, so at least you know what you’re going to get out of him. And he surely delivers, pushing Morgan to the limits as he questions why she thinks she is alive. Why she thinks the people around her are her friends.

Judged through a tedious first section and an even slower second act, Morgan isn’t very eventful but it’s well-crafted. A reasonable amount of tension is generated from our ignorance to what Morgan is capable of doing or what she is actually going to do to her captors once she gets loose. (An event we await with bated breaths.) Mara is a constant bummer but the rest of the characters are fairly likable in their restricted capacities. Anya Taylor-Joy (the break-out star from this year’s The Witch) is for some time empathetic and her distinctive features make for a suitable alien-like presence. Boyd Holbrook plays a hunk with serious culinary skills. Because we needed that for levity, I guess, but I’ll take it if everyone else is just going to be a misery to be around.

But when we’re exposed to what the filmmakers have in store for us having waded through a lot of nothingness, the wheels fall right off the wagon, spectacularly. Who had M. Night Shyamalan on speed dial for that big reveal? It has his fingerprints all over it. In fact his sense of atmosphere and ability to maintain tension makes it feel like Morgan doesn’t have any Scott blood running in its veins at all. Slavishly adhering to structure and with no personality of its own, this Ex Machina wannabe has been conditioned to not think for itself.

Recommendation: Slow, unoriginal and featuring an uneasy mix of cerebral meditation and shocking violence, Morgan gives me too many reasons to call this just a total freaking mess. As I personally wasn’t hugely anticipating it, calling it a disappointment might be a stretch but it certainly is disappointING that good actors and a reliable premise, granted a thoroughly worn out one at this point, aren’t enough to bring it around. Film also finishes on one of the lamest notes I have seen since Now You See Me, so unless you’re willing to risk leaving a movie wondering why you even bothered, I’d have to say keep a respectable distance from this one.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “There was joy in her heart, before we shoved her back into that box.”

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Photo credits: http://www.screenrant.com; http://www.foxmovies.com 

The Purge: Election Year

'The Purge - Election Year' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 1, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: James DeMonaco

Directed by: James DeMonaco

I am convinced the French marketing for the third Purge film (see above) is the most responsible form of it we have. The Purge: Election Year manages to be as inane as it looks and here is a movie poster that pulls no punches when it comes to revealing the truth. Cheap-looking and tacky the movie may not be, but it is unconvincing. Often hilariously so.

Though there are no Donald Trump masks involved (surprising, given writer-director James DeMonaco’s affinity for being overt) there is no doubt that the third Purge is intended as his own State of the Union address as it applies to a country being torn apart from the inside by mass shootings, gang and race-related violence and other forms of 21st-Century-friendly terms like ‘terrorism.’ Election Year is now, it is eminent and it is, supposedly, urgent. And so the French movie title starts feeling apropos.

Previous installments — one which took place entirely within the confines of an upper-middle class suburban abode and the other upon the streets of Los Angeles — worked tirelessly in addressing the growing divide between the have’s (the one-percenters of this fine country) and the have-not’s (everyone else in comparison) by creatively demonstrating the rage that festers within a 12-hour period one night out of the year. We’ve come to understand that purge night, rather than being a means for the American people to cleanse themselves of any sort of violence, is just the government’s way of shedding the nation of its burdens: the weak and the poor. A third installment hypothetically could add depth to this bleak, dystopian portrait of government-sponsored terror but what eventuates are just echoes of the themes it has hastily carted out on a dolly since the first round.

Once again we’re set in the near-future and purge night is upon us. Wait, let me back up a little bit. We first witness the events that inspire a young Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) to become a Senator for good. Eighteen years after watching her entire family get murdered at the hands of a lunatic purger, she’s campaigning for the Presidency, vowing to eliminate this terrible night once and for all. Such a devastating loss drives the woman’s powerful but dangerous idealism. She has to win the election and wrestle control of the country away from the New Founding Fathers, but she also refuses to use murder as her path to victory as that wouldn’t make her any different from those who purge.

Frank Grillo returns as former police sergeant Leo Barnes. Once he’s in the picture, the film picks up in both the excitement and intensity departments. After surviving the horrendous events of Anarchy, Barnes has signed on as part of Senator Roan’s security detail and finds himself this time protecting a highly valuable asset as the New Founding Fathers have decided to take a firmer stance against opponents of the purge. They do so by revoking high-level official’s security Level 9 million-whatever clearance, a.k.a. their immunity to the lawlessness of the night. The Senator of course would prefer to wait the night out in her own home. Leo doesn’t think that’s a smart idea; it’s not. Soon we’re back out on the streets after a betrayal. Ya know, the usual.

Leo once again is surrounded by a group of citizens of indeterminate firearm-wielding skill and whose political leanings essentially boil down to “F**k whoever believes in the purge.” Meanwhile, a resistance group is forming somewhere in downtown Washington and there begins to breed a new kind of morality to the violence. But Leo’s gang ain’t like that; they’re comprised of proud deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his assistant and Mexican immigrant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and a tough-as-nails EMT named Laney played by a fun Betty Gabriel — she’s arguably the film’s best offering beyond Grillo.

Election Year finds the city center of Ridiculous soon enough. We’re slowly pulled into the world of anti-purgers gathering in secrecy at some undisclosed (even in this review) location, preparing to wage war against the NFFA, namely Executive Douchebag Caleb Warren (Raymond J. Barry), the ring leader whose vileness must be measured by how many nasty words he can fit into one monologue. That’s the kind of lazy writing that has become a frustrating pattern in this franchise. DeMonaco’s creation has this fascinating psycho-social science dynamic that routinely gets left behind in favor of tired genre tropes and subpar acting (and directing).

The major offense here though is that three provides entirely too much déjà vu. DeMonaco attempts to expand the scope of the narrative by including a terribly ill-advised subplot in which ‘murder tourism’ has become a thing. Apparently it’s not enough that everyone in America is out in the streets killing each other to death; now we have an influx of South Africans (sorry Zoe; Natasha . . . ) coming stateside just to kill people. Don’t laugh (it’s okay, I almost did). The fact that the purge has caught on internationally and is now being marketed as a tourist package is just silliness defined.

Come to think of it, much of this franchise has been just that. Take a look at any number of those peculiar seance scenes in which small groups of well-dressed caucasians gather and either make a sacrifice or just repeat the phrase “purge and purify” ad nauseam (actually, it’s usually both). I look to those moments for an encapsulation of everything The Purge has been: pure nonsense and half-hearted attempts at profundity. Excuse me while I go purge all of my disappointment from memory.

Frank Grillo and Elizabeth Mitchell in The Purge - Election Year

Recommendation: Gee, I wonder what the director’s stance on gun control is. The amount of mileage you get out of The Purge: Election Year (or as I prefer, American Nightmare 3: Elections) will depend on how much you enjoy just being stuck in this particularly dark universe. There’s no doubt DeMonaco and his cinematographer have crafted a unique visual identity but in terms of story they simply never even try to attain the heights their unusual, intriguing premise(s) suggest. You can always count on Frank Grillo though and paired up with Elizabeth Mitchell’s Senator he is better than ever. The rest though leaves a lot to be desired and I don’t know if I want to sit through more.

Rated: R

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “Good night, blue cheese!” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Some Kind of Hate

Release: Friday, September 18, 2015 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Adam Egypt Mortimer; Brian DeLeeuw

Directed by: Adam Egypt Mortimer


This review is my fifth contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. A big thanks to James for hooking this one up!


Adam Egypt Mortimer takes a stand against bullying in his feature film debut. The irony is he bullies viewers into sharing in his frustration using a relentlessly clichéd, propagandistic approach to make anyone watching feel really, really bad.

Someone has to do the job of course, because the acting department can’t. The comic book writer and short film director blends elements of real-life horror with a sprinkling of supernaturalism to produce Some Kind of Hate, a brutal and bloody take on the physical and psychological effects on targets of aggressive bullying. The cause is noble, but unfortunately the end product is so in-your-face it has an adverse effect. I found myself, especially circa the blood-soaked climax, cheering on neither said supernatural element nor the good guys, but rather the time marker on the film’s total runtime as it neared the end. Go! Go! Go!

The film starts off on the wrong foot and has to fight an uphill battle over the course of 80 minutes, sending its quietly angry protagonist Lincoln (Ronen Rubinstein) down a gauntlet of seemingly endless taunting and physical confrontation. We first see him getting intimidated by his loser father (Andrew Bryniarski) before leaving for school, where he’ll immediately get bullied by some dude with a tucked-in shirt. A crowd quickly gathers around the scene to make the incident as humiliating as possible. When Lincoln can no longer take it he reacts, rather brutally, which sets up the events of the rest of the movie in a fairly compelling fashion. He’s sent to a reform school in the middle of the desert where the counselors hope to unpack many of their campers’ issues and help them move forward with their lives.

Surprise surprise, Lincoln doesn’t find any sanctuary from his problems here either, as one of the campers takes it upon himself to make the new guy feel ‘welcome.’ It’s not until Lincoln retreats into the basement of one of the facilities that he finds some kind of solace from the hell that has become his life. But there’s something else down there waiting for him, watching him.

Chief among the issues facing this would-be-thriller is the frustrating lack of exposition regarding this reform facility, weirdly named Mind’s Eye Academy. The remote, arid location is certainly foreboding but there’s no lore, no exposition, no explanation. The camp leaders, themselves victimized by various forms of abusive upbringings — Michael Polish’s Jack and Noah Segan’s Krauss — are so vaguely defined that their creepiness comes across as a byproduct of nonexistent character development. Jack appears to enjoy meditating and speaking in hushed tones, while his underling isn’t sure what good the Mind’s Eye Academy is doing for anyone. Quite incidentally, neither are we. All we know is that this place serves one purpose and one purpose only: to stage some bloody scenes of supposedly justifiable revenge.

Some Kind of Hate rams its social commentary down your throat. Not only that, but there comes a point where the message becomes obscured by something more alarming: bullies may be bad but worse are the victims who don’t stand up for themselves. Grace Phipps’ troubled former cheerleader Kaitlin tries to convince Lincoln of this, and though he’s the closest person within earshot it’s evident she’s preaching to us. All of a sudden fellow campers start disappearing. That’s right folks, ‘innocent’ people are getting killed to death. Is it Lincoln? Lincoln seems to be the only one around here with a big enough chip on his shoulder to warrant suspicion.

Look, I’m all for a vicious revenge plot, if it’s executed well. (I admit that may have been a poor choice of words.) Few things are more gratifying than watching the baddies receiving their comeuppance, particularly when it’s been coming to them the entire time. Annoyingly, the film’s latter stages justify little more than the film’s quota of supplying the red gooey stuff. Some Kind of Hate had a message to send, but unfortunately it all gets lost in a production that is some kind of awful.

Recommendation: This B-horror film is certainly aimed at a niched audience. It features gore, unlikable characters and self-harm in almost equal measure. Count me out of that audience. Apart from a few creative and fun kills, there’s really not much to like about Some Kind of Hate as it carries all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 82 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com

Windsor Drive

Release: Friday, August 28, 2015 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: T.R. Gough

Directed by: Natalie Bible’


This review happens to be my fourth contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. I’d like to thank James for giving me the chance to check this one out!


While there are some momentary glimpses of inventive horror film-making, there’s little doubt the short format would have served Windsor Drive‘s purposes better and that’s the only thing that’s clear after sitting once through.

Obscured by an overwhelming number of confusing and convoluted scene changes and music video-style edits, Windsor Drive strives for conjuring a moody, noir-esque vibe but instead results in an exasperating experience lacking in logic and inspiration. Knoxville, Tennessee native Natalie Bible’ has something on her mind about the degree of psychological asylum people are willing to sacrifice for the sake of a shot at the big time (specifically for an acting gig in this case) but unfortunately whatever that message is supposed to mean to anyone not in showbiz is extremely difficult to access.

In fact, trying to deduce what Windsor Drive is saying — other than that crazy people are drawn towards crazy professions like acting — is like digging through a stack of needles to find a single straw of hay. It’s painful and damn tedious. I’m having flashes of Shawnee Smith in Saw II, rummaging through a knee-deep stash of filthy syringes dumped into a pit in that decrepit home. I may not have bled as much (or at all), but the effort to keep going was, well . . . cut to the shot of her Amanda falling to the ground after finding the key and having completely expended her physical and psychological strength.

Film features a bevy of soap opera stars who are as easy on the eyes as they are grating on the ears. These relative unknowns unfortunately aren’t convincing in the slightest; luckily T.R. Gough’s haphazard script doesn’t have much time for dialogue, so most of the awkwardness presents in the stiff way these people carry themselves. With the exception of star Tommy O’Reilly fully committed to the fragile actor role — his River Miller’s archetypical tall, dark and handsome physique offers a fairly threatening character — supporting roles, mostly female, are sketches of actual people. Samaire Armstrong’s Brooke, one of River’s exes, is relegated to line rehearsals like, ‘No, please don’t leave. You should stay and have sex with me again,’ only the dialogue isn’t quite as profound.

River moves to the L.A. area to find a proper acting gig, wanting to leave his past behind in which a girlfriend tragically took her own life. He takes a room in a house run by two hipsters, hipsterly named Wulfric (Kyan DuBois) and Ivy (Anna Biani) who have, I don’t know, something weird going on. Most of the narrative is spent in this place, a brooding ground where the three roommates occasionally interact and ruminate on how hard it is to find a good gig as an actor. Then River finds out there’s a small part in a remake of the Windsor Drive movie. Bible’ teases out a few of the lines he has to rehearse in a sequence of admittedly brilliant shots that blur the line between the head space he gets in in character and the one he leaves behind in the real world. There needed to be more of that.

Should Bible’ have gone the short film route, one of the piece’s most nagging issues would have most assuredly been eliminated: feigning creativity in order to reach a certain run time. Shots cut and re-cut so that they play over and again upside down, in reverse and in different color palettes (all semi-related, of course) and framing speeds become so commonplace it’s clear that passing time is the primary objective. Best case scenario, Windsor Drive is amateurish with a bit of potential; at worst it’s one of the more pretentious bits I’ve seen. Condensing the timeline might not have guaranteed its salvation, but tightening the focus would have steered the project away from pretense quickly.

Recommendation: Windsor Drive features a few pretty cool scenes but there are far more minuses than pluses to this one. I can’t really recommend the film on its acting or directing pedigree but it does look good despite the horrible decision to cut it like an extended music video; and the lack of dialogue in favor of visual cues makes for occasionally stimulating viewing. Though rough, this film won’t stop me from keeping an eye out for Bible’ going forward.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 78 mins.

Quoted: “Some might find it a little odd, strange perhaps, but there is a method to the madness. There are only two relevant human emotions, love and fear. All others are meaningless.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.traileraddict.com; http://www.imdb.com

Get Hard

get-hard-poster

Release: Friday, March 27, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Etan Cohen; Jay Martel; Ian Roberts

Directed by: Etan Cohen

It speaks to the talents of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart that Get Hard gets funny at all. This is easily one of the most racist and homophobic movies I’ve ever had the displeasure of reviewing.

I’d like to clear the air right away: I have a fairly high tolerance for low-brow humor and I’ve been a loyal fan of Ferrell’s for sometime, and despite the motor-mouth on Hart he occasionally has my sides splitting open from laughter. But this is a difficult one to enjoy, especially because while it begs for the mind to be shut off completely, it ironically opens the mind up to all kinds of disturbing thoughts — such as: how insecure is this Etan Cohen guy? And where did the ‘h’ in Etan go, anyway? If he enjoys poking fun at this many different subsects of society I feel it is well within my rights to go out of my way to be petty about the spelling of his name.

I doubt very much Mr. Cohen is reading this review but if he is, I invite him to enjoy the rest of this rant. I’d like your job. I’ve never directed so much as a short film before but your ineptitude at guiding what might have been — and this is being probably too generous here — a clever concept through to the end is some kind of fail I’d be comfortable with putting a hashtag in front of. #failhard.

So, before I blow a gasket, let’s talk plot, shall we? This film has potential in Will Ferrell playing James King, a wealthy and privileged white dude who’s made it big pocketing money from various American investors as a hedge fund manager at Wealthrop Fund Corporation — a legitimate businessman in several senses of the word. What he is not, however, is prepared to get raped in the San Quentin penitentiary after being arrested on embezzlement charges that come out of nowhere. First of all, let’s just assume that the act of forcible penetration by a man unto another man is the worst case scenario when one goes to the slammer. There may, in fact, be things to fear more but I don’t want to go there. The film establishes that where King is going is nothing less than a hell hole, so we accept that, yeah he’s going to need some prepping. He enlists at random the help of his car washer, humble little Darnell (Hart), whom King presumes has done time and has some wisdom to impart.

Get Hard, when not endeavoring to be as offensive as possible, sets up some pretty amusing sequences — one of the better ones being a running visual gag as Darnell converts King’s mansion into a makeshift prison wherein he’ll toughen King’s candy-ass up by overhauling his social, physical and psychological prowess. His wine room is made into a jail cell, his live-in staff (all of which are Mexican) become his prison inmates and there’s even a prison riot simulation. There are moments away from the mansion where Ferrell and Hart manage to serve up some laughs before the script (penned by no fewer than three writers) slaps the smile right off your face thanks to the temptation to push crudeness three steps too far.

Hart and Ferrell with little effort form a dynamic that’s simultaneously mildly entertaining and painful to endure. Get Hard relies on the oh-so-clever countdown clock (30 days before prison, 25 days, etc.) as a lazy excuse to establish time frames, a way to express the bond that forms between what were once strangers distanced by socioeconomic status. Oh, and skin color. As the first day of prison rapidly approaches the duo goes from James and Darnell to ‘Mayo and Chocolate.’

If you think my greatest annoyance with all of this is Cohen’s fascination with segregating people rather than unifying them — I won’t deny films have been doing this for as long as the industry has been around but few actually make use of racism/homophobia as a plot device — then let’s turn the spotlight on the quality of the acting. Ferrell and Hart aren’t worth mentioning as both are playing versions of themselves. Ferrell may need to find a new gig soon, though as it’s clear he is reaching for characters with a kind of maturity to them that just feels awkward. But to find Craig T. Nelson trying to make his character work, King’s father-in-law-to-be and higher-up in the firm is disheartening. He’s terrible. So is Alison Brie, the whiny, gold-digging prissy fiancée of James King. Paul Ben-Victor miscalculates his role as the one who does the trigger-pulling and actual threat-making as something that will help his career last.

While there are moments that are genuinely funny Get Hard is offensive on so many levels it’s difficult to comprehend. I didn’t even tap into the brutality of the gay jokes but that’s a segment that really doesn’t need addressing. Come to think of it, I’ve already spent too much time talking about this one as it is.

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1-0Recommendation: For the most part unfunny and downright offensive for the sake of seeing where the boundaries may be pushed in 2015, Get Hard may not be the lowest point in either Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart’s careers, but it’d be a crime to call the movie worth your time.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “One, two, three, December, Christmas, baked potato. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

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Release: Friday, February 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Josh Heald

Directed by: Steve Pink

I, along with six other brave souls, ended up in a theater that was playing a film titled Hot Tub Time Machine 2 because apparently the original had that kind of effect on me. I’m now doubting all kinds of things about myself.

Steve Pink picks up where he left off in 2010 with a superfluous sequel to a comedy that many have deemed rather silly to begin with, and I’m in no position to argue against that. We’ve lost John Cusack in the transition, though. But what’s this — Adam Scott is in as an utterly useless replacement character? I suppose it’s fitting, as the boys in this slightly outrageous misadventure soon discover that going further into the future doesn’t always mean things improve. They do quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

With the end results of their traveling back in time in Hot Tub Time Machine rendering Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke) much wealthier, superior versions of themselves — particularly Lou after the advent of his “Lougle” conglomeration — we are introduced to the same characters who are now much less likable. Corddry steps up the obnoxious a notch or two, resulting in his being blasted in the crotch with a shotgun by some agitated partygoer. As he begins to die in the most humiliating of fashions, his time-traveling pals come up with a plan to save him. They’ll use the hot tub to once again go back in time to prevent quite possibly the most unnatural castration ever.

Instead of going back to the past, the buffoons wind up jettisoning themselves ten years into the future, and things have changed seemingly in favor of young Jacob, who now is the proud owner of a ballin’ crib and has a hottie for a wife. She’s only one in a parade of beautiful women who serve as scenery/distractions from the fact that these guys just aren’t as funny this time around. Of course, saving Lou/Lou’s penis isn’t going to be as simple as it sounds and the narrative diverts into territory that is neither useful nor effective. I saw this film a matter of hours ago and am struggling to recall anything significant about minutes 20 through 90.

I do recall a steady decline into boredom, however. Adam Scott plays Cusack’s son, Adam Jr., but what the hell happened in that gene pool, exactly? A character devoid of dimension, most notably in the humor department, and a stiff at that — he is getting married very soon, as he repeats over and again, and he can’t afford to party like an animal as the others wish to — Adam Jr. represents a new low in a decidedly low-brow franchise. A brief flash of Community‘s Gillian Jacobs as his bride-to-be only compounds that problem.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2, when not falling flat with misfirings of all colors, shapes and sizes (and flavors) takes some rather dark turns and oversteps boundaries, making light of suicidal acts well past the point of mockery. I’m actually not sure if making fun of suicide is that bright of an idea to begin with. You might not believe me after all this, but the film isn’t exactly all for nothing; there still remains the camaraderie between the threesome. We experience the commitment Nick and Lou have to their friendships during a ridiculous and smirk-inducing game show sequence circa mid-movie.

Oh, but wait — didn’t something similar happen five years ago? Yes, yes it did. But repeating old jokes isn’t that offensive when compared to the new stabs at funny mostly failing. Pink’s follow-up asks some interesting questions about how we might govern our present-tense lives if we had any inkling of what today’s actions will lead to later, but the more interesting question really is how can a somewhat reliable formula produce such a different result? If you are bothered enough to try and answer that for yourselves, go ahead and see this. Personally, I’d rather get my own . . . ah, never mind. I won’t go there.

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1-5Recommendation: Neither funny nor that fun to spend time with, the gang has fallen on hard times indeed. What worked for the original was a sense of nostalgia for the ’80s (if you get nostalgic for that sort of thing). But for those who are fans of good comedy, seeing this one through just may make you nostalgic for the good old days of a John Cusack-led bubbly-tub bacchanalia.

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 long mins.

Quoted: “. . . that smells like hatred.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Jupiter Ascending

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Release: Friday, February 6, 2015

[Theater]

Written by:  The Wachowskis

Directed by: The Wachowskis

As Jupiter ascended, my patience and enthusiasm did precisely the opposite, and at warp speed, too.

After production delays stalled the Wachowski siblings’ follow-up to their impressive Cloud Atlas, I still held out hope that even with extensive CGI surgery the general experience would remain unaffected. I guess I was right. The story we’re presented — a girl, born under a starry night sky, doesn’t believe she’s worth much but as it turns out she is actually on a collision course with an unearthly huge responsibility: saving her/our planet from being harvested by a campy celestial tyrant — remains as a decent second-draft that needed more updates than the visual component of the film did. All of this is to suggest I overlooked the fact that maybe, just maybe, the Wachowskis had been sitting on their weakest story to date.

Sure, you can go ahead and snicker at a polished Channing Tatum whose Caine Wise humbles his Magic Mike on the virtue of insane hair-do’s alone. His goofy appearance makes the film ripe for parody, as do the talking reptilian villains, Eddie Redmayne’s awful performance and Mila Kunis’ lack of credibility as a planetary savior. Part of what makes a Wachowski creation entertaining as well as endearing is this tendency for their situations and characters to stay on just the right side of bizarre. Odd customs and cultures, strange dialects, occasionally clunky dialogue and over-the-top action sequences trickle their way into each one of their productions. It’s as much fun to go along with the ride as it is to nitpick over their ongoing infatuation with Asians and creative nomenclature. Jupiter Ascending, however, oversteps a line.

Jupiter Jones loses her parents much too soon, and so she’s raised in a strange and somewhat oppressive Russian household that has her waking up at quarter to five each morning to scrub toilets and bemoaning how much she “hates her life.” I think I would too with a name that may or may not imply I am a gigantic blob of gas. It’s a good thing she’ll soon be targeted by a powerful intergalactic family that has just lost its matriarch and needs a new heir. The surviving Abrasax siblings — Balem (Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) — are squabbling over who should seize control of their estate, a sector of the universe that includes Earth. Tatum’s genetically-modified human/wolf appears in Chicago to rescue Jupiter from a random attack by some of Balem’s minions (the Keepers) once the freckled maniac learns of her existence and her true identity. The girl of course has no idea what is going on.

Funny enough, neither do we.

Her naivety swells to the point where it becomes the driving force behind the narrative. This is a little misleading because at the heart of this space opera is the need for Jupiter to find her true calling in life, and to her that means finding the one person she really loves. That’s something that overrides her desire to own the Earth. If you’re not distracted by the incredibly cool renderings of space and its myriad civilizations — toss in an intergalactic police force referred to as the Aegis for further confusion — then you might have the unfortunate luck of coming to the realization that this is all the Wachowskis have to offer here. Jupiter Ascending is a standard love story mired in overly complex mythos, poor acting and silly storytelling.

Damn it if the ideology of these Abrasax weirdos doesn’t tease something greater though. There’s this almost poetic fascination with the largest celestial body in our solar system and how a superior form of intelligence may someday be the downfall of our civilization. Jupiter, the planet, is really a thing of beauty and the film can’t emphasize this enough. The visuals are jaw-dropping, even if they’re mostly dedicated to action sequences that go on a few minutes too long. But even on Earth, as Jupiter is shrouded in a cloud of bees that refuse to sting Her Majesty, the cinematography is beautifully refined.

I’d be okay with the story taking a backseat to impressive scenery had the Wachowskis not already established themselves as filmmakers who pride themselves on being able to present the complete package: stunning visuals accompanying intelligent, if not revolutionary storytelling. Everyone in awe of Jupiter and her ascent can only feel completely betrayed by this declension.

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1-5Recommendation: I’m not really sure that I do. I think I feel more comfortable recommending you save a few bucks and going to check out something else.

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 125 mins.

Quoted: “I will harvest that planet tomorrow before I let her take it from me. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Mortdecai

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Release: Friday, January 23, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Eric Aronson

Directed by: David Koepp

Charlie Mortdecai has a sensitive gag reflex. He endearingly calls it a ‘sympathetic gag.’ After seeing Johnny Depp embrace an entirely new level of bizarre here, I’m pretty sure I’ve developed something similar, except mine’s not out of sympathy. I’m genuinely disgusted by how bad this movie is.

If like me at my apparently most vulnerable you were unfortunate enough to stumble into a theater only to have Johnny Depp harass your sense of humor and goodwill for slightly more than an hour and a half, you might agree that there is a huge difference between the gags featured in decent comedies and the ones provided here. Two types of gags activating two completely different parts of your body.

The apple of Charlie’s eye, his so-called great love Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), gags in the film because she is taken aback by her man’s interest in sprouting hair on his upper lip. A fashion faux pas at the very least, the mustache might be the funniest bit of the entire film. Mortdecai is an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. If anyone’s in need of an explanation as to why I would willingly put myself through something that sounds this bad, I need only to refer you to some of the media I have included with this review. I hardly gag in response to a mustachioed Olivia Munn. No siree. Nope.

A plot synopsis is as follows: Depp aims to get to the bottom of the theft of a particular Goya painting, or something or other. As a man who dabbles in more than just facial hair and beautiful women, his character caricature is both financially and personally invested in the stolen art. His recent coming into debt compels him to find it, as does a recent visit from Inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor, the poor chap), a man who has had a thing for Johanna ever since he first laid eyes on her. (When she’s saddled with a douchebag of Mortdecai’s stature, who can blame him?) Together, the art snobs and Constable Can’t Get Any travel the world over to locate the missing Goya, thought to bear a code somewhere on it potentially leading to a stash of untold amounts of Nazi gold.

The prime suspect is — well, it doesn’t matter who that is. Essentially everyone’s a suspect, even Mortdecai but after he’s kidnapped by Russian mobsters and his very ability to reproduce is threatened in no small way — how about some electrocuted bollocks to go along with this heaping helping of what the fuck? — it’s clear that Mortdecai, in spite of himself, hasn’t actually taken the precious artwork for himself. Jock will back him up on that, too. Jock (Paul Bettany), referred to as Mortdecai’s man-servant no less than 70 million times because repeating already lame jokes always seems to do the trick with audiences, is a good bloke despite his zipper problems. That he’s always got Charlie’s back takes precedence over his incredible womanizing abilities. Believe it or not, he’s the most likable character of the whole lot. I’m still scratching my head though as to why he signed on for this one.

People are going to be gunning for Depp after this one. That much is certain. But his colorful performance actually triggered some chuckles deep within. Maybe I feel dirty for admitting that. But he’s not the overriding issue with David Koepp’s impossibly dumb movie. The real killing blow is Mortdecai‘s inability to realize it’s potential. Or to even care about it! It can’t take itself seriously for even one second. Majority of the gags do not land, save for the physical ones that land on the floor; the characters are off-the-map ridiculous (Olivia Munn as a nymphomaniac — makes sense, if you’re going to cast someone that beautiful she may as well be a sex addict too; Jeff Goldblum is in the frame for all of two minutes, but suddenly collapses after being poisoned — I’m not sure if that was in the script or just his subtle way of saying “get me out of this farce”); the humor is too low-brow and monotonous even if occasionally it strikes a nerve. Nothing scatological here, but nothing memorable either.

An adaptation of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s comedy anthology, Don’t Point That Thing At Me, this movie is elegant in its failings. It’s difficult to imagine this squeezes out any of the zest of that book series. Unfortunately this is a production so feeble in its construction and so ill-advised in its overwhelming inanity it’s highly unlikely I’ll get around to checking out the source material. For higher-quality entertainment, you’d be better off getting your balls zapped by some angry Russians.

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1-0Recommendation: This was pretty bad. I . . . I don’t know if I recommend Mortdecai on any level to anyone outside of those with a penchant for s. (I think that’s what led me into this theater, along with the three other poor saps that were there with me. Here I was, thinking my taste in movies was pretty decent . . . )

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

Quoted: “I had no idea I was so deep in Her Majesty’s hole!”

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